I missed the WordCamp Mumbai and felt pretty bad about it. The next such event was to be held on 14-15 December in Ahmedabad. This was WCAhmedabad. I booked the tickets, arranged my transport and waited. I reached early morning in a cold Ahmedabad and got to the hotel, caught a couple of hours of sleep and rushed to the Pandit Deendayal Auditorium for the event.
There were already a significant number of people – bloggers, business leaders, organisers, developers, merchants, sales guys, support staff, speakers, and so on. We were asked to get a blue colored band for identification purposes. This was to ensure that we had actually registered for the event. Next we got our ID pass for the event. We were to carry the band and the card to be eligible for the refreshments. There were stalls present with small goodies like stickers, mementos and a WordPress branded hoodie. You can select the size for this while registering, so please keep that in mind.
There was a sponsors’ wall and another organisers’ wall where folks were taking photos or selfies. The place was clean (till then) and despite the crowd – reasonably quiet.
What is a WordCamp?
A WordCamp is a conference for WordPress developers and users where practitioners share their knowledge with the audience. All stakeholders get a chance to interact with each other. This helps us grow, and eventually contribute to the popularity and further development of WordPress as a product and the WordPress community in general.
There are numerous WordCamps organised over a year, spread over various cities in India and the world. Since these are almost always parked for the weekend, working professionals can also make time to visit and participate.
Do I need any skills to attend WordPress?
Nope. Unless you are registering as a speaker, you don’t need to have any particular skill other than having an interest in all things WordPress. You may be a photographer wanting to create a website using WordPress, a sales professional hoping to sell plugins, hire talent to develop your WordPress themes and so on. Most have some blogging experience but there are aficionados, hosting providers and regular people with nothing but an interest to know something new.
But yes, a background in WordPress is going to help you feel engaged. Otherwise you will not feel the sessions interesting. Some of these sessions will be fairly technical. So the preferred crowd is rather tech savvy developer or digital media professional or startup wannabe. I mention this only so that you make the most of your time and are in a position to make an informed opinion.
As for the skills that are most sought after – these are standard ones. PHP, MySQL, basic WordPress skills, how everything comes together as a blog or a full-fledged enterprise site will help you get along with people. Besides, if getting to know interesting people is the primary goal of attending the conference (as it should be), some technical knowledge is highly recommended.
How do I attend one?
A good way is to first head over to their website and check their calendar. You can see the planned and proposed events in their schedule. Pick the most suitable option and you are good to go.
Every event has a subdomain associated with it that has all the details.
Take for instance, the next major event is at Kolkata in March, 2020. Head over the site from the link in the main page.
Here you get the venue, the date of the event, the speakers and their topics. You get a ticket booking link as well. You will be given an option to be either an attendee or a sponsor. Once you pay the amount, you will get an invitation and ticket details in your mail and an SMS update.
In case of most events, there is an attendee page where contact details (along with their website or social media accounts). Once you register, your details should be visible if you allow it. Making it visible is a good idea, both from a networking as well as SEO perspectives.
If you are travelling outside your hometown, make sure you stay somewhere close to the event. It starts pretty early at around 8:30 AM in the morning. So staying close helps cut down on commute time.
You don’t need to carry any water or food, unless you have special needs. Food is good, with limited options though. If you are not used to Indian food, you may be in trouble. Bringing your laptop will also be unnecessary. This is not a hackathon. Notepads will be provided but it is best to carry one nonetheless.
With all these, you are set for the sessions.
I want to speak at a WordCamp
This is a great idea for anyone who wants to get exposure and share their expertise to the wide world. If you have attended conferences before, you will know how it works. The policy is similar and there is a kind of peer review for the topic you wish to speak about. There will be a link on the page that will ask you to enter the details – the topic, how much time you require (there is a cap of about an hour), how much experience you have and so on. You may be asked to upload the slides that you wish to present on the day along with a brief video introducing yourself and the topic. If all goes well and the topic is selected you get to speak.
There is another important factor that will not be mentioned in the WordCamp event page. If you have a WordPress profile (you should), you will be able to find a reference to the event on your profile page along with a badge. This will make it much easier to get selected for similar conferences as a speaker. This adds to your reputation and establishes you as a Subject Matter Expert.
Take a look at this profile.
This looks like one of the Google Scholar Author pages – with citations, links, posts and related data.
What does this establish?
If I want to know something about WordPress or need to get something fixed, I know this guy can do it for me.
Plus, you will get links on WordPress TV too. More the backlinks, the better!
Check this profile at WordPress TV. There are links to videos of the same conferences where the session was held. Again, this establishes authority.
Presentations or sessions at WordCamp Ahmedabad 2019
I don’t exactly recollect the order of the sessions. But here is what I could recollect from my memory and notes.
First to speak was Imran Sayed. I have mentioned him earlier. He spoke on ‘Why progressive web apps for WordPress’. It is obvious that we want our pages to load fast and the experience remains consistent and fast regardless of devices.
He highlighted the benefits of having a PWA web application in the context of reducing page load times. The major advantage is that the app works reliably with little dependence on the network state as service workers do most of the heavy lifting. The other advantage that he did not stress was the fact that PWA enabled sites can be installed without having a presence on the App Store. It works like an App, looks like an App but there is no separate development required for an app.
There was an example shown with a control – one with PWA enabled and one without to demonstrate the advantages. However, the very essential Progressive Web Apps checklist should have been mentioned. I hope he includes this in the future. This was a very engaging session, overall.
Next to speak was Arpit Vishwakarma. He spoke on AMP Stories and Site Kit by Google. Being a Strategic Partner Development Manager in Google, his product knowledge was impressive. The idea of AMP stories is interesting – you must have seen similar sliders in WhatsApp status images, Instagram and so on. You can do the same for web sites as well. What’s best – this gets crawled on Google as well. AMP started off as a mobile first view for websites. Now it has developed into a full framework to create user first websites. The design is easy (albeit with limited customisation abilities) and these pages load in less than a second on a decent internet connection. He did miss on the AMP implementations on Ads, emails and general websites as well.
But Stories was something I was not aware of before, so I guess that’s a win. There was an AMP stories plugin in place that helps you do this. I will not go ahead with this just yet. There are two reasons – I want to first implement this without using a plugin, primarily to know how hard it is to do it from scratch. I will know if it is worth it to install a plugin for it. Secondly, I need to know how important it is for the end user to have this. Mine is not a portfolio website, but we will see.
Site Kit is a WordPress plugin offered by Google that basically unites the metrics of Search Console, Google Analytics, AdSense, PageSpeed Insights and Tag manager under a single roof. It also claims to give you a platform to do A/B testing to optimise user engagement. I actually already use the above products in silos and feel no need to actually install another plugin to have it in a single place. I have my bookmarks in place with views set to do that in a single click. So I will skip installing or using this one.
Amit Gupta conducted a session on ‘Lessons I learnt when I started developing on WordPress at the Enterprise Level’. This was more on an organizational point of view and had little in terms of SOPs on how to code. Except the part where he stressed on the need to design the code in such a way that unit tests are doable. For example, writing non deterministic code does not help when writing unit tests for it. The tips were simple and easy to understand but rarely followed. A few more real life examples would have driven home the point better.
To know more about deterministic code, check this. The idea is slightly counter intuitive and very interesting.
Arun Bansal, aka the ServerGuy then spoke on ‘How to automate your Workflows with WordPress’. I was expecting some practical examples of automation online, but could only get a brief overview of what we can automate using popular tools. I guess, the time constraint of 30 minutes or so was crippling the efficacy of the sessions! Even then, it was very useful in the sense that from a bird’s eye view it covered everything – from automating sales funnels, analytics, automatically improving the speed using the Autoptimizer plugin, taking automated backups, monitoring uptime on its own and so on. This session should have been longer. For solo-entrepreneurs or startups with limited time on their hands, automation is not a luxury but the only option.
Ankit Sheth had a session on the ‘Journey from e-commerce to voice commerce’. The offering was interesting and there is no doubt that this was a slight promotion for Datavizz as well. With the growth of Alexa and other voice platforms, using voice based AI to engage users is a sound idea. Here again, a small demo would have been great. Something similar like ordering some food online using their bot would have been awe inspiring.
Nirav Mehta’s session was one of the best, even though his had nothing to do with WordPress in particular and entrepreneurship in general. His talk on Dream Chasing kept us from sleeping in our chairs. His experience as a practitioner shone through. His is one of the slides I would liked to keep for future reference. Every other information can be easily found on the internet. Not this – not this easily at least.
Oh, and what product did Nirav try to introduce us to? His card game! I will check it out later.
Ruchika Jain had a rather long session for the content she had to offer. She has done well on social media over the past few months, but her session on ‘Importance of video content’ lacked content. In particular, it lacked peer research. We know video content is important, but the questions are – how important are they? By how much has engagement been increased (or decreased) when video content is disseminated to the user? We don’t have any studies other that her own success story on YouTube. I wish her the best, but in future talks I will recommend her to investigate more on the subject and give a SWOT analysis, in addition to the initial bumps any video content creator is likely to face. Her spirit was essential though, as this session was post lunch.
Stephen Tredea came all the way from South Africa to speak on ‘Themeless Themes’. The approach was novel, as his focus was on minimalistic themes that has the lowest overhead in terms of extraneous functionality and more on ease of use and functionality. Instead, he spoke on the pros and cons of using page builders and focusing on the benefits on the newly rolled out Gutenberg blocks.
Tejaswini Deshpande is a digital marketing expert and ex developer from Nashik (and a veteran of WC Ahmedabad) and elaborated on how to use, reuse blocks using the Gutenberg Blocks. She runs a successful business tutoring students on improving their digital footprint. You can find her here.
The last one to speak was Rahul D Sarkar on ‘How to generate the right kind of leads that converts for your service based businesses’. He talked about fattening the funnel (the sales funnel, you perverts!) and how to get about doing that. With good experience for over 7 years, he must be knowing his stuff. This is something I don’t know much about, so I won’t be able to critically analyse what he said. But considering the fact that he was the last to speak and with an additional time crunch – he did great. I will be seeing him in the Kolkata Wordcamp event on March 22 next year.
What I found the most interesting
The most interesting part of the entire event was undoubtedly the part where automation was to be used to improve our performance. This is essential so that we can concentrate more on creating quality content than care about the admin related tasks that typically go with running and maintaining any website.
Uptime monitoring is also something that I can quickly and easily do – without using a third party plugin. It may be a good way for me to learn Node in a meaningful way.
Rahul’s IFTTT usage to further automate some mundane tasks can also be cool to learn.
I will also need to learn to use and create AMP pages without the need to use any external plugins. I feel it is not all that difficult and the additional overhead of another plugin is something I can easily do without.
Nirav’s points on Ikigai was also inspiring. Difficult to put into practice, but his style of delivery was cool.
Stores and promotional stalls
There were plenty of stalls with goodies starting from T shirts to stickers and gifts for participating in quiz contests and the like. In your venues (depending on the sponsors) you may even have hackathons.
You also get a chance to speak to influencers or service providers to gain experience or simply to improve your network.
If you wish to be a sponsor and give a stall, the price will vary. For a day’s event the usual sponsorship cost hovers around Rs. 6000. In my opinion, this is nothing when compared to the exposure that you are going to get. App installs (for gifts) alone would be well justified so you get a boost in a day.
If you were not able to get a stall of your own for some reason, wear a T Shirt with your own branding and hand out leaflets or cards to people who may be interested in what you wish to offer. Check with the organizers if they are okay with this arrangement beforehand.
Food and beverages
Food is healthy, but without many options. You will most likely find local cuisine on offer. So, don’t expect a Punjabi thali Chennai, or a Gujarati thali in Kolkata. Overall the taste is likely to be similar if you are in India, but the vendors are locally sourced. For foreigners not used to Indian food, you may face some issues digesting this. There will be salad, ice cream, sweets and non-alcoholic beverages. You may even try a bit of what we have to offer – good and safe way to check it out.
There was little arrangement for Jains or other groups with special needs (halal/kosher etc). So those going for non veg options may be disappointed. There was none in Ahmedabad.
After party celebrations of WCAhmedabad
This was good too. Close to the main event, we had the after party at Vastrapur amphitheatre adjacent to the Vastrapur lake where a band played music and there was good food. Toilets were present here. But if you are going outside and have health concerns, make sure you make prior arrangements. If this is in a hotel or similar establishment, you need not worry at all. An open air theatre was actually a welcome change. The weather was good, music was in the air (literally), some kids were dancing and even a dog entered our premises – played a bit and then retired.
Importance of networking in meetups
The main advantage of events like these is that you get to know people who are SMEs in their domains. You can increase your networks. You get to know what cool stuff people are doing and how. You also get to explain anything funky that you may be into. There are occasions where you get collaborators. People exchange business cards or numbers so that they can stay in touch and do something together and so on.
Meetups help. I got to know about this event (or WordCamp in general) from a Mumbai Meetup event. The Meetup app is great. There are others like eventsbrite or allevents. Even if you are an introvert or totally socially awkward, you can at least hit people up on their social media accounts and let them know how great their presentation was and where and how you could help them make it better.
In a globalised world, with ever increasing connectivity and reducing connectedness, these conferences are few occasions when actual people interact with each other without using digital interfaces. That should leave you with some food for thought. Good luck!