WordCamp Europe 2018: Takeaways and Future Expectations from Pixelgrade

Oana Filip

We’ve always been believ­ers in the pow­er of com­mu­ni­ties to change the world, espe­cial­ly when they are open-source, as Word­Press is. We glad­ly attend­ed our third edi­tion of Word­Camp Europe (after Vien­na and Paris), but this time it felt dif­fer­ent.

We enjoy shar­ing our thoughts after such intense learn­ing expe­ri­ences for oth­er folks who didn’t have the chance to go to Bel­grade, but also for the orga­niz­ers who are hands-on on cre­at­ing the best pos­si­ble expe­ri­ence.

I asked my team­mates about what moved them at Word­Camp Europe 2018 (1), but also about which expec­ta­tions were not met (2) so the folks behind this con­fer­ence could con­sid­er explor­ing in the next edi­tions. Let’s dive in!

1. What did you learn at WordCamp Europe 2018?


Word­Camp Europe was a great expe­ri­ence. The talks were very diverse, rang­ing from design process­es and tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs made in the Word­Press core, to finan­cial fore­cast­ing, ethics and even men­tal health at the work­place. I real­ly enjoyed Morten Rand-Hen­drik­sen’s talk called “The Ethics of Web Design” that brought into per­spec­tive how seem­ing­ly small deci­sions may have a great impact in the long run.

The Guten­berg edi­tor ris­es to become a real game-chang­er in the Word­Press indus­try. It looks like it will either make it or break it for all the estab­lished theme and authors out there.

Hold­ing peo­ple account­able for bad design deci­sions made in the past may not be a rea­son­able thing to do. Morten didn’t try to coin some stan­dards or reg­u­la­tions for a case of “dig­i­tal mal­prac­tice”. He instead tried to pro­vide a frame­work for design­ers and devel­op­ers alike to help them find the most eth­ic solu­tion for any giv­en sce­nario and the way I feel is that he has done a great job.

The Guten­berg edi­tor was pret­ty much in the spot­light on this edi­tion of Word­Camp Europe, and for good rea­sons. It is not only a com­plete­ly new way in which Word­Press users can cre­ate and pub­lish con­tent on the web. Guten­berg ris­es to become a real game-chang­er in the Word­Press indus­try. From my point of view, it looks like it will either make it or break it for all the estab­lished themes and authors out there. That’s because, as Noel Tock has put it in his talk, Word­Press has come to a point where it needs to chal­lenge its posi­tion in the mar­ket. The time­frame in which the impact made by Guten­berg will grow to its full poten­tial isn’t cer­tain, but it will come down to its adop­tion rate and the agili­ty of all devel­op­ers that have a stake in it.


I still have mixed feel­ings about Word­Camp Europe 2018. It’s was my third time attend­ing this con­fer­ence, and the Bel­grade edi­tion sur­prised me in many ways.

We tend to for­get the tremen­dous advan­tages of slow­ing the rhythm and embrac­ing a more in-depth approach.

How­ev­er, what I kept in mind (and soul) after lis­ten­ing to a bunch of chal­leng­ing speech­es was more a mood and less a set of spe­cif­ic notes or thoughts. The feel­ing of pac­ing down.

In a world where speed is king and being under pres­sure is pro­mot­ed as his best pal, we tend to for­get the tremen­dous advan­tages of slow­ing the rhythm and embrac­ing a more in-depth approach. I believe that we need to talk more about what’s in it for us when we step aside, take what­ev­er time we need to ana­lyze, to find answers to tough ques­tions and make well-informed deci­sions.

This being said, two talks, in par­tic­u­lar, touched me at Word­Camp Europe. One deliv­ered by Davide Casali about how mas­ter­ing feed­back can enrich our lives, and one signed by the one and only John Mae­da and his pro­found inter­est in deep design. What I loved about both of them was pre­cise­ly this rare care to dig deep­er and look after the why behind what’s famil­iar and obvi­ous. Only then we have a real chance to get clos­er to authen­tic­i­ty, truth, and bal­ance.

If we don’t take the time to look in people’s eyes, to active­ly lis­ten to their con­cerns, to be present, then how could we build a per­for­mant team, will­ing to impact the world and make it bet­ter? On the oth­er hand, if we mere­ly pol­ish things and hush them up, how could we pro­vide an expe­ri­ence that peo­ple love and remem­ber in the long run? My assump­tion is that speed is not the answer.


Prob­a­bly due to the uphill bat­tle we’ve been going through inter­nal­ly at Pix­el­grade but also regard­ing doing busi­ness in the cur­rent Word­Press ecosys­tem, I’ve decid­ed to use Word­Camp Europe to try and get a birds-eye view of how things are unfold­ing in the short and medi­um term. In my mind, this meant bal­anc­ing the opin­ions expressed by the speak­ers with what was being pushed front and cen­ter in and around the spon­sors’ booths.

Dur­ing this two days tan­go, I’ve giv­en it my best to gauge what was being spo­ken about, but equal­ly what was miss­ing from the con­ver­sa­tion, what has been left behind when look­ing at the oth­er two Word­Camps Europe I’ve attend­ed. Guten­berg com­mand­ed a lot of stage time, includ­ing Matt’s whole keynote, while out­side, around spon­sors, the red thread was around per­for­mance and spe­cial­iza­tion.

While on pre­vi­ous edi­tions, inclu­siv­i­ty has been framed main­ly around acces­si­bil­i­ty, this time I sensed a sub­tle shift towards design think­ing and embrac­ing the full human diver­si­ty when solv­ing prob­lems.

The need for inclu­siv­i­ty was the sec­ond star among speak­ers, expand­ed this time with a high­er lev­el approach. For me this is a sign that the Word­Press ecosys­tem is matur­ing — we are start­ing to have grownups talks. While on pre­vi­ous edi­tions, inclu­siv­i­ty has been framed main­ly around acces­si­bil­i­ty from a tech­ni­cal stand­point, this time I sensed a sub­tle shift towards design think­ing and embrac­ing the full human diver­si­ty when solv­ing prob­lems.

The third over­all theme, and this is where speak­ers and spon­sors over­lapped most, was inte­gra­tion in the age of deliv­er­ing busi­ness val­ue rather than just Word­Press sites. Again, the ecosys­tem has matured, and it has the con­fi­dence to chal­lenge its place in the [online] world. This is very scary for a lot of peo­ple but also opens the door for pre­vi­ous­ly exclud­ed, high­ly skilled pro­fes­sion­als to step in and take things fur­ther. I am with the opti­mistic bunch.


Word­Camp Europe 2018 shined some light on what I real­ly seek in a com­mu­ni­ty, work­place or any oth­er group of peo­ple. I sure­ly was curi­ous about the design talks or han­dling anx­i­ety in the cur­rent con­text of dig­i­tal work­spaces, but the click was some­where else: Guten­berg and the organisers+volunteers team.

How impor­tant it is to align a team with the core val­ues of any­thing they want to cre­ate so that their results are coher­ent.

Guten­berg, as hyped around in the Word­Press sphere, is dis­rup­tive, fresh, mas­sive, maybe uncom­fort­able for some of us. I can’t go too deep into how impor­tant this move is for WP or not, since I don’t get all the tan­gles of this sys­tem yet, but I can sure­ly say that the round­table with the Guten­berg team was a talk focused on val­ues and how the devel­op­ers are hold­ing them and are con­sis­tent in what­ev­er deci­sion they take on the way. This was a high­light that made me under­stand how impor­tant it is to align a team to the core val­ues of any­thing they want to cre­ate so that their results are coher­ent, use­ful, inspir­ing and aimed to the peo­ple, not the sole exis­tence of the final out­put.

The orga­niz­ers and vol­un­teers just trig­gered some flash­backs from high-school, when I was vol­un­teer­ing. It remind­ed me what a warm feel­ing it is to help oth­ers in the mak­ing of a love­ly expe­ri­ence for such a big com­mu­ni­ty, all this through a tiny com­mu­ni­ty of can-do-ers that I saw roam­ing around WCEU. It was wel­com­ing ener­gy that strength­ened my belief of how impor­tant a place and the peo­ple around can make your day or not. And they made my days enjoy­able. 😃


What start­ed last year as an inter­est in bring­ing more design­ers to Word­Press, con­tin­ues now through anoth­er per­spec­tive of how design can push for­ward the change need­ed in such a big ecosys­tem.

I attend­ed (anoth­er) inspir­ing talk by John Mae­da where he asked what’s hap­pen­ing when we don’t push our­selves to the lim­it. The sim­ple answer is that we don’t grow and we’ll not be able to make a change:

When things change, you have life. If every­thing is not chang­ing, this is what we call death.”

It’s our nat­ur­al ten­den­cy not to want to step out of the com­fort zone as it takes extra effort and no one might give us points for that — but with­out stretch­ing there will be no change.

It remem­bers me of one of my faiths that I should always work as close to the lim­it of my capa­bil­i­ties — that being the only way to dis­cov­er how to extend those lim­its. It’s impor­tant to push reg­u­lar­ly the enve­lope of what is cur­rent­ly accept­able, and some­times I will find new things that will shape the change.


For me, the most excit­ing thing about Word­Camp this year was the appear­ance of Google as a spon­sor and as a part of the Word­Press ecosys­tem by try­ing to get involved in things that are going to change.

Every­body knows that Word­Press is pret­ty big (and is going to get even big­ger for sure) but the pres­ence of Google was a great and pleas­ant sur­prise (at least for me). I’ve always kept an eye on things like Pro­gres­sive Web Apps or the AMP project, and I’ve always wait­ed for the moment when Google will step in and get involved in mak­ing Word­Press work “but­tery-smooth” with these tech­nolo­gies.


There’s no bet­ter place to go. If you want to grow in what you do, then you need to go to the place where all the peo­ple who are pas­sion­ate about the same thing as you are going. A place like that is Word­Camp Europe. I’m grate­ful that I was able to attend, for the sec­ond year in a row, in Bel­grade this year.

Part of my annu­al goal is attend­ing var­i­ous meet­ings and work­shops to con­nect with oth­er peo­ple that have sim­i­lar con­cerns with me, to learn from them and to share my expe­ri­ence, too. This is how I believe we can grow togeth­er.

There’s some­thing that stuck in my mind, and that’s part of Morten’s talk — every design deci­sion we make will influ­ence our users’ lives. Con­cern­ing cus­tomer rela­tion­ship, I can say that most every­thing I make in my dai­ly job will influ­ence the customer’s life, too. I’m sure that if I keep this in my mind, I will have the best atti­tude every sin­gle time I’m deal­ing with a cus­tomer.

It doesn’t seem to be some­thing new or out of the ordi­nary, but it’s some­thing that should be kept in mind and always remem­bered. Besides oth­er good things, Word­Camp remind­ed me about that, and this is why I’m grate­ful.

2. What are your expectations for the next WordCamp Europe in Berlin?


Attend­ing the con­fer­ence has been a pret­ty weary thing to do in both good and bad ways. There was always a place where I want­ed to be, a talk I want­ed to lis­ten to and a dis­cus­sion that I would’ve want­ed to lend an ear to. These are all good oppor­tu­ni­ties, but there were times when it seemed a bit too fast-paced for me. I know that. There are a lot of extra­or­di­nary things hap­pen­ing at Word­Camp: con­tri­bu­tions, great talks, work­shops, net­work­ing, etc.

I feel like, to get the most out of that, there need to be more tracks, with a slight­ly short­er sched­ule, that are more focused and which would give a bet­ter sense of flow dur­ing a con­fer­ence day. This is what I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing at the next edi­tion of Word­Camp Europe, in Berlin.


As both a com­mu­ni­ty builder and an ex-event orga­niz­er myself, I know how hard is to run spot­less con­fer­ences, espe­cial­ly that big. It implies a wide range of resources of all kinds and most of the time there’s a lot of effort that only the peo­ple behind the scenes can ade­quate­ly esti­mate it. So hats off for all of the orga­niz­ers of Word­Camp Bel­grade and an extra round of applause for those 170 vol­un­teers.

Still, I hope that next year in Berlin we’ll have the chance to take our cof­fee inside the con­fer­ence room, we’ll have bet­ter flows for lunch­es and a more peace­ful rhythm of the entire expe­ri­ence. Mean­while, keep mak­ing the Word­Press world a bet­ter play­ground for all of us.


When think­ing of Word­Camp Europe 2019 in Berlin, I encour­age the orga­niz­ers to keep the long breaks between talks, but I don’t think hav­ing the work­shops at the same time with the talks was a good idea.

Often I found myself giv­ing up on a work­shop because I found more val­ue in 2 or 3 talks. I would argue that work­shops should be giv­en their right­ful place and atten­tion in a sep­a­rate day, along­side the con­trib­u­tor day and the two days of talks and net­work­ing.


For Word­Camp Europe 2019, I’ll keep it short: I hope I can get into the organizing/volunteering team, have a slight change in per­spec­tive and even­tu­al­ly get to chip in so I can make it an enjoy­able expe­ri­ence with what insights I can offer.

Expec­ta­tions-wise, I’d rather see more focus on com­mu­ni­ty meet-ups, mod­er­at­ed or not, since it feels like a quite aban­doned area of what WCEU can fos­ter; either-wise, it could just be an online-streamed con­fer­ence.


Dear WCEU crew, this was anoth­er big event in the com­mu­ni­ty, but as much as you love to ship it, call it final and every­one will give you praise for doing that, it’s equal­ly impor­tant to cre­ate some space and leave some ener­gy at the end, to lis­ten to what might be improved.

For me, it could have been bet­ter to pay more atten­tion to the design of the facil­i­ty and the moments cre­at­ed through­out the day. I felt that the over­all area lay­out could have been defined and struc­tured to bring more peo­ple to share some­thing togeth­er at the same time (e.g., the meal), with­out break­ing into a con­fer­ence talk and hur­ry up to drink their cof­fee just before the entrance (as it was not allowed inside).


As for Word­Camp 2019, I think that extra seats for con­trib­u­tors day would be great. There will always be work­shops to get the atten­tion of 90% of the Word­Camp par­tic­i­pants, and that doesn’t mean that only half of the WCEU atten­dees should be able to attend. I don’t know, maybe doing the same work­shop twice would be a good idea.

I’m sure that there were a lot of oth­er par­tic­i­pants that were sad for not tak­ing part of some work­shop due to the seat lim­it. Word­Camp Europe evolved every year by get­ting real feed­back from atten­dees, so I’m pret­ty sure that the next year this won’t be a prob­lem any­more.


Look­ing for­ward to Word­Camp Europe 2019, I hope to see more cus­tomer-cen­tric top­ics and maybe less tech­ni­cal dis­cus­sions. They are both crit­i­cal, but I like to say that you can grow your tech­ni­cal skills when­ev­er and wher­ev­er you want, but if you’re going to improve your inter­per­son­al and soft skills, the best place to do it is beside oth­er peo­ple like you.

👋 Conclusion

All in all, I guess this is the beau­ty of Word­Camp Europe in the end. To expand our per­spec­tive, to get out of the com­fort zone, to explore sen­si­tive top­ics, to con­nect with the com­mu­ni­ty and reframe our way of mak­ing the Word­Press ecosys­tem a bet­ter one. Cheers to all and c’ya in Berlin! 🤞

Oana Filip
Oana Filip

Digital storyteller @Pixelgrade and community builder for creative industries. A true believer in the power of making the world a better place.