Drupalcamp London 2015

Drupal Developer, Drupal Evangelist, Co-operative Champion

I can sometimes forget how much I get from DrupalCamps and DrupalCons, but after a fantastic weekend of sessions and conversations at Drupalcamp London, I have a reinvigorated sense of how brilliantly open, diverse and valuable the Drupal Community is.

The variety of skills and technologies that we use in Drupal web development keeps the session topics varied enough that there is always something new to learn, while the principles of openness and transparency that are enshrined in the General Public Licence truly do filter up through the people and companies that make up the Drupal Community.

This post contains my notes on the sessions that I attended and some reflections on the culture of openness in the Community.

Saturday Keynote

After an early start from Oxford, Saturday kicked off properly with an inspiring keynote by Sue Black about her life and women in tech. Referring to her 2013 blog post (https://blackse.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/if-i-can-do-it-so-can-you/) she talked through her negative experiences as a woman at male dominated tech events and the wider problems of the lack of tech literacy for less economically advantaged families. She told us about Techmums (http://techmums.co/) which she set up to run courses for mothers to give them the 'confidence, skills and inspiration’ needed to be part of the digital revolution, with the idea that if the mums are confident and capable with digital tools the children will follow suit. Some people might challenge the statement that 'Everybody needs tech skills to have a normal life’, but I take the point that it is fast becoming a right and not a privilege.

What I took away from the session:

Writing custom fields in Drupal 8 - Deji Akala


The first full session for me was a quick demonstration of creating custom field in D8. A thorough, informative and engaging presentation which left me feeling confident that creating custom fields in Drupal 8 will be simpler and more flexible than in Drupal 7. As an example, Deji walked us through creating a simple country field with an autocomplete widget, based on his project at https://www.drupal.org/project/country. The fact that there are many useful helper classes in Drupal core lead to the prediction that the common saying that “there’s a module for that” will be replaced by “There's a class for that!”.

What I took away from the session:

  • Developing custom modules in Drupal 8 is going to be fun.
  • Custom fields are fairly easy to create.
  • Deji is a great presenter

Jenkins Drupal & Testing - creating a CI server


Steve Richards from Miggle (Brighton) demonstrated how quick and easy it is to install and configure a continuous integration server using Jenkins, with composer to manage dependencies and phing to automate tasks. Having used a similar setup on recent projects, it was reassuring to see the same approach. As with most Drupal companies, Steve/Miggle was happy to share his work with the community https://github.com/miggle/Migl-Phing-Drupal/wiki/Drupal,-Jenkins-&-testing---setting-up-a-CI-server

What I took away from the session:

  • Automating the deployment of a continuous integration server (Puppet or Ansible?) will help include continuous integration and automated testing as standard on all projects.


Birds Of a Feather sessions (BOFs) are informal ad-hoc meetings of like minded people to discuss a particular subject. They happen at DrupalCamps and DrupalCons and often generate new ideas and innovations around common issues.

BOF - Communication between organisers of user groups and Drupalcamps.

This BOF was to discuss the problem that regional user groups have with communicating with each other. There are many local user groups in the UK (and Europe) but there is no central directory or agreed way to contact all groups. This becomes a problem when groups are planning a local DrupalCamp and need to check other groups' plans to avoid a date clash. Another side to this is highlighted by the fact that there is no consistent way of finding a local Drupal User Group. The http://www.drupical.com/ site scrapes information from https://groups.drupal.org/ to show events and locations, but does only shows upcoming events rather than the groups themselves.

We decided that a practical starting point would be a mailing list for user group organisers. Someone from the Drupal Association agreed to set this up. There was also a suggestion of adding a contact details content type to https://groups.drupal.org/, which is something that will probably take time.

BOF - Tour-de-Drupal

Cycling to Drupalcon Amsterdam was such great fun that many of us are keen to do something similar for Barcelona. Cycling the whole way from the UK is not feasible for most people, so we discussed where people might want to start from (Beziers, Perpignan, Girona). The last stage will probably be from Girona to Barcelona - about 100 km. See https://twitter.com/tourdedrupal for more discussion.

Vlad: local development like a boss (Vagrant LAMP Ansible Drupal)

Vagrant Lamp Ansible Drupal - a new solution to running a local development stack on Vagrant and Virtualbox. Similar to in function Parrot (our current preferred solution at Agile Collective), but using Ansible instead of Puppet to manage the configuration. I must say that Ansible configuration looks nice (https://github.com/hashbangcode/vlad/blob/master/vlad/example.settings.yml ) but the fact that VLAD assumes a single codebase and database per virtual machine probably makes it less practical for our use at the moment.

What I took away from the session:

Sunday Keynote

Robert Douglas talked on Sunday morning about the challenges in ensuring a resiliant deployment methodology for Drupal sites, and promoted platform.sh as part of the solution. It inevitably became a bit of a sales pitch for https://platform.sh/, but I found it interesting and useful to underline the importance of having a full deployment strategy that the team and client understand.

Team working for megalomaniacs


Paul Dale Smith (CTI Digital) discussed his move from being the single webmaster / developer / support and all round web guy at Co-operatives UK, to working as part of a larger team on bigger projects at CTI Digital.

Using evidence of the Drupal talent gap from the Drupal Association job market survey, Paul suggested that development companies may want look to developers working in organisations with with their own Drupal site as potential source of Drupal talent.

What I took away from the session:

  • Lone in-house web developers working in an organisation to develop and support a Drupal site will probably get bored and eventually jump ship to seek more exciting and challenging opportunities.

Drupal 8 Frontend for Backenders.


Lauri Eskola gave an informative presentation that was somewhat hindered first by a broken laptop and then by a very slow replacement machine. It was interesting to hear that in Drupal 8 the template process layer is gone and hook_page_alter is gone. He went to to outline some of the magic included in the Twig templating layer, such as the fact that variables in Twig templates can take multiple forms (objects, arrays, properties on objects) and that are iterated through by Twig to extract the value. Further to this, if a variable does not have a value, Twig silently ignores it, which is nice.

What I took away from the session:

  • Twig filters - extending twig filter class to create new filters is easy.
  • Autoescape - all variables are auto escaped
  • Demonstrated some of the cool things about the Twig templating system with a custom module https://github.com/DrupalTwig/sandwich

Openness and transparency in the Drupal Community

Perhaps what I love most about the Drupal community is the openness and transparency that has evolved, possibly starting from the GPL licence and general principles of free and open source software. This willingness to share code, knowledge, advice and experience has proliferated through people to the companies that have grown up around Drupal. This fits well with Agile Collective’s ethos of transparency. So I was delighted to learn that Steve Parks and Wunderroot have decided to share their intranet for all to see and learn from. This is published at http://way.wunder.co.uk/ and is also open on GitHub for people to fork and evolve: https://github.com/WunderRoot/WunderWay. This is hugely inspiring and I would like to do something similar at Agile Collective with the knowledge, processes, policies and contracts we have built up over the years, but that’s probably a larger topic that I will save for another post.

Get involved in DrupalCamp London 2016

DrupalCamps are organised by volunteers and many of the organisers of DrupalCamp London are stepping down after this year, so there is a call out for new volunteers to get involved and help shape DrupalCamp London 2016. So if you have a passion for Drupal and some time to help next year, give them a shout at @DrupalCampLDN!

So a massive thank you from Agile Collective to all of the DrupalCamp London organisers, I had a great weekend and am thoroughly looking forward to the next one.