The Newbies’ First Meetup
Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start…
First let me introduce myself – my name is Carolyn and I am one of the newest members of Prospress! Having only been with the company a few weeks this first meetup was a plethora of new and wonderful experiences. It was also a chance to be inspired by learning more about the talented people I am now lucky enough to work with.
The meetup was in Paris; the city of light, love and fashion. A sparkling jewel in the crown of Europe and a bastion for diversity. Also, the scene of my first school trip and a memory that is deeply imprinted in my brain of being ten years old, holding back tears while the teacher told me that I must try a frog’s leg. As I stubbornly pursed my lips together little did I know that 24 years later this would also be the city of my first ever company trip with a brand new job. This time no frogs’ legs were involved!
I used to work in the film industry and travelling was a big part of that job. Although this was the first time I was embarking on a work trip without a crew and an assortment of camera kit. However, I was not getting off that easy – my cameras had been replaced by boxes of hoodies emblazoned with a robot!
The WordCamp EU swag for our new product Robot Ninja was being sent to my house in Canada – or so I thought. After a miscommunication internally the printers failed to ship it, resulting in a weekend where I spoke to ‘Thomas from the printers’ more than I had to my mother in the past month. Finally, on Monday morning I was awoken to Thomas calling my mobile with the words, ‘Open your door and see what’s on your doorstep.’ A slightly creepy opening gambit for the day, but sure enough I opened my door to three massive boxes of hoodies.
Upon arrival in Paris several taxi drivers firmly shook their heads at our mountain of luggage. One eventually took pity and we duly bundled ourselves in. Initially a paradigm of joviality the taxi driver took great glee in testing our French skills; until he got lost in the one-way system approaching our hotel and his demeanour gradually darkened into a series of French expletives. As he doggedly reversed the wrong way down a street we shouted out ‘bike’ and ‘car’ to prevent disaster.
The streets through which we passed, however, were a sheer delight. A hodgepodge of classic French bistros with red and white tablecloths, fromageries wafting a rich fragrance into the warm summer air, and tiny wineries with their laughing clientele spilling out onto the street corners. Our hotel was very quaint. There was a theatrical theme that meant elaborate wallpaper, red velvet chairs and bedrooms the size of a postage stamp, all set around a beautiful little courtyard. A tiny oasis of peace in the hubbub of the Montmartre district.
My first day I was wandering the streets of Paris when I heard my name being called out. Who knew me here in Paris? Could Thomas from the printers have taken customer service to a new level and come to check on the hoodies..!? It was actually Matt and James – two of the Prospress team who had just jetted in from Australia. I had only previously spoken to the other members of the team via Slack and Zoom so I was immediately struck by the familiarity we had. Not only had they picked me out in a bustling street full of strangers, but there was also no sense of awkwardness in our first IRL meeting. In fact they soon joined me on my epic quest to find a supermarket!
This was a common theme that I felt throughout the meetup – how ‘strangers’ were not strangers to me. Everyone’s personality really came through online and despite not being with the company long I already had a pretty good sense of who people were. The team really gelled and this was particularly impressive because I was not the only ‘new person.’ This was also the first meetup for Nick and César, meaning that almost half the team had not met each other before.
Intrigued as to whether fellow newbies Nick and César had also felt so instantly comfortable I put that question to them.
CÉSAR: Meeting in real life was amazing. I’ve been working for Prospress for 6 months now and I was working with pretty much everyone by then, but meeting in real life was fantastic. At first I was talking to everybody like we just met until Ali told me, “I know you César, we’ve been working together for 6 months”. At that moment I realised what was going on. We already knew each other. Nick is my timezone pal and meeting him in real life was amazing. Each and everyone of the team was really good with me, they were amicable and with good humour.
NICK: I just read an article in Fast Company in which 25% of the business leaders surveyed believed that more than three quarters of their company’s workforce would not work in a traditional office by 2020. Those are staggering numbers, but as a worker who has fully made the transition to the modern workplace – the meatspace-independent web – I don’t find it hard to believe.
I had already worked for Prospress for about 6 months before meeting up IRL, and it was my first experience feeling like I already knew everybody before meeting them face-to-face. It was a very fluid transition.
I had secretly hoped that someone would have huge hobbit feet, rainbow coloured legs, or a secret pony tail, since I’d only ever seen everyone from the torso up and from the front. Unfortunately, there were no surprises. Humour, conversational style, personality – apparently, these all translate quite well to text and video chat.
Once it was established that no one had a rear end pony tail the meetup began in earnest, with the team giving presentations on the areas that they worked on. It was a huge learning curve for me, as a non-tech person I felt a little like a muggle surrounded by a bunch of wizards. I was gobsmacked to find out more about what people were working on. Everyone appeared to be a complete genius, yet able to disseminate what he or she was working on to a comprehensible level.
My other big takeaway from these sessions was how much I believed in the company and the fundamental values that everyone had. I was delighted to realise that I was working for a company based on mutual respect, something that can be very hard to find. These appear to be sentiments also reflected by Nick and Cesar.
NICK: The biggest learning aspect for me didn’t come in a single presentation, but in many snippets of conversation imparted throughout the week. It was the stories that my colleagues told that gave them context in my brain. It was hearing how people approach their work, what people’s likes and dislikes were, and how they deal with a week in close quarters with a bunch of nerds (everyone was very graceful and tolerant, I might add).
The only thing that concerned me, as I pointed out at the dinner in the Orient Express train car, was about the old saying, “If you look around the room and can’t identify that guy, it’s probably you.” As I looked around the room, I really found that I like everyone in the group and look forward to working with everyone, and so I can only hope that we’ve found an exception to the saying.
CÉSAR: I learned that working together in the same office could be interesting, my productivity was bumped because I was able to jump to anyone and get instant feedback. Working from home is great but you miss the interaction with your peers, although at Prospress we try to mitigate (and I believe we do a great job at it) with good communication (Slack and voice calls). I believe we are taking the best of both worlds, where we get the chance to meet everybody in real life and work together for a week (while we do other fun stuff along the way) then get back home to work in our own space and timezone.
The next new experience was WordCamp Europe. Stepping up slightly from meeting our 7 other team members we walked into a hall full of 2,000 tech people all pumped up on a lot of coffee. My task: to persuade them to dance!
The concept was to see if anyone might be willing to do a little robot dance to get one of those Robot Ninja hoodies we had flown across the pond! I must admit to feeling some slight trepidation as to whether a community not renowned for its rambunctiousness would be willing to dance for me at 9am on a Friday morning. I was wrong, very wrong. As we frantically set up our sound system we were soon surrounded by a hefty crowd of willing participants. Melting somewhat in the 40-degree heat in my ‘demonstration hoodie’ we were soon down to the final few hoodies. So many people had been truly outstanding, including Nick, with some very impressive arm movements! Nick sadly declined to comment on his dancing but both he and César did still seem to get a lot out of their time at the booth. 😉
NICK: I really enjoyed meeting Woo Ninjas in person. They were every bit as charming and intelligent as they seem online.
It was a new experience to be presenting a new product to the public, rather than being the public. Similar to support customers, they managed to ask some questions that could never have been predicted. In the end, though I still felt just as much, if not more, a part of the WordPress community.
CÉSAR: I also had the chance to talk about Robot Ninja to some random folk at the conference, it was fun to talk about our product and try to explain to people what we were doing (We were the only product without press or word in our name, so it was outstanding.)
I went to many conferences in the past, most of them were PHP conferences. WordCamp was unique. The WordPress community is unique and amazing. I must mention that it was the first conference where I did not give any talk and I still liked it a lot. Being a speaker at any conference gives you a wider experience, you can meet interesting people, you can talk to all the other speakers. At WordCamp I had the same experience, that makes it quite unique.
Like César, I also found WordCamp a very singular experience. As ‘Robot Dance Task’ was such a runaway success I was finished early and able to go to some of the talks. I was gratified to find that a fair amount were on the business and marketing side.
I particularly enjoyed a talk by Marina Pape on the growing pains expanding her WooCommerce marketing team; and another talk that included a great discussion on Open Source. I loved the analogy that by being part of the Open Source community we were in a bazaar rather than a cathedral. The cathedral is very beautiful and perfect. However, the architects keep the plans secret and people can only see the final product when it is finished. The bazaar is full of people showing their wares and trading with each other. It can get a little bit grubby and messy – but I decided it was definitely the place that I would rather be hanging out!
I felt that our dinner that evening was also a great representation of this analogy. We took some ‘Friends of Prospress’ out for a meal at Le Bon Georges. A fantastic little French bistro that felt very reminiscent of ‘Ratatouille.’ This was no formal restaurant with a set menu and chefs guarding their precious secrets behind closed doors. The chefs were on full display in the kitchen laughing and joking with each other, while the rambunctious servers took great delight in shouting out that day’s food on offer to us. The atmosphere was very communal and a little bit haphazard – but all the more perfect because of that.
That dinner was one of my highlights of the trip, but there were many other fantastic moments. I will always remember my awe at experiencing my first ever ‘tech rave’ at the WordCamp after party; where a giant stuffed Wapuu, the WordCamp mascot, was crowd surfed on the dance floor. Or cruising down the Seine as the sun set, or eating the smelliest cheese under the Eiffel Tower. My biggest delight, however, was simply having the privilege to hang out with a group of fascinating people from around the world who I would never have had the fortune of meeting had it not been for this new job. That was the real adventure for me.
For the other ‘newbies’, César and Nick, the memories are equally as positive – and biking around Paris certainly left a lasting impression on them! César’s most memorable experience was “biking from the hotel to the WordCamp venue, something that should have taken us like 30 minutes….we did it in an hour, but it was worth it. The next day we just took the Metro, it was cheaper and faster!” Nick is “still living off of the adrenaline rush from biking through Parisian traffic, and marvelling over the fact that we all made it in one piece – I definitely was tapped by a truck bumper or two.”
He will also never forget his delight in César wearing his beret at the Eiffel Tower with no sense of irony, leading a stranger to inform him that he was ‘pimping’. There were many such comedic moments throughout the trip – and the soundtrack was one of laughter. This took me by surprise, although I knew the trip would be interesting and informative, what I did not expect was to just have such a damn good time. Thank you to my team members – new and old – for making this meetup so fun (and for not making me eat frogs’ legs.)
If you can see yourself as one of the new newbies with the Prospress team at our next WordCamp/meetup adventure, we are hiring! Check out our open positions here.