For anyone new to Drupalcon, the prenote offers a light hearted and 'fun' introduction to the conference’s activities, with many well known Drupalists dressing up and taking part in a short production. This time the prenote was inevitably tinted with Irish stereotypes, including a leprechaun, a pot of gold, and a Drupal themed Irish jig. I would say watch it, but don’t, you really had to be there (or not!).
One benefit of attending the prenote is that you usually get pretty good seats for the keynote (or Driesnote) from Drupal’s founder, our leader and benevolent dictator, Dries Buytaert. This year his talk was focussed on two main topics: an update on Drupal 8 and a discussion about why we do this.
Drupal 8 update
Dries feels really good about Drupal 8, about the changes we’ve made and the future of the technology, but he acknowledges that many people have reservations about Drupal 8’s direction. Drupal 8.2 is planned for release on 5th October, with some great new features, including:
Block placement: the ability to place blocks directly on the page without using the administrative backend
Settings tray: a pop out settings panel that allows us to manage configuration such as menus
REST API improvements: continued progress to make the web services apis more robust and easier to use
This last point was illustrated with a quick demo of creating, displaying, updating and deleting content from a decoupled front end. The robustness of the REST API in Drupal 8 has led to some interesting uses of Drupal where you might not expect it:
The New York subway system screens will all be powered by Drupal 8
Vodafone will power all their digita kiosks with Drupal 8
Lufthansa will power their new inflight entertainment system on Drupal 8
Drupal 8 has introduced the concept of experimental modules in core. These are modules that are included with core but still considered alpha quality, to allow people to test extensive before they become solid enough to be considered production ready. Experimental modules will need to get stable within about a year, or they will be removed from core. Potential ideas for new experimental modules in core include:
Use settings tray to change layouts of pages
Media library: the media team are working hard to add a media entity browser
Field layouts, bringing display suite type layout configuration options
Refreshless, to improve the speed of page load between pages
Considering why we do Drupal, Dries showed a number of videos by people for whom Drupal had completely changed their life, including Vijay from a village in India who is now a senior developer in London – 'Drupal changed my whole lifestyle' – and Zsofi from Budapest who is now a project manager and now has that feeling of 'belonging somewhere and enjoying something so much that [she] would love to continue doing that'. Dries then extended this with an example of how Drupal has positive effects on people outside of the Drupal community. The example came from Drupalcon Portland where the community came together to rapidly develop a site to help co-ordinate emergency services and lift shares in response to a tornado in Oklahoma that devastated a huge area. He concluded this by identifying groups of people who are affected by Drupal, from the individual users, the Drupal community, Drupal end users right up to the open web, stating that it is critically important that we work to keep the web open. He stated 'I personally get meaning when my work matters more to others than it matters to myself', citing this as a motivation behind many of the Drupal initiatives such as usability, internationalisation and accessibility. Through a number of videos, we heard how developers of popular modules also take great pleasure in creating functionality that is used by thousands of people and touches and improves the lives of other people. This is a huge theme in the Drupal community and in our work at Agile Collective so I'm really glad that Dries focused on this.
To illustrate how small contributions can eventually have huge effects, we saw a very amusing video of the domino effect.
Dries wrapped up this section by highlighting that hard work is also immensely rewarding. The passion and grit of the people in the Drupal community really helps to get us through hard times and results in a stronger community and better software. Contribute more and don't give up!
Building the community
This concept of building the community to spread Drupal skills and grow the was further championed by highlighting a couple of initiatives:
Drupal campus ambassadors
The Drupal Campus Ambassadors program program aims to introduce Open Source / Drupal to universities and engineering colleges across the globe by creating a network of Drupal Campus ambassadors (DCA) in universities.
UK Drupal Apprenticeship
I was extremely excited to see Dries highlight the UK Drupal Apprenticeship programme (which apparently he didn’t know about!) which was set up by our co-founder Hedley Smith and Crispin with support from Happy Computers (and Agile Collective at the time). This runs a Drupal bootcamp to train up young people and place them in supported apprenticeship placements within Drupal companies. UK Government funding means this is free for the apprentice and for the company, helping to reduce the barrier to bringing young people into the Drupal community. I recall the conversation at DrupalCamp Brighton where we discussed the problem of an ageing Drupal community and wondered how to bring in more young people to sustain and ensure the future. At the time we discussed a number of ideas, including starting young with programming in schools (something we’re now addressing with Code Clubs), creating a Drupal qualification (A Level / Degree level), and Drupal apprenticeship schemes. At Agile Collective we have taken on two apprentices (not through the official government supported scheme) and I’m happy that both are still with us and are hugely valuable colleagues.
My key takeaways
Drupal 8.2 has some exciting new features
The Drupal community is great
Do more contributing in any way, code, meetups, testing, documentation, training new people
Before we were allowed to run away to find coffee, the group photo was taken in the auditorium. If you look closely, you might be able to see me and Stephen!