Takeaways from WordCamp Europe 2016

Written by: Emanuel Blagonic

Published on: June 29, 2016

The biggest WordCamp in the world (to date) is over. During three days of learning, meeting new people, partying and contributing, everyone found something for themselves. New friendships arose from people that have never seen each other in person but are connected with the love for an open source project that changed (and is still changing) the world – WordPress.

Unlike the first two WordCamps (in Leiden and Sofia; I wasn’t in Seville due to some really busy schedule and personal problems), this year I had this amazing opportunity to take a different role. Having Petya Raykovska with us last year on WordCamp Croatia, I’ve been talking with her if there’s need for help with the communication part. Once a journalist, I’m still much in love with writing and communication so I was part of the WCEU communication team.

The biggest problem for me (was and still is) is something that Sonja Leix so perfectly explained in her talk “My friend the Impostor Syndrome”. I also thought of myself as “not worthy enough”, especially as I didn’t volunteer on previous WCEU’s. This was even more obvious to me, once I saw who is on the team – people that I respect and are well known in the community (and have been organizers or volunteer in the past years).

Yeah, I’ve been volunteering and working hard with the local community in Croatia and especially the non-government sector there, and am really passionate about it, but being a part of the team at WordCamp Europe was just overwhelming.

But it shouldn’t be, really. People on the team are just like you and me. Some have more experience, naturally, but all of us possess some expertise that makes us valuable team members. And the team was just unbelievable helpful and supportive and made the whole experience something worth reliving again.

European communities series

If you followed WordCamp Europe blog, then you must have seen the “Meet the European WordPress communities” series. In the 7 articles of the series, you could get to know communities across the continent. We interviewed a lot of people from 28 European countries. From Istanbul to Greenland and from Moscow to Bilbao, we heard some pretty amazing stories about how European communities came to be.

I will probably write a separate post covering this article series, but for now, let’s just say that I feel extremely honored for even getting the possibility to tell these stories. In this process, I got the opportunity to get to know and respect some really inspirational people. When we started to work on the series, one of the first to respond was Takis Bouyouris from Greece. Back then Greece didn’t have their WordCamp but it is now on the schedule for November. On WordCamp Belgrade I met with Aloisia Gabat, currently living in Sweden, which then connected me with other community members from Sweden and Norway.

Rocío Valdivia from Spain, a fellow member of WCEU organizing team, was an important contact for both Spain’s and Portuguese communities. While talking with her I realized I could ask her about the Greenland’s community, so we added Greenland to our article as well.

Now, you need to know that our starting point was a document that listed European WordCamps, but even with that information we lacked info about the local community organizers. A lot of effort has been invested into the discovery of different communities. For example, I like to learn about new WordCamps so I stumbled upon WordCamp Torino who has been organized by Francesca Marano. I didn’t know Francesca back then (February) but I sent her an email to respond to our survey and she did. Later did I learn the amazing story about “The rebirth of the Italian community” and couple of months ago (and couple of weeks before publishing the article) I asked her and other community members (including another WCEU organizer, Luca Sartoni) to answer a few more questions and fill out the blanks, so we could get the backstory as well. These sort of approach was crucial to understanding community problems and how to overcome those.

There was all sort of marvelous stories. Belgian community, for example, hosted their first WordCamp in Antwerp, just a week after the article was published. We were witnesses to other amazing stories, like the one of French or United Kingdom’s community. It wouldn’t be fair not to mention our own communities – from Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia – that were non-existent 3 years ago; and so on. A lot of great stories can be found in these articles.

WordCamp Europe

Writing community articles was an exhausting but rewarding task for me. While talking with all these people, you witness their passion and by telling these stories we were hoping we could make a place for all the relevant information about each community (like who are the local organizers, links to meetups, WordCamps, and social networks etc).

But there is one constant whenever I talked with them – they all recognized the importance of WordCamp Europe as a place to meet once per year.
Some communities like Croatian or Belgian (and even Serbian, although they held their first meetup a year before) started after the first WordCamp Europe in Leiden. That was the tipping point for all of them. Other communities like the Italian one, were restarted after they met at WordCamp Europe in Sofia and Seville.

There is a significant importance of this “big” WordCamp (of European WordCamps) that has been connecting people across Europe, with all their different languages and different cultural norms – for the past 4 years. Once per year we all stand together as friends, discuss business opportunities, best practices to contribution and building communities, and we enjoy an awesome afterparty.

WordCamp Europe Talks

While leading the Communication team, I didn’t get the chance to watch all the talks I wanted. But, here’s an overview of the talks I watched and I thought they were amazing.

WordPress: the early years. A co-founder’s view by Mike Little — Mike is a co-founder of WordPress and I got the chance to speak with him at speakers dinner. I never spoke with him before but from what I heard he is an amazing guy. It is true. We discussed his own past (he started to work in IT back in 1978) and the early years of the internet. We didn’t discuss WordPress, but I asked him how he feels now when WordPress is changing the world. Mike is also a world-changer, he supports a project called Young Rewired State which helps kids to start programming. A really amazing project that I’ll see if we can take into Croatia as well.

Empathy and Acceptance in Design and Community by Morten Rand–Hendriksen — Morten held one of the best talks of WCEU. Talking about empathy, he discussed common problems in the open source community and showed some breath-taking examples of how people overcome obstacles.

Reviews: The Good, The Bad, and the Stalker by Mika Epstein — Mika told us all about the Plugin review process and what people should and shouldn’t do. The most important takeaway from this talk is to think twice before commenting and especially – never comment angrily. Think twice!

Beyond SEO: copywriting for professionals by Marieke van de Rakt, Joost de Valk — was a talk with a lot of examples and best practices on why is good content important for SEO. My personal best moment of the talk was when Marieke showed us a picture of their family. Being a devoted father myself, I know how important is the family and all the time you spend with them.

The (rebirth of the) Italian community by Francesca Marano (article) — although I’ve seen this talk before, it stops to amaze me to hear the story about the Italian community. Since it was early morning, the attendance wasn’t at peak levels, but Francesca’s talk is one that you should watch on WordPress.tv.

My friend the Impostor Syndrome by Sonja Leix — this one was a sort of talk that was familiar to quite a lot of attendees. Personally, I had problems when going on stage after once I blacked out while on stage (I wrote about that here). So, Sonja, my respect goes to you for being an inspiration. (Tom Nowell from Automattic talked about Handling Anxiety just after Sonja’s talk, which was also perfect).

The Science of Happiness by Davor Altman (article) — I first met Davor at WordCamp Belgrade where he held a different talk and he’s one positive guy. For everyone interested in customer support, this is the talk you should listen once it becomes available.

Open source project management at scale, how 1300+ people improved Drupal 8’s multilingual features by Gábor Hojtsy — Gábor gave a really inspirational talk about the power of the open source and how the Drupal community improved Drupal by working together. Actually, this talk was not about Drupal it was about the power of open source and I recommend to watch it. This is kind of talks that we definitely need more on WordCamps.

What’s on my watchlist?

Lucijan’s talk

So, at WordCamp Europe I listened (and tweeted, of course) the talk from my younger brother Lucijan. He was talking about “Moving the design process to the browser” and he did a pretty good job. Yes, he was nervous, but who wouldn’t get nervous in front of the 400+ people, eager to learn something new?

He survived :)

Some final thoughts

WordCamps are organized for the people. And WordCamp Europe with more than 2000 attendees was something extraordinary. Feeling that positive energy, meeting new people, seeing old friends – this is the true power of community.

Being part of the awesome organizing team was another “stepping out of my comfort zone” action. Thank’s to the rest of the team for making it happen.

One of the most famous poems from Croatian poet Dobriša Cesarić is named Waterfall. It basically tells a story about one single droplet, which nevertheless it feels small– it is important because a waterfall can only be made of many single droplets. And once the rainbow appears this single droplet shines in its beauty.
Everyone could be that single droplet, but we could make something great only if we work together. So, a couple of thanks at the end.

  • Thank you Petya for that first talk in Rijeka, when you said that I might be of help with the WCEU 2016 and for help and guidance you offered for the community series.
  • Thanks to everyone in the team for I felt welcome.
  • Thank you, Jenny Beaumont, for proofreading the articles in the community series. It wouldn’t be the same without your help.
  • Thanks to all that participated in the community article series. I hope you liked it in the end and that people who read it learned a lot.
  • Last but not least, thanks to the people in our Community team at #WCEU: Lucijan, Phillip, Adelina, Priscilla, Alen, Isabelle, Franz, and Bronson. (here are some stats until Saturday, 2pm)

At the end I can only say, see you next year in Paris. Tickets are already purchased. :)

As a designer, I have to say that Scott Evans and Sonja Leix did an amazing job with the WordCamp Europe graphics and kudos to Scott for the great illustrations he made. I love them.