Guest Essay

A Rookie’s Reflection of WordCamp U.S. San Diego

WordCamp

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Over the last two years, I’ve attended two virtual WordCamps as an organizer and several virtual conferences. Several people would routinely say that these were nothing like an actual WordCamp. Attending in person is a much better and unique experience.

I imagined I would have that opportunity at a regional WordCamp one day. Still, I never entertained the thought of a U.S. WordCamp, as they are typically on the East Coast. Then I heard that WordCamp U.S. 2022 was going to be on the West Coast in San Diego, about a six-hour drive from my home, and I became very excited. It could happen!

The Prelude

I’ve spoken at a regional WordCamp at the last moment when a speaker had to back out and then at a WordPress Accessibility MeetUp and WordFest as a first-time speaker over the past two years. I thought I could continue inspiring people to start their Accessibility journeys at WordCamp U.S. 

Then I was told that first-time speakers are rarely selected at national WordCamps. Hmm. OK, there went that thought. It would be nice to attend as an attendee and experience my first national WordCamp without the extra work that comes along with speaking at an event.

I let fate decide and submitted my first speaker application about my journey as a WordPress and Accessibility rookie. I reserved a hotel room in hopes of finding a roommate and finances to attend.  A few weeks later I opened an email to discover that I was accepted as a reserve speaker. Wow! Did not expect that!

Two Weeks to WordCamp

Two weeks before WordCamp U.S, I could not afford the cost and was about to cancel my hotel reservation and attend virtually.

Then I remembered hearing about companies helping the “Underrepresented Speaker” attend for more diversity. Did I fit in that category? I read the qualifications and surprisingly discovered I did. The thought of having to ask for help deterred me again. I’ve always been able to afford things, but Covid changed that for many. Pushing pride aside, I decided to apply, and if it was meant to be, I would attend my first WordCamp.

My heart was touched by the number of companies willing to help people attend. Who to select? At that point, I was sure that all the funds had been distributed. I selected three. To my delight, Rob Howard of HDC Enterprises/MasterWP responded within five minutes. My jaw dropped! He sent the information, and tears filled my eyes as I saw his generous allotment to cover my expenses. The other two companies responded as well. 

I was going to WordCamp US!! I was going to WordCamp US!

Two days later and one week before WordCamp, I received confirmation that I would be speaking as Marieke van de Rakt had to unfortunately back out. No pressure. That Saturday, Joe Simpson Jr’s Santa Clarita WordPress Meetup provided a ton of support and encouragement, and my slides were finally finalized. It was all falling into place and was meant to be! But was it? 

Thursday – Day Before WordCamp

Packed, ready to go, and excited for my first trip in several years, I heard a loud pop on the way out of town. Thankfully it happened close to a freeway exit, and I didn’t lose control of the car. As I arrived at the gas station, crawling on a rim, one tire was completely flat. My first flat tire in ten years. Really???? Now??? My heart sank!

I called AAA and sat there in tears, waiting, thinking that all my hard work and excitement for my first WordCamp was for nothing. The sweetest AAA driver arrived as daylight turned to darkness and asked why I had tears. I said that I was going to a huge national conference, speaking for the first time, and was beyond excited, and now it looked like I could not go. 

He responded “but you don’t know that!” I replied that most spares are donuts, and there was no way I could drive six hours on a donut tire. He responded again, “You don’t know that!”

I anxiously waited for AAA to undo and unlock all the stuff to reach my spare. I was dreading having to email Kimberly Lipari (one of the organizers) to let them know I could not attend. I did not want to put the organizers in a bind. He finally opened the tire hatch. To my delight, brightly beaming at us was a big, beautiful brand new full-size tire!  

One huge thank you hockey hug, and I’d be off after a quick potty break. Nope. Somehow my phone fell into the toilet. I wanted to cry again! Quickly pulling it out and putting it under the hand dryer, it still worked. Yes! As I tried to charge it, the message came up that it was wet, and I had to pull the charger out to avoid further damaging the phone. 40% battery would never last the weekend. I quickly called the local Verizon store closing in 15 minutes, and they had a charging pad in stock. Phew. 

The drive to San Diego was uneventful, and thankfully had missed all the traffic. It could have been worse as the flat could have happened on the 395 with one lane in the middle of nowhere in the pitch dark. I was counting my blessings!

I was full of anticipation driving to San Diego, excited to meet many of the new friends I made online over the past two years and many of the names I saw online.

Friday – Day of Talk

Nothing is better after a long, late-night than a hot shower in the morning to ease tensions. Wrong! No hot water at the hotel. Cold water is a great way to wake up! I set up my laptop to practice my talk before game time – barely any internet, but it was a good hair day for an important day until I stepped outside – frizz ball!

Peering into the room I was to speak in looked humongous from the back. I cannot thank Kimberly Lipari enough for her support, calm demeanor, and pep talk outside the room before stepping onto the stage.  

Still nervous, I gave it my best. Though I forgot to say many things, Kimberly had stated not to worry about that, as no one will know what I forgot to say! It was unexpected how those countdown cards can make you more nervous. I could barely see the audience through the bright lights except for my friend and WordPress Coach Alicia St. Rose’s encouraging bright smile in the front row. It was the fastest 15 minutes of my life! 

Speaking in person is entirely different than recording a talk 40-plus times. At last, I could relax and enjoy the rest of WordCamp.

The Weekend

As a first-timer, I was a bit nervous that it would be clique-y since so many have been in the community for a long time. Not at all! The WordPress and Accessibility community were just as friendly, selfless, welcoming, and accommodating as online. They continued to share their knowledge, meeting you where you are and wanting to help you excel. It was the complete opposite of my previous career industries.  

The organizers did a fantastic job and were very helpful and happy. I agree that attending in person is a much better and unique experience, though grateful for the online alternative over the past two years! It was an honor to meet and dine with several Accessibility advocates. Including four Accessibility talks on the schedule demonstrates its importance. I’m thrilled that all the talks will be captioned when uploaded to WordPress.TV to rewatch. Contributor Day exemplified what Open Source is all about. People gathered around tables from around the world, working together for a common goal.  

WrapUp

My efforts and obstacles to attend WordCamp were detailed here to encourage you to never give up and stay positive (unlike me with the flat), no matter the circumstances. Look for the silver linings, don’t lose hope, doubt your doubts, and have faith in your faith. Though it seemed that the odds were against me, it was worth every obstacle overcome! 

My friend and mentor, Sumner Davenport, writes her special moments throughout the year on paper and drops them in a unique vase to review on New Year’s Eve. I now do this, and my bowl is full of many incredible moments, new friends, and opportunities from over the past two years, thanks to this community. 

Speaking at WordCamp U.S. was surreal and unbelievable. I am not a professional speaker or a developer, but I have never felt more encouraged or supported in my professional life than with the WordPress and Accessibility Community. As I type this last sentence, THANK YOU for this large smile on my face, with memories and hope to pay it forward at a future WordCamp!

P.S.

Looking to start your Accessibility Journey? The resources mentioned in my Lightning Talk: “A Rookie’s Reflection: It is Never too Late to Learn,” can be found at https://sa11ygurl.wordpress.com


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