What I learned at #DrupalSouth 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

 

Making Links 08 – Intensive Web Day

The Making Links 08 conference was held this week at the University of Melbourne. The tagline of the conference is ‘where social action and technology meet’ – and the delegates are primarily from the community, not for profit, activist and educational sectors.

I decided to catch the train up to Melbourne as it’s both cheaper and less stressful than driving in peak hour traffic through the West Gate car park. Who should happen to sit next me on the train? None other than former Liberal member for Corangamite – Stewart McArthur. The irony was not lost on me – a presenter at a largely left wing conference chancing to sit next to a right wing MP. Perhaps the universe was having a chuckle. Stewart was devouring his way through at least three newspapers – so I tried to break the ice by asking him which one he thought was the most truthful. To his credit, he took the question very well and provided me with advice on the merits of various individual journalists. We got talking and I found out he was a keen runner, and he encouraged me to take up the sport. I felt like a politician when I refused to commit 🙂

My talk on the day was on free software for non-profit organisations;

making-links-kathyreid-useful-free-software (Open Office .odp file)

making-links-kathyreid-useful-free-software (Powerpoint .ppt file)

The presentation went well, and the audience let me know they were very pleased with it – and had a load of questions! 🙂

I then lead the CMS session – which didn’t go quite so well as we spent a lot of time on security issues rather than being able to demonstrate the software in a lot of depth.The group really wanted to see some different options with skinning Drupal and Joomla – however I hadn’t upoaded any and I couldn’t get FTP access with the wireless network connection. There was a lot of contention over whether Joomla or Drupal were more appropriate for use – with the comment raised theat Drupal documentation wasn’t up to scratch.

Some of the key themes expressed during the day were;

  • Concern over having sensitive information in databases hosted on the web: CiviCRM is a tool which holds contact details and personal information on donors and volunteers. Delegates were concerned about the security that would be applied to ensure that unauthorised access did not occur to this data.I’ve provided some links below for further information on these products.
  • Criteria on which to base a CMS decision: Many organisations wanted information on how to select the best CMS for their need. One of the delegates provided this handy link to CMS matrix which allows organisations to compare the functionality that is available through different CMSs.
  • How to being a foray into social networking: The organisations that were present needed pointers on how to step into the social networking waters – with some already on Facebook or Twitter, but with no real engagement strategy or supporting strategies.

Other key presentations included:

Jason King (non profit web designer) presented tips for non profits, including;

  • Register your name and keep it registered (so that somebody can’t grab it when it expires) – this theme was also bourne out by Darryl later on in the session with his presentation on whatsinaname.com.au, which lists all of the domain name registrars and prices for domain hosting (interestingly my host, Servers Australia isn’t on the list – and they’d be near the top for pricing)
  • Make sure that you keep all the details such as passwords for the site – so that in the event of a disagreement or dispute with the web designer, you’re able to get into the site and take control
  • Choose your web developers carefully – sometimes the director’s brother’s kid son is not the best person to plan or design your not for profit web site.

Andrew Edwards, of Huge Object also gave a presentation on working with developers, the key take aways being;

  • Know what you’re paying for – understanding exactly what the developer is quoting on can give you much clearer expectations of what will be delivered
  • Check our your developer – by making sure that they know what things like web standards are for instance
  • Have a clear idea of what you want in your website – so that what is delivered is more likely to be what is delivered

[Updated 17 Nov 08 to include summary of Jason and Andrew’s presentations]