DrupalCon New Orleans is next week. There will be sessions, trainings, social events, hallway tracks and more. The work on Drupal never stops.

Mentoring at DrupalCon New Orleans

Bookending DrupalCon, there will be extended sprints and each day of the week there will be a sprint space at the venue open to all contributors, culminating with the big Friday Sprint (Friday the 13th, what could go wrong?).

But wait… what is a sprint anyway?

A sprint is a get-together for focused work on a project. Sprints are an important part of Drupal’s growth, and are also a great opportunity to get involved, because others are on hand to help you contribute — Source

So it is a gathering of folks with the goal of solving a problem. Fantastic, let’s do some focused work on Drupal while at DrupalCon!

But isn’t Drupal a rather large software project, with so many moving parts? Wouldn’t it be nice if there were folks willing to be asked questions when you first dip your toes into contributing to Drupal?

Enter the mentors

When I think of mentoring, my mind first jumps to the idea of a relationship that’s more long-term than the limited time spent at a conference. But even that short period can become the beginning of a larger journey.

Like sprint participants, DrupalCon mentors come from many corners of the world. They bring with them a range of experiences with Drupal. Each person present is an expert in their domain. Each person can make a valued contribution to Drupal.

Want to know the “secret sauce” to being a mentor at DrupalCon? It’s not secret at all. You can find the recipe by reading Mentoring at Drupal Events.

The goal of Friday Sprint is simple:

We want to make people want to work on Drupal. They should have a good time and not hate it. When they return home they should feel confident they can contribute and learn what they need to know. — Source

The sharing of knowledge doesn’t only flow from mentors to sprint participants. Mentors are encouraged to be comfortable with saying “I don’t know” and talk about how they would go about finding answers to a question. Mentors learn from sprint participants, and each other.

Being a good mentor does not mean knowing all the things. It is impossible for one person to know (or do) all the things. As a mentor, it is OK for you to ask for help. Or say “I don’t know”. Good mentors share what they know, how they know it, and are open about what they do not know. — Source

The road to a DrupalCon

For mentors, the journey begins when they sign up to be a DrupalCon mentor. So far, 70 awesome mentors have signed up to be in New Orleans. But even more mentors will join us shortly before and during the conference.

At each DrupalCon there is an even mix of experienced and new mentors. They will mentor not only sprint participants, but other mentors as well. Tamás Hajas wrote about what being a mentor is like in Hi, I’m George! I’m your mentor!.

Planning for the big day takes a lot of work, which happens thoughout the months leading up to DrupalCon. Monthly mentor meta meetings take place online, on first Saturdays at 20:30 UTC. This is where mentors talk about mentoring (weekly IRC mentoring) and discuss strategies for each DrupalCon.

Folks who are involved in the gritty details of all this planning are mentor leads, recognized on the Meet the Team page. Their duties are described on the Lead Roles page.

At DrupalCon New Orleans, mentoring leads are Lucas Hedding (heddn), Cathy Theys (YesCT), Seth Silesky (sethsilesky), Joël Pittet (joelpittet), Mauricio Dinarte (dinarcon), Stuart Clark (Deciphered), and Alina Mackenzie (c’est moi!).

I count myself as lucky to have met so many kind-hearted and talented folks who come to share their expertise, spirit, and critique as DrupalCon mentors.

Iterating since Denver

Each DrupalCon brought different challenges. Mentors iterate on what works and what doesn’t at every DrupalCon:

  • In Amsterdam, we repeated the First Time Sprinter Workshop to smaller audiences, as sprint participants trickled in after the first workshop started.
  • I Bogotá we did not have mentor T-shirts, so we used brightly colored tape to identify ourselves as mentors (and continued the tradition at DrupalCon Los Angeles).
  • In Barcelona, we distributed sticky notes to first-time sprinter workshop participants, so they could stick them on their laptop if they had a question or needed assistance.

At each event we collect feedback from sprint participants and mentors alike to make the Friday Sprint experience better for everyone.

One of the most significant changes is the shift of focus from working on as many issues as possible to involving many people to bring fewer issues to a resolution. By assigning each person a different task (updating the issue summary, adding screenshots, posting a patch, reviewing the patch) the issue advances toward being considered eligible for the live commit.

Celebrating live commit

The live commit happens when an issue (there could be more than one) that is worked on during the Friday Sprint is reviewed and committed to Drupal by a core committer. This is a moment of celebration for sprint participants and mentors alike. During the live commit every person who contributed to the issue is asked to come up to the stage and explained what they did.

Contributors (new contributors, especially) might downplay the importance of what they have done, but it is clear that each person’s work advances the issue toward a resolution.

Thank you dinner for mentors

All mentors are generously volunteering their time to prepare for mentoring at DrupalCon, attend mentor events at DrupalCon and take the stage (again or for the very first time) as mentors during the Friday Sprint.

After Friday’s Sprint, it is tradition for mentors to enjoy a thank you dinner together, to celebrate the work that is done at the Core Mentored sprint.

Did I mention that all of the DrupalCon mentors are volunteers?

In the past, we have been lucky to have sponsors to cover the cost of the thank you dinner for mentors. We are looking for sponsors to help sponsor the mentors’ post-sprint meal at DrupalCon New Orleans.

Contact alimacio or drupalmentoring if you think our work is worthwile and want to be a sponsor!