WordCamp Raleigh: Southern hospitality in full effect

There were only 6 US states that I have not visited in the US when I started this trip. New Mexico, Montana, Oklahoma, Maine, North Carolina and South Carolina. I started my 10 day 3 city tour by crossing off NC from that short list visiting Raleigh for the first time for WordCamp Raleigh 2017.

The only thing I knew for certain about this southern city was that it was where Andy Griffith’s television sheriff character went to blow off a little steam from time to time, being the biggest city near Mayberry. I learned a lot about this town and North Carolina in general by going to speak and participate in this camp in it’s 8th year of existing. This year drew the largest attendance on record; over 300 tickets sold. People came from far and wide to be there and the vibe of the camp was just electric.


Food and Fun:

Almost as soon as I landed I was due at the speaker dinner.  I dropped my gear in my room and headed to the lovely Hibernian Pub in ‘The Triangle’. Being a college town the place was among a strip of bars, restaurants and shops that displayed a lot of signage featuring the local NCSU colors. It reminded me quite a bit of downtown Tempe.  There awaited a plentiful buffet of pub foods such as popcorn shrimp, corned beef sliders, fish and chips, quesadillas and a lonely bowl of salad, ruined by way too much cheese. I was met almost immediately by the lead organizer and GiveWP superhero Ben Meredith.  He made me feel right at home.

It was awesome to meet many new folks as well as see a handful of familiar faces.  With a long week ahead I embraced the ‘marathon, not a sprint’ ethos and was in bed at completely reasonable hour after tweaking my slides and practicing my talk.

Saturday morning was a tad unusual for me, as this was the first time I had gone to a WordCamp as a speaker but not a sponsor.  My duties were to spend a little time at the happiness bar but other than that just to be available in the ‘hallway track’ and meet folks. No booth to set up and run, no schwag to schwag, or anything else sponsor-y to do.  While I sorta liked the slight gain in sleep time this granted, it felt weird. Luckily this is a rather unusual circumstance that hopefully will repeat but rarely.


Being on campus and the school having a well regarded culinary program turned out to me much to our advantage.  Since it was still spring break the camp lunch plan was for the venue to simply open up the food court to us.  The variation and quality of the food was better than any average restaurant with the convenience of a leisurely stroll across the well maintained and beautiful campus.  Burgers, tater tots, stir frys, a taco bar, and of course BBQ was served.  We feasted together!

There was no food plan for the after party so we were on our own.  One of the folks I met at the happiness bar mentioned a very creative sustainable food joint called Fiction Kitchen.  What better way to taste a new city than to gather a few folks together and eat foods sourced locally?  I was joined by a few new friends where I had the Chik’n and Waffles with a killer mushroom gravy.  One of the best things I have eaten recently. Their bar made interesting use of some unusual, to me anyhow, ingredients such as beet juice syrup, which is not overly sweet and possesses a great earthy tone and bright red color.  For real, one of the better cocktails I had on my travels.


After party:

After dinner we made our way to the official after party. I was downright shocked by the massive size of the Beer Garden. This three story building offered 350 beers on tap and an impressive top shelf, but the outdoor area is what impressed me the most. Outdoor seating ran the entire length of the building and well behind it, opening up to a massive graveled acre sized plot with picnic tables, ping pong, a Bocce court and cornhole.

My favorite moment of the whole darn camp happened here. One of my companions from dinner admitted this was their first camp and like so many folks, was a tad shy. I buddied up with her and introduced her to the awesome folks I already knew and within a few minutes she had gone from bashful to being one of the #WPLife crew. If you go to camps on the regular, make sure you take some time to take care of new folks.  Make sure they are welcomed. It only takes a few minutes and it is so rewarding!

Day 2 Donuts:

Sunday morning brought with it box after box after box of donuts from one of the local experts practicing the pastry craft, whose name I do not know.  While I can normally resist such temptations I will admit I gave in, much to my tongue’s delight but to my blood sugar’s horror.  Part of my logic is that since Sunday was a shorter program and no lunch was being provided this would be OK overall for the day.  With that decision came the crash, which I staved off with the amazing coffee from world renown but local to NC Counter Culture Coffee.  To my surprise and joy I got to meet the owners who are using WordPress to better serve their growing client base.

The Sessions



Seven Stories, One Point
Chris Lema

I was thrilled that the keynote for this camp was coming from one of the more dynamic and engaging speakers of today, Chris Lema. While we are not in agreement for choice of hosting options, I highly respect his work and thought leadership in this space. As with many other time I have heard him speak, he dropped us into the middle of a story right from the start and immediately grabbed our collective attention. This time it was placing us at the 1979 Woolworth’s fire which kicked off a rousing talk that interwove multiple stories delivering a poignant message of hope for believing in ourselves and our passions.


What I’ve Learned from Premium Themes
David A. Kennedy

First off, assume the best of people. It is key to listen. Really focus in and listen.  Really hear what they are trying to say. This is fundamental to building relationships and actually supporting users.
Sometimes things will make you mad.  A good idea is to wait 30 minutes before responding when you get upset.  Breath.  Having a good, non emotional answer is far better than an an angry emotional one.
Talk to users in different ways, with an eye for engaging them on their terms when possible It is not possible to control all aspects of a conversation. It is best to ask better questions around what you can control

For you, test everything including assumptions and code. Once you have tested, test it all again. Checklists take stress off you
Try changing your perspective!
Be diverse both in revenue streams and in hiring. Research your markets.
From themes he has found that “one way” theming does not fit at all and is normally a poor fit.
All size shops, both bug and small can find success with a theme strategy.
And maybe the best words to live by for design: “When in doubt- take it out”
Leaving something out is easier than removing later. Leaving something out is design!

NC State’s “Shortcake”-Powered Design Strategy
Brian DeConinck
Really a love letter to the WP Visual Editor

From the outside higher ed institutions can look like stable, solid, monolithic things.
Reality is they are decentralized and chaotic, involving battles of opposing forces.
Luckily, WP is perfect for that!
Users bring all sorts of problems to the design team, such as:
“I need a page that looks like this mock up” which is outside the normal scope of the standards.
Brian reminded us that sometimes best answer is just ‘no’. Sometimes
modern design takes more effort and thought than can afford.
If answers is not no, there is likely a WP plugin that does the job. THis is a stopgap though, since page builders are not final solution since accessibility standards are not addressed which is hard requirement for a universiy.
And sometimes the answer is “Sure, let me add that template to the theme”. The danger here is that it is a one off thing hard to manage as one offs open the door to many others, often with cryptic names and complicated rules. Same goes for custom fields.
The real answer is to “love the Visual Editor”
Enter shortcodes and Shortcake. Shortcodes have been there since 2.5 not going anywhere. If the Shortcake project died, still shortcodes all works for all end users.

The thing on the horizon is Guettenberg. It is a prety cool direction, will likely be the Shortcake killer, but that is not a terrible thing. Shortcake might not be future, but its successor is, the “Editor blocks API”, which is a more robust descendant of the same idea. He can imagine a future with a Guettenberg setting for NCU blocks.
Regardless if what is coming, you should use Shortcake because:
1) SC solves issues right now. AS in today. How long to Guettenberg? Who knows.
2) Shortcake powered shortcodes teaches new way of thinking, future way of thinking about the editor
3) you can just do some cool stuff with Shortcake.


Destination Anywhere: Creating the ultimate DMO or Directory website.
Lauren Jeffcoat

Why would anyone want to build a destination website? The real answer is it is self serving. An answer of “me me me!” for self serving a passion. Without this passion not likely to succeed. It requires a you to have patience. A lot of patience.
Persistant updates are the only way to stay relevant. This means you can never. stop. working!
These lessons come from here trying out everything on market before getting to where she is now. Among the gems she dropped:
Phone numbers build trust, provide a phone number you will answer!
Don’t be too clever
Ask for an email if you want an email, just be direct on what you want from users and what you will do with it.
Dont compare yourself to any other site, each is unique and bring own value.
Focus on being awesome! This is the only way to get there.
Don’t stress for what you are not, focus on what you are doing!
And maybe the most important but: “You do you!”
Enjoy the fruites of your labor
but Never. Stop. Working!


Using docker for multi-dev/multi-platform development
Doug Cone
This was a solid talk on what Docker is and how to set it up. I am not going to write about those things here. Instead I will focus on the question of if you should use Docker.
You should if you are a developer and…
You are working on a lot of platforms and sites with all different requirements
Version control is tripping you up in your VM approach. With Docker when moving between machines, docker config in the repo, carrying around requirements, it stays with the code, so booting again just there and works on Docker

Reasons Docker is not for you:
You dislike the command line.
You love what you have in place and it works for you (Dev matches Prod)
Your applications need special access to physical resources, like a webcam or security dongle. Docker does not play well those sorts of things yet.

OK, but is it hard?
Yes but no, but now not that hard, especially how stable it has gotten in recent releases.
The community is growing meaning others are working it out. It was a lot harder just a few years ago.


Managing Your Iceberg
Cory Miller
Main goal: Let’s eradicate the notion you can’t take care of yourself emotionally!
We must erase mental health care stigma.

Cory used the Iceberg Method. Essentially you have a public and private character, just as an iceberg has a visible and submerged part. The awesome parts are in public on the top and the not good stuff is below, stress, illness, worry, doubt, pain.
Get a group of people you can share with the bottom parts. Grow with them on the same journey.
The key is turning pride into gratefulness. Not bragging about “I won this project” but gratatude of “Because we won this project we get to work together!” and rejoice.
The group must be safe and secrets stay secrets. Ultimate trust is vital. Graw this group over times as well, since ebb and flow are unavoidable.
Go out and create a life support group!


Move from HTTP to HTTPS or Become Irrelevant!
Peter La Fond
Basics of https and threats. Much has been written and I am just going to relate the part that i thought was illuminating.
There was an interesting question from audience: “my non-profit marketing site, why does this matter?” Not only did Peter answer this, but the whole crowd was in strong agreement that all sited should be secure. This makes us all more secure since all data over the internet will be encrypted, much harder to select what to target as a bad actor. This is especially true on shared servers. This is sort of a herd immunity issue.
Hackers care about the traffic not your specific site really. The goal of man in the middle attacks is more often that not eavesdropping: Collecting personal data for other use, like credit card data and SSNs. HTTPS protects people form listening in and highjacking traffic. He warned that not all security is solved with HTTPS, need to think about security
several layers. I walked away from that talk and immediately configured the HTTPS for this site. Embarrassed I had not done it, but this talk is a great motivator if you have been waiting to do it. Let’s all be more secure.


Using Surveys To Better Understand Your Users
Frank Corso

“Who is a reckless driver?” No one raises a hand.
“Who has a speeding ticket?” Most people will raise their hand.
Asking the question that is unexpected in an unexpected way will yield bad results You need to think through what you really need and how this can best be asked without alienating the user.
User bias is very real and must be considered. You won’t know everyone who answers, so design for people you have not met. Avoid skewing by being transparent and keeping it simple.

If you are wording a question in a way where the user might not understand all the terms, give them clear “opt out” choices, like “I don’t know” or “undecided” wherever it makes sense. You will get higher completion and better data.

User research requires more open ended questions. Great one is “What nearly stopped you from using us?”. People who will have already purchased will give great feedback on what parts of process or data scared them, even though they went for it.

Segmenting users requires asking questions about the questions the users have asked.
Example: ” How responsive has our support team been to your questions or concerns and in
what ways can we improve?”
“how likely to reccomend to a friend?”

A great tool for this is Hotjar, for both pre-sale and post sale. Also, make good use of Survey Monkey. Forms are good too, but primitive compared to other options.

So you wanna dev? Join the team!
Evan Mullins

One of my favorite talks!
Basic, straight forward, direct
Great set of best practices
WP specific, importance of child themes
The loop
DB call cycle
Too many nuggets and too fast to take better notes. Seriously go watch this on wordpress.tv. I am going to send it to any site builders who are needing to level up on being a Dev.


My Session:

It went overall well, but I screwed up my script, much to my embarrassment. Lesson to myself here is to a) not change the scripting for a CLI talk an hour before the presentation and 2) follow the dang script like the robots would. The reason I screwed up is I did a theme and menu change out of order and somehow this caused a failure I either had to accept as a ‘don’t you love live demo’ moment and move on or debug in front of a crowd. I chose to just let it go. Next time I am going to have backup slides of all the things. Also, I had not been mentioning dry-run, which I can see now is one of the more powerful features, empowering anyone to do anything and not fear blowing up their sites!

Wrapping up

I had an amazing time in North Carolina. Thanks to the WordPress folks there who made me feel right at home. It was a great way to kick off my three city tour and I found myself wanting to return as soon as I left. NC might not be perfect but there are a lot of good things going on too.

Onto Baltimore…..

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