Why This Post Needs To Be Written
Simply put, I just needed to finish this post. It was a goal I set towards the end of WCSF 2013 to finish my WCSF 2014 summary the Monday after it ended. I made sure to take good notes and work on the post even during my breaks. And yet, here it is 2 weeks past and this monkey is getting heavier on my back. In fact, it’s sitting squarely on my head and breaking my neck now. So I absolutely MUST and WILL finish publishing this post. Ready or not, here’s my take on WordCamp San Francisco 2014.
Friday The 24th
Pre Event At Automattic
WordCampSF2014 officially started for volunteers on the Friday before event weekend. I wasn’t quite sure about how bad traffic would be because of the World Series, so I decided to take BART. No sooner had I stepped off the train and emerged from the bowels of the city, when I was suddenly overwhelmed by a flood of sunlight and throngs of people bearing down on me. My rusty urban instincts kicked in and advised me to keep moving or get trampled. I knew I’d have to brave both packs of suits and jerseys that had taken over this revitalized area of San Francisco.
Things look really different when you’re standing on the sidewalk as compared to driving in the traffic mix. Maybe I was just a deer in the headlights, but for some reason none of my surroundings looked familiar to me. And yet, everything looked the same. Snapping out of my momentary daze, I remembered that Automattic’s office was a few blocks away from the Montgomery station, on Hawthorne Street. A quick check of my map – and a deep breath – eventually set me on the right path and it wasn’t long until I found myself sorting badges, rolling t-shirts, and moving boxes at Automattic.
Most people who have gone to WordCamps will tell you that one of the singlemost important things you need to do at these events is to talk to and meet people. It’s true. Some of the nice folks I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with were @SQdesign, @joemcasta, @NickHamze, @aagam_94, @tristandenyer, @djunagi, @tikot80, and a few other folks during lunch whose names I didn’t catch.
Saturday The 25th
Rain. Darkness. Empty. Those 3 words describe the 6am start of my day from the Colma BART station and on through the crack of dawn at Mission Bay Conference Center (MBCC). After waiting 15 minutes for the BART employee to unlock the overnight gates into the train station, I hopped into an empty car for the 20 minute ride into downtown SF. Again, I wasn’t sure how bad traffic was going to be because of the Giants game so I had decided to take BART again instead of dealing with the traffic, parking, and the hassles of driving around in that area.
It’s about a 30 minute walk, or a Google mile and a half, from the Civic Center/UN Station to MBCC. By the time I got to the campus, the rain had stopped just before sunrise, making it light enough for pictures. So I walked around and snapped a few shots before sitting down and logging onto the Wi-Fi network to get some work done.
I had preregistered for the event the night before at the Automattic office and was #4 getting checked in via the new app that they were using. So I wasn’t in a hurry to go inside for the registration rush, deciding to stay put and be productive until around 8:30 or so – about the time the smell of coffee reached my senses.
It’s always cool to see the different sponsors with their tables & booths and check out the kind of swag that’s being handed out – usually T-shirts and stickers.
Many of the sponsors really cater to bigger businesses and enterprise level organizations. I’m a small freelance business and already use the products of many sponsors present. So usually, I just walk up to a table and let the reps know that I use their product or service, and how much I appreciate them. If I have a question or two, I´ll ask, but I normally don’t have any questions. (Isn’t that what the internet is for?) Then it’s a grab for some stickers and a T-shirt or whatever else is being offered.
Up Or Down
There are 2 main halls at the venue: Robertson and Fisher. Located upstairs, Robertson hosts speakers on the development side of WordPress, while Fisher downstairs features the design track. Other than Matt Mullenweg’s State Of The Word, I spent most of my time down in Fisher. Maybe someday I’ll ascend to the heights of developer and get to join the elite up in Robertson.
Sunday The 26th
Great way to start the day is driving straight in to the 4th St. surface lot, finding plenty of spaces open, and paying $3 for the day. Add ‘no traffic’ and ’30 minute commute’ to that list and it gets even better. The cherry on top? No rain and plenty of sunshine.
More Swag & Monkey Hats
I Had an early start helping to set up the swag store upstairs. There’s some pretty cool stuff in stock, all of which are available online. Since there was plenty of time before the first speaker, I decided to make a round of visits to certain vendor tables I missed yesterday. I couldn’t resist the MailChimp knit monkey hat that even came in cat sizes.
Speakers and Contributors
Sunday is Contributor Day and Fisher Hall downstairs has been taken over by people wanting to get involved with WordPress as a contributor. Starting this year with Matt’s 5% comment, there’s been an emphatic push this year to get WordPress users involved some way, somehow in the community. Dedicating an entire venue to it is certainly an effective way to further the cause. All the speaking sessions are scheduled to take place upstairs in Robertson Hall. This is where I staked out my spot for the day.
Session Notes – Saturday 25th
Session 1: Unlocking The Web – Cody Brown
Scrollkit was picked up by Automattic earlier this year and founder Cody Brown gave a presentation to encourage online ‘lurkers’ to come out of the shadows and participate in the conversation. He insisted that we want to hear their stories and went on to give 2 techniques that should help folks go from lurking to participants on the web.
1. Lower the stakes. The key idea here is that powerful tools often start off as toys.
2. Give them 1 super-power. Like Popeye’s spinach, users should be given that one tool that will give them their voice.
And Then The Alarm went off
Just before Sara Cannon’s talk on typography, the building’s emergency system went off. The building was evacuated and everything put on hold for about 20-30 minutes. Commence impromtu networking.
Session 2: Lightning Talk – Aldridge/Bourn/Levesque
10up’s Taylor Aldridge emphasized focusing on solving problems, Jennifer Bourn of Bourn Creative tackled time tracking and client management while Tracy Levesque gave tips from her own personal experiences in teaching a WordPress class.
Session 3: Contributing to WP – Boone Gorges
bbPress guru, Boone, asserted that contributing to WordPress shouldn’t feel like martyrdom. Sometimes the sense of moral obligation to give back to open source projects becomes a bad thing. It doesn’t have to. Boone argues that not only is it is possible to contribute to WordPress – it’s actually prudent when considering the ‘Reputation Cycle’ which says: contribute > learn > get better > reputation increases > better clients > better rates > more time > contribute…
Session 4: Multi Device Design – Luke Wroblewski
Luke’s talk was definitely one of the top 3 sessions I attended. There’s just way too much to sum up so be sure to check out the link to his talk. Touching on 4 points he spoke on:
- Output = phones, tablets, laptops, PCs, SmartTVs
- Input = 3/4 use thumbs to swipe
- Posture = viewing distance.
- Develop mobile first.
Lunch and Tees
I managed to get into a rather short line for lunch and ended up at a table talking to some interesting folks. But it was a quick affair and I was off to don the pink top and help give away attendee t-shirts.
Session 5: Minimalism Design – Lyza Danger
I walked in a bit late to Lyza’s talk after the t-shirt giveaway. Within a few minutes I knew two things were certain: she talks fast and she loves the mobile web. Key takeaways were to design for content and baseline first, and design mobile first. Oh yeah, and she loves the mobile web.
Session 6: Growing Up WordPress – Jenn Schiffer
Jenn recounted a string of early jobs involving WordPress but expressed that she is more into JQuery now. She seemed like she was obligingly giving a speech in class because she had to. Overall, I wasn’t very impressed with her presentation.
Session 7: Lightning Talks – Wong/Hitter/Kay
Jenny Wong was obviously nervous but made it through her presentation. I got the impression that she got most of her tips from somewhere else since she admittedly needed to heed much of her own advise. I wasn’t completely sure what Erick Hitter wanted to get across for his talk. Maybe I was distracted and had trouble focusing. Mickey Kay saved the session with his encouraging advise to WordPress New comers (N00bs).
Session 8: UX Redux Contact Form 7 – Jen Mylo
Jen Mylo took us step-by-step through her plugin review conversations with CF7s creator and author. Points she highlighted centered on advice that she offered the plugin creator on improving the user interface. The dev either agreed to make changes or declined to implement the suggestions.
Session 9: Momentum – Jeffrey Veen
Adobe’s Jeff Veen hates meetings, likes working in teams. But, if you must hold a meeting then heed his advice:
- Keep the environment relaxed – but focused.
- Communication is key.
- Act distributed even if you’re not.
- Use chat rooms.
- Use stand-up meetings
- Ask ‘why’ during post mortem analysis.
Jeff was an engaging presenter and even though I work alone as freelancer, I could still relate some to the issues he brought up. This from having worked in an office setting some time ago.
Session 10: Typography UX – Sara Cannon
Sara was probably about 5 minutes from delivering her talk when the fire alarm went off. It would be easy to react negatively in this situation but I believe that, ultimately, it worked to Sara’s advantage. First, her talk will be forever linked to the fire alarm that evacuated the venue – 2 unforgettable details of the event. Second, maybe due in part to sympathetic sentiments leading to a desire to support the speaker, or maybe just the new timing and schedule, but that room was FULL when she finally gave her talk at the end of the day. Whatever the case, it was well worth attending.
Web design is 95% typography. That was the overarching theme for Sara’s presentation. A few other noteworthy ideas she stressed:
- Bad typography = bad UX
- Focus on the tone and format of the message.
- Use whitespace generously for better legibility.
- Make better typeface choices.
- Get type into the browser asap.
- Key is LEGIBILITY.
Session Notes – Sunday 26th
Session 1: WP Saves Lives And Moves Govts – Paul Clark
Paul was motivated by his wife’s work with a non-profit organization to tackle this project. The goal was to enable an internally displaced person in a highly restrictive region to get a voice through a custom WordPress blog. Paul touched on his extensive use of the Pods plugin and dealing with third world problems that ensure a degree of sustained usability. The biggest lesson learned was, “Solve problems for people not computers.”
Session 2: Lightning Sessions – Miller/Rahman
iThemes founder, Corey Miller encouraged us to focus on shipping, or more specifically – clicking that ‘Publish’ button. He went on to give some practical points and personal anecdotes to underscore the importance of not giving up, staying upbeat – and just keep shipping.
Mr. Rahman seems to start/have a lot of companies in Bangladesh and btw, wants a Nobel prize. Perhaps he’s well known in his locale, but I’ve never heard of him and still not sure what his qualifications were to give a talk. We (the audience) were, however, sternly instructed on how to correctly pronounce ‘Bangladesh’.
Session 3: State of the Word – Matt Mullenweg
It was a packed house as usual, but I got a sense that the ‘rock star’ vibe normally surrounding Matt has diminished. I think that’s a good thing and a testament to his accessibility. There’s a few places to get and digest Matt’s Speech. I’ve linked to both WPTavern’s digest and Matt’s site.
Session 4: Building Your Brand – Chris Lema
I’ve been following Chris’ blog for over a year and have enjoyed the business topics he covers that resonate with my experience. For one of his blog entries, I started to watch a video clip he had made where he spoke to the webcam to deliver his message. I found it distracting and had to minimize the screen so I could still hear him, but not see him. Sorry Chris – it’s not you, it’s me. On stage, however, he delivered. Literally. It was a great talk (despite the technical difficulty with his screen) and there were Lema nuggets aplenty. His primary message was that “words have impact”. Here are other key points:
Audience = Find a narrow niche.
Needs = Discover your audience’s needs by collecting questions.
Answers = Use your voice. You are uniquely you.
Contact = Consistency and variety are key elements when keeping in touch.
Tone = This is your voice. Set the tone.
Sharing = Find and use the channels where your audience is.
Session 5: Lightning Sessions – Rennick/Byrne/Rand-Hendrickson
Andrea Rennick is a support guru at StudioPress (Genesis) -which I use- and shared some of the FAQs she gets and how she responds to them. Her goal is to make tech less scary.
Morten Rand-Hendrickson gave a great, interactive presentation on the most basic and possibly most important aspects of webpage layouts: The Box model. Morten is well-known in the Lynda.com community and was one of the first instructors I learned WordPress from.
Clef is a WP security plugin. Creator and CEO, Brennen Byrne’s 5 minutes was spent a good deal on ways to address vulnerabilities and locking down WordPress sites.
#WCSF14: That’s A Wrap!
Most or all of the talks are available on http://wordpress.tv/event/wordcamp-san-francisco-2014/. So check out my session notes, but don’t take my word for it – watch for yourself! All things WCSF14 are archived at http://2014.sf.wordcamp.org/. Mr Aaron Hockley took a bunch of cool shots that can be found on https://www.flickr.com/photos/ahockley/sets/72157649161626211/. A fond farewell to #WCSF. Stay tuned for more info on #WCUSA15.