Rob Cairns talks to Jason Rouet about being a WordCamp organizer.
1. Why community matters.
2. The Work involved in being a Wordcamp organizer.
3. The challenges involved in being a Wordcamp organizer.
Hey everybody, Rob Cairns here and today I’m here with my guest Jason Rouet. How are you, Jason?
I’m good. Thanks, rob.
Ohh glad to have you. So we’re gonna jump in what it’s like to be on a WordCamp organizing team eventually. But before we do, I was gonna. What’s your WordPress origin story and how did you get into working with WordPress?
Yeah, that’s a good one. So I think I started my first website. Back ten years, or maybe 12 years ago, I think the first one was for my World of Warcraft killed, or maybe a Minecraft server. I don’t recall exactly, but it was for a gaming community. And when I studied geography in university, I I thought, yeah, this is what I want to to do full time so. I ended my my studies and I worked for Regency and then I’ve freelancing a few years and and that’s how I became like a WordPress community expert and and I ended up contributing to the WordPress ecosystem. Yeah, I think it was a gaming website that started everything.
I’m not sure why lot of people have jumped into technology because they gave me.
Yeah, I guess so.
I’ll share, I’ll share with you and the listeners. I’m actually a classic gaming fanatic, so I collect classic gaming machine. Means and I even have a coin out machine like the original arcade style space invader machine from Circuit 1979 and my carts in the original. I bought one and all the electronics inside are refurbished. I understand that a. Little bit. So there you go. Welcome. The community you mentioned isn’t the word press community kind of special and a little different than most other online movies.
Well, I think so by the size. First because you know what causes more than 30% of the Web now. So it gave a a lot of people from different profiles, different jobs origins. So this is kind of. I I don’t think there is an equivalent in the CMS’s world at least. And because RuPaul and Joomla are way, way behind it in terms of size, it’s also a welcoming community. We tend to be diverse and as inclusive. As possible, even if it’s a. Work in progress thing. It’s never finished. This is what I like in the community. That everyone is welcome and and even if you are not a technical person, you can be part of it. If you want to do it. You can find a way of. Contributing to it, that’s pretty.
Yeah. And it it’s one of the only communities I know where competitors talk to competitors. It’s quite interesting the dynamics that go on with look at the web hosts and they all have conversations and you look at the agency owners and we all have conversations. And it’s just. And in most businesses, you don’t see that. So that’s kind of what separates it. Out a little bit, I think.
Yeah, yeah, the, the the agency world is huge in in the workplace ecosystems. So there are a lot of people around the world working with WordPress. It’s easier to ask people. Are you using WordPress? And that’s not easy to find people that will say no. We are not everyone tested it once or I’ve done a few projects with with the the software so. It’s kind of. Very easy to to find people working with WordPress these days.
So so true. Organizing crew for work Camp Europe, which is a. In Athens, great time, you were the sponsorship lead that would, which is a big how. How did that go?
Yeah. So what compute is kind of unique at the moment because it’s. I don’t have to say that, but it’s the biggest world camp in the world. There are two of those world computers and world compassion. But that’s not exactly the same size. In the future, but not now. So it’s a huge event and it’s a volunteer based job, so that’s only. Thanks to my fight for the future program, my my employer is giving me time to contribute to the work camp. So that’s. But not everyone is sponsored that way. So I’ve got a few hours every week to work on it. But we are a team of 100 people each year and and in and there are several teams like the budget team, the contributor team, the community. The the design, etc. And there is this team called sponsors Team. Which are lid for two. It’s a team of 7-8 people each year and we are responsible for collecting all the budget from the sponsors because this is very specific to WordPress. But the word comes are very cheap. The tickets are only 50 bucks, so that’s kind of free. Away because the sponsors give us the money to lower the ticket prices. To the maximum we come. So the idea behind it is to welcome everyone, even if you don’t have a lot of money because we know that the flights the accommodation is already expensive and and you don’t have to pay a lot of money for the tickets. And as soon as you are in the world camp, everything is free. The beverages, the food, everything is in the budget so. Compared to normal tread show, when you have to pay a lot even when you are inside the. Event word comps are managing a lot for people and you don’t have to worry about your expenses during the event. And that’s that’s what I like with this kind of format because it. Gives people a lot of opportunities to network and they don’t have to think about the money at all during the camp. So yeah, and maybe a bit more about the the sponsor team, so we. Worked with around 70 companies each year to collect the money and the budget is around €1,000,000, so it’s a bit more in dollars. I don’t have the calculation but.
But yeah, that’s that’s. For a volunteer based event, that’s a huge bag of money and this is the no one is paid for that. No one is trained for it, so it’s only. Thanks to the the volunteers that are organizing the camp.
Did did you have any issues getting sponsors for this year being a fight ship or was that was with?
Last year in Porto in Portugal, it was pretty easy because it was the first in person event again at post COVID period. So everyone was willing to be there and so we. Chicken add. To it wasn’t a big effort to find people find the companies because they were coming to us this year. It was a bit different. We still have a lot of companies. Contacting us directly, but with the North American economy, a few companies had. Or is it called major layoff and it’s impacted the sponsorships because when there is a layoff and a cut in the expensive most of the time it’s in the marketing budget 1st and then in other departments say we had to. Be flexible with some sponsors, even big ones. To find another level of sponsorship for them and and and changed a few things. So it was. It was more difficult this year, but. In general, it’s still very easy to attract companies because they know it’s the biggest event. So that’s that’s easy in but but yeah, some with some companies it was more more work to to find a a solution.
Yeah, they’re they’re having. They join us in our. Especially at hosting companies that went on for a while, right? Right around the time of World campus, where we saw teams get caught and we’re talking to me nationals.
Yeah, for example, I will not name. People. But but we had this issue with one sponsor. And the point of contact the event manager was fired. His boss was fired, I think is on both SO2 level was fired and we had no one to talk with anymore. And it was kind of complex because because it’s on all free time to organize the events. We had to manage this situation and that’s an extra work to do, but things happen sometimes that’s normal, but.
Did your team manager come up? Oh, it’s fine. Did your team manage to with your full budget, Jason? In the end. The struggle.
Budget are flexible. You know, we managed to collect what we had in mind, but no extra money for, for example, this year the the after party that we have, we are having every year the night of the last day. Wasn’t sponsored and in the previous edition it was a thing that was sponsored each time. So we had to to to adapt the budget and the expensive. Depending on the money we collected, so it’s always a game of balance between what we can have from the sponsors and what we will have from from the local team that is. Producing the expenses, presenting them. So we had to lower the number of drinks, for example, that we served to the attendees. We only offered two coupons to get free drinks and then the rest was from your pocket. From your own pocket. So we change, we change a few things like that in the side, but for the main event everything was normal. So we had enough money. Of course, the more we collect, the more we can do with the money. That’s that’s the rule that we don’t have to pay people, so everything goes to the organizing team to organize things.
You know. Now you’ve done this for two years, I have to ask the question. Are you planning on doing a third or did you say?
So yeah. So maybe a bit of context when you’re a team lead, you work like 9-9 months before to organize 3 days of event. So that’s kind of huge. And we’ve so I was kind of tired when I was at the working because you have to manage so many things before then. You are doing the event and in a snap. The event is finished because three days is very quick and so I was kind of. Thinking about what to do next, because we have this unwritten rule that said you cannot be a team lead for more than two addition to let other people take the lead and experience what you you have done in the past. So that’s a good, good policy in my opinion. The thing is. You don’t have to do that, but you don’t know what to. Do next so. Yeah, I applied for next year, but I’m not sure yet what I will do. I’ve got some ideas, but that’s still something for the global leads to decide who to pick and in which team you will be assigned. Depending on your expertise and what you can do for the world camp.
You know, it’s funny. Before we went. To record you and I were talking that we’ve both been involved in organizing major and we both came. So many community events in the Toronto area and we know how much work is involved and we always know that the only one that sees all the mistakes is all the people on the organizing committee, right? Nobody else sees what we see because we’re perfectionists and we want to get this done. So the question becomes cause I’ve asked this question of myself is. Why should someone actually jump into the ring and get involved and organize what camp US? What would you say? No, we’re camp US. We’re camp Europe. What would you say?
Well, the same applied for what computers I guess, or what competition or any local what comes in the in the world. Well, I think personally. What attracted me was. Being able to network with people that are kind of the top influencers or the top. Managers in the WordPress ecosystem, so you as a sponsor team lead, you have access to every major companies, from from, from the space. From the workplace space, so you are able to talk with people from automatic at check back or look comments you are about to talk with people from GoDaddy or Stinger or whatever are the the the the sponsors in in your own world camp and so on. Just to name a few, so. Then you are kind of part of it. You are at the same level of understanding they need you. You need them so you can network and connect with people that are making things in the in our industry and that’s kind of. Interesting because connecting with people is what drives me. It’s it’s all about humans. The world comes. You gather people to learn to grow together. And and yeah to to connect of course. So that’s interesting. It’s also a way of contributing if you are not like I’m a business project manager person. So I’m not a developer even if I know a few things. I am not a security expert, even if I know a few, a few basics and no been, I’m not a designer also. So I just have the community on I can be involved in that. I can do things and that’s the whole different with. I I will. Never be a developer from the core. From what the score, I don’t have the expertise to do that. So yeah, that’s all about networking. That’s all about learning from others and also the what computer Europe is kind of specific because. Compared to local work camps, there are people from all over the world, from different cultures, different languages. English is just a language to to connect together. But if you are friends like me, you can connect with other French people. You’re going there if you are Greek, you you will meet Greek people. You will also connect with people from all over all over the continent, but also from other countries, from North America, from Asia, from Africa or whatever from other continents. So that’s that’s the only place where you can. Meets World presses from all the communities. And this is exciting.
I I think so and the the only other place I think besides running a big work camp, honestly. Is running a podcast because I I find I get the same level like I’ve. I’ve talked to automaticity ANS right up to Matthias Ventura on the show. Who’s the lead Gutenberg lead? I’ve talked to people at most of the major hosting. So I think that similarity is there, but I I would agree with you. The reason they get involved in running anything is getting to meet people and network people. I think. I think God was a little bit.
Yeah. Yeah. In the digital world, podcasts are the the way to connect with a lot of people. And I’m I’m convinced it’s a format that is very attractive. Easy to it’s easy to connect with people from you. Just you just need Internet. A good microphone headset and that’s all a a PC computer of course, but and then you can you can talk with you. In your show. But that’s that’s. That’s interesting. Yeah, I think what can US and Asia will. Our similar to Europe, it’s just that the size is different that you, you will find the the people that are that are that are known and to connect with people during camps people are super easy to connect with they are. There you just have to introduce yourself and and and go for it. That’s that’s kind of easy.
Having been on the organization two year, what would be your three things that you learn the most? About your community or about what you did or you’d like to do over, could you share?
Some of that, yeah. The the the first thing was I think. Adapting to other cultures is not always easy. It’s something you need to work on. For example, this year we had in the teams 3 French people, one from Germany, one from London, one from Greece one. From Spain and one from. Great Britain, United Kingdom, sorry so. With different level of language with different cultural issues sometimes. So we have to be patient and and talk and be yeah be. Friendly with the the rest of the team because. Everyone needs to learn something, so that’s that’s maybe the first thing. Then communication is odd because we have a lot of time zones from the US to Asia because we are sponsored from the US, for example, Europe. And India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Singapore over countries Australia maybe. It’s it’s something we need to to to have in mind because we are sending emails with eight hours from one place to another. So that’s kind of it was new for me. And then yeah, communication internally with the other organizers externally with the sponsors. That’s something to learn, and that’s very, very interesting. And maybe then, yeah, the pricing because we had to think about the strategy, the pricing, the the floor plan, how to place a booth for a super engine, which is the top level of sponsorship and how to deal with the SMB’s booth.
Which is just a table, but we have 30 of them to place on the floor plan, so that’s kind of a logistical nightmare. And that’s where it’s challenging exactly. But we have a good contractor to help us on the logistical side. So it helps a lot. But yeah, how to price a little?
The top one this year was 80 K EUR and the the, the, the, the little 1. The SMB was 2.5 K so there is a used. Is it the right price? Could they pay more or less? How to make a profitable event because we cannot lose money because then the foundation, the Workforce Foundation, which is the legal entity backing up. The the the events. We’ll have a problem eventually, and if we are profitable, it will help give local welcomes some budget directly so. That’s not an easy task, yeah.
No, I remember back to my event days and it’s hard because the SMB that doesn’t pay as much as a, say a gold sponsor wants the same exposure and reality of sponsorship is hate to tell people the more money you pay, the more exposure. Again, it’s it’s very simple. I mean it’s not. And that comes into the whole floor plan issue. Like the more you pay. The into the the. More prime location when it gets the way it works.
Exactly. And. And you need to educate them. At least the newcomers, because like, for example, Jetpack is part of the community since the beginning, they, they they know how what press ecosystem and community is behaving. They know the underwriting rules, they know the feeling. The then how to? This is something you can do. This isn’t something that will lead to a bad buzz, but for newcomers that are not part of the community for long or that are kind of outside of the WordPress bubble. They need to understand how the, what presses, think about the community and how it’s organized. You cannot do aggressive marketing things like in any. Normal trade show you cannot display a billboard of your brand on the hotels in the city. That’s not something that is that it’s not something to do you you need to go there, understand the community, how it works and it takes some time. UM and sometimes some sponsors are coming to the event and they are searching for direct ROI direct π. And that’s not the best thing to do. It’s more about brand awareness, about making some demo to your customers and talking with the community having some feedbacks, it’s more more about customer relationship than business oriented event and. Sometimes some sponsors don’t understand that because they are not used to it and. And they they need to learn about it and and we need we are kind of the keeper of this spirit as organisers and we need to educate them to, to, to. To consult on that issues and help them understand what to do or not. So that’s also part of the job, kind of.
And sponsoring an event. Frankly, it’s a long game, not a short game. It’s not.
We never make big sales and we walk away smiling faces with dollar signs it it doesn’t work. So we talked about some of. The things you learned. What was for you the most exciting thing for? US, not US. Sure, sorry. Not working here.
I I didn’t I a lot of time to attend the conferences because I was kind of managing the sponsors during the event. But. I attended Matt Milenberg keynote with. With this presentation of the future of Guttenberg, the editor of WordPress. And I think it was or is it called Matthias? I think he is the Gutenberg architect and and he he presented the the the future of collaboration inside the Gutenberg thing like something close to. The experience you can have on Google Drive when you are. Typing text and someone else is typing something else, so you you see in in life what the other people in the document are doing, and so this is gonna be something inside WordPress directly. The the editorial teams will be able to collaborate on a post or a page directly together in. Life and this is kind of exciting because we are talking about it since a few years already and now it’s. In betas, it will be in WordPress in maybe not this year, but maybe the first better next year or the year after that. So it’s very close to be integrated to the to the CMS. And this is kind of a a change, a great change for me because I’m working for a web agency and I’m working with editorial teams client at my clients and they are seeking for those features since. Years already. And and it will be very, very interesting how it will be integrated.
What I would suggest is that that’s. The feature you’re. Looking at using the listeners, just make sure you get some good hosting. It’s time to get off that 29515 package. That’s just not going to cut it with the resources of collaboration. And working for an agency have to break out to this conversation because what would be a podcast without mentioning the 2 letters AI these days, right and. How how? How does you and your agency feel about the whole artificial intelligence?
It’s early ages. It’s still the far West. I didn’t. Explored it very much yet, but I’m seeing more and more interesting way creative way of using it. It could be for developers with. Like copilot, GitHub copilot thing that helps you complete your code automatically. I’m not saying it’s it’s a tool that’s. It’s just a tool that will help you be quicker on some. Quantitative tasks and be focused on quality. Cold, but some code is something that you will use in every project, so why not giving that task to an eye to help you be quicker and focused on what is very important right now we are we. It’s just person. Small projects, but I know a developer in my web agency is educating the AI to understand his code and help him find some some problems. Before deploying it live. So. You know. PHP test unit test is a thing since a few years, but adding a UI on that on that section is making it more powerful, more intelligent, while intelligent is maybe not the right. Word, but it’s more useful and and. Writing tests is always hard. It’s always very, very long. But leveraging, I don’t know GPT or copilot to help you build your scenarios and and then you will be able to test your code with it. It’s it’s totally new. Uh, we never had some such tools before or it costed a lot of money before. Now it’s. I don’t know, 10 euros, €20 a month just to to have access to, to to something like that, so. Yeah, I think we are not very. In advance with those fields, I serve web agencies using it to write documentation on JIRA automatically. For example, having some kind of. Change log automatically written by DI which is like. Incredible because it’s a lot of time to to write those things. So that’s, yeah, that’s it. Will became something that we will use daily in the future, that’s for sure there. Are a lot of.
I would wait. I’m already there. I’m kind of already here, so it’s worked itself daily in my.
Yeah, yeah. I think a lot of people are already trying. To to use it in a creative way, finding I saw a lot of SEO experts leveraging it to to to find new topics for their next post, things like that. It’s not totally new but. It’s very easy to use. That’s the the the because. We we used excel with automatic thing like to to understand the topics that we had to write before. This is with formulas and things like that. But. It takes time to to write the formulas and to give them the datas to the Excel. To to make the calculation and then you have your spreadsheet automatically populated with your your your topics for example. But now you just have to ask ChatGPT. Yeah. OK, give me like. 10 ideas of for my next post, and it will give you 10 ****** thing and then you will ask him. Yeah, OK. But you have to give me 10 topics by by adding a look at this blog because this is how I want the topics to be name. It will give you another list of not really good topics and then with two 3-4 more prompt then you will get something more legitimate and this is interesting very.
Jason, thanks for joining me today. If somebody wants to reach out to you, what is the bet to talk about? For anything else, what’s the best?
Jason, thanks for your time. Have an amazing day, my friend.
Be well, thanks Rob. Bye bye.