WordCamp Sheffield 2014

Last weekend was WordCamp Sheffield, a special WordCamp for many reasons if not just for the fact that is was the first WordCamp of the year in the UK. It was also a little different for me as I was speaking for the first time on a topic which I have worked on for a while, customising the WordPress admin screens.

The journey over to Sheffield was a good one and was much quicker than I thought. It really is all that far away! Driving over Snake Pass in the Fog was fantastic, if a little scary at some places, but dropping down the valley at the other side gave some tremendous views.

Arriving just before 0900 at the venue (Mappin Hall) which was part of the University I grabbed a coffee before registration. Lanyards and T-Shirts were given out. The WordCamp Sheffield T-Shirt was a lovely design incorporating a map of Sheffield and the WordPress logo of course. White and blue T-Shirts were seen worn and it turns out that the white T-Shirts were for attendees and the blue for speakers – I got the wrong one, but to be honest I haven’t got many white T-Shirts so I was not too disappointed!

Then started the range of different speakers throughout the day. With two tracks in a large hall and smaller lecture theatre there was plenty to choose from. I started out in the lecture theatre.

Dependancy Management with Composer and WordPress – Tom J Nowell

Tom gave an interesting talk about code dependancies. The overview being that many of the frameworks used in WordPress development end up loading a lot of code that is never actually used – something I have agreed with for a while.

Tom suggested using a code dependancy tool named composer. This is something which I would like to look into in the future and it sounds promising, if not a little complicated.

APIness – Robert O’Rourke

The second talk, again on the developer track in the lecture theatre was all about utilising WordPress’ APIs. Recently I have worked on a number of sites where this has needed to be done and therefore I was interested to see what tips and ticks Robert had to share.

The talk concentrated on the WordPress HTTP API which I was pleased about as I have used this and wanted to check that I was using it in the right way. I am happy to say that I am.

Robert did give a great tip in that if you are using the wp_oembed_get() function in WordPress you need to cache the results as WordPress does not do this for you like it does with oEmbed items in the post content. I will be implementing this fix to one of the sites I was using this on soon.

The Challenges of Running a Multi-Author Blog – Samantha Deakin

Samantha introduced some top tips that she had learned about getting authors on her award winning blog to contribute including having it in their contract that they must contribute to the site at least once a week.

Samantha also outlined some of the useful plugins she had used on the blog over the years, which are outlined in the slides (link below).

View the Slides

Wow Plugins, Awesome Plugins for Your Site – Kimb Jones

Kimb delivered his customary informal talk on the latest and greatest plugins out there at the moment.  Apart from some live demos going wrong, the talk did outline some new plugins that I had not heard of that could be useful.

A Simpler WordPress Admin For Clients – Me!

Next was time for my talk on the developer track. This was my first conference talk and I was a little nervous. I was surprised at how many delegates attended as I was along side Graham Armfield’s talk on WordPress accessibility, a topic which is growing in necessity by the month.

My talk went well and I had some interesting questions at the end – thanks to all those who listened!

Rules for a Teenage WordPress Community

As a teacher I was interested to hear Michelle Dillon’s talk on her experience of creating Rockhaq. It was refreshing to hear that some of the things Michelle learnt when creating the site, were the same barriers and experiences that I have had in the past creating online sites for teenagers in schools.

Hitchhikers Guide to Custom Post Types

Jenny Wong gave the final talk of the day before the Keynote all about Custom Post Types in WordPress, which are the basis of what makes WordPress such a good CMS to use. Jenny talked through what Custom Post Types are, how to add them and use them alongside custom taxonomies.

The final Keynote sessions was a Q&A with the WordPress co-founder Mike Little. Unfortunately I only caught the first 10 minutes of this as I had to leave to head back across the Penninies for home.

WordCamp Sheffield was an excellent event at an excellent venue. It was my first WordCamp where I was a speaker, something that I definitely want to do again soon. But most of all, as always with WordCamp, what makes they so special is the fantastic people that attend. It was great to catch up with everyone again and nice to see some new faces too. See you all in Manchester at the end of June!

The Digital Barn 2

On Saturday the 22nd of September I took the trip over the Pennines to Barnsley to attend The Digital Barn 2, an event full of informative presentations, workshops, banter and idea sharing. The whole experience was a tremendous success and huge credit should go out to Kimb Jones, Matthew Watson and the Barnsley DMC. The day was an excellent learning experience with some very well presented talks.

The first session I attended was “How to Win & Work with Big Clients” from the guys over at Human Made. I enjoyed this talk as Tom and Joe gave us all a taste of what most of us are working towards. Talks like this always inspire you to work harder, more efficient and provide a better service overall with the view that one day you may be able to attract the types of clients that the team at Human Made do WordPress work for every day. Tom and Joe gave some great tips including:

  1. Be Focused
  2. Be Credible
  3. Learn how to charge
  4. Be excellent

Some sound obvious but we all need a reminder from time to time of the basics in order to focus on what we want to achieve. I was particularly interested in hearing their thoughts on learning how to charge, something which I still cannot get right nearly 5 years into freelancing!

Next up was Bea Marshall talking about “Transforming your online presence“. I really enjoyed this talk as Bea had so much enthusiasm and some very good ideas on all sorts of different topics. I will remember Jonny’s question about a Facebook campaign for funeral directors for a while and Bea’s ideas on this were remarkable and very unique.

Next up came my favourite talk of the day from Craig Burgess. Craig comical presentation style amused the audience but his message was a very serious one and one we can all learn a lot from. I think this talk inspired me the most as I got my thinking about my teaching career. I have been trying to teach 11 – 16 year olds why some design is good and some is not so good for such as long time with little success (that and the fact I am not a designer!). Although a good design is very much in the eye of the viewer, it is clear that some designs are clearer good and some are clearly magic. Craig’s talk gave me some great ideas on how to get this message across. Thanks Craig!

Having already thoroughly enjoyed David Coveney’s talk at WordCamp UK in Edinburgh earlier in the year, it was great to listen to “Be A Better Businessman” again with some great improvements and tweaks to the talk, focusing clearly on the ethics of business. David’s story of Abbey National not treating him well some years ago certainly got me thinking about business and they way to run or not to run a business.

Lunch was next and a cracking spread of Pizza’s and garlic bread was included in the ticket price, excellent value at a total cost of £11.25. What seemed like an unlimited supply of drinks, including coffee and beer made for a wonderful lunch time, mingling with many in attendance. I often find that the informal chatter is the best part of these meetups.

Jason Brewster then engaged the audience after lunch with “UX for the public sector”. Jason’s talk was a breath of fresh air talking about the design and how learning how the brain effects the way in which design are perceived really gave me some good points to remember when creating websites. Remember that the eye looks at a page in the letter ‘F’!

The day finished with Rachel Shillcock telling us “How to understand what makes you special”. This was Rachel’s first speaking gig and I thought she made an excellent job of it and gave us all something to think about – well done Rachel!.

So that brings me to sum up my thoughts. The main things that I have taken out of the event are as follows:

  • Focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses; I thought this tweet summed this up perfectly.
  • Be positive and believe in yourself. Push yourself to do new things in order to improve.
  • I want to speak at an event! Problem is I am not sure what to talk about really.

I look forward to the Digital Barn 3 next year and other events in between!