Learn from my mistakes, don’t make them! My talk at WordCamp Europe, and some thoughts

Miriam Schwab speaking at WordCamp Europe 2013
Miriam Schwab speaking at WordCamp Europe 2013

WordCamp Europe has come and gone, and it was amazing. I have been to five WordCamps, but all were in Israel, so it was great to expand my WordPress horizons to Europe, and the world.

WordCamp Europe was impeccably organized by a group of energetic and passionate volunteers. Everything went smoothly: the sound systems worked, the talks started and ended on time, people got fed…the only thing that didn’t work well was the wifi, but who ever expects the wifi to work at a conference?

You can learn more about the background behind the conference in my interview with Ze Fontainhas, one of the organizers, on WPGarage.

I gave a talk on my experience founding and building a WordPress-focused agency, touching on points like recurring revenue, hiring and firing (ugh), depending on data, and more. Here’s my presentation:

Update Dec. 2013: The video of my talk is finally online! Here ya go – apologies for the extreme wide-screen format:

I spent a lot of time in the halls shmoozing with people, something Konstantin Oberland rightly called “Hallway WordCamp.” As a result, I didn’t attend as many lectures as I would have liked, so here are some of my takeaways from hallways and the lectures I did attend:

The WordPress community is so very friendly

Everyone I met at the conference was super-friendly. I didn’t encounter any big egos, and I think that the WordPress atmosphere gets credit for that. In a world where everything is Open Source, and people gain influence through merit (meritocracy), i.e. how much they have contributed to the greater good of the project, there’s not much room for ego and hierarchy. One of the reasons I’ve always loved WordPress is the community, but I had only really experienced it online. Experiencing it in real life just emphasizes how supportive the community really is.

The structure of the lectures was really smart

The lectures were divided into two days, and each day had two themed tracks. The themes were really smart and clear: earn, build, make, learn. This structure was clearly laid out in the smart lanyards – these were folded in half lengthwise, with one side listing the schedule, and the other showing the addresses of related venues (for the conference, party, contributor day) and our name. With the name tag playing the role of the printed schedule as well, they were easy to access at any time and meant they only had to print one item per person. I liked that, and want to see about implementing that format for the next WordCamp Jerusalem.

Automatic upgrades are coming to WordPress in 3.7

Andrew Nacin, one of the lead developers behind WordPress, gave a talk on what’s in store for WordPress in version 3.7. I got there late, but I was in time to hear the most awesome amazing news ever: minor WordPress updates (the 3.x.1 types of updates that are generally for security and bug fixes) will now take place in the background automatically for all sites. But even more exciting is that by adding four lines of code to functions.php of any site, the site will automatically upgrade EVERYTHING automatically: core, plugins and themes. I literally gasped in awe when I heard that one, and then tweeted it, of course.

One of WordPress’ biggest perceived weaknesses is security, but in the vast majority of cases where sites are hacked, it’s due to the site running on an outdated, vulnerable installation (or due to the use of stupid passwords). If WP sites will now auto-update, this will reduce the risk of compromise for everyone.

What’s 20% when we could have 80%?

WordPress powers 20% of the web. No other single platform comes close to that kind of market share. But Matt Mullenweg sees that as just the beginning. “There’s 80% more to go,” he basically said in his Q&A. He’s right, of course, but how many of us would have the guts to aim so high? Inspiring.

Women of WordPress

The percentage of female speakers was extraordinarily high for a tech conference. At the same time, the overall number of female participants in the conference was very low (this based on the scientific method of scanning the room at any given time and seeing lots of men). I wonder how that worked out, but hopefully having women on stage will encourage other women to come out and attend conferences like this in the future.


There was a pirate. His name is Ptah. Avast ye unit testing!

iPhones rule

Someone pointed out to me that I was the only one with an Android phone. I started to pay attention, and that really was the case. There were a handful of other Android users. Why? Wouldn’t developers prefer the more open-nature of the Android platform to the limited and closed iOS?

Europeans are from at least two places

Almost every one I met was from two places, i.e. they were from A, and now lived in B. Here are some of the combos I encountered:

  • Serbia to Sweden
  • Mexico to The Netherlands
  • New Zealand to Norway
  • France to Spain
  • Columbia to France
  • Germany to the US
  • US to The Netherlands

It’s cool.

The importance of web accessibility

When we create websites, we look at what we can see, and test that for bugs and usability. But very few of us have any idea what it’s like to surf the web with limitations. A fascinating session took place with Bram Duvigneau, who is blind from birth. He demonstrated what it’s like to use the web with a screen reader, and spent a good few minutes showing how the WordPress media manager has accessibility issues.

Democratizing the web isn’t only about making sure anyone who can see or isn’t limited in mobility can freely publish opinions and content; it has to include the disabled and limited.

A good blog post costs $850

Vitaly Friedman spoke about his journey as the co-founder of Smashing Magazine, and described how they grew, and decisions they made regarding their commitment to quality along the way. What was really interesting was to see an actual number put down for the cost of one great blog post: $850. It totally makes sense, since researching, writing editing and publishing a good post can take many hours, but this number brings home the fact that quality content is not easy or cheap to create.

All in all, it was an amazing experience, and I’m really looking forward to WordCamp Europe 2014!

I collected a bunch of links and media from WordCamp Europe – if you have anything you want me to add, let me know in the comments below.