Joining the Conversation

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Just got back from a fantastic weekend speaking at WordCamp Minnapolis! I love attending WordCamps, not only for the opportunity to learn more about the programs I use, but for the opportunity to become more immersed in the fantastic community that has built up around WordPress. There is something about hundreds of people coming together around a volunteer effort because they want to learn that is extremely invigorating.

Though this is my seventh WordCamp I’ve attended in five different states, and the second at which I have spoken (of hopefully many more to come!) in addition to speaking, volunteering, and contributing to countless meetups, networking groups, and other events, I couldn’t help but approach this weekend with more than a little nerves: I was speaking out of state for the first time, alongside some of the people that have built the very products I was using, and the business models I was emulating. The short eighteen months it had been since the time I decided I was going to volunteer at WordCamp, and the ten months it had been since I was introduced to the Chicago WordPress meetup ecosystem, felt somehow inadequate when placed up against these people that I respected.


It was that nagging voice in the back of my head: “Who are you to join this conversation?” No, I always thought, you guys are so great and I’m so new to this compared to you, I don’t have much to contribute, I’m just a graphic designer, you guys are developers and plugin builders and seasoned business owners! The very same words that blurted out of my mouth the first time I was asked to speak in Chicago (which, thankfully, I was talked into by Aaron Holbrook), or the times I was asked to be an Answerer at a Q&A event instead of a Questioner. I don’t have anything to add to the conversation!

The voice had been less persistent lately. Becoming friends with developers, working on more diverse projects, and chiming in with answers to questions had grown to speaking at local events and even building my own theme. I knew I was smart about my original field of study, and was feeling more and more welcomed by the community at large. But even still, it was there, in the moments when development talks would go over my head, when various programming languages were discussed in depth, when people talked about contributing and patches and GitHub, it was there: How could you possibly join this conversation?


It was during one of those classic WordCamp moments- not the ones where you’re listening to an awesome speaker (though I do enjoy those), but the ones where you’re having a random conversation at an afterparty, or a brunch, or just driving people around because you happen to have a car- that I found myself having some in-depth conversations about trends in CSS and design patterns, and as I listened to myself I realized, “Hey, I do have things to share, I do know what’s going on, I CAN contribute to the conversation!”

And suddenly I realized what those last eighteen months had been trying to teach me- the times when I was able to explain something to a business owner or non-web designer, the times when I offered design insight to the developers, the times when I got into long conversations about aesthetics, or business, or project management… I have ALWAYS had something to contribute to the conversation. We all do! The greatest part about an open source project like WordPress is that we are all constantly learning and building together: developers, designers, business owners, writers, marketers, everyone!


Don’t be afraid when you start out and it seems like everything is all over your head. We all start there. But just by joining the conversation, by learning and questioning and volunteering and contributing, we find that it doesn’t take long until we are able to look back and say, “Wow, I get it!”

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7 Responses to “Joining the Conversation”

  1. Toby Cryns

    It was wonderful meeting you over the weekend!


  2. Scott Offord

    She Blogs! For real this time? See you at WCCHI and WCMKE.

  3. Aaron

    So cool to look back and see how far we’ve come.

    Glad you had what sounds like an amazing WordCamp!

    I’m even more glad to have met someone like you that IS capable of bringing so much to the table that us developers don’t have!

  4. Justin Foell

    I think WordCamp is about different voices being heard. It’s not about whoever is perceived as the best or who is the most internet famous.

    You packed ’em in and your talk got rave reviews! I never had any doubts. We were glad to have you.

    • marktimemedia

      I think this sentiment is exactly right, which is what makes the whole WordCamp concept so awesome. I just hoped to be able to share my thoughts for anyone who hasn’t made the leap yet! And I hope to come back next year (or maybe later this year for WordUp?) because you all put on a great WordCamp!

  5. Dustin Filippini

    Great post, Michelle. I can relate. When I first started attending meetups and conferences I thought I’d never have something to say. But, it’s awesome how welcoming the community is. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t found a great community to turn to.

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