WordCamp London 2013 Review

November 25th, 2013 - Posted by Steve Marks to Miscellaneous, Web Development.

Over the weekend we attended WordCamp London 2013. It was our first WordCamp so we were pretty unsure about what to expect, but at just £25 per ticket, it seemed mad to pass up the chance of going.

The Venue

The event was held at the Bishopgate Institute which housed a large theatre-style room on the main floor, and a smaller room upstairs. It was easily accessible from the tube, was well laid out and just the right size for the amount of people present.


Upon registering we were attended to immediately and received a t-shirt and customised lanyard containing the timetable and a map.

WordCamp Souvenirs
The schedule for the day was split up into two ‘tracks’ where each speaker had 30-45 minutes. We spent most of the day in the main hall where the more developer orientated speeches took place.

Shipping Code For Fun & Profit – Lee Willis

The first talk of the day was by Lee Willis. Lee has contributed to the WordPress codebase and built many high-usage plugins. Being a fan of developing plugins for public use I was particularly interested in this talk.

Lee talked about his past, his achievements and the lessons learnt during developing plugins that have hundreds of thousands of downloads. Some key lessons here for me included:

– Ship your code early so you can begin to get feedback. There’s no point waiting until it’s absolutely perfect before releasing it otherwise it will never get released.
– Be prepared to do a second version.
– Be honest about support to help people make decisions on whether they want to download and use your code.

Developing for the new Media Manager – John Blackbourn

John Blackbourn helped build the updated Media Manager in WordPress. This talk covered a bit about this, but also went into detail about the new Media Explorer plugin which allows you to integrate tweets and YouTube directly into your post from the Media Manager.

Out of all of the talks, this was definitely the most technically focused one. This is certainly not a bad thing mind you. John discussed the new JavaScript libraries that WordPress are starting to use, such as underscore.js and backbone.js, and demonstrated using small code snippets how they can benefit the developer, as well as how their use correlated to the plugins features.

The Magic of WordPress – Andrew Nacin

The description for this talk on the WordCamp website was as follows:

Andrew Nacin gives a talk for developers about the magical unicorns living inside WordPress.

Magical unicorns? If that isn’t enough to make you want to see this talk, I don’t know what is. Alas, there were no unicorns, but there were plenty of interesting topics discussed. Most of these topics covered things that happen in the background of WordPress that you never see.

A good example of this is when they amend the database structure and move columns around, and how they achieve this without breaking millions of sites and plugins.

Another interesting discussion was with regards to the automatic updates that were introduced in WordPress 3.7 earlier this year. Understandably there were a lot of questions about how safe these automatic updates are and will they break anything. Andrew reassured everyone’s worries by confidently claiming that about 99.6% (I forget the actual figure) of automatic updates have been successful. I’m sold on this idea now and I think everyone else in the room was too.

Need for Speed: Gear up your WordPress – Hristo Pandjarov

The speed of websites has become more and more key over the past few of years, especially after Google announced that it takes a sites speed into account in it’s rankings algorithm. As you can imagine then, the room filled up quickly for this speech from Hristo Pandjarov about how to increase the speed of your WordPress site.

This topic is very broad so understandably, due to the time constraint, a lot of the items were mentioned but not discussed in great detail. The main thing I took away from this speech was that caching is the best way to speed up a site. I generally always use a caching plugin on my WordPress sites but reverse proxy caching, such as Varnish, provides a much better result. This is something I’ll definitely be taking a look at.

10 Years of WordPress: a Founder’s View – Mike Little

If you don’t know, Mike Little is the co-founder of the WordPress that we all know and love today. This talk didn’t cover any aspect of WordPress specifically, but was more about Mike’s history with WordPress, how it was founded and it’s progress through the various version numbers.

If you’re like me you often just download WordPress, install it and start using it without giving any thought to it’s journey over the past 10 years. This speech demonstrated how far the platform has come since it branched off from B2, and that without the dedication and hard work of it’s founders it wouldn’t exist as we know it today.


Lunch was over an hour long and consisted of a Mexican style buffet.

Lessons from WordPress 3.6 – Mark Jaquith

This talk certainly had a 37 Signals-esque feel to it and was my favourite talk of the day. Mark Jaquith headed the release of WordPress 3.6 which, as he explains, was a few months late.

During this talk he discussed why it was late, the big decisions involved during a WordPress version release, and most importantly the lessons he’d learned. Some of these lessons included: “Get feedback early” and “Know your goal from the outset”.

The cool thing to hear during this slot was how future feature development will occur. Mark reported that it will become more common for features to be developed as a plugin where they can be built, tested and trialled in isolation, then implemented into the main codebase, or dropped, at a later date. I really like this idea and look forward to seeing this in greater effect going forward.

Debugging WordPress – Mario Peshev

Debugging is something I think a lot of people struggle with and an area I feel isn’t covered much. If you take a look on Stack Overflow, pretty much every question raised is done so due to the fact the poster hasn’t, can’t or doesn’t know how to debug their code.

Mario Peshev’s talk ran through all the areas of debugging across all the different languages. From PHP to JavaScript, and from slow SQL queries to Apache error logs. He also discussed some tools that can aid with debugging, such as Xdebug for PHP.

Admittedly I did know about most of the points mentioned, but this talk did throw up some new and useful tips.

BuddyPress Myth Busting – Tammie Lister

I’ve never used BuddyPress before but I have seen it around and always wondered what exactly it was about. As a result we decided to stay and find out more.

The talk didn’t actually explain what BuddyPress was and assumed you had a good understanding of it’s templating system. Strangely the speaker also didn’t seem to know much about the product herself when questions were thrown at her from the audience at the end.

If you’re a BuddyPress user this talk was probably very useful but for us we didn’t learn anything new, nor did it whet our whistle for using BuddyPress in the future.

Content marketing for real people – Alex Denning

Again, a talk that wasn’t directly to do with WordPress but was nonetheless very beneficial. The speech from Alex Denning was about how to promote your content, and contained tips on what to do, and what not to do, when it comes to posting to the various social sites.

This is an area we’ve become increasingly interested in during the past few months so this was a talk we thoroughly enjoyed and found very beneficial.

From Blog to Book – Jessica Jones

This talk was the ‘weirdest’ shall we say. Jessica Jones was diagnosed with breast cancer and decided to blog about it, after which it got turned into a book. It was conducted sitting on leather chairs by another person in an interview fashion.

Jessica’s story was interesting and I’ve got a lot of respect for her. I don’t see this blog ever getting turned into a book, but it did demonstrate that blogging is a great way to express yourself and help others in a similar situation.

On Learning – Nikolay Bachiyski

The final talk of the day was again not directly linked to WordPress and focussed on learning, challenging yourself, and finding a compromise between frustration and boredom.

The slot by Nikolay Bachiyski talked about how we ‘learn from doing’ and getting outside of our comfort zone forces us to pick up new skills. It felt like a bit of a random talk if I’m honest but it did make me think about whether I’m pushing myself and learning enough. It’s all too easy to fall into a comfort zone and stick with what you know.


In summary the day was excellent. The speeches throughout the day covered all aspects of WordPress and more. We left feeling inspired and eager to get cracking on more WordPress projects. For me, that’s what conferences are all about it so it definitely succeeded.

It also made me realise just how good and supported WordPress is. It demonstrated to me how dedicated it’s backers and developers are, and just how enthusiastic its community is.

The organisation of the whole WordCamp event was very good so a massive thank you and congratulations to the organisers, speakers and volunteers which made it all happen.

Roll on WordCamp 2014!

This entry was posted on Monday, November 25th, 2013 at 12:17 pm by +Steve Marks and is filed under Miscellaneous, Web Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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