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07.24.15

WordCamp Scranton

I had an opportunity to attend WordCamp at Johnson College this weekend. BlackOut was approached to support the event as a sponsor and I really couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ensure this event worked out for our region. I have to admit that my expectations were a little low as I hadn’t attended a WordCamp before and was unsure of what to expect. Our Director of Technology, Nate, and I had different schedules that day so while I was only able to make the end of day, he was able to attend some of the morning sessions.

I have to say I was bowled over on a few levels and thrilled that I was able to make it to this event. That’s a little bitter sweet for me as for as thrilled as I was to attend, I caught myself thinking, “Wow! People are really missing out on an amazing opportunity to learn so much!”. The event should have been standing room only and it wasn’t. It was extremely well organized and I can’t say that I think the issue had anything to do with the promotion of the event. Nate mentioned he saw someone in a session from as far away as Buffalo, NY and I met a few attendees from New Jersey and Philadelphia, too. Next year when you see this hit the calendar, if you are at all involved in web technologies, you should be sure to get there!

I wanted to share my impressions of Matt Mullenweg’s Q&A at the end of the day. For those of you who may not know who he is, Matt is a social media entrepreneur and web developer who’s best known for being the genius who developed WordPress. I still didn’t really believe that he would be talking until I made it to the event and saw him sitting on the side of the room. (I’m sure he didn’t think he was going to find himself in Scranton, PA at any point in his speaking schedule either.) What struck me most about Matt was how authentic he was. For someone operating an organization valued at $1.1 billion with over 390 employees in 50 offices, he seemed to be a very down- to-earth, regular guy… a far stretch from the type of person I expected to be responsible for, as an audience member pointed out, a software that’s been downloaded just over one billion times.

There were two points that stood out most to me from all his comments. The first was an anecdote about one of his first jobs in Texas. He was basically the equivalent of the Geek Squad for a company where he worked as a computer tech for computer users. He mentioned that he learned a great deal of empathy from the folks who showed up at the shop:

I think anyone who works in technology can relate to that experience. I still remind my parents how much money they would have been paying for tech support if it wasn’t for me. They tend to remind me about some few year spell where they raised me and the whole babysitting their grandkids thing. I was just struck that this is still a tenant he carries as he drives the direction of WordPress. Paired with his comment about how he is “probably the worst WordPress user as he sees so much wrong with the platform that can be corrected.” I think those gave me all the reference that I needed that he was not what I expected for someone I consider one of the most influential CEOs in technology.

Another item that really gave me an interesting, new perspective on what we do here at BlackOut was Mark’s commentary on WordPress’ impact on advertising agencies and clients alike. He mentioned that he likes to remind people that they are building a product that’s being used by 100s of thousands of people every day. I’ve found even with our own work, we tend to get myopic by focusing only on the final product – a new website, a rebranded logo, or an annual report. As the dynamic shifts, there’s a lot of satisfaction knowing that not only did we produce a great product, but how many people will it touch and how many will find use or value in it. Although the client is our ultimate barometer for success it’s a welcome reminder that our work is being received by not only our client but their clients, potential clients, and anyone who sees our final work. That got me thinking about something I used to like to monitor… just how many people have seem our work? How many WordPress installations are we actively maintaining? As of this morning we have delivered over 2.7 million visitors (2,748,385 to be exact) to the portfolio of websites we have created and manage.

The other point that surprised me was Matt’s self proclaimed interest/fervor in organizational dynamics. He joked that he could go on about those aspects of his role in the organization and how fired up it gets him. Clearly at 31 he has quite a reference on what it takes for an organization, whether it is a tech giant or a service organization to grow and put their team in positions to succeed.