So It's Your First Time at DrupalCon

Everything you wanted to know about DrupalCon

… but were afraid to ask

Contributed by Jeffrey "JAM" McGuire (horncologne)

If you are getting ready to attend your first DrupalCon, here are a few ideas to help you prepare for an intense week of open source software community. Watch the interview video for more tips and inspiration from my Drupal friends Hussain Abbas, Baddý Breidert, Jordana Fung, and Rachel Lawson.

Open source software is not a bunch of code repos with human creator-servants perpetuating its existence. Sharing with each other the tiny pieces we can contribute as individuals, coming together to build solutions for anyone to use and further improve, creates a whole much greater than the sum of its parts: community.

The code is only a byproduct of our real killer app in open source: tens of thousands of smart people who like solving hard problems together. And you’re going to meet a few thousand of those people at DrupalCon!

First-timers, don’t miss this:

Whatever else you do, you should make it to these three things at DrupalCon Nashville:

  • First-time Attendee Social - Monday, 3:30 p.m., Level 3 Foyer. A short orientation for newcomers, to help understand the mechanics of DrupalCon and introduce you to new Drupal friends. As the Drupal Association says, “Starting out the week with a buddy makes networking and navigating an unfamiliar event so much easier!”
  • The Prenote - Tuesday, 8 a.m., Hall A. Get a taste of real Drupal community tradition: The Grand Ole Drupry Prenote will be full of geeky jokes, dubious amateur singing, and way more fun and energy than you’d expect on a Tuesday morning. The DrupalCon kickoff has become the stuff of legend … or at least the best way to get a good seat for the keynote right after it.
  • The Driesnote - Tuesday, 9 a.m., Hall A. Opening keynote address by Drupal Project Lead, Dries Buytaert. Get Dries’s take on the state of Drupal and what’s on his mind for the immediate and long-term future of Drupal.
  • DrupalCon social events take place every evening. Trivia Night on Thursday has been my personal highlight at more than one Con.

Video: Everything you wanted to know about DrupalCon, but were afraid to ask

Who is in the interview video?

To help you get the most out of your (first) DrupalCon, I asked a few people to share their thoughts with me. Thank you all for your contribution!

And who am I you might ask? Here are my answers to a couple of my own interview questions:

  • Who are you? What do you do?
  • What is DrupalCon? What is it for?
    • DrupalCon is an enormous show-and-tell. Lots of us come to community events because we have solved a problem of some kind or figured out a new and better way of doing something and we want to share that with you! Most of us also come because we want to know what you have figured out and want to share because that might help and inspire us, too!
  • What was your first DrupalCon?
    • DrupalCon Brussels, 2006
  • What do you remember from your first DrupalCon?
    • One of my standout memories was registration: I handed Dries €20 as I walked in the door and was handed a t-shirt.
    • Evening social events were organized via yelling: Boris Mann standing on a table in the venue explaining very loudly when and where the 200 of us were going to meet.
  • What should first-time attendees know about DrupalCon ahead of time?
    • There’s a whole blog post below here that covers that …
  • What are your top tips for first-time attendees to DrupalCon North America?
    • Along with everything else in this post … bring a sweater and drink enough water.

Plan your DrupalCon

You might be traveling a long distance and spending quite a bit of money to be at DrupalCon. Making a plan ahead of time will help you get the most out of your precious time with the community. Look at the session and activity plan based on your needs and interests. People will tell you not to go to a session in every single time slot–I get the most value out of meeting and getting to know others at DrupalCon … and the sessions are all recorded and available online–but you can do that, too, if that’s what you need! Plan a little time to meet and thank the sponsors that make DrupalCon possible in the exhibitors’ area. Expect spur-of-the-moment conversations. Keep in mind the Con is a few days long, plan some sleep and rest along the way!

Build your personal schedule

  • Check the DrupalCon Schedule for each day of the Con. If you are logged into the site, you can save sessions to your personal online schedule.

  • Want to meet someone in particular? Look up speakers and community members, reach out to them, contact them via or Twitter.
  • Don’t forget the BoFs, sprints, social events (every night of the week!), and try to make it to the First-Time Sprinter Workshop!
  • DrupalCon Apps. Lemberg Solutions has kindly provided DrupalCon apps for iOS and Android. They’ve worked well for me in the past. I’ll be using one on my phone again this time around.

Packing for DrupalCon

Here are a few ideas that have helped me at past DrupalCons:

  • Comfortable shoes. The days are long and the nights can be, too. DrupalCon is definitely not a fashion show; wear shoes that will still feel good after you’ve been on your feet for multiple long days.
  • Refillable water bottle. Keeping hydrated through long days in air-conditioned halls is essential! Creating less paper and plastic waste, too.
  • Snacks. There will be food available at the Con, but add a few snacks or mints if that’s the kind of thing that helps you get through a long mentally intensive day, too.
  • Bring a sweater to the convention center. Or dress in layers. I live in Europe, and I find US buildings to be way over-air-conditioned. Even if it’s hot outside, I throw a cardigan or sweatshirt in my bag for the convention venue.
  • Carry as little as possible. Bring enough devices to take notes, keep charged, and get your job done. Lug as little gear with you as possible. Your back and shoulders will thank you.
  • Bring US plug adapters and/or a multiplug powerstrip. It’s a great way to make friends when outlets are scarce :-)
  • Business cards. Even at an open source tech conference, old-school, paper-based contact info is helpful. Pro-tip: white, non-laminated business cards are the way to go. It’s a huge help if there’s a little room on the card for you or your new contact to add a URL, sketch, or notes on the conversation you just had.
  • Leave room in your bags to take home free t-shirts, giveaways, and goodies that you pick up.

During DrupalCon

  • Be social (media): Tweet, post, and share the smart, inspiring, useful stuff that you learn!
    • @DrupalConNA is the official North American DrupalCon Twitter account.
    • Hashtags: #DrupalCon #DCSprints #DCDriesnote #DC ... Keep an eye out for others in use.
    • The folks who can’t be with us in person will be grateful for your updates about what is going on at DrupalCon!
  • Be sociable! Introduce yourself to new people at lunch, sessions, and activities. Don’t just hang out with your friends and colleagues. Get to know your community, your peers, mentors, future colleagues. This is the single most valuable use of your time at community events.
  • Ask questions. Speakers are always happy to talk about the topics they’ve worked so hard on to present to you.
  • Don’t like, understand, need the session you’re in? You are free to leave quietly. Your time is valuable, and a lot is going on. Go find the next thing!
  • Visit the sponsors in the Exhibition Hall. Thank all these companies for making DrupalCon possible. They’ll have fun competitions, swag to take home with you, drinks, snacks, and information about who they are and what they do.
  • Charge your stuff. As Cory Doctorow put it, “The first rule of the frequent flyer is ABC: Always Be Charging.” Do I need to tell you this? Probably not. Now ... Don't forget to plug everything in to charge before you go to bed!
  • Contribution is for everyone! Open source everything we put into it. If you want to (learn how to ) contribute code, check out the DrupalCon Sprints page. There will be mentors around on Friday if you need help and orientation getting started.
    • Sprints April 9-12: 104A-C at Music City Center
    • Sprint Day April 13: General Sprints, Mentored Core Sprint, First-Time Sprinter Workshop at Music City Center - Add your name to the Sprint Spreadsheet

After DrupalCon

  • Follow up. Look through your photos, the business cards you collected, and all your new social media contacts. Send emails, set up meetings, ask that question you forgot to ask when you were there. Tweet what a great time you had. Thank people.
  • Tell people what you got out of DrupalCon. Tell your boss and colleagues what you learned. Post a blog, do a podcast!.
  • After the Con is before the next Con! Start planning your session submission for the next DrupalCon! Once you have it put together, take it to your local user group, regional Drupal Camp, lunch and learn at your workplace. Check Drupical to see where the next upcoming Drupal community events are in the world.
  • Take part in the Drupal Association survey. You’ll get an email about it right after DrupalCon. Help the DA make the next one even better. Tell them what was great and what could have been better. If there is an open field for comments, I’m going to thank the DA staff for their hard work running DrupalCon, too.

Credits & Inspiration

My thanks to the authors the following posts for their help and inspiration: