WordCamp Europe 2018: Takeaways and Future Expectations from Pixelgrade

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?

Răzvan:

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.


Oana:

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.


Vlad:

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.


Ilinca:

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. 😃


George:

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.


Radu:

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.


Alin:

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?

Răzvan:

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.

Oana:

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.

Vlad:

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.

Ilinca:

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.

George:

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).

Radu:

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.

Alin:

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