I love the month of September in the northern hemisphere, it’s when summer is at its best: nature is plentiful, the days are still warm and long, and the light is glorious and golden. This year I got to love it even more, as I knew I’d be heading to WordCamp NYC to speak about UX, on my first assignment as Cloudways’ Ambassador.
What Does It Mean to Be Cloudways’ Ambassador?
I have been using Cloudways for quite a while now. It was a natural progression from being a newbie at web design and heading straight for shared hosting, followed by managed WordPress hosting once you know a bit more about what you’re doing, followed by the need for total independence of servers when you’ve grown enough.
This last move was plain sailing, thanks to the help of Cloudways’ migration tools and brilliant control panel. The Cloudways dashboard makes it perfectly easy for techy non-developers (I am the designer type) to manage their own servers, and for that, I am very grateful.
Unlike other companies I’d used for my hosting needs, more importantly, Cloudways has been very present in the WordPress community and in my working life. I got to know and talk to them directly on a number of occasions, including real-life (yes! That still happens! And we can thank WordCamps for that).
It was immediately obvious that Cloudways and I are aligned on a number of levels: first and foremost, the importance of user experience and listening to customers. In fact, the first time I had direct contact with them was when I queried a piece of content they’d published. Their response was thoughtful and considerate, and they took swift action on my suggestions.
I was very impressed – and I continued being so over the course of the following months. So when Cloudways approached me with the ambassadorship proposal, I was very happy to accept. It made complete sense to me that I should advocate and champion their company – I do it already.
To me, being a brand ambassador means:
- using the brand’s product and loving it.
- sharing feedback about the product so that it becomes even better.
- helping the brand directly on the ground, as I am one of their users.
- alignment of core values, the reasons why we get out of bed and serve our clients.
- helping the brand help the humans that use their products, at the best of my abilities.
It’s with all this in mind that I headed to WordCamp New York 2019, on a bright morning in September, for the first time acting as myself AND as an ambassador for Cloudways’ values and products.
The overall WordCamp experience and why it’s essential for the WordPress ecosystem.
The most important thing about any WordCamp is: the people. That’s why I attend WordCamps all over the world.
Many of us small agency owner/designer/developer types tend to work remotely, on our own, often from a home office. It can lead to isolation, no matter how many Zoom meetings you set up in your day.
When you attend a WordCamp, in any country, it’s your opportunity to meet the people who’ve been on your Facebook feed, or your Slack messages, or your Twitter feed – in real life. It’s amazing! That’s what happened in WordCamp Europe in Berlin this year: I got to meet Ahsan and Mustaasam from Cloudways in person.
And let’s be honest: real life is still much better than cyberspace. Even for the introverted types (yes, I am one of those).
The beautiful thing was that when I headed to WordCamp New York, at Convene venue, a stone’s throw from Times Square, I knew that I’d be meeting many people that I knew and was friends with already, even though we’d never been in the same room together yet.
However, even before I saw those cyberfriends, I started chatting to the people queueing up with me to collect our badges. When at a WordCamp, talk to strangers! They will be happy you took the initiative and delighted to get your attention. I didn’t tell these people that I was going to speak later, so it was quite entertaining to watch their surprise when I got on the stage to talk about UX later on. This led to even more conversations after my talk, and to new friendships being forged.
In case you are worried about talking to complete strangers: when you give a talk at a WordCamp, or you are a sponsor or a volunteer, you get invited to a welcoming dinner or party the night before. This means that the next day, when the conference starts, you’ve already met a few people and you won’t be on your own. So, if you’re not a speaker or a sponsor, consider volunteering: it’s not very demanding, the shifts are more than reasonable, and you will feel part of the local community even 5000 miles from home.
Is it worth traveling far for a WordCamp? Absolutely. You will get out of your little echo chamber, and into the world. You will hear enlightening talks about topics you and your friends know nothing about (but should). You will visit a new city. You will make new friends. You will gain a new perspective. You will create new opportunities, even months or years down the line. And you will deduct the costs from your tax bill, so… what are you waiting for?
Highlights of WordCamp New York 2019
When I got to the WordCamp NYC venue I already had ear-marked a few talks that I wanted to attend, either because I knew the speaker from before, or because I’d met them at the pre-event dinner and found their topic interesting.
My own talk, UX for Everyone, was scheduled at 3.30 so I had time to take in a few talks. Although, to be perfectly honest, even as an experienced speaker there is always a certain amount of trepidation before you step on the stage. My favorite thing is to speak early in the morning so that I can relax and enjoy the rest of the conference fully.
Here are my highlights, in chronological order. You’ll notice an absence of development talks – that’s because I am a designer! So in case you are not a developer, this proves to you how there is always something for everyone at WordCamps.
Andrea Zoellner – Next Level Blogging: How to run your blog like a business
I first saw Andrea talk at WordCamp London 2019, where she enlightened the audience about UX for Copy, and how important it is to make sure your customers are treated well even in the smallest bits of text that are directed to them. I was so convinced of the importance of her message, that I interviewed her about it for my project Design for Geeks.
Andrea is Chief Content Creator at SiteGround, so when she explains what you should be doing to take your blog to the next level, you listen. It was great to see her and be the recipient of her wisdom again.
Laura Byrne Cristiano – How to Win Friends and Influence People in a 280 Character Universe
I have always had geeky friends, so I opened my Twitter account in 2006 (back when the logo was still like green!). And then hardly ever used it. However, I have now taken an interest in it again because it’s where UX people hang out the most. I learned SO much from Laura – now, to put it all into practice.
I just want to say here that lunch at WordCamp NYC 2019 was delicious. May all WordCamps have the same level of food quality. Thank you, WordCamp NYC.
Trenace Richardson – How to Build and Transform Your Work Team Into a Thriving Community!
This talk was particularly relevant to me in my new role as Cloudways’ ambassador. Trenace talked about remote work teams as well as in situ ones. Cloudways has offices but it also has many people working remotely, so this talk was very interesting to me. It was a very dynamic, fun and engaging talk.
Chip Edwards – What does your brand look like in a voice-first world?
I’d met Chip the night before at the pre-conference event, so I was already looking forward to his talk.
Chip Edwards is an expert in voice technology and he presented us with a fascinating view on what is already happening in terms of ‘verbal branding’ (yes, it’s a thing) and how voice technology matters to all of us, even small content creators, not just big brands.
I come from a purely visual background so the idea that customers can interact with brands verbally first blew me away entirely. Unfortunately, I had to leave early as my talk was straight afterward and I needed to set up my computer – but stay tuned! We are continuing conversations with Chip.
Piccia Neri – UX for Everyone
Yeah, a bit cheeky to include my own talk in the highlights – but if I didn’t think it was a useful talk, I wouldn’t have proposed it!
The main message, however, is the same: user experience is where everything should start from, even if you are a small agency or a solo designer/developer. And there is a way and a process to approach a product build with UX first – which is what the talk explains VERY briefly.
The WordCamp New York talk isn’t up on WordPress.tv yet – I’ll update this post when it is. In the meantime, if you are interested you can watch the London talk, or watch the free classes from the UX for Everyone course that I’m building right now.*
*Use discount code CLOUDSHIGH if interested!
Birgit Pauli-Haack – WordPress for Nonprofits – Your Work for the Greater Good
Birgit Pauli Haack is a developer who is working hard to help make the world a better place with WordPress, by assisting non-profit organizations. She is deputy with the WordPress Global Community Team, a WordPress Meetup organizer and a Tech4Good organizer.
Her talk was very inspiring on how to create really effective sites for non-profits – while also paying your own bills. So much to learn, and so many suggestions on how we can help, too. Birgit was one of the most inspiring people I met at WCNYC, and I very much look forward to seeing her again at WordCamp US 2019 in St Louis, where she is one of the organizers.
Tevye Brown – WordPress Multisite Website as a Service (WaaS)
Tevye is one of those people that I truly looked forward to meeting in real life! We’ve known each other virtually for quite a while but had never shared a slice of reality before. Tevye is also a New Yorker, so it was great to meet him – in fact, I think one could safely say that without his help it would have taken me much longer to navigate my way back to my hotel from the Speakers Dinner.
Tevye talked about a really hot topic: offering simple websites on a subscription model to your chosen industry niche. This way, you can ensure that you deliver a high-quality website that’s as cheap as the dreaded Wix – but with all the advantages of WordPress. I highly recommend watching Tevye’s talk as soon as it’s on WordPress.tv in case you’re interested in building some recurring revenue for your business.
Monique Dubbelman – 100 Days of What? (Why you should learn how to code, even though you don’t fancy a coding career)
I absolutely loved Monique’s talk. First of all, the hand-drawn slides! Hats off, Monique. I loved the visual style, too. And in the second place: I am also a designer who learned how to code. I agree entirely with the idea that designers should learn to code, even though they have no intention of becoming developers. By the same token, I think that developers should also understand what designers do: this way, we can all build a better web together.
Monique is also very concerned about UX and accessibility issues, which makes us kindred souls. Another good cyber friend that I was so happy to break bread with when in New York.
Some Other Interactions
Piccia Neria and Alicia from Capita
Piccia Neria with Puxl
Piccia Neria and Ronald Gijsel from YITH
Josh Pollock in the Speakers Longue
Hangout Post WordCamp NYC 2019
I have attended many WordCamps in my life, in 6 different countries, and in 3 different languages. Every single time I come way much richer than when I arrived. This time even more so, because besides my own viewpoint I also spoke for Cloudways.
If you are in doubt about whether to attend a WordCamp or not: listen to me. Just do it. I can promise you that most of the best things that have happened to me in my professional life have happened as a consequence of attending (and speaking at) WordCamps. Thank you Cloudways, it’s been a blast.
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Piccia Neri has been a practicing designer for over 2 decades, working with global brands & cultural institutions. She runs her own global UX & design consultancy agency from Spain, offering workshops & courses & speaking at conferences internationally.