Recipe for a Great DrupalCon: Notes From the Desk of Rick Nashleanas, Chief Cat Herder

Rick NashleanasAffectionately known as "Yoda" by his cohorts, author Rick Nashleanas is the global program lead, a.k.a. global team manager, a.k.a. chief cat herder for DrupalCon. Rick was the local content lead for DrupalCon Denver and was tapped to volunteer his time to give continuity to the content-side of DrupalCon. 

The way that a DrupalCon comes together is similar to how releases of Drupal are produced by the community. Passionate experts in their subject matter areas volunteer tirelessly to make each DrupalCon grow and exceed the expectations of the past.

These volunteers range from the Drupal Association board who gives strategic direction to individuals who step up to staff the registration tables. All are equally important because without everyone’s help, DrupalCon wouldn’t be what they are today.

There are many aspects to putting on an event as large as a DrupalCon: logistics, sprints, social, core conversations and much more. My experience has been to help shepherd the process of the selecting content of DrupalCon.

My role came about as we, as a community, found we were making the same mistakes with DrupalCon over and over again. There was no corporate memory; we were not learning from our mistakes. (Like all of us, we still make mistakes. We just make NEW mistakes.)

I recruit and “lead” a group of volunteer subject matter experts called Global Track Chairs, e.g. globals. I put lead in parentheses because this global talent pool often leads ME! With a couple changes in our cadre of globals, I wanted to take this opportunity to explain the organization of content selection in DrupalCon and give credit to these globals for their tireless work.

When a DrupalCon starts to come together, a local team is assembled to take the primary roles for a number of areas. There is often an overall project lead for the DrupalCon and there is a local content lead. There are five standing tracks that appear in all DrupalCona:

  • Site Building
  • Business & Strategy
  • Coding & Development
  • Frontend
  • DevOps

We have had a DevOps track in Munich and Portland. Starting in Prague, DevOps is now one of our standing tracks.

You’ll notice that the Community track is missing from this list. Community is absolutely essential to the Drupal project, but the Community track has been chronically under attended. The folks who were active in the community were presenting or needed in other sessions. Folks who were not yet involved with the Drupal community shyed away from attending these sessions.

Instead, we will be organizing a Community Summit on the Monday before DrupalCon Prague. Addi Berry will be spearheading that effort.

Besides these standing tracks, the local community often comes up with additional track(s) that enhance the overall theme of the DrupalCon.

From the local community, a local track chair is selected for each track. The local track chair is the operational lead for definition of the track description and session selection.

Before we had globals, the locals were on their own to do what they thought was best for the conference, often with minimal information about the track history at DrupalCon. Enter the globals.

The globals are volunteers who are subject matter experts, had previously been a local track chair for a DrupalCon, and are passionate about their area of expertise and DrupalCons. When you read “passionate”, translate that into “willing to spend significant time writing, recruiting, selecting and consulting”.

Globals are responsible for all DrupalCons worldwide. We have a North American global and a European global for each standing track. The North American global takes the lead for the North American DrupalCon and the European global takes the lead for the European DrupalCon.

In each track, the local and both globals weigh in to evaluate and select the sessions for their track. When you have 3 folks voting, you cannot have a tie!

When I on-board new globals, I explain that it is a great deal of work, you get no pay and no glory, people don’t know what you do and it might cause some to not like you. But they do it anyway. I’d like to recognize the great women and men who are currently serving as global track chairs: Meet the DrupalCon Global Team.

The work for the locals and the globals doesn’t start and end with site selection. This team also develops the track theme, recruits featured speakers for their track, recruits sessions on target subject areas, identifies backups and basically deals with all types of issues surrounding their specific track.

Over the years, the quantity and quality of the sessions submitted have increased, making the job of session selection more and more difficult. The dark side of content selection is that everyone is your bestest friend before you select the sessions. Afterwards, you are a hero to those that were selected and something-less-than-a-hero to everyone else.

I never meant this piece to be so long and I could double the length to talk about the details of the session selection process. Weighing known speakers vs. soliciting speakers from outside the Drupal community... How do we prevent DrupalCon from being just another big tech conference? If there is interest, perhaps I’ll write more.

The process I’ve described is actively growing and responding to the needs of the Drupal community. For every DrupalCon, we try to build on our successes and seek to fulfill the needs and desires of the ever-changing Drupal community.

As you can imagine, this whole effort takes a great deal of time on my part. Why do I do it? For the same reason that folks selflessly contribute code to Drupal. Not only is the technology great, the the people in the Drupal community are a delight.