My Experience – WordCamp Grand Rapids 2013

Things I Learned About The City

This event marks the first time I’ve visited Grand Rapids, Michigan. I can say without any doubt that Grand Rapids is a beautiful city. I got the impression while being downtown that I was in a large city but it wasn’t large enough to feel inundated like New York or San Francisco. The skyline has large buildings but you can still see the horizon in some parts of downtown. The city also has a wide river that flows through and around the city which from what I’ve read, is the origin of the city’s name. However, I saw the river as wide, shallow, and nothing rapid about it. There is talk in the local community around the idea of placing large boulders back into the river to generate rapids but I’m unsure of that progress.

The other thing I learned while in Grand Rapids was the number of local breweries in the region. I had the pleasure of eating at two of these breweries. One was called Founders, the other was Grand Rapids Brewing Company. The food was excellent in both locations and although I didn’t drink any beer since I’m not a hoppy kind of guy, the WordCamp attendees I was surrounded by couldn’t stop raving about some of the beers they tasted at each place. The third place I ate at in which I did try a beer (Brouwerij Lindeman Vlezenbeek, Belgium a raspberry flavored beer) was HopCat. A place with something called ‘Crack Fries‘. These crack fries are considered famous in the area because of the unique blend of spices applied to them. After eating them, you’ll understand why they have their name.

The Event Itself

The event was held at the DeVos Center on Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus in downtown Grand Rapids. Out of all the WordCamps I’ve attended, those that are at some sort of college campus location have gone smoothly. This one was no exception. Although I didn’t attend very many sessions, I did manage to catch up with quite a few people to talk shop and other interesting things going on in the world of WordPress. At this particular WordCamp, I moderated a panel discussion on the topic of Commercial Themes and Plugins with Pippin Williamson, Adam Pickering, Daniel Espinoza, and Jake Caputo. I think the session went over rather well and we covered a lot of information. The one thing that kept coming up multiple times during the talk was support. It’s expensive but it’s also the most valuable and potentially the most vital aspect of any business. We also discussed various methods to handle support as forums are great at the early stage but something like ZenDesk and tickets make sense for larger volumes of support requests. I definitely took some feedback to heart concerning my delivery and approach on stage during the session and if I ever moderate a panel like this again, the second one will be 10 times better than the first. Thanks to Brian Richards, one of the event organizers for giving me the opportunity to moderate the panel.

The session that opened my eyes was Scoping Projects – A Therapy Session For Those Who Do Client Work Lisa Sabin-Wilson. Not so much from the perspective of the consultant but from the perspective of a client, realizing everything the consultant has to go through to get the job done. Her idea of scoping and how important it is to get everything on the table before starting work was key. She also discussed why having assumptions can costs you big bucks, wasted time, and make you look bad in front of the client. There should be 0 assumptions from both parties in a project. As a future client myself, I realized that I could make the process go a lot easier for both parties if I scoped out everything I wanted, every nuance, provided documentation, references for ideas and inspiration, etc. The more information I can provide the consultant about my needs, the better off we’ll both be. It was a session that I didn’t think would appeal to me but it was the most eye-opening one I’ve attended in a long time. It was an interesting experience being in a room full of people and seeing/hearing their reaction when Lisa mentioned that she had been investigated by the FBI and to perform a Google search to read about it. I won’t spoil it for you, you’ll just have to read her post.

Conclusion

Most of the time during the week-end I was involved in multiple conversations with all sorts of people doing awesome things with WordPress. Overall, it was a fantastic event. The organizers as well as the volunteers should be proud of themselves. I had such a good experience within Grand Rapids that I’m thinking of taking my wife there to experience more of the city. While contributor day was awesome at WordCamp San Francisco, it was nowhere near as effective at WordCamp Grand Rapids. I think a lot of that has to do with the right people not being in attendance such as core contributors, project managers, etc. With that said, those who did show up to contributor day were working with other people on WordPress or were taking the knowledge and ideas they gained the past two days to improve their own sites or projects. This has me wondering if any other WordCamp will be able to have a contributor day as beneficial as the one held at WordCamp San Francisco 2013?

13 Comments


  1. Every designer and/or developer should have a healthy FBI file, I always say :) Thanks for your words about my talk – I know you and I had a chat about it after the fact and I do want to reiterate that the burden of scoping lays primarily with the designer/developer you’re hiring to do the work … but coming to the table with key ideas and concepts really, REALLY helps a great deal.

    Was great to see you again, Jeff! Let’s do it again sometime.

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  2. @Lisa – Was great to see you as well. Looking forward to having you on the show before the end of 2013! By the way, how was the traffic through Chicago on the way back?

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  3. The traffic in back through Chicago on Sunday night was just as bad as it was going out on Friday afternoon – – same, same. We made it out alive.

    I really dislike driving in Chicago.

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  4. @Lisa – Out of all the technology in that Jeep you rented, surprised it didn’t have the ability to float or hover. You could have used it as a ferry and went as fast as you wanted :)

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  5. @Daniel Espinoza – The feeling is mutual. While we can not go into the details, it was nice to finally figure out Pippin’s secret of writing awesome code :)

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  6. It was great to meet you, Jeff.

    Last year’s contributor day had a much different flavor with a couple core developers giving guidance on how to best make contributions and answering questions. It was a great experience and I learned a lot.

    Although it was different this year, I was grateful for a bit of time to start putting into practice what I learned the day before.

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  7. @Doug Smith – Nice meeting you as well. Yep, as I mentioned I think the lack of core developers and such hindered how effective the Contributor day was. However, I’m also thinking that perhaps outside of WordCamp San Francisco, contributor day doesn’t make much sense as most WordCamps are filled with locals who may not have a clue about contributing to WordPress. So perhaps Contributor day should be renamed to something else because I think it’s a great idea to take what you’ve learned in the previous day or two and have dedicated time to work on ideas or projects the next day. Make Sunday just one big happiness bar lol.

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  8. WCRG was a blast for me too this year. There were fantastic sessions, great speakers and a really nice venue. I’m so glad I was able to attend. I especially apprecated Brad Parbs’ session on SASS and Chris Klosowski’s debugging talk.

    I’m also very excited about WordCamp Detroit this which is coming up real soon as well. Who’s going to that?

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  9. Jeff, I enjoyed meeting you in person and talking about the return of your podcast. Thanks for volunteering to lead the panel. I hope you’re able to join us as a speaker or attendee again next year.

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  10. @Chad Warner – Was nice meeting you as well. I hope I can come back next year to the event and try out a few more fruit based craft brews and have some more good times.

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  11. Great write up on this camp. I had a great time meeting all of you and hopefully we can keep some of Pippins awesomeness, uh, contained in future camps.

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  12. Need to mention a great helpdesk for ticketing: freshdesk.com. I tried zendesk and looked at a lot of others but even zendesk’s new UI was not intuitive. Freshdesk gets it right and has a decent mobile web interface. And the price is right (1 agent is free)

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