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A New Kid's Guide to DrupalCon

In about a month, I’ll be headed to Austin with the rest of the Rock River Star team for DrupalCon. This is both my first trip to Texas, and my first DrupalCon. I’m the newbie, so I’m nervous but excited like a kid going to sleep-away camp for the first time.As I’m counting down the weeks ‘til we all mess with Texas, I’ve also been soliciting advice from the Rock River Star crew on how to get the most out of my first DrupalCon experience. Below is a user guide I’ve complied with their suggestions to guide me and other newbies through:

1) Register for a account. This may seem like a no-brainer, but when you’re brand new to Drupal, it’s surprising how easy it is to overlook this step and not realize how helpful and powerful the open-source community can be. (Also, you need a account to register for the conference.)

2) Get your picture taken with Dries Buytaert. This seems to be a rite of passage. It’s like the “Where’s Waldo” game of DrupalCon. Find Dries, pose for obligatory Internet celebrity photo, earn street cred.

3) Plan your schedule. This is tricky! Looking at the schedule for the first time, I became overwhelmed with how many sessions there are and how I want to go to all of them. Why I can’t I learn all of the things all at once? But until I figure out how to bend space and time, I’ve singled out some sessions that I think will be the most helpful, interesting and fun to attend.

4) Talk to people. When you’re the new kid at camp, it’s easy to feel shy, especially when the other campers are as talented, passionate, and clever as the Drupal community. But the whole point of open-source software is the ability to collaborate and help each other out. Brian Eno calls it a “scenious” — it’s better to be part of a smart, creative community is than it is to be a lone genius. Geniuses toil away in isolation. Sceniouses join forces, influence one another, solve problems, and get work done. So don’t be shy or nervous. Talk to people: tell them what you’re working on, ask them about their projects, listen, learn from their mistakes, admit your own stumbles, get inspired, plant seeds for future projects.

5) Don’t forget about the “Birds of a Feather” discussions. These informal gatherings to discuss topics that are related to sessions, examine common problems, and collaborate on solutions are why number 4 is important. Here’s where you really get to roll up your sleeves and cooperate with your peers on the issues that are stumping or stimulating you.

6) Take some time to see the city. Austin looks like a great town. I’m ready to see the bats emerging from Congress bridge, pore over antiques and weirdo ephemera at Uncommon Objects, tour the Umlouf Sculpture Garden and explore the Longhorn Caverns. Austin also looks delicious and I’ve mentally booked reservations for us at Ironworks BBQ, Guero’s Taco Bar, Chuy’s, Franklin Barbeque, Dolce Neve, and Whip In. It’s entirely possible that we will all eat so much barbeque and Tex-Mex that we will be too heavy to fly home. I have accepted this.

7) Invite one random stranger who’s never heard of Drupal to the free party. How do you explain Drupal to the unsuspecting Texan? You don’t. You just tell them to follow you to the party and watch their eyes light up as they meet all the cool kids.

8) Willingly and enthusiastically participate in whatever ritualistic hazing the team has planned. We already know there’s going to be a mechanical bull on the conference floor. I’m determined to get hilarious photos of the entire Rock River Star staff riding the thing. But I’m not above climbing on it and embarrassing myself in the name of team spirit and camaraderie either. A test of courage and daring is just the thing to bind a team together in fellowship. And what better place to do it than DrupalCon? I’m sure the Rock River Star staff has other initiation challenges planned for me, and I’m committed to giving them as much gusto as I can gather.

What about you? Is this your first DrupalCon or your tenth? As we descend on south Texas and prepare to do our part and help “Keep Austin Weird,” what advice do you have for the group of new kids?