I absolutely love going to Drupalcons. The excitement is palpable and it's always so great to catch up with the core team, sponsors, speakers & other awesome contributors in person. But it wasn't always so for me! Chicago was overwhelming and I couldn't help but feel out of place, not to mention the killer bout of Drupal-Flu that had me sick as a dog for a week! But things have really changed since that first conference. Sydney was the best yet! I suppose the gorgeous beach location mid-australian summer didn't hurt; no one complains about having meetings on the beach over cocktails ;)
So, here goes, I'm going to give you the tricks of the trade so your Drupalcons will be as much fun or even better than my own!
1) Have a plan. You'd be surprised how useful it is to know what you want to get out of a conference in advance. Know who you'd like to meet, or perhaps one thing you'd like to work on mastering. I usually go with 3-5 concrete things I can accomplish for myself, and those who sponsor my trips. In fact, I think next time I might even schedule meetings ahead of time to make the most of my between-session time. Which leads me to point #2.
2) Don't skip the sessions. Everyone will tell you "oh you can watch the video, talk to people while you can!", but honestly, I disagree. I get a lot of benefit out of being at the session live. You'll be much more engaged when you're there in person, and I often meet people interested in the same topics of the sessions I don't dare miss. I suggest picking two to three presentations each day that are must-sees to maximize the time between mingling & meetings. There's even a handy-dandy scheduler installed on most conference sites to help you organize!
3) Don't be shy, guys. If you sit on the sidelines you're really missing the entire point. Only at the cons and the occasional special camp will so many totally amazing people converge! Switch off your computer and talk to some people! You might not know everyone, but this is a thankfully un-snobby community where noobs are welcomed and appreciated. Go talk to people you appreciate, shake their hand or buy them a drink. Or best of all, ask what their pet project is, and find out if you can help!
4) Take or Tweet notes. While you're there in that session, jot down notes or live-tweet your experience. It's great for sharing, and even better for going back and looking at your favorite parts! Just don't tweet 50 times in one session, that can get a little obnoxious. Save it for the very best stuff!
5) Be a curious cat. Every session is supposed to have time for Q & A, so while you're jotting down some notes, try noting a few questions. Not only will you stimulate conversation, but you'll save presenters from that awkward "any questions? Bueller?" pause. Session speakers will love you for it!
6) Get into the core of it. The cons have not been the same for me since getting involved in core contribution, hand to god. If you take away one thing from this article, I hope this is it, because no matter your skills or aspirations, core needs you. It's not easy to keep up with it, but it really is worth your investment. Not enough people make the leap, and everyone who isn't helping is basically using the system in my opinion. Respect, conviviality, fun, knowledge and a lot more are at your fingertips. Carpe diem.
7) Stay for sprinting for god's sake. I met a few people who left before the sprint on this last trip, and I'm wagging my finger at you lot. Skipping sprinting is like eating the frosting off a cake. It's better to have the whole experience, and much more satisfying in the end. Think of what Drupal could be if everyone who attended the conference got involved in sprinting. Stop thinking it's not for you. It is, and it's magically delicious.
8) Not sure about sprint-day? Go to the core contributor's sessions. Check out the sessions, usually led by XJM, about how to get started in core contribution. What's great about these sessions is that they teach you where square one is before they teach you what to do. It's a fantastic way to get started! Even if you're an experienced Drupalist, core contribution can present a different challenge and Jess helps you get in the game a lot faster.
9) Plan vacay. I am guilty of a very serious offense -- traveling half way across the world to Sydney, and NOT planning a single day of sight seeing. It was stupid. It was really really stupid. I ended up extending my trip by 2 days so I could go pet koalas, visit the aquarium's sharks, and hang out in down town Sydney. I'm sure the unexpected delay was not convenient for my co-workers, and I'll not make that mistake again! Just plan to take a couple of days if you can, it's worth it if you're traveling somewhere you'll probably never be again.
10) Stay on site. As someone who's stayed off-site (air b&b, rented apartments & the like) in order to save cash, I can testify that it might not be worth it. The money saved really harshes the experience because often we weren't close enough to the conference hotel to really benefit from after-session activities like spontaneous brainstorms, sprints and all the people you meet over a beer or virgin cocktail if beer's not your thing. (Yes, you can go out for drinks and not drink alcohol! It's actually more common than you might think!)
11) Say thank you. Enthusiasm is very contagious. Please go tell people when they did something you think is cool, you're their mana you know. You keep them going when they need it, and they need it a lot.
12) Wash. Your. Hands. Ever since Chicago, I've learned to wash my hands surgeon-style. It seriously does make a difference!
13) I has a lolcat. You don't have to be Angie to give a great session -- so submit your idea! If you have an idea or an interesting perspective, submit it! Just make sure you allow yourself plenty of practice, prep and of course pictures of animals.
14) Take care of yourself. Get some sleep & plan travel that makes sense. This time around I planned over 80 hours of transit to save a little cash and it totally was NOT worth it. I did however get at least 7hrs of sleep each night, and it allowed me to stay awake during the conference which helps ;)
15) Try out ladders! One of the things Dries mentioned during Q&A sessions was that the learning curve is pretty high for Drupal 8 what with incorporation of a more object-oriented development style, Symfony and Twig. You're gonna have to learn this stuff anyway, so why not contribute it to a Drupal Ladder? There are lots of ways you can help with Ladders (outlines, sub-outlines, curriculum suggestions or reviews, sprint planning, people-wrangling, etc etc) and you will feel great making a difference that helps adoption in such an impactful way!
Bonus: Write a wrap-up post. This way you can share your best experiences with others! So that's how I have a rockin' time at these things! Do you agree? Do you disagree? Do you have other ideas? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!