Get the most out of your first DrupalCon!

To me, meeting and building relationships in person is the glue that holds us together and makes Drupal a community. If this is your first DrupalCon or first Drupal community event, it’ll be your first taste of this crazy, smart bunch of people scattered around the globe most of the rest of the year. Welcome! I’d like to help you get the most out of your first DrupalCon!

(What have I forgotten? Let me know in the comments. New attendees will appreciate your input!)

tl;dr - Three musts for first-timers

If you’re not up for the rest of this post, do these three things at DrupalCon Baltimore:

  • Come to the Prenote - Tuesday, 8 a.m., Hall A. This kickoff the DrupalCon week is a tradition and a great way to get a taste of Drupal’s quirky side. Expect bad geeky jokes, dubious amateur singing, and more fun and energy than you’d expect for this time of day. Bonus: You’ll get a good seat for the keynote right after!
  • Come to the Driesnote - Tuesday, 9 a.m., Hall A. The opening keynote address by Drupal Project Lead, Dries Buytaert, usually contains an update on the state of Drupal and any number of relevant topics, from Drupal community to business with Drupal, and inspiring visions of Drupal’s future.
  • Come to the First Timer’s Welcome Session - Tuesday, 10:45 a.m., Room 321, Floor 3. In which yours truly will happily help get you up to speed on what you’re getting yourself into, some history of the project, but mostly the ins and outs of getting the most out of your DrupalCon.

Read on for more activities and details ...

DruopalCon Prague group photo

Packing, Planning, Preparing for DrupalCon

What to pack?

You know best what you’ll need, but here are a few things that have helped me at past DrupalCons:

  • Comfortable shoes. The days are long and the nights can be, too. No one is at DrupalCon to judge you. Wear shoes that will still feel good after you’ve been on your feet for 6 to 12 or more hours ... or at least as good as possible under the circumstances!
  • Refillable water bottle. Apart from environmental considerations around reuse of containers, keeping hydrated through long days in air conditioned halls is important!
  • Snacks. DrupalCon can be intense and a little brain food doesn’t hurt. There will be food available at the Con, but add a few snacks or mints if that’s the kind of thing that helps you get through the day, too.
  • Bring a sweater. Or dress in layers. I live in Europe and I find US buildings to be over-cooled. Even if it’s hot outside, I throw a cardigan or sweatshirt in my bag for the convention center.
  • Bring just enough tech in your bag to take notes, keep your devices charged, and get your job done. Lug as little gear with you as possible. Your back and shoulders will thank you.
    • Bring a multiplug. It’s a great way to make friends when outlets are scarce :-)
  • Business cards. Bring plenty of business cards to pass out. Even at a tech conference like DrupalCon, old-school paper-based contact info is the most reliable way to exchange contact info. Pro-tip: white, non-laminated business cards are the way to go. It’s a huge help if there’s a little room on the card for you or your new contact to add a URL, sketch, or notes on the conversation you just had.
  • Leave a little room in your bags to take home all the free t-shirts, bags, giveaways, and swag goodies that might come your way.

Swag collected at DrupalCon Austin

Planning your time

Make a solid plan for your time, based on your needs, skillset, and interests. You can plan to go to sessions in every single slot at DrupalCon, but I’d advise you not to. Leave time to wander around the exhibitors’ area; time for spontaneous conversations and interactions; and keep in mind the Con is a few days long, so don’t use all your energy on the first day.

  • Build your personal Con session schedule
    • Check the DrupalCon Program and the DrupalCon Schedule for each day of the Con. If you are logged into the site, you can save sessions to your personal schedule.
    • If there are particular speakers or Drupalists you want to meet at the Con, contact them via or Twitter and introduce yourself.
  • If you are a marketer, my colleague Katelyn Pendarvis shared her list of DrupalCon Baltimore Sessions a Digital Marketer Should Attend.
  • Don’t forget the BoFs, sprints, social events (every night of the week!), and try to make it to the First-Time Sprinter Workshop on Friday if you can--contribution is what open source is all about!
  • DrupalCon Apps. Lemberg Solutions has kindly provided DrupalCon apps for iOS and Android. They’ve worked well for me in the past. I’ll be using one on my phone again this time around.
  • Acquia sessions in Baltimore. If you want to know what my Acquia colleagues and I are presenting at the Con, have a look at my post, Acquia in action at DrupalCon Baltimore!

Driesnote DrupalCon Denver

During DrupalCon

Things to do, good for your first DrupalCon ... still good even if you’ve been to a few. In no particular order:

Sessions and events

  • First-time Attendees Social - Monday 4 p.m. Ottdoor Terrace, Level 3. A quick orientation that flows seamlessly into the DrupalCon opening reception in the exhibitors’ area!
  • Come to the Prenote - Tuesday, 8 a.m., Hall A.
  • Come to the Driesnote - Tuesday, 9 a.m., Hall A.
  • Come to the First Timer’s Welcome Session - Tuesday, 10:45 a.m., Room 321, Floor 3. In which yours truly will happily help get you up to speed on what you’re getting yourself into, some history of the project, but mostly the ins and outs of getting the most out of your DrupalCon.
  • Make time and save energy for the DrupalCon social events every evening. If you’ve been doing Drupal for a while, Trivia Night is my personal DrupalCon highlight at most Cons.

Good things to do in sessions

  • Tweet, post, and share the smart, inspiring, interesting stuff that you learn in sessions and throughout the Con!
  • Ask questions (usually at the end). Speakers are always happy to talk about the topics they’ve worked so hard on to present to you.
  • Introduce yourself to your neighbors in the session.
  • If you find yourself in the wrong session for any reason (even if it’s just not what you thought it would be), you are free to leave quietly. Your time is valuable and there is a lot going on at DrupalCon. Go find the next thing!
  • If you can’t make it to all the sessions you want to, ask a friend or colleague to go and fill you in later. And keep in mind, the Drupal Association records and posts all DrupalCon sessions so you can catch up later, too.

Visit the Exhibitors’ area. Thank all these companies for sponsoring and making DrupalCon possible. A lot of them will have fun competitions, swag to take home with you, beer (later in the day), snacks, and good information about who they are and what they do.

DrupalCon beer taps

Be social! Tweet, post, share on social media.

  • @DrupalConNA is the official North American DrupalCon Twitter account.
  • The #DrupalCon hastag will be popular. Keep an eye out for others in use.
  • Please tweet, post, and share the smart, inspiring, interesting stuff that you learn in sessions and throughout the Con!

Be sociable! Introduce yourself to your neighbor at lunch or in a session. Don’t only hang out with your friends and colleagues. Getting to know your peers, mentors, future colleagues--the people of the Drupal community--is the most valuable activity of your time at DrupalCon.

Charge your stuff every night ... Do I need to tell you this? Probably not. Now ... Don't forget to plug in your devices to charge before you go to bed!

Contribution for everyone from first timers to old timers! Drupal and open source exist and thrive because of all the contributions we all make to it. If you want to contribute code or learn about doing it, check out all the details (including how to set up your local Drupal 8 development environment) and sign up on the DrupalCon Sprints page. There will be mentors around if you need help and orientation getting started contributing, too!

DrupalCon Munch code sprints

After DrupalCon

Follow up with all the people you’ve met. Look through your business card collection, new contacts on Facebook, LinkedIn, or wherehaveyou and send emails, set up meetings, ask that question you meant to ask. Tweet what a great time you had. Thank people.

Share what you got out of DrupalCon. Tell your boss and colleagues about it. Write a blog post, record a podcast.

Start planning your session submission for the next DrupalCon! ... Or one for your local user group, or a regional Drupal Camp where you are or where you would like to visit. Check Drupical regularly to see where the next upcoming Drupal community events are in the world.

Fill out the Drupal Association’s official survey. You’ll get an email about this shortly after DrupalCon is over. Help the Association make the next one even better; tell them what you loved and what could have been better. (And if there’s an open field for comments, please thank them for their hard work in putting on DrupalCon for us all.)

Drupal Association DrupalCon swag store

Credits & Inspiration

My thanks goes out to the Drupal Association and the creators of all the following posts for your help and inspiration.

Photo Credits