What I learned at WordCamp Europe

WordCamp Europe 2013

It’s been a little over a week since I returned from my whirlwind weekend in Leiden, for the 1st annual WordCamp Europe. I’ve had time to come down, regroup, recover, catch up and reflect after all the excitement, momentum, inspiration and pure emotion of those 4 days that were most educational, and just damn fun.

The adventure started in the pre-trip days when I connected with a bunch of crazy Frenchmen, several of whom I had met back in January at WordCamp Paris.

They have a giraffe #wordcampparis2013

Une photo publiée par Jenny Beaumont (@jennybeaumont) le

They came up with the bright idea to band together for the trip and, being WordPress aficionados, they even put together a website (in French): Very French Trip. My original travel partner, the lovely Aloisia, and I of course jumped at the chance to show how French we are, joined in, and so the “French contingent” was born and the camaraderie began. We were off to a good start. Never mind the B&B debacle, I was determined to have a great weekend.

Up early on Saturday morning, full of coffee and badge in hand, I was ready to get smarter. The toughest part was choosing which of the two simultaneously run presentations to attend, and I didn’t always get it right. That first one though, I did, as it would set the tone for me for the rest of the conference.

Vitaly Friedman: Behind the Scenes at Smashing Magazine

I tend not to have expectations about things in general, and am the sort who rarely watches movie trailers. I like to be surprised. Where one might have expected a look at how SmashingMag runs its site on WordPress, or how it created the latest, and very successful RWD version of the site, instead we got something completely unexpected and very personal. Vitaly when on to tell us his story: how he got started, why, how he and his work evolved, and bumps in the road. It was honest and intimate. It was refreshing. He told us about taking some time off recently because he felt that he had become estranged with his work, with his professional raison d’être. He talked about how easy it is to get caught up in the business of doing business, that we easily lose track of what really matters to us – that thing that drove us in the very beginning…

He left us with the words, “Keep doing what you do, and love it.” They are still ringing in my ears today.

When I posted on Facebook a month or so ago that I was having a mid-life crisis minus the fancy sports car or torrid affair (and hence, was doing something wrong), a friend reassuringly commented that she has one every year. And when I thought about it, yeah, that sounded about right.

“What am I doing with my life?”
“Why do I do what I do?”
“How did I get here and where am I going?”

Although these questions seep into my personal life from time to time, as a career freelancer, my work has always more or less dominated my life. It has become the focus of that existential question, “Who am I?” As in, “you are what you do.”

I realized I wasn’t asking the right question.

“What do I love about what I do?” There, that’s better.

For the whole of the conference I remained in the downstairs room, struggling with the limited wifi like everyone else, and sometimes thinking that I could have gotten a presentation off the web and was clearly in the wrong room. I crossed paths on occasion with mes amis, and met a whole bunch of new people, including some Americans living in Prague that we had run into at the hotel. I got to chat with Remkus about GPL licensing and the question of protecting intellectual property. I got to see how different people in different parts of the world were doing it right, and sometimes doing it wrong. I got an RT from Andrew Nacin that totally made my day.

I could go on and on. About how we partied til 3am the first night, and got back at 4am the second night. About a group from Norway (though not all Norwegian) in a Mexican restaurant and a night that none of us will forget. About a great friendship made with a Pirate. About all the notes I took, however illegible, ideas and inspiration scribbled down throughout…

When I boil it all down, all of the information, the insight, the ideas – this huge GeekFest around WordPress – when I think about my work and the why and wherefore of what I do, it all comes down to one thing: the people. I am not a geek, I don’t care about the code. What I really care about are the relationships. I love it when I can wipe someone’s tears away and reconcile them with technology and the web (yes, I’ve actually had people come to me in tears after a poor experience with another developer). I love it when someone tells me, “They said it isn’t possible,” and I reply, “Pffft, anything is possible.”