This past April, I had the exciting experience of attending DrupalCon in Portland, OR, along with a group of about 1,300 developers, managers, clients, and vendors.
I’ve found that writing about something that you want to remember in detail is a wonderful way to capture the memory. It’s like a precious gift to your future self. Hence, I’d like to record a little bit about my first tech convention ever. Perhaps it will even give you extra motivation to attend the amazing Drupal event for yourself.
Let’s start with some background information
Now, I should preface with the fact that I’m relatively early in my career in the tech/web development industry. I started working full-time for my first web agency back in fall of 2018. Since then, it occurred to me that I wanted to find new ways to work on my growth and development as a web professional. In that regard, going on business trips and spending time learning at talks with my peers seemed like one of the coolest things I could do. However, back then and even until recently, I assumed the only way I’d be able to attend was if my employer sponsored and paid for the trip.
I remember thinking back then, “Perhaps, next year I can go to WordCamp” (the WordPress conference). Eventually I started working in Drupal, and I began hearing about Drupal events held at the local level and beyond. But then, of course, the pandemic put those hopes on hold for a couple years.
A new opportunity
Finally! My opportunity came working as an Associate Backend Engineer with Four Kitchens. Even though I initially wasn’t sure I would get to go, things worked out in my favor. (Thank you again, Four Kitchens!) I would be going back to my hometown of Portland for the first in-person DrupalCon since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
After my flight landed, I rode the MAX light rail train from the airport to the newly finished Hyatt Regency. The hotel was right across the street from the Oregon Convention Center, where the event was being held — talk about convenience! For that reason, it was filled with attendees like myself, traveling from all over the country, and even the world, eager to attend DrupalCon.
DrupalCon day one
While there were so many positive experiences and elements of my DrupalCon adventure, one of the very first impressions I had was on the first morning of the convention. I remember coming down from my hotel room and walking through the lobby to check out the attached “market” cafe. I made eye contact with a few people, as an extrovert like myself does, and was surprisingly met with warm smiles by complete strangers. They were obviously fellow “Drupalers” who were just as excited in anticipation as I was. The feeling of community, friendship, and welcoming I sensed in that moment was just a taste of what was to come.
It was still quite early in the morning but I figured I would check out the convention center, pick up my badge, and see if I could find any of my co-workers at our booth. After checking in and getting a copy of the program, I was excited to pick up my first pieces of swag: stickers representing the city of Portland, Drupal, and more. Another example of inclusivity appeared: small round stickers displaying your personal pronouns that could be worn on your badge if desired.
That first day continued in similar fashion: friendly conversations with helpful attendees that were more than willing to share their knowledge and expertise, meetings in break-out sessions with other new developers who were also there for their very first DrupalCon, and spending quality time with my wonderful fellow Web Chefs from Four Kitchens.
The expo hall and beyond
For a large part of my time at DrupalCon, I greeted and spoke with visitors at our Four Kitchens booth in the main expo hall. But I also made an effort to fill my own “expo hall passport” for a chance to win one of several cool prizes. This meant visiting all of the other booths in the hall, which was energizing and exciting in itself. I met several other organizations that, like Four Kitchens, make a conscious effort to do good in their communities and to work with clients that are making a difference in the lives of those who need it most.
Oh, and I was able to get my swag-hunt on while exploring the expo hall — no doubt about it. I filled my loot bags with stickers, t-shirts, mugs, notepads, and more. More importantly, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many wonderful and friendly people. The extrovert in me couldn’t get enough.
Besides booth-hopping, over the course of the next few days I attended various talks and presentations, including:
- Keynote: “How to combat global systems of oppression in the tech industry”
- “The good, the bad, the documentation: how to craft effective documentation”
- “Managing releases using Git tags and semantic versioning”
- “What is technical strategy and why do you need it?”
And of course, I just had to be there for the Driesnote (the keynote address from Drupal founder Dries Buytaert), which opened up with a heart-warming and touching video from our Drupal friends in Ukraine. I won’t say much about the rest of Driesnote, except that it was inspiring and made me want to dive deeper into Drupal and to get more integrated in its wonderful community. (Side note: The sci-fi/space exploration art used in the presentation slides were absolutely stunning and gorgeous at the same time.) You can watch the whole thing for yourself here.
Mentored contributions and getting involved with Drupal
Something else that I greatly appreciated was the opportunity to learn the basics of contributing back to the Drupal project during the First Time Contributor Workshop and the Mentored Contribution sessions. The former offered a presentation that broke down the basics of contributing and provided helpful tools and tips. The latter was a “hands-on” session where participants were split into groups at various tables and received help from one or more mentors as they selected novice-level issues on Drupal.org and worked to resolve them and make their first contribution.
Admittedly, there were some hiccups, but all-in-all I learned a lot about the Drupal project workflow, got fundamental contribution experience, and made contacts who would later be instrumental in helping me to make my very first contribution to Drupal core. I can’t say enough about how welcoming, inclusive, and inspiring these sessions were. It really made me want to dig in and become more integrated and involved in Drupal and its community.
Parties and fun, food and drinks
While I did learn a lot during the various talks and sessions I attended, I had plenty of time to hang out with my fellow Web Chefs, party, and get my groove on as well. Ask anyone who’s been to DrupalCon before — the social opportunities are definitely a memorable part of the nearly week-long event. Almost every evening after the day’s scheduled events, there was something fun to do. DrupalCon sponsors Platform.sh, Acquia, and Pantheon hosted memorable parties. Music, great food and drink, and hearty laughter with new friends and co-workers made for some unforgettable nights.
At one event (hosted by Pantheon), not only was there a live band that eventually got a large crowd boogieing out on the dance floor, but there was also a very gregarious llama making its rounds and graciously offering to have his picture taken with all who approached. That event was my favorite by far; it truly had a festival vibe with various vendor booths offering (for free of course) wood-fired pizza, chocolates, gourmet popcorn, and the like. I even had a robot pop-locking dance battle with a random “stranger” I met. I mean, how much more fun can you have?
Day 4: Conclusion and lessons learned
As the days wound down and DrupalCon came to an end, I found myself reflecting on how several days earlier (prior to flying out to Portland) I had strangely felt a bit anxious about my upcoming trip. I was even a bit apathetic with a tinge of apprehension. Why wasn’t I excited to go after wanting for so long to attend a tech convention and now finally reaching my goal? Perhaps it was just nerves and a bit of fear of the unknown.
What a contrast though! Now, on the last day of the convention, I was wishing that it would never end. I was basking in the memories of how cool, fun, wonderful, insightful, and inspiring the week had been. And to finish things off in such a lovely and perfect way, I was able to participate in a bit of trivia — teamed up with a few co-workers and one or two other Drupal friends. (We ended up winning, woot!) And during that session we were able to witness, live, the final commit that made Olivero the new default theme for Drupal core! Exciting stuff!
There’s truly so much that I experienced, learned, and enjoyed during my first DrupalCon — much more than I can share in a single blog post. Hopefully, though, you were able to get a good glimpse of what made it so amazing and have the desire and opportunity to attend the next one yourself. As for me, I’ve since moved back to the Portland metro area, so at the latest I hope to see you here (in person, fingers crossed) for DrupalCon 2024.
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