8 Must-See Sessions at DrupalCon Los Angeles

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DrupalCon Los Angeles

is just around the corner and there are a ton of awesome sessions to attend. Every year, the top minds in the Drupal community present their thoughts on the tools and processes that will shape the future of Drupal. As always, the number and quality of the sessions available for consumption at DrupalCon is immense.


Having been part of the DrupalCon planning committee, I’ve been privileged to help shape the track selection criteria, review session submissions, and provide support to other committee members. To help others narrow their options for session attendance, I’ve created a short list of sessions that have me excited to attend.

Disclosure – While I’m excited that there are several sessions have been submitted by the fine folks at Phase2, in the interest of neutrality I’ve deliberately excluded sessions submitted by my co-workers here. You can read up on Phase2′s sessions here.

What are the trends?

One advantage of having to review all the sessions on the Coding & Development track is quickly becoming acquainted with the patterns emerging in the community. This year, of course, there was a plethora of Drupal 8 sessions – which makes sense given that D8 is in beta.

Like many in the Drupal Community, I’m excited to see the new features and improvements to Drupal core. However, the move to a more Objected-Oriented philosophy means that the old procedural ways of doing things are shifting. I’m looking forward to the Symfony & D8 sessions addressing this.

The other trend that has been taking the Drupal world by storm is Headless Drupal. As far as I can tell, the common thread here is Drupal’s front-end theming layer being replaced by JavaScript applications such as Angular, React, or Ember. Drupal’s role in the process is one of a database UI to curate content and manage non-theme layer configuration, such as editorial workflow and third party content aggregation.


8 must-see DrupalCon sessions:


DrupalCon without Larry Garfield (Crell) would be like spring in the Northwest without daffodils. I routinely enjoy his talks and blog posts, and he excels at presenting a complex topic as a series of easy-to-understand bites that clearly explain even the thorniest of topics. His session this year covers an introduction to the new systems introduced in Drupal 8, which assumes (but does not require) some knowledge of Drupal 7. This is one of many Drupal 8 sessions, but unless you’ve already been working in D8, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to target this one in particular.


This session focuses on the new ways that Drupal renders page content in version 8 – specifically the new caching regime that caches entities instead of just nodes, improved cache invalidation (cache tags, & bubbling FTW!), and so forth. Cache tags mean that individual cache components can be reset on certain events (expiring blog post feed cache when there’s a new post, caching the latest version of the page on node save, not after 2 hours). This is a huge win for performance nerds, and will have a significant effect on Drupal’s performance as a standalone application, as well as being part of a larger web stack.


Josh Mitchell, the new CTO of the Drupal Association has come up with a set of strategic initiatives to improve D.O. as a resource for all members of the Drupal community. This is something that I feel has been some time coming, and I for one am excited to hear CTO Mitchell’s ideas for the future of D.O.


Interacting directly with the code base on D.O. is something of a challenge for people new to the community: it requires fairly advanced knowledge and can be a big barrier to new folks contributing on issue queues. The Drupal issue queue needs to modernize to mimic best-of-breed code repository tools such as Bitbucket and Github. It’s exciting to see how Drupal.org is evolving to support a more git-friendly workflow.


Dick Olsson (Dixon_), maintainer of the Deploy and UUID modules, posits that while content staging will never be in core, it should be easy enough to implement a Create Read Archive Purge model of content workflow. I believe this session will extend his previous sessions from Austin and Amsterdam, focusing on what needs to be done to extend this functionality out from core using contrib modules. This session also has the added benefit of having a related sprint on Friday.


Drupal often blurs the line between data and display layers in an application, as anyone who has written a custom theme function or a template file can attest. The Panels module is an effective way to decouple display and data layers. Anyone who has been involved with the Panels module knows its immense power. Therefore, this could be an interesting session to preview potential improvements to Drupal core (which seems to have been unaffected by the recent trend towards Headless Drupal).



For the uninitiated, Pattern Lab is a dynamic prototyping system that focuses on breaking down a page into small, self-contained blocks of content. These blocks can be combined into multiple configurations without needing to rebuild everything from scratch. Furthermore, since the prototype is being viewed in the browser, elements are styled using CSS, and the markup can be edited to mimic Drupal’s native markup structure. As a result, the prototype’s style closely imitates the styling of the Drupal site, reducing duplicated effort in the theme creation and prototyping phases. As a bonus, because the system uses the web stack, the site can be designed as responsive from the beginning.


Content Strategy can be defined as the process of planning content so as to maximize its effect for users. I’m excited to hear that people in the community are also interested in creating content that is engaging, compelling, and interesting.

So many sessions, so little time

Below are some interesting simultaneous sessions, so you will have to choose which one you’d rather attend. But fear not, all the sessions should be recorded to view at a later time.

If I were a themer or coder, and a fan of fast demos, I’d go to: 0 to MVP in 40 minutes: Coder and Themer get rich quick in silicon valley. If I were a SysOps aficionado and interested in hearing from a couple of Drupal community heavyweights I’d go to: You Are A Golden God: Automate Your Workflow for Fun and Profit.


This next one is a toughie. This time slot is occupied by three sessions.

For the Content Strategy nerd in me, nothing makes me happier than to see the DA taking steps to create model content that helps communicate Drupal’s mission:

Content Strategy for Drupal.org. For the front-end, storytelling nerd in me there’s:Styles of Storytelling: Cultivating Compelling Long-form Content. Finally, Steve Persch (stevector) makes the case for extracting Drupal from generating markup for a webpage: Rendering HTML with Drupal: Past, Present and Future.

If I were a junior dev looking to level up into a more senior dev role, I’d attend: De-mystifying client discovery. If you haven’t already been to a Headless Drupal session, or you’re a fan of Amitai Burnstein’s colorful presentation style, go to:Decoupled Drupal: When, Why, and How.

Todd Nienkerk’s talk on company culture was very warmly received at DrupalCon Latin America this spring, and I’m excited to hear this in person: Creating a Culture of Empowerment. Another session I’ve had on my radar ever since Ryan submitted:Routes, controllers and responses: The Basic Lifecycle of a D8 Request. He’s a must-see presenter.

If you’d like to get better acquainted with the D8 plugin system, An Overview of the Drupal 8 Plugin System would be right up your alley. Larry Garfield (Crell) is also presenting a workshop on what shouldn’t be the focus of Drupal core: No.

Clearly, DrupalCon LA will be a really exciting opportunity to grow skills, both as a developer and as a community member. As always I’m looking forward to attending many of these sessions, and also for the opportunity to network and contribute to the success of the Drupal project.