I participated to my first WordCamp Montreal in 2011. That first time was remarkable for a number of reasons. In addition to learning a ton of things on the WordPress ecosystem and discovering a generous community, it was that year that I met Jean-François Arseneault, also Co-Founder of SatelliteWP.
Over the years, my role in the Montreal community has evolved from being a simple participant, to a volunteer, to a speaker… and has culminated this year by becoming part of the organizing committee. The event was a resounding success and I am very proud of this.
Beyond this involvement in WordCamp, what I do as part of the community is very diversified. You may know me from the Montreal WordPress Community group on Facebook, or maybe you’re using a plugin or a piece of code I’ve written, or you might be using a theme or plugin which I’ve translated since I’ve been directly involved in the translation and oversight of tens of thousands of strings for the “Français du Canada” locale.
Organizing a WordCamp : an effort of considerable magnitude
When I submitted my name to help organize WordCamp Montreal 2019, I told myself I would hold a small role where I’d review the copy translated to French so as to avoid spelling mistakes. Quickly, I was also tasked with managing the event’s website since the number of modifications to perform was growing rapidly. By observing the number of co-organizers, I realized we would not be able to ensure the quality of the event without more people. The task was simply monumental.
Therefore, I decided to do more by stepping up my level of involvement as best I could. I then recruited Laurie, SatelliteWP’s Marketing Director, to manage all communications. She was parachuted in the project, at our expense, for the sheer love of the cause. But it wasn’t enough. There was a lack in terms of design and branding. I then asked my friend Najomie from NAJ & CO if she could get involved. She accepted and her team have donated dozens of hours to complete this mandate, not realizing what she got herself into.
I then noticed that our lead, Andrea Zoellner, was into her 2nd year as lead, which would be her last. Not seeing anyone else showing interest for the lead role, I tried to absorb as much as I could from her throughout our collaboration.
Organizing was going well, but some problems showed up. Multiple speaker cancellations forced us to get creative. Andrea agreed to present a talk, even with all the management tasks she had to perform. Jennifer, another co-organizer, did the same. I even offered my name at one point to present a 3rd talk. Peter, who was managing all the speakers, did a fantastic job of keeping everything running despite all these issues. Carl ensured that all of our sponsors would be happy. The kind of teamwork I love.
Then, a few weeks before the event, a co-organizer had to leave the team. We didn’t have anyone to manage all the volunteers and the food. Andrea took on the added responsibility of managing the food. But picking up the slack would be too much for me. I then asked my partner Jean-François to fill in this role. A 3rd member of SatelliteWP was joining the organizing committee.
I estimate that the implication of SatelliteWP for the event, in direct sponsorship and time volunteering, easily tops $10,000.
In the end, no one noticed any of the issues we successfully solved throughout the event. It was a resounding success and I need to thank all the co-organizers, volunteers, speakers, sponsors and attendees. Thanks to all of you, the event was magical!
And WordCamp Montreal 2020 ?
The day after WordCamp Montreal 2019, I knew we needed to get started quickly in order to do things properly. The problem with the organization of a WordCamp is that the workload is so large that many get involved only one time and then think to themselves after the event : “Never again”. I understand them. However, if we better organized ourselves, we could be more efficient, automate a large number of tasks … something that’s impossible when we’re in “reactive mode” to the challenges unfolding.
So I consulted the co-organizers of the 2019 edition to propose myself as lead for 2020. No one opposed, on the contrary, the support for my application was very strong!
I filled in the form to apply as lead organizer. I mentioned the support of the other co-organizers in the form.
And then pressed Submit!
In the last few years, a few meetups were organized downtown Montreal to encourage participation in the community. Since 2011, I’ve participated in several meetups and questioned myself as to their relevance. What you must know is that organizing a meetup requires a lot of work and planning. Since the event is free, the attendance is often disappointing: many will confirm they’ll attend, but end up not showing up on the day of the event.
This year, we were asked at SatelliteWP to organize a meetup around Translation Day, which is dedicated to the translation of WordPress into the “Français du Canada” locale. Since WordPress is how we make a living, we gladly accepted! We prepared all the content and presentations, bought some food and drinks, paid for the room rental and … only 10 people showed up (3 of which from our own team). We learned the hard way that it’s very difficult to bring together people for a free event… even when we pay for everything.
As I already knew, I’m not fond of meetups.
The response from WordCamp Central
This week-end, I got the response from WordCamp Central, who have the authority to allow putting together a WordCamp. Before opening the email, I was hyped! I hadn’t told anyone, but I had also found 3 new sponsors for the 2020 edition of WordCamp that would also help us in organizing the event. I was waiting for things to be official.
Then, I opened the email…
Thanks for your interest in planning a WordCamp in Montreal. It’s awesome that you still love WordPress as much as we do!
It’s great to see your passion for growing the local WordPress community. I see that your group has been going for a while, but you have not been meeting too much lately – aside from WordCamp Montreal this past August, the meetup has only met once in 2019.
We find that WordCamps work best inside active WordPress communities – without a community that is meeting monthly, it is hard for a WordCamp to be rooted with enough attendees and to last for more than a year.
With that in mind, we would only approve and move forward with a WordCamp if the local meetup group has been meeting monthly for at least the last 6 months. The meetups you’ve had so far are great, but we would need to see you meeting monthly for a few more months again before applying for a WordCamp.
We are very excited to see a WordCamp happen in Montreal and we hope to see an application from you in a few months time once your group is active once again!
In short, I was being told “thanks” for applying. However, a WordCamp would only be allowed if the local community would be have been active for at least 6 months prior through meetups.
WordCamp Montréal 2019 in numbers
1st WordCamp in Canada
Largest WordCamp in Canada
Honestly, I’m very disappointed. With all the efforts put forth by the team for the organization of WordCamp Montreal 2019, this response seems unwarranted. The same team (or almost) is interested in collaborating once more next year.
It’s true, the community has not been very active during the last year. I could blame the team in place before I joined. No! I estimate my personal time involvement to 80-100 hours for organizing WordCamp. I think Andrea, our lead, has given way more. She should have done even more? No… this isn’t fair. And why should this impact our WordCamp which has been in existence for 11 years?
Despite my best efforts, I don’t have the time nor interest in getting involved with meetups. I am already involved in multiple projects in relation to WordPress which I do not want to stop.
And even if someone stood up and organized meetups in October, November, December, January, February and March, only then could I re-apply as Lead Organizer? With a normal delay from WordCamp Central, I could expect an answer (if it was positive) in April or May. Knowing that 5 to 6 months of lead time are required to organize a WordCamp of such magnitude, in the best conditions, and given that our event generally happens in August, we would then find ourselves in the situation of delaying our event, or work in the very same conditions as this year: being last minute on multiple tasks, run like crazy and lose co-organizers due to the intense workload.
Are we the only organizing team to go through such challenges? Our WordCamp is established and has existed for 10+ years. Organizing a WordCamp is a huge ordeal and we’re asking volunteers to do more with limited financial and logistical resources.
Therefore, I am sending this cry of the heart to whoever wants to get involved: WordCamp Montreal 2020 is at risk…