Carrie Dils, a WordPress developer from Fort Worth, Texas, recently published a wonderful post about surviving a WordCamp for noobs.  I really enjoyed her post and it sparked some more thoughts from my first WordCamp experience in Spring 2014 at WCATX.  This post is in response to her post as well as in addition to.

What Not To Wear…

Carrie makes great points about dressing casually, being okay with skipping sessions, and not stressing out.  But, by far, I believe the most important one was to not be shy.  I sit somewhere between shy and outgoing.  At times I want nothing  more than to sit alone in my room and read a good book.  But other times, I want to dive into a group of people and talk with each and every one of them.  But most of the time, I simply fall somewhere in the middle.  Unfortunately, I chose to fall towards the shy side at WCATX.  I spoke with a few new people, but mostly sat at the tables in the common room by myself.  I did introduce myself to @nacin, which was a cool experience, but I didn’t interact with most of the people that I was intent on meeting.

How To Thrive

So my advice would be this.  If you listen to nothing else I or Carrie say, GO OUT AND MEET PEOPLE.  Introduce yourself to everyone you sit by in sessions, at lunch, and in the keynotes.  Go by the sponsor tables and meet their teams.  Find out if you can help them or they can help you.  Sit with different people every time you get a chance.  Introduce yourself to those people you know on Twitter.  If you need help finding people on Twitter, check out the WordCamp’s attendee list (like the DFW one, here).  Honestly, finding a group that is going out after the sessions are done each night was a huge leap for me, but I made it and came away with more knowledge and some good conversations (and beer).

The key is to put yourself out there, even if that makes you a bit uncomfortable.  At WCATX, I took baby steps.  For one, it was my first WordCamp.  Second, I did introduce myself to a few people.  Third, I tried to focus on others stories and making sure I wasn’t doing all the talking.  But at WordCamp DFW, I plan on introducing myself to everyone (if I can) and having as many great conversations as I can fit into the one day event.  Heck, I’m gonna try to stay awake for some sort of late night Waffle House run or something. :)

Put It Into Practice

So what now?  How about coming to WordCamp DFW on October 4, 2014?  I’ve been helping organize the event and can say with all honesty that it is going to be a wildly awesome ride.  We’ve got smart people speaking, great sessions, great fun, and lots of great people already signed up to be there.  So why not you?  I’ve already got my ticket and can’t wait for it to get here.  In fact, let me know if you’re coming and I’d love to meet you and hear your WordPress story.

 

IMG_0463Seven Years a Developer

I finally did it.

I have worked with WordPress as a profession in many facets.  It started out as a means to allow student missionaries to keep their parents updated and record their travels.  In that regard, it replaced an antiquated (even for 2007) PHP picture uploader and blog-ish system that broken repeatedly at the worst moments.  WordPress literally saved my job.  From there I progressed into freelancing and client sites.  That took me to running a network of several hundred sites at a large nonprofit and freelancing on the side for my own clients and a local agency.  Fast forward to the present and I work as both a front end and a WordPress developer for the largest independent advertising agency in the US.  Seven years.  That’s how long I have developed WordPress professionally.  From my first site using table layouts to the responsive, HTML5, CSS3, highly optimized themes and plugins that I build today, WordPress and a passion for learning have brought me a long way.

WordCamps and Twitter Friends

At the beginning of 2014, I decided that this would be the year I not only joined the WordPress community (I had been the creepy lurker in years past, always following, but never talking) but started to give back as well.  So in late March, I bought my ticket to WordCamp Austin and decided to jump in head first.  I followed every twitter handle on the attendee list and started communicating.  Not just talking, but trying to add to the conversation.  You know, how blog comments used to work.  There were also several snarky comments.  :)  I got to know several people in my local area (Dallas/Ft. Worth).  Suddenly, I was part of the organizing team for WordCamp DFW.  That led to meeting more people.

When I attended WordCamp Austin, I met so many of the friends I had made on Twitter.  We were able to talk and get to know one another as well as attend the excellent sessions and learn from one another.  I got to meet Andrew Nacin, lead contributor to WordPress core.  The entirety of the camp was a thrilling experience.  I’ve sat through conferences that were great information.  I’ve even been to a few that were entertaining and community oriented.  But nothing even comes close to WCATX (WordCamp Austin).  The knowledge that I gained from sessions and the community and friends that I gained from walking up and introducing myself to total strangers was awesome.  This wasn’t some awkward networking event.  It was a chance to learn and grow in a community of people that are completely different than me politically, socially, in personality, heritage, religion, and ideas yet similar in the technologies we use and the ideals behind those technologies that we stand for.

Now What

So now I’ve done it.  I’ve addicted myself to WordCamps.  Sadly, the budget this year was for Austin and now for DFW only (Although I am insanely excited about WCDFW and you should come). But next year?  Oh, there will be more next year.  Now my goal is to continue to meet more WordPress people. This is the only way I know to describe them.  It’s not just developers (although there are a lot of those) or users, or aficionados.  WordPressers are a great bunch and I want to meet them all!  If you are going to be in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area in October, I highly recommend planning to attend WCDFW.  Even if you aren’t planning on it, do it.

My mind has already been spinning on what 2015 holds and how I can expand my outreach into the community. For one, I plan on submitting to speak at a WordCamp or two.  I love public speaking and haven’t done any since moving to Dallas last year.  Also, for the rest of 2014, my plan is to contribute 10-20 hours per month of time to the forums.  Then in 2015, I’d like to start contributing to core through patches and fixes.  No longer can I sit in the shadows using the software but not giving back.  It’s time to get involved and give back.

Calvin & Hobbes

How I feel about WordPress

So lately I’ve seen a lot of articles, announcements, and tweets that have been hard on WordPress and its perceived weaknesses.  Rather than replying in a defensive way through comments, replies, or email, I thought I would take the opportunity to express exactly why I, personally, love WordPress.  While I sincerely do understand that there are projects where another CMS or even no CMS is a better alternative, I have chosen over the past few years to make my living primarily through WordPress-centric projects.

A Brief History Of My Relationship With WordPress

I started my career as a developer in 2007 with a small, non-profit organization.  Part of my new position was to update and manage the organization’s website.  I had always been a computer guy, spending my time playing computer games, poking around the Windows files, and building ever faster towers.  Having never taken a class or possessing any knowledge in HTML or web development, I began to use Dreamweaver’s drag and drop builder to piece together table-based websites.  This led to peaking behind the curtain and editing the tables in the HTML editor and eventually even building some Flash based sites (without ActionScript programming, of course).  Our company took college students on international trips each Summer and allowed for team leaders to write updates and submit pictures through an archaic PHP system that eventually catastrophically failed.  In a scramble to replace it, I ran into WordPress.  I quickly started a WordPress blog on our servers, installed a free theme, and our staff and our students’ parents loved it!

By the end of my tenure there, I was beginning to edit themes that we bought and even create a few of my own.  I moved to Virginia in an effort to continue my college education (studying religion, not computer science).  I continued to build WordPress sites in my free time, even taking on several freelance jobs to help pay for living expenses.  My knowledge of HTML, CSS, JS, and PHP grew exponentially with each project.  After graduating from college, I was immediately offered a job (which my new bride really appreciated) at a large nonprofit as their WordPress developer.  They had about two dozen WordPress based sites.  Most of these sported free blog-style themes, with a few custom child themes.  I immediately set out to improve the sites in place in both design and development.  In a relatively short amount of time, I was (and am) managing over 200 WordPress sites across 5 or so multisite installations.  I now develop fully custom WordPress themes, plugins, and even a native iPhone application backend.

Let’s Count The Ways…

I love WordPress for so many reasons.  I could spend hours naming them and talking about them.  However, for the sake of brevity (and sanity) here are a few of my favorite:

Ease of Entry, Great Potential

WordPress, being written in PHP, is a fairly easy development structure to grasp and written in a language with a fairly low learning curve as far as web languages go.  While it has taken years to reach the point at which I find myself today, I learned the basics fairly quickly.  However, I am not sure I will ever truly know everything there is to know about WordPress, theming, plugin writing, or PHP.  There is always another function, element, convention, and way to do things.  WordPress delivers all of this along with my next reason.

Community

The WordPress community is perhaps one of the best reasons to be a part of WordPress.  The community is active, growing, brilliant, and generally, accepting.  I have slowly started becoming more and more involved in the community.  It took me a long time to truly understand this value and even longer to begin to interact.  I have yet to attend a WordCamp or submit to the core, but those are on my list of things to do over the next year or two.  With all the blogs, sites, SAAS, conversations and the WordPress.org Forums, there are so many places to read, write, discuss, argue, engage, and iterate that it can be overwhelming if you aren’t in it everyday.  I think is why it took me so long to get involved is that I simply didn’t know where to start.  But people like John Saddington, Tom McFarlin, and many others, without even realizing it, helped to encourage me to get involved through their many blog posts, tweets, replies, and comical cat postings.  They are rock stars in their own right, but they are simply developers, people, and in John Saddington’s case, fellow Georgians (even though I live in Virginia, Georgia, you will always be on my mind!).  This community allows you to be you, to be involved, or simply lurk on the outside until you are ready to dip a toe (or dive right in).

Business

WordPress as a CMS has been used in some very interesting ways.  From blogs, to website, to app engines, WordPress has been used to creatively run, manage, and create beautiful products, services, and tools.  With a whopping percentage of the overall website market being run by WordPress, it’s a good bet that some of your favorite sites and applications run on it.  That is a huge asset to me.  Pick a business and you can probably use WordPress to engage your customers.  Whether it is selling premium themes, plugins, running membership sites, blogging, or even educational tools, WordPress is a great platform to launch nearly any online business.  This means that being a WordPress developer, enthusiast, or blogger can open up nearly endless possibilities in the business world.

What About You?

Am I crazy?  A WordPress fanboy?  Is there another CMS that deserves my attention?  Or do you agree that WordPress is truly a great product, community and platform?  I would LOVE to hear your thoughts!