A love note to WordCamp
I got the opportunity to hit up WordCamp Grand Rapids a few weeks back. Shane and Peter are great at convincing people to tackle new and exciting things that push your comfort zone a bit, for me that means getting out into the community more. I must admit, I’m not much of a conference guy. I’m not naturally a mingler which is the key skill for conference attendance. Mingling, and expectation management. I went to SXSW Interactive a few years ago expecting to be inspired by the myriad of people presenting on fascinating topics. I found a weeklong bacchanal populated primarily by junior advertising account execs. Don’t get me wrong, fun was had in abundance but I left feeling a little uninspired.
The speaker/sponsor shindig the night before the event was delightful, everyone exceedingly pleasant and friendly. There are people from all over the country, and a range of experience and specialties represented (though a painfully obvious shortage of women and minorities).
The organizers of the event were omnipresent and approachable. You could feel that this WordCamp had grown out of a monthly WordPress meetup. The organization of the event itself was top notch. The only grumble I ever heard was about spotty wifi, but really the wifi is always spotty when there are more than 20 people in the room.
A couple hours into the event it hits me how totally unique and wonderful it is. The audience ranged from experienced hard core developers, to people that had never logged into the admin before. I sat across from some folks who were coming to WordCamp to help launch a new career and they were getting a guided tour all for $20. The people speaking were there because they were truly excited about the work that they were doing and felt compelled to share it. It wasn’t a show-and-tell of “how awesome am I” – it was a “look at all the amazing things we can do.” I’m sure that there are other fields and events where people come together in this fashion, but I’ve never experienced it. I hope that there are events like this in other fields, where rooms full of accountants get together and spazz out about deductions and online calculators and youngsters can hang out with old timers and talk about the way things used to be. I wish that when we talked about job growth and economic development, we talked about things like WordCamp and FreelanceCamp.
WordPress is a wonderful piece of software, but the real magic lies in the community of people that have come together around it. Consider me a convert. I love conferences. I love getting out of my little bubble and learning what people are working on. Give me a hotel banquet room full of people who are solely excited about teaching and learning from one another, some half decent coffee and bagels, and I’m a happy guy.