DrupalCamp Brighton 2016 Learns

Group photo of all the 2016 attendees

DrupalCamp Brighton (DCB) 2016 was a resounding success and I am very proud to have played a leading role in it this year as a co-chairman alongside kevin elliott. Now that it is all wrapped up, I have been reflecting on what this camp has taught me about our community, where we sit and what this means for agencies like miggle.


For those of you whom aren’t familiar with DCB 2016, it was a camp for Drupal developers to present, listen, discuss, deliberate, sprint, and conceptualise pioneering Drupal things amongst each other on the South Coast of England. It took place on the 17th-19th of June in Brighton. You can find out more here — http://www.drupalcampbrighton.co.uk/

Organising a Camp is Tough–Without Good Planning and Help

First off, the learns… I don’t think I quite knew how difficult it is to put on a camp until I helped with this one. There are quite a few logistics to organise none of which are particularly difficult, all of which take time. Time is of the essence when organising a camp but with some persistence and planning (something where we struggled) you can pull it off quite easily. Here are some of the learns:

  • Date — Get your date on drupal.org ASAP but don’t put it on a holiday. DCB happened to fall on Fathers day and was the weekend before DevDays which led to lower attendance than could have been achieved.
  • Location — We did really well this year by having a very central and easy to get location this year. One thing that needs improvement for next year is the wheelchair accessible facilities and having a sprint room throughout the weekend.
  • Sponsors — Sponsorship was a bit lower than in past years. Had we communicated with potential sponsors earlier and worked on a really good sponsorship pack then I think the take up would have been a lot higher (Also, don’t say you can give more benefits to sponsors than you can unless you want last minute scrambling).
  • Volunteers — We had plenty of volunteers on the day but we needed more throughout the whole process.
  • Food and Coffee — Always room for improvement there…
https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/479000110338335282/
  • Format — I think the general consensus is that the traditional camp style is getting a bit boring for a lot of people. Next year, we will need to pursue other formats and tracks. Also, we need to re-entertain the idea of a business day or training on the Friday.
  • Marketing — We did well at marketing the event but it was a bit too late with too few updates. This year we will need a better content strategy to get the word out to different avenues.
  • Timing — The earlier you start the process the more momentum you can achieve. Set deadlines well in advance of when you actually need something because developers procrastinate!

The Community is Tired

The other thing I found in DCB is that the community is tired and a bit burnt out. A lot time, effort, and money, has gone into making Drupal 8 a reality. I honestly believe it has taken a toll on the Drupal community and has impacted our local Brighton community. Compared with last year, when we were inundated with volunteers, it was really difficult to find local volunteers to help out with various bits and pieces of the camp. It was also more difficult than in years past to obtain sponsors and the majority of our sponsors went for lower level packages. This is where my hypothesis starts to come in. I think that Drupal 8’s lengthly launch has had quite a large impact on work for agencies. From a client’s perspective, it is quite difficult to sign-off on large chunks of Drupal 7 work if you’re worried about whether or not the Drupal 8 is just around the corner. As soon as that happened, which I believe to have started in early 2015, new work dried up and the focus had to change to maintaining existing relationships. This created issues for profitability margins which could have been fed back into the community (paying developers to contribute, sponsoring events, etc.) and get Drupal 8 past the finish line sooner. Fast forward to November 19th, when Drupal 8 was released, and clients start to ask about Drupal 8. But as those of us using Drupal for awhile all know, it takes about a year for contrib to catch up during which period our excitement is steadily dropping. The graph below illustrated where I have perceived the levels of excitement are between devs and clients.

My perceived levels of excitement for Drupal 8

It really surprised me the level of uncertainty and excitement for Drupal 8 at DCB when I’ve started seeing quite a lot of really good Drupal 8 projects start popping up. With contrib modules like Token and pathauto starting to see full releases the development hurdles are being lessened on a daily basis so now seems like a great time to start projects in Drupal 8.

Drupal 8 is Great — Adoption is Low

I present techniques for developing with Drupal 8 in a team environment

I presented a session on how we are developing with Drupal 8 at miggle. In my session I discussed how we’ve adapted our processes and deployment methods in Drupal 8 (so that you don’t have to). One of the things that became very apparent to me when writing up my slides, is how good Drupal 8 is as a CMS. There are so many features that from a developer or site-builder’s perspective “just make sense.” One of the things I am really enjoying about Drupal 8 is that I don’t feel like I am making dirty hacks to programme in the “right way” using techniques such as OOP. One of the things that really surprised me is that this view seemed to be shared by a lot fewer people than I had expected. There were quite a few sessions this year which contemplated whether or not now is the time to get started with D8 and I had blank faces in my session when I explained some of the more fundamental technologies in D8.

Working for an agency, I know how tough it is to make the numbers work for a new project especially with a new CMS that has a lot of unknowns. However, my two cents is this. Yes, there are quite a few unknowns in Drupal 8 and it has a few bugs but there are also quite a few unknowns and bugs in Drupal 7. The difference is the unknowns in Drupal 8 are based on very well-architected system whereas Drupal 7 is based on 16 years of hacks and adaptations. Also, an added Drupal 8 bonus is you can sell your clients a solution with a longer shelf life and a solution that won’t be deprecated when Drupal 9 comes out. Drupal 8 is still Drupal, now it has a more modernised way of doing things. I suggest you take a punt on D8, if you haven’t already, because I think you find (like I have) that it is really tough to go back to Drupal 8.

It’s Not Doom and Gloom — We Need to Focus on Redefining the Stigma of Drupal

As much as this sounds all doom and gloom, it isn’t. As someone who believes in Drupal and it’s community, I know this a just a blip that we will rebound, learn and improve from. We are already seeing examples of this such as adding a new “Being Human” track to DrupalCon Dublin 2016 and through distros such as Acquia Lightning which improve the “out-of-the-box” usability of Drupal 8. As a community, we need involve ourselves further to improve upon those initiatives and let those those who have spent so much time to get Drupal 8 released have a chance to recharge their batteries. I think we can all agree that usability of Drupal is still a pain point especially when compared to other CMS’. However, with Drupal 8 we now have an architecture to fix a lot of those pain points. As a community, we need to ensure that when we are starting the Drupal 8 journey that we don’t port over a lot of the Drupal-isms and view this as a fresh start. The more we do things in a modern and best practice way, the more we can expand our audience to people and developers who perceive Drupal as having a stigma of a lot of “Drupal-isms” and a high learning curve. The time is now, if you are an agency like miggle, or a developer that is debating whether or not to take the plunge, I recommend that you have a go with the world’s best CMS and I am sure you won’t look back!

This is all speculations based on my hunches, opinions, analysis, discussions, and consensus’ from DCB2016. Do you have a different opinion or outlook? Then share your ideas below!