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My WordCamp US St. Louis Recap

I have attended quite a few WordCamps in the last year. At each one, I’ve been integrated more and more into the wider community of WordPress. I’ve gone from imposter syndrome, to doe-eyed wonder, to critical evaluation, to leadership. WordCamp US 2019 let me look back on all that and forced me to acknowledge the full picture of my growth and evolution through the community.

You may be reading this wrap-up because you want to catch up on things you missed, or re-live some of your favorite parts. This post will have some of that. But for the most part, I’m not writing this for you. I’m writing it for future Allie to look back on. I want to integrate my current state of mind with the hard clarifying power of the written word. I’m writing it to sort through all the things I saw and heard and felt.

I hope you continue reading; that you appreciate and take in the perspective I’m going to share and that you reach out and start a conversation so I can understand your perspective, too.

People

The #1 highlight of the weekend, over all else, was the ability to connect. I had so many moments where I was able to meet and connect with people. Despite the number of fantastic, warm, and loving individuals I’ve made friends with over the past few months, I’ve been trying not to remain stuck inside a bubble. This weekend, I was able to take advantage of the enormous list of attendees and build new connections. And out of those connections, I was able to create quite a few opportunities for growth.

For example, one friend I have is looking at building a new initiative in the coming year and needed input and assistance. I introduced them to some of my friends who knew a little bit about the topic in question. The result was an amazingly impactful brainstorming session which is going end up with something pretty groundbreaking.

I met someone else who was apprehensive about building something because they didn’t think it could be done in the way they wanted. I was able to find someone else who not only had done that thing already but had done it successfully. That latter person was looking for an opportunity to give back to the community in an actionable way. Introducing those two people, seeing their faces light up when they realized what this new connection could mean for them both, filled me with warmth and fulfillment I find difficult to accurately describe.

We have a tendency to stick with what is familiar. Maybe we always hang out with the same people at these things or we have the same conversations. I found immense value in consciously making new friends, stepping out of that comfort zone and prioritizing those “networking-but-not-networking” opportunities.

Team Building at WordCamp US

Tied for first place would be meeting my GiveWP team. I’ve been working at GiveWP since July and had only met 1 out of my 15 teammates. This weekend, I got to meet 6 more of them face-to-face for the first time.

Remote work makes in-depth connection difficult. No number of chats or Slack calls can substitute what it’s like to sit down next to someone and share a drink or a joke or a problem. I was able to participate in some really impactful team-building with people who I respect, and feel respect me, face-to-face.

It was a blast to work the booth with these folks. Everyone brought something special and unique to the experience and so many times, I found that people were congregating around our table just to talk to us. Not about the product, but to us. We also got to demo our new form builder; it was immensely exciting to see live reactions to something that’s had so much passion and hard work poured into it.

I was able to experience Matt, Devin, Taylor, Sam, Michelle, Mike, and Ben outside the context of our day-to-day work, learn new things about them, and find new things to be inspired by.

Example: I got to watch and highlight my coworker Ben Meredith’s talk (on his birthday, no less!), during which he challenged the idea of technical troubleshooting. You don’t have to be a developer or even a technical person to kick ass at technical troubleshooting! It’s a message he’s taught me every day over the past few months.

If you don’t know this about me, I work for GiveWP, but I’m also a GoDaddy Pro Ambassador. I’m a part of the GoDaddy field team, even though I’m not a paid employee of the company. (They pay me in plane tickets, and I’m very grateful.)

That being said, I’ve spent more physical time over the past few months with members of the GoDaddy Pro team than I have with my own GiveWP company team.

This camp, I got to meet a much larger swath of the GoDaddy team. And while it was amazing to spend some quality time with the people I’ve grown to know, connecting on a deep level with new people was extremely impactful for me. One of the benefits of a camp this large is that I don’t get to just hang out with East-coast folks like me, but folks from all over the world.

The greatest benefit of these camps for so many people lies not just in coming together to learn about WordPress, but in coming together period. Friendship, quality time, bonding… those things don’t need justification. They are how we connect and how we reinforce the idea that we are human beings and not just faces on a screen. It’s good for our mental health to get out from in front of our computers, have real conversations, give and receive hugs, and play a little bit.

At WordCamp US this year I wanted to meet new people and find ways to break out of my comfort zone. In attending as a representative of two different companies and one well-known WordCamp, I knew that it would be very easy for me to spend all my time with the people I already knew. I also knew that very little growth would come from that. Which is where my 100 selfie idea came from!

It started with a tweet and ended in 100+ selfies with both old and new friends. While I don’t love spamming people’s feeds with my face, it got to the point where people were coming up to me, asking me for a photo! A lot of those selfies morphed into gorgeous, in-depth conversations. Some of them were the button at the end of a gorgeous, in-depth conversations. Some of them were just selfies. But in the end, I can look back at them all and associate a memory and a smile with each.

Find and download your selfie here if you’d like it!

Over the weekend, as will happen with intense and high-energy events, I got overwhelmed. While I won’t go into that too much here, what I learned is that I have a strong, reliable, and diverse support system. I’ve not had something like that in a very long time.

I believe that you can have the greatest career in the world. But if there are not people you can go to and share with and heal with and open up to, inner peace is hard to come by.

Our Diversity Workshop

There are people who apply over and over to speak at WordCamp US. It’s painful and frustrating to watch amazing people who don’t receive that platform, even though they are so deserving.

I consider myself massively lucky. I was invited to speak on a panel called Creating More Diverse and Inclusive Spaces. Part of the reason I was invited was because of a post I wrote a few months back which highlighted a large subset of this topic – so much so in fact that I based an entire 5th of the workshop off that post.

I’ve spoken at 7 WordCamps now. This presentation was the most difficult one I’d ever prepared. An immense amount of detail and time went into preparing it. In past, I always did my best but felt as though if I messed up at all, it was just my name on the line. But this time I had a team of three other brilliant and talented individuals who I felt the need to do right by.

I encourage you to participate on a workshop for a WordCamp one day if you never have before. It’s incredibly humbling and rewarding and a lot of work.We met weekly for about 2-3 months, outlining, iterating, and rehearsing our workshop. We developed a full 1.75 hour talk and hefty workbook to go along with it.

It was one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever created. And given that I’ve always struggled with being a team-player, (I can be a bit of a Hermione sometimes) I was able to put that aside and truly practice being on a team.

Here is a photo of me and the other workshop presenters at WordCamp US.
Jill Binder, David Wolfpaw, and Aurooba Ahmed were the best teammates that I could have asked for. It was an honor to birth this workshop with them and I look forward to the co-parenting that will take place in the future.

The feedback was got was phenomenal. If you want to host your own workshop to facilitate welcoming diversity, you can find more information on Make WordPress as well as in the Workbook from the WordCamp US workshop.

If you want to read a dedicated recap of my workshop, find it here.

What I found most frustrating about the workshop was the fact that I knew it didn’t reach the number of people that it could have. I know that diversity is not a sexy topic at these conferences. People come to learn about WordPress and tech and code and all those other hard skills.

But the need for a workshop like ours was incredibly important; so many people are simply ignorant about why and how to create more diverse and inclusive spaces. And because of that ignorance, I believe our workshop was probably intentionally passed over by many people.

That being said, I’m infinitely grateful to the people who did come. To the people who I asked, personally, to come because I knew it would make a difference. Not just for them personally, but for others to see them there. I could talk for hours about the need for diversity in the WordPress community and I’ve been known to do just that. My only hope is that next time I have the opportunity to speak publicly on this topic, more than 16 out of 1500 people will be able to come.

The Next Generation

Because of the work I was doing at the sponsor booths this year, I wasn’t able to attend as many talks as I wanted to. (That was probably my biggest regret.) But I made a concentrated effort to go see one, the second I saw it on the schedule.

Olivia Bisset is a young woman local to Miami, which is also my home camp. Over the years, I’ve been aware of her and her presence as David Bisset’s daughter. I’ve seen her on Twitter more and more this year. As soon as I saw that she and a handful of other WordPress daughters were hosting a panel, I knew it was something that I absolutely could not miss.

Olivia presented some powerful facts about the need for young adults (not just kids) in our community. Her poise and confidence and humor were inspirational, especially after meeting so many adults 3x her age who have told me how terrified and underqualified they feel to speak at a camp or meetup.

At WordCamp US, 6 amazing young women spoke about how they use WordPress. Here is a photo of me posing with them.
Follow @TheSpoonQueen1, @thunder_sketch, @iamnataliebourn, @eringoblog, @DinaButcher6 and @lemonadecode. You won’t be sorry.

The panel was everything I could have hoped for. Everyone in the room was struck by the candor and humor these young women had. They spoke openly about how they got introduced to WordPress but more importantly, the connection they felt to the community. The qualms they had with sometimes being looked down upon and discounted. The concerns they had about the future. And how they used WordPress to do some of the work that we as adults were not. It’s difficult to listen to a beautiful, bright young woman talk about being in mental and emotional pain. But it was enlightening to hear how she was using the power of WordPress to heal herself in a healthy and intelligent way.

I was amazed to observe this subset of the WordPress community I’d not considered before. Almost all the camps I’ve attended recently have had Kids Camps on the schedule. I’m used to grinning as I see footage and photos of young children building their first sites. But at 27, I’ve always felt like I was on the younger end of the community spectrum. I was selfishly discounting these women, all of which were approaching high school or college, who had so much to offer and to whom we are leaving everything we build.

Not a Mom and Pop WordCamp

This was my first WordCamp US. My home camp is WordCamp Miami which is one of the largest in the country, but US was more than twice that size in attendees.

The camps I’ve attended this year have been intensely community-focused. The local community always shines through in the most powerful ways. Each camp has it’s own flavor, it’s own style, it’s own mood. And while the topics range from personal stories to high-level tutorials, there is something very grounded about going to a local WordCamp.

WordCamp US was different. I never felt that this event was unique to St. Louis… until I left the building and saw the Arch on the horizon. I didn’t see that local organizers or St. Louis WordPress community members were specially highlighted. I didn’t get to see what was unique about this community. Even though “community” was thrown around a lot in regards to WordPress, I sorely missed the feeling of the local community.

I’m not sure entirely what to make of that. The event as a whole felt more corporate and distant than I was used to. The warmth I felt came from my friends and teammates. That means that someone attending without a system of people like that may miss out on that feeling.

It’s the catch-22 of a large event like this; you need money to put it on and that money comes from big companies. And so the big companies’ faces are everywhere. I saw a lot more posts about sponsors than I did about the Community Track, for example, leading up to the event.

We talked in the State of the Word about the future of “WordPress” as this big, nebulous thing. And while the OPEN film did a lot to add faces to the idea, I was saddened when I realized that the showing of the OPEN film at SOTW meant that the premiere for it was no longer a premiere. The individual people who worked hard to put the premiere on had a bit of their spotlight taken away.

I don’t know how that was planned, or if it was. Perhaps I’m making an assumption there. But there seems to be this shift of focus from the parts to the whole.

I tried to imagine putting myself in the shoes of a local attendee or someone who traveled here for the first time. Of someone who doesn’t make their career in the WordPress ecosystem like so many of us do, but someone who wanted to use WordPress to contribute to a different ecosystem or create a brand new ecosystem. What would this event feel like to that person?

Would they have felt warmly welcomed?

Would they have felt comfortable chatting with people?

Would they have felt there was content crafted for me?

Would they have felt welcomed at the after-parties?

Would they have felt a sense of community?

I don’t know.

WordCamp US Contributor Day

I never attended a Contributor Day before. It wasn’t anything like what I imagined. Does that mean I didn’t pay attention before when it was described to me, or can we do a better job to describe to new attendees what it involves?

If you don’t know, Contributor Day is when attendees – no matter the skill level or experience with WordPress – can make code and non-code contributions to WordPress. At WordCamp US, the largest conference space was organized into long tables, sorted by topic. Interested in translating? There was a translation table. Interested in the community? There was a community table.

Observing how this worked, and speaking to a few other people about it, brought to mind a factory. Workers grinding away to influence something, without much compensation or credit, that others benefit from. The difference is that the degree to which you benefit from WordPress, in large part, is up to you. Privilege and access aside, everyone reaps the rewards of a strong WordPress ecosystem. Factories don’t work that way. Factories are not open-source.

I kept getting pulled into other various directions (a blessing and a curse) and so I didn’t get to actually contribute as much as I wanted to. Meaning, at all. But it’s less scary to me now than it used to be and I know I’ll be participating next time.

I did get to attend a small round table hosted by Cami Caos where she gave an amazing, succinct, and detail-packed summation of what it means to organize a WordCamp. Not just the fluffy stuff either, but hard facts, numbers, and expectations. I’m on the organizing team for WordCamp Miami in 2020 and this information was probably some of the most valuable I got all weekend.

Community Kool-Aid™

“Community” is an interesting word in the WordPress space. I think a lot of people see it differently. I’ve heard so many stories about moments where people went above and beyond for each other. Connections over years and years have been forged. When that happens, friends become community and community becomes family.

This is the first community I’ve ever belonged to where the co-worker/family distinction gets so thin. I’ve met people who travel cross-country to WordCamps, just to see their friends. I’ve met people who don’t attend the talks, but who only hang out in hallways to talk to people they know.

I’ve always seen WordCamp as an educational event, first and foremost. Attending WordCamp US has made me rethink that. And not in a very good way.

There is a part of this community-based mentality that love. While in St. Louis I relied on a lot of people emotionally. I even had a crying-on-someone’s-shoulder moment and that doesn’t just happen with people you see as just co-workers. I have started to see some of these people as family and that in and of itself is not a bad thing.

What WordCamp US taught me about community is that it’s not all for one and one for all. We’re known as a cliquish and snobbish community by some for a reason.

My idea of community involves consistent growth; hands always reaching out, pulling people in, pushing people up. It’s a revolving door. It’s defined by shared attitudes, interests, and goals… not by who you know or how long you’ve known them.

There are some people in this community – lovely, kind, generous people – who are content to keep their circle limited to the people they know and no more. Who don’t see the value in actively reaching out to find new people to befriend. Who are more than happy to be introduced to someone new, but who don’t use their privilege in the community to lift others up without being asked.

I don’t know if that mindset is something the events perpetuate or if it’s the other way around. I don’t know where it comes from and I don’t know how pervasive it is. But I felt it, on a large scale, during WordCamp US. That is not a reflection on the people who worked, for free, for months to organize this event. But I believe it happens when long-time attendees become complacent.

I love being a part of this community. I don’t want that to go unsaid. I am grateful for and treasure the relationships that I have. But I am afraid of three things that I have seen evidence for at this event:

  1. I hate thinking that I missed out on meeting someone new and interesting that I could help or who could help me… because I ate dinner with the same people every single night.
  2. I’m scared that professional opportunities are being taken away from new people because appropriate boundaries are missing and personal obligations take over our decision-making process.
  3. I’m concerned that professional obligations are warped by this idea that you have to show up or please people to whom you feel an emotional debt.

As a pseudo-new community member, I want to hear how everyone feels about this. If you disagree, if this section has made you think or made you angry, please DM me or leave me a comment. I don’t want to live in an echo-chamber.

Prepping for 2020

Let’s end this on a more positive note, huh?

One of the best things about WCUS is the timing. It allows us to look back at the year and look forward to what’s to come. We use it as a benchmark, a ruler, for the growth of WordPress.

I’m excited for GiveWP to reveal more about campaigns, which is going to allow the 700,000+ sites using GiveWP already to really up their game and do more good in the world than ever before.

I’m excited for Five for the Future, which neatly allows us all to think in a more granular way about our contribution back into the WordPress ecosystem.

I’m excited for the Makers of the Web community program where GoDaddy will do more to support and sponsor local community groups – all in the name of creating things with on the web.

There is a lot to come. I’m sure there are more detailed and descriptive recaps that talk about all the industry-wide things coming to WordPress. I can barely keep up. As I write this, change is already happening; 5.3 just dropped today! I already can’t wait to explore what it, what WordPress, and what the community has in store.

By Allie

Allie is a 27 year old, Miami-based, self-taught WordPress user. She loves speaking about and connecting through WordPress. Allie currently works remotely as a tech support team member at GiveWP, the leading WordPress donation plugin and travels to WordCamps as a GoDaddy Pro speaker ambassador.

8 replies on “My WordCamp US St. Louis Recap”

What a wrap-up Allie, love reading every bit and can’t see anything is missing except my selfie with you, as unfortunately couldn’t meet up as we were busy in a few of our WordPress stories videos. but while reading I was feeling I am still in the session rooms, at contributors day or listening and taking photos at State of the word. Thanks for sharing all the experiences. I would love to meet in the future for sure.

Thank you Ijaz! I regret not getting a selfie with you as well. We’ll definitely make sure to do that if we find ourselves at the same WordCamp one of these days!

This is an awesome recap post! I love how you compare how you felt as a WordPress community member vs someone who may have come to their first WordCamp ever this past weekend in St. Louis. It’s an interesting perspective.

I also LOVE the team building part of WCUS every year! It truly does help to make deeper connections with the people you work with through a computer screen every day. I’m so happy we got to meet! Also – sliggghttlyyy disappointed your tattoo did not make it into the post. 😛

Thank you Taylor! It was so amazing spending time with you too. The tattoo was super important to me, but I didn’t think anyone else would care honestly! haha

I think that there has to be a balance between meeting new people and spending time with friends/coworkers. It’d be hard to strengthen existing relationships if you are always talking to new people only!

From a personal perspective, I enjoy chatting with and meeting new people a lot, as well as catching up with old friends. But I also have a low emotional bandwidth and generally spend most of my time outside of the official time alone or in very small groups.

Very good point! It’s a tricky balancing act, especially for a large event like this. I don’t know if we ask ourselves enough whether these events are designed to be a reunion event, a networking event, an educational event… all 3? How do you make that work? Especially if you have a low emotional bandwidth or any kind of social anxieties, that’s hard to tackle.

Back when WordCamp US was still WordCamp SF, I had that same “not-local” feeling about it. Of course, it WAS the event for the whole world, but it meant that SF didn’t get a chance to have a WordCamp that showcased its local community and attracted primarily local speakers. (Mind you, the meetups in the Bay Area still haven’t gotten it together to have a local-focused WCSF or WC Oakland, though I highly recommend WordCamp Sacramento.)

I do think that the bigger the event, the harder it is for new people. I remember the first time I went to the annual professional conference for my previous profession and how overwhelming it was. I pretty much only talked to people I already knew or had at least met online. (This was the 1990s and listservs were the latest in social media.)

My first WordCamp (which was WCSF in 2009 or 2010) would have been a lot harder if there hadn’t been a group from my meetup that went together, and I never would have known WCSF existed if I hadn’t been part of that meetup. I think it’s probably easier to do the welcoming-in at the meetup level, or in any small group setting.

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