Educational and Networking Events

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?

Drupal in the Real World: PANMA Event on 9/28

Getting to know Drupal
“Come for the Code, Stay for the Community” is the newly adopted tagline for the Drupal project. At this session we’ll give you an introduction to both the code that is driving the extremely fast adoption of Drupal, as well as the community that makes, builds and supports this truly Free and Open Source Software project (meaning: unlike projects like WordPress, Alfresco, or MySQL, no company owns Drupal).

What we’ll cover:
Some of the main reasons that organizations and companies are adopting Drupal, including the module and theme systems, robust content creation and organization features, tight integration with most popular APIs, its user & role system, content permissions, flexible workflow, etc.

- What’s new in Drupal 7, including the Database Abstraction Layer that has opened the door for running Drupal on Oracle, MS SQL Server, Casandra, etc, to improved core media handling, the move from ‘nodes’ to ‘entities’, fields in core, and more.

- Acquia’s Drupal Gardens, a hosted ‘Software as a Service’ version of Drupal 7, meant to compete with and other hosted website options.

- The Drupal community. Drupal owes much of its growth to the early adoption of the platform by community/political organizers, and these same people use their online organizing skills to enable the Drupal community to scale faster and better than most other Open Source projects. We’ll look at where the community works/communicates, how it operates, and what makes it tick (hint: talk is silver, code/work is gold).

Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg is a Partner and Business Lead at Zivtech, LLC. Zivtech is an Open Source Web Development Shop located in Philadelphia, PA that specializes in building powerful and scalable Web Applications and Enterprise Content Management Systems

Drupal in the Real World
Following a look at the technology and community behind Drupal, we’ll share what it’s like to build a site with the platform today. We’ll look at how to plan a Drupal-based site, how to document the information architecture requirements, how to choose the right modules for the job, and how to solve common site-building challenges without hacking.

We’ll leave you with an amusing tour of 5 things you *can* do with Drupal, but *shouldn’t.* *Ever*.

Nathan Gasser is founder and president of Rock River Star, an internet consulting and development company focussed on implementing open source web and social media solutions for non-profit, higher education, and corporate clients.

Pizza & light refreshments will be provided by PANMA. Doors open at 5:30pm, event runs 6:00 – 8:00pm. The cost is free.



Philadelphia NetTuesday Social Web Sampler

Last night I had the pleasure of participating in an event called "A Social Web Sampler," produced by Philly NetSquared.  If you're not familiar with NetSquared (or NetTuesday as the events are sometimes called) it's a group that brings together people working in technology and social media, with and for non-profits.  Last nights event was designed to expose participants to a variety of social networking tools -- standards like Facebook and Twitter, and a few newcomers like FourSquare.

Something I appreciate about Philly's NetTuesday events is how incredibly interactive they are.  And I'm not talking about people sitting in the audience raising their hands to ask questions.  Last night for example, there were five "stations" spread around the room, and 3 "sessions" of 15 minutes each.  (See chart)  At each station was a computer and a group leader, with an appointed topic.  At the start of each session, participants moved to the table of the topic that interested them.  The group leader was not responsible for any lengthy prepared presentation, but rather simply to facilitate a conversation around that topic.  

I led a session on content management systems, and we had a nice gathering of folks interested in different systems.  We talked about the differences between installed and hosted software, and how WordPress and now Drupal are available as the identical software in either installed or hosted form (see Drupal Gardens for hosted Drupal).  We ran through some common and less-common modules for Drupal that I happen to like using, and we discussed Joomla and its lack of noticeable presence in Philadelphia.  Of course I had to put in a plug for folks interested in Drupal to attend Drupaldelphia which is coming up next week.

If you're involved in running tech or networking events and you're looking for ways to get people talking more and up the level of interactivity, I'd definitely consider this kind of rotating small-group event.  Once you get people over the idea that to lead a group they have to be an expert and put a lot of time into preparation, people are generally willing to step forward and share.