WordCamp Atlanta: Cold days in Hotlanta and finding community gold

Atlanta was experiencing a cold spell when I got there. It was about 15 degrees colder than my beloved SF. I had last been to ATL in the late summer of 2004, working for the American Red Cross as a disaster relief worker the year before Hurricane Katrina. Most folks don’t recall but there were five hurricanes that swept Florida that year. My unit dropped into Atlanta to stage for the clean up efforts. Very fortunately for me and Florida this time, there was no emergency to deal with, just the fun, fellowship and learnings at WordCamp Atlanta 2017.

The camp fell on the St. Patrick’s Day weekend and shamrocks, leprechauns, rainbows, and pots of gold were prominent in the theme. Saturday brought the flood of people to The Loudermilk Center  to get our WP on. I was especially excited to be going to Atlanta because I was able to fill a gap in the speaker schedule created by a last minute change. I absolutely LOVE contributing at camps by leveraging my public speaking skills. I was lucky enough to get to contribute this way and in some other ways.


Unlike any other WordCamp I had attended, the day long beginner sessions (Site Building, Developing and Designing) as well as Contributor Day fell on the Friday, before the regular days of sessions. I have to say I really liked this arrangement. Instead of being exhausted and having a few days of unanswered emails piled up from the weekend like I do when sprints are on the last day, I felt energized and fresh. I was able to warm up with some socializing and then roll up my sleeves to give full attention and focus to the task at hand.

I was thrilled to learn there was a new community contribution project around marketing WP.  Leading the charge on that Friday, the talented Jason Knill and Bridget Willard from GiveWP.  We got a lot of work done.  One of the main focuses for the team is figuring out how to better communicate the value of WP itself to other developers and to their clients.  This means we need data to figure out how to best create programs and materials.  To that end we focused on building surveys and getting answers.

In the past I have contributed (ever so slightly) to docs. I had originally dipped my toes in the contribution waters back at WordCamp US with the docs team for a couple reasons. First because I firmly believe good docs are the cornerstone of any successful open source project. And on a more personal level, it was something I thought I could realistically do as I am not a great PHP developer.  However, if I am being honest, it turned out not be something I felt super passionate about day to day. On the other hand getting other people excited about an idea and pushing a view into the world on the other hand sounds extremely enticing and something I really look forward to participating in moving forward.  If you have not gone to a contributor day yet or visited make.wordpress.org please consider it. We are literally all responsible for the future of WordPress (and all OSS for that matter).


Bringing a lot of energy to the event were 40 kids that came for KidsCamp. It was super exciting to see a group of youngsters excited to be part of our WebDev world. Lead by the super talented Sandy Edwards, they broke into 3 groups: Beginners who would build their first WordPress.com site. Intermediate, who would build and work on their first real WordPress site. Advanced, where they cracked open the hood and learned some PHP for theming and plugin development.

I am very excited for the future of WP. I was 22 years old when WordPress 1.0 dropped. These kids were all born after 2.0 and have never realistically known a world without PHP 5.3 or later. I can’t even imagine what they will dream up as the next generation of application and internet creators.

The Food and the Fun

Thursday before the event I got to hang out and have some of the best BBQ in Atlanta at Sweet Auburn BBQ with the generous and awesome Mike Schinkel.  We had the chance to catch up about his WPLib Box project.  Great stuff and really tasty brisket.

Friday morning brought coffee and a few pastries. But being in the hometown of Waffle House and since there was one on the walk to the venue, I decided to get breakfast there. Lunch however was a pretty great kale salad and buffalo chicken wraps. As it was Contributor day it was really a working lunch, which is something that felt pretty natural given it was a Friday.  I eat a lot of conference food and big applause to the Loudermilk Center.  If you are planning an event in Atlanta, check em out.

Friday night was the Speaker/Sponsor dinner was at the historic CocaCola Northlands Gathering Spot. There was a cash bar and all you can eat buffet of pecan encrusted chicken with green beans, potatoes and wedge salad. Admittedly I went back for seconds of the chicken as it was sweet and savory all at once. Delightful. All too soon it was time to get some rest and prep for the Saturday morning rush of setup and kicking off a day of camp.

Saturday lunch was a variation on the selection from Friday with a nice chicken parm replacing the wraps.  We also returned to the Gathering Spot for the main after party. We were treated to pretty amazing chicken and waffle appetizers, served with syrup thick with roasted pecans, spring rolls, gazpacho and rare stake bruschetta. All elegantly served by a very hospitable and kind staff. Hospitality in the south is renown and I was not disappointed by my experience here.

Then the after-after party where we were to sing some #WCKaraoke tried to get going at the Metro Diner. Normally this really interesting looking 24 hour diner/bar has karaoke nightly, but due to an emergency maintenance it was shutting down at 10:30 and no Karaoke offered. Very luckily Kyrk Ullman stepped up to find an alternative and we rerouted to the Midtown Tavern. A very spacious bar that was hopping on a Saturday night. There was a huge turnout for a #WCKaraoke event, spurned on by our collective desire to sing together and to not be outdone by the folks at WordCamp London which had their #WCKaraoke event a number of hours before. Even Troy Dean, our keynote speaker (and one of the nicest human beings I have ever met) came out to lift his voice in collective song.

Sunday morning came all too soon and I again indulged in Waffle House. There is just something about those hashbrowns scattered, capped and peppered that is irresistible to me making me very glad there is not one near me in SF. Saturday lunch again brought yummy wraps and the joy of hanging out with campers while they ate. There is something primally satisfying about eating together. Always glad to eat with my fellow WordPress people.

The Sessions

The Keynote

Troy Dean flew all the way from Australia to deliver one of the most inspirational Keynotes I have heard yet. He told us of his transformation from a broke and depressed nearly homeless man to living a very rich life by focusing on helping people. My biggest take away was something he said rather early on, “If you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to lose.”  If you are not scared then you are in a comfortable place and that prevents you from changing and improving.  Very wise words and it was a great way to kick off a camp!

You can even hear a bit of this here:

My session

I am grateful to again have had the chance to deliver my We Are All Making This Up, Improv Lessons for Developers talk at camp. This was the fifth time have given this talk and the first time I had repeat audience members. Their feedback was really helpful. I am refining this talk as time goes on and am very much looking forward to giving it again in Chicago for MidCamp and again in Raleigh next month as well as for a much larger audience very soon.

My only regret about giving this talk is that it meant I could not see Mr.Shawn Hooper talk about the WP-CLI. I am slated to give a similar session in San Diego and was hoping to see him in action, as my slides are very much based on his. Fortunately in the long run we can all see his talk on WordPress.tv

Sessions I saw:

Namespaces, Autoloading, and Improving Plugin Architecture

Tom McFarlin cleared up a few points that had confused me for some time.   While I felt I had a reasonable understanding of why you would want a namespace as a developer, I never really grasped why until I saw this talk.  I know a lot of people left the room with a much clearer sense of this best practice as well as a lot of other great info on plugin building.

How WordPress Will Change Your Life

I feel very fortunate to be part of the WordPress community and really feel it has changed my life. Brian Rontsztein’s talk encapsulated how it can change yours as well if you let it.  We work in an isolating industry and we sometimes lose site of the fact that we are all in one community.  It is really important to share your journey and story with those around you.  You likely already have enough specialized knowledge to give your own talk.  Or blog. Or just comment on other’s work.  Contribute in any way you can to keep this amazing community going and help change someone else’s life today!

How to use teaching as a learning tool

I was excited to this this talk as this was the first time I would be seeing Carl Alexander speak in person.  Mostly I see him on my laptop as the CarlBoard His presentation skills were only out shined by the brilliance of the content itself.  To sum up: “The best way to learn anything is to teach it.”  I 100% agree with this.  Having to explain a concept makes your brain absorb the knowledge like nothing else can.  He encouraged us to challenge ourselves and find a topic that excites us and then signing up to teach a class or session on the matter.  That might sound terrifying but this is an incredible way to give yourself a deadline and force you to focus.

Framework Springboard- Build Faster and Better Websites in WAY Less Time

People lined the walls and sat on the floor to hear Shelly Peacock give us the low down on frameworks.  I learned about a few new frameworks like Beans which I know I will be tinkering with in the near future.  She also walked us through, step by step, how to get her framework of choice, Genesis, up and running in no time.  This is one to catch on WordPress.TV for sure if you are at all interested in theming and frameworks.

WordPress Deployment for Professionals: How to Solve the Problem of Multiple WordPress Installs in 30 Minutes or Less

This was a technical session from Jason Lengstorf and like all great talks, it was like drinking from a firehose.  Delivering a lot of material in under 40 minutes, Jason explained the underlying principals of why you would want to use an automated process to get for your local to a production environment.  TL;DR: “Every manual step in a process increases risk of failure!”

I have some strong feelings on using tools like Kalabox to further automate some of the setup, which he urges some caution around due to it making the deploy process a bit of a magic black box.  We are in complete agreement though that any developer should understand a bit on how the internals of the tools they are using work. Really a fascinating topic and very well delivered.

Meetups: Why is it important to invest in the WordPress Community?

Wrapping up the camp was one of my favorite people talking about one of my favorite topics: Community!  Bridget Willard delivered an impassioned and impactful talk about the importance of connecting with other human beings.  I did not know going in that the stats are 33% of entrepreneurs battle depression vs 7% of the general population.  That is 1 in 3 of the most successful, outgoing and busiest people you know.  Compounding this stress is the isolation we get working behind screens.  She started this with a pretty amazing CS Lewis quote I was not familiar with: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”

Fortunately for us WordPress has an ecosystem anyone can tap into.  Meetups and WordCamps!  If you are reading this and NOT going to either, find your local Meetup now and sign up and go.  Go a few times.  After a few you will find yourself as the ‘old pro’ welcoming the new people and taking on more responsibilities for making them happen.  There is not quite another feeling like that in the world.

CART services

I would be remiss to not mention that this camp’s wonderful accessibility.  Not just in the fact the venue was very accessible but that every session had live captioning!  It was great to see the words in near real time projected behind every speaker. It made it very easy to follow along and I think it helped me take better notes a few times for sure.  Big thanks to these talented men and women!

To wrap up, WordCamp Atlanta 2017 was a pretty amazing time with so many awesome organizers, speakers, sponsors and volunteers.  And special thanks to the volunteers who made this camp happen.  I am very fortunate to get to travel to many camps and can safely say the good folks of Atlanta have one of the best WordCamps in the world in their hometown.  Can’t wait until next year!

One thought on “WordCamp Atlanta: Cold days in Hotlanta and finding community gold”

  1. Oh my gosh. This is one of the most thorough recaps I’ve ever read and it brings me right back. I enjoyed all of our conversations and I really appreciate your encouragement.

    Thank you.

    See you in San Diego!

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