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DrupalCon Prague wrap up

26 September 2013

This is the fourth DrupalCon I attended. My first DrupalCon was in Copenhagen and over the past few years, DrupalCon brought me to London, Munich and now Prague. As always the atmosphere was great. Being around so many professionals that all share the same passion for technology is about as interesting as it can get. But there was something about this DrupalCon that didn't make it as awesome as previous editions. Maybe it has outgrown itself, maybe there is a lack of focus in terms of target audience or experience level, or maybe the visibility that comes with giving a session has pushed away the more in-depth sessions in favor of company sponsored product pitches sessions.

That aside, it was still a very interesting DrupalCon! It's amazing to see a group of volunteers (co-)organize such a mega-event!
A big thank you for that.

Day 1 : A difficult start

Reading through the session descriptions prior to coming to Prague, I got quite exited about my personal schedule for day 1:

Dries' keynote was interesting as always. He talked about the state of Drupal and thanked some of the Drupal rockstars that put a huge amount of time and effort in making Drupal 8 possible. One message came through really clear however, and that is that there is still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done on Drupal 8, and that the adoption of Drupal 8 could be something to be slightly afraid of. It's so new in comparison to Drupal 7 that a part of the community might even leave. At PHPro, we are really looking forward to D8 however. We focus on professional, enterprise-level, PHP development. So, the arrival of Symfony in the Drupal ecosystem is actually good news for us. It will allow us to finally tear down the walls between our different teams and deliver even better projects.

The first real session brought some interesting ideas to the table. In most of our Drupal projects we use Varnish as a reverse-proxy cache to tremendesly speed up anonymous trafic. The idea of tagging pages with the content that is displayed on that page (as in: also in blocks, views, rendered tokens,.. ) is neat and allows to purge pages from the cache more efficiently. Subsequently, I joined the performance lab, which is a new track concept at DrupalCon that is a bit more hands-on than the other tracks. Great stuff, unfortunately the internet went down during the sessions making it nearly impossible to live demo most of the tips. Still, it was good to see many of our company best practices confirmed and to learn about some of the less common performance improvements.

So far, so good. The two last sessions of the day were disapointing and this is something that - for me - really needs to change towards the next DrupalCons. First of all, session descriptions should really be aligned more with the actual presentation content. A conference ticket is not cheap, so I think it's fair to expect that speakers actually bring fresh knowledge to the table. Session proposals should define clear goals and what the deliverables will be, and live up to it. More important, I think that sessions should focus on the how to question, instead of the why or what question. Most of us encounter the same issues, so at a conference we would like to hear answers and see working implementation examples/details. Not yet another confirmation that you indeed are having the same issues as us.

Day 2 : We're getting there ;-)

The second day of the conference again boosted really promising sessions, here's my personal schedule for day 2:

Lisa talked about governance. At first sight it might sound a little boring, but when working with larger organisations like we often do, it's important to imply a certain level of IT governance in most projects. The session was well brought and I'm sure it all made us think. Not only about our own projects, but also about how Drupal as a community can work towards a better structure while remaining as open as possible.

WF Tools is a collection of Drupal modules for building a development workflow management website. The management website is a standalone Drupal site that is responsible for coordinating deployments of code, content and config in a coordinated way between multiple environments. It's very new but sounds very promising, so we are really looking forward to try and use it in one of our next projects. The session even sported a demo. Great! The enterprise e-commerce session was actually mind-blowing, hard to describe in just a couple of sentences, so be sure to check the session out.

The Wunderkraut session was entertaining, but that was more or less it. The main idea was that every speaker had about 5 minutes to make a point with auto-advancing slides. Hilarious at some points. Sadly, some of the more interesting topics didn't get enough time while others were actually of no value at all. One I particularly liked was David Corbacho talking about Parkinson's Law: "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion". It's something I often reflect about when working on proposals, project plans, etc. The Johnson & Johnson presentation was an interesting case on how to implement Drupal in a multi-brand company. 

Day 3 : Woop woop!

Today started with a keynote I really looked forward to. I've been following Aral Balkan for a couple of years now, but it was the first time I actually had the chance to see him live at work. He gave a very inspirational talk about Open Source design and what that means for consumer products. Really thought provoking, so be sure to check the recording! Here's my full schedule for day 3:

Creating prototypes is something we currently not often do at PHPro. Don't get me wrong though. We do make wireframes, sometimes clickable, sometimes not. We also do a lot of Proof Of Concepts, but the approach that was proposed throughout the session was actually very interesting and new to me. It's certainly a topic to further investigate.

Many of the Drupal websites we deliver are multilingual and although Drupal is 100% translatable, translation management in Drupal is not a walk in the park. You don't really have an overview of what is translated and what not, it happens in many different places of the back-end, etc. The translation management tool aims at simplifying and centralising many of the translation tasks and it seems like they managed to fulfill this goal. The panopoly session gave a good insight into the features of this Drupal distribution, but it seems like its existance might be endangered by Drupal 8 since many of the problems that were addressed in Panopoly are actually built into core now.

Overall conclusion

Great, but there is room for improvement. I strongly believe that we need a new way to evaluate session proposals so we can:

  • Eliminate sessions that are merely a pitch
  • Better define beginner / intermediate / advanced levels
  • Go home with new knowledge and solutions

See you next year, in Amsterdam!