It was an action-packed weekend in New York City: the Big Apple BBQ block party, the Puerto Rican Day Parade and WordCamp NYC 2012 at Baruch College. I’ve been looking forward to going to a WordCamp since I heard about them on a SitePoint podcast last year. After seeing a tweet about it, I made sure I signed up immediately. I was so excited about WordCamp, my enthusiasm was caught by my wife, who also wanted to attend, so I got 2 tickets. I’ve been to web conferences before, but wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, partially because tickets were only $35/each and we’ve hear the old adage – something about paying for the value of something or something? I guess if nothing else, at least I got a t-shirt!
One of the things that makes WordPress so special is that it is an open-source product. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, that means it’s FREE. As someone who has been working with a content management system that is the antithesis of open-source and even more so of free, I’m amazed at the high quality of all the free themes, plug-ins, extensions and help that is available. That same sort of giving back attitude was on display at the conference where they had a “Happiness Bar” set up to field any questions that you might have about WordPress. I spoke with a gentleman named Luke was doing his best to help me with my local WordPress installation on Windows issue that I was having. Being a Mac guy, he wasn’t exactly sure how to solve the problem, but he pointed me to the WordPress IRC Channel, something I would have never thought to use. That attitude was was pretty reminiscent of the speakers and volunteers. Since WordPress is such a deep product, it was very interesting
I Learned Stuff!
As someone who has built several sites using WordPress, I was pretty confident in my abilities and what I knew. After the first few sessions, I got a nice dose of reality and realized there was still much to learn, young Padawan. The first day, this eye-opening was from Jesse Friedman who spoke about Responsive Design in WordPress. One of the most important points he talked about was using the PHP Mobile Detection instead of depending on media queries in your CSS to determine what to different sized browsers. Another was great demonstration showed a script that was able to deploy different-sized images depending on the viewport in the browser.
The next two sessions had some similar underlying themes – using child themes. Tracy had a great presentation about the power of child themes and showed several examples of work she had completed using the standard WordPress 2010 and 2011 themes as the parent and using child themes to build off the parent theme. It was very interesting to see how functions.php would append the parent version of functions.php while a file like footer.php would completely replace and ignore the parent version of footer.php. Seeing this in action was a huge leap in understanding how WordPress works and is a technique I will look to use in upcoming projects. I’ve always thought that since I knew what I was doing, I should just take a theme and start hacking it up, or just build one from scratch. This concept really got me thinking about how I can just use what’s already and build faster, instead of having to always build up from scratch. It also got me thinking about how I use plug-ins and tend to edit the actual PHP and CSS, preventing them from ever being updated and over-writing my customizations.
Probably the most important thing I needed to further get my head around was custom post types, templates and the loop. All three of those need to work together and fortunately, that was something that several presenters were speaking about. Alex and Jeff discussed how to create templates and customize the loop based on the different types of content being displayed on the page. They were even awesome enough to link to all their presentation content on GitHub.
By popular demand, Sarah was asked to repeat her performance from Saturday about categories and templates. It was very informative to see how the fallback system for using template pages and categories. When you see concepts such as this explained, you realize that WordPress is a very intuitive system. She also recommended Digging Into WordPress, which I have subsequently purchased and look forward to…wait for it…digging into.
Another repeat performer was John, talking about custom post types and the Custom Post Type UI. It’s a great way to extend WordPress and make it more customizable and easier for a client to maintain.
In one of the last sessions, we got to see a preview of what’s coming up in WordPress 3.4 and it looks pretty sweet. The coolest feature we were shown was the real-time CSS theme editing that would be previewed and saved in the browser and saved right to your theme. Very cool stuff.
Was It Worth It?
In a word: Absolutely. To say that I the money would be an unfair understatement. I would have happily paid double for the experience and knowledge I walked with. Plus, I got an awesome t-shirt that I’ll get to wear at WordCamp next year. The community around this product is so active and enthusiastic, its no wonder that WordPress is such a great product. The people who work on it really care about it and want it to be awesome. Could you imagine if every product had that sort of support? Plus, everyone is super helpful which makes you want to learn, contribute and help others, too. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be able to make a presentation at a future WordCamp and do my part to give back, but for now I have a lot of knowledge that I have to get out of my brain and into my themes.