DrupalCon Chicago 2011 Takeaways

It has been a little over a week since I came back home from DrupalCon Chicago. I have to say that I am still processing the many discussions and sessions I attended. I do feel that I can write a bit about my experiences at this point. Considering this is my first DrupalCon and that the trip was expensive, I feel both excited and blessed that my employer was able to send me this year.

It was interesting flying to the conference. This was my first flight since pre-9/11 and how things have changed. I was fairly well prepared for security by researching the TSA web site and talking to friends and collegues who fly often. The only thing I missed was that I would have to take off my belt. Kind of odd, but whatever.

Upon arrival at the conference hotel, affectionately referred to as the Drupal Tower, I quickly registered and met up a collegue from UNC Charlotte and a fellow web developer from NC State. From that point through leaving the following Friday, DrupalCon was pretty much non-stop sessions, BOFs (Birds Of a Feather sessions), impromptu and planned hallway meetups and evening consumption of food and adult beverages.

While it is a bit random, I thought I might just list some takeaways and thoughts I have post-conference. Thanks to Stephen, Nick, Brad, Zach, Michelle and Gary for hanging out with me throughout the conference. These guys are all from NC and classy to boot.

  • I attended a number of sessions on Aegir (http://aegirproject.org). Aegir is a hosting platform for Drupal which makes it much easier to manage multiple sites and servers through a Drupal control panel site. Since the conference, I have already deployed our first production Aegir server and more are on the way! Very exciting stuff.
  • The Dries Buytaert (Founder of Drupal) keynote was pretty interesting. It was great to see Dries in person, but the room was so large it didn't feel very intimate. He did a good job of outlining where Drupal started, where we are today, successes and failures (failure is probably a strong word) in Drupal 7 and the future of Drupal 8. Video link: http://chicago2011.drupal.org/keynote-dries-buytaert
  • While I am focusing hosting management on Aegir with Drush, Drush Make, install profiles and git, Zach (@notzach on Twitter) discused his system for deploying and updating sites. He also uses git, Drush and Drush Make, but is doing extensive testing automation with Jenkins (http://jenkins-ci.org/) and custom scripting. It is pretty amazing and I am excited for him. Frankly, ASU is pretty lucky to have Zach! TODO: I am hoping to integrate Jenkins and testing into our hosting environment at some point. I plan to hook it into Aegir.
  • One great part of DrupalCon was the opportunity to meet a number of Drupalers who I have known online for years. I had the pleasure to meet a number of folks from the www.geeksandgod.com community. Check out this photo of a few Geeks and God hosts - http://www.flickr.com/photos/shrop/5519910082/in/set-72157626230041014/. It is just great to meet people in person and talk Drupal. It is weird how I already felt like I knew them before we even met in person.
  • Told you this was a bit random... More photos I took at DrupalCon can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shrop/sets/72157626230041014/with/5519910082/
  • I attended Greg Knaddison's (greggles) session titled "Drupal Security for Coders". Greg is considred an expert in Drupal security and has written the only book that I am aware of which exclusively discusses Drupal security (Cracking Drupal). This was a good session. Greg covered things most developers should already know, but it is great to have it brought up and discussed in more detail. Lesson #1: Use Drupal API functions. This helps prevent many issues with XSS for instance (ex: db_query() function). Video link: http://chicago2011.drupal.org/sessions/drupal-security-coders
  • The Field Museum Party was a blast. Well, not so much for the part aspect, but I just enjoyed touring through the museum. What a fantastic place! Check out their web site (Drupal too!): http://horse.fieldmuseum.org/.
  • I really enjoyed the session titled "From Zero to Distribution using Features, Profiler, and Drush Make". Dimitri (dmitrig01) took the audience through how to build a Drupal distor with the tools listed in the title. The biggest takeaway I had here was the Profiler module. It makes bulding profiles so much easier and follows Drush Make like syntax. Check it out here: http://drupal.org/project/profiler. Video link: http://chicago2011.drupal.org/sessions/zero-distribution-using-features-...
  • The "Advanced Drush" session was pretty great too. A nice takeway for me was that Drush 4 has a sql sync command to stanitze database data when copying the database between servers. This is helpful when copying prod to dev. See details here: http://drupal.org/node/861822. The entire audience seemed blown away that Drush 5 has test code which allows Drupal 7 entities to be created, edited, deleted, etc. from CLI. It was pretty amazing. Video link: http://chicago2011.drupal.org/sessions/advanced-drush
  • The seesion "Advanced Features" was very good. If anything, I got the concept that you should have a base feature and a project feature. The base feature is a reusable feature which will work fine on many sites. The project feature contains site specific tweaks to the base feature. Video link: http://chicago2011.drupal.org/sessions/advanced-features-usage
  • I attended a git BOF, but didn't find it super useful because it was geard for current Drupal contributors. I think if I was more of a conrib developer, I would have benefited more. I do need to change the fact that I don't contribute much. That is starting now!
  • There was an "Open Atrium for Developers" BOF which was pretty interesting. The organizer had a helpful handout which detailed how to deploy and modify Open Atium instances with code changes that do not create upgrade headaches down the road. This will be helpful for me since we use Open Atrium quite a bit at work.
  • I attended a BOF with other NC people. We discussed ideas for locations of future DrupalCamps in NC and a non-profit or LLC to help fund Drupal events in NC.
  • One of the last BOFs I atteneded was the "Drupal for Chruches (and Geeks and God)" BOF. Was cool to discuss common issues folks have with church web sites and to meet others in the Geeks and God community.

It was well worth me attending DrupalCon Chicago because of the advanced discussions and rapid learning I was able to cram into just a few days. If I could obtain the same info from visiting web sites, it might have taken me weeks to begin to touch what I brought home. I am very happy that a number of items I learned will be in place in our Drupal environment very soon.

DrupalCon was everything I hoped for and more...

DrupalCon 2012 North America will be held in Denver, CO. I hope I have the opportunity to go and to see you there!

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