So many women are doing great things with WordPress — building businesses, creating jobs, and discovering a love of tech. The Women in WP podcast focuses on just that. Women in WP is a bi-monthly podcast about women who blog, design, develop, and market in the WordPress community. Angela Bowmen, one of the podcast hosts, traveled to WordCamp US and interviewed several women including myself. I spoke about how I came to use WordPress over 15 years ago and became involved in the community. It was a humid and rainy day in San Diego but a great time to be at the conference and I’m grateful for the opportunity.
I recently attended WordCamp US (aka WCUS), the annual conference for WordPress, back from its hiatus during the pandemic.
This was my first time attending WordCamp US and although it was much smaller than its typical incarnation – it was capped at around 600 attendees, down from thousands – it was huge to me in several ways. Read on for my experience and takeaways.
WCUS differs from local annual WordCamps because it is larger and draws attendees nationwide, hence the name, so as an attendee you get to meet people from outside your home city. WCUS typically features big sponsors, and an appearance from the co-founder of WordPress (more on that below).
WCUS is also a chance to celebrate the WordPress community, and after the sessions are over for each day, the celebration really begins with several parties put on by sponsors. The party by Godaddy Pro at the San Diego Air & Space Museum did not disappoint! Ethan and I got to enjoy some good tacos, two flight simulators, and seeing the sights around the museum.
Breaking the Chain
My intention for attending WCUS was to “break the chain” of zoom-only interactions with colleagues. It was a challenge to get back out there and expend so much social energy — but so worth it!
I also went out of my comfort zone and was interviewed for the Women in WP Podcast. I got to talk about my WordPress story and what brought me to WCUS. The Women in WordPress podcast as a whole, and this episode in particular, is a close look at women doing great things with WordPress – starting businesses, gaining independence, and creating jobs. Listen to the episode here.
Session Themes & Takeaways
Put People First: Accessibility and User-first site editing
On Friday, I attended the Website Accessibility Testing Workshop with Amber Hinds and Alex Stine. Alex demonstrated how he navigates a website with the screen reader on his PC. It was my first time experiencing someone using a screen reader in action and drove home just how important it is to prioritize accessibility and follow best practices.
Several accessibility items added to my list after these talks:
Always set the alt text of the logo to “Go to homepage” or have a Home link in the main menu.
Required form fields should use the word “required” (Gravity Forms makes this easy), use clear focus rings, and descriptive placeholder text, ie ‘[email protected]’, not ‘Email’.
Underlines should be used for links only, not for emphasis.
Avoid text in all caps, which can be misinterpreted as acronyms in screen readers and difficult to read when used for headlines or longer strings of text.
There were several more sessions on the topic of a11y, including one from Sara Cannon called Designing for Accessibility. Sara’s session along with the others all worked nicely together to recommend best practices for designing, building, and writing in a way that all people regardless of physical and cognitive abilities, can access. Sara included this great quote in her slides:
Good accessibility is about compliance, great accessibility is about empathy.
Another session focusing on users was Content Creators are Users, Too with Phil Crumm and Helen Hou-Sandí. Helen worked on the current whitehouse.gov website, which is an amazing example of beautiful and accessible web design. Their talk focused on creating a backend experience that mirrors the frontend in order to create a seamless editing experience. Higher expectations from website users are pushing us as website creators to build better experiences and make content editing a more intuitive, seamless process. Although this poses a challenge for us, it’s one we should embrace as a sign of technology working for people and not against.
Widen your Audience
I caught two interesting sessions about growing your audience by using video platforms.
Ebonie Butler’s talk How Live Streaming Can Level Up Your Career is an inspiring story of how she used Twitch to become a better developer, land a job, and build a community.
Joey Daoud’s session Blog to Video: Tapping into YouTube and Video SEO with Your Existing Content explained how to get started with YouTube and is a great primer for anyone interested in the basics of what you need (gear, script writing, thumbnail design, and more). This is something I’ve always been interested in and it was nice to see it laid out in one talk. The effort put in by YouTubers always amazes me.
One of the most powerful talks of the weekend was from Cami Kaos, DEIB: Uncomfortable Truths of Belonging. Cami spoke from her personal experience and as the DEIB Lead at Automattic. When people in positions of privilege do nothing to include marginalized communities, nothing changes, and we all lose. She challenged us to get uncomfortable in order to be inclusive by reaching out of our various places of privilege to create true belonging for people in marginalized communities.
Block Themes and the Future of WordPress
Many sessions on both days focused specifically on Blocks and Block Themes. My favorite talk of the entire weekend was Michelle Schulp’s session The Future Of Themes: Designing for the Block Editor and Beyond, which not only discussed the role of a theme designer in this new era of WordPress, but also gave a succinct “how we got here” — an overview of the past couple years of the evolving block editor (aka Gutenberg).
We’re now designing the content creation experience, not just the front-end design. We are creating comprehensive design system, not single pixel-perfect solutions.
Nick Diego’s session Build a Block in 15 Minutes was a quick dive into block development and how it can be done without learning React/JS and Rich Tabor’s session A New Era of WordPress Themes is Here: Block Themes was a look at how the theme landscape is changing and the role of the themes themselves is more user-focused.
I personally have mixed feelings toward the block editor, because it’s still a heavy lift to build an entire site with custom blocks vs using a page builder like Elementor. However, with ready-made block themes becoming more common, the experience for users and designer/developers continues to improve.
Block themes are the catalyst to providing a consistent theme-independent content experience.
This idea of theme-independence was echoed in Matt Mullenweg’s Q&A session, which you can watch on YouTube. Matt speculated that at some point there could be a universal block theme with the ability for such fine style control that is eliminates the need to switch themes for a new style, similar to what CSS did for HTML back in the days of the CSS Zen Garden.
The Q&A provided a look at where WordPress is headed and focused on responding to a variety of interesting questions and challenges from the attendees. This deepened my appreciation for WordPress as open source software and how it is reliant on its contributing community. This session’s very existence at a tech conference sets WordPress and its community apart from other software and their conferences, which are often gatekept by prohibitively high costs.
The People You Meet
I met so many folks from around the country (and even Canada and Mexico) at WCUS. (I wish I had taken more pictures!) I not only got to reconnect with folks I knew from previous WordCamps, but I finally met a couple of very special Automatticians.
Cami Kaos was our community organizer contact at Automattic when my fellow organizers and I took on WordCamp Asheville, but due to scheduling conflicts and the vast distance between Portland and Asheville, we had never met in person. We finally got to share a much overdue in-person chat and hug after her wonderful talk. Thanks for all you do, Cami.
And, more than eight years after I first became involved in WordCamps, I finally met Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress. Following his Q&A session several of us attendees got to speak with him and take photos. As I spoke, I got a bit choked up while trying to express just how much WordPress and WordCamps have meant to me personally and to my career. He was very gracious and said he hoped I would continue for decades to come.
It was a fitting end to an even experience I will reflect on for years to come. Like with every WordCamp I’ve attended, the friendly team spirit of the WordPress community shone through. From the carefully prepared sessions to the well organized event itself, this was an experience I will fondly remember.
WordCamp Asheville 2018 is a wrap! It was the fifth WordCamp Asheville and it might be favorite so far. Here are a few of my favorite moments and takeaways from the weekend.
What: WordCamp Asheville, annual WordPress conference Where: AB Tech Conference Center When: August 18-19, 2018
Themes & Takeaways
Never Stop Learning
Rachel Cherry’s keynote was a great reminder to never stop learning. Take time each week to read articles, watch relevant videos, or listen to podcasts. Create a block each week to take a deeper dive into a subject, like exploring a new tool, skill, or framework. These deep dives have always been hugely important to me as a freelancer, but I have to admit I’ve let this habit slip the past year. I let myself become busier and busier – sometimes working hard but not working smart – and forgot how much I love exploring articles and learning new tricks.
Tiffany Kutcha’s CSS Grid IRL talk got me excited to take a look at this new layout system. I’ve already spent time this week to learn more about it, and have scheduled a deep dive into this on my calendar!
It’s so important to just start instead of waiting for everything to be “perfect.” As a careful and risk-averse person I tend toward analysis paralysis. I let myself get caught up in wanting everything to be just right before starting something new. The fact is, we all start out a new thing a little rough around the edges, and it’s ok to appear unpolished. In fact, people seem to relate and respond well to this “realness” especially on social media. Emily Breedlove’s talk A Roadmap to Social Media Sales Funnels emphasized to get started and then re-evaluate whether you like a certain social media medium. Does it work for your target audience? Do you actually enjoy doing it? Are you good at it, or can you delegate it to someone else?
Aisha Adams told us that it’s ok to take a stance on social issues on social media in her lightning talk 5 tips for increasing engagement via Social Media. I always thought this might turn people off or scare others away. But if done well it can actually bring the right people closer to you.
Take Care of Mental & Physical Health
Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed more speakers getting real about work/life balance and talking about the importance of taking care of mental as well as physical health. A particularly powerful talk is this one from Cory Miller about his own personal challenges and finding support.
In Alisa Herr’s session, Winging it: Starting a WordPress Agency, she talked about starting her own agency with a strong mission and set of principles. She mentioned that among other business challenges like finding the right people for your team and maintaining your values, there’s also the challenge of your own negative self-talk that can come with depression and anxiety. One way she’s made progress is by flipping the perceived negatives into positives: I’m not stubborn, I’m determined. I’m not slow, I’m methodical. I’m not lazy, I find creative solutions. Positive self-talk is something I’m also looking to practice more, and it seems like it keeps popping up everywhere, like this recent video from Daniel Pink.
Along similar lines, John Hornsby’s talk on Sales for the Introverted Designer really struck home in a great way. John covered some great ground rules for customer service, like avoiding “mutual mystifications” — such as using vague wording like “I’ll call you later” or “as soon as I hear back from so-and-so, I will do xyz.” Creating more clarity in our communication, following up, and having a gameplan for how to handle difficult situations like an upset customer is key. Beyond this he talked about how to approach sales in a way that results in you and your client teaming up instead of facing off, and how this creates a win-win for both parties. I love this metaphor and message! I highly recommend checking out his slides.
Apart from the great sessions, we fulfilled one of my WordCamp dreams – donuts for breakfast! My husband is a super volunteer (as are some of the other organizer spouses) so he was tasked with picking up coffee and donuts on Day 2 of the Camp. My friend Lex helped set out food and helped with registration as in years past.
5 Years of WordCamp Asheville
The 2018 Organizing Team
As always, getting to be part of an amazing organizing team is the real joy of WordCamp for me. For me, this year was a different, more relaxed experience since I was no longer lead or co-lead organizer. I’m eternally grateful to Laurel Scherer for taking over the lead role! Last year, I felt it was time to let go of the lead and put my focus back on my business, and Laurel stepped right up. The result for me was that this WordCamp was the least stressful and sleep depriving of any prior :). I got to attend Camp without my head spinning full of tasks or stressing about the details. But, the fact that I can still be involved as part of this team means the world to me!
I could ramble on about WordCamp Asheville all day, and if you’re still reading you’re probably thinking “you just did!” This is truly one of my favorite times of year and I’m so grateful to be in this supportive WordPress community.
View all the slides from the sessions I mentioned here:
My lightning talk from this year’s WordCamp “Email Marketing in a Flash” is now live on WordPress.tv. The talk is about 15 minutes with some Q+A at the end. If you’re curious about the basics of email marketing and what can make it so successful for business, watch this and tell me what you think.