WordCamp Ann Arbor 2017
For those of you who don’t know, WordCamps are a gathering of WordPress designers and developers. Last weekend was WordCamp Ann Arbor, and nearly 400 people from around the state joined us in this city to learn from top experts from around the world. Another item of note is that I am not a designer or a developer. Prior to working at Build/Create I didn’t know how to use WordPress at all. I’m sure my colleagues would agree that not much has changed.
So what can a person learn at convention where they know very little about the subject? The answer goes deeper than a better understanding of how to use the application.
There’s Always More to Learn
No matter how much of an expert anyone was at the camp, they still sat in on other lectures from other developers or designers to grow. But the most rewarding part was hearing from attendees and not just presenters. That give and take and sharing of ideas is a unique experience from most conferences you’ll ever attend. The learning isn’t a one sided venture.
It’s that dialogue that sets an event like this apart. But that dialogue and democratic ideal is what sets WordPress apart from other platforms as well. I feel that a gathering of other open source platforms could be a similarly enriching experience, and probably why many open source platforms have such devoted fan bases.
There’s also no age where we stop this learning or educating. At the event there were 13 year olds giving speeches on entrepreneurship, and folks in their 60’s and 70’s learning new skills, and teaching us “experts” a thing or two on business.
(Side note, that 13 year old kid, Emerson Jeffries, schooled everyone there on how to give a presentation.)
We All Need Community
This is my call to action to the community I associate the best with – the marketing community. Sure there’s Inbound for HubSpot users and large conferences all over the country, but that’s not community. Most of these conferences are thousands of dollars to attend, and are out of reach to small agencies and freelancers. They’re also very focussed on you listening to what an “expert” has to say on a particular subject. Sure you can come back invigorated and full of new ideas, but your contribution is so minimal that the high wears off quickly.
WordCamp Ann Arbor costs $36 to attend. It’s democratic, it’s open, and it’s a positive experience for everyone who attends.
No, what the marketing community needs to do is model itself after the WordPress community. There were plenty of “competitors” in those rooms. But at that meeting everyone worked together to give attendees the best experience and the most knowledge possible.
Like any job, marketing is a slugfest. It’s called work for a reason. So if we’re going to be slugging it out every day to meet deadlines, keep rankings up for clients, grow their sales, etc. etc. etc., wouldn’t it be nice to once in a while have a room full of people going through the same things, and learning from one another?
To quote Ian Wilson this weekend, “All of us here shared a fundamental strength- when we get knocked down we pick ourselves back up again and keep chasing what we want. That’s why we’re here, to keep learning, growing, and sharing that strength.”
It’s that community that helps everyone get back up and keep going. WordCamp isn’t your run-of-the-mill conference. That’s because it’s not organized or attended by run of the mill people. No, these folks simply give and share. No one is paid to speak. No one is getting famous, they do it for many reasons, and here are just a few:
“WordCamps renew my energy in my work. It’s easy to get bogged down in the day to day, ultimately feeling disenchanted with work I typically love. The months after a WordCamp change that, I’m excited and energized again. I want others in my community to get the same benefit. That’s why I contribute to WordCamp Ann Arbor every year.”
“WordCamp is by far a sweet and affirming experience because you get such a diverse crowd all together for one purpose. Plus, I make good friends”
“When I got started doing this stuff I found myself in way over my ahead consistently. People like Peter Shackelford and many others generously gave me their time and advice and helped me through immense challenges that I never could have overcome on my own. I’ll never forget that, and feel strongly that it is my duty to turn around and extend the exact same courtesy to others who are where I used to be.
Also, I am just a social person who likes people, public speaking, and free drinks”
“I have attended other tech conferences that cost ~1k per ticket. The organization of the event was at a similar level to a WordCamp, the sessions/talks were OK, but you never knew if the talk was just a veiled marketing spiel trying to sell a product or if it was going to actually be useful. Even so, the quality of talks at these expensive events were hit or miss.”
I like the community aspect of WordCamps. For me, it’s not only an exciting chance to spend time with peers, it’s also sometime I can be a part of and help create.
“I attended my first WordCamp 5 years ago, and I have attended at least 2 every year since then. The networking and learning has helped me grow my expertise and business offerings significantly. In fact, this year I was happy to be a sponsors for two WordCamps (Jackson & Ann Arbor).”
“People who work on WordPress websites tend to be introverts, but WordCamps give us a chance to meet everyone from hard coders, to marketing gurus, to new users and everyone in between. We get to see how other people are using tools and techniques and go back to our businesses recharged and motivated to try new things. “
“I attended a WordCamp Ann Arbor session a few years ago about website security, which was way over my head at the time, and it changed the direction of my business. Thanks to that speaker, I set myself on a track to learn as much as I could on the topic, and now dedicate a large portion of my business to taking care of clients’ WordPress websites for the long term. I don’t know if that would have happened otherwise.”