Having one of those jobs where you get to travel for conferences is a blessing and a curse. But the curse is such a minor one. You’re a little worn out from the travel, so that may slow down your work for a day or two. That’s a pittance for being able to go places you’ve never been before and meet new people. When people say you get tired of travel, I try not to roll my eyes.
WP Engine sent a team of folks to WordCamp NYC this year, including little old me. As much as I’d like to think I’m fairly well-traveled, it was the very first time that I had set foot in NYC. The closest I’d ever gotten before was my short layover in Atlanta before I flew to Santiago, Chile for 6 months. Before that, I lived for a summer in Monterrey, Mexico. I even spent a week on Easter Island, but I literally hadn’t been North of Atlanta, Georgia until my job flew me to New York. And believe me, I had this song in my head the whole damn time…
The plane came in to land in La Guardia, and the pilot let us know that we’d be able to look out the left windows to see Ellis Island and Manhattan. As I leaned over to see the city, I was struck by how large scale the city was. What I mean, is that the buildings sticking up out of the city are each so large that that they looked fake to me. I thought some kid had left his super realistic train set and model city out and I might knock things over if I wasn’t careful where I stepped. Things were so big my mind didn’t have anything to compare it to, so what I perceived was small, not enormous. And the city is absolutely enormous.
Never leave Chelsea
Shayda was also new to the city, so as soon as we landed at got situated at the Hilton in the Fashion District / Chelsea, she and I rolled out and started walking the city. Here’s how big New York is compared to Austin, Texas. If I walk out of the WP Engine offices, in the heart of downtown Austin, and walk in any direction for 15 minutes, I’m not in downtown anymore. I’m in residential neighborhoods. Shayda and I stepped out of the hotel and walked for hours that afternoon, but when I looked at the map we were still in the heart of Chelsea. I actually never left Chelsea that whole weekend, and you know it wasn’t because I spent the whole time ordering room service. The trip actually came a few weeks after my breakup, so I was working pretty hard to immerse myself in as much of the city as possible.
All the People
The whole weekend was too much to really write about here. I wouldn’t know where to start, actually. While I was there I met some amazing WordPress people for the first time: Mason James, who I’ve been talking to since joining WP Engine; Siobhan McKeown, who I admire as a fellow blogger, who is also a full-time writer; Henry Perkins, who threw some “mad shade” on WP Engine over the weekend; Mark Jaquith and Andrew Nacin, who don’t need an intro, but who I was excited to meet, AND are both very awesome at engaging all the folks who want to talk with them at WordCamps, including me. I saw them talk to dozens of folks the whole weekend, taking pictures and all the stuff minor internet celebrities do with verve and humility.
I also made some great friends in the city as well as from the conference. One was from a European hosting company who proved with me over Potato Pancakes and Blueberry Pie that New York really never sleeps. One New Yorker was awesome enough to give me a personal tour of the city, hitting The Highline, the elevated tracks that were reclaimed as an elevated park, Sunday evening with me.
WordPress + Social Media Plugins
I gave my presentation about adding digital media to WordPress, the *right* way. The alternate title is, “One does not simply add Facebook Plugins to WordPress…” I’ve linked to the slides, but the summary is that before you start adding “SHARE THIS EVERYWHERE” buttons on WordPress, you’ve got to:
- Understand your audience to select the right social channels to engage them,
- Grow the communities around those channels, so that when you
- Push your own content on the channels (Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest), you have grown a large audience to view your content.
Since most “social media” talks are mostly nonsense, I spend a lot of time exploring specific examples of how to do all 3. When folks walk out of my talk, they can actually apply it to their own strategy because they’ve seen real-life examples of people doing it right, and people doing it wrong. The presentation is worth a 3-5 blog post series to explain all that. I’ll write those in the next 4 weeks.
Ben Metcalfe and I did some serious interviewing over the weekend as well. I’ve been experimenting with video content for WP Engine’s strategy, so we bought a handheld video camera and microphone to interview WordPress developers. Videos are being edited last week, and I’ll link to the video when it’s ready to roll. But here’s a preview:
- Eric Hitter taught me about VIP development
- Rami Habal, Head of Product at Wordnik, told me how their plugin is disrupting blogging and dictionaries
- Wendy McGee, Mommy blogger, talked about working with developers for her blog and learning the hard way the value of scalable hosting
I’ll release the first video early next week.
I’m an Extravert, Really
One of the most powerful parts of the weekend was how little space I had to myself. In a city of 8 million people, there are about 30,000 people per square mile. You never really get to be alone in that sort of environment. I’ve recently gotten used to jumping in my car, dropping the top, and driving into the hill country when I need to clear my head. I don’t really know what I’d do if I lived in Manhattan, because there isn’t enough space for anyone to have a yard, much a place for their car. I don’t think that’s what people who live in the city actually care about, though. No doubt, if the right people read this, they’ll have plenty of reasons to live in the city. Like the murals on the side of every other building, so you can turn a corner and stand awestruck at the mural in front of you. Or the food. Or the activity that happens day and night. I had potato pancakes and apple sauce at a packed diner at 2 AM Saturday night, and walked streets full of people still wide awake and living. I loved every second of it, but I wanted to go off to myself and write for a while. Maybe Central Park would have had some of that for me I don’t know.
There was so much of the city that I never saw. Chelsea was amazing, but I really never left. I missed the Empire State Building, and the Financial District, and Times Square, and Central Park. In a city so big, my strategy was to focus on a small location, and soak that up. I left myself a lot of reasons to go back there, and I’m sure that I’ll be back within the year.
Ultimately, it was amazing. And I loved being able to work while I was there. I am most fully myself when I’m at work, and meeting new people. It gives me something to attach myself to and find stability.
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York, New York,