My first WordCamp, thoughts and takeaways from WordCamp Europe 2019 in Berlin

June 26, 2019 | News, Personal Blog, Wordpress | 3 comments

Fair warning. This post started out as a recap but ended up as a brain dump of interesting anecdotes and stories about my week in Berlin. Enjoy!

TL;DR: Had a great time, met some nice people.. You must go, it was awesome!

So as those of you who follow me on Twitter know I’ve been to my first WordCamp this year. In fact I’m still there, sitting in a coffee shop whilst doing touristy things in Berlin (not strictly true. I started this post but as it turned into a Thesis I’m now back in the rainy UK!). I have to say it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience both for me and my business future. The event this year attracted the largest audience so far at circa 3500 tickets sold and 2600+ attendees (who buys a ticket and doesn’t show up I don’t know!).

Coming into the WordCamp environment as a newbie (with a mere decade of experience in the industry) was incredibly daunting for me. Everyone knew each other and it was more like a friends’ gathering broken up by a few talks to pass some time. Also, for a guy who spends most of his career at home, coming somewhere with such a vast number of people was, for want of a better word, scary!

The Estrel Hotel and Conference Centre

That was three days ago when I crossed the threshold of the Estrel hotel in Berlin with my good friend and business partner Andrew Palmer from Elegant Marketplace. Immediately we were met with a wall of people and every single person was pleased to see every other. It’s inspiring to think that we’re mostly competitors in the industry at different levels but meeting these people in person made us feel more like collaborators. All sembance of rivalry between delegates turned out to be unfounded hype.

Within a short space of time I was sitting at a table with the creator of the Astra theme for WP and also the guy behind the Page Builder Framework theme… both taking comedy faux-angry selfies and fake arm wrestles for their social media. It was then that I felt completely at ease at the event and it only got better from there!

We registered for the event and collected our passes which I wore as a badge of honour and went in search of inspiration. It didn’t take long! Every conversation about someone’s product or model made me re-evaluate how I felt about my own plugins and business and i started taking notes… LOTS OF NOTES.

Normally standing around playing with your phone in polite-ish company may be seen as rude but in this community it was pretty clear that I could be mid conversation with someone, become inspired and instantly whip out my phone to take notes whilst we continued talking. It just worked as I was able to continue networking and not just wanting to get out an otherwise great chat so I didn’t forget my idea.

The Swag… so much swag!

Fast forward to the sponsors area… what can I say… swag! Free stuff to the uninitiated (reminding me of the song ‘free samples’ by Electric Six). Although the allure of free stuff drew me in, I found myself actually being interested in what the sponsors had to say and not just going through the motions to get the swag (yes really!). Talking to the evangelical teams about their products held my attention. Something which, in this world of 30 second adverts and elevator pitches, was no mean feat..  Although swag is always a winner and from this perspective, the best of the bunch were Jilt and Siteground who were both offering socks… you heard right, SOCKS!

WP Engine were particularly interesting with their new/upcoming app suite of management tools for a variety of workflows. More than a web host right! I don’t use their service personally/yet but I’m excited to see what their system can do. Ironically since getting back from WCEU they have acquired Flywheel so even more excitement coming very soon I guess.

I was interested to see Big Commerce in attendance, amusingly in a slightly smaller stall opposite WooCommerce who own the industry as far as WP is concerned. In my childish mind I imagined them throwing things at each other but alas it didn’t happen). I demoed their new WordPress plugin which bridges the gap between their platform and WP and it does it really well. From an eCommerce standpoint, having everything in a hosted and robust framework and abstracted from WP is a pretty good idea, especially for larger stores. I don’t think I’ll be running from Woo any time soon as having everything on the same database (ironically Big Commerce’s sales pitch was against this!) and all in open source PHP framework makes for a more diverse range of possibilities when it comes to third party plugins. That said I may be making things up at this stage, it looked nice enough to me!

Sean and Marine from WPML

I had to go and say hi to the WPML team who I’ve been corresponding with via email for a good year about adding better multi lingual support to my plugins. I met with Marine and had a lovely chat although mainly about her home country France. I tend to move towards Polylang for multi lingual support (and of course the cost) but I’ll be checking out WPML again as, much like Woo, their name seems to be synonymous with WP. Whilst on translation plugins I notice many more companies there who do the same thing so I’ll be sure to check out a few more the next time a multi lingual build is offered. If anyone wants to *sell* their preference to me in the comments I’m open to the discussion.

Speaking of linguistics I met with an avid member of the Divi Community, Tanya Quintieri.. Mrs Divi herself! She very kindly planned the Elegant Marketplace (EMP) meet-up the day before the conference and I’m now shamelessly stalking her on Twitter! Shhh!

The Elegant Marketplace dinner

On an unrelated subject, A word on cultural differences for a moment.. at the end of the EMP meet-up (a 5 course smorgasbord of fantastic food and company!!), when handed a shot glass with what you’re told is ‘Schnapps’ you absolutely must enquire more about this. In the UK the same drink is Peach Schnapps (Archers) whereas I’m reliably told by my new German friends that it can literally be anything at all (diesel?). In this case I threw back a shot of Vodka which my unrefined throat wasn’t expecting thus resulting in some involuntary contorting of my face tantamount to a toddler (or me) being forced to eat broccoli!

Rolling forward to the conference again, a word to the wise.. don’t dwell on your appearance too much. Although the more eccentric outfit goes down really well it seems, anything really does go! I saw two talks with presenters who intentionally made themselves stand out so that you could find them afterwards for a chat. Absolute genius!! One wearing a sparkly tiara and another wearing a suit covered in huge stars. I’m already thinking of finding a partner and coming as a pantomime horse next year. As Andrew Palmer would say.. up your game. He normally means that I need to be better at life, better at doing my job and batter at… well.. upping my game! In this case though I see it as a personal challenge to present myself next year an as comedic way as possible. A giant tortoise maybe… Tortoise IT… giant tortoise.. what do you think? I’m sure my wife is up to the challenge of making me a comedy costume after she repeatedly aces dress up days at the kids’ schools!

So this year the talks were, of course, centred a lot around Gutenberg. Something which I’ve been dreading for the last year or more since I heard about it. I installed the plugin a while ago and instantly cringed as I’m sure most of the WP dev community did. But not because it’s a bad thing.. more because we, as developers, need to learn a new set of languages and skills instead of using the skills we have to make a living. I was introduced to WP a decade ago when the navigation was still blue and at the top of WP Admin (come on you remember!). So, having learnt about widgets, menus, themes, plugin development and, more recently, web services.. I now need to learn React, non-jQuery based JS and a whole new way of working. Until this week I was dreading it and perhaps hoping it would never happen but now, after watching several talks on the reasons, methods, development practices and possibilities of blocks, I’ve done a complete 180! For those premium plugin devs among you, NOW is the time to get writing block plugins because the market will soon be saturated.

One of the more subtle takeaways from my time in Berlin was the future of page builders. The Elementor (aff link) team were present and the builder was probably the most prominent at the event. A lot of developers have said they like to use it and I can see why. As a Divi developer I’ve written 20+ commercial plugins and write all of my sites using it however, of late, I’ve been experiementing with Elementor and like what I see. It’s so much faster and, although a learning curve from Divi, is a nice change of scenery.

We attended the back end of the Elementor meet-up one evening (the same night as the EMP meet-up so we were unfashionably late) and were met with open arms and enthusiasm.. even got some awesome free swag. I did get to meet a good friend in the Elementor community, Verdi Heinz and of course Ben Pines himself. I’ve been inspired/press-ganged (as if they needed to try hard!) into extending one of my free Elementor plugins with a PRO version… watch this space (i’ve been working on it all week so far!).

As a Divi developer I was disappointed to not hear it mentioned much at all (twice I think). I met a lovely guy who recognised me from the Divi Community though and had a great chat. You’d think that being one of the best selling themes around and one of the most popular page builders that there would be more exposure but sadly not.

Anywho.. the overall feeling from the talks and panels I attended was that the future of builders in their current form is unclear. In essence they circumvent Gutenberg entirely and so it won’t be long before things need to change somewhere and somehow… it’s just hard to predict where.

Keynote by Matt Mullenweg

The man himself, Matt Mullenweg did the Keynote and heavily pushed some cool Gutenberg features coming soon. They have a roadmap to Phase 4 (currently on Phase 1 I believe) and it’s going to get very cool very quickly I think. Intestingly he mentioned about shape dividers at one stage and commented that perhaps, in the spirit of bringing things together and not moving them apart,  we should call them connectors. I foresee the Gutenberg Divider options being called Connectors based on that but let’s see what happens!

The rest if the time was a bit if a blur if I’m honest. Not through alcohol but from the sheer amount of time I spent moving from person to person finding out about why people were there and what they did. It’s fairy infectious!

I had a lengthy chat with/at Hannah from the Bristol WP Meet-up on a variety of subjects. She is apparently my arch nemesis on development and professionalism. Whereas I speak to businesses like they are naughty children, Hannah has mastered the art of communicating with them as if they are real people real needs that matter. Who knew that was possible 🙂 I digress… she decided I need to become a stand up comedian instead of a developer.. I’m guessing it was intended to get such a precious commodity as myself off the market so there are more plugin ideas to go around.

One of the draws for the event for some is the nightlife and, although I’m not party mad, I did enjoy a few shandies. I was absolutely gagging for a glass of port and so everywhere we went I asked at the bar and no one had any (some hadn’t heard of it!). One place poured me a glass of white dessert wine which was nice but not quite what I was looking for. So sods law that in the closing address they announced that next years WordCamp Europe was to be held in Porto in Portugal… home of Port itself! Somehow the cosmos must have been hinting at me about it (or I’m just a fussy drinker). Absolutely can’t wait or next year.

Nice little story for you on recruitment.. I met a chap from Automattic, a Happiness Engineer (you know who you are!) and talked to/at him for a good half an hour during the afterparty. He said that during a work interview he had been asked to sit in to hire his replacement. Firstly good on you for sticking around/caring long enough to hire the guy that’s going to be fixing your mistakes and cursing your name for the next year but I digress. He said that the best interview question he had was to ask if they were a Lazy developer or not. Obviously most people would say no and blither on about being proactive and working all hours etc. It is, of course, a glaring trick question. Those who said yes but didn’t elaborate are also culled from the potentials pool. Those who say yes and go on to say how they like to find the easiest route to a solution and then move onto the next issue is therefore hired. To all you budding recruiters out there… you’re welcome!

I met with David from the Page builder framework. He was a great guy to hang around with and really got stuck in marketing his product to the hosting companies at the event. His product is designed to work with page builders without all the extra bloat that themes normally bring. We’re going to be using it on Page Builder Cloud I think. Talking about people getting stuck in, I met with Vito Peleg from WP Feedback and WOW what a product and what a machine of a marketeer. Vito never stopped talking to people about his new plugin and I guarantee will make a killing in sales and overall awareness for his product. I suspect that of the 2k+ people that were there Vito managed to speak to most of them. Great work. Overall David and Vito were wonderful company and made the experience more enjoyable for all with their enthusiasm and drive. Good luck both of you.

Takeaways

Up your game, as I said, Andrew Palmer bleats at me constantly… UP YOUR GAME. The constant and unrelentless voice in my head (and online) telling me to get better. Always improving and always finding new ways to become that idyllic model, that lazy developer. I think I’m getting there but there’s always room for improvement. The ideas that I got for new products and ways to improve my overall ethos towards my work, the way I treat my customers and the way I handle my business are invaluable. I’m a new man now and eager for more.

If I were to give a single word which was consistent across my stay in Germany it would be that I am Inspired. Nothing more or less. I know what I want to do now and I’m damn well going to do it. and if I don’t then there’s always next year in Porto to get my annual fix.

Coming home was sad. Andrew and I took a long walk around Berlin on the last day once the conference had finished and we got to see what a beautiful city it is. Knowing nothing about the history of the city or the culture it was a real eye opener for me and thoroughly recommended for a city break if you ever find the time.

And with that I just need to say.. Thanks WordCamp Europe. I look forward to seeing you next year!

Sean and Andrew Palmer from EMP

Footnote. If I met you and haven’t raved about what a lovely person you are or business you run then I apologise of course. This blog post passed a two hour plane ride and my tired mind can only remember so much. If you met me and want to chat please Tweet @TortoiseIT and we can talk some more. I’d love to give an honest appraisal of your products

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3 Comments

  1. Hannah smith

    From the sound of things you had a great time, so good to read your observations and reactions to your first WCEU! To set the record straight, I said you should become comedian because you have a true talent for being off the cuff funny – I really enjoyed chatting with you. The offer of a double act talk still stands you know.

    Reply
    • Sean Barton

      Lovely to meet you Hannah. I knew what you meant of course. I wouldn’t know where to start with a double act talk but more than happy to discuss with you. The prospect is both exciting and scary at the same time. But does sound promising 🙂

      Reply
  2. Verdi

    Thanks for the shout out, it was really great meeting you after I’ve been following you work for over 4 years now. I’m happy to read about you new found love for Elementor and am even happier you feel pressured into creating a Pro version of “Elementor Contact Form DB” 😉 😀

    See you at the next one!

    Reply

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About this site and Sean Barton

Picture of Sean
Sean Barton is a Freelance Website Developer in Crewe, Cheshire. He is a Full Stack Developer but with extensive experience in Wordpress and other Frameworks. He is the Co-Founder of SitePresser, Layouts Cloud and Page Builder Cloud among other things..
This site was set up in 2008 as a tutorial and scripting resource for the PHP language and Wordpress.
Find out more about Sean on the About Me page or use the Hire Me page to get in touch. For more information about Sean's work take a look at the Portfolio

SitePresser is the plugin that packages child themes and layout packs for sale. Works with Divi and Elementor.