DrupalCon 2018: Nashville

That time I went with Four Kitchens to Nashville for a week of hot chicken, Drupal, exciting sessions, professional development, and showcasing our VR/AR work.

Many thanks to all for a great week in Nashville. Learned a lot and got excited about a few things. I haven’t done a trip report before, but here’s my long-winded rundown of my experience.

Four Kittens Chickens

This is what you really wanted to know: the annual Four Kitchens Four Kittens shirt is on temporary re-brand for cultural relevance: may I present to you Four Chickens! Hope you got one at the booth because we’re fresh out.

The Shirt

* Nashville’s primary culinary export is its famous hot chicken. It’s damn tasty.

Booth Time

Four Kitchens was the Drupal Games Sponsor again this year, so when visitors weren’t playing basketball and ping pong, we had lots of demos to show and some experts to talk to about our recent web shenanigans.

VR, AR, and WebVR

360 imagery and 3D models can be created easily with relatively inexpensive technology and displayed on the web using open source libraries, built-in browser APIs, and devices that many audiences will find approachable if not already something they own.

Booth Shenanigans

We had a few scans from our own Web Chefs over the past few weeks, I’d even 3D printed a few of them. I’ll be selling limited edition Todds and Aarons on Etsy*.

* No. But I might write a blog post on it.

Scanning Guests and 3D/VR Postcards

We had two iPads to scan interested visitors with itSeez3D. Behind the scenes, the models were emailed to an endpoint which would receive the OBJ file, upload it to our Drupal 8 (Contenta distribution) site and compose it into a little virtual postcard.



Four Kitchens also unveiled EditVR, a decoupled, Drupal-backed React-fronted VR editor to combine 360 photographs, annotations, sounds, and images into experiences which can be delivered in the browser, on mobile devices using Cardboard or Daydream, or on desktop computers with VR hardware.

It’s currently a closed beta, but I’ll update when public guests can create accounts. In the meantime, the same technology and libraries that power EditVR are also in use on some of our projects: the Meredith Farming Shop Tour and Working with the Web Chefs.



We also had info about the newly released Aerate frontend performance auditing tool. Evan Willhite, its maintainer, was also at the booth ready to talk, but I think with all the hubbub over the VR demos, Aerate didn’t get as much attention as I wish it had.

An Experiment

This conference, I used a paper notebook during every session I attended.

What follows is the translation of those notes into digital form while I can still read them. My handwriting is slow and bad (also painfully cramp-inducing) but I found the effort worth it. I paid more attention to what was presented when my laptop wasn’t in front of my face with notifications and the temptation to “let me Google that thing the presenter just said.”

Handwritten Notes

I use a RocketBook notebook so that I can take a quick picture with my phone and the page lands in OneNote with a dated backup in Google Drive, hence the QR code. Also apparently I still write on my hand.

Notes from Sessions I Attended

Decoupled Drupal Hard Problems

Mateu Aguiló Bosch, Senior Developer at Lullabot

We’re investigating a decoupled/headless build for a client at 4K and while I understand the concepts and overall architecture, my experience in the tactics of headless is limited. Deeper technical understanding helps me be a better PO, so I dropped by this “clearly over my head” session. Mateu presented his material in a very approachable way and touched on:

My biggest “ah ha” was this comment:

Because all our clients want fancy WYSIWYG tools and rich or in-place editors, we need to be able to have specific conversations up-front with them about how to keep content accessible across other platforms. We’re not just showing content on web pages anymore. This is like leading clients through “responsive means more than just desktop screens” on a whole new level.

Don’t Trust Your Gut: Agency Operations Metrics

Ashleigh Thevenet, Chief Operating Officer at Bluespark

Ashleigh showcased the magic spreadsheets she uses to run Bluespark, derived from Sean Larkin’s originals:

By combining team forecasting/allocations, actual hours worked, contracts closed, project estimates, and more, these spreadsheets produce good visibility into overall booked work, velocity requirements to meet contract totals or milestone timelines, team utilization, and even insights into revenue forecasting, team health, and hiring decisions.

I think all businesses in our industry, and probably any time-and-materials consultancy, use all of these metrics. I really appreciate that within this community, we share how we do it since we all face many of the same problems.

At 4K, we also do this, but Suzy and I, with help from others, have automated the data collection process and she has built out reports and dashboards using Periscope. Same analysis but since our team is larger than Ashleigh’s, we wanted an automated process. Either way, both companies benefit from financial insights in near real-time that would traditionally be analyzed less frequently.

Lessons Learned from Open Source Journalism

Sydette Harry, Editor at Mozilla Foundation

Here’s a session that ended up being nothing like what I expected and I was super glad I went. Sydette introduced the Coral Project’s first three applications:

From there, the conversation turned into an organic conversation on online community building focusing on three questions. See the session video.

  1. Who is “we”?
  2. Why is “we” here?
  3. What is “we” fixin’ to do?

Then: How do these answers change if everyone in this “we” under stress?

Instead of comment wars, how are communities built to encourage engagement?

When it’s “us” versus “them,” the focus is on having a score. When it’s “we” the focus is on reaching a result.


When it’s “us” versus “them,” there’s this stop and go and stop and go and nobody feels good about it. When it’s “we,” it’s “that wasn’t what we wanted, how do we improve?” Or “that’s it! how do we get more of that?”

What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

Genevieve Parker, Operations Manager & Aimee Degnan, CEO / Architect at Hook 42

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question everyone hates because it’s hard to answer. This session talked a lot about professional development through structured, caring, high-engagement management. The 4K Project Managers book club recently read The Effective Manager and a lot of the 1x1 structure Aimee and Genevieve discussed follows a similar pattern.

They also discussed motivators vs. incentives:

Also, not everyone wants to climb the corporate ladder. If you have team members who don’t want to manage or project leads who don’t want to go into business leadership, “growth is learning at the current level.”

And: imposter syndrome which is a real thing. “Trust that the person who hired you did so for a reason.” Step back, and “look at objective facts” rather than subjective self-criticism. Management can support this by recording useful facts.

With regard to course corrections, high-engagement management can facilitate some meandering on the career path:

It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.

The take-home work here is in tooling. Hook 42 uses:

An idea they posited: if you’re having trouble answering these kinds of questions or aren’t sure where you’re headed, ask a friend or mentor to write a short bio about you or fill out a copy of some Adobe Check-in sheets for you. Their view on your most valuable skills and passions might help you with ideas.

Ultimately, I still hate the “what do you want to be when you grow up” question, but this session had some cool personal-professional development ideas I’d like to look at.

(In)organic Groups in Drupal 8

Scot Self, Senior Developer at Mobomo Apps

Running out of steam, this was my last session to attend. It was a pretty high level look at the Organic Groups and Group modules. I’ve used OG in Drupal 7 on several projects with complicated use cases. It’s one of those D7 modules that makes magic happen. But it seems stalled in D8 and there’s only a pre-alpha release. Group is making big strides and has production-ready releases for 8.x. I assume I’ll have plenty of uses for Group in the future, but I needed a primer on how Group is different from OG as I help clients with their strategies. At a high-level, it’s actually pretty similar.

Ultimately, it seems like everything I’ve built in OG with Drupal 7 would be pretty reasonably doable with Group in D8. The big question is what is the new equivalent of the OG Menu module because the ability to produce a group-bound menu of content is pretty key to a lot of those use-cases.

Four Kitchens Sessions

I didn’t present this year, but plenty of us did! Speaking to packed houses and even some standing-room-only crowds, congratulations to Patrick Coffey, Mike Minecki, Joel Travieso, Jeff Tomlinson, Adam Erickson, Trasi Judd, and Randy Oest (top-left to bottom-right).

4K Presenters

Check out We’re Going to Nashville! Web Chefs Heat Things Up with Talks at DrupalCon on the 4K blog for a summary of all our sessions.

Action Items

Conferences always get me excited about stuff, but accountability helps make sure I follow through. So here’s what I want to do:

Booth Group