WordCamp Europe 2023

I’m writing this from a hotel room near the airport in Athens, Greece as I get ready to start the trip home. (I’m finishing this post a full two weeks after WordCamp Europe. 🙂

Over the past 12 days, I attended my first WordCamp Europe, my first conference (anywhere) post-COVID, taken the stage as an international speaker, visited two amazing countries, and thanked myself for packing pants with elastic waistbands.

Let’s take it from the top.

How it started

In January of this year, the organizers of WordCamp Europe (WCEU) put out a call for speakers. I’ve spoken at a number of US-based WordCamps in the past decade (and even had the honor of keynoting a few), but have never attended a camp outside the US. I decided to throw my hat into the ring and was delighted to be accepted to host a 50-minute workshop on the topic of internationalization and localization.

The topic aligned with my recently updated LinkedIn Learning course on WordPress Internationalization (shameless plug).

The idea of taking the stage at the flagship conference in Europe for software that runs over 40% of the web was an opportunity I couldn’t miss! I booked my ticket and started planning my session.

Athens, Greece

I spent a full week in Athens, most of it conferencing and networking, but there was a little play thrown in, too. But first, business.

Enterprise Gap meetup

While the official conference was slated June 8-10, 2023, I arrived on the 6th. This put me there in time to attend the Enterprise Gap meetup on the 7th, hosted by five top agencies servicing enterprise clients: Crowd Favorite, The Code Co, Inpsyde, Human Made, and XWP.

Having served hundreds of SMBs in my career, seeing how WordPress can scale to meet the needs of large companies and complex organizations is fascinating. Simply put, the needs of enterprise customers look very different from the majority of what the WordPress ecosystem offers. This event was meant to start conversations that “close the gap,” inviting enterprise agencies to work together to move WordPress forward as a project and brand that attracts enterprise buyers.

The meetup saw the official introduction the Enterprise WordPress Agency Alliance (EWPAA). There were several presentations and lightening talks and I had the honor of hosting a panel discussion on how these five agencies are collaborating in real time.

If you have an enterprise agency and are interested in learning more about participating in this initiative, hit up any of those five I mentioned.

Speaker/organizer/volunteer appreciation dinner

WordCamps typically host a dinner the evening before the main event, providing an opportunity to meet-n-greet, network, and show appreciation for those who make the event possible.

The dinner was out of the city about ~45 minutes or so. Thanks to some impromptu help from two conference volunteers I found, we navigated the Athens’ metro system to get to the venue, Bolivar Beach Bar. This was my first chance to hug some necks I hadn’t seen in years, meet some online friends IRL for the first time, and make some new connections.

As you might intuit from the name of the venue, it was on the beach. I couldn’t kick off my flip flops and get my feet in the water fast enough. I didn’t make it to any of the Greek islands on this trip, but if I return, that will 100% be on my agenda.

WordCamp time!

WordCamps are regionally-organized conferences for WordPress. They draw everyone from end-users to product and service providers. WordCamps happen all over the world and there are three flagship camps presently: WordCamp US, WordCamp Europe, and WordCamp Asia. While regional conferences are generally smaller and draw more of a local audience, the flagship conferences draw attendees from all over the globe and are much larger in scale.

I’ve been to WordCamp US multiple times (and was a co-lead programming organizer in 2019) and the event generally draws ~2000 attendees (though WordCamp US debuted post-COVID in 2022 with a drastically lower attendee count). Even at that size, it’s a tremendous labor of volunteer love to pull off this sort of event.

WordCamp Europe registered ~2500 attendees this year. The magnitude was jaw-dropping. The venue, the presentation, the professionalism, the sponsor booths that looked more like a trade show than a WordCamp…it was just massive — my hats off to the volunteers/organizers that made it happen.

Friday

My workshop was in the first session time slot of the day on Friday, June 9th. It can be nice to be a first-up speaker — getting a talk out of the way generally means a nice drop in stress levels and an opportunity to enjoy the remainder of the conference feeling a little lighter. There are downsides to being a first-up speaker as well, namely that many attendees may not have even darkened the door of the venue by that time. In this event, the workshop registration process also unwittingly kept attendees from getting in.

Afterwards, I still had some responsibilities beyond this session though, so I didn’t let my hair down quite yet.

After my session, I took some time with Nathan Wrigley to do an interview for WP Tavern, a WordPress news outlet I read on the regular. Nathan is another person I’ve known for years through the WordPress community but never met in person.

Later, I enjoyed visiting the various sponsor booths, collecting swag (you can always count on Gravity Forms and Pagely for top-notch tees!), re-connecting with familiar faces, and meeting new ones. I’m an introvert who’s very skilled at being an extrovert. I genuinely LOVED all the conversational catch-ups, introductions, learning about new products, etc., but I slipped away to quiet spaces regularly to keep some charge in my batteries (both mine and my devices — ha!).

After conferencing on Friday, I attended a couple of parties. At these flagship events, it’s normal for multiple sponsor-hosted parties to be happening simultaneously.

The first was the WP Engine party on a rooftop with a straight view to Parthenon. If you’ve been around my blog or know me, then you might know that I worked with WP Engine as a contractor for 4+ years. I always enjoy visiting their sponsor booths at WordCamps and saying hello to folks I’ve worked with and gotten to know over the years. This time, I got to meet two fantastic WPE folks, Rob Stinson and Imran Pervez, who I’ve worked with many times but never met in person. Here’s picture proof that it happened! ??

The second party of the evening was a Pride Party hosted by Bluehost, Yoast, Codeable, and YITH. Holy smokes was that a party! It was too loud to have conversations, which was a little unfortunate because I met a few people I’d really have enjoyed talking to (instead of shouting toward), but that was made up for by the fact that it was just a fantastically good time.

As someone who recently came out as part of the LGBTQ+ community, I loved the opportunity to celebrate and be celebrated in an environment that essentially screamed YOU ARE WELCOME HERE.

Saturday

By Saturday, my jet lag was replaced by exhaustion from all of the activities, being “on”, and trying to be present for a variety of conversations that are so outside the scope of my daily norm. On any given day back home, I may only speak to a few people. After all, I’m self-employed, work from home, and am frequently content to be a homebody. This was a lot of stimulation.

Also factor in that in many conversations, I was chatting with either non-native English speakers or English speakers from outside the US.

A couple of fun/related facts from my presentation on internationalization and localization that are relevant here:

According to Hostinger, 94 countries were represented at WCEU. I’m not sure where they sourced that number, but I can attest that this conference drew attendees from all over the world and that WordPress is truly global software.

I’m highlighting this to point out the additional processing energy involved when conversing across a variety of accents. It was simultaneously awesome and energy-depleting.

But this is WordCamp! I grabbed another shot of espresso and kept moving.

Just before lunch on Saturday, I had the honor of sitting on a panel representing a tech perspective of delivering WordPress-based solutions to enterprise clients. It was all I could do to keep my imposter syndrome at bay sharing the stage with these smart agency owners and reps. Even though I was nervous, it was still fun and I am thankful for that opportunity.

Being a tourist in Athens

I love the perspective that travel brings. It gets me out of my ruts, exposes me to new things, and literally expands my world. During a visit to the National Archeological Museum and reading plaques describing ancient civilizations, it really hit me that there were more millennia BC than time has passed AD. MANY THOUSANDS OF YEARS.

Man, America is truly in its infancy by comparison. And life is quick blip on the radar.

It was amazing to see the Acropolis, gaze on ancient artifacts, and consider all of the life that had passed in those places before me. One of my favorite things to do when I visit new places (besides eating, which I’ll get to next) is to just walk around and get a feel for a place. I got to do plenty of padding around in Athens, taking in the sights, smelling the smells, and trying NOT to get run over crossing the street. ?

There was tons of good food, including lamb kebab, mousakka (a nap-inducing delight), and tangy, lemon-doused dolmades, but the Greek Salad was top of my list. I’ve always loved a good Greek salad, but it should come as zero surprise that the Greeks do it best. The three ingredients missing in the American version are green bell pepper, a generous sprinkling of dried oregano, and carob rusks (a sturdier replacement for croutons). Notable were the big pieces of soft feta (none of the crumbly business that passes in the US), the tastiest pit-in Kalmata olives, and the generously-sized tomato wedges. Add a bunch of thinly-sliced red onion, cucumber, and olive oil that pooled green with a little vinegar or lemon juice and, well, chef’s kiss ??! I ate one every day I was there.

Bucharest, Romania

I hadn’t been to Europe since 2018 (hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain) and I’d NEVER been to Eastern Europe. Having already spent the time and money to cross the Atlantic, I wanted to take advantage of seeing more of Europe. That came in the form of an opportunity to visit Bucharest.

Crowd Favorite, Bucharest offices

Crowd Favorite (the agency I mentioned a little earlier that helped launch the Enterprise WordPress Agency Alliance) has had offices in Bucharest for over a decade and houses a team of local engineers.

Fun fact for those of you who don’t have my resume memorized: I used to lead a team of engineers at Crowd Favorite and while they weren’t the engineers in Bucharest, I worked alongside a couple of them during my tenure. It was cool to meet them in person and meet some new faces, too.

The previous week in Athens left little time for getting deep work done and I took the opportunity (and the hospitality) of the CF offices to do some catch up.

Being a tourist in Bucharest

Many thanks to Crowd Favorite’s Bogdan Fireteanu for being a wonderful tour guide and facilitating some great meals and cool sights.

I stayed in Bucharest’s Old Town, the historic city center full of cafes, bars, shops, and cobbled alleys. Bucharest is a city in the process of rehabilitation after decades of communist rule that ended in 1989. While Old Town featured beautiful neoclassical and neo-baroque style architecture and you could see this throughout the city, it was mixed in with drab communist-era blocks in varying states of disrepair.

This being my first visit, I didn’t have a frame of reference, but my friend Karim Marucchi (CEO of Crowd Favorite) commented how his every visit to the city finds it increasingly rehabilitated — and gorgeously so.

While in Bucharest, I enjoyed the food (particularly ciorba de fasole, mici with mustard, and zacusca), toured Europe’s largest salt mine, enjoyed a cocktail in The Vault (the actual vault of the former central Romanian bank), and walked all over Old Town.

It was a beautiful city and I appreciated having a local host. My visit was too short, but I’m hopeful I’ll visit again.

Until next time

All in all, this was a wonderful (if not exhausting) WordCamp Europe that gave me an “excuse” to see some incredible parts of the world I’d never seen.

Torino, Italy is host to 2024 WordCamp Europe and I’m planning to be there!

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