WordCamp Europe 2019: why it felt tricky for us?

We value gatherings such as WordCamp Europe because they offer a generous context to complete the puzzle, but also to get a glimpse into what’s next regarding the WordPress ecosystem. In Berlin, we had mixed feelings and plenty of debates around the good and the ugly within this community and how we can reshape the sense of belonging.

June 27, 2019
Reading time 12 – 18 minutes

Since some of our team members were first comers to this year WordCamp Europe from Berlin, while others are veterans, I decided to capture insights accordingly.

Therefore, I first asked the newbies to share more about the experience, and second, those who are at their third or fourth edition, to dig deeper and tell more about how this conference impacts their daily job.

  1. How was your experience as a first-time comer to WordCamp Europe?
  2. What did you learn this time and how does it influence you in your day‐to‐day work?

Let’s kick off with the people who just came in touch with this conference.

1. How was your experience as a first-time comer to WordCamp Europe?

Andrei raised questions and concerns about what we do

Being a first timer, I was amazed by the size of the whole event. From how big were the conference rooms to how many and diverse people participated as a part of this community. WordPress knows how to attract new believers and bring them together.

When it comes to the talks, I think I got value from about 70% of them, and by taking into account how many were happening at the same time (and maybe my choices were not all that inspired), I think it’s a good ratio.

I would have loved to see more speeches from people who were not directly invested into the event (as sponsors for example) since that would have, in my opinion, made the event more diverse and more abundant in information.

“WordCamp helped all of us at Pixelgrade open discussions about what we do, how, and why we do it.”

The best one for me was Josepha’s speech about change management. It’s a topic few people talk about and one that applies to every company. Not all changes are significant, but even small ones require going through a well-defined process and taking it seriously if you want to have everyone on board with the decision.

Going to WordCamp helped all of us at Pixelgrade open discussions about what we do, how, and why we do it, raised questions and concerns, revealed possible solutions, and in the end, managed to bring us together in a more profound way. 

It was a great experience in terms of spending quality time with our crew, getting to know each other, and finding out how everyone experiences our day-to-day challenges.

Cosmin discovered how passion can unite people towards a common goal

I had an idea about WordCamp Europe after documenting and seeing on WordPressTV several talks from previous editions, but I was still expecting to be surprised. And I surely was!

As a junior backend developer, I was very thrilled about Vladimír Smitka‘s “WordPress through the bad guys’ glasses” and Juliette Reinders Folmer’s “For the love of code” sessions. Seeing upcoming changes that PHP will bring to the table and security measures that should be a priority was my jam.

These talks made me pay more attention to the hidden features WordPress and PHP offer that may hugely improve any WordPress site.

“At over 3K+ attendants I realized how powerful passion is by uniting people in accomplishing a common goal.”

From writing code in a mindset that explicitly favors the latest PHP 7+ version but keeps backward compatibility, to being ready for every possible scenario in which a WordPress installation may give even the slightest information to hackers. 

I felt the community very involved and friendly. I am not talking about the tracks only, but also about the dedication that made everyone debate about the WordPress market and, most of all, Gutenberg and how it will change the future of this ecosystem

Considering that I’m talking about an open- source community this shouldn’t be a surprising thing, but at over 3000+ attendants it really made me think how powerful passion is by uniting people in accomplishing a common goal.

Madalin learned more from the Q&A sessions than the talks per se

I knew how big WordPress is, but I was surprised by how many people are actively contributing to WordPress. Being there, in the middle of the WordPress community, helped me understand its size, where it is now, and what are the plans for the future.

In the last couple of years, I’ve been reading dozens of articles about how to write code, how to optimize it, basically everything that implies my daily job. This is the reason why I wanted to better understand how customers think, so I chose to attend various talks. 

“I think it would have been better if there were fewer sessions in the same timeframe, but more space for questions. “

I’m happy to say that I’ve learned more about customer behavior. For example, Rob Hope taught us how to identify user needs and how to sell our products, without being too intrusive.

However, my favorite talk was Maintainable CSS architecture in Gutenberg of Sami Keijonen. I’ve found out that is better to dequeue default block styles and enqueue your own styles, than trying to overwrite them. Plus many more tips regarding CSS in Gutenberg blocks.

The main issue for me was the numbers of talks. I think it would have been better if there were fewer in the same timeframe, but more space for questions.

I felt that there where more valuable information in the answers within the Q&A session, than in the talk per se. 

Alex learned that perseverance is at the core of achieving great results

As attending my first WordCamp, my expectations were exceeded by the size of the event, by the diversity of people that participated, and how it was organized. I also liked that we could share experiences with the other participants and even with the speakers.

At my first talk that I was present at, held by Jenny Beaumont and called “Doing it wrong”, I liked the way she talked about her failures and how she managed to be where she is today. This inspired me because I know that even if you sometimes fail if you persevere hard enough you can achieve great results in the long run.

“I think that this experience brought us even closer to each other.”

I really enjoyed the fact that after participating at a talk, we would get together (I mean the Pixelgrade team) and share our experience and thoughts about it.

This way, even if we didn’t manage to attend one of the talk’s, we would get insides from my teammates. I think that this experience brought us even closer to each other.

Regarding the teammates who have a more in-depth understanding both in WordPress in general and WordCamps in particular, here’s how they experienced this event:

2. What did you learn this time and how does it influence you in your day-to-day work?

Razvan remembered that there’s a big difference between facts and personal truths

I was quite eager to attend this year’s WordCamp Europe in Berlin. Gatherings like this are always a great opportunity to check yourself, to get in touch with the community, to meet new people and find out about new technologies or revolutionary products. But most of all, it gives you a better understanding of the directions which the WordPress ecosystem is moving towards.

Even though I liked many of the later talks as well, the key takeaways I took from this event arose in the first couple of hours of the conference.

I really enjoyed Jenny Beaumont’s opening talk titled Doing it wrong. The content had meaning, and the delivery had a very good rhythm, but at the end of the day, it had value for me.

It was about time someone reminded me in such a fashion, that there’s a big difference between facts and personal truths, and that doing it wrong can always be a conscious choice.

“It’s never enough to raise problems as someone has to come up with a solution and it’s never enough to discuss an issue as consensus has to be reached.”

The next thing I did at the conference was to join the WP Cafe, where Morten Rand-Hendriksen hosted a discussion about WordPress Governance. I was no stranger to how complex the WordPress policy, leadership, and governance might be, but the reality exceeded my expectations. 

There are a lot of people involved in the WordPress ecosystem, many of them actively contributing for the common good and some who would rather follow their own interest, but almost all of them who would like to see some sort of change that they think would benefit the whole community.

The fact is, that making any kind of change takes a lot of time and effort. It’s never enough to raise problems as someone has to come up with a solution and it’s never enough to discuss an issue as consensus has to be reached. I personally believe, that in such a fast-paced environment, you must embrace change in order to achieve progress.

Oana conceived that constant changes can feel quite draining and overwhelming

I must confess I had quite a lot of mixed feelings regarding WordCamp Europe 2019, and there’s no wonder why since we’re in the middle of challenging times with WordPress and its ecosystem.

However, I was more present than ever to this year’s edition, and I gave my best to gather as much knowledge as possible. I wanted to question my biases, to discover different perspectives, to let go of my convictions, and to make room for new answers to pop-up.

The “Change your socks, change your mind: A no-fuss primer on change management” talk by Josepha Haden was my cup of tea. As a storyteller, I was mesmerized by the way she succeeded to capture my attention while delivering a robust yet meaningful message: change is hard. 

“A friendly reminder to not forget to take good care of myself while sailing across these challenging times”

We heavily talk these days about the blunt fact that the only certainty is the uncertainty. But when experienced daily, this state of mind can leave scars that require plenty of time and thorough work to get proper healing. And we definitely don’t talk enough about them.

Josepha’s speech particularly felt immersive because I’m wearing the CPO (Chief People Officer) hat at Pixelgrade, and this means that I stay at the forefront of change. I chose to try navigating it with kindness, honesty, and authenticity, which makes everything even more demanding.

Beside me dealing with all this dynamic, I’m directly responsible for walking through all my teammates and making sure we’re guided by the same stars — our culture and values. Often, all this communication and reinforcement effort is draining and overwhelming, but with the right attitude and people on board, the waves seem less frightening.

Josepha’s talk will stick with me for a while and hopefully will act as a friendly reminder to not forgetting to take good care of myself while sailing across these challenging times.  

George was motivated to learn more about the commercial area of the open source projects

Although this year WordCamp has been lacking a certain flair from the following years, there were some highlights that made me look through other lenses on common topics like language and communication.

I was inspired by a talk by Brian Teeman (Joomla co-founder) entitled The power of free. He questioned the common (and misused) understanding of what we mean by “free software” as it came out that it has absolutely nothing to do with price. It’s only about freedom and being free to do what you want with that software.

Languages are odd and confusing in general. When we choose to name the concept instead of explaining it, we tend to hide the actual meaning of a term, and even worse, we perpetuate it from one context to the other.

“It triggered in me an interest to dig more inside the commercial area of the open source projects: their business model, licensing and community input.”

Consider how many times people are concerned if they can sell a GPL licensed software when that license doesn’t have anything to do with the price. Remember Richard Stallman saying “Free software means free as in “free speech,” not free as in “free beer.”

I believe that this talk triggered in me an interest to dig more inside the commercial area of the open source projects—their business model, licensing, community input—and better understand the governance of companies like Automattic or Acquia over open source projects like WordPress or Drupal.

With a broader overview of how things work around us, I can start thinking of adjusting the strategic position that we currently have at Pixelgrade and find better opportunities for our current and future products in a way that fits the long term goals of the ecosystem that we’re part of.

Alin strived to be open and learn new things from other domains

I had to attend three times in a row WordCamp Europe to understand that I’ve gone there with wrong expectations. I worked in customer support for more than five years now, and I thought that more talks or workshops about customer support would be great. 

Even if this year there were more talks on the topic compared with the previous editions, I came up to the conclusion that’s a poor mindset. There are conferences about support, and I already attended one in Belgrade this year, organized by Support Driven. 

WordCamp is a place where you can learn things from other adjacent domains, like marketing, SEO, business, productivity, and why not, development.

“Being open-minded doesn’t mean only to be opened to new ideas, but to expand the knowledge to other areas which help you see the big picture.”

This is what I’ve done, and I went there with my mind open, trying to catch and learn things from other domains and from people who are doing something different than me.

I learned that open-mindedness is a key factor to perform in my field. It doesn’t mean only to be opened to new ideas and expressing a degree of flexibility, but to expand the knowledge to other areas that help you see the big picture and become better.

In my case, these adjacent areas are the ones I already mentioned: business, SEO, marketing. By becoming better at these domains I can be even better in the customer support field, too.

I returned with my mind and eyes wide open and prepared to expand my knowledge, in my journey to the best version of mine.

Vlad changed his view on WordPress, GPL, open-source and the community around

This year’s WordCamp Europe was a very different experience for me. The fact that I have personally gone through quite some changes in the last year definitely contributed to the shift in perspective.

I believe I managed to see and hear all that the event had to offer with a much clearer mind and heart, more in line with my values and principles, on the one hand, and through the filter of my leadership role at Pixelgrade on the other.

I managed to make peace with the fact that WordPress is a commercially driven project, Automattic being the main actor, by a large margin. The WordPress community was and still is wonderful and enthusiastic.

It saddens me to realize, finally, that all this goodwill is taken for granted, that through careful lack of communication and clarity about the way decisions are to be made, this community is being held hostage by not-so-transparent commercial interests.

“My view on WordPress, GPL, open-source projects and the communities around them, has changed. Not better, not worse, but different.”

The fact that the WP Cafe talks about governance were relegated to a literal corner, while having the largest conference center in Europe at our disposal, speaks volumes.

Another thing struck me: the myopia exhibited by Matt towards Europe (it was WordCamp Europe after all) and everything non-US in general. It is quite strange to only focus your talk on big US public projects where WordPress was involved when you are talking to a mainly European audience.

I believe the fact that multi-lingual in the WP core is the last phase of Gutenberg (many years from now) is a direct consequence of this US-centric, enterprise-centric view of the web.

Looking forward, I think my view on WordPress, GPL, open-source projects and the communities around them, has changed. Not better, not worse, but different. Like the saying goes: once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it.

There’s no doubt we have plenty of things to sleep on after WordCamp Europe 2019, but once again, we need to embrace the challenging journey of the unknown. What’s crystal clear is that we will stick to our values and continue to do work that’s in alignment with who we genuinely are.

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