The Secret to Working Remotely With WordPress: WordCamps and Bacon-Avocado Ice Cream

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One minute you’re sitting in your lounge room watching Peppa Pig with your three-year-old daughter while trying to manage 20 or so support staff from your laptop, the next minute you’re eating bacon-avocado ice cream somewhere in Arizona. When you work with WordPress in a distributed team, this is how you roll.

For the past three years, I’ve headed up the support team here at WPMU DEV, working out of my living room in UK where my daughters (I also have twin two-year-old girls) and my wife (who watches cheesy soap operas) keep me company. Working in a distributed team is awesome – it can be diverse and enables you to connect with all kinds of people around the globe online. The downside is the isolation. If you’re a remote worker, you know what I mean.

It can be lonely, even when you’re surrounded by your family every day. Talking shop with family just doesn’t feel right.

So this year I decided to shake up how I work, or should I say where I work. For years, I told people my job allowed me to work from anywhere I wanted, but rarely did. I suppose you could say I became a prisoner in my own home, which is awesome… for a hermit! My solutions: random workcations.

Me with Michelle Shull and Michael Bissett from our support team in the US.
Me with Michelle Shull and Michael Bissett from our support team in the US.

Back in June I joined some other WPMU DEVers at WordCamp Europe in Seville, Spain. It was a brilliant trip and I met so many great people, and since then I’ve migrated from working in my living room couch to working in coffee shops, McDonalds – pretty much anywhere with wifi or a decent 3G signal to tether on.

While these random work locations allowed me to socialize with people I’d never met before, I longed for a little more, and that’s what pushed me to start attending more than one or two WordCamps each year. Just this year so far, there have been more than 70 WordCamps held around the world, with another 5 or so to go, including the inaugural WordCamp US in Philadelphia.

To cut a long story short, this post is about how I got off the couch for a road trip across the south of America, hit up three WordCamps and met a whole lotta amazing and smart WordPress folks.

Hitting the US

On September 9, I loaded my bags into my car and was both excited and a little sad to leave my family for a three-week trip, taking in WordCamp Dallas/Fort Worth, WordCamp Las Vegas, and WordCamp Tampa.

WordCamp Dallas/Fort Worth

Dallas (#WCDFW) was my first stop on the tour. Touching down, the first thing I noticed, apart from the pointless automated machines in passport control!) was the heat – it was a scorcher!

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Michael Bissett, one of our support guys, for the first time in real life (IRL?). We spent the next few days working out of Starbucks and the Airbnb apartment we had rented. We also shared some great conversation whilst eating awesome BBQ, naturally.

On the morning of WordCamp Dallas/Fort Worth, I found a familiar and friendly face, Mendel Kurland from GoDaddy who mixes with WordPress folks as one of the company’s Evangelists. He quickly thrust a box of WordCamp swag into my arms, not for me, just to carry so he didn’t have to juggle or make multiple trips. Apparently he’s lazy like that! But seriously, Mendel is awesome. Not only did he give me a free drone at WordCamp Europe, he also single-handedly converted my opinion of GoDaddy. I know, crazy, right?

Our CTO Aaron Edwards and Michael Bissett from our support team.
Our CTO Aaron Edwards and Michael Bissett from our support team.

We also met up with Aaron Edwards, our CTO, at the WordCamp. It’s funny meeting Aaron. For many new staff members at WPMU DEV, their first impression of Aaron is that he’s a little scary, when the truth is he’s like a big, soft, cuddly teddy, whom, may I add, I didn’t cuddle for fear of making things weird.

We signed in, grabbed our t-shirts, chatted with a bunch of great folks and then hit some of the sessions to listen to the speakers.

One thing I often find with WordCamps is that they don’t go technical enough, the presentations often cater to beginners. Where they shine for me is networking and just getting to know people. I like to find out how other companies manage support, how people perceive companies like ours, and how they like their call for help handled. Sometimes, I also bump into WPMU DEV members, which is both thrilling and kind of scary!

WordCamp Dallas/Fort Worth was only one day, which was slightly disappointing. It was too quick! I chatted briefly with Corey Miller from iThemes and only just managed to say hi to Lisa Sabin-Wilson from WebDevStudios. I had hoped for more time to chat with both of them, to try and pick their brains and pull from their experiences. Sometimes when talking to people of this caliber, you can get a fresh perspective on how to handle certain issues and experiences and get ideas of what might or maybe might not work better. I also love telling people about what we’ve done and are doing at WPMU DEV. For example, our support area looks like a forum, but behind the scenes it’s much more!

I thought, never mind, I’ll catch them later at the afterparty for a chat. The problem was, the afterparty was loud, as most are, and people get drunk, so whilst the conversation is free-flowing, it’s not always the right kind. Plus, time ran far too quickly and it was all over before I knew it. I’m off to Philly for WordCamp US in December so hopefully I’ll get another chance to pick their brains then if they are going along.

Me and developer David Morefield.
Me and developer David Morefield.

I also love finding out how people who work remotely balance their work life, home life, and social life, especially the workaholics.

It’s battle I often face, as do many others, including Easy Digital Downloads founder Pippin Williamson, who has written about his experiences in recent months.

There were lots of people from 10up, iThemes and Crowd Favorite at WordCamp Dallas/Fort Worth. I’ve noticed lots of 10up employees at other WordCamps and it’s great to see companies getting out there and socializing – it shows business confidence in WordPress and the future it holds.

WCDFW came and went far too quickly and during the Uber ride back to our apartment after the afterparty, we made friends with the driver. I like to talk, apparently! Over the next few days, I continued to hang out with Michael, Aaron and his lovely wife Keisha. Oh, and the Uber driver a couple of times, too! Those few days basically involved working and eating lots more BBQ.

I uploaded many, many photos to Instagram of delicious BBQ goodness.
I uploaded many, many photos to Instagram of delicious BBQ goodness.

WordCamp Las Vegas

WordCamp Vegas, aka #WCLV, was the second stop on the road trip for Michael and me. This is also where we met up with Michelle Shull, another support star at WPMU DEV. Again, the next few days involved work and BBQ, often at the same time. Are you starting to see a pattern here?

WordCamp Vegas was one of my most favorite WordCamps – it just felt easier to meet people and have a chat. The event was held at The Innevation Center and the location was awesome. Well, the tables were. I want one, no, I need one!

I met a whole bunch of people in Vegas, including Shayda Torabi (WP Engine), Ben Fox (Sidekick.pro, FlowPress and WP University), Michael Tieso (Woo), Clancy (GoDaddy) and Kari Leigh Marucchi (Found Art Photography). Like WCDFW, WordCamp Vegas didn’t have a contributor day, but there was a second day of presentations, which was awesome. Shayda’s talk on the first day was about biting the bullet and socializing with people and making lasting relationships. Maybe it was this talk that set up an environment to foster interpersonal relationships.

I hate to say that WordCamps are cliquey, but WordCamps do feel cliquey, especially when you’re on your own. After chatting with attendees at a few WordCamps I’ve been to, many people feel the same way and I can see why – you’re essentially meeting lots of new faces and sometimes the odd WordPress celebrity. When people are stood together, it almost feels like school again, ya know – you don’t want to approach the popular kids while they’re in a group.

My words of advice are to break free, just go stand with them (in a non-creepy way!) and say hello, smile and when the opportunity arises jump in and join the conversation, just don’t hijack it! It’s tougher than it sounds, I know, and you can feel socially awkward at times, but just remember that it’s not a dream and you are still wearing all your own clothes – I hope!

My favorite thing about WordCamp Vegas was getting to know people – forget the talks, make it your aim to connect with other WordPress people, other real life human beings who you might otherwise never normally meet. Okay, don’t completely neglect the talks, they’re important, too! I guess what I’m saying is that WordCamps are more than just the sessions you can attend and what you can learn about WordPress – they’re also about the people and the community, which we all thrive upon, and it’s important for everyone to take part in that, even if it’s just a small part or just at WordCamps.

With WordCamp Vegas done and dusted, Michael, Michelle and I set out for the long drive to Tampa, all 2320 miles of it.

Of course, we stopped along the way. One of our first pitstops was in Phoenix where we met up with another WPMU DEVer, Joshua Dailey from our video team. Josh introduced me to bacon and avocado ice cream. Yes, you read that right. It was… erm… different. I kind of enjoyed it in a weird way.

A long and tiring journey then ensued. We hit El Paso and camped out there for a while, journeyed on to Austin and hung with Ronnie Burt from our sister site Edublogs, chatted about life, politics and the usual, work. We also indulged in some tacos for breakfast. I really enjoyed the long hours of driving – it was so relaxing, especially at night when everyone in the car was asleep and I could simply think and occasionally sing – it was a road trip after all! That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the company of the others, but it’s nice to be alone with one’s thoughts.

New Orleans was the next stop on our journey, a place is famous for its food and I love food! I tried fried alligator for the first time and enjoyed it. It has a texture like squid but tasted almost like chicken with a hint of the typical fish experience.

WordCamp Tampa

Our final stop was Florida for WordCamp Tampa. The first thing I’ll say about Tampa is OMG… I didn’t mind the heat so much, but the humidity!

Me with contributor Richard Tape and CalderaWP developer Josh Pollock.
Me with contributor Richard Tape and CalderaWP developer Josh Pollock.

After making some good connections at WordCamp Vegas, and based on the fact I enjoy talking to people, I decided to make this WordCamp about getting to know other the other attendees and letting them know more about WPMU DEV and me. We’ve shared our successes and failures as a company and how we dealt with them.

Our CEO James Farmer wrote/talked about recently in Lessons in Getting Things Wrong (and Why You Should Try It, Too) – Starting Your Internet Business, Part 5.

The WP Engine team were like paparazzi at both WordCamp Vegas and WordCamp Tampa! It felt like around nearly every corner I turned there was a camera – I have no idea how much footage they caught of me, hopefully little! In retaliation, I stalked them with my camera and the result was a few embarrassing photos and some funky dance moves.

After WordCamp Tampa ended, Michelle went home and Michael and I just hung out. We even went to Bush Gardens and spent a day having pure fun, no work. I love rides and he does too, now!

Coming Up: WordCamp US

The next WordCamp for me will be in December when I hit up the first ever WordCamp US in Philadelphia on December 4-6. Our CTO Aaron will be one of the speakers at the event. Can’t wait!

If you’re in Philly, come chat to me! Let’s hang out and talk about WordPress. In fact, if you’re there before and after the event, you might even want to join some of us to work, or maybe just grab a bite to eat – I’ll be updating my Twitter account to publicly invite people to come meet up. We (read: I) love to talk!

See you at WordCamp US!

Many WPMU DEV staff members go along to WordCamps around the world. If you see us in a WPMU DEV t-shirt, say hello! If you work remotely and have a similar experience to mine, share your story in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

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