Tess Flynn: DrupalCamp Ottawa 2018 Recap

TEN7 DevOps Tess Flynn recaps 2018 DrupalCamp Ottawa.
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Tess Flynn

Platform Architect, TEN7

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2018 DrupalCamp Ottawa

Keynote: “Building Accessible Experiences"

Socketwench presents: "Healthcheck your site!"

Privacy laws differences between Canada and the US


IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I am your host Ivan Stegic. In this episode of the Podcast, we’re talking to Tess Flynn about her visit to DrupalCamp Ottawa 2018, that happened on Friday, October 26. Tess, welcome back to the Podcast.

TESS FLYNN: Could you even use fortnight now? Isn’t that copyrighted?

IVAN: (laughing) Well, it’s spelled differently, so I think we might be ok. Yea, good point though. Let’s see, DrupalCamp Ottawa. You just got back from Canada. Did you bring back any maple syrup?

TESS: I did, but the problem is, that some of the maple syrup we get here locally actually tastes a bit better than the kind you get from the touristy travel shops that you get in Canada.

IVAN: Yea, we’re a little spoiled in Minnesota with maple syrup, I agree. So, DrupalCamp Ottawa is a little different in format than DrupalCorn that we talked about last. It’s one day of Camp, it’s a Friday, so 25% the length of the other Camps. How did that feel compared to the extended four days that we talked about last time?

TESS: I think that it actually felt rather appropriate. Mostly because you can’t really talk about this Camp without mentioning the fact it is doing head on comparison competition with BADCamp.

IVAN: Oh, that’s right. I’d forgotten that BADCamp was at the same time. What’s the format for BADCamp?

TESS: BADCamp’s a little bit more like TCDrupal. There’s a day of training, then two days of sessions, then a day of contributions.

IVAN: Do you think that affected attendance in Ottawa?

TESS: Well, I actually was wondering about this, as well. The question whether or not is, if you actually had the choice between the two, would you go to one or the other. And I think that’s kind of a false dichotomy, because from another perspective Ottawa is in a completely different country. Even though it’s not very far from Minnesota, at the same time it is technically a different country. So, there are reasons to actually choose a date that even coincides with one of the biggest regional Camps in the United States.

IVAN: And it’s also on the complete opposite end of the Continent as well.

TESS: Yea, it’s on the Eastern time zone.

IVAN: And, how large was DrupalCamp Ottawa, in terms of number of people?  Just share attendance. Just a guess.

TESS: They said that about 250 people registered. Some of those were going to be sponsors, and a fairly typical pattern is that they’ll register more people than actually shows up. So, I would probably guess maybe 175 at least, probably more like 200 and change.

IVAN: Wow, that’s a whole lot for regional Camp and only one day of programming.

TESS: Well, you know, it’s that other country factor, and there’s a lot to really unpack there, because it’s not just a DrupalCamp somewhere else. There are specific regional concerns that go along with having a DrupalCamp in Canada and using Drupal in Canada.

IVAN: So, let’s talk about that a little bit. Would you guess that most of the attendees were from Ottawa and from Ontario?

TESS: I would probably say so, because Ottawa, from what I recall, is the Capitol. So, there’s a lot of government in Ottawa. A lot. And, Ottawa is trying to pivot towards doing more Drupal open source, and more open source in general. So, the idea that a lot of people would attend this Camp to get more open source information makes perfect sense. And, to put it in the same city that a lot of people work in, also makes a lot of sense.

IVAN: It does make a lot of sense. Now, I heard you received a special award.

TESS: (laughing) There was kind of a joke about that. As a Camp speaker, there’s always kind of a little bit of a joke about, if you were the farthest one to attend the Camp. And, from my knowledge, I might’ve been one of the few Americans to attend the entire Camp, and probably the only one that really needed to take a flight to get there.

IVAN: (laughing) What was the prize? Or was it just a proverbial pat on the back?

TESS: It was more like, “oh, really, I am the furthest away one. Oh, that’s nice.” That was it. (laughing)

IVAN: (laughing) Now, I looked at the schedule and it looked like it was broken up into three tracks for the day, and it loosely seemed to be something along the lines of front end, back end and everything else. And, everything else was kind of like business, strategy, communications, content, which kind of makes sense. Did I get that right? Was that more or less how it was?

TESS: It certainly felt like that. I mean with only one day of Camp, and only about four different session periods, there’s not really that much need to break it up along too many different functional lines. There’s only so many slots available.

IVAN: And no BOFs from what I could tell.

TESS: No. I don’t think they had the room available at the venue in order to do that, but they might have.

IVAN: I see. Nice segue into the location of where the event was, it was at the University of Ottawa. The website says the SITE Building. Could you tell me more about the space?

TESS: That place has just got such an interesting personality. How can I explain this? Like if someone took material design and construction aesthetic and mashed them together, you get this combination of bright colors and metals and all sorts of interesting things. It was really, really, a nifty little venue. It was very visually interesting. And, because the Camp wasn’t particularly big, everything was in one building, so it was very easy to find everything.

IVAN: So, three rooms, all in one building. I would assume lunch in a central place, as we’ve come to expect?

TESS: That’s correct.

IVAN: Right. That’s great. That seems to make quite a cozy atmosphere for attendees. I really like those, when they’re all close together and bunched up. Let’s talk a little about the pre-keynote. It looked like there was a session on the scheduled called Drupal 101, that seemed to be very inviting for beginners, kind of before the keynote happens, if you’re new to Drupal, not sure what a node is. The description says, “bring your coffee and get a quick course in Drupal terminology.” I love this idea of kind of giving an intro before the festivities or the keynote begins.

TESS: Yea, I rather liked how that went because it provides a nice bit of framing, that would’ve otherwise been taken out by a training session on the first day of a multi-day Camp. And, I think it was a nice compromise in order to allow people who have heard about this Drupal thing, and then get a nice introduction, so that they can get value out of the Camp. And, because the Camp was on a Friday, some people might be attending this on their work hours.

IVAN: Yea, I think that’s a great welcoming idea. It would be interesting to talk to the organizers to hear what their take on the motivation behind that was. So then, that rolled into the keynote and the keynote was titled, “Building Accessible Experiences.” And, it was from developer advocacy lead at Shopify. I can’t pronounce Tiffany’s last name, I’m going to try, Tiffany Tse. Any ideas if I got close, Tess?

TESS: No, I don’t think the coffee had quite kicked in, and I think I barely missed her last name too. So, I can’t quite remember the pronunciation either.

IVAN: (laughing) We’re sorry Tiffany, if you’re listening. Call us and let us know how we did. Yea, so Shopify, first of all, I love the fact that the keynote was from someone outside of the Drupal ecosystem.

TESS: I just really appreciated this particular keynote. A lot of keynotes lately, including one that I gave myself, tended to be a lot more broad-reaching, a lot more big ideas and directions and business policies. And this one was a lot more down to earth, a lot more practical, really put you into the pilot seat of, “okay, you’re going to be an accessibility designer. What’s wrong with this?” And, it was just a wonderful experience, because it really sat you down and made you think about what you were looking at, and it was nice to do that as the first thing in a Camp, because it felt very direct.

IVAN: Glad to hear it. So, what do you think your major takeaway from the keynote was?

TESS: Well, I think the general message that I took away from it was that accessibility is not something that you can just bolt on later. It is a core aspect of the entire design experience, and you should consider it very carefully from the very beginning, because a site can be a lot more versatile than say an application can be. And, it has a lot more audiences, and a lot more modalities in which that, it is presented to different users. And, it was really, really, well communicated.

IVAN: And, further to that, the thing that I always want to try to remind everyone we’re working with, and the people that we help with our sites is, not only is accessibility important to think about from the design aspect and right from the beginning, but it doesn’t stop after you’ve launched a site. It’s something that continues, that all members of the team that are responsible for the site have to be aware of and continue to build on. It’s not something that you just launch as a feature, and you’re done. So, I’m glad to hear that was a good keynote. And, it looks like your session was directly after the keynote, in the same room (laughing). So, did you luck out and have a whole lot of people stay?

TESS: I apparently did have a lot of people staying for that session. I was kind of surprised, actually, about the number of people that attended. I think it was some 50 people that I counted right before I started. And, I know that some people came in after I got started as well, that I didn’t get a chance to count.

IVAN: And you gave away all the TEN7 swag at your session.

TESS: Yea. We were running a little bit late because the keynote ran a little bit long. So, when I first set up, I basically put everything out, and anyone who was an early bird I said, “here, come take. Don’t make me take this back through American security.”

IVAN: (laughing) Yea, we were a little light on swag at this Camp, because of the fact that you were traveling internationally. But, I’m sure we had enough to make some people happy there.

TESS: It all vanished anyway.

IVAN: Yea, that’s what we want. Any particularly interesting questions that came up in your session, that maybe you haven’t heard before?

TESS: So, the thing with my sessions is that very rarely do people actually come up with questions, because once I tend to get started, it’s really hard to get a question in edgewise, because I just have (laughing) such a presentation that is just a firehose of nonstop rambling for almost an hour. And it’s really hard for people to just stop and ask questions. Sometimes people do, but my sessions tend not to get a lot of questions.

IVAN: I think you do a great job of explaining things so clearly with analogies and with detail that, that’s maybe why there aren’t any questions. I certainly appreciate attending those. So, just looking at the other sessions on the schedule, a few that peaked my interest, “The New Face of CiviCRM.” CiviCRM still makes me a little scared, so I’m glad that there’s a new face. “Building Software as a Service in Drupal,” another session I thought was something I might have attended had I been at the Camp. And then, “Drupal as the Base of an Inclusive Workplace,” which was Mike Gifford’s session. It’s an interesting idea. I kind of read the description of the session, the fact that Drupal is largely still known as a CMS, and people really don’t realize that it’s much more than that, especially when you think about accessibility and user experience. You went to that session, right?

TESS: I did. But I went in with the expectation, because I didn’t read the description very well, that it was going to be a little bit more culturally focused, and how to build a more diverse team as a result of using Drupal. And, so, when they started going on the technical merits I was like, “Ahhh",  and it’s totally my fault, I didn’t read the session description very well.

IVAN: Oh. So, what was your takeaway then from that session?

TESS: A lot of it reminded me of the keynote, but it also kept pointing out one thing that was really important is that, accessibility doesn’t just benefit those who are disabled, because accessibility is not just going to be for those who have a permanent disability, but a temporal or situational disability as well. And, there was a lot of focus on bringing that into the conversation as well.

IVAN: Mike does a great job of being inclusive, and I imagine that was a wonderful session to attend. Did you go to the “Building Software as a Service on Drupal” session?

TESS: I did go to that one. I also, kind of was hoping this one was going to be a little bit more business focused. It actually was mostly a technical discussion about how to use Aegir, which has been around for the better part of 10 years in Drupal circles, and is still going, and is still a method to provide a Drupal solution as a software as a service. And, the next version of Aegir is supposed to finally support more than just Drupal, and virtually any php application, and possibly any web application that can be deployed.

IVAN: So that’s how you say it?

TESS: What? Software as a service?

IVAN: No. Aegir. I always wondered about that.

TESS: No, I only remember that because I think I listened to. Was it a Drupal easy podcast, like years ago, half a decade ago, about Aegir? And that was like one of the first things that they were going to talk about was, “how do you pronounce this? It’s got a diphthong in it, why?”

IVAN: (laughing) I want to spend some time talking about this building software as a service session. So, from what I understand, Aegir’s basically a way for you to host your own site, and maybe even sell hosting to others as a service, particularly just Drupal sites. And you said that it would, in the next version, be supporting more than just Drupal sites, but PHP applications as well. Is this the basis for Pantheon? Is this where Pantheon started? I have no idea. How is it similar or different to Pantheon?

TESS: I don’t know if Aegir was actually used in Pantheon at the beginning. I do know that they were using their own home brewed containerized solution, possibly using Xen or KVM at some point, and that they recently transitioned to Google Kubernetes engine in order to run most of their container systems. And primarily the product that they have is a web front end and a pricing tier in order to better leverage all of that usage. And, I’m not sure if they ever really utilized Aegir for that or not.

IVAN: It looked like this was a session that was more in the style of a BOF, the way the description was written. It felt like it was going to be more discussion oriented. Did that turn out to be the case?

TESS: It did turn out to be the case. I was really hoping for a lot more perspective from the business perspective, because it felt like it was very technically focused, very capability focused, as in Aegir can do this, Aegir can do this, this is how you do this. Yes, you can run it on your own hardware, why would you want to do that? And, this is where one of the key things that I took away from the entire Camp starting sitting in my mind, is, that, because I’m not in the West, there are different concerns for hosting, and a lot of Canadian companies do not want to rely on any US hosting. And I cannot blame them, considering our utterly lackadaisical privacy laws. And, I’m being generous when I describe it that way.

IVAN: So, what turned out to be the options for Canadian companies for doing hosting, if they’re not going to rely on US technology?

TESS: Well, I think that AWS is now involved, but that’s still a company that’s technically owned and operated from the US, and that might not be as comfortable for people. I actually haven’t had enough time yet, to really investigate the hosting market in Canada. It feels like it needs more development, honestly, is my initial impression. I could be wrong about that. I can guess that there’s probably a lot of on-premise hosting, but not nearly enough, like cloud-based hosting. And, there might be a lot of shared hosting, as well, that is used by a lot of smaller sites. But I’m really concerned that there’s just not enough cloud hosting, that is also hosted in Canada, in order to make sure that the privacy laws still apply, that the local/regional laws still apply, and that these are actually utilized for Canadian sites. And, this may be a hollow argument if a lot of the Drupal market share is government, because they’ll be more likely to self-host than use cloud products. Although, that made me think the following day, why isn’t it that the Canadian government itself, doesn’t form a wholly-owned and operated company that does nothing but hosting an infrastructure providing in a cloud facility. They’ve got to have more than one data center under their ownership already.

IVAN: Yea, that’s a good point. It seems like a market opportunity, that a company like Pantheon or Acquia could certainly take advantage of. But then at the same time, they’re a US company that are operating in Canada, and so, maybe there’s a Pantheon Canada that gets formed, or a company that’s run and operated in Canada by similar or related people to the same US company, and yet they have their own privacy standards and use privacy protocols that are acceptable to the Canadian laws. I think Google has GKE zones that are available in Canada, so in theory, you could potentially do that. I suppose.

TESS: Yea, I think there probably are some GKE zones in Canada as well. I have to look into that to be sure.

IVAN: Maybe we should start a hosting company, Tess.

TESS: I’m all for that.

IVAN: (laughing)

TESS: Ottawa isn’t bad, but I like Toronto more. (laughing)

IVAN: (laughing) Ok. We could be wherever you want.

TESS: This is a thing of mine though. When I used to do business travel a lot, I noticed that I tend to get immediate impressions of places that I touchdown in. It’s really weird, because it doesn’t seem to make any logical sense to me either. But Toronto had a very familiar vibe to what I’m used to in Minneapolis, but there were certain rounded corners that I didn’t have from the same vibe in Minneapolis. And those were probably where a lot more of a Canadian cultural vibe was poking out. And, Ottawa felt very similar to that, but a slower pace. It’s a little bit hard to describe. I wanted to describe it using a music analogy. So, the thing that pops to my mind is that, there is a video game called Undertale that has been around for a while, and towards the end there’s this one area of the game that has very upbeat, fast paced music. But if you take an alternate story path in that game, that same music plays, but in a very slow, lumbering pace instead. And, I didn’t get that exact feeling, but it definitely made me think, “wow, this is the same song, but it’s slightly slower. That’s interesting.” (laughing) I know this is all a ridiculous subjective, but that was something that just kept coming up when I was there.

IVAN: It felt familial and accessible I would argue. So, no direct flights to Ottawa from Minneapolis. Did you fly through Toronto?

TESS: I did fly through Toronto, and that was actually fairly easy. It’s only a two-hour flight from MSP and you could get a direct. The only problem is, once you’re in Toronto, you have to catch a one hour connecting flight to Ottawa. Now, I didn’t have any problems going to Ottawa, but coming back I just kept getting hit with delay after delay, and it was a little bit frustrating, because we left probably 15 minutes from Ottawa, from when we were supposed to. I didn’t mind so much, because I had enough time to account for the difference. But then once I landed in Ottawa, I failed to remember that the international security procedures had changed since I last traveled internationally. And now you have to go through international customs as an American citizen on the international side, rather than the US side. And that was a Kafkaesque experience to say the least. I felt like I was reenacting the movie Brazil a little bit there.

IVAN: (laughing) Yea, we had that same experience flying through Toronto on the way back from Europe this year, and, it actually made me think of, kind of what laws apply on the Canadian side after you’ve cleared US customs. I know that it’s US law that applies, but that just feels wrong.

TESS: Someone explained to me that Canadian transit agency, their equivalent of the TSA, is actually a superset of TSA law which just makes me go, “oh geez.” (laughing) In TSA law, if you know even a little bit about it, is already this nightmarish labyrinth of weird edge cases, and political meddling, and none of it makes any sense anymore, and it hasn’t since about 2007 honestly.

IVAN: Yea, it was pretty insane, certainly Kafkaesque as you said, going and clearing customs in Canada for the US, and then physically being in Canada, but technically being in the US after you’ve done that.

TESS: Well, the real hilarious part is the nature of how this works in the Toronto airport. When you actually go through Canadian security at the Toronto airport, and you first get cleared, you’re opened into this wide foyer and it’s got this giant flower sculpture thing, and the underside of each petal is actually your arrival and departure time screens. It’s really nice. And then afterwards I had to walk through there to go to a completely different concourse, and when you get to that concourse you have to go through security again, then you have to go through customs again, then you have to go through the customs waiting area, because they won’t let you go directly to your gate. Then after you go there then you walk to your gate, and by the time I got all the way to the end of my gate, I was on the other side of a glass window, and on the other side of that glass window that I was looking right through, was the giant flower. And that took an hour and a half.

IVAN: (laughing) Wow. Well, I think we have a little more time to talk about the other session that kind of peaked my interest, and you also I think went to it, was the “Journey through the Solr System.” And, the only reason it peaked my interest was because I thought the title of the session was amazing.

TESS: The slides were also great too. They had a really nice visual style that I really appreciated. It made it very fun, but at the same time it focused on information. And the talk itself was also different than I expected. Now, usually when you think of Solr and Drupal, you’re going to think of, well you’re probably going to use a search API implementation, and it’s going to be one site, and you’re going to configure which entities that you’re going to have going to which in that system, and then you’ll use views in order to make your search pages and yada, yada, yada. Well, they couldn’t do that with this solution. The problem is that they have some two hundred different sites, and they had to have a unified singular search mechanism. And it wasn’t a multi-site either, so you couldn’t kind of cheat and use some of that facility in order to populate a single index. So, either they had to come up with a completely custom solution in which any time content was posted for each individual site it went back to a standard search API server, or they’d have to do something completely different. What they used to use, they used to use a Google search appliance, and this was great because it was on premises, all of the data was local, they owned it. And then, suddenly, those yellow boxes stopped arriving from Google because Google deprecated the entire product line. Now you have to forward all of your search index information to some American server, and this is not comfortable for some people, and that is perfectly fair. So, they could’ve paid for a different solution, or they could’ve went, “well, we’ll just risk the privacy implications,” but instead they decided, “you know what, let’s see if we can try to build one of these ourselves.” So, the solution they came up with was, a high availability Solr configuration with an open source web crawler called Nutch, and it was just a fascinating combination of elements to make, basically, your own Google, but within your own organization, for your own sites, without having to have a direct backend connection.

IVAN: Nice. I really love that name, Nutch.

TESS: That was a really, really fascinating talk, and I wish that I could’ve captured more of the technical details of that, but I was coming right off of doing my session, so I still had a lot of adrenaline in me. (laughing)

IVAN: Yea, and I’m sure that the session video will be posted once it’s available. Yea let’s talk about that a little bit, and then I think we’ll wrap. So, it looks like there were sessions that were recorded again, courtesy of Kevin Thull and his equipment.

TESS: Well, not quite.

IVAN: Not quite?

TESS: Not quite. Kevin Thull was not there, he was at BADCamp.

IVAN: Oh. But his equipment was there.

TESS: Well, from my understanding what happened is that Kevin Thull trained the DrupalCamp Ottawa staff, and provided them a list of the hardware that he uses for his talks. So, they reimplemented all of that under his guidance, and then ran it themselves, independently. So, it was a very familiar experience. Everyone had the big red button that they had to press. So it was very, very familiar. I do know that they have a few gotchas with the session recording, but they had generally had a fairly good capture ratio.

IVAN: That’s wonderful. I do see that on the DrupalCamp Ottawa website they published a playlist on YouTube, and I think there are about six videos on there right now, six sessions that are currently available with the note that they’ll be adding the rest of the sessions in the coming week or so. So that’s great. We’re going to have a recording of your session, and you could probably go back to the Solr session as well and check the details of that one out as well. Well, all in all, a good Camp. Something that maybe I’ll consider going to next year, and maybe we’ll send you again next year. Tess, thank you so much for spending your time with me and talking through DrupalCamp Ottawa 2018.

TESS: No problem.

IVAN: You’ve been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.

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