Denver was my 9th Drupalcon. It was also the Con that opened my eyes. I became part of a very exclusive club and I'll never see another con in the same light.
Being on the Local Organizing Committee was exciting, exhausting, satisfying, and completely worthwhile. So, if you want to spend a little time with me looking back, I'd like that.
Many Many Months Ago
I heard a little yippee from the cube beside mine in the Examiner.com offices. It was a little nervous but definitely excited.
"Hey, hey Matthew. Pop onto #dcondtown."
I popped into the IRC channel and there was a little celebration going on. Denver had been selected for the North American Drupalcon in roughly 18 months. Contracts still needed signing - we were told to keep quiet. This needed to be SECRET until Drupalcon Chicago. But were going to start planning. We were a tiny team at this point - 10 or 12 of us.
We established a weekly meeting time - generally we would meet in Skype, although sometimes we would simply meet in IRC. We needed to finish doing things like:
- Finalising the Venue
- Figuring out the food
- Organizing Partys
- Line up local volunteers
- Secure Hotels
- Figure out our Social Networking Strategy
- Build the Website
- Fill the Website with Content
- Organize Local Marketing and Communication
- We had Local and Global Track Chairs
- We needed to work out the Keynotes
- We had massive amounts of signage to design
- And SO MUCH MORE
We had 18 months. Thank goodness for the Association. Thank goodness we didn't really know what we were getting into. Seriously, we had 18 months. Where-ever Drupalcon will be in Europe after Munich - how they are feeling, that's how we were feeling - heady, excited, full of expectations. And they have 18 months! That isn't a lot of time.
We started breaking up our duties.
I'd signed up as customer service manager and as one of the two volunteer wranglers. What does this mean?
- Manage the Zendesk Tickets as the come in as they relate to the con
- Find Volunteers
- Fit Volunteers into the right spots
- BE REALLY NICE
This job was awesome. My role was to reach out to the community, leverage my connections, find people who wanted to help, and help people who had questions. A fairly well known "secret" about me is that I thrive working with others. I like to make people happy and valued. I think that is one of the reasons I do well managing teams of developers.
I ended up using Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ to reach out to folks. I posted on groups. I built two different google forms - the first to start gauging interest and the second to figure out who wanted to do what and when. There was also a mailing list available through mailchimp from the Drupal Association.
The second form was designed in such a way that I could pull pivot tables of people who wanted to different jobs.
Before Drupalcon Chicago, stickers were designed and printed by our friends at Aten. Cyberswat arranged for team members to have a ridiculously limited edition T-shirt. The Yeti costume was packed. We prepared to head to the Windy City.
In Chicago, after the announcement on the last day of the conference, we met with the Chicago and London Local teams. Our excitement was rising. Things were becoming more real.
From my part, I started the invitations to let me know general interest in volunteering. The first call solicited roughly 80 people.
What Do We Decide and What Don't We?
I think one of the biggest challenges for the local team was really understanding what we make decisions on and what we don't. If you are on a local team, make sure that you talk to the Association team up front. You want to avoid missed expectations. Also, you need to trust the Neil and his team. They have made this process an art.
Just a few examples:
- You DO figure out the parties
- You DO make decisions on speakers
- You DO figure out the keynotes
- Sorry, tote bags are a given
- The ticket price is set based on expected expenses
- Sponsorships and benefits are decided by the Association
The point here, is this is NOT a camp. A ton of things are predetermined. For us, these missed expectations, culminated with a visit from Neil. He really helped us to understand where those crossed wires really were. That was the night he joined us in IRC, he really wanted to engage the team in the "place" we spend most of our time.
The Drupalcon BEFORE your Drupalcon is the pivot point. This was London for us. We had a day time meeting with the Association team during the conference and evening meal with the local teams. As that conference comes to an end, you can feel the attention of the Neil and his team seriously shift to the event you are working on. At this point, some of us had been working for 18 months, others - like me - more like 12 months. Now we had roughly 6 months to finish the job. This is when the sprint really began for some of us. I had the Zendesk keys handed over to me shortly after London completed. For me, this was also the time to secure volunteers and find out they were interested in doing.
The next months for me were all about going to building forms, tweeting, google+, facebook, groups.drupal.org, and meetups. I needed to build interest in volunteering - posting a google form and then embedding it on a blog post on this website. There were lots of email, skype chats, and IRC pings. The form filled - and we had an internal deadline. I began building out the pivot tables for the different tasks that people might want to do. Every week we met for an hour at lunch on Monday by Skype.
The other thing that started heating up was the Zendesk queue. The goal is to never have a ticket languish more than 24 hours. There were days when I would review, reply, and close 20+ tickets. Remember, I have a full time job so this was all happening during breaks, lunch-time, early morning, in the evening, and on weekends. Tickets included simple spam, skiing questions (which ultimately led to my getting flowers from a straight man), questions about housing, queries on the venue, how to apply for scholarships, good places to each, cost of tickets, deadlines, room requests for BOFs, and so many other potential questions.
Meetings with the production agency on the state of our volunteers solicited a "that is the best organized I have ever seen volunteer management" which I must say made me very proud. Pivot tables rock. Once the initial organization was set up, I passed the task of on-site management of the volunteers to my friend and colleague at the Lullabots, Matt Kleve.
The date fast approached and before any of us really knew it, it was the weekend before the event.
For me, Drupalcon Denver really started on Saturday March 17th. A group of 20 of us drove to the New Belgium Brewery for a tour and tastings. There were a few things that I loved about this trip. First, seeing old friends (both local and from abroad) that I otherwise don't get to chat with. Second, meeting new people I hadn't had the chance to hang out with before. Third, the brewery is really cool. I highly suggest making the trek up there. Do what we did though, have a designated driver or hire a driver. While you won't get drunk on the tour, you probably don't want to drive afterwards. The brewery is highly eco-concious, insanely employee friendly, and they have endeavoured to create a beautiful space. I'm proud they are a business in Colorado.
Sunday was a day of registration kit assembly for me. My wife and daughter came out to help. I suspect that my kiddo (who is 11) may be the amongst the youngest bone-fide volunteers at a con who did really useful work. I was amused and happy when she put on her women's small t-shirt, it fit and she beamed, "I'm just like you guys!" While she doesn't get exactly what Drupal is, she does know that for over five years it has helped pay the bills. A group of us went to the Wynkoop for dinner and enjoyed the fellowship of new and old Drupalers alike.
Monday was a day that I used to greet folks I haven't seen in quite some time. I also set up the Examiner Booth in the Exhibits hall. It wasn't such a great booth, but it did give us the chance to hang out and see where almost everybody would eventually pass through. In fact, it was right on route to the Core Conversations room - which meant seeing so many of the highly active members of the community. StaceyH and I worked on our presentation for Thursday - there was still quite a bit to be done. The base presentation was the same one I did for Drupalcamp Austin but needed about a third of the slides removed, lots of new notes written, and the whole presentation needed to be converted to the Drupalcon Denver template. We also needed to practice our timing a bit.
Tuesday and Wednesday - I went to both Keynotes of course and to a few of the sessions. However, a big part of my time was spent with thought leaders in the community discussing what they are up to, what they have going on in the future, growth opportunities. I spent time with folks ranging from the Lullabots to Acquia to Four Kitchens to the Commerce Guys. In some ways, even though this conference was the largest yet, it seemed easier to find and talk to people I specifically wanted to have time with than any in recent memory. It could have been the layout of the space - but I managed to bump into folks I haven't seen in a couple of years. Guys like Walkah who introduced me to Drupal and the Community. Long and short, this was the best networking conference I've attended. Tuesday night I went to the official party. The venue was cool - the buffalo carpaccio hors d'oeuvres were yummy. This was after having a great dinner with friends. Wednesday night I went to an evening Association meet and greet followed by a little time at the Acquia Cocktail party and later the Lullabot party.
Thursday - This was a strange day for me that was largely consumed by duty. Matt Kleve and I were asked to introduce Luke Wroblewski. There were also housekeeping items to cover before and after the presentation. What a presentation he gave as well!
The morning started in the Wells Fargo Theatre Green Room. We spent a little time getting to know Luke. I was impressed by his down to earth nature. We learned a little bit about his family and his background. I learned how to say his last name ("Row" "Blue" "Ski").
Ok, this green room... my background is in the theatre and I've never been in a green room quite like this. It is more like a green suite comprising several dressing rooms (the main one with a private restroom), a restroom, a bar, and two TVs. I'm guessing, given the posters on the wall (it included Elton John) that the "room" was designed to cater to some pretty heavy weight talent.
They had set it up with coffee, pastries, waters, and tea. That kind of stuff.
In the afternoon, StaceyH and I put the final touches on our slides. We reviewed our slides, took final notes, and really didn't expect many people. It was, after all, in the final session slot right before the closing session. Much to our delight, the room was nearly full.
I want to thank everybody for the great tweets, comments, and questions. It was a pleasure and an honour to present.
In the evening, we had the hand-off party. The association brought together the various local teams for dinner - just like in London and in Chicago. We celebrated the event, talked, joked with our friends from Munich. It was more than a fitting end to the conference and to the largest contribution I've had the pleasure to make to all of you in the Community. For me, this Drupalcon wasn't one week. It was 18 months crossing three Drupalcons. It encompassed a full third of all the Drupalcons I've attended over the last five plus years.
Unfortunately for me, I literally got hit with the DrupalFlu on Friday. I ended up in my Doctor's office with her sadly shaking her head and saying I needed to stay home for about a week to avoid making other folks sick. Quite a few people I know also became ill. Given influenza incubation, I caught it Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.
So what's next? For a few weeks I'll be helping the Munich folks by continuing to man the Zendesk. I think I'll be helping out with the Drupal Governance Project. I'll be working a little more heavily in the documentation group. Also, I plan to be in Munich - perhaps presenting again. I plan on submitting a proposal.
I want to give my deep thanks to the local team especially Ben. We knocked it out of the park. I also want folks to know that without the help of the Association's Neil Kent and his team, these events simply would cease to rock. His commitment and devotion to our community behind the scenes shouldn't go un-noticed. I am personally enriched having known him. He is a member of the community - all be it very different kind of member - drop him an email. Thank his team. They deserve it.
This experience has be so satisfying.
Drupalcon Denver Group Photo Courtesy of The Drupal Association. I cropped it to fit on my page better.