Tess Flynn: DrupalCorn 2018 Recap

DevOps Tess Flynn recaps DrupalCorn 2018.
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Tess Flynn

Platform Architect, TEN7

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Dr. Upal is now in

Auditing the theme

Mental health and tech


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 DrupalCorn 2018, that happened at the end of September, in Des Moines, Iowa. Tess, welcome back to the podcast.


IVAN: So, DrupalCorn. I love that it’s not DrupalCamp Iowa.

TESS: (laughing) That’s one thing that I always appreciated with it. They have a sense of humor to match their camp.

IVAN: (laughing) It’s just great. I think we have to come up with something for TC Drupal and I don’t think we can top DrupalCorn.

TESS: I still miss the Cherry logo that we had years, and years, and years ago. Although the snow globe one’s pretty good.

IVAN: So, DrupalSnow, maybe? 

TESS: (laughing) That would be an interesting thing to do, like a one-day event, in the middle of winter. (laughing)

IVAN: (laughing) We’ll see how many people come out to that, huh?

TESS: BOFs and sledding. (laughing)

IVAN: (laughing) That would be fun. That’d actually be fun, actually. So, let’s see, DrupalCorn, this year it was at the Center for Higher Education in Des Moines. Is that on campus somewhere? I’m not familiar with where that is.

TESS: So, it was in the business school, that got bought out. There’s a bit of a story about this. It used to be, I think, an independent business school, and then it got bought out, and brought into the university system, and, yeah, there’s a bit of an interesting story behind that, but that one’s not mine to tell.

IVAN: (laughing) Ok, so, on some sort of a former business school campus, and from what I could tell, the format was exactly the same format that we’ve had at DrupalCamp Twin Cities. So, training on a Thursday, session and keynotes, Friday, Saturday, and then contribution day on a Sunday. That’s a lot of programming for a camp.

TESS: It is!

IVAN: Yea, it is. Do you think it’s overkill?

TESS: I think that it’s up to the camps to really determine if that scales for their audience. And, I did participate in the closing session, for DrupalCorn, which was mostly for camp organizers and volunteers, but I was in the same room, and I decided, oh, I’ll just stay around and how it goes, because they were inviting anyone who wanted to stay for it. And, it sounded like they had lots of people attending the training sessions, that they had no problem filling those out. And, the first two days, seemed perfectly fine. It didn’t seem like there was a massive drop off in individuals or people at either one of those.

IVAN: And, that closing session, was that on a Saturday?

TESS: That was on the Saturday.

IVAN: Ok. I mean, it takes a lot of time, and a lot of money, to plan and execute such an extensive program, and I am always amazed that camps do this, and that it’s all volunteer based, it’s not for profit, people give of their own time. It’s amazing! It’s just amazing!

TESS: Well, DrupalCorn serves a lot of different camps in the Greater Midwestern area in the United States. There were lots of people from Kansas, which just surprised me. I was like, “why are there so many people from Kansas here?” And, “why don’t I see those same people at Twin Cities Drupal camp?” And, a lot of it comes down to, “well, it’s closer.”

IVAN: Yea, it’s closer. Like, you would have to drive twice as far, to the Twin Cities, or fly. So, that does make a difference. Was the size of the camp, kind of what you would expect, 200 or so people? Was it any bigger or smaller, this year?

TESS: It felt like it was a bit smaller this year, mostly because they took last year off, for various reasons. And, there was actually an interesting discussion about, if camps should do that more often, that we could talk about.

IVAN: You mean, take a year off?

TESS: Mm hmm.

IVAN: Yeah, so, was that part of the closing session? Where was that discussion?

TESS: That was part of the closing session.

IVAN: So, what were the thoughts around it?

TESS: So, the reason why they decided not to have one last year is there were some people who were starting families, and had vacations, or had other things that were just happening, and they just couldn’t get their core organizational group together, in order to do that. So, it seemed like it made more sense to just, not have the camp that year. And, at first it was really disappointing, because I remember talking to one of the organizers at Baltimore, and being like, “aw, there’s going to be no DrupalCorn this year, it’s one of my favorite camps.” But, since then, I thought, this is actually not a bad idea, because, I’ve gone to DrupalCorn for the previous two, if not three, years. Then they had the year off, then they had this year, and, one thing that I was kind of surprised by, is that, compared to the last DrupalCorn, there was more energy at this one. There was more focus. There was more drive. There was more enthusiasm. I think that actually is something to be said about taking a year off, occasionally. It lets your organizers rest, so that the next year they can really go at it. And, I’ve been thinking a lot about Twin Cities DrupalCamp, because DrupalCon Minneapolis is in 2020. Should we even have a camp in 2019? That’s a tricky one.

IVAN: Yeah, that is a tricky one. It feels like we’ve been evaluating whether or not, not just whether or not the camp’s going to happen, but, what the format of the camp might be, as well. And, I was at the Twin Cities Open Source CMS Unconference, whew, mouthfull (laughing), this weekend, and, it just struck me that, having an Unconference like format for a camp, makes it so much easier to organize, and to put together people that are kind of basically there to learn, just like what the camp is for. And, I wonder if it isn’t, not just taking a year off, but maybe there's an Unconference like event, might be a thing to consider as well.

TESS: Yeah, and I think those concepts can actually play well with each other, because people who like the Unconference format, might not be the same people who normally run a traditionally and conventionally-focused camp. In which case, why not just do a slightly different Drupal event that year, for the area? That might work too, then you can compare and contrast later.

IVAN: Yeah, that might be a good idea for us. It’s interesting how all of this has evolved in the community, and how Drupal compares with local camps, and WordPress, and other communities. It’s just fascinating that all of this happens the way it does. So, I want to ask about the keynotes. So, I want to ask about the keynotes. There were two keynotes – Tiffany Farris from Palentir.net keynoted, and I think the title of her keynote was, “Learning at Work,” and that was on Friday, and then, Matt Westgate from Lullabot, keynoted, and I love the title of his keynote, “How to Fall in Love with Drupal Again.” What are your take-aways from the two keynotes, maybe either as a whole, or individually? I assume you went to them?

TESS: I did go to them, but, both nights, the previous night I had terrible insomnia problems, I was just not getting used to the hotel bed, and, so, I was real dreary and I couldn’t quite remember, and my nose was already, like on the screen, working on my module project, anyways. So, I actually had a hard time remembering almost anything about those talks right now.

IVAN: Oh, no!

TESS: The caffeine just didn’t kick in yet. (laughing)

IVAN: Well, I would then recommend users who are listening, or listeners, to look at the recordings on the DrupalCorn.org website, because I’m pretty sure that Kevin Thull was there, recording every single session, and most likely, the keynote is included there.

TESS: Yeah, I believe that, I did talk to him after the first day, and there was one keynote session that just didn’t record for other reasons, and the next day, there was 100% capture.

IVAN: Wow! It’s just amazing what he does for the community, isn’t it?

TESS: I always have a special place in my heart for the AV guy. (laughing)

IVAN: (laughing) Yes, absolutely. So, the schedule at DrupalCorn wasn’t just sessions, right? Wasn’t just pre-prepared sessions. There were BOFs (Birds Of a Feather) listed there as well. Did you go to any of them?

TESS: I did not. I didn’t find any of them that were that interesting. I found a lot more sessions, which were interesting, so I really wanted to go to a lot of those, and I do remember that on the first day I was there, Friday, even skipped out on an entire session period, and took over an empty BOF room, just so that I could decompress and go over my talk before giving it in the next period.

IVAN: It was probably a good thing. So, let’s talk about your session. So, you presented "Dr. Upal is in, health check your site". Can you tell us a little bit about your session, and maybe what you were hoping the outcomes of the session would be?

TESS: So, really, the session is about trying to instruct people, how to perform a technical audit of your Drupal site. A lot of the time, people who have Drupal sites, who are individual organizations, or are freelancers, might not necessarily know how to really inventory a site. There’s a variety of different circumstances. Like, you’re looking at doing an upgrade, but you don’t know what all your site has in it; you’re a new employee and you don’t know how to quite wrap your head around the site; the site was just dropped in your lap, and now it’s your problem, and you need to figure out what to do with it. So how do we really get a good sense of what a site is doing? How it’s working? Is it healthy or not? Does it have problems or not? Does it have things that will become problems in a short amount of time? What tools can we use to examine those, and how can we perceive all of this, and make it so that we know how to proceed, to get our sites back onto a track towards being healthy.

IVAN: So, the health of your website is really important, and that’s exactly what your talk sounds to be about. You talk about some tools during the session, but you also point out that there is human interaction that needs to be done to evaluate the site itself. Right? It’s not just about running tools.

TESS: Yeah, no one tool or even the entire toolbox of tools, is going to be able to tell if your site is healthy or not. Every site is a bit like a person, it’s a story. You need to figure out where it begins, how it's changed, what its plot is, what it’s twists and turns are, what characters are involved in its development, and then kind of get that whole sense of what that story is, so you could see where it’s going in the future.

IVAN: I love that idea of your site being a story. It’s kind of a live, breathing thing, that doesn’t change. Or people think that it isn’t a live breathing thing that doesn’t change, but it is, and people add content, and submit forms, and things get out of whack sometimes, so it’s not exactly the same as when you launch it. And, I love the idea that it needs a doctor, just like a human does, as well. That’s a great idea to think about. So, your session went well. I know you usually bring swag, and you give that kind of stuff out. That’s awesome. Now, there were some sessions in the schedule that caught my eye, that I thought were really interesting, that I wished I could’ve gone to, if I had gone to the camp. One was Wilbur's Docker-based Battle Royale, which is a great name for a session. The other one was, a guy by the name of Andy Olson, and he had a talk called “Audit your Theme.” Now, I know you’ve seen Wilbur’s talk, probably at TC Drupal, did you by any chance go to the other one?

TESS: I did go to the Audit your Theme one, because that was really quite interesting. Theming is not my particular specialty, and I actually really don’t know how to approach that entire discipline, of auditing a theme, and this gave me a lot of framing, for how to look at that and what to look at, and that was really, really fascinating.

IVAN: So, were there tools involved in that presentation as well, or was it kind of, a mixture of tools and human interaction? What was the, kind of the crux of that session?

TESS: So, there was a combination of tools and human interaction. We had several different tools, like we had some linters, we had some other performance analysis tools, and other CSS compiling efficiency check tools that I had, quite frankly, never even heard of, or conceived that they existed, but as soon as they were revealed to me, I was like, “of course, they would have something like that. Why didn’t I think about that until now?” And, it was really just an eye-opening experience.

IVAN: So, those were kind of two that caught my eye. What sessions did you go to that were interesting outside of Andy’s?

TESS: Oh man, I’d have to bring up a schedule, because a lot of that just got swapped out of my cache already. (laughing) Let’s see. I went to the gulp session, but the caffeine still had not kicked in yet, so that was just, I don’t remember anything at all from that. And, then that’s where I skipped a period, because I needed to practice.

IVAN: So, there were four tracks?

TESS: Yeah, there were several different tracks. I went to the Mental Health and Tech one. It is a very similar presentation to one that’s been going around, at a variety of camps and cons, but it’s really nice to see an update on that. I think he’s doing good work bringing that talk, repeatedly, to our community. I went to the Legos session, "Building your Legos, a Practitioner’s Guide to Building Reusable Components". There’s a module that’s called Legos. And, I didn’t know about this, and it was actually a fascinating counterpoint to paragraphs only sites. I thought that it was kind of fascinating, but at the same time I was like, “ahh, I have some concerns.” I think actually during the course of that talk, there was some mention about how you can’t get certain paragraphs to display with different view modes, and I know that we’ve done that before at TEN7, using a module-only solution, so. That was an interesting problem. (laughing)

IVAN: I would guess you maybe went to the Migrating Drupal 8 entities talk?

TESS: I did go to that one, and I felt kind of bad after that, because I went to it, knowing that, “ok, let’s see how this guy handles this", because unfortunately I know way too much about migration stuff. I have joked on Twitter that at some point, when you become a Drupal 8 migration expert, you start sounding a bit like a babbling prophet (laughing), instead of a developer. Talking about plug-ins and pipelines, and transformation and ETLs, like, I don’t know what any of this means any more (laughing).

IVAN: (laughing) Well, you certainly are our migrations expert at TEN7, so, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

TESS: It was generally a good talk. What was most impressive is, he smashed an awful lot of content, into a very narrow talk. I considered writing a talk about doing migrations before, because I have a blog series on this, but I decided that it was just way too much to squish in to even a 50-minute talk. It was just going to be like a fire hose, and it was a fire hose in this talk, and I believe he did a really good job of it. He used a different technique for importing paragraphs than I’m used to, so I actually put that forward at the end of the talk as an alternative.

IVAN: Very good. Now, were the sessions at DrupalCorn all the same length, or were there shorter ones and longer ones?

TESS: I think that they were all the same length this year. The big thing that was different this year, was that there was two different lunch periods, which was interesting.

IVAN: Oh, lunch one, lunch two?

TESS: Yeah.

IVAN: Really!

TESS: Lunch is actually one of the things I like the most about DrupalCorn, (laughing) mostly because, one thing that I really tended to like about DrupalCorn is that, because it’s in Iowa, there’s not much in Iowa. Even when you’re in Des Moines, it’s not the same as even being in Minneapolis, it’s definitely a smaller metropolis, and as a result, one thing that’s really kind of nice about DrupalCorn is that it has a generally, very familial vibe. You don’t feel like you’re going to a camp, you feel like you’re going to a dinner, with friends and relatives, and you’re all going to have a good time. And, that’s what it often feels like, and I really enjoy that particular feeling.

IVAN: So, basically, they had two lunches available through an extended period of time, over the course of two sessions. So, you basically don’t have one hour where there are no sessions going on. There are sessions going on throughout the day, and you choose when to take your lunch.

TESS: And you got to bring the lunches in with you to the sessions.

IVAN: Oh, you did! So, there wasn’t a lunchroom, or a common space?

TESS: Not really! There was plenty of places to sit down. There was a kind of common space, but there wasn’t many people using it. In this particular venue, they actually did have a café, that you could sit down and actually eat lunch in, and that’s where lunch was actually being served. And, some people did that, but some people also just, filled up their plates and headed off to the next session, and just sat down, and quietly munched while the session was being given.

IVAN: So, was it like a buffet style lunch?

TESS: Yeah, it usually is with DrupalCorn. One of the lunches is the traditional loaded baked potato.

IVAN: Ooh, that sounds good!

TESS: Oh, it is good! It is very good!

IVAN: Was there any corn? I guess that’s a question I have to ask.

TESS: This year, I think there wasn’t. (laughing) I could’ve just missed it. I remember the first lunch I went to, they nearly ran out by the time I was in line, because I showed up late.

IVAN: So, all in all, a good camp, kind of similar, regional camp would be Twin Cities  DrupalCamp. It feels like it’s the same amount of time, 4 days, about the same number of tracks, 3 or 4, BOFs, lunch, and good people. Any social activities in the evenings?

TESS: Yea, there was a speaker dinner on Thursday night, before the regular sessions were given, and that was wonderful. That was right in town, and it was a welcome respite from being in a car for four and a half hours. (laughing)

IVAN: Oh, my goodness! I’m sure. So, you got to mingle and meet with all the people that were giving sessions. I’m sure some familiar faces there too?

TESS: Mm hmm. And, then, the following night there was another dinner/cornhole event, that was in kind of a, it’s hard to describe what it was, it’s not really a sports bar, it felt like a rented bar/restaurant space. It’s hard to describe, but they had really, really good burgers.

IVAN: Really? So, forgive me for not understanding what cornhole is. Maybe you can give me a description.

TESS: So, first of all, imagine a board that is at an incline of, let’s say, ten to fifteen degrees off from the ground, and about three-quarters of the way up from the edge that is touching the ground, to the top of the board, is a hole, and the rest of the board is very highly glossily painted, so that it’s kind of slippery.


TESS: Now, you stand away from that board, at the other end of the playfield, a distance of approximately, sorry my eyes are calibrated to meters, so let’s just say 4-5 meters away, and what your job is, you have a beanbag, and you need to toss the beanbag so that it goes into the hole. And that sounds really simple, except that there’s a bit of technique to it. You can’t just toss it, and have it land directly in the hole, it’s best to kind of, put a bit of, either you have to undershoot it, but with force so it goes up the board, and down into the hole, or overshoot it, with just enough force so that once it lands, gravity will actually carry it back down into the hole, because you almost never could throw it directly in.

IVAN: So, this sounds like a game that you would play in bars, and maybe you’d get much better, or much worse, depending on how much beer you’ve had.

TESS: (laughing) That’s generally the idea, yes. I was introduced to this at the first DrupalCorn I went to, and that was a lot of fun. That camp was particularly a lot of fun, because it was in a school, and they had all of, every event, every lunch, every before event and after event, was actually in the same location, so that really made it feel very comfy, like you were just coming home to have some fun, and that was great.

IVAN: That’s awesome. And, so that was the social events Friday night. Saturday and then contribution on Sunday. Nothing on Saturday night then?

TESS: I think there was something on Saturday night, but at that point, I was kind of fried, because I’m kind of an introvert, and I just decided that, “I think I had enough,” and instead kind of staged my own little introverts game night at the hotel lobby and we got pizza, and played a card game where you’re trying to catch Jack the Ripper. It was actually a lot of fun.

IVAN: Oh my! So, there were games as well, at DrupalCorn? Awesome.

TESS: Mm hmm. I think the previous night there was also some board games after the cornhole event, but I was too fried after that too.

IVAN: Sounds like a great camp. I’m glad that you were able to go and report back to us, and I know you’re going to DrupalCamp Ottawa next week.

TESS: Oh yeah, first time going to Canada. Going to be interesting.

IVAN: Well, why don’t you remember as much as you can about the camp, and we’ll have you back on the Podcast to give us a kind of a review of that camp as well.

TESS: I will try my best.

IVAN: Well, thanks so much for spending your time with me, talking about DrupalCorn.

TESS: Mm hmm.

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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