Why You Can’t Afford Not to Attend a WordCamp
WordCamps are unlike any other web industry event. They have a format and an atmosphere all of their own and I think that makes them very special.
In this post I hope to convince you that if you can attend a WordCamp, you really should. You’ll get more from a WordCamp than you could from years of reading WordPress blogs, buying WordPress books and subscribing to WordPress vlogs.
But first, an introduction to what WordCamps are.
WordCamps for the Uninitiated
The first WordCamp took place in San Francisco in 2006. Since then, 346 WordCamps have taken place in 172 cities all over the world. WordCamps happen almost every week. At the time of writing there are seven coming up in the next month, in locations as diverse as Mumbai and San Diego. In the UK (where I’m based) we’ve gone from having one a year between 2008 and 2012 to having five in the last year, spread around the country, including the recent WordCamp London, which was attended by 600 WordPress users and developers from around the world.
WordCamps are aimed at everyone and anyone who uses WordPress. You don’t have to be an experienced developer to benefit from a WordCamp – there are sessions for users, too, as well as for designers and people more interested in the business of WordPress.
WordCamps are all run with support from WordCamp Central and are not-for-profit. Organisers don’t take a penny for their work, and speakers and volunteers give their time for free. This keeps costs down for everyone attending. At the recent WordCamp Birmingham, which I was involved in organizing, ticket prices were just £15 for an early bird ticket and £25 full price. So cost definitely isn’t a barrier.
The fact that speakers aren’t paid and are able to put their names forward and propose talks instead of just being invited also makes for a diverse and ever changing line-up of speakers at every WordCamp. Speakers aren’t all experienced veterans of the speaking circuit, in fact most of them are “ordinary” WordPress users and developers who want to share their knowledge with other people in the community. I gave my first talk at WordCamp Portsmouth in 2011 after I’d been using WordPress for just fourteen months.
So that’s some background on WordCamps, but what will you get from going to one?
You’ll Learn. Lots.
Most WordCamps have more than one track of talks aimed at different audiences or skill levels, so you might find a user track in one room at the same time as a developer track in another. This means that there’s a huge range of topics being covered by the talks and a wide range of levels they’re pitched at.
At a traditional web design conference you might pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket and attend maybe five hour-long talks each day. The speakers will be experienced veterans of the circuit perhaps but you’ll still only learn about five things. At a WordCamp however, you’ll pay tens of dollars for your ticket and you might see ten or more talks in a day, because they tend to be shorter. The speakers might not be experienced at speaking but they’ll have new and interesting ideas they want to share with the community. Things you won’t hear about anywhere else.
At some WordCamps you can also attend one or more workshops: at WordCamp Birmingham we also ran workshops at the same time as talks, each lasting half a day and giving a smaller group of people a much more in-depth, practical experience. During those workshops people learned skills such as how to install WordPress for the first time; how to manage their site; how to attract more customers; and how to create their first theme.
And outside the formal sessions you’ll meet people who you can learn from too. Speakers at WordCamps are only too happy to chat to people about their topic and to answer questions, and aren’t too proud to learn from the people who attended their talk and have complimentary ideas. And there are plenty of other people you can learn from. During the coffee breaks and social events you’ll get talking to people with a diverse range of experience and knowledge of WordPress: you’ll get ideas from them and learn how to be better at WordPress yourself.
You’ll Be Inspired
I think the way in which I’ve benefited most from the WordCamps I’ve attended (seven and counting), is in the inspiration I’ve taken away from them. In the early days of running my agency I gained huge inspiration about ways I could take my business forward and explore new opportunities. As I’ve spent more and more time writing about WordPress I’ve been inspired to investigate and write about topics I learn about at WordCamps. And I’ve also been inspired by the personal stories of the people I’ve met and the way they’ve developed their careers with WordPress.
Aside from all the things you’ll learn at a WordCamp, you’ll hear about new trends in web development and ideas for taking WordPress further. You’ll meet people working with WordPress in as way you haven’t thought of but would love to try. And you’ll learn about career opportunities with WordPress that you might not even have known existed.
You’ll also be inspired to make a contribution to the WordPress community: at many WordCamps there’s a contributor day, where you can learn how to give something back from people who are already making a valuable contribution to WordPress. Unsure how to give your five for the future? After attending a WordCamp you won’t be.
Because of the fact that WordCamps have a large and varied group of speakers, some of them speaking at their first web event, you’ll find that new and different ideas are explored in a way you don’t always find at more traditional web conferences, where speakers may be talking about a topic they’ve been working on and speaking about for years. Some of these talks will be specific and detailed and open your ideas to new methods of development that you didn’t know about.
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Matthew Pollard is starting out with WordPress. He found WordCamp Birmingham hugely inspiring:
“WordCamp Birmingham really opened my eyes to how exciting WordPress could be as a career choice. I can’t wait to get started!”
You’ll Meet Some Amazing People
The best thing about WordCamps, and about WordPress in general, is the people. WordPress has a massive community of users and developers with an ethos that’s quite different from many other sections of the web industry. People from the WordPress community aren’t afraid to share their knowledge, expertise and code, and no-one worries about trade secrets.
These are the people you’ll meet at a WordCamp. People who are more than happy (eager even) to share their knowledge and experience with you and help you learn about what they do. People who don’t worry that you’ll steal business from them if you know what they know, because that’s not how WordPressers think. People who are very welcoming and don’t treat new WordPress users any differently from how they treat old hands.
I attended my first WordCamp alone and didn’t know a soul there: by the end of the weekend I’d made contact with people who I stayed in touch with and even worked with. At my second WordCamp I made contact with yet more people, some of whom are now firm friends and colleagues. I would never have met these people if I hadn’t been to a WordCamp, and they are my network of WordPress experts, skills, support and friendship.
Mark Phoenix of Relative Paths is starting out as a WordPress developer and met loads of people at his first WordCamp:
“I’m just starting out as a developer and WordCamp Birmingham was my first web conference. I was a bit apprehensive, but I needn’t have worried. I got to experience first hand just how welcoming the web community can be. There were so many who were happy to share knowledge and give encouragement. It was my first WordCamp, but it definitely won’t be my last.”
Don’t be afraid to go to the social events if you’re on your own: people will welcome you and if you’re prepared to talk to them, they’ll happily talk to you. After all, you’ve got an instant conversation opener if you ask what they do with WordPress.
You Might Even Get Work
I know a lot of agencies who go to WordCamps with the specific aim of recruiting developers and designers. Sometimes they’re looking for full-time employees, sometimes freelancers. If you’re a talented WordPress developer there’s a good chance that someone in that room is looking for your skills.
In the opening session at WordCamp Birmingham I asked everyone who was looking to recruit to put their hands up – about 20% of the people in the room did so. I then asked everyone looking for work to put their hands up, and about 30% of people did so. I encouraged them to make contact with each other at the weekend, so hopefully some hiring took place! At WordCamp London there was a ‘hiring / for hire’ board where people could write their names or attach their card and hopefully make contact with each other.
I’ve hired freelancers at WordCamps and I’ve also met people who’ve given me some great opportunities and exposure after the event. So the £25 you spend on your ticket could be repaid many times over if you meet someone who hires you.
So… You’re Convinced. What Next?
So I’ve convinced you that you should attend a WordCamp, fantastic! The next step is to find one you can attend.
Take a look at WordCamp Central’s schedule of upcoming WordCamps, and look for one within traveling distance for you. There are some fantastic WordCamps taking place this year, including the third WordCamp Europe in Seville in June, which will bring together WordPressers from around Europe and the world. If you want to start with something smaller, there should be one closer to where you live.
If there isn’t a WordCamp happening near you, then you might find that there’s a local meetup group you can join (and maybe encourage to organize a WordCamp). Take a look on the Meetup website and search for WordPress and your local city or area, and see what you can find. I did a search for WordPress meetups around the world and found hundreds of them!
If there isn’t a WordCamp planned in your area, why not set one up yourself, or find a group of people you can work with to do so? It’s quite a lot of work organising a Wordcamp so you really shouldn’t do it alone, but there’s no reason you can’t start small. There’s plenty of advice on the WordCamp planning site to help you get started.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: WordCamps are great. They’re one of my favourite ways to spend a weekend: my family think I’m away working all weekend, but I know I’m having fun and learning loads.
Attending a WordCamp will cost you a lot less than most other web conferences, especially if you don’t have to pay for accommodation or travel too far. And you’ll benefit from the event just as much as you would from something ten times the price, at least in my experience.
Maybe I’ll see you at a WordCamp some day, please say hi!
Image credits: Drew Kirkland