Loop Me ‘Round

Last month I had the pleasure of attending this year’s edition of LoopConf, a developer conference that distinguishes itself from other WordPress community events by focusing on in-depth technical content relevant to the open-source contributors, developers, and agencies who push the boundaries of what WordPress can do. I’ve been fortunate to attend all three incarnations of LoopConf, and last year I presented a talk entitled “Build Your Dreams with the WordPress REST API and JavaScript” (a mouthful, in retrospect).

This year my goal was to really dig into the conference as an attendee. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a conference and watched every single talk—the “hallway track” can be quite a draw at an event like Loop—but the quality of material was so consistently high this year that I didn’t want to miss any of it!

Dan Mall keynoting LoopConf 2018
Dan Mall delivering the opening LoopConf keynote, “How To Be Good”

Dan Mall kicked things off with opening keynote entitled How To Be Good, a frank discussion of how to maintain boundaries and communicate honestly within your colleagues. I was particularly interested in how Dan spoke about commitment. If your colleague asks if you can accomplish something by a certain time, for example, “Maybe” is not a commitment. If you can honestly answer “Yes,” great! But if you have any doubt, be honest about it. Commit to commit with a reply such as “No, but I can have it to you by [some later time],” or “I can’t answer now, but I’ll investigate and tell you by 3pm.”

And regarding that well-known adage under-promise and over-deliver? Well… “The name for that is actually lying.”

Later in the morning Mel Choyce gave the best talk I’ve seen yet on the user experience value of block-based editing and the Gutenberg project (a complete re-imagining of the WordPress editor screen), focusing on how thinking in blocks will change how we customize our sites. For anybody who’s been skeptical of whether all this work on Gutenberg is going to be worth it, Mel’s talk is my new go-to recommendation for explaining the project’s design benefits!

John Blackbourn presenting at LoopConf 2018
John Blackbourn is a very relaxing presenter

The LoopConf lineup this year balanced technical how-to’s like Shawn Hooper’s courageous live demo of advanced Chrome Developer Tools techniques and Maura Teal’s overview of WordPress caching strategies with deeper dives into specific projects and methodologies. In this latter category, I’d be remiss not to recognize my Human Made compatriots John Blackbourn’s session Zen Mode: Developing While You’re Offline and Peter Wilson’s case study about Fairfax Media’s CMS re-platforming (check it out on Peter’s site, which also links to the whitepaper about the project). John’s talk in particular shared many great practical tips for maintaining productivity while unplugged from the distractions of the internet which I’ve begun to put to use myself.

One of the standouts from the second day was definitely Scott DeLuzio’s presentation about mental health & burnout. Based on a deeply personal story about his experience as a soldier, Scott underscored the importance of taking care of ourselves and not trying to “go it alone” if something’s wrong. It was a very different tone of talk than Carl Alexander’s session on how to measure and manage software complexity or Richard Tape’s excellent closing talk about understanding your users’ needs, but that diversity of topics is what I’ve enjoyed about LoopConf in the past and I was not at all disappointed this year.

Ashley Kolodziej presenting at LoopConf 2018
Prototyping, Reflection, and Identity: Unusual Applications of the WordPress REST API

My favorite talk, though, was Ashley Kolodziej’s presentation on how the REST API empowers her team at Boston University to build nuanced, intricate long-form editorial projects and useful course-planning tools for their university’s student body. The projects she shared are themselves beautiful and interesting, but I’ve explained in greater detail why it was the standout talk for me here.

LoopConf 2018 was a great experience for me, and I look forward to revisiting all of these sessions again now that the conference videos are live on YouTube. It reminded me that our community is more than the sum of its parts, and I left re-energized and excited to dive back into contributing to WordPress. I had the opportunity to see old friends and to make new ones, and I enjoyed many great conversations over tables at lunch or above the din of late-night karaoke. If you have the opportunity to travel to Salt Lake City for this conference in the years to come, I would recommend it.

As a personal challenge during the event I decided to attempt to photograph each presenter in a consistent style. I posted these on twitter over the course of the conference, but here is the collected set! Thank you to all the excellent speakers for sharing your stories.

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