WordCamp Ventura: A refreshing experience

You may have missed the best WordCamp this year. Quietly tucked away in a back building off a small side street in Ventura, magic happened this weekend. It was the first ever WordCamp Ventura. The registration also went up casually and the ticket sales silently slipped away. If you weren’t online when registration went live, you most likely missed it. What you may not know is this was all intentional by design. See, chief organizer Konstantin Obenland, had a vision. He wanted to create a small intimate WordCamp, with one track, a limited number of speakers and offer only 50 tickets. Who would have thought this recipe would have turned into an experience that none of us would forget.

IMG_0120I’m still processing this weekends activities, but looking back at how this weekend unfolded, you can’t help but notice the brilliant choreography that went into creating this amazing event. It all started with the fantastic home cooked meal by Natalie MacLees and Alex Vasquez for the speaker dinner on Friday night. I was surprisingly invited by Andrew Behla, one of the organizing volunteers, to Konstantin’s home for this intimate gathering. Feeling like I was at an EatWith event, the Airbnb of social dining, the meal was superb with a series of incredible regular and vegan offerings. They started the preparation at noon on Friday and went all in to include, carrot soup, a petite salad, indian inspired chicken, eggplant and cheese and crackers. Desert was cheesecake garnished with fruit. This, in effect, set the tone for the entire event, where everyone got to share stories and got to know one another. It was nothing sort of special. You instinctually felt something different was happening here.

IMG_0118On the surface you might think, 50 people, one track, that kinda sounds like a regular meet up, but that is where you would be wrong. Each of the speakers were hand picked by Konstantin and his volunteer staff to speak on a wide range of topics. Alex Vasquez kicked it off to talk about being a better tool with Gulp. Mika Epstein entertained us with how Plugin Rejection happens. Zack Tollman killed the keynote, by sharing ways to make WordPress faster. Mike Schroder finally gave us the truth about WordPress secrets. Michael Adams gave us a reality check on security. Rachel Baker wow’d us with the new focus of WordPress using the JSON API. Natalie MacLees wrapped it all up with a detailed talk on better Javascript Maintenance! The delivery of each one of the speakers was unique, provided incredible value and left us wanting more. Scanning the room during the talks, all attendee’s weren’t wandering outside, but were all in their seats, engaged by the presenters. I’ve never seen that at a WordCamp.

IMG_0122There’s no question that the venue also played a role. Held at the Green Art People location, it was not only intimate, it was nothing short of perfect. Inside an old warehouse with concrete sides and massive wood trestles that spanned the width, we were invited in by eclectic art installations, cozy couches and hidden alcoves. Driftwood beams draped with canvas created a backdrop for the stage with a large rug that may have had a previous life in an enormous dining room, lay underfoot. We were provided with tasty treats, muffins, coffee, water and cool swag, like glass coffee mugs, glass water bottles, stickers, t-shirts, notebooks, etc. Lunch was provided by a Hot Dog themed food truck with gourmet options, as well as vegan and gluten free too! Fifteen minute breaks were in between each session, where we all got to chat, laugh and marvel at the resident mascot sunbathing on the artwork. It felt right.

IMG_0130I think we all wondered if this was what some of the early WordCamps were like. In times where WordCamps seem to span several days, have multiple tracks and are highly structured, you couldn’t help but to compare and contrast those to WordCamp Ventura. What really stuck out to me was the ability to have longer and more connected conversations with people. I personally spoke to every speaker and most of the attendee’s. I’ve never done that at any other WordCamp. Looking around the room, all I could see was engagement. Many great questions were asked and some of the responses turned into group discussions. When we broke for lunch, everyone hung out. We were all just, there. The after party was also the same, everyone sitting down in group conversations with a couple of complimentary drinks. Conversation flowed naturally and from the outside in, one would think we were all old friends getting together for some special occasion. IMG_0119The truth is, it was special to be there. It will be interesting to see how this evolves. Will we see more “micro” WordCamps? Or possibly doing the TEDx model and breaking things down into smaller regions? Whatever happens, WordCamp Ventura will forever be on the map as an attractive WordCamp model. Even if what old is new again, WordCamp Ventura, you have our attention! (*featured image credit Jason Tucker )

EDIT: I really am sorry for not including all of the organizers. They worked hard and it showed. Thank you to: Konstantin Obenland, Alicia St Rose, Andrew Behla, Erick Hitter, Chris Lauzon, Jason Tucker For the video streaming.

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11 thoughts on “WordCamp Ventura: A refreshing experience

  1. Wow. I don’t think I could add anything else to this. Thanks for a great write up and the nod on the cooking. This was a fun camp for a lot of reasons and I think that it wasn’t this huge event was a big part of that. i was able to actually converse at length with folks for once. It was a really neat event and a great departure from other WordCamps. =)

  2. What a wonderful write up. As one of the organizers, I’m truly touched. It was so much fun to organize as well as attend. All of the sessions were rich and informative and the after party was delightfully casual. The food was amazing! Not sure if I was at a WordCamp or Iron Chef and lucky Konstantin got the left overs!!

  3. Thanks for your great blog on WordCamp, Wes, and coming out! It was very rewarding to be an organizer and to see and meet all of the happy campers at the event! You captured the experience perfectly.

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