If you are trying to build out your first WordPress blog or website (even if you’re just thinking about it) than I highly recommend attending a WordCamp. Really, if you are working with WordPress in any capacity (designer or developer) I highly recommend attending a WordCamp. Actually, more than one. Once you go to one, you won’t be able to resist going to more. Many many more.


Attending my first WordCamp changed my life.  I was drawn, unexpectedly, to the coding/developer sessions. I didn’t understand their language but, I wanted to so bad. Because these people were talking about community, communication, and connection on a level I had never realized existed.


And I wanted to be part of that conversation.


I decided to leave behind what I thought was supposed to be my life’s career:  teaching Latin American history at local universities.  I couldn’t secure a tenure track job and had been teaching full-time as an adjunct for years.  I loved the teaching.  I hated living in poverty.  WordCamp woke up my new passion for coding and web development.


(And this is so not what I thought I’d do with my life.  But hey, I roll with it because coding makes me supremely happy.)


WordPress and Open Source

Why do I love WordPress?  Isn’t it just some software to build a website?  Well….

It’s the values of the core WordPress community that excites me so much.  WordPress is an Open Source project, which means that its free for you to use.   Support site WP Beginner says that “Open Source software comes with freedom for you to use, modify, build upon, and redistribute the software in any way you like.”  Being an Open Source project means that thousands of people from around the globe work together on creating and supporting it.


What I love about WordPress are the values placed on inclusivity, accessibility, and the democratization of publication.  Founder Matt Mullenweg says, “I am an optimist, and I believe that people are inherently good and that if you give everyone a voice and freedom of expression, the truth and the good will outweigh the bad.”  What WordPress delivers is the ability for people to freely create, connect, and share.”


How cool is that?


What to do at WordCamp US

Earlier this month the amazing nonprofit, Women Who Code, informed me that I’d won a free ticket to WordCamp-US in Philadelphia.  (Thank you #WWCODE!!!) Philadelphia hosted the second national WordCamp on December 3-5th and it was fun.   So. Much. Fun.  Here’s my point by point run down of what you need to do at WordCamp:


1.Get your supercool ID necklace

img_7365I woke up early Friday morning and walked to the convention center. When I walked in I immediately felt that geeked-out buzz of being among kindred spirits—those who loved everything WordPress, web design, and web development. I got my registration ID necklace.  I think I love wearing the ID necklace a little too much.

Once I checked in, and grabbed the first of many cups of coffee, I head to what I term “sponsor street.” In addition to the hundreds of volunteers, sponsors help make WordCamp affordable for everyone.  Believe it or not, $40 gets you into the conference for two days, with lunch, snacks, and an endless supply of coffee and hot tea provided.  For this national event, they even included an afterparty at the Natural Science Museum.  Did you have to pay for the museum?  Nope.  You got in free with your WordCamp ID.


2. Get that Swag

Now one of the reasons to attend the national conference is all the swag.  Swag is just code for aswag-1 bunch of really cool, usually free, stuff including t-shirts, coffee cups, pint glasses, sunglasses, little bound notebooks, stickers for my laptop, and this year, little lego figures.  I got to meet representatives from my hosting company SiteGround and tell them how happy I was with their services.  I also discovered a lot of really useful new products that would be really helpful for my work.


3. Get Thee to Thy Sessions – Seriously

I am serious when I say attend a lot of sessions.  This is where the magic happens.  This is where you hear about stuff that inspires you.  I went to almost every session. Here’s highlights from just a few:


Design for humans not robots — Tammie Lister


Tammie works at Automattic as a UX Designer within the theme team.  She warned us that a lot of interfaces encourage user frustration and that we should design and develop empathically.  We should allow the human beings using our sites to be their diverse and complex selves.  Respect should be central to everything we’re creating.  Basically, when we design for humans we should make an experience that helps facilitate connection and not stress.


Answers by Pippin — Pippin Williamson


Pippin Williamson is a WordPress Developer and is the founder and lead developer of Restrict Content Pro, Easy Digital Downloads, AffiliateWP and many more WordPress plugins.  Pippin answered questions about product development specifically.  I took away several good points about choosing your work and focus in this session:

  1. Scratch your own itch:  When building a product ask yourself what you need and then solve the problem.
  2. Practice “defensive coding” – to account for the unaccountable.
  3. Avoid shiny object syndrome:  just because a feature is cool doesn’t mean it’s necessary.
  4. Find a side project/passion:  working with projects long term can be draining or boring.  Side projects will help you keep going.
  5. Take a day off:  Life is better when you live it.
  6. Choose sleep:  This was such an important reminder because code and this field so much time just flies by.  (It is after midnight right now.) . Exhaustion makes you miserable.  Misery doesn’t beget creativity.

Internationalizing The New York Times — Scott Taylor

This session went way over my head.  But I still had that same “This stuff is so freakin cool” feeling.  Scott discussed how The New York Times used WordPress for several reasons:

  1. WordPress is bootstrapped w/i18n (I don’t know what that means.  Just being transparent there.)
  2. WordPress can use a multisite setup with each site having it’s own settings.
  3. WordPress allows you to control the front-end and back-end.

Scott then went on to tell us about the tools used right now by the Times for its multi-lingual site publications.  Composer, Mustache, Guzzle, Gulp, Pimple (really?  that name inspires one to use it?!), Sylex, and Symfony.  However, what I found particularly interesting was that this is all old news.


Scott said within the next two years the Times will be switching to node.js and JavaScript completely.  They are going to use Yarn, Flow, React, Redux, Immutable JS, Relay, Graph QL, Atom, and KYT.  Why is this cool?  I don’t know exactly, but since I’m in the Front-End JavaScript bootcamp at The Iron Yard – Charlotte, my guess is that I’m going to find out!!! I’ve already started looking these programs up….whoa!
BuddyPress as the Foundation for Training, Distance Learning and Support for Business and Government — Lisa Sabin-Wilson
This session helped me solve a problem.  Which is very cool.  I am the refugee advocacy coordinator for the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice.  We just finished an eight week advocacy education series and are moving into advocacy work.  Our members needed an online site to coordinate meetings, share news and events, and facilitate coordination.  I built out a site but it felt very static to me and not useful for interaction and organizing.

Lisa Sabin-Wilson is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at WebDevStudios.  She discussed BuddyPress, a social network software designed to allow users to  create profiles, have private conversations, make connections, as well as create and interact in groups.  It can be a private membership-only site.  There are so many possibilities for ways it can function.  I know that I’m going to have to design this forum site for my advocacy group!  I guess I found my side project—woo hoo!


4. Socialize (no really, just do it.)

img_7388I know this one is hard for people.  I’m naturally shy and approaching strangers is difficult.  However, when I went to WordCamp Asheville, I managed to strike up a conversation with a fellow WordPress beginner and we hit it off.  Guess what?  I found Rachel at WordCampUS 2016!  We had lunch, caught up on our career progress, geeked out on code conversation and made plans to meet up at another WordPress conference.

I also met Rich, a former student of The Iron Yard – Charleston cohort.  We had a lot of great conversation about our common good experiences with the school, the programs (I’m doing Javascript..he did Ruby), and the instructors.  He also made me feel tons better when he shared that almost all of his cohort found jobs.  Whew!  That’s always nice to hear.  Since a job is what I want and need.

There are tons of nice, like-minded folk at these conferences.  Go talk to them.


5. Contribute Contribute Contribute (make.wordpress.org)

WordPress is Open Source and that means everyday people need to get involved in making it img_7373successful.  The third day of the national conference is called Contributor’s Day and it is really really cool if you can help out.  There are many different areas to get involved:  Support, Community, Themes, Core, Documents, Plugins, Accessibility, Training, and Video to name a few.  They need people of all skill levels, so just cause you might be a newbie doesn’t mean you can’t help.   Scott Taylor says “If you there and you’re helping, then you’re important.”  We all have a role to play here.  And that role can evolve as your skills do!
(Just an FYI – I couldn’t attend contributor’s day.  I have a huge HTML/CSS assignment due Monday.  I had to leave after the State of the Word in order to code like a fiend on Sunday. I am, however, going to contact the people in Asheville and see how I can plugin/volunteer for the upcoming Asheville-WordCamp.)


State of the Word

This weekend ended on a really high note for me.  I got to watch the co-founder, Matt Mullenweg, discuss where WordPress is at and where it is going long-term.  There’s a good write-up of the main vision here. Why was I excited? For one, I realized that Matt’s vision of inclusion and accessibility for the future aligned nicely with my own activist desires to make the world a better place.


But I’m also tremendously exited because I realized that I am going to fit in nicely among the WordPress developer community!  Up to this point, I have been drawn to learning Javascript and wasn’t sure how that fit into my love for WordPress.  I had the two things somewhat compartmentalized.  However, in his “State of the Word” presentation Matt reiterated his desire for us (the WordPress community) to learn Javascript deeply.


There is so much transformation going on with the launching of the current interface Calypso, which runs off node.js and JavaScript.  He needs more javascript integration of the plethora of plugins in order to bring satisfaction to people around the globe.  And, he needs javascript to develop an easily accessible UI editor, which brings happiness to all users working with WordPress.


So, I am going to learn Javascript deeply.  I’ve heard the call.  I’m going to work really hard to build up my coding chops.  Why?  To support a new mission near and dear to my heart – helping WordPress straddle these problems and evolve to new stages of connection and inclusion!


I want to conclude by saying that I am really appreciative of the fact that Matt closed out his State of the Word by connecting us to our hearts.  He wants us to remember that life, design and code is poetry.  We have to operate and create from our heart-space.  He closed the State of the Word with the reading of Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, “Praise Song for the Day.”


Treat yourself by reading it.  Then step out bravely and joyfully into this world. Create. Contribute.   The world needs heart-centered folk like us right now.


** I am grateful to Women Who Code who gave me the free ticket to WordCamp US 2016.  I’m also grateful to my teacher at The Iron Yard-Charlotte, Luke Segars, who told me this would be a great opportunity and let me miss a full day of class in order to attend.  You all rock! ***