About Jane Wells

User experience design for WordPress. Master gardener.

My Name Is Changing

My name is not really Jane. I started going by Jane instead of Jen in 2001 when I moved to Seattle and took a job at Microsoft. How did I wind up as Jane? Needed a nickname (the MS “alias” that ruled your existence) to deal with the namespace issues attendant on such common names as mine, and didn’t want to take the variations available, which mostly involved the nickname Jenny.*

When I started going by Jane, I gave up the name (cough) I had built in the IA community over the preceding couple of years (oh, sig-ia, those were the days!) and just started over. I felt like a fresh start anyway — I’m a sagittarius, we’re like that — so I didn’t sweat it much. I reconnected with some of the IA people under the new name, and lost track of the rest.

Jane was meant to be a temporary nickname, but then I moved to San Francisco in 2002, and when I announced I’d be going back to my real name, Courtney Scott and Lane Becker said (in the most enthusiastically friendly way possible) I looked like a Jane, not a Jenifer, and that they would not call me that. I didn’t really care much, so I kept going by Jane. Plus, since I’d lost my jenifer.net domain due to the evil ways of Network Solutions and had wound up moving to janeforshort.net (as I was using then), it saved the hassle of having to redo my site, deal with link issues, etc. And really, half the time when I said “Jen” people though I was saying “Jane” or “Jan” depending on accents/where they were from, so it didn’t seem to make much difference to me. It was all very go with the flow.

You know what doesn’t flow? Any kind of registration under a nickname when your ID doesn’t match. Pain in the ass! Especially in a post-9/11 USA.

What also doesn’t flow is a bearing a family name from a father that was abusive then absent, and whose family didn’t act in accordance with the title. I hate being a Wells, and have for most of my life.** So I’m changing my last name, even though my mother would much prefer me to wait until she’s dead. (I’m not being hyperbolic, she said it those exact words the other day at lunch: Can’t you wait until I’m dead?) Which is kind of funny, since it’s not like she kept that surname either.

First Name

Effective immediately I’m going back to being Jen. Jenifer if you’re feeling fancy or formal, but mostly just Jen so I don’t have to add “with one N” all the time.*** If you call me Jane, that’s fine. I’ll still answer to it, just like I’ve kept answering to Jen for the past decade with the people who knew me before the nickname took hold. Hell, I’ll still even answer to Niffer, the teenage nickname from my ADK days 20+ years ago.

Last Name

I’m changing my last name to Mylo, a contraction of the first and middle names of the maternal grandmother who mostly raised me (who also hated her family name, but got rid of it by taking my grandfather’s). This will take more time to get used to. Sorry. It’ll also take more time to be legal.

Online Identity

Oh, @janeforshort. You were always just a little too confusing. Is it for or 4? Yes, it’s been my online name for 10+ years. Whatever. Leaf on the wind, baby.

Screenshot of irc nick update

I’m switching everything I can over to @jenmylo. That’ll include irc, twitter, website (when I get around to it, but I did buy the domain), skype, and whatever other usernames I can easily change. Those I can’t, meh. Anyway, you might want to update your contacts for me in these apps if you ever want to see me online. All current email addresses will just forward to a new one, and at some point I’ll send out a note with a new address to everyone in my contacts.

I’ve had friends change their names before. I know it can be awkward. Unlike some of my friends, who were rabid about not letting anyone use the old names,**** I don’t really care. I won’t use them myself moving forward, but it’s fine if you do.

So, we’re good?

* Jenny was originally an English nickname for Jane, not Jennifer (mine is spelled with one N, but most have 2). Jennifer is a derivative of Guinevere/Gwynyfar. I discovered the origin of Jenny after reading “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman for an English class, and being really confused (and literature never confused me). If there were two extra women in the house, nothing made sense! Ah, but Jenny and Jane were in fact the same housekeeper, not two separate women. Once that was understood, the story made sense!

** Though I have always found it fascinating that my mother and father had surnames that meant the same thing: hers, Walsh, was Irish for Welsh, while his, Wells, was Scottish for Welsh. Neat!

*** I was born with two Ns. I dropped one in the 5th grade because there were too many Jennifers in my class. That’s the hazard of being given the single most popular first name of your decade. And we all had middle names of Marie or Lynn, too. People naming kids: don’t be so common!

**** “It’s ‘Andrew’ now, I don’t want to be called Andy anymore.” “If we were still sleeping together, I might care, but with 5 years of ‘Andy’ under my belt (so to speak) and infrequent communication in our future, I probably won’t remember.” “No, you have to.” “I don’t think you understand what ‘have to’ means.”

Changes

Today I turn 41. It’s also the end of my quasi-leave of absence, and on Monday I’ll be returning to full-time work at Automattic on the Dot Org Team. When I do so, it will be in a new role; I’m posting about it here so that all concerned will know what I’m doing, why, and that yes, it’s intentional.

For 4+ years, I was the UX/Design lead for core. At some point in the first year or so, I also started project managing the core team/core development. Then I started doing some community work, events, and general contributor community management. There were also other things here and there, like trademark for a while, being the team lead of the Dot Org Team at Automattic, and various design forays. You might remember that this was too much. I’m not ashamed to admit that I burned out, and needed a break.

It’s my birthday, so it’s a natural time to reflect on where I’ve come from, where I’m at, and where I’m going. When Matt convinced me to take the job at Automattic, one of the things that got me in was that he said I could work on programs to bring women and girls into the WordPress community, especially around programming. In that lunch on a San Francisco sidewalk, I laid out a vision including mentoring programs, school projects, summer camps, trips to the moon… okay, not trips to the moon, but just about everything under it. And then I never did any of those things because I didn’t prioritize it over my work on core.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think core is mega-important. Core *is* WordPress. Without it there would be no community. That said, core doesn’t need me to pour my life into it; my offering feedback, some sketching, and advice occasionally can be as much of a help as my doing research, creating wireframes, reviewing every trac ticket, and testing every ui patch.

In 3.5, I was meant to be on leave (aside from the summit planning), so I  answered some questions and gave some feedback early in the cycle to Dave/Helen/Chelsea/Koop, but otherwise stayed out of it. (P.S. Kudos to Nacin on the project management of 3.5!) My only real involvement was at the end of the community summit, when I spent several hours the last morning sitting with Koop going though the media uploader screen by screen, asking questions (“What about _____?” “What problem does that solve?”), sketching alternate approaches, and generally dumping every reaction and idea I had about it into Koop’s head before he left for the airport. Then I didn’t think about it again. From Skype a few weeks later:

Andrew Nacin 11/27/12 12:28 PM
feeling good about 3.5?

Jane Wells 11/27/12 12:31 PM
i wasn’t really involved with it aside from media morning with koop before he left tybee

Andrew Nacin 11/27/12 12:31 PM
that morning was huge. completely re-shaped a lot of our thinking.

That has me thinking that 4 hours here and there will do just fine instead of ALL THE HOURS.

So! Where does that leave me, if I don’t need to do core design or project management anymore? I keep going back to that sidewalk lunch and how exciting it was to talk about possibilities around using WordPress as a gateway for women, girls, low-income kids, and minorities of all stripes who are under-represented in our community to get into the web industry (see also #2 in this post).

My first week back at Automattic (starting Monday) I will be doing a week’s rotation on wordpress.com support with my team, but will then be jumping into a new role focused on our contributor community. It will involve a lot of projects, but one of the first will be aimed at increasing diversity in the contributor groups, starting with the gender gap. These efforts will all happen under the aegis of the new Community Outreach contributor group, so if you are interested in working on this with me (and Andrea Rennick, and Amy Hendrix, and Cátia Kitahara, etc), please join us! I’ve got a giant list of projects that I’d like us to tackle in the new year, and we’ll need people to help make things happen.

But what about core? And other stuff? I’m reserving Wednesdays to do design so I don’t get rusty. These “office hours” can be used by the core team to have me look at something, or by an Automattic team. Otherwise, I’ll use that day to work on designs to improve areas of the WordPress.org site to help with our goals, and/or tools to help us get things done.

So that’s the plan.

What do you think?

RIP Dave Brubeck

  • In junior high band, we played Linus and Lucy.
  • My high school band teacher was a jazz clarinetist, and he liked Dave Brubeck.
  • As a teenager I bought the CD of the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack.
  • My friends (from ADK Loj) and I bought tickets to see him play at St. Bernard’s Church in Saranac Lake in 1989. We were so excited. It turned out that most of the program was some high school choral group, and the appearance was a favor. Dave Brubeck accompanied the student singers to some of the worst warbling of church music ever before he played some of his own stuff. Still.
  • Jazzfest at SPAC.

 

 

Well Said, Elizabeth

A few months old. but extremely well said.

If we don’t stop bashing and abusing each other for not writing code the way we think it should be written, or for it not being perfect and polished, or for not responding to us in a way that we think we should be responded to, then we will effectively kill off Open Source. We will kill all the flowers we’ve worked so hard to grow. We will have nobody to blame but ourselves when there’s no one left to tend the gardens.

Elizabeth Naramore

Happy Birthday, @rboren

Ryan Boren has been my most constant coworker since I started working on WordPress four and a half years ago. As lead developer, he had to be my sounding board for everything, and he made me smarter without ever making me feel dumb. Thanks, Boren. There’s a vegan cocoa beach cake with your name on it when you get to the summit in a few weeks.

Collaboration: Walkman vs. iPod

I get this email every day with an excerpt of something interesting from delanceyplace.com. Usually I delete them without reading because however interesting it doesn’t seem worth the few minutes it would take that I would be stealing from something else that requires my time (story of my life). Today, though, I read the email, which was delanceyplace.com 10/5/12 – sony’s walkman vs. apple’s ipod. Give it a look. It’s an excerpt from a book on collaboration and shows how poor collaboration skills caused Sony to totally lose in a space they should have dominated.

I’ve been thinking a lot about WordPress on my leave (Yes, I know I started leave a month and a half late and am supposed to be thinking about other stuff. Shut up.), and a lot about perceptions of .org vs. .com, and about why there’s a “vs.” in that phrase in the first place. It’s not helping users of WordPress, and it’s not even helping those of us who make such a big deal about the differences. It’s just creating factions.* Going to try to get my thoughts on this in a more coherent format in time for the summit, so hopefully one of the topics we look at can be how to move forward collaboratively instead of competitively.

* – If I can work in any analogies with the factions from the Jane True series that Ryan, Andrea, and I all love, I totally will. If I lived in Jane True’s universe, I think I would turn into either a dolphin or a sea turtle. Halflings rule!

On Negativity, Part I

How many times a day do you encounter someone being rude, mean, aggressive, or telling you that you did something wrong because it wasn’t what they wanted? How often is that person you (acting that way toward someone else)? I deal with a lot of negativity in my job — with a community of tens of million users, thousands of professionals, and hundreds of contributors, there are always people who are dissatisfied. Now that I’m also running a cafe, it’s a dozen times worse (if you can imagine). Every day I encounter mostly wonderful people, and it sucks that even one negative encounter can throw off your whole day. Even worse, it sucks that being treated negatively can cause you to act in a similar manner, thus spreading the nastiness. I know I’ve been guilty of falling into this more than once.

Years ago (decades ago?) there was a Dykes To Watch Out For strip titled “Horizontal Hostility” that hit me like a bus and has never left me. Sadly I can’t find the strip online, but the basic plot was that each panel showed a different character in an interaction gone wrong. An old man yells at a kid for knocking over the trash cans (or something — it was 20 years ago, cut me some slack) in one panel. In the next, the kid throws a tantrum or breaks a window. In the next, the person on the receiving end of the kid’s hostility in turn gets snippy with a friend. Then the friend yells at… you get the picture. In the last panel, the hostility has gone full circle, and the old man is on the receiving end of someone’s else’s hostility, hostility that started with him.

There was a lot of meanness 20 years ago — it inspired that comic strip! But that was all in-person interactions. Today, it’s so much easier to be mean. People type things about other people on the internet that they would never say to your face, whether it’s on a forum, a blog, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, or any of a dozen other social media sites. But why? If they really feel that way, why don’t they have the guts to stand behind those feelings/opinions and say it to your face?

In some cases, people don’t have the opportunity to be mean in person, because they are geographically distant. This is often the case around sniping in the WordPress community. Meeting at a WordCamp and sharing a drink or two can usually resolve even the meanest snipefests. In person it’s a lot harder to lob fireballs at someone, because you can see the expression on their face when it hits, and you don’t feel clever or smart then, you feel mean. Most decent people do not like being mean when they realize they are hurting someone’s feelings. But what other outcome is there? That being mean will make someone feel good?

I think most people consider themselves to be decent people. And yet, there’s another social construct that reinforces the mean behavior, in that telling someone they’ve hurt your feelings is seen as weak and/or manipulative. Why has it evolved this way?

I had a roommate once upon a time who worked for United Cerebral Palsy. She came home every day upset because her client/patient had been mean to her. He was a dick! A dick with cerebral palsy, so she didn’t feel comfortable being mean back. One day when he bitched at her while she was helping him onto the bus, she replied, “You know, that really hurts my feelings. I’ll be upset for at least 2 days because of what you just said about me.” He shut up. I remember thinking (when she told me the story that night) that it was a bummer that she had to be manipulative to get him to be nice. A decade later I thought what a bummer it was that my reaction to someone expressing their feelings was that it was manipulative, when in reality it was honest, and kind of seriously brave, given the potential for retaliatory mocking. And you know what? The next day the guy went back to being a dick, and she told him every day that he was hurting her feelings. He didn’t care. He wasn’t a decent person.

I had an illustrative experience at a WordCamp with someone who’d said some nasty things about me (mostly on Twitter). I made sure to meet this person at the afterparty — in truth, I’d gone to this particular WC expressly to meet this person and see if we could work out a more constructive way to communicate when he didn’t like my/core decisions. We ordered a round of drinks and were being friendly when I took a deep breath and asked him why he was so mean to me. He tried to laugh it off, but I kept going, and said he’d hurt my feelings. I could tell by his face that he didn’t like hearing that, but he kept up the cheerful demeanor, said he was sorry if I took it that way but that he hadn’t actually been mean. Then I opened my laptop and showed him my browser, where I’d pulled up the meanest dozen or so tweets. I read them out loud. Immediately, I could see that this decent guy didn’t like/was embarrassed the words he’d posted. The next couple of minutes were awkward and uncomfortable as we had to face the things we’d said online, and how much we were or weren’t willing to stand behind them. We’re friends now. But if we hadn’t met in person, if we hadn’t had that awkward and uncomfortable experience of having to be honest about who we were and how we felt, could we have gotten past the online sniping to talk seriously about WordPress and the issues that were causing a problem in the first place?

I’ll say it again: Most decent people do not like being mean when they realize they are hurting someone’s feelings.

The next time you’re about to be snarky, or snipey, or just plain mean, think about that. Are you a non-decent person? Do you enjoy hurting people’s feelings? Do you want to have a negative effect on the person you attack for days to come? If the answer to these questions is no, then think before you tweet or post to facebook or leave a comment, and make sure your words and tone are the same ones you would use to the other person’s face. I’m going to try harder to make sure my words match my feelings. A smiley face after an insult doesn’t make things right. If you consider yourself a decent person, then be one.