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Attending DrupalCon Amsterdam 2014

Bicycles. Canals. Boats. Tulips. Drupal. This year, Amsterdam had a new landmark to identify with. More than 2,300 Drupalistas attended the yearly European conference that gets the Drupal community together for a week to discuss all things Drupal, as well as other cutting edge web technologies and project management methodologies.

Drupal Conference building Amsterdam

Outside DrupalCon – happy we’re definitely in the right place

Among them, a good number of colleagues around the University who made the trip to the capital of Netherlands to attend and engage with other professionals. Since we’re now in the second year of developing EdWeb, the new central University Drupal-based CMS, it was very useful to attend and better understand what the future holds for the University as a Drupal adopter.

DrupalCon Amsterdam 2014 website

DrupalCons are the major Drupal community events held two or three times a year. These are the gathering places for the community of thousands of Drupal users, developers, designers, evaluators, and business people to participate in sessions, talks, code sprints, and social events.

EdWeb project team in Amsterdam

The University of Edinburgh DrupalCon attendees at large in Amsterdam

Quick conference feedback from colleagues

I asked colleagues who attended the conference to answer 2 questions:

  1. What was the best DrupalCon Amsterdam 2014 session for you?
  2. What was the most important point you took away from the conference?
DrupalCon conference session

Getting down to business at DrupalCon

Some of the answers are quite technical and some are not, but this showcases the diversity of people attending DrupalCon.

Mairi Fraser

  1. The best session of the week for me was “Automated Frontend Testing”. It covered familiar ground since we have automated testing built into our deployment using Selenium WebDriver. However, the session demonstrated several tools that we might explore to extend our testing capability and make our deployment process more robust. Not only was the technical content of the session excellent, but the session was very well structured and contained many interesting code examples.Chris Ruppel’s “Automated Frontend Testing” presentation
  2. The most important point I took away from the conference was the increasing breadth of tools and techniques available to improve our development processes, many of which were demonstrated and discussed in the DevOps strand of the conference. In the past couple of years we have adopted Bamboo for automated deployment to optimise our deployment process; more recently we’ve been exploring tools such as Puppet to bring a degree of automation to the creation of deployment environments. Whilst these are important improvements, the DevOps presentations at DrupalCon illustrate how much more we can do. Although the focus of the conference was Drupal, we should be exploring further the principles of DevOps across all projects, not just the development of the University’s new central Drupal CMS.

Mairi is a Senior Analyst Developer within IS Applications Division’s Project Services and is a member of the EdWeb CMS development team. She has posted a daily review of DrupalCon using feedback from University colleagues who attended on the IS Applications Development blog.

IS at DrupalCon Amsterdam – Day 1

IS at DrupalCon Amsterdam – Day 2

IS at DrupalCon Amsterdam – Day 3

Tim Gray

  1. The best session that I attended was probably “12 best practices from Wunderkraut”, closely followed by the session on “The recipe for success: How BBC Good Food used Drupal to the ride the wave of changing consumption habits”. Both of these sessions did not deliver any real light bulb moments but a few good tips and confirmation that generally what we are doing is the right thing. The sessions were also good for reflecting how we approach certain aspects of the work and gives valuable time to take a step back and see things from slightly further afield.“12 best practices from Wunderkraut” session
    Jess Iandorio’s “The recipe for success: How BBC Good Food used Drupal” presentation
  2. It is difficult to pinpoint one single thing as the most important point from the week. I find DrupalCon slightly different to other conferences in that there is much more of a two-way exchange of information and views. The keynotes on Tuesday and Wednesday were, as they were last year, very interesting and informative. The strategy that Dries talked about of enabling companies to build up their Drupal  profile in a Drupal world is a key point in continuing investment and success of the technology but at the same time has the potential to be contentious in an Open Source community – a fine touch is required to pull that off.

Tim is a Senior Project and Programme Manager within IS Applications Division’s Project Services, is the University Website Programme’s Programme Manager and the Project Manager for the project to deliver the EdWeb CMS.

Riky Harris

  1. While there were so many rewarding sessions, the best session for me was probably “Understanding the Building Blocks of Performance”. While this was a technical session where I possibly learnt the least, it was excellent to have the architecture of our Drupal servers vindicated by Josh Waihi from Acquia’s presentation.Josh Waihi’s “Understanding the Building Blocks of Performance” presentation
  2. I found that attending DrupalCon was an incredibly valuable experience. There were technical talks for every session, so it gave me a great opportunity to learn a massive amount from various infrastructural and DevOps experts – some of which is very applicable to all services the University runs and not just Drupal.The most important point I took away from DrupalCon is that we really need to start implementing more DevOps practices: configuration management and centralised logging and monitoring were two running themes of the DevOps strand which I have taken back to the Development Technology team and hope to pursue further.

Riky has a role of Systems Administrator within IS Applications Division’s Development Services and is the EdWeb CMS system architecture lead.

Andrew Hobden

  1. I liked the “Drupal in the Hip Hop Virtual Machine” session. The speaker was engaging and presented a good description of the new drop in replacement for the PHP interpreter.Josh Koenig’s “Drupal in the Hip Hop Virtual Machine” presentation.
  2. There were a few different sessions on both deployment and software development that were larger than just Drupal. The Drupal community is maturing in terms of software development methodology and adopting many industry standard practices. Of course, they are also making some nice tools to make it a bit easier.

Andrew is an Applications Support Analyst within IS Applications Division’s Production Management and is a member of the EdWeb CMS development team.

Arthur Wilson

  1. I found the sessions about Headless Drupal and the De-coupled front end the most interesting and relevant.Mikkel Høgh’s “Building Modern Web Applications with Ember.js and Headless Drupal” presentation
    David Hwang’s “Decoupled front-end and the future” presentation
  2. The most important point I took away from the conference was that Drupal 8 will have rest services in core and this will make it easier to use Drupal for headless/de-coupled frontend applications.

Arthur is a member of the IS Web Integration Team and he and Aileen Robertson, another colleague from the IS Web Integration Team who attended DrupalCon, have put up their notes on the InSite wiki.

DrupalCon 2014 LTW Web Integration Team report (requires EASE login)

And, finally, my own notes and thoughts…

  1. It was really difficult for one session to stand out because the presentation level was very high and there was so much theme diversity. My two candidates for the top spot though, were the “How to Sell Agile” and “Integration of Elasticsearch in Drupal” sessions. It seems like everyone is running projects in an agile way these days, but that doesn’t mean all problems are solved by just using the methodology. There could still be flaws, delays and unsuccessful projects, so it was nice hearing what are the common problems and mistakes in implementing Agile. In a totally different theme, Elasticsearch is a schema-free database framework that can be used within Drupal to index multiple datasets without really setting any rules for their structure, hence the schema-free characteristic. A live use demo of this search framework highlighted its usefulness within environments with lots of different content types.Vesa Palmu’s “How to Sell Agile” presentation
    Nikolay Ignatov’s “Integration of Elasticsearch in Drupal – The “New School” Search Engine” presentation
  2. This was my first ever visit to a DrupalCon, so it was an overwhelming experience in general. The most important point I took away was how powerful the Drupal community really is. Literally thousands of people discussing, collaborating and, mainly, contributing code and know-how to extend existing modules and make future Drupal versions better and more usable. Furthermore, it really reinforced the positive feeling of the University being really extrovert and engaging with the Drupal community, which was created during participation in DrupalCamp Scotland 2013 & 2014. Connecting with the Drupal world – DrupalCamp 2014 review

    Finally, it was extremely useful to compare techniques and decisions made within the EdWeb CMS project to what other large organisations are doing and confirm that our solutions are not far away at all, even being cutting edge in the areas of deployment and user experience research and integration.

Conference material and future events

Drupal association, the driving force behind the community, has set up a YouTube channel where you can watch all sessions from DrupalCon Amsterdam 2014, as well as previous conferences, which I encourage you to visit.

Drupal association video playlists on

Future DrupalCons will take place, as usual, in the United States, Europe and, for the first time, in South America which signifies the constant expansion of the Drupal community worldwide. As the University has adopted Drupal to power the next generation of the central CMS service, our team will continue to engage with and participate in future events. Exciting times.

Bogotá: February 10-12, Colombia

Los Angeles: May 11-15, California, USA

Barcelona: September 21-25, Spain

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