Last weekend was the first ever Drupalcamp Atlanta, and I am proud to report that things went really well. As I write this, we've had 11 straight days of downpours in metro Atlanta and flooding throughout the city. As a result, we had a higher percentage of no-shows than we would have liked, but about 200 Drupal'ers braved the weather and made it out.
First and foremost, the biggest praise I consistently heard was how top-notch all of the sessions were. The speakers set a high bar – they included long-time Drupal contributors, professors at local universities, and published authors. You could really tell that the presenters took a lot of pride in their work. I can’t wait until we edit the video footage and can share these awesome presentations with the rest of the Drupal community. Atlanta Drupal User Group (ADUG) member Utzu Logigan deserves a ton of credit – he mobilized a 10 man video crew and equipment to make sure we had total coverage of the 25+ sessions. We hope to have video completed in the next few weeks and will upload on the DCA website.
On a personal note, I really enjoyed new Drupal author, Ben Finklea’s talk on Running a Successful Drupal Business. Ben correctly noted that entrepreneurs who attempt to build a practice around Drupal need to be driven by the same sound business principles that guide other organizations. He mentioned the importance of well-defined systems, and how his firm takes one day off per quarter to talk about process improvement. In addition, he shared his methodology for hiring new employees, how smart companies identify a niche vertical, and discussed how key performance indicators (KPIs) are critical to your organization.
One of the most attractive aspects of the Drupal community is how friendly and welcoming everyone was that I interacted with. Drupal tends to attract a diverse set of professionals, yet almost everyone shares a like-minded interest to help the Drupal project evolve. Addi Berry really crystallized this point in her keynote address. She eloquently spoke about how Drupal is a do-ocracy, and extremely accepting of anyone who is willing to share knowledge. She reminded us that there is a place for everyone if you have a desire to help.
Thanks to some generous sponsors (including Mediacurrent) the conference was completely free. We also sold some really cool t-shirts, provided breakfast and lunch, and about 50 of us headed over to a local pub to continue our talks at the after-party. By the way, there are t-shirts still available if you would like to order one feel free to reach out by leaving a comment below.
As always, with an event this size there are always things that you could have done differently in hindsight. If you are planning a future Drupalcamp here are some lessons learned:
- Website – Due to time constraints we errored on the side of simplicity, but having a forums section, PayPal set-up to pre-order t-shirts, and a rating system to place the more popular sessions in the larger rooms should have been must have requirements on the site.
- Better signage – We underestimated how tricky it can be to navigate around a college campus where all of the buildings look similar, particularly around the parking decks and main entrance.
- Birds of Feather (BoF) – We could have built more momentum and better promoted the BoF’s before the conference (i.e. forums area in the website).
- A/V equipment – Be sure to bring extra cables and assign someone to test the designated presentation rooms beforehand – we also forgot that many of the doors automatically locked when they closed, so bring door-jams.
- To charge or not? – Ultimately, our organizing committee deciding to NOT charge a registration fee since we had enough sponsorship revenue to adequately offset expenses. However, a free event definitely leads to more no shows and left us in a precarious position of not wanting to overbook. However, we should have kept the registration list open longer before announcing a sell-out.
- Consolidating the location as much as possible – There was a conflict with our host (Kennesaw State University) and we were not able to have the keynote and all of the sessions in one central area – this presented challenges, but we managed. If feasible, just be cognizant of having all the breakout rooms as close as possible.
- Sponsors – We need to get more exposure for our sponsors the day of the event. We could have done some pre-camp interviews or placed sponsor placards in some of the larger meeting rooms.
- More for Drupal "newbies" – Our stats show that 40%+ of the attendees were beginners (I am defining beginner as 6 months experience or less), and next time we need a kick off session that helps them understand basic concepts, terminology, buzzwords, etc.
Many of the points I've raised were echoed in the 60+ survey responses we received thus far. If you attended DCA, please complete this short survey, if you have not done so already. As you can hopefully already tell it will help us or Drupacon SF be as prepared as possible the next time. Keep in mind, if you are organizing a Drupalcamp for the first time these are natural growing pains. I have my "to do list" to write a more detailed blog post about pre-planning and organizing... stay tuned.
In the end, it was an amazing event that we were able to put on for free. We packed a full day of high-quality sessions that one normally expects to find in a pricey conference. One of the survey statistics that was the most inspiring was that over half of the respondents had never been to a Drupal event before. This kind of exposure will only help the Drupal project continue to mature.
What was your experience – are there any highlights or particular sessions you found value in? If you have been involved in organizing a Drupalcamp before are there any best practices you could share?