For my first ever WordCamp, I thought I’d go ‘all out’ – the full 3 days and volunteering as well. Oh, and it’s the London WordCamp too, the largest in the UK.
So, I thought I’d write about my experience – the highs and the inevitable, exhausted lows.
For those who don’t know what a WordCamp is – it’s a get together of fans, users and companies about WordPress. They happen all over the world and are of varying sizes.
Getting to London
Now, just to be clear I’ve been to London before and used the tube. But I was a child and all of the tricky parts of that was done by my mum. As a fully-fledged grown-up I’ve never felt the need to come to the capital. So doing so, and on my own, was always going to be an adventure.
Although I live in a minor, small town, it just happens to be on the East Coast mainline, so a 15 minute walk to the station and I was then on a non-stop train to St Pancras, taking just 1.5 hours. Sadly, my reserved seat didn’t quite work out – my seat number didn’t exist in the coach I was allocated to but, thankfully, it wasn’t a busy train so I sat where there was a space.
From St Pancras to my hotel was just a 10 minute walk and quite convenient. The hotel is part of an anonymous, but impressive looking, terrace of old houses.
The rooms are tiny but clean and functional. The bathroom is particularly small. Sadly, the bed is by the window and that’s a single-glazed sash (which doesn’t lock either) – just a short stroll from Euston Road and with park outside, it’s not particularly quiet.
On my way in on the train I noticed, via a Tweet, that a colleague of mine, Tom, was also in London for WordCamp.
I thought I’d take him up on the offer so we agreed to meet up at 6pm. By this time it was 4pm so I decided to go for a walk. That didn’t go well as my natural bearings meant that I seemed to just walk in subtle, but tight circles and never seemed to leave the area, no matter how much in a straight line I thought I was going. Soon my shoes started to rub, so I headed back. I got back to my hotel, having only achieved a blister for my travels, at around 5pm.
One episode of Pointless later, I was out again and meeting up with Tom, We went to a lovely Italian restaurant and had a candle-lit meal. It was very romantic.
Both shattered from the day already, we both headed back to our hotels and I had my light out by 10pm. For reasons unbeknown even to myself, I slept badly.
Day One – Contributor Day
AKA, the day I wasn’t volunteering.
Kicking off at a respectable 9pm this day was a much smaller group of people (this was an optional ticket for the WordCamp) who get together and contribute changes, in all their guises, to the WordPress platform. It could be answering support queries, quashing code bugs or even translating.
First, though, I had to get there. Located a the London Metropolitan University, the tube was the best way. Remember that I’d never used the tube as a fully-grown adult? Now, I’m not saying it’s not possible to achieve without having your hand held but it wasn’t something I wasn’t looking forward to bumbling through, particularly because of how busy it would have been at that time of the morning. In this case, my bad night meant that my mind had been set – I wasn’t going to attempt this on a fuzzy head and, besides, a good walk would wake me up. Google said 40 minutes. My feet did it in 55 minutes. But I was still early. And, by this time, I was now awake.
I decided to contribute towards documentation (support would have been too obvious) and spent the rest of the day, working with a great bunch of people, lead by Jon Ang (who I knew already). Contributor day is all about learning how you can contribute towards WordPress in all the various ways and also, for that day, actually doing it too.
I concentrated on developer documentation and Jon pointed out some links that needed updating in the VIP documentation – I left that for now and will look at that when I’m back at work next week.
At 3pm any of the volunteers who were at the contributor day (so, myself included) had a walk-through of the building and what was expected of us over the weekend.
Just after, another colleague of mine, Scott Evans, turned up. We were in the same hotel, and being an old hand in the city, I returned back with him and he “showed me the ropes” with the underground.
There was a big night out for the volunteers from 6pm, which I’d put myself down for, but by now I was flagging. I was needed back at the University the next morning at 6:30am (yes, you read that right) so, yeah, I decided to give it a miss. Instead, I paid a visit to a Burger King that was at the end of the road and then retired back to the hotel for a relaxing, sober and early evening.
On my way back from the ‘restaurant’ I bumped into Scott, who was on his way out to meet up with some friends. He was with his wife Gemma, who also works for Automattic and was a trial ‘buddy’ with me – we went through the Happiness Engineer trial at the same time and would often exchange notes and stories during it (she later referred to me as her ‘trial husband’) . We even had our fabled ‘Matt Chat’ about the same time as well (if not at the same time – I think Matt was juggling conversations with both of us). We’d not met before and it was really good to finally do so. Hugs were exchanged and, although not volunteering (Scott is), Gemma is attending the WordCamp at the weekend so I know I’ll get more a chance to chat to her over the next couple of days.
So much for well laid plans. After having a restful evening and an early lights-out, I was rudely awakened at 2am by gangs of ‘youths’ brawling outside the hotel. Baseball bats were involved and the Police attended. It took me hours to get back to sleep and by the time the alarm went off at 5:30am, I’d probably had about 4 hours sleep.
Scott (who had been equally affected by the overnight drama) met me outside at 6am and we took the tube to the University to kick things off at the appointed 6:30. Even Gemma (who wasn’t volunteering so didn’t need to turn up until later) didn’t get a lie-in as at 7am somebody turned up at the park in front of the hotel, playing music loudly through a ‘ghetto blaster’ before proceeding to lift weights for half an hour (and then, randomly, eating a small yoghurt before walking away).
I was soon sent out in the rain to put up posters pointing people to the designated smoking area but my main job of the morning was to be the time-keeper for the entire morning in the main hall. This involved both keeping the speakers to time but also assisting with ‘mic running’ during the Q&A sessions after.
The talks were fantastic – moving, interesting and scary too. There is one in particular that, when it’s on WordPress.tv, I will be adding to my site as it was particularly amazing (and the one that comes under the ‘scary’ category)…
We eventually stopped for lunch, which was a buffet-style affair with sandwiches, sausage rolls, etc. I had a brief stint, during this time, at the ‘Happiness Bar’ – the WordPress equivalent of an Apple Genius Bar.
For the afternoon I, technically, had nothing assigned but still found much time to walk around, helping where I could, particularly with the sponsors.
I met fellow VIP colleague Chris Budd today too, as well as a number of other Automatticians.
Scott, Gemma and I headed back to the hotel for around 5pm for a brief rest and to drop off our bulging bags of free ‘swag’ before meeting up at 6pm and heading back for for the evening’s entertainment – a pie and mash tea, bar and retro video games (also Rock Band 4, which Scott seemed to particularly enjoy).
Exhausted from the day and the recent lack of sleep, I headed back to the hotel around 10pm. It had been a tiring but inspiring day.
After a good 8 hours sleep (hurrah) I was ready to go. A later start today, I wasn’t needed until 10am. A quick pastry and coffee and I was manning the cloakroom for the first hour. This included a brief meeting with Mike Little, the co-creator of WordPress. I played it cool but others didn’t succeed.
Soon after, I was managing the lunch queue, as that started at 11:30am.
Sunday was definitely a lot quieter and my morning tasks were not only a breeze but were over far too quickly. With nothing planned for the afternoon, I once again found my myself moving between the University buildings, volunteering my services wherever I could.
However, I managed to take part in a bit of hide-and-seek fun with Yoast, and found one of their hidden Lego figures.
The weekend had taken its toll on Scott too as he’d somehow managed to hurt one of his legs. With his rectangular backpack on and his odd limp, I remarked that he looked like Asimo.
And then, it was all over. 4:20 marked the closing comments, where the event was wrapped up. I’d like to take this opportunity to say how much I loved the live captioning during the talks – Global RT Captioning provided the service and they were amazing. Equally, NipperBout for their cool creche facilities.
All the volunteers got together at the end for a group photo too.
And then, within minutes, I was back on the tube back to my hotel to pick up my suitcase. Scott and Gemma were going further on the tube than I was, so we said quick goodbyes at my stop. It was great spending time with them (particularly Gemma, as we’d not met beforehand) and I was very grateful to Scott for helping me understand the confusion that is the London Underground.
I grabbed a bit to eat at the station (why does WHSmith sell take-away food when St Pancras has no bins??), found some London themes presents to take home and then was on the train back home. This time the seat reservations worked and I had my ‘proper’ seat all ready and waiting for me. It was raining when I finally exited the train and the usual queue of waiting taxis was non-existent. So, unfortunately, my weekend finished with a 20 minute uphill walk home in the rain carrying 2 heavy bags.
But it was, hand on heart, a fantastic weekend and I’m really glad this was my first WordCamp and first volunteering experience. I learnt and laughed a lot and met lots of new friends.
My Fitbit stats were quite impressive…
As was this…
And Pradeep Singh published a great gallery of photos.