A week full of summits, sessions, a presentation, some parties and a fair amount of tweeting was one for the books at Drupalcon NOLA 2016. Come along for a Twitter-assisted chronological journey for Savas Labs in New Orleans.
I arrived Saturday evening after a few short flights from Durham, NC. My gracious host and boots on the ground in NOLA, Kevin Harrison, lent me a bicycle, showed me around the city, and invited me to play in his soccer game. It was a comforting entry into a new city that closely resembled what my weekend would have been like if I were at home. Thanks a ton Kevin for the hospitality!
Kevin also took me to the convention center so I could get my bearings for the week ahead. He took my picture, and ever so slightly doctored up the version you see below for me to share with our community that we had made it to the big stage!
Thanks to Kevin for my two wheels, this is what my commute looked like most days to and from the conference. Despite the condition of some roads, New Orleans has one of the highest (sixth according to the 2009 census) rates of citizens who commute by bicycle in the U.S. It’s clearly also fairly horse-friendly as well.
After arriving, I walked the .75 miles (no exaggeration… it’s 1 mile long) inside the convention center to get to the business summit. Although a little disorganized due to a last-minute personnel change of who would be running the summit, it proved to be a very open forum where leaders in in the Drupal community spoke very openly, honestly, and encouragingly about how they run their Drupal businesses. It was refreshing how genuinely the open source philosophy pervaded the consciousness of the leaders who were on panels and giving presentations.
In between panels and presentations, the rest of us divvied up into smaller groups brainstorming around key issues and presented our collective expertise back to the larger group. Topics ranged from content strategy, to marketing tactics, to how to handle conflict with large personalities, and everything in between. The breadth of the coverage ensured that nearly everyone got something out of the summit. My reading list grew by an order of magnitude from the summit. Now if I could only find the time…
After the summit, I joined my teammates Lisa and Kosta at the opening reception. This was the first opportunity to see former coworkers and members of the community we were personally acquainted with before the conference.
We then headed to the welcome pub crawl to meet up with some Drupal friends in person for the first time. It was a great evening of beautiful weather, good beer, and excited Drupalist(a)(o)s eagerly anticipating a fun week.
Excited (and a bit nervous) to give my first presentation at Drupalcon (e pluribus unum), I spent much of the day reviewing and updating slides that were impacted by the Driesnote which had a lot of overlap with my presentation.
Since Drupalcon is primarily a developer’s conference, and I was speaking in the “Business” track, I decided to drum up some interest for the session with a little social media mudslinging banter.
A couple favorites are:
I must admit, since we have a Jam of our own (inquire within), Acquia’s Jam is a topic of frequent discussion at the Savas Labs water cooler. I was still am hopeful for some social media reaction. Unfortunately there were no real rumors to speak of.
The presentation was fun to give. I saw some familiar faces like former and current coworkers, which was comforting. The research that went into the presentation was perhaps as valuable as giving the talk. I timed the material I shared well, and there was a fairly lively Q&A session after, which was great. I received some positive and constructive feedback both right after the talk, and via the online evaluations that I’m eager to incorporate the next time I give the presentation.
Somewhat ironically, Kosta and myself and not Lisa (the only female Savasian at Drupalcon) attended the Women in Drupal event. It was a great time to meet some old friends in person for the first time and make some new friends. It was nice to see the women-owned hook 42 as sponsorship leaders who were presenting the day before at the business summit. It’s also great that this has been on the Drupalcon agenda for years. It was also nice to hear people talking of diversity beyond gender as a focus for Drupal agencies and technology companies more generally. However much like evaluations from my session were helpful in pointing out room for improvement, my two cents is that a better platform for meaningful discussion that can lead to action is interesting to me. On the flipside, as my teammates pointed out, there’s nothing wrong with having a party. Thank you to the sponsors and Drupal community for caring about this issue.
After the presentation was behind me, I was happy to be more involved with the daily activities of Drupalcon, i.e. attending sessions!. I went to a handful, but my favorite of the day was Lessons from Wordpress Core. It was a nice discussion juxtaposing Wordpress and Drupal powered websites given by two Pantheon employees who had respective expertise in one of the frameworks. One primary takeaway for me was the discrepancy in approach with Drupal vs. Wordpress in backward compatibility. It is a very complex topic, but in some ways the backwards compatible approach has contributed to Wordpress’s high degree of user-loyalty as well as comparatively fast adoption to the newest version. The Drupal leadership is very conscious of this and is having very meaningful conversations around Backwards compatibility. Larry Garfield (Crell) provides great insight to this at the end of the session.
After sessions closed for the day, we had a nice dinner with friends from DevCollaborative, Advomatic and made our way on over to the Lullabot party. The theme of meeting those who we only digitally knew, while making new friends certainly continued at the Lullabot party. It was a great time!
Thursday was the final day of sessions, and of course the Drupal 6 burial party - #SoCheeky. The sessions I attended were all quite pertinent to me. In my talk, I reference the lack of an official release for an e-commerce platform for Drupal 8 is one reason for slowed adoption compared to Drupal 7. The Commerce guys did elicit a lot of applause in their session about what is coming soon for Drupal Commerce’s official Drupal 8 release, but were only willing to commit to a “ready by the end of summer” time line which left some people chomping at the bit for the official release that is still some time ahead.
Zivtech’s Co-founder/CTO Jody Hamilton’s “Grow your own” presentation about how to create a culture of recruitment and training within was another near-and-dear topic as we had just hired our second intern, the wonderful Ro Wang! The presentation had some good lessons learned and valuable takeaways if not only entertaining to the frequency of the reference to marijuana (see 3 seconds into the presentation). Thanks for the good info Jody!
My last session of Drupalcon was Dries’s State of Drupal. Since I missed the #Driesnote in person (just finished watching it), and contributed to the survey he put out, and commented on his blog post about the adoption of Drupal 8, I figured I still needed more. Sure enough, much of the material I was aware of at the time, but as I am wont to do, I was the first to ask Dries a question (admittedly a bit circuitous and verbose) as to how to improve the experience of trying to contribute to Drupal. XJM rushed to the mic to give a great answer, which ended up driving my involvement with Jeremy Thorson (who also spoke thereafter) at the sprint the following day.
The day concluded with the marching memorial putting Drupal 6 to rest. I observed the wonderful jazz band that accompanied it, but passed up the opportunity to head to the Rusty Nail for the 3rd time in as many days. Kosta and Lisa were in the air and on their way home at that point.
The Friday sprints were surprisingly well attended. Sprint lounges were occupied all week, and some sprinters promised to continue throughout the weekend at the convention center. This dedication to the project is impressive and inspirational (and I’ve argued necessary) to the future of Drupal’s success.
It is in the track world just as it is in the coding world: sprinting is hard! It is difficult to get organized, get oriented (or help orient) and contribute effectively to a global project in a narrow window of time.
Given my newfound desire to ease the barriers and access to contributing to the project in general, I decided to sprint to make the drupal.org contributor experience better. In doing so, I got my very own installation of the drupal.org website of which I had complete control. Fun!
As mentioned, sprinting is hard, so I was actually unable to meaningfully contribute a patch during my stay before I had to head to the airport.
However, I was able to follow up shortly after returning home to submit a patch to the issue I was working on which is currently in review. Exciting stuff.
In conclusion, one of my biggest takeaways from the whole experience is that it’s all about the community!! … that’s what makes Drupal great. Some of my favorite people on planet Earth I either work with, or met through Drupal. Conferences are a nice time to connect in the flesh with people who we know on the other side of a video call, or less yet, as a username on a website. New Orleans proved to be a good city to host Drupalcon, and we’re already looking forward to Baltimore next year.