Unfortunately due to the pandemic, the planned DrupalCon for North America had to be rearranged and revised. It was originally scheduled to take place in Minneapolis from Monday 18th May – Friday 22nd May. Instead, the Drupal Association acted quickly and resourcefully to transform the event into a virtual remote conference.
At first, myself and others in the community were skeptical about how a virtual conference would compare to our vibrant in-person events; would it feel like a welcoming, inspiring, and collaborative environment?
Come for the code, stay for the people
Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with everything, from the organisation of the event, the diverse range of speakers, the fun social activities, and the networking opportunities. It exceeded my expectations and I think there’s a unanimous sentiment: DrupalCon Global was a huge success!
How was the experience?
Aside from a few hiccups in the beginning, the conference ran smoothly once the waves of connection issues flattened out.
There were some notable differences from an in-person conference: the line for coffee was nonexistent, and you would not be silently judged for entering or leaving a session half-way through. Instead, you could just click through to virtually jump between parallel sessions in other tracks, something that is more difficult to do in person. This allowed attendees to freely explore and find the right sessions throughout the conference.
Overall, DrupalCon Global was a fantastic alternative that really brought together the community from around the world. Since a virtual conference eliminates travel considerations, it was truly more global than the originally planned event. I was able to network with people ranging from Sydney, Australia all the way to California, United States and down to people in Johannesburg, South Africa.
I was excited to represent as a mentor to two recipients of the scholarship program. One of my mentees was based in Lagos, Nigeria and the other in Kerala, India. It was an honour to be given the opportunity to welcome new members to the Drupal community and guide them through the conference.
We started off the conference with Vincenzo of amazee.io, cooking pasta live from his home in Catania, Italy, for over 1500 event attendees. I’m sure some of the people who tuned in may have wondered if they were attending a conference related to Drupal or to cooking, but either way, many people really enjoyed the chance to improve their “PastaOps” skills.
After we all worked up an appetite from admiring the culinary wonder of Pasta al amazee.io, we were ready to jump into the latest news and initiatives from the community with Dries Buytaert opening up with the Driesnote. I was awe-struck to see photos and videos of the CelebrateDrupal.org platform used as part of the keynote. I was part of the community team that designed, built, and launched the website with the sole purpose to bring people together to celebrate Drupal and we’ve been overwhelmed with the positive responses leading up to the release of Drupal 9.
Dries laid out the five initiatives to work on as part of Drupal 10’s release cycle:
- Drupal 10 readiness
- An easier out-of-the-box experience
- A new front-end theme (Olivero)
- Automated updates for security releases
- An official JS menu component for React and Vue
You can read more about each of those initiatives in the State of Drupal presentation (July 2020).
With all DrupalCons, there comes a time to take the official DrupalCon Photo. However, with everything being remote, we needed something different. Tim Lehnen of the Drupal Association asked everyone to take a selfie and upload it to the CelebrateDrupal.org platform, while I spent the next day figuring out how best to display the images.
I came up with arranging the images in the shape of the new evergreen Drupal logo using CSS Grid to represent that the people, the community, are what makes Drupal great. Check out the DrupalCon Global 2020 - Photo.
As sponsors, both Amazee Labs and amazee.io had virtual exhibit booths. These booths allowed us to showcase our recent videos, featuring closer looks at our experience in maintenance as well as recent updates to Lagoon. We ran a few live broadcasts within our booths. During these events, a few Amazees and special guests used a virtual room to talk about life at Amazee, our day-to-day job, and technologies we’re excited about. A benefit of the online format was that we could invite attendees to join the video chat to ask or answer questions live as well as in the booth chat room.
It was quite interesting to be able to virtually walk into other sponsors' exhibit booths and connect with them. They were all really friendly and welcoming with some sponsors giving away prizes if you took part in their virtual quiz or competed in a game, just like at the in-person conference.
No DrupalCon is complete without BoFs (Birds of a Feather), and this time was no exception. We had various BoFs such as the resurgence of the #DrupalNapping corner, as well as a BoF about the upcoming DrupalCon Europe; and of course, the #DrupalPets BoF in which everyone brought their pet to the video call to virtually meet each other.
There were quite a few planned social events such as meditation by Rahul Dewan and multiple trivia nights to quench our thirst for fun interactive comedic gold. I took part in one of the three trivia nights and it felt just as fun and competitive as the in-person event.
Sessions and Summits
Aside from the keynote sessions which took place on the main stage, we also had multiple session tracks covering a wide range of topics. Accompanying the session tracks, there were several different summits which took a deep-dive into specific fields such as the Government Summit or the Healthcare Summit.
I attended the Performance and Scaling Summit which had four amazing speakers:
- Mike Herchel - Front-end performance audit
- Janna Malikova - Load testing your Drupal website before it's too late
- Shane Thomas - Decoupled performance
- Michael Schmid - How to survive COVID-19 as a hosting provider
I found the summit very informative, notably learning that the GovCMS platform recorded over 100,000 page views per minute with 187,000 concurrent users. In order to reach that level of web scale, you really need a performant website that returns the time to first byte (TTFB) in less than 0.3 seconds.
Furthermore, I attended the “Volunteer-led strategies for helping the Drupal community” group session by Alanna Burke, Elli Ludwigson, Ruby Sinreich, and Tara King. They discussed why diversity, equity, & inclusion is everyone’s responsibility. They highlighted the importance of intersectional feminism, anti-racism, and how to go about taking action.
Mitchell Baker gave an inspirational keynote about what we, the open-source community, means by “open.” Mitchell shared insights from over two decades leading Mozilla and how the open-source community can contribute to a better Internet with diversity being essential to making this happen.
Jacqueline Gibson talked about Digital Inequity for the Black community. A key learning was that company culture is step one in building an inclusive and diverse team. A welcoming, safe space starts with the team members, who then hold their managers' feet to the fire to sustain and nurture that culture.
Another talk that resonated with me was Leslie Gibson’s talk on building a flexible digital brand. Leslie took us through the digital event strategy of Black Womxn For, and explained how to empower local community members.
Local communities trust the people they know and vice versa
The last session I attended was John Albin’s talk on “Progressively decouple Drupal 8 with GraphQL and Twig”. I found that it was very informative as it covered not only how to get started with the GraphQL Twig module but also touched on the history of Drupal with the difficulties of learning the render API with Twig for Drupal 8.
There were so many more sessions with amazing speakers, I highly advise checking out the on-demand content which will become free to the public by September 2020.
So if you're as passionate about Drupal web development and the open-source community as we are, get in touch!