Show Notes

In this episode, Michelle talks with Chris Ford – two self-proclaimed “old broads” working in tech. They discuss what navigating a young person’s world looks like, and why they’re still relevant, in spite of what society may say.

AI Generated Transcript

[00:00:03] Speaker A: Welcome to the Underrepresented in tech podcast. Underrepresented in Tech is a free database built with the goal of helping people find new opportunities in WordPress and tech overall.

[00:00:18] Speaker B: Welcome to the next edition of underrepresented in tech. And today my guest is Chris Ford was a contract project manager. Now, Chris and I, Chris, you might recall this, the first time that you and I really met was Wordcamp, San Diego, 2018.

That was feels like forever ago. It was only six years, but it still feels like another lifetime ago because anything pre pandemic feels like another lifetime.

[00:00:44] Speaker C: 2020 lasted ten years. I am actually breaking out of my word Camp Orange County 2007 mug. So we’re in the word camp way back machine today.

[00:01:00] Speaker B: We are. I think you had done a lot of the design for that, too, which was super cool. There’s funny stories around that design, too. I remember that. We’ll maybe chat about that a little bit, but our topic today, and I had kind of reached out to a bunch of different people about what we’re going to do with underrepresented in tech post Allie being involved. And so I’ve got a bunch of guests over the next couple months, and then I do have a permanent co host coming, which is still very hush and quiet because we’re going to do a big announcement when that person comes on as my co host. But I am so grateful that you’re here today and you and I talked about being, how do I put this? We are not spring chickens.

I don’t know. If you tell your age, I’m 55. I’ll be 56 by the end of this year. Towards the end of this year, I.

[00:01:50] Speaker C: Should say I’m going to be 53.

[00:01:53] Speaker B: Yeah. So we are not what you would consider, what most people would consider, like techies. Right. So they think of people in their twenty s and thirty s and all that. And here we are sitting as old hens. I don’t know. If you’re not a spring chicken, what are you?

[00:02:11] Speaker C: I prefer lippy old broad.

[00:02:13] Speaker B: Oh, that your is your Twitter account still riot, ma’am?

Yes. I love that. So, I mean, it says so much about you, too.

[00:02:25] Speaker C: Well, when I first got on AOL, since I don’t need to say I’m dating myself, I just came right out front with that. Yeah, everyone had grr l like something grr l in their title. And I think I was design girl because I was going to design school at the time and I wore a lot of flannel and doc martens and listened to l seven and bikini kill and read a lot of zines.

And I realized inside, I don’t know if you feel this way, but I feel like I’m maybe 35 inside sometimes, like twelve, depends on the day.

[00:03:16] Speaker B: But yes, I agree with you on that.

[00:03:18] Speaker C: But at a certain point, it’s like, okay, this is who I am. I feel comfortable in my skin, and you keep learning and keep growing, but I still feel like at the core, I’m the same person I used to be.

And so I realized, like, well, at 52, I’m not much of a riot girl anymore.

And so my wife laughed when I told her that, and she said, no, you’re definitely a riot, ma’am.

[00:03:52] Speaker B: I love it. And I love her sense of humor. That’s awesome. And that you lean into it, that’s the best. I know there are a lot of people, a lot of women especially. I’m going to talk about women. We’re women. There’s a lot of women who are hesitant to say their age. And I think some of that comes from, like, when we were growing up. It’s like, you never ask a woman her age, right? Just something you didn’t disclose.

I own it. I’m proud of the fact that I’m doing what I’m doing at the age that I am. But there are still some women in WordPress and in tech who they’ll let you think that they’re as young as you want to think they are. And that’s okay. I’m not absolutely not faulting anyone for how they handle themselves and view themselves and want to be viewed in the community, but I lean into it and I think you do, too, which I think is pretty cool, actually.

[00:04:40] Speaker C: Well, I can’t remember how many years ago. It was like I had this signature dyed flame red hair where people would tell me, like, I always know where you are at a word camp because of your hair, which I’m sure you’ve never heard with purple hair.

[00:04:59] Speaker B: No, not at all.

[00:05:01] Speaker C: And then I started having to dye it more and more because more and more gray was coming in. And I just decided, like, I know it was pre pandemic, but I’m like, you know what? I have short hair. I’m just going to suck it up and go through the horrible growing it out phase where I used to say I looked like an australian shepherd because some was gray and some was brown, and it was just not a fun period of time. But I love that I went super silver gray.

Do you remember when younger people were dyeing their hair that gray collar?

[00:05:47] Speaker B: Yes.

[00:05:50] Speaker C: I do in a salon getting my hair cut. And someone in their early 30s was like, wow, where do you get your hair dyed? And I’m like, girl, this is just like hard living nature.

[00:06:10] Speaker B: My hair started to turn gray when I did my MBA program in my 29, 30 years old, and I equated it with stress and a lack of sleep. I know they say, like, oh, stress doesn’t make you gray, but I think that there’s, like, lack of sleep and things like that actually can because that’s what happened to me. But I don’t know.

Could be. It could be. But, yeah, I think it’s interesting, and I think we’ve talked on this show before. Ali and I have had a lot of conversations about women and feminism and just women in general in tech, but we haven’t talked at all about age in tech and how people are viewed. And, I mean, I don’t feel like I’m being put out to pasture yet, but I think that there are people who feel like, well, it’s somebody else’s turn or it’s time for somebody else, or I’m being pushed out because they want to make room for the next generation or that kind of thing. And I’m just curious, what do you think about those kinds of sentiments? And how do you feel about the people who say, oh, I should step aside, like, I should step aside? Or the people are like, step aside, lady. It’s time for somebody else kind of thing. So what do you think of that?

[00:07:18] Speaker C: Well, I think that one of the things that’s scary is there was a woman who was a tv anchor and let her hair go gray, and they fired her over it. Right? Like, there are legitimate reasons people want to know younger than they are, and that’s completely understandable. Right?

It’s scary. I saw this thing on Twitter one day that said the same people who want you to work until you’re 70 won’t hire you after you’re 50.

And so I can see why people will do what they need to do to stay employed. Like, it’s a scary place to be where you don’t know if maybe you should step aside or you feel like there is this kind of.

I don’t even know what to call it. There’s just this fear that people are going to be pushing you out without really admitting it’s because of your age. Like, you don’t really know why it’s happening. Maybe you’ve stopped being relevant or whatever.

And so I’ve definitely felt that on both sides of it, maybe we do need to make room on speaker rosters for new, more diverse voices, because age is diversity too. Like, you did that series. What’s it like to be a younger person in the WordPress space, and how do you break through?

A lot of kids with WordPress parents have been able to come into the crowd because they’re aware of it. But how do you make room for people who may not already be in those circles?

And at the same time, I don’t want to. I enjoy. I feel like one of the benefits of being an older person in tech is the experience you have. Right.

I started working on the Internet in 1997 when I was doing separations and design at a skateboard company, and their web dude quit.

And so you’ve seen the cycles, right? Like with AI, you’re like, yes, it’s interesting, but so is social media when it started, and look what happened to that. And it’s like cautionary tales and wisdom. And we’ve seen frameworks come and go and the rise of user experience and accessibility flash always comes up. And so you have that wide breadth of knowledge that you still want to share while balancing it out with, how do we make more room?

[00:11:00] Speaker B: Yeah, you talked earlier about the silver hair, the gray hair coming in, and it reminded me of the conversations about how men become silver foxes and distinguished as they get older and women become hags. I’m not calling us hags, but the public perception kind of thing. And I wonder sometimes you are not the old hag. I don’t think of myself as the old hag either. I don’t know that I’m distinguished or silver fox, purple fox, whatever.

[00:11:34] Speaker C: Silver fox. There you go.

[00:11:36] Speaker B: That’s good.

[00:11:39] Speaker C: Sparkly letters.

[00:11:41] Speaker B: My next hair color will be gray because when my hairstylist runs out of the purple, I’m going to stop dyeing it purple. It’s really hard to maintain, and all my pillowcases are purple, but that’s another story.

I am ready to lean into it myself. I just don’t know what color my hair really is anymore because I’ve been dyeing it since I was 30, so that’s going to be a fun experiment.

But I lucked out.

[00:12:04] Speaker C: My grandpa had this gorgeous, thick, silver hair until the day he died. And when it came in silver, I was like, oh, I hope I don’t lose it.

Genes were strong, and I can just keep my pompador until I’m 80.

[00:12:25] Speaker B: There you go. I love it.

I’m trying to figure out how to ask the question that makes sense.

I think that there is. Let me take a step back. Personal branding, I think, comes into play a lot. Right. I’m going to be doing a course on personal branding. I’ve applied to Wordcamp Europe to speak about personal branding. I’ve been thinking about it a lot because I kind of have grown up into the WordPress community. People know who I am a lot of the time. I don’t have an ego in that, but I do recognize it and I look back and think, how did that happen? Because it wasn’t intentional. Right? It just is kind of like every day I wake up and pinch myself. Like, is this really my life? Kind of thing? And I think part of it is because I’ve built this personal brand, but I’m also an anomaly, I think. So I am not tall, I am not thin, and I am not able bodied, right? So I’m a short, fat, disabled woman who rides around word camps on a scooter with purple hair. I am the anomaly. Not what marketing would tell you somebody would need to be to be successful. Do you think that that personal brand, that women especially have a better success if they have an opportunity to build that or recognize something within themselves that makes them? I think maybe authentic is the right word. I don’t know. I’m going to take those thoughts and make something of what I just said and have a reaction because I’m not saying it very well.

[00:13:58] Speaker C: For me, my personal brand is just being Chris Ford. Right. Like what you see at a word camp on stage, what you see on Twitter, what you see in real life, that’s always me.

Not so much in meetings with clients. I clean that up, but I’ll still say dude and awesome in a meeting, right? Because that’s me.

But I’ve always been super open about who I am and I dropped an f bomb in my very first ward camp talk ever, completely inadvertently.

And it’s just one of those things where I am who I am and you’re either going to like me or you aren’t. And to me, those are the best personal.

Like, do you know who Mike Montero is?

[00:15:01] Speaker B: The name sounds familiar.

[00:15:04] Speaker C: He owns a company with Erica hall called Mule Design. And his personal brand is just like he has a zine design as a job, I think, where it’s basically like, here’s how you need to actually succeed in business to not be a woo woo designer. And I mean, I was in a meeting with him one time and someone asked him for something and he just said no.

No explanation, no reason, no. It was just like, no and just is who he is everywhere.

And those are the people that, those are the people who I think have the personal brands that help them get ahead.

Because your network is people you like and people like to work with people they like, right?

That’s 70% of job satisfaction is working with people you like.

No one wants to work with a jerk.

[00:16:19] Speaker B: Do you think it’s easier for men to build that personal brand, though? Or do you think anybody has equal opportunity to do that as successfully?

[00:16:30] Speaker C: Let’s face it, men always have the edge. Right?

Just by being men in tech, they’re taken more seriously, and I don’t think they have to work as hard to build their brand. Like, when I think about people in WordPress, I think women have to be more intentional sometimes.

I’m sure that because I am unfiltered and just me that I’ve lost as many opportunities as I’ve been given.

I was having a conversation the other day about how sometimes in the past in meetings, I’ve been told that I’m too abrasive with people, right.

And it’s like, no, I’m just direct. Like, I didn’t. Thanks. Exclamation point, smiley face. You.

I just told you I need this. By this date, we’re behind schedule.

And so, yeah, maybe that’s one of the things you do have to change in a professional setting, is just constantly changing your tone to appear extra friendly.

[00:18:01] Speaker B: I had a conversation the other day where I said something in the same way that I think a man would have said it in that conversation. And as a result of that exchange, I was being called difficult.

[00:18:16] Speaker C: Oh, God, difficult is.

[00:18:18] Speaker B: Yeah. And I thought to myself, if a man had said those same things, that conversation would have gone much differently. But because of a woman, I was deemed difficult. And I thought, gosh, that is just so frustrating.

[00:18:33] Speaker C: Well, and the irony of being an older woman is you have a lot of that knowledge and you’re not afraid to talk about it. Right?

Like, you’re confident in what you know and so you’re willing to say you were willing to. Well, actually someone.

[00:18:54] Speaker B: Yeah.

[00:18:56] Speaker C: And as we all know, that sucks and is insulting.

And so I think that’s one of, some people would totally see that as an advantage where you’re willing to speak up. And a lot of people really don’t want to hear it, especially from an older woman. Like, just because you’ve done this a long time doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about. And it’s like, well, actually we do. Because like we said I’ve been through this cycle before. I’ve seen it blow up. And I’m just trying to warn you that the train’s going off the.

[00:19:36] Speaker B: Yeah, Ellie and I had an episode last year, I can’t remember which one, where I said to. Said, well, you know, if you want to get something done, make a white man think it was his idea. And I think that there’s still a lot, unfortunately, that that is still the case a lot of the time. And gosh, it just sucks. It sucks that we have to feel manipulative to accomplish, to create these alternate paths to get things done, to stroke egos, to have the right thing know, to have our ideas heard and that kind of thing. And yeah, it’s just super frustrating. I will say, I think in WordPress it’s not perfect. I know that I’m like little Sally’s sunshine in the WordPress community. Right. But it’s still difficult for women. But I think my path anyway has felt easier here than it has in places like when I worked in higher education and past lives, past careers, if you will.

But what are your thoughts on.

I don’t know if you’ve worked outside of WordPress, but working within the WordPress ecosystem. I know we’re talking tech on this podcast. It’s not just WordPress, but that is my primary community.

[00:20:50] Speaker C: I’ve been speaking at Word camps for twelve years, so I’ve probably been around WordPress for 15. Yeah, and before that I was a professional scrapbooker.

[00:21:02] Speaker B: Oh, that’s right, I forgot that about you. You did tell me that before.

[00:21:05] Speaker C: That was very non tech.

[00:21:08] Speaker B: Yes.

Do you think that women have a little bit of an easier time in WordPress than they might in other industries or in other tech communities?

[00:21:18] Speaker C: We’re definitely more visible. Like, there are a lot of us who are older, like Mary Baum and other people who really own their age. Like, are comfortable in their skin and their experience and are super visible and speak and represent that age group. Because again, diversity is the age too, including people from the 16 year olds who are just picking up word camp to the 60 year olds who used to use Kubrick.

[00:22:08] Speaker B: I never used Kubrick, but that’s another story, another day.

[00:22:12] Speaker C: My very first website was for a scrapbooking company called Pink Paisley. Okay. And it was the Kubrick theme with a flash header.

[00:22:25] Speaker B: That is going back away. Yes.

Well, before we wrap things up today, I want to ask you, what is your advice to other women of age in WordPress and tech? And what would your advice be to younger women who are trying to find their way in and work their way up to still be relevant in tech when they reach our age.

[00:22:50] Speaker C: For younger people, take advantage of the older people. One of my favorite things to do is when I just naturally make friends with someone younger and can talk about things like how do you negotiate salaries? Or how do you do these things that may be more difficult and kind of guide them. I do think WordPress is cool in relation to your last question, that it is really easy to make good friends across all ages.

I talk with Sophia Derosia on Twitter as much as I talk to people in my own age group, right? Like, it’s cool to have that wide range of friends, which just turns into that super casual. Like, hey, I have a question on Twitter, or you get a DM or an email and you can help walk people through that. So that’s my advice. Like, go to your local wordcamp, go to your local meetup.

I’m sure there’s some social platform out there now because everyone, I’m a diehard Twitter person, goes down in flames.

That’s where all my WordPress friends live. I can’t.

And that’s another great way to make friends. Like, 90% of the friends I’ve made on Twitter are through or met in WordPress are through Twitter. And I mean, maybe that’s good advice for the older women, too, because async conversations tend to overlook those age differences, right? When something’s text based, you’re not prejudging someone based on the color of their hair or their age or whether they’re young or old. And so for me, that’s a really great way to meet a wide variety of people and be intentional.

I know several years back I said, I don’t follow a lot of women of color, and I need to change that. I want to widen my understanding of the challenges that more marginalized groups are dealing with in tech in general and WordPress in particular. And so when you’re intentional about the people you follow and intentional about widening the opinions you’re exposed to, I think for both sides, that’s a really good way to stay relevant and become relevant, right? Because one of the things I love about tech is I’m always learning new things, right? Like, I don’t want to be that person who’s like, well, I’m 52, and I am who I am, and that’s set in stone, and I’m not changing because some people do that. And I’m like, no, I want to learn and progress and be open to new ideas and new opinions forever, like, until the day I die.

And so having that mindset as an older person and as a younger person, being exposed to that mindset and picking up new things, that would be my best advice.

[00:26:48] Speaker B: Yeah, I think that’s true. I think the other thing I would add to that is not to view other women as adversaries and not to view them as competition, because there’s strength in numbers. And if we all kind of bond together to affect a change, we’re more likely for that to be successful than if we’re cutting each other down to try to be the one or two women that are involved in certain things. So if you want to be a woman’s speaker, encourage other women to speak as well. Not like, oh, I’m going to be the only one. I want to be the only one considered because I want to be the token woman. Let’s not tokenize ourselves at all. Let’s really push for more of us to have that kind of influence and be included. So I think that really builds on what you just said, too.

[00:27:37] Speaker C: For Christmas, my niece had watched mean girls, okay. And wanted a burn book super badly. And I told her, in this family, we don’t burn women down, we lift them up. So I made her one that looked like a burn book, but it was a kind book, and it was a place for her to put pictures of her friends and write what she liked about them instead of terrible things.

[00:28:07] Speaker B: Yeah, I think that’s wonderful. I think we need more of that for sure. And I think you should all the.

[00:28:13] Speaker C: Wrong blossoms from that movie.

[00:28:17] Speaker B: Like, let’s watch it again with a different outlook on it.

[00:28:22] Speaker C: Regina George is not the hero of mean girls. Like, don’t aspire to be her, please.

[00:28:31] Speaker B: My favorite line from that is she doesn’t even go to our school anyway. Well, thank you so much for spending time with me today and talking through this. I think it’s important that we think about everybody as valuable. And just because, like I said, we ate big chickens doesn’t mean that we aren’t valuable. We have wisdom, yes, but we also have new ideas, and we are still able to start things and flourish and be part of things that are growing, not just things that are already sunsetting. So think of us as absolutely.

What’s the word? I want, like, resources for younger people. But also don’t discount the fact that we are as creative as we were and perhaps more so because we have a little more knowledge, a little and more experience to draw from when we are creating and getting things done. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today and really look forward to seeing you at future events, for sure.

[00:29:35] Speaker C: Thank you so much for having me. It’s always fun getting to sit down and talk to you.

[00:29:42] Speaker B: Likewise.

[00:29:43] Speaker C: And, yeah, we need to do it in person soon. Word campus.

[00:29:47] Speaker B: Let’s get tattoos. I have to tell you. So before I do let you, like, I saw you at word camp. I don’t remember. It was in Nashville, I think, and might have been. And you had just gotten a new tattoo of, I think, of one of your dogs.

And I already had one tattoo. It was on my foot. And two of the girls that I was with, the women. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I do that sometimes. Because we’re all girls, right? But two of the women that worked, the only other two women that worked at give at the same time said to me, we want to go get the give tattoo, the give logo tattooed, and we want you to come do it with us. And I was like, in, my gosh, I was either 50 or 51 at the time because this wasn’t that long ago, and I was, like, hymmed and hod and thought about it, and do I really want to do that? And then I was like, you know what? It’s only skin. You’re only here a finite. I mean, even if I have 40 more years, which, oh, God, please, I don’t want to be here when I’m in my 90s. But still, maybe. I don’t know.

It’s finite, right? Like, what does it matter? It’s ink. I don’t have more tattoos now. But at the time, I was like, let’s do it. And I bonded with those two younger women who are my daughter’s age, and we have the same tattoo, which was such a bonding experience for us all. And you kind of inspired me to think about the fact that I could create memories, and it’s almost like your body’s a scrapbook, right? Like, you can add these things that mean something to you that you see daily, and that can evoke such amazing, positive experiences. So thank you for that. I wanted to say that, but let’s get tattoos together at Wordcamp.

[00:31:18] Speaker C: Us this gotten. I got one before award camp San Diego. That’s when I got my lorem, Epsom, and then I got the one of my dog, Roscoe in St. Louis.

[00:31:33] Speaker B: St. Louis, okay.

[00:31:34] Speaker C: That’s where it was because there was an artist out there I liked. And then last year, I have always wanted a quarter sleeve and wordcamp DC 2020. Some friends of mine and I were all going to go and get cherry blossom tattoos, and so last year, I was like, you know what? I don’t care that I’m 51. I’m going to go and just start getting that quarter sleeve I’ve always wanted. So I got this giant cherry blossom, and then Cammy chaos came down for ward camp us in San Diego, and we went and got tattoos. I got a butterfly with a cherry blossom on it, and we both got semicolons on our wrist.

Know, people struggling with depression.

And so, yeah, I am super down. We’ll have to actually, Cammy can probably look up some Portland tattoo artists, and we can check them out and make an appointment.

[00:32:41] Speaker B: I got an ampersand. That’s my mental health tattoo. So my daughter has the semicolon as well. But we’ll have to do it. I want to get a bumblebee, so that’s going to be my last one, I think.

[00:32:52] Speaker C: But I want a cat.

[00:32:54] Speaker B: Let’s do it. Let’s do it in Portland. I love it. Well, thank you again for me. Looking forward to seeing you there, if not before. And thanks so much for sharing from your heart with us today. I appreciate you. Awesome.

[00:33:06] Speaker C: Thanks again.

[00:33:07] Speaker B: Yep. We’ll see everybody on the next episode of underrepresented in tech.

[00:33:12] Speaker A: If you’re interested in sponsoring an episode using our database or just want to say hi, go to See you next week.

Michelle Frechette

Michelle Frechette


Chris Ford

Chris Ford