WordPress And Automattic Events

WordPress / Automattic Events Awareness

I hope to soon be working as an Automattic Events Wrangler (AEW), and the previous three posts on this blog have talked a lot about Automattic events. But I haven’t given any details about these events.

Since I’ve applied for the position of AEW, it seemed appropriate and necessary for me to become reasonably knowledgeable about Automattic events. I’ve been to lots of WordPress local meetups but have never participated in WordCamps or other types of Automattic events.

To become more familiar with the types of events an AEW wrangles, I did a lot of reading on WordPress.com, WordCamp.org, WordPress.org and Meetup.com, along with a few searches on Google. Based on what I already knew and what I read yesterday and today, I’m separating Automattic events into three categories; WordCamps, WordPress regular meetups, and other Automattic events.

WordCamps

WordCamp USAccording to Wikipedia, “WordCamps are casual, locally organized conferences covering everything related to WordPress” for WordPress developers and users. This type of event was described thusly by WordCamp Chicago blog post: “WordCamp is a popular event that brings in local and national speakers every year to present cutting-edge talks on design, development, content production, and other WordPress topics, for an extremely reasonable price.”

The very first WordCamp was a one-day event held in 2006 and had over 500 attendees. WordCamps are held all over the world now, and many large cities have them annually. Some cities or regions hold a one-day event, but it appears most of them have two-day WordCamps. WordCamp US is the crown jewel of this category of Automattic events, held in San Francisco, and it will be a three-day event in 2016. For more info on WordCamps, go to the Events page on WordCamp.org, the website of a specific WordCamp, or the Events page on this blog (click on Events tab at top of page), which lists a few WordCamps I am especially interested in working on.

WordPress Monthly Meetups

Many cities or regions also have regular informal meetups for WordPress users. A fair number of these users work as website developers either for a company that does web development or doing the company website of the firm that employs them. These meetups are most often monthly, but the schedules are dependent on the interest level and availability of the groups’ members.

The format of the regular meetups vary from city to city, but each meeting often features a presentation about a significant feature or aspect of WordPress, with the talk given by a meetup group member or a guest speaker. In addition to the presentation, there is typically a time for asking the group’s input regarding a challenge someone is facing with WordPress or with their web development business. Many people also make time before or after the meetup to have side meetings to talk with good friends in the group or to get to know new people in the group.

I helped build the Appleton, Wisconsin, WordPress monthly meetup when it was started in 2012. Although the Appleton population is quite small compared to Milwaukee, Chicago and many of the other cities with WordPress meetups, we often had 20+ people at the events, with some of them coming from 50 miles away or further.

For more info on WordPress monthly events, search for WordPress on Meetup.com (most monthly local WordPress groups use that website / meeting service). You can also use Google to search for “WordPress meetup” in your city or state. I’ve listed a few Wisconsin and Midwest regular meetups on the Events page on this blog.

wisconsin and UPI didn’t do an exhaustive search, but it appears Wisconsin may currently only have three regular WordPress meetup groups; Milwaukee, Appleton and Central Wisconsin. It appears Madison had a group, but Meetup.com indicates their last meeting was in 2013. When I get the AEW job, if it’s an appropriate work activity for me, I’ll participate in as many of the three Wisconsin groups’ meetups as my other work priorities allow. And maybe I can even publicize and promote more participation in regular Wisconsin (and Upper Peninsula!) WordPress meetups. If there aren’t enough interested WordPress users and developers in this region to support more monthly meetup locations, maybe I can work with people in different parts of the region to start a few quarterly meetups, or maybe a rotating schedule where meetups happen in various cities on a planned basis. Potential cities for this include Green Bay, Madison, Wausau, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, Marinette, Escanaba, Marquette, and Houghton.

Other Automattic Events

wp vipA few examples of other Automattic-sponsored events are the WordPress VIP Workshop, Codex Hackathon at MIT, CMS Africa Summit, and Experiment: WordCamp Incubator.

After I start working as an AEW, I’ll know a lot more about what other Automattic events are put on. And when I better understand the specific goals of the various Automattic events, I’ll be able to suggest a few new types of event to consider for achieving those goals.

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Events Wrangler Onsite Work

Four Categories of Event Wrangler Work

An events wrangler job can be divided into four distinct categories of work.

  1. Offsite Prep
  2. Onsite Work
  3. Offsite Follow-up
  4. Event Creation And Development

The first three categories above relate to identified events which are definitely going to happen; the fourth category pertains to new or proposed events that may or may not happen.

empty conference hallThis Events Wrangler post takes a look at a few aspects of onsite work.

Automattic is likely to have an Events Wrangler manual, or at least Events Wrangler checklists. If there is no official company events manual, team members who have managed past events will undoubtedly have their own personal “events handbook” and checklists based on multiple events they’ve planned and executed and what they’ve learned over the years.

Outstanding Events And Overlooked Opportunities

It would be Sisyphean task to list in a single blog post every aspect of onsite work for an event. What I’m highlighting in this post are six onsite work topics which can help make an event extra special or which may not always receive an appropriate amount of attention. The six topics are:

  1. Incoming shipments and last minute supplies or equipment
  2. Internet access and event attendee computing device assistance
  3. Pre-event social meetup
  4. Resolving AND documenting challenges and issues during the event
  5. End of event
  6. Event follow-up

Incoming shipments and last minute supplies or equipment — If Murphy didn’t have his own Law, and if everything always worked the way it should, there would be no need for onsite work to be concerned about incoming shipments or obtaining last minute items. Every item needed for a successful event would be thought of and arranged for ahead of time and would show up when and where it should. Because there is a possibility one or two items you need for your event won’t show up when you need it, it makes sense to prepare for that possibility by being on top of all the incoming shipment details. Have a list of all event supplies and equipment that you or others have arranged for. Shipment information needs to include all the details of what is being shipped as well as critical items like shipper tracking number, shipper contact information, arrival date / time, destination address and much more. You should have all that information before you travel to the city where the event is being held.

Depending on how long you’ll be onsite before the event starts, you might also need info shipping truckto coordinate last-minute shipments for items that were forgotten or aren’t expected to arrive in time. Know what you’ll have to do to get overnight air or quick-delivery courier shipments.

It also behooves an event wrangler to be able to get last-minute supplies or equipment locally when onsite. Google will help you identify potential local resources and vendors before you travel to the city and after you arrive, and coworkers who’ve done events there before may have suggestions for local suppliers of emergency items. Your contacts at the event venue will most likely have their favorite local resources for emergency situations.

Internet access and event attendee computing device assistance — Although it doesn’t cause problems as often as it did ten years ago, internet access is a potential issue for every tech event. It pays to make sure the event internet access is robust and user friendly. Know the internet access specs and capabilities you need for a successful event, and know how to check out the access before the event starts so you can prevent common problems. Have the supplier monitoring the status of the internet access throughout the event and have awifi plan in place for dealing with outages, overloads, bandwidth shaping, security and other key topics. Make sure the speakers have bulletproof systems if they need internet access for their talk.

Not all events provide assistance or advice for computing devices people bring to events. During the offsite prep work, decide what computing device assistance you will provide for speakers, sponsors, and attendees. Will you have chargers, charging stations, adapters, wireless mice or controllers. Will you have someone helping attendees who have questions about accessing the event internet service or who have trouble connecting their device. Will you be able to suggest local resources to help speakers or attendees who need computing device issues other than “connecting to the internet” or charging their device’s battery?

pre event socialPre-event social meetup — Depending on the length and nature of the event, having a pre-event social meetup may make the event especially memorable for those at the meetup. This post won’t get into any more details about this type of pre-event activity. But because building new relationships and strengthening existing ones is such an important part of events, evaluate whether your event will be remembered partly because people had so much fun at the pre-event meetup, or whether they met someone at the meetup whom they would not otherwise have gotten to know.

Resolving AND documenting challenges and issues during the event — Every events wrangler will run into and deal with challenges and issues during the event (those are sometimes called “problems” or “emergencies”). Those things will get taken care of, sometimes smoothly, sometimes awkwardly, and sometimes inadequately. Occasionally, successfully dealing with a challenge or issue as the event is happening is an unexpected shining moment for the event manager. They might make a friend for life, or their performance under pressure may serendipitously open new doors that would have otherwise remained closed.

Regardless of how things turn out when dealing with bumps in the road, it pays to document what happened, appropriately respecting people’s privacy and dignity. If any details of the matter were embarrassing or otherwise inappropriate to share, document what happened in a way that safeguards personal details but helps other Events Wranglers avoid similar situations or shows them how to best deal with them when they do happen.

When you’re in the midst of an event and need to be in several places at once, it’s easy to address issues and never get around to documenting them. The most important thing is a good resolution to problems that crop up in an event, but it’s absolutely worth documenting and sharing what happened so it’s much less likely to happen in the future.

End of event — As an event nears the end, people start thinking about travel plans or items they need to do the next day or next week. In many ways, event attendees take their focus off the event they’re still at. Be mindful of this and don’t have unrealistic last-minute expectations for the speakers and attendees. Event participants may need almost finishedassistance in dealing with their belongings, their hotel, or their travel arrangements. Lost and found items, transportation, finding other event participants at the last minute, and various other needs will pop up, so it’s good to have a plan in place for dealing with those topics. If the Events Wrangler needs to meet with or discuss substantive issues with people at the event, it’s best not to schedule important meetings near the end of an event. Be aware that, for most people, the importance of dealing with event-related topics drops dramatically as the close of the event approaches.

Event follow-up — Event follow-up is an important topic that I wanted to mention in this post but will cover in much greater detail in a future post. A well-designed and well-orchestrated event generates a plethora of golden opportunities for follow-up and future action. To take advantage of those opportunities requires the Events Manager to keep goodchecklist notes during the event and to take time to address each follow-up item noted during the event. The tendency is to be worn out from putting on an event or eager to get back to your home base or start work on your next engagement. To ensure you don’t needlessly waste any of those golden opportunities, it often pays to stay an extra day or two onsite after the event is over. This gives you a chance to write follow-up reports or emails and capture your key takeaways from the event before they get lost in the busyness of everyday work. It also gives you time to thank all the suppliers and venue personnel who made the event a rousing success.

The above points don’t begin to cover all the work the Events Wrangler does onsite to help pull off a successful conference, workshop or meetup. But I hope this post helps you look at one or two things a little differently during your next session of onsite work!

*****

Travel And Onsite Work

Hands-on, Travel, Onsite Time

It appears the Events Wrangler responsibilities at Automattic will be very hands-on and involve a significant amount of travel to manage onsite logistics during events, as well as the pre-work before and follow-up details after the event.

The travel, both US and global, and onsite work before, during and after events are job aspects I eagerly look forward to! Those activities will be an excellent fit with my current life situation and will just be one more pleasant part of having a remote job at Automattic.

Love Road Trips, New Faces, New Places

Road Trips — For me, being on the road is an adventure, not a chore. Some members of road tripmy family consider an hour trip in the car a long time and feel that being away from home for more than one night is not an experience they enjoy all that much.

I love road trips and have made many cross-country journeys by car, bus, train and plane for personal and business reasons. Those trips are enjoyable for me, so I look forward to them. Getting in the car at 6 AM and driving 400 miles to visit my sister is a great way to spend the day. People who see me driving along probably wonder why I’m smiling as I roll down the highway….

new facesNew Faces — I’ve always considered meeting new people and building new relationships to be the top benefits of participating in tech events, especially participant-driven ones. By working onsite for events, I’ll get to meet lots of speakers, sponsors’ reps, and scads of participants. In addition to those new faces, I’ll also be able to personally meet all the vendors for the event, including people from the venue, the food suppliers, equipment providers, and all the other people you don’t usually notice at an event unless something goes wrong. Meeting and working in-person with the entire spectrum of people who are required to pull off a great event will allow me to learn from them, extend my personal and business network across the country and around the world, and make each event better than the one before it.

New Places — I want the Events Wrangler job because I thoroughly enjoy organizing and running tech events. It’s fun to bring together like-minded people who will have a heck of a good time at the event. Being able to travel was not my primary motive for applying for the job of Events Wrangler. But having the opportunity to go and explore new places is for me an unquestionably enjoyable facet of the job.

I’ve been in quite a few of the 50 states of the USA, but there are some I have yet to set foot in. And I’ll enjoy revisiting the ones I’ve already had a peek at. My international travels have been limited, with most of my time outside the USA borders being spent in Canada. Québec and British Columbia in particular have been the scene of memorable personal and work visits. The only other global travel I’ve done was a couple weeks in Argentina (in and around Buenos Aires) and a week in Italy (mostly in Pescara). Events wrangling in various parts of the world will be an adventure and a half! The people I met and worked with in Canada, Argentina and Italy were fantastic hosts, warmly welcoming, and fun to get to know. I hope to enjoy more of the same wherever I go.

new places

Because I don’t currently have a full time job, I’m hoping Automattic will offer me the option to do work onsite before, during or after an event for my Events Wrangler contract trial period! Travel is not a problem for me, and that would give Automattic and my fellow workers a realistic look at how I do in real world situations. (hmmm…I think I’ll hop on Google and see when and where upcoming Automattic events are being scheduled… 🙂 )

Good Fit For My Situation

For some people, being on the road and doing lots of onsite work for events is less than ideal. They may be recently married, have young children, have frequent community obligations, play on a lot of sports team, or have a variety of other issues that make the travel out of town somewhat or very problematic. Or they might just be the type of person who prefers to stay at home and be in familiar surroundings and situations.

The above travel limitations don’t apply to my current situation, as shown by the following points:

  • My wife has a full time job that more than keeps her busy. She’s a social worker who works for the Salvation Army and also does volunteer social work after her paid job is over for the day. She’s a homebody who very much enjoys sleeping in her own bed and her own house, rather than a hotel or a friend’s house.
  • We have a son and daughter who both live in Wisconsin. If my wife did need help with something while I was gone, they’re in the vicinity.
  • Our kids are out of college, but we don’t have grandkids, so there aren’t parental or grandparental duties for which I frequently need to be in my hometown.
  • We have no pets, no time-consuming maintenance of a multi-acre lawn or garden, and no community obligations that require me to stay in town most of the time.

When you add up everything I said above, it equals a happy, tired, contented Events Wrangler and a bunch of satisfied and smiling event participants, sponsors, speakers, vendors and fellow workers.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll take a look at some of the onsite work with which I hope to be involved in the not-too-distant future.

*****

Events Wrangler

The Fun Begins

Yesterday was a momentous day. It was the start of what I expect to be a fun ride, a long and rewarding period in my work history, and a transition from amateur to professional.

Yesterday I emailed my “application” for the position of Events Wrangler to Automattic.

Ron Wayne, the little-known cofounder of Apple, recently said, “find something you enjoy doing so much that you’d be willing to do it for nothing… and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’ve heard or read that general sentiment many times, and for me it will be a cliche come true when Automattic’s Matt Mullenweg tells me, “You’re hired as an Event Wrangler!”

My Events Wrangling Background

barcamp logoThe initial technology unconferences in the Bay Area (BarCamp) and Seattle (MindCamp), which were inspired by Foo Camp, convinced me that similar participant-driven events were needed in the Midwest. After participating in the first BarCampChicago in 2006, I helped organize the first BarCampMilwaukee and have tried to be a key contributor to more and better events and organizations every year, incorporating and leveraging emerging trends, tools and technologies.

For more than ten years, I’ve had a blast cofounding, helping organize, running, and participating in local, regional and national events and organizations involved with technology, entrepreneurism and innovation. All this has been done as an amateur “events wrangler” because I enjoyed making it possible for tech people, innovators, makers and entrepreneurs to get together, meet new like-minded people, share what they know, learn about new topics and generally have a great time. Here are a few bullet points about the events and organizations I’ve helped launch.

  • First large event: cofounded NorthEast Wisconsin Entrepreneur Networking Day (NEW END) in 2005.
  • Cofounded and helped launch the first BarCampMilwaukee in 2006; recently helped with prep work and participated in the 10th annual BarCampMilwaukee in October 2015.
  • Cofounded the Distributed Hacker/Maker Network (DHMN) in 2010 and the resultant Appleton MakerspaceWordPress
  • Attended initial meetup when the Appleton, Wisconsin, monthly Meetup.com group was forming in 2012, then helped the event founder grow the event by arranging for a monthly venue, promoting the meetup on my blog (post before first meetup and post after first meetup) and personally inviting people to participate in the meetups.
  • Cofounded 3DPrintingCampWI 2012, a Midwest unconference for people interested in 3D printing.rosie riveter civic hacking
  • Cofounded NE Wisconsin civic hackathon and regional civic hacking community; published 150 consecutive daily civic hacking blog posts, starting with “What Is Civic Hacking??
  • Cofounded Humbloldt MCU Community for people interested in microcontrollers and electronics and helped organize and run the twice-monthly meetings.
  • Wasn’t a formal cofounder of the MakerPlane open source aircraft project, but worked extensively with the project founder (a New Zealand native living in Canada) to help get Makerplane started.
  • Currently collaborating with people in Traverse City, Michigan, to organize a participant-driven healthcare innovation event and a civic hacking community in that region.

All the event and group organizing above was done gratis, simply because I enjoyed bringing together geeks and like-minded people, getting to know them, learning from them and sharing my knowledge with them.

Transition From Gratis To Paid: Win-Win

When Automattic interviews me, has me successfully complete a trial work period for them, and hires me as an Event Wrangler, they will be paying me to do something I enjoy doing so much that I’ve been doing it for nothing. That’s a good deal for them and a good deal for me. Automattic gets a new team member with lots of experience organizing and putting on tech events, someone who can suggest new ideas from a different viewpoint, an employee whose experience and passion for what they’re working on will be apparent to coworkers, event sponsors and event attendees, somebody who will have impact, go the extra mile and put in extra effort to make every event better than the previous one. < That sentence is too long, but it’s true.

And I get the opportunity to learn from my fellow Automatticians and from each new person I work with or meet at WordCamps and other Automattic events. I can help Automattic grow, powering more of the internet than it already does. And I get the opportunity to help organize a whole slew of cool events around the country and across the globe.

It doesn’t get any better than that…

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