DrupalCon Portland 2024: Becoming a First-Time Contributor

Drupal has always been about community. It’s quite literally built on an open-source model, meaning developers anywhere and everywhere can help build the content management system’s (CMS) core code. However, actively contributing to Drupal can be intimidating, even for me, a senior project manager with a background in light coding, HTML, CSS, and experience working with some seriously talented Drupal engineers over the last 15 years. 

As the Oomph team prepared to head to DrupalCon Portland 2024 — the biggest event of the year for the Drupal community — I realized I was finally ready to dive in and contribute. My experience at DrupalCon as a second-time attendee was eye-opening and energizing, from presenting at the first session on the first day to putting my Drupal knowledge to the test as a first-time code contributor. 

I left Portland with an even deeper appreciation for the talents of our development team  — and greater confidence in my own ability to add value to the community. Drupal is focused on lowering the barrier to entry for people to use the platform, a commitment that shone through in so many ways during my three days in Portland. 

Still think you don’t have anything to contribute to Drupal? Revisit DrupalCon 2024 through my eyes as a first-time contributor to see just how much you can do with Drupal — developer or not.

Breaking Barriers to Accessibility at DrupalCon

Accessibility is all about making your website useful to people of all abilities (check out our articles on accessible web navigation, getting started with accessibility, and the most recent Web Content Accessibility Guidelines update to learn more about it). At Oomph, we also know that accessibility tools and audits can feel anything but accessible for people who don’t spend as much time in Drupal as we do. 

That theme carried through many of my favorite DrupalCon moments, including: 

Oomph’s DrupalCon Session 

My colleague Kathy Beck and I built upon our 2023 Drupal GovCon presentation to offer a standing-room audience of over 150 people even more tips for demystifying website accessibility. As one of just two accessibility sessions at the conference, our goal was to help people understand how accessibility can be self-guided, which accessibility fixes can make the most impact, and how even accessibility newcomers have something to offer the Drupal community. 

Watch the full session here. 

Driesnote: Unveiling Starshot

Immediately after our session, we packed up and headed to the Driesnote keynote speech by Drupal Founder and Lead Developer Dries Buytaert. He reflected on Drupal’s beginnings (Drupal’s been around longer than the brick-sized cellphone he brought on stage) and offered a look at how the platform will be increasingly frictionless and user-friendly, sharing that:  

  • Drupal 11 is on track to release this year, maybe even as soon as the end of July.
  • The Drupal update is packed with new features like Access Policy API, which makes it easier to grant or revoke user permissions.
  • Starshot will allow site builders without Drupal experience to create a new site based on seamless pre-packaged modules.

Watch the full Driesnote here. 

Going Further With Drupal as a First-Time Contributor

After two days of sessions, we entered the portion of DrupalCon where folks can begin digging in more on our shared missions and contributions. My sights were set on finding more ways to contribute back to the Drupal community. 

The Drupal Mentorship Program puts on the First-Time Contributors Workshop to create a safe space for folks to dip their toes into the Drupal Core waters. Some first-timers are developers themselves, but others, like me, are Drupal-adjacent: project managers, graphic designers, and more who’ve worked alongside Drupal developers but haven’t written much code themselves. Following the introductory presentation and some great Q&A, the first-timers were released from the lecture to find the mentored contributions room. 

Cracking the Drupal code

Upon entering the room, there was a buzz in the air. Folks had broken up into groups working to solve several Drupal Core issues flagged as “novice.” I rallied with a few attendees and friends to tackle documentation — a place where I thought I could put my project management skills to good use. 

We selected an issue to resolve (#3425692, if you’re curious) and, with the help of mentor Farnoosh Johnson, started working to determine and develop a fix. This was particularly exciting as a project manager who’s always been curious about how my developer team members build code. Though the ultimate goal was to see our resolution deployed (only one team had the pleasure), the program’s real purpose was to contribute. That’s it. 

Our mentor continually reminded us that we were here simply to work within the Drupal CMS core code base and community: to work with the tooling, to join the Drupal Slack, to practice interacting with Drupal issues, and generally spread the knowledge and empowerment that comes with applying our technical skills to a real-world challenge. 

Sitting around the table with strangers who quickly became friends, we dove into our issue. Rather than creating documentation, we actually worked on a series of issues causing merge failures for a documentation update, reverse engineering the steps to identify the missing information and root causes. I learned how to work with DrupalPod, an exceptional extension for Chrome and Safari that enables you to set up a working code base without a local environment. I also got a firsthand taste of how involved development can be. For example, running a PHPUnit testing suite took over an hour. 

While we didn’t achieve a live commit on Day 1, fellow attendee Tiago Bember and I were both determined to resolve the issue. The next day, we reunited to keep working, and my colleague Phil Frilling joined us to check our facts and provide input when we got stuck. I’m happy to say that we successfully opened and approved the merge request, something I had done fewer than five times in my life before, and the update has now been reviewed and deployed (thanks, Drupal team!). 

Take the Drupal Plunge With Me

After DrupalCon 2024, I can officially say I’m not a first-time code contributor. But I will be a passionate member of the Drupal community for life. 

I gained a deeper appreciation for the time and development work it takes to power such an incredible platform, as well as empathy for engineers around the globe who persist through what can feel like hurdle after hurdle in pursuit of submitting code updates. 

For those of you who have yet to take the plunge, I highly recommend giving it a shot. You don’t even have to code! You can apply marketing skills, deck design, branding, and so much more. 

Want more DrupalCon 2024 or need tips to start contributing? Access Drupal’s curated collection of video resources or get in touch with the Oomph team. Talking about Drupal is kind of our thing. 

Related tags: Drupal


More about this author

Julie Elman

Senior Digital Project Manager

As a Digital Project Manager at Oomph, my main responsibilities include building and maintaining client relationships, managing projects, and collaborating with our talented development and creative teams to execute and deliver top-quality projects.

My professional background includes experience as a project manager, department lead, web and graphic designer, and even a trained chef. While leading projects, I strive to develop strong client relationships by encouraging communication and collaboration from discovery all the way to launch.

In my previous position, I served as the project lead for partnerships with the NFL and NBA, where I managed all graphic design contributions from brainstorming through the completion of final deliverables. Having a background in HTML, CSS, and WordPress, I have an immense appreciation for the products the Oomph dev team creates using WordPress and Drupal each day.

Outside of the office, I can often be found walking, hiking, snuggling with my cat, listening to music and audiobooks, or enjoying a cocktail with friends.