As you might have heard, the first ever WordCamp US was recently held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Though there have been plenty of local WordCamps in the past, this was the very first one designated for all of the United States.
True to its name, WCUS attracted attendees from all across the country, and even a few from across the globe. The gathering was made up of nearly 2,000 attendees, volunteers, and sponsors, and we here at Woo were delighted to be part of all three groups.
WordCamp US was a blast for those of us who made it. We had an incredible opportunity to sponsor this brand new event, talk to dozens of WooCommerce customers, and hear their amazing stories. A few of us volunteered as event staff, one member of our group spoke about eCommerce, and we all rolled T-shirts until our hands went numb. And some of us even ended up on the local news!
Here’s a closer look at what went on at the inaugural WCUS, why we wanted to be there, and some of our favorite happenings from the weekend.
Who, what, and where: the logistics of WCUS
The inaugural WordCamp US was held at the Philadelphia Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia was the host city for 2015 and will also host for 2016, after which WCUS will move onto a new host city somewhere in the country. This gives the organizers and volunteers plenty of time to sort out logistics, smooth out bumps in the road, and establish a plan for transitioning to the next city and venue well in advance.
Prior to the establishment of WCUS, WordCamp San Francisco served as the unofficial “US” WordCamp. It was the site of the first ever WordCamp in 2006, organized by WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg, and where the first ever State of the Word address was given. This year, the 10th annual SotW was instead delivered at WCUS, a trend that is expected to continue.
Up to 2,000 people were expected to attend WCUS between Friday and Saturday, the main days of the event. However, there were also three other important days on the schedule:
- The Community Summit on Wednesday and Thursday, in which WordPress community members came together to discuss and act on important topics (including volunteering, code of conduct, and a WordPress.tv redesign), and
- The post-event Contributor Day on Sunday, which had contributors to WordPress submitting patches, translations, docs, and much more.
Between Wednesday and Sunday, it was certainly a busy five days in Philadelphia!
Why we wanted to be there
We had a vast number of reasons for wanting to have members of the Woo team at WCUS. The first, and perhaps most obvious reason: we love WordPress! The first official, national event designed to celebrate the open source platform we’ve all learned from, contributed to, and built products for? Sign us up.
Of course, that naturally lead us to reason two: we made the decision early on to become one of the sponsors of the event. WordCamps are largely paid for by sponsors; the WordPress community aims to keep ticket costs low ($40 or below) and instead recruits sponsors to pay for the venue, lunch for attendees, supplies for (unpaid, yet incredibly hard-working) volunteers and organizers, and so on. In exchange for sponsorship, we were given a lovely booth space and an opportunity to chat with customers all weekend.
— Jaki Levy (@jackomo) December 5, 2015
And there is reason three, one of the biggest gains from the event: being at WCUS gave us a chance to talk to an enormous variety of people. We had conversations with happy WooCommerce users who simply wanted to know what was coming next. We heard from successful store owners who wanted nothing more than to share their stories. We explained the benefits of WooCommerce to those who had never used it before.
WCUS was filled with WordPress users, developers, and enthusiasts of all skill levels who came to learn and teach, help and be helped. It was amazing to see how busy the Happiness Bar was each time we walked by, and wonderful to hear so many questions about WordPress, WooCommerce, and WordPress eCommerce in general.
All in all, it was an incredible experience, and we were right not to miss it.
Some behind the scenes shots from the weekend
Woo! #WCUS A photo posted by WordCamp US (@wordcampus) on
This isn’t to say that all the time we spent in Philly was talking nonstop about the benefits of WooCommerce. We had a little fun, too.
Many of the WCUS sponsors were giving away branded swag, all of which proved to be massively popular. GoDaddy’s Wapuu challenge coins were notably sought-after (shout if you got a black one, you lucky duck!), but we also heard plenty of cheers and compliments about our own giveaways.
We had new Woo stickers on hand, plus these WCUS exclusive tees featuring a happy Hiro and his own little flag:
Thanks to some clever thinking from the organizers, we also drew in visitors by giving away chocolates. Because who can stay mad at their aching feet when there’s free Hershey’s kisses to be had?
— Aviva Pinchas (@in_a_pinch) December 5, 2015
We even saw the booth make it on a short segment on the local news. That’s Michael T looking busy while I hope the cameraman isn’t really shooting me chewing on a mouthful of chocolate and adjusting my shirt (he was). You can watch the full clip here.
While we weren’t at the booth, our own Patrick even presented a talk about eCommerce for WordPress, which we’re told went remarkably well.
Some of our team members and fellow Automatticians chose to volunteer for various roles over the course of the event instead of staffing the booths. They helped attendees with their badges, directed them to rooms, acted as door guards, ran mics back and forth during Q&A sessions, and racked up dozens of cumulative miles on their Fitbits. 😉
Outside of the event, we roamed the streets of Philadelphia and managed to stay out of (much) trouble. We filled our bellies with authentic dim sum, had dinner and drinks at a local pub, and enjoyed bowling and giant Connect Four at the official after-party. We also wandered through Christmas Village, which was appropriately busy. It was delightful for me to watch non-Pennsylvanians react to all the local happenings… and to correct their pronunciation of city names like “Lancaster.” 😉
— Jenny Hooks (@happymattic) December 5, 2015
One final nifty happening: during Matt Mullenweg’s State of the Word speech at the end of the event (which you can watch here if you happened to miss it), Councilman Oh proclaimed December 5, 2015 to be WordPress day in the city of Philadelphia. Woo!
Having software that powers 25% of the Internet is already a big deal, but having an official day is pretty sweet, too. 😀
Learnings from our time at WCUS
It’s tough to condense everything we experienced and learned at WordCamp US into a few sentences. We all took something different away from it, depending on the roles we took (as volunteers, staff, speakers, or something in between).
For me, personally, I found it absolutely valuable to have one-on-one time with WooCommerce users who came up to our booth. Whether they were simply dropping by to say “I’m using Woo and I love it,” showing us their store in action, or asking for recommendations on an extension that could make it better, it was fantastic to have an opportunity for that in-person engagement. I learned what Woo was being used for, and who was using it.
I think we also all collectively learned from chatting with each other about solutions to questions. Every now and then we’d have a question that one of us would need to tag in another Ninja to answer. Listening to those responses was educational, as was discussing possibilities with each other (since there’s often more than one way to accomplish something).
Finally, we all also learned quite a bit from simply being around WordPress users, developers, and enthusiasts. We heard suggestions for new extensions, WooCommerce improvements, or services we might want to look into. We listened to feedback on our products. We talked to new users who wanted to know if something was possible, and how to make that something easier to find. Feedback is critical, and we don’t always get it online — but in person, those words sometimes flow easier.
WCUS offered a ton of value for us, and plenty of learning opportunities for every Ninja who attended. But beyond that, it deepened our love for WordPress and its community, and made us feel even more committed to doing what we do.
Interested in WordPress? There are dozens of reasons to find a WordCamp near you
We’ve talked about the value of WordCamps so many times before, but after WCUS, it’s worth reiterating. If you’ve never been to one — or haven’t gone in a while — head to the WordCamp Central site now. Whether you simply want to learn, are keen to volunteer, or even want to sponsor, WordCamps are worth it in so many ways.
If you’re a developer, don’t shy away from WordCamps — they have a ton of benefits for you. You can learn, obviously, but Contributor Days also give you the opportunity to contribute directly back to WordPress. Whether your strength lies more in bugfixes or docs, you are needed and welcomed.
And finally, if you’re a job-seeker and love WordPress, WCUS was proof that WordCamps are ripe for the picking:
Lots of companies are looking for WordPress talent, and at a WordCamp, you can connect with them in person, or peruse the board for additional opportunities. Networking chances are everywhere at WordCamps!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this summary of our time at WCUS. If you were there and spoke with one of us, give us a shout in the comments — we’d love to say hi! Planning to drop by a future WordCamp? Let us know which so we can be there, too.