So, you've decided to take the plunge and attend the upcoming 2016 DrupalCon in New Orleans? I'm sure you won't regret it, as DrupalCons are an amazing opportunity for networking, training, and learning about the latest and greatest advancements with Drupal and its community.

For a new attendee though, I'm sure it can feel a bit daunting trying to figure out what you should do and who you should see. The event isn't quite a week long, but it is packed full of sessions all day ever day as well as keynotes and contribution sprints. So where to begin?

We find that our team hangs out at our booth a lot, it's just nice to have a home base. So if you are meeting or traveling with a team or company expect to do that. Otherwise, the coffee and snack areas are the usual spot to relax between sessions while planning on what to do next.

Try to attend some of the meet and greet sessions, especially the kickoff one on the first night, as these are great opportunities to make some connections and potentially make plans for future hangouts and networking during the week. We always make dinner reservations for our group for each night of the week, and try to leave some additional spots for most evenings for meeting with clients or community friends.

There are often big parties in the evenings sponsored by Drupal companies, a little bit more of a social occasion than the kickoff at the convention venue. If you are averse to big, loud groups, the open parties might not be for you as they are very overcrowded and noisy. However, they can be a lot of fun.

As far as this year's schedule goes, Monday's opening reception in the exhibit hall is popular as there is some type of free food and drink and it is a jumping off point to find folks you know.

On keynotes and such:

  • Be warned about the Prenote on Monday morning, it can be a little quirky and shocking to new attendees!
  • Dries Buytaert's keynote is a must see, and is usually a good forecast about what is coming to Drupal in the near future.
  • The keynote speakers from outside the Drupal community can sometimes be hit or miss, but fresh perspectives from non-insiders can be refreshing sometimes. 
  • Thursday's keynote is sort of new and from a member of the Drupal community, definitely worth checking out.
  • If you are pressed for time towards the end of the week, don't feel obligated to go to the closing session on Thursday. Usually it's just the big reveal on where DrupalCon North America will be held in 2017.

The content doesn't end there though, there is a great deal of learning outside the keynotes and structured sessions. BoF's (Birds of a Feather) are informal sessions where someone posts a topic and then there is a group discussion or little presentation and discussion. These range from sharing project management ideas, industry-specific implementation to knitting (no joke!).

Besides those things, the session tracks are the main focus of the DrupalCon, and this year there is a lot to check out. I've listed the different types below to help you sort out which might interest you or be focus appropriate for your skillset or role.

By track:

  • Business. This track is really targeted to Drupal shops, but there are some good estimating and management sessions here.
  • Coding and Development. These are more geared towards developers, so if that's not you maybe stay away from this track. However, if the subject is a groundbreaking technology, it can be worth seeing how Drupal is integrating, e.g. Facebook's BigPipe or Google's AMP.
  • Community. These sessions are often for people who are actively contributing to the Drupal community.
  • Core Conversations. Sessions by folks who build Drupal core, debating every topic under the sun, and often very technical material.
  • DevOps. This track is about tools and techniques for deploying Drupal sites, middle-ware or support software.
  • As the label suggest, it will be about the website.
  • Frontend. Mostly the technical theming (fonts, colors, layouts) and coding of the frontend of Drupal sites. Strategic sessions in this track could be interesting even if you're not an especially technical person.
  • Horizons. Cutting edge technologies and how Drupal could be involved. This is new, forward-looking and possibly interesting for anybody even remotely interested in Drupal.
  • PHP. Very technical, and realistically just for developers or aspiring programmers.
  • Project Management. Another new track. This can be good based upon the presenter. Keep in mind though that for some folks in this area they see PM as "my way or the highway". 
  • Site Building. Depending on the specific session, these could be perfect for gaining ideas and for non-coding solutions.
  • Symphony. Again, another developer-centric track.
  • User Experience. An area that Drupal is focusing on more and more, so expect to see plenty of interesting sessions in this area as time goes on.
  • Business Showcase. Vendors have purchased these sessions. Sometimes they may feel sort of like a commercial. However, if you are seriously considering a vendor, it could be worth the research.

As you can see, the week in New Orleans promises to be packed full of interesting people and things to do. If I can leave you with one tip, it would be to try to plan out your week ahead of time, but be open to trying new things and meeting new people. After all, the people are what DrupalCon's are really about.

Be sure to stop by our booth and say hello! Be safe and have fun in New Orleans!