A Dispatch from My First WordCamp

For the longest time I’ve wanted to attend WordCamp US.

And for several years in a row, I had total FOMO from seeing photos and reading about the sessions. Of course, Covid interrupted everyone’s hopes for a few more years. My plan this year was to get to WordCamp US (WCUS) no matter what, so I was elated to see the chosen location was National Harbor, Maryland. With just a six-hour drive, I had very few excuses.

Not only was this my first WCUS, but it was also my first WordCamp event! It was everything I hoped for, but just telling you that doesn’t make for a very interesting post. So, I’ll give you a few more details about the extended weekend. I met people who I only knew virtually, I sat in on awesome sessions, and I met interesting new people who I can’t wait to see again in the future.

First, I grouped up with four other engineers and we split an Airbnb in the Old Town district of Alexandria, VA. Staying in Old Town was a great recommendation from my colleague and WebDevStudios Employee Experience Coordinator Julie Sarnik.

For our group of five, it was all WordPress all the time. When we weren’t at the conference talking WordPress, we were at the house talking WordPress. When we weren’t at the house talking WordPress, we were at a party talking WordPress.

Every day, we’d catch a Lyft across the Potomac River and arrive at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, the home of WordCamp US 2023. If you haven’t seen the Gaylord before, it’s an incredible experience. Hundreds of hotel rooms overlook a gorgeous (and gigantic) glass atrium. I spent a considerable amount of time just daydreaming in the sunlight next to an indoor waterfall as I took it all in. There was a buzz in the air as people got together and hatched business plans and, of course, talked WordPress.


Contributor Day

Running on just a few hours of sleep, my crew and I arrived bright and early for Contributor Day. Almost immediately, I saw two former coworkers whom I had worked with for several years. Until then, I only knew them virtually.

By the end of the day, I was feeling incredible from having met at least ten other people in person for the first time. There were none of the classic awkward Zoom moments, such as, “No, no, you go first,” or, “You’re on mute.”

It was just human-to-human interaction, and after all these years, it was incredible! I spotted new facets of everyone’s personality that I had never seen on the internet. That experience alone was worth the price of admission, which was an unbelievable $50. Participating in a world-class community like this and downloading knowledge directly from so many industry leaders is a dream come true. The accessible cost is an aspect of WordCamp that I hope remains for years to come.

Friday Morning Sessions

Everyone was excited to see the first talk by Abby Bowman and J.J. Toothman called For All Userkind: NASA Web Modernization and WordPress. In it, they discussed the process for redesigning NASA’s official website and the process they went through to land (gently) on WordPress as their CMS of choice.

The aim was to create a cohesive website across the organization, and their success at that shows the power and flexibility of the platform we all love so much. There were so many great sessions, but a favorite of mine was Modern WordPress Development with Gary McPherson. I loved having an opportunity to delve into another expert’s development process and the detailed explanation that came along with that. All said and done, I came away from WordCamp more knowledgeable and inspired than when I arrived.

WCUS Party

Finally, the social interactions at WordCamp are worth mentioning. Sitting down for lunch every day offered an opportunity to meet new people and discuss the inside baseball of WordPress. I also attended a few parties, including the Pride Party and the WCUS Social event, which left me energized and upbeat. Seeing so many people who can come together around the same topic gives me hope that we’re all moving in the right direction together.

If you have the chance to attend any of the WordCamp events, whether local or beyond, I’d say do it. I’m sure you’ll have an experience that is as positive as mine.

If you’re a WordCamp first-timer like I was, keep some things in mind:

  • Remember to save space in your suitcase for swag, especially if you’re flying. Vendor swag is abundant, and it’s really good stuff, too.
  • Give yourself some time to decompress. Remember that you can participate in sessions when you want to and step away when you need to.
  • If you’re excited about a session, get there early in order to grab a good seat. It can really improve the experience when you’re closer to the presenter.
  • Don’t be shy. I feel like most people (especially while exploring the vendor area) are open to an introduction and some discussion. On the other hand, know when it’s time to let someone go about their day.
  • Many of the talks are recorded and published online, so you can always go back and review the details later. Bring your laptop if you plan to use it for a workshop, but perhaps consider leaving it behind if you don’t want to be weighed down.
  • Remember to have fun!


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