Some of Asheville’s brightest web designers, developers and entrepreneurs will meld minds with innovators from around the country at Western North Carolina’s first-ever WordCamp conference.
Held on the Enka campus of A-B Tech May 30 – June 1, the gathering will include more than 50 classes, presentations and panel discussions focused on harnessing the power of WordPress, a free and open-sourced software program that powers over 75 million websites. The most popular publishing tool on the planet, it’s estimated that roughly 22 percent of all websites utilize WordPress. The list includes Mountain Xpress, which converted to WordPress in April, as well as many other local businesses. The software is popular among amateurs and experts alike, and is helping grow the burgeoning local tech business sector.
WordCamp Asheville was birthed out of a informal local group of WordPress users who have been meeting for a couple years and attending similar conferences in bigger cities. And it’s already proved to be a popular idea, selling out its 200 tickets (at a cost of $40) months before the event even starts. A-B Tech’s business acceleration program as well as several local tech firms, restaurants and breweries have signed on as sponsors. All of the organizers are volunteering their time and energy to make the conference happen.
“We sort of said to ourselves, ‘Why not Asheville? We have the interest, we have a growing tech community here,’” says lead organizer Lydia Roberts. “We really want to try to bring that community together more, so we know each other and we’re all kind of growing and learning together.”
A professional developer at Evolv, a local web design and e-newsletter company, Roberts hopes the conference provides tools to beginners as well as those making their living using the software.
Friday’s events are focused on helping novices and entrepreneurs get “the training to not only build their own website, but to keep up with it, to maintain it, to maintain their social media, to learn how to make money off their website,” she says. “So it’s really empowering for the local business community.”
Saturday and Sunday lessons focus on making the most of advanced features and building online community, and include talks by some of Asheville’s top talents as well as experts from across the U.S. Due to the software’s easily modifiable structure, “People are constantly trying to stretch the limits of what you can do and what you can customize,” Roberts explains.
One of those local innovators speaking at the conference is WordPress developer Steven Slack, who owns S2 Web. He’s attended six WordCamp events in bigger cities, and is hopeful the Asheville event could provide a creative spark for the area.
“I know there’s a large desire on the part of people in the local tech community to make Asheville a more tech-friendly place,” he says. “My hope is that bringing in a WordCamp will get people excited about the tech community and the tech scene in Asheville.”
In addition to learning experiences, Slack reports that he’s gained new business from attending WordCamps elsewhere. “You create these relationships around this common bond of working in the same area. And sometimes those people call you up,” he says.
Locally, Roberts says that Asheville WordCamp “could lead to new businesses as people form connections or it could lead to new projects.”
While tickets are sold out and there’s already a long waiting list, Roberts says Asheville WordCamp is hopefully just a start of more things to come. All profits from the event will go toward improving the local WordPress meet-up group and their future WordCamps, which Roberts says is likely to become an annual event.
But you don’t have to wait until next year to learn WordPress skills and network with peers. All the Asheville WordCamp classes and panels will be videoed and posted online for free viewing later this summer. And the local group invites anyone interested to attend their monthly events.
“For me it’s really been great to become closer to some of the other fellow geeks, fellow developers and people who make their living off of WordPress,” says Roberts. “It’s really nice to feel that connection with people.”