Making the most out of WordCamp

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People are descending on San Francisco from around the world as I type. I leave tomorrow morning earlier than I go to bed some nights. WordCamp is an excellent opportunity to meet a ton of people in the WordPress community. Most normal people (myself included) only get to attend one or two a year at best. Let’s make the best of it!

Here are some ways to make the most out of WordCamp:

Don’t be afraid

Introduce yourself to people around you. There’s a chance you use one of their themes or plugins. Maybe the person next to you wrote the code for your favorite WordPress feature. They’re right next to you! Talk to them.

Do you know someone you admire in the community will be at WordCamp? Track them down! Maybe not in a weird stalkerish way, but make sure you find them and let them know that you appreciate what they do, or let them know you use their stuff. I bet it’s hard for anyone to get sick of hearing that. Don’t be intimidated!

Here’s the attendees list for WordCamp San Francisco so you’ll know who’s going.

Get out of your personal boundaries

“I’m a designer.” Or, “I’m a developer.” Or, “I’m a marketer.” So what! Check out a couple of sessions that make your head spin.

You’re probably pretty good at what you do, and there’s likely a lot to of good subject matter on that at your WordCamp. But if you’re a developer, you don’t have to stay in the development track all day. Crawl over to a design session, or better yet, a user session. Sometimes seeing what’s important to other types of people will open your eyes to how you can do your own job better.

Stay connected while you’re there (or not there)

Every WordCamp I’ve ever seen keeps a unified twitter hashtag for people to track what’s going on. A couple days before WordCamp, make sure to save the search term for the camp’s hashtag, and then keep up with it as the camp goes along. Both during and outside of official WordCamp hours, you can get the scoop on the best places to be and what’s coming up.

WordCamp San Francisco is going to be even crazier than most WordCamps. Probably close to a thousand people will be there, but there will also be hundreds or thousands of people live streaming from their homes. Last night during WP Late Night, Brad Williams mentioned he would love if there was an active IRC channel throughout the day to make people feel like they’re “there”. Great idea! Hit up #wcsf on IRC now and see how it goes throughout the weekend.

Last year, I couldn’t go to WordCamp San Francisco, so I kept up on Twitter. David Bisset was absolutely rocking the #wcsf with quotes and resources that were being mentioned. I heard that Matt Mullenweg even went looking for him to meet him. Turns out, he was on the livestream, and still very much part of the WordCamp. You can be too!

The pre/after parties

WordCamps aren’t just about sessions. One of the greatest parts of WordCamps is the opportunity to just talk to people. The pre-parties and after-parties that are both official and unofficial become the best place to do that.

At WordCamp Birmingham early this year, I got to talk to people I really respect in the WordPress community and pick their brains about business, development, design, bacon… you name it! Whether you partake in the party beverages or not, the pre and after-parties are a great place to get to know the community.

Happiness / Genius Bars

I don’t remember which is the appropriate name for WordCamps, but you probably know what they are. There’s usually a dedicated space at WordCamp where industry experts will be hanging out, ready to field your questions. You can usually talk to them about anything. So if you’re not in a particular session, or maybe during a break, hit up the bar and talk to some really smart people.

Know the schedule

WordCamps will always have a schedule available within a few days of the event. Be sure to check it out before you get there. You may want to switch tracks depending on the speaker, and it’s good to know what you plan to do ahead of time.

WordCamp San Francisco’s schedule is posted, and it’s going to be a wild one. Each talk is only about twenty minutes, and they are in blocks of two. So when you commit to a talk, you get the block of two for the hour in that room. Choose wisely, the speakers will be amazing!

Hack / dev Day

WordCamps vary in their format. But a common format is to have the main WordCamp on a Saturday and a hack day or dev day or breakout day, or whatever you want to call it, either on Friday or Sunday.

WordCamp San Francisco will have a hack day on Sunday. It will be for people to dig into Core trac tickets. If you’re capable of doing so, join in! If not, hopefully someone will be able to organize a get together of sorts for Sunday for people that don’t feel comfortable at hack day. Maybe there’s a coffee shop that can be hijacked, or a hotel lobby. But find some people to get together with on Sunday, and ship some code (or whatever you ship)!

Take Notes!

You will forget if you don’t. People are going to say awesomely informative things left and right. You’ll think you’ll remember. You won’t. Take notes on your laptop or notebook. Write down urls, names, etc. so you can go back after WordCamp and lookup what you’ve inevitably forgotten.

Get the slides and video!

Most speakers will offer up their slides on Slideshare or their websites so that people can go back ad reference them later. I’ve learned a great deal from some people’s past slides, months after an event. Be sure to be on the lookout for tweets or links to speakers’ slides. But still take notes, because sometimes slides tell you just enough to say, “YES!” and just little enough to say, “BUT, NOW WHAT?”

Follow a liveblog

When WPCandy is at an event, we try to liveblog it. We’ll definitely be live blogging San Francisco. Also, some WordCamps will have their own live blogs so you can stay in tune while you are there, or maybe just check it out later to see stuff from sessions you missed.

Have fun!

If you need any more convincing on how awesome a WordCamp can be, talk to other people that have gone. And definitely read this excellent diary of a WordCamp, by Siobhan McKeown, on her trip to WordCamp Netherlands earlier this year.

WordCamps are supposed to be fun. Some of us make our living off of WordPress. But the odds are we got there because it was our hobby first. WordCamps should be fun. They’re not just a work conference. So make sure to relax, listen, absorb, and just have a good time.

Hopefully I’ll meet some of you in San Francisco or a WordCamp near you!

9 thoughts on “Making the most out of WordCamp

  1. I completely agree about the pre/after parties. While it’s great to talk to people and make new friends between sessions, there is little time to be social, without missing something or being disruptive.

    I attended WordCamp Detroit 2010. Between each session, there was about 20 minutes to be social and take care of any personal business (read go to the bathroom, get a drink, etc.) before the next session started. While that’s plenty of time for making initial contact and making first impressions, it’s not enough to form an actual relationship with anyone that you had a connection with. The after party was great for taking the initial contact to the next level. Sure, there were people that used it as an excuse to get drunk. Some of the best social experiences I’ve ever had occurred on that night.

  2. Great post with some sound advice. Looking forward to seeing everyone this weekend!

    The first 2 are particularly important, especially for newer folks, or those who are a bit shy IRL.

  3. Great advice, Brian! WordCamp San Francisco is going to be amazing, I’m sure. It’ll be my first time visiting The States, so I’ll certainly be out of my personal boundaries!

    Looking forward to meeting everyone and hanging out :)

  4. Great post Brian. I always seem to make the most of a WordCamp by being in the bar until the small hours of the morning. I would say that the downside of this is that I’m a bit bleary-eyed in the morning (particularly tough if I’ve got a 10am presentation to give).

    Have fun in San Francisco. I’m really jealous. Hopefully you’ll be able to make it to our side of the Atlantic one day! :)

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