Steven 6 minute read
May 11, 2014

My first Drupal Camp

I've specifically cut down my conference attendance this year to spend more time at home. That said...my only Drupal build is on the cusp of being launched by the client, I thought it could be cool to head along to Drupal Camp Scotland

I've detailed my experience with Drupal on the blog before with reference to coming to the platform as a developer most familiar with ExpressionEngine.

EE is also the only platform specific conference I'd been to at this point.

Unlike most conferences I attend, there was nobody I'd heard of on the speaker slate. I kind of liked that actually because it didn't set any expectation. Sometimes I've went to conferences looking to hear something great from a speaker only to be left largely disappointed because they didn't meet my (perhaps unrealistic) expectation.

The day kicked off with a keynote talk from Robert Douglass of Commerce Guys. Robert talked about fixing your business models to move beyond client work and looking toward using Drupal to provide 'Software as a Service' and building something that would enable your laptop to spit out dollars when you opened it each morning.

Myles Davidson of iKos then did a presentation on ecommerce usability. I've always been interested in usability, really since my time at RBS. They've been the only ones who actually took it seriously (although wondering if they still do with the state of their online banking system these days). I loved the insight of guys like David Travis -- a guy who moves beyond the technical aspects of a project to really understand product usability.

Myles gave some examples of good & bad ecommerce usability, things like the simplicity of forms, naming of buttons, explanation of shipping options -- it's silly because these are really simple things to get right. One usability thing I found out recently was that there's never any need to have a field in a credit card form ask the name on the card! The banks never check this.

It was also interesting to hear, after a conversation with Myles after his talk, that Demandware was one of the front-runners for the new Lush website before they eventually opted for Drupal Commerce.

Mairi Fraser and Adrian Richardson of Edinburgh University then presented on their use of Bamboo for deployment. I felt that this was one of the more dry talks, mainly because it was tailored so heavily to their internal strategy and code heavy too which doesn't make for a great presentation. I was surprised to hear though that none of their devs make use of something like Vagrant or Puppet but instead have a developer create a VM in a day for a new dev! WOW! A day lost to something that you could very easily automate and have a new dev running in under 10 minutes.

I then sat in on Jochen Lillich session of 'How to do DevOps in Drupal projects' -- this could have been a talk for any developers involved in deploying code. Jochen made the point that DevOps isn't a job title but more of a culture that should be in place within a team. He gave the example of an engineer at Booking.com who deployed code on their first day on the job and broke the live site. Said engineer kept his job, even after a talk with one of the company VPs at lunch. Jochen was making the point that developers should take ownership of the code that they deploy and work with sys admins rather than a us vs them scenario.

The undoubted highlight of the day for me was Richard Jones of iKOS go through their Drupal build of the new Lush website. I love talks like this. Regardless of the platform, I like getting a peek under the hood of a website, the things it uses, how easy it is for the client, lessons learned etc. Richard gave this talk earlier in the year, worth checking out:

What I thought was great was the live style guide aspect. This drove much of the front-end development before they even got to integrating with their ecommerce solution. This is an approach I'm hopeful of implementing with Under Armour (and all future responsive projects it should be said) in the coming weeks as we prepare for V6 of their ecommerce website.

The talks finished with Jeffery A. "Jam" McGuire giving a history of Drupal and it's role as a 'Unlikely Superhero'. Jeffery had a series of Vine videos from Drupal South asking what they felt Drupal's super power was.

What I heard (and experienced throughout the day) was the same kind of community I go on about EE having, the same kind of community that's developing around platforms like Statamic and Craft. I don't think community is defined on platform though, unless we define the platform as 'the web'. When I talk with people in other industries, they don't understand why competitors would share what they would class as 'trade secrets' -- the web seems to be unique in this regard.

Jeffery had much to say about OSS and its use in various places and the challenges it faces with commercial software. Honestly, at this point, I have no axe to grind in OSS vs commercial debate. In fact for the first time in my life, I feel like I can truly call myself a platform agnostic. I use both extensively.

I guess that's the thing as a front-end dev, I can build HTML and beautiful stylesheets with pretty much any system I'm asked. I've done that throughout my career whether it be Jadu at South Lanarkshire, EE at Picsel, custom solutions for Under Armour, Tridion for Education Scotland, Demandware for Deckers or Drupal for Paul McCartney.

The only time I've ever really been involved in the decision making process for a technology choice was at South Lanarkshire and even then that was weighted toward Jadu before we even kicked off.

I can certainly see the argument in terms of the cost of ownership for web software. Having no licensing costs on your web software is great, but you still need the skill to execute -- and that's going to come in the form of third-party vendor implementation or training an existing workforce in new tools.

Ultimately though, whether you're in the OSS or commercial camps, I think everybody is trying to do the same thing...make some coin to support yourself. I don't feel like I have to be in one camp or the other. I don't think that 100% proprietary software should be an option for projects but things like EE, Statamic & Craft are viable options (other paid platforms are available).

So I guess "Jam's" closing gave more food for thought during the day than anything else.

All in all, Drupal Camp Scotland was enjoyable and I'll certainly be back - even if I'm not involved with any other Drupal projects.