I went to Big WordCamp

Philadelphia city hall

I’ve never been to a tech conference with compost bins before. I’ve never been to a tech conference party before, either. That has all changed.

I went to WordCamp U.S. 2016 and it was a very dense experience.

I wasn’t the only developer who was disappointed in the lack of technical content, but I think I got more out of this WordCamp than I have out of much more expensive and ostensibly more technical conferences that were just reheated versions of the previous years’ conferences. Yes – that is years, plural. WordCamp wins for originality of content, hands down, every time.

I tend to keep a very low social profile during conferences. I realize this is a shame but past experiences at the aforementioned expensive tech conferences have not really yielded any interesting conversations, much less viable professional friendships. The crush of people is also overwhelming.

WordCamp is different. The people are far more fascinating. However, in the era of Twitter (which was not really a thing like it is now back when I was a regular conference-goer), going to a conference populated with people that I follow on Twitter but don’t actually know in any real way is very surreal. I tend to follow people because I think they might have some good technical insights that they’ll toss out on Twitter from time to time, but mostly Twitter is just a big hangout between people I don’t know. And then WordCamp is the same thing but in person. I think I need to re-think my Twitter life. I wish people would blog more.

With that said I did have a few great conversations with random people and I probably need to find a way to be more open at WordCamps. I can work on that.

Talks

Internationalizing the New York Times

Talk by 4.? WP release lead Scott Taylor. This was the most packed with technical content. Maaany new-ish technology names were thrown around and I wrote most of them down to maybe investigate later. It was as if all the hard technical content from a normal WordCamp were compressed into 45 minutes.

BuddyPress for Intranets

This wasn’t actually called “BuddyPress for Intranets” on the schedule, so when I saw the title on the first slide I was pretty excited. I think it is not unreasonable to believe that my co-worker Sarah and I were the only full-time intranet employees at the conference. Soooo when the speaker opened with an anecdote about going to a party the night before and having someone tell her about someone who had been working on the same intranet for the last 20 years I was a little startled. Because I am pretty sure someone was telling her about me.

Sarah and I could see some interesting potential uses for BuddyPress on our intranet, although it’s more something we are keeping in our toolkit in case we need it rather than something we’re going to actively pursue right now. It was a pretty light overview of a talk, but it was also the first we’d really seen of BuddyPress applications, so it was valuable for us.

Design for Humans, Not Robots

I have watched many of Tammie Lister’s talks on WordCamp.tv and she is always very astute. This was an excellent talk, working the general theme of compassion in computing, which is always of great interest to me. When this one goes up, I recommend watching it.

WordPress Reflections (Andrew Nacin)

Every year Andrew Nacin gives a talk at Big WordCamp and there’s never a very specific topic – but it is always well worth the time. I missed most of this talk because of a great hallway conversation, but snuck into the back near the very end. Matt Mullenweg was right inside the door and I felt a bit as if the teacher had caught me sneaking into class late… but he gave me a smile, and I gave him a smile back, and it was okay. I look forward to watching the entire talk when the video goes up. This year Nacin spoke mainly about ethics and compassion in computing.

The Back End is Dead

I liked this talk a great deal, but was surprised at the negative reactions it garnered from a couple of folks I know. While I am not sure the concepts – a re-thinking of roles in a development team – will apply to us, I always enjoy new ways to think about team dynamics and so for me, this was of value. It is never good to allow one’s thinking to fossilize, and that does not only apply to development work. It applies to all aspects of work (and life, I suppose).

TypeScript

I feel compelled to call this one out. I didn’t read the speaker bio in advance and missed that the presenter does developer outreach for Microsoft. Because of my long history as a web developer in an enterprise setting, I have a deep, deep mistrust of Microsoft and their (generally ham-handed) attempts to be a part of the open web. They gave us Verdana and that is about the best that can be said. They’ve planted their speakers at more web conferences than I can count and – outside of that Verdana talk – they’ve all boiled down to shills for something Microsoft will make money off of, usually something closed.

While there are lots of WordCamp speakers who are basically promoting their own livelihood in their talks, to have one of the very few technical talks at WordCamp U.S. wind up being a Microsoft sales pitch just really sticks in my craw. I walked out. There are lots of WordCamp talks I would never walk out of, no matter how boring, but this one well deserved a vote with my two feet.

Partay

A BIG GIANT T-REX!

Conference parties have never appealed to me (see above re: low value conversations, then add the risks and hassles of being around drunks), but this one actually sounded kind of appealing. Sarah and I were both pretty tapped out by party time, but we both wanted to check out the cool natural history museum where it was being held (e.g., we wanted to see the dinosaurs).

I have to hand it to the WordCamp U.S. folks, it was nerd party heaven. Non-alcoholic drinks, snacks, no music except for karaoke in the auditorium, quiet places and crowded places, places to sit down, and lots of fun exhibits to check out. As the mother of a 5-year-old I have been to an awful lot of similar museums, so it was maybe less novel for me than for some others, but I still very much appreciated the venue.

We didn’t stay long or get into any conversations, but it was great. I actually went to a conference party. Crazy.

Contributor day

Contributor day needs its own post. Later, but I’ll say that it was really the highlight of the whole experience.

Philly

Bicycle stripped of all removable parts.

I’ve had some pretty bad experiences in Philly in the past. Every day of WordCamp, my walk from the hotel to the conference center took me past Hahnemann Hospital, which is where – 20 years ago –  I spent about a week in the waiting room of the cardiac ICU waiting to find out if my father was going to die. It’s where I had the only real panic attack I’ve ever had. That was probably the worst thing that has happened to me in Philly, but it wasn’t the only thing in my past to sour me on this city.

I am still not a big fan, but now that bad crap has been overlaid with some really positive memories. I was happy to stay immersed in the world of the conference for the most part. The occasional Philly native who asked what I think of “our fair city” didn’t get much of an answer.