DrupalCon New Orleans Survival Guide

05 May 2016
Larry Garfield
Documentation Director

Are you joining us at DrupalCon New Orleans next week? It’s going to be a blast!

Those who have attended a DrupalCon before know how intense they can be. For first-timers, a DrupalCon can be overwhelming. The Drupal Community is an amazing and welcoming group of people, almost unnervingly so at times. The energy around a DrupalCon is palpable, but that means it can be a shock to those used to a calmer event.

So how do you get the most out of a DrupalCon? Glad you asked…

Water

No, really. DrupalCons are big and you’ll be walking a lot and talking to a lot of people. Have a water bottle on you. A sholder-sling or belt clip bottle is best because it’s easier to keep with you, but if your laptop bag or backpack has a bottle holder that works well, too.

Sure, there will be coffee breaks. But the lines may be long, you don’t want to wait for them to get a drink, and water is healthier for you anyway (which matters, really).

Bring a notebook

It doesn’t have to be paper, of course. A tablet, phone, Chromebook, laptop, or whatever else lets you take notes is fine. You’ll be exposed to a million new ideas this week, and your odds of remembering everything you found really cool I need to use that this will change my life are slim. Write it down! At least write down key terms, phrases, tool, and links to Google later.

Have lunch with strangers

What good is hanging out with a conference of thousands of people if you only talk to the people you know? Take advantage of the general friendliness of the Drupal community to meet new people. Break away from your usual team and talk to someone else’s team. Maybe it’s developers you don’t know. Maybe it’s a vendor you’re considering hiring and want to get to know better. (Yep, we’ll be there!) Maybe it’s the marketing director for another institution like yours. Or all of them at the same table. Spend time with new people and come away with new friends.

One caveat,though: Most Drupal developers are very friendly, but please don’t fawn. Yes, you may be casually chatting with the person who wrote the module that runs your entire business, but they’re still just a (really smart!) person hanging around, learning stuff, and eating lunch. Please treat them as such.

Mix in the Hallway Track

DrupalCon New Orleans has 130 sessions across 13 tracks, with 11 concurrent sessions. That’s a lot of content. Fortunately, it’s also all recorded. DrupalCon has one of the best session recording programs of any conference I’ve been to, so if there are too many simultaneous sessions you really want to attend, worry not! The Drupal Association has you covered. (Unless it’s my session on PHP 7 on Wednesday at 1pm. Then just go to the session.)

So well covered, in fact, that you shouldn’t try to pack a session into every time slot. Take some time to just talk and mingle with people. Get into heated (but polite) debates about technical issues with someone you just met. Stop by the expo hall to chat with the Platform.sh team (and the other sponsors, too). Step by the Business Showcase sessions in the vendor hall, especially at 2:00 on Wednesday to see Platform.sh’s resident astronaut. :-) Collect swag from the vendor hall. (That’s why you go to a conference, right? All the free swag?)

Pace yourself

There’s so much to do at DrupalCon, including the after-parties, that it’s easy to lose track of time, or have one too many beers with those new friends you just met. Be sure to pace yourself. DrupalCon is a week-long event; don’t spend all your energy on day one. In addition to hydrating, get a good night’s sleep every night. (Note: “Good night’s sleep” is relative. A full 6 hours is generally considered a lot during DrupalCon week.)

Also, eat healthy! Although the conference lunch tries to be reasonably healthy, it’s very easy to fall into the “pizza and beer and beer” trap at the after parties with all of your new friends. Be careful to mix in plenty of protein and vegetables while you’re at it, so that you can stay upright for the next night. You want to be awake and coherent for Thursday night’s Trivia Night.

Come for the sessions, stay for the sprints

DrupalCon doesn’t end with the closing ceremony! Drupal is all about contributing and giving back. That’s how you pay for Open Source. And the best place to do that at DrupalCon is at the Sprints on Friday. You do not need to be an accomplished developer, or any developer, in order to help out. There are sprint areas for coders, for front-end devs, for documentation, for UX testing, for marketing, you name it. If there’s not yet a planned sprint for a topic you’re interested in… guess what, you’re now organizing it. (Hat tip to Cal Evans…)

Not sure what to do or where to start? There’s even a First-time Sprinter Workshop, where people will be on hand to help you get started. Even if that means starting from “So, who’s this Git I keep hearing about?” someone will be able to get you onboarded and on your way.

Go to the Prenote

Most importantly, of course, plan to get up early enough on Tuesday to attend the DrupalCon Prenote. The Prenote is a DrupalCon tradition, and a great way to break the ice, whether you’re a new attendee or seasoned DrupalCon veteran. Past years have included sketch comedy, super heros, sacrificing Dries for Christmas dinner, crustaceans, and musical comedy. I can’t give away too much for this year’s plans, but I will leak out… it will definitely sound better in person than on the recording. ;-)

Always start the Con with Dries’ favorite session.

We’ll see you in NOLA!