Two years ago, my first Drupal event took place: Dev Days Ghent 2022. Since then, numerous other Drupal events, large and small, have passed by.

During this first event, my passion for the Drupal community was ignited, which marked the start of my journey through the fascinating world of Drupal.

  • Drupal User Group (DUG) events.
  • The VDAB open sprint (yes, the VDAB site is a Drupal site 😊)
  • Internal contribution days
  • Maintenance on my own module ActiveCampaign
  • Global Contribution Weekend
  • DrupalCon Lille

With now the latest addition in this list Dev Days Burgas 2024.

Reflection on two years of growth: From Drupal Dev Days Ghent to Dev Days Burgas

In this article, I will make a few references to my previous article, two years ago, about my experiences at Drupal Dev Days Gent 2022. This will allow me to link my own growth in Drupal and the community to my experiences then and now.

The biggest benefit that two years of more Drupal experience brought is obvious. I understood sessions much better and could assess much more easily whether a talk would add value to my personal growth and to the growth of the company.

When I now re-read the list of sessions I took then, it exudes a youthful curiosity of someone who doesn't know much yet and wants to learn everything quickly. Very broad interests, with no clear direction or reason, just happy to learn.

Betoverd bos met allemaal verschillende soorten paddenstoelen.

Focused choices: AI and WCAG as undiscovered gold veins

During these Dev Days, my choices were more focused. Sessions on AI and WCAG were eagerly followed, knowing that these are the hot topics that will shape the Drupal landscape in the coming months and years.

On the one hand due to the new upcoming legislation for WCAG from the European Commission and on the other hand due to the many developments on AI within Drupal.

"The AI modules are popping up like mushrooms," was said in my colleague Frederik's talk, and this is certainly not a lie. AI is the new gold rush, and WCAG should be too. It's just that the general public hasn't yet discovered the vein of gold beneath their feet.

I want to be ready for the future, and this is something you think less about in your first year as a developer, because everything is still so new.

From Drupal 11 to Starshot: New insights at Dev Days

Some things were the same as two years ago. Instead of the talk about Drupal 10 that was "on the horizon" then, I now followed the talk about Drupal 11, again to know what the future will bring us.

The talk about the new Starshot initiative within Drupal was also very interesting, especially to hear how they plan to get new people excited about Drupal. The nice thing was that I was also able to actively contribute ideas on how they can best approach this.

I participated in a Birds of a Feather (BOF) session around AI (yes, indeed AI again) within the Starshot initiative. Here we were asked how we would like to see AI implemented in Starshot. My vision was a chatbot feature that helps new users set up their own Drupal site, or supports junior developers just starting out in their jobs.

Birds of a Feather" (BoF) sessions are formal roundtables or informal gatherings of participants who share a common interest or topic. These meetings usually take place during conferences and provide a space where participants can network, discuss and exchange ideas and experiences on a specific topic.
John Doyle
The DrupalCon Experience- Birds of a Feather (BOF) Sessions

And here I want to refer back to my earlier article, where I mentioned that as a new developer it was nice to meet the people behind the ecosystem. The demigods, as I called them then.

So there I was, two years later, back at Dev Days, talking and thinking along with those same people I still thought lived on Mount Olympus before my first encounter. Then I realized that I had come a long way. On the one hand due to my own perseverance, because finding my way in the Drupal ecosystem has not always been easy. 

But on the other hand also through the guidance of my colleagues, whose passion for Drupal and open source drove them to help me. And by the Drupal community, which is always willing to lend a hand to people who want to learn.


Connecting experiences: The social aspects of Dev Days

Besides the sessions, it was also a special experience to be abroad with colleagues and other contributors. There is something about traveling far that connects people who speak the same language, which of course doesn't happen if you stay in a Flemish metropolis like Ghent. Throughout the conference, all Belgians, along with people from other countries (the Germans were also there again), were present everywhere as a united front. Whether in a bar or restaurant, as soon as the location was known, the terrace quickly filled with Belgians. For example, to watch together on a big screen whether the national team would win against Ukraine, while enjoying a snack and a drink.

There was a lot of talk about Drupal, previous events and the company. The difference with my first event was that now I could talk about Drupal Con Lille, about what is going on within the company and about my own vision of Drupal. This also allowed me to have interesting conversations with people outside Calibrate. We discussed how they mentor juniors and what their vision is for training new people within Drupal. We also talked about Starshot and more importantly, what they expect to get out of it.

Technical questions were much more focused; I now know my goals and pain points to improve. This also made it easier for the people to whom I asked questions to answer. I have now learned from personal experience that there is nothing more difficult than having to answer an open-ended

Deep dive into Drupal core: A wisdom from a core maintainer

While I was waiting to go through customs and everyone else was gone for a while, I took my chance to ask an experienced Drupaler and core maintainer a question:

How can I better find my way into core, then make custom business easier and faster for customers from here?

This was an approach I had picked up during Drupal Con Lille from senior developers: that some people are not necessarily good at programming, but simply know their way around Core. By knowing where everything can be found and what it does, they can quickly and efficiently create solutions for clients. But this proved easier said than done. Core contains a lot of and sometimes complex code, although well documented, it remains a challenge to fathom. As a Core mainstay sat next to me, I seized my opportunity to ask how he had tackled this, how he had gotten to this point.

His answer was clear: by diving deep into the code, making a mind map of his exploration, and taking notes on how these parts related to each other. He gave a concrete example: when he wanted to understand how the renderer in Drupal worked, he started exploring. Step by step, he approached the core of how rendering worked, until he discovered that the renderer contained a bug that prevented anything from being rendered. By continuing to search, he eventually discovered that Core rendered everything through the HTML renderer and thus bypassed the bug. He stressed that a structured approach is essential: have a clear goal when examining the code and gradually work toward it. Along the way, try to understand how the puzzle pieces fit together and eventually see the full picture.

When I expressed my overwhelm about Core code, he provided another valuable insight: "Core reads like a book. "He clarified this by pointing to the coding standards in Core, which ensure that the code is readable and understandable. Well-documented features make it easy for new developers to understand what the code does, unlike some enterprise codebases that are often less accessible.

An indispensable experience: Drupal events and the community

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that this event was a very educational experience, both technically and socially. I would definitely recommend it to any Drupal developer to attend one of these events annually. For the more technically oriented people who prefer smaller events, I can definitely recommend Dev Days or a Drupal Camp. For the more commercially oriented who like to take home as many goodies as new Drupal knowledge, Drupal Con is the place to be.

But whatever you choose, if you work in Drupal, the community is an integral part of your professional life. We create the patches, maintain the modules and set the direction Drupal is going. So come and join us on Mount Olympus, decide with us and let's make Drupal even better 😉.

De berg Olympus, omringd door verschillende Griekse tempels.

A glimpse of fun on Mount Olympus

Aftermovie Drupal Dev Days Bulgarije 2024

To show that it can also just be fun on Mount Olympus, below you can watch the aftermovie from last week: social events, sessions, trips and just an overall great time. 😊