Chris Wiegman Chris Wiegman

Travel and WordCamps and Conferences Oh My

This fallen head looks like it needs a nap as much as I do after all my travel.

I love travel. I always have, so much so that for a while I even made it my career. I look forward to any chance I can get to explore a new place or to simply hang out with friends I don’t often get to see. These last few weeks, however, have pushed that love to its limit. I’ve seen so many people and places and learned so much but I’m ready for a break.

When I first got home from WordCamp US last week I thought I would write a recap post on just that camp. Then I realized I needed to write more than just a single recap on one part of my experience so, here’s my attempt at capturing the good and the bad from my last month of traveling around the United States.

All Things Open

The WP Engine team at All Things Open

My adventures began on 12 October when I traveled to Raleigh, NC for All Things Open. This was the first conference where I worked the booth for WP Engine and was a last-minute addition to my itinerary. Normally at conferences I either speak or am volunteering for the conference itself so this was a new and fun experience for me being part of a vendor team. I was able to talk to literally hundreds of people from various background about our offerings and, more often than not, my own team’s product, DevKit. The feedback and reception was amazing!

What I have to admit I didn’t care much for, however, was the conference itself. With a name like “All Things Open” I had expected an experience similar to a WordCamp with a focus on, well, open source software and more small-tech. That wasn’t All Things Open at all. Sure, talks centered on many open source topics but that was about the extent of it. Instead it was many of the biggest names in tech touting their open-source credentials as an excuse for talent acquisition and more free help. From Google to IBM to Fidelity Investments they were all there and all virtue signaling their “contributions” to tech. Maybe I’m too cynical anymore but the only thing “open” in the whole place seemed to be the HR departments.

Virtual signaling aside though, many of the individual attendees I talked to were doing some amazing work. From freelancers to hobbyists and more the push to truly be more open was definitely alive in the attendees. If nothing else the conference reinforced my desire to branch out of WordPress and into the larger tech world and that was definitely not a bad thing.

Flywheel Team and Company Meetup

My new team hanging out in Omaha

On the 16th I went from Raleigh to Omaha, NE to meet with my new team at Flywheel. While we’re still working on the code for WP Engine’s DevKit, after the buyout of Flywheel by WP Engine last June the decision had been made to roll the effort into Flywheel’s existing Local product. This was the first time the teems had gotten together in person after officially combining just a couple of weeks earlier and the experience was great.

For a little over a week we talked about strategy, tech and just focused on scaling the manpower we now had available. This was definitely a great move and I look forward to what we’ll be able to build together.

One fun surprise, to me, was just how much I enjoyed Omaha. Just a few weeks ago I had been scheduled to go to Austin instead to meet with my team but the plans were changed when the combined team was announced. I have a love-hate relationship with Austin. On the one hand, I have great friends there and enjoy my shorter visits. On the other, the city itself has never felt like home to me, even when we were living there. It’s dirty, overcrowded and loves its alcohol to a point where even the grocery stores have beer on tap. That’s all fun for a while but it gets old quick. Omaha, on the other hand, was completely the opposite. It’s clean, fun and accessible (at least downtown). While I could see the winters being a trial, the weather was perfect and I got the chance to explore a number of restaurants, museums and more during my time there all while with one of the most welcoming teams I’ve ever worked with.

When you join a new team, particularly one formed as the result of politics or, in this case, a buy out, things can be a bit awkward. For me it was doubly so as the Local product is built in a tech stack that, frankly, I have no interest in working in professionally. This team though made it all feel like a natural progression. They were welcoming and understanding that my existing skills will take some work to add the new stack, something my other team members from WP Engine had already worked in for other projects. While I still worry that I’ll be slowing them down, I feel so much better about the whole thing than when I started. With a little luck, I’ll even be able to continue to do some work in GoLang and the related techs that I’ve really come to enjoy over the years.

On to Carbondale and Some Downtime

Hiking with Joy at Giant City State Park

From Omaha I had originally been scheduled to go home for a day on the 24th but the weather Gods weren’t cooperating. My 24 hours at home was supposed to be a resupply trip before driving up to Illinois with Joy but, at the Omaha airport, American Air told me they probably wouldn’t get me home before I was scheduled to leave again. As a bonus, because it was weather related I wouldn’t be eligible for a hotel or anything either. Instead I wound up renting a car in Omaha (cheaper than a hotel) and driving from there to Carbondale, IL and meeting Joy there who had to drive up by herself the next day. Long drives aren’t new for us, even solo like this so, while it hadn’t been in our plan, it wasn’t the end of the world either. The only really annoying part was trying to get laundry done and having to buy a few things that I had run out of while being gone, at this point, for almost 2 weeks.

Carbondale was a great break. We spend Sunday, the only good weather day, exploring the Shawnee wine trail and hiking Giant City and the next two days hanging out with friends and visiting old haunts. One of my oldest friends even drove down from Chicago one night to hang out with us. It was all a very much needed break.

I miss our time in Carbondale but being back also reminded me why we left. When I was a student, not all that long ago, there were over 20,000 students on campus in a college town that felt alive and ready for the future. Today, for a variety of reasons, there are less than 10,000 students on campus and both the town and campus feel defeated. Hallways that were once alive are are now empty. Stores, restaurants and more that supported it all have shut their doors and the whole town feels like it is on life support. That was truly sad to see.

On to St Louis and WordCamp US

Chris Wiegman and I at WordCamp US

After our little break we drove up to St Louis on 30 Oct to attend WordCamp US. We spent the week staying at the house of our good friends Mary and Dick, attended the conference and even found a few hours to explore the St Louis Zoo and eat some great BBQ.

I attend a lot of WordCamps but WordCamp US is a different beast than any of them. It’s one of two major WordCamps with a counterpart in Europe (and, as of next year, one in Asia as well) and, as such, it attracts an international crowd rather than a local one. For me, this makes it something of a reunion with friends from all over. I spent the weekend talking about development, attending talks and generally catching up with what everyone is working on these days. When we left on the 4th to go home I felt like there were still things I could do in WordPress and that maybe, just maybe, the community itself will survive the corporate takeover that has overshadowed the project itself for the last couple of years.

For all the chats though, the highlight was doing a quick unconference talk that we pitched with my friends David Johnson and Chris Wiegman (yes, there are two of us). We had 7 minutes to do a quick privacy panel and it was so much fun. Maybe next year I’ll even pitch a full talk again.

Home Sweet Home

On 4 November we drove home where I had three days to catch up, do some laundry and, of course, get sick before heading back out again on the 8th. Why is it so hard to avoid getting sick while travelling??

WordCamp Seattle

Seattle with Mt Rainier in the background

For the final leg of my marathon I flew to Seattle to give my talk, Automating WordPress Development, at WordCamp Seattle. Seattle has had a WordCamp for years and I was excited to finally attend it. Having the chance to talk about development workflows made it even better.

The camp didn’t dissappoint. It was smaller but contained a diverse group of folks from both in and out of the WordPress community and lead to what will hopefully be some good follow-up conversations this week. I will say the mood among attendees though wasn’t much better than that at #WCUS. In talking about hiring, for example, I talked to a number of folks who are looking but they’re doing so to get away from WordPress. That’s a stark change from what I would’ve seen at any camp in years past.


My front yard

Finally, I got home yesterday where I can start back to work. It was a great trip, even if it showed the frustration so many are having with WordPress, both the organization and the software, these days. Personally, it brought me to or through 14 states where I got to see the skylines of San Francisco, CA, Seattle, WA, Omaha, NE, Kansas City, MO, St. Louis, MO, Nashville, TN, Atlanta, GA, New York, NY, Raleigh, NC and Charlotte, NC. That’s even more than a month would’ve gotten me back when I was flying for a living. Now it’s time for a nap.