WordCamp London 2017 Review

I’m on the train heading home from WordCamp London 2017 – the annual London WordPress conference – and, with the crazy week ahead that I have, I know that if I don’t write up my thoughts now it will never happen.

Thanks

First of all a HUGE thanks to the organising team, volunteers, speakers, sponsors, caterers, venue staff, volunteers (yes – twice) and organising team (yes – twice). This event is a huge undertaking. Their dedication is immense and the amount of work they put in is enormous.

Contributor day

Contributor day – the day when people gather to give back to the WordPress project – was brilliant. I did my first contributor day last year at WordCamp Brighton and loved it.

I spent a fair bit of this day getting development environments working for both myself and other people. This seems like it’s “not contributing” but getting people going is key to future contributions. I reviewed a patch, dug into code to find some information for another contributor and…yeah…did some little things that nudged the project along.

Saturday Talks

The talks this year were outstanding. I mean, they are every year. But as I was someone who was speaking towards the end of the second day I found myself feeling a bit unworthy as I sat through high-quality session after high-quality session. The talks were hard-hitting, informative, emotional, creative, beautiful, and consistently excellent in both content and delivery.

My Saturday started with Wendie Huis in t Veld explaining the importance of the community and code of conduct, complete with her own tale of acceptance, encouragement and love from the WordPress community. There were more then a few tears in the room. It was extraordinarily brave of Wendie to share this as her first conference talk as the opening conference talk of the event, in her non-native language. Brilliant.

Crispin Read on Object Oriented User Experience had some great ideas on how to take briefs/requirements and break them down in easy-to-understand ways. I will be applying his ideas to my work as soon as I can.

Heather Burns then took us on a journey of understanding how important our work and roles are in the current political climate. Website creators and owners have the ability to help people, and to harm them. We need to be informed. We need to take action. We need to be brave. Data protection, the GDPR, privacy impact assessments, and ethically dropping tables were all talked about. Challenging, but SO important. I wish the room had been full.

Mik Scarlett explained – in entertaining and informative fashion – the importance of accessibility and how we can “sell it” as part of our projects. Again, accessibility is something we should all be working into our projects, but it’s sometime hard to get that “buy in”. It’s challenging, but it’s the RIGHT thing to do. Mik gave us some great arguments and resources to help us along. And he wished he could have sent us onwards to a practical talk about HOW to do accessibility well afterwards.

Ending with a super-useful panel about diversity and empowerment in the tech industry meant that my day had been full of learning about the difficulty responsibilities that come with building and owning websites. Accessibility, diversity, inclusivity, and privacy are all part of our jobs as website developers and coders. But they are all bigger issues than just the technology: people are involved. And that makes them both all the more important, and all the more difficult to get right.

Sunday Talks

The later start on Sunday was appreciated. Especially as my day started with John Blackbourn diving deep into the roles and responsibilities API of WordPress. Technical stuff, but with some brilliant insight from a WordPress core developer.

This was followed by Dave Walker’s talk “The WordPress Cartoonist – A User’s Perspective”. Dave was also a new speaker and I thought it was BRILLIANT that he got to share his experiences. He was highly entertaining and can be hugely proud. I love that this community, which mainly revolves around a software tool, not only makes (extra-)ordinary users welcome and puts on an event that they enjoy and get stuff out of, but accepts talks from new people who have a story to tell or knowledge to share. I really hope Dave will speak again.

I missed most of the rest of the Sunday preparing for and recovering from my own talk. Thanks to all who came, you were very gracious about my relatively dull, slide-heavy, fact-pact, thing.

The People

The people, the people, the people. A diverse and gentle and welcoming and funny and clever gathering of minds. I made friends. I connected with old friends. We shared stories. We encouraged one another in our work and creative endeavours. It was great to be one of the people.

The Glowing Feedback

I love, love, LOVE how the organisers of this event take on feedback from attendees. They genuinely listen, and the work SO hard to make the event accessible and to meet everyone’s needs.

This year I was particularly thankful for:

  • The excellent Wifi – I had no issues at all. It was fast and reliable. I hardly noticed it was there. Which is awesome. A big thumbs up.
  • The lunch organisation. It seems there were issues last year with queueing and so on, but they were totally resolved this year. A well-done high-five for that.
  • The “Hello” tables – I didn’t use them, but the idea of a specific area to go to meet people if you’re on your own was excellent.
  • The creche and children. I do hope they had a good weekend. It was great to see the creche being well used and families attending at WordCamp.

Some ideas

I have thought, before, about how standing up and talking to a room full of people isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. So how can events like this tap into the wisdom and knowledge wrapped up inside the (many) introverts and sensitive and anxious people who might really fear the stage?

So, two things have sprung to mind:

  1. WordCamp Radio: We could have pre-recorded audio talks or interviews available somehow to people at the conference. This would allow people to record and edit their contribution. They would have to be OK about their own voice, but they would not have to fear the stage or the live element of public speaking. And they wouldn’t have to make slides. They could take feedback online, or perhaps have a session in a room where people can ask them questions.
  2. WordCamp Newspaper/Magazine: A printed publication, available to participants, would be a way to publish written content for those who want to write rather than speak. It would also be great for sponsorship with ad placements available, and sponsored content, and would be a great take-home momento for attendees.

I’m sure that both of these would require huge effort to produce, but I leave them here on the table and would love to see other ideas about how those uncomfortable with public speaking could share their knowledge.

Summing up

Web development, running a business, and being a creator or engineer are all hard things. Events like this are refreshing, energising, inspiring, engaging, informative. Touch points in the year when we share our challenges, find solutions, discover what we didn’t know we didn’t know, and find new companions on the journey.

This year’s event was supremely well-run, full of quality content, and just what I needed as I head into a busy-looking year.

And I couldn’t end without a special thanks to Jenny Wong who has been lead organiser for two (or possibly three?) years. She puts extraordinary effort into making this event happen. She is bold, decisive, forward thinking and WordCamp London would not be the awesome event that it now is without her dedication and hard work.

May I offer a standing ovation for all who made this event happen.