A Chat with Thomas Levy on WordCamp Los Angeles

Thomas Levy, LifterLMS CTO, is gearing up for WordCamp Los Angeles on September 29 – October 1.  We took a few minutes to dig in and speak with him about why he’s had mysterious “WCLAX” planning meetings blocked off on his calendar, what WCLAX really is all about, and if there are free t-shirts (hint: there are).

Tell us about your history with WordCamp Los Angeles (WCLAX).

I first got involved in WCLAX in 2015, mostly because I’m pretty bad at saying no to things and Adam Silver, a co-organizer that year, told me I could come for free if I volunteered by helping to hand out t-shirts and clean-up afterwards.

What makes WCLAX different from other WordCamps?

I’ve been around to a handful of camps and I can’t say that I can give an advantage of going to one over another. I’d say proximity to your residence is maybe the most important factor but in Southern California you can hit at least three a year without driving more than a few hours and I don’t see any reason not to go to all of them!

What’s your role been in planning WCLAX?

I am the “Speaker Wrangler” and was last year as well. That means I’m handling communication with our speakers, organizing the schedule, and facilitating and mediating the selection process. We have a big crew and we’ve chosen our speakers as democratically as possible so I put together all the “tools” to make the selection process as efficient as possible for the rest of the team.

What’s the time commitment been like during the planning phase of WCLAX?

Last year, in the same role, I spent a great deal more time than I did this year. Mostly that’s from lack of experience. I did dumb stuff in my workflow and that made me have to do and redo. I learned from my mistakes this year. I also decided to hand-off the blogging part of the role to Jen Miller which has freed up a tremendous amount of my time. (Although I do miss getting to personally interact with each speaker in the capacity that I did last year when I composed personal interviews with each speaker.) I love not having to put the time in but I miss having put the time in.
This year I’ve spent a few hours a week, more during the selection phase. WCLAX is this weekend and my job is essentially done. I’ll be on call to ensure the speakers get to the right room at the right time but the work is finished (for me at least).

What motivated you to get involved in a WordCamp leadership role?

WordCamps are a lot of work to put on and they are organized by a very small minority of WordPressers. After my first WordCamp I realized that if the events are going to exist, a group of people must show up and put the work in beforehand to make them happen. I want WordCamps to continue to happen so I want to show up and do some small part to make them happen to the best of my abilities.
Organizing is important but volunteering, speaking, and sponsoring WordCamps are also important. If you want to get involved and you don’t want too much responsibility or you don’t want to spend money or you don’t want to get up on stage you should volunteer.

What should a WordCamp newcomer expect?

Expect a ton of friendly nerds and bring a backpack to fill with free t-shirts from several hosting companies that will have tables in the sponsor area.
A personal recommendation I’d make would be to spend as much time talking in the hallways as you do listening to sessions. None of the speakers are too important to talk to you one-on-one. Take advantage of that.
Check out the WordCamp website for local camp listings.

What are you most looking forward to at WCLAX?

A few minutes after the first session starts over 350 of the attendees will have filtered through the check-in line, stuffed t-shirts into their bags, liquored themselves up on free coffee, and dispersed into the session halls. Those first 45 minutes are chaotic and loud. But after that first session begins, it settles. There’s only be a dozen or so attendees milling around the outdoor sponsor’s area. Most of the organizers are there with me. We’re all relieved because our job is done and the rest of the Camp runs itself.
I’ll look north at the San Gabriel mountains and tear up.
Years ago WordPress didn’t exist and now there rooms full of people — many of whom, like me, work remotely and actively avoid interaction outside of video chat and Slack — connecting around this code. Yes, code is more than functional; code is poetry (or whatever). But doesn’t that tagline means a bit something more than that programmers make art? In this moment I can start to grasp towards some greater meaning but, well, you can’t quite put it into words.