Reflections on an Absolutely Wonderful WordCamp US 2023

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A sign saying "Welcome to WordCamp US"

So I got back from a trip to Washington, D.C., and WordCamp US 2023 on Sunday. So naturally, it’s time to write about my experience.

Great nut graph for this blog post, I know.

But it really was an amazing time, getting to travel to a cool part of the country solo and meeting great people.

And it was a great trip at a time when I really needed it. So let’s take a look at everything that happened last week.

A Chance to Relax

This year has been, well, *gestures wildly*, a year. There’s just been a lot going on and not a whole lot of time to relax.

So the first half of this trip to D.C. was set aside for a solo vacation and relaxation.

Sunday was perfect for that. I got into Alexandria, VA, Sunday afternoon. And after an hour or so chilling in the hotel, I went for a short walk around the area to get a feel for it.

That walk turned into a long walk since it was so nice outside and it wasn’t one hundred and hell degrees outside like back in Texas. I ended up walking over a mile down to the river and sat down on a bench right on the river and just sat with no phone for roughly 45 minutes. To be honest, I cannot tell the last time I’ve ever done that in recent memory.

I left that spot having a great feeling about the rest of the trip.

Monday I went into downtown D.C. for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Despite the museum being half open because of construction, it was still a great experience. There were a lot of cool exhibits and the amount of airplanes and parts of airplanes around the entire museum is impressive to say the least. The space exhibits were simply incredible and do a great job covering the entire history of NASA and the space race.

After leaving the museum around 2 p.m., I decided to retrace our steps from a trip in 2010 to all of the different monuments and memorials. Fun fact: it turns out that was a five-mile, two-hour walk. But it was great to see all of the various memorials in a single walk.

Tuesday was an incredible day. I made sure to block off a large part of the day for the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture. That is hands down the best museum I’ve ever been in. There is so much packed into that building, and all of it is incredible.

I spent six hours in that museum and only saw about 75 percent of what they have to offer. The main exhibit that covers the vast and horrifying history of the slave trade through slavery in the U.S. to segregation to the civil rights museum is sobering to say the least. If you are ever in D.C., make sure to dedicate an entire day to this museum.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture building

And then the day got even better getting to meet Tom Finley, Nyasha Green, Daniel Shultzsmith and James Giroux for Korean BBQ dinner that night. All talk more about the amazing people I met towards the end, but it was an absolutely amazing experience.

Korean BBQ on a grill

Finally Wednesday was a much more chill experience, spending the morning working on some personal projects, meeting folks for lunch and getting ready for WordCamp US to actually begin.

Contributor Day Fun

Contributor Day for WordCamp US was held the day before the talks began instead of the day after last year, and that was a massive improvement.

There were a lot more people there and ready to help contribute to the WordPress project.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t do a whole lot contributing directly to the project, but I did get a WordPress core development environment set up on my laptop for the first time ever, so I’m counting that as a win.

A sign saying "WordCamp US 2023 Contributor Day"

But what really made the day for me was seeing the number of people ready to help contribute to the project, and many of them for the first time. WordPress is a community project, more or less, and seeing the community in action is always awe-inspiring.

So thank you to everyone who came out to Contributor Day. And hopefully I’ll be able to contribute to WordPress through code in the near future now that I have an environment set up for it.

People at round tables in a large ballroom

The Talks

The talks at WordCamp US began on Saturday, and we started out of this world with a keynote from NASA and how they are working to use the block and site editor with their new website (which you can see the beta version here). I came away from that with a lot of really good thoughts about how to eventually transition the university website to the site editor when we’re ready as well as helping others convert their websites to the site editor.

The other talks were incredible as well. There were talks about how to use WordPress to help teach others and possibly change the world, a look at the core web vitals and what they mean for your website(s), a look at modern theme development with site editor and block themes and so much more.

Seriously, you’ll want to keep tabs on to see when the videos for each session are posted online to watch them. Because you’ll come away with several action items from all of them.

I also want to highlight the BlackPress panel that was on Saturday. As someone who is trying to be better about being an ally and speaking out more, I came away with a lot of great information, especially as we try to rebuild the DFW WordPress community and do so in a way that reflects the diversity of our community.

And it was great to see a lot of diversity up on stage giving amazing and inspiring talks, and showing that it can be done (looking at you, certain flagship WordPress conference).

Meeting Up with Amazing People

But my favorite part about this WordCamp (and really all WordCamps) was meeting such amazing people. The best part about WordPress is the community and people that are a part of it. One of the reasons I pursued WordPress and web development as a career despite graduating with a journalism degree.

I really met a ton of great people at this WordCamp, and we would honestly be here all night if I tried to highlight every single one. So thank you to everyone I got to talk to for helping make my WordCamp US experience amazing, and I hope I was able to return the favor.

But I do want to highlight a few amazing people I spent a lot of time with.

First, Tom Finley. It was great getting to see you in person for the first time (well, I could say that about a lot of people this week). Thanks for the great conversations and the offers to help as we try and rebuild our WordPress community in the DFW area.

Second, Eric Karkovack. Thanks for the dinner on Thursday night and hanging out at the Pride party on Friday night. Again, it was great getting to see you in person. And best of luck to the Orioles … until they play the Rangers again.

And finally, but definitely not least, Nyasha Green. Thank you for the amazing conversations we had and the great food. Seriously, I loved the Ethiopian lunch and thanks for being more or less a guide for that. And the invitation to come to DFW for BBQ is always open (really this goes for any amazing person in the WordPress community).

If I didn’t mention you by name, I am really sorry. Everything is still kind of a blur at the moment. But I loved every second of every conversation we had.

My heart is full heading back to Mansfield, and I thank y’all so much for that!

Two people looking at the camera
Shout out to Michelle Frechette for being absolutely amazing and a shining star in the WordPress community!

Look Towards the Future

So, now it’s time to look towards the future. Where do things go from here?

Well first off, I feel rejuvenated to work with WordPress, both in the code and in the community. I picked on a lot of ideas that can try both for the Crosswinds Framework I’m working on, any freelance work and my work at the university. I’m excited to see what I’m able to do and to see where WordPress the product goes from here.

And on the community side, I’m really excited to see if we can reactivate the DFW WordPress community. We’ve really struggled since COVID started in 2020. But I talked with several folks from the DFW (funny how it takes a trip to D.C. to talk to your neighbors), and it feels like there’s some momentum in getting things going again.

But now is the time to turn that momentum into something tangible. So I hope we’re able to meet up and get something going in the time between now and the next WordCamp US. Whether it’s an actual WordCamp, a meetup or even just a BBQ lunch for WordPress folks in the community, I hope we’re able to get something going.

Making Room for Others for Future WordCamps

Finally, I want to talk about something that needs to be said. Really, this should be a longer blog post, and I’ll probably write one before the end of the year.

But we, as a WordPress community, need to do better creating room for others, particularly minorities and the LGBTQIA+ community, in our community.

There was one problem on Twitter at the start of the week, but it’s really a trend that unfortunately that keeps on happening. This summer, WordCamp Europe failed to put together a diverse speaker lineup, and then managed to making things even worse after being called out about it by an amazing and valuable member of our community.

We have to do better as a community, and I’m including myself in that as well. We, especially those of us in privileged positions, have to actually speak up when someone says something racist, homophobic, misogynistic, etc., and try to get them to stop. And then if someone is not willing to learn and keeps doing that, then we need to get them out of the community.

We are better if we are a diverse community. And unfortunately some amazing people have left the community (which, for the record, I totally understand) because we’ve put up with assholes for so long. That needs to end.

So as we look and plan for WordCamp US 2024, let’s also make sure we are taking active steps in making this a great community for everyone. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what makes WordPress so great.

Photo Gallery

See All My Photos from Washington, D.C., and WordCamp US 2023

The Lincoln Memorial
A large atrium filled with people and an elephant viewed from above
A building with a large, vertical American flag with a flagpole wrapped in flowers in the foreground and a water fountain behind it
The Washington Memorial in the background with a body of water in the foreground

Music for the Road

So with these sort of life blog posts, I always want to end with a piece of music that’s been stuck with me for a while (and I am 100 percent a band nerd, so bear with me).

Anyway, the thing that’s stuck with me the past two WordCamp US (what is the plural of WordCamp US?) is the idea of coming home. As I said before, the WordPress community is home. It’s the reason I’m doing what I’m doing.

And going to any WordCamp, but especially a WordCamp US, really feels like returning home.

With that in mind, the Blue Knights’ 2019 show “I remember everything…” has been playing in my head a lot. And especially the end when the narration says “they start to walk. And they start walking faster and faster. Then they are running. They made it. They were at last home.” (This is from Winter Morning II by Woodkid and Nils Frahmn.)

I had a great time returning “home” this year.

(The video is audio only unfortunately. If I can find a version that shows the visual aspect of the show, I’ll post it here.)

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