For those not familiar with the world of WordPress, a WordCamp is a dedicated conference for developers and users of the open source software. This past weekend saw WordCamp London take place, just off of Holloway Road.
I headed down by train on the Thursday night, in order to volunteer over the weekend. I can’t describe how much I prefer the train to flying. The whole process is just so much more relaxed and less restrictive.
The team behind Jetpack – the most popular WordPress plugin online – were in town for their week long meetup, as well as to attend WordCamp London – so I spent some time hanging out with them in the evening. One of them had also kindly brought over my latest purchase… a Leica M Typ 240, for which I will be eternally grateful.
Their AirBnB was near Hyde Park, in Central London… Right behind Claridges infact, so there was a whole load of Bentleys and other fancy cars kicking around. I’m not sure what they must have thought of our lot hanging around in the back streets.
Amusingly enough, the listing wasn’t quite as described – with there being no real WiFi, and a hot-tub that was eh, well… not really a hot tub at all. As you can imagine, the former is a bit of a problem for a team that all need Internet access to do their jobs.
I really like the Jetpack team. They’re all good guys.
I ended up heading back to my own hotel about 11pm, as I was knackered – and couldn’t really face getting the night bus back if I left after midnight. I passed up more whisky to do so… Does this mean I’m old?
The next day marked the start of the conference, with a Contributor Day. Held on the Friday, this was for people to get together and work on contributing to the WordPress project in different ways – either through developing themes, fixing bugs, working on marketing, or lots of other things.
I had been asked to lead the Support group, which was looking at helping out users with problems on the forums. Sounds straightforward enough, but the questions that crop up on WordPress.org are often related to verify niche, specific issues… and people rarely provide enough information to enable you to actually work out what’s going on quickly. As a result, it can be a pretty slow and involved process to tease out the possibilities and give good support. That said, it is one of the quickest ways for people that are new to contributing to get stuck in, and is fairly rewarding when somebody writes back to say how much you’ve helped them out.
We had a pretty small group, and it turned out that one of the guys was already a moderator on the forums – so it meant we could chat and have a bit of a laugh at some of the insane requests that were posted, and work out how best to deal with them together. By the end of the day, I think I had made about 30 posts. Not too bad for somebody that’s used to rejecting copyright claims.
Siobhan was down to volunteer as well – currently the only Welsh person working for Automattic. We Celts need to stick together.
After the Contributor Day, we headed to the pub for a well deserved pint, meeting a bunch of people from other companies like GoDaddy.
One thing led to another and we found ourselves staying up late chatting, which was especially good since the company was so friendly and encouraging. We eventually shared an Uber back to our separate hotels to avoid spending 45 minutes on the night bus for a relatively short journey, which I probably wouldn’t do again. Despite being a pleasant guy, the driver had no idea where he was going – even with the aid of a satnav.
The Saturday was the first day of talks, and I was down to spend most of the day at the ‘Happiness Bar’ – where people could come and ask for help with specific WordPress problems they were having. Getting up early (6.45am) was a struggle, but we made it. Turning up and having to carry a whole pile of tables through the venue probably didn’t help matters, but I took it as penance.
Staffing the Happiness Bar was interesting. Things would happen in waves, with hardly anybody around in the morning, and then loads of people appearing in groups between talks. One of the biggest challenges was that the requests were a bit like an in-person version of the forums. You had no idea what people were going to turn up asking, and often they were very specific, technical requests. I felt a bit useless as I didn’t know the immediate answer to many of the questions, but luckily there was a whole host of Automatticians there that were talented in different fields, and I could introduce them to the right person to solve what was needed. Just call me the Happiness Concierge.
It was impressive watching colleagues solve problems in person this way, demonstrating both their social skills, but also their ridiculous amount of expertise in a particular field.
I couldn’t help but realise that a lot of the value of the ticket for a WordCamp to some people would be the unique direct access it would give to experts that actually work directly on the product that they are using. Rather than having to pay an agency of consultants, they could instead just turn up and find the people who coded the plugins in the first place. That’s pretty cool.
The after party was held in the neighbouring building, which has some pretty sweet lights.
At one point we headed straight to the front of the bar and got drinks, without realising that there was a huge queue snaking around the side of the building. Oops! I’m too used to just seeing a gap and going for it, rather than people being polite and organised.
We had kind of expected this to be the big night where we would stay out, but by the time we’d eaten, the wind had gone from a lot of our sails. Against all of my better instincts, I ended up back at the hotel pretty early.
The next day saw more of the same, but this time the morning was even quieter. By the looks of things, a lot of people had stayed out… and weren’t in a real rush to appear before 10am. I don’t blame them.
Something I’ve realised over the past year is that spending an intense time with a group of people is exhausting. To be on the go all the time is mentally draining, particularly so when you add in late nights and early starts. By the end of the first day I could feel my brain shutting down, and it a lot harder to actively strike up conversations with strangers… which is one of the best bits about a WordCamp. You don’t quite realise what the effect is of going from an environment where you work from home in relative isolation to something like this… and you need to make sure and plan in some time to just relax and be by yourself for a while. That can be easier said than done, especially when you get the fear of missing out in a city that you want to be out exploring.
I’m back home now, and well rested.