DrupalCon EUR 2023 - Day 2

DrupalCon Lille Day 2 has already proven to be a unique day at DrupalCon! I’ve been lucky enough to attend “a few” DrupalCons in my day (I’ve been to every North American DrupalCon since Denver in 2012) but this is only my second European DrupalCon. And today for the first time at a DrupalCon (or tech conference) I listened to a keynote from a retired helicopter pilot. 


Day Two Keynote: Fly Higher - How to lead fearlessly

One of my favorite things about DrupalCon is how broad the content truly is. Sure, it’s a tech conference. More so a Drupal and PHP conference. But some of the most interesting talks / keynotes I’ve attended in the last 10+ years have been in tracks “other” than technological topics. The Fly Higher keynote today from Sarah Furness definitely falls into a leadership track (and not at all a technical one). However, her perspective as a retired Royal Air Force (RAF) helicopter pilot and squadron leader is a unique one at a tech conference. 

Hearing stories of her team leading other soldiers in combat zones and dealing with the exact same leadership challenges that I’ve faced throughout my managerial career was something I didn’t expect, going in. It’s easy to think that someone flying a helicopter couldn’t possibly experience the same feelings of angst, dread, uncertainty, and anxiety that I sometimes feel sitting at my laptop. Her stories as a new leader really resonated for me as someone who made the transition from individual contributor to people manager a few years ago. 

For me, the most important takeaways from her talk were that:

  • Often times the people around you are just as scared as you are (even people being hostile and combative with you)
  • Leaders aren’t immune to fear 
  • Go first! (to get people to open up and be vulnerable / communicate, take the first step and share your own feelings / experience to get the conversation rolling)

I would highly recommend watching the replay of this one once it’s online! 

Headless CMS Showdown: Live Demo and Comparison of Sanity, Strapi, Contentful, and Drupal

I attended a great presentation from the Netnode team from Switzerland who treated us to a battle between a selection of headless CMS solutions, including Drupal. In the Swiss tradition, the conclusion was neutral (each has its pros and cons), but they made a very good argument for how we as a community could improve Drupal to close some of the gaps it has with headless competitors.

Before I talk about the battle itself, it’s interesting to note what led Lukas, Natalia and the Netnode team, who are very much anchored in the Drupal community, to conduct this research in the first place. They asked a question that some of us have probably asked too: is Drupal still relevant in a headless world? And rather than just assume that because Drupal can do anything, the answer must be “yes”, they decided to methodically assess other headless solutions, list the pros and cons and think about what Drupal could learn from them.

The battle. Drupal had to fight off the following young upstarts: Sanity, Strapi and Contentful. And it came out of the fight with a few light wounds, but there were no killer blows. Drupal can definitely compete in the headless world, as long as it learns some lessons from what others are doing. The lessons that I would highlight from this session are:

  • Drupal needs a better content modeling and creation UI, with the other solutions showing the way with single page, performant and modern UIs
  • We all need to do better on documentation, Lukas highlighted the sparsity of json API documentation as an example
  • Compared to the other solutions, it is still hard to initialize a project in Drupal
  • Some standard features in Drupal are clunky (e.g. revisions, image handling)

Nothing that this community can’t address! 

Interestingly, the Netnode team has worked on addressing some of this with their Nodehive headless solution, built on top of Drupal.

Definitely worth watching the recording if you want to hear detailed analysis of how each of the headless solutions shapes up.

Drupal Multisite is Dead, Long Live Drupal Multisite

Saint Gobain have been with Acquia for ten years and it was a proud moment for the whole Acquia team to see them showcase, along with our partner FFW, the amazing achievements in building a new Drupal Multisite solution (MAC3) that now serves 16 brands with 160+ websites from a single platform running on Acquia.

I was highly impressed with the maturity of their solution architecture and the way they managed to balance a need for strict governance around security and privacy against a business imperative to provide flexibility, that comes from having to serve business units that vary hugely in the services they provide and their sales models.

I really liked how they highlighted the importance of contributing to Drupal and lessons learnt. In the course of developing the MAC3 solution they were involved in 300+ contributions and see this as key to keeping their solution maintainable in the future.

A great presentation by Saint Gobain and FFW that really addressed the technical and governance challenges of developing large multisite solutions in Drupal. Do watch the recording if you want to know more about how they achieved their success.

Wrapping Up Day 2

As always with a DrupalCon, the “hallway track” is where the real action is (and it’s impossible to summarize all the incredible conversations with Acquia customers and partners here in Lille so far)! If you’re reading these wrap ups from a far, remember that all of the DrupalCon sessions are recorded and posted for FREE on YouTube by the Drupal Association. Definitely check out these sessions and the keynote from today (you won’t be disappointed). And, if you happen to be reading this wrap up from the conference in Lille, what are you waiting for? Stop by the Acquia booth tomorrow to grab a t-shirt, try your hand at our super fancy claw / swag machine, and say hello.