At numerous locations, often in big cities, regular WordPress-themed meetups occur. Anyone can run one and those attending can be anybody from bloggers to developers, with all levels of knowledge. However, probably the biggest in the UK is the appropriately named Big WP, held in London. Less regular than some others it, none-the-less, attracts a big audience and some impressive speakers.
For this meetup, the first in a while, I’ve attended – my first Big WP.
Heading to London
Big WP is tonight! But, first thing, I’m at home near Nottingham. Apart from RSVPing to the meeting, booking a hotel and a train (the tickets for which were put away when they arrived), I’ve done no preperation until now, so I spend much of my morning packing and noting down details for the next 36 hours.
I’ve decided to take the opportunity, whilst I’m in London for 2 days, to pack in as much else as I can – particularly meeting up with a number of friends in the area. For this reason I’ve taken the 2 days fully off work, rather than making promises of dipping in and out when I can. Which worked out well as my hotel WiFi was shockingly poor!
Anyway, I’m taking a backpack and a small suitcase (it is just for one night, after all). One compartment of the suitcase has electrical items in – shaver, toothbrush, etc – so I decide to padlock that section. I bought 2 padlocks just before attending ONA – I set both up with identical combination numbers but used just one when I went to Washington. As that was still attached to my larger suitcase, I got out the second one. Small problem – it wouldn’t close. I tried everything but it still wouldn’t. Plan B – the padlock I’d already used. That worked fine.
That was until 5 minutes before I was due to leave for my train and I needed to pack something in that section so I went to unlock the padlock – it wouldn’t! The combination was right but it wouldn’t unlock. Now I’m panicing – but, thank God, I hadn’t found this out when I was at muy hotel! Anyway, 2 screwdrivers later and the padlock was open – embarrassingly easily too. I’ll be having words with the retailer about this!
I walk down to my nearby station (okay, no, I start walking to the station, get to the end of my long road, realise I’ve left something back in the house, so walk back, collect it and then walk again down to the station) and get an 11:30am train for St Pancras. I have a reserved seat, it’s all on time and takes just 1.5 hours to get there.
My colleague Paul is due to arrive at Kings Cross at the same time, so we arranged to meet. But then he gets delayed, so I went to my hotel first, checked in, changed and then met Paul when he arrives about an hour later than originally planned. We grab a bite to eat at the station and we go our seperate ways.
A Visit to Google
At 3pm I have my first private meetup – a friend of mine works for Google and has been suggesting for a while I should meetup with him at his London office. He works for the DeepMind division in a relatively new office consisting, from what I can tell, of engineer departments. It’s all hush-hush stuff they’re working on so I’m not allowed to visit any of the departments whilst I’m there. But Andrew does take me to the top floor to grab a coffee and, more impressively, show me the rooftop terrace. The office is tall and from the decked terrace you can see many of the London landmarks, from the Olympic torch on the very left to the Wembley arch on the right. In-between, there’s the Millenium Wheel, St Paul’s Cathedral, the BT Tower and many other well-known buildings. It's a deeply impressive view.
This building isn’t owned by Google, unlike their others, hence it lacks the usual things you expect to see in Google office – slides, sleep-pods, and all of that kind of weirdness 😉 Another building is currently being constructed next door, which will be their 4th office in the city.
Anyway, not wishing to keep Andrew from his work too much, I was back at my hotel for 4pm.
So, let’s discuss the hotel. I had a bad hotel experience the last time I was staying in London and was determined to find something better this time. The Premier Inn at Kings Cross had good reviews and, although a distance from the Big WP venue tonight, it was close to everything else I was doing so seemed ideal. “Nice and quiet” said the reviews, which is what I wanted to hear (or rather not, if you see what I mean). I can only assume those those who said that were not in one of the, say, 20% of the rooms that were at the very front of the hotel. I was not only at the front but in the far corner and on the first floor. The windows may have been double-glazed this time but the traffic outside was heavier and it was anything but the peaceful room I was hoping for.
The relevance of it being a corner room is that it may explain the poor WiFi I had, as I suspect I was on the edge of their transmitter range. Otherwise, the room was nice and modern and the bed comfortable. However, for a light sleeper like me, I was suspicious of how the night ahead was going to go…
Heading to Big WP
My colleagues Scott and Gemma were due to arrive soon and were going to stay nearby. My plan was to get to the venue tonight (at the Twitter offices in Soho) by tube. Now, I’m not a regular visitor to London (by any means) and the tube remains quite a mystery to me. Last time I was here, Scott nagivated me around on it – what I should have done is got him to explain to me exactly how to navigate it so I knew for myself next time. But I didn’t. So I was still none-the-wiser. Unfortunately Scott was staying further away than either of us realised, plus Gemma (his wife) was due on a call not long before the meetup tonight so they’d be leaving late. It was now 5pm, the meetup was at 6pm and it would take me 45 minutes to walk there. So I set off.
Whilst I’d been sat having lunch with Paul earlier in the day I’d looked up the route from my hotel to the venue in Soho. Initially, it gave me a driving route, so I switched it to walking. Then I switched back to driving. And then back to walking again. No, I wasn’t seeing things. It would take me 45 minutes to walk it but an hour to drive it. That would be an average driving speed of 2.2 mph. That’s London!
Anyway, the walk was fine but it was getting dark and, oh yes…
A suggestion for all mobile navigation developers (I’m thinking of Google and Apple in particular) – you often include options for quickest route, or most scenic route, how about, for those walking, one for ‘safest route’. Apple Maps (and I have no reason to believe that Google, et al, would be any different) was taking me up all sorts of dark, quiet back alleyways. For anybody feeling volunerable, such an option would be brilliant (and potentially life-saving).
So, I get to the Twitter office around 5:40pm. Paul was already there.
The Twitter offices are rather nice – there's a nice spread of food and drink provided and we spend sometime beforehand just chatting.
There are 4 talks on the agenda tonight…
- Diving into Gutenberg by Tammie Lister
- Rebuilding Liveblog by Jason Agnew
- A New Digital Culture of Creation at Capgemini by Parker Ward
- WordPress on the Lions Rugby Tour by Dan Drave
All of the talks were, without exception excellent, and were all quite different from each other. Tammie's, for example, was very enlightening – I've been using Gutenberg for some time 1 and am quite an out-spoken advocate of it, happy to give anyone a demonstration, yet, not having seen her give one her own demos before, this was really interesting and I learnt many new things as a result.
Both of the middle two talks had links back to the WordPress VIP team – the Liveblog plugin that Jason spoke about is one used by VIP, and Capgemini and now hosted by VIP.
When it's all finished, we again stand around chatting – I take the opportunity to identify and catch up with clients – but have to be out of the building by 9pm. Some head off to a nearby pub but, not a big drinker and feeling a little under-the-weather, I decide to head back.
I’m back at the hotel for around 9:45pm. Boy have I walked today and my legs are feeling it…
I watch some TV before heading to bed. The noise outside was, as I predicted, a big issue. Police sirens, drunks, street cleaning and even an unloading van were all vying to keep me awake. But they needn’t have tried as I struggled to sleep generally anyway. I have no idea why but had been feeling a little off colour all of Thursday.
By the morning I wasn’t feeling exactly tip-top and knew it would hit me later. This afternoon I was due to enjoy a curry with fellow Automatticians and knew I’d probably be feeling pretty ropey by then so made the decision early on to let Scott know (who’d organised it) that I was going to bow out. Going to the meal also meant I couldn’t get a train until the evening, due to my off-peak ticket. Missing the meal meant I could get one a lot earlier.
However, I did have other plans in the meanwhile – I was due to meet up with the other journalists from The Big Tech Question, a website I also contribute to. In the end, thanks to the quality institution that is Southern Rail, it was called off due to transport issues.
After getting up, I walked down the road from the hotel to grab some breakfast before returning for a shower and to check-out. At 11:30am I boarded my train for home. This time the journey was just 1 hour 20 minutes long.
So, a great day yesterday punctuated by a not-so-great one today. However, I got to attend Big WP which was my main aim and that was great. I suspect all the travel this year has caught up with me – a rest over Christmas until the next planned trip… Lisbon in February.
I would be doing them a disservice if I didn't mention WordPress meetups in general. They happen all around the country (and world in general) and are often organised on meetup.com.
Most are suitable and open for anyone with even the vaguest interest in WordPress – from someone with a personal blog site to a WordPress developer, technical and non-technical alike. Some can be more restricted though, Big WP being a case in point. They're usually free to attend too.
If you've now been to a local meetup, I would highly recommend giving them a try.
- this post and many recent are written using it – the blue box above wouldn't have been possible, without the user of a third-party plugin, if I hadn't been using it, for example