DrupalCon 2023: Recapping the Biggest Week in Web Dev

For digital ecosystem builders like us, DrupalCon is kind of like our Super Bowl: best-in-class web devs coming together to level up our Drupal prowess.

Earlier this summer, we joined 1,800 other Drupal users in Pittsburgh, turning the David L. Lawrence Convention Center into a four-day meeting of the minds for anyone who builds with Drupal.

Why DrupalCon? Well, we’re huge fans of the platform. We’ve been developing Drupal projects since 2008 and have served the Drupal community by sponsoring the annual New England Drupal Camp; hosting the monthly Providence Drupal Meetup; developing new modules like Oomph ParagraphsOoyala, and Getty Images; and supporting the Talking Drupal Podcast.

That’s why, for us, DrupalCon has become an in-person way to validate the work we’re proud to do online. This year (our fourth!), Oomph sent four team members to host our booth in the Expo Center and soak up the positive energy and game-changing innovation DrupalCon is known for.

Here’s what we saw, what we learned, and what we can’t wait to start applying now that we’re back at work.

Our Notes on DriesNote

“Pittsburgh is a city where things are made. A little like Drupal.”

That’s from this year’s DriesNote, the annual speech Drupal founder Dries Buytaert delivers to kick off DrupalCon and shed light on what he sees as the biggest challenges and opportunities facing developers.

This year’s call to action? Innovate. Think beyond what’s possible to create bigger and better software solutions. Find new and interesting ways to power digital experiences with Drupal. And embrace revolutionary technology like Drupal’s new ChatGPT integration and the soon-to-launch Drupal 10.1.0.

Dries also presented the entrants for the 2023 Pitch-burgh Innovation Contest — an opportunity for Drupal users to win funding for their unique ideas. A panel of judges selected seven finalists, then the audience chose five winners. Drupal awarded a collective $108,000 to fund their submissions.

Watch DriesNote 2023 on YouTube

Session Takeaways

After DriesNote, we squeezed our way into a few (literally and figuratively) jam-packed sessions focused on tech, UX, design, and so much more. Here are the top takeaways from the sessions we attended.

1. The future of Drupal could be headless.

Josh Koenig, CEO and co-founder at Pantheon, led a session about Javascript and the future of Drupal, offering his hot takes on where Drupal has been and where it may need to go to remain successful.

He noted that while Drupal didn’t start out as enterprise software, that’s exactly what it has become. Yet, there’s some work to do for Drupal to seamlessly integrate into the enterprise space.

According to Josh, decoupled and headless CMS solutions are the future of enterprise software, while new developers entering the workforce are focusing more on modern Javascript skills and less on PHP and TWIG. At the same time, current administrator interfaces in the headless space are too rudimentary, decoupled solutions are too complex, and widespread adoption of a single open-source, headless CMS hasn’t happened yet.

These are all gaps Drupal and its users could look to fill.

2. User personas are (mostly) out. Mindset-focused design is in.

“Death to Personas” was the title of one of our favorite sessions, led by Mediacurrent Head of Product Elliott Mower. Now, before we go on, let’s get this out of the way: We like personas at Oomph. And many of the audience members at this session agreed.

Yet, Elliott suggested there’s a different — and, perhaps, better — way to design inclusive web experiences. He believes that user personas are a hangover from the days when software for non-developers was still cutting-edge. Personas can also be hyper-specific or over-generalized, neither of which lend themselves to accessible and impactful user experiences.

After all, your customers’ needs aren’t a number; they’re the product of complex driving forces that can’t be distilled into a set of demographics. Elliot encouraged the audience to instead think qualitatively — specifically about the customer’s mindset — to build more meaningful customer experiences.

Watch the full Death to Personas session on YouTube

3. Authenticity is the foundation for long-lasting client relationships.

In a world where everyone is serving someone — clients, bosses, coworkers — how do you create relationships with staying power? Authenticity.

Palantir.net Customer Success Manager Britany Acre spoke about how the days of emotionless professionalism are over. People want to be humanized, to be seen for the whole person they are both within and outside of the workplace.

Communicating authentically, showing concern, and even sharing when we’re having a bad day can, according to Britany, foster the trust that drives genuine partnership.

Watch the full Authenticity is Contagious session on YouTube

Welcoming Women in Tech

Recent research shows that women make up only 25% of workers in the technology sector. Jess Romeo, Director of Web Publishing Platforms at Pfizer, offered reasons for and solutions to this disparity during her Women in Tech keynote.

Jess said many women wonder if they need a computer science degree and don’t know what opportunities for advancement exist in the field. Many women also feel the pressure to put work before their family — an expectation that’s slowly but surely dying out.

She also offered these words of encouragement for women working toward a career in tech:

  • The “rules” of the tech industry have dramatically changed since COVID-19
  • Women are welcome in tech, more than ever before
  • There has never been more awareness and action on diversity and inclusion

Watch the full Women in Tech keynote on YouTube

Birds of a Feather Sessions

DrupalCon’s Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions are an opportunity to network and collaborate with like-minded people. These informal gatherings feature open discussions about Drupal-related topics, like technical issues and business challenges.

People love BoF because they’re more of-the-moment, usually organized while DrupalCon is in full swing. This year, organizers accepted ideas in advance, and we appreciated the opportunity to have more structured and thoughtful conversations.

For us, the BoF sessions are also a chance to share our skills and perspective with newer Drupal builders. Because of our involvement in the Drupal Scholarship Program, our lead back-end engineer, Phil, also had the opportunity to mentor up-and-coming engineers during the sessions.

Getting Social

Oomph just wants to have fu-un. (Get the reference?).

It’s true, though! As much as we worked, we played. We took our team out to a Pittsburgh Pirates Monday night ball game and watched the Pirates take home a 5-4 win over the Oakland Athletics.

During what little spare time we had, we also connected with old friends — and made new ones — at the Pantheon and Acquia-hosted special events.

DrupalCon Swag

Did you even go to a conference if you came home without swag?

Our favorite was the plushy Drupal droplets at the Northern Commerce booth, a nod to the Dutch word “droppel,” which translates to “drop” in English and is Drupal’s namesake.

Pantheon also gave away t-shirts (with four different design options) that our team will be repping back at Oomph HQ.

As always, DrupalCon left us energized and excited to continue contributing to the future of web dev. We’re already looking forward to 2024!



More about this author

Kim Domenick

UX Engineer

Being a UX Engineer at Oomph is challenging, rewarding, and fun! Engaging the powers of Drupal and SASS, crushing deadlines, and producing work that results in a happy client is what I love to do.

Before Oomph, I spent sixteen years in the healthcare field as a Programmer Analyst and Web Developer where I used my skillset to solve problems for both employees and patients. With Drupal as my sidekick, I produced feature-rich public websites as well as powerful, internal apps for staff and providers.

Outside of work, I love spending time with my partner and my granddaughter, crafting with my girlfriends, and hanging out on my front porch. I enjoy home renovations, interior decorating, landscaping, and my latest passion: wine making! My retirement dream is to operate my own winery, offering an impressive selection of wines and, of course, an equally impressive website.