My first WordCamp – Why I loved WordCamp Europe 2015 and why you should attend one too

Last weekend, I attended my first WordCamp: it was WordCamp Europe 2015 which took place in Sevilla, Spain from June 26 – 28. One week later, I feel like I have processed my various impressions from there which I would like to share in this post.

If you don’t know what a WordCamp is…yeah, it’s hard to describe. When my friends asked me, I was like “it’s some kind of community event for WordPress users all over, with presentations of specific topics, getting to know fellow WordPressers and all that”. Some people also asked me if it was just one big party. Well, partly it was. But I think there’s no better and simpler way to sum it up than how it is described on the WordCamp website:

WordCamp is a conference that focuses on everything WordPress. – http://central.wordcamp.org

It is noticeable that, while most WordCamps are rather local events for WordPress users of a specific state or country (not exclusively, of course), WordCamp Europe is a get-together for people all over Europe. This year, it was held for the third time. I had never attended any WordCamp, not even any meet-up before. My only activities in the community were some blog posts and two plugins in the repository. “You’re getting started big, aren’t you?”, were the words I heard often during my last weekend in Sevilla. I experienced that most people had already attended local WordCamps before going to a WordCamp Europe.

I’m not really sure why I had never attended a previous WordCamp. I had already looked up WordCamps in closer cities like Cologne or Hamburg on the web, but had never actually purchased a ticket. Maybe it was because I thought it would be hard for me to get into the community. I’m a shy person and I always consider it easier to start a conversation with people from other countries than with fellow Germans. WordCamp Europe would prove me totally wrong.

I already met two fellow WordPress developers on the way out of the plane when we had just landed at the airport in Sevilla. We took a taxi into the city, then we went to our hotels. I didn’t stay at the Hotel Barceló Sevilla Renacimiento where the WordCamp was held, but I had found a room at a little smaller hotel right around the corner, only 300 meters away.

Channel in Sevilla
This is where our taxi dropped us. On the far right, you see the Barceló Sevilla Renacimiento, and right before that, the beige hotel I stayed at.

After checking-in, we met at the hotel (and from now on the term “hotel” will always refer to the hotel where the WordCamp would take place), relaxed at the pool and I got to know some more people from the German community. And I quickly realized that my assumptions had only been (like it usually is with assumptions) pointless. Since I had arrived on Wednesday, there were still two days left until the event would start, so we had some time to explore the city. So in the afternoon, we walked through the oldtown of Sevilla for a while, had some delicious calamaris (since we did not know any of the other stuff on the menu and were not able to communicate appropriately with the server) at a local diner.

Sevilla Oldtown
Entrance to the oldtown of Sevilla

Later at night, “the German bubble” as they called themselves and of which I now was already part of went to the city again, this time with only one thing in mind: Tapas! And that wouldn’t be the last time. It was so good – I mean, yeah, after all we were in Spain. But not only the food itself, also the location we had stumbled upon – and it generally was a great first night! One thing will always stay in my mind: When we wanted to ask for the check, I mentioned that I knew how to say that in Spanish. And so I asked the waiter, “La cuenta, por favor!”. When he came back with the check, he jokingly assumed that I was gonna pay it completely. And the others just responded that this would be the initiation rite to get accepted in the WordPress community. Of course I paid the complete check (please understand the irony here).

We had a few drinks at several bars on our way back to the hotel where all of us were glad to be able to find some sleep. Most of us had gotten up early in the morning to catch their flights.

Shadow paintings in Sevilla
I really liked these cool shadow paintings on the wall that we discovered. Of course we took some pictures of our own real shadows interacting with them.

The next day (Thursday) started very slowly, which was good considering that the temperatures in Sevilla were crazy. It was 38 degrees Celsius, and temperatures higher than 40 had already been announced for the weekend. I relaxed in the hotel lobby for a while and met more new people there, this time from outside the German bubble, some of whom had been involved with WordPress for a very long time as I experienced. We met up at the hotel some time after noon where Thomas, Sven, Detlef and me decided to drive into the city to do some sightseeing. Luckily for us, Thomas had a rental car with him, so we could at least reduce the time we had to walk through the heat. After a short stop at a Lidl (I still cannot believe that those cheap German supermarkets expand all over the world) we arrived at the popular cathedral of Sevilla.

Cathedral of Sevilla
The magnificient cathedral of Sevilla

It was an impressing experience, where especially Thomas and Detlef took a lot of pictures with their DSLRs (you can find some of Detlef’s great pictures on his site). But although we really enjoyed it, we got thirsty and hungry quickly. So we walked back into the direction where we had parked the car. Btw, the car in the image below was not the car we were riding with.

Obviously there was only one thing our appetite could lead us to: some more tapas! And although the place had not the same scenic appearance than the one last night, the tapas were as delicious!

Tapas
Some more delicious tapas in Sevilla

Guess what we did that night… while Thomas and Annette had been invited to a special dinner for speakers and organizers of WordCamp Europe (they were helping with the organization), another part of the German bubble went into town to have Tapas again. Tapas three times in two days, not bad! We ran into another group of WordPressers there, most of who came from Germany too, but there were also some visiting from other countries. It was a fun night, however we were disciplined enough to call it a day early since WordCamp would start shortly after 8am the next day.

When I arrived at the hotel the next morning, I quickly received my attendee’s badge, then we had some coffee and went into room 1 of the hotel’s convention center to hear the opening remarks for the event. The first talk I attended would be held by Zé who I had met the day before. He was one of the people who initially created WordCamp Europe, and in his interesting presentation he talked about his experiences.

I hope this and other talks will all find their way to WordPress.tv so that others can listen to and learn from them as well. Also, there are some very interesting presentations I wasn’t able to attend since they were overlapping with a session on the other track or since I was worn out by the heat and had to get a refreshment at my hotel.

We enjoyed listening to more interesting sessions of which I personally found particularly the short talk about an improved, more lightweight frontend editor for WordPress content by Adrian Zumbrunnen interesting. After that, there was a lunch break where we enjoyed all kinds of different foods. By the way, I really have to mention here, what the organizers and sponsors of WordCamp Europe achieved was fantastic. Not only was the experience itself invaluable, but also the location and food and after party and and and were well-planned. I cannot believe that I only paid 40 € for all that.

After the lunch break, it was time for the awaited Q&A with Matt Mullenweg, co-founder and CEO of WordPress. Obviously the room was packed. You can watch the full session on WordPress.tv. This leads me to another thing that really astounded me during my time at WordCamp Europe: I loved how everyone was at the same level. Some of the attendees were people I was already familiar with from browsing through the web, due to their impact on the WordPress project or plugins or themes. But regardless of whether they were an admin or a developer, a rookie or a veteran, a small business owner or an enterprise CEO, no one was VIP here at WordCamp. Well, maybe except for Matt, at least to some extend. But I guess when you create WordPress, it comes with a prize. 🙂 I was lucky enough to chat with him about plugin dependencies, a topic that had been bugging me more than once when developing plugins. Okay, and I was fanboy enough that I also took a picture with him (with a lot of backlight and my crappy cell-phone camera).

Still, the overall experience was amazing, I talked to so many people with different backgrounds, about WordPress-related stuff, but also about anything else. Most people were very open-minded, friendly and even as interested in what I do as much as I was interested in what they do.

Let’s get back to the first day of WordCamp Europe again. After taking a shower in my hotel room (it was indeed over 40 degrees hot) I listened to two more sessions, both on the first track, before WordCamp would wrap up for the day. During Mark Jaquith’s presentation about WordPress ethics and accessibility , he surprised (probably) everyone in the audience with the announcement that gay marriage had just been legalized in the United States, which actually fitted well into his talk.

Later that night, we went into town again, obviously for more Tapas. We drank quite a few beers later, and it got late. Fortunately I was able to resist to go to one more bar at 2am – because those who went there would indeed not show up on time for the REST API sessions the next morning which I was really looking forward to. That night it was still so hot when I entered my hotel room that I put the air conditioner on 15 degrees. Yes, I had a little cold the next morning, but nothing to worry about.

So on Saturday, I listened to two exciting sessions about the REST API which will enhance the possibilities WordPress provides you a lot more. The first talk was held by Ryan McCue himself who is also a lead developer of the project and responsible for merging it into Core. The second talk by Jack Lenox dealt with how themes can leverage the REST API – unfortunately time was a little short on that one, so he had to rush through the last few slides, yet he provided me some helpful inspirations. Now I have to fast-forward here a bit: At the end of the contributor day on Sunday, Ryan would announce that the work on the REST API for WordPress Core is officially done. So we can expect it to come very soon!

Right before lunch I attended a very interesting session by Karin Christen, “How to Run a Business While Traveling the World” which was my first one on the second track. I’m really glad I went there and I hope the session will be available online at some point because it would also be interesting for a lot of people outside the WordPress community. The slides for it can be found here. I’m not a digital nomad (since I’m still too location-bound as a student), but I’m playing with the thought of doing it later. What I really liked about this presentation was that it was not just the usual “just get up and go” thing related to that topic, Karin also provided several points to consider and mentioned that it’s not for everyone.

After more interesting sessions, mostly related to UI/UX, the WordCamp sessions wrapped up. At 9.30pm the after party would start, but there were still lots of time left until then. So the German bubble got together again, took a few taxis and went for another round of delicious Tapas. But this time we took it a little further: Since we had always been thinking so long about what we should order, we just ordered the whole first page of the menu. And we were still hungry afterwards, so we also ordered the whole second page. The thing was that we were still hungry after all that food because Dominik had finished it all on his own.

Anyway, we could not order more, that would not have been appropriate.

We were then joined by another large group of the German bubble which gave us the perfect opportunity to take a big group picture.

After that we walked to the after party which was pretty close to the location we had picked our restaurant that night. It took place at a beautiful location right beside the channel. The location was open exclusively for the WordPress community until midnight, and we received some free drinks there. Sadly, many people left pretty early since after midnight, the place got really really crowded when other locals from the city joined. Also, it obviously wasn’t everyone’s type of party. Still, I think it was a pretty fun night which ended late in the morning, around 5am for me.

Having only slept around 4 hours, I still was excited to get up because the contributor day was waiting. Like I said, I had never really done anything in the community before, but I was eager to contribute to WordPress Core. Obviously you could do so outside of a contributor day too, but I thought now is the perfect chance. So I joined the Core team led by Konstantin Obenland that morning and we got started working on some issues with the new Site Icon feature that will be included in the upcoming version 4.3 (which has just moved to Beta status).

During contributor day, I created my first patch for WordPress Core. It kind of made me proud. More importantly though, it showed me another time how the community affects the whole WordPress project – I learned that there are so many ways to contribute. And it released something in me: I wanna get more involved there. I do not just wanna do it, I’m gonna do it. In fact, I uploaded my second patch on Sunday night, after getting back to my hotel room. So beside working on plugins for the repository, I have another thing going on at the side now.

After the contributor day I listened to the closing remarks, just to learn about another announcement: WordCamp Europe 2016 will be held in Vienna, Austria. Alright, I thought, that is now a must-visit.

That night we went for a last round of Tapas in Sevilla. It was a great way to end what had been an incredible experience for me. The next morning, we took a taxi to the airport to catch our flight back to Düsseldorf (the two Svens and Annette were on the same plane as I was, so WordCamp eventually ended in Düsseldorf for me).

I would like to thank everyone in the WordPress community for the warm welcome I received. And a special thanks to the organizers and sponsors and everyone involved in making this WordCamp possible. I met so many new people with different backgrounds, different occupations, from different countries. I had an experience I don’t wanna miss, but more importantly, I want to keep it going. So I will definitely attend more WordCamps in the future, show up at local meet-ups, get involved with Core more – in short, get involved with the community more. I kind of regret I got started that late – but better now than never. I encourage everyone who is possibly in the same state that I was in before attending this year’s WordCamp Europe to just go and get a ticket for one. You will certainly love it.

So everyone, thanks again for the great time, and I will definitely see you next year in Vienna! And I’m sure I will see lots of you sooner than that too.

Oh, and as a last note: my MacBook is also branded after my first WordCamp. Nice and clean before, now it is full or WordPress stickers. I love being part of the WordPress community!