WARNING: So, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not much into attending the sessions at a WordCamp these days. So if you’ve come here expecting a review of sessions, you can stop reading. I attended like one and a half sessions and spent the rest of the weekend meeting some awesome people, talking business, and reconnecting with friends. Besides, the sessions were all recorded and will be available on WordPress.tv soon, so you can watch them for yourself to see what they were all about.
This post describes my experience at the inaugural WordCamp US. If you’re trying to decide whether to attend next year, this review may hopefully make your decision just a little bit easier. I’ll describe some of the logistics of it all as well as some historic landmarks to visit and “can’t miss” places to eat.
Tl;dr: you need to be there in 2016.
I bought my ticket to WordCamp US many months ago and also booked a room at the Sheraton Hotel (Downtown) because it was one of the recommended hotels on the WordCamp US website. It was also a reasonable price and distance from the Convention Center. It was just less than a mile away, which translated to about a 12-minute walk. Once I figured out the walking route, I didn’t even need Google Maps to help me find it each day.
Two of our team members attended this year, Andrew and Christian. Christian stayed at the Sheraton and Andrew was at the Loews Hotel, which I’ll admit, looks crazy fancy. While it appeared to be right next to the Convention Center, his walk was almost equal to ours because the entrance to the event was all the way on the other side, so our walks ended up being nearly identical.
The Sheraton ended up being a great hotel, minus a few small issues like the towel holder falling off the wall and the shower being handicap-accessible, which meant water would pool directly under the sink where I needed to get ready in the morning. But all-in-all, it wasn’t a bad hotel to stay at. It was extremely easy to walk just about anywhere within 10-15 minutes and grab an Uber for anything else.
The overall vibe of WordCamp US was a bit of a continuation of WordCamp San Francisco in years past. Though, being in Philadelphia, it offered a unique feeling of excitement and the dawn of a new era in WordPress. With major new projects launching like the JSON API and Calypso, being in the city where American freedom was born certainly made me feel like what we’re doing with WordPress and open-source software is a lot what the Founding Fathers were doing a long time ago, minus the tea and war and all that.
Throughout the WordCamp, people were constantly filling the hallways chatting, coding, and networking, gathering swag from the sponsor tables and drinking the free coffee, water, tea, and lemonade that would constantly be on rotation throughout the weekend. There was literally no point during the event that the sponsor hallway was not completely packed, except when everyone left for dinner and after-parties each night. I highly recommend looking into sponsorship next year, as this will be the best and likely the only opportunity to have around 2,000 WordPress lovers excitedly walking to your booth looking for swag and a little conversation.
Speaking of sponsors, there were loads of sponsors and for good reason. As I mentioned above, there were 1,800 tickets sold for this event, bringing together WordPress users, plugin developers, theme authors, agency owners, freelancers, engineers, project managers, marketers, and users. Being a sponsor for this event can be more than just a vote of support for a local WordCamp, it is a time for a brand to stand out among the crowd and get lots of exposure to a wide audience of influencers and industry leaders.
It seemed like most of the sponsors were web hosts, with tables for GoDaddy Pro, WP Engine, MediaTemple, Pantheon and Dreamhost. There were also a few security companies represented with Sucuri and SiteLock, a relative newcomer to the WordPress space. Just about every company offered t-shirts and the obligatory sticker swag, but GoDaddy really went above and beyond to create a series of 10 coins with the fabled Wapuu on them in various poses. I believe they were designed by Michelle Schulp, designer of all things Wapuu. I got the one with little Wapuu wearing a powdered wig holding the Declaration of Independence. I hear there were others that were extremely rare, with perhaps just 4 coins to be found. I thought that was a fun little piece of swag and one that many of the other sponsors really couldn’t compete with.
However, I did walk over to the Amimoto booth and pick up what appeared to be a Google Cardboard, though it wasn’t branded as such and the instructions were all in Japanese. Of all the things I brought home to my kids, they loved that the most.
Seeing the Sights
It was my first time in Philadelphia, so naturally I needed to take a few breaks to see some of the historic places sprinkled throughout the city. There are a number of great spots in Center City and lots of museums and galleries along the path to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, some of the most visited being the Rocky Statue and Steps.
Our team broke away from day 2 to explore and climb those famed steps. It was about 5 miles roundtrip and took us maybe an hour and a half to walk back and forth and snap some photos. At the top of the steps, we were lucky enough to see a marriage proposal! There were people wearing their heather gray jogging suits and running up the steps doing the Rocky thing and people selling pretzels and Rocky t-shirts and even a Rocky impersonator who would take a picture with you for the low price of five bucks. He claimed to be the “#1 Rocky impersonator in the world and his body double.” OK. I was tempted to call Devin Walker (who apparently can do a pretty solid Ivan Drago impersonation) to come by and challenge him to a fight.
On Sunday, we viewed an art gallery at The Barnes Foundation which included a bunch of post-impressionist and early modern art. Because it was Sunday, we actually got in for free. Tickets are normally $45 during the week. I’m certainly no art buff, but it was an enjoyable experience. I had a lot of fun walking around with Christian and the awesome duo of Cody and Raquel Landefeld from Mode Effect. We had a delicious breakfast at Sabrina’s Café, then tackled the Rocky Steps and Statue together (it was my second time there) and Cody borrowed $5 from an Automattician to get a photo with the #1 Rocky impersonator in the world.
Afterwards, we went over to the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall, which are conveniently located right next to each other. We made sure to grab tickets from the visitor center for the Independence Hall tour and we also stopped at a coffee shop on the corner called La Colombe, which was the best coffee I tasted the whole weekend. We bought souvenirs at the visitor center and toured Independence Hall. It was supposed to last between 20 and 40 minutes but I had to leave near the end of the tour to catch my flight back home. It was really neat to walk through that building and the rest of the grounds nearby knowing that this is where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were both signed and put into effect. I definitely recommend adding one day to your trip for sightseeing in 2016 if you plan to attend the next WordCamp US and haven’t been to Philly before.
The People of WordCamp US
I’m always impressed by the level of talent and intelligence of the folks at WordCamps. This event, however, was something of an anomaly, as many of the best WordPress minds gathered together, bringing tons of remote collaborators under one roof. It is easy to forget, but we all help build WordPress and the Internet from many different nations, homes, and cultures. Bringing together such a diverse group of people who literally build a majority of the Internet’s platform is really a once-in-a-long-time sort of event. We don’t take the time to properly reflect on our accomplishments sometimes and WordCamp US is like one giant celebration of them.
Meeting people at WordCamp is really my primary reason for attending. These days, I don’t find myself attending many sessions but I do check the list of attendees and make a list of people I’d like to connect with. Over the course of 4 days, I was able to meet with business partners, customers, peers, vendors, and many new friends who work with WordPress every day. It is always fun to see the unique and interesting ways people use WordPress.
A prime example of why I love WordCamp was meeting Josiah Goff. He helps build an app called Jetty, which helps oil and gas companies with crisis management by offering communication tools for keeping stakeholders updated, creating pop-up websites, and tracking all inbound and outbound communication. The usage of WordPress makes a ton of sense with how easy it is to set up and develop on top of.
One of the big reasons I go to WordCamps is to meet up with attendees and have fun while networking and chatting about all the things people do with WordPress. In our day-to-day lives and jobs, we focus on the code and technology side of things, WordCamp after-parties give us a chance to really dig in to the who and the why behind WordPress’ rise to 25% market share.
The night before day one, there was a GoDaddy Pro party at Xfinity Live!, an entertainment venue attached to the arena where the Philadelphia Flyers play all their home games. There was food, drink and great conversations. I met up with friends and got to meet a few folks who I had never met in person, such as Devin Walker and Matt Cromwell from WordImpress.
Besides the typical speaker/sponsor dinner, there are usually one or two events happening the night before a WordCamp, but GoDaddy went all out by renting a party bus for the weekend and shuttling folks back and forth to the various parties the whole time.
At the end of day one of WordCamp US, there were three after-parties attended by many of the folks who could make it that far. First was the Post Status party, open to members of the amazing community of subscribers to Brian Krogsgard’s highly useful WordPress membership club. If you haven’t joined, it is a huge benefit to our team and our business. The party was a lot of fun. One of our team members, Christian, flew in that evening and met us there. As it was nearing its end, we went across the street to grab a couple pizzas before making our way back to our hotel to get some rest for Day 2.
There were two additional after-parties thrown by SiteGround and WP Engine. I wasn’t able to make those but it sounds like many people made it to all three and had a great time.
On Day 2, the official after-party was at Lucky Strike Lanes and included two full floors of food, games, pool, and, of course, bowling. It was pretty crowded and the food was not up my “alley” (sliders, salad, and… eggrolls?) but getting in a little bowling with some WordPress folks was awesome. I even got Christian to bowl a little bit.
The bowling was pretty terrible all the way around, but getting to chat and bowl with Jason and Kim from Paid Memberships Pro and Cody and Raquel from Mode Effect was great. It’s always cool to see married couples like them building businesses with WordPress.
The Reading Terminal Market
Located just across the street from the Convention Center is one of the places we ended up every day trying food from all the different food vendors within. Some of the places our team enjoyed were the Dutch Eating Place, Smuckers Quality Meats and Grill, and Molly Malloy’s. I wasn’t able to try anything from Dutch Eating Place because the line on Saturday was around the corner but Andrew said it was really great. In addition to all that, I grabbed a coffee for around $2 and it was actually pretty solid for a two buck coffee. Some friends of mine would text me to let me know that they’re back at the market, even after having just eaten there an hour earlier.
To be honest, I was a little nervous about the weather being too cold, and the walking being too much, but overall, WordCamp US 2015 blew away my expectations and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We would be lucky next year to have temps in the 50s during the day but, even so, I don’t think it really matters. I am excited to attend next year. If you have any questions about attending WordCamp US or my experience, feel free to tweet at me at @chriswallace on twitter.