Photo courtesy of Geoff Appleby

Diaries of Drupalcon

DrupalCon 2017 took place in Baltimore from April 24–28. Attending is one the highlights of the year for us, both for the opportunity to present our own learnings and for the chance to learn from and connect with the larger Drupal community.

This year we had staff attending the event from a range of backgrounds and levels — seasoned Drupal vets with the conference credentials to match, first time attendees eager to soak up the experience, and non-devs keen to understand more about what the next big strides will be in Drupal development to bring home and share with our customers.

With so many different perspectives on the event, we thought we’d compile a few of their thoughts and insights into one retrospective on what DrupalCon 2017 looked like.

Everett Zufelt and Rafael F. Silva presenting. Photo courtesy of Geoff Appleby

Rafael Silva — Developer, 1st time attendee / 1st time presenter

I’ve been working with Drupal since 2004, and I’ve been following the annual DrupalCon events from a distance ever since. This year I had the amazing opportunity to not only attend DrupalCon Baltimore, but to give a presentation with my co-worker Everett Zufelt.

As a first time participant in DrupalCon, it was an incredible experience. I spent a good part of my time getting familiar with the event and venue, but mostly I got the chance to really join with the community I’ve been a part of from a distance for so long. And even though I have attended other developer events, the size and quality of a DrupalCon was mesmerizing.

If I’m being honest, attending my first DrupalCon as a speaker was kind of a frightening prospect, but in the end it was enormously rewarding. Getting the chance to show work I was proud of, and knowing that it could help people accomplish great things in their own work, is what I’ve been dreaming of since joining the Drupal community in 2004.

When I wasn’t presenting, I had the chance to listen to my talented colleagues and co-workers. One of the highlights for me was hearing Myplanet’s own Associate Director of Drupal Practices, Erin Marchak, speak about ways to improve accessibility not only in the development phase, but throughout the entire process of software development. Hearing her speak made me realize how often we — by which I mean software developers in general — forget the importance of how others consume products and access the information we create. It’s something I’ll personally take more seriously in the future and work to keep in mind at every stage.

Erin Marchak presenting. Photo courtesy of Geoff Appleby

I also attended Kris Vanderwater’s presentation on how the Drupal plug-in system was built and how it works. This particular talk was interesting to me because in our session, Everett and I demonstrated the use of this very feature. Learning how it was conceived and all of its power made me see how much else we can do as we work to improve our software quality and extensibility.

The other session I attended that had a lasting impact for me was Peter Weber’s talk about how they created an interactive game using Javascript and SVG as a front-end and Drupal as a backend to serve it. It amazes me how people can use Drupal for such versatile purposes (in this particular case, to create interactive games to teach children) and talks like this one inspire me to go further and think outside the box more with my own Drupal applications.

In the end, I can only say I’m very thankful for having had this experience. It’s nice to feel like I contributed to the Drupal community in a even more active way than I ever done. I hope this is just the first of many DrupalCons I’ll attend in the future.

Erin Marchak and Justin Longbottom presenting. Photo courtesy of Geoff Appleby

Justin Longbottom — Developer, 3rd time attendee / 2nd time speaker

This was my third time attending a Drupal event and co-presenting with Erin Marchak. Having been through this a few times together, we’ve figured out a rhythm as co-presenters, but every presentation has its own challenges, so it was still gratifying that despite a busy week with lots of other things to distract us, we gave a presentation I’m really proud of.

Another highlight of DrupalCon for me was the chance to participate in some partner and client meetings with our friends at Acquia. As a developer, I’m not often a part of the early-stage talks before a project kick-off, so getting the chance to meet with the people behind the work I do provided valuable insight into all the work that goes on at Myplanet before any code gets written.

As for the Drupal sessions themselves, there were many that gave me food for thought, but two of my favourite sessions for the week were — unsurprisingly — run by Preston So. He is an Acquia developer and is championing Drupal’s API-first initiative, which is closely related to the topics Erin and I have presented on. His sessions are definitely the ones I’ll be thinking about for a while to come. (Ed. note: He also happens to be co-hosting a webinar with Myplanet this week!)

The Drupal Diversity & Inclusivity wall. Photo courtesy of Geoff Appleby

Mostly, though, it’s just great to meet people in real life who I typically only see as a thumbnail or username. It seems obvious now, but seeing my peers as real people is strangely important. I feel more connected to the community and like I’ve got a better sense of my place in it.

And even though I got bumped from my flight after presenting on Thursday (which also happened to be my birthday)*, DrupalCon was a lot of fun. Baltimore made for a great location — hard to beat a locale where you can enjoy BBQ and crab — and I hope to continue attending Drupal events to learn and share with the Drupal community as well as be an ambassador for Myplanet.

*Don’t worry, in the end, I got a seat that only cost me a 4 hour delay — which happened to be the perfect amount of time for birthday beverages at the airport with my colleagues!

Everett Zufelt conducting meetings between DrupalCon sessions. Photo courtesy of Justin Longbottom

Everett Zufelt — Associate Director, 5th time attendee / 3rd time speaker

This is my fifth DrupalCon, and the third at which I’ve spoken, so I’m somewhat accustomed to the pace of the week. Still, day one of DrupalCon was pretty hectic. My flight landed at 9:30am, I jumped on a planning call with my team, and then rushed over to the Acquia partner summit.

Although I have been working with Acquia for over five years, this was the first time that I have attended a partner summit. I didn’t really know what to expect, but figured I would be lectured to about all of Acquia’s products and services. This is nothing like the experience I had.

The partner summit was run as a collaborative event — there were some demonstrations, but primarily it focused on round table discussions on technical and business topics relevant to Acquia partners. It was clear that the Acquians in attendance were more interested in learning from partners than they were in ‘teaching’ us. I appreciated the candor from Acquia and from other partners, especially, and made some new connections that I believe will help us to better serve our customers.

DrupalCon attendees between sessions. Photo courtesy of Geoff Appleby

The event wrapped up with a message from Tom Erickson, Acquia’s CEO. What could have been a boring or canned speech was actually a pretty exciting message driven completely from questions posed by event participants. I especially liked Tom’s ability to pull together a cohesive presentation from questions he had received only minutes before.

All in all I would say that the event was a success. For a repeat DrupalCon attendee such as myself, it added a new layer to the proceedings and I look forward to participating in similar events with Acquia in the future.

Russell Watts — Partner Manager, 2nd time attendee

This was my second chance to attend DrupalCon and the Acquia Partner Summit. Not being a Drupal developer myself, what I look forward to most in attending DrupalCon is learning from and connecting with my colleagues in the Acquia family. As a Partner Manager at Myplanet, it helps me stay up to date and informed about the latest Acquia offerings and the innovative solutions they offer for our customers.

Drupal Trivia Night. Photo courtesy of Geoff Appleby

This year there was a strong turnout at the Partner Summit — a diverse group, ranging from independent Drupal developers and digital agencies, to network agencies and global system integrators. Acquia has a serious product and service offering (the most recent Gartner rankings of web content management leaders has Acquia neck and neck with the old guard of elites, such as Sitecore and Adobe), and the volume of support behind it proves that it’s got the right mix of elements for success.

The other thing that stood out to me at the event was Acquia’s commitment to working closely with their partners to support growth. Joe Wykes, SVP Global Channels, made particular note of some key insights and learnings during his presentation, such as how strong partners can differentiate themselves by approaching Acquia with creative offerings — something Myplanet is doing with our “Personalization Should Come Standard” Acquia Lift Bundle.

Aside from those two major insights, the highlights of the summit for me included:

  • Interactive roundtables where Everett Zufelt (Myplanet’s Associate Director of Technology) and I engaged in business owner discussions on Co-Marketing & Customer Storytelling; Market Trends to Win Against the Competition; and Co-Selling and Solution Selling. Fascinating, fun, and extremely relevant to where we see our customers’ energy being focused these days.
  • One of the best product presentations/demos I’ve seen that bridged the CMO and CIO divide and focused on the customer journey, given by Jim Shaw and Greg Lowenthal.
The scene at Oriole Park. Photo courtesy of Russell Watts

Both the Partner Summit and DrupalCon itself were great events and I’m so glad to work at Myplanet and have the chance to attend events like this. But for me, no trip to Baltimore would be complete without watching a baseball game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

OOTD: Russell Watts in his game-day get-up. Photo courtesy of Russell Watts.

It seems like every time I watch the Blue Jays play in Baltimore on TV, it rains, and it was no different in person. I spent Monday night keeping as dry as I could in a bright orange rain poncho, eating a soggy BBQ sandwich named for former slugger, Boog Powell, while watching the Rays (sadly the Jays were elsewhere that night) play the Orioles. I couldn’t have been happier.

Erin Marchak — Drupal Practice Lead & Developer, 4th time attendee / 2nd time speaker

The opening day of DrupalCon is always the most exciting for me. You have the energy of new ideas and people, you can almost feel the questions crackling in the air: “What will I see? Who will I meet? Where is Drupal going to go?” I find that first day always sets the tone for the rest of the event, and it is invariably one of openness and excitement.

This year, the keynote presentations were largely focused on conversational interfaces and how they’re going to impact the future of technology. Drupal itself is an extendable content management framework, and it’s in a fantastic position to help connect content creators and content consumers together. It ties into a lot of the activities that you’ll hear about later on, from API-first initiatives to chatbots. And as a Drupal developer, I have to tell you: It’s exciting to be on the edge!

If you’re a nerd and you know it raise your hand! 🙋🏽

Diversity and Inclusion were a big theme of the conference for me. Many of the accessibility presentations were on Tuesday, so I eagerly went to those. Fellow Canuck and personal friend Mike Gifford (OpenMedia) spoke about how the upcoming changes to Section 508 in the US are bringing our southern friends closer to the universal standards (WCAG) that Canada follows. And David Spira and Catherine McNally (Phase2) gave great, practical examples of how accessibility work brings down barriers among all individuals and brings your content closer to your users, plus they shared exercises to improve accessible content.

As the week progressed, I started to realize that once you scratch the surface of these two ideas, conversational interfaces and accessible interfaces, it becomes clear they’re deeply intertwined. As we build out diverse ways to consume our content, then we support users with diverse ways to consume the content. A conversational chatbot to help with questions is another way to reframe sets of documentation. An audio-only approach, such as Alexa, is another way to distribute content to non-visual users.

In the end, it’s about opening up the web to allow anyone to engage with your content in whatever way they feel best. And that idea is something I’ll be carrying with me long after DrupalCon!

Myplanet’s own Erin Marchak and Geoff Appleby get in on the DrupalCon photo action. Photos courtesy of Erin Marchak.

Interested in joining our team and getting to go to awesome events like DrupalCon? Apply online for one of our positions now and be sure to check out our work here.

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