Organizing face to face drupal training's was one of those no-brainer good ideas that we've talked on and off about doing for more than a year. In the month leading up to the phenominal DrupalCon Vancouver I was personally getting pinged multiple times a day with requests for leads on Drupal hires. Servicing firms, startups, and organizations rolling out large Drupal projects all wanted to bring web developers on board who had the requisite knowledge and experience working with Drupal. The only problem was the well was getting dry; a glut of new work met a finite number of trained and hire-able Drupal hackers, leaving a lot of work on the table and my email box flooded with emails inquiring where I was hiding all the Drupal talent.
In the weeks after returning from Vancouver we quickly reached a critical mass of interest and started getting serious about organizing the first training events. Noel got to work putting together one in NYC and Gregory from CivicActions and I started figuring out one to be held in San Francisco. We threw up drupal-camp.org, spawned some threads on the Drupal consultant mailinglist and in a short while had some dates picked out, a trainer lined up (Jeff Robbins from Lullabot), and a venue (Compumentor) for the first Drupal Camp. The only hitch was we had only given ourselves two weeks lead time to sell out 13 registrations at $500 apiece (used to cover the costs of the training) and Jeff had already bought his ticket out to San Francisco.
...But we sold it out in a five days and ended up taking a long wait list with half of the attendees flying in from out of state. Did we mention Drupal talent is in high demand?
Drupal Camp SF was focused on training web designers & developers how to make complex Drupal sites that don't look "Drupaly". Our training was focused on three areas:
- Lay of the land of the Drupal software and community
- Drupal software concepts (nodes, themeable functions, phptemplate, etc.)
- How to build out awesome looking Drupal sites (conceiving a theme, modules and tools to use, tips and tweaks, etc.)
The training lasted two full days. The first day was mostly instruction and the second was mostly a facilitated workshop. You can read our original agenda here and read some notes I took on the Drupal Camp SF Wiki. We also video taped most of the session and will be working on editing and releasing back the video in the future.
We definitely made our fair share of mistakes, but based on the feedback we got from the attendees, Drupal Camp SF went very well. Here are some of the lessons we learned along the way...
What we would do differently next time:
- Not arrange our tables in a column and station the organizer at one of the long ends. We ended up with what was later labeled as a "participation gradient" where students closest to the facilitator get plenty of direct instructions and the folks in the back feel left out. Fortunately we fixed this problem the next day by arranging the tables in a U shape centered around Jeff (the instructor) which worked out much better.
- Give students more detailed pre-requisites that suggests up front what skills and concepts they are expected to know and what versions of Drupal they are expected to work off of.
- When buying snacks don't assume everyone ascribes to the healthy organic bay area cuisine. I.E. don't buy 4 cases of juice and no soda :)
- Try to dig into more hands on work earlier in the instruction. Instruction is obviously useful, but with 15 open laptops students will be eager to dig into working examples and code early on.
- Prepare more. If overcommitted organizers try to put together a training with only two weeks notice it will show.
What worked surprisingly well:
- Everyone runs into relatively the same problems. Remember all those questions you had while you were learning the ropes of Drupal? "which theme / theme engine to use? how do these themable functions work? what's this put in moderation queue option thing used for? what version should I use? what module do i use for ......? " etc.. Well guess what, those are the same exact questions your students are probably grappling with. Prepare to address them, and when your done consider helping out improving the handbook. Having Jeff as the instructor worked out really well because he is still relatively new to Drupal and the "pain" was still fresh from his own experience climbing Drupals learning curve. This made him especially adept at answering questions and commiserating with students, i.e. "I feel your pain...why don't you try this...".
- People loved being plugged into the community. Being able to leave with working knowledge of the ins and outs of Drupal is great, but being able to establish working experience within the Drupal community that can be used to find answers when instructors are unavailable is invaluable. You can help students through this by spending time explaining how the Drupal community functions and frequently exposing them to resources such as the handbook, DrupalDocs.org, mailing lists, and the Drupal issue queue.
- Students love it when you take notes for them. A lot of URL's, module names, and tools to use will fly by and students don't want have to deal with trying to keep track of them while at the same time paying attention to the instruction. If you have someone on hand to transcribe all the main points addressed and record all links for the students they will be very grateful. You can check out the notes taken at Drupal Camp SF here.
- Ask your students what they want. Before the camp we put all the attendees on a mailinglist and asked them to introduce themselves to figure out where people were coming from. After the first day of training we made everyone fill out a brief survey to get a feel for what was working and what needed to be changed. Based on that feedback we got a very good read on things and were able to adjust course appropriately. After the camp we had attendees fill out another survey about their over all experience. This gave us very valuable insight and feedback on the camps, allowed students to have more of a say on how things were run, and allowed us to bring our attention and resources more in line with what students needs were.
- People want to have fun. Take everyone out for beers afterwards. By the end of our two days a lot of interesting connections were made amongst the attendees at the camp. This only happened because people had time to socialize as well as learn.
Our goal in organizing Drupal Camp SF was not just to train 15 folks, we wanted to help figure out the model for Drupal training events, develop curriculum, and see similar events happen all around the world. It looks like SF Drupal Camp is going to be the first of many other events. The next camp will be held on May 13th 2006 in New York City. There are also people starting to organize camps in Salt Lake City Utah, Seattle Washington, and Washington DC. If you are interested in organizing a camp please join the mailing list and introduce yourself.
It looks like it's going to be another meteoric year for the Drupal project. As more and more high profile sites, companies, and Drupal based projects are launched there will only be be increasing demand for Drupal talent. The only realistic way I see to meet this demand effectively is to put in place training material and events. Drupal Camp are a solid step towards this goal and so far it looks like we are off to a great start. Many thanks to Gregory Hellor, Jeff Robbins, Dan Robinson, Greg Beuthin, John Lorance, and Josh Koenig, and all our attendees who made Drupal Camp SF happen!