Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Geeky Escapades

I know I’ve blogged about my day job on the website at work before but I haven’t really gotten into it here. Our website is driven by an open source (read as free) content management system called drupal. The developers we’ve hired for the site do all the heavy lifting; researching what tools are available, adjusting and writing and testing code for those tools so that they do what we need them to on our site. In the end the developers deliver us a graphic interface, like a fill-in-the-blanks form, that allows us to use those tools.


There are a couple of tools absolutely necessary to maintaining and adding to our website that the developers have never built out a graphic interface for and we have no idea how to use them for ourselves. So every time we need to load new content to the website or otherwise use those tools, we end up paying the developers $100/hour to do it for us. It’s been 2 years since we started working with them, and we thoroughly expected to have these tools turned over to us by April 2009. Needless to say, they’re beyond late in delivering the final product.

What I’m really trying to get at is that we know enough to be able to use tools built with drupal, but we don’t know how to build with drupal.

Anyhow, at the beginning of this year I noticed a drupal-specific event coming up on the calendar for April in San Francisco and made sure to pass the information along to my boss saying that it would be interesting to attend the conference if only to make contacts with other area developers so we can at least see what our options are.

The company ended up sending me and another gal to DrupalCon San Francisco in April to get our geek on. Which reminds me, I still need to submit my expense sheet for reimbursement.

A few things that really struck me about the conference:
  • we were one of the few drupal clients attending while the majority of the 3,000+ people were actually developers and it was interesting to observe the drupaler species in the wild, in their natural habitat
  • this was really an international event and the Eyjafjallajokull eruption really effed some things up for a lot of people—another 6,000 people were attending various DrupalCon sessions via live feeds because they couldn’t get to the conference
  • it’s awesome to be a woman at one of these things. It’s one of the few times you’ll find no lines at the ladies’ room for an event this size! (It was doubly cool that the guys had to queue up for a change!)

Another thing I realized was that I knew enough about drupal to be able to follow along for many of the sessions I chose to attend and I could actually have intelligible conversations with other people. One of the sessions, PHP for Non-Programmers, actually had me writing some basic Boolean, integer, string, and array variables with functions and conditional statements in PHP code by the time I left the 50 minute session.

I know! I don’t understand it either, but I did for that brief moment during the session.

When I came home and told Scoob what I’d been doing that day, he went to the kitchen and made me my very own tin foil geek crown and said, “Now you know what I do.” Except he works with the Java script language instead of PHP.

I’ve always known I lean to the geek side, but I never thought I stood squarely in the Geekdom. That either means I’m geekier than I realize, or drupal really is as user-friendly as it’s touted to be. Maybe a bit of both.

Another thing I realized, and this is probably a life lesson not just a drupal lesson—it’s okay to eff up. It’s okay to write a screwy piece of code that breaks a widget or web page layout. It’s okay to forget to install a module that you’re going to need. Mistakes can be fixed. Yes it’s time consuming, but it’s a learning process, and the more you do it the better you’ll get at it.

With all the little sayings and axioms we hear about mistakes (making mistakes is what makes us human) and practice (practice makes perfect), you think I would have had this aha moment long before now. But maybe it’s something we need to relearn periodically. So, for anyone else wanting to relearn, here are some quotes for thought about mistakes and practice.

So anyhow, I’m toying with setting up a basic drupal-based blog website and migrating this blog over there. But then you get into server configurations and a whole bunch of other techie stuff that I’m not sure I have the time to get into and learn about right now. But it’s an idea I’m toying with.

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