Wordcamp Belfast – My first Wordcamp as a speaker

Speaking at a WordPress event can be scary but highly rewarding. This is how I went from doing a talk to a small local group to presenting at a full blown WordCamp in little more than 6 months. Oh, and how the fantastic WordPress community makes it a lot less scary than you might think.

I decided to do a talk

The back end of 2017 I decided I’d do a talk at my local WordPress Meetup in Glasgow.  The group are friendly and they knew it was my first talk, so I was counting in them to be supportive.

I wasn’t disappointed, I was well looked after and the talk seemed to be well received.  What I wasn’t prepared for was what happened next.

Someone mentioned my talk to someone in another WordPress group and next thing I know, I agreed to do the talk at a Brighton WordPress Meetup. Once again everyone was friendly and they live streamed the sessions at the meetup.

The live stream was watched by an organiser of the Portsmouth WordPress meetup and a few weeks later I was doing the talk again in Portsmouth.

You can pretty much guess what happened next…

Someone from Wordcamp Belfast was in attendance and asked me to submit the talk in a slightly altered form, for the next Belfast Wordcamp. I was on a role by now so I though what the heck and submitted it.

Wordcamps are bigger than WordPress meetups

I know this sounds obvious, but I wasn’t really prepared for the scale of change.

The number of people that attended my talk wasn’t massively different,  but the organisation was on a different scale.

There were…

  • Speaker checklists to  make sure I complied with
  • Codes of conduct to read
  • Draft slides to submit
  • Speakers’ Dinner to consider
  • Proper videoing of the talk
  • Real time audio captioning
  • Making sure I was in the right place in plenty of time

Don’t get me wrong, these are all things that make Wordcamps really well run and a joy to attend.  It was just a bit different to see it from a speaker’s point of view.

I have to say that the organisation of Wordcamp Belfast was terrific and they went out of their way to make sure that speakers were as comfortable as possible and supported us in every way possible.

Will I do it again?

Well, I’ve  been invited back next year and I’ve already agreed to do it. Now I have to sort out a new talk!

One day I’ll submit a talk to a Wordcamp Europe and go properly international.  I think I need to work up to that one though.

There is  a rumour that the talk may be on wordpress.tv at some time in the future. Assuming my ugly mug didn’t break the camera

Protect the people in your data

Wordcamp London 2017

image of wordcamp london 2017 wappuI’ve just returned from Wordcamp London 2017 and just like other Wordcamps, it’s been motivating, inspiring, educational and downright good fun.

I was motivated by a number of talks.  Like many people I have a tendency to be really motivated at the time but, if I don’t act on it straight away, the motivation wanes.  So, something that makes me go straight out and do something is really good.

In this case it was a talk by my friend Heather Burns.

It’s not personal

Part of Heather’s talk was about how privacy is, and may be, impacted under the new presidential regime in the USA and Brexit in the UK.

Some of the legislation being considered potentially conflicts with the UK Data Protection Act and/or expected GDPR requirements.

Working within the IT industry we all tend to be conscious of and look after our own privacy. As systems builders and providers, we should not only take care of our own privacy, but the privacy of the people referenced in the data we hold.

“Protect the people in your data.” – Heather Burns – Wordcamp London 2017

You need to get more involved than signing an on-line petition.

Heather explained that, if we are to influence political decisions that impact the privacy of our users, we need to do more than the signing of on-line petitions.  Many such petitions are nothing more than vehicles for capturing mailing list data.

Activities can range from something as simple as joining the Open Rights Group right the way through to deliberately carrying out ethical hacking to remove or mask data that violates our users’ privacy.

Scary stuff

The thought of deleting or modifying client data is pretty scary. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure I have the bottle for it.  I would like to think I would follow the example of René Carmille and do the right thing. However, given the potential personal consequences, I can’t be sure I would.

Image of Rene Carmille… [René Carmille] sabotaged the Nazi census of France, saving untold numbers of Jewish people from death camps.

I own up to being guilty of joining on-line petitions.  I am also a member of the Open Rights Group though and I attend local meetings.  Heather inspired me to want to do more.

TOR Principals

The ToR project logoAs part of her talk, Heather listed the TOR 10 principals of keeping data secure under a hostile regime. We might see these principals as a gold standard of privacy.


  1. Do not rely on the law to protect systems or users
  2. Prepare policy commentary for quick response to crisis
  3. Only keep the user data you currently need.
  4. Give users full control over their data
  5. Allow pseudonymity and anonymity
  6. Encrypt data in transit and at rest
  7. Invest in cryptographic R&D to replace non-cryptographic systems
  8. Eliminate single points of security failure, even against coercion
  9. Favor open source and enable user freedom
  10. Practice transparency: share best practices, stand for ethics, and report abuse.

I thought about what I could take from these principals in order to do more to protect my users’ privacy.

Follow the data

On my own machines, data is encrypted. This includes the disks I use for off-site backup. Heather and the TOR principals got me thinking about how much care I take to make sure my data, that is stored by third parties, remains private. The main third party in my case is my web site hosting provider.

The harsh truth is that until now my criteria for choosing a hosting company has been.

  • Cost
  • Support
  • Availability

All of these are really important, and this is probably the list you would get from a client if you ask. Following the talk from Heather I now add another criteria….

  • Privacy

Time to take action

copyright 34SP.com

Just before Wordcamp I had decided to build a new website. My intention was to use the shared hosting I already had in place for the website.  I decided instead that I would take the opportunity to canvas the hosting providers with booths at Wordcamp and see if they could provide a secure environment for my data.  If they could, I would buy a new hosting package and give them a proper trial using my new site as a guinea pig.

Setting Criteria

I came up with the following set of criteria/questions that I would ask the hosting companies

  • Where is your data centre located?
    • I wanted a data centre in the UK or in an EU state where EU privacy laws would apply.
  • Who owns the infrastructure in your data centre
    • Is it owned by the hosting company or is it owned by a third party, thereby preventing the hosting company having full control of who can access their data.
  • What is your policy and process if a government agency asks for access to data that they host?
  • Do you provide free SSL certificates and so you support “Let’s Encrypt” certification?
  • Do you support SFTP and SSH access?

What did I learn?

It turned out to be an interesting exercise.

Where is your datacentre?

Not surprisingly the bigger hosting companies had centres all over the world.  A number could not guarantee where my data could end up.  This was a definite issue as I could not be sure what privacy or access laws would be applied to my data.

Who owns the infrastructure in your data centre

A number of hosts are using cloud services to provide the infrastructure for their hosting.  The most common being Google or Amazon.  Even if the data centre is located in the UK, the physical infrastructure may well be owned by a non-UK company and be subject to demands from non-UK or non-EU agencies.

What is your policy and process if a government agency asks for access to data that they host?

Actually the question I ended up really asking was, “What would you do if the NSA or GCHQ demanded access to the data you host”.  I got a range of answers to this one.

  1. I don’t know (scary)
  2. We would be obliged to provide access if it was a legal request (this could be because the requesting agency belongs to a government of a country where the data centre is located or the host company is registered.
  3. We wouldn’t provide access but we couldn’t prevent the hosting company providing access. Both Amazon and Google may be legally obliged to comply with legal governmental requests for data.

Do you provide free SSL certificates and so you support “Let’s Encrypt” certification? Do you support SFTP and SSH access?

To be honest I only got to these questions in the case of one host.

The outcome

Hosts 34sp were able to fulfil all my criteria.

  • Their data centre is in the UK
  • They reside in a shared data centre facility but own all their own hardware
  • They would “if presented with a proper request, in line with laws such as the regulation of investigatory powers act, we would have no choice but to provide such access.”  However, as the data is kept within the UK, only UK and EU law would apply.
  • They provide free SSL certificates via “Let’s Encrypt” and they provide a very easy “one click” process for implementing the certificate.  They even take care of the certificate renewals automatically for you.
  • They provide SFTP and SSH facilities.

As a result, I jumped straight on-line and purchased a WordPress Hosting package from them.  By the time I left Wordcamp the next day, my website was installed and I was busy configuring it.

It’s not hard to do more

OK, so it’s not like I’m taking to the streets and protesting against the draconian bills, currently going through parliament, that will impact our privacy but, I’m now doing something more than I was to protect the privacy of my users.

What’s more it didn’t take much effort.  I would have been chatting to the companies with booths at Wordcamp anyway.  All I had to do was prep a few questions and have a good reason for them to answer them (I had business to put their way).

There is a theory doing the rounds that the next big differentiator in IT will be privacy.  Whether it be services, hardware or software, it could be that the vendor’s approach to privacy will make or break them.

Thanks to 34sp for being ahead of the game and making it so easy for me to take steps to move toward better protection for my users’ data.

If you have other questions we can be asking of our vendors to improve data privacy, leave you suggestions in the comments.


Inspired by Awesomeness – My WordPress Community Heroes

It all started with Twitter

I was trawling through my twitter feed during International Women’s Day and read lots of tweets about how hard it is for the female of the species in the Tech World.

That started me thinking about the WordPress Community and the fact that the first people that come into mind from the community are women. It is these people that have inspired me, not only to do more and better things with WordPress but also to be a better Project Manager and most importantly, be a better person.

I shared this thought with a couple of friends and one of them asked me if she could see my list.  So here it is.

Some Ground Rules

Before anyone starts trolling me, let’s put this list in context.

    • I am based in the UK so most of the people I have interacted with are from the UK or Europe. This means the list is UK centric. I am sure there are lots of other awesome people out there that I just haven’t met yet.
    • Some of the people in the list are not strictly part of the WordPress community. Their inspiration is WordPress related though.
    • Inspiration and awesomeness is subjective and personal.  This is my list and is likely to be different from anyone else’s.  If you disagree with it, don’t give me a hard time, write your own!


So, in no particular order of awesomeness, here we go….

The list of awesome

Jenny Wong (@miss_jwo)

Image of Jenny WongI met Jenny at my first Wordcamp Europe.  She had organised a sightseeing get together for people arriving in the city early.

I have been inspired by Jenny’s friendliness, patience, humour and selflessness when it comes to making people feel welcome and part of the community, even numpties like me. As I have followed Jenny, I have seen how she contributes to the community, how she is determined speaks out on important issues that she feels strongly about and how much energy she puts into making the community a better place to be part of.  With half of her energy and people skills I would be a far better Project Manager.

Heather Burns (@WebDevLaw)

Heatherimage of Heather Burns is another strong, opinionated,outspoken, person that refuses to go quietly. She is a Weegie though, so a lot of that comes with the territory.

Heather has been a real inspiration.  Over the last few years she has given up her WordPress based web development business, gone back to university to study law and is now, probably the foremost adviser on IT legal issues to the web community, who isn’t a qualified lawyer.

Heather sits through the interminable pish that makes up parliamentary debates. She sifts through governmental documentation, seemingly designed to induce narcolepsy.  All so we can consume all the relevant, important elements in a few minutes by reading her articles.

She fights for freelancers in the gig economy against policies such as VATMOSS and if the Web Industry ever gets organised enough to have a proper trade body, it will be in no small part due to Heather.

I don’t know anyone that is more resilient, tenacious and if patience is a virtue, she is due for canonization.

Kimb Jones (@mkjones)

I’image of Kimb Jonesve been attending Kimb’s talks since my very first WordPress get together (Wordup Edinburgh).

Kimb has a wealth of WordPress experience. He has been a developer, builder and seller of themes, organiser of WordPress events, an entrepreneur and more recently a business leader.

What’s not to be inspired by?

Kimb is always funny, informative and I always feel energised to go away and do something new or better after one of his talks.

Kimb made me realise that, if something is central to your WordPress site and it would be a disaster if it went away, you can’t afford to be a tight wad.  You need to put your hand in your pocket and pay towards the many hours of development and continued support for that product.  If you don’t, you only have yourself to blame when it no longer functions with the latest version of WordPress, or just down right disappears.

iThemes, you have Kimb to thank for the money I keep spending with you!

Latterly Kimb has moved away from pure WordPress talks and has been talking about his experiences setting up his WordPress business Make Do.  As a result his talks are now not only inspiring me but also my daughter, who’s business has nothing to do with WordPress.

Mike Little (@mikelittlezed1)

image of Mike LittleFor those of you reading this, that are not part of the WordPress community, Mike is on of the co-founders of WordPress.  Like Kimb, I met Mike at Wordup Edinburgh in 2013.  I was blown away that Mike not only took the time to come along to the relatively small Wordup, but also took the time to spend time with everyone there including me.

I have since met Mike at a number of WordPress events and he is always friendly and approachable.  Not something you normally associate with someone so instrumental in producing something as influential and awesome as WordPress.

Mike inspires me, not just because of his personality and inclusiveness but because he still spends every day producing WordPress sites and training people to use WordPress.

I would like to think that if I had such a large hand in producing something as fantastic and that powered such a large part of the internet, as WordPress, my ego would remain in check and I would stay as down to earth as Mike.  Sadly, I don’t think that would be the case.  I can but strive towards that level of self effacement.

Petya Raykovska (@petyeah)

image of Petya RaykovskaI haven’t actually interacted with Petya, but I have been inspired by her involvement in the community, not least organising Wordcamp Europe and being instrumental in translating WordPress into many languages via the WordPress Polyglots.

As a project manager I would dearly love to think I could approach her organisational skills.

Iain Taylor (@iainptaylor) and Nate Wright (@NateWr)

Image of Iain Taylor These guys took the Edinburgh WordPress community which had died an inglorious death, and resurrected it from scratch.  From the first year, when there were a few core attendees at each meeting, it has now grown to the point where there are waiting lists to attend nearly every month.

Both guys are incredibly warm and welcoming, just like all the other community members in my list.

He probably doesn’t realise it, but Iain inspired me to attend Wordcamp Europe, something for which I will be forever grateful.

Nate has patiently answered many of my WordPress questions, even the really stupid ones. I’m inspired to do more with WordPress because I know there is an incredible support network of people out there that will help and advise you.  This is so different to some other “communities” where newbies are shunned for their lack of knowledge either technically or of the unwritten protocols that community members are expected to follow.

I have been working away for the last couple of years and haven’t been able to get to the Edinburgh WordPress MeetUps in that time.  I’m really sad about this and I miss them a lot.  As soon as I finish this current gig and get back a bit closer to home I be making sure to get my place at the meetings booked early.

Lorna Mitchell (@lornajane)

Image of Lorna MitchellNot strictly part of the WordPress community, Lorna Mitchell is a PHP guru (she has written many books on the subject), fantastic speaker and, in her own words, a Developer Evangelist.

For those of you that don’t know, up until very recently WordPress was completely written in PHP (it is now starting to move to Javascript for more and more front end activity). So knowledge of PHP is more than a little handy if you want to get the most out of WordPress.

Lorna’s talks always hit the right note for me.  Pitching the level just right.  Not too advanced, but advanced enough to stretch me.

Like Kimb, Lorna’s talks always inspire me to go away and do something new or different.

I always try and attend Lorna’s talks when she is speaking. Generally she is one of my FOSSDEM highlights.

Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew)

Image of Rachel AndrewI have only just encountered Rachel on the net, but she has already inspired me.

Most of my time spent modifying WordPress is changing CSS.  For those not in the know, CSS is the language that dictates the appearance of web pages, including those generated by WordPress.

In my opinion Rachel is to CSS, what Lorna is to PHP.  I’m amazed that I haven’t heard her speak in person yet.  The nice thing is that, I have that experience to look forward to.

The community that keeps giving

The great thing about this list is that, because of all the tremendous people in the WordPress community, it is going to grow as I go to more WordPress events and meet more of the people in the community.

This year is my 40th year as an IT professional. I have been involved in a number of communities in that time. I’ve made many friends and been inspired by many people.  Other than the Ubuntu community, none have come close to the total warmth and inclusiveness I have found from the WordPress gang.

If you are part of the community, I look forward to meeting and being inspired by you in the future and hopefully adding you to my list.  If you spot me at a Wordcamp or Meetup, please say hello.

The disclaimer

As I said at the start of this post, my list is highly subjective, personal and comes from a quick mental list inspired by Twitter. Consequently I know that I have probably missed off a number of people that have inspired me to do all sorts of stuff. If I missed you off this list, it isn’t your fault for not being awesome, it’s a consequence of my memory being whatever the converse of awesome is.

Learning Never Stops

Image if a badge showing that Mainplus Technology are attending WordPress Europe in Vienna 2016



An industry that never stands still

I’m a great believer that you should never stop learning.  This IT industry of ours never sleeps and unless we make the effort to educate ourselves we inevitably get left behind.

More to learn, less time to do it in

As I have got older, I have found that I slip behind the learning curve. I like to console myself that this is mostly due to my interests widening so the learning I have to do to keep up with our world, just becomes greater, but my time to do so seems to ever decrease.

Formal courses are all very well….

Formal courses and text books are a well proven education channel, and generally have the benefit of providing some sort of evidential piece of paper to prove that you have completed the learning in question. However, one of the great things about our industry is the willingness of incredibly talented and knowledgeable people to give their time and effort to pass on their knowledge. Often for free.

… but why not take advantage of free knowledge transfer

There are many YouTube videos that act as brilliant learning aids. These “how to” videos are great if you need help doing something specific.  They are instantly available but in general you need to search for a specific topic to make use of them.

In my opinion he best way to take advantage of the generous nature of our industry colleagues, is to go to conferences. While there may not be a presentation dealing with your latest, hair tearing, issue, conferences have presentations that expand your outlook and put you contact with like minded individuals, any one of which may have the “magic bullet” you are looking for.

So, for just a few pounds, or even for free, you can get to see and hear industry experts sharing their knowledge.  Not only do you get real world advice in the form of a presentation, but almost without exception, these experts are incredibly approachable and happy to discuss their field outside the confines of their presentation.

Which conferences?

 WordPress Edinbugh

image of the Edinbugh Wordcamp Wapu 2015

Well let’s start off with the Edinburgh Wordcamp held in November 2015.  A great weekend of talks from some of the best WordPress speakers in the UK.  Including Heather Burns, who is probably the foremost speaker on web law in the UK if not Europe.  I have to declare an interest here though.  My local WordPress group, were the organisers of the event. A nicer bunch of people you couldn’t wish to meet. By the time the event was coming to a close there were already talk of the next one.


image of the fossdem logo

To quote the Fossdem website, “FOSDEM is a free event for software developers to meet, share ideas and collaborate.”.

Fossdem is held in Brussels and is the biggest free and open source conference in Europe. Attended by some 5000 hackers and with over 600 presentations it attracts some big names from all over the world to speak.

This year, 2016, I’m really exited.  It would appear that one of the biggest free software names in the world will be speaking. Richard Stallman, Founder of GNU Project and Free Software Foundation will be giving his thoughts on advanced licensing issues in Free Software projects.

Even though I do not consider myself a developer (and neither do many other attendees of Fossdem) I always get a lot out of the conference which is entirely free of charge.

WordcaMp Europe

imapge of an I'm attending Wordcamp Europe 2016 badgeWordcamp Europe is the premier Wordcamp conference in Europe.

To be honest, I’m not too sure what to expect at Wordcamp Europe.  I have talked to many people who have attended in the past and their enthusiasm and determination to return has made me decide to attend for the first time.  It has to be said that the location of Vienna didn’t hurt any either.

Like Fossdem, the size of the conference (at the time of writing they have sold out all 1500 tickets and trying to secure more space to sell more) draws speakers from all over the world.  These include speakers from Automatic (the owners of WordPress) and other companies, such as iThemes, that are world renowned for their plug-ins and themes.

Don’t just sit there…

Make the most of the generous nature of all these people willing to share these knowledge with you.  I’m sure that I will be attending other, smaller events during the year.  After all you can’t be over educated, can you?

Word-Up Scotland

Saturday at Word-Up Glasgow was phenomenal!

Apart from the usual brilliant sessions by everyone, especially Heather Burns, Kevinjohn Gallagher and Kimb Jones, it was great to talk chat to guys like Jim Convey and Martin Young to get their take on how to best approach CMS user access in WordPress.

Unlike last year’s Edinburgh Word-Up, there were lots more WordPress newbies in attendance which made for a conference that felt a little less like experienced WordPress techies talking to other WordPress veterans.  As a result the level of questions and answers made the whole day much more worthwhile for myself and has made me enthusiastic to get more involved with the group.  It has also enthused me to do more posting as you can see.

I will be checking out the Scotland Word-Up site to see when and where the monthly meet-ups will be and go along if possible.  I have also suggested to Martin that we perhaps use a hack space to do some practical hands on sessions.

There is a rumor that there will be a Word Camp in Edinburgh this year as well.  I think I will definitely be up for that one.