5 Things I Have Learned From Delivering Drupal Training [updated]

I have so many amazing adventures as I travel around delivering Drupal Training to Universities, Corporations, Governments, etc. I've always wanted to blog about how it is such a learning opportunity for me. It is an enriching experience to sit in front of a new class and start down the road of transferring knowledge. I hope you enjoy this 1st pass at some of my experiences!

Train the trainer!
That's the first thing I’ve GOT to say. The students in my class, no matter how "NEW" they are to Drupal, have invariably encountered something that I have not. Whether it’s a module that filled some very specific need, OR some piece of news in the Drupal ecosystem, or some awesome feature that their vendor built into their site. It never fails! I even learn from their questions. They ask how to do such-n-such or how to make this thing change based on that thing. Together, as a class, we approach questions like that and we architect a solution. I learn something new every day I spend with them! 

What’s fun is…. I take the new discoveries from the last engagement and incorporate them into my next Drupal training! That evolution of content and presentation really snowballs the learning-value as time passes!

Show me where it hurts!
We all know that Drupal [as does any solution] has its pain points, counterintuitive elements which work against you rather than with you. Sure… We've addressed many of these over time. Often I'm able to point out a module that solves, or somewhat helps, a UI issue. But there are times when a user will make a mistake and not select what should have been selected or select the wrong option. This is discovered minutes later when their sandbox site is not doing what mine, or their neighbor’s site is doing. In this, I discover yet another GOTCHA in Drupal. As seasoned veterans, many of us wax over the lengthy UI pages of adding fields to content types and configuring Views. But each class I teach reminds me that these powerful configuration pages are a land mine where lesser experienced individuals could potentially cause a detonation!

No one gets hurt in my Drupal training BUT we are very honest about some of the challenges of navigating these very powerful configuration pages. Each time I learn a new GOTCHA, I preeminently strike against it in the next class! :-)

You want WHAT?!?!?
OMG! I’ll try to make this brief. Whether it’s 1day or a full week of Drupal training, we wind up spending some amount of time in what I like to call, “Stump the Chump!” The intent is not to trick me, but our QnA sessions very often turn into a “How would you build super-dee-duper complex functionality X & Y & Z?” When this happens, it’s rarely some fanciful what-if scenario. No. It is a sincere question that addresses a real need. Once again we take some class time to architect this solution using what we have learned AND borrowing from my many past experiences. Oh yah… And Google is REAL helpful at these times as well! :-)

The age of discovery!
Many of us know that the “Discovery Phase” is possibly THE MOST important phase of the project. I find organization after organization that wound up getting something from a vendor which they didn’t expect because they never actually told the vendor what they wanted. So many questions were unasked and unanswered that the final delivered product only barely meets the client’s needs. In better circumstances, I see a site that meets way more expectations in functionality BUT the usability is atrocious. What do I learn here? I learn how to ask better questions on my own development projects. In reality only a Vulcan-Mind-Melt would allow the developer to truly know what the client is thinking, BUT short of a sci-fi solution, there is a real solution. We can ask better questions and guard against the client’s assumptions. I train organizations who have worked with some of the best shops in the Drupal industry. It becomes very clear to me that some clients make it very difficult for the shop to do proper discovery. So I do what I can to encourage all of my clients to participate wholeheartedly in that process as it is the best insurance against unsatisfied expectations down the road. I listen to their past experiences and find out why things didn't go well. It’s rather eye-opening what is going on out there!

DevOps FTW!
When delivering Drupal Training, we invariably wander into staging and deployment. Sometimes it is on the list of topics, other times it just forces its way in. What have I learned from this? I have learned that far too many organizations are shooting themselves in the foot by trying to get their IT department to make this work for them. Time and time again, I see Higher-Ed, Governments, and Private Industry hitting their collective heads against the wall trying to work against internal processes and expecting non-web ppl to suddenly be a valuable partner in the publication of important data on the site. This says to me that the need for effective tools to get the job done is greater than anyone truly appreciates. Services like Acquia Cloud & Pantheon & Platform.sh are not just cool toys or fancy tools, but thet are actually essential tools that more ppl need to be using. Seriously... I have seen A LOT of time, energy, and money wasted on trying to get a site launched or updated or major changes instituted. I am truly saddened to watch this happen over and over again. What am I learning here? I'm seeing that DevOps is an afterthought. I'm seeing that there's disconnect between the Marketing/Web ppl and the IT ppl. I'm seeing a reluctance to move these operations off to a third party. I can tell you... When I demonstrate Pantheon to the class I am often told, "We NEED this, but the CTO would NEVER allow it!' So sad...

Alright… There you go! Five things I have learned while delivering Drupal Training. I may have to publish more in the near future!

How about you!?!?!?!?!?

I know I have many friends out there who spend a lot of time spreading the power and knowledge of Drupal.

What are you experiencing? When was the last time you had to say, “Wow! That’s a new one on me!” to a room full of people who collectively have spent less than 1/2 of the time you have in Drupal-Land! :-)

Comment below and share your stories!