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Getting deeply involved with the WordPress community – #010

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Last week the team from WP&UP had the pleasure of attending WordCamp Europe 2019. This year it was held in Berlin and it was a really remarkable event.

Nearly 3,000 people travelled from all over the world to gather together in the largest WordCamp to date.

There were dozens of talks on just about every subject that you could imagine. There were social events and people hanging out in the hallway. It was thousands of interactions all brought together for three days under one roof.

To say that I was impressed does not do it justice; it was amazingly well organised.

There are several things that you could describe as a common thread running through each WordCamp Europe – speakers, WordPress and Remkus de Vries! You see Remkus was there at the start, and in many ways, he and a few of his friends were the start. They got the idea that uniting Europe in a single place once a year would be a good idea.

Eventually the idea took off and the wonderful event that just happened is, thus far, the culmination of that effort.

So today Remkus talks about his relationship with WordPress. How he likes to attend and organise WordPress meetups and WordCamps, as well as what he does to ensure that WordPress does not completely run his life!

It’s a story of what you can achieve if you are prepared to invest the time and effort into the community, and how that community can repay you over the years.

This kind of commitment is not going to be the goal of everyone, but it’s lovely to hear a story about someone who was able to expand the WordPress community in ways that has touched literally thousands upon thousands of people.

Interviewed by Nathan Wrigley.

We hope you enjoy the show, please do subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. We’re always looking for feedback, if you have any thoughts or comments, please do reach out.

And remember… Together we can #PressForward 

Featured on this podcast:

Remkus de Vries

Remkus de Vries

I have the best job. I work as a Manager Partnerships at – the most wonderful – Yoast….

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Remkus de Vries: 00:00 The understanding that a lot of us aren’t going through this sitting behind the screen thinking this is life. I think that’s, that’s that’s, that’s something that’s extremely worthwhile to give a strong focus on.

Nathan Wrigley: 00:26 Welcome to episode 10 of the PressForward podcast. Thanks for joining us again and if this is your first time with us, I hope that you find it useful. You can get this podcast each and every week by subscribing to us on apple podcasts or your favorite podcast player. Just use the buttons on the episode pages over at wpandaarp.org forward slash podcasts today we’re going to be hearing from Remkus de Vries about is immersion in the WordPress community, how WordPress has changed his life and how he maintains a balance with WordPress and his regular life. This is a trigger warning the towards the end of this episode we touched very briefly on the topic of depression.

Nathan Wrigley: 01:15 The PressForward podcast is created by WP&UP. They are a charity working in the WordPress space to support the WordPress community. The help is freely available over at wpandaarp.org WP&UP have provided over one and a half thousand hours of companionship and mentorship. We’ve registered over 3000 members and over three and a half thousand dollars have been donated by volunteers and we’ve responded to 6,100 events. If you’d like to support WP&UP financially, then please visit WP&UP.org forward slash give and if you’d like to get involved in WP and up then please visit WP&UP.org forward slash contact we’ll look for the social links in the footer of the website. Sponsorship is also possible you’ll be supporting the important work that we’re undertaking and you can also be featured on the podcast. To PressForward. Podcast is brought to you today by Green Geeks. Green geeks offers an awesome managed web hosting platform that’s built for speed, security and scalability whilst being environmentally friendly. Enjoy a better web hosting experience for your WordPress website, backed by 24 seven experts support and we thank green geeks for helping us to put the PressForward podcast together.

Nathan Wrigley: 02:59 WordPress is a huge project show. There’s code plugins and themes, but it’s so much more than that. At its heart. WordPress is the culmination of thousands of people’s interactions, hundreds of thousands of hours of people’s Labor. They work together towards a common goal, but that goal is not always exactly the same. Some of those interactions will be about coding, creating new features and capabilities that enhance what WordPress can do. Other interactions might be focused upon building up the community, which WordPress depends upon. Honestly, there are so many ways that people using WordPress work together to make it what it is. Far too many for me to list out here. Perhaps you yourself have interacted with WordPress and have a sense for how broad and deep it is today. We meet a man who has made WordPress important in his life. He’s thrown himself into WordPress and it in turn has enabled the life that he now leads.

Remkus de Vries: 04:14 Hi, my name is Remkus de Vries and I am a manager of partnerships at Yoast and I am probably known a little bit for uh, organizing WordCamp Europe, starting together with a bunch of friends back in 2013 invest a lot of time in the polyglots and the events side of the WordPress project.

Nathan Wrigley: 04:36 WordCamp Europe is a huge event in June, 2019 almost 3000 people congregate together in Berlin to make WordPress physical for awhile. What do I mean by that? I mean that often people interact with WordPress via their computer. They might know people through WordPress, but perhaps they don’t get to see them face to face too much. It’s a great way to make friends and cement relationships. WordCamp Europe is a giant WordCamp, but it did not come about in the way that you might expect.

Remkus de Vries: 05:14 Yeah, so, so in 2009, we knew this, there was this thing called WordCamp, we’ve heard of WordCamp San Francisco here in the Netherlands and together with a few other friends here in the Netherlands, we organized the very first WordCamp Netherlands. At the time, we had no idea what a WordCamp was other than, you know, it’s this thing where you organize and you have people talk and do presentations and stuff like that. And we just went from there and really not having a clue, but it took a stronghold of the Dutch WordPress community at the time. And um, I quickly realized there were WordCamps in other parts of Europe as well. And as I started going to more European WordCamps, there was a few people that I at pretty much all of these and one of whom was Zay Fontanius from Portugal. We pretty much very quickly went to an idea of where it’s, where we said, look, this is all wonderful that we’re uniting these, these local countries, these, these local WordPress communities, uh, with our WordCamps.

Remkus de Vries: 06:17 But what about if we started seeing more of a cross border thing happen? What if we could make it happen to have a European war camp? What would that do? What at the time? And you know, this is almost, uh, eight years ago, nine years ago at the time. A lot of the communities as we know them now, we’re not that organized. And our idea was let’s just try and force that a little bit by showing them that all of the, all of us are here. So obviously at the time you could only do a city based WordCamp or possibly as an exception be a country based workout, which we’re having. Netherlands, we were at the time. So we applied for that and we got to know because you know, we didn’t have, it didn’t confine within the rule set. Now as it so happens, both Zay and I, together with Tammie Siobhan and a few others were invited to the inaugural WordPress community summit back in, uh, 2012 in Tybee Island, United States and all the events team members were there as well as Matt Mullenweg who had the ultimate say.

Remkus de Vries: 07:31 And you know, whether we could make this happen, yes or no. So it goes without saying that we try our very hardest to get that. Okay. Like we need this exception because we, the goal is to unite the European Community. The goal is to see more cross border activity. The goal is to have more collaboration between the two countries. And the goal is basically to not see ourselves as separate countries. And then we got the okay just by, you know, being very diligent about what we thought was needed. And from there we started organizing. So that was two, that was October, 2012. We basically about a year later organized the very first work in Netherlands in Leiden in the Netherlands. And I think we sold 832 tickets. And we were, we were blown away. I mean, you know, we had no idea how people, how many people were coming when we started.

Remkus de Vries: 08:24 Uh, when we, when we had the yes, when we had to go, we had no clue. I mean, your hope that people are coming, you hope that you’re not the only one with the idea of, hey, this would be a good idea. You hope that with, with, uh, you know, there’s a large, large percentage of, of, uh, more introvert type of people in our community. We had no idea we would get them out. And we did I am and the rest of the organizing team, we were blown away of the, of the response that we got. But, but you know, we’re, next week will be the second version in Berlin and til this day, every time I’m at a WordCamp, I will have people come up to me and explain to me what it meant. That very first one. Now we had, we had a wonderful after party as well. So I’m sure that helped a little bit as well.

Nathan Wrigley: 09:14 So Remkus and the friends have you mentioned managed to create what became WordCamp Europe from a desire to unite people from all over Europe. Since that first event, WordCamp Europe has grown and grown and takes more organization than ever before. I wondered if Remkus was still actively involved in organizing it.

Remkus de Vries: 09:38 Um, actually I’ve been part of the organizing team ever since. I still get a lot of enjoyment out of it. It’s grown way beyond what we originally thought. And you know, there, you could argue that there’s, there’s a very large contingent of people from the United States coming over. It was technically never originally the idea. Um, but I’ve grown into understanding that that’s also a necessity. We need that bridge as well.

Nathan Wrigley: 10:05 If you’ve ever attended a WordCamp, you’ll know that there’s a lot going on. And I really do mean a lot. There’s the speakers, the sponsors, the venue food, the crash audio equipment, advertising, ticketing, accessibility. The list is truly huge in the interest of clarity. I’ve never been involved in organizing one of these events, but I know that the task is enormous after being involved in so many WordCamps and all of the work that Remkus has put in. I wanted to know if he was still as passionate today as he was at the beginning.

Remkus de Vries: 10:47 I am. I am. So for starters, I don’t have that stress, Jean. I don’t, I don’t stress out. Stressing doesn’t give any benefit. I know that’s a very simple thing, simple thing to say if you don’t have that stress gene. But it’s also, it also comes from knowing that it really doesn’t help you at all. Stressing about stuff like that. What helps is preparing what helps is uh, you know, making lists, thinking about things, discussing things, not trying to solve everything in your head, write stuff out, my, create a mind map, whatever you need to do to empty your mind into this is what we need to do. So I’ve been doing that and there were years where I was less involved as I am, for instance, this edition, the joy that I get out of it, the impact that I see that it has is still in a, in, in such a magnitude that I get a lot of joy out of it just by organizing it. You know, that’s not even counting in the actual days of the event, uh, meeting all the people. And then frankly, a lot of those people have become my friends and close friends even.

Nathan Wrigley: 11:48 So Remkus is a big fan of getting people together so that they can share experiences of WordPress. And I say Bravo in my life. Not many of the people who I mingle with know anything about WordPress. They may have heard of it, but they don’t know how to install it or use it. It’s great to get together and feel that literally everyone around you is into WordPress and you can talk about it safe in the knowledge that they’ll understand you and enjoy that conversation.

Remkus de Vries: 12:21 That was working in 2013 for a lot of people. I’ve been active in the WordPress communities since 2006 I sort of took over the, the admin side of things or for work in Netherland, sorry, WordPress, Netherlands. Uh, because at the time, the end of 2007, basically, um, we have translators that were three months late. We had a forum, those overrun by spam, we had whole bunch of other issues and that really wasn’t working. So I figured, you know, somebody’s got to do it. Might as well be me. So I started investing time this and as I did, I started to learn more about the other people active in the Dutch WordPress community. But quickly that also turned into who else is on the same page as I am with my favorite CMS. And it’s, it’s weird. Uh, I often say, you know, I came for the software I left with friends and family and, and that’s, that’s really what it is for me.

Remkus de Vries: 13:14 That hasn’t diminished. It’s changed. It’s very different now than it was when I started playing around. So my first playing around with weapons was end of 2005. I think we just got pages and that was like long way. Wow. You can have like a little CMS here and if you see from that perspective or where we are now, it’s not just a software to change the project that changes the magnitude that changed, you know, the, the, the percentage of that keeps throwing around, which is currently a 34%. That’s crazy. I mean, you know, looking, looking back, uh, of being in here in this community for almost 13 years now. That’s, that’s crazy to see the impact of what that is.

Nathan Wrigley: 13:55 I think it’s true to say that most people who attend a WordCamp come away feeling positive about their experiences. Perhaps that language is a little reserved because I know plenty of people who find WordCamp to be the highlight of their year. That being said, some people find it hard to attend their first one. The reasons could be many. And so I asked Remkus to speak about his thoughts regarding how a new person to WordCamp Mike feel about such a big event.

Remkus de Vries: 14:25 I work at Europe in Berlin. Next week is a good topic because it’s both a very good one to discuss as you know, a lot of reasons why you should go. There’s also quite a few reasons why you, if you’re a very reluctant to go, uh, why that might be a little bit too much. So we sold more than 3000 tickets, roughly 10% won’t be coming. No shows is usually about what we, um, so you know, you have a good 2,700 people there. If large crowds scare you then WordCamp Europe is not for you. Having said that, what you will find there is lots of kindred spirits. And even if that kindred spirit, uh, is of the timid side or is of the, I just want to sit here and listen and don’t talk. So, uh, type of, uh, engaging, uh, you know, there’s room for that.

Remkus de Vries: 15:18 The, the openness and the understanding that we have towards each other is, is heartwarming because there’s a lot of us who really don’t want to be in the spotlight and prefer, you know, if I, if I have to talk to you than I will, but you know, I don’t necessarily want to. And yet when you will go, you will see just because you’re meeting kindred spirits that it’s, it’s, it’s actually not as energy draining as you may think it is. And there’s a lot of stuff you can learn. And not just from the presentations, not just on the workshops, not just on the, you know, all the educational stuff going on, but mostly from learning to communicate with other people. Talk about best practices. Uh, how do you solve this? How, what do you think about that? I think one of the nicest things about, especially the WordCamps that have the contributors day is you get to see you how you can have an impact on where the project goes.

Remkus de Vries: 16:13 There’s, there’s certain things that we have more influence on and certain things we have less influence on, but there’s a whole wide array of topics that you can help contribute to your favorite project. Contributors Day is exactly that. So for those who are still hesitant, I think it’s a good way to learn more about the project. I think it’s a good way to learn more about the sub projects within the project. Great Way to learn more from again, those kindred spirits that will be there as well. Some might even be more introverted than you are. I’m pretty certain you’ll have a great time. Uh, you know, just being there, catching the vibe.

Nathan Wrigley: 16:53 One of the reasons that you might fail that WordCamp is not for you is because you don’t feel that your skills match those of the others who attend. You’re thinking that you’ll be around peg in a square hole and not fit in being an organizer of WordCamps. I was guessing that Remkus would have some thoughts on this.

Remkus de Vries: 17:15 You’re always going to find people who are at the same level as you are and um, some WordCamps are more tech oriented somewhere comes on more content oriented. Uh, and it’s, you know, if you’re on either of those, you know, inclined more towards either of those directions, then it’s probably better that it content or blogging is your thing. And then to go to a more content heavy type of WordCamp. But the, the imposter syndrome, the, the idea is that you don’t know or that your, your knowledge is not in depth enough or white enough or whatever to be allowed in the same space or to have a proper conversation with anybody else attending. That is exactly what it is. It’s an impostor syndrome cause there’s, there’s no under limit. There’s a lot of people there who very, very fondly remember the first time they ever went to a WordCamp and they quickly realized that as soon as anybody figured out that there is a gap in knowledge, adding anybody, anybody talking to you is more than welcome to help you explain where to look.

Remkus de Vries: 18:23 And I don’t care if that’s his, you know, if you were talking content and content strategy or if we’re talking to somebody who taught himself to program in Phd and never really understood the difference between an integer and variable or they’ll go, that goes with PHP, it doesn’t matter. There’s, you’re not going to be ridiculed about it. You’re going to be applauded for even trying. Yes. I don’t think there’s an age limit, a top or bottom. You know, just very recently we’re kept in the Netherlands and I also, and I forgot his name now, but I also met him in a WordCamp Nordic and Helsinki. There’s a guy who’s basically, you know, he’s a pensioner or whatever the correct term is. He discovered our community, not necessarily because he’s a heavy WordPress user, but he was curious like what is this community? But he discovered our community and quickly learned that it’s a very opening and warm and welcoming community and he’s like, I like this.

Remkus de Vries: 19:18 So he even started sponsoring us, even started sponsoring WordCamps and you know, at face value, like what are you getting back from it? And he’s like, I don’t care. I enjoy this. I think this is a good thing to have and to be at. That’s that end of the spectrum I guess. And technically your pension is 65. Yeah. But you know, and we see the same thing happening on the, for the younger visitors as well. We have kid camps now or workshops for kids within the larger WordCamps. We have them in Berlin as well. Uh, I think it’s the same. It goes the same way. We’re very opening for anybody, just wanting to learn, just wanting to be there. That’s basically what the whole vibe is. So there’s a, I’m 45 the majority is younger than I, I don’t feel old when I’m there.

Remkus de Vries: 20:04 There really is no age gap in that regard. So I gradually moved from the, the, the tracks themselves to the hallway track. I’ll, I’ll pick a few topics or speakers that I really want to want to see and I’m not claiming I understand what everybody’s talking about, but I don’t necessarily need to see and hear every single talk a, everything is being published on WordPress dot TV anyway, which, you know, for those that I, I can’t visit or happen to get caught in the hallway track, there is the possibility for me to later view the presentation anyway. I get the most out of connecting with other people.

Nathan Wrigley: 20:42 So moving on from WordCamp, I wanted to talk about the wider WordPress community. There are events going on all over the place most days of the week. And so it’s likely that there’s something close to you, but how do you find out about those?

Remkus de Vries: 21:01 So the, the easiest way to find, to find a WordPress events is log into your dashboard, into, into your WordPress dashboard. You will find the A, there’s a worker’s events, a widget in there that will display the local WordCamps and work Chris meetups. I think first even, you know, I think they’re looking at a range of 150 or 200 commerce. I’m not exactly sure what the ranges, but anything happening in relatively local will be posted there as well. So that’s the easiest way to find a WordCamp or a WordPress meetup and just click on through and you’ll see what the topics will be, what type of speakers that will be and if that’s something for you or not and you know and you can, you can sign in the back and sit on one of the last chairs, that’s fine. But you can also, you know, come a little early and see who’s there and started talking to people that, you know, whatever it is your thing, but guaranteed you’ll have a great time upon entering into the WordPress community.

Remkus de Vries: 21:59 I found that as like a warm bath. I was like, I had a simple question. I got a straight up answer. Wonderful example of this. I don’t know if you know who Justin Tadlock is. He’s the creator of a, of theme Hybrid, a theme company and a wonderful themes he’s built over the years. Very knowledgeable, very eloquent in explaining his tutorials on what to do. I’ve always enjoyed reading. Whatever he puts up, you can find his very first post on the worker support for still is handled as green, shady. You know the, the question he asked is so basic. You go like, how did this guy not know that like any other person of venturing into something new, you have to start somewhere. And I think that’s a great example of, of WordCamp happen, how welcoming the community is

Nathan Wrigley: 22:46 Because Remkus is a massive contributor to and fan of WordCamps. That’s where this conversation has gone thus far, but we’re going to change course a little. We WordPressers often work with computers all day and although this might be your idea of a dream, it can also lead to other problems. Isolation, not getting out enough left on checked. These feelings can become overwhelming outside of WordPress. People might turn to physicians to seek support. And I wondered if Remkus had any thoughts on how the WordPress community can assist one another.

Remkus de Vries: 23:25 I’m not a fan of hospitals and physicians to begin with as the first place to look for support. So looking among your peers is where the first looking should be happening for the most, you know, for the most part that a lot of them, a lot of us will have had moments of doubt of not knowing what the next step will be, feeling locked, feeling, all these different kinds of emotions. I think it’s a very healthy thing to have a group within, you know, amongst your peers that is dedicated to helping out wherever they can. And I’m not saying exclude the hospitals and exclude the decisions when I am saying is that you are not alone. Absolutely not alone. And that means that if whatever problems or whatever road bumps you keep you keep hitting, you’re also not the first one that I have those.

Remkus de Vries: 24:17 And I think it’s a great thing to, to understand that you are, especially within the WordPress community, and again, I don’t know any other communities very vividly, but within the WordPress community there’s a huge understanding for where somebody can come from. Well, we have a Dutch way of saying [inaudible]. So basically the backpack that you are wearing, you’re carrying along, we were aware that you have it. Knowing that doesn’t necessarily make it easier talking about it, but it’s good to know that there’s a lot of people out there that are being open about their struggles. Uh, open about seeking help, uh, open about, you know, even even even the having stuff from, from depression and what else is beyond there.

Nathan Wrigley: 25:00 Remkus has a history of life coaching and has ensured that he’s thought about himself and how he can keep himself sustained, keep himself active. His approach might not work for you, but the important point is that he’s figured out what the keeps him healthy and has made time in his week to do that thing.

Remkus de Vries: 25:23 I found something that is very therapeutic for me and I don’t think what I do necessarily works for everybody, but what I do is strength training. I lift a lot of iron basically. And the idea behind that is because I’m in my head all day. There’s a, there’s a disconnect between my, my mental state and my physical state. And I became aware of that. The more that I allowed for that to happen, uh, the less sane I felt, both mentally and physically. In other words, there’s a strong connection between the healthy mind is a healthy body. What I started doing is, um, lifting weights and you know, over the years those ways became heavier and heavier and now that they’re at the level that if I want to success for the do that I have to have my full concentration. There cannot be any other thoughts. So that’s, that’s something that works for me.

Remkus de Vries: 26:19 But the idea is that you look for that disconnect and you, you, you find a way to be connected again because that’s basically what it is. That screen disconnects you from who you truly are at. It’s a weird thing to say cause I, you know, work at, look at a screen all day and I have for the last 15 years now. I mean even longer. I think the first two I I started working with, not necessarily screen unrelated but pretty much afterwards. And I think it’s good that we become aware of that. That’s actually the issue, that we are disconnected by staring into something that is not, that’s not us. I’m, I’m a strong believer of us understanding that we are more than the job that we do that just to roll, uh, I take the mens Sana in Corpore Sano I take that as a very, very strong point or in what I need to be conscious about every single day because if I don’t, I quickly go back to habits that I don’t know that I know they are not very healthy or not sustaining me in the long run.

Nathan Wrigley: 27:23 So WP&UP, taking on the role of offering support to people in the WordPress community, supporting them when things are not going to plan that might be mental health, physical health, business or skills health. Given the fact that Remkus has been involved in the WordPress community for so long, I wondered if he’d come across a similar initiative at some point in the past.

Remkus de Vries: 27:50 I don’t know of any other organization that does something similar or has done something similar. Uh, but from what I see, the content that you have put out, the stuff that you’re doing, the stuff that you’re investing time in to learn more about, I think that’s exactly what the, what the community needs, the understanding that a lot of us are going through this, sitting behind the screen thinking this is life. I think that that’s, that’s, that’s something that’s extremely worthwhile to give a strong focus on.

Nathan Wrigley: 28:27 Remember, the WP&UP is here to help you visit wpandup .org to PressForward. Podcast is brought to you today by Green Geeks. Green geeks offers a specially engineered platform that gives WordPress users web hosting that is designed to be the fastest, most secure and scalable hosting available in multiple data centers. Their WordPress hosting makes deploying and managing WordPress websites easy with automatic one click install managed updates, real time security protection. SSD raid 10 storage arrays, power cashier, and expert, 24 seven support to make for the best web hosting experience. And we thank Green Geeks for helping us put the PressForward podcasts together. Okay. That’s it for this week. Please let us know if you’re enjoying the podcast. If you’re finding it useful or helpful, you can reach out to us at wpandaarp.org forward slash contact. Remember that there’s a serious point to all of this though, and that is the WP and op is here to help and support that help is available for you or people you know and can be easily accessed at thewpandaap.org website. Spread the word about this new podcast. Tell your friends and subscribe on Apple podcasts or your favorite podcast player. Remember, together we can PressForward.

Nathan Wrigley