women.code(be) Member Spotlight #1

Veerle Verbert

Veerle Verbert

Freelance Web Developer

Specialised in WordPress & Front-end Development

Meet our very first spotlight member, Veerle! Veerle works as freelance web developer for Con Impeto, doing mostly custom WordPress and front-end development. She is also one of the co-organisers of WordPress Meetup Antwerp and WordCamp Antwerp.

You can find Veerle on Twitter as @veerleverbert

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

Hey, I’m Veerle and I once gave a talk about my learning journey, luckily not many people attended; the story was way too long. 😉

So long story short: I started working at the Open Universiteit (at the University of Antwerp) as soon as I graduated from college (communication/journalism degree) where I was the one ‘who knew about websites’. My working days were spent guiding students through their study, tinkering on the site and playing the helpdesk.

Eventually, I worked there for 11 years, but midway I started learning again: the browser wars were fought, the web was ready to grow up and I returned to my old hobby and dug into the web again, wanting to dive deeper than what I needed for my job.

I found it to be quite the challenge to tackle on my own: there were so many articles and tutorials, but I couldn’t find the right ones (I had no interest in the frontpage-only web, there should have been more, I just couldn’t see where). There were no official ‘web studies’ early 2000’s, but I found a course at Syntra with a great teacher who brought a pile of great books each week. I ordered a bag of books at amazon and got really started

What is your job and what does a typical workday look like for you?

I work as a web freelancer for Con Impeto for a living, doing mostly custom WordPress development and/or front end development.

A typical work day starts with coffee and ends with apero, organising days & weeks with a todo calendar on paper (always fun to cross out something with a big fat black marker!). I work full-time from my home office since 2012 and I like it. Werner, who’s both my husband and partner at Con Impeto, also works mostly from home. (part-time for KdG & part-time for me).

Apart from the beginning and the end of the day, there’s no specific routine. As a micro-agency, you do lots of different things: consulting, coding, maintenance & training, but also lots of project management and keeping the books in order. I also like my calendar to be more of a priority list, I want to be as flexible as possible whenever a client is in need — though I try to go off grid whenever I need to have a couple of consecutive coding days.

How about when you’re not working? Any hobbies or interests you’d like to tell us about?

I like the apero, it’s kind of a holy moment (even if it’s brief and there’s still work in the evening); pause everything and chat about whatever floats around. And my main hobby is hanging out with people I’d guess; at the bars around the corner, wandering through the zoo with friends, going to gigs, going out for good food, … Music is quite omnipresent, since I was 10 my parents dragged me to all kinds of festivals and concerts. At that time,  around 1990, I really was the only kid around.

Werner plays in bands himself (piano/synths), so in normal times, I’m playing roadie & Bob too, lingering at festivals, bars or even sneaking around on private parties where he plays. Actually, I did a lot of my initial studying during sound checks, printing out stuff or taking books from the Open Universiteit whenever I knew I couldn’t trust the internet at a certain cultural centre.

I’m not a big traveller (I pack 3 bags for 1 weekend…), but we do try to go to lots of conferences: WordCamps of course, but also Fronteers, JS/CSS Confs, Full Stack, PHPBenelux, Open web, … That brings us around Europe too, always fun to be out of office and indulge in whatever a conf can bring.

What or who got you initially interested in coding and/or pursuing a career in tech?

The myriad of possibilities when witnessing the early glimpses of the open web in the late 90’s. It was just magic, being able to actually find and access so much information, tear down walls and provide possibilities. I wanted to be a part of that world, it empowered me and I wanted to empower others by making that world more available to them.

Maybe that’s why I stayed so loyal to WordPress for so long already: openness, empowerment to all, to all kinds of creators and users. And why I dove into community things, to pay forward.

When did you first start using WordPress?

*thinks hard* I think it must’ve been somewhere around 2006 that I first started with WordPress, before that I had to use Joomla for one of the classes I was taking.

My teacher from back then thought Joomla was a good way to practice PHP. However he was convinced that there wasn’t much flexibility regarding front-end development in Joomla. I thought to myself that there had to be a way to adjust the templates and so I ended up customising the theme more than he held possible. At that time CMS’s were always labeled as pure PHP…

A while after that I ended up with WordPress and it was just super fun to work with. I was coming from front-end development and what appealed to me back then was its front-end, flexibility and ownership.

You just didn’t have to accept working with the HTML that was auto generated by the system.

How do you look back at the evolution WordPress and its community has made since then? What has left a mark?

I remember when they first introduced the option to make custom menus, custom post types and taxonomy in WordPress 3.0, a major release for content architecture which added tremendous flexibility to play around with.

Community-wise, the first WordCamp I attended in Utrecht, the Netherlands. At that time I doubted if I should really attend the event. I was working with WordPress, but I thought attending this event wasn’t for me, that I would be exposed as a fraud. So I ended up not attending.

A year later, I saw the event was being organised again and secretly I regretted not attending the first edition, due reading some articles and reviews of that first edition.

*laughs* So this time I pressured Werner to accompany me and that really kick started it. More people seemed to have similar problems or were using WordPress in a similar way, but slightly different, which often resulted in a way of helping each other out.

You also got to meet people who were working on WordPress’s core, like contributors, who in turn explained how it all works under the hood. I really enjoyed it! And I also think I needed to take in such experiences at that time.

Looking back today, there are people I’ve met during that edition of WordCamp and who are still close to me.

What are some of your favourite and least favourite WordPress features?

*laughs* Gutenberg* is both my favourite and least favourite WordPress feature. It’s definitely still a work in progress.
I think it was about time for a more powerful editor or even site builder, but at the same time I’m questioning some of the decisions they have made during the process so far. Like the fading line between design and content, but maybe I’m just old-school that way.

*Gutenberg is the replacement for the old WYSIWYG editor in WordPress. Instead of just editing text, Gutenberg is focused on editing with blocks, which also introduces a whole modular approach to pages and posts.

Do you have any favourite resources or projects you like to follow?

Too many, so my reading lists keep growing..

For WordPress the news sources are different people on twitter, our Belgian WP slack team & of course the WP Tavern (http://wptavern.com/). I once tried to list all resources in a blog post, got some help from our meetup group; so nearly all resources on https://wpbelgium.be/general/learning-resources-for-the-web-and-wordpress/.

Non-WP: Subscribed to Mozilla, Smashing Magazine, fronteers news (like their advent calendar recently) and a couple of newsletters from agencies like Clearleft. Honestly, there’s way too much, so I mostly try to keep my eyes & ears open whenever something interesting passes by or when conferences share their talks on video. Some non-WP podcasts in my queue: Syntax.fm, Nerdland & Tech45.

Are there any particular women in tech who have inspired you?

Jenny Wong (PHP/WP), for all her energy and persistence in getting out there & her community effort to help others get out and broaden their contexts. And for her character: bluntly honest, I like it.
Both Juliette Reinders Folmer and Rian Rietveld for both being that good in what they do, the perseverance they have and for always being themselves.

And lots of others: researchers, tinkerers, blogpost writers, conference speakers & tech girls/ladies I’ve met. But that list is quite long. 😉

How could the tech industry be more inclusive for women and minorities?

Make being kind and being honest a standard to strive for. For some reason it seems lots of women don’t thrive very well in competitive environments. Maybe we’re just too honest about our skills, what we know and what we know we don’t know. It can be a handicap, but should be a competitive advantage.

It would benefit all of us. It’s corny, I know. But hey, after +15y in web I finally get a nose for pretenders, no way so many people are such experts in a field so wide and ever changing. It’s OK not to know it all, it’s understandable, but it’s not OK to pretend otherwise and co-create a fake and territorial landscape. The web thrives on openness and sharing.

What made you join the women.code(be) meetups?

At first mostly curiosity, which was also one my biggest motivators to join other tech meetups.

So far I feel I have never been harassed on any of the other events I attended. Of course you hear about incidents that happened to other people, which makes me wonder: Are there certain dynamics in people’s behaviour that I’m overlooking? Or are there a lot of differences between communities and positions?

You are one of the co-organisers of WordPress Meetup Antwerp and WordCamp Antwerp, can you tell us a bit more about that?

In the beginning it was hard to meet fellow Belgian WordPressers, there were no meetups here at that time. Apparently, it took a Scottish guy who ended up in Brussels, coming from New York to kickstart the first WordPress meetups here in Belgium. A little while later me and Dave Loodts started with our WordPress meetup in Antwerp, this was somewhere in 2014.

In 2016 we organised our first WordCamp in Antwerp (WCANT) and since then we repeat the event every 2 years. This year (2020) there should’ve been another edition of WCANT, but we had to postpone due to the pandemic.

For me personally that first WordCamp I attended left such an impression that it motivated me to contribute in my own way. That’s what I want for other people and why I want to facilitate sharing similar experiences.

What motivates you to organise these community-driven events?

There are already so many great talks available online. For example, take WordPress.tv, I think it’s nearly impossible to watch everything they have in their archive.

So that’s not my main reason to organise meetups. It’s more about meeting new people and about being able to discuss things with fellow peers, to discover new things you may not have ended up with without the influence of others.

Is there a certain goal or vision you dream of reaching with WordCamp Antwerp?

I love that we can open up the event for a lot of different people and topics, who are all related to WordPress some way or the other. So many people with different backgrounds, skills and goals are working with or on WordPress. It’s hard for a Camp to cater everyone, but with WordCamp Antwerp we really wanted to go for it. And I do believe we had a schedule covering so many facets of working with and on WordPress and the web. Too bad Covid-19 came along… 

If we would limit ourselves, always host the same kind of people and topics, I think we would blind ourselves, which defeats the purpose of such a conference. I mean, I think one of the things is that at a conference you have the ability to look beyond your usual views, learn new things, …

But also, to be able to listen to someone talk about a language or a topic with so much enthusiasm, while you initially might’ve been avoiding the topic or wanting to walk away from it. And as a result becoming infected by that person’s enthusiasm, I can only see it as a good thing.

Stay true to your beliefs

If you look back on when you first started out. What advice would you give yourself?

Stay true to your beliefs, even if everyone says a different thing: you really don’t have to go along with every new trend and get down each rabbit hole.

Just be sure to follow the headlines as you go along, and dive in whenever you feel the urge. And if it’s a question of money: try to be as self-sustainable as early as possible, or maybe even have an exit plan, to keep the power to say no.

Time and energy are too valuable working in tech, it just goes too fast to waste them on poor projects or trend-demands that won’t last.

By Claudia

I was never good at writing bio's, but here goes:
Avid (board) gamer, always wondering if someone got the number of that donkey cart? On a more serious note: Community founder and Chief of Sprinkles here at women.code(be), often planning our next move. May or may not have experience in front-end development, UX design and product management...