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WordCamp Pune and withdrawal symptoms!

WordCamp Pune is done! I am having withdrawal symptoms. I would love to write a lot of things about WordCamp Pune but it would be fair to say, that since it took place last weekend, I am still high on #WCPune koolaid.

This is not a WordCamp critique. I am not writing about awesome sessions. I am not writing about what a WordCamp should be or not be about.

I am writing a good snapshot of my experiences at this WordCamp. So someday I can go back and read through the entire two-three days of magic that is called WordCamps.

WordCamp for me started a week before. I work remotely from Mumbai for rtCamp which is based in Pune. So I planned a full week in Pune that would end with WordCamp. Glad I did that!

A lot of the volunteers, organisers and even speakers were good friends of mine. I was a speaker at this WordCamp too. So as we came closer to the weekend, I was filled with excitement. An example of that is the tweet below.

Friday

I had been talking to Mahangu Weerasinghe from Automattic for a while on Twitter and at times exchanged emails about work culture, FOSS culture and culture of South Asia in general.

He was part of the Automattic team who flew down (should I say up since he flew northwards into India?) to Pune for the WordCamp. Mahangu along with Jeremy Herve and Aminul Sajib (Aminul is shy and quite, but writes really well at this blog) visited our office on Friday.

While they visited rtCamp, I think Jeremy might have been most amused with the local culture and customs. He was game enough to try out new food and ended up eating Pithla- Bhakari for lunch.

Automatticians_at_rtCamp

After somemore chat about work culture and ISPs in India, Automatticians left rtCamp (hopefully with fond memories) to co-work at their hotel.

Foundation Day (Saturday)

I left on time, well I could have left earlier but I thought maybe being a Saturday there would not be too much traffic. Was I right?

No I was not!

I reached ThoughtWorks office where the Foundation Day for WordCamp Pune was being conducted! These were mainly workshops for people new to WordPress but people not new to WordPress would also enjoy.

I must say the ThoughtWorks guys are really cool. I found their entire staff polite, thoughtful and friendly. This I encountered with everyone from their security guards to the folks who were co-ordinating with WordCamp organisers.

Here is tweet by Praveen (from Woo and now Automattic) at ThoughtWorks office.

After a few sessions of WordPress fun in the morning, Mahangu asked where we could see some interesting places around. I recommended Aga Khan Palace. Actually, I recommended the palace for two reasons.

One. Mahatma Gandhi was under house arrest at Aga Khan Palace and his wife died while they were held at the palace. His secretary too died in Pune.

It would be easy for anyone to relate to Gandhi’s history as just about everyone in the world knows¬†about Mahatma Gandhi.

Two. Because I too wanted to visit this place for a long time. I had gone there as a kid but did not really remember much.

Luckily, the place was nearby and Mahangu and Jeremy were hopefully happy to have visited Aga Khan Palace along with me. I added some historical context to some things for Mahangu and Jeremy.

One funny yet slightly embarrassing incident at Aga Khan Palace was that the tickets are priced differently for Indians and non-Indians. I knew this was an Indian tradition for sorts at tourist places. Mahangu hinted that it is often the same in Sri Lanka. I joked to them that they charge more to non-Indians as part a colonisation tax.

That said, it was very humbling to visit this place and walk the same hallways through which Mahatma Gandhi and many other luminaries of the freedom struggle did. Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba died at the Aga Khan Palace and it has her Samadhi. Samadhi is a sort of a memorial. It was simple, peaceful and sober just like it should have been.

The trip to Aga Khan palace was something I was happy to do. I am not sure how much it added to the experience of Pune for Mahangu and Jeremy, but I hope it did a little bit atleast.

Hidden Place found!

After the¬†history tour of sorts, we made our way back to the Hotel where Mahangu and Jeremy were staying. Aminul and Rahul joined us at the Hotel and we made our way to a nearby pub. It was happy hours¬†(I think!)¬†and the five of us had Brun-Kheema and Beer! This pub is called the “Hidden Place”. Aminul has some interesting things to say about finding the Hidden place.

After some beer and some more – Rahul and I headed back to rtCamp office and did some work. Actually he worked, I caught up with some emails. Then in the evening we went shopping with Topher DeRossia.

He is of HeroPress fame. Topher was extremely humble about the fact that the HeroPress community had sent him all the way to Pune. I think he as bit shy and a little overwhelmed with his first trip to India. Actually later I found out that it was his first trip outside North America.

Topher was wonderful and very accessible to every single person who approached him and asked him about WordPress. He is deeply respectful of the community he represents and is perfect as the curator of HeroPress (he did tell me that he never edits or curates an essay!)

I was invited for the speaker dinner as I was part of a panel discussion that was planned. I met far too many cool people at the dinner to list them down here one by one.

A lot of us were actually very tired by the end of it. I met Saurabh Shukla who was clearly tired and devoid of sleep. He mentioned he was very nervous and excited about the next day¬†(actually something in Hindi which I cannot re-print here).¬†I could relate very well to what he exactly meant. ūüôā

WordCamp Day!

Sunday arrived and I quickly travelled around 8 am to Modern College which was the venue for WordCamp Pune. As rtCamp were sponsors, I got busy with some colleagues setting up our sponsor table.

The sponsor tables outside the auditorium were an awesome hit. Many walked upto these sponsors and started discussions, conversations which were a great deal of fun.

It is always a great privilege to talk to people about your work, about open-source and WordPress by extension (something I will write more about towards the end of this post). 

Mumbai Express

I met familiar faces from Mumbai. Alex who has been lead organiser of WordCamp Mumbai for two years, Sanat who is now the lead organiser for 2016, Vachan, Sahil, Raj, Thomson, Ajay and others. All of us should really have posed for a photo but I guess we did not take one. ūüôĀ

Though at the selfie booth Alex and I got ourselves some new headgear.

I won’t talk about WordCamp Pune’s multi-tracks. It can be confusing sometime and some good natured fun was had at the overlapping sessions.

Organisers

The organisers were fantastic. Some of them were my colleagues and ex-colleagues. Some I did not know as well before WordCamp. Organisers like Sheeba, Premanshu, Ganesh and countless other volunteers were simply awesome. The numbers overwhelmed them a bit but they kept slogging at it with a smile and always making everyone feel very welcomed.

Remember these are people whose jobs are NOT¬†to organise events, they are doing this often for the first time in their lives and often it’s thankless work.

I am glad that some of us who volunteered in Mumbai saw some stress points and joined in moving stuff and microphones around at times without being asked or waiting to be asked.

This is how it should be at a WordCamps. When you see a hassled organiser (belive me all of them are ) ask them if you can help out with something, direct traffic in certain directions, or just help move stuff from one place to another.

So thanks again all of you guys who made WordCamp Pune possible.

I spoke

I am incredibly shy as a person. I am very inward looking and don’t really like standing on a soapbox¬†except when I am blogging I guess. But thanks to Saurabh Shukla, who suggested I moderate a panel discussion, I ended up speaking with a microphone in front of thousands of people. No, in reality¬†there were just over over 150 but it felt like thousands :-D.

I overcame my fear of public speaking a big deal. That was enough of a personal takeaway for me. Thank you for this Saurabh!

Privilege!

I am privileged to work with a company like rtCamp and work in the WordPress ecosystem. I am not really the best geek around or the best mind around for that matter at these places. I have been lucky at times to be in the right place at the right time and with the right people. Much of it is just plain dumb luck.

So really talking about how products are built, services function, talking about career options to students and just out of college kids is really nothing short of a great privilege. Also every conversation has the potential to teach you something new if you really open yourself to it.

After party and back home!

I had a great time catching up with the organisers again at the after-party. There was drinking and merriment and posing for photos all over. Early on Monday morning, I travelled back to Mumbai with Sanat and Sahil.

Now I am having WordCamp withdrawal symptoms. This happens every time there is a WordCamp but I am happy in the knowledge that I will be part of another one soon in Mumbai.

More power to WordCamps!

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Six years at a company

In the mayhem of 2009 (the¬†global meltdown etc), I ended up working as a blogger for a startup company. It’s name, rtCamp. For someone who was never paid to write, this was a really odd sounding job.

I got into rtCamp on the basis of a blog post I wrote on this blog. ūüôā

Today, I complete six years at rtCamp. I never realised, I would work in a single place for that long. I don’t really plan that far ahead but it has been a good ride so far and I am enjoying new gigs, getting to learn new things even after six years.

What happened in the past six years!

A lot. I won’t talk about a glowing tribute to rtCamp. Actually since I am the Marketing – Head at the place, that is sort of my job, but I wont do it here.

  • I learnt to appreciate the¬†FOSS movement.
  • I learned to appreciate anarchism as a political philosophy (listen to a leading philosopher on it).
  • I moved towards¬†becoming a more thoughtful writer (I think!) than being more rantful (is this even a word! So much for being thoughtful)
  • I taught myself a lot of things.
  • I now know how software¬†projects are born, live and die.
  • I learned that good people and good practices can co-exist with profitable business practices.
  • I became less prone to put out my views on everything and more prone to listen first.

I would not credit rtCamp for almost all these life changing things over the last six years. The point is I laugh at some of the naivety of the six years ago me, but I still find space in this company.

But rtCamp allowed me freedom in many ways to go explore these topics and sometimes bring them back to the company. It also offered me colleagues and former colleagues who are wonderful thinkers, philosophers, artists and human beings.

So here’s to six more? Well I do not plan that far ahead but one never knows.

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Bookmarking stuff on the web

bookmark

In the old days, I used to love storing my bookmarks on Delicious. The service worked great to sync my bookmarks on different computers at work and home. More importantly, Delicious allowed users to share stacks of bookmarks with their friends.

I used to explore and find countless beautiful and useful websites this way. Then Delicious tanked.

I still use Chrome’s bookmark manager for some links I need to look up often¬†but I like a lot of things online which I want to be able to recall in a easy manner later but not necessarily have them on my browser. I also use Pocket but not exactly very extensively.

So now I have started saving interesting things I come across the web on a free WordPress.com website.

bombaypirate.wordpress.com it is.

I find it really convenient for the following reason

  • My bookmarks can have some context, are searchable and indexed.
  • It can be opened on any browser – no need to sign up or sync up.
  • It can be opened on any phone screen.
  • Someone could share something interesting in comments and suggest more awesome links to visit.

Where do you collect all the awesome stuff you come across on the web? Any single place sharable? Let me know in comments.

Image Credits

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Taking down notes!

I came across an article about the famous and controversial billionaire Richard Branson. He apparently is one of the few powerful men from the corporate elite who take down notes during meetings.

No matter how big, small, simple or complex an idea is, get it in writing. But don’t just take notes for the sake of taking notes, go through your ideas and turn them into actionable and measurable goals. If you don’t write your ideas down, they could leave your head before you even leave the room.

Richard Branson’s blog post

Branson makes a good point about why men and women both should be taking notes – and certain activities at work should not be identified with gender.

But in addition to promoting gender equality at meetings, it is a really good habit to form. It seems like a waste of time when you go through a long interesting discussion and then forget about your ideas and reference points. Why keep this just about work?

We should be really writing down notes every time we discuss something interesting with even friends or family.

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My WordPress story for HeroPress

heropress

 

So I ended up writing My WordPress orgin story for HeroPress – go read it here.

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Was your food warm?

So almost three weeks ago WordCamp Mumbai 2015 finished. A lot of people spoke of many things geeky but also a lot about how to give support, how to deal with customers or users of products, how to decide who we are building products for?

You know the usual brilliant and insightful discussions that happen at conventions and conferences but are soon forgotten in a few weeks as the humdrum of everyday life and work returns.

But a great lesson was taught to me about extraordinary customer service (or support) in the last month by a very unlikely source. It was a small restaurant that opened just over a month ago.

Now I live very close to the railway station of the Goregaon suburb of Mumbai. In walking distance are several eating joints. Most are not fancy and a lot of them actually do a lot of business delivering lunches and dinners to offices and even residential areas in the neighbourhood. All of them offer free home delivery. Free home delivery is like a great USP but actually everyone is offering it now a days.

Our household is no exception to the neighbourhood habits and we often order food from outside on weekends. Let say our favourite place to order food from was “Restaurant A”. We have been ordering food from them many a weekends for a good part of the past decade. Let’s say this delivering dinners¬†market is pretty much captive where I stay.

So a month ago “Restaurant X” opens. It’s nothing special. It had closed down a year or two ago. Probably someone revived it got some things fixed, fresh coat of paint and the works. But remember this is a neighbourhood that love home delivery. So Restaurant X was no exception. They offered free home delivery like everyone else.

We came to know about Restaurant X through the usual pamphlet being dropped door to door by the morning newspaper delivery guy. So it’s a new restaurant with very much the same menu that “Restaurant A” – our usual. But we want to try out what’s special. Maybe they have better quality. Usually new places have better quality in the beginning atleast.¬†A¬†call is made. An order is placed.

First impression was good. The person who took the order did something quite interesting. He repeated the order out again clearly and unhurriedly. This act speaking unhurriedly probably meant he had to speak for 10 seconds more. But chances are over the 10 phones he answers he was easily understood and hardly ever told to repeat what he said. This guy is probably saving time and leaving people on the other side less frustrated.

Nice start!

The packaging, the delivery time and the food itself was all pretty acceptable. It was as good or as bad as “Restaurant A” the one we were always going to compare it with.

But then a few minutes after dinner was delivered we get¬†a call. Polite questions are asked. Did the delivery man have¬†the correct change? Was¬†the delivery was made in time? And the most important question “Was your food warm?”

Nice again!

So with such nice hassle free home delivery, we ordered a couple of more times. Each time the staff taking down the order and delivering the food were polite, nice and basically treating its customers as humans and not just customers.

Over the month I have now realised that we the loyal customers of “Restaurant A” have not ordered from them for over 5 weeks. We have exclusively ordered from “Restaurant X”. Loyalties have changed!

Both serve decent food, decent portions, decent delivery timings. Actually there have been other places we have tried too in the past. The product and the general service is the same.

But yes, only one of them bothers to ask every single time “Was your¬†food warm?” ūüôā

image credits

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What should a local WordPress community be like?

Since early 2013, I have started taking part in WordPress meetups. My initial goal or motivation was to create a group that met once a month or so – and create a common newsletter or forum where people could connect.

Basically I wanted to connect with WordPress fans in Mumbai with each other on some sort of platform and on a regular basis. I did not really find something like this online. Thankfully a good friend Alexander, had similar ideas and started working on building a meetup group along with a Facebook group. I decided it was a good idea and was on board.

Over the next year, we had many WordPress meetups, we even ended up applying for a WordCamp in Mumbai.

In this post I am semi-conversing with myself. It is also a call out to WordPress fans in Mumbai to get more involved.

More of that at the end of this post.

Now some numbers

Our meetup.com group has over 330 members.

I must have met atleast a 100 developers or designers using WordPress show up at our meetups over the last couple of years.

I probably have meet several more who might be experts by now but were just starting out using WordPress.

This is from my personal experiances with Meetups in Mumbai, I have missed more than a couple of meetups over the last year alone.

Yes, we are doing a lot of things right! One of them is transparency and being open about disagreements and enjoying debates and differing points of views.

While I can feel happy about really connecting with the local Mumbai based local community but some of these numbers need some perspective.

We might have 330 members in our meetup group – but we usually end up having meetups with 10 to 20 people showing up every time we have one.

WordPress is used by 22% of the web! Let’s say (and I am¬†coming¬†up with some terribly conservative number here I think) Mumbai has over 40,000 websites owners. 22 % of them are probably using WordPress if not more.

So now rounding it up to 20% of 40,000 users (discounting people who are using WordPress.com to blog but I guess they also count for several hundreds if not thousands)

So now a safer number we have is 8000. We are nowhere close to even having 10% (800) register on our meetup.com website.

So since we do this in the name of a open-source community, are we really having a good idea about what the community is like? What it exactly wants?

Are we even reaching out to the proverbial vocal minority which keeps a community alive and well? Possibly not always and lets be honest, everything is work in progress.

So how will things move forward? A lot of that will have to do with what a local community should be like in the first place? What should it stand for, what should it’s priorities be and more.

Dictatorships vs Democracies

Dictatorships work at times in developer communities. I have seen open-source leaders behave like dictators when it comes to deciding what the way forward is for certain open source software.

Some of these communities disintegrate with internal fights and some really survive for a long time. Some disintegrate when the dictator simply is no longer interested in the project. But things are really facilitated and organised when dictators, especially the benevolent kinds take care of open-source projects. Code backed by idealism often do great things.

But Dictatorships of open-source development projects cannot be replicated with communities that meets to discuss or learn about a software and not necessarily develop it or decide its future course of action.

Also WordPress is not about just code. It is about writing, designing, photography, enterprise and a lot much more. This is why the community cannot be dictated to. It is anarchist at its core, pulling its interests, values and ideas in different directions Рso no template, no set of rules and hierarchy can really work.

So a WordPress community should be democratic.

But Democracy is tricky!

We think of elections in democracy Рwhich is fundamentally a way to allow people to elect / select or nominate people who lead but maybe not really facilitate things. Also leaders end up consolidating their hold over what the community does and does not do. This democratic setup is actually more technical and really not an answer. The preamble should not be technical but more philosophical.

The idea of a vocal minority that does awesome things in a community. I have been to job fairs where literally thousands of young college going kids did not know about WordPress Рdid not have an idea about open-web for that matter. I think a great WordPress community would be one that manages to facilitate people to learn WordPress Рbecome awesome designers, developers, writers, get jobs, create jobs and more.

I am a WordCamp co-organiser in Mumbai. Volunteer would be better term in my opinion but I won’t waste time over technicalities of events. A lot of very good people are involved with WordCamp Mumbai. Some are volunteering, some are speakers.

If you are coming over to attend WordCamp Mumbai this weekend meet anyone of from list of organisers.

Meet anyone of these speakers and talk about how we can do more in Mumbai in 2015.

Talk about this openly, find some commons and then maybe together can be part of 3000 instead of 300.

Notice that I have not really answered the question I ask in the title of this post. This is because it is a call to get involved and discuss, find answers, agree on common ground and move ahead.

PS – If you cannot make it to WordCamp Mumbai to discuss these things – make sure to leave comments. Or check out some of these links to attend a meetup or workshop.

WordPress Meetups: Meetup.com | FB page

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WordCamp Season in Mumbai

Are you a WordPress user, fan, enthusiast, developer, designer? Are you interested in finding out more about WordPress in general?

Do you want to meet WordPress experts from around the world, around India and most importantly Mumbai?

If you are find saying “yes” to any of the questions above you might want to check out WordCamp Mumbai 2015 that takes place on March 7 & 8, 2015.

Yes I am a co-organiser at WordCamp.

Check these links out:

Speakers | Schedule | Buy Ticket

What is a WordCamp?

WordCamp is a conference that focuses on everything WordPress.

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What I took away as Organizer of WordCamp Mumbai 2014!

Last weekend was a culmination of months of preparation for WordCamp Mumbai. There were days when I was was extremely sure of it’s success and there were certain days, I had tremendous doubts on my ability more than anyone else.

WCMUMBAI_MUGS

How did the event go?

I loved organizing this event. I kept asking many people around if they were having a good time and enjoying the sessions. Most said incredibly nice things but by no means am I going to fall into the trap of thinking this was the perfect WordCamp. They were probably being polite and real feedback will soon start trickling in.

How WordCamp Mumbai was as an event? The best to answer that question, would be people who attended as participants, speakers and even sponsors.

As an organizer I am too close to it to be rational enough. Maybe 6 months down the line I could be more objective- hence I won’t get into rating the WordCamp sessions, events anytime soon.

But I certainly learnt a lot of things with this WordCamp and here are my takeaways.

  • Prepare like crazy! – First thing I take away is that one has to prepare for everything. Take your time and make plans and prepare for all eventualities.
  • Things will go wrong! – However much you prepare, it won’t be enough. Things will go wrong! (Hint: Crowding at registration)
  • And some more things will go wrong! – ¬†(Hint: WiFi)
  • A lot of things do go right! – And finally things do end up going right too. Sometimes its important to just keep calm and carry on. ūüėõ

Getting rid of Organizer’s Ego

Every organizer because of the amount of efforts they put into a WordCamp tends to feel a certain amount of ownership over the event. Personally I think that is a dangerous trend among event organizers.

Open source communities will have their famous personalities but we must not forget that we do not own this community or movement. I just had the privilege of organizing a meeting place for them.

As a organizer I hope I won’t fall into the trap of thinking that I have some ownership over WordCamp Mumbai or WordPress community. I do not.

Finally “Remember it’s a privilege!”

It is a great privilege to be an organizer of WordCamp. You become friends with some awesomely talented people.

I doubt I would have interacted much with any of my co-organizers like Vachan, Sahil, Yash, Jaidev, Chirag, Saurabh, Premanshu, Gaurav, Ajay, Ratnesh and so many more had it not been for WordPress meetups.

I doubt I would have had the chance to hang out with founders, CEOs, web developers, code geeks, WordCamp organizers from other cities, event organizers, journalists, writers, bloggers, sketch artists and so many more – if I had not been involved in organizing this WordCamp.

Now to what my plans are post WordCamp – It is time to chill out a bit, start reading some books and toss a few beers and enjoy turning a year older this weekend with some close friends and family.

Yes there is life outside the great “W” too. ūüėÄ

Here are some posts by some participants.

Saurabh Shukla, Ideasmithy, Annkur,  Puneet, Rahul, Brajeshwar (will add more as days go along)

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Malala Yousafzai is Awesomely Humbling!

Malala Yousafzai is awesome. She embodies the word “inspiration”. An outspoken supported of women’s education, she not just survived an assassination attempt but has stood up to the more vile brutes in a way only a child could have.

How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?

But for some something as basic as going to school is a struggle. Malala Yousafzai is from the town of Mingora in the Swat Valley of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakthunkhwa region. This is a region the Taliban started a campaign to shutdown schools for girls.

In September 2008, Malala only 11 years old spoke against the Taliban at the Press Club in Peshawar. She thundered “How dare the Taliban take way my basic right to education?”

Malala was shot in the head last year, a assassination attempt she survived with months being spent in hospital. Until yesterday, this teenage girl was nominated for the Nobel peace prize until they gave the prize to an uninspiring organisation which basically was sort of doing its job – it seems old men with desk and supposed gravitas won over someone who actually is inspiring. She appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and left him (and many others I am sure) speechless.

We don’t learn the importance of anything until it is snatched from our hands

-on her love for education