On June 25, I headed to Montclair State University to attend my first WordCamp. Not only was this my first time attending a WordCamp, but this was also the first WordCamp in America since the pandemic shut down in-person events.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect; I wasn’t sure if it would be one of those boring, stuffy, everyone-is-overly-important events or if it would be laid back.
OK, maybe I should share a little bit about myself to help you better understand my perspective. Prior to working in the tech industry, I spent time working in another industry where networking events were the norm.
I never liked going to these events since most of the time the interactions were very surface-level. People spent more time trying to find the who’s who of the event. The deciding factor on engagement was based on what you were wearing and if you had on the right watch.
While I’m sure many people like myself were there to make real connections, it rarely felt like it. I often found myself making the most profound connections with the people working the event, such as Bloggers, Promoters, and DJs.
Now that I have shared a little bit of my personal experience, let me set your focus back to June 25. When I first walked through the door I was greeted with a nice friendly welcome. I got my pass, a WC Montclair Tee, and was given directions to the auditorium.
Instead of heading directly to the auditorium, I stepped back to observe my new surroundings. The venue was very nice, it wasn’t huge, however, I would say it was a great place to experience a WordCamp for the first time.
Outside of the auditorium, there were tables with swag on them surrounded by people who were talking to reps. There were fellow attendees talking to each other, and in the distance, you could see a table with boxed breakfast to keep with the current protocols.
The Journey of Becoming More Jersey
The first talk that I was able to attend was “The Journey of Becoming More Jersey [Keynote]” given by Joe Campbell of morejersey.com. The talk covered the challenges he faced while launching his new media site that’s aimed at celebrating what makes New Jersey special.
Some of the things that stood out to me about this talk were that Joe set really high standards for what the site needed to be as he took on the role of head developer while not being in his words “a Coder”. One of his strengths is being resilient at finding the solutions he needs and then copying and using them from Google Docs. He stated this is what you have to do when you have “Caviar taste on a tuna fish budget”.
He contributed his ability to create his site in his words, “without coding skills” to Fiverr, Lazy Blocks, and WordPress Block Editor “Gutenberg” as many come to call it. I could really nerd out and go into all of the details about this talk however, I would suggest taking the time to look up the talk for yourself, it really is an amazing talk.
What I would like to spend my time focusing on is what to me was the most heartfelt and important moment of the entire talk. Joe spoke about what led to him focusing on accessibility for his website via an experience from one of his friends who is quadriplegic.
You could tell right away that this experience really touched Joe. Joe couldn’t share the story without getting choked up. You could immediately feel the difference in the room. After taking a moment to gather himself and collect his thoughts.
Joe began to share the story of how his friend could not attend an event that they were both going to because they didn’t have an elevator. That day Joe made a promise to himself; he would never do anything that everyone couldn’t attend. This statement was very powerful to me for some of the same reasons Joe then began to express.
As black men, most of us have gone to places where we have gotten stares or made to feel less than welcome. So the feeling of not being included due to causes out of your control hits very close to home.
This led to Joe rethinking his site to make sure that it was accessible for everyone. One of the real challenges that he came across was that not all third-party plug-ins and tools shared his vision. One of the unique perspectives that I’ve personally obtained from this talk was the fact that Joe decided to make sure that his checkout cart was the first option that a user would be able to tab to, as well as rethinking how videos should be displayed. Again this was a really awesome talk and I would encourage everyone to take a moment to watch it.
Getting Creative with Block Patterns & WordPress as a Paintbrush: an introduction to Internet Art
Some of the other talks I attended were “Getting Creative with Block Patterns” by Philly-based Designer and WordPress core contributor Mel Choyce and “WordPress as a Paintbrush: an Introduction to Internet Art” by Rachel Winchester who is a UX/Product Designer at Digitalcube. These were interesting talks because it allowed me to take a peek at how designers view WordPress and the Internet as a whole.
The most insightful thing that I took away from both of these talks was that as a developer we can get bogged down on what we want/need from WordPress, however; it’s good to step back and realize that there is more to making a great website than just the development. There are many hands that are involved in the process and some of the needs that WordPress addresses aren’t always from the developer’s perspective. WordPress also has to include the perspective of designers copywriters and business owners.
Throughout the conference, I heard over and over how designers, business owners, and non-developers expressed their love for the block editor. On the other hand, prior to the conference, I heard the perspective of developers who are not so enthusiastic about it.
This is one of the cases where we as developers may need to understand that we are all working on a common goal. Instead of shying away from a tool that doesn’t address our needs directly, we should run to it in order to make it a better experience for those who will come to rely upon it.
Other Amazing Talks
All in all, there were a lot of great talks; including “The WordPress All Women and Non-Binary Release Squad: Contributing to WordPress and More” which was a discussion panel with Courtney Robertson who is the Web Design Dev Advocate for Godaddy Pro, Ebonie Butler a Senior Software Engineer at Penske Media Corporation, Michelle Frechette the Director of Community Engagement for StellarWP and hosted by Josepha Haden the Executive Director of the WordPress project and Increasing Productivity and Avoiding Burnout by Georgie-Ann Getton the CEO of GSD Solutions.
I could spend the rest of this article alone just sharing all of the knowledge that I’ve gained from these two talks alone, however, I would rather challenge you. Check out these two talks on YouTube and tweet us – I would love to open up a discussion about these two talks and I really think you will gather a lot of insight in the process.
There are a lot of things that I’m leaving on The Cutting Room Floor because truly this was an exciting and impactful day for me and I know you didn’t sign up to read the book of Teron and his adventure at WordCamp. I thought about some things that I would like to share with anyone who is looking to go to their first WordCamp.
If you are planning on bringing your laptop this is a great idea if it helps you to write down notes and tweet if that’s your thing – however when the talks are over gently place that laptop in your bag and start talking to people, you will benefit the most out of this.
This leads to my next point – just start talking to people, really, I mean walk up to anybody, heck, everybody, and say hello. When I first got to WordCamp I took the wait-and-observe approach, however I quickly changed directions and met some of the friendliest people that I have ever met.
This really is a great community to be a part of, and I think everyone is just trying to gain new perspectives, meet new people and enjoy an environment where everyone is excited about WordPress.
Lastly, come with an open mind a humble spirit, and a thirst for knowledge. If you bring these three things I’m sure you will also find that you will have an amazing time.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to join the conversation on Twitter.