Lessons from WordCamp US 2023

I was excited to attend WordCamp US 2023 on Friday, twenty minutes down the road from our DC offices. The Friday sessions were filled with education, insights, and more than a few Swiftie quotes. For someone like me, who’s been more on the employee-management side of things for the last decade rather than in the weeds of WordPress development, it’s always nice to put away the CEO hat and wear my guy-messing-around-with-code hat instead for at least a few hours.

Here’s a look at some insights from the sessions I sat in, along with my authentic terrible photos of rooms of people looking at a PowerPoint. (No, I’m not sure why I think these pictures will ever increase our post’s engagement.)

NASA Talk at WordCampFor All Userkind: NASA Web Modernization and WordPress

Yes, astronauts also use WordPress. The first keynote speech of the day was from NASA (more specifically Abby Bowman, NASA’s Web Modernization Lead and J.J. Toothman, President of Lone Rock Point)

Missed the talk but curious what their future WordPress site is like? You can view the sneak peek here.

The Enterprise Approach to WordPress Security

One of my favorite talks was by Peter Wilson, Lead Engineer, Open Source Practice at 10up. He discussed steps that individuals could take to better secure their WordPress sites.

The White House site, for example, has their /wp-admin/ only accessible via their network, and takes rudimentary measures to make sure some of the easiest gaps in WordPress security is taken. He took time to point out that not every site breaks because of malicious hacking. Often, untrusted data from users can accidentally break sites. You don’t need to make an enemy from a malicious food mart down the right (his example, not mine). For things like cookies, which we, the web developer want to control, it’s worth doing an extra step to control the values. His best practices:


  • Links
  • Block quotes
  • Bold
  • Italics
  • Headings
  • Lists
  • Paragraphs and line breaks.

Core web vitals 2023: user experience and performance evolved

Henri Helvetica, welcomed us to DC, or as he called it ec2-us-east-1. His presentations focused on Core Web Vitals, specifically these four Core Web Vital elements:

  • Largest contentful paint
  • Cumulative layout shift
  • First input delay
  • Interaction to next paint > will be an official core web vital in the middle of 2024.

Cumulative layout shift, previously called “the jank index” (no seriously,) is all about page stability. Over time, this is being shifted into the Interaction to Next Paint (INP) metric (in the middle of 2024,) which looks at the latency of all interactions.

He emphasized that November, 2016 is when Internet traffic from mobile devices exceeded desktop traffic. In 2023, that number is up to 63% of all Internet traffic from mobile.

Lastly, he talked about rage clicks – which are not necessarily a web vital, but are being tracked by an increasing number of web tools.

“Page performance is now parts proof, perception, and all user experience.” – Henri Helvetica

Recipe for Accessibility: Limiting Ingredients for faster design

Presented by Gen Herres of Anphira.com, EasyA11yguide.com, and the organizer of the Baltimore WordPress meetup:

  • Earlier in your process you solve for accessibility, the less costly it is.
  • 4.2 billion people (over half the world are affected by poor vision.)
  • Even if you’re only catering for the U.S., 79% of adults need vision correction.
  • 20% of people have dyslexia, and about 12-14% of people have Irlen syndrome
  • 8% of men are colorblind.

There’s also legal aspects to accessibility, and these laws are constantly changing. The big one coming up the EAA (European Accessibility Act), which will be enforced starting June 28, 2025.

How can you correct colors?

One trick is to convert to HSL, drop the saturation to 50% or lower, and then either increase or decrease the lightness until it’s easy to read. This is particularly useful for, you know, organizations that have a main green color that a 22 year old Flynn might’ve thought was cool-looking, but over the last decade has proven to be a challenge to utilize when creating accessible websites and other documents.

She also gave some simple practices to follow:

  • Just say no to anything that automatically moves, scrolls, or updates.
  • Paragraphs should have a line height of 1.5

Most importantly, I was excited to finally hear folks say WCAG out loud, to learn how it’s pronounce. It’s “Wih-Cag.” Made the whole day with it.

Crafting Seamless Experiences: Single Page Applications for WP Integrations

Presented by Ross Minney 

He started (after the obligatory American English > Australian English translations) by covering reasons to not choose WordPress:

  • Security, especially when handling information that could be considered private or sensitive..
  • Performance
  • Flexibility

So why should you choose WordPress? (Other than the fact that you’re attending a WordPress conference?)

  • Expectations – As the most popular CMS, many customers and organizations are used to it, and request it.
  • Design: Between Gutenberg’s blocks, page builders, and child themes, there’s many options for getting a WordPress site to look how you want.
  • Maintainability: At this point, being able to function inside a WordPress site is a base-level skill for many creators on the Internet.

The main challenge that Ross wanted to talk about was making the SPA feel natural to users. He offered multiple solutions:

  1. Utilize less CSS, rather than more.
  2. Consider removing any non-essential clauses.

Ross included two warnings/disclaimers for utilizing SPAs:

  1. SPAs are horrific for SEO, but this typically doesn’t matter since a member portal backend, or the donation form, isn’t desired to be indexed.
  2. SPAs are even worse for accessibility (what fun that they scheduled this talk immediately after the ‘everything should be accessible’ talk.)

Building a Thoughtful Block Editing Experience

Aurooba Ahmed covered how she approaches WordPress sites. Put simply, web designers that work on WordPress aren’t simply building a website. They’re extending a tool (WordPress) that allows others (their client) to have the perfect website.

She noted that:

  1. The Canvas: always there.
  2. The Toolbar: Always there.
  3. The sidebar: Not always there. So don’t put important things on it.

For blocks, she went through the variety of uses, included Innerblocks (Nested Blcoks,)

She recommended making

  • wphhelpers.dev/icons
  • Material Icons
  • Heroicons
  • If you really want to make a custom icon, make it 24×24, black and white with high contrast for accessibility.

Modeling the Better Version of Yourself: The work/life tightrope of a women in tech leadership.

Hosted by Andrea Silas, VP of Technical Support at Dreamhost. She emphasized several things:

  • You have to know who you are, and your core value.
  • You should have an understanding of your company culture.
  • Leave room for change – as someone that’s worked at the same organization for 20 years, Andrea discussed how much things will be different over time.

So how can you model work-life balance?

  • Understand your company culture.
  • Get to know your team, on both a professional and individual level.
  • Learn about all of the cultures you touch (yes, this does mean talking to your staff.)
  • Understand, as well as respect people’s boundaries on your team. Importantly, realize that everyone will have unique boundaries as individuals.
  • Value your time away from work – your customers will understand.
  • Don’t assume that you have the same relationship with work-life balance as everyone else on your team (even if they have the exact same job title as you.)

And she included “work is just work.” So close to one of Online Optimism’s own values!

Ensuring Plugin GPL-Compatibility via Github Actions

Presented by Jeff Paul at 10UP, Jeff dug into what crafting a GPL-compatible plugin means. It included looking not only at the code itself, but the images, and the documentation. If someone introduces an incompatible license into your product, you could be thinking that you’re distributing software that’s GPL-compatible, when you’re really not. 

Thankfully, GitHub Actions can not only check for new and updated dependencies (For your existing or new pull requests) as well as confirm license compatibility. For more information, check out their Dependency Review Action on GitHub.

Rising From Rejection: How WordPress Helped Me Re-Enter Society Again

Hosting by Justin Kopepsah

About 100 million individuals within the US have criminal records. 24 million individuals have felony convictions.  Justin also discussed how justice is considered in the US vs the world. The US often looks at perpetual punishment, vs restorative justice.

Needless to say, it was a fascinating talk, and one that I appreciate WordCamp US finding the time to stage – not something that all tech conferences would do.

Making Large Language Models Work For You

Presented by Simon Willison

I think this photo sums it up (and by “it up”, I mean ‘this talk was so expansive that including it at the end of an article with 10 other topics is silly.’)

I highly recommend subscribing to his website’s newsletter, though, to stay up to date on Simon’s thoughts cause he was brilliant. I already did myself.