WordCamp US 2016 – The Thoughts and Experiences of a Shy Introvert



WordCamp US (WCUS) was held in Philadelphia last weekend, and for the first time ever, I attended. I actually accomplished several firsts during my trip.

I realized on the way home that I did not take nearly enough photos; I’ll not make that mistake again. Some photos are in the post and all photos are in the gallery at the end.

WCUS was the 4th WordCamp that I attended this year, having also attended WordCamps Buffalo, Northeast Ohio, and Pittsburgh (which I had the privilege of helping organize). WCUS was the largest by far, with about 2,000 fellow WordPress folks in attendance for the largest national WordPress gathering. I don’t usually like crowds, and have a tendency to either panic and avoid them, or find a corner and completely withdraw, so going to these WordCamps was really stretching my personal comfort zone boundaries. WCUS was especially challenging for me because of the sheer number of people there, but I forced myself to move around, meet people, and for the most part I consider it a win for me. There were a couple of down points for me, but overall, it was an excellent weekend.

Train Travel

Spacious seats on Amtrak

Spacious seats on Amtrak

I left Pittsburgh very early Thursday morning on my first ever Amtrak train ride. I’ve always loved trains, have long wanted to travel on one, but this was the first chance to actually do so. I did upgrade to Business Class, as the seats were a bit bigger and had more space between them, and for a person of my (considerable) size, this was definitely a smart decision. The seat was very comfortable, plenty of room to spare, and since the car was only half full at best, I – and everyone else traveling alone – had the row to myself.

There was wifi available, but it was spotty at best on the trip out (coming home it was actually pretty solid) but a lot of people were on the train overall, and more got on at each of the many stops that the train made, so it was a pretty diluted signal by the time we finally arrived in Philly. I didn’t mind so much though, as I wanted to take in everything about the trip, and was quite content watching the scenery zip by, being amazed at the freight trains that whizzed past, seemingly centimeters away from my window. It was also quite interesting just watching and listening to other passengers especially the group of 4 young men seated behind me on their way to New York City for the weekend. They actually kept me quite entertained during the trip with their banter and card games, and I thanked them for said entertainment when I disembarked in Philly.

Sherrie and Cheryl LaPrade

Sherrie and Cheryl LaPrade

Besides having plenty of comfortable room to relax, traveling by train turns out to have a couple of other advantages over other means of travel. A Cafe Car was located right behind my car, which offered sandwiches, snacks, and drinks, so that was quite convenient. Trains also have substantially larger restroom facilities than planes or buses, which was VERY appreciated. I did learn that peeing while the train is at a station and not moving is definitely better than peeing when the train is barreling along at 100mph, but even that wasn’t bad.

A downside to train travel is that it is a little slow, especially from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg, as the train had to crawl through several small towns and more than a few times, we had to wait for a freight train to clear the track so that we could proceed. After Harrisburg, that didn’t seem to be much of a problem and several times we were traveling around 100 mph. But after talking with several folks at WCUS who have traveled by rail in Europe, it turns out that 100 mph is quite slow compared to European trains which apparently travel at speeds of up to 300 mph. I do wish the US could offer train service like that! I would always travel by train!

Using Uber
After arriving in Philadelphia, I experienced another first as I used the Uber car service for the first time. I wasn’t sure what to expect exactly, but it turns out that Uber is THE way to get around strange cities. Every driver that I had was very friendly, several offered me good tips on places to go, and they all offered insight into the life and culture of Philadelphia. And after watching these drivers navigate Philly traffic, construction, psycho bicyclists and pedestrians, I am “uber” thankful that I did not have to attempt driving in that city!

My first Philadelphia-official Philly Cheesesteak

My first Philadelphia-official Philly Cheesesteak

I also found out on my 3rd night in town that Uber has a new app called UberEats, which will actually deliver food from many different eating establishments. I was almost overwhelmed and was majorly tempted by the extreme variety of ethnic cuisines available, but I WAS in Philly, so I HAD to have a Philly Cheesesteak, which I ordered and had delivered on each of my final two nights in town. I don’t know how they do it, but a Philly Cheesesteak from Philly (another first for me) is better than from anywhere else! I ordered from Pat’s King of Steaks, which has been around since 1930, and it was easy to see why!

People of WordPress
So, on to WordCamp US. Any WordCamp is really about the PEOPLE, and WCUS certainly had people! Usually, when I have gone to WordCamps I have gone to attend every session and try to learn as much as possible, and in doing so, I have also often missed the opportunity to actually meet new people and get to know them. I determined ahead of time that I was NOT going to do that at WCUS. I wanted to meet as many people as I possibly could. There were going to be a LOT of folks there that I have gotten to know quite well from online, via Twitter, Facebook, Slack, podcasts, groups and so on, and I wanted to make the most of my opportunity to finally meet many of them in real life for the first time.

Bridget Willard

Bridget Willard

I did get to meet many of them, and it was indeed cool to finally hug folks who are good friends. I also met many friends whom I have met at other WordCamps, and I met many new friends who I just sat down next to and introduced myself or they sat down and introduced themselves. (This is another area that I am definitely NOT good in, but I did it and met some great folks!)

So, some of the folks that I did meet were Bridget Willard, Carrie “the WP Slayer” Dils, Rebecca Gill, BobWP Dunn, Cory Miller, Kerry Carron, Janet Hall, Ben Meredith, Brian Krosgard, Scott Becker, Angela Bowman, Andy McIlwain, Sherry and Cheryl LaPrade, Tara Claeys, Ginger Coolidge, Topher Derosia, Ray, Mike, “Tennessee”, Taco Verdo, Lisa B Snyder, Helen, Michelle Schulp, Nile Flores, David, and a bunch more that I can’t remember. And folks that I had met previously and connected again – Alex Standiford (great roommate!), Devin Walker, Jason Knill, Chris Lema, Kyle Maurer, Josh Pollock, Michelle Ames, Beth Soderberg, Brad Williams, Jeff Chandler, and fellow Pittsburghers Melinda Helt, Terri Orlowski, Kevin Hoffman, Michelle Roper. And probably a bunch more. And for me, that was a LOT of people to interact with over a 3 day period!

I got to hang out with Michelle Ames a good bit on the first day and we had a great time catching up and talking about all sorts of things. Michelle is the organizer of WordCamp Rochester and by the end of the day, I had agreed to help her with the 2017 WordCamp Rochester, so that was definitely very cool! And of I course I still plan on being just as involved in the 2017 WordCamp Pittsburgh. I’m hoping to attend a few other WordCamps next year and hopefully, finally, make my speaking debut at a couple of those WordCamps. And next year’s WCUS is going to be held in Nashville! That happens to be one of my favorite cities, so I am REALLY looking forward to that!

Fat Guy in the Room
I talked to a lot of sponsors and learned about several products that were new to me. Of course, I got lots of swag to bring home but also missed out on a lot because many sponsors who had t-shirts didn’t have large enough sizes for me. That was kind of a bummer. Sort of along the same lines, there were a couple of times when I tried to talk to someone new and got the looks and eye rolls that are all too familiar to a fat guy. I think the most disappointing occurrence of this was actually my last day there. I had stayed at the official WordCamp hotel (Sheraton) and there were a group of folks sitting in the lobby who had been at WordCamp all weekend and I recognized many of them, including several who were with Automattic (the WordPress ‘parent’ company). I tried to connect with them in passing and was rewarded with outright laughter, giggles, and lots of eye rolls. That was kind of devastating, to tell the truth, and a bummer of a way to end WCUS. More disappointing was the big fuss Automattic makes about not tolerating disrespect or rudeness. Guess that doesn’t apply to fat guys yet, but I’ve grown kind of used to that.

The Sessions

Chris Lema

Chris Lema

I did attend several sessions, several of which I plan to write about in separate posts. One that was personally interesting to me, for a variety of reasons was “Teaching the FBI to Photoblog with WordPress” by Karl Kevilus. It was very cool hearing how Karl worked with the FBI around the country to create BanditTracker websites to put away some of the countries most dangerous criminals. Some very informational and some very funny stories were part of his presentation, and the Q&A afterward was likewise very informative.

One session that I really wanted to attend but ended up missing was “WordPress & SEO in 2016” by Joost de Valk. Joost is the creator of the wildly popular Yoast SEO plugin, and by all accounts, his talk was outstanding. Fortunately, all of the talks were recorded and either already are on http://wordpress.tv/ or will be very soon. I’m looking forward to watching all of the talks that I missed, as well as re-watching the ones I did attend to take much more extensive notes. And a couple I also want to watch with my wife as they were so interesting that I believe she will thoroughly enjoy them as well.

Hopefully later this week I will get a couple more posts published covering a couple of the specific sessions and my takeaways from them.

Crowds, Crowds, Everywhere Crowds

Lunch at WCUS

Lunch at WCUS

OK, now about the crowds. During the day I did fairly well I think. I moved around a lot, and as I mentioned I met a lot of folks. The sheer numbers and the overall noise did wear on me a bit, but I give myself an ‘A’ for how I managed myself there. At night, however, I didn’t do quite as well.

I’m not a big crowd party type person at all, never have been. Even back in the 70’s when I was a ‘partier’ I didn’t like noisy crowded places. I’ve always preferred small quiet gatherings for parties, but as I quickly found out, that is not the WCUS style. I was invited to several evening events and I did go out each night but I did not do quite as well at these events.

The first night in town, I was invited to a Taco Party which was in an apartment, and I did okay, I think. I talked to a few people and had some good tacos. But it was quite noisy and a bit crowded, so I left fairly soon after arriving and went back to the hotel to chill out. While I was waiting outside for my Uber driver to arrive, I think I was talking to a “WordPress A-lister” but introvert me didn’t introduce myself and I had no idea who he was until later in the weekend when I saw other people’s photos of him.

The next night I went to a different party that was in a small cafe type place that maybe had room for 30 people. Except there ended up being well over 100 people there. It was definitely not the organizers’ fault, as the restaurant had told them they would be in one place and then actually put them in this place, but it was extremely crowded and the noise level was off the charts. I managed to get a small plate of hors d’oeuvres and a bottle of cider, but with one in each hand, I quickly realized that with no room to move and no place to sit, it was quite difficult to do anything with either. I finally managed to make my way back to the door and I took that opportunity to escape and return to the hotel again.

The third night, I again ventured out, this time to a meetup gathering that was being held in a large sports bar establishment with plenty of room. Except this was also the night that Penn State was playing for the Big 10 Championship and the place was packed to overflowing, definitely standing room only. I managed to get in the place, took a quick look around at the situation and immediately left. Panic attack anxiety flight mode took over and I fled back to the hotel again. This is the night that I discovered the UberEats app and so I quietly and quite contentedly sat in my room, ate a Philly Cheesesteak and watched Alabama win the SEC Championship. Roll Tide Roll!

After Party Regret
My big regret is that particular meltdown kept me from going back out that night to the official WCUS After party which was held at The Academy of Natural Sciences Museum. I had really been looking forward to it, and it certainly looks and sounds like everyone who attended had a great time, and wish I would have gone. But all things considered, my mental health needed that quiet night, so it all worked out for the best.

Here is a collection of the few photos I did take.

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  1. Scott Becker on December 11, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    Hey Paul, I’m glad that you enjoyed WCUS. I only wish that you had come to the after party, but there is always next year. I am sorry for anyone that was rude. THAT IS NOT THE WORDPRESS WAY! It was a pleasure meeting you in person as well. That is my favorite part of WordCamps – actually meeting people in person. See you around online and hopefully at a camp way before that. Scott

    • Paul Oyler on December 11, 2016 at 11:36 pm

      Thanks, Scott! It was great getting to meet you. Hopefully we will see each other at a WordCamp this year. Probably “see” you online in the Slack training channel.

  2. carrie on December 12, 2016 at 11:47 am

    Paul, I’m proud of you for getting out of your comfort zone and enjoying the conference. I’m particularly disheartened for your “fat guy” experiences with other attendees – sorry that that happened, but thank you for writing about it.

    Glad to finally meet you in person and I look forward to the next time!


    • Paul Oyler on December 12, 2016 at 12:01 pm

      Thanks Carrie! From what you have shared before, meeting you was for me like when you first met Morten – definitely a high point!

      The “fat guy” stuff came close to breaking me, but it didn’t. In fact, as wrong as it is, it also has re-motivated me to start doing more to not BE that “fat guy” eventually. (Sadly, it’s much harder – and slower – to actually accomplish than to say it) But if I’m NOT “that guy” maybe I can actually squeeze into some of those crowded parties….

      Nah, don’t think I’ll ever “fit” into those parties, but I’ll have a lot more fun everywhere else!

      So thank you, rude Automatticians and WP people, you have rekindled my fire to get healthy!

  3. Todd E Jones on December 12, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    So Paul, if I ever got to WPUS and you are there, we are hanging! No way they can ignore both of us.

    The pic with Carrie is epic

    I’m a little introverted too, and crowds can be hard to navigate.

    • Paul Oyler on December 12, 2016 at 12:33 pm

      That is definitely a deal Todd! Maybe next year in Nashville?

  4. TARA CLAEYS on December 12, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Paul, Thank you for sharing this. I am so glad that I got to meet you (And intentionally kept an eye out for you after seeing you so much on Slack!). I am sorry about the negative experiences you had, but am really glad you made the most of the experience and am even more thrilled to see you are helping with more WordCamps!

    You are not alone in your social anxiety (and I think introverts are creating their own WP community from the number of people who seem to identify with this feeling!). I have never considered myself to be an introvert, but I have realized that my “imposter syndrome” has caused me to overcompensate and act stupid when I feel self-conscious. While a big WordCamp is a great place to connect with awesome people in our community, it can also create an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy.

    Sometimes knowing that you are not alone is a great comfort, so I hope this resonates with you 🙂

    • Paul Oyler on December 12, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      Thank you, Tara! It was a pleasure to meet you as well! I wish we had had more time to get to know each other.

      It is very cool to know I am not alone, and I have had so many people reach out to me today either here, on Slack, FB, or Twitter, that it has really encouraged me and lifted me up. This has been a great Monday!

  5. KerryCarron on December 13, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Hey Paul,
    It was really fun to read about your experience with WCUS. I was so glad to finally meetup up with some of the folks I “hang out with” (yourself included) and reunite with Cory and Matt from iThemes.

    I am completely opposite when it comes to people and am mostly extroverted, however, the crowd and the noise was a bit overwhelming – even for me. I was ready to return home by the end of the event. I can only image how much effort it might have been if I were not as outgoing.

    Until the next event – or maybe just the next chat conversation – Happy Days!

  6. Jason Lemieux on January 29, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    Hey Paul!

    I was totally standing next to you in that picture with/ Bridget at the GiveWP party. I’ll introduce myself next year!


    • Paul Oyler on January 29, 2017 at 4:39 pm

      Hey Jason, that is cool! Definitely look forward to meeting you at a WC soon!

      Grace and peace,