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WordPress Bristol Community – Interview with Janice, Hannah and Simon

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WordCamp Bristol is coming up in May 17th – 19th, 2019 and we had the chance to have a chat with Simon Pollard, Hannah Smith and Janice Tye who are all part of the WordCamp organizing team!

Thanks Janice, Hannah and Simon for your time and support for this interview!

You can learn more about the WordPress Bristol community on their website or on Twitter.

Who is the Bristol WordPress community?

Bristol WordPress people is a meet-up of over 850 members currently run by six core organisers, Simon Pollard (chair), Hannah Smith (co-chair), Janice Tye, Rob George, Laura Hunter and Claire Chappell.

The meet-up group has been in existence since late 2014. It started with 4 people, including two of today’s current organisers (Janice and Simon) around a pub table. It took us a while to find a good stable venue but once we did that the group grew rapidly and now we attract approx 60 people each month. Bristol has a really strong tech scene and is fondly known as the Silicon Gorge.

Other significant events that have contributed to the continued strength of the Bristol community are WordCamp Bristol 2017 (led by Michael Burridge and Janice Tye), Europe’s first do_action day (led by Michael Burridge and Tess Coughlin-Allen) and the forthcoming WordCamp Bristol 2019 (led by Janice Tye and Hannah Smith with help from many others).

What is your background, what should our readers know about you?

As the key members behind the meet-up group and WordCamp 2019 Janice, Simon and Hannah have all answered the following.

Janice: My background is in graphic design, which I’ve been doing since 1978 and for the last 20 years have been doing web design as well. As well as graphic design I’ve worked in publishing, advertising, teaching and in-house design for a section of the NHS. For the last 22 years I’ve been running my own business which now focuses on WordPress. I confess to being slightly scarred by 10 years of design and technology teaching! Outside of work, I enjoy gardening, sewing and spending time with my family.

Simon: I have been a web developer over 20 years now. During that time I have worked for several companies, including Future Publishing before moving to his current role as Lead Developer at dc activ. Outside of work I am equally passionate about football, Nintendo, music and am a sucker for a limited edition vinyl.

Hannah: I came to Bristol to study Computer Science 18 years ago and instantly fell in love with the city. After graduating I worked for a small digital media agency producing games, software, websites and films. After a while I changed career away from tech and worked at the Environment Agency, a large government department for 8 years doing a variety of project, programme and portfolio management roles. With budget cuts hitting government hard I decided to come back into tech and found the Bristol WordPress meet-up, whose kindness and generosity brought me into the WordPress community. I’m now a freelance WordPress developer and instructor. In my free time I like being outside, usually doing something active or failing that with G&T in hand in the garden.

For how long have you been using WordPress? And why you’ve chosen WordPress?

Janice: I’ve been using WordPress for the past 12 years. I was introduced to it by a colleague who was putting together a site for another business I had. So I had to get inside it and gradually became more and more hooked. I did look at Joomla and Drupal but found Joomla too clunky and Drupal way too technical for me. The fact that WordPress seemed to be so well supported by a community tipped the balance for me.

Simon: I have worked with numerous CMSs and throughout the years I always find that WordPress fits my needs more so than any other. Having worked on high traffic blog/news sites like SFX and PC Gamer through to mass content sites like the British Rowing website, WordPress has worked every time. My current job allows me to make use of WordPress in a ‘headless’ way, where I use it to manage data that I can then pass onto our app team using the built in WordPress API.   

Hannah: I’m a relative newbie to WordPress having started to using it in 2014. I also built quite a few sites in Joomla, but the demand for WordPress websites soon outstripped Joomla. Also, a major factor was the WordPress community in Bristol who were so helpful in teaching me and showing me new techniques. In 2016 I decided to focus all my energy on being a WordPress specific developer.

How did you get involved in the WordPress community?

Janice: For a while I had been following online seminars and tutorials. I also found and attended a WordCamp put on by them in Edinburgh. Talking to people I realised that it wasn’t only USA that had WordCamps so I started to attend all over the UK. I got to know some well-known speakers gradually and when it got to the point when people started to recognise me I then began to feel part of a greater whole. I am not sure how many WordCamps I have now been to. Two of them have been WordCamp Europes and this year I am on the PR team for WCEU19. That will be an experience.

Simon: I can’t quite remember how I came upon the WordPress Bristol meetup event, but I signed up and made sure I attended it. It was put together by a chap called Henry and along with Janice a few of us met up very casually to discuss what we did with WordPress. The events slowly stopped happening and so I took it upon myself to help out and become a co-organiser with Henry. Things gradually picked up, but Henry had to move on and so I turned to the community to help. Jenny Wong from Human Made helped massively in securing a regular venue. Then I turned to the community for help organising and this is where Hannah stepped in and gave us the organising skills we needed. Janice joined the team shortly afterwards and now we are a team of six. We are just about to change venue as the group continues to strengthen. I find myself inspired every month by just how great our local community is and by how many amazing people there are.

Hannah: When I returned to tech after an 8 year hiatus, my skills were really out of date and I had to learn fast. I found myself attending every meet-up I could find to figure out what I didn’t know I needed to know. The Bristol WordPress community had a real variety of talks about all topics touching the web, development, SEO, marketing, writing, design etc. I found it really useful and I learned so much!. Not just that, but the members there were friendly and diverse, and unlike a lot of other tech meet-ups people were actually interested in chatting and helping, not just making me feel stupid about what I didn’t know. After attending for 8 months or so Simon asked me to get involved in organising and I was happy to get involved to help pay back everything I had learned.  

Today you’re playing a key role in the WordCamp organization, tell our readers more about the biggest challenges and the new trends of the WordCamp Bristol.

Janice: It is very important to have a good team with whom to be able to share decisions and take individual responsibility. I see my role as overall lead to be that of a co-ordinator, budget holder and fall guy/girl. It is important to hold one’s nerve, plan ahead, think of the small stuff and have a plan b. We wanted to try a few different things after the first WordCamp Bristol. For 2019 we are planning a Contributor day and we are upping our numbers to between 300 – 350 people.

Simon: Being so involved in WordPress and having a big part in the local community I was keen to take part in this year’s WordCamp. Taking on the role of speakers manager means I get to help shape the content of what everyone will see. It is also another great reason for me to reach out to the community and engage with all the great minds out there. The challenge is to make sure we find a good mix across many different topics so that we can appeal to our whole community.

Hannah: For me the biggest challenge is trying to get those companies in the local that aren’t already part of the WordPress community, but do use WordPress, to see the value of getting involved. Bristol has a huge tech community, working with all sorts of new cutting-edge technology like VR, crypto-currencies and AI. For some companies WordPress might seem like old news and not exciting enough. We want WordCamp Bristol 2019 to reach out and help cross those boundaries so we can engage new people who will share new ideas and their experiences.

For you, what’s the magical recipe for a successful WordPress WordCamps or Meetups?

Janice: A good range of speakers and levels of talks, venue with good ambience, good food, opportunity for plenty of interaction with the attending community.

Simon: For me it’s all about community, the sharing of knowledge and building of friendships. We continue to talk outside of meetups, outside of WordCamps and keep our community growing and getting stronger each and every day.

Hannah: For me it’s the welcome you receive when you arrive at the door and the reaction you get when you ask a question (maybe even a silly one!). I’ve been to so many tech meet-ups and events where I felt lost and like I shouldn’t be there. I have never experienced that in the WordPress community, people have always made me feel entirely welcome and comfortable with trying to learn and better myself.

What will be the future of the Bristol WordPress community?

We hope that WordCamp Bristol 2019 will diverse our community and bring in fresh new ideas from other tech sectors that will in turn contribute to the growth of our local meet-up. We’d also love to see our meet-up get past the 1,000 members mark and we would like to continue to lend support to the organisers of WordPress Cheltenham, WordPress Cardiff and WordPress Exeter who are close by.

We are also changing venue for the meet-up from a local pub to a tech co-working space. Sponsorship and contribution from WordPress Central has allowed us to move to a bigger better venue, which is also fully accessible. We want to be open and available to everyone. From here we will continue to keep our local community engaged, informed and hopefully entertained month after month.

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