What to Expect at Your First WordCamp

You can’t quite call yourself a card-carrying member of the WordPress community if you’ve never attended a WordCamp event, at least not if there’s one near you.

WordCamp events are put on all across the world in major cities. According to WordCamp.org, there are:

  • 746 WordCamps that have happened to date
  • 69 cities that host WordCamps
  • 65 countries where those cities are located (with the bulk of WordCamps taking place across the United States and Europe)
  • 6 continents represented (perhaps WordCamp Antarctica will be a destination in the future?)
  • A number of niche topic WordCamp events (like WordCamp for Publishers, for the first time this year)

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WordPress itself is only 14 years old, after the initial release of the software in 2003. Just 3 years later, in 2006, Matt Mullenweg (CEO of Automattic and creator of WordPress) put together the first ever WordCamp. It all started in San Francisco, but eventually WordPress fanatics around the world took charge of organizing their own local WordCamps, with support from Automattic.

Similar to how the WordPress software is free and open-source, the point of these events is to provide an affordable learning and network opportunity. As such, WordCamp events tend to be $20/day (at least in the United States), or $40 for the full 2 day event.

Ticket sales and sponsorships go towards breaking even on all event-related costs, not making a profit. Good luck finding another conference at that price, capable of bringing together such a high caliber of developers and speakers. WordCamp events also tend to include lunch and after party refreshments. The tickets really are a steal, especially considering how much it would cost to see these speakers at other related events they participate in!

Another special element of WordCamp revolves around giving back. Any “profits” from the event that exceed those needed to cover costs go towards the WordPress Foundation, which was established to ensure perpetual free access to WordPress software. Additionally, many WordCamps set aside some tickets as a free scholarship for a selection of attendees who couldn’t otherwise afford to attend. No one gets left behind in this community, and that’s precisely why it’s so great.

If you’ve never been to WordCamp, but are considering attendance at one near you soon, here’s what to expect at your first WordCamp.

WordCamp Websites

First, a fun fact. Every WordCamp has a website, and each of these websites runs on WordPress.org, in a similar fashion to WordPress.com websites. This means that customization options are limited, perhaps because Automattic wants the community to focus on the information more so than which WordCamp organizing team has the greatest WordPress development skills.

Additionally, all WordCamp websites add a subdomain each year that corresponds with its year of operation. I’m helping to organize WordCamp Denver as the website content coordinator, so I’ll use their website as an example.

Here’s last year’s:

denver-2016

And here’s the current version:

denver-2017

So really, each WordCamp has multiple websites. You can look back to past years to get an idea of attendees, speakers, and sessions if you so desire.

Even though most WordCamp websites have a barebones design, they offer impressive backend functionality. These websites are truly an interesting case study in conference event management, thanks to the numerous features they provide.

To give a little more detail, WordCamp websites allow organizers to:

  • Easily connect Speaker profiles with Session info, incorporating both to create a schedule (with links to each of these dimensions for more information)
  • The ability to sell tickets and sponsorships, with several customization options
  • The ability to grab a list of attendees ahead of time in case you’d like to connect before the conference

Speaking of which…

The People of WordCamp

WordCamp is a code nerd’s paradise. You’ll be surrounded by many that speak your language, which can be refreshing if you work from home, or work in an office as the only developer.

You might expect attendees to be introverted. If that’s true outside of WordCamp, who’s to say, but while they’re here, they’re boisterous and easy-going. It’s easy to make friends by merely attending sessions and being open to conversation with the people around you.

Some people attend WordCamp because their employer sent them, while others attend for sheer love of the CMS software. But in either case, all are excited to connect with others like them, who make use of the platform on a daily basis in some way.

WordPress is not necessarily a conference you go to in search of new clients. No, you should look at WordCamp instead as a place to mentor and to be mentored. The Happiness Bar at every WordCamp is staffed by WordPress experts freely sharing their time and expertise for anyone who decides to stop by with a question. If you’re new to using the software, take advantage. If you have a lot of experience, give back just a little by volunteering an hour of your time during a session you don’t want to attend, anyways.

The people organizing WordCamps are unpaid volunteers, as are many of the people at the event day-of, helping with small and little tasks to ensure that everything goes smoothly. Similarly, speakers are not paid, but that does nothing to affect the high bar that has been set of those who present at the event.

The Speakers of WordCamp

You may be surprised by how many people come from out of town to go to a WordCamp event. Many aren’t satisfied with just going to one in the closest nearby city, and will travel around to check out some of the other events. Many use WordCamp as an opportunity to take a short road trip outside of their city, with a bit of purpose.

WordCamp’s speakers are no exception. Though each WordCamp tries to localize their event, they’re very open to excellent sessions from high quality speakers who live elsewhere and are willing to make the trip out. For those who’ve already spoken at a WordCamp event, you gain some leverage in pitching a topic the next year, at any WordCamp.

But regardless of if you’re new to this, or an old pro, nothing is a given. In order to be selected as a speaker, you need to have your finger on the pulse of the topics that are most important to WordPress developers.

To get an idea of presentations, check out WordPress.tv. Each year, at many WordCamps, efforts are made to preserve speaker’s knowledge in video form. It’s a great way to catch a session from a WordCamp you wanted to attend, but couldn’t.

Presentations take on many forms: panels, slides, workshops, and more. Most WordCamps will have multiple tracks with tough choices when two sessions you’re interested in overlap. Partner up with someone who’s good at taking notes so you don’t miss out on the knowledge, or refer back to WordPress.tv to catch the session a few months down the road!

WordCamp Sponsors and Swag

Most WordCamps gift attendees with a branded t shirt upon event check in. Most sponsors also come to the event armed with branded apparel swag. If you go through t shirts quickly, this will be a great opportunity to stock up! Sponsors will also be loaded with nerdy vinyl stickers for your laptop, pens, backpacks and other goodies. A sponsor at the last WordCamp I attended was even handing out Tide to-go sticks—so useful, if unexpected.

You’ll see some of the same sponsors repeatedly attending many WordCamp events across the country.  If you geek out about a certain host, plugin, or over Automattic in general, it’s a great way to collect the gear that will allow you to do so. But you should also use it as an opportunity to learn and network with that company’s representatives. You might find a new favorite tool or collaboration opportunity! Some WordCamp sponsors provide attendees with generous intro offers to whatever tool they’re representing.

The Events During WordCamp

One of the main draws of WordCamp events are the planned speaker and workshop sessions. However, most WordCamp events also incorporate additional opportunities for networking, exploring the city they’re hosting in, and… there’s almost always an after party.

WordCamp for Publishers is a special topic WordCamp that was hosted in 2017. Hosted in Denver in addition to WordCamp Denver, the event planned a number of events for attendees in addition to 2 days of sessions and workshops. These events included:

  • A brewery tour
  • A Rockies baseball game
  • Contributor Day, where attendees were invited to contribute to WordPress’s core code

The specific events planned in addition to WordCamp depend on the city in which it’s hosted, and the nature of the event.

What to Expect at Your First WordCamp

WordCamp is almost too much fun for a professional conference, but that’s what keeps attendees coming back for more. Check out one near you and make a new friend or professional ally—there are plenty to go around in attendance at WordCamp!

Maddy Osman creates engaging content with SEO best practices for marketing thought leaders and agencies that have their hands full with clients and projects. Learn more about her process and experience on her website, www.The-Blogsmith.com and read her latest articles on Twitter: @MaddyOsman. More articles by Maddy Osman
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