In-person events are back! Reflecting on DrupalCon Portland

May 10 2022

“It's great to be back together with so many familiar faces and individuals who are so passionate about Drupal. It’s a one-of-a-kind community that lets us have a chance to be a part of something bigger than ourselves."

Glenn Hilton, CEO & Founder

The largest Drupal event of 2022, DrupalCon Portland, is over. But we know for sure that DrupalCon never ends! It continues in reminiscences, recaps, discussions, and ambitious plans for the next Drupal event, whether regionally or internationally. And, most importantly, it continues in the desire to give back to the wonderful community and to contribute to the brightest future of Drupal.

Now the dust has settled on this year’s event, we chatted with some of our team who attended, about their experience of DrupalCon. Read on to discover their views on the event, on what makes the Drupal community special, and so much more.

So when was the first time you visited a DrupalCon, and could you share what has changed about the event since then?

Amanda: This was my first in-person DrupalCon! My very first event was the virtual DrupalCon North America 2021. Although the virtual conference provided accessible means for attending sessions and making connections, it was refreshing to meet some of my remote colleagues for the first time. There is an irreplaceable sense of camaraderie in collaborating at in-person events. You may not have met the person sitting next to you, but once the session starts, you already have something in common, whether it be problem-solving or storytelling.

This year, I joined the Women in Drupal luncheon where some shared their experiences and intersectional challenges in paving a course for themselves. Although I’ve only just experienced my second DrupalCon, I’m happy to see the Drupal Community continue to be welcoming. That shined through virtually and in person.

Glenn: My first DrupalCon was in DC back in 2009. Drupal was still fairly new, people were just learning about it, and there was a lot of buzz around it. This time around, although Covid travel restrictions and reticence hampered the attendance somewhat, a lot of people were amped and ready to get back out and reconnect with the community. 

Rosie: I’d agree, compared with DrupalCon Seattle, which was my first DrupalCon, this event was much smaller but the enthusiasm of attendees was easily as great, if not more so!  The size also meant that you’d get to chat with people multiple times through the event and it was much easier to build a rapport.

So it was the first in-person DrupalCon since 2019! Was it fun to finally chat with other Drupalers face-to-face?

John: Yeah, it definitely was nice to see and talk to people again and to hang out for a few days with everyone.  It felt like the audience was definitely smaller but quite intimate — like people were there for a purpose.

G: For people who've been coming to the event for a long time, like myself, it was great to get that sense of seeing the people that you know so well. It felt so cool being able to go to the afterparties together and experience that kind of hype of reconnecting again after not seeing one another in person for three years.

What about Driesnote — did you have a chance to hear it and what are your impressions?

G: I always like the Driesnote for being able to see the future roadmap. This time it was for Drupal 10 and 11 and how Drupal is going to be improving the UI. The new front-end theme Olivero and the backend admin theme Claro that have been introduced will be a long-awaited improvement.

Olivero theme at Driesnote
Olivero theme at Driesnote
Claro theme at Driesnote
Claro theme at Driesnote

There was also some buzz around automatic updates and how there's going to be some similarities to what we are typically used to in other open-source or proprietary platforms. In some of them you can kind of literally just do things in a few clicks. There should be some nice improvements in that regard with upcoming releases. 

Automated Updates at Driesnote
Automated Updates at Driesnote

Another positive area highlighted is the commitment to the stabilization of the platform as we're seeing it now. No more major shifts going to be happening anytime soon that would require everybody to start from scratch all over again and migrate to a new version. These were kind of things that people experienced having to shift from Drupal 7 to 8 or 9. Hopefully, this will remain true.

Proposed initiatives for Drupal 11 at Driesnote
Proposed initiatives for Drupal 11 at Driesnote

There was also a very well-received response to the video highlighting our Drupal community in Ukraine. Seeing a couple of our team members up there, Alla and Anatolii was awesome. We're so proud of them for their courage and commitment to their country. I love that Dries, Baddy, and the Drupal Association are so behind Ukraine at this time. 

Support for Ukraine at Driesnote’s intro
Support for Ukraine at Driesnote’s intro
Alla of ImageX in the Ukrainian presentation at Driesnote
Alla of ImageX in the Ukrainian presentation at Driesnote
Anatolii of ImageX  in the Ukrainian presentation at Driesnote
Anatolii of ImageX  in the Ukrainian presentation at Driesnote

Outside of the Driesnote, can you share any sessions that impressed you, and what was special about them?

A: I attended Drupal Community Events: How we've weathered the storm and what's on the other side? The pandemic has undoubtedly affected how event organizers approach providing health-conscious spaces to share ideas, alongside the challenge of mitigating “Zoom fatigue.” The Drupal community recognizes the waves we’ve sailed thus far have not entirely subsided. They have provided thoughtful alternatives and tips in ensuring our community can stay connected through virtual and hybrid events. As one of the organizers of the Vancouver Drupal Cafes, this session motivated me to pursue Drupal’s Code of Conduct contact training. Whether you’re a marketer, event organizer, or developer, looking for non-code contribution opportunities, this is a great way to give back to the Drupal community by maintaining an inclusive and safe event space.

R: I didn’t get to sit in on too many sessions as the exhibition hall was busy through the event, however, I’m looking forward to catching up with lots in the coming weeks on demand.

Can you share more about your view of the Drupal Association’s challenges and plans for the future and if, or how, ImageX is involved?

G: I believe they're putting a plan together and have identified some key things that they need to focus on. In my mind, the key areas should include: 

1) Contribution. Obviously, contribution by the community is huge. It was a big subject around the conference that we need more and more people contributing. We need to have people continue to embrace those 40,000 modules and make sure that supporting upgrade paths and everything else is done. Every Drupaler is responsible for their modules, but there's more emphasis now on agencies supporting collectively and dedicating people within their teams.  There are some agencies that have created a role for a full-time person to be working on contributions and within the agency space. There’s definitely movement happening now where we’re dedicating even more time towards these contributions and having dedicated resources.

At ImageX our approach is slightly different in this regard — with our research and innovation fund, we've been focusing on a % of our total hours in the year dedicated towards contributions. That's spread out across the whole team.   Although it’s a different approach, we're very committed at ImageX to contributing to Drupal and being part of that push.

Call for support from the Drupal Association at Driesnote’s intro
Call for support from the Drupal Association at Driesnote’s intro

2) Marketing. I think the other big push will be within marketing. Everybody sees the need for it, seeing that the people are making buying decisions increasingly from a marketing standpoint. There needs to be a movement within the Drupal Association and supporting agencies. This is one area that we've been helping to move forward with team members contributing time to the Promote Drupal campaign, which is a campaign led by community members and the Drupal Association. These committees have been helping to participate in the redesigns of drupal.org and also the broader marketing required to attract more people to the platform. 

3) Innovation. The third area for Drupal, which is really important to emphasize is innovation. Innovation is something that has spurred Drupal from the start. We absolutely need to push forward and see Drupal innovating, how they are pushing the envelope, and making sure that Drupal is the best open-source CMS out there for enterprise organizations. We, too, want to be a part of that and have our team working towards additional modules to improve the user experience.

J: We're working right now with the Bootstrap Layout Builder to try and help individuals, who are using Drupal, to have more control over the tool.  For instance, instead of a marketer having to feed things to developers, they can utilize the tool more, make changes themselves, slide sections around, change the layout, the colors, etc. We’ve just released a new blocks module too, look out for more information soon on how that can help marketers with their Drupal layouts.

Bootstrap Layout Builder module maintained by the ImageX team
Bootstrap Layout Builder module created by the ImageX team

Moving back to the event itself, what would you say DrupalCon means to you?

A: There’s something for everyone and a place for everyone. DrupalCon embodies mentorship, sharing ideas, and inclusivity no matter your tenure or area of expertise. Professionals travel from all over the world for mutual learning through collaboration and helping each other succeed is greatly valued. To me, DrupalCon means unity between individuals that are as friendly as they are ambitious. There’s no doubt that if you attend DrupalCon, you will connect with those who are passionate about building and creating more effective, accessible, and enjoyable solutions for all.

G: I think it's a great chance to reconnect with the community. But more importantly, by attending, you're supporting the Drupal cause and the Drupal Association and you're supporting all the people that are pushing Drupal forward. 

The key message is that we can't just be takers. As an individual or organization that uses Drupal, we need to be givers and DrupalCon is a chance for us to give back. It's a way that organizations can commit to supporting the Drupal movement and the Drupal Association. And it’s also a chance for us to connect with all the key players in the Drupal movement and, being one of those key players, it's important to have a voice and a presence.

You mentioned the exhibition hall was busy, did you have many guests at the ImageX booth?

A: Definitely. I met many long-term seasoned Drupalers who were excited to finally catch up with their community. There were some budding Drupalers who were ready to dive into training. Lots of industry professionals came to hear about our expertise with the platform.

Our Higher Education case studies were a conversation starter for some of the industry professionals and our Day In The Life videos showcasing the daily lives of ImageX team members caught the eye of many attendees. Our Drupal face masks also prompted visitors to look for our booth and throughout the week we loved seeing our Drupal peers wear them in and around the area!

If you had a chance to add something new to the current format of DrupalCon, what would it be?

Bjorn: It could be considered to start moving away from 100% presentations and more toward learning sessions or interactive, more in-depth discussions.  I feel like Drupal has made attempts at that over the years and I think that's always been super well received. I think the presentation format just naturally lends itself to intermittent engagement. It leads to a certain amount of sameness as you attend four days of a conference with the same thing in the same format, four or five or six times. I think it's very, very beneficial to consider breaking the out-of-the-box format and varying it up. 

A: I agree. I had conversations at our booth that many of the sessions were high-level and didn’t always provide the depth needed for building skills. I think something more practical and interactive is what many attendees want in future sessions. 

If you could describe this DrupalCon in three words, what would they be?

A: Resourceful, inventive, empathetic

R: Community, busy, connection.

B: Open, inclusive, passionate.

G: Connect, inspire, contribute.

Wrap-up

No matter what city DrupalCon takes place in, and no matter how the format may vary, the core values of the Drupal community stay the same. This is what makes DrupalCon such an irresistible place where we all want to meet and connect. We hope to see you at this passionate, inspirational, inclusive event again and again in the future!

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