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What I learned at WordCamp Milwaukee

Eric Kuznacic, president of Why The Fuss? Technical Solutions, filed this report after returning from WordCamp Milwaukee:

wordcamp-milwaukee-logo-color-250During the last weekend in July I attended my first WordCamp, which is something I have wanted to do since learning about and working with WordPress on a daily basis.

This post probably will get pretty lengthy, so here is the tl;dr version for those with short-attention spans: It was awesome. There were dozens of amazingly talented people, all of whom share the common goal of helping out and bettering the WP community. If you are interested in learning more about WordPress, a WordCamp is the place to be.

For those who don’t mind spending a few minutes, I’ll sum up each session into a paragraph or two (or three, if I was really excited about the topic …) and provide links to the presenter’s website and presentation slides (when available).

Day One – Opening Remarks

Whenever I attend an event, whether it be a sports game, movie or presentation, I absolutely must be in my seat before the start. If I’m not, I feel like I missed my “introduction.” And what an introduction it was …

WordCamp Milwaukee organizers introduce themselves

WordCamp Milwaukee organizers introduce themselves. Photo courtesy of @SavvyLuke.

Day One – Session One

Title: Avoid Deployment Surprises and Frustration with Vagrant
Presenter: Joel Clermont
Link to slides

I’ll admit it: this one was waaaaay over my head and it probably wasn’t the ideal session to kick off my inaugural WordCamp experience. But, I went into the weekend determined to act as a sponge and soak up as much information, good advice and best practices as my brain could handle. And that’s what I did.

In short, this session exposed me to a tool called Vagrant, a software package that makes it easy to “create and configure lightweight, reproducible, and portable development environments.” This is definitely a tool that I will be looking more into, as I am more often than not guilty of breaking Developer Rule No. 1: Thou shalt not develop on a live server.

If nothing else, this session got my brain kick-started early on Saturday morning and prepared me for what came next.

Day One – Session Two

Title: WordPress for Nonprofits
Presenter: Kevin A. Barnes
Link to slides

As one who serves on multiple boards of directors — not to mention one whose business specializes in serving nonprofit organizations — this session was right up my alley. While I was well aware of the many benefits of using WordPress for NPOs, it’s always good to keep up on what other people and organizations are doing.

I walked out of this presentation with some good ideas for the future, as well as a couple new plug-ins to check out to see if they would benefit the NPO sites I currently maintain. I also was able to get some more info on CiviCRM, which is a great open-source customer-relationship-management database program that can be configured to work alongside WordPress. If you work with a nonprofit, I definitely recommend checking out what CiviCRM might be able to do for your organization.

Day One – Session Three

Title: Building Better Widgets
Presenter: Josh Leuze
Link to slides

Whenever I create a website for a client, there inevitably is a point during the process when I think to myself, “Wow, there’s all this valuable real estate in the sidebar(s), but I’m having trouble deciding what would work best here.” I thought I might be the only one, but I guess not.

Mr. Leuze’s presentation contained a wealth of useful information, focused mostly around making widgets both relevantly and intelligently, as well as how to ensure they display properly in any resolution. He provided some great tips on the use of icons and retina-ready images, as well as shared links and info about some of his favorite widget-related plug-ins.

The best thing I received from this session? Don’t be afraid to write your own custom widgets and plug-ins and share them with the community, because in essence, the code customization you make are already widgets/plug-ins in and of themselves. Solid advice!

Day One – Session Four

Title: Creating & Promoting Compelling Content Through Blogging
Presenter: Scott Offord
Link to slides

As a former journalist and writing enthusiast, I often am dismayed by many businesses and organizations who produce lackluster and/or substandard content for their websites. s such, I had this session circled on my WordCamp schedule well in advance. My interest was piqued further after discovering Mr. Offord is a fellow Sconnie!

This session was everything I had hoped. Scott broke down the content-creation process and offered several great tidbits, including these two gems:

  • The keys to quality content: Time, Talent, Team, Topic
  • Every goal should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound.

I certainly took a lot away from this talk, and have already put some of Scott’s tips into place for my own business website.

Day One – Session Five

Title: Stop Eating Resources and Optimize Your WordPress Site
Presenter: Jeff Matson
Link to slides

The final session I attended on a long Day One of WordCamp Milwaukee was also one that I had marked ahead of time on my schedule. Studies have shown that the longer your website takes to load, the more people will click away and into something else. This happens in a matter of nanoseconds, so site load speeds are critical.

Mr. Matson did a great job of explaining how WordPress sites can easily become bloated, and offered a number of great suggestions on how to reduce your load times. If I had to sum up his advice in one quick-and-dirty phrase, it’s “Remove unnecessary garbage!”

I walked away from this one several good suggestions, the best of which was to always use the EWWW Image Optimizer plug-in, and also to minify and cache everything. I had always heard these terms but this session provided context that helped me to understand their importance.

After party

Unfortunately, I can’t provide a report on the after party, as I brought my lovely wife along for the weekend and had promised to take her out for dinner at a restaurant closer to our suburban hotel than the downtown conference site. My apologies, as I am not one to miss a party. I promise to check it out next year!

As expected, this is getting pretty lengthy, so I decided to split this post into two part. Stay tuned for my recap of WordCamp Milwaukee – Day Two.

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