Coming soon to lovely Portland, OR is the 2019 WPCampus conference! The schedule of sessions is now available and in this episode, WPCampus members Brian DeConinck and Jen McFarland are joined by WPCampus 2019 Program co-chair Eric Sembrat.
Eric reviews some of the content planned for this year’s event, and some ways in which folks will be able to contribute to the conversation at the event. He also makes the case for volunteering at the conference and we find out who wins in a fight: Wapuu or the Ga. Tech mascot, Buzz.
Mentioned in this episode:
WPCampus 2019 Conference schedule
WPCampus Slack Community
WPCampus 2019 Conference
WPCampus is a community and conference for web professionals, educators and people dedicated to the confluence of WordPress in higher education.
The WPCampus Podcast is a bi-weekly show where members of the community come together to discuss relevant topics, unique ways that WordPress is being used in higher education, share tutorials and walkthroughs, and more.
Jen: 00:00 Because I think it's incredibly inappropriate for me to continue to sing copyrighted music, I am just instead going to start this out of thin air and say, insert your own personal favorite soundtrack here.
Brian: 00:17 And give people a moment to quietly hum to themselves. Okay, welcome to the WPCampus podcast, podcast for those who use WordPress in higher education.
Jen: 00:30 We have a guest!
Brian: 00:33 Yay! We have a guest. We have ... And not only do we have a guest, we have a conference coming up this summer. And our guest is going to talk to us about that conference and the sessions in the conference. So hello guest.
Eric: 00:47 Well hello, everyone!
Jen: 00:49 Hi, Eric! All right. So I'm going to sort of introduce our guest a little bit for the folks at home. Eric can you please tell us your name.
Eric: 01:00 Yes, my name is Eric Sembrat.
Jen: 01:02 And where do you work?
Eric: 01:04 I currently work at the Georgia Institute of Technology in sunny and warm Atlanta, Georgia.
Jen: 01:09 Well you really sold it. What is your official job title?
Eric: 01:13 So technically my job title in a very higher ed academic sense is I am an App Developer Lead. However, what that actually means for day-to-day duties, I serve as a content ... or a subject matter expert for our web developers within the largest college here at Georgia Tech, the College of Engineering.
Jen: 01:35 Cool. Do you like it?
Eric: 01:38 I love it.
Jen: 01:38 Okay.
Eric: 01:39 It's a great opportunity to meet with web developers and web contacts from a wide majority of job titles, professions, expertise, competencies, and to help all of us together in building the digital presence that our institution works with. And moving it forward.
Jen: 01:57 That sounds very professional. Tell me, where did you get your degree and what was it in?
Eric: 02:03 So, I'm currently working on my third degree. So in true higher ed academic sense I love myself some higher education. This is where I'm hugging the academic realm here. I received my undergraduate degree in a bachelor's, a computer science, from Georgia Tech, oddly enough. So I went here, went out to the work world and decided to come back here I liked it so much. I then completed my master's in information systems from Kennesaw State University. It's a university in the northwest metro Atlanta area. I'm currently working on my doctoral degree at Georgia State University in the heart of Atlanta, Georgia in the College of Education in a program called Learning Technologies where I am focused research on the pairing of software development and instructional design. So how you take learning goals and translate them into software that we use.
Jen: 03:09 Well, congratulations. When will you be done with that?
Eric: 03:14 Hopefully December 2019 is my expectation for finishing. It's been a long and tiring journey, but it's ... The PhD experience teaches you a lot both about yourself, your limits, and the folks you're working with.
Jen: 03:30 Yep.
Eric: 03:30 And as part of that I've learned a heck of a lot and I am truly excited to get passed that finish line very soon.
Brian: 03:39 The PhD experience also teaches the people around you in your life that you don't have time for any of their problems. You need to focus on your research and leave them alone for a little while.
Jen: 03:49 Spoken like a very well adjusted husband of a PhD.
Brian: 03:53 Yes.
Eric: 03:55 I was going to say my wife would think otherwise. So ... And she sees me [inaudible 00:04:00] like, "Back up. [inaudible 00:04:01]." You know it can be a lot, but it's also very rewarding and I think it has a lot of application here in the higher ed world for web development. And allows us to get outside of our pocket and explore other areas.
Jen: 04:14 Definitely.
Brian: 04:14 No, it sounds like a really cool area of research. Really cool degree.
Jen: 04:18 So, Dr. Eric, one final question, who would win in a mascot? Your college ... Who would win in a fight? Your college mascot or Wapuu. And I will let you pick which college mascot is going to go up against Wapuu, which probably puts the odds in your favor.
Eric: 04:34 I was about to say, yeah we've got two mascots when you look at Georgia Tech. You've got the Ramblin' Wreck, the actual vehicle of Georgia Tech, the Model-T Ford. Which against a Wapuu has no chance. But you also have Buzz, our wonderful yellow jacket. And you know yellow jackets and similar insects can be quite annoying and a bothersome pest to deal with. So I would say they'd both have advantages to a poor Wapuu.
Jen: 05:07 Yeah.
Brian: 05:08 We also don't know if Wapuu has any allergies, you know. There's a lot of unknowns related to the Buzz yellow jacket.
Jen: 05:15 True. It could get serious quickly.
Eric: 05:18 There's a lot of variables to take into account there. But it doesn't bode well.
Jen: 05:22 Nope. I mean so far Wapuu is like 0 for 2 so I'm a little concerned about him. We might have to work on this. All right, so talk to us a little bit about generally speaking the kinds of things that we might expect to see at this year's WPCampus conference. Because you are of course one of the co-chairs and we have to do a quick mention to Dash, who is your co-chair for the program this year.
Eric: 05:48 Yes. Dash and I have put together a fantastic program and selected a wide array of amazing sessions that represent the wide variety and expertise areas to which our attendees and our community lives in. I'm very thrilled to see the session list containing a mixture of being human oriented sessions, or sessions that focus on sort of the more humanistic part of our day-to-day work. For everyone that works in web development, you know at the end of the day we work on computers, but we also interface and work with our peers and our communities and our coworkers around us. And having those sessions allows us to look outside of our technical bubble and build those interpersonal, teamwork, and collaborative working environments and competencies that help us to create the next thing.
Eric: 06:46 Beyond that we have some really fun technical sessions. One of the workshops that I personally am looking forward is WP Rig 2.0. I come from a background of working with the Drupal content management system, which is a lot more geared towards more framework driven themes where you basically sub theme off of a particular theme. And this is where WP Rig 2.0 is very interesting to me because at the end of the day I think in higher education, having the ability to reuse a lot of accessibility, usability, all those standards baked into a theme and just develop our campus branding and a digital identity off of that is super awesome.
Eric: 07:34 In addition, what I love about the technical part of this year's WPCampus is how we're looking forward. A lot of our technical talks are focusing on sort of the up and coming issues that we're seeing both within the WordPress environment, as well as the wider web community as we look to 2019 and 2020. Dash is speaking about PHP 7 and some of the changes that pop up there. We're looking at things like Composer and the sort of continuous workflow that comes with that and how to take advantage of that.
Eric: 08:09 For higher education a lot of us have sat back and watched what the web development community at large has done with the sort of seismic shifts we've seen over the last five years or so. And now that it's reached I would say sort of a slow down a little bit and standardized a little bit, we have a great opportunity to take those lessons learned and apply them in a meaningful and strategic way to our institution. Because we're not just one website. I think we all wish sometimes that was the case. We're not five websites. We're not 10 websites. We're hundreds of websites. And so a lot of-
Jen: 08:49 Or more.
Eric: 08:49 Yeah. Thousands of websites even. So having all this knowledge here to scale from not just the top level of your website, just not the default webpage that gets thousands and millions of hits, but the individual smaller websites that we may have non-technical folks managing or creating. And so some of our sessions touch on that from working with multi-user WordPress environments to the accessibility when we're creating content or creating websites. And all the things in between. It's super exciting and I think there's a lot of value and a lot of variation where no matter where you're situated within web development and higher education there's a slew of sessions that will speak to build up your expertise and your competencies in new and existing areas.
Jen: 09:45 Yeah I know I saw sessions coming in as one of the co-chairs, I mean every one was looking like something I was definitely going to want to check out. I haven't looked at the final schedule yet to sort of figure out where I'm going to wind up, but for sure there's a lot of interesting stuff. Among other things, for me, yes I'm very excited about the WP Rig and Mort Rand-Hendriksen being there. We're big fans of his. So I think some autographs might have to be found.
Jen: 10:13 But aside from the starry-eyed obsessions there, I think one of things that is really interesting that we're trying out this year and has some potential is the group discussion. Can you talk a little bit about how we're hoping that's going to work out?
Eric: 10:28 So one of the things that I love about this experiment that we're going with is that we're empowering our attendees to perhaps look at something that may not be a full session, or something that may be an idea and be able to apply it to a group conversation to bring in other subject matter experts and attendees to sort of crowdsource a solution ideas conversation. So as part of WPCampus this year, we're focusing at registration to have attendees be able to volunteer or list areas of expertise that they would like to sort of crowdsource discussion around and we've allotted a time slot for those discussions to take place.
Eric: 11:14 I love this kind of session idea. I've tried to incorporate it or leverage it in the events that I've worked with in the past. And I feel like the advantages and value of that are that it sort of force ... not forces, facilitates collaboration and a lot of the ... brings in a lot of the expertise and experiences we have from all of our campuses and all of the projects that we're working with day to day and gives us an outlet to be able to showcase and explain our successes, our failures, our challenges and be able to build some consensus or at least direction from those shared experiences for someone that may be, or a group of institutions, or a group of attendees, that may be hitting roadblocks or encountering an issue that they can't solve by themselves. As we-
Jen: 12:09 Yeah-
Eric: 12:09 Go ahead.
Jen: 12:10 Sorry, I was just going to say it feels to me almost like a discussion that you would find in Slack, except for we get to have it in person. It's nice that we have that extra space to do that.
Eric: 12:20 Yeah. And it's amazing I think what kind of actual discussions and work can happen in person versus something virtual. It's kind of like when you go to national conferences and they have code sprints. The amount of work that happens there in person when you have someone mentoring someone new versus the same, a similar level of mentoring that you would do on a Slack channel. There's no comparison. So having that opportunity of face-to-face discussions and passing on and distributing that knowledge out I think is super, super important. And especially to facilitate the knowledge sharing here in higher education where some of our institutions may be blessed with tons of web developers, while others may be a web shop of one or two that are just struggling to get by. And so being able to facilitate those discussions, make those connections, and learn from one another is just a great opportunity.
Eric: 13:18 And it also empowers our attendees to get involved and to sort of place themselves within the sessions, not as a singular speaker, but as a participant. It's super exciting to see.
Jen: 13:32 Yeah. And then they can take those things home with them too, right? Like those relationships that they've formed, those conversations that they have, the ideas that they were able to come up with. And then as they're trying to realize them back at home they also know that they can use the Slack environment to sort of touch base and keep people up to date and share ideas and get help. Which, I mean we have an amazing community that, you know, for three hundred and what, sixty-two days of the year we're all off by ourselves. But it is nice to be able to take these couple of days and really make, forge those connections and then take that back with you.
Eric: 14:08 That's one of the super awesome things about the tight coupling in WPCampus between the in-person conference, the online conference, and all the other days in between where we have Slack as the primary method of communication. For those exact scenarios. If I have a question about what you all are doing, for example, Jen and Brian, if I want to reach out to both of you there's a perfect method where I don't have to wait until July if I have a question where you all can provide me an easy answer. However, if there's a giant topic that I want to talk about where you all as an institution has succeeded as something and I want to learn more, that's where the in-person conference is great because I can corner you all in one of the session rooms and beg for your expertise and beg for your guidance on a particular topic that you all have excelled at. And be able to learn from you all.
Jen: 15:00 And we can say no, not until you buy us a drink. I don't understand.
Eric: 15:04 Pretty much.
Jen: 15:05 Yeah.
Eric: 15:06 So that's a great opportunity and I think you don't see that a lot in other higher ed communities and I'm super glad that it's flourishing and we're having additional opportunities to strengthen those interpersonal relationships within our community.
Jen: 15:23 Yeah for sure. Brian, I think you have a pitch to give about volunteering?
Brian: 15:31 Yeah. You should volunteer.
Jen: 15:34 For those of you who are coming to the conference, the rest of you who are staying home volunteering probably won't help us that much this time.
Brian: 15:39 But if you really want to volunteer, coming to the conference is a great first step. So that's my pitch is if you have not registered yet, check the box that says, "I am interested in volunteering." If you've already registered and you changed your mind and now you do want to volunteer, even though you didn't check the box, go to 2019.WPCampus.org/volunteers and you get to hang out with some great people who will teach you how to set up the livestream and kick it off and moderate questions and do all the stuff that you always wanted to learn how to do.
Jen: 16:19 That was an excellent pitch. I'm totally sold.
Eric: 16:21 Oh, can I join in on that?
Brian: 16:24 Absolutely.
Eric: 16:25 I'd like to just chime in and say that my first experience with the WPCampus community was actually volunteering for the online conference when we kickstarted it. So that was really my first experience with you all and some of the session selection and conference organizing community. It's a great way to give back to the larger communities to which we exist in. And it's a great way to make new ... to network and make new connections. It's a great way to see what your peers are doing, to learn from them, and to sort of pass on your knowledge as well.
Eric: 16:59 And plus, you get to learn about cool new things. I didn't realize anything about conference organizing before I started here. The volunteer work has given me a lot of insight into how we make these things happen.
Jen: 17:12 That is the perfect pitch. Eric, you basically made this a gateway drug to ... First step volunteering, second step co-chair.
Brian: 17:21 I don't know that gateway drug is the term that is officially sanctioned by WPCampus.
Jen: 17:27 We'll pass it by Rachel for next time.
Eric: 17:29 Yeah, we need to put it on a shirt.
Brian: 17:33 Yeah.
Jen: 17:33 Eric, thank you so much for being with us today. I, for one, am very excited to see you again coming up next month in Portland. I can't believe it's only about six weeks away. That's kind of nuts. So if you haven't already registered, it's not too late. The schedule's up. Go check online, WPCampus ... 2019.WPCampus.org/schedule will get you straight to the schedule. And while you're there you can go ahead and register and volunteer and do all the things that you need to do. If you're not already online there's more information on Slack, so feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions.
Jen: 18:08 Brian, what did I forget?
Brian: 18:09 Just as a reminder this podcast can be listened to via iTunes, well I guess iTunes isn't a thing anymore, is it? What is it now?
Jen: 18:18 Meh.
Brian: 18:19 Magic Apple podcast thingy. Or through Google Play. Or through our website, WPCampus.org/podcast.
Jen: 18:29 Now with transcripts and captioning.
Brian: 18:30 Transcripts and captioning on every episode. And if you are looking for a way to give us feedback or send us hate mail or maybe even say that you liked something that we said, which as usual is probably what our guest said and not what we said, then you can tweet @wpcampusorg, or at Jen or I directly. Jen is @ncsumarit. I am @BrianDeConinck. And, Eric, where can people find you on the internet?
Eric: 19:01 The easiest way to find me is going to my website, W-E-B-B-E-H.com. That's got all the social media links and it's the best way to contact me.
Jen: 19:12 Cool. Now I'm going to go browse Eric on the web. Thank you again, Eric, for being with us.
Eric: 19:17 Thanks you all