A Look Back: DrupalCon New Orleans 2016
This past week I had the great pleasure of attending DrupalCon New Orleans 2016 where I was introduced to new ideas, technologies, workflows, and a vibrant community of Drupal enthusiasts.
The week started out with what is affectionately known as the “Driesnote” in which Dries Buytaert, Founder and Project Lead of Drupal, presented the state of the Drupal project. Given the recent release of Drupal 8 (D8) in November 2015, this year’s talk was highly anticipated. As Dries noted in his presentation, “Drupal has reinvented itself with every release” — and D8 is no exception.
In his presentation, Dries discussed how customer, editorial, and developer experiences are the key factors to a successful product or website. Together, these three experiences can drive Drupal to the “ultimate [market] position,” which he defined as the product of Drupal’s richness (number of capabilities) and its reach (number of people who use it). While listening, I couldn’t agree more as I thought of how other web solutions often fail one or even two of the three experiences. In closing, Dries succinctly summed up the path forward for Drupal: “We’re playing the long game, and we’ll win.”
Over the course of the week, I attended sessions and demos on a range of topics surrounding D8. I met with hosting providers such as Pantheon, Platform.sh, and Linode, each of which promised better tools, management, and faster platforms — not to mention enough swag to require an additional suitcase. However, the most valuable experiences came from the hour-long sessions where I learned about DevOps, Service Workers, and Pattern Lab for D8, among other things.
Technically DevOps has been around since the dawn of the World Wide Web, but only as recently as 2008-2009 has it been a recognized discipline (with a name) that can be someone’s full-time job, much like that of a front-end developer. Simply put, DevOps is the process by which a website moves between development, staging, and production environments and is tested and built throughout that cycle. At DrupalCon I was introduced to the idea of immutable infrastructure, where the only mutable thing on a server is the data; the server itself needs to be rebuilt whenever a change in configuration is required. This is analogous in many ways to deploying production artifacts, as described by Michelle Krejci in her excellent talk about using a build task to create all of the required files for a website. This is an exciting new field for me because it has the potential for faster and more precise deployments that can eliminate launch problems, regressions, and many other issues that arise from the nomad-like nature of a website.
The shiny new browser API dubbed Service Workers is a particularly intriguing feature that allows a website to behave normally (for the most part) on a mobile device without an Internet connection. Although browser support is still limited, it is a feature to keep an eye on for our clients such as Forest Park Forever Map, whose users might find themselves in the middle of the Best City Park in America with bad cell service. With Service Workers it might be possible to continue browsing location detail information while offline. The session at DrupalCon by Saket Kumar and Piyuesh Kumar had a nice demo of this functionality.
I had heard of Pattern Lab before, but the demonstration on how the idea of using an atomic design system could be directly integrated into Drupal renewed my interest greatly. The implementation demonstrated by Adam Juran and Chaz Chumley on how to build so-called atoms, molecules, organisms, templates, and pages could be enormously helpful for our larger, more complex websites where uniformity and flexibility are both key features of the design. The streamlined approach could be beneficial to designers just as much as developers and I’m looking forward to giving it a spin once it is a bit more fleshed out for D8.
With the web dev landscape changing so frequently it can be difficult at times to keep abreast of everything, and attending a DrupalCon with 3,102 other Dupalites is one of the best ways to do exactly that. Looking back, the week was an invaluable experience for me, not only for the amazing food and awesome things to do, but for what I learned — including what I can start using immediately, improve on, and explore further in my web development career to better service our clients. I’m already looking forward to my next DrupalCon (possibly Baltimore 2017?) and wondering how it will guide me in similar ways.