Color photo of empty stage at DrupalCon Lille

Final Takeaways from DrupalCon Lille

October 20, 2023 11 minute read
From the Women in Drupal Awards to news of exciting developments in Drupal and inspiring keynotes, there was much to take away from DrupalCon Lille
Color photo of empty stage at DrupalCon Lille

While this year’s DrupalCon was my first, I came to the conference loaded with high expectations even as a non-developer, and the event did not disappoint. There were sessions for everyone: developers, content editors, marketers, agencies, open source enthusiasts, and beyond. Everybody was so open, welcoming, and inclusive. I felt embraced by the warm Drupal community and walked away feeling enriched by this time together. 

I’ve loved the opportunities DrupalCon gave me to finally meet many of our partners, customers, and even fellow Acquians in person. From the celebrations at the Acquia booth’s claw game every time someone won a pair of Converse x Acquia sneakers to learning the anatomy of a baguette, the energy and spirit of the Drupal community shone throughout and I’m excited to share some final takeaways and highlights here.

Color photo of media showing the anatomy of a baguette
Learning the anatomy of a baguette at DrupalCon Lille

What’s going on in Drupal?

One of the appeals of attending DrupalCon is to gather with the Drupal community IRL to hear about new developments and achievements. The opening ceremony included the Women in Drupal Award ceremony, which recognized winners for outstanding projects related to Drupal. Sponsored by FFW and selected by a jury that included the winners of the inaugural Women in Drupal Award last year, the 2023 winners were:

  • Tiffany Farriss, CEO of and Drupal Association secretary, in the Define category
  • Marine Gandy, President of Drupal France, in the Build category
  • Lenny Moskalyk, Senior Product Manager at Cocomore AG, in the Scale category
    Color photo of the Women in Drupal Awards 2023
    The winners of this year's Women in Drupal Awards

In the session, “Innovation and the Future of Drupal,” a panel led by Alejandro Moreno Lopez, Program Manager, Innovation, Drupal Association, discussed topics like what innovation means, whether Drupal is still innovative, how Drupal is doing, where it’s going, and what the long-term goals and vision are. Composed of Scott Massey from Morpht, Cristina Chumillas of Lullabot, AmyJune Hineline from Linux Foundation, and Nick Veenhof from GitLab, the group agreed that we can’t ignore the fact that Drupal has shrunk — its usage and number of contributions and members — but there’s hope for making the platform more innovative. Many ideas were presented on how to increase the rate of innovation and number of contributors, which will help Drupal grow. It all comes down to the community: If there’s something you want from Drupal, ask for it and work on it, and give back to the community. Most importantly, we’ve all been marketing Drupal even before the marketing committee launched. So share what you’ve been doing with Drupal and not just with other members of this community, but with those outside of it too. 

Led by Gábor Hojtsy, Drupal Initiative Coordinator at Acquia, the Thursday afternoon mainstage keynote featured a panel of Drupal Core Initiative Leads giving updates on their respective projects. We got all the details on the strategic initiatives for Drupal core: 

  • Config validation: While not actually a core initiative, Wim Leers from Acquia shared the progress in making things validatable. Coming in Drupal 10.2 will be ConfigFormBase (which is for editing simple config) supporting validation constraints and SchemaCheckTrait::checkConfigSchema() now checking config schema strictly.
  • Felip Manyer i Ballester updated us on the progress to translate Drupal, which is currently in the initial port phase, meaning features are being transitioned from the Drupal 7 to Drupal 10 platform. There’s still much to be done before we get to the improvements phase.
  • Admin UX improvements: To reach the goal of making Drupal the tool of choice for ambitious site builders worldwide, Sascha Eggenberger from GitLab, who is working on many projects, discussed:
    • Field UI to improve the page building experience and make it easier to select and reuse fields
    • Editorial Experience to combine the strengths of structured content with modern page-building tools
    • New Navigation Experience to meet the needs of content editors and site builders alike
    • Modernized Admin UI to redesign the layout and bring more features from Gin to Claro
    • Project Browser to make it easier to discover modules and find those that will fulfill use case needs

      Sascha also highlighted innovations from contrib:

      Dashboard to offer a more relevant and personalized experience tailored to users’ needs
      Same Page Preview module to increase content creator confidence in their changes with a live preview
      Gin to continue to innovate and try out new things to serve as the inspiration for Claro
  • Admin Toolbar: Agileana’s Mike Herchel spoke about the initiative to replace the default core Drupal administrative toolbar to make it feel premium and modern but also to exceed accessibility standards. He anticipates an alpha release soon but an option to test this toolbar out is already in Gin.
  • GitLab CI Improvements: While DrupalCI has been the testing ground for Drupal core for years, Fran-Garcia Linares from the Drupal Association shared how GitLab CI was made available for all contrib modules first and their challenges in moving Drupal core to GitLab CI. While speed was initially slower than DrupalCI, it’s now taking fewer than 10 minutes to test code. Next up? Turning off DrupalCI.
  • Site-Builder Tool/Project Browser: To address the question of “If I’m new to Drupal, what will my experience be like,” this initiative aims to make it easier for site builders to find and install modules. Chris Wells from Redfin Solutions expects an alpha release of Project Browser in core soon.
  • Promote Drupal: The community-led initiative to spread the word about Drupal and increase its adoption is preparing for a Drupal rebrand and relaunch, including a new experience aimed at evaluators. But Drupal developers don’t have to worry about their home going away; Suzanne Dergacheva from Evolving Web assured them that developer-focused content will still be available on, just deemphasized. 

A variety of breakout sessions

With breakout session topics spanning the gamut, there was something for everyone at DrupalCon. For example, Dropsolid’s cofounder and co-CEO, Dominique De Cooman helped raise awareness for Mautic with his session about the potential impact and benefits of bringing Drupal and Mautic closer together. Just imagine what these two vibrant open source communities can do if we connected their ecosystems and developed more together!

To continue the ongoing conversations about artificial intelligence (AI), Raffaele Chiocca, Tech Lead at Hinto, walked us through an overview of the OpenAI/ChatGPT/AI Search Integration module and its easy out-of-the-box content editor experience. 

We heard from Iryna Semenova and Anastasiia Paliienko about the challenges Ukrainian IT teams have faced since the war began on February 24, 2022. The strength, solidarity, and adaptability of members of the Drupal community in the face of such trauma is impressive. But there’s still more we can do to support our Ukrainian peers:

  • Create a trauma-informed environment
  • Check in with one-on-one meetings
  • Offer psychological support
  • Continue to donate to aid organizations
  • Show empathy and ask how they’re doing

Esmeralda Braad-Tijhoff, a developer at DICTU, shared her personal and inspirational story of how she escaped poverty through the power of free, accessible Drupal training. Finding herself on welfare after having twins, the single mother followed Drupal tutorials to develop her skills. Eventually, Esmeralda gained proficiency to become a Drupal site builder with an established career in the IT industry, now contributing to Drupal websites for the Dutch government. Esmeralda’s journey is a powerful reminder of the transformative impact that free, open source technologies and online training can have.

In his session, Dane Rossenrode, owner of Touchdreams, shared his experience working on the Read to Learn Initiative, an Oxford University Press project, to bring a language-learning website to schools in South Africa, many of which are offline. The initiative seeks to create a web-based platform to deliver lessons and fun activities and assessments to rural schools from a single-server box. English is the sixth most spoken language in South Africa but is often never spoken at home, so students face a sudden transition when they begin learning in English in grade 4, which is why 76% of grade 4 learners don’t understand what they read. Through the Read to Learn initiative, students learn computer skills so they can use the web platform to learn English and other subjects. So far, the initiative is in 16 schools, reaching 108 classes, 241 teachers, and 4,382 students through 541 lessons. 

Keynotes offering inspiration

In addition to the opening Driesnote and the Drupal core initiatives keynote, other keynotes offered excitement and inspiration for what we can do to grow with Drupal and what we can do to grow personally.

Day two of DrupalCon started with a keynote about how brands KitKat and Jägermeister brought their digital experiences to life with Drupal. Andrea Ostheer, Jägermeister’s Manager of Corporate Communication, talked about the creation of Jägernet, a social intranet, as the multibrand business underwent a cultural change. After evaluating technologies across their selection criteria, which  included hosting in Germany, single sign-on, expert profiling, social Q&A, social networking and collaboration, chat, mobile access, auto-translations, push notifications, and an editorially designable homepage, Jägermeister’s research led them to Drupal. Originally launched in 2017, Jägernet was refreshed this year with a German version and a separate international version. The company also aims to add Slack integration, spontaneous surveys, AI implementations, and virtual tours in 2024.

Color photo of KitKat presentation at DrupalCon Lille
Arush Kochar discusses how Drupal facilitates KitKat's digital evolution

Joining Andrea was Arush Kochhar, Global Digital Confectionery Lead at Nestlé, who shared the KitKat brand’s digital evolution from an inconsistent mess in 2020 to a flexible, scalable, but simple digital experience. As a global brand within the even larger Nestlé corporation, KitKat required a beautiful brand identity that could be rolled out consistently to each of its global markets, while still enabling local teams to customize their sites to show consumers the right products in the right language. KitKat selected Drupal and open source because it met their needs in four key areas: maximizing the budget, community, flexibility and transparency, and global standard. The 18-month journey has led to the adoption of a primary template by over 20 markets, and the work’s not finished yet. Arush anticipates similar stories with Nestlé brands as they change their work in digital.

The day continued with an inspiring and powerful afternoon keynote about authentic, skillful, and fearless leadership by Sarah Furness, retired squadron leader and helicopter pilot in the Royal Air Force (RAF). Sarah’s lessons were relevant to anyone, be they a Drupal developer or Air Force member. Speaking about growth and leadership, Sarah explained, “The biggest thing that will get in your way is you. The biggest thing you can learn is to get out of your own way, so you can reach your full potential. Then you can figure out how to get out of other people’s way, so they can reach their full potential.”

While most of us don’t lead life-or-death operations, Sarah’s stories from her missions in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Kenya reminded us of the importance of being an authentic leader who lets their team challenge them and who embraces discomfort and doing the things that scare them most. “There’s no point having brilliant people on your team if you can’t harness that collective power,” Sarah said after recounting a story in which she needed her team to challenge her decisions instead of following her blindly during a harrowing night mission in low visibility to attempt to rescue a soldier stranded on a hillside with a potentially deadly black mamba snake bite. (While her crew was unable to complete their mission, Sarah assured us the soldier survived.)

Color photo of Sarah Furness on stage at DrupalCon Lille
Former Royal Air Force squadron leader and helicopter pilot Sarah Furness gives an inspiring speech at DrupalCon Lille

While Sarah may be the definition of a badass leader, she’s also human, which she stressed throughout her keynote. She made it a point to reiterate that being human is okay. We don’t need to be superhumans, but we do need to get out of our own way and forgive ourselves for being human. Sometimes we get in our own way because a fear of making mistakes rules us. Instead, Sarah challenged us to be brave and try the scary or difficult, lean into the discomfort, accept that there will be mistakes, and learn from them by first owning them and then sharing them with others so that the learning multiplies. That will help us get out of our own way and out of other people’s way while helping them get out of theirs. That’s what leadership boils down to, according to Sarah.

Closing celebrations . . . until next time

DrupalCon Lille wrapped up with an announcement of the winner of the Lil’ Rooster auction (which culminated in a 1250€ donation to the Drupal Association!) and a passing of the figurative torch to the host city for DrupalCon Europe 2024: Barcelona. We’re already looking forward to seeing you in Spain next year, but until then, we hope to connect at other events. Be sure to register for Engage Boston next month and DrupalCon North America in Portland in May.

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