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I always look forward to unconferences. It’s their unpredictability and element of surprise that I enjoy, you never quite know what the day will bring. I love the edgy feel, the lower barrier to entry, and that it’s OK to fluff your words or try something new. Sensing the nerves of the ones who unexpectedly present for the first time, witnessing how energising their experience is, discovering a topic or theme for the first time, or taking the mic because you feel inspired by others are all reasons I’m drawn to attend and why CTI Digital was proud to be one of the sponsors.

The North West Drupal User Group Unconference last weekend was no exception in terms of inclusivity and our Drupal team were there in force.

 

Our Developers Thoughts

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Phil Wolstenholme, a frontend developer in our Drupal team, spoke about using Cloudinary (a third-party image optimisation service) to deliver substantial site speed improvements for our client, Aman Resorts.

"Unconferences work without any knowledge before the event of who (or how many people) will be speaking, so there’s a rush at the start to get your idea up on the wall to secure a slot to speak in. I was lucky (or fast…) enough to bag a slot early in the day before the competition heated up for the afternoon slots.

It was interesting to talk to a primarily Drupal audience about a commercial service that exists outside of Drupal and the free and open source world. I was a bit wary of this - I wanted my talk to come across as sharing a useful tool, not a sales pitch. To show the optimisations made possible by Cloudinary I took an example component from the Aman website and applied a series of optimisations to the image within it, explaining how the file size decreased with each step. In the process, I also covered topics like the WebP image format, Client Hint HTTP headers, and the custom CDN integration we developed to reduce bandwidth costs for Aman.

With headless CMSs and microservices being a hot topic at the moment, I think we will start to see similiar talks that cover how Drupal’s out-of-the-box functionality can be supplanted by specialist third party services that do one thing, but do it very well."

 

Daniel Davison, a Junior Drupal Developer at CTI, attended the unconference for the first time this year.

"This was the first NWDUG Unconference that I attended and I was very pleased with how it turned out. The talks were all captivating and informative, and it was good to get together with the local Drupal community. I had already met quite a few of the people who attended the NWDUG monthly meet up but it was good to see so many new faces there. As soon as I entered MadLab, where the unconference was held, I was greeted by some familiar faces and handed a goody bag (always a bonus). I then found myself a seat and once everyone had arrived we planned who was doing what talks and in which room, this was so that people could go to the talks that they were interested in and decide when in the day they would do their talk if they were doing one.

Personally, my favourite talk if I exclude my colleagues, Phil and Graham, was the talk by Richard Sheppard on the use of Docker with Drupal and he talked about something I had thought about myself. I had been to Docker talks before but it had never been talked about in terms of use with Drupal so it was nice to learn about how he had been using it personally and his experiences with it. Docker is useful as it allows a developer to have more applications running on the same hardware than other technologies such as virtual machines. It makes it easy for developers to quickly create ready-to-run container applications, and it makes managing and deploying applications much easier.

Food and drink were provided and there were regular breaks. Afterwards, everyone went to Common which gave everyone an opportunity to get to know each other even further and have a drink together. Overall the event itself was well worth going to and I look forward to next year."

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Graham Brown, one of our Drupal Developers, came along to the unconference not intending to speak. But the welcoming community in NWDUG inspired his impromptu talk on PuPHPet.

"Like some of my colleagues at CTI, this was my first time attending an unconference. The registration procedure was smooth and efficient and the goody bag contained a proper mug which came in handy for the first coffee of the day! The introduction by Phil Norton was informative and included a briefing as to what an unconference actually is and how it works.

I had arrived completely unprepared talk-wise but due to the introduction making the whole process seem so relaxed and informal I decided on the spot to give a talk on PuPHPet which is an online / browser-based setup utility for those out there who use Vagrant
and their favourite virtualisation package to manage their virtual machines for development purposes.

I was impressed by the diversity of talks ranging from non-Drupal specific subjects such as website project management processes to talks which could be platform agnostic such as Docker and image compression CDNs given from a Drupal perspective. Phil’s talk on Cloudinary, for example, was a Drupal-specific show and tell about a service which is available for a vast array of CMS and e-commerce platforms, but the same principles apply to whichever framework you choose to use.

I’ll definitely be checking out the new programs I learned about and also re-visiting Docker from a Drupal perspective in an attempt to use it as an alternative to my current Vagrant-based workflows. There was also a talk given about Deployer which again I’ll also be looking at using for personal projects to make my deployments run smoother.

I’m looking forward to the next unconference. Based on the value the event gave me in terms of all the industry knowledge I gained I’m also going to be making more of an effort to go to the monthly NWDUG events held at MadLab."

 

Final Thoughts

With over 50 attendees what was striking to me, for someone in the community for over a decade, was the proportion of abundance of new faces and rising stars, graduates, apprentices, and those moving to Manchester for the digital scene. I came away feeling the local Drupal community was growing, vibrant and full of promise.

About the author

Paul Johnson
Paul Johnson
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As a company director, Paul is responsible for leading our strategy in relation to culture and people. This work has strongly contributed to our enviable staff retention levels. His pragmatic approach, combined with a development career spanning two decades, is a valuable asset to clients approaching challenging and large scale digital projects. These include SONY Pictures Entertainment, King's College London, Travelodge, Great Ormond Street Hospital.

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