Episode 143 – Machielle Thomas
Introducing Machielle Thomas Machielle is a mommy, a marketer, photographer, and a dreamer. She’s currently the senior brand manager for Bluehost, and most of her time is spent chasing her tiny terrorist, or finding the best tacos in her hometown of Austin, Texas. Show Notes Twitter | @machiellethomas Preferred Pronouns | She/Her Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 143. Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Machielle Thomas. Machielle is a mommy, a marketer, photographer, and a dreamer. She’s currently the senior brand manager for Bluehost, and most of her time is spent chasing her tiny terrorist, or finding the best tacos in her hometown of Austin, Texas. So glad to have you here. Thanks for joining us. Machielle: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. Liam: Machielle, it’s our pleasure. Thank you so much for spending time with us today. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself beyond what Tara shared? Machielle: Yeah. I always laugh when someone else says tiny terrorist because all of my friends finds it funny. My son is four and we live here in Austin. He’s a very rambunctious 4-year-old. He’s like the epitome of a little bitty terrorist. I call him my little ankle biter because I try all the time chasing him around and him jumping on me. I was born and raised in Austin, Texas, where I currently live. I currently work for the Bluehost brand. It’s been for a few years now that I’ve been there, been to a ton of WordCamps, and spoken at about six or seven of them, I think. Really missing them this year. It’s been a really, really hard year after going from 10 to 15 camps to none. But yeah, I’m just a daydreamer and I love writing, reading all things, all things on the internet really. Tara: Oh. How did you get started in WordPress or tech? WordPress, I guess, let’s start there. Machielle: I actually was a user. I used WordPress for a financial services company that I worked for about eight years ago. And I use it just to manage the blog. Then I started working as a contractor for a couple of marketing agencies in Austin as well. And I used it again to manage their blog and posting. That way I didn’t really understand or really had never even heard about the community behind WordPress, and the people behind it until I started with Bluehost. I started with Bluehost four months after my son was born. It was a really weird time for me, obviously. There’s a ton of hormones going on, and exhaustion from not sleeping. I kind of was like thrown into this world I didn’t really know anything about. I thought I was just going to be managing content and it turned out that I was also being invited to camps. I went to my first camp in Phoenix in October 2017, and they were like, “You should speak next time.” And I was like, “Wait, what? Me? Are you sure? I don’t know anything about WordPress. I’m not a developer. I’m not a designer.” And were like, “No, anybody can speak about anything.” That was the one year they had a really quick turnaround on their camps. They did October and then February the next year. And I came back in February and I did content for the modern world. And it was all about content in this new age of media and understanding your target audience and stuff like that and how it can really impact you. So from there, I’ve just been all over the world at camps. Last year was my first WordCamp Europe. That was my first time there last year in Berlin. It was awesome, amazing experience. But I’ve been to I guess – what? Four WordCamp US at this point. It’s been great. I love being a user. I love helping people learn it. It’s part of my job as well. So yeah, it’s great. Liam: I’m interested now that you’re that you’re working with Bluehost, they’re a provider of WordPress hosting and many other services, and given your senior brand manager role at Bluehost, are you actually in WordPress anymore? Are you higher up now that you don’t get to log in, you just review and write from further afield? Machielle: So I actually don’t really write that often. I do use WordPress still. A lot of my job it isn’t a newer role. I manage WordPress content, specifically for the most of the time that I’ve been at Bluehost. But I kind of think we’re at a point where we’re having to figure out how do we make products or services that are easier for people who are managing multiple WordPress sites, web professionals, and people in the WordPress space, and the community. We actually did come out with a new product recently called Maestro. It’s kind of like an all in one solution for web professionals. So the idea there was no matter who your clients are hosting with, you can kind of go in one place and manage all of them and kind of make your life a little bit easier in WP admin. So I write things about our products. I write content about our products or things that we’re coming out with. Mostly there’s like campaigns. I work with our content team still. I still manage content for the most part. We have writers there, but I also still use WordPress. I was in WordPress today a couple of times. I’m not that far removed yet, Liam. Liam: Well, I wasn’t sure if your team was like, “Oh, no, she’s getting into WordPress, make sure we hit the backup button before we let her in?” Machielle: No. I actually spent most of my time trying to write content for how to use WordPress for an everyday user. In WordCamp US 2019, I think, we brought our blueprint for beginners, which was the blueprint for beginner WordPress users. And that book was my first baby on teaching people who don’t build sites. So I do write about WordPress a lot, but I also use WordPress a lot, too. Liam: I believe you. I believe you. Machielle: I’m also a serial domainer. I have like 17 domains in. That’s why I was like, “This is actually really nice because I have a lot of domains, and going between all these different accounts can get really exhausting.” Tara: I think I’ve heard people having hundreds of domains. So 17 is not actually that many, right? Machielle: Thank you. I say the same thing. Tara: It makes you feel better. It’s not a lot. Machielle: Everyone makes fun of me. Tara: I finally just let one go this week, actually, because it was a $35 one and I thought, “I don’t really think I’m going to use that one.” Machielle: That’s fair. I’ve had a couple of those. Liam: You get an employee discount on domains. Machielle: No. Liam: Or it’s just the way that domains work? Is it all you pay as you go just like everyone else? Machielle: Yeah. I think legally, everyone has to pay for domains, which is why a lot of people don’t really have free domain offerings. It’s kind of like you get the hosting, but you pay for the domain. So yeah. Tara: Most domains are not that much. But yeah. Machielle: 12 bucks, then domain privacy… Tara: But they add up if you have a hundred of them. Machielle: I’m really trying to stop myself. I have a new idea day. It seems like they pop up and I’m like, “I got to buy the domain before somebody else get it.” Tara: I know. I do that too. Well, because it’s like, okay, $12. So, what’s the big deal? Machielle: Right. I do that too. Tara: Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. So what’s your background? I’m impressed that you went to a WordCamp…I mean, I met other people who have done this, but not in like a six-month period of time, where you went to a WordCamp, and then six months later you were talking to people about what you know, which there’s always a lot of imposter syndrome, especially I know, like the first time that you’re speaking in front of a crowd and acting like you know what you’re talking about. I’m sure you do, but you kind of wonder. So talk a little bit about that process and how you learned to be a writer and to be a marketing focus writer, and to talk about it. Machielle: I think, for me, it was actually pretty simple. From the time I was in middle school, high school, I always knew I wanted to be an author. I kind of took this journey of “you can’t make money writing” with family. “You can’t make money writing, you got to get a real job.” So I was like, “Okay, well, I’ll go to school for finance because I love money, talking about money and helping people organize money and things like that.” And I started it, and I was just like, “As much as I love this thing, this is not like my why.” So I switched and I went back to media study. So Mass Communications, and PR, and advertising was kind of my focus. I think I just always knew I wanted to write. I think the thing that I needed to understand is that anyone can write anything if they understand who they’re writing it to or for some. If you can identify who that person is, what their problem is, and how you can solve it, it makes it easy. So I think when I went to that first camp, I was watching people talk and I was like, “I could do this. This is something that scares me. I should run towards it. I should do it.” I’ve spoken before, but never at a place where I don’t know how many people may come. I don’t know how many people will be in this talk versus that talk. So it was really a lot of unknowns for me. My biggest fear, actually was the QA because I thought that everyone was going to ask me about something in WordPress that I didn’t know yet, or didn’t understand yet. And it didn’t happen that way at all. Everyone wanted to know about SEO, everyone wanted to know about, how can I start ranking? How do I figure out a target audience? What tools do I use? So after that, I was like, “This is actually really comfortable.” And then I started branching out from not just talking about writing or content, but I had to talk about finding in the right clients and how that can affect your business long term. I also sat on the women WordPress panel. So how to talk about setting yourself up to be paid properly really as a woman in tech. So I’ve kind of like allowed myself to spread my wings a little bit and say, “You know, I don’t have to just talk about the one thing. We all have multiple things that we understand that we can share with someone else.” Liam: There’s so much there. Something that you said really caught my attention. Wow, that scares me. I should run towards it. I love that. You’re amazing. Machielle: Thank you. Liam: I want to go back again a little bit to your introduction about photography. I have dabbled in photography, but it’s been years, and it was never beyond something fun, which is an end in and of itself. But tell us about your photography and how you got into it. What do you like to do? And what makes you happy in and about photography? Machielle: Yeah, thank you. This is actually a huge passion of mine. I don’t really talk about it enough, I don’t think. I started with photography when I was in high school. I learned in the darkroom. I didn’t understand digital or anything at the time. So I loved the idea of seeing nothing and then starting to see an image come out. Originally, when I decided to go to school, I was really torn between photojournalism and media studies or mass communication. So what that is, is a really big struggle for me, because I didn’t know that I wanted to work for a news station but I really liked the idea of storytelling. And I feel like images do that. And I just found a way to kind of use that in a new type of business. So basically, I am a wedding and portrait photographer. So I shoot weddings and I shoot senior photos for graduating students, and families irregularly. But I have a whole collection of things I’ve never shared. And those are the things that I love the most. It’s not people usually. It’s animals or nature, or a piece of tree bark that was just following the right way or things like that. So I really liked the idea of finding beauty and everything and just really understanding that everything has a story behind it. So like when I’m shooting someone’s wedding day, I try to find the storyline of it and use that for journalism that’s in my head to create their perfect album, if you will. So that’s kind of what I shoot and how I shoot. I try to stick to real colors. I don’t over edit. I like to really focus on what people actually look like on that day and really just capturing a part of themselves, making them laugh naturally, having them interact with each other naturally, and just capturing those moments. Tara: You have a lot of creative outlets it sounds like. It sounds like you have more business job now as you’ve moved up in Bluehost and some tech too. But you get to write and then you get this photographic outlet as well. Where does that come from, and where does that fit in? Have you always been a creative person? Is it the way that you were raised? Is it that you learned in school? Talk a little bit about creativity and what that means to you? Machielle: I definitely think it’s innate. I felt like it’s something I was born with. I wouldn’t say my family is super creative people. My sister is. She is really good was designing a home or flower arrangements. She’s really good at that, creating beautiful cards, homemade cards, and some of that. That’s not my style at all. I don’t do any of those things well. I think my biggest struggle was I was always creative. I always knew I was creative. But I think like most creative people, you question yourself and there’s a ton of imposter syndrome that comes from like, “This is not good enough. This is not my best work. And so I just won’t share it at all.” If I literally told you how many novels I’ve started and rip them up and started over because I’m like, “This is going to be terrible. It’s going to be the worst thing ever.” And I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve just gotten to a point where I’m like, “If it’s terrible, it’s practice work.” Like everything that I create is from a moment that I felt at that time. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s mine. It’s my moment to share or not share. I think that it gives me a lot of peace I think by seeing something come…especially things like photography and writing, to see like a storyline kind of unfold or an image kind of come out of nowhere. I try to be intentional about everything that I do everything that I write. Like what is its purpose? What is the value? That kind of thing. I do still get to be really creative actually at my job outside of writing. I do a lot of video directing and getting to know our customers and telling their stories, which is something that I really, really love to do. So I get to do it in a lot of different ways. I’m actually surprised I’m not in creative overdrive, where I just can’t create any more, because I’m doing it everywhere, for myself, at work, with my kid. You know, how do we make a new puzzle for you today? Whatever it is. Tara: I was going to ask you how being a mom fits in because you added that to your introduction. And I appreciate that a lot and chatting about your little boy and how that fits into your creativity. Certainly, it can inspire it, I’m sure. But also, at times, you’re probably exhausted. Machielle: Most of the time I’m exhausted. But you know what? I think when I had him, the thing that pushed more creativity forward was just seeing…and I think anybody who’s a parent or around children can see this. When you’re around kids, especially little kids, you start noticing how they notice everything in the world. And it’s such a big deal. And you’re like, “It’s just a cloud.” And then you start to really sit back and think like, “Wow, how about overlooks cars every day? How do I not notice that that tree does that thing?” I think he helped me to slow down a lot and to start taking in more things and appreciating the things that are miraculous to him. And like seeing that light in his eyes when he sees something new just kind of inspires me and it makes me realize that’s how people are. Even adults can feel like that when they see something new or they feel a new feeling, or they see you know, some video or some photo that really ignites something in them. And I think that that’s what I try to hold on to Tara: Yeah, yeah, thanks for sharing that. And thanks for talking about creativity. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I feel like I’ve gotten less creative over time, because I do it for work. So I think having that sort of as your side thing that you keep as part of your life is really important to do. When you turn your passion into your career, people say that’s a great thing to do. I think it’s hard to maintain the passion for the creativity when it comes to that. So yeah. Machielle: That’s why you have to have your own projects. If you’re only doing it for money, you’ll get burned out pretty easily I think. Liam: I think I’d agree with that. And this seems a good way to segue into a question about success. Machielle, I wonder if you can share with us your definition of success. And maybe that is a professional definition for you, maybe it’s personal, maybe for you it’s a mix of both. How do you define success, Machielle? Machielle: I’d say I felt like success is relative. I think where people’s values lie, that’s what they deem to be success. I think, for me, success looks like waking up every day and not feeling exhausted in the sense that I’m dreading doing the things that I have to do. I think success feels like peace. It feels a little bit like stress-relieving a little bit, if you will. I think success to me is like obviously there’s a financial part of it, where I can take care of my family, I can do the things that I need to do, but am I passionate about what I do? Do I understand my why? Do I understand why I’m doing the thing? And am I being able to be pushed forward constantly? Because I feel like we can become stagnant if we’re doing the same thing, if we’re surrounded around the same environment. But I really feel like if you can constantly be pushed forward and you’re not dreading doing the things that you need to do or want to do, then I feel like to me that’s peaceful. I would define that success for me. Liam: Yeah, I like that. Thank you for sharing that. Tara: Yeah. Liam: A question popped in my mind as you were talking was that sense of you shared…and I’m going to paraphrase very badly. But as long as I’m moving forward, as long as I’m feeling up for the challenge, as long as I’m waking up with energy to go about the day and meet the challenges, I’m successful. How do you discern between just you’re up late with your son, so you’re tired versus this is not success, this is not where I need to be? How does Machielle start to think about and address that? Machielle: I’m very big on your gut. Your gut tells you everything you need to know, whether you’re stressed, somebody makes you uncomfortable. My gut tells me everything. I think I am just really in tune with myself to say, “I’m clearly tired. I didn’t sleep. Well, this happened, XYZ happened.” I think it comes down to when I start…there are moments when you wake up and you feel exhausted. Maybe I didn’t say that the right way. But you’ll wake up and you’ll feel tired or exhausted or… Liam: Yeah, I know what you mean. Like you’re up late before you’re physically tired. But it’s emotional, and all that comes with it. Machielle: And to be honest, even when you love your job, or love what you do every day, whether it’s a job or not, you can still feel emotionally tired. Even if it’s not that you didn’t rest, there’s still emotional things that are happening within you that make you exhausted or whatever. I would say that for me, it comes down to like when I start doing the work, do I get the energy that pushes me? That’s also how I read people. I want to be around people that when I start talking to them, I feel renewed, and I feel more energy than I did before I started. And so I feel like work is the same way. When I start doing it, can I get into a groove and start feeling more comfortable with it? Or do I still feel like, “Man, it’s just too hard. I don’t want to do this today.” And there’s always days like that. But when the majority of your days are that way, I feel like that’s a sign that you’re not doing what you should be doing. Tara: I love your energy and your perspective on sort of moving forward and energy. I can sense that I get a lot of energy from you, too. So I’m glad you’re here to share that with us. How do you work with your local community, your local WordPress community? You’re in Texas, right? Machielle: I am. We’re in Austin, and there’s not a huge community here. We do have WP Engine here as well. So they’re really strong into it. I don’t know if either of you have met Devin Sears. Tara: Of course. Machielle: I thought so. I mean, I’ve seen both of you around as well, but…he’s our field marketing manager. He actually organized WordCamp Austin this year. Honestly, I think being here makes it harder. When I go to a camp, it’s easy for me to be super involved. But when I’m at home, it’s like family ties and all the things that you have to do at work. It gets really hard for me to do that. I’ve gone to a few meetups, but I haven’t really been able to really cement a place here. And I don’t think it’s anything to do with the people or anything like that. I think it’s just when you’re in your element sometimes you go through the motions, and you kind of…when I step out of that, and I go away to a camp, I don’t feel the guilt, like the mom guilt of being away from my child or not doing the things. “I need to clean my house. I didn’t do that tonight. I got to go home.” So I won’t say that I have a really strong tie here but I think they’re great. I think they’ve done great work here. I hate that we didn’t have a camp last year, but I’m glad that we were able to bring it back this year. Tara: Yeah. Is your job remote? I mean, maybe right now it is for sure. Machielle: Right now it’s remote. We do have an Austin office. That’s where our marketing team sits. But we’ve been home since the first week of March. And we don’t really have any plans to go back for at least another year. Tara: Wow, a year. Machielle: It’ll be a while. I think they’re trying to play it really safe, which we all appreciate. And there’s really not a need. We have six offices worldwide. We’re on calls with different offices everywhere. So really, I mean, you just go in the office to hop on a call with someone else. So it really worked for us. I think our productivity is still up to par if not better really. Tara: WordCamp Austin, was that the virtual one they had where they had the people playing music in the…? Machielle: Yeah, yeah. Tara: I got peeked into that one. Machielle: Yeah, it was the music. Tara: Yeah. Cool. Machielle: I mean, it only makes sense for Austin. Love music… Tara: That’s why it stood out to me. I don’t have the attention span for Zoom WordCamps. But that one intrigued me. So I did check it out. And that’s the one where they had like the rooms you could go in? Machielle: Yes. Yeah. Tara: That was very advanced. Machielle: Yeah, Zoom fatigue is real this year. It’s very real. Tara: Yeah, yeah. I mean, people are making the most of it for sure. Machielle: Absolutely. Liam: I want to get to the real heart of the matter here and kind of go back to what we started with. The best tacos in the hometown of Austin Texas. Tara: Yes, tacos. Liam: Calling you out on it, Machielle. What do you got for us? Machielle: Oh, man, I feel like everybody’s going to troll me for this if I say the wrong answer. It depends on what you’re eating. I like a place up the street for me for breakfast. And it’s called El Rincón. Liam: It doesn’t matter if it’s breakfast. Lunch, and dinner. All this is great. Machielle: Breakfast tacos are our thing. You got to love the breakfast tacos. Torchy’s is really popular here. So it’s taco deli but Torchy’s is like really, really popular in Austin. I love Torchy’s Trailer Park taco. So it’s like fried chicken with avocado and kaiso and lettuce and tomato. It’s a whole thing. It’s great. It’s amazing. So I will say I like Torchy’s for that kind of thing. But there’s also a lot of really small taco shops that are just…I don’t even know their names to be honest. Taco trucks that are just really good. Tara: Are you born and raised there? Machielle: I was. I’m one of like probably 20 left, and 19 of them are my family. Tara: You don’t have that in Texas accent. Is Austin agnostic on the accent? Machielle: Everyone tells me that. I feel like there’s an accent here but I guess I didn’t realize I didn’t have it. So I’ll take it. I’m international. No one knows where I’m from. Tara: Nice. Well, now we know where to go when we come to Austin for tacos. So thank you for that advice. Now, I’m going to ask you for some other advice. Machielle: Oh. Tara: We ask our guests to share with us some advice that they’ve received and implemented into their lives that they can then pass along to people who are listening. Machielle: Oh, that’s a good one. I’m going to say this is a hard one because I initially want to go for something that my grandmother or my mom or somebody told me, but I’m actually going to go with something that I actually did not talk to someone about. It’s something that I read before and it made me completely change the way I viewed myself. And it basically talks about, like, whenever an opportunity presents itself, there’s always going to be a cloud of uncertainty or fog of uncertainty with it. I kind of combine that with everything that’s beautiful or great is on the other side of fear. I think those two things and say that when something feels scary or uncertain, that’s usually when opportunity comes up. You can kind of rise to the occasion or you can back down from it. So a lot of times I walk myself into positions that I’m not qualified for. And I don’t mean necessarily in work, but I just mean in life. I try to find things that are bigger than me and I’m like, “I’ll go into it. I’ll just go into it.” Because if it’s not scary, if it’s not uncertain, then that means I’m probably just being too comfortable. I would say that that’s kind of the thing that’s always driven me to push myself forward. Liam: I like a lot of what you say, Machielle. Machielle: Thank you. Thank you. Liam: There’s something about that which is truly beautiful is on the other side of fear. I like that. I’m going to go towards things that scare me. I’m going to go towards things that are bigger than me. I like you. Thank you. This is wonderful. Machielle: I appreciate that. Thank you. Tara: Sure. Thank you. It’s good advice. It’s very hard to absorb that. I think that it’s very important. As a mom to raise your child to have that attitude as well is good. Because I think you can get overwhelmed with social media on how you don’t measure up. So that’s really good is to have the competence to go for things that aren’t comfortable. Thank you for sharing that. Machielle: Thank you. Liam: How do you head check yourself on that? Inevitably, when we try to take on something that is above where we are right now, we’re going to slip and fall at some point. Machielle: Absolutely. Liam: We stub our toe or slam our elbow into something. How do you deal with that? How do you cope with that? How do you figure out for you this is just a slip up versus oh, this is not the mountain I need to climb? Machielle: Right. Right. I think the biggest thing is to understand your capacity. There’s something about saying, “Obviously, I’m going to run towards things that scare me.” You can’t do everything, right? And I think that when you stop taking things personal, even failures, which I like to call practice rounds, you take your practice round, and it’s like, I could take this personal and say that I wasn’t good enough, this is not what I’m good at, or I should have done better. But if you really focus on, like, “I have the capacity…” If I really felt within myself that I have the capacity to do this, then I really just need to put in the work, put in the focus, put in the drive that I really need to be successful. And understanding when you need to ask for help. Whether that be a mentor, or even…I mean, I really feel like it’s really easy these days because you don’t have to have a personal mentor anymore. You can go on the internet and find 100 TED Talks that inspire you. You can call your mom and say, “Oh, tell me I’m beautiful. Tell me I’m great.” There’s so many ways for you to get that ego boost that you kind of need to push forward. But understanding your capacity and not taking things personal, even your practice rounds. Tara: What a great connection! I never thought about that that way before that as to take it personally. What a great thing to move on from failure and not beat yourself up for it and think that you can’t keep going. So yeah, thank you for sharing that. And speaking of keeping going, we can’t keep going because our time is up. Machielle: Ooh. Tara: It’s been wonderful to chat with you and to meet you. I’m so glad you joined us today. Where can people find you online? Machielle: I am most available on Twitter @MachielleThomas. My name is spelled a little more complicated than most. So it’s @MachielleThomas on Twitter. Tara: Great. Thank you. Thanks. Machielle: Thank you. Liam: Thanks, Machielle. What a pleasure getting to know you. Really appreciate your time today. Machielle: You as well. Thank you. Tara: Bye. Machielle: I can’t wait to see you guys in real life. Tara: I know. Liam: I know. I know. We’re going to come to WordCamp Austin and have tacos. Machielle: Do it. Tara: We can’t wait. We can’t wait. Machielle: We’re going to do a taco tour. Tara: Bye. Machielle: Bye everybody. Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com. Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves. 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