As I mentioned in my previous post, this is my first conference or formal training of any type since graduating college. I came here with some very high expectations. The free Lullabot videos are all excellent and Lullabot seems to be a quality "brand" when it comes to Drupal training. Looking back on this first day I have mixed feelings. There were definitely some really high points, for example Zeldman's keynote speech was very invigorating and inspirational. There were also a lot of low points that I'm debating if they were really all that bad or if it's because they didn't meet my own unrealistic expectations.
Firstly, my goal I'm hoping to achieve. I'm hoping to learn to do things the Drupal way while plugging in any knowledge gaps that I've missed during my self learning. I've read two Packt publishing books on using Drupal (one for 6.x and one for 7.x) as well as a book on 6.x module development. I've launched a good dozen or so Drupal sites of various size and have written three or four site specific modules. The learning curve has been a slow and steady battle but I'm at a point where I'm very comfortable crafting modules and themes from scratch and leveraging the tools that are available. Despite all of my endeavors there's something to be said about formal education on rails. It hits every nook and cranny in a way that education builds on its self. That's what I am hoping to get here. Nooks and crannies. Just like the English Muffin commercial. Delicious.
The day started with registrations and breakfast. Breakfast was your standard fare "continental" with the added bonus of some croissant egg sandwiches. It wasn't an impressive breakfast but it was food. I met some very nice people who flew here all the way from Australia and Sweden. It was entertaining to chit chat about how all of our governments tackle IT in slightly different ways and hold different IT values. Registration was equally as pleasant. I'm a big guy so the shirt they gave me at registration doesn't really fit, but it may make a nice scarf in the winter. I also got a really cool USB hub, you can never have too many of them. Among the registration tables were different sponsors pushing their companies. I had an opportunity to talk to one of the rackspace guys multiple times. Very friendly person, but my hosting is already covered brilliantly by the awesome guys at Linode. I got a free Pen out of the deal, so that was pretty neat-o. I also had the honor of meeting Karen, the maintainer of CCK/Fields. She is such a wonderfully friendly person, was curious about how we use Drupal, and talked a bit about how the release cycles for Drupal work in relation to the contrib community. I'm totally honored.
Session 1, keynote speech from Zeldman, founder of A-List apart. To be honest I've never spent much time on any of Zeldman's web properties so he was a bit "new" to me. Other attendants were familiar with him and were excited to hear his talk. Zeldman is a brilliant and articulate man, or in the very least speaks very well. He spoke about the role of web designers and developers, client needs, the emerged mobile user base, and touched on all of the nooks and crannies in between (delicious!) One of his key themes was that Content is a design problem. Designs need to be built around content first and not the other way around. Doing so helps keep things clean and usable. From there design needs to start with mobile and add layers of progressive enhancement until finally reaching full resolution desktop browser styles. Adaptive and responsive themes have been huge here so far and have been getting a lot of love. If there's one thing I've taken away so far is that mobile isn't just the future, it's the present. One thing Zeldman spoke about that really resonated is that the people who are doing well all have a mobile strategy. I'll certainly be putting more emphasis on mobile when getting back to my cubicle in Albany.
Great keynote speech. Really. But of course it wasn't very technical and was more philosophical and inspiring than anything. Regardless, I liked it. Time to move on to the regular sessions.
Session 2, introduction to Drupal. The speakers were great-ish. I forget the speaker's name but he kept referring to PHP as "ponies humping ponies." While I appreciate humor it was a bit awkward when he said it the second or third time. The session was an extremely high level overview of what Drupal is. Very non-technical. I looked over at one point and one attendee actually had his eyes closed. One part of the presentation that I found interesting was the brief history of Drupal. Howard Dean, he seems to get his hands in everything in a positive way! I had no idea that "dean space" was one of the first political Drupal driven sites. So in general the history of Drupal was entertaining and worth being there for. During the Q&A There was a little bit of more technical speak and the flag module was mentioned. It might be worth me looking into since it's generic enough to be used in many different ways (follow button, like button, mark for abuse, etc.)
At this point, Lullabot did this whole "lets change the schedule and completely bewilder Patrick" thing. I wanted to go to the energy.gov case study but it was packed. Instead I ended up in Designing for CMS, which was originally scheduled for later but I wanted to check it out anyway.
Session 3, Designing for CMS. Really nice overview of not so much how to design, but how to approach work flows and constraints with designers. Since I'm more of a programmer and less of a designer it was nice to have a review of basic design concepts and hear from a designer some of the things a designer really needs to focus on. He made some great key points about designing in Drupal for designers. You must give away control of the design, you can not have hyper control over every aspect. When you're designing you have to think about things like if the content creator will have access to markup / a wysiwyg, what regions will that content go in, and how will it be displayed under different contexts. Let content be your guide. Identify Hierarchy. Simplicity helps consistency. Most of all he said that designers must embrace constraints, meaning a designer should be working with how the CMS wants to work, and not try to hyper manage their designs. Of course lots of emphasis was put on user experience. He also advocated for copying other's design ideas as inspiration. He argued against wysiwygs and instead recommended the BU Editor, which is something I've been kicking around in my head for some time. It was nice to hear it confirmed. Another great session, but extremely non-technical.
Session Lunch. Flank steak in shallot sauce? Cheesecake? Sure!
Session 4. Takepart.com case study. This was a website done by Phase II, a company I have great interest in seeing as they developed the whitehouse Drupal site. That in its self is an amazing accomplishment for any web agency Drupal or not. The overview was just that, just an overview. I really didn't learn much that I could apply to my every day development. Takepart.com was really solving some very industry specific issues to content publishers. The whole solution was a lavish coupling of many complicated modules like context, media, and box. He spoke about how his team developed some of these things, but never gave a technical explanation and never showed how any of the specifics were configured. All in all he just told us what modules they used, leaving learning how they did it an exercise for the viewer. I appreciate the insights but again I found this session extremely non-technical.
Session 5, Views. This was just a very basic explanation of how to use the most basic features of views. The speaker, as all of the speakers have been, was great. Unfortunately the content was very slow and of a very basic level. I'll freely admit, I left early, sorry!
Session Dinner. There is some GREAT food in this area, and I hope the other Drupalers are taking full advantage. We went to a small Italian restaurant named "Queen." It was very authentic. The menu prices were around 20 to 25 dollars per plate which is typical for a quality meal. I ate beat salad, octopus salad, fresh mozzerella, veal parmigiana, and cheese cake. Just fantastic. There's not many places in Albany that can compare to the food down here in the city. Tomorrow night I'm hoping to eat Mexican, I think I may be more excited about food than anything else at this point. Food is awesome!
So there you have it. This isn't exactly the rosiest review of the day, but I don't want anyone to get the wrong impression. The Lullabots, the guests, and the sponsors are all intelligent, hard working people. Everyone has a great attitude, and we all have Drupal in common! If anything I would say the people of this event have been the best part, and all of the speakers are very good at engaging their audience. I just hope the technical level of talks picks up as the conference continues. I'm so concerned I actually wrote lullabot an email asking what the dealio was. While I love having a break from the office I have an itch for knowledge and learning that I need scratched.
I love comments in my blog. They are the reason I get up in the morning, so let me know what you think or let me know if you have any questions!