WordCamp Asheville 2019: A surprisingly small city and a good natured community experience

The words WordCamp Asheville 2019 over a star trek logo

Every time I mentioned to anyone that I was going to go to ‘New Age Mecca’ everyone said the same thing: “They got a lot of breweries there.” And that is all I basically knew going in, as I have abandoned researching new places I am going for work things as the surprises give any trip a fun twist. So when I landed I expected row after row of brick buildings turned into places to brew some suds. Instead I found one of the most beautiful parts of the whole world where the people have a deeper sense of community than anywhere else I can remember being. I quickly came to realize why I had heard so much positive buzz about the event I was there for, a very Star Trek themed WordCamp Asheville 2019.

The first thing you notice is the mountains, which multiple people explained are the some of the oldest mountains in the world. Nothing snow capped here, just a rolling blueish-green forest canopy. Next thing I took note of was how much sections of town reminded me of places like Bethesda, Minneapolis, Portland and a few other cities. I guess every place I visit reminds of of everywhere else at this point, but everything already felt familiar in Asheville. I also learned that the reason Asheville exists might be because of the Biltmore Estate, which I didn’t get to see in person this trip.

Food and Fun


I got to town an evening early and had an amazing meal and evening at Rosetta’s Kitchen. I normally don’t like to use the words “best ever” but it would be very hard to beat their Tempeh Ruben sandwich. Also, I don’t even like kombucha but had to same a local one and wow, their dandelion root brew called “Earth” blew my mind. I later learned this is an employee owned co-op which is also well known as a place that deeply gives back to the neighborhood. Made my meal that much more delicious.


Speaker Dinner

breakfast and lunch were in the hotel and not worth a mention here. The Speaker dinner however was at Archetype Brewing which is right beside the Moog factory. I normally don’t drink beers but they had a delightful dark English medium bitter ale. There were really solid options for all dietary restrictions, like a tempeh, avocado and tomato sandwich. It is always so awesome to see the people you know and even better sometimes to meet people you don’t. In this case I even got to meet in person people I have known online for literally years. It was a real celebration.

Those of us still thirsty explored the city and found ourselves in one of the ‘private clubs’ where you pay a dollar to become a member so the bar can operate as a regular bar. If you are confused by that last sentence, I am as well. North Carolina has weird liquor laws. Anyhow, I had a wonderful time at the Golden Pineapple bar where we sampled locally made versions of Fernet and Malort. Amazing job Eda Rhyne distillery!


The conference coffee was wet and free. That is where my charitable description ends. There were also bacon, egg and cheese biscuits, and other options provided for a light breakfast.

Lunch was served in one of the University of North Carolina – Asheville. After WordCamp Raleigh I am now convinced North Carolina schools serve the best cafeteria food in the world. I also want to make a special call out to all the food at this camp as being inclusive and the dining hall experience really made this shine. Every possible allergy and preference was accounted for clearly and in a friendly way. It also all tasted great. There were also afternoon snacks of popcorn and chips.

After Party

The after party took place at Wedge Brewing Co. at Foundation which is a funky old railroad yard and set of warehouses turned into a hipster center of brewing, BBQ and art. All they serve is beer and wine and I indulged in a number of beers, which reminded me why I stopped as I left feeling like I had eaten several loaves of bread. Tasty bread and I am not complaining, but still several loaves. I also had a few too many of the vegan jalapeno poppers and mini veggie ‘quiches’. Again I did not go hungry and still had my dietary needs met. Afterwards we did find beverage options and fellowship in West Asheville, but I will let those stories be passed as a oral tradition.


More of the same coffee but this time a yogurt bar. I don’t eat the yogurt but I love the fruit and granola. Lunch was a repeat of the previous day’s events in the food court and just as tasty.


Opening Remarks:

2019 WordCamp Asheville Keynote.
Chris Lema

I have said it before, and I will repeat it here: Chris Lema is one of the best speakers on earth. It is a sheer delight to hear him speak and get insight from his experiences. I have missed seeing him at multiple camps now as I had been scheduled in the same time slots. This talk was just as I expected, full of wisdom and hard learned experiences, all served up with an accessable charm and grace that makes Chris, well, Chris.

Raw Notes:
Call in the middle of the night
for his dad
after dinner, had to go back to work
this was weird
couple days away
Low earth orbiting satellites
his dad worked for them telecommunication
launching in a country like Brazil
bought billboards and retails shops
meanwhile in Mexico
sat phone kicked in and
mixed up panels on sat and covered Mexico not Brazil
Can I tell you the five mistakes I’ll never forget
1. The time I hired Mr. Green
He recruited a guy from Microsoft
then gives him first assignment, fell down
quick win assignments
didn’t do that
then no show
sending flowers to his wife in hospital
I know what you’re doing
then background checked
never worked at previous employer
more data,
Lesson: Hire slowly, Fire fast!
mental gymnastics
2. The time that the client said yes way too quickly/
client was ambitious
normally charge $1K but now going to $5K
put the number out and was nervous
client didn’t flinch
too happy
didn’t realize many things until too late
no profit on that project
every other quote he took was 3X
even if he screwed it up, still hire other dev
Marinate in the problem space
Now he asks, tell me how you tried to solve this
sit in it and ask more questions
3. The time I built and sold my first company by 30
big milestone for him
sacrificed everything to sell this company
no confetti from the sky
no cameraman asking where he is going
just got up the next day
and just another day
no friends left other than the other people who sold the company
3 year lockout
ended up after all is done $30K for all that work
Lesson: Choose Wisely: Not every choice will pay off equally
changed the rest of his life
he realized he had to optimize for other things, not just the job
4. The time he stayed at a job too long because I didn’t create options
daughter is 13
wanted a boyfriend
she thought it would last forever
seems like that but no
He had a job early, was way too
We all have a “Best Used By” dates. Network and create options
automation comes for us all
all the investment in the how is not helpful
in the why is fantastic
if you have stopped learning, you have reached your best buy date
WordCamp attendees are in a good position ot learn new things
5. The time I paid attention to the comments on my blog
eventually we all get mean comments
slow to remove bad
once as a preacher made 100 house key copies
gave to congregation
permission granted to take anything from the fridge
just hit delete
don’t let people spray paint your walls
Always look at the big picture
Know that you’ll win and lose
You’ll get better over time
Play with people better than you
Can’t keep playing and not get better, can’t keep building to not get better
need to put in the time or energy
hired an entitled young lady
admin work at the house
house too cold for her
buy a jacket
She “does not learn by ___”, no matter what he asked her to learn
own if you don’t want to learn
but most people do want to learn
give your self space and time to learn
invest in yourself as a client
Persistence is a super power, available to all of you
instead of stepping up your game, shine a light
ask them enough questions, can brag on them as your new friend
promote others
call people out on what they are good for
don’t compete at camps, just elevate everyone
ask people for help
and help others
easy to forget to look behind us at people that
instead of joining the community
connect two others

So, You’re at a WordCamp – Now what?
Aida Correa

This was not my first WordCamp, so why did I go to a talk aimed squarely at first timers? Two main reasons. Firstly that this was the first time I had the chance to hear Aida speak and I love hearing new speakers. Secondly, I was honestly curious what Aida would say, she herself a fairly recent regular on the WordCamp scene. I was delighted by her perspective and enthusiasm about the events and the community! I am going to recommend this talk to anyone who is curious about what a WordCamp is all about once it gets up on WordPress.tv.

Raw Notes:
To be a very interactive class
ask questions as we go
how to live more creatively
She loves Wapuu
Wapuu is her boyfriend
actually Willian Jackson is, he introduced her to WordCamps
11 camps now
Why WC?
WC is for everyone!
From the clueless to the novice
you meet all kinds of people from all the countries all over the tworld
get to geek out
fun for family
and the schwag
networking possibilities are almost endless
meet people from all over
Carol Olinger, has her own wapuu with her doggies
Cathering Eqwali – the has passed on but her memory is strong
Karla Campos
Lucy from
Free or nearly free information
happiness bar
more you go the more ‘first to know’ opportunities
Gutenberg for example
inspiration is everywhere
Volunteering can even open more doors
It can build confidence
What to do while here?
1 – visit the sponsors
Bluehost called out as really cool people
this is not a paid commercial advertisements
Now sure what to post?
Post: favorite quote of the day and tag speaker
cool pics
ah ha moments
Introductions section of the day
we spent 5 minutes meeting each other
Keep posting throughout the day
how to build a starship
One part at a time
get speaker slides
highlight the most important info in your note
decide now how to us the into – personal or for your business
send out emails
follow up on leads/connections/affiliations
put your contacts with notes in your phone or wherever you keep contact info
networking possibilities are almost endless
she does start up websites
under a certain amount
all very simple websites
invite new contacts/friends to like or follow you
make sure to reciprocate
Consider collaborating in the future
Send a “It was nice to meer you letter/email”
Go to WordPress meetups in your city
If your city does not have one, start one
speak at a meetup
make plans to go to the next WordCamp
Most importantly
Apply to be a speaker!
no experience necessary
Talk about what you know
consider tag teaming with another speaker
Don’t forget to volunteer

SEO Eavesdropping: Spying on the Experts
Leah Quintal

SEO is one of those topics that can be so dry the audience members’ eyes glaze over early and stay that way until the next session starts. This talk, on the other hand, was full of valuable information and a clear set of examples that made it very clear how to go about approaching SEO. Those examples and the way she looked at their data made my brain finally, finally click on why content is king and the real lynchpin of SEO.

Raw Notes:
SEO refresher
SEO is one piece of your marketing efforts
how people find your website from search engine
people return to your site and that is where conversions happen
if people search for your brand, you have made it!
people don’t search this way mostly
traffic captured by pages and posts
“Best stat trek captain”
350 searches a month
rich search results
want to argue search result findings
click on link
see what page had content with this
450 searches a month
cat themed clothing
how they make money
land on page for purchase, maximize potential sales
‘free earrings’ ‘Fathers day sale’
Who are we spying on?
REI – ecommerce – one of most successful SEO campaigns ever
Meowingtons – ecommerce
Water use it Wisely – nonprofit
Finger lakes premier properties
personal finance blog
ahrefs tool for SEO and search
REI SEO Content Masters
3.1M keywords
7.6M visitors a month
89 Site Authority score
Top Folders
expert advice and co-op journal
521 keywords on pages on expert advice
Good content architecture makes it all possible
Sleeping pad, 12,000 searches per month
appears for 1669 keywords
optimizing for a topic
2nd in search results
REI sleeping pad page is for buying pads
links to ‘how to buy sleeping pages’
expert advice is lower but still on page 1
educational post gets double the traffic of the product section!
product searches are most often education-seeking searches first
Marathon Training
9500 visits a month on this one post
3500 different keywords
SEO spying is a great way to understand competitor’s position on it
You have to produce a LOT of content and see what rises to the top
how much time and energy are you able to spend
even 2 posts a month will add up over a year
then have the data to see what worked
if you have an REI budget, go for it
keep doing it
“how to clean climbing shoes”
Interlink to product pages and supporting posts from educational content
Becoming an authority is about building your brand
ahref tool let’s you do this snooping
its about shifting perspective on how content works
58K visitors a month
but of their traffic 1.2 is coming
cat puns
far down on first page
to get to blog go to footer
goal is to arrive on the main page from the blog, not promoting blog itself
search orange tabby cat
people ask a lot of questions about cats online
metadata is what appears in search results
use catchy titles, descriptions, and content anges to stand out in search results and earn more clicks
14 purrfect Puns for your Pun-Loving Valentine
Timelines matter
non-profit campaign
Water User it Wisely
30K keywords
33.1K Organic R+Traffic
100+ ways to conserve water
says to conserve
rainwater harvesting
water irrigation systems
great interlinking structure
mobile first
Make it Epic!
Content Grasshopper
Finger Lakes Premier Properties
3.8K keywords
3K organic traffic, 26 site authority score
blog accounts for 20% of site traffic
blog is sort of hidden on the site
not trying to promote it on the goal homepage
Dollar Sprout
262K keywords
776K visitors a month
personal finance
linking to pages that are important, but also categories
navigation matters
top post is on “work from home jobs”
one post with almost 100k online
Pay attention to content architecture
Write compelling metadata
update content
Make it epic
make it so!
Google Keyword Planner

Why doesn’t it do that, and all the other things WordPress actually does
John McCulley

I had talked to John at the speaker dinner and his passion and straightforward demeanor made me suspect that this talk was going to very practical and informative. I was glad I was correct on both counts. It is easy to get used to doing things the way we do them and forget that the user’s experience is going to be necessarily different than ours. I think anyone delivering real products to customers could benefit from a listen to this one. I also really appreciated the simple yet powerful encouragement to expend blocks of Gutenberg on our own. It is not that hard but it will take patience!

Raw Notes:
Being a bigger geek does not make a better dev
A good WP dev has three essential skills
use human words – Javascript is not a human word
ESP – body language
1. Simplify
De-clutter the interface
Move the custom fields up
Choose admin notices wisely
Actually use the dashboard widgets
Tip 2
Avoid Jargon
practice training people who do not know
if words are confusing, replace them in your vocabulary
tip 3
Do it in their space
Test on all browser? Opera? Old, old Safari
the site is not done when it is done, always making changes
don’t stand behind them
don’t touch them
don’t ask to drive, make sure their hands are on the mouse the whole time
screen options Menu
Make sure needed fields are exposed
you can modify CSS on these parts
Tip 5
Provide short screen casts
pro versions is not their site
using their site is better by a lot
cropping a featured image for the Trends page
a plugin that warns to crop
tip 6
Prepare, prepare, prepare
this is an important step!
got caught with a redirect loop on a site in front of 38 Marketing Managers
if debug to true then admin notices show up and clients freak about this
do this incognito behind their back
if statement to turn on only from Admin IP address
debug to console code,
Tip 7
Create an agenda
learned hard way, training group, 3 people for an hour
5 hours later they were still asking questions
bill by hour so need to scope hours
always ask what other training topics they want before the training
Tip 8
Do I use a page,post or custom post type?
whose blog did you read?
Terms at the end of training, defining terms
Pages – static
Posts – we will update
CPT – data sets
lawyer bios example
Tip 9
boom. done.
we don’t know if they got trained
run back over everything at the end
look for confusion
go back over things
re-educate and charge them more money
Tip 10
Sit still and be quiet
People will tell you what they need
selling opportunity
moving on to Gutenberg
and his never-ending struggle with page builders/editors
loves to hate things if don’t know what it is yet
Totally borrowed from Pantheon
If you are going to use it
this is not for fresh website tip
1. prepare, think about what the tool will do
staging site is the right approach
2. Design
can do functional great things
themes are not designed
3. Extend
painfully easy to extend
not super hard to learn JS
have to spend time with it
by extending it you can break it
unit tests and staging sites can make it work
can be a great thing if we make it great

Taking WordPress on the Road
Russell Fair

This was the only Lightning Talk I got to see in it’s entirety. There were three total in this session block and I was up third. Micah Wood was up first but I had some admin stuff to do during his talk, but I had also seen and noted that talk back at WordCamp Atlanta 2019. Russell took 2 years to work from the road and travel non-stop with his family all over the country. He had no slides in this valuable life lesson rich session but he played a slideshow of some of his trip on screen the whole time. I don’t think I have ever said ‘wow’ so much during a talk based on what was on the screen ever before.

Raw Notes:
Lighting talk
never Start your talk with an apology
so he is starting with a joke
Why did the Jr. Dev quit?
after 2 years of work he still get a raise?
Apology is that if you have not seen these pics it is because he sucks at social media
camping hacks in general
All you need is 2 bard of Verizon 4G to push to Git
not good enough for anything else
learned how to monitor amps
DC-AC and then the TV sucks power
monitors with DC input, can hack to make them run off battery
deep cycle marine battery do not produce clean enough power for running a mac
1 amp from a raspberry pi
airplane mode from Norcross
when you don’t have internet, loading WP backend takes forever and does not work
go Master WP-CLI and your productivity will go 1000% higher
learn Bash as well
.bashrc file, move commands to auto run on the server side with different user accounts
much faster if bad wifi
Redundancy – lot of benefits
electricity, you need to have more than one power supply
backup devices
version control everything
Inspirational thoughts
lot of amazing stuff in the country, even more he hasn’t seen
go see it right now
we live in a time when this is possible
easy to get in a habit of not going and enjoying because we ‘have to much to do’

Dissecting a WordPress Plugin using the LEGO SERIOUS PLAY Method
Russell Fair

This was a fantastic interactive experience and might be the most engaging workshop I have ever done. Each person had an identical bag of LEGO pieces and sat at a round table with about 5-6 other people with said bags. The rules were you had to participate to stay in the room, no one was allowed to just sit and watch. Then we followed prompts and built things individually and discussed the work. Then we built a prototype plugin out of LEGO collaboratively. The basic team building and communication potential of the LEGO SERIOUS PLAY system. I might even be calling on Russell in the future to lead such a thing with one of my teams.

My Talks

Learning Markdown: 20 minutes that will change your life

I originally conceived of my markdown talk as a lightning talk but have never delivered it as such. It was really fun to give it with a time constraint element. I heard many good reviews that people hadn’t thought of markdown in years, and in some cases ever. One attendee even admitted he had never known why README files ended in .md before my talk. It was pretty awesome to hear so many nice things about what might have been a dry subject.

Let’s learn Git. No more excuses.

I want each and every person with a computer (or access to one) to know Git basics. I am serious. The benefits of knowing it are overwhelming. Watching the light come on in someone’s head on what branching could mean for their local development was possibly the greatest moment of the weekend for me. I am very thankful for the chance to share my excitement about this fundamental building block of comuter science collaboration.

Wrapping Up

I came to Asheville without any real expectations other than there would be good beer. I leave Asheville wondering when I am going to be able to make it back. The people held a collective sense of pride and togetherness and diversity that I have not felt in too many other places in the world. It is a small town with a big, big heart. I want to go back to see the Biltmore Estate, tour the [Moog factory](Biltmore Estate,) and taste even more local beverage creations. At a minimum I hope that I can return for my second trip to the city for WordCamp Asheville 2020!

One thought on “WordCamp Asheville 2019: A surprisingly small city and a good natured community experience”

  1. AWESOME POST and great summary of the WordCamp, Asheville and the talks!

    We’ll see what we can do about improving the coffee for next year 🙂

    Hope to see you again next year!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.