As is the annual tradition, Drupal developers from all over the world gathered at Drupal Developer Days from 21 to 25 March, 2017. Every year, a different city in Europe hosts the event and engages an ad-hoc group of volunteers that strives to provide an experience that surpasses all previous Drupal Developer Days. After a successful event in Milan last year, the torch was passed to the southernmost part of Europa and the capital of Andalusia: Sevilla, Spain.
The event marketing team makes a killer first impression
In its quest to come up with the ideal venue, the organizers selected “El Fuerte de Isla Magica” the fortress of the magical island - in Seville. Isla Magica is a theme and water park built on the grounds of Expo’92. The park itself was preparing for their grand opening, which was set to take place three weeks after the Drupal Developer Days. Although we were not able to enjoy the attractions during the event, it felt special to attend a conference in an empty theme park. When wandering around it felt like you were in an abandoned city and simultaneously imagined the typical theme park atmosphere: the smell of cotton candy and waffles, laughing children, splashing water when boats drop from the big slides, screaming people on rollercoasters rushing overhead…
The park is based on a pirate theme and event organizers adopted this theme for the Drupal Developer Days as well. The fun motif permeated the entire event – from the website, templates, decorations and merchandising, to the local outfits of volunteers, every aspect contributed to the Pirate-inspired concept.
The five-day conference consisted of an obligatory opening session and formalities on the first day, followed by an all-female line-up of keynote presenters on the remaining four days.
All your data belongs to geo
The first keynote was given by María Arias de Reyna, software developer and metadata expert. She spoke about the importance of geodata and how it impacts our daily lives. Since everything has a geographical context, it’s very important to structure and store this data in a way that it is uniquely identifiable, even if we don’t immediately see the importance of doing so.
However, there are some challenges to overcome:
- Addresses are not unique - the same street and PO Box number combination can occur multiple times in the same city
- Latitude and longitude are not semantic and can be difficult to use precisely in analytics.
- Some cities or organizations experiment with a so-called “What three words” principle, which should allow you to identify every coordinate in the world with three unique words. However, this method involves a closed algorithm, is expensive and involves dependence on a third party.
The keynote was concluded by examining the available Drupal modules for geocoding, storing and visualizing geodata, such as openlayers, leaflet, google maps, carto, etc.
The Drupal platform and the future of ecommerce
The second keynote was given by Laura Valverde García, who came all the way from San Fransisco, where she is the CEO of a social commerce startup. Laura explained how Drupal is one of the world’s most popular platforms and how it has grown from a pure content management system (CMS) into an extendable platform used for a variety of purposes, including ecommerce. Laura also shared some ecommerce trends and added her thoughts on using, and relying on, social media for business promotion.
The third keynote was given by Juliet Moreiro Bockhop, Support Engineer at Microsoft. She kicked off Friday with a very interesting talk about the Internet of Things (IoT), or as she called it, the “invisible revolution”. All our devices are becoming “intelligent”, but what IS “intelligent”? Can devices outsmart the developers that implemented the intelligence? How can we identify all unexpected scenarios?
Her presentation was illustrated with a few examples of unexpected scenarios from Alexa, Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant, including one case of misinterpreted instructions and another case of a six-year old who used Alexa to order expensive dollhouses online without her parents’ knowledge.
Juliet continued with a discussion on security. What happens when a massive distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack targets all IoT devices? Or vice-versa, if IoT devices are hacked on a large scale, and used as a botnet (a network of infected devices) to execute DDoS attacks like last year's Mirai malware attack?
With these thought-provoking questions, Juliet explored some of the technology Microsoft has been working on such as Bing Spelling API, web language model API, linguistic spelling API, language understanding intelligence API, text analytics API and more.
The keynote concluded by explaining the opportunities these API’s present. For example, using the single board computer Raspberry Pi or Microsoft’s IoT computing module, the Edison, as IoT hubs, which allow users to interact on specific tweets (or other online APIs). Another example was Microsoft Azure’s potential as a customizable IoT cloud solution.
Debunking the myths of Drupal 8 adoption
The last day of the conference was opened by perhaps the most well-known women in Drupal: Angie Byron. Her keynote speech was a recap of 19 November, 2015, when Drupal 8.0.0 was finally released after several years of development. At that time, “It ships when it’s ready”, was one of the most common statements made during the production process.
To prevent future product delays, Drupal 8 implemented a fixed schedule of one release every six months. Each release provides the opportunity to introduce new functionalities, such as BigPipe, Migration UI, Content Moderation, Field Layout, etc., while preserving backwards compatibility.
Despite the enthusiasm and consensus among users that Drupal 8 is the platform’s best release ever, the adoption of Drupal 8 is taking longer than expected. Reasons for this could be it requires a new skillset from developers (e.g., Object-Oriented approach), or the fact that customers want the cheapest possible website but don’t want to pay to develop modules (e.g. “chicken or the egg” issue).
After discussing these issues, Angie demonstrated Drupal 8’s capabilities and stability by citing prominent websites built on the platform, including those of WWF, NBA, Al Jazeera, Nasdaq and many others.
Getting up to speed with testing on Drupal 8
Conferences like Drupal Developer Days typically have workshops as a separate paid track or have no workshops at all. However, this year’s organizers tried to integrate smaller workshops into the schedule of sessions. Each day, attendees could attend two-hour workshops on topics of interest. While the workshops were too short go full hands-on, they served as nice opportunities to network and dive a bit deeper into specific subjects.
To me, the most interesting workshop was given by Pieter Frenssen, Senior Web Consultant with Drupal, about testing in Drupal 8. Pieter reviewed the different kinds of tests you can (and should) run in Drupal 8:
- Unit test for object-oriented programming (OOP) classes in isolation, testing of arguments / output (services, plugins, utilities, pure OOP code, etc.)
- Kernel test for integrations, which creates a database in RAM with selected schemas; Full Drupal API is available (entities, storage, configuration, hooks, interaction, etc.)
- Browser test to perform HTTP requests and verify rendered HTML (user interaction, forms, complex integrations, etc.)
- Behat tests for behaviour driven testing, to create complete user stories – tests are written in plain English in a domain specific language that customers understand and are designed to test user behaviour instead of code
After the theoretical introduction, Pieter guided us through each type of test with examples so we could follow along. Unfortunately, the two hours passed too quickly to facilitate a truly deep dive into testing scenarios. However, overall the workshop was really interesting and it was a nice introduction to the right mindset.
Sprints and contributions
In addition to interesting speakers and workshops, Drupal Developer Days is a unique opportunity for (core) contributors to network, work side by side, and share insights or discuss solutions to the challenges they face on a daily basis. It was amazing to see how many people travelled to Seville for the sole purpose of making Drupal a better product. A giant sprint room was available, issues were bundled (such as media, core and search, etc., and while Mentors and Sprint leaders were also at hand to help novices getting up to speed and contribute more effectively.
From a personal point of view, the Drupal Developer Days 2017 in Seville was once again an enjoyable experience. I heard from experts in the Drupal community, attended interesting hands-on workshops and met some awesome Drupal colleagues. I look forward to attending again next year.