WCUS 2023 In a Nutshell
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As an organizer of WordCamp US 2023, I am overjoyed with how the event turned out. This was my first in-person WordCamp in nearly four years, and it did not disappoint. There were insightful sessions, plenty of fruitful networking opportunities, and community engagement that made this WordCamp a tremendous success. This was my first time helping to organize such a large-scale WordCamp, and the experience was rewarding.
The first two full days that I was in Washington DC were the Community Summit. There were dozens of discussions, brainstorming sessions, and planning for the future of WordPress. While I can’t speak to specifics of the event, raw notes for each session are available on the Make Summit site.
My personal highlight discussion was the session on DEIB and the WordPress community. While the conversation itself was convivial, the hard and harsh reality of the negative aspects of the community made it a stressful discussion to be a part of. Still, I’m hopeful from this and other sessions that we’ve identified areas where we can improve, and more importantly some methods that can help to get us there.
The WordPress community deserves the best and has the ability to do better all the time. This summit was proof of that!
Part of WordCamp US 2023 that I had a lot of input and focus on was Contributor Day. A Contributor Day is part of a WordCamp where the WordPress community comes together to work on the project itself. Whether it is writing code for core and plugins and themes, translating things, making new educational content, or finding ways that the community can bring others in, there are a lot of ways to get involved.
One of the most important things for Contributor Day this year was to ensure that we were welcoming new contributors as best as possible. I have been to many contributor days, and most follow a similar format. The organizers share a brief overview of the different Make teams, groups split up and try to figure out how to get into the wifi and on Slack, they work on things throughout the day, then share at the end what they worked on.
This time, we decided to cut out the first and last portion, since teams provide updates at their own pace, and can also post them online. Instead, we had new contributors arrive an hour earlier than returning contributors to go through an onboarding session. We also gave color-coded bandanas to team leads and new contributor guides to make them easy to find. The new contributor guides were important to make sure that people felt comfortable walking up to someone and knowing that they could ask questions without bothering them.
Of everything about WordCamp US this year, Contributor Day is one of the things that I was most looking forward to. Not just because I helped to organize it, but because it would be one of the first times in years that so many people involved in WordPress were able to gather in person and work on the project in groups. Being able to collaborate remotely is great, but having those in person hours to really hash things out together is priceless.
One of the downsides to being an organizer means that I didn’t get to be quite as involved as I’d like to be. Instead of sitting down with the Community team or one of the coding teams, I was constantly checking in to make sure that everyone had what they needed to succeed. It was a good problem to have, but it kept me away from having the same experience. Still, I am thankful that I was able to play my small role in ensuring a good day. While I couldn’t solve every problem that came up on Contributor Day, I still helped to put together a space where all of these contributors could do work, and where new contributors could learn and get involved. I’m proud of the work done this year, and I look forward to the recap so that we can learn what worked and what didn’t to refine again for next year.
If you have any interest in how to get involved in the WordPress community, check out make.wordpress.org to see the teams that you can get involved with, and how to contact each of them.
After the Community Summit and Contributor Day, I was already three days into WordCamp US before we even got to the actual main event. To say that I was running low on energy is an understatement! Even my daily morning iced espresso wasn’t enough on its own to keep me focused on the day.
What really kept me focused and active were the wonderful conversations that I had. This was with old friends who I hadn’t seen in person in nearly four years, as well as new friends who I got to learn about and bond with throughout the week. Nothing perks you up like an interesting conversation with an engaging partner.
I started my conference days by helping with registration. The first hour of day one is the most physically active, as everyone is arriving at the venue at the same time to check in. While there were booths setup to print badges, it still caused a queue to form, so I helped by handing out lanyards and pins in advance, and sharing information on when and where events were, as well as preparing attendees to go to the sponsor area and to get their attendee shirts.
Honestly, the meat of WordCamp US 2023 was the two conference days at the end. Over 30+ sessions there were speakers, new and old, sharing their experiences and knowledge with eager audiences. I sat in on sessions where I could, and as expected everything was well prepared and interesting. I came away with even more notes and ideas on projects to work on when the conference is over.
The Expo Hall
Sometimes people avoid the expo hall at events because sponsors and vendors can feel a bit spammy. The feeling is that they will do anything to sell you on their products, and that they don’t provide real value. At WordCamps this can’t be farther from the truth. These are companies that underpin the community, and their employees literally help make the community and code happen. I’ve always found people to be there because they want to be, not because their company made them attend.
Part of my day was spent with my friends at SiteGround at their booth. I love folks walking up to me and asking me questions about hosting, considering that I use multiple hosts and don’t work for SiteGround. I can honestly answer about the pros and cons about various hosts, and the fact that I have been a consistent customer for a decade at this point. People really seem to want to know more about businesses in the sponsor area of WordCamps, and not just pass by for the free swag. That said, the swag was pretty nice! I already put a foil SiteGround unicorn sticker on my coffee cup, and the tote bag will be getting a lot of use.
If you ever find yourself at a WordCamp, don’t skip out on the sponsor hall!
Most Valuable Lesson as an Organizer
Undoubtedly, the most valuable lesson I took away from being a small part of the WordCamp 2023 organizing team was the significance of meticulous planning and effective delegation. Coordinating a large event like this requires a well-structured timeline, clear communication, and a dedicated team. By delegating tasks to individuals with specific expertise, the team was able to ensure that each aspect of the event was well-executed and no detail was overlooked.
Additionally, I witnessed the importance of adaptability and contingency planning. Despite our best efforts, unforeseen challenges will always arise, and this WordCamp was no exception. Being prepared to pivot and find solutions on the spot helped us maintain a smooth experience for attendees and speakers alike.
The most important takeaway when it comes to adaptability is to listen in the moment to attendees, and to ensure that the full volunteer and organizing team are ready to report any issues that they see. We organized via Slack, and the proper person to solve a problem was ready to see and react as soon as an issue was spotted. Whether updating signage, changing a room for talks when the existing one didn’t work out properly, or helping attendees with individual needs, we were ready to respond.
Would I help to organize WordCamp US or another WordCamp again in the future? Absolutely. This is far from my first event, but it was my first event as an organizer in four years.
I feel like I have a renewed sense of commitment to the WordPress community. Having to meet remotely only led to a bit of burnout.
WordCamp US 2023 was one of my most memorable events yet, and I appreciate the support given to me by SiteGround and everyone else who made it an enjoyable and fruitful conference.
I hope to see you at WordCamp US 2024!