Drupalcon Austin: Third Keynotes Suck. Let's Fix Them.


Drupalcon Austin was a week ago now. Being my second Drupalcon, I couldn't help but constantly compare this year to Portland.


I loved going to Portland. It was easy to go anywhere with ample public transit. The cool raininess of the Pacific Northwest was lovely. Austin, however, came off as only a superficially good choice. The weather was hot and oppressive. The public transit was horrid. While it took me about 30 minutes to get to my AirBNB in Portland, it took me over an hour to get to the apartment I was crashing at in Austin. The busses didn't run late either, making things difficult. While discounts for the Lyft rideshare service were provided, I still had to drop $17 after the $25 discount to get back to my room. The area around the 'Con also had little to do except restaurants. Without a car, there was nothing to see.

Sessions and Feel

The entire tone of Drupalcon Austin also came off as much more business oriented than Portland. I sat in more than one session that felt like an ad for someone's product than a learning experience. In part this is expected. Portland was very much about teaching other core devs Drupal 8, while Austin was about how "Drupal 8 is coming, buy our stuff!" The session selection committee process for choosing product-oriented submissions leaves much to be desired. I've been on session selection committees myself, but this 'Con bothered me.

The Dreaded Third Keynote

The thing that really annoyed me, however was the third keynote.

The third keynote at Portland stirred up it's own controversy for painting a picture of all mothers and grandparents being technologically-illiterate, and in need of constant supervision and guidance. The way the community rightfully skewered that keynote made me smile. Austin's third keynote didn't raise as much of a discussion, but it did make me think about third keynotes more critically. 

This year's third keynote was delivered by someone instrumental to South By Southwest. If that wasn't a warning sign...

I don't have a high opinion of Jobs. I certainly didn't when he was alive, and now that he's passed I maintain that he was never a "techie" as so many of his fans. In his heart and his actions, Steve Jobs was a salesman. A very good one, but a salesman nonetheless. 

The talk went on to glorify self-identified geeks using one of the terms popularized by startups: Gods, ninjas, and rockstars.

In the last year I've grown increasingly critical of geek culture. I've seen how it's used as a bludgeon to maintain larger structures of social oppression. Instead of being the welcoming, mentoring, come-join-us attitude of the Drupal community at it's best, much of geek culture marginilizes women, trans people, and people of color while cloaking it in a veneer of shared high school trauma.

Why do third Drupalcon keynotes suck so badly?

There was a moment in the keynote where the speaker went off script, talking about how "for this audience I put the first point as the last point". That's when it hit me why. The third keynote is always a canned talk given by a Drupal community outsider. While that alone isn't wrong, it contributes to what is the root cause. It's a keynote for the sake of a keynote. It's tacked on because for some reason we don't know how to kick off the third and final day of sessions.

Alternative: A Drupal Community Showcase

As a mentor, I'd much rather have the third day encourage people to contribute back to Drupal. While we can beg, plead, bribe with food and snacks, and smother people with helpfulness, it may not be as powerful as hearing the stories of actual members of the community; a community showcase.

The Drupal Community Showcase would start off with a brief introduction talking about how many of the Drupal community start as individuals who contributed time at after work, during a sprint, or any number of ways. The following show would be an interview of one or more people in the community. Thinking about this, I couldn't not think that my story for Austin was a perfect fit. I came to Drupalcon thanks to a scholarship and a successful crowdfund. I've become involved in Drupal first by some work in core, but mostly for my effort to port Flag to Drupal 8. It's a good story that if I had heard a year ago, would have really been an inspiration.

While this would be a lot more work for Drupalcon organizers, I feel it would be much, much more valuable. It would be memorable, and get new and old contributors alike a boost to attend the sprints the following day. I suspect it would also be cheaper to run than the current canned talk given for the third keynote.