DrupalCon is about to descend on Paris in a matter of days. Sadly no, I will not be attending. But you're in luck, because our very own Disseminator of Awesome Shawn is on his way to represent Affinity Bridge and enjoy his first DrupalCon! In my absence, I thought I would write up a little DrupalCon End-User Guide of sorts, for all those first timers out there. Finding the optimal balance of geekery and socializing is key to making the most of the week, so consider these tips to lead you on the path to finding that balance.
- Stay with other Drupallers. Whether you're going on your own or with a group, try and stay at a hotel other conferencegoers are staying at. If you are one of the first to book accommodations, tell others where you'll be, it's way more fun when a quarter of the hotel are all sitting in the common area coding in the evening, and you have people to brave the transit system with.
- When you arrive, take a deep breath. When you get to day one of DrupalCon it might feel a little overwhelming and chaotic, trying to get oriented among 1000+ people. Take a deep breath, find the schedule, keep an eye out for familiar faces (or usernames). Get your zen on and go with it, because the week will speed by and be over before you know it.
- Talk to strangers. A lot of people will have traveled on their own, and will also know virtually nobody when they get there. Talk to the people who are staying at the same hotel as you, talk to the person standing next to you in line for registration, talk to the people you sit next to in sessions. I know you might be a little shy, as we are all geeks in some form or another, but trust me, the Drupal people are a friendly bunch. Who knows, maybe the person you pass in the hall was the same person you spent a late night coding session with on IRC and you don't even know it!
- Go to BOFs. BOF in secret Drupal/developer language means "Birds of a Feather" (and no, I don't know why it's not BOAF). BOF sessions are fairly organic sessions where people who are all interested in a specific topic, from Agile project management, to Apache Solr, to Drupalchix, tolibraries (the list could go on and on) get together to discuss the topic. This is not a how-to or an intro to the topic, but can be anything from discussing at a meta level what overarching goals of a particular project are, to trading tips and tricks for business management. If it's for a more complex project, it may turn into a coding session where the main devs (who likely don't usually get to work together in person) get to hang out and get their groove on. BOFs and coding rooms can provide some of the most amazing experiences you'll have at DrupalCon. Find the BOF board, it is somewhere in the main lobby area, pick out at least a couple to attend - the practical knowledge and new connections you'll make will stay with you long after DrupalCon has wrapped.
- Attend the Codesprint/Docsprint. (Schedule has short ones scheduled for day 1 and the main one on the final day.) Seriously, just do it. I know it might mean one less day of sightseeing, or that you might be tired by the time you get to sprint day, but it's is some of the most geeky fun possible. I have gained so much valuable knowledge at the sprints I've attended, and gotten to know some great people, and dang it, it's just plain fun regardless of how tired you are!
- Let your awesome out. Don't be afraid to just dive right in - DrupalCon is what you make of it. Talk to people, ask questions in sessions, keep IRC on - there is usually a #drupalcon channel during the conference, attend as many sessions as you can, but make sure to also hang out in the hall with some strangers, go to a couple of the evening social events, and just generally soak it all up.
- As a footnote to that, pace yourself. Trust me on this one. By the last day, there will be people napping behind recycling bins, and walking around looking like they're about ready for hibernation. It does not feel good being one of these people, so make some time for sleep and food somewhere in there.
- Don't be scared to talk to the "Drupal Rockstars." Core devs are people too. Now I'm not proposing you go up to them and start asking them a bunch of technical questions (though most are so nice they will humour you). I'm saying, if you happen to find yourself in a position to introduce yourself and they're not in the middle of something, just go for it, ask them how their morning is going, or what they think about some newfangled awesome thing you've discovered.
For the rest of you who are stuck at home like me, keep an eye on the web, if it's anything like the last one, session videos will be up in no time. Have fun everyone, make it the best DrupalCon yet, and many thanks to the tireless organizers in Paris! (And feel free to add more tips in the comments!)