The third annual WordCamp US is fast approaching and is set to occur at the beautiful Music City Center in the heart of downtown Nashville and we are more than excited about the event. Our Support Operation’s Director, Dustin Meza is a head organizer for the event so we sat down with him to get more info about organizing the mother of all WordCamps.
How did you get involved in the WordCamp organization process?
Well, it all started 3 years ago when I was doing some reflection on the WP Engine core values, I was reviewing them and ensuring I felt like I was living those values every day. One of those values is “Aspiring to Lead; Committed to Give Back” and I quickly checked the box in my head, knowing that I was giving 150% as a leader at WP Engine. But I had this nagging feeling, and when I addressed it I knew what it was, I wasn’t giving back outside of WP Engine and our customers. I decided right then that I would get involved in the WordPress Community, and make a difference.
I started by speaking at WordCamps, taking the only subject I felt I was an expert in, WordPress Upgrades, and giving a session on how to ensure your site(s) are ready for the upgrade, using a testing framework. This allowed me to meet lots of people in the community, form relationships, and help do even more. So when I moved to Nashville 2 years ago, one of the community members I knew hooked me up with the WordCamp Nashville organizers, and I helped organize last year’s WordCamp Nashville. It was right around that time that we were informed that we were in the final 2 for consideration to host WordCamp US, and I had the privilege of helping the two main organizers of WC Nashville put our bid together for WC US, and when we ended up winning that, they asked me if I would lead the team in 2017 as we put on our first WordCamp US.
What are you most excited about for WCUS?
I think I’m most excited about showing the WordPress community the great Nashville technology scene. We have such an awesome tech community in Nashville, I think the WordCamp US attendees are going to love it. Nashville gets a rap for being all about Country Music, but things have changed in the last ten years, we’ve got something for everybody now.
Are you expecting this year’s WCUS to be as big as last year’s?
We are not only expecting it to be as big, we’re expecting it to be even bigger! With the great changes we made to our sponsorship packages, we’ve seen more than twice as many sponsors take advantage of being apart of WordCamp US than last year. We had over 500 submissions to speak, we introduced a new way for the community to show off in our Community Bazaar, and we expect the attendee count to follow this trend of growth as well!
What’s it like to simultaneously plan a WordCamp and work for WP Engine?
Well, I’ll start by saying, it’s not easy! WP Engine is a fast-paced place to work on its own. Add the responsibility of putting on the largest WordCamp in North America, and you’ll find yourself with a full day. I have the privilege of also welcoming a new baby girl to our family in the next week, so make that 3 things competing for my time.
Thankfully I have an amazing team surrounding me on all 3 fronts, the WordCamp US team is made up of some of the best people in the community, and we’ve all been able to be there for each other when life happens. When it’s all said and done, we’ll have had 4 people on the organizing team have babies, 3 house moves, and even a wedding! When you think that all the organizers are volunteering their time, you can see how we have to have each other’s back during the whole process!
How many hours have you put into planning?
Easily over 1,000 hours when you include attending last year’s WordCamp US and this year’s WordCamp EU with all the planning we’ve done in the last 11 months.
In what ways has WP Engine been an asset to the process of organization?
WP Engine has been fantastic, whether it’s leveraging the expertise of our CMO Mary Ellen and her team, or just the flexibility my boss Tina has allowed me in my regular work week to be able to take care of things that required me to be onsite at the venues. They have supported me giving back to the community 100%.
What has been your biggest challenge? Biggest Surprise?
By far the biggest challenge has been doing what was done in Philly for the last 2 years but in Nashville. Finding vendors we trust, navigating the different portions of the venue’s staff to ensure things like lighting, power, signage, furniture, catering, and more all come together to create an amazing event for our attendees, or trying to get a local band to play during lunch. All of these things Philly did their first year, and refined and made better the second, now it’s our turn to get surprised at the last minute because union labor charges double on a Sunday, or whatever the Nashville equivalent of that Philly surprise is.
So far surprises have been kept to a minimum, maybe the biggest for me was just how much large conference venues charge for all the stuff you might think comes with renting the venue. Never would have thought it was thousands of dollars to put the WordPress logo on some TVs on the walls in the hallways.
Because it’s a hot city right now, being named in all kinds of “Best of” lists by large publications, it really is a diverse and growing city on the rise. We were honored to be chosen as the 2nd ever city to host WordCamp US, and believe that we will be able to set the standard along with Philly for what success looks like in a large city.