I went to my first Drupal conference Drupal GovCon, last week. I have been to other conferences, primarily on the vendor side, but this was the first one I went solely as an attendee. Carson (my husband) is an expert in content management systems and has been working with Drupal for quite a while. I have never worked with it, but since we are highlighting it as a core competency of Digital Ambit I thought it was time to get some more exposure. I had 3 goals for the conference: give back to the Drupal community; make some of my own contacts in the Drupal community; and expand my technical knowledge of Drupal.
Unfortunately, I got called to an on-sight client meeting on the first day of Drupal GovCon. I was disappointed to miss Angie Byron‘s (webchick), keynote on Drupal 8. Not only is she iconic in the Drupal community, I’m sure it would have done a bit to lessen the knowledge gap. I had also hoped to catch Forum One’s Drupal 8 for non-developers. That didn’t work out either. It’s a good thing all the sessions were recorded so I can catch up on everything I missed.
I did make it to the opening reception. I met some nice folks from 4Site Studios and reconnected with Sleight-of-Hand Studios. We had some pleasant conversations about the highlights I missed as well as discussing our respective businesses.
Day 2 and 3 started early for me with my volunteer stints at the registration desk. Due to the venue, this was a free event. This resulted in quite a few no-shows, late additions and tickets transfers. There were hiccups, as there are always are, but we worked through them. I met some really passionate organizers who put on a really good event.
The day 2 keynote was a general discussion on open source, including advocates of civiCRM and joomla. The day 3 keynote showcased how Drupal was being used for the NIH 3D print exchange. I did end up making it some sessions, but primarily stayed to the business track. I may have done this because this is the track I feel most comfortable. In retrospect, I probably should have gone to a few more of the technical Drupal ones. Each session was identified as beginner, intermediate or advanced. I had some initial concerns that some of the more technical Drupal sessions were going to be beyond my expertise (having never touched Drupal before). When Carson asked me to attend the intermediate Drupal site auditing session, I found out that those descriptors had more to do with general technology familiarity rather than Drupal itself. With the exception of a few specific Drupal modules, I followed the presentation.
Ultimately, I view the entire experience as a positive one. I learned a few things too.
1) Be confident in my general technical knowledge – As I approach new technologies, I need to remember that I have ~20 years of experience working in and around technology. While I haven’t had my hands in every new software that’s been introduced, I can have the technical knowledge and skills to be able to understand the framework’s and follow the discussion. While I’m not ready to spin up my first Drupal site yet, I feel comfortable that I could figure it out if I needed to and most definitely could manage a Drupal implementation or migration.
2) Participating in after hours networking is critical – When you attend conferences as a vendor, or simply as an attendee, you have an agenda. There is some list of goals you are trying to fulfill. It may be education, or it may be finding employee candidates or business partners. Regardless, you have limited time to really get to know people during the day. The after hours networking is where you have that extra time to ask more questions, and find more common ground. Having been on the vendor side, I know how much work it is to host those events. Please know that they are worth it and all the attendees appreciate it.
3) Open source is more than the technology, it’s the community – Carson learned this lesson at Drupalcon LA. It was the first time he attended Drupalcon on the side of the business (versus as a developer) and he was really blown away by how open the business leaders were about sharing their processes and KPIs. It’s one thing to hear about it, but it’s another to experience it. NIH provided the venue, but required the event be free. Lots of people gave a lot of time to organize Drupal GovCon. And even more shared their time and expertise to host sessions or run all-day trainings.
4) DC has women in tech – For all that I’ve shared about women in tech, I was really excited to see how many turned out to represent at Drupal GovCon. I believe that there were definitely more than the industry average of ~22% in attendance. Maybe it was the “free” component, but I don’t think so as I have been at other free tech events and not seen the same turn out. Or maybe, it was just that this was an awesome event and they had to be a part of it. Whatever it was, I was happy to see it and be a part of it.