Time for new challenges

Written by: Emanuel Blagonic

Published on: June 16, 2016

When I was a little kid I didn’t know what to be when I grow up. I thought of myself as a pilot, firemen or astronaut. Sometimes, I wanted to drive race cars or be the one who drives a super-fast train.

Don’t want to read the whole story? Skip to a “challenge me” part :)

When I got my first computer, and it was Commodore 16 (Google it if you think there’s only Commodore 64), I wanted to build something digital. I started playing around with a german handbook that explained the basics of programming (and I never studied German for that matter) and in there I found some example code that used built-in circuits to produce sound (one of my favorite, being a kid who grew up near the beach, was the sound of waves hitting the pebble beach).

But, I was never into programming. My creative brain couldn’t figure that out.

Later, in high school, I figured out that I like to be a creative mind. Being the kind of a curious person who likes to explore the world around it, I tried various things. Writing is one of those and at that high school period I wrote some satire pieces, and at one point I wrote a short piece inspired by Albert Camus book “The stranger”. I remember showing it to my Croatian literature teacher and she didn’t believe that I myself wrote that. It’s a funny memory.

In high school, I became hooked up to design and computers in general. Internet connections at 14,4k, designing first websites in Netscape Navigator Gold and learning HTML tags with books that I bought for myself with my summer earnings. I was proud and I was curious and I really believed that this is the future.

When I finished high school I worked as a journalist for a local television (I even had my own TV show, before I was 20), tried my luck with video production (where I worked on some music videos and commercials). So, I picked creative jobs and with journalism I picked a job that matter and that could change people lives.

Three years ago

Fast forward to 2012, it was the happiest year of my life. My then-wife and I found out that we will become parents. It was a risk pregnancy and we were scared (especially not being able to have a kid for a couple of years), but everything went out well when Luka was born.

In that year, I was celebrating the 10th anniversary of my professional career. In these 10 years, I worked for hundreds of clients, from small, family-owned companies to large international corporations. Lucijan (my brother) and I were in the narrow circle of people who worked on web standards in Croatia, we educated clients and showed them how the future could look like. Then responsive design came along and we advocated that as well, as one of the first people to do so in Croatia. I was also a strong advocate of WordPress and open source, wrote articles and talked on conferences about it. Life was good back then but trouble was just around the corner.

In 2013 I filed divorce papers. Luka was growing up and that was my only concern. Filing for divorce was just the first of the problems. Personal and mostly financial problems came next, then professional problems when we had to cut our expenses and let people go. I got back to freelance and my hourly price was getting higher every couple of months.

When problems started to POP up I had to make some difficult choices. Like, to reduce my speaking engagement and not going to start speaking in English. I also had a lot of other decisions to make like how can I be a good father to my son when I’m living 300 kilometers away.

I started writing a blog. I called it “Dad’s diary” and it quickly gained some popularity because there are not a lot of dad writers in Croatia. I didn’t care (and still don’t care about “being popular”). What I care is making this world a better place. For my son, for everyone’s children. The biggest takeaway of writing a blog is that people contact you and tell you when they had similar problems. They open. They talk. And since I don’t see a problem in sharing my personal feelings and learnings with others, I’m quite in a comfortable position to help others. That’s why I write that blog from time to time. The second reason is that writing helps me focus on real issues a divorced dad has to focus on.

And with this blog, I even got published in the mom’s section of the biggest Croatian online portal. <3

First WordCamp Europe

As for many, first WordCamp Europe was a life changer for me too. I 2013 I was already more than 7 years in WordPress world. I was the loudest advocate of it in Croatia and a lot of people referred to me when they wanted to point out a “WordPress guy”.

Lucijan, Zoran (my company partner) and I went to WordCamp Europe as we were running a WordPress agency back then. It was a tough journey, though since we had to make some difficult decisions on the future of our company (we closed it next year).

But what we learned about the community helped us to organize the first WordPress Coffee in Zagreb (this first Coffee was an informal event where around 40 people from all over Croatia came up, some of them had to stay for a night because driving back home was too risky, and a long journey). I personally asked some people I knew work with WordPress like Jurica Zuanović who was (and still is) the Editor of Croatian translation; and Goran Šerić (a passionate WordPress developer).

Croatia community started and around 20 meetups later we’re preparing our second WordCamp in Split.

Why is this part important? I loved WordPress for years but that was the first time that I really had the opportunity to give back. A lot. In 2014. we (as a community) organized 5 meetups, year after around 10 and so on. I served as the lead organizer of the first WordCamp Croatia (and probably the last since Foundation changed the rules for naming WordCamps). I took a couple of weeks off my job to organize everything (and Zoran helped a lot too). It was a blast.

WordPress really gave me a lot and that’s when I realized that working with people and building a community (from 0 to 2600/900/450+ members on Facebook/Meetup.com/Twitter) is something that makes me happy.

In that time, I also worked a lot with non-government organizations and we started talking with the city of Rijeka to build the first ever solution for cities and counties in Croatia, that will be open sourced to everyone, under GPL license.

Looking for a challenge… and ready for a change

For some months now I have been lacking new challenges. I challenged myself so I started applying to talk on different WordCamps (and 3 of 4 accepted my talk; thank you London, Nürnberg and Belgrade). This year I talked 6 times on How WordPress changed the face of Croatia politics (WordCamp London, UK; WordCamp Nürnberg, Germany; WordPress Meetup Ljubljana, Slovenia; Weblica Čakovec, Croatia; WordCamp Belgrade, Serbia; Open Source Days Zagreb, Croatia).

I challenged myself by giving my energy to the project we are working with Rijeka (and we’re close to ending now). Sometimes I ask myself why we do some things we do? And my answer is:

Because if we don’t do it then we have no right to ask others to do it for us. Because it is our job as designers to make the world a better place. And to make it a better place for our children.

But I’m ready for a new challenge. For some months now I have been declining new projects. For a year, I only took projects that I found interesting and challenging enough. Will I learn something new? Then I took it. Will this project benefit the public? Then I took it.

What kind of challenge I’m searching for? I don’t yet know. :)

I want to be able to speak to people and meet new people. I want to be able to go to conferences and share my experiences with others. I want to learn and learn and learn. Because that’s in my DNA. I want to be able to work on projects that can shape the future. And the perfect challenge would be if I can work with people and communities too. This makes me happy.

Most of all, I want to be able to be a good father to my son. I can do that by being happy and passionate about what I’m doing. Being happy and passionate is my biggest driving force and luckily – I still have that in me. <3

Have a challenge? Get in touch.

I’m not searching for a new job, but I’m searching for a new challenge. For years, I’ve been accepting projects not because of an insane amount of money but projects that were challenging to me or projects that could make an impact on the community (like the one we’re working with Rijeka).

Think you have something I might be interested? Great! But, before you get in touch please take 3 minutes to watch this video.

Did you experience butterflies in your stomach when you watched the video? Did you? And you have a challenge? Get in touch and let me know ;)

Have something to add to this story? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.