Last weekend I took a literal flying trip across the pond to attend WordCamp Atlanta – I was only there for 4 days. The battle with jet lag aside, it was fantastic. I always highlight how wonderful the WordPress community is, and as ever this was true of this visit. I’ve got a lot of friends in America, for which I consider myself fortunate since I live so far away, I really enjoyed catching up with people I know and making a few new friends.
WordCamps come in all sizes, since Seville I’ve been to every WordCamp Europe and US, and while there is something marvelous about seeing so many people in one place talking about my favourite CMS, I really enjoy the smaller camps too. Not that Atlanta is small, it’s over 600 people, with 5 tracks, but by comparison it felt a lot more intimate. I also went to London last month, which is a similar size and experience. A small apology to Dan Maby and the other organisers of London as I ran out of time to write it up, and now the moment has passed. After this post most of my time will be concentrating on WordCamp Bristol next weekend.
As ever, I’d like to highlight a few of my favourite speakers.
Chris was the keynote. I’ve seen him talk before, and he’s incredible. He’s been in the business for 25 years and took time to pass on the lessons he’s learnt, that is to say the things he wish he knew when he started out. We all know that you can’t teach experience, some things just have to be lived to resonate and sink in, but his advice was both well-observed and sage, we should all take note, even those longer in the tooth like myself. Chris has held several high-profile positions at leading tech companies, and is presently at Liquid Web.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy
Josepha is a genuine star of the WordPress community, as Executive Director of WordPress she literally manages a project that has benefited everyone on the planet who browses the web. I’ve seen her speak several times, she is always articulate, intelligent, insightful and funny. At the moment she is concentrating on “fireside chats”, although I saw no evidence of flames. The format is that Josepha is joined on stage by someone who introduces her, asks questions, then invites the room and Twitter for more questions. This time it was Jon Desrosiers from Blue Host. The topic was “Fostering Collaboration Across Cultures”, something that I’m very familiar with having worked with companies across the world. I think both Jon and Josepha were excellent, there were some salient points that are useful for anyone working in a distributed team, especially across countries or continents. I like this interactive format, it’s great to see Josepha talking directly with people from the WordPress community.
Last month in London, our very own Tess (Mind Doodle Marketing Manager and team lead for WC Europe Comms), was the other person on stage for Josepha’s fireside chat, “Building a Culture of Safety”. I wonder if the next fireside chat will also have the word “Culture” in its title – this could be a guessing game.
Ronnie is the Chief Business Officer for Incsub, the company behind WPMU Dev, CampusPress and Edu Blogs. As part of his role he managed the compliance program for GDPR, and as such was able to share his valuable experience. As Ronnie freely admits, Privacy isn’t the sexiest or most engaging of subjects, but it’s one of the most important.
Dwayne is a natural born performer, in his spare time he loves karaoke and improv comedy. While he didn’t sing, his talk was very funny. He is someone who always makes me laugh. Dwayne’s talk was on Markdown, it can be used not just in WordPress but almost everywhere online. As an aside, I noticed that speaker applications for WC US enabled Markdown.
For the unfamiliar, Markdown is a way of writing with easy-to-use short cuts for bold, italics, lists, headings, etc. Dwayne is a prolific blogger, I’m staggered by the depth, detail and length of his posts. For WordCamps, his method for achieving this is to take notes as he goes, then he writes them up into a blog post while flying home. He does this offline, and by using Markdown. Once back, he has some fancy bash scripts that interact with the WordPress CLI to create a post on his blog. It’s neat, and a great real-world example of how Markdown can save time and be useful.
Dwayne is the Community and Agency Success Manager at Pantheon. Wow, that’s a long title. He’s also a big advocate of make.wordpress.com, forever encouraging others to participate through his leadership and enthusiasm. Outside of WordPress he is also active with Drupal, and attends myriad conferences for both.
Monday – National Center for Civil and Human Rights
My flight home wasn’t until 10pm on Monday, so I had some spare time to explore Atlanta. My initial plan had been to visit the puppet museum, as I’d heard they had an exhibit featuring Jim Henderson’s muppets. To my dismay, the museum is only open 6 days a week, and – I’m sure you can guess where this is going – Monday wasn’t one of them.
Instead I had to look for something else. Atlanta is the proud home of Coca-Cola. Lots of people suggested that I visited their museum, but I don’t drink soda, so the idea of being offered 20 variations of a drink I don’t like didn’t appeal. In the end I decided to go to the Aquarium, another place that had been heavily recommended. I took a leisurely stroll to get there, via the Olympic Park. The sun shone, and I spent an incredibly pleasant hour relishing the fact that I had a little time to myself without the need to do anything, they have fountains that dance to music, which amused my simple mind.
Eventually I continued on to the Aquarium, but when I got there I discovered the National Center for Civil and Human Rights – when I say discovered, I’m not pretending to be an Elizabethan sea captain, it was there before I just didn’t know. So I changed my mind. It was an emotional and educating experience. As a Brit, I have to acknowledge the horrific and inexcusable things that were done in the name of Empire. Britain traded slaves but there was never a slave culture in the UK; while we’ve had severe racism, and to a lesser extent still do, we’ve never had legislation to directly enforce it.
Clearly, I’m not uneducated, so knew that this had happened in the US. I also know about Martin Luther King, the Freedom Riders, the KKK and segregation amongst other things. However, I hadn’t realized just how bad it was. The fact that mainstream politicians openly believed and advocated for such vile policies. The fact that truly amazed and appalled me was that in many states mixed-race marriages were illegal. I thought they were merely frowned upon and discouraged by certain misguided groups of society. The notion that someone could go to prison for marrying the person they love is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard. This is still recent, people alive today were subject to these laws.
If anyone else finds themself in Atlanta with a spare afternoon, I’d recommend skipping the soda and fish and going here instead. It’s not necessarily a pleasant experience, but something everyone should know more about. The bravery of the people fighting for their rights, too frequently at the cost of their own life, is something to be lauded and appreciated by everyone wanting to live in a free and democratic society.
Thank You to the Organisers
As I know from my current experience, these events require a lot of work. The people leading give their time freely, time which is valuable. Thank you to everyone who put on such a great weekend. I was made to feel extremely welcome. I’m lucky that my role requires me to attend lots of WordCamps, both in Europe and the US. WCATL is up there as one of the best. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and would recommend.