The Atlanta metro area will soon be getting a new type of WordPress meetup, targeted towards programmers and designers. Local organizers Mike Schinkel and Micah Wood announced the Atlanta WordPress Coders Guild on Meetup.com and have already attracted 55 members who identify themselves as coders.
“We are not affiliated with the WordPress Foundation’s Community Meetups initiative because we are not open to WordPress end-users,” Schinkel emphasizes in the meetup’s description. “We are instead a group for serious professionals with a goal of raising the bar for WordPress coder talent in the Southeast and to make it more viable for the major project funders to choose WordPress instead of closed source solutions.”
Official community meetups have a requirement to have membership open to “all who wish to join, regardless of ability, skill, financial status or any other criteria.” Since the Atlanta WordPress Coders Guild isn’t open to all skill levels, it is running independently. The organizers plan to host workshops centered around best practices expected by clients who spend $100k+ on projects that demand a high level of performance and security.
Atlanta’s Fragmented WordPress Community
Schinkel has lived in the Atlanta area for several decades and has a great deal of experience organizing professional meetups. He’s an accidental connector who became acquainted with many people in the area and has a unique perspective on the Atlanta tech and WordPress communities.
The startup community is also thriving in the area and Atlanta is experiencing growth across various sectors, including financial, health tech, IT security, and more. Unfortunately, this has not directly translated into a strong WordPress community.
“The WordPress community, however, is fragmented because of metro Atlanta’s expansive geography, lack of any natural geographic boundaries and no single entity with the clout to really organize a cohesive community,” Schinkel explained. The area has 10 different meetups, many of which fail to attract more than a handful of members on a regular basis.
The Atlanta WordPress Users Group, organized by Judi Knight, is the most successful with approximately 1600 members, but Schinkel says those are primarily people willing to travel to a meetup in town. Outer metro Atlanta residents are reluctant to attend.
“Also, from the perspective of a professional WordPress PHP, MySQL and jQuery coder, those meetups are characterized by really novice end-users,” he said. “Rarely, if ever, is there any significant WordPress coding talent in attendance, and intermediate to advanced topics are never announced or covered.”
The Need for More Workshops Focused on Advanced Topics
Schinkel believes that the Atlanta WordPress community needs the opportunity to have more advanced workshops and developer-focused meetups. “As far as I can tell the existing successful WordPress meetups all focus on the needs of end-users,” he said. “That’s great, it is what in part has driven the success of WordPress, but it also means that there are no local meetups to help WordPress coders to grow their skills.”
Schinkel used the term “coder” in the meetup name specifically to filter out those he would classify as developers.
Many people think of themselves as ‘WordPress Developers’ when what they do is install WordPress; select, install and configure a theme; select, install and configure plugins; maybe tweak CSS; and add some page templates with a bit if loop and template tag coding. So we think of those people as ‘Site Builders’ and think the term ‘developer’ is too broadly adopted to have any communicable distinction in the context of WordPress people.
There are a myriad of meetups in Atlanta for WordPress end users who want to learn about using themes and plugins, but virtually no meetups for coders who want to expand their skills. This is why the organizers are spearheading a WordPress coders guild in Atlanta.
“First and foremost we want to see more Atlanta agencies and internal teams in the larger Atlanta organizations choosing WordPress for their projects,” Schinkel said. “For that to happen there has to be a stronger talent base in Atlanta who are knowledgeable and experienced in WordPress best practices, at least as far as they relate to agency use of WordPress.”
He anticipates that the group will probably have its first “get to know each other” meetup in January and then start workshops in February. With advanced topics in the spotlight every week, Schinkel hopes that agencies and internal teams that rarely come out to network will be more motivated to attend.
“We want to create a stronger WP coder community than we currently have in Atlanta, and the one we currently have is really lacking,” he said. “Put it another way, Drupal has a far stronger developer community in Atlanta because of their Drupal meetup and yet Drupal has ~1/10th the marketshare of WordPress. Now that is really sad, don’t you think?”
Schinkel and Wood have identified a common problem with many community meetups where the topics focus on end user education. While connecting with people of all skill levels is important, more advanced WordPress professionals often become less motivated to attend meetups that don’t include topics that challenge them and help them become better at their work. The Atlanta WordPress Coders Guild aims to solve this problem with an alternative, non-traditional WordPress meetup.