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The WordPress VIP Workshop

I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to join some of the most advanced and influential WordPress community this week. The 2012 WordPress VIP workshop in Napa was a really interesting and inspiring event. I think it was well worth the money.

I had been really wondering what to expect. I had thought that we might guide the agenda through some sort of collaborative process. Maybe even setting it when we arrived. I was surprised to learn upon my arrival that the schedule was in fact a fixed agenda.

The Scene

The receptionist asked us if we’d like some wine while we signed in before shuttling us to our room in one of the shinny new cars provided by their sponsor, Audi. I think Andy Skelton said it best when he pointed out that The Carneros Inn, where we were staying, felt like the set for The Prisoner. Eerily perfect and enclosed.

The Carneros Inn is a base camp for wine lovers. It is a village of high-end cabins and villas with several on site restaurants, a cafe, a 24 hour heated luxury pool and hot tub, a spa, and a deluxe gym. You can literally walk from there to at least a dozen wineries.

I was giddy when I entered my villa to find that it came equipped with a bright orange Francis Francis! X1 espresso machine. Though, somewhere between the heated tile bathroom floors, the indoor / outdoor shower system, my luxurious fenced in back patio with space for 20 people to lounge, and the enormous and supremely comfortable bed, I couldn’t help but wonder if this room wasn’t a bit overkill. What a shame that I never really had time to do more than sleep in it. I would have loved to have spent a day lounging.

The People

Sara Rosso threw this shindig together. Hmm… actually, that doesn’t really do it justice… This must have been at least as complicated as a wedding. Sara Rosso would make a heck of a wedding planner!

All in all, there were about 50 attendees including the 17 “Automatticians”. Sadly, only 4 of the attendees were female. And in terms of ethnicity, while there was some variety, about 70% of the group was comprised of white guys. I’m not sure why, but there definitely seem to be a lot of white guys (about my age too) in the WordPress community.

Aside from the Automattic team, the people attending the workshop were pretty high caliber in terms of knowledge and business size. I was honored to count myself, and the folks from my team (Jonathan Brinley and Joey Kudish) among a group of people representing the likes of Time, CBS, MAKE Magazine, and All Things Digital. The most amazing thing on top of that was the fact that we all were so open and giving with each other. I’m not sure if that’s a WordPress thing or if that was because of the environment, but we all were completely excited to share our hard earned innovations.

The Automattic team in particular made themselves very approachable. I never got the sense that I was on the outside of a clique. Instead, I felt that I had been given a free pass to hangout and be a part of the internal workings of this stunning company (as though I had a golden ticket to Mr. Wonka’s Website Factory). The team did an excellent job of setting a tone of mutual respect and exchange. The result was an easy environment where everyone was eager to learn.

The State of the Word

It was really exciting to see Matt Mullenweg open the sessions with a summary of his view on the state of WordPress and with an intro to VIP in particular. One thing that he talked about that I am particularly interested in is the evolution of WordPress from a blogging platform, to a CMS, to an application engine. I’m especially interested in this because our own Events Calendar Pro is a step in that direction. In fact I later talked with Raanan about the prospect of putting our Events Calendar plugin on so that the greater WordPress user community could easily access it. I got the sense that it’s not totally out of the question.

Shortly after Matt wrapped up we had the pleasure of hearing from the Automattic CEO / “Band Manager”, Toni Schneider. Toni kicked it off with some mind blowing numbers to give us some context. WordPress powers at least 16% of the entire web! What’s more, WordPress is credited with running 53% of all CMS powered sites. It is leagues ahead of every other platform. Given that context, I suddenly felt like I was at a summit of world leaders. Actually, more than anything, I felt empowered. That reaffirms my sense that I’m in the right industry and that we have the power to make an impact in the world (or at least the western part of the world)

Matt and Toni are both wonderful speakers. If you haven’t had an opportunity to attend one of their talks, I highly recommend it!

The Sessions

All the sessions were great. They all had useful information. Some were not quite advanced enough for me but I am pretty sure that there were other folks who got a lot out of those sessions too.

Some of my favorite sessions included Mo Jangda’s debugging session, both of Mike Adam’s performance sessions, and Nikolay Bachiyski’s code standards session.

Mo’s debugging session was a real eye opener. He started with a pretty straight forward agenda, walking us though various basic approaches to WordPress debugging. About half way through the session, he presented us with a nasty image uploader bug and then simply told us to solve it. Many of us were completely unprepared to put our coder hats on and dig into it. I personally was having trouble mounting the drive for the Virtual Machine they gave us and didn’t bother for at least 15 minutes before I realized that people were seriously struggling with this bug. Joey and Jonathan (both representing our team) were the only people in the entire room of WordPress experts to solve the challenge! Go team! In terms of a lecture to learning ratio, that was probably the most efficient and impactful session I’ve ever attended.

Mike Adams wins the prize for preparedness. His sessions were 150% thought through. He gave us powerful examples of caching both in WordPress AND in Javascript. Did you know that rendering elements to the DOM has significant overhead? His solution: render the nodes to a variable and then when you’re done, render the variable to the DOM. He did this in a demo, that we all could try, where we could see a consistent and dramatic result.

The big take away from Mikes sessions… the best way to get a feature to perform is to not have the feature at all. But if you have to include it, then use the green waste mantra:

  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Recycle

Nikolay presented a number of workshops. In general, that guy is pretty damn funny. In particular, he presented on WordPress coding standards. Fortunately, we had also just started a significant company effort to standardize our code for WordPress so we were primed for this talk. In fact his talk answered many of our questions. I learned that the spacing habits that we inherited from Nick Ohrn are being applied in all new Automattic code.

It’s lovely because it makes things so much more readable. The only gripe I have with it is in the case of actions and filters. If you add a space arbitrarily between the parentheses and the quotes, then it makes it harder to text search the WordPress code base. In other words, if I search the code for
do_action('wp_head", do_action( 'hp_head' ); will not be returned. Instead, I now have to regex search for do_action\(\s*'wp_head. 🙁

The other thing that was pretty exciting was being present for JJJ and Beau’s announcement that is going to be launching a JSON api. I just really like being present for big announcements. It makes me feel special.

The Night Life

Photo by Beau Lebens

Of course every night was spent swapping tales at the open tab bar (Is it wrong that I fell in love with a beer in wine country?). To some degree, this was more important to me than the day sessions. I found that at night, while we were all loose and receptive, we could have the most interesting and unconstrained conversations that varied from Crosspost Architecture and Coding Standards to Krav Maga and the pursuit of a satisfying life.

And of course, the last night was my birthday. After the bar closed, Raanan and Sara busted out the store bought vodka tonics in plastic cups. #feelingthelove.

The Learnings

After an intensive week of submerging myself in the WordPress discourse, my biggest take away is actually that our team is pretty awesome. We know this stuff. I personally realized that I am more savvy than I thought. I didn’t really learn anything new. In fact, I felt like I could have taught many of the sessions myself.

This is not the first time that I have done something like this only to realize that I know more than I thought I did. And it is by no means a waste of time or money. On the contrary, it is very empowering. It inspires me to work harder and apply my knowledge and share the fruits of my efforts. And that… is priceless.




I lead a fantastic team of WordPress developers building enterprise level WordPress systems. On occasion I have been known to speak at conferences on the topics of Freelancing, WordPress, and the meaning of life, though I tend to spend much of my performance energy on my music. Perhaps one day I will figure out how to merge the two without having to write songs about debugging Javascript.