Drupalcon Baltimore 2017

Experiences and thoughts from my first Drupalcon.

Pre-note

If you come to the convention early to register and you stumble into the prenote at 8:00 AM because it's the first event of the day you might be surprised. The pre-note was a zany 45 minutes of popular culture songs mixed with as many Drupal community references as possible with some comical costumes. It was well put together and 'seriously' goofy. I shows the lighter side of the community and is a jolt to start the conference. See for yourself!

Keynote

It opened with a speaker from the Drupal Association in a very professional but relaxed tone emphasizing the project organization and community which lead into Dries' speech covering the state of the project and goals. It's what you would expect from a keynote speech and while it contained a lot of information I found a lot familiar from following the community podcasts: Talking Drupal, DrupalEasy, Lullabot Podcast, and Mediacurrent Dropcast. The consistent message was reassuring that you could be active in the community on a day to day basis in the trenches or farther away looking at the big picture and still be facing the same direction.

Building NBA.com on Drupal 8

Use cases can sometimes be very generic and shallow but jmullikin and tobby did a great job at explaining the architectural and technology of a large scale Drupal site. They walked through each layer of the technology stack from the back-end design choices, to content editor interactions with the site, to front end rendering. It was also an honest view of showing how they leveraged Drupal as a content management system doing what it does best while off-loading storage, caching, and integration of different content at the client using appropriate technologies and well worth the time.

The Right Tool for the Job: Content Layout in Drupal 8

This was proving to be a very useful and well structured talk as did all the other people standing along the walls and sitting in the isles of the session room. Unfortunately the firemarshall decided it was a safety violation and those without seats, like me, were asked to leave. The speaker, kccmcck was kind enough to give up her lunch hour and hold the talk again again during the lunch period so those who were asked to leave could still participate. Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend and will be checking back to see when the recording of the session is posted online.

Decoupled Drupal and Angular 2

Prestonso set out to give a hands-on start to finish example using  Drupal as a JSON datastore for Angular 2. It's a very modern use demonstrating Drupal's flexibility to be a solid content management system for serving up content to a variety of clients; browsers, mobile browsers, and mobile apps.

Launching Online Stores with Commerce 2.x on Drupal 8

The description of this session didn't match with what I was expecting but it was useful and reassuring to see some of the team behind Drupal Commerce sharing their experience designing and supporting Drupal's leading commerce platform. Rszramamglaman, and bojanz all shared speaking from their experience improving the product and implementing the lessons learned writing Commerce 1.x. Not always being familiar with the best Drupal modules and services to use for a project it was reassuring to see the effort put into Commerce and know it would be a solid choice for online commerce using Drupal.

Using Machine Learning to Personalize Web Experiences

Cmoscoe presented an interesting and rather case study of using machine learning to provide user recommendations based on image recognition services. It's a bleeding edge field but his example was relatable and demonstrated how his team found a solution while sharing the lessons learned along the way. Though it wasn't a technical the information was solid and beneficial to anyone looking for solutions to client problems.

Entities 201 - Creating Custom Entities

rlnorthcutt gave one of the best Acquia sponsored technical talks all day. He walked through creating a custom entity in Drupal 8 in such a way that drush and Drupal console did a lot of the framework while borrowing code from different sections of core in such a way that the audience didn't get lost in the detail or miss the detail. He took, what seems to be a more advanced Drupal developer concept in a way that is much cleared than a simple written tutorial. His use of copying and pasting code snippets from the slide deck into the example code helped the audience visualize and understand the key aspects in his demonstration. It was a great session to have before heading out of the conference because it left you with the encouragement to try something new for youself AND feeling empowered to do it.

How Changing our Estimation Process Took our Project Endgame from WTF? to FTW!

Ashleigh Thevenet gave a very professional and informational session on project estimation by sharing a technique to provide a balance between managing customer expectations, budget constraints, and project goals. When the customer understands an estimate without discovery and clear specifications can't be properly estimated it becomes possible to introduce a leading first bid for approximation purposes and then deliver meaningful results through billable time by helping refine the scope of the project, wire frames, and required features. The customer is constantly getting value for their investment and in control of how their budget is being spent on the project. As a developer who wears many hats it was refreshing to see sensible strategies to deliver value without over inflating estimates to cover the overhead of performing discovery and working with the customer to clearly formulate realistic project requirements.

Twig: Tips and Tricks

Fabien Potencier gave a knowledgeable and tip-packed talk on twig in such a way that regardless of your understanding about twig development techniques you would learn something about what it can do, what it can do but you shouldn't do, or things to avoid for best performance. He was very passionate about using the right technique for the task at hand and demonstrating ways to make twig concisely readable.

Harness the Power of View Modes!

I went to this session expecting to hear about 'View' modes but was surprised to see I had been neglecting and not properly using 'View modes'. Aimee Hannaford (Degnan) gave a VERY passionate (slightly eccentric?) session on 'view modes' and how they are everywhere and not properly used. She used some very meaningful examples and enforced good practices in a conversational and flowing manner. It's on my to-do list to re-watch this session before starting my next design layout.

Supercharge your next web app with Electron

For an end of day talk James Todd delivered a very clean, well presented, and interesting talk about how to use Electron to package JavaScript apps as desktop application.  His presentation style transformed what could be a very dry topic and delivered a meaningful take away with a pace that kept the audience engaged. Definitely one of my favorite talks despite being the least Drupal focused talks.

Extending your application to the edge: best practices for using a CDN

Although this was a 'beginner' session and I'm familiar with CDN techniques used on existing projects it was refreshing to see what other problems clients are facing (and solving) with CDNs. Hooman Beheshti presented a very knowledgeable and frank discussion of technologies provided by CDNs and how measuring the quality of a CDN varies depending on the freshness of the CDN's cache (memory verses disk). Regardless of what web technology a project uses I walked away with new ideas to implement and consider next time I implement a CDN.


Things to Remember for Next Year

  • Check the BoF (Birds of a Feather) board often throughout the conference. I didn't think I had anything to offer or gain from the BoF until I saw a past gathering that was of particular interest to me.
  • If the session is important to you then get a seat - even if you don't feel like sitting. A few of the smaller rooms had limited attendance and participants were turned away due to maximum room occupancy restrictions. 

Thanks to everyone who made my first Drupalcon possible. Up until this point I've attended attended DrupalCamp NJ and Drupaldelphia for a few years in a row and I have to say thanks to those involved in the regional events, while they weren't at the scale of Drupalcon they were every bit (if not better) than what I've seen at the North American conference.

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