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As a first time DrupalCon attendee, I entered the convention center with an overwhelming feeling of possibility and potential. I had plotted out a jam-packed and overbooked schedule, and hoped to discover a hidden superpower that would allow me to be in multiple places at the same time. From expected topics, like Drupal 8 site building and Symfony components, to more obscure ones, like using Drupal for machine learning and gaming, the possibilities and potential for learning were abundant.
However, interestingly enough, the reason I felt like a better developer after DrupalCon stems from a much deeper level of learning. It wasn’t only because I gained tips on using the paragraphs module or have a better understanding of Symfony and Composer (although those were valuable and enjoyable to learn), but it was also because I was with thousands of people from around the world who all use and support Drupal. It was because I was part of a community that values its members’ contributions, and that thinks critically about its impact not just in the technology sector, but also for society at large.
In a powerful keynote by Zeynep Tufekci, we were challenged to think about the intersection of technology and society. Specifically, the impact of information and communication technology on social movements and the rise of authoritarianism. Could the same digital tool used to convince a user to click on a shoe ad be used for manipulative authoritarian purposes? And how was the Drupal community responding to these issues?
This encouraged me to attend a Birds of a Feather session on Drupal and social change. There I learned about initiatives like Open Social and Drutopia, and discovered that there is a vibrant part of the Drupal community that is dedicated to using technology for positive social change. These projects aim to build tools to help those on a budget, such as nonprofits, small businesses, and everyday citizens, organize and expand their digital reach.
For me, DrupalCon was about more than just leaving with the ability to use a new module or application; it was also about leaving with improved direction and purpose. I left with the ability to think critically and passionately about how to build better digital experiences, and building such experiences for positive impact. It was about working as a community to continuously solve problems and share knowledge that elevates our ability to craft unique and responsible digital tools. It was not about engaging for a week; but about coming together so that we can engage for the long-term.
The Drupal community is large with many diverse interests. For next year’s first time attendees, to have a fulfilling experience at DrupalCon, go to learn new skills but also go to engage with the community and figure out ways you’d like to contribute and participate in advancing Drupal and its application in society. In short, make sure you leave with direction and purpose.