very helpful lioness

The story of my first DrupalCon

Sun, 02/03/2013 - 22:16 -- webchick

This was originally posted to the "The influence of subtlety" thread on the Drupalchix group back in 2010, but since that was awhile ago now, and since I'm giving a talk on How to Create Ravenously Passionate Contributors at DrupalCon Sydney (and this experience played a huge part) I figured I'd post this to Drupal Planet as well.

Here are some highlights from my first DrupalCon (Vancouver, 2006).

For context, to those who didn't know me back then, imagine the most introverted, shyest, mousiest little geek you can imagine, whose big ice breaker plan was to put on a Google Summer of Code shirt and tuck herself into a corner in the lounge of the hotel everyone was staying at, hoping desperately that someone would maybe, possibly recognize her and come talk to her, since she was too shy to actually introduce herself to anyone. ;) That was me, 4.5 7 years ago. My interactions at my first DrupalCon had a *huge* impact on the future direction of my life.

  • Inclusiveness: Adrian Rossouw, Drupal mad scientist extraordinaire, was talking super excitedly about crazy next-generation Form API stuff and I was sitting there nodding vaguely, kind of deer in the headlights about it. He paused and said basically, "Oh, sorry. Did that not make sense? Here, let me try explaining it a different way, because it's REALLY AWESOME and I want you to be as excited about it as I am." And then proceeded to do so, and I was. :)

    Note that he didn't end the conversation and then go off and talk to someone else more at his level, nor did he ask me if I was in the wrong room, implying I wasn't smart enough to be part of this interesting conversation. Instead he saw me as an equal who just needed to get brought up to speed, and made a conscious effort to include me in the discussion.

  • Role models: Though there were other women at that Drupalcon who I bonded with, I remember being particularly drawn to Allie Micka, because she was hardcore. She is a total geek (meant in the most complimentary way!), runs her own hosting company, can rattle off random unix sysadmin facts like nobody's business, and at Drupalcon she was leading or co-leading talks on brain-blowing stuff like relationships API. And the guys respected her. When she talked about why a certain approach was good or bad, they'd sit back and listen, and took her seriously.

    While I wasn't *remotely* at Allie's level (and still am not now, and never will be :)), I saw someone I could relate to, and received confirmation that if someone like that was at home in this community, there was a place for me, too.

    This is why all types of diversity initiatives in our community are really important. We want people from all walks of life, backgrounds, interests, skill levels, etc. to see someone they can relate to kicking ass in our community in an environment of mutual respect.

  • Challenges: One evening we were all seated around a big long table in one of the hotel's conference rooms, Moshe at the helm, handing out release-blocker bugs for the folks there to look at so we could get Drupal 4.7 out the door (deja vu, anyone? ;)). I wanted to help, but wasn't sure where to start. Moshe fired me off a couple of bugs to look into. One was way over my head, and I told him so, but he told me to stick with it and do what I could, asking for help if I needed it. I started with a basic code review, but it actually revealed a deeper bug, which would've led to further regressions had it not been cleaned up. It was a little thing, but I felt a profound sense of accomplishment for making some tiny little contribution to helping 4.7 come out faster.

    I hope that we can retain this same "spirit" in code sprints today, even though there are several hundred rather than a dozen or so people around the "table". It's invaluable for communicating the Drupal community's "spirit" of contributing, and getting people hooked. :)

  • Encouragement: At lunch with Allie, Earl, and some other folks, we were talking about what sessions we wanted to attend, and I told everyone I was planning on attending the module development tutorial for newbies. I got some chuckles in return, saying "No, you seriously don't need to attend that session. You've been coding modules for 9 months now." It was a silly thing, but it opened my eyes to the fact that "oh, hey, maybe I *do* know something after all." :P~

    I see this come up a lot at the Drupalchix BoFs. A woman will introduce herself as "not a coder" and then go on to detail all of the very-much-code-related things she does: theming, front-end development, putting together code snippets from the repository into something that works, etc. With some encouragement, I think there'd be far less devaluing of skills all around, and more people taking big leaps they hadn't taken before.

The subtlety in these interactions was key. If any one of those instances had gone differently (had, for example, the guys rolled their eyes at Allie when she attempted to explain her approach towards relationship API, or had I been politely asked to leave when I joined the core bug squashing sprint and didn't know anything), I don't know the effect it would've had. But I do know that together, they formed the perfect concoction for getting me totally hooked on the Drupal community and sticking around long-term. :)

I think we can do a lot to off-set this trend by changing some of our default assumptions:

  • Assume that the next person you interact with could become the next $prolific_contributor if only they were given the right guidance.
  • Assume that people at DrupalCons belong, unless they've told you otherwise, or have explicitly asked for help.
  • Assume that someone who starts out their interactions with the community in a blundering fashion could become totally engaged and one of your biggest assets, if they're only shown "the Drupal way".

And most of all, if you see someone mousy and shy, hiding in the corner at Drupalcon who doesn't have anyone to talk to, go talk to 'em. You might just change their life. :)


Angie, I really enjoyed this post because being genuinely inclusive is one of the most endearing qualities anyone can have. And for some (like me) it can be a challenge. I want to learn (and hopefully write and speak) more about this, so I'm looking for more success stories like this one, and find more heroes of inclusivity. Do you have more stories or people you could point me to?

There are so many cases where people are excluded or offended, it's easy to get discouraged. This is why I think it is so important to seek out and publicize positive examples.