Flying The Nest! The First Prospress Team Meetups

2018 was a year of big milestones for Prospress – hitting 20 team members (then going beyond that), incorporating AutomateWoo into the family, and employing our first ever WooCommerce Core Developer – to name but a few. As the company grew, it also proved to be the time to let our young Prospeeps go off on their own. It was the year that Prospress gave individual teams the chance to have a smaller Meetup as well as the full company Meetup. The ‘Grand Team Meetup Experiment,’ as I dubbed it, duly took place.

As the year draws to a close, and some of us take holiday time to run the gauntlet of our own extended families; it is time to reflect on the first time, gulp, that the Prospeep kids went out all on their own.

Extensions team working at house

Prospress is split into four teams – Extensions, Support, Ventures, and Peopleware. Each team was given a budget of $1500 per person with which to organise their Meetup. Having the world as your oyster can actually be a daunting prospect – and all of our teams decided to anchor their Meetups around a conference. The Ventures team went to WordCamp Brisbane, the Extensions and Support teams to WordCamp US in Nashville, and the Peopleware team to WeforShe in Vancouver, Canada.

Extensions team at dinner

Peopleware – Vancouver, Canada

As part of the Peopleware team, I spent a week in a swanky loft in downtown Vancouver.

I currently live in a rather remote corner of Canada, so I very much enjoyed being a city slicker for a week. I was in awe of the accessibility of any type of food the heart could desire – Thai, Indian, vegan – we had it all!

Inside of Vancouver downtown apartment

We also went for dinner at the top of a mountain, an opportunity that not every city can offer! Grouse Mountain is one of Vancouver’s two ‘city mountains.’ During the winter you can ski there. As we were there in the Fall it was ‘dead season,’ and we were the only ones in our giant cable car that slowly crept up the mountain through the fog. At the top we were greeted by an eerie fairyland – a deserted vista of twinkling Christmas lights that sparkled through the misty air.

Having been reliably informed that the top of Grouse Mountain is the home of two captive grizzly bears, the intrepid Peopleware team trudged off into the fog – following painted bear footprints we assumed would lead to their enclosure. However, the footprints came to a mysterious end and our wanderings only led to us surprising a deer – and catching some mountain-dwelling Pokemon with PokemonGo :). The fog finally cleared over dinner, and through the restaurant’s floor to ceiling glass windows we were treated to the sight of the lights of Vancouver glowing below us.

Picture Collage from top of Grouse Mountain

The Meetup was not all about food – oh no – there was also sword fighting! 😉 Our team bonding activity was learning medieval fighting techniques. Our instructor took the ways of the medieval knight very seriously indeed, and I am not sure my fellow team member, Jillian, and I were the best students. If I am ever called upon to defend myself with a long sword I fear the battle may be somewhat brief.

Jillian sword fighting with instructor

During the day we had the opportunity to work together and complete some sessions defining our roles and looking to the future – all of which we found very valuable. Our last day was spent at the WeforShe conference. This is one of North America’s largest gatherings of changemakers, influencers, equality advocates, business leaders and young women collaborating to advance equality.

Being British, I was a little too uptight to join in the group Beyonce singing, but I still found the speakers at this conference very inspiring. Among chief executives and chairs of FTSE 100 companies, there are more men called John than there are women of any name. Conferences such as WeforShe are a great way for some of the issues behind why this is the case to be openly discussed. I was particularly impressed by the number of school children who attended this event, although there could have been a few more men. 😉

Children at WeforShe conference

Unfortunately, our team leader, Ali, was very unwell during our Meetup, resulting in an unexpected trip to downtown Vancouver ER. This is a rather hectic place, where, due to bed shortages, blood samples are taken in the waiting room. As Jillian and I sat opposite the ‘blood chair’ we decided that although this was not where we expected to end up, it was definitely still a bonding experience! Ali was a trooper throughout, and we hope she never has to experience a Meetup with a fever again. Next year is our year!

Extensions and Support – Nashville, USA

Although they planned separately, the Extensions and Support teams’ worlds collided and they both decided they wanted to go to WordCamp US in Nashville, Tennessee. Each team rented their own Airbnb house, but they also had plenty of opportunities to hang out together.

Nashville was described by Zach from Support as a city ‘Ready to entertain’, and Support team lead, Nick, said he had never been called ‘Babe’, or ‘Hun’ by so many strangers. The spirit of southern hospitality is thus alive and well in Nashville. However, ‘Cold’ was another adjective used to describe it – and the teams even got snow while they were there!

In questioning the teams I was keen to see if the home of country music had brought out anyone’s inner Dolly. However, it seems the closest they got was shouting out song requests at Doc Holliday’s Saloon. The teams also went out to explore the music scene on Broadway St, and on a few other ‘Late night adventures,’ but the majority of the time was spent at the houses. In the words of Support member Bernat, ‘We were having such a great time in our apartment that we forgot to go outside and visit Nashville!’

Jess and Zach drinking at appartment

In fact, the Support team appears to have spent a fair amount of time in their house hot tub. As stated by Nick, ‘The Hot Tub Time Machine was a nexus of honest discussion. It’s impossible to not tell the whole truth when in a hot tub, and we plan on trying to include a hot tub in all future meetups.’ According to Zach, some of these honest discussions appear to have included the best bad movies and YouTube fails! However, the odd discussion did feature work ;). Bernat remembers that ‘Each of our talks exceeded the expected length because we were always asking a lot of questions or just discussing them. I remember that we had a great conversation (amongst many others) about the support numbers and how to improve our efficiency through documentation and other methods.’ Menaka from the Extensions team said that she had some interesting discussions with Bernat about the culture and politics in Spain and India, while she had a discussion with Zach about pickles!

Support team in hot tub

Zach was definitely the “Papa bear” – doing most of the cooking for the Support team and ferrying around both the Support and Extensions team in a hired minivan. He was also head chef for the shared BBQ that the two teams had together- cooking Mac and Cheese, grilled potatoes, chicken breasts, ribeye steaks, and ginger marinated flank steaks. Every team needs a Zach!

As well as the BBQ, the teams spent some time co-working together and sharing presentations. From the Extensions team, Ron led an excellent discussion on WordPress coding through the years, and Lauren did a great presentation on handling documentation. Some of the presentations from the Support team were on AutomateWoo, Introduction to Translation, and dealing with “wall of text” tickets and difficult customers. This ended up generating a hilarious discussion of past “hall of fame” tickets that will never be forgotten!

Both teams at appartment together

The teams also got to hang out together at the WordCamp conference. Prospress was a Silver Sponsor at the event, and, in the words of Menaka, ‘As a sponsor, it was an opportunity for Prospress to invest in the WordPress community – a perfect way of giving something back to the community from which we benefited.’

Everyone seemed to spend a lot of time in the “Hallway Track” (where people who don’t want to go to the different talk tracks hang out in the hallway and talk to each other). Ron from Extensions said that he pretty much wore out his voice talking to people, getting to speak to ’20 or 30 people I only previously knew online.’ As Nick said, ‘WCUS are definitely Our People. Open Source, developers, enthusiasts, etc., we were approached by all kinds of open-minded people at our sponsor’s table, and everyone felt really good about our community afterwards. It was a lot of non-stop social activity for a group of nerds. ;)’

A few people managed to go to some of the talks amidst all of that chatting. Some of their recommendations included:

Menaka: Holy Blockamole: Tips On Learning Block Development

Jess: Thinking Like A Front-End Developer

Zach: Centred Leadership

On the Saturday night after the conference Prospress hosted a ‘Friends of Prospress’ dinner. This was described as one of the highlights of the week by many people, as it was ‘Really great to see fellow members of the “Woo Fellowship,” SkyVerge and SomewhereWarm, growing and developing just like we are.’

After the dinner was the WordCamp Afterparty – held at the Adventure Science Centre. The location was described by Sarah from Support as ‘Amazing! They have a big climbing structure to the top so a bunch of Prospeeps went up and looked over the city.’ Jess also said the team ‘Scienced all the things,’ and the only complaint appears to have been that the party ended far too early! However, the Support team had a solution for this – taking the party home with them and opening their team Christmas presents. As Zach noted, ‘Everyone was pretty well lubricated (ahem!), and we had a gift exchange. It was awesome, warm, and genuine. Then, the whole support team soaked in the hot tub.’ (Obviously.)

Team at the science centre

Team Christmas presents were not the only gifts – no Prospress meetup is complete without multiple gifts and swag! The company Christmas gifts were also distributed – an Oculus Go for everyone! Jess ‘Very much enjoyed watching people in the same room as each other play virtual Checkers on the Oculus Gos. I also enjoyed watching an impromptu support team virtual hang out within the actual hangout. VR is a great spectator sport!’ The teams also had a good swag haul. Zach got ’10 t-shirts, 4 pairs of socks, 3 pairs of sunglasses, many stickers, pins, and other misc pens, notepads, and a coffee cup.’ Bernat collected so much he could not get it all in his suitcase and had to leave some behind!

Luckily the Extensions and Support teams did not end up in ER like the Peopleware team – but they did face an unexpected snow storm. This led to delayed flights and some epic journeys. We are immensely grateful that everyone went to the effort of making it to and from Nashville – and the hot tub!

Ventures Team – Brisbane, Australia

The Ventures team, being made up entirely of Australians, stayed the closest to home. In fact, Brisbane is the home city of team members Matt and Brent. However, the other half of the team, Jason and Dan, did at least fly in from across the country! Prospress were Gold Sponsors at WordCamp Brisbane, and we have a whole other blog post dedicated to this adventure.

Conclusion

Everyone’s overall conclusion of the ‘Grand Team Meetup Experiment’ is that it was very beneficial. We have learned a few things about logistics that we will take into next year’s planning, but it is definitely an experiment that is worth repeating. As Nick concluded, ‘We really felt like a family there and I came back to my home with great memories and the will to meet everyone again as soon as possible! 100% team bonding. :)’

We can’t wait to see where the teams end up next year. If you could be interested in joining them we are currently hiring!

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