This month, the city of love, Paris, had a couple thousand more tourists than usual. Yet, instead of the Eiffel Tower, Louvre or Champs-Élysées, these particular people headed to the Paris Docks in the North of the city, where WordCamp Europe 2017 was taking place.
The fifth WordCamp Europe once again stole the crown as the biggest WordCamp ever, though WordCamp US will probably, once more, reclaim that title in December. For now, however, 1900 participants from 79 countries and more than 1000 people taking part in the live streams is nothing to scoff at.
I was in attendance for my second WordCamp Europe and my third WordCamp ever. While this time I spent a lot more time talking to and reconnecting with people I met last year and less time listening to sessions, I still managed to see a few interesting talks.
For everyone who couldn’t make it, below I have summarized three of my personal highlights this year. Hopefully, you will find them as interesting as I did.
WordCamp Europe 2017 – The Highlights
Here are three talks that very much stood out for me and what I learned from them.
David Lockie: How To Grow From Freelancer To Agency Owner
If nothing else, an agency will teach you how to be ruthlessly productive. – David Lockie
My first highlight of the conference was David Lockie’s recount of how he went from freelancer to agency owner and his tips for others who’d like to do the same. I already know David from his talk last year on the discovery process is agency Pragmatic is using.
David divided his presentation into two parts: the business journey and the personal journey. First, he proceeded to ask a whole lot of questions that help potential agency owners flesh out their overall goals. Because before going anywhere, you need to know where you are headed:
- What is your purpose?
- What is the change you want to see in the world?
- What do you want to manifest?
- Why are you here?
From the overall vision, he then moved on to more practical concerns:
- What kind of lifestyle do you want?
- What do you want your day-to-day look like?
- What are you good at?
- What will you offer?
- Which services do you want to include?
Finally, he also talked about more uncomfortable topics:
- How much risk are you comfortable with?
- How big and fast do you want to grow?
- How long do you want to spend getting there?
- What’s your strategy?
Answering these questions is an important step to creating a vision for your agency. From there, David moved on to practical challenges anyone building a company will encounter.
He delved into solutions for when you have too much to do (contract out, hire people, say no to projects) and elaborated on his own experience. David also stressed the importance of getting specialized help in order to keep the ball rolling and working on your own skills to build an organization that works.
From there, he delved into the personal journey. He challenged listeners to define their perfect day and ideal role, then think through ways to create a business that allows them to fill it. A repeating theme for him was to stop doing the things that grind you down and start doing the things that you love.
The next part dealt with how to take care of yourself. Building an agency comes with sacrifices. He asked listeners what they are willing to give up. How much responsibility and/or stress do they want? Because with great power also comes great responsibility (yes, he actually quoted Spiderman here).
David also stressed the importance of building a support system for yourself in order to stay motivated and to never stop learning, be it from books, mentors, your peers, or anything else.
Finally, David closed his talk with some things he wished he’d known when he himself started out:
- Use audiobooks for learning
- Learn how other agencies operate
- Learn to use what’s already there (templates, business plans etc.)
- Hire (a) project manager(s)
- Create a playbook/wiki for yourself with all the stuff you need to repeatedly
- Follow your instincts
- Create recurring income sources through services
If you understand all of the above, you have a pretty good chance that your business and personal lives will align. For the entire talk, watch the video below.
We Are All Making This Up: Improv Lessons for Developers
The best developers have very strong opinions held loosely.
One of my next talks was by Dwayne McDaniel, agency and community success manager at Pantheon. Besides his day job, he is also an improv actor and producer. His talk concentrated on the parallels between improv and web development and what the latter can learn from the former. Dwayne boiled it down to seven key principles:
- Yes! And… — Agree to an idea and add to it. In web development that means acknowledge client ideas and add more information to lead the conversation where you want it to go. Don’t just say no and antagonize, but work with the information you get and build upon it. Even if it’s to show that their idea is not feasible.
- Start with the obvious — Start from what is obvious for your client/company/project, not what is obvious to you. Remember to step back and see the bigger picture, take off your professional blinders.
- Active listening — Actively engage in the moment. What is the client excited or nervous about? What do they want? What is making them want to do the project? To do so, Dwayne stressed the importance of face to face meetings (in real life or on Skype) instead of emails and Slack. Communication is more than just words.
- Happy, healthy and well — Improv should always start from a good place, not a place of conflict. So should you. Take care of yourself, go for a walk, resolve conflicts, start the day happy, healthy and well. Be sure to be centered while working, it will make for better code and better projects.
- Serve the piece, not the form — Go with what the audience needs (in this case your end user or client). There is no specific, right way to do everything. If you force your standards on everything you do, customers will leave you. There may be best practices but they are not the only practices.
- Make other players look good — Strive to make other people look good. Your end users, your clients – make them feel like they are geniuses. And don’t forget to make the next developer look good by making it easy to build on your code through good work and proper documentation.
- Accept failure as part of the process — Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t waste your time preparing for failures that never happen. Like the stage in improv, staging is a place to go nuts and try out some wild things. Here you can do it all in a safe environment.
The rest of his session Dwayne spent doing some fun exercises with volunteers. You can see them in the video below.
Interview and Q&A with Matt Mullenweg
Of course, the Q&A session with Matt Mullenweg was a general highlight of the WordCamp. As a consequence, the auditorium was packed and it was hard to find space to sit.
Like in Sophia in 2014, Om Malik of Gigaom conducted the interview. He was one of the first ten people to download WordPress back in the day and has been along for the ride ever since.
The first highlight of the Q&A was the reveal of the new Gutenberg editor. The editor introduces working with blocks. It completely changes how we deal with content in WordPress and makes the experience much more visual.
If you want to try it out, Gutenberg is available in the WordPress plugin directory. Before Matt got on stage, it was active on ten sites, since then the number has grown to more than 700. There is also a sample site where you can see it in action.
In the future, the editor is set to replace not only TinyMCE (which could happen as early as six months from now) but all customization in WordPress including widgets and everything else. Many see it as a direct attack at Medium and Matt admitted that the goal is absolutely to leapfrog past other visual editors.
In addition to that, Gutenberg aims to make the WordPress experience more homogeneous. Instead of forcing users to learn many different systems and concepts to do different things on their site, Gutenberg aims to make the experience the same wherever you are.
From here, the discussion shifted towards the future of not only WordPress but the open web and the question whether new Internet users will care about it.
Matt reiterated his strong belief in open source and GPL and sees it as a potential main driving force of the Internet in ten to fifteen years. However, only if user experience continues to be a priority.
After that, it was time for audience questions. One of the most interesting was about the ethics of open source particularly in regards to WooCommerce. As a fork of Jigoshop that has done exceedingly well (and was acquired by Automattic), should the original creators be compensated as well?
Matt responded that in general, when you buy something in open source, you don’t buy the code. In fact, Automattic could have just downloaded WooCommerce and used the code. However, what they wanted was the people, the brand, the meetups, the systems. Yet, he also admitted not being completely sure about what is the right answer and said there might be an equity model in the future for these cases.
Next, Sarah Gooding of WPTavern asked his stance on Google’s AMP. Many believe it’s harmful to the open web, since it benefits mostly Google. Would WordPress.com continue to support it?
Matt admitted that AMP is a bit of a mixed bag. The advantage is that it’s really fast, however, it’s true that content being rerouted through Google servers is not a good thing for website owners.
He vowed that Automattic would work to make AMP more inclusive and open in the future. Om also agreed that Automattic should push Google to give users a way to use AMP on their own servers.
WordCamp Europe 2017 went by in a flash. While not as novel as it was last year, I still had a pretty good time. Meeting familiar faces, seeing the size of the WordPress community is always a nice pick-me-up.
Unfortunately this year I did not have as much time to attend sessions as last year. However, I still learned a ton as you can see from the above. For more sessions, swing by WordPress.tv. Aside from that, I recommend getting in line for tickets for WordPress Europe 2018 which will take place in Belgrade. See you there!
Were you at WordCamp Europe 2017? What were your personal highlights? Let us know in the comments section below!