Stanford DrupalCamp: Down on the farm

A very bright weekend greeted us at Stanford DrupalCamp.  After a really rainy winter with crazy weather that seemed to follow me to SANDCamp and Drupal Northern Lights, it was really awesome to have clear skies and the warm spring weather of Palo Alto.  I was very excited to be able to attend a camp close to home and to be joined by a couple colleagues who I do not normally get to travel with.

Unlike most camps and conferences I attend, most of the attendees at the camp worked for the same employer.  Stanford.  It seemed that many of the folks attending were there to learn about what other parts of their university were doing. And that makes sense given the size of the university and how many departments utilize Drupal in some way.   It gave this camp a very special feeling of purpose to have so many colleagues who rarely work directly together come under one banner for a weekend.

It also focused the discussion on internally promoting Drupal as the right solution for many of their needs.  This is an interesting problem set and one I have thought about a lot since I first attended WPCampus last year.  It was remarkable how the different departments and organizations sounded like the web development agencies I have worked with. Similar in goals and processes but with some additional problem variables on top.  While the challenges are great, I think the folks working in these institutions are doing great work and helping keep information moving fast and free.  I left with high hopes for the future of Drupal and its use in higher education.

The Food and the Fun:

A lack of planning on my part Friday left me without lunch as my team was setting up for the camp.  Very fortunately, the campus food court system was in full swing and I was able to buy some wonderful vegetarian stew to tide me over.  The conference coffee was pretty OK and they had a great tea selection.

5:00pm Friday found us outside The Treehouse for some fun, nachos, fries, wine and beer paid for by the awesome sponsors of the camp.  Many good times were had. Having talks the next day to prepare for and some other plans, all too soon we had to take off our homes.

Saturday started out with an amazingly awesome Lyft ride.

The sessions were great and the weather was unbelievably nice out.  It felt like summer had come to the peninsula.  We had standard fare camp lunch with sandwiches, apples, chips and cookies with our coffees and teas.  What make it awesome was sitting outside in the warm air on the quiet campus.

Saturday evening had us return one again to the quite nice Treehouse courtyard for some more food and fun.  All too soon we parted ways but not before some great times.

The Sessions:

Keynote:

It was a real treat to hear Dr Ronald Vogl talk about how and why LegalTech is or is not disrupting the legal industry.  I will admit, at first I was rather apprehensive about this talk.  While an interesting abstract, I was not sure how this would lead into our camp.  After all, the keynote is often what sets the tone for the general conversations at these get together. My hesitations were unfounded though, as I listened to his presentation.  On top of being a brilliant speaker, Dr. Vogl held our attention by laying out the realities of how technology is impacting one of the oldest professions on earth.

I had not really thought about it in the terms of automation of processes, but this is what technology based solutions like LegalZoom and RocketLawyer are essentially doing.  Making the dreary monotony of paralegal work the stuff robots can do easily.  The questions though become; how far up can we automate?  What does this mean for the current aging lawyers practicing who are seeing the market ‘disrupted’ vs the student or new attorney  who have had these as realities in the market since they began. Clearly someone who understand the technical side and the people side, our presenter was able to leave us thinking that technology is only going to keep evolving and thought must be given to how we choose to encourage how it evolves.

I am only going to talk about 3 other sessions for this post, but everything I saw or participated in was great.  Including talks by 2 of my colleagues, Greg and Peter.

How To Make a Snowflake with a Cookie Cutter: Innovative Site Building on Stanford Sites was a session on how the Office of International Affairs went from a hosted solution that had many barriers to make any changes to an internally managed Drupal installation that they could edit at will.  It was not an easy road but one that empowered their department to do more faster using an agile method.  The quote that really stuck with me though was “All good CMS implementations serve a content strategy”.  I think you can even remove the work good here, since at the end of the day we are just manipulating strings of content, that all CMS have a content strategy, intentionally managed or not.

The impact and power of this talk was magnified by the audience being made up of other Stanford staff who were learning how their colleagues in the OIA  took control of their own destiny, the risks that can bring and the big picture view of how this impacted their mission.  Really inspiring stuff.

Case Study: Big Data Visualizations with Carto & Highcharts was a talk from Jordon Koplowicz I really thought would be on how mapping data functions and flows.  It for sure covered aspects of that but it really was a fascinating story of how a company went from one technology for mapping to another and the challenges that brought.  While conceptually it was just taking data from one JSON file to another and crunching some numbers, that number crunching proved to be a serious challenge.  His slides highlight that there are some things that PHP and NginX do well and some things that do not.

More important than the technical specs was the journey he went through as a new developer on this project.  He also addressed the very real issue that sometimes a new technology gets forced onto a project for one reason or another. This lead to a line that got an audible chuckle from the crowd: “I hate this for 2 reasons.”  First that it was yet another layer of technical complexity and second it meant another developer was to be added into the mix who was an expert on the new tech.  He discussed how he dealt with those complexities and his enthusiasm about the problem itself was downright inspiring. He set a great example for every developer.

Website Musts: How to Define Everything That Your Website Needs to Do

This talk started with the question “How do we know when a project is done?”. Much like my talk about Discovery, the intent of Anne Stefanyk’s session was to give project managers and other client facing folks the tools to better manage expectations.  One of my big take aways is that the key to any successful engagement is clear scope and transparency of process.

Anne’s process relies on the the User Story and how they leverage these to great effect at Kanopi Studios and for projects like BADCamp.  The power of the user story is that they can tell you what the end looks like before you start.  She highlighted that while these user stories can be generated rapidly they should also come with early user testing and data gathering to drive their application.

 

My Sessions:

I gave two talks at this camp and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity.

My first talk was a new one I had prepared especially for this camp.  Discovery, discovery, discovery, discovery! The most import part of successful projects.  Originally I had proposed to have this be “the most import part of a sale.”  My background is in sales and I understand that topic pretty well.  After a conversation with the camp organizers who suggested generalizing this up to be more project focused rather than just sales, I did a good deal of research, modified the talk and learned a few things along the way.  I am very happy with the way this turned into a group discussion and sharing by the end of the session.  Truly great when we can learn from each other.

My other talk of the day was We Are All Making This Up: Improv Lessons For Developers.  This makes the 4th time I have delivered this session and I am really honing it in.  I am very much looking forward to giving this again at MidCamp 2017!  Being the last slot on the last day my attendance was about a third of the Discovery talk right after lunch, but the enthusiasm of the smaller crowd and the interactiveness of the example exercises made this the perfect sized audience.

Stanford is unlike almost any other camp I have been to.  It was the best weather of any camp I had attended in 2017 so far.  The people cold not have been nicer and the good times were had by all!

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