(All photo credit to @chrisedwardsce)

Granted, this is only the 4th conference of any sort that I’ve ever attended. But it was by far my favorite, for a myriad of reasons. We achieved a 50/50 balance of male-identifying/female-identifying speakers. I’m at a point in my business where I was able to pick the best talks for my skillset and understanding without wasting time on talks that were either too basic or too advanced for me. We met and heard some inspiring messaging from our new Executive Director, Josepha Haden. I’ve come out of my own shell enough to not be so afraid to network. I can ask better questions and contribute more to the larger conversation.

Meeting Josepha Haden was amazing. POC women in tech spaces can be rare, so having one as the leader of our community is invaluable. https://twitter.com/ChrisEdwardsCE

While I could gush all day about how much I loved attending, here are the 5 main reasons WCMIA19 is my favorite WordCamp so far.

The Size Was Perfect

I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration in August. And while it was a beautifully inspiring and unique event, it was gigantic. I felt dwarfed and alone almost the entire time. The few people I did connect with were focused on their own thing and weren’t really there to make the kind of connections I was hoping to make.

As David Bisset, the lead organizer said just before WordCamp begain, “Large conferences can be somewhat intimidating for someone, especially if they are coming alone and they are somewhat new to the WordPress community. They know they want to learn. They know they want to or NEED to make connections… but a large crowd and complex setups make it hard for them to single out people they want to find in a timely manner.”

I couldn’t agree more. GHC was a behemoth; it was complex and frantic and intimidating, despite and empowering messaging and value it provided. It’s easier to connect, it’s easier to create a path for yourself, when you see many of the same faces over and over and they can see yours. I was able to find my tribe and make more friends and professional connections that I had in the previous two WordCamps I attended. And it was large enough that if I met someone I didn’t really connect with, there as an unintimidating array of other people around to talk to.

The size also meant that we as attendees could know and recognize the volunteers and organizers. Ask me who put on the Grace Hopper Celebration and I couldn’t even bring a face to mind. But at WCMIA2019, I could actually see and speak to the individuals who were volunteering their time and appreciate them for exactly what it was they were doing.

 

 I don’t know about you, but I would rather sit on a couch and chat/network with someone than try to be hyper-formal or hyper-professional. https://twitter.com/ChrisEdwardsCE

If you’d like to attend or volunteer to speak at a WordCamp, they’re happening all the time and in tons of cities all over the world! Go to WordCamp Central and search for the WordCamp closest to you.

The End of #Hustle Culture

In 2017, I heard a few talks gently begin to introduce the idea of the things that plague us all, about which we don’t like to talk: depression, anxiety, loneliness, burn out, lack of exercise, poor diet, and so much more. Adam Soucie’s talk from WCMIA17 always stood out in my mind as a prime and brave example of this.

This year, half the talks I heard on Friday alone emphasized (or focused entirely) on shunting the “the hustle” to the side and actually taking care of yourself. That focusing purely on keeping your business alive can have a detrimental effect on keeping you alive. Joe Casabona, Michelle Schulp, and Scott Mann knocked this idea out of the park with vulnerable, honest, and moving presentations. We talked about putting family first, developing healthier habits, and not measuring inner struggles against the successes of others.

And, I tell you, it was liberating. I learned a ton of specific business or web-oriented things this year. But the validation that came from hearing incredibly successful people admit they’ve struggled (and telling me it was okay to struggle) was of the most valuable parts of the entire event.

Seeing owners of agencies or people who have been successful in this space for years talk about mental health is always powerful. https://twitter.com/ChrisEdwardsCE

 

Rampant Accessibility

One of the newest features of the camp this year were the live-typed captions that accompanied every Saturday and Sunday talk. They were quick and virtually flawless. While I myself didn’t need them, I couldn’t help but feel a rush of appreciation each time I glanced over to the screens. I know that if I were struggling to hear or see at that very moment, I wouldn’t miss any important information. It inspired me to think more about how my users actually use my products and what challenges they may be experiencing that I cannot personally identify with. And it will be a factor against which I compare every conference or networking event I attend in the future.

Accessibility as a whole was a huge theme of the event: there was a nursing room available, food options for almost everyone, and so many of the talks touched on its importance as a whole. Joseph Lopreste’s talk was probably my favorite one that zeroed in on how to actually create an accessible site, outside of just ALT tags on images.

Afraid to attend a conference because you’re hard or hearing or can never see the slides? We’ve got you covered. https://twitter.com/ChrisEdwardsCE

Lunchtime Table Topics

This was a new idea that was implemented this year at lunchtime. We got to group together at tables and discuss specific topics with other interested attendees. I myself hosted one on my favorite project management tool, Trello. But there were topics on plugins, UI/UX, content, and so much more. This was a great way to allow people to network and chat and learn in a structured way, without actually needing to work specific talks into the schedule. My tiny Trello group was incredibly fun and I feel like I was able to provide a ton of value to the people who joined in. I really hope this idea stays on the schedule and that people continue to take advantage of it.

My talk, which spent a good time highlighting Trello, inspired others to utilize the tool as well. I was only too happy to sit with them and walk them through it’s features. https://twitter.com/ChrisEdwardsCE

I Volunteered and Loved It

Check me out (far right) helping to put together swag bags for attendees. We look very serious and focused, but we were actually having a great time laughing and joking together. https://twitter.com/ChrisEdwardsCE

It happened sort of suddenly when I asked if there would be a non-dairy option available in place of ice cream. I was told that they actually needed someone to advise a bit on what non-dairy/vegan/vegetarian sorts of food to get. This small (nay, tiny) responsibility gave me insight into the world of the volunteers and organizers. A peek behind the curtain at all the people (and there were a lot) who contribute, in ways big and small, toward making the event happen. It gave me an appreciation for those people that I couldn’t have had unless I’d seen it first hand. And it made me want to do more, and more, and more. I even spent some time in the Happiness Bar this year, actually helping others. This was amazing to me because as a self-proclaimed life-long learner, I’d always imagined that I’d be stuck on the opposite side of that sort of interaction. Helping someone else troubleshoot their site, teaching them what they didn’t know, was immensely rewarding.

As a result, my largest takeaway in terms of personal goals from this WordCamp is to make volunteering and contributing my time a priority in my life this year. I plan on attending more meetups, volunteering in the WordPress support forums, and volunteering in a larger way for WordCamp 2020.

A huge highlight. And being a female speaker, I felt incredibly empowered knowing that if I had chosen NOT to speak, this graphic would have not reached 50/50. It’s amazing when you see that your contribution has value and makes a difference. https://twitter.com/ChrisEdwardsCE

Curious about My talk?

I gave a really detailed talk about my client process, with a special focus on how I use Trello to make my web design projects more fun and easier to understand. If you’d like to view my site slides, click below!