Pacific Northwest Drupal Summit - A New Regional Drupal Event Paradigm

PNW SummitJust over two months ago the Pacific Northwest Drupal Summit happened in Seattle. The Summit was a regional conference for people who use Drupal. We saw over 130 people gather for two days of teaching and learning and sharing.  The event was free to attend thanks to many generous sponsors.  The sessions were of a very high quality, videos can be found here. All reports were that they event was a success like the Drupal Camps have been held in Seattle in the past, but I believe that though success was shared by both events, Camps and the Summit, they are distinct from each other. 

First, a little backstory.  In 2006 Seattle held a Drupal Camp and has held one annually since then.  In 2008 we had over 150 people attend and ran multiple tracks.  Our camps were growing at a rapid rate.  Following our camp in 2008 we became aware of a few things:

  • The producers (SEADUG - our local Druapl user group) of the camps were having less time and energy to devote to putting on camps.
  • The diversity of the subject matter of the camp was difficult to manage with people who are exploring and beginning with Drupal and experienced Drupal coders all looking for a first class development experience. 
  • We were not the only awesome folks nearby, just a couple months before our camp a fantastic Drupal Camp had been held in Vancouver.

When discussion started about whether or not to produce a Camp in 2009 we had trouble building any interest or momentum.  After many starts and stops it was clear that a camp as we had previously know it was unlikely to happen and that a new approach was needed.  Out of these conversations came a new Drupal event model that worked really well for us.

First, we took our traditional camp model and split it based on the attendee demographic, new/exploring and experienced/coder. I do believe this was a genius move because it allowed us to appropriately scale for and serve the two very different groups. 

We established that there should be two events, The Drupal Clinic and The Drupal Summit. 

The clinic would be a one day, intensive, hands-on intro to Drupal and on October 2nd Jennifer Hodgdon led the Drupal Clinic, a sold out event in Seattle that led people new to Drupal through an exhaustive introduction.  Jennifer had the help of a number of members of the Seattle Drupal User Group and did an awesome job. The event had such an impact that a group is forming to gather beginners and offer resources to them. The success of the clinic and the reception it received told us that there indeed is a large local desire for an event like this and that this particular form was a good one.    

The Summit would be a larger scale conference for people who are using Drupal.  An important part of our vision for the Summit was that it cater to people familiar with Drupal, whether that be front-end developer, back-end developer or site builder/administrator.  Another important part of the concept of the Summit was that the event should be regional.  At the time these ideas were being formed both Portland to the south of us and Vancouver to the north of us were having trouble getting traction to produce events in their cities in 2009 for many of the same reasons that we were experiencing the same problems.  This was disappointing because both cities have such a rich depth of Drupal developers and experts.  One of our goals was to create an event that would attract the talent of our entire region to one event.  To that end I traveled to Vancouver in July for the Drupal User Group meeting and to Portland for the Drupal User Group meeting in August. Connecting face to face with people in those cities and brainstorming was very encouraging. I heard from people who wished they could be attending a DrupalCon, Paris was approaching shortly, and who wanted to find a way to plug into the larger regional community. As we planned what amounted to a regional DrupalCon this was a great. One of our hopes following the Summit was that we could make this an annual event that would rotate locations between Vancouver, Seattle and Portland - each hosting once every three years. After 4 months of planning the PNW Drupal Summit took place at the Adobe Conference Center in Seattle on October 23rd and 24th. Our goals were met as the event drew an impressive crowd of Drupaleers from across the region and featured high quality sessions and time for us to connect as a regional community.

Now with the Summit a couple months behind us I am excited to hear that conversations are happening about where to host the next summit. We have established a quality event that could annually bring together lots of great Drupal folks.  Many of our sponsors have expressed an interest in continuing to support a Summit in the future.  A new model has emerged, could this be the beginning of something?