Takeaways from WordCamp Boston

2013-10-26 13.13.23This weekend I was fortunate enough to attend WordCamp Boston. It was a beautiful, busy, and productive weekend at the Microsoft “NERD” (New England R&D) Center in Cambridge, just across the Charles from the city itself. The views were unbelievable, and Microsoft was very generous with their space. (Props to them!)

Over the course of the weekend, I attended many talks and have compiled a list of takeaways from the talks I attended. Some are pretty geeky; others are more general.

Ethan Marcotte: The Map and the Territory

Opening up the conference was Ethan Marcotte, the “inventor” (or at least the popularizer) of responsive web design.

Ethan’s talk was packed with insights. Among them:

  • 60% of people on mobile networks are connected to networks slower than 3G. That’s huge. We’re spoiled with our 3G and 4G.
  • Invite users to choose their experience. Don’t force heavy downloads and complex mobile features. Instead, let your users opt-in so they control their experience.
  • Modern web design is becoming more and more about loosely coupled “small layout systems” or “modules” that get mixed and matched to form larger layouts. (This is why element media queries are so essential.)
  • We need to think about sustainability in web design: using fewer and faster resources
  • Think about implementing a responsive web design “page load budget”. For example, at the outset of your project, commit to making each page load less than 300KB. This will keep you accountable later on in the project.

Matt Medeiros: How WordPress Entrepreneurs Build Their Business

Matt’s talk had lots of great takeaways for business owners and entrepreneurs, based on experience and knowledge he’s collected from top WordPress business owners.

A few choice points:

  • Say no a lot. This keeps you focused on your goals.
  • Build processes and systemize your business so anyone can do your job, letting you expand quickly.
  • Behave like an agency and you will be an agency!
  • Diversify with multiple revenue streams so you aren’t depending on one area of your company to bring in all the bacon.

And my favourite tip:

  • Sell on value. Instead of selling a feature on the amount of time it will take you, think about it from the other person’s context. If implementing a certain feature will save them thousands or create a new revenue stream in their business, think about it as an investment for them, and charge based on the value you’re creating for their business.

Corey Frang: jQuery and WordPress Together, Again!

The jQuery project recently rebuilt their websites with WordPress, while still powering the websites with Markdown content pulled in from Github.

The main takeaway here is that WordPress is incredibly powerful; so powerful, in fact, that you don’t need to touch the admin area if you don’t want! jQuery never uses the admin dashboard, instead modifying content through custom Node.js-based scripts that pull in material from Github.

Eric Mann: PHP Unit Testing

Unit testing is essential in modern web dev, and Eric’s talk was a really solid introduction to the topic, particularly as it related to WordPress.

I’m excited to explore WP_Mock, a framework from 10up that lets you mock core WordPress functions.

Eric also hammered in the necessity of documenting everything with PHP docblocks. As he put it (paraphrasing): “don’t name all your functions after Star Trek characters and assume people will get your witty references and understand what the functions will do.” (Yes, this was a situation he actually encountered.)

Jake Gold: 10 Interview Questions I Ask Every Developer

Jake (the founder/owner of 10up) shared a bunch of interview questions he asks developers. I won’t reveal the questions (or the answers) except to say that his questions are focused on finding developers who intuitively understand and care about WordPress.

His experience—which corresponds with my own experience—is that many PHP developers are skilled, but don’t necessarily understand the intricacies of WordPress, and assume they can easily pick it up. While it isn’t the most complex software in the world, it does have a lot of unique attributes that other PHP frameworks and CMSs don’t have, and it’s important to be able to “speak the language” of WordPress.

Mo Jangda: Caching; for Fun and Profit

Mo’s talk was focused on caching for developers. Mo had given the same talk at WordCamp Buffalo and I only caught the last few minutes of the talk. I’m so glad I came to the full talk this time around. Mo touched on the native cache methods in WordPress (focusing on object caching, as opposed to full-page caching). It was great to hear about all the ways WordPress can improve the caching experience without resorting to a lot of custom code.

At Van Patten Media, we tend to get away with full-page caching (using Varnish) but we’ve had to use object caching more and more frequently in WordPress. It’s great to know there are a lot of native resources available to us.

Wrapping up

Those are just a few of the talks I attended, but I think they offer the most valuable takeaways for my readers. If you were at WordCamp Boston, what talks did you see? What inspired you most? Share your thoughts below!

Published by Chris Van Patten

I'm an entrepreneur and product lead, and owner of Tomodomo, through which I help companies build their digital publishing platform.

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