I’ve been using Joomla and participating in the community for a long while, but my involvement with the Joomla community went to an entirely new level in 2015. Joomla has been a never ending source of opportunities in my business and there is no question my life would be much different had I not discovered it. I could have never imagined a piece of software I started learning to make some extra money would have such a huge impact on my life. I can honestly say that 2015 was the best year of my life because of Joomla, but the road to get here was difficult. But without the struggles I faced along the way the success could have never happened.
I went to college for music and psychology. I got plenty of computer experience in college working as a music lab tech, but it was mostly music experience and I had very little experience in websites or coding. A career as a playing musician is difficult financially so I expanded into marketing and promotions. I started with websites the same way a lot of people do, making DreamWeaver table sites and doing designs for MySpace pages - back when those were things. I eventually learned how to do things the right way and the more I learned the more it seemed I had a knack for it. Much to my surprise, it quickly turned into a full time business outside of the music industry. It wasn’t long before I started looking for ways to let my clients to update their own content. After trying a few CMS options I stumbled across Joomla and it instantly made sense to me for some reason so I stuck with it.
I first started using Joomla 1.5 around 2007. The first Joomla site I ever built used the default 1.5 template called Milky Way, designed by Andy Miller. I found quickly that one can only use the same template for so long and I was getting too busy to make a custom design for every project, so I started looking at template club solutions. I immediately found a template club called Rocket Theme, owned by Andy Miller. I immediately loved the designs and the tons of options the templates had, plus I knew the templates were built by a Joomla professional. I had a lot of success with the combination of Joomla and Rocket Theme and started down the long road of building a website business.
Even though I had some websites under my belt, I was a rookie and Joomla was the only platform I knew. My experience was low and the market for what I did wasn’t always steady. So I kept learning as much as I could. My life was changing and money was more important than ever. My music career was pretty much over and I was engaged to be married. I started looking at jobs in my area and I was lucky to get a job at a WordPress firm that had a Joomla site or two on the roster. It was a bit over my head and I knew it, but my CSS skills helped me stick around for awhile. I dived into learning WP and PHP, both of which quickly became new passions. Along the way I got some real world experience with corporate web development. I gave it my best shot but I just couldn’t learn fast enough and I was let go. That's never fun but I walked away with some new skills that would end up opening some new doors.
The timing of this transition was a bit unfortunate. I had just gotten married and closed on a house just a few weeks before. Things at home got a bit shaky at that point and started going downhill. I knew I had a lot of new responsibilities to handle but I was determined to make it work so I continued freelancing and exploring new job options.
Early in 2010, I was actively looking for work. I was on the RT forum one day and saw they were hiring forum moderators. I had unsuccessfully applied before but I needed some steady work so I gave it another shot. This time my WP experience caught their attention, apparently I was the only applicant who had any. I was offered a position at RT as a WP forum moderator. This was a different direction than what I was thinking but I jumped at the chance.
Working at Rocket Theme was a dream come true. I loved the products and used them to build dozens of sites before I worked there and I was beyond excited for the opportunity. It wasn’t easy at first. My WP experience was limited and I hadn’t used many RT WP products at that point, so I dived in with both feet and worked twice as many hours as I needed to so I could get up to speed faster. I learned everything I could about WP & Joomla, and all the RT products on both platforms. I learned the art of technical troubleshooting which has served me well ever since. A few months after I started I was offered a part time position on the support team and I took it without a second thought. I started doing account and email support, testing, documentation, blogs, and anything else I could do. I got to learn template development from the best in the business and gained invaluable experience.
JWC 2012 San Jose
When I first saw the promo for the first Joomla World Conference I noticed Rocket Theme was a sponsor. I had never been to a large Joomla community event and I wanted to check it out. RT had an extra sponsor pass so I went to the first JWC as a RT sponsor representative. I met so many great people, many that I now call family, and I learned so much. That was a tough time in the Joomla community. With the 1.6 / 1.7 / 2.5 upgrade nightmares we lost a lot of users. After dealing with those frustrations every day on the RT forum and in my own business I was about ready to give up on it too. The JWC 2012 experience laid a lot of my concerns to rest and it refueled my passion for Joomla in a big way. I had no doubts about Joomla when I left and I couldn’t wait to share my passion.
I was fired up about Joomla, but tough times were waiting for me when I got back from the conference. Much to my surprise, my now ex-wife had used my trip as an opportunity to pack up and move out. When I got home from the airport, the house was all but cleaned out. Only a bed, a cat and my office remained. Nothing else. Things had been going downhill for awhile but I thought a short break might help and I was ready to do whatever I could to make it work when I got home. I guess she didn’t feel the same way. After that I had no choice but to start piling through a mountain of paperwork and start the process of putting my life back together.
It was the beginning of the most difficult and painful time of my life. In hindsight I can’t help but be struck by the timing - it happened during my first Joomla conference, also the first JWC. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it would set everything I’m doing now into motion.
The next few years were the toughest I ever faced in my life. Business was great and all the hard work I’d put into my business was paying off but I was a mess. I had an endless pile of paperwork and personal financial details to deal with. I was overworked, stressed out and emotionally devastated. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed and I was not a pleasant person to be around when I could. I was optimistic about the future, but the situation took a heavy toll on my life and my business.
I left my position at Rocket Theme a few months after that. My personal troubles definitely affected the quality of my support. I was overwhelmed with the mess my life had become and patience was in short supply. My business was booming, and without a doubt my position at RT had a lot to do with that success. It jump started my career and provided much of the expertise and experience that I rely on today. I have all the love and respect in the world for RocketTheme, it’s an amazing community all by itself and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to be there. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.
Trial By Fire
The next year and a half was brutal. As I went through the process of refinancing my house, I discovered an alarming number of problems with my tax returns and missing dollars that had been hidden away from me during my marriage. When I brought this up as the reason things were taking so long, the process took a very nasty and unnecessary turn. False accusations of the worst kind were filed against in court against me in an attempt to hide the truth and clean out my family bank account. I suddenly found myself fighting to keep my home and my business, as well as my sanity. The exact details aren’t important, I'll just say it doesn't get much nastier. I only wanted to move on with my life, but despite my best efforts to end the situation amicably it was beyond my control. I was falsely portrayed to be a horrible person for hours in a courtroom by a someone I once thought I would spend the rest of my life with. It was all lies and it hurt me on the deepest levels. I didn’t know how it would end but I knew I had the truth on my side and I found much faith in that. In the end, the judge saw it for what it was, but it took a year of my life and enormous legal fees to get there. It was by far the most emotionally devastating and frustrating experience of my entire life.
The Struggles Make Us Stronger
As painful as it was I would never change it. Through this difficult experience I truly found myself and my greatest strengths. I remembered that I am a good person. I do good things in this world and nothing anyone says or does can ever change that. I wanted so much to lash out in anger, to retaliate with lies and inflict pain on the people who were hurting me - but I didn’t. I learned how to stand up for myself and fight for what I know is right with dignity. I learned how to battle my demons without becoming one in the process. I stood by the truth, and even though it wasn’t always easy, I accepted which ever path the truth took me down would lead me right where I needed to go. And it did.
The JUG Life
Shortly after I got back from the JWC2012 I took over as the organizer of the Denver Joomla User Group, which had been in a bit of distress. About a year earlier we had lost our venue, then the organizer disappeared and took the long standing website offline and left us zero recovery options. We had not had any meetings for awhile, but some great people in our community teamed up with the Cable Center to hold meetings and get it going again. A few months later a new organizer was needed and I decided to take on the responsibility. I started rebuilding my local Joomla community as best I could, I just wanted to keep it alive.
I got the feeling right away that not everyone was excited about me taking over the group. I was having trouble getting volunteers for presentations, there were logistical issues, technical issues, scheduling issues, approval issues and more. The transition was rough but I knew the group was safe in my hands, regardless of what anyone thought about me. I put in a lot of work to keep the group going for the simple reason that it was important to me and to many others in our community. Our JUG had been talking about throwing JoomlaDay Denver for years, and we discussed it more, but it was all but a pipe dream considering how many challenges we had in front of us.
This was all happening during my divorce. It was obviously a very difficult time for me and as it went on things in the JUG weren’t getting any easier. There was a lot to be done, a lot I wanted to do and I didn’t feel like I had much help. Some meetings were good, some very bad, and there were always tricky attitudes and situations to deal with. I started to wonder if anyone cared about my efforts or if I was making any difference at all. No doubt it’s a feeling many JUG organizers face from time to time. Things weren’t going great and life was beating me down from all directions. All the things that I loved and cared for seemed to be the source of all my frustrations and pain. I started thinking about stepping down as organizer because I was overwhelmed and I didn’t know what else to do.
I almost gave up, but I didn’t.
The Cosmic Crossroads
All my personal drama wrapped up in the Fall of 2014 and I was beyond relieved to be done with it all. The JWC was coming up in Cancun but I was on the fence about going. I was exhausted and unsure about my future. I couldn’t help but think a vacation might be a good thing after all I had just been through and a trip to Cancun sounded pretty nice. I was at a crossroad in my life and I decided to leave it up to the universe. On the very last day of speaker submissions I threw together a rough idea for a presentation and I sent it in. I figured if I got selected I would have no choice but to go and I could hold off on deciding what to do with the JUG until I after got back. Maybe I would get another spark of inspiration at the JWC, or maybe it would point me in another direction. I felt if I was truly needed there that the universe would open the door for me. And it totally did.
A New Beginning
I was selected to do a presentation at the JWC and I had no choice but to head to Cancun, Mexico. Definitely not the worst news I had gotten that year. It was my first trip out of the USA so I had to rush to get a passport and make arrangements. I went out the week before the conference and pampered myself in a fancy beachside villa. I played golf every day. I walked on the beach, laid in the sun and swam in the crystal clear Caribbean Sea. I gorged myself on as much all-inclusive food and drinks as I could stuff into my face. It was much needed rest and recovery after a brutal year. When the weekend rolled around I headed over to the hotel for the JWC and the rest of my stay. It was truly the beginning of a new chapter in my life.
Right from the start there was good energy in the air. I was glad to put faces to the people I followed on social media, I met many new people and reconnected with some old friends. I was way too excited about my presentation and it ended up being about 10 hours of material jammed into 50 minutes. To say it was frantic is an understatement, but I was just excited to have an opportunity to share with the community. It was too much, but I learned how not to do a presentation and that experience was invaluable. The rest of the time I watched and learned. I saw the passion and the hard work that the Joomla community leaders put in. Being from the US, I never realized how important Joomla is to people around the world or how huge the global Joomla community really is. It was eye opening and inspiring. At one of the keynotes we were asked to think about what we could do for Joomla. I thought very hard about that question.
Full Moon Over Cancun
The dinner and dance party Saturday night was a blast and it was illuminated by the most beautiful full moon I had ever seen. After dinner, and a few too many shots of Tequila, I found myself stumbling down the beach alone with the full moon lighting the way. I was replaying the the insanity of the past few years in my head, trying to make sense what it all meant. The universe had brought me here but I had no idea where I was supposed to go next. I’ve always felt that I’m on this planet to do something important, but I still didn’t know what that was.
I sat in the sand and looked up at that giant beautiful moon for a very long time and it spoke to me. I realized I was finally free. All the troubles that had been holding me back were over. I asked the moon to point me in the right direction and light the way with inspiration. And it did.
Shortly after it hit me like a ton of bricks: JoomlaDay Denver. Turning that long standing community dream into a reality was my mission and it didn’t seem like a dream anymore. I realized that everything I needed had been there all along, it was just waiting for me to put the pieces together. At that moment I believed I could pull it off. That belief grew stronger as the week went on, and even stronger on the plane ride back to my freezing home in Colorado. I knew I could make it happen but I couldn’t do it alone and I would need my community to back me up.
Ask Not What Joomla Can Do For You...
Ask What You Can Do For Joomla.
For the first time in a long time I couldn’t wait to go to the next JUG meeting and share my inspiration, and my clever Joomla twist on a famous JFK quote. My local JUG embraced it. They said my passion was infectious and it inspired them to do more and they wanted to help in any way they could. It was music to my ears and it brought a tear to my eye. It’s the spirit I always wished our community had and here it was. I knew I couldn’t pull off a JoomlaDay without their help and I need them just as much as they need me. It was a long road and no one was sure where to start, but at that moment I knew we could do it.
I’m happy to announce that October 1st, 2016 is the date of the first JoomlaDay Denver. I was hoping for a 2015 date but putting together a plan ended up being much trickier than I had envisioned. I didn’t really know where to start and none of the ideas I had at first worked out. I do know that anything worth having is worth working for, so I kept working. My JUG members provided new ideas and everything worked out for the better as a result. The date was set in mid-2015 and it’s leading my local community down a new and brighter path for the good of the entire Joomla community.
Stepping Forward With A Purpose
The tide of my life truly turned for me in Cancun. It was an experience and a revelation that I will never forget. I was able to take a big step forward away from my past and I found proof that dreams can come true if you’re willing to believe in yourself and put in the work. Any thoughts I had about stepping away from Joomla were washed away like sand in the clear blue Caribbean Sea.
2015 Joomla World Tour
I met so many awesome people in Cancun and 2015 has been the year of my life as a result. Early in the year, I spoke at a JUG meeting in Tampa. Then I presented an all day template workshop at JoomlaDay Boston. In Boston, I reconnected with people from Cancun and made new friends that would I be seeing again sooner than I thought. I didn’t know it yet but it was all leading up to another huge adventure.
The JDAY Boston after party was the first time I had heard of the J & Beyond conference and it sounded pretty cool, everyone was talking about it. I had always dreamed of visiting Europe but going to Prague seemed like a pretty far out idea at the time. Shortly after I got home from Boston, I heard about the Joomla JET Program. I wasn’t sure how it worked or if I even had a chance, so I didn’t expect much when I filled out the application but I figured it was worth a shot. Once again, I thought if the universe needs me to be there then it will open the door. And once again, it did.
When I received notice that I got a JET Scholarship and I was going to JAB in the Czech Republic it blew me away. I couldn’t believe it was real. I was in tears and I was an emotional wreck for about a week. But this time it was tears of joy and happiness, something I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I never expected anything to be given to me out of the work I do with Joomla, it’s always about giving back for me. I never ask for anything in return for what I do, and it was a life changing gift that I’m forever grateful to have received.
The Bucket List Gets Shorter
After a lifetime of wondering if I would ever get to see Europe, I finally got my chance. Prague was beautiful. I got in some sight seeing, had a lot of fun in the evenings stomping through the city under another brilliant full moon. The conference was amazing, I didn’t sleep much and I soaked up every second of the experience. I got to hang out with the people that make Joomla and the extensions I use every day and I learned so much from them. I got to see what’s coming next and gained valuable insights into the future of our industry. I was so grateful for the experience I was in tears at the end. It felt like I was leaving my family behind even though I had just met most of them a few days before. I got on the plane to come home with a lifetime’s worth of inspiration. It definitely won’t be my last JAB and I met many people there I would see again soon.
Back in the States
Just like in Cancun and Boston, the people I spent time with in Prague would set the stage for the next adventures. My next stop was giving a presentation at JoomlaDay Minnesota at the Mall of America. That’s a ridiculously big mall and it’s the biggest JoomlaDay in America. The keynote speakers were incredible and the sponsors were awesome. It was another great weekend filled with wonderful people and experiences that would once again lead me to the next step in the journey.
Joomla 4 UX Team
While in Minnesota I was part of some interesting conversations. I heard some talk about plans for putting teams together for Joomla 4 and and it piqued my curiosity. I’m always looking for ways to make a positive impact in the Joomla community and being involved with Joomla 4 from the ground up seemed like a great chance to do that. When I got home I started sending emails and messages asking how I could get involved with the Joomla 4 teams. Each of the people I contacted were all people I had talked to in MN, and they led me other people I had met this year during my other travels, and it all led me to becoming part of the Joomla 4 User Experience team.
Once I got on the UX team I couldn’t get my ideas out fast enough and I cranked out notes and research like crazy. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m intense when I get excited and I’m really good at overloading people with information. That’s just how I am. I know not everyone understands my approach so I try to keep myself under control whenever possible, but it’s hard because I’m always excited when I talk about Joomla. My energy and passion were well received by the other UX team members which is not the usual reaction I get, and it was refreshing. I couldn’t wait to do more.
Turning the page on another chapter
I celebrated a milestone birthday at the end of the summer and I turned the page on a huge chapter of my life. I’m officially old now so I took a vacation to San Diego and drove to Las Vegas with some old friends to celebrate our birthdays which are around the same time. It was a much needed escape and I was ready to rock when I got home. I won’t share any details about this one other than it was another amazing full moon and we had a blast. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Joomla 4 Code Sprint : Athens Greece
In the weeks surrounding that trip, my involvement with the J4 UX team became very exciting. I started working with some concepts that were new to me but I realized that a lot of UX is what I’ve been doing for years. It was always my approach because it made sense to me, I just never called it UX. I still have many things to learn about the UX process but I had much success with initial market research. Using some simple tactics I pretty much just made up, I found some untapped community resources and got a crowd of new volunteers to participate. I collected and reviewed mountains of user stories and experiences and my efforts were noticed by community leaders.
The result of the work I was doing for the UX team came with another awesome adventure that I never saw coming. Once again, my mind was blown when I was offered the opportunity to be part of the Joomla 4 code sprint in Athens, Greece. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit for so many reasons, and to get to go there and contribute to the future of Joomla was unbelievably exciting. I went out a few days early so I could stomp around the beautiful city of Athens and gorge myself on Greek food. Which I did and it was awesome. The UX Team and Architecture team met up and we spent a weekend hashing out the future of Joomla 4. I shared my ideas which were well recieved. I made more new friends and got to know some people I looked up to a lot better. I was just glad to be a part of it.
JWC 2015 Bangalore India
My final stop in 2015 was the JWC in Bangalore, India. This time I had to open the door myself. It seemed like the universe was telling me to go, but nothing was working out. I missed the speaker submission deadline due to a mistake I made on my calendar, plus work and funds were spotty because of all the time I’d been away this year. There were visas, vaccinations, the logistics of traveling to the other side of the world, and the travel wasn’t necessarily cheap. It seemed like the universe was sitting this one out, but I made the decision to go because I felt it was important for me to be there.
Things seem to have a way of working out when I believe in myself. After I had booked my trip and committed to going, a presentation slot opened up due to a last minute cancellation and I ended up giving a great presentation at the JWC. Everything came full circle and I reconnected with many of the great people that helped make this story. The experience of the conference and the culture of India changed me for the better and gave me a much deeper perspective on my life. It was the adventure of a lifetime and many new doors were opened that will no doubt shape my future. The universe asked me to open the door myself, and I did.
The Future Has Yet To Be Written
What happens from here is still to be determined, but I do know 2016 will bring more travels. Maybe not as many as this year but definitely some international stops, I’m planning for JAB in Barcelona already. I will be hosting the Joomla community in my town for JDAY Denver, possibly more as well. My local community will continue to be a focus and my involvement with Joomla 4 will be a priority in my life for the foreseeable future. I can’t wait to see where Joomla takes me next, I have a feeling that this is just the beginning...
Why I am so passionate about Joomla? Why do time consuming volunteer work that doesn’t pay and often comes with little recognition or acknowledgement? When I consider the long story I’ve told here, the answer is crystal clear: Joomla has given me everything I have. Joomla provides a platform for my business and my finances. I’ve made a lot of money building websites with Joomla, and those websites have helped my clients make more money for their businesses and helped their clients. Without Joomla I wouldn’t have my house, my business, any resources, or any of the priceless memories and experiences I’ve gained along the way. I can never give back enough.
Above all, Joomla has given me a purpose. Joomla isn’t just a software platform, it’s a platform to help people all over the world. Through Joomla I can have a bigger impact and help more people than I could have ever imagined. Millions of people all around the world use Joomla every day, most of whom I will never meet or know, but my ideas and contributions help them. I can improve something for my own benefit and it helps countless others as a result. We can all make a big impact in our own small way through Joomla and that is an amazing thing. I can never contribute enough.
The Path Wasn't Always Clear
When I look at this story in hindsight it’s clear that each one of these experiences led me to the next. Had I not gone to Cancun, this story would be very short. Had I not gone to Boston it wouldn’t be much longer, and so on. Every step of this journey set up the next step and it took to me places I never dreamed of. I don’t know where it’s going to take me next but I have faith that it will take me exactly where I need to be. In the meantime, I’ll just keep believing in myself and my community because I know we do great things and we make this world a better place.
The Bottom Line
Maybe you figured it out, but this story is not just about Joomla, it’s about never giving up. It’s about believing in yourself even when no one else believes in you. It’s about faith & knowing that life doesn’t always work out the way we plan but it always takes us right where we need to be. The most difficult and challenging experiences we face can lead us to the most wonderful places we can imagine. Sometimes the path is clear and sometimes we have to dig down deep and make it happen. My experiences may not apply to everyone, but it never ceases to amaze me what can happen if we open our mind to the possibilities. It might surprise you too - if you let it.
I’m forever grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had with Joomla and in my life and all the amazing people along the way that helped me. The past decade of my life has been excruciatingly painful, unbelievably awesome, and everything in between. I’ve gone through a lot to be able to tell this story, but if one word I’ve shared here helps anyone else on their journey then it was more than worth it.
Life is a journey and it is not over yet. There is more to come, both good and bad. I welcome the challenges and successes ahead. More than anything, I hope this story provides inspiration to anyone who may need it.