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How I rediscovered purpose at WordCamp US

Aaron Brazell, cofounder of WP Engine, explains how a recent conference in Philadelphia reminded him of the promise and potential of the world's most popular content management system.

WordPress for Dummies writer Lisa Sabin-Wilson in a Cat in the Hat costume during WordCamp Philly. (Photo for Philly)
A version of this post first appeared on and is published here with permission.
This weekend, my life purpose was reawakened. And it was important.

I had the chance to not only attend, but also speak, at the inaugural WordCamp US in Philadelphia.
But before we go there, let me share some related feelings.
The first WordCamp was held in 2006 in SF, and I was one of a few people who had the privilege to speak to that audience. I don’t even remember what I spoke about but it was designed as an unconference.
Okay, let’s go remedial for a moment to explain what an unconference is. It’s a decentralized get-together where people who have an idea can share it, as opposed to an organized conference of your traditional means.
All this to say … WordCamps have trended more toward traditional conferences as opposed to a community-driven “dinner table” sort of thing.
But, while there have been hundreds, if not thousands of WordCamps since, across the globe — of which I’ve organized two — the “big one” that attracts attendees from all over the globe, has been WordCamp SF where it all began. And it has largely been spearheaded from the top down. It was an important move, inline with open source ethos, to democratize the big one. And so the Philadelphia WordPress community and WordCamp Philly organizers were given the opportunity to do “the big one.”

This weekend, I remembered. I want to change the world. Literally.

And boy did they do it.
There was a tone to this WordCamp that was different than every other WordCamp that, to my knowledge, has ever been organized.
You typically find WordCamps, generally organized for the regional community, catering to every level of user — from non-technical users wanting to understand how to market their content on Google, to talks about leaving a day job to freelance.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
There’s a reason why veterans in the industry typically hang out in the hallway talking to each other instead of going to sessions.
This WordCamp had a forward-thinking tone that had sessions oriented in such a way as to challenge the norm and looked at what WordPress could be instead of what it was. It was truly amazing and inspiring.
Look, WordPress runs one out of every four websites you’ll visit today. It’s a gigantic responsibility. But those of us who work with it every day also are the first to forget that. We treat WordPress like a job. Freelancers find a way to find gigs that will get them to their next gig. Agency folks take the tasks assigned by project managers and make them reality knowing that next week, we’ll have another task. Product folks keep building out features because a couple people want them.
We forget that every line of code we write contributes to humanity.
Every line of code enables a freedom fighter in the Middle East.
Every line of code expands the ability for an activist to achieve her intended goal.
Every line of code allows a young man in a Congolese village to communicate with his community isolated by physical obstacles like jungle.
Or sell a handcrafted product online to customers who can’t otherwise reach them.
It builds economy. It builds relationships. It builds humanity. It gives those who have less opportunity the ability to compete with those of us who have more.
I watched as Anthony D. Paul built a website using nothing more than a smartphone. Important because developing countries are being flooded with free smartphones where there is no Google Fiber or Comcast.
With WordPress 4.4 being released this week, we will for the first time, have the ability to break WordPress out of the paradigm of “running websites.” We will be able to run apps, run data visualizations, create elaborate interactive stories.
And what’s the most fundamental means of human evolution? Storytelling. Passing knowledge from one generation to another.
I spent hours of many nights over many years pouring myself into WordPress and I have admittedly allowed it to become my job. I forgot why I got into it. I lost my inspiration.
This weekend, I remembered. I want to change the world. Literally.
So thank you everyone who organized, sponsored with real money, the speakers and every single one of the hundreds of people I spoke with. You made WordCamp. You gave yourself to me, to the community and — by definition — the world.

People: Aaron Brazell
Projects: WordCamp Philly

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