My Twitter feed seems full of different retrospectives on this year’s Bay Area Drupal Camp (BADCamp), held in Berkeley a few weeks back. I love hearing the different perspectives and lessons learned by my peers. And, of course, not to go unheard, I wanted to share my own thoughts as I look back upon my time in San Francisco.
# Drupal is about community
For many years I was the only front-end developer in a small shop in New Hampshire. I’d look to online forums but never really became a part of any community. It was isolating and made opportunities to learn new perspectives difficult. When I rediscovered the Drupal community a few years back, it meant the world to me. A crowd of new faces quickly became old friends, and new points of view continue to enrich my learning. This sincerely means the world to me.
So, when I arrived at BADCamp that Wednesday morning, the strength of those community connections embraced me. I wasn’t long in line before hugging old friends and discussing what sessions they were speaking at and/or attending. There was the talk of snacks, stickers, and after-hours events. We chatted about who else was coming in from what company and where we should all meet up.
# Higher Ed Summit
The first day was a flurry of different learning opportunities; from DevOps to Accessibility, to summits focused on Higher Education and the Non-Profit sectors, there were new things to learn and people to meet in every room. I attended the Higher Education Summit where I had the opportunity to meet professionals from various schools around the country. Here they spoke of shared challenges and the groups each institution has developed internally to help address those issues. Being me, when it came time for break-out sessions I immediately sat at the table discussing accessibility. With a few of us there from agencies, we found it hard not to keep talking and asking questions. We put the focus back on the teams from the schools to hear how they are addressing this pressing legal compliance issue.
At the lunch break I found friends that had just flown in and encouraged them to join me as we listened to lightning talks. I was able to hear a case study that dove into the user experience of financial forms on a given site.
That evening was filled with a combination of time with my amazing team, food and friends old and new.
# Day 2: The Booth
Now my kryptonite is donuts - but only the good ones. After completing a few calls in the morning I headed off to buy great donuts to fortify me while manning the booth. At the table, those who did not know me well laughed when I told them I bought a baker's dozen so I could share and not feel like the only person with sticky fingers. Those who did know me pretty well just shrugged and grabbed a donut.
Since the day was more development focused I didn’t attend any of the session. Instead, I got the fun job of talking to people most of the day. I was fortunate enough to sit near a friend while enticing others to come and talk for awhile. I even was able to do my “shameless swag stroll” as I collected the fun stuff other companies brought. Oooh! And I donated enough to get these cool BADCamp socks. I really love these socks! Thank you Drupal!!
At one point a man wondered in off the street, asking if he could have water. Of course we offered it to him and myself and another sat and listened to him for a while. He picked a chocolate frosted old fashioned donut as he told us about his perceptions of the world. He was inherently courteous but mostly just wanted to be heard. After some time he was asked, with great care and respect, to leave by security, as it was a conference. He was gentle though more than a little bit lost in his own mind.
And then of course another evening of food, friends, and learning from others. This evening awarded me with one of the most socially meaningful conversations I’ve had in awhile. A new friend asked me why Drupal is “so white.” We were standing at an after-conference gathering, in a crowded bar, and we looked around for a moment. He was clearly amongst an ethnic minority in our group. The place was full of equals who were talking about technologies, sharing insights, or just plain laughing and having a good time. It was a room full of positive energy and smiling faces, and yet my friend held a sober look. I turned to him and asked, “I know why this is important on a larger scale, but why is this important to you?”
He looked back, tilted his head and said, “good question, let me think of how to articulate it.” So I waited as he worked to translate his gut instinct into words. In the end, he told me something like, “It seems so one sided, so without color. Like there are so many different insights and we’re only hearing one.” Now that’s not an exact quote, but that feeling spoke to me; his voice, the sense that he felt the insights his cultural background bring to him and his work were being drowned out by a see of others. I wanted to talk more, learn more… but alas the night moved on. In the end I walked away thinking deeply.
# Day 3: Sessions
Over the day I had the opportunity to attend a few sessions.
Accessibility 201: Tales from the Front End blended practical knowledge with a down to earth sense of humor that made the subject matter approachable. I loved how the presenter talked about what her team was doing and the repeated challenges they face.
Mobile Accessibility: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was an in-depth look at the mobile experience through the lens of accessibility. As an accessibility professional I recognized this as a personal weak spot, having been previously overwhelmed by the variables associated with the number of devices out there. Simple use cases and a practical eye made it seem much more approachable - empowering each of us in the room to use common sense to make the mobile web more inclusive to all abilities.
Pivoting in a Project: Strategies for Adjusting to Scope Changes was presented by two project managers who are deeply committed to their teams. With a focus on how to manage change and help your team through the ups and downs of a project, they offered practical advice to set a project up for success from kickoff to launch.
Meta and Schema: Defining the Content about Your Content went deep into meta information and schema. As someone interested in both SEO and accessibility, it was great to see a more developer-focused take on content strategy.
The After Parties
On the way back to drop off my bags before the festivities began I bought myself and a teammate hats - seemed silly to go to a circus themed party without a little of the theatrical. Upon arriving at the After Party I got in line to get my face painted and then worked my way upstairs. I bounced around from conversation to conversation, meeting new people, watching others mother-hen each other to make sure all of their team were accounted for. I spoke to new people and saw the sights before making my way downstairs.
Old friends and I waited together for the bus. Just as I had given up and got ready to take a nap right there, we piled onto the bus and laughed at ourselves. Upon arriving at our destination we were instructed to take a little hike and at the top we were rewarded with a magical view of the city from our group's little spot in the woods. We all talked, we laughed, and we admired the beauty of California's Bay Area.
# Day 4: Sessions & Real Life
That morning I woke up and prepared to leave my AirBnB. I, like many others, tucked my suitcase behind the reception desk and spent time eating waffles, speaking to friends - saying goodbye to many - and making plans to see a little of the city before I left. I did however, go to one session.
Four Brain Hacks to Manage Clients and Win was the last session I attended this trip, and I have to hand it to the speaker that he rolled with the punches. As he spoke about the potential difficulties that can arise in team/client communication, a marching band out front started playing “Fade to Black.” The presenter, being the communicator he is, kept going and shared his understanding on how mindset impacts relationships. Essentially think like a team to function as one.
And with that, I was done with my official BADCamp experience. But like most official things, that wasn’t the end of the story.
Sightseeing and a ride on the BART
We were lucky enough in our little group of friends to have a San Francisco native in the bunch. With only a few hours to sightsee, he brought us to Fisherman's Wharf to see “The Rock,” “The Bridge” and OOOOHHH the sea lions!!
We went to dinner and then to the chocolate factory, ending the night with a ride on a cable car. There our group split into two as three of us were headed back to our evening accommodations.
So there we were, the three of us headed out of town. Now, I had ridden the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) already and thought I knew what to expect. Late in the night was a different experience. As we sat there laughing and talking about our week, a disturbed man entered our car. If I were to make a guess, I would suggest he was suffering from PTSD. He ranted, he threatened. He leaned over and ended up spitting in my hair as he yelled: the pain in his words obvious. His fingers were black and his pants were tied on with a rope. A friend said at the angle I was at I was unable to see him threatening to hang himself right there. Another friend was fearful that there may have been a weapon in his bag. In truth, I was focused on the friend sitting next to me. Her terror in that moment drowned out that man's pain. I sat quietly, hand on her shoulder, mouthing “you’re okay” over and over. As our other friend inched between that suffering soul and us, we were all in full protection mode. And with good reason, as much as we all felt for that man, there was no way for us to tell his next steps.
# Lessons Learned
Those of us in the Drupal community are damn lucky. That’s less of a lesson learned than a fact I already knew, but BADCamp made it hit home. We have:
- Opportunities ...for learning and continuous growth - seriously, in and outside of the sessions I always learn SO MUCH.
- FUN! We know how to have fun - from waffle bars and circus parties to simply talking to each other at a booth or around a table.
- Community We take care of each other. I’m not pretending we're all new best friends, but in my experience we DO look out for each other both professionally and personally. We're fortunate to have this caring community, something that many people, like that gentleman on the BART, sadly may not have experienced.
On that last day while waiting for a friend I laid down on the patio between the tables and soaked in the sun. Heading back to New Hampshire and remote work I was taking in as much sunshine and community as I could to hold me over until next time.
Thank you BADCamp and all who have made it possible.