Brace yourself. This is a really long post but I have left a lot of things out and this is the story of 36 hours. My first draft was twice as long! 😉 However, you won’t be disappointed. I feel I have an interesting experience to share.
A cynic prepares for WordCamp Bhopal
In all honesty, my expectations and understanding of WordCamp Bhopal was clouded by a past WordCamp organised by students a couple of years ago. Adding to it, the organisers were WordPress and community noobs and often bungled things that we have come to expect as basic by community standards.
Added to that, lately, I have been spending a lot of time on the concept of WordCamp Glamour. Of course, associating with WordCamps is glamorous in the community and is beneficial for business. However, that attracts a lot of fame-seekers who have absolutely no interest in the stated or intended aims of a WordCamp. That’s the subject of a different blog post, however.
Yes, I’m cynical and I did question their intentions. Even then, I always doubt my cynicism even if, as a second thought. 😉 Keeping that in mind, I offered the organisers any help they needed with the event, except for sponsorships (Yapapaya is a new agency with not-so-deep pockets). In the same spirit, I applied as a speaker and decided to speak on “Contribution Oriented Development”. My application was accepted.
Clueless and bored in Bhopal
There were other factors, like how I can’t remember a lot of things thanks to my depression and how we’re having excitingly busy times at our month old agency, Yapapaya but in this case, I would say it was pure laziness and I didn’t make my travel arrangements till a couple of days before the WordCamp.
What happened because of that is that I landed at Bhopal junction at 02:30 am with no arrangements or plans. (I found out later that this gave me the freedom and the opportunity to have the experience that I ended up having.) I thought I’d stay in the waiting room available on the station. I’m a metro city dweller and expected it to be a dead place with sleepy dogs everywhere.
However, I’m addicted to nicotine and smoking is banned on trains. After a 16 hour long nicotine free journey, I needed my fix. So, I stepped out of the station and found it wide awake and buzzing with activity.
However, after a smoke or two and 4-5 cups of tea, I started getting bored. Also, I had no idea who I had to meet or contact in the morning and how early could I do that. I chatted with Aditya and Alex to while away some time but they were preparing to leave for the airport. So, I posted all my queries to a Facebook chat that had all the speakers and organisers as participants.
Fortunately, one of the organisers, Gourav was awake and responded.
From then on, boy! was I glad I was wrong about these guys! 🙂
Making friends, changing perceptions
I got into an Uber and went to Gourav’s “room”. A room is an interesting concept in India. It is just a room in a larger house that is sub-let like a hostel. When I first moved to Pune to join rtCamp, I lived in such a room. In fact, I met Ganesh, Yapapaya’s CEO because he used to live in such a room bang opposite mine with Joshua (currently, an engineer with 10up who has no social profiles to link to) who is a common friend.
Gourav was a little apprehensive about hosting a “speaker” in such a room. There, I found Tanay fast asleep after a tiring day of preparations but Gourav is not human and doesn’t sleep! Once he saw I was super comfortable and he had nothing to worry about, we ended up chatting about the event and his role. I shared my concerns and cleared all my misconceptions. He showed me Tanay’s design work and went on telling me great things about every organiser and volunteer. Gourav struck me as an interesting and hardworking person. If any WordPress agency owners are reading this, keep an eye on him, you might want to hire him as soon as he’s out of college!
Early in the morning, Tanay woke up and we spoke about the role of designers in the WordPress ecosystem. I introduced him to open source design and of course, Wapuu. He found it interesting that my CEO is a designer. That’s usually not the case! Animesh (another volunteer) arrived in his car, we got chatting even more and I learnt a lot of things.
Bhopal community, a background
What I learnt was that Bhopal has about 110 engineering colleges. Only four of them have any arrangements for Campus Placements. Of these, only the venue sponsor, that is, Laxmi Narayan College of Technology manages to have the best and a healthy placement record.
I learnt that their placement officer, Anuj Garg foresaw the benefit of engaging with open source communities for the students’ future and helped them in promoting the event, the logistics and making sure the event was smooth. He even arranged the college’s guesthouse for the speakers, at no extra cost. We all had reached early in the morning and needed a place to freshen up, shower, etc and a hotel seemed unreasonable. The college also provided buses to pick up participants from the station and elsewhere.
“Very thoughtful”, I thought to myself and made a mental note to make sure I met him. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. So, professor, if you’re reading this, thanks a lot! I’m sure we will visit Bhopal again and hopefully help out with a couple of workshops, training and organising meetups. I hope we’re able to discuss this in detail, someday. Especially since you’ve organised a damn dedicated space for the local meetup group! Such dedication and investment in your students’ future is commendable and I think I speak on behalf of the Global WordPress Community, we’ll help to make sure it bears fruits!
I also learnt that the only concept the students had of IT jobs were that of two year bonds, formal dress codes and measly salaries for a machine like existence (a recent essay on HeroPress gives more insight into this). Although I did give them an idea of what the WordPress ecosystem was like, I quickly realised that we (the speakers and other community members) had an important task today.
We were going to be the ambassadors of WordPress to the student community in Bhopal.
I also realised that most of the sessions lined up for the day (including mine) would be useless for an audience that largely consisted of people who had no idea what WordPress was and won’t make sense. What we needed to do was introduce these guys to the opportunities that WordPress could provide and the awesomeness of the ecosystem.
Animesh and I set out for the venue, picking up Aditya, the lead organiser on the way. I proposed that if we have time, we can have a panel discussion and QnA on Career Opportunities in WordPress. I even offered to replace my session with it. They quickly agreed to the former.
I couldn’t change my slides or make my topic accessible to these students. That kept hounding me as the day progressed. I hate doing that to myself and the audience, speak about something just because I have it prepared without bothering about whether my audience is interested or can participate. That’s one of the reasons I’m against single track events and find multi-track events to be fairer to both speakers and their own set of interested audience. Otherwise, all of us are just wasting a lot of people’s time. This criticism isn’t valid an hour before the session is about to start, anyway.
However, that’s what I feel and even though I felt the same about the majority of the sessions, it would be unfair for me to talk on these lines at such a short notice, so I didn’t speak to the other speakers about it. However, like I have mentioned, we arranged a panel with Nirav, Rahul and Amit, all three CEOs and speakers at the event.
I did share my findings about Bhopal’s student community with everyone else and I’m sure many of us see this as a future recruitment opportunity.
Aditya and I have also been discussing a type of event that’s relevant to such contexts. For the sake of conversation, we’re calling it a Student Edition WordCamp. It doesn’t need to be a WordCamp, it could be called something else, but it’d be awesome if the WordPress Foundation could back it, instead of private groups or companies.
It could be used to kickstart a meetup group and a community and would be targeted at people who are either newbies or beginners at WordPress. In just one or two years, it could transition into a full-fledged WordCamp or could co-exist with a regular WordCamp, as well. This would be super useful in India, especially in educational hubs. Then again, that’s a separate discussion, altogether. I digress!
The event and the struggle to start
This story I won’t go into much. In short, the projector failed, Vachan pulled out a portable projector out of his magic hat and after a long delay, things got back into track.
Before things got sorted, the organisers started panicking and worrying a little but they didn’t know how the community works. Soon, the “mighty esteemed respectable speakers” were sitting cross legged on the floor, trying to troubleshoot the problem and getting Vachan’s projector installed, at the same time.
Even Rahul, who can’t be seen in the picture and who was a gold sponsor and holds the distinction of leading the only WordPress VIP agency in the whole of Asia, was there, on the floor, helping figure things out.
Many organisers told me later that it was unprecedented. Guests, especially “VIP” guests don’t behave like they are the organisers themselves. Sponsors too, don’t take such glitches in their stride, forget trying to help with them!
Well, if only the members of the community considered themselves guests. 😉
While this was going on, the audience was getting restless and the emcees were a little lost. Alex came to the rescue but after a while naturally started talking about WordPress. I jumped in because the first speaker was supposed to do that and Alex could have inadvertently rendered his talk moot! We then had a little interaction with the audience where we tried to contrast the friendly informal nature of WordCamps with regular conferences.
Just before that, we discussed with the organisers and because things were getting really late, we suggested that the organisers ask the speakers to try and shorten their talks by 5-10 minutes, each. I again offered to cancel my talk because that made complete sense, given the scenario. However, I was still thinking at the back of my mind if I could tweak it so that it makes sense to this audience.
We here and later indicates Aditya Kane, Alex, Aditya Shah (the lead organiser) and other organisers and volunteers including the ones I have mentioned before.
We also decided that if it takes longer, we’ll have the panel discussion first. We even announced it and started to introduce it but viola, by now the projector was on and we could get started with the schedule.
I missed most of the sessions, needed to conserve my energy and needed to think about my presentations. Of course, I also needed frequent smoke breaks!
Career Opportunities with WordPress
Since both breakfast and lunch had been delayed, we decided to tweak the schedule and have the panel discussion immediately after lunch. The discussion was great, interactive and piqued the interest of the audience. The panelists were awesome with their answers and the audience enthralled by the peek into a possible career with WordPress.
To a question about dress codes and formalities, Rahul just pointed out to his attire and asked, “What do you think?” to a roar of laughter and an applause of approval. That’s when I felt deeply satisfied! See Rahul’s attire for yourself:
From what I observed, and was confirmed by the organisers, WordCamp Bhopal was a pleasant culture shock for all of them and the WordPress community gained some more fans that day.
Young, curious and energetic
The side-effect of all this and some interesting sessions in between was that the audience was engaged, willing to listen and super curious. All the speakers were quickly surrounded by young energetic students who had an endless flow of questions.
We speakers aren’t that old, many of us are just in our mid-thirties but keeping up with the students’ energy was exhausting; I had lost my voice by the end of the day! I could see the exhaustion on each speaker but they never turned a single person away, patiently answering questions and explaining things.
The most common question that I kept getting asked was,
WordPress looks exciting, I’m interested, how do I start?
After trying to answer it a couple of times, I quickly contacted the organisers and changed my topic to answer that question. I wasn’t prepared, I had no slides but I managed to pull a couple of slides from my existing presentation. My session was the last one and I was exhausted, the audience was exhausted. We (the audience and I) still managed an interesting, interactive session that’ll hopefully get the participants a step closer to WordPress. 🙂
So, yeah, I have no slides to share and my session didn’t have much structure but now, I don’t have to think of a fresh topic for WordCamp Udaipur. I’m going to send in the one I had prepared for WCBhopal!
Puneet, if you’re reading this, my applications, my slides and my content are ready more than 3 months before your WordCamp! Enough reason to select me, don’t you think? 😉
The WordCamp was over, but not the questions. We kept on till some more time and then went to see the special office space for the Bhopal WordPress community that I have already spoken about.
Divine intervention, any one?
The story should end with the speakers’ dinner but it doesn’t. I knew that the famous stupas of Sanchi were just 50 odd kms away. I had already come thousands of kilometers and couldn’t let go of the opportunity to visit them. I had made no plans or arrangements for my return journey yet.
Gourav insisted I stay with him because he’s not going to sleep and had some work to do. I’d be good company. After a little round of polite negotiations, I agreed. Back into his room, we continued our conversation around WordPress. Both of us were tired but not sleepy. The conversation moved to Samaanta, an event for the differently abled that Gourav co-ordinates. This was the second year and he had to come up with some ideas.
I spoke to him about accessibility and technology, especially WordPress. I told him about Raghav and suggested contacting Alex who’s deeply interested in such endeavours and I told him about Topher and HeroPress. Finally, after 36 hours of continuous excitement, I passed out.
Now imagine my surprise when I see a tweet addressing Gourav from Topher about Samaanta in the morning!
I felt a surge of emotion for Topher who’s on the other side of the world, having the exact same ideas. I’m not sure if most people would get it, but at times you experience the divine. This was one of those moments.
Finally, I headed to Sanchi, my legs and my voice sore from the previous day. Won’t say anything about it, see for yourself:
Here’s the album:
Inclusion and a little idea
Finally, after another 16 hours of a bus journey, where I couldn’t sleep properly, partly because my co-passenger snored heavily but mostly out of excitement, wonder and rumination, I reached home. Within an hour or two, I had an idea. I quickly consulted Ganesh and Aditya, my co-founders, called Gourav to check if it was okay with them and finally, asked Harshad Mane, the lead organiser of WordCamp Nashik for his help and announced the idea.
This is the second WordCamp, after WordCamp Pune 2015 that opened my eyes further, transformed me as a person and lent me such deep satisfaction. I was once trialling with WordCamp Central, where I was told how polished, sophisticated conferences don’t work for the community in the long run. What works is inclusive events where everyone gets to contribute in their own small ways.
I get that on an experiential level now. I think I have better ideas for the next WordCamp Pune and some more concepts on inclusiveness that I’d elaborate upon as the days pass and the thoughts get clearer. Until then, I’m looking forward to WordCamp Nashik which is about 2 weeks away.
I’m speaking there and all the founders of Yapapaya are also going to be there. Feel free to approach us. We love talking about WordPress and the community!