Reflecting on BADCamp 2017 which took place in October at UC Berkeley, it occurred to me that this camp and others like it have so much to offer beyond the obvious fact that one can hear about the latest in Drupal development techniques. As a senior project manager at Mediacurrent, it’s important that I understand these at least at a high level, but if that were all BADCamp was about it might not be the best investment of my continuing education efforts. Fortunately, the Drupal community offers way more learning opportunities for differently skilled people working with Drupal or providing Drupal services.
Having attended five DrupalCons and nine or ten DrupalCamps, I’m no stranger to Drupal tech conferences. Earlier in my Drupal career these cons and camps were a bit intimidating because it seemed that “everyone else” knew “all the things” about Drupal and, by comparison, I knew nothing. If you are relatively new to the Drupal community, you may experience similar feelings. My hope is that you will overcome those fears and see these conferences as opportunities. And through your participation, you will come to see that we are all learners, even the most skilled developers, designers, project managers, etc. There is always more to learn. Not only that, there is more to this than just learning about code or programming. We’re not all developers, and we all have something to contribute.
So what does a non-developer stand to gain by attending a Drupal event like BADCamp?
Training Summits and Session Tracks for Non-Devs
Every year there is more diversity in non-dev specific training and session track offerings ranging from topics such as higher education to project management. BADCamp 2017 offered a Nonprofit Summit and Higher Education Summit to provide training experiences for those working within or providing services to those verticals.
I attended the Higher Education Summit, a one-day training “for site owners, IT managers, developers, content creators, and agencies dedicated to supporting and advancing the use of Drupal in academia to share, learn, and strengthen our community of practice.” The day was divided into panel discussions, talks, and breakout sessions. I found the breakout sessions the most invigorating because it provided an opportunity to listen to people who represent the same industry as several of Mediacurrent’s client base (colleges and universities) as well as other Drupal service providers working with higher ed clients.
A facilitator led us through an exercise to organize a digital project identifying internal and external factors that work for or against the success of a project.
Conclusion: we all have pretty much the same issues. :)
Sailboat exercise for retrospectives - Identifying internal and external forces that act for and against your project
Quality time with your team
Whether you work in an office with all of your colleagues in the same building or remotely on a team spread across the country, there is immeasurable value in spending time with your teammates face to face and off the clock. Between lunches, dinners, in between sessions, and after parties (and probably karaoke if I’m involved), a few days at a conference provides many opportunities to hang with your team. This is especially important for distributed teams.
Studies from Gallup and Harvard Business Review show that fostering friendships with your coworkers increases engagement at work.
Research shows that workers are happier in their jobs when they have friendships with co-workers. Employees report that when they have friends at work, their job is more fun, enjoyable, worthwhile, and satisfying. Gallup found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work. (source)
This applies not only to those providing Drupal services but also to those in any field, be it nonprofits, higher ed, startups, etc. I’m grateful for the company culture at Mediacurrent which values the deepening of friendships across teams and departments.
Get to know clients or potential clients
Closely related to the point above is that conferences like BADCamp provide opportunities to connect face to face with your clients or potential clients. This interaction can take on different forms - a formal meeting to talk business or more casual discussion over lunch or dinner with some business talk mixed in. In settings like BADCamp, I find the casual atmosphere most valuable.
For the Mediacurrent team at BADCamp, we had the privilege of hanging out with a prospective client throughout the week with an equal mix of casual and business discussions. Our interactions gave me a solid overview of what his business needs and goals are, but also a deeper sense of what his personality is like and established a personal connection with him before potentially engaging in our first project together.
Learn about solutions to specific problems
This is more obvious, but the sessions also provide a huge benefit to attendees. (duh!)
BADCamp session tracks are divided into the following topics:
- Coding + Development
- Design, Theme + UX
- Site Building + Using Drupal
- DevOps, Performance, Security & Privacy
- Business + Community
- Project Management
As a project manager, I gravitate towards the project management sessions focused on agile best practices and managing scope. Sessions that focus on newer trends like component based design and theming or user testing are beneficial for non-developers as well.
I found the session on building a data sharing cloud on Drupal of particular interest because of Drupal’s lackluster reputation for file management. The presentation demonstrated that through a new set of modules that data sharing and file management is achievable within Drupal. It was interesting to see the particular use case of the presenters, but also promising to see the amount of customization available to support other use cases for file sharing.
Learn what developers do even if you don’t understand it all
It is helpful for website maintainers, project managers, marketing directors et al to see behind the magic curtain and visualize what a developers process looks like. Understanding enough to know that they don’t just click a few buttons and suddenly a new custom widget appears helps establish or maintain healthy expectations of developers. There is a lot more to it than dragging and dropping some items within the admin UI when you need a landing page with a brand new layout. Seeing a developer show the process involved for creating new components that will display on a page and understanding the various programs used (code editors, command line, browser dev tools, etc.) helps you see the overall picture of a web development project which will remind you to provide ample lead time on deliverables and project timelines.
In closing, BADCamp has definitely become my favorite annual Drupal event. The camp offers a wide array of sessions and not just those focused on developer-centric topics. Beyond that, the intangible benefits of growing closer to colleagues, clients, and the greater Drupal community has helped me personally feel connected to a larger movement, one whereas a newcomer six years ago felt intimidating and now contributes to my growth as a Drupal professional.
Non-devs have an enormous opportunity afforded to them at camps which seem to be more focused on those learning Drupal — a sign of Drupal's maturity as a platform.