Inside DE{CODE} 2024, WP Engine’s Upcoming Developer Conference


If you ask a WordPress builder or developer to list the most important tools in their toolkit, chances are that at least a few will be WP Engine products and possibly their managed hosting platform itself. Plugins like Advanced Custom Fields have a pretty passionate fanbase, so it shouldn’t be a surprise the WP Engine’s employees are just as passionate about their products too. 

All of that passion goes on full display every year when WP Engine hosts DE{CODE}, their popular developer conference, now in its fifth year. DE{CODE} 2024 will happen March 19th & 21st, with the one-day-long agenda repeated across three global regions. The online conference is free to attend, and registration is now open.

I connected with some of the team members behind the conference, and behind WP Engine’s products, to get a (quite candid) behind-the-scenes look at what many would consider a fairly unique approach to a conference in the WordPress space.

Giving Tech Conference Vibes 

In the tech industry more broadly, the idea of a company-centric conference is pretty standard fare. I’m sure your inbox is full of invitations from AWS re:Invent and Stripe Sessions, though I think a more apt comparison might be something like Craft + Commerce by Convert Kit. In the WordPress community, it’s not as common.

Lexi Mostek is the Lead Event Manager at WP Engine helping to bring this vision to life. I asked her about the background of the event and how they think about the balance between company and community.

“We started this virtual event before Covid even existed,” she told me, “because developers a lot of times don’t have the budget to travel and we don’t want to charge for this event. We want to make it free. We definitely started out heavily promoting a lot of our own products and having a lot of internal speakers, which I think you can expect from a company putting on a conference. What we have tried to do is grow our roster of other people in the community, other speakers and other topics that support that. So I think we just added on our 46th speaker. And roughly half of those are external.” 

This is WordPress after all, so I’ll be clear now that this is not a WordCamp. That said, alongside WP Engine product updates and tutorials, you’ll get to hear about WordPress 6.5 from the core Editor Triage Release Team and about AI from Zack Kass, the former Head of Go-to-market at Open AI. If it’s anything like years past, the sessions don’t feel like a sales pitch, they more often take the shape of hands-on tutorials and best practices. 

Rob Stinson is a Product Marketing Manager at WP Engine whose domain includes Local, Advanced Custom Fields, and many of the other developer tools they’ve added from deals like 2022’s acquisition of plugins from Delicious Brains

“One of the sessions I’m involved in is an ACF Blocks deep dive,” said Rob. “We’ve seen this feature really emerge as a hero of ACF over the last few years and we’re doing more and more in the product itself to improve that feature set. So myself and Liam Glady (Senior Engineer at ACF) will go through four different custom blocks, the first one being a very basic one to showcase the nuts and bolts of it for anyone who is not familiar with how to do custom blocks with ACF. But then we sort of progress and showcase some more interesting ideas that really leverage interesting features.” 

That sort of practical approach is key to many of the sessions. For WP Engine, the return on their investment into the conference comes by being seen as the hosting company who is most focused on providing value to developers. The goal is brand awareness more than immediate conversions.

“WP Engine obviously has a long history in the Managed WordPress space,” he said, “offering WordPress solutions at scale. Something that we have learned – and it does seem obvious when you’re in the midst of it – is providing value through developer and builder tooling is just immensely impactful. There’s value to our customers and there’s value for the broader WordPress ecosystem.” 

Clearly being the company behind WordPress’ most popular local development tool is helpful, otherwise Automattic wouldn’t be bringing their own competitor to market. Even outside of WordPress, you can see other open source platforms working to own the comprehensive developer experience, from coding to deployment.

A Most Unusual Format

One interesting feature of DE{CODE} is that the conference is streamed live, but sessions are all pre-recorded and presumably polished ahead of time. Then the conference happens “live” three times in three distinct time zones, making it more accessible to a global audience. One side effect of this approach is that the speakers and panelists are often in the live chat engaging with the audience and answering questions during their own talks. I’m not sure I’ve really seen this approach before.

Imran Pervez, the Global Head of Event Marketing at WP Engine, talked to me about the thinking behind this.

“When I go to a conference,” he said, “I personally don’t enjoy watching a thirty-minute session with only a 5 or 10-minute Q & A at the end. That’s hardly enough time for a meaningful discussion. So with the approach we take, if a session is 40-minutes long, you can be asking Q & A the whole time and make full use of the subject matter experts. If a speaker isn’t able to attend a session–given the range of timezones we’re serving–then we have a mix of subject matter experts per session on hand to interact and respond on chat.”

The first time I attended this conference, I was definitely confused that the person on the screen was also responding to me in the live chat, but I have to admit it really makes for a more collaborative experience as an attendee. It’s one of the more engaging live chats I’ve seen at a virtual conference, and conversations can continue on in virtual “hallways” between sessions. 

AI is Kind of a Big Deal

The keynotes of the event, as you’d expect in the Year of our Lord 2024, center around AI. Before you wind up that massive eye roll, it is worth thinking about AI in the context of WordPress and maybe looking at some of the names on those panels. 

Rob drew the connection between generative AI today and the WordPress landscape:

“If you think about the last 24 months, you know, AI has become a thing, right? The three areas where the best use cases have emerged are code, text, and images. Interestingly, the best technical representation of those three things in the world is actually WordPress.” 

I would add a fourth dimension to AI’s current skillset, which is finding answers from massive amounts of content. In other words: search. If you’ve been responsible for a large-scale WordPress site or WooCommerce store, then you might know how tricky it is to get search right. But “search” as an internet concept has been evolving this last year as AI tools are changing the game, both around data indexing as well as user interface expectations. 

“And so it’s just interesting and exciting,” he continued, “to see the broader WordPress ecosystem figure this out. Ask ourselves ‘What does this look like?’ Experiment with things. As these use cases are evolving and starting to mature, I think the implementation of AI through WordPress in the coming 12 months, 24 months is going to be really impactful.” 

If that does sound interesting, there are a number of AI sessions, including one on AI search, the Zack Kass keynote mentioned above, and another keynote panel featuring Jason Cohen, WP Engine’s founder with a group of notable community members.

“What we decided to do with our keynote,” Lexi explained, “is bring in some external people like Amber Hinds, David Dicamillo and Lucky Gobindram, who are doing things and actively working on WordPress projects in different areas of expertise. Because this conference isn’t only about us and our products, it’s about the community.”

There’s interesting agency teams and product owners throughout the agenda. The third keynote panel focuses on the business of WordPress and includes Sujay Pawar of Brainstorm Force, Miriam Schwab of Elementor, and Lesley Sim of Newsletter Glue. Beyond business and AI, there are sessions covering marketing, performance, SEO, and ecommerce. 

More than WordPress “Developers”

Looking at the topics listed, you might be wondering why it’s called a “developer conference.” In the WordPress ecosystem, we can often take a broad view on who we consider developers. More than just developers, WordPress is a community of builders and extenders.

“It is developers,” Imran said, “but actually it’s those that have a technical interest in what’s happening. We also welcome marketers, business leaders and those that wear multiple hats in their businesses. We make sure there is technical content, but a lot of it isn’t necessarily hardcore- it’s applicable for someone that could also be less technically advanced.” 

“Do you log into the WordPress admin at least once a month?” added Rob. “You’ll get something out of it.”

Even if you’re not a developer, I would encourage you to browse the agenda and see if anything looks interesting.

DE{CODE} 2024 is on March 19 (North America and APAC) and March 21 (EMEA). Registration is free.

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