This past weekend, the second Florida DrupalCamp, aka FLDrupalCamp, put Orlando on the Drupal world map with an amazing turnout and a set of stellar presentations from many of the South-East's brightest developers.
Gotta start somewhere
This year I spearheaded planning out the sessions. Having been to two DrupalCamps before (last year's FLDrupalCamp 2009 and DrupalCamp Atlanta 2009) I felt that for this year's camp we absolutely had to have a separate room for a beginner's session "track" and leave any other rooms to more advanced topics where it would be assumed you already had at least some experience with Drupal. After missing the first planning meeting last Fall I was very pleased to see afterwards that the other organizers were of the same opinion, so with that I set about planning the beginner's session track.
The key goals I had for the beginner's track were:
- No prior knowledge of Drupal would be required, only some knowledge of how websites work (the concept of separate pages, some HTML).
- You would not fully learn how to build fully functioning sites but at least give you insights as to how to start and get you over the initial learning curve so you feel free to experiment.
- All sessions would focus on using Acquia's Drupal installer DAMP to reduce the common confusion between different presenter's setups.
After some rumination and discussion with the team at various meetings and during conference calls, I drew up a plan that would start the day off with two hours on the basics of Drupal's core functionality. From there the audience would be taken through some of building common functionality in bite-size, half hour nuggets with each step building upon what had been discussed previously - first you're shown how to install modules, then you're shown CCK, then images, then you build a View to pull it all together. Within the last few weeks of planning local expert and all-round awesome guy Ryan Price had the idea of focusing the training around one specific project, which helped keep the sessions on-topic and make the training more accessible.
Beyond the basics
Originally we were going to have an intermediate track and then a separate advanced track, each covering topics at an appropriate level, but as the offers of presentations rolled in it became clear we didn't have an advanced track, we just had a collection of additional stand-alone topics. From that we then grouped the more common extra topics into the intermediate track that covered further need-to-know concepts, and moved the stand-alone sessions into a track we called "special topics".
Finally we wanted to have a keynote that would both help draw people in and also be something worthwhile for all attendees. Rather than going with a "special topic" technical presentation, which are really dime-a-dozen, I thought Addison Berry's keynote from DrupalCamp Atlanta would be the perfect addition. Addison, who works for one of the most well known Drupal consulting firms, Lullabot, and has been leading the official Drupal documentation team since 2009, gave the Atlanta group a rousing overview of the community - what it is, why you are a part of it, how to get something from it and, most importantly, how to help it. With all of the technical talk going on in three different rooms covering over twenty different sessions, I felt something like this would help inspire people (as it did me) and hopefully bring them closer as a community.
The weekend itself
After four months of anticipation, FLDrupalCamp 2010 was a massive success. Even after bumping the number of seats from 2009's 100 to 150 there were still almost 50 more who signed up for a waiting list. We had a large staff from a local computing society helping with basics - ticketing, handing out the swag bags, managing each room, and at 9am we had a packed house for Mike Anello's introduction. From there onwards the day ran like clockwork - sessions went well, there were no technical problems with any of the equipment, there was plenty of space and tasty, tasty food for lunch - it all just fit together like it had been rehearsed.
The few sessions I sat in were very good, but a highlight for me was Addison's keynote - even though I'd already seen pretty much the exact same presentation six months previously, my guess had been correct and it fit the day just perfectly with lots of people, both beginners and experienced consultants alike, all saying how engaging the speech was and how they felt encouraged to contribute more to the community, however they could. Perfect!
In addition to the main day of sessions, we had a second day where we built a site for a local non-profit organization had had previously put in a proposal to the camp planning group. Or rather I should say two sites - we had so many people show up to help out that we broke into two groups and worked on the first choice and the runner-up. This went very well, all of the beginners learned lots of new concepts and got to put some of their previous day's training to practical use, and even the experienced users benefited from working with other developers.
Improvements for 2011
Not to sound pretentious, but at a core level I didn't feel there was a whole lot we could have improved upon this year. The most obvious issue was space - we had almost 200 people interested in attending but only had room for 150, so for 2011 we will have to organize an alternative venue. Beyond that, I wish I'd had another week to plan the beginner's track to make it a bit more of a cohesive whole - it was almost there but some of the presentations veered off on a slight tangent that, while they were close enough, they felt a tiny bit off. That said, don't take this as a major complaint, more of just saying that a recipe needed a little more salt, rather than it had been made with octopus instead of chicken.
I'd personally like to thank Mike Anello for driving the central Florida Drupal community to put on a second DrupalCamp and making it even better than the first. I'd like to thank Andrew Riley for also doing everything he could to make the camp a success, and Mindcomet for housing the large horde of geeks. I'd like to thank everyone else who helped out plan the event, both locals and those who drove for hours just so they could stack chairs. I'd like to thank all of the presenters, both first timers and those who make it their careers, they all worked great! I'd like to specially thank our wonderful keynote speaker, Addison Berry, for being the perfect addition to the weekend and helping to bring us all together.
At a personal level, I'd like to thank my family for putting up with all of my late nights and extra meetings / conference calls as I put time into planning the camp, and then for not complaining when I disappeared on a Friday morning for my normal work day and didn't really re-appear until Sunday evening - to my wife and two children, thank you, I love you all.
Finally, to the Drupal community of Florida - thank you for pushing us to do better this year, to making 2010's Florida DrupalCamp an event I'll long cherish. We did this for you, and every little comment throughout the weekend of "you can really do that? wow" or being able to see sparks of recognition on your faces of the amazing powers of our favorite web tool (yes, my koolade is pretty strong), made it all worthwhile.