Today, we won’t only hear one interesting story, as we usually do in our WordPress interviews, but we’ll have a chance to meet two beautiful people that will share their stories with us. It is my great pleasure to welcome a very special couple, Diane Wallace & Mik Scarlet. Diane is a freelance WordPress Theme and plugin developer. She designs and builds beautiful bespoke websites and themes for a living. She is in love with WordPress and huge contributor to WordPress community. Mik is a journalist and broadcaster, and he is running a small & successful access consultancy.
First of all thank you both for taking your time for the interview. Let’s get to know you better. Could you tell us a bit more about your background? What WordPress means to you?
Diane: Thank you for asking us :). I started in web development as a front-end developer. I’ve been working with WordPress for about 4 years now and I love it, both for developing with and because the end-user (or clients :)) love it too. I also love the WordPress community, one of the most welcoming, open and friendly communities I have ever been a part of.
Mik: For me WordPress has allowed the web to be something I actually use and changed my relationship with my online presence. Diane introduced me to WordPress when she was redesigning my website and I went from having a business card style site to one I shape. It allowed me to interact with my followers too. As well as being a fantastic way of opening up the web to a technophobe like me, I’ve met some wonderful people through the community, which is another element which was a revelation to me.
How did you start your career. Did you know exactly what you wanted to be when you grow up ;)?
Diane: Well, I wanted to be a ballet dancer when I was growing up, but I lacked discipline! I kind of accidentally fell into web development to be honest, but now I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else.
Mik: Ha ha. I wanted to be an astronaut, but ended up following another dream as a musician. While I was gigging all over Europe I was spotted by a TV producer and ended up becoming a TV presenter almost by mistake. This year I celebrate 28 years working in the media, both in front of the camera and as a journalist/columnist. Alongside the glamourous media world (not) I trained to work in the area of accessible and inclusive design. I now specialise in working in the retail, entertainment and hospitality industries, but through meeting people within the WordPress community I am branching out into helping make the web more accessible and inclusive.
As a freelancer I always find that my career is more like a ship on a stormy sea, and no matter how I think I’m in control I can suddenly find myself landing in a new land. So I make the best of every opportunity.
Diane can you tell us how you started coding and designing? Do you have some formal education related to coding or design?
Mik, when was the first time you heard of WordPress and how useful it is for you as a user? What do you think about WordPress community?
Mik: As I said, my relationship with WordPress is due to Diane. I had one of those boring old fashioned business card style websites, with a bio. a few photos and a contact page but I hired Diane to do a redesign. She’d just started working in WordPress and was singing it’s praises. She gave me to demo and it seemed such a wonderful way of allowing the user more control of their website. As a journalist I use work type programs all the time, so WordPress was dead easy to use. I admit I should be updating more than I have recently but I’ve been dead busy with work. But at least I have the chance to make my site mine, and in a way that is easy to do.
The community around WordPress is unlike anything I’ve experienced.
The media is a rather cut throat world, so even if we hang out at Networking events it’s much more hearing about opportunities to steal and bragging about how fantastic you’ve been doing recently than actually working together and supporting each other. Events like the meet ups and the atmosphere at them is like nothing I’ve cme across.
Diane, when and why you started contributing to WordPress, volunteering, organizing and speaking at WordCamps?
Diane: I was working from home and realised that I hadn’t left the house for 3 days! So I went to WordPress London to meet other developers.
There was a lot of encouragement to do a talk so I did. That’s the great thing about the WordPress community, there’s a lot of support and encouragement to do anything you want to do, or contribute in any way you can.
Then last year Jenny Wong asked if I would be one of the organisers for WordCamp London, looking after speakers. I thought that would be a really fun experience, which it was. It is actually one of the most rewarding things I have done.
Mik, you were an important part of the WordCamp London, thanks for the great accessibility panel. Could you tell us a bit more about a WordCamp experience?
Mik: I had a great time at WordCamp. I loved the atmosphere and attitude, and had a blast. I could never admit to understanding most of what the speakers were on about, but then I’m just a user. A lowly user.
What is great is how so many contributors in WordPress see accessibility as key goal.
I spend a lot of my work life banging on about how access and inclusion is vital to building a better and fairer world, sometimes to rooms less than enthusiastic about what I’m saying, but at WordCamp and within the wider WordPress community there’s a real desire to get it right and an understanding why it’s so important. I can’t wait for this year.
What do you think about WordCamps, how are WordCamps beneficial for the people? You gave a talk on WordCamp, how you decided to do it? Do you have a stage fright?
Diane: WordCamps are a wonderful way of building and nurturing the community. I think it’s because of WordCamps that WordPress is so international. I have so many friends and colleges all over the world and I have met many of them at WordCamps. I get stage fright every time I do a talk. In fact it’s so bad that before every talk I think “I’m never doing this again!” but every time I’ve talked the audience has been so encouraging and receptive (like they really want the talk to go well for your sake as well as theirs) that I actually love doing it.
I think the whole point of WordCamps is to share ideas and experiences and that’s why I do talks.
Why is WordPress the best CMS for the beginners? Is there anything you would like to see in the next WordPress release?
Diane: I think WordPress is fantastic for beginners, as it’s both simple and powerful. Most users can quickly publish content, but as they get more familiar with WordPress they can also customise their websites too.
Mik: If I can use it anyone can 😀
Diane: A new WordPress feature, that actually exists since 4.7, but that I’m really excited about is global custom post type templates. This is similar to custom page templates, but for posts.
If it’s not a secret, can you tell us a bit how your working day looks like? Do you have some tips on how to balance work and free time?
Diane: I try to start working as soon as I get up, I find that’s usually the most productive part of my day, then around 10-ish I’ll have breakfast, work for a couple of hours and then have a break; I might have a small lunch or snack, then carry on. I try to get another small break late in the afternoon, even if it’s just to grab a cup of tea. The reason I do this, is because I had really bad repetitive strain injury a couple of years ago and so I think that to be productive I have to be responsible and look after myself.
I now try to keep my weekends free, I used to work weekends and promise myself that I would take time off in the week, but never did. I find it easier to take time off when everyone else tends to be off too. I also try to go outside in the day, if I can. Even if it’s just to walk around the block.
I think work life balance is important if you want to be able to keep working, in the UK we’re really bad at recognizing that and tend to burn out.
Is there any special project that you are specially proud of? Can you share some of the projects that you are working on at the moment?
Diane: I’m very proud to be part of the WordCamp London Team.
I can’t give away too much detail about the project I’m currently working on, but it’s a WooCommerce project, with quite a bit of customisation. Maybe I’ll even add some global custom post type templates 😉
Being English, I find it difficult to say which of my work I’m most proud of! Hopefully by the time this is posted I will have updated my portfolio; dianewallace.co.uk I’d be very happy for people to have a look a let me know their thoughts.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Diane: For design, if I am lucky, the inspiration comes from the client. My favourite projects are ones where it’s a collaboration between myself and the client and we bounce ideas off each other.
For development that’s often easier; it’s more about problem solving, like a physics problem. You have your toolset and your personal knowledge of similar problems and you try to come up with an elegant solution.
What role does accessibility plays in your life? How can we learn and improve our services to be more accessible for disabled people?
Diane: I guess accessibility is very important in every area of my life because Mik is a wheelchair user and I see what poor accessibility can mean. It’s more than just frustrating, it can make you feel marginalised from society, it can be really damaging.
I think the best way to make sure your services are accessible is to engage with disabled people.
Ask them how you can make your services more accessible.
Mik, you have your own access consultancy & I know accessibility is part of your life, could you tell us a bit more about it? I urge our readers to read Mik life story here, very inspiring!
Mik: My consultancy is another time my career took a turn I was not expecting. I was a member of the London Access Forum, which advised the mayor on major projects to ensure they were accessible. Ken Livingstone wanted there to be more disabled professionals in a field mostly filled with non-disabled people, and so funded a training scheme which I took part in. Once I was qualified I began offering my services to businesses and have found the my clients like my honesty, passion about a subject that has a personal impact on my life, as well as my imagination and creativity around finding solutions that ensure access can be built into whatever project I’m working on. As a wheelchair user, and I started my life on wheels at the age of 15, physical access is kind of vital to me. I spend each day being barred from doing stuff most other people take as a given just because I cannot walk. Everything from going to the loo and buying a coffee through to flying on planes and even walking down the street, or wheeling in my case, can be made easy or hard just by whether or not access has been considered. While I work mostly in environmental design of the built domain, the same processes and considerations apply to the online world. Something most people don’t appreciate is that access for disabled people actually benefits all of society. If a building is accessible for me, it is also accessible to a family with a push chair. The same goes for the online world. I know loads of companies that are rolling out talk to text software across all of their IT as it makes for faster work flow, and so making a site accessible for people who use talk to text and screen reading software due to disability will mean that anyone who uses the software can easily access the site too. The goal is to end up with a world that is inclusive, ot just accessible.
Basically that’s what I do, try to build a world that means everyone has the chance to live as they want and experience everything there is on offer equally.
How hard was to choose what you want to do in your life? Did you have some other serious interests that could have became your daily job?
Mik: As I said I mostly haven’t chosen what I do, it’s chosen me. I’d still love to be a professional musician, or popstar really, but I think I’m getting a bit old now!
Diane: I guess there were a few possibilities (apart from Ballet :)) games development, I love Physics and studied that for a while, but I really love web development, I also love the people I have met in web development.
We are moving now little bit to your personal life, if you don’t mind ;). Today, a lot of people experience some kind of physical or mental health problems. If it’s not a secret, what have you learned from the unlucky events in your life & health problems that came as a result? Do you have some advice on how to better cope with them and how to stay positive?
Mik: I’ve lived with near death on a few occasions, from being born with cancer through to two spinal injuries and god knows how many other near missed, and they’ve all taught me that life is precious. Life should be enjoyed and wondered at, every chance seized and every minute treated as the amazing thing it is. Diane knows more than anyone I don’t always stay positive, but I do believe that if you don’t like something change it.
Life’s too short to put up with being unhappy.
Diane: I was badly scalded when I was a baby and I have scars the length of my right arm and thigh, a lot of people don’t even notice for a while and so it taught me not to worry about small (or even large) blemishes. This might sound superficial, but I know so many beautiful, wonderful people who worry about how others see them. My scars are also the reason why my husband first spoke to me, so it’s actually been a really positive thing in my life, so it’s taught me that wonderful things can come from what might seems like bad luck at first.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Mik: Free time? What’s that? It’s one of the most annoying things about being a freelancer, is you can never book free time as whenever you do a great job comes up and you find yourself torn between life and a healthy bank balance.
When I do grab some time I am a shopaholic, so I love a good shop. We’re actually moving to Margate in Kent at the minute with the goal of having more free time. If we really want to unwind we scoot off to Barcelona. That’s our relaxing happy place.
Diane: I love going for long walks and then stopping somewhere for a coffee and people watch for a while. That’s why we both love Barcelona, Mik can shop and I can sit outside coffee bars and watch the world go by. When we move to Margate I’m planning to spend a lot of time drinking coffee and looking at the sea 🙂
I also, this is a guilty secret, occasionally love to spend Sunday’s in my pajamas watching murder mystery drama boxsets. Stuff like Agatha Christie.
What are your plans for the future?
Mik: Take over the world. Cue evil laugh. No, I want to get back on to TV more often, want to get my access work to grow more and spend more time walking along the sea front enjoying the amazing Thanet skies. You, know what we all want. A successful career with more free time. Easy!
Diane: This year I mean to submit a theme for the WordPress repository. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I’d also like to see if there’s any interest in starting a WordPress Meetup in Thanet – so if anyone thinks that’s a great idea do get in touch 🙂
Finally, here’s your chance to freestyle:). Write anything you think could be interesting or useful to our readers.
Diane: Do something to keep yourself passionate about your work. For me it’s to try to keep learning, which is one of the wonderful things about web development, there’s always new stuff to learn. I think that making time to learn is what reminds me of why I fell in love with web development in the first place.
If you find that you’re no longer passionate about what you do, do something else. Life is too short to not enjoy what you do.