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Drupalcon New Orleans: 21 Key Takeaways

Chris, Mike, Ron, Shane and I spent last week at Drupalcon in New Orleans.   We learned a lot and enjoyed a little too much of News Orleans’ food and nightlife.  Following is a list of our key takeaways from the trip.

(1) I attended my first Drupalcon Business Summit on the Monday before the conference.  It was inspiring to hear the perspectives of others running Drupal development firms and I came out of the Summit with tons of marketing ideas and growth strategies.  I would highly recommend the Business Summit, as well as the other Drupalcon Summits (Government and Higher-Ed) that were held on Monday.

(2) In his Druplacon Day 1 keynote, Drupal founder Dries Buytaert proposed a number of new initiatives for Drupal 8.  I was personally most excited by the proposed improvements to the way media and workflow are handled in Drupal 8.

(3) Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar was built between 1722 and 1732 and is reputed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States.  It is also lit nearly entirely by candlelight and is the darkest bar I have ever been in.   Cool place.  Photo of Ron and Chris enjoying some adult beverages.

Ron and Chris at the darkest bar in New Orleans during Drupalcon.

(4) Around half of our Brick Factory staff work out of our Washington, DC office with the other half working remotely.  I attended a good session on running a distributed Drupal shop that included a bunch of useful tips.  One interesting factoid from the session: 30 million Americans currently work from home and that number is expected to double in the next few years.

(5) Given the increasing architectural complexity of Drupal, Ron thought most development shops would host their Drupal sites on one of the excellent Drupal managed hosting platforms that are out there (Acquia, Pantheon, Platform, Blackmesh, etc.).  These platforms provide Continuous Delivery solutions and are more secure, reliable and scalable than self hosting.

(6) Apparently the state of Georgia saved $5,000,000 switching from Vignette to Drupal.

(7) The Crab BLT and onion rings at St. Lawrence are highly recommended.  Great food and cool place.

Fried crab BLT at St Lawrence in New Orleans

(8) I attended a Drupalcon session on improving the Drupal administrative experience that was very useful.   It sounds obvious, but the key to creating great content management tools is to spend time planning out the administrative experience in the same way you would the front end experience.  We are certainly guilty of skipping this step at times.

(9) If you have ever wondered why WordPress has a robust marketplace of themes and modules/plugins and Drupal doesn’t, check out this talk.  The session explains how Drupal’s General Public License prevents the selling of modules and why that may not be a good thing.

(10) From the same Druplacon talk, there apparently is a closed Drupal distribution called NP8 that is aimed at media companies and costs several hundred of thousands of dollars a year.  We’ve got to get us one of those!

(11) Ron and Shane have developed an intense ping pong rivalry at the various Drupalcons they have attended together over the years.  Ron continues to dominate, although he definitely showed some signs that he may be past his prime. Shane is coming for you Ron!

Drupalcon ping pong match in New Orleans.

(12) Most of the programming sessions at this year’s Druplacon focused on training developers on how to use Drupal 8.  The Drupal 8 sessions were packed with overflow crowds,  with many standing and sitting the floor.  From our own work and talking to others, it is clear that that the learning curve for D8 is much higher than D7.

(13) We are very excited by the caching layer in Drupal 8 and the various contributed modules that the improved caching is making possible.  There is an experimental module called BigPipe that allows for uncacheable programming blocks to be loaded after everything else on a given page. RefreshLess also looks really interesting and promising.

(14) We all thought theDrupalcon Day 2 keynote by Sara Wachter-Boettcher was amazing.  The talk was about how we can make our designs kinder and more inclusive.  She shared some great anecdotes about how website design and language can unintentionally lack empathy.  One example: brands that send Mother’s Day promotions to people whose mothers may have passed away or are not involved in their lives.

(15) Chris found the Lessons from WordPress Core Drupalcon session that covered the differences in approach between WordPress and Drupal very interesting.  Wordpress tends to prioritize backwards compatibility and the content editor experience. Drupal prioritizes code and the programmer, and hasn’t traditionally worried about backwards compatibility. Things are changing a bit on the Drupal end, and there are ongoing discussions about whether the Drupal release cycle should mirror WordPress more closely. It seems the sweet spot may be somewhere between where Drupal was and WordPress is, and it looks like that is where the Drupal community is headed.

(16) Unlike most cities in the US, the bars in New Orleans don’t really seem to close so the night can just sort of keep going and going.  This sign we came across sums up the ethos of the place pretty well.

The soup of the day is whiskey.

(17) If you are a programmer just getting started in Drupal 8 we recommend the Altering, Extending, and Enhancing Drupal 8 session.  Great overview.

(18) Overall it was validating to see that our front and back end Drupal development processes are in line with what other firms are doing.  The sessions we attended will lead us to take a fresh look at Pattern Lab, kss-node and CSS regression testing (Phantom CSS/Wraith).

(19) The Responsive Images Druplacon session took an in-depth look at how to size responsive images to work well with all devices and how to implement in Drupal   We use images to evoke emotion on many of our sites, so having images look great in all sizes is something we need to prioritize.

(20) We had some great meals in New Orleans, but the best was probably at Cochon Restaurant.  The smoked pork ribs were amazing, as was the Louisiana cochon with cabbage, cracklins and pickled turnips (pictured below).  Must visit.

Louisiana cochon with cabbage, cracklins and pickled turnips

(21) A few on our Brick Factory team would have benefited from not having a casino strategically positioned between our hotel and the conference venue.  Harrah’s New Orleans misses the Brick Factory.

(22) Next year’s Druplacon will be in Baltimore, approximately an hour away from our Brick Factory DC headquarters.  We’ll be there.

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