WCEU 2022 – WordCamp Europe, Porto

“I’m done with this; I don’t want to do this again. I’d rather just be a recluse!”

The Super Bock Arena, venue for WCEU 2022
The Super Bock Arena

It’s probably not too surprising that these were the first thoughts I had when initially I arrived at WCEU 2022 and wandered around Porto’s Super Bock Arena.

Since March 13, 2020, when we made it home from a vacation in Antigua just as Canada battened down the hatches, we have welcomed only three guests inside our home. Living on a lake in rural Ontario, Covid seclusion has been remarkably easy and comfortable. Our social life has mostly consisted of chatting to neighbours from across the road or the end of the dock. To go straight from this to an event attended by over two and a half thousand participants was bound to be a shock to the system and more than a little scary.

I find it very liberating to give myself permission to have no real agenda; not to tour the stands and chat and pick up swag; only to attend talks that really interest me; not to talk to anyone if I don’t feel like it!

‘. . . the community is where the heart is’

It is also unsurprising that what gently reeled my back in was what I have always valued and admired about WordPress; its strong sense of community, of connection and affirmation. Milan Ivanovic summed it up perfectly in his opening WCEU 2022 Track 1 presentation, Why we community?

“The code is poetry, but, the community is where the heart is.”

I found particularly moving and powerful his reflection on the way in which the WordPress commitment to inclusivity and diversity broke down the barriers he personally had put up against ‘otherness’ growing up in a small Serbian village.

The code is poetry, but, the community is where the heart is.

A WordPress user and blogger, I have some technical knowledge. But who I am is rooted in facilitating change, connecting people – to each other and to information – and the creation of community. WordPress has not been my career focus. But I have volunteered at and attended WordCamps in the past. I also co-founded a local WordPress Meetup.

I don’t know what it is about ‘community’ people. There seems to be an extraordinary, instinctive, gravitational pull that draws us together. There was a heartwarming hug from Josepha, a longstanding community team friend; a lively dialogue with Community Engagement Specialist, Cate, at the WordPress Community Booth; and, out of the blue, a lunchtime conversation with Julia, a Community Steward, that ran so deep it could have gone on all day. I found re-connection, new heart-kin, and so many kindred spirits of all kinds throughout the passing exchanges of the two days. This was a timely reminder of the riches such interactions can bring.

The other sessions I attended, on partnerships and acquisitions, also reinforced the values I associate with the building of strong communities; resilience, curiosity, openness, mutuality, providing a positive and consistent client experience; and appreciation of employee and volunteer effort.

Support, affirmation, inclusivity, and connection

Some of the XWP Team
Some of the XWP Team

My husband and business partner, Paul Bearne, spends about half his time working for distributed agency XWP. They currently sponsor him to work on WordPress Core. I found it heartwarming that the sense of support, affirmation, inclusivity, and connection seemed so much greater with the XWP team (for both of us) than almost any work environment I can remember. Paul suggests this is because people need to have a special kind of energy to be self-motivated enough to work in a distributed setting. They may also have to make a much more conscious effort to build connection. And, of course, this is backed up by the WP ethos of community. Whatever the reason, it made for a positive and life-affirming re-emergence into the post-Covid world.

‘Finding your WordPress lifestyle – insider insights from a veteran coder’

Honestly, the prospect of attending Paul’s talk was much too nerve-wracking for me! I sweated with him over creating the slides and we will review the video recording together on WordPressTV if he is planning to deliver it again.

For someone who is much more accustomed to giving tech talks, this kind of ‘lifestyle’ topic was quite a challenge. Paul’s XWP colleagues were most generous in contributing their time to helping shape and refine his content and delivery. I’m glad to say there was a lot of positive feedback – people seem to have found it genuinely useful and interesting. As well as recording a podcast interview for WP Tavern, he was interviewed by HubSpot. His insights are now featured on their Blog, which reaches over 1.3 million readers a month. A good day’s work.

Everybody needs a Gina! (slide)

The talk brought me some degree of personal notoriety. Standing in line to pick up a coffee when I arrived that day, the person to whom I was chatting glanced at my badge and said, ‘oh, you’re Gina!’ A gracious acknowledgement of my back-up role, the slide ‘Everybody needs a Gina!’ emphasized the importance to remote workers and freelancers of effective support.

From recluse to WCEU 2022 party animal

Part of the appeal of WordCamps is the opportunity to interact in person with colleagues from all around the world. In many cases, these are people you may have known for years yet never met. It was a delight to see Paul recognized by so many, often greeted with a hug (a bit scary as an emergent recluse) and with obvious affection.

Paul embraced the party spirit to the full. For him there was an XWP Team Day with a scavenger hunt around Porto and Douro boat trip, a Codeable dinner at the Baroque Palacio di Freixo on the banks of the Douro, the WCEU 2022 Speakers’ Dinner at the cruise ship terminal, as well as the traditional WordCamp After Party held at the Super Bock Arena. I attended about half of these. This suited me fine as I still found that many unmasked people (for eating and drinking) in indoor spaces a little daunting.

Yes, remaining a recluse certainly has its attractions. But WCEU 2022 was a welcome reminder of the joy and energy that can be generated when like-minded individuals are able to spend time together. Perhaps Covid may have given us an opportunity to understand that, in the best of times, both have value. It doesn’t have to be either/or.

If the WordPress culture of community has caught your attention, you may be interested in this 2019 blog post, The WordPress Community – Passion and Participation