My First Ever WordCamp San Francisco Experience

WordCamp San Francisco BadgeSince I started writing about WordPress in 2007, WordCamp San Francisco has been labeled as the grandest WordCamp of them all. It’s where the first event of its kind took place which started a revolution in WordPress meetups. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to attend any WordCamps in the San Francisco until this year. The following is my experience crammed into a blog post.

Day 1

Day 1 started hours before the actual event. For me at least. During the weekend, I stayed at The Westin San Francisco. At 2 A.M. someone tried to secretly smoke a cigarette in a non-smoking hotel because the fire alarm went off. The alarm had a sound that was awful, akin to something found in the original Star Trek. After walking down 26 flights of stairs at 2 A.M. we discovered that it was a false alarm. I didn’t get much sleep after that.

Fire Trucks At The Westin

Opening remarks began at 9 A.M. but I didn’t attend a single session during the day. Before the event, I volunteered to be part of the Hallway Track team. This team of individuals walked around the event with cameras and did on the spot interviews with attendees, speakers, and sponsors. If you watched the live stream, our interviews were  between sessions. The team consisted of myself, Dre Armeda representing DradCast and Jason Tucker representing WPWaterCooler. I figured that any sessions I missed would be available on WordPress.TV in the near future and I could spend most of my time networking with people. I’m not sure of the exact setup we had but the handheld cameras with the directional boom mics worked out great. The setup worked so well, I’m considering asking if I could borrow or get a WordCamp Camera kit for myself for video interviews at the events I attend. I think I completed around a dozen interviews throughout the day. I tried to mix it up between people most of the community knows about and those attending their first WordCamp.

The only negative experience I had for day one was the lunch. Not the food but the lack of it. Unfortunately, I became so engrossed in a conversation with John James Jacoby that I almost missed lunch entirely. When I went down to grab a bite to eat, the only thing left was a potato and a cookie. Don’t get me wrong, the lemon iced poppy seed cookies were fantastic but I was hoping for something more filling. I was not the only one who didn’t get any of the main course. Fortunately, the folks in charge of food brought out a container of fresh cooked burgers for those that didn’t anything to eat.

This is the first WordCamp I’ve ever attended where the first day of sessions was on a Friday. This really screwed me up internally as I thought Friday was Saturday, Saturday was Sunday, etc. But, by the time Sunday rolled around, it made the weird schedule totally worth it. As what usually happens at these events, people have their cliques and each group gathered for dinner to meet and talk to each other as most of the WordPress centric folks were distributed employees, and this was an opportunity to be face to face. I on the other hand was invited by WPEngine to a hosted dinner which included a number of other individuals in the WordPress community to talk WordPress during a fine dining experience. Not only do they do a good job of hosting websites, they know how to host a good dinner as well.

Coca Cola Braised Pork Shoulder
Coca Cola Braised Pork Shoulder

The invitation only dinner took place at Luella SF. Luella is a charming Bistro in Russian Hill, slightly outside of downtown San Francisco. We were treated to a three-course meal complete with wine pairings. The food was amazing. Personally, I had the Coca-cola braised pork-shoulder as my main course and the orange fritters drizzled in honey for dessert. The pork was incredibly tender. Overall, a solid dining experience enhanced by being surrounded by some great WordPress people. I want to personally thank the guys from WPEngine for the dinner as well as providing travel to and from the event. By the end of the night, I was pretty tired. I traded some morning sessions for sleep. During WordCamps, sleep is a difficult thing to obtain.

Day 2

After sleeping in, I arrived at the Mission Bay Conference center just in time for Matt Mullenweg’s State Of The Word presentation. I managed to find a spot to stand up in the conference room Matt was presenting in. I’ve never seen a room filled with as many people as it was during his session. It was incredible. The presentation was simulcasted to the secondary conference room so I’m unsure as to whether the audience was the same but I bet it was. I was able to nod my head in agreement and express joy to many of the things Matt said. I looked over the conference room during parts of his presentation and noticed others nodding in agreement or in some cases, disagreement. Until WordCamp San Francisco 2013 I’ve never been able to be part of the live audience for the State Of The Word. It was an awesome experience and I highly encourage anyone who is enthusiastic about WordPress to put it on your bucket list.

After Matt’s presentation, it was time for lunch. On Day 2, we had BBQ. This time around, I was early to receive a healthy helping of food that lasted me all day. The food was delicious. No complaints from me!

After lunch, I attended one other presentation, this time by John James Jacoby on going beyond the blog with BuddyPress and bbPress (presentation will be uploaded to very soon). His session was dedicated to showing sites that utilized bbPress and BuddyPress in interesting ways. He also showcased how either could be themed and reshaped in a way that it was hard to tell which parts of the site were using BuddyPress or bbPress. It was an inspirational talk that proved both were capable of being excellent social tools without having to look like a cookie-cutter site. While listening to John, it’s clear that he has a passion for not just bbPress and BuddyPress, but forums in general. In fact, his passion for bbPress reminds me a lot of Matt Mullenweg’s passion for WordPress.

John James Jacoby
Triple J On The bb’s

Most of the day was spent talking to individuals both known and unknown about WordPress, bbPress, and anything under the sun. After Day 2, it was time to head to the after party at the brand new Automattic Lounge. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to visit the old office location at Pier 38 which I’ve been told had a wonderful view. Their new lounge on Hawthorne Street in San Francisco is a great co-working space. They used the general space downstairs to host a DJ with a free alcoholic bar. I had a great time but if you ever find yourself at the WordCamp San Francisco after-party and there is free booze, please limit yourself as the next day is usually contributor day. I failed to do that and ended up with a mild hangover. Lesson learned! The after party was a great time and the lounge was an excellent host. However, being surrounded by loud music didn’t do much for my already hoarse voice.

WCSF After Party
WCSF After Party

Day 3

Day 3 started out rough. I woke up with a mild headache, slightly buzzed and needed more sleep. However, day 3 was contribute day! Contribute day was set aside on a Sunday to give anyone who was attending the event a chance to spend some of their time contributing directly to a portion of the WordPress project that interested them. While the attendance was nowhere near Matt’s State Of The Word Presentation, enough people showed up that just about every table was filled with volunteers. In fact, the attendance impressed me. The entire room which 12 hours earlier was filled with booze and loud music had turned into a giant collaborative effort. I originally thought that the amount of people in the space would generate so much noise that it would be hard to talk to each other. However, I was stunned to hear how quiet it was once we had volunteer groups sorted out. I looked up from my position numerous times and just sat there watching the amount of people with their heads down working on the portion of the WordPress project that interested them the most. I can only describe contribute day as a surreal experience.

WCSF Contributor Day
WCSF Contributor Day

Considering I don’t know a lick of code, I volunteered my time at the Support table along with a dozen other people. Mika Epstein was the leader of our group as she has seen her share of support threads. I ended up training one individual to sign up for a Gravatar and to get started on the support forums. Within the next few hours, we were able to plow through a bunch of the recent forum threads of that day, deleting spam posts and marking accounts as Bozo’s, the support forum equivalent of spammer. One of the coolest things Mika did was go around the table and give each volunteer a custom forum title. Although I didn’t ask for it, I was granted forum moderator access based on my experience in the WordPress community. However, since I haven’t had the chance to read the support forum contributor handbook, I made a boo boo by supporting someone looking for paid services. I learned my lesson and won’t be doing that again.

The highlight for me during contribute day was finally being able to talk to someone about a small user-experience issue I encountered. I won’t explain it here but instead, quote the text from my first ever trac ticket that Mika helped me create.

When you have a large amount of images in the media library, and use the search function when adding new media, there is a noticeable lag from entering the search term to when any results (if any) show up.

This was confirmed on which contains about 900 images. We did not see the same results on a site that only contained 300 images. However, on all sites if there are no results a delay is seen between the time a term is entered and when results are displayed.

So I’m suggesting that a placeholder image or a status indicator that tells users that the search process is occurring would solve this issue.

While I didn’t have a patch, I think it will be fairly trivial to add some sort of status indicator. However, I wish I had some sort of badge by or something that told me congratulations on my first ticket. Something that I could put into a digital trophy case. Alas, I have the experience to remember if nothing else. Even after all these years of writing about WordPress, actually creating something on Trac is a scary barrier to cross. But the experience is so much better with a mentor to provide a helping hand. The last thing I need to be doing is creating more work for the WordPress developers.

Speaking of developers that attended the event, some of them were hard to speak to. Not because they didn’t have anything to say, but because they are obsessed with improving their project. This lead me to write and publish the following tweet: You don’t understand WordPress core developers until you meet them. Naturally they are obsessed with improving WordPress.

WCSF Contributor Day
WCSF Contributor Day

Overall, Contribute day was a huge success. Work was accomplished on most of the different facets that make up the WordPress project. There was even a group dedicated to bbPress and BuddyPress that ended up with at least one feature improvement. I would love to see more of these contribute days in the future spread to other WordCamps. Perhaps not even an entire day or an entire room dedicated to it. I’d be fine with a Contribute Bar similar to the Happiness Bar which is staffed by one or two individuals very close to the core team. Individuals with questions, bug fixes, or bug reports could spend time at the bar. I realize this may take away from precious development time to WordPress but in the long run, I think the project would be better off for it. Communicating how to contribute to core via text or IRC is not for everyone and generally, can be taken out of context very quickly. I bet a more personable approach ala contribute day would do wonders to get people over that barrier that prevents them from diving in and contributing.

Wrap Up

Overall, I had a memorable experience. I didn’t have the chance to explore the city which gives me another reason to come back next year. While this post is well over 2,000 words, it only scratches the surface of my entire WCSF experience. I talked to so many people, got wind of so many projects, and had the chance to meet co-workers and discuss things in person without the need for Skype or any other communication tool. Over the next several days, I’ll be publishing everything I’ve learned about the WordPress project and the satellite sites springing up around it. If you ever get the opportunity to attend WordCamp San Francisco, do whatever you can to make it!


5 responses to “My First Ever WordCamp San Francisco Experience”

  1. Well … re the false fire alarm, the miscommunications, miscues and assorted ancillary adventures & misadventure … it’s worth bearing in mind that we don’t hold Conventions in the heart of the Big City, because the environment there is conducive to … whatever it was we came here for.

    The general asset to the WordPress community, in holding a shin-dig in San Francisco, is that the attendees come away with “a memorable experience” … and that it’s shared with those who share an interest. Meet folks; make (real) contact. This is basically the secret of eg Outward Bound, etc.

    Conventions are legitimately notorious. Many a couple finds its test at a long-weekend business git-together. A lot of people in lines of work that hold conventions either, a.) never miss one, or b.) never attend (‘except that once’).

    ‘Camping’ of course connotes something very different from Conventioneering. There are many WordCamps, and they vary in character & context a great deal. Only a relative few will have the glamour & send-up of a San Francisco event.

    My own suspicion is that the classic convention is actually not a good fit for the temperament of many ‘computer folk’. Which may help explain why the WordPress version is styled as a ‘camp’.

  2. Sounds like you had an great time Jeff. Out of everything going on at WordCamp SF, the thing I wish I could have been at the most was Contributor Day, that might be a record for the most people contributing to WordPress under one roof.

    That’s awesome that you were made a forum moderator, congratulations!


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