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Putting the boot into Denver: the 2022 VIP DM

Yes, you read that correct – it’s the DM (DivisionMeetup) rather than a GM (Grand Meetup). Really, it’s just a rename. As Automattic gets larger the idea of getting everyone together in one place becomes less and less practical. VIP showed the way with their own GM but now as the idea of extending this further becomes a reality, making the name more representative is important.

That was the idea, based on something that Matt said, although on the first day of the DM, he then suggested that, due to its size, it’s really a GM. So this may be the only VIP DM that we have. Who knows?

But, that aside, this is the first all-VIP meetup since 2019. And we’re going to Denver, Colorado.

But I jump into the diary of the week, let me start by highlighting why I went into this with more apprehension that usual.

A few days before I was due to fly I had a nose bleed. Now, normally, no-one would be worried about that but I have history. This time I stopped it but it started for no reason (I was washing my face at the time – literally splashing water on it) and is worrying. Air travel can exacerbate these things due to the pressure changes, I often get congested after travelling and well, if I needed medical assistance, I was in another country. Yes, Automattic provides us with medical insurance whilst travelling but, let’s be honest, no-one wants to spend time in a hospital, let alone a foreign one.

Anyway, in advance this was giving me more travel anxiety than usual but, knowing that stress would only make it worse, I relaxed. But will it last?

Saturday

Up my usual 7am. Breakfast, shower and final packing and then a car picks me up at 9:30am for Heathrow Airport.

During my last trip I got a bit dehydrated so I made us of the bottle of water provided for me in the car but soon regretted it. By the time we arrived at Heathrow I was in pain.

Fun fact – it’s 1000% more difficult to find a ticket when your bladder is ripping itself in two.

I made it in time but only just.

I’m flying United this time and check-in was easy – self service tagging and then I waited a whole 2 people queue before handing my luggage over and having my passport checked. But at this point I noticed a problem.

During recent flights I’ve been slinging an AirTag into my luggage so I can track it, but have found the results to be variable at best. Usually I get nothing. So, I purchased a Belkin luggage tag – designed to securely hold an AirTag on the outside using hex screws keep it secure. It was pricey but the only solution like this that I could find. And it was now missing. It was on when the suitcase went into the car.

A quick check of Find My told me it was at the airport, so it had made it out of the car. I walked around for at least 10 minutes trying to find it but it never tracked. In the end I gave up and reported it on the app as lost. Zero marks to Belkin – not only, on a first use, has the luggage tag been lost, but so has the AirTag inside. However, kudos to Amazon who refunded me the cost of it, after I spoke to their Customer Support (their normal refund process assumes I have something to return which, in this case, I don’t!).

On the upside, getting through security was a breeze, so I was at my gate in plenty of time.

My flight leaves at 2:50pm and is due to arrive in Denver at 5:30pm. Unfortunately, we got held up on the runway due to a spot runway inspection and then, first flight after that, a bird strike. However, we took off fine and quickly made up the time lost.

The United flight was… fine… watched a few films, failed to sleep, ate some food. This time I drank more too (I took a bit bottle of water onto the flight with me to supplement what they gave me).

But, after my Seattle flight, I’m kinda feeling they’re a bit stingy by not providing a pillow – just a blanket, which I didn’t need to make use of. 

Anyway, luggage was good (as in, I found it) and passport control was quick once I got in front of someone (snaking queues before that but it only took about 30 minutes). After that I met up with a lot of other people from VIP as we waited for a shuttlebus that’s been put on to ferry us to the hotel during the day.

I checked in to the hotel, dropped my stuff in the room and then headed down to a reception. I got my name badge, got some food and drink and chatted and caught up with lots of people (but not nearly enough yet). I even dropped into the karaoke room to hear a couple of songs before giving up and heading to my room.

My view of Denver from the hotel room

I was asleep around 10pm, local time.

Sunday

Woke at 1am. Then snoozed, seeing most hours come and go until 4am. I can take 6 hours, so got up. My sleep clock is out but so is my food clock too, and I was starving. No food in the room, but one colleague was awake and also needed food, so we decided to head out and find something. It was dark and cold, but even at 5am, Denver seemed nice. I enjoyed the walk and enjoyed the food even more.

Breakfast is not until 8:30am, hence my early morning dash. Hopefully this should settle down in the coming days.

Breakfast was nice, although not amazing, and we’re soon onto an introduction from our CEO (and Matt turned up too), and then onto general discussions with our Executive Leadership Team.

This was followed by a rather good (albeit scary) session with an Executive Coach.

Lunch (provided to us at the hotel) comes and goes and we have divisional-specific break-outs. It’s “Funday Sunday”, so that involves trivia games and a photo hunt.

We wrap for the day with a 1.5 hour break before dinner. I went for a walk and found myself in a Walgreen so took the opportunity to buy some pre-breakfast snacks, in case I’m hungry again. I also got some Melatonin tablets, which you can’t get in the UK without a prescription.

Each lead has been tasked with booking a restaurant and people could allocate themselves to different bookings, up to 5 people each. I’d done this, so led my motley group to the Stout Street Social, which is opposite the Colorado Convention Center. I had an excellent Surf & Turf.

There wasn’t much to do after dinner, and after lots of chat I headed to my room and was asleep not long after 9:30pm.

Monday

The tablet I took seemed to work as I slept (albeit waking up a few times) for 7.5 hours in total. I couldn’t stay in bed any longer, as I needed to get into the shower to start working for 6am (don’t ask).

Breakfast followed, and then the morning were some discussions and updates from our own specific ELT member.

The WordPress VIP Customer Success team

Lunch and then buses ferried us to Meow Wolf. What is Meow Wolf? It’s an art exhibit / mass exploratory space / mystery / fever dream. So, so trippy but good fun too.

I met up some some co-workers after and had a bit of a walk around, mainly the shopping areas of Denver. And had a cake-pop.

That evening we were having dinner at the hotel, with people drawing random lots as to which table they sat (to mix us all up).

Afterwards was an open Q&A session with Matt (Automattic CEO), Nick (VIP CEO) and Mark Davies (Automattic CFO). That went on until around 10:30pm. There was karaoke afterwards, but I didn’t stick around. I was in bed for 11pm.

Tuesday

Damn it. The tablet didn’t work. Awake at 5am.

Showered and breakfasted at 8:30. Then there was a talk with one of our customers – again, Q&A style.

Lunch and then various workshops across the afternoon. I attended the Systems AMA but then skipped the next one to help with a video that’s being made by our marketing team. I suspect my mug on any video is likely to put them off.

I then took a nice long walk by myself. I ended up on the local University campus which is HUGE.

After dinner, not much seemed to be going on. Lots of people went to the bar and, as a non-drinker at a bar that did not have much of a selection of non-alcoholic drinks, I ended up back in my room not long after. I kept an eye out for any communication about karaoke but, hours later, there was still nothing. Eventually it did happen, but very late in the evening (it was probably waiting for people to be drunk enough to want to do it).

Others went out – there was some live music, but many just went out to find bars and continue drinking.

Anyway, it was lights out for me around 11am.

Wednesday

Last day.

Woke up around 6am – the latest yet and a good, solid sleep.

After breakfast, there was an “unconferencing” session, until late morning when we had a company photo and then lunch.

I phoned phone and, soon after, there was an AMA with our HR team. This was followed by over an hour of flash talks (I did one) and, finally, a wrap up by Nick.

Dinner that night was out at Ace Eat Serve. We’d booked the entire place for ourselves for the night. Food was Thai buffet, which was amazing, and it was an open bar. I mingled, chatted and left around 9:30pm.

I got to sleep around 11pm again.

Thursday / Friday

Awake at 5. Not un-typical this week.

Packed and showered, I met my lead, Andrea, in the lobby at 8am and we, along with a number of others, headed to a nearby diner for breakfast – Sam’s No 3.

After saying my farewells to a few people, I headed into the co-working room at the hotel to, well, co-work. Around 2pm I headed out by myself to find a light lunch and ended up back at Sam’s again. A chicken sandwich later and I was sorted – my final meal in Denver.

4pm comes up and I’m on a shuttle bus to the airport (kindly put on every hour by Automattic). It takes us 45 minutes to get there and then I go to check in my baggage – minimal queues and it’s self service (although I managed to get confused after attaching my tag and taking it to someone who was only there for flight changes – never-the-less, he did check my baggage in for me). Security, though, was a different thing. After being sent in opposite directions by different members of staff, I finally found it and the queue was lonnnggggg. Luckily it moved with a pace and 50 minutes later I was through (albeit I set off the metal detectors – they TOLD ME that I could leave my watch on but that’s what caused it).

Our flight was delayed because, despite having a pilot an a plane, they weren’t compatible. It seems the pilot was licences for that particular plane, so they had to swap it (the plane, not the pilot). Miraculously, we made up the time and some more – we landed 15 minutes early, but then managed to taxi around Heathrow for 15 minutes, loosing it all again.

Although a lengthy walk through the corridors of Heathrow, the rest of the “let me get out of here” experiences was very quick – straight through customs and I only had to wait a few minutes for my suitcase.

Traffic home was slooowww. The plane landed at 12:30pm, I was out of the airport by 1pm but didn’t get home until around 3:45pm. When I did get home, I dived straight in the shower as it had been around 28 hours since I last had! It was good to be home.

Wrap-up

It was good to be back together again and there were so many people I hadn’t met and, whatever you promised, it was hard to spend the time you wanted with everyone – sorry, Parie.

The lack of much social, unless you want to stay up really late, has been the one thing about the meetup that I’ve found disappointing. Everything else was slick and so organised but, as soon as dinner was over, that seemed to be it – I’d love some better, and earlier, social gatherings in the evenings.

I suspect, because it’s good for coverage, that we’ll continue to visit North America for these events and I look forward to find out where we’re going next year! Hopefully, Covid will be less prominent and even more people will feel comfortable attending.

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