30th March 2017

Can Drupal events learn from WordCamp London?

Chris Jansen

Over the past couple of years I’ve attended quite a few conferences like DrupalCon Amsterdam & Barcelona, DrupalCamp Vienna, European Drupal Days, Drupal Developer Days and SymfonyCon Berlin.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend and speak at my first WordCamp. My friend Jam and I spoke about Challenges and Solutions in Getting your Open Source Company to Contribute which we have done many times before.

My colleague Ronald Ashri was also speaking about An AI Bot will Build and Run your Next Site… Eventually, sharing some of our work on chatbots and applied artificial intelligence

We do this because we firmly believe that organisations can achieve far greater success if they work together and improve the world while they do so. As with other conferences I was greeted by a warm and welcoming community. The fact that I’m from the Drupal community didn’t bother anyone and it was relatively easy to find common grounds with everyone I met. So far no surprises, because we all shared a love for open source technology.

That said, I did find that this conference and the people that attended vastly different than what I experienced at any other tech conference to date. The main difference being their focus on diversity, accessibility, inclusivity and user experience. As it turns out, not only WordPress is extremely user focussed and easy to use, so are its conferences. They have gone out of their way to make the conference as inclusive and accessible to everyone. To list a few of the things that stood out for me:

  • Creche - You’ve got kids? WordCamp has you sorted. For a mere £5 per child per day your kids are close and taken care off while you attend your favourite sessions. This lowers the bar for people with young children that otherwise maybe wouldn’t be able to attend.
  • Life essentials boxes - napkins, sanitary pads, tampons, you name it they’ve made sure they’ve got it. Not just in the female facilities, but in the male facilities as well. An awesome gesture of acceptance and inclusivity for transgender attendees.
  • Speech To Text Reporters - Each room had two Speech To Text Reporters that provided live session transcription. One transcribed the current session, while the other corrected any errors in the previous transcription so that it can be used with the session footage that will be posted on the internet.

But the differences were not limited to the organisation only. The attendees and sessions seemed different as well. Most conferences I’ve attended were mostly visited by developers and most sessions would be about “How to do something awesome with framework A”, “What changed between version X and Y” or “How your application can communicate with API Z”.

The technical sessions didn’t offer me many new insights, but reaffirmed that all software communities face (and solve) the same problems and challenges and the non-technical sessions reminded me that as developers we have a responsibility to our users. The responsibility to ensure that they can access the information our products provide and that no-one is excluded from being able to access that information. All in all WordCamp was highly similar, but also very different.

Yes it’s still attended by developers, but they are not necessarily the majority. I’ve spoken with designers, business owners, entrepreneurs, user experience designers and project managers and heard a lot less technical talk while walking around the venue. The focus seems to be more about “I’ve got a business and want to find out how WordPress can help me make the most of it” than “I’ve always used WordPress and now want to know how to apply it to this new project”.

Looking back at the other conferences I’ve attended I think a lot can be learned from the WordPress community. The session diversity, clear communication and open atmosphere encourage a wide range of attendees, which in turn allows people with entirely different roles to talk to each other and gain a better understanding of each other’s (business) needs and be inspired by their ideas.

WordCamp London turned out to be all that’s good about tech conferences. I like it, sign me up for more!

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