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A product engineer’s highlights from DrupalCon Portland 2024

17 May, 2024
Haylee Millar
Haylee Millar
Product Engineer

It was great to be back at DrupalCon Portland 2024, drawing together a diverse mix of Drupal enthusiasts, developers, and industry leaders under one roof. The buzz of new conversations and reuniting friends in the convention halls excites me every year.

I returned to Portland for the third year and immediately reminisced on the conference that started it all, DrupalCon Portland 2022. I was back in the place that started my love for the Drupal community! And now I’m sharing my highlights and learnings from the conference with you.

The impact of AI 

For me, the main takeaway remains the same each year: the community faces new and evolving problems head-on year after year. In 2023, we tackled questions of inclusivity and hate speech. This year, I was asked questions that explored different directions around emerging technology.

What solutions can AI bring to the Drupal community? I heard this question throughout the week. As a major framework in the ecommerce space, machine learning holds a space in product recommendation, as well as other varied applications. However, from my perspective, machine learning and AI ran the Internet long before the conversation became a mainstream topic for the news to cover. Social media platforms have been building and tweaking their AI to build user models that keep users addicted to their applications since their inception. 

Now that doesn’t mean skepticism isn’t a worthy cause in AI. The technology we create inherits our biases whether we like it or not. Humans err often. We must stay aware that our systems might mirror our own human weaknesses and biases. We must proceed with caution.

Welcome the new wave

The second question came up as a result of the Driesnote. In his keynote, Dries highlighted that a majority of the Drupal community has 10+ years of experience. In effect, the community isn’t bringing in new developers, rendering the current group slowly shrinking each year. Drupal has launched a new initiative—Starshot—to “enable people without Drupal experience to easily create a new Drupal site and extend it with pre-packaged recipes, all using their browser.” The new initiative hopes to expand the audience of Drupal and grow the community beyond just developers.

I first encountered Drupal professionally in 2019 during an internship at a Drupal agency. I have worked in Drupal ever since with around 5 years of experience. I fell into using Drupal. It wasn’t a framework I found in college or on my own. As a result, my perspective is that the Drupal Community should continue to target developers alongside the new Starshot initiative. Leveraging DrupalCamps, I aim to start advocating for Drupal at my alma mater as well as other local colleges and bootcamps.

The women of Drupal

I attended the Women in Drupal luncheon, The Lonely Only: Women in tech navigating a male-dominated landscape,  held by a few amazing contributors from Platform.sh partner Four Kitchens—Shanice Ortiz, Jenna Harris-Mosely, Laura Johnson, and Sebastianna Skalisky. Keeping it mostly anecdotal in person, with more concrete statistics shared in their blog post, the panel started by asking the large audience of women a small set of interactive questions. One question has stuck with me since the luncheon:

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been the only woman on your team.

Why? Because I’m 5 years into my professional career as an engineer, and I have experienced being the only woman on a team before. This is not a solved problem, and the majority raised hands in the room echoed my sentiment back to me. However, I have also had the pleasure of working on a team where the percentage of women far exceeds the industry average. In those spaces, I have found both empathy and accountability.

With both experiences in mind, I encourage the tech community to continue investing in women and other minorities so that they can thrive and be given equal opportunities. We can work together to break down internal biases. Only then will we see our own diversity reflected back at us in what we create.

Turning trivia on its head

On top of learning from others, I also held a 10-minute lightning talk on Trivia with a twist: Stretching mind and body. As my first public speaking event in 3 years, I was nervous. Encouragingly, a small crowd showed up, and we had a lot of fun! With Paul Gilzow in charge of the trivia—an open source application hosted on Platform.sh, no less—we were able to alternate between 2001-themed trivia (the year of inception for Drupal) and yoga. I enjoyed the build-up to the next trivia question while performing a yoga pose. At the end, I gave away a yoga book to the trivia winner!

Showing our appreciation for partners and customers

Added on to the great moments at the conference, we hosted a Partner and Customer Appreciation Luncheon, where we had the privilege of gathering with 36 valued partners and customers to express our gratitude for their continued innovation and collaboration.

The luncheon hosted at The Metropolitan Tavern provided a unique opportunity for conversation and meaningful connections. As plates were filled, we exchanged stories and insights about the future of Platform.sh and the ground-breaking work of our partners and customers. Thank you to those who attended!

Until next time

As we say goodbye to DrupalCon 2024, we hope to carry forward the spirit of innovation and collaboration that defines the Drupal community, continuing to push the boundaries of what's possible in the world of digital experiences. 

I have spent 5 years using Drupal as a professional tool but have always kept my distance from contributing. I suppose part of that is due to Imposter Syndrome. Year after year, I tell my coworkers I love the Drupal community and how welcoming they are without delving any deeper than the few Cons or Camps I attend yearly. In effect, I’m calling myself out. As my own commitment, it’s time to give back and properly join the community instead of looking from the outside in.

Read more about DDEV at DrupalCon Portland 2024

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A product engineer’s highlights from DrupalCon Portland 2024

A product engineer’s highlights from DrupalCon Portland 2024

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