In this series, we share some of the inspiring stories of how WordPress and its global network of contributors can change people’s lives for the better. This month we feature Leo Gopal, from South Africa, a back-end Developer and Customer Support agent on the encouragement and learning support the WordPress community can give.
Writing as a channel of expression
Curiosity, writing, and resilience are recurring themes in Leo’s story, and have mapped with his WordPress journey.
High school was a difficult time for Leo, as he had a speech impediment which only subsided when he was with close friends or family.
He began writing a journal as an avenue of expression and found every word arrived smoothly for him.
It all began with WordPress 1.2 ‘Mingus’
In 2004, Leo discovered the joy of blogging as a way of combining keeping a journal with ‘conversations’ he could have with those who commented on his blogs. The potential and power of blogs would be an influence in the rest of his life.
As Leo’s confidence grew through expressing himself in writing, he was determined that his stutter would ‘no longer hold power over him’. In 2005, with the encouragement of his blog readers, he spent his school summer break in his room working on reducing his stutter. WordPress would be the tool that would enable him to connect with his blog readers and to express his creativity and thoughts.
Making WordPress your own
In high school, Leo had opted for programming as one of his subjects. In 2008, he built his first website using WordPress for the students at the school. This was the first time he saw the real value of WordPress and open source.
During the following years, he increasingly spent time searching online for information on ‘Customising WordPress’ and ‘Making WordPress your own’.
Leo wanted to keep busy and as soon as he finished school, he applied for every entry-level web-related job that he could find. He was hired by a company for the role of webmaster for its Marketing team focused on WordPress.
He continued to grow his skills as a WordPress developer with the help of useful documentation that he could find and through his helpful local WordPress Community. This helped him earn a living and support his family.
Helping yourself through helping others in the community
In 2015, Leo moved full-time to Cape Town, South Africa, and started as a developer at a web development agency, eventually progressing to its Head of Development and managing a small team.
He chose WordPress as his main platform for development mainly because of the community behind it.
“Had it not been for those searches on how to make WordPress your own, my life would have turned out a lot differently.”
Leo felt he had a hurdle to overcome working in web sector. He didn’t feel like a ‘real developer’ being self-taught. However, through the community, he realized that there were many self-taught developers and he was not alone.
Alongside his development path, Leo faced a mental health journey. He had suffered from depression and found the community to be accepting and understanding of this.
At WordCamp Cape Town 2016, he stood in front of an audience and gave a talk: “The WordPress Community, Mental Wellness, and You”. Following this talk, he was greeted by many attendees who thanked him for talking so openly about mental health issues.
Leo speaking at a WordCamp Cape Town, 2016
Leo has been diagnosed with bipolar, previously known as manic depression. In 2017, he hit a low period and struggled to keep going. He found support and understanding in the community in WordPress.
He has openly written about his experiences with depression and started an initiative where topics of mental health and general wellbeing can be freely and non-judgmentally discussed.
He said that by helping others, he is helping himself, every day.
Contributing to WordPress
Leo has contributed to the community as a Co-organizer in South Africa for the 2016 and 2017 WordCamp Cape Town, WordPress Meetup Cape Town 2015 – 2016, and WordPress Durban 2017 – 2020. He has also spoken at a number of WordCamps.
Maintaining connections with people he had met through these events Leo felt was a great aid to his mental wellbeing during the Covid pandemic.
He has contributed to core and plugins and believes that WordPress and its community make it extremely easy to contribute.
“The cost to start contributing is extremely low – start now”.
When the ability to create and add patterns to the WordPress.org library came out in 2021, Leo used it almost immediately and created a call-to-action box which could be used by both his clients and the community. He plans to release a few more complex patterns.
Yes, we can.
Leo’s mantra is “I can do it!”
Leo speaking at a WordCamp Cape Town, 2019
Getting over a stutter, overcoming poverty, being urgently self-taught, growing up in a country with “load shedding” electricity outages, and one of the slowest rated internet speeds in the developing world, and strengthening mental wellness are not easy feats., And yet, he knows he can do it.
“Never, ever think you do not have the ‘right’ circumstances for success. Just keep going, progress over perfection – you can do it.”
As Leo puts it, the WordPress community doesn’t just power a percentage of the internet; it empowers too.
Share the stories
Help share these stories of open source contributors and continue to grow the community. Meet more WordPressers in the People of WordPress series.
Thanks to Nalini Thakor (@nalininonstopnewsuk), Larissa Murillo (@lmurillom), Meher Bala (@meher), Abha Thakor (@webcommsat), Chloe Bringmann (@cbringmann) for work on this feature, and to all the contributors who helped with specific areas and the series this last few months. Thank you too to Leo Gopal (@leogopal) for sharing her experiences.
This People of WordPress feature is inspired by an essay originally published on HeroPress.com, a community initiative created by Topher DeRosia. It highlights people in the WordPress community who have overcome barriers and whose stories might otherwise go unheard. #HeroPress