Are we speaking your language? That’s no accident. We choose our industries with intent—because no competitive advantage rivals experience.
My first WordCamp was Ann Arbor, 2015. I was relatively new to the world of marketing, trying my best to absorb all the information I could, and anxious about my knowledge level. I wouldn’t have gone if Ian Wilson, our lead designer here at build/create, hadn’t pushed me to attend. After all, I knew how to use WordPress to load and edit content, but I didn’t code. WordCamps, I assumed, where for coders. They weren’t for me.
Boy, was I wrong. As cheesy as it sounds, that first WordCamp opened my eyes to a lot of things I didn’t know about the world of content marketing and inspired me to think about how I could move ahead. It also introduced me to a world of peers in my community who have since provided me with countless opportunities to grow.
This year I had the chance to help organize WordCamp Ann Arbor. It was my third Ann Arbor WordCamp, and about my sixth or seventh overall WordCamp. I can honestly say that WordCamp has been the best thing I’ve done as a content marketer. Here’s a few things I’ve learned over the years, and why I think you should look up WordCamps in your area and get involved.
I haven’t been to many non-WordCamp conferences. I’ve helped advertise them. I’ve written marketing materials for them. And I’ve scanned guest lists and looked up plane tickets and even whimsically considered attending until I looked at the sticker price and realized that it would be hundreds if not thousands of dollars to attend.
Many of these conferences are designed to be exclusive. They’re for decision makers and CEOs. Or they’re for organizations large enough to pay employees to attend.
There’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re at the top of a giant corporation, these conferences make sense for you to attend. But that doesn’t make them good places for the makers and creatives, the small businesses, or the freelancers.
One of the wonderful things about WordCamps are that organized by the people who use WordPress for the people who use WordPress. If WordPress was created to “democratize publishing,” the WordCamps seem to be about democratizing conferences. It’s a unique, exciting environment, where anyone can get involved on a deeper level and everyone’s ideas are welcome.
One of the most refreshing things about WordCamp is how candid everyone is. No one is perfect, no one knows everything, and no one can know everything. Our industry is under constant revision. Work for any length of time in SEO, and you’ll soon learn that half the things you know will be wiped out with Google’s next algorithm update. I can only image the same is true in different ways for programmers and designers.
That said, the constantly shifting terrain doesn’t justify apathy. Instead, it demands constant, rigorous improvement. You can’t sit still in this industry: you have to be constantly learning. And your resources won’t come from published books. By the time those volumes make it to print, everything’s changed—again. Instead, you have to rely on your own data, the online communities of blogs and forums, and the in-person professional contacts you make at events like WordCamp.
This makes our job challenging, but it’s also rewarding. If you’ve made a mistake, so have the rest of us. We’re all in the trenches together, working with clients, cracking SEO, solving the latest design challenge. It’s hard work. Another comrade is always welcome.
I spent most of WordCamp Ann Arbor 2015 in sessions. I didn’t know many people, and felt anxious about introducing myself. But by the after party, I felt high on my newly acquired knowledge, and decided to make the effort to talk to people and create some connections.
I heard so many people tell me how welcoming the community is. And it’s true: nearly everyone I met who wasn’t a total novice like me encouraged me to come back, to keep learning, to reach a point where I could turn around and help others. At the time, I didn’t know if I would ever get there.
This year, I not only ended up on the organizing team for WordCamp 2017, I also had the opportunity to speak. It was incredible to me that, after only two years, I was in a position to help my fellow attendees—to share my knowledge and to encourage them to keep coming back and keep learning.
So, if you came to WordCamp 2017 this year, I hope you had a great time. And I hope you come back again next year. I hope you contribute—as a volunteer, as a speaker, or even as an attendee who’s willing to welcome others and answer questions if you can.
And if you haven’t been to a WordCamp: go. Just do it. Get out there, start meeting people, keep learning. There are camps all around Michigan, including WordCamp Detroit, which is still in the early planning stages but should happen early 2018. Jackson and Grand Rapids both hosted WordCamps last year in May and August respectively, and both plan on hosting them again next year from what I’ve heard.
WordCamp US, which is in Nashville this year, runs from December 1–3. It’s the big event for North America, but tickets are just as affordable as any local camp (only $40 for general admission). That’s the most accessible conference for the greatest value you’ll ever find in our industry.
Finally, I’d like to reiterate something that I didn’t realize when I first began attending: WordCamps are for everyone in our industry. If you work with the Internet, be it Detroit website design, developing apps, hosting and securing websites, writing content, marketing your business, or simply using a website to run your business, you should come to these events. You will learn, you will be inspired, you will be challenged, and you will become better.
I hope to see you around.