Years ago, I didn’t understand what designing websites for accessibility really meant. I thought that accessibility guidelines would only benefit a few users, that they would introduce unsatisfying design limitations, and that following them would take more time and money.
Alley software developer James Burke spent much of this year’s WordCamp US as a volunteer for the conference. Here he shares his experiences at the event and his motivation for donating his time to help the WordPress community.
What is WordCamp US?
The WordPress community is great about organizing in-person events where you can meet other WordPress contributors and collaborate. At a basic level there are local meetups and at a higher level you have WordCamps, which are regional conferences held in cities like Mumbai and Miami and Bangkok. WordCamp US is a level above regional WordCamps, akin to WordCamp EU in Europe. It’s a three-day event in total, two days for the conference and a third “Contributor Day” where members of the WordPress community can connect in person and work together.
WordCamp US is a fantastic gathering of other WordPress developers and you really get a global attendance. I met people from Pakistan, for instance, and quite a few people from South American countries. It’s also where you get to hear the “State of the Word,” an annual speech by Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress. That speech is where he lays out his vision for the future of WordPress and it usually introduces key initiatives for the next year.
2016 was the second annual WordCamp US, and it was the second year in Philadelphia as well. WordCamp made the fantastic decision, in my opinion, to do two years in a row in the same city. Philly, where I live, was lucky enough to be the first choice. For the next two years it will be in Nashville, Tennessee.
What was volunteering for WordCamp US like?
When WordCamp US did their call for speakers and sponsors, they also sent out a call for volunteers. They set up a Google form asking for basic information like where you’re from, your expertise, what you’re interested in doing, and how can you help out. In addition to general support like, say, lifting boxes or helping direct attendees to sessions, volunteers also fill a number of specific roles. We got our assignments about a week or so before the event.
I volunteered for WordCamp US both Friday and Saturday. It was my second year volunteering. This year I worked the registration table on Friday morning where I was one of about 16 people during the initial rush of checking in attendees and distributing badges. I also did two sessions at the Happiness Lounge, which is WordCamp’s version of the Apple Genius Bar. As a lounge volunteer you’re basically on-call to offer advice and expertise and to listen to people’s concerns and point them in the right direction. People will come to you with a question about their site or an element of WordPress that they want to improve and we help them find a solution together. Being able to talk to people and help them find a solution is always the most fun for me. One thing I noticed was that there wasn’t quite as much of a demand for the lounge this year compared to last year. It just seemed like everyone was already pretty happy!
Why do you volunteer at WordCamp?
I find volunteering a great opportunity to give back and contribute to the WordPress community. WordCamp sponsors and volunteers bring the actual, out-of-pocket ticket cost down to about $40 per person, way down from the full cost, which is somewhere around $500. I think that’s important. If my contribution of a few hours helps bring that price down, even if just a fraction, that’s worthwhile. With enough other volunteers it adds up very quickly. Keeping the price down makes the conference a whole lot more inclusive.
Volunteering is also just a really great opportunity to meet people. As a volunteer, you get to attend for free, and you know about all the conference parties or special events. WordCamp US brings together a lot of people who are very ingrained in the WordPress community. So volunteering is a great chance to network and get to know people and create serendipity, both with other volunteers and attendees.
And I’m the perfect example of that serendipity. I was working the Happiness Lounge last year when I met [Alley Director of WordPress Platform Services] Tom Harrigan. We started talking and next thing I knew I was applying at Alley. I was happy in my freelance work and I wasn’t actively looking for a job — I didn’t even have a resume prepared at the time. But I met Tom and we started a conversation that led to a great opportunity. So volunteering at WordCamp US worked out well for me, at least!