Hallway Chats: Sharing Stories and Building Belonging

Hallway Chats is a new podcast that I launched with my friend and WordPress colleague, Tara Claeys.

As 2017 was getting underway, a colleague from the WordPress community reached out to me to ask about starting a podcast together. Independently, we had both been considering creating an online audio show, but independently we had yet to land upon an idea. My colleague, who I now consider a close friend, Tara Claeys, was eager to focus on the human side of the WordPress community. From that initial idea, we worked up the concept and name for Hallway Chats.

All the Legwork

As Tara and I held a series of conversations about the logistics of getting started, we were both confident that it was an entirely manageable project. We both have our own separate consultancies, but with organizational structure and proper planning, we were sure getting started would be pretty easy.

Wow! Were we wrong!

Let me clarify: Tara and I were not surprised by the length of our to do list. We had done enough research and spoken with enough successful podcasters that we knew our checklist was solid.

What caught me offguard was how long each item might take. I had ignored that creating a logo takes a fair amount of time – perhaps even more when making a logo for yourself. 

Going Live

All of initial conversations, research, follow-up chores, and of course, recorded shows, would all be put to the test when we went live. Tara and I originally aimed for a launch in late May or early June. We hit that right on the head: we published our first episode on 01-Jun-2017.

We lead with what we felt was a really powerful conversation with a very strong woman, Jessica Reilley.

As the number of downloads began to climb, and as words of praise came across on Twitter, I felt a real sense of reassurement: Our idea of building belonging within the WordPress (and wider) community by chatting with real people, with real lives and real stories to share was making a connection with our intended audience.

Onwards and Upwards

It's safe to say that Tara and I are very much learning as we go. We're often updating and tweaking our systems, approach and workflows as we learn more about how to deliver an engaging, professional and valuable podcast. Thus, even though our show is now "live and on air", we still very much have a list of items that we'd like to improve, refine or add to our efforts at Hallway Chats.

I'll end by thanking the many, many people who've listened to our new show, have shared kinds words of praise about it on social media and who have subscribed to our podcast. I'm so grateful for your generous embrace of this new effort that Tara and I have worked so hard to get started.

A Simple Way to Customize Your Site

Slides, links and resources from my talk at WordCamp Miami in March 2017, about getting started with the Advanced Custom Fields plugin.

The following materials and information are posted in connection with my talk at WordCamp Miami in March 2017. That talk, A Simple Way to Customize Your Website, details the powerful and value of the Advanced Custom Fields plugin, while highlight the simplicity of its use.

Resources from Liam’s Talk

Access Liam’s slides on Slideshare

Download Liam’s 2017 Demo Child Theme (on Bitbucket)

Download Liam’s Advance Custom Fields XML export (for importing into your own practice or demo WordPress site)

Learn about Custom Fields in the WordPress Codex

ACF Resources + Links: The Basics

Download the Advanced Custom Fields plugin from the WordPress plugin repository

Advanced Custom Fields Documentation

ACF Resources + Links: Leveling Up

Adding Custom Fields to a Custom Post Type, the Right Way – Tracy Rotton

Performance considerations when working with ACF – Craig Simpson

Related Resources

Child Themes in the WordPress Training Handbook

How to Create a Child ThemeLouise Treadwell

Looking Forward to WordCamp US 2016

As we roll into the last few days of November, I wanted to share a few thoughts on what I am most looking forward to about WordCamp US 2016.

As we roll into the last few days of November, I wanted to share a few thoughts on what I am most looking forward to about WordCamp US 2016. I must limit this blog post to “most looking forward to” because, frankly, my list is so long and, well, you can see how often I’ve made time to blog this year.

So, ready? Here we go.

Working with Our Volunteers

I'm volunteering at WordCamp US 2016For the second year in a row, I’ve had the privilege to coordinate volunteers at WordCamp US. Along with my amazingly intelligent, insightful, thoughtful and ever-realistic colleague, Ingrid Miller, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know WordCampers from all over the world. These WordCampers (Can we make that a word please? I so prefer it to WordPressers.) come from near and far and generously give of their time, talent and knowledge. Sure, they get a free ticket, but honestly, that $40 savings does not even come close to equating to the value of their time.

What really amazed me last year was how hard some volunteers worked. They gave of themselves in ways that many paid employees won’t. I was so moved by that experience that when I was asked again to be a part of the organizing team for 2016, I said yes.

Meeting a Few People in Person

Here’s my short list of people I would like to meet in person:

Carrie Dils: Carrie is amazing on many levels, but what impresses me most about her is her self-deprecating style and thoughtful conversations on her podcast, OfficeHours FM. I’ve been listening to Carrie’s podcast for just under a year or so. I just love her happiness, her joviality and her ready acceptance that hard work is a must for success. I would love to thank her in person for being her, and for sharing of herself so generously through her podcast.

Chris Lema: Chris needs no introduction from me. I had the opportunity to meet him directly at Prestige last May, but I was too shy about it. (Shy is not typically a characteristic people associated with me.) Chris is such a nice guy and so welcoming of others in the community, but still, I couldn’t steel myself to say hello. I am focused on doing so at WordCamp US this year.

Matt Medeiros: Matt delivers a podcast like no other. The Matt Report is focused on business development and management for companies within the WordPress ecosystem. What sets Matt’s podcast apart is him: he talks openly about his own success and, perhaps more importantly, of his failures so that anyone listening take advantage of his experience and learn from it. I saw Matt (from across a hallway) at WordCamp US last year, but this year, I’m making a point to introduce myself to him.

And I would very much like to spend more than two minutes chatting with Cory Miller. He’s been so self-giving and candid with our community of late, that I know that even a five minute conversation with him would be of true value.

Running in Philly

I am a runner. I run as much for mental and psychological health as for physical health. One of my favorite activities when going to a new city is to go for a run. It’s an exciting way to see the sights, get a feel for the city’s vibe and learn my way around. While Philly is not new to me, I am a creature of the suburbs. I don’t stay overnight in Philly very often. As such, WordCamp US provides a great opportunity to get those “new city” runs in.

If you’re interested in going for a run, know that I start early: 5:30 am or so. Please connect with me or Tara Claeys on Twitter. (I believe that Tara runs at a more reasonable hour.)

Making Friends in the Hallway Track

Having attended a few WordCamps over the years, I’ve appreciate the value of the Hallway Track. Those informal conversations that happen outside of the formally organized talks and sessions, spontaneously growing when two or more people find themselves together. I’ve met so many people and made so many friends in these hallway track sessions. From a networking and community-building perspective, the Hallway Track is perhaps the most valuable aspect of a WordCamp. I am really looking forward to meeting new people. If you see me in the hallways at the Philadelphia Convention Center, please stop me and say hello.

When the evening of Sunday, 04-Dec-2016 arrives, I know I shall be exhausted. In some ways, I’m already looking forward to doing absolutely nothing on Monday, 05-Dec. Yet before then, I have lot of plans to make WordCamp US 2016 the best it can be for me – and for you.

If you’re still in need of ticket, don’t fret. Grab yours now.

Photo of WordCamp US 2015 by Casey.

Looking Forward to WordCamp US 2015

A few highlights on what to look forward to at WordCamp US. It’s in Philly from 04-06 December.

For the past few months, much of my working life has been consumed by helping organize WordCamp US. While it has been a lot of work, as the date for this massive WordPress conference draws closer, I find myself increasingly excited for it to arrive.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about what specifically excites me about WordCamp US. I thought others debating with themselves about whether to attend might take some value and insight from my own expectations.

The People

WordCamps are a great way to meet up with old friends and to connect with new ones. WordCamps are delightfully ego-free zones; interaction between seasoned professionals and people just exploring WordPress is actively encouraged and supported.

As for specific people I am looking forward to meet in person (for the first time!) at WCUS, here are four: Cory Miller, David Bisset, Josepha Haden and John James Jacoby. (By sharing their names here, I think I’ve just challenged myself publicly to introduce myself to these four people.)

The Talks

There are so many exciting talks scheduled for WordCamp US. It sounds cliché, but there really is something for everyone. If I had to recommend one “must see” session, I’d select Rami Abraham’s WordPress: The Next Generation – A Look Into WordPress Sites 5, 20, and 50 Years into the Future.

That said, I am a big fan of lightning talks: a quick glance or dive into so many topics. Some above my head and some outside of my immediate area of interest, but it’s like an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of WordPress-focused knowledge. Bring it on!

Working with the Volunteers

WCUS: I'm volunteering!As part of the local organizing team, I have been privileged to focus on coordinating volunteer efforts in the run up to WCUS. I am really enamored with the generosity of the WordPress community, so I consider the opportunity to work closely with more than 120 volunteers a real treat. I can’t wait to get into the Philadelphia Convention Center and work alongside these wonderful people.

The After Party

The planning that has gone into the after-party for WordCamp US is amazing: the WCUS after-party promises to the be the mother of all good times. I won’t give away any surprises, but I’m confident that the party will go down in WordPress history as one of the best ever.

There are definitely a few tickets left, but you better get yours now! I am pretty sure they will sell out, and you definitely won’t want to miss out.

Get your tickets for WordCamp US »

WordCamp Philly 2015: Thoughts from a Co-Organizer

A few thoughts and comments following the wonder that was WordCamp Philly 2015.

As it’s been a full month since the work, excitement and rush of organizing WordCamp Philly 2015, I wanted to share a few thoughts about my experiences in 2015.

A Good Planning Team Works Magic

WordCamp 2015 was the second year that I was privileged to be a part of the organizing team for Philadelphia’s biggest WordPress conference. This year we had a bigger team than ever before and – wow! – did it make the job that much easier and more enjoyable. The team (Brad Williams, Doug Stewart, Tracy Levesque, Jodie Riccelli, Alx Block and me, led by Reed Gustow) really blew me away by its “can do” attitude that was very much centered around “how can I help”. I’ve certainly heard nightmare tales of planning teams not working well together – and WordCamp Philly was exactly the opposite. Someone would flag up a concern, a need or a task and two others would volunteer to look into or address it. So much fun! And of course, a lot of work too.

Great Speakers Engage The Audience

Aaron Jorbin delivering a keynote talk at WordCamp Philly, by Seth Goldstein

Aaron Jorbin delivering a keynote talk at WordCamp Philly, by Seth Goldstein. Used with permission.

In the run up to WordCamp Philly, we had to review speaker applications. I was astounded by the width and depth of the proposed talks. There were so, so many high quality speaker applications. Certainly more than last year. Whether that was a reflection of the growth of – and within – the WordPress community, it certainly made for a very difficult challenge. Saying ‘no’ to people who have put so much thought and energy into their work is really hard.

On the day of the WordCamp, I was approached by more attendees than I can remember who shared their thanks about how great the talks and speakers were. It was so wonderful to hear. The strength of a WordCamp significantly relies on the quality of the presentations. The women and men who shared their skill and knowledge at WordCamp Philly 2015 did not disappoint.

Volunteers Make for Light Work

Part of my role for 2015 was to recruit and coordinate the efforts of our volunteers. I was delighted that we were able to recruit 30 people to help out on the day. Thirty people! That was our biggest group of volunteers ever. On the day, the wonderful volunteers made the registration process so fluid and easy, answered plenty of questions at the Happiness Bar, recorded presentations, ran the WordCamp Philly Twitter account, took photos and more. Thanks again to all the volunteers!

Attendees Set the Tone

WordCamp Philly, by Susan McCreadie

Photo of WordCamp Philly 2015 by Susan McCreadie. Used with permission.

The efforts of organizers, speakers, sponsors and volunteers will all be for nothing if no one shows up on the day. WordCamps are no different. In many ways, it’s the attendees at a WordCamp who set the tone. Yes, organizers can try to offer structure and the like, but ultimately, yet it’s attendees who set the tone with their level of engagement, their response and their enthusiasm about the event. As long as I’ve been attending WordCamps in Philly (2010), the attendees have always been great. I think 2015 was the best crowd ever – so friendly, so engaged, so happy to be there and with each other. The vibe was really thrilling to feel.

Location, Location, Location

University of the Sciences, by John Lauber

University of the Sciences, by John Lauber. Used with permission.

Our entire planning team was really excited when we reviewed the facilities at University of the Sciences. The space was amazing: new, open, beautiful and just about a perfect fit for the size of crowd we were expecting. Yet what made the USciences experience so great was the team of people that delivered services both in the planning stages and on the day. Of particular value was Scott Sisson, the Meetings + Events Coordinator at USciences. He responded to our every need or concern with amazing speed, patience and performance.

New Amazing People

A successful WordCamp is about people first and WordPress second. One of my measures of a successful WordCamp is now many people I met or got to know better. Here are just a few from WordCamp 2015.

Susan McCreadie: Susan and I have known of each other for a few years through a mutual client. I was excited when she volunteered to help at WordCamp Philly. She ran the Twitter account on the day, helping answer questions, share updates and feed the online buzz around the event. Susan also took some wonderful photos that day.

Joe Casabona: Joe and I have danced around a few WordCamps together for a few years now. Not literally, mind you. Just figuratively. I got to know him a bit more at WordCamp Lancaster as we hung out in the speakers lounge together. Yet it was only during this past WordCamp Philly where I felt like I could call Joe a friend.

Briana Morgan: Briana was kind enough not to walk out of the room when she learned that I would be giving the talk for that time slot. (I was asked to deliver a talk about WordPress when one of the scheduled speakers unexpectedly fell ill.) With a winning smile and a warm personality, Briana is very active in the Philly tech community. I certainly hope to get to know her better over time.

Jodie Riccelli: Although I’ve known Jodie for a couple of years now through her work with YIKES, it wasn’t until working more closely with her this year that I realized just how amazing she is. If everyone with internet access in Philly knows Reed Gustow, then everyone in the events industry must surely know Jodie. She is so resourceful, so connected, so professional, so hard working and so, so nice! The success of WordCamp Philly 2015 owes a lot to Jodie.

Can’t Wait for 2016!

I know, I know. WordCamp Philly 2015 has only just passed. Still, I am very much looking forward to getting started on planning for 2016. What wonders await us there?

The photo of me delivering a talk at WordCamp Philly 2015 was taken by John Lauber. Used with permission.

Top Lessons from Running a WordPress Meetup for Two Years

A list of 5 top lessons learned from running a WordPress meetup for two years.

Philly 'burbs WordPress Meetup

With the Philly ‘burbs WordPress Meetup celebrating its two-year anniversary earlier this month, I’ve been thinking about the lessons that I’ve learned about organizing this happy little group of WordPress designers, developers, administrators and more. I’ve put together a few ideas about top lessons that I’ve learned over the past 24 months.

1. Group Members Do Put Skin in the Game

People come to a WordPress meetup to learn, to share, to grow and to have fun. By and large, our members attend to engage and to add value to the group. They put their own time and energy to get to our meetup on a Monday night. They even put cash into it now (we charge $5 to attend, the money from which goes back into the meetup to cover the meetup.com fees and appetizers during the meetup). That’s the best kind of group, where members are committed, giving of themselves and trying to grow together.

2. Work Hard or Don’t Bother

To properly run a monthly meetup takes a good amount of time and energy. Organizing the meetup location, finding speakers, promoting the meetup online and running the gathering on the night requires more than just a few hours per month. Having done this for two years now, I really appreciate that if I don’t put in enough effort in advance of the meetup, then, the members don’t get as much value than if I do it properly. Cutting corners reduces the value for everyone.

3. Keep Pushing Others to Push Themselves

One of the things that brings me great satisfaction as an organizer of the Philly ‘burbs WordPress Meetup is seeing our members blossom from quiet attendees at their first meeting to professional, engaging speakers not only at our meetup, but also at WordCamps. I’ve seen first hand that asking people to step out of their comfort zone and supporting them when they do so leads to great things, both for that individual and for the community.

4. When You Think You’ve Seen It All, You Haven’t …

In the two years since starting this meetup with Coreen Tossona, I’ve been repeatedly astounded by the way that surprises pop up at almost every turn. A marketing professional learning to tweak a child theme. A web developer growing in appreciation for the perspective that no plugins isn’t always a bad idea. A designer learning to embrace version control. Just when I begin to feel like I’ve been there, done that, something about the people in this group deeply impresses me with some new facet to their game. It’s nothing short of inspiring.

5. Give of Self and Karma Will Pay You Forward

As I wrote on the first anniversary of our meetup, giving to the community is hugely rewarding in and of itself. I learned that lesson last year and I am repeatedly reminded of that truism. Through my work in organizing our meetup, doors for exciting opportunities have been opened to me and I’ve had the chance to meet and interact with some amazingly talented and successful people. And it’s not just been me. I regularly hear from our members about how they are working with someone else in the group on a new project, or how they were able to get a new job after demonstrating new skills nurtured and enhanced by our monthly conversations. Active participation in our group, and gifts of self to that community, are repaid by the community. It’s a beautiful thing.

As we roll into the next year, I look forward to further surprises, more inspiration and even greater levels of sharing and giving.

New and Old Friends at WordCamp Philly 2014

A recap of some of the more amazing people with whom I spent time over the weekend of WordCamp Philly 2014.

Jeremy Pry + Liam Dempsey at WordCamp Philly 2014

Having just caught up on sleep from WordCamp Philly 2014, I wanted to thank the people who made it such a wonderful weekend. What follows is a list of just some of the amazing folks I met or with whom I spent time while talking about WordPress, design, version control and more. Clearly there were too many people for me to thank here, so please forgive me if I left you off!

Jeremy Pry

Jeremy and I were introduced to each other about two years ago at a Philadelphia WordPress Meetup or at the Philly ‘burbs WordPress Meetup. Since then, I’ve come to have a deep respect for Jeremy’s prowess as a developer. He has the rare ability to not only write advanced code but also to teach the less technical how to write code or use version control. Crafting and delivering a presentation about GitHub with Jeremy at WordCamp Philly was a lot of fun. I learned a lot from him and his presentational style. Jeremy is online at jeremypry.com.

Tracy Levesque

I first met Tracy in 2012, at the first WordCamp at which I presented. Since then, I’ve gotten to know her a bit more through our involvement with the WordPress community. Over the past few months as we worked together to help organize WordCamp Philly 2014, I have come to consider Tracy a friend. She’s smart, very funny, outgoing and very generous. Getting to hang out with her so much over the past weekend was a definite highlight. Tracy is a designer who codes and a co-owner of YIKES, Inc.

Brian Messenlehner

Brian is a man who really knows code and is one of the owners of the amazing Web Dev Studios. Over the course of Friday night and a good portion of Saturday, I had a great time hanging with Brian, talking WordPress, helping people in the Happiness Bar and relaxing at the After Party.

Sonja Leix

Sonja Leix is a a New York based User Experience and Web Designer. I was lucky enough to meet Sonja on Friday evening, before WordCamp Philly. Her talk about UX was delivered to a packed room at WordCamp Philly and the reviews that I heard in the hallways afterwards were all very positive. It was fun chatting more with her at the After Party. Sonja’s online at sonjaleix.com.

Tom Rose

A Philly-based designer/developer, Tom Rose is a classy, friendly guy. Although I’ve known Tom for a few years now through the Philly WordPress community, it was only over the weekend that I got spend any real amount of time catching up with him, learning about the etymology of the word slurve and some of the finer points of baseball. We may have also chatted about design, WordPress and the Advanced Custom Fields plugin.

Ben Lobaugh

Ben’s a nice guy with a welcoming smile and a full beard. He’s also an Automattician who calls Seattle home. When we discussed how to best to trim a beard, Ben was kind enough to share a bit of advice with me. Ben blogs at ben.lobaugh.net.

Spencer Hansen

I met Spencer on Friday night at the Speaker’s Party. He arrived late, half starved and wearied by the journey. (There was all sorts of traffic coming into Philly that night.) Yet by the close of WordCamp Philly, Spencer had regained his stride and was able to carry us to victory in shuffle board at the After Party at Buffalo Billiards. I look forward to catching up with Spencer before too long at another WordPress event.

The #wcphilly Crew

When Brad Williams asked me to help plan WordCamp Philly 2014, I was thrilled at the invite. Brad is a professional for whom I have a great deal of respect and admiration. To be able to work with him, Doug Stewart and Reed Gustow was a wonderful opportunity — and I was grateful for the opportunity to do so.

Now that WordCamp Philly 2014 is now a memory, I must extend my thanks and admiration to these guys – along with the amazing April Williams – for putting together what was an amazing weekend of WordPress, community sharing, knowledge exchange and great fun.

Bring on 2015!

Philly ‘burbs WordPress Meetup: Considering Purpose and Community

A thoughtful look at the purpose of the Philly ‘burbs WordPress Meetup and the role of community in that group.

Philly 'burbs WordPress Meetup

As the Philly ‘burbs WordPress Meetup moves steadily into its second year, I want to share my own thoughts on what I consider to be the purpose, goals and spirit of the group. Admittedly, the following ideas are my own and only mine. Yet, it is my hope that in posting this writing, I can shed some light on my own hopes and aims for our growing group.

As of today, we are nearing 200 members in the Philly ‘burbs WordPress Meetup. Some are more active than others. Some attend more regularly than others. Some deliver presentations regularly, while others prefer to join in the open conversations. That’s all wonderful. The group thrives on the diversity of its members, on their varying professional interests, skills and their independent and unique viewpoints.

The Purpose of Our Group

When I first began thinking about starting a WordPress focused meetup, I really wanted to bring together the designers and developers who work with WordPress on a daily basis and the marketers, bloggers and site administrators who use this amazing software. As stated in the About us … section of our meetup page, “We focus on both design and development considerations (tips, techniques and hacks) as well as user concerns like expanded functionality and best practices.” After 13 meetups, I hope that we are fulfilling that goal.

As can be expected with such a remit, we have a great range of skills among our members — some are quite marketing savvy while others are more technically minded. Some code sites every day, while others steer clear of code like it’s the plague. That’s great. We aim to encourage both groups (designers/developers and marketers/bloggers) to push their limits and to step outside of their comfort levels. Only by pushing ourselves and taking on new challenges can we hope to improve our skills and develop professionally.

Fertile Ground for an Exchange of Ideas

A fundamental aspect of our meetup is the exchange of ideas from people with different perspectives and different professional backgrounds. The exposure to new ideas and practices has created an engaging dynamic among our group: people learn from each other, even if they don’t always adopt each other’s ideas or practices. By immersing ourselves in an environment of shared ideas, we can develop a wider understanding of WordPress, its use and its value. I know that I have certainly learned a lot about both WordPress and, more generally, web development through the presentations and conversations that have flowed at our gatherings.

A Challenge is an Opportunity to Grow

Invariably our approach challenges some of our members — and I feel that’s a good thing. I am eager for those less code-minded to improve their technical knowledge and skill. I’m also focused on encouraging our designers and developers to learn more about the needs, work and practices of our marketing professionals and bloggers. The idea is simply the more we know, the better we can be at our job — regardless of what our job is.

From month to month, the presentations do range in their technical focus or emphasis. We may have a tech-heavy presentation in one month, followed the next month by something less so. The presentations always focus on WordPress.

What We’re Not

To be clear, we have taken deliberate steps to avoid becoming a monthly WordPress training course. Yes, we want people to learn something every month, but as we rely on our members and other volunteers to serve as speakers, I don’t think turning our meetup into a formal training environment would be feasible or even desirable.

Constructive Feedback is the Brainchild of Improvement

The beauty of a group meetup is the exchange of ideas and feedback. In group settings, especially with such an informal setting as we have with the Philly ‘burbs WordPress Meetup, it can be difficult to get everything right for everyone at every juncture. That’s to be expected. As such, I truly appreciate when our members take the time to offer constructive insight and feedback on the comings and goings of the group. That sort of information, be it positive reviews or constructive complaints, is the only way that our meetup can improve, grow and continue to add value to our members.

Keep Moving Forward

As I look forward to our next meetup, I am reminded of a mantra of Lewis Robinson, the orphan turned brilliant inventor in Disney’s Meet the Robinsons. His byline was “Keep Moving Forward.” I hope that our own group embraces such an inspiring thought and continues to grow and flourish in the coming months and years.

As always, I welcome your thoughts, ideas, critiques and feedback below in the comments.