Thoughts and Experiences at DrupalCon Portland

By mherchel, 8 June, 2022
DrupalCon Group Photo

For the first time since the pandemic, the Drupal community has gotten together at a DrupalCon. This year's DrupalCon Portland was my thirteenth in-person DrupalCon, and (like most DrupalCons) it was quite the adventure.

For me, this year was a lot different than previous years

  • I’m no longer at Lullabot 😱
  • I’m a member of the Drupal Association Board of Directors 😱😱
  • I’m leading a major Drupal core initiative to create a new default front-end theme for Drupal core 😱😱😱

It was a lot!

Weekend Board of Directors duties

I was elected into one of two Drupal Associations Board of Directors at-large positions last November. Since then, we’ve had a number of conversations over email and Slack, as well as had some procedural meetings over Zoom.

Going into this meeting, I was pretty nervous about meeting everyone and fitting in. But, I was also really excited about sharing my thoughts and view points on a subject that I’m deeply passionate about. At DrupalCon, we had two all day meetings on Saturday on Sunday.

I met up with fellow board member Ryan Szrama (rszrama) in Atlanta before my Friday inbound fight. The flight to Portland was smooth as can be expected, with a beautiful view of Mt Hood right before touchdown.

Mt Hood viewed from an airplane window
Mt Hood viewed from my inbound flight. 

When Ryan and I arrived at the hotel, I was overjoyed to see almost the entire board hanging out in the lobby and having drinks! It was a great start to the weekend!

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The next morning (after a horrible night’s sleep), I woke up and made it to the meeting. We spent the morning doing procedural chores with the chairperson (Baddy) walking us through the motions.

We had a lunch and relaxed on the patio outside our meeting room, and goofed off a bit.

Funny picture of us goofing off, looking like we're having a fight with a chair and punches being thrown.
From left to right: Nick (throwing chair), Baddy (taking the pic), Owen (throwing the punch), Nikhil (🤷‍♂️) , and Mike (taking the punch)

That afternoon we got to work on a lot of challenging and “fun” topics, including what we need to do to make Drupal succeed within the next ten years. The conversations were lively, passionate, difficult, and set the stage for Sunday’s meeting to determine more concrete steps that the board can take.

One of my biggest take-aways from Saturday is how nice of a group of people the board is composed of. I fully expected one or more people not to take me seriously, or to immediately dismiss my ideas. That didn't happen at all! My ideas were evaluated, iterated on, and responded to. The overall feeling in the room was one of warmness, excitement, and a little bit of exhaustion (the long meetings were brutal).

After a good night sleep, we reconvened Sunday morning. I sat across the table from a big window looking out to the snow-capped mountains of the Cascades. Although, I feel fortunate that I was able to participate in the discussions, I also had a serious case of FOMO because of my inability to be out hiking and experiencing nature.

DA board members around a table in a meeting room
Our meeting room. if you could see out the windows a bit better, you'd see an amazing vista of the Cascade mountains with snow-capped peaks.

Sunday’s discussions were more “big picture” items, but with a more tangible twist. We’re trying to figure out how the DA can increase innovation, what that looks like, how to measure it, and what needs to happen. The discussions are still continuing and hopefully will bear fruit within the next year or so.

After the board meeting ended, we had a nice relaxing happy hour with the staff of the Drupal Association. I knew some of the staff on the engineering side, so I made a point to hang out with the other folks from the marketing and event departments. All of them were super impressive and left a really good impression on me. Meeting them was important for me, so we can relate at a more friendly level.

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After the happy hour, I met up with a number of former coworkers at Lullabot. It was sooo heart-warming to walk into the restaurant and get hugs and welcomes all around. I really miss these people.

Matthew Tift and I wrapping arms and drinking beers
Matthew Tift and I having drinks in our own special way.

On to the conference!

Monday’s DrupalCon schedule was filled with summits and trainings — all which cost a bit of money, and I didn’t attend. However, the code sprints were in full effect, and I participated with Cristina Chumillas (ckrina) and Lauri Eskola (lauriii) in a Claro code sprint. Claro is the new administrative theme in Drupal core, and (as I’ll get to later) it was made to be the default in Drupal core later this week! 

Folks sitting around a table with computers writing code.
Claro code sprint

I also made sure to get out early and load up on those sweet Drupal t-shirts 😀. A lot of my wardrobe is made up of free t-shirts from various conferences that I attend, so it’s been getting a bit threadbare because of Covid.

I purposefully took it easy Monday night and got dinner with Mike Anello (ultimike), Ted Bowman (tedbow), and Martin Anderson-Clutz (mandclu). Mike and Ted are pretty responsible, so I gave them the responsibility of chaperoning me (😆) back to my hotel room so I wouldn’t get stuck in the hotel lobby until early Tuesday morning, although not 100% successful, they did an admirable job (thanks!).

Tuesday - my big day!

Tuesday was my big day! I had two presentations, and a question and answer session with the Drupal Association. 

The day started off with Jen Witkowski (jwitkowski79) and I presenting on Painless Designer to Developer Handoffs at 8:30am. This talk details hardships and steps that designers can take to make my life (as a front-end developer) easier, and save time and money. We go into details such as the need for components, handling variations,  documentation, etc.

I was pretty concerned that no one would show up that early, but the room became fairly packed — I was blasting Every Day I’m Drupalin’ prior to the session to draw people in and pump them up. 

Jen presenting in front of a room full of people
Jen presenting with me at DrupalCon Portland on "Painless Designer to Developer Handoffs"

The session went really well, and afterwards we had a lot of questions and folks lined up to talk to us. Jen told me that one person even asked if they could pay us to come out and speak to their company (yes)! You can checkout the session below.

Next up, I was participating in a Q&A session for the Drupal Association Board of Directors. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but Tim Lehnen (hestenet) was doing the moderating and he handled the questions well, handled the audience well, and was the ultimate professional. He really missed his calling as a game show host, in my opinion.

To be honest, I was pretty nervous being on stage with Dries and other big names in the community. In addition, I was thrown off by the audio — there was a slight reverb that we could hear while we were talking that made it difficult to concentrate. But we got used to the reverb and the Q&A went well. The "Community Chat" session is below.

During lunch I met up with other Drupal core maintainers including Dries (dries), Angie (webchick), and Gábor (gábor-hojtsy) to talk about what’s working, and what’s not working with the Drupal core contribution process. 

One of the things that was brought up multiple times is “perfect is the enemy of good”, where Drupal’s quest for perfect code can unreasonably hold up changes that offer vast improvements in Drupal core. 

I had to leave a bit early to get ready for my next session, Building Olivero’s hyper-accessible (and beautiful) navigation from the ground up, which details the enormous amount of accessibility, user experience, and architectural work that went in to Olivero’s primary menu system. I talk about the multitudes of accessibility, and usability issues that go into a seemingly simple menu. I've given this talk before (at Front Conf in Zurich, Switzerland), and I was excited to give it again. 

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The room was packed, the session went well, and I also had a lot of questions at the end! Check out the talk below.

I was pumped to have all of my “professional” obligations done after the first day, so I was excited to let loose. I went with a bunch of former Lullabot coworkers out for sushi (along with fellow board member Owen Lansbury (owenlansbury)), and then met up with JD Flynn (dorficus) and crew to finish up the night signing karaoke at a Portland dive bar.

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It was a blast, and I had the whole crowd dancing to “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyruss! I finally made it back to the Hyatt at a respectable 1:30am, and was immediately met by my roommate Lauri Eskola, who said, “WE GOT CLARO AS THE DEFAULT IN CORE!!!”. We high fived, and then I went to sleep. 

Moving toward the end of the week

Wednesday ended up being a somewhat relaxed day, with little obligations for me. I arrived at the conference a bit late, and attended the Driesnote (the Drupal project lead’s specially named keynote session), where Dries talked a bit about Olivero (and called me out by name)!

In the afternoon, Lauri, Gábor, and I started to realize it might be possible to get Olivero in as the default front-end theme for Drupal core, which along with Claro (which went in as the default admin theme on Tuesday), comprise the look and feel of Drupal core. We realized if we were able to make this happen, Drupal 9.4.0 (to be released this June) would be a monumental release with dramatically better user experience for Drupal core (many years in the making). We were all really excited to make this happen!

The work required to make this happen involved re-writing a lot of PHP tests that assume the old theme (Bartik) is still in place. Luckily for me (and unluckily for him) I snagged’s Joe Shindelar (eojthebrave) and tricked him into doing work on updating the tests. Lauri, Gábor, and Joe put in several hours of work (with me watching), and then we retired for the day with the patch still needing work.

That night I attended the Lullabot party, which was at a Portland bowling alley. It was really relaxing and fun at the same time. Lots of friends were there bowling, playing arcade games, etc. I bowled with Baddy (baddysonja), Suzanne Dergacheva (pixelite), and others, and I also had my ass kicked in air hockey by Cristina Chumillas! One of the highlights of the party was convincing former coworker Matthew Tift (mtift) to distract another former coworker, Chris Albrecht (keyboardcowboy), while I snagged a few extra drink tickets (disclaimer: this was all done in good fun)! 

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After the Lullabot party, I walked over to Pantheon’s party, which had a live band, a llama, free local beers and wines and more! Then there was the Pantheon after-party, which entailed having a cocktail bar filled up with casino games (blackjack, craps, poker, etc). I managed to get a seat at the poker table, and immediately lost all of my chips. The bar was packed, loud, and a lot of fun!

View from a poker table showing a full table with little chips, and a glass of beer
View from the Pantheon after-party poker table showing my rapidly dwindling pile of chips.

Thursday and making the Olivero theme the default for Drupal

Thursday morning I woke up a bit late and sauntered toward the contribution room. Lauri and Joe were hard at work continuing to get Olivero’s tests passing. Over the night, other folks from around the world had jumped in and made progress, and we were closer than ever!

However, core’s automated test suite was being really finicky, and so in addition to legitimate test failures, we were also dealing with some random test failures 😬. 

Gábor came up with an idea to do the commit live right before Drupal trivia night, so we had a deadline to get the tests passing. Late that afternoon, we finally got them passing on the 9.4.x branch, but but not on the  Drupal 10 branch (the codebases have already diverged enough so a second patch is needed). 

It came down to a dramatic battle of wills with the testbot on one side, and Lauri, Joe, Gábor, and me on the other. Lauri would watch the test runs in, which has got to be the most boring nerd-sport ever, and in the event of a legitimate failure, he would fix it and post a new patch before the test suite even finished running! 

Looking over Lauri's shoulder as he watches his computer screen with lots of green text
Lauri watching the Olivero test runs at DrupalCon Portland contribution sprints.

With the tests failing, we made one more last ditch effort to get the 10.0.x branch to pass. In the meantime, Gábor gave the okay to do the 9.4.x commit live, and he coordinated with the trivia night organizers to make this happen. At the same time, I texted other leads and contributors and asked them if they wanted to join in over Zoom. We were ready!

When the time came, we shared Lauri’s screen on the room projector, and had Jen Witkowski, Jared Ponchot (jponch), Putra Bonaccorsi (proeung), and Andy Blum (andy-blum) all join in via Zoom. I talked about Olivero for a minute and then led the crowd in a 10 second countdown. When the time came, Lauri pressed [Enter] and pushed the code! It was done (at lease for the 9.4.x branch)!

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Trivia night was fun, and (as normal) my team were getting our asses handed to us. During an intermission, I walked by Lauri's table, and he waved me over. The Drupal 10.0.x tests have all passed, and would I like to hit the button to commit the code? YES!

After trivia, I headed over to the Hyatt lobby (which by this time had become the defacto DrupalCon hangout) to celebrate. I ended up hanging out for a few hours laughing celebrating, and planning our next moves in the realm of the Drupal front-end (more on that in another blog post). 

Wrapping up the week with a bit of Covid

With DrupalCon a wrap, I headed across the country to Knoxville, Tennessee for my cousin's wedding. Travel was easy, but I started to not feel all that well. On the way to the wedding the next day, I stopped and purchased an at-home Covid test, which I administered to myself in the parking lot of the grocery store. It was immediately positive. So, I called and emailed my family, emailed the Drupal Association, and quarantined up. Luckily my bout with Covid wasn't difficult (I'm vaccinated and have been taking extra Vitamin D), and passed fairly quickly. 

All in all, this was an amazing, exciting, and exhausting DrupalCon. I wouldn't have it any other way (..except maybe with less Covid). 


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