Welcome back to our interview section! This month, we’ve had the pleasure of talking to Abha Thakor, @NonStopNewsUK, recommended by Estela Rueda. Abha Thakor is an experienced communicator, journalist, researcher, and digital professional who is also involved on several WordPress teams and on the WordPress Release squad for versions 5.5 and 5.6. Please, welcome Abha Thakor!
Thanks for the interview, Abha. It is a pleasure to have you here! For those who don’t know you, could you tell us a little about your studies and career?
I did my first degree in Economics, Government and social sciences. I followed that with a postgraduate in journalism and subsequent training and qualifications in tech, communications and management. I have worked in newspapers, magazines, online and corporate, not for profit and other online and offline platforms. I now run communications and tech firms Non Stop News UK and Non Stop Business Support.
During my professional journey, I have gained Chartered practitioner status from the international Chartered Institute of Management (CMI) and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).
Abha, you have been a WordPress open source fan and advocate for quite a few years now, but how did it all start? Tell us your first experiences with WordPress.
I have been involved in building websites for more than 20 years. I first tried WordPress in its early incarnations and used it for clients where it fitted well. I became really hooked when I saw the way the open source WordPress and its community can interact and the potential for knowledge management, which is a key part of my work and belief in Tech for Good.
Why and how did you start contributing to the WordPress community?
I had made smaller contributions to the project through communications and marketing hackathons over the years, but my first WordCamp in Brighton, UK, a few years ago changed my view. Volunteering on the welcome desk gave me an insight into how people can relate to each other at these types of events. I began to see the types of collaborations that can be fostered within the WordPress community for Tech for Good. I also saw a genuine commitment to support people with accessibility needs and those with learning disabilities. I wanted to help bridge some of the diversity and disability areas I work and advocate in with the generous and practical spirit of the WordPress community. Many of my talks at WordPress events are to raise diversity awareness and help provide an easier pathway for those who may not have a voice or struggle to have it heard through disability or the cultural barriers that still exist in accessing and using tech.
You’ve been on the organizing teams for a number of WordCamps (London 2019 and 2020, Europe 2019 and 2020, among others), WordPress Translation Days, communications, and IT conferences. Could you tell us, from your experience and perspective, what are the main differences between a local WordCamp and a global one and between WordCamps and any other IT conference?
Global WordCamps are particularly successful in enabling cross-cultural sharing and giving attendees an experience of a new place, customs and local treasures. This sharing cross-culturally helps us as a society and as individuals work with more people from different backgrounds to our own and can widen our thinking. We have the opportunity to meet with people with shared interests but from many different backgrounds.
Local WordCamps serve a more closely defined process of enabling regional or sub-regional links to be strengthened. Through the geographic focus, they can help foster initiatives and learning bringing together a shared understanding but also introducing this to others from further afield who may have a similar approach from their own cultures or needs. They can also provide a catalyst for meeting more regularly locally and enhancing the local WordPress offer as a platform and as a community. Topics can be drilled down and worked on in more detail than in the broader approach needed at global gatherings.
As with many things in the WordPress ecosphere, the main difference between this community and IT conferences in general stems from open source and a wish to work together collaboratively. This combined with the huge global reach makes it very special. We meet as equals to develop and learn more about the product we are actually making together each and every day.
When I attended WordCamp London 2019 as speaker, the organization of the event was impeccable and I was struck by how you cared for a sustainable WordCamp: no T-shirts were given out, everyone in attendance was given a canteen and a closed aluminum cup so that everyone could fill them up and drink whatever they wanted without wasting plastic or cardboard cups, etc. You were the Communications Lead at that event and I know you are an advocate of sustainability, particularly at events. What efforts and progress are being made in the WordPress community on this issue?
I am so glad you enjoyed WordCamp London. We had a focus on eco-sustainability throughout our planning and worked with other camps to make this happen. We were keen to incorporate it throughout the event, from sharing routes for more environmentally-friendly travel options to providing information on local cycling facilities to use during attendees’ stay in the city..
We have a group in the community of contributors wanting to work on sustainability documentation, marketing and ideas to help all WordCamps. I spoke about this at WordCamp Stuttgart at the end of 2019.
My parents have always been great recycling advocates, and I remember them sharing ideas to dozens of projects which they had used as normal practice in India and from their other travels. I have been carbon offsetting since I was at university and I love planting trees and projects that can help us play our part in reducing our environmental impact. Being eco-aware can be fun and there are so many ways we can make our events more interesting through awareness games and challenges too.
Link to some of the work contributors have been helping pull together on sustainability.
Abha, you are also the Communications Lead for WordPress Translation Day and its mini-events. It is amazing all the work that is done in the WordPress Polyglots team. How do you see the future of WordPress in terms of multilingualism?
Events like WordPress Translation Day and our two week long celebration in September and October this year all help to increase awareness of the importance of translation and having multi-languages. Through initiatives like this we build medium and longer-term support for recruiting and helping translators as well as developers in thinking and preparing their strings.
About 40 percent of WordPress installations are not in English. If ever we needed data to show the importance of translation, this is it. In the interviews and events we run, we hear how access to WordPress and to a website in someone’s own language is something very special and opens up opportunities for group or widespread publishing. It is part of our commitment to democratizing publishing, which is at the heart of WordPress.
I would love for even more WordCamps and Meetups to run contributor events and include translation sprints to share tips and welcome new people. We hope to have two months designated annually to support locales and meetups in promoting and running WordPress Translation sprints. It is a big commitment particularly the organization and marketing, and if anyone is interested in helping with this, let us know in the #marketing channel on Slack or you via @TranslateWP on Twitter.
We all know that WordPress is an open source platform, which means that the software is developed, maintained, and supported by groups of volunteers organized in teams. The Marketing Team you represent, is a bit special in the way it fits into an open source community. Why is this team so important and what’s its mission?
The Marketing Team is a great place to contribute to WordPress. We try and foster an inclusive and collaborative approach, which is open to all. We have the pleasure of working with the other wonderful Make WordPress Teams, highlighting what they are doing, helping new contributors finding teams or tasks to join, showcasing the platform and its community.
The team’s vision is to be the go to place for marketing and communications support within the project. We also do research, segmentation work, drafting posts and writing ‘People of WordPress’ and other articles for news. We promote diversity initiatives including the Diverse Speaker Workshops. You can check out the #WPDiversity on WordCamp channels on Twitter and Facebook and the #OnlineWPMeetup campaign on our Make WordPress Marketing Team LinkedIn Group. These are just some of the amazing activities we promote in the WordPress community. Help us spread the word.
Our weekly agenda is designed to help new contributors and those who are returning to contributing to find opportunities to get involved. We also encourage asynchronous contributions for those who can not attend our weekly global meetings on Wednesdays due to other commitments or timezones.
Earlier this year, Abha, you were awarded the international Chartered Institute of Public Relations Fellowship in recognition of your outstanding services to the profession and the industry. Congratulations on the award! Wow! You participate in a lot of IT events and groups (not just WordPress) in an altruistic way. But with so much variety in the work you do, (I actually feel guilty for taking up your time with this interview), how do you organize your time, and if I may ask, how do you plan your work?
I was lucky to have had the opportunity to be trained in administration and project management early on. I have kept these skills up-to-date and through my maintaining my Chartered Manager status. These have been my strongest foundations in my work and supported me in managing multiple projects, demands and interacting with a variety of teams. You can have the best ideas or product, but without working to take people with you and showing them clear pathways and planning, the ideas may never really make it out into the world or be sustained. This philosophy has been reinforced from observing good managers and leaders over time. I try to keep these aspects in my approach and in the professional training and mentoring I do for others. We are always learning from others and from working in a fast paced environment my whole career has helped me adapt and hopefully share my skills better with others too.
My professional work covers a broad area in terms of research, communications, technology-bridging and training. Through our work and partnerships, we aim to interlink these different aspects to get the best for the client and improve knowledge management in every project. This helps keep the focus on supporting and delivering, and also to keep time to help Tech for Good causes. Technology moves at such a pace and we feel it is a responsibility to help those who may be excluded, especially in newer tech and engagement which we have a speciality in as part of our research and communications work.
You can find me on @NonStopNewsUK on Twitter.
Abha, the year 2020 is becoming a very difficult year and all of us are not exempt from this complexity. What are the most important difficulties and challenges you’re facing right now?
It would have to be COVID. I have sadly lost many colleagues and friends across the globe through COVID and its consequences. All you can do is to try and help where you can and as a firm and through our wider network, we sponsor in resource and funds projects to help some of those affected at this time, particularly in health and social care.
Part of my work in the WordPress Marketing team is to encourage members to stay connected and understanding during this difficult time. I have come up with fun ideas to do this as it is important to keep the team together and support each other, like teams in a distributed company. For example, I started a global food trail with another contributor for sharing recipes to help those who were faced with the need to cook with limited access to ingredients and not feeling like eating due to the lockdown. I am hoping we can produce a recipe book of some sort to raise funds for charities like the Big Orange Heart and DonateWC. We already have informal video conferencing cooking sessions and I was challenged to cook 10 dishes from a particular vegetable which people then donated funds directly to the work Big Orange Heart does on wellbeing for remote workers. Sharing pictures and stories of our pets has also been a great success, as have online quizzes and scavenger hunts.
Now it’s time for our most-acclaimed question: sharing an epic fail of your past 😉 So please confess: where and how did you screw up?
In my late teens for one of my first work placement applications, I was so excited about working for a paper I respected that I couldn’t write the cover letter calmly and I misspelt the editor’s name. Out of horror and embarrassment, I compounded this by over-apologizing far too much at the interview and fear then took over my responses. The best learning I had from that and learning since is that a panic response and fear will not resolve anything, but better to take a breath and try and think calmly about the next steps. It was something reinforced in all the training I have had as a manager and leader, and also something I aim to put into practice with teams I manage or mentor.
I also don’t subscribe to the wholly negative definition of failure that is often put on people. Innovation needs failures to succeed and find solutions that work for more people. So my real epic fail will be when I stop trying to make a difference. My parents have instilled that into me and I know there will be many failures along the way but you can’t make things better from an issue on a project to changing culture to be more inclusive if we walk away from it or view things that don’t work in a negative or fearful way. You need a community to help you with that, and this brings us back to the WordPress community, all those trac tickets and feature requests are not about failure but constantly trying to improve what we have for even more people.
And finally, who else should we interview? Tell us what WProfessionals you would like to see in the next interviews and why.
Meher Bala (@meherbala)
She has been a great force in WordCamps and Meetups across India, is active in the WordPress Marketing Team and is always looking for ways to help new contributors and other developers.
Mark Smallman (@macgraphic)
He has helped dozens of new contributors, championed WordPress events and helped lead and bring his local communities together to improve access to technology and web-publishing.
Mark is one of our biggest advocates of subtitling and helping people overcome barriers.
Pascal Casier (@ePascalC)
One of the inspiring members of the WordPress community who helps others learn new skills through videos on WordPress.tv. Pascal collaborates with us in marketing on initiatives including promoting talks which help people use WordPress or join its community. Pascal and I are part of the WordPress Translation Day team and we have just completed a long celebration of the polyglots. You can read about the different mini-events on #WPTranslationDay website.
Thank you very much for your time, Abha, and many encouragements at these difficult times. It has really been a pleasure to have this interview with you, and I hope that our readers enjoy it too. See you next month!
Featured image: photo of Abha Thankor by NSBS.