DrupalCon Chicago: A DesignHammer Drupal Developer's Perspective

March 16, 2011

Photo of closing plenary at DrupalConDrupalCon Chicago is over and I'm back in Durham with the DesignHammer crew. It was a great conference; it's the first DrupalCon that DesignHammer has participated in and it won't be the last. Here are some notes about my impressions of DrupalCon and how it improves our Drupal development at DesignHammer.

Drupal Developers Converge in Chicago

The organizers said that 2,912 Drupal users from 37 countries registered for the conference. Between the birds of a feather meetups, core conversations, presentations, and keynotes, there were hundreds of opportunities to learn about all aspects of Drupal development; from coding, theming, and mobile Drupal development, to usability, accessibility, and search engine optimization (SEO).

DesignHammer does Drupal

Over the last two years, we've significantly increased the amount of Drupal development that we do and as a result we've had experience using Drupal in a wide variety of use cases. We've developed install profiles and used Aegir to deploy multiple instances of a client specific distribution; we've implemented e-commerce for a number of clients; we've integrated Drupal with Salesforce; used Drupal and Organic Groups for client intranets; we've integrated Drupal sites with iPhone apps; and we've migrated our VCS to Git.

Part of the Drupal Community

All of these themes were big topics at DrupalCon and there are many different approaches to using these tools or approaching these issues. To me, the most beneficial part of attending was to learn from other developers and shops on how they're tackling these problems. Anyone who has worked with Drupal knows that there is a steep learning curve for the administrative and configuration side of a Drupal site; for Drupal developers the same curve exists. We've been fortunate to draw on knowledge and expertise from a great local user group, TriDUG, but a lot of the challenges that our team has faced we've had to figure out on our own or from hunting through the docs on api.drupal.org. Attending DrupalCon and seeing, in person, the very large community of people who are also working through these issues helped me better understand that the work we do at DesignHammer on Drupal development is not done in isolation from a broader Drupal community, and that also emphasized to me that we have a responsibility to give back to the community as well.

Continuing Drupal Education

My three favorite discussions/presentations were:

  • DevelopmentSeed's presentation on TileMill and Mapbox. These map making tools open up so many fascinating possibilities for telling stories about data, I'm excited to put them to use in some of our projects.
  • Theming Haiku with Haml, Sass, and Peroxide. Most of this stuff was new to me; I love the idea of cutting down our stylesheets and templates, and creating theme templates that are a joy to look at and work with.
  • Advanced Drush. We've been using Drush for some time at DesignHammer, but I had been hesitant to take the time to set up site aliases and policies. The first thing I did after getting back to work was to implement both of those on some of my projects, and the benefits of doing so are incredible, both for saving time and increasing certainty about the commands you're running (i.e. make sure that drush sql-sync doesn't accidentally overwrite your production DB!).

Ok, I'll add a fourth session: the BoF on Git for Site Builders was really interesting. There is no 'right' answer to how to best use Git for managing code and changes between the development, staging and production environment. Some people advocating for including everything in the Drupal site (via submodules), others prefer a more light-weight approach of only tracking custom modules and themes. The demonstration of using a continuous integration system (Hudson) with a Git repo was fascinating to watch, although it's probably something we aren't going to use here anytime soon.

DrupalCon Colorado, Here We Come!

DrupalCon Chicago was a great learning experience for me, and a nice opportunity to meet other people who I've interacted with through issue queues or IRC for the past few years. It was also good to meet up with other folks from the Carolinas and talk about hosting a Drupal camp in NC sometime this year. See you at next year's DrupalCon Colorado!


Drupalcon Chicago was one of the best learning experiences for me. There were so many cool people to talk to and learn from. I've been to different Chicago events before that have been focused on programming, but there is nothing better than being around a bunch of Drupal geeks that speak your language. I'm not sure if I'll be able to make DrupalCon in Colorado, but I hope it is in the plans for me.

I think Drupalcon 2011 was the best campaign so far. So many important topics were covered and we had great fun there. Definitely gonna participate Drupalcon 2012.

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