If you use WordPress, you should get involved with the community – here’s why

We just came back from WordCamp Europe, a gathering of more than 800 WordPress professionals from 51 countries.

The National Palace of Culture, Sofia, venue for WordCamp Europe 2014.
The National Palace of Culture, Sofia, venue for WordCamp Europe 2014.

Most, if not all the countries of Europe were represented, with strong contingents from the Netherlands, the USA and of course, this year’s host nation, Bulgaria.

Thankfully for us, proceedings were entirely in English.

For those who don’t know, WordPress is the software we use to build all of our websites, but it’s more than just a collection of code.

It’s a community – and one that welcomes anyone who uses WordPress, from the small business website owner to advanced web developers and agencies who build highly customised WordPress websites for international companies.

Welcome to WordCamp Europe. Photo by Vladimir Kaladan Petkov
Welcome to WordCamp Europe. Photo by Vladimir Kaladan Petkov

WordPress also supports a whole ecosystem of companies providing products and services. It’s becoming big business, but people remain at its core.

So what happens at a WordCamp?

WordCamp Europe is one of those places where the WordPress community comes together to hear more than 30 talks over two tracks and two days, covering every subject from security issues, to business and even health. A full list of speakers and talks is available on the WordCamp Europe website.

WordCamp is a place where people all come with the same philosophy: They are there to learn, to improve what they do, but also to share.

The various talks are only part of the picture, as everyone there is eager to meet new people and forge new connections – both personal and professional.

It doesn’t matter who you are, WordPress is a friendly and approachable community and even among the leading lights there are no egos.

In fact you can often find yourself suddenly in conversation with them at the after party!

The ethos of self improvement extends to those who provide services to WordPress users, such as plugin developers.

At WordCamp we were able to connect with many developers whose products or services we use, provide valuable feedback and develop a relationship that helps them improve what they do, and helps us improve our service to our clients. Everybody wins.

WordPress Lead Developer Andrew Nacin. Photo by Vladimir Kaladan Petkov
WordPress Lead Developer Andrew Nacin. Photo by Vladimir Kaladan Petkov

It continues with the WordCamp speakers, many of whom can command high fees to appear at other conferences. At WordCamp they don’t get a penny, yet the likes of Chris Lema, Mark Jaquith and Tony Perez not only gave their time but flew in from half way around the world.

To share their knowledge.

And that extends to the organisers, who put months of hard work into setting up everything to make WordCamp Europe a slick and well-organised event – all on a voluntary basis.

Between the talks the halls were buzzing with people of all nationalities getting to know each other, helping each other, sharing information. Collaborating. With people who are essentially their competitors.

This mindset was best summed up in the talk by Simon Wheatley, of one of the UK’s top Wordpress agencies, Code For The People.

Code For The People lives by WordPress’ collaborative principles, sometimes competing with others in the same space, but sometimes working directly with competitors to help WordPress move forward as a whole.

We are not normal, he told us, yet collaboration can be married with solid business principles that not only help us and our clients, but the wider world, too.

Code for the People, by the way, have donated the skills of one of their top developers, John Blackbourn, for three months to lead work on the next version of WordPress.

It should come as no surprise that this is the approach adopted by the WordPress community, and in particular Automattic, the company that guides WordPress and its development, among other things. Automattic, led by WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg (another speaker at WordCamp Europe) has working practices that are unconventional to say the least. The WordPress system is open source, and contributing to it on a voluntary basis is encouraged through the Contributor Day that takes place after the two day conference. After all many of us make a living through WordPress, and it’s great to be able to give something back.

You don’t have to be able to write code to contribute to WordPress, as everyone is split into groups according to skills and what they want to work on.

More than 180 turned up to the Contributor Day, which was held at the Sofia offices of SiteGround, a managed hosting company that offers specialised services for WordPress – so they gave something back by sponsoring the WordCamp.

Some went to work on improvements coming in the next version of WordPress, others on fixing reported bugs, others still on translating WordPress into yet more languages, while another group answered support requests on wordpress.org.

Although we’ve been to five WordCamps before, we’d never taken part in a Contributor Day. We ended up volunteering for a mini project that suited our skills perfectly, under the leadership of Sara Rosso of Automattic.

There were eight of us from five different countries, working together to create an outline for the project that we will all continue to collaborate on remotely – something that will be of use to the WordPress community worldwide. That’s the spirit of the Wordpress community.

If you’ve never been to a WordCamp

If you work with WordPress, even if (especially if) you don’t get involved in the geeky coding side, then you should go to a WordCamp at least once. You will be made to feel welcome.

You will benefit in all sorts of ways. Here in the UK, the next one will be in London in March 2015. Here’s all the info you need.

If you can’t spare the time for a WordCamp, then why not try a local meet? And this brings us on to…

So why don’t we do this here in Shropshire?

But if we can do this in Bulgaria, why can’t we do it here in Shropshire?

There must be dozens of companies using WordPress and hundreds of people running their own WordPress websites, yet there’s no WordPress community like you’ll find in other areas – Cumbria for example.

And while we have the excellent ShropGeek for all in the tech industry, we have nothing dedicated to WordPress alone.

In our experience, most of the companies in the Shropshire area who build websites regard each other with suspicion. As the competition. That’s a missed opportunity.

Most business people who run their own WordPress websites do so in isolation here. There’s no need for that.

We don’t share ideas, inspiration, knowledge or experience with each other – but if we did we would all benefit.

Many of use owe a lot to WordPress, and you can give back by sharing with others, even collaborating on work to help move the software forward.

The first step could be many things – a LinkedIn group, a local meetup, even our own website, but if you want to help build a WordPress community in Shropshire and the surrounding area then please get in touch.

Leave a comment or contact us privately via our webform.

Read more

For a well-rounded re-cap of WordCamp Europe, see Sarah Gooding’s article on WPTavern.

The WordCamp Europe site also has a list of individuals’ blog posts and photo galleries from WordCamp Europe 2014.

And here’s our very own Fiona’s take on WordCamp Europe.

Photo of the National Palace of Culture by Jorge in Brazil

Photos of Wordcamp Europe by Vladimir Kaladan Petkov