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3 Digital Conferences in 4 Weeks: My Exclusive Insight

Web Design Newcastle

The importance of having a break from your desk

I'm sure I'm not the only one that disappears into the parallel universe that is their desk. In my design studio I have four screens and once I'm in front of them, that's my world. So having the chance to take a screen break is always a high priority. However, the reason to take a break has to be highly compelling, relevant and be able to provide inspiration and value that I can pass on to clients and projects.

This autumn three great conferences vied for my time within four weeks of each other, which made me relish a prolonged period to recharge my creative and intellectual juices and get away from my desk.

I was both excited and privileged to be able to attend three events over a period of four weeks; WordCamp Manchester, Thinking Digital Women and Digital Leaders NE. When booking, they all seemed to offer the chance to hear from fellow industry professionals and get different perspectives on the state of the digital landscape.

Having attended all three in relatively fast succession I thought I would provide you my own insight from each event and how they stack-up in terms of inspiration, value and vision.

Digital Conference No.1

WordCamp Manchester

I've used WordPress for many years. It is a powerful way to create robust Content Managed websites for my clients. If you're not familiar with WordPress, it's a world renowned open source website creation tool written in PHP. Having created many websites with it for many years I've found it's the easiest and most powerful Website Content Management system (or CMS) in existence today that empowers my clients to take control of their content.

What is a WordCamp?
A WordCamp is a conference that focuses on everything WordPress. WordCamps are informal, community-organised events that are put together by WordPress users and developers. Everyone from casual users to core developers participate, share ideas, and get to know each other. That is one of the reasons I use WordPress, it's outstanding and supportive community. WordCamps happen all over the world and many are recorded and available to view over on WordPress TV.

Having been to Manchester many times (personally and for client meetings) I knew a visit there would be a refreshing change. It was my first time attending WordCamp Manchester, held at Manchester Metropolitan University’s New Business School Building, which was very smart and seemed adequate for the event.

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Speakers topics covered:

  •  20 things you should do to get the most out of WordCamp
  •  Why switching to WordPress Coding Standards will make you a better developer
  •  10 Steps to doing your own thing (with WordPress)
  •  Taming Your Content with Custom Post Types and Meta Fields
  • The REST API for the rest of us
  • Battling The White Screen of Death: A Tech Support Tale
  •  Object Oriented User Experience
  • WordPress Security 101
  • Using WordPress to help charities recruit supporters and increase donations
  •  Making WordPress menus smarter
  • Tremendous Taxonomies
  • Lessons learned using WordPress Multisite
  • Brexit: "when you say it’s gonna happen now well when exactly do you mean?"

Here's the website of this particular event. WordCamp Manchester Link

Overall the event was well run with a varied range of speakers. I enjoyed the supportive community feel and the chance to chat with fellow designers and developers. I made many notes and gained valuable insight into the variety of ways WordPress can be used to enhance clients' websites and what the near future holds for this platform. All run and organised by volunteers who are passionate about WordPress and support the open-source ethos. I even got my photo taken with "Wapuu", a sort of mascot for WordPress.

Get involved
If you're a WordPress user, developer, designer or blogger or use WordPress to power your business then I highly recommend attending a WordCamp event near you. It's great to give back to the open source community and you'll probably benefit from this supportive group.

Swag rating
Conferences can also be rated by the amount of swag (freebies and give-a-ways) that you can get your hands on.
Here's my 'swag rating' for WordCamp Manchester. Lots of stands giving away some great note pads, bags, umbrellas and books, so I give this event a 4/5.


Digital Conference No.2

Thinking Digital Women

Thinking Digital is a conference for those curious about “what's next?” in the digital landscape. Originating in Newcastle they now have Manchester and London events. This new event was to focus on Women in digital.

Having always been a fan of tech since saving up for a ZX Spectrum in the early 80's and spending many hours trying to type in code on the not so user-friendly keypad, that then never seemed do what I expected; I thought this conference to be perfect for me.

This was the inaugural Thinking Digital Women, held at Northern Stage in Newcastle upon Tyne, a trendy and relaxed space with a 'chilly' theatre space (I kept my coat on most of the time). The slant was very much towards encouraging women into science and tech rather than celebrating those already involved.

My favourite speakers were; Amanda Regan, talking about her experiences as an engineer, Meri Williams from Moo talking about diversity and privilege, Jessie Link from Twitter talking about launching Live Video and Judith Williams from Dropbox talking about how diversity drives innovation. All very engaging speakers with powerful messages and entertaining presentations.

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Pre-Event Workshops

  • Learning with Little Robots
  • Can Bioinformatics Save your Life?
  • Drawing Digital: Getting Crafty with Electronics
  • What Your Sensors Say About You

Main Speakers
Session 1 speakers

  • Amanda Regan: Rocket Scientist: Engineer at European Space Agency
  • Meri Williams: Geek Leader: CTO at Moo
  • Tim Leberecht: Business Romantic: Author

Session 2 speakers

  • Jessie Link; Twitter Software Supremo: Director of Engineering at Twitter
  • Caroline Lewin MBE: Armed Networker: Commanding Officer, 2 Signal Regiment at British Army
  • Anne-Marie Imafidon: STEM Prodigy: Co-Founder at Stemettes
  • Kirsty Styles: Tech Talent Evangelist: Talent & Skills Programme Lead at Tech North

Session 3 speakers

  • Emer Maguire: Stand Up Scientist
  • Alex Reben: Robot Humanist: Artist & Roboticist
  • Judith Williams: Dropbox Diversifier: Head of Global Diversity at Dropbox

Here's a link to the Thinking Digital Women's own round up blog post: Thinking Digital Women - one of those events that stays with you.

An insightful conference although it didn't really add to my thoughts about women in the digital sector. I've only ever worked in the creative sector, in environments that were roughly 50-50 split, so it always seems strange to me to think of women not being included in certain situations. Getting more women involved in the science and digital can only be a good thing for everyone, so conferences like this add to the conversation. I hope the next one will be a more general overview that just happens to have a majority of women speakers, with their unique perspective and topics relevant to women in tech. I will be watching out for the next event and will certainly attend.

Get involved
I'm hoping this is the first of many Thinking Digital Women events to come. I encourage anyone in the digital space to take some time out and attend and you will gain some refreshing insight.

Swag rating
Here's my 'swag rating' for Thinking Digital Women. Hardly any stands, a few post-it-notes. So not that interesting on the swag front. Even one of the speakers talked about how impressive the swag is at most digital events, so I think she may have been a little disappointed with this one. So my swag rating is 1/5.


Digital Conference No.3

Digital Leaders North East Summit: ‘Smart Data: Improving intervention in Health, Education and the Economy’

Living in the North East for many years I've always taken any opportunity to support and attend any creative or digital events that happen in the region. It has a vibrant and highly skilled creative and digital sector which is incredibly under promoted. In recent years, it seems 'those at the top' have suddenly realised this and have started to see it as quite a good asset for the region and are taking small steps in bringing it to the fore with this Digital Leader Summit.

Web Design Newcastle

Digital Leaders is a global initiative that has created a shared professional space for senior leadership from different sectors promoting effective, long-term digital transformation. I wasn't sure it was going to be a perfect event for me to attend, however I wanted to support their first Annual Summit in the North East. Its focus was on Smart Data and how to harness its power for a better future sounded quite intriguing.

I must admit that out of the three conferences, this was the least inspiring. I noted that it was the only digital event I'd ever been to where people were in formal suits. The event location, the Core at the unfinished Science Central area of Newcastle, feels bleak when you approach but reasonably friendly when you arrive.

The only speakers that caught my attention were Jeff Vining from Escher Group and Chris Yiu from Uber. Both had visually inspiring presentations and gave impressive insight into how they are leveraging data to build business and provide a positive experience to their customers. Their insight, ideas for the future and innovation were impressive.


  • Jacqueline De Rojas, EVP at Sage / President at techUK
    Nick Williams, Managing Director, Consumer Digital at Lloyds Banking Group
  • Digital Leaders North East (DLNE) Impact
    Charles Sellers & Rob Wilson, DLNE Leadership Group

Healthcare Salon

  • Dylan Roberts, CTO at Leeds City Council, Joe McDonald of Connected Health Cities and Dr. Mark Dornan, Digital Lead at Newcastle CCG

Education Salon

  • Dominic Murphy, MD at Geek Talent & Luk Vervenne, CEO at Synergetics

Economy Salon

  • Jeff Vining, VP at Escher Group and Chris Yiu, Uber
  • Robin Knowles, Founder and CEO, Digital Leaders
  • National Institute for Smart Data Innovation
  • Steve Caughey, CEO Arjuna Technologies

Not quite as inspiring as I hoped, but I am guessing the title of the event should have warned me. Some of the talks seemed a little old fashioned in style, felt dated and somewhat dry, which made the Escher and Uber presentations really stand out to me. If they had all been like those two, the day would have been very powerful. So room for improvement from my point of view. Even being disappointed, I am hoping there will be future Digital Leaders events that cover a different range of topics that can showcase the digital sector in the North East and the UK. Hopefully future events will have a feeling of being more at the forefront.

Get involved
If you interested in finding out more about the Digital Leaders, here's the link to their website. About Digital Leaders. They hold regular Salons in the North East, if you follow their social media feeds or sign up for their newsletter you should be able to find out where and when.

Swag rating
Here's my 'swag rating' for Digital Leaders NE. I think there was one stand with promotional brochure and a few novelty post-it-notes. So not that interesting on the swag front. Disapointing. So my swag rating is 1/5.


The Takeaway

Not all conferences can deliver to your expectations, however they are still well worth attending to broaden your horizons, opinions and insight. As I return to my desk I feel refreshed and thoughtful about the future of digital. I love the pace of change and the exciting times ahead for both web design and digital. Pick your events wisely and take a break from your desk for inspiration and take the opportunity to get involved.

About Belinda White

Website consultant, digital strategist and award-winning designer with over 30 years’ creative industry experience. Creating successful brands, digital and print campaigns for UK and international clients. Creative industry experience includes design for GSK, Nike, BP, Shell, P&G, Marks & Spencer, Kings College, Master Foods, Co-op, Argos and Sage to name a few. Specialist experience in Life Science and biotech web design, SEO and digital marketing.

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