DrupalCon Seattle Day 1 & 2 Recap: Here We Go Again
It’s been roughly four years since I last attended any DrupalCon, the one in L.A. being my endmost venture to the North American watering hole. After that, I took a break from the seasonal migration and remained at home, in the office, like an overfed cat with agoraphobia.
Normally I would invest my time in writing about attending sessions and/or how talks went from our speakers or BoFs and other social events. But since I spent the better half of Monday on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic, I will be taking this opportunity to compare this weeks experience to the one I had from four years ago.
Besides the summits and the different ways you can buy the ticket nowadays, not much has really changed. DrupalCon remains the biggest Drupal event in the world, and you will meet an overabundance of incredibly friendly people there.
Part 1: The journey to Seattle
Like all DrupalCons for me, this one also began with an elongated trip through several airports, first a 1h 5min hop from Zurich to Amsterdam, followed by a roughly ten-hour flight to touch down at Seattle Tacoma International Airport.
Italy vs. France
The flights went smooth and apart from the occasional shakedown, I didn’t notice much uneasiness. That is until I was served lunch. There were several intriguing options, I had to make a comprehensive decision between Caesar salad, a vegetarian mozzarella pizza or a turkey and cheese croissant. Naturally given my never-ending love for Italian cuisine I opted for the pizza but it seemed that by the time the food cart reached my row, they were out.
Instead, I received a box that read “Fresh Croissant“ in big, classy letters printed on a reasonably attractive shell showcasing a map of Paris. Trading Italy for France couldn't be that bad, surely. But upon opening my small box of doom I was treated to what must have been the remains of a gutter rat, shipped directly from the catacombs of Paris onto my food tray. It‘s hard to describe the shape, consistency, and scent of the box innards without using chemical compositions or comparison to what floats around in a sewer. The temperature also seemed to vary quite a bit from top to bottom, further confirming my theory of it being alive at one point.
Whatever this was, it wasn't a “Parmesan Cheese, Mature Cheddar Cheese & Turkey” croissant.
Order at the border
Once landed I was keen to leave the rat behind and make my way through the checkpoints. I last visited the US in 2015 and have an ESTA, so I was sure I would be able to get through quickly and effortlessly.
There were only 2 lines, US/Canadian citizens and ESTA/VISA holders, the latter was full of the majority of the passengers from my flight. Because of my seating arrangements, I exited the air tube quite late. The wait was long enough that every so often a disgruntled passenger reached terminal annoyance and broke down before attempting to bargain with the officer who was making his rounds or one of the airport staff members. Results of these interactions varied between total denial and instant gratification. I didn't bother trying to negotiate, I wasn't in a particular hurry, but after thirty minutes of barely any movement, my knees were getting unhappy.
At some point, one of the staffers approached me and asked if I had visited the US since 2008. When I answered positively he immediately pointed me towards line 1. Now, I’m no UX expert but perhaps that information could have been included on the signs. When others within my vicinity heard about my redirection, they promptly followed suit. Soon I was racing most of line two as they migrated like a flock of seagulls to line 1. We waited again.
But that wasn't the end of it. After I checked through the automated migration ATM I had to stand in line again for the final stamp of approval. There were 6 border control officers working that day. Some faster than others and some nicer than others, one, in particular, was having a rough start to the week.
He must have smelled me because he wasn't exactly thrilled when I approached. Our interaction went something like this:
Officer McNasty: “You here for business or pleasure?”
Officer McNasty: “There is no both, there is either business or pleasure. Are you here for business or pleasure?”
Me: “One week business, one week holiday.”
He responded with a frown that would have put my math teacher to shame, but a few minor questions later I finally received the approving stamp as he silently pointed me towards the escalator down to the baggage claim. I was free. Sort of.
The first one to spot both me and my suitcase gets a drink at DC Seattle.
At last, I made it to Seattle, riding into the city I was treated with tall, striking buildings and a glimpse of the Harbour.
Part 2: The venue and playing “Guess who?”
The fortress of not so solitude
This year, DrupalCon is being held at the Washington State Convention Center. Built in 1988, this large 415’000 sqft complex is humongous compared to the European counterparts. It’s also located in what I would call “Downtown” Seattle. Take that with a grain of salt though as I base this on the six hours I’ve been in the city.
The building also sits on top of a freeway, which you can spot and overlook while you’re inside of it, neat!
When I first arrived, it took me some time to find the entrance. The building, depending on where you approach it from, is rather defensive and resembles a fortress more than a convention centre (think of the freeway as the moat). Even after finding the entrance, if you come in from the west you’ll have to use 4-6 escalators before you see any rooms.
After collecting my badge from the friendly volunteers I made my way through the halls and started to look for familiar faces. DrupalCons are always tricky, you end up meeting a lot of people who seem to know you (or not) and I often have trouble remembering if I’ve met them.
During times like these, I’d like to play the good old “Guess who?” game. The goal is to keep the conversation going until you can figure out who you’re talking to before your cover gets blown.
Admittedly I've never successfully finished a session, but the strategy I’d recommend is starting the conversation with “Oh wow, it's been quite a while hasn’t it? What have you been up to since we last met?”. Hopefully make your opponent reveal some crucial information about their job, location, and where you met previously. If you're lucky one of these things will tip you off and trigger a spark to put that name on that face.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of my blank stare, I apologize. it's not you, it's me.
The booth, the booth, the booth is unattended
This is one of the first years Amazee Labs doesn't have a physical booth, but our sister company amazee.io does. I was giddy with my freedom to wander and check out the exhibition hall and while it was still under construction.
If you’re around the exhibit hall you can find some Amazees, of both the io and Labs variety hanging out at the io booth. Come and say hello!
While the booth was being constructed several of our peeps dug themselves into the contribution hall on the 6th floor.
You can easily spot John from about 600 miles away as he overlooks the kingdom of room 6A with his standing desk contraption. It’s a great conversation starter really, for the time I sat there I witnessed several hundred people approaching him and asking about every little detail of his mobile turret unit.
So if the makers of this product are reading this post I think they should consider making John the official global ambassador of this mobile standup desk unit solution that fits into a backpack and gets a pass from the TSA.
Part 3: Extracurricular activities and the endless consumption of beverages
Monday evening presented itself with several social offerings, amongst which was a pub crawl that was attended by a few of the fellowship.
– Image courtesy of Josef Dabernig (@dasjo)
Since I began to fall asleep while walking (I was still running on Zurich time so technically it was around 3 am) I decided to skip the crawl as that would have ended up in a different kind of pizza.
But before that, I realized that for the first time ever, I forgot to pack a toothbrush and some paste. So after taking a nap for about an hour, I was forced to venture out again, this time to find the holy brush.
It’s a restaurant
Tuesday evening also saw the Amazee dinner, were we collectively gathered and feasted on quality beverages in a place called “Outlier”. The food was indeed fantastic, some people even dropped phrases such as “this is the best _________ I ever had in a restaurant”.
Everyone seemed equally amazed about the quality of the provided liquid but not the selection. Which is why several of us left afterwards in search of alternatives to quench one's thirst.
In the end, it was a great, cosy dinner, filled with friends and family alike.
Part 4: Conclusion and final thoughts
Should you go or should you stay?
So, then you wonder, what's this all about, what is the meaning of this stretched out the first impression? To be honest, I’m not sure. You probably noticed that I didn't compare it all that much to L.A., the reason for it is very simple, there is not much comparing needed.
While the venue and sessions may change, and the outside activities like the pub crawls are fun and inviting, there’s not really a wrong way to do DrupalCon. You can find your own way, roam around freely in town and every now and then you might run into some Drupal people that couldn’t be more different but somehow share the same passion.