The BURNING Question: What was HOT at DrupalCon 2013?


The BURNING Question: What was HOT at DrupalCon 2013?


As a web developer, you were faced with a unique decision this year. Should you get your ultimate geek on at the 2013 DrupalCon in Portland, Oregon, OR get your ultimate freak on at the 2013 Burning Flipside art and music festival in Austin, Texas?

For many of you, the choice was clear. Drupal seems to be here for the long-haul. If DrupalCon attendance follows its historic growth patterns, it will truly reach some mammoth proportions 5 years from now. It’s not going anywhere. On the other hand, there are a limited number of years that you can get away with attendance at the Burning Flipside festival. Eventually you’re going to turn into the old geezer that’s heckling from the sidelines, or maybe you’ll gain a significant other that doesn’t quite approve of the shenanigans necessary for a good art and music festival. Enjoy it while you can, brother. I salute you.

While you’re enjoying that fantastic Austin weather, I’ve ‘taken one for the team’ this year. I did the responsible thing. I went to DrupalCon 2013. But don’t mistake that to mean that DrupalCon was a bust. I enjoyed a city I had never visited, ate some fantastic food, watched a couple spectacular presentations (and some coma-inducing ones as well), made new business contacts with some groups we’d like to partner with, and generally enjoyed touching base with both old and new acquaintances in the Drupal community. The web team at Interworks truly walked away from the conference stronger than when we arrived.

Now that we’re all back in the office, you don’t have time to watch all of those re-cap videos from the conference you didn’t attend. Once again, I’m here with the executive summary to save you time in getting to the meat of the conference.

MONDAY: The Trip to Portland

My trip to Portland began with an upgraded seat (first class seat 3A) on the plane from OKC to DFW. While this is only a short 30 minute hop, it’s always nice to get that surprise. The rest of my flights were on time and uneventful, and I met up with Scott Siemens at the PDX airport so we could share a ride to the hotel.

Shortly after checking into the hotel, we met up with Dalton Parsons and Javod Khalaj. We immediately tracked down a highly recommended Portland eatery so we could plan our strategy for the week. Jake’s Famous Crawfish earned our patronage and we weren’t disappointed. I have a pretty nasty shellfish allergy so I ordered the steak, but my colleagues raved about the seafood. Even Scott, normally being an exclusive pizza and tacos aficionado, tried the calamari and asparagus, and liked it!

TUESDAY: Fired Up!

Tuesday kicked off with a presentation that I had at the top of my list: How Oregon State University Manages Large Scale Drupal. With all the work that Interworks is involved in at Oklahoma State University, this session was a no brainer. I was really interested to see how they had addressed some of the problems that we are facing. They’ve gotten quite a bit further into their deployment of Drupal, and I’m glad that they illustrated how difficult it’s getting to manage 500+ separate Drupal sites. Their solution is Organic Groups for departments where it makes sense to combine Drupal sites. It was also interesting to see how they had implemented their own version of the Multisite model using symbolic links to a common codebase. The fact that they had used Drupal version numbers as part of their symbolic link path is a great idea since you can immediately see what version of core a site is running from the directory structure. It also illustrated that they’re stuck in the world of Drupal 6 still. I was in a later session where Paul Lieberman asked the speaker a question about upgrading to Drupal 7, and the recommendation was to skip that version and wait until Drupal 8 is released next year. That sounds like a massive undertaking given the size of their deployment. I’ll be interested to see how they proceed over the next year or so.

Asset Management in Drupal 8 made it clear that the core developers are taking away two of my favorite functions: drupal_add_js() and drupal_add_css(). It makes sense that they are removing those, given the negative impact they have on performance and site caching. But it bummed me out nevertheless. Those functions have been my security blankie on past projects.

We ended Tuesday by participating in an emergency code sprint to assist emergency responders with the Moore, OK tornado relief efforts. There was an inspiring turnout of developers for this event, and our main contribution was in the discussions around promoting the site that would eventually be developed to facilitate ride sharing and housing needs for the disaster area. Social media was an obvious avenue but we also made contacts back in Oklahoma to get the support of media outlets and the Oklahoma Drupalers Group just in case there was a need for that.

WEDNESDAY: Does the Rain Stop in this City?

Some of us were better at acclimating to the cold precipitation in Portland than others, but the public transit system really made it easy for us to traverse the city without getting too soaked. That is, when we boarded the correct bus. More about that in a minute.

The first break-out session that I attended was Chris Blow’s Design Ops: A UX Workflow for 2013. Hands down, I give this session the award for being the most entertaining, while being the most devoid of anything that I could write in my notes. I was inspired by the use of expletives in his presentation. Chris truly has an inspiring speaking style. His monotone wit was delivered in a manner very similar to Steven Wright. His thoughts were perfectly timed to flow from one to the next, and he threw no less than an average of 3 slides per minute at us. At the end of the presentation, I’d say his cookie monster slide really summed things up nicely with its “WTF is This?” caption. That being said, I’m pretty sure I understood what Chris was really getting at. Designers should do some coding once in a while. Coders should do some design once in a while. It only serves to make you better at your role on the team when you understand how the other side of the coin works.

I walked away with mixed feelings about Drupal 8’s new templating engine after attending Using Twig: The New Template Engine in Drupal 8. I’m fully behind what they’re trying to do in terms of performance improvements, but it feels like they’re taking away quite a bit of the PHP that I’ve grown familiar and comfortable with. I’m keeping the faith that they’ll make good on their promise to provide equivalent Twig tools that replace how I’ve approached template development in the past. More than anything, I’m interested to see how this is going to affect some of the starter themes that we use.

After the conference closed up for the day, I was really pushing to visit Pok Pok for supper. I had seen the episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives that highlighted the cuisine, and I couldn’t wait to give the boar collar and Vietnamese wings a try. Our group had pretty much followed Dalton around the city blindly up to this point, so we boarded a bus behind him confident that we were on the road to amazing Thai food. It didn’t take long for our smartphone GPS apps to illustrate that we were generally heading in the right direction, albeit somewhere around 15 blocks askew of our intended bus stop. We exited the bus and began our side-long journey through the downpour of Portland, although I had layered and prepared for a detour like this. We were all soaked to varying degrees by the time we arrived at the restaurant. Dalton’s detours had already earned the nickname ‘forced march’ and this walk gave that term some serious meaning.

There was a 45 minute wait for a table once we arrived, but Pok Pok has a sister café across the street called the Whiskey Soda Lounge. It was pretty cool to sit there and have some drinks (out of the rain) while we waited, and our Whiskey Lounge waiter even told us when our table was ready across the street. We ordered several items and shared everything so we could enjoy a variety and there was nothing that disappointed. If you’re in Portland, track this place down. You won’t find Thai food like this anywhere, period.

THURSDAY: Wrapping Up

One of the major initiatives that I’ve been interested in for Drupal 8 is the new Configuration management, so Thursday’s most exciting session from my perspective was Greg Dunlap’s Using the Drupal 8 Configuration System. The problems that we’re facing at Oklahoma State University with rolling out feature updates and security patches will almost entirely go away once we can move to Drupal 8’s configuration management model. In a nutshell, they’ve moved anything that’s configuration related (permissions, CCK, views settings, etc.) to flat files so you’re not colliding with user content in the database. Not only does this make it easier for us to apply those updates, the flat configuration files are easily versioned now, whereas it was next to impossible to version the database-stored configurations in previous versions of Drupal.

I’m hoping that the plan for configuration management extends to the multisite model for Drupal. I could see some real advantages to having a central configuration that all sites share, while still allowing single configuration files to exist in the sub-sites as an override for the global setup. A good example might be that one of your sites needs to have 10 items in a view instead of the 5 that all other sites display. It would just be epic if it winds up working that way.

Dalton’s bus-finding privileges had been revoked by the time the conference broke up for the day. So we consulted Yelp for an eatery within a few blocks of our hotel. Since our server admin colleagues from Oklahoma State University were also attending the conference, it seemed like a great night to gather and review our thoughts on what we’d seen. We all agreed to visit Karam Lebanese and Syrian Cuisine. We ate the goat. We ate the lamb. We had kabobs. I ordered Baba Ghannouj because it’s just plain fun to say, AND it’s quite tasty. I’ve never liked hummus, but it was REALLY good at Karam. The Labne cheese was a delicious surprise as well. But it was the chicken shawarma that I just couldn’t eat enough of. That stuff was AMAZING. The Lebanese Pilsner was a nice complement to all the food that was served. And I still hated the stuffed grape leaves. I just don’t like those things, I think.

FRIDAY: The Trip Home and Conclusions

Dalton and I traveled from PDX to DFW together on the way home, although I had an additional two hour layover as he boarded his plane to OKC. It turns out that I was in the better position since his flight sat on the runway waiting for the weather to clear while I grabbed a sandwich and explored the airport. In the end, his flight landed in OKC no more than 10 minutes before mine.

It was a whirlwind trip, but it energized my enthusiasm for Drupal and the development community. I had already started formulating the thoughts for this blog post when I realized that next year, there will be no scheduling dilemma. DrupalCon 2014 will be held in Austin, Texas. Coincidence? I think not.

More About the Author

Matt Mueggenborg

Lead Web Developer
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The BURNING Question: What was HOT at DrupalCon 2013? As a web developer, you were faced with a unique decision this year. Should you get your ultimate geek on at the 2013 DrupalCon in ...

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