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I Said Yes to My First DrupalCon

Here’s why I chose to go, what my experience was, and why I will 100% go back

Portland Oregon shot

Being away from our networks hasn't been easy - whether it's family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, or all of the above, the past two years have been difficult.

It's also been difficult to assess the risks of diving back into events to reconnect or to engage for the first time - even when we have been personally cautious and responsible and when we are assured those around us have been as well. Several members of our team chose to attend DrupalCon. This was Paakwesi's first time attending, and we wanted to ask him about his experience.
 

If somebody took away one thing from your experiences at your first DrupalCon, what would it be?

It would be the feeling of community.

Coming from someone like me - who is brand new to Drupal and working in a fully remote environment - I recognized a lot of usernames, and I caught a name or two here and there. But I had never been able to put those usernames to a face and a person. Going to DrupalCon allowed me the experience to meet, talk to, and work with the people behind those usernames in a collaborative and welcoming environment.

And then all of it clicked for me at one point and I was like, “I’m just like everyone here!” Everyone I worked with wanted to work with me and could relate to some of my hesitations - people who are brand new, others who aren’t, but all who want to solve challenges together.

The sense of community and the dedication to collaboration were the biggest takeaways, and they changed my insight and how I approach my work.
 

How did your pre-conference expectations match with your post-conference experience?

My previous conference experience was always to learn technical things, while also maybe networking. But going into it, I realized you get much more of a sense of community. Meeting and talking to so many people - and even just being able to run ideas past people - made me feel like I was involved in the conference and not just an attendee.

There is always that sensitive little bit for me - the imposter syndrome - where I was worried I wouldn’t be able to add up or contribute on a certain skill level. After DrupalCon, I feel reassured that no, that’s actually normal! From my experience, those who have spent years learning Drupal and those who are new all feel the same way, and that was hugely empowering.

It not only made me much more confident, but much more aware of the fact that I’m not alone, we all have struggles, we all have worries, but we all work together to solve them. It was a definite eye-opening experience.
 

Do you think that Palantir.net as a whole - in terms of fostering collaboration and a sense of a tight-knit community - is a microcosm of DrupalCon? 

I definitely feel that way, especially in terms of working collaboratively to solve a problem and also especially when it comes to me having a little bit of imposter syndrome.

Even when I would talk to some of my mentors, I would try to explain my past experience as an example of having to figure out a problem on my own, having no idea where to go with it but having to cram away and figure it out without support or someone I could work with to find a solution.Now working at Palantir.net, I constantly hear, “No, seriously, just ask anything! If you’ve tried for 15 minutes and feel like your head is against the wall, just ask someone.” And it’s not just a phrase that’s said - it’s a phrase that is meant and acted on.

Even though DrupalCon is a big conference, it doesn’t feel that way. When I was in the classrooms working on a solution for a project, I had the similar feeling of collaboration I have at Palantir.net. I can turn to the teacher or the person sitting next to me and say, “Hey, I don’t really get this” or “I’m really stuck on this part,” and there is an instant response of “Let’s work on it together!”

Coming from previous work experiences that had a “figure it out yourself” environment, when I first started at Palantir.net I probably did not reach out as much as I should have. But now, I realize how many different avenues to use to ask a question, ask for help, or ask for a second pair of eyes on my work.
 

What was your favorite part of or experience at DrupalCon?

So you know how the phrase, “that memory that's going to live in my head forever for free?” Mine was making my first contribution that showed up on my Drupal Association profile. This means anyone can access my profile and see what module I contributed to. Now, in the next update and if it works, everyone will be using something I contributed to through testing and putting in my two cents.

It was a huge proud moment for me because I felt that I can look back on it in 10 or 15 years and think, “Yeah - I helped to create that.” It is something that will definitely be a memory that will live in my head forever for free.
 

Are there any other Drupal events you’re eyeing to attend?

I’d love to attend DrupalCon again - for 2023, it'll be in Pittsburgh from June 5th to June 9th. I’d also definitely like to go to MidCamp, which takes place here in Chicago and will be taking place in the spring of 2023.

A funny story: I met a guy at DrupalCon who is from Chicago and lives in my parents’ neighborhood. It was cool to be able to have an interaction with someone on that type of personal level and to be able to know that there is a built-in community not just at events, but in communities across the country. That was truly an eye-opening experience that I did not expect, but one that really made me realize how wide, large, and connected the Drupal community is. And it’s pretty awesome.
 

Based on your experience, what advice, tips, or tricks would you tell a first-time DrupalCon attendee?

If you think that your first DrupalCon will be all work and no fun, you will be pleasantly surprised.

You’ll find out quickly - as I did - that there are after parties, trivia, and plenty of fun people to meet and hang out with outside of the convention hours.

Fair warning: you will never know what you are bound to see.

Anything from Caesar the No Drama Llama to a guy in a Darth Vader outfit riding on a unicycle in a kilt to a random group of flame jugglers we stumbled upon walking from one party to the other. (Part of me was not sure if this was part of the people in the community just getting loose or if this was a Portland thing, since they do say “Keep Portland Weird.” Whatever it is, I am here for it.

All I know is that I had such a great experience at DrupalCon, and I was extremely fortunate to be able to be there with some fellow Palantiri. I plan for this to not be my last.

Photo by Justin Shen on Upsplash

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