What I learned at #DrupalSouth 2015

Posted on March 8th, 2015

Run by the awesome Donna Benjamin, I decided to volunteer for #DrupalSouth because of the community, and also because a lot of the schedule topics interested me, particularly around continuous integration and design processes. The venue, Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre, was great – easy to access, and lots of accommodation within easy walking distance.

Day 1 went brilliantly. Donna had prepared everything beforehand, including all the attendee lanyards etc – which were outsourced to an external provider for packaging and alphabetising – which made registration an absolute breeze. Registration opened at 0800hrs, but many delegates didn’t register until 0845hrs – meaning a last minute rush.

The key thing I took away from registration was how heavily Drupal is used in government and in education – with several agencies and tertiary and research institutions represented. T-shirts were issued, and the sizing concerns often besetting technical conferences were avoided by having a wide range of sizes. We decided to issue t-shirts that people had ordered first up, and then doing swaps on Day 2 when we had a better idea of who had registered and who hadn’t – and this worked well.

Better Remote work by Jarkko Oksanan

The first session I room monitored in was by Jarkko Oksanan, a Finn who does a lot of Drupal work remotely. He went through a great presentation on putting together a remote working team, and remote working practices that are highly effective. I was blown away by the statistic quoted, that globally there are over 219 million people who work globally – so imagine the productivity increases if we can improve remote working even marginally!

There was a rundown of the best remote work tools to use, including;

  • Videoconferencing: talky.io, Google hangouts all got a mention
  • IM and team communicatiion: Slack got a huge mention, and IRC is still huge. Still! Hipchat is rocking for people who work with other Atlassian tools. Just to test it out, I created a Slack account and integrated it with my GitHub repo just to take it for a spin, and, quite frankly, I likey.
  • Git all the things: GitHub, private repos, git synching for backups, and integration with GitHub and Slack for team comms. If you’re not into Git, get on to it.

One aspect of this presentation that surprised me was the focus on team building and social opportunities to facilitate remote working – because it’s hard to have conflict with someone you’ve shared a few drinks with.

Drupal 8 Migration Choices – Jerry Maguire (Jam)

Jam gave us a rundown of the architectural decisions around moving to Drupal 8 – essentially, D8 is experimental, useful for small scale deployments or for prototyping, but is not ready for mission critical, complex or massively public facing scenarios. Awesome presenter, would see again A+++

Peter Henderson – 2.9 million words in two months

Peter, from the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority, gave an engaging presentation on content workflow and website redesign in a heavily regulated government environment. As a centralised web team, they had to convert over 2.9 million words of content into a new CMS (Drupal) within two months. Many shortcuts were taken, and the end result was that the end users of the site didn’t really enjoy the experience – so they refactored by using analytics t0 guide UX improvements.

Because of the high degree of centralisation, they also implemented Dashboards in Drupal, so that pieces of content could be tracked across the complex legal, SME and technical review workflow – something that was all too familiar from my own work experience. The Dashboards worked well, and help to secure senior management buy in in to making content owners accountable for reviewing their content.

At the end of the session, I asked Peter whether or not a decentralised content authoring approach had been considered – and his response was also intuitive – and seen all to often in large organisations;

“they’re not capable of this yet – the maturity isn’t there”

Amelia Schmidt – Red flags in the design process

In what I judged to be one of the most insightful talks of #DrupalSouth, @meelijane took us through a number of ‘red flags’ in the design process. Aside from her compelling and engaging slide deck, some of the point she made were controversial and challenging – such as questioning whether in the digital age, it was still appropriate to get client sign off on designs, as the design itself may not perfectly resemble the finished product. For example, Photoshop layered files cannot always easily translate to HTML and CSS.

She also made a number of compelling points about tools for design – and introduced us to a number of great products such as;

Using Sushi Cats (bonus points, cats as food), she demonstrated design ratio problems for common elements such as lead text and featured images, and took us through some techniques to have better overall design patterns, such as different style crops to match defined styles.

Well worth a look through the slide deck.

Michael Godeck – Go for Continuous Delivery

Michael’s presentation centred around the practice of Continuous Delivery, which incorporates the practice of Continuous Integration, and introduced an opensource tool called ‘Go‘, which is in a similar marketspace to tools such as Jenkins and Ansible. I hadn’t used it before, and Michael provided a great overview.

Michael took us through various development metrics, such as cycle time, lead time and development time – and showed how a continuous delivery framework enabled you to spot where bottlenecks were in your process. He strongly underscored that you need to ensure that you’re building the right thing – in the same way that Agile is a project management methodology, continuous delivery tools allow agile thinking to be applied in the software development process.

This talk spurred a number of great questions, which touched on topics such as how to convince clients to pay for quality – as continuous delivery models allow for greater quality.

Lasting thoughts

DrupalSouth was a fantastic event. Well organised, with a great venue, a space conducive to relationship building and knowledge sharing, very strong wireless internet, and well-prepared Speakers who were clearly experts in their field. The surprising takeaway for me however was just how strong UX, UCD and CX practices are infiltrating traditionally technically-heavy communities – and in so doing, delivering better products and experiences.

DrupalSouth Melbourne 2015

DrupalSouth 2015 Group photo, credit: Peter Lieverdink

 

Ada Lovelace Day 2014 – Maia Sauren

Posted on October 12th, 2014

As I chose who to write about for this year’s Ada Lovelace Day blog post, it occurred to me that this was becoming a harder task year after year – as I have the privilege of getting to know more and more amazing women in science and technology – and this is a Good Thing.

That said, Maia stands out for a number of reasons. I first met Maia in 2013 while doing Agile training; the university I work for was adopting agile practices and I needed to skill up. The training was inspirational – we looked at our texts and then put them aside as the entire training course was run as a sprint! She taught me to think differently, to challenge assumptions, and to ensure that data was driving decision making – all prerequisites for good agile practice.

I’ve also come to be inspired by other activities Maia seeds and nurtures; the Open Knowledge Foundation‘s Health Hacks, GovHack, and many other side projects that seek to further understanding and provide value. She’s also a knitter, and that gets bonus points :-)

Maia is @sauramaia on Twitter

GovHack 2014

Posted on July 20th, 2014

July 11-12th saw the 3rd country-wide GovHack - a hackathon intended to bring together local, state and federal government data sets, and release them openly to designers, developers and storytellers to create mashups, websites and mobile applications for social good. Coordinated by the luminary Pia Waugh at a national level, and by the equally illustrious Fiona Tweedie at the Victorian level, the event saw over 1300 developers register at over a dozen sites across the nation.

GovHack stickers

GovHack stickers

Hosted in Melbourne by well-known agilistas Thoughtworks, over 100 Melbourne-based participants descended on Collins Street on Friday night, welcomed by warm dumplings and cold drinks. Proceedings were opened via video link, although Malcolm Turnbull’s cameo had a distinctly mixed reaction from the audience, with one or two comments of ‘where’s our #NBN??’ audible over the general buzz.

Thoughtworks’ IKEA-inspired workspace was ideal for the event, with lots of open space, collaborative open plan style desks and standup areas, and an open space for presentations. The stone-clad kitchen was well-stocked with goodies, and proved a prime example of space setting the tone and shaping the type of activities undertaken within it – as it become a focal point for collaboration throughout the night. The space had lots of walls for improvising Agile- and kanban-styled Post-It Note-based story boards, and was in close proximity to both good coffee (mandatory) and excellent Melbourne laneway food.

Nametags at GovHack 2014

Nametags at GovHack 2014 had coloured stars corresponding to developer, design and other skills to help teams form with multidisciplinary skillsets.

Teams either formed beforehand, or through an exercise run by Fiona on Friday night, which paired developers, designers, data visualisation gurus and data scientists together. Luckily the team I was in, Accessible Melbourne, had got in contact via Twitter the week prior, and although some of us hadn’t met in person previously, we bonded quite quickly and got down to delivering a minimum viable product. Matt and Lachlan were our back-end developers, I did some front end design and Lilly was a video guru as well as being a front end designer, and Sarah was our storyteller and documentation point person. We took to our roles well and over the course of 48 hours, we had delivered a minimum viable product – a map of Melbourne with accessibility information drawn from different data sets on it.

In conclusion, GovHack was a fantastic, frenetic, rewarding and eye-opening experience. The high level of collaboration, the high delivery rate of usable products and the atmosphere were phenomenal – and I can’t wait to do it all again next year, hopefully in Geelong.

Key takeaways

  • Javascript is huge. We leveraged two Javascript frameworks quite heavily during development, including Leaflet.js for mapping, and jQuery as part of the front end. Javascript is very much in the ascendance, and mature frameworks such as d3.js are positioning Javascript very much as a technology in its own right, rather than a useful utility to add interactivity or enhance UX – as called out in this Thoughtworks technology radar report.
  • Bootstrap and Bootswatch are incredibly helpful to begin interface development from scratch, and they provide
  • git is in ascendance as the preferred collaborative version control tool. Given all our team were comfortable in git, we chose to host our cost on github.com, and this made it much easier and much more efficient for collaborative coding.
  • You need a grunty machine for video compositing, editing and rendering. One of the acceptance criteria for each of the teams was that they produce a 3 minute video – our team decided to use OpenShot, a great opensource program. Luckily, the machine I took had 8 CPUs and 16GB of RAM, but rendering a 3 minute video in HD format on something less powerful would have taken a lot longer.
  • The exercise at the start was great to get teams together and to better understand one another’s skill sets. GameStorming is the phrase that comes to mind.
  • We were hampered in a couple of places because there is no defined data standard for representing accessibility information of buildings. Different cities represented data differently, and although it was in a similar file format – the ubiquitous JSON – the structure of the data itself meant that it was difficult to aggregate this onto a single map. Future iterations of this project – and accessibility developers in general – would be assisted by a defined and agreed data format.
  • One of the insights I drew was that great minds bounce off each other. During discussions for the project, the team came up with the idea of a ‘SpoonRating’ for conferences – ‘spoons’ is often used as a metaphor by those with disabilities or chronic illnesses for representing what capacity they might have – ie. ‘I’ve used up all my spoons for today’. Sparks lead to lightbulbs.

Key info

 

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