Growing up, I’ve always been very creative and drew a lot, perhaps influenced by my dad who has exceptional drawing skills, but I never thought I’d become a designer.

In the early 2000s, I had an idea. I wanted a place where I could share my illustrations online. I wasn’t sure what to call it, but came up with the name “doghouse”, as a tribute to our family dog who passed away when I was in high school. This domain was taken, of course, so as an alternative, I called it “Dawghouse”, admittedly because I couldn’t think of any other name. I tinkered with Geocities, posted a few illustrations online, but not much came of it. College took over my life and not having the knowledge to take this idea further was a barrier I didn’t know how to overcome.

I fell in love by accident

I took up Computer Engineering in college, but wanting to draw was still an itch I needed to scratch. One day, my mom told me she found a school (outside of the university I was attending) that taught “animation.” Upon hearing this, I was ecstatic! The course package included HTML, animation, PERL Programming, etc. Little did I know that the animation they meant was actually the HTML tag! But as I attended the first couple weeks of class, I fell in love with it! I felt so empowered as I gradually learned how to fully customize my own site without the need of a template.

Design and tech are inseparable today.
Design From Anywhere at Automattic.

Starting out

During my last year at university in 2005, I wanted to purchase my own domain. I was born and raised in the Philippines and owning a credit card wasn’t commonplace at that time. Luckily, I found a tiny web hosting company where I could just make in-person payments so I purchased my own domain for the first time! Exciting! I posted ads on Craigslist, built sites at a very low cost (or for free) just to gain some experience.

craigslist

Between job application rejections, scouring for projects, and getting promises of payment but getting nothing in return, it’s tough when you’re starting out and have nothing under your belt! The future looked bleak for me, but I wasn’t giving up! Eventually, I found a job as a Junior Designer at a design and development agency. This allowed me to cut my teeth and helped me build my portfolio.

jan-cavan-shamrock-samurai

One of the very first sites I designed.

The year 2007 was when I first heard about WordPress. It seemed to be what everyone was talking about and a lot of my favorite design blogs were powered by it. Wanting to be one of the cool kids, I designed my first blog, typical of a list of posts and a sidebar. But being my not-so-patient self, I wanted to launch this as soon as possible so I rolled out my “pseudo-WordPress” site with a couple blog entries that linked to individual static HTML files! Pretty soon though, I managed to replace this with a real WordPress version with the help of an old co-worker.

dawghouse-jan-cavan

To stay true to what Dawghouse intentionally was for, I decided to write my first ever tutorial, a step-by-step guide on “How To Create A Web 2.0 Style Web Design in Photoshop”.

jan-cavan-first-tutorial

I didn’t really expect it to get a lot of traction, but to my surprise, it got picked up by Digg and ended up on its front page within a couple hours. The Digg Effect crashed my site and prompted me to upgrade my hosting plan immediately to increase my bandwidth.

The more you give, the more you’ll get back

In the next few years, I continued to write more tutorials. In addition, I created design resources such as icon and texture packs to give away with the Old Bottle Crown Set being the most popular. This led to many amazing things and opened up new opportunities for me — new projects, speaking engagements, and publication features.

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Speaking at the 2010 Future of Web Design Conference in New York City.

One I’m particularly proud of was when Web Designer Magazine featured the release of WordPress 3. I ended up on the same page as Matt!

web-designer-mag-jan-cavan-1web-designer-mag-jan-cavan-2

When a door closes, a window opens

In 2008, I had a job opportunity in Australia that didn’t quite pan out. It was frustrating and I had thoughts of just going freelance full-time, but I was too scared. In 2009, I decided that it was time. It was still a risky decision, but writing helped me get my name out there and gave me a pretty decent client base. In November of that year, I received an email from the founder of SendGrid who found my site through a design blog. I vaguely remember the details of our Skype conversation, but when I mentioned that I was located in the Philippines, he then asked, “Would you like to move to California?”

I don’t think I had anticipated this big a change in my life, but I was pretty excited for what’s to come! I started working for SendGrid from the Philippines as a contractor, also as I was waiting to get approval on my US Work Visa.

We’re hiring designers.
Design From Anywhere at Automattic.

The big move

In July 2011, I finally moved to the United States. I packed my iMac and my entire life in two suitcases. Expectedly, there were a lot of doubts and fears moving to a new country, but for the most part, a lot of things happened in a blur.

move-to-US

In 2014, I was actively looking for a new job and stumbled upon a post about Automattic in search of a UI Designer. I was pretty excited to apply, but I was also quite nervous at the same time. I don’t think I slept as I was going through the trial, but I made it through! I joined the company a couple months later. In that same year, I married my husband, whom I met at work, and we now have a beautiful and energetic little girl.

jan-cavan-olivia

Everything happens for a reason

It’s funny when you try to recollect and realize how things happen for a reason, how one thing leads to another. WordPress and blogging gave me a voice, a voice that reached a vast amount of audience which otherwise would not have been possible. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t started writing.

Posted by Jan Cavan Boulas

Jan is a designer and illustrator whose work has been featured in several publications online and offline. When not trying to help make the Web a better place, she can be found taking off on an impulse adventure, experimenting in the kitchen, or playing badminton.

112 Comments

  1. You are a very inspiring individual! WordPress has brought back something in me I didn’t even realize was missing, my voice.

  2. Really nice and inspiring ……
    Keep on sharing your experiences .

  3. Wow,i just started a blog and i was thinking of what next but now your writting gave me alot of insight.i think i can do it.thanks

  4. WordPress has indeed been a great blog space but I wish my page would be reviewed by users and liked
    Cause my space exists without traffic and it’s just saddening to see that

  5. That’s so fabulous ! I’m just beginning but I’m already conquered by this way! Wish you much success in your business! 🏆💪

    1. Yes, I’m the same situation.. Good luck! 🍀

  6. That’s a great story, I’m hoping something like that can happen for me as well. You have to make ripples if you ever want to make waves….or something lol

  7. Everything happens for a reason..well said

  8. Beautiful story! Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  9. This article is beautiful, I have recently started using WordPress but I must say that I am happy to have done so. With it you can give the best of yourself, learn to deepen certain themes, learn to organize better so that every day established in the week that particular article comes out.
    It seems impossible at the beginning, and even though I have not yet achieved high results for me this path is doing very well.

  10. Very inspiring and thanks for sharing.

  11. Thanks for sharing! Please check out my blog!

  12. Very inspiring! WordPress is giving me an opportunity to share my art, which has been great, and now to share this new idea I have for the holiday season that can have a huge positive impact on world hunger if it catches on. Which I am hoping it does!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hidlnk1NC10&t=18s If you like it, please share it with your readers!! Thank you. Rita

  13. This is an inspired story for beginners like me :)))

  14. Awesome story! Thank you for sharing. This is so inspirational .

  15. I am so inspired by your personal story! “Everything happens for a reason.”😊

  16. Simply inspiring. WordPress is really changing many lives, including mine.

  17. It’s a very inspiring story! As a designer I can relate to a lot of it especially self doubt and not knowing what the future is holding. Well maybe I’m more speaking about myself than what I just read. Glad everything worked out so great for you!

  18. Smashing ending! I adore writing and I’d love for it to take form as a profession but what with a-levels and mental health, i dont usually get much time. Thankyou, love, for reminding me of passions xx.

  19. Loved it.. especially the end… i am a sucker for happily ever after stories !!!

  20. Loved your moving story. Be great!!!

  21. I’m so inspired, knowing where you started and what you have become right now. I’m new here on wordpress and I’m still learning and need to learn more. Thank you for sharing xoxo

  22. Splendid stuff, you really did create your own destiny! I mean to personally pay for web hosting, is just amazing.

    I wonder, do you miss being freelance, and the (total) master of your own time and creativity?

    1. Thank you! I actually don’t 🙂 I’m able to have full creative freedom on these little side projects for my daughter and that’s okay 🙂

  23. First, I would congratulate you on your sucess.
    This blog post is very inspiring, am new to blogging but this kinda post gives alot of strengths,
    Good luck for your upcoming posts.
    It was really nice reading this blog

  24. Wow, this is amazing. It gives me hope!

  25. Thank you for sharing! Gives me hope to be successful with blogging as long as I stick to it! 😊

  26. This is really inspiring, Its amazing. I’m new in this, Blogging is completely new to me, just didn’t know where to start or with what. And what I just read really inspired me on continuing and not giving up. Thank you and my best wishes to you and your business 🙂

  27. So inspirational……..

  28. Wow amazing!Stay with my blog too dude

  29. What an amazing gift God has given you..

  30. Omg I feel the same way 💖

  31. Wow what an interesting story! I love hearing such stories. Social media has changed the game in so many ways. So glad you have kept at it! Very, very inspiring to a young 21 yo like myself✨

  32. Yeah you are true. Even wordpress started to change my life too. I started to create more posts on my blog everyday. Start to read mine.

  33. I am also working with wordpress

  34. My sister was more talented than me, but she encouraged me to paint, and to express my thoughts onto the canvas. She died of cancer at 46.

  35. I paint freely when I choose to paint. I think it is wonderful therapy for getting over someone’s death.

  36. I really learned a lot from this blog .
    And that was amazing ! I just started blogging and reading this makes me feel inspired 😊 thanks!

  37. Congratulations on your success and dream fulfillment! Your hard work and perseverance clearly paid off! What an encouragement it is that WordPress was so helpful to you on your journey!

    P.S. Our dogs have almost identical beds! Congratulations on your new family!

  38. Loved the story, and what a cool journey!

  39. Success is a decision…. and you made this

  40. I’m so proud of you and you inspire me to do better. Congratulations.

  41. Loved reading your story!

  42. Bhadrajith Prasanna December 16, 2017 at 5:04 am

    encouraging…

  43. nice and really inspiring…

  44. yes everything happens for a reason…… wordpress has given power to lot of people who are non technical to reach the world…… its amazing……

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