Episode 255  on January 29, 2018Behind the Screens

Behind the Screens with Kaleem Clarkson

Kaleem Clarkson goes in depth on how to organize a Drupal Camp, how DrupalCamp Atlanta is run, and how to work with the community. We go back to his metal roots, and as always share some gratitude.

Transcript

Chris:
In this episode, we're going behind the screen with Kaleem Clarkson. Kaleem, you are the organizer of the Atlanta Drupal Users Group?
Kaleem:
I'm the DrupalCamp Atlanta project lead.
Chris:
There we go. That's what I'm looking for.
Kaleem:
The Atlanta Drupal Users Group, there's a board. You have Eric Semrat, the President. We have Zach as our Vice-President. We have Taylor Wright as our Treasurer. We have Sarah Golden who's a board member at large. Shelley Hutchinson, board member at large. And then we also have Randall Kent, board member at large.
I'm also a board member as well and basically in 2014 MediaCurrent used to be the lead organizer for DrupalCamp Atlanta and they did an unbelievable job. We all know running this camp is a lot of time and a lot of effort, so it was definitely a scenario where they kind of needed to just postpone it a little bit. Just take a second to reevaluate how they were going to do it. We were part of the Atlanta Drupal Users Group and we sent them an email and said, "Hey. We can take it over if you don't want to do it. If you're too busy." And they were like, "Yes. I mean, Hey. Here's all the resources."
Dave Terry and MediaCurrent was just so awesome. Adam Wade at the time, I believe, were just so great at providing all the resources. The sponsor list and how they did it. They came and helped us a little bit as far as what you should expect. They really just gave us a great orientation on how to run a camp.
Myself and my wife, we have a company called Blend Me, Inc. Where we help remote companies. Companies who want to implement either remote, distributed, or tele-commute programs. We consult with them on corporate culture, employee engagement, diversity, that's a big one.
I'm actually working with a company right now on how to diversify their staff a little bit more. We've been able to book, do some event planning, some conferences. I was like, "Hey. We can do this."
Kennesaw State, I was up there. I had a lot of contacts up at the university. We just went ahead and booked the camp. Just pushed forward and that's where we are today. We're excited. It's definitely ... the panel I thought went very well today.
Chris:
Yeah. That was a great idea instead of doing just a single keynote speaker.
Kaleem:
We have Ryan Szrama from Drupal Commerce. We have Damien McKenna from MediaCurrent, and then we also have Jacob Rockowitz who's the maintainer of WebForm. Those guys are some pretty big hitter committers, and I was just so grateful that they said yes. We've done a panel once before. I think the first year we did a higher ad panel, and it's something different. Panels happen all the time but, hearing somebody talk ...
Chris:
Yeah, and it's not a pre-designed speech, which, not to say that those are bad things-
Kaleem:
Yeah, by the way, we've had some great key notes. Josh Koenig, you know you're awesome. I don't want to knock our single keynotes but we wanted to try something different.
Chris:
I thought that went really well. I thought that was a really cool way to bring a number of people together and just ... I love the free form talk. You really get more of a personal aspect to the lives of these people who are dedicating a lot of time into the projects. I thought that was great, and my first DrupalCamp Atlanta, you guys have done a great job with this-
Kaleem:
Oh this is your first one?
Chris:
This is my first one.
Kaleem:
Yes. Yes. Yes. Awesome. Great.
Chris:
It's easy to get here from the airport. I jumped on the MARTA, on the train and took that straight up, and then like you said, walking around, I can walk up to my room and lay down for ten minutes if I need to, and then right back to the sessions here in the same hotel. It might be a little pricey compared to other camps, and that's a relative term-
Kaleem:
DrupalCamp, because we've looked around, and it was funny. It was one of our board members, I don't want to call him up, but he was like, "What we're providing is above what camps provide." We added a third ... The other thing that we did that was different this year is we started on Thursday, and that was a suggestion that I want to say, I think Zack had that idea of, I asked the question in our opening, "How many people here are being reimbursed from their company?" I would say about 90% raised their hand, so although there's hobbyists here and stuff like that, people are coming here to learn to help their company. Conferences is $85 is nothing.
South by Southwest, you look at those conferences, we're talking thousands and thousands in registration fees, so I just feel like I understand the culture behind Drupal, and keeping it cheap, and keeping it affordable, but it's just not sustainable. I did a lot of work in non-profits, I got my Certificate in Nonprofit Management, and it's another ... it's kind of one of those false beliefs that non-profits can't make money. No. Nonprofits are ... you're allowed to make money so that you can save some in case something bad happens.
Our goal was to make $5,000 a year in case something bad happens. We were like, we have to raise the fees to provide a level of professionalism that we felt as a group that Drupal's being called the corporate CMS, or whatever ... I'm hearing that all the time.
Chris:
The enterprise level-
Kaleem:
The enterprise level. Why aren't our camps enterprise levels style? We were like, "Okay, let's do Thursday all day trainings." We have a half day on Friday for trainings in the morning, and then we want to make sure we feed people good food, so we catered it on Thursday for all the people who came here and did a training on Thursday, and then we catered lunch today, and then we had a nice reception last night with food.
We're feeding people every single day and that comes with a cost, so I'm very happy with how I'm running the ship.
Chris:
Yeah I think you've done an excellent job. I'm very impressed with that. I came into the training on Friday morning and then did some sessions in the afternoon, and that reception last night was fun. There's a lot of things that are within walking distance, and it's all in all very well done so-
Kaleem:
Thank you.
Chris:
Well done for that.
Kaleem:
Thank you. Great team, by the way. I don't do that much. I kind of do the website thing, I got a great team, I'm not the best writer in the world so ... Eric was really great with doing a lot of the writing, the Twitter account, just the social media thing on top of it, the accounting from Taylor and Sarah helping out with the graphic, Shelly doing a lot of the marketing from MediaCurrent, and Randall. I don't know ... it's been kind of a joke people have been joking with us about our online advertising. I don't know if you noticed the little Drupal Camp Atlanta things popping up in your browser, but we had a nice ...
Randall from Sevaa, he really helped us with the Ad Sense or ad role. Basically people are like, "I can't escape the Drupal Camp Atlanta ads. They're everywhere."
Chris:
That was awesome.
Kaleem:
We really did pretty well with that, so I have a really great team and everyone's really good. It was a very good team effort. Very good team effort.
Chris:
If there are people ... we've seen a lot of the camps and the local user groups springing up there. They're all over now. To be honest I hadn't heard ... I don't think I'd heard of Drupal Camp Atlanta, until I started looking at Drupical, trying to figure out what else was around. Some of the camps, just everyone knows the names. Everyone knows about Bad Camp in the Bay Area, Nice Camp out in New York City [inaudible 00:08:00]. I feel like there's a lot of smaller groups all over the place that are popping up camps. What's one piece of advice you would give to somebody who might be trying to get their group a little more formally organized, or who wants to put on a camp in their own town?
Kaleem:
Yeah. The first thing that I would suggest is the one thing that Zach Sines, our Vice President has done. When we made the decision to approach MediaCurrent to manage the camp, it's because ... it was still a sacred entity. They put a lot of their blood, sweat, and tears into this entity, and to be able to just pass it over to a bunch of people, there was a sense of trust that needed to be built there.
What I would suggest from the beginning is organize your users group like it's going to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Organize the Users Group as if you're actually going to build a real company/charity. What we did is, we wrote by-laws for the users group, we came up with positions, terms, rules on voting and judging. All this stuff sounds ... it doesn't sound important at all to the camp, and we're not even talking about the camp yet, but what that does is that it makes people ... when you deal with volunteers, and this is something I learned from running my ... I had my own charity years ago, when you're dealing with volunteers you don't have anything to keep them ... what's the word I'm looking for?
Chris:
Invested?
Kaleem:
'Invested', or 'accountable'. That's right. That's-
Chris:
There you go.
Kaleem:
You don't really have the salary to keep them accountable, so the only thing you really have to keep them accountable is their public image. By creating a board of directors and posting the board of directors, and posting the positions within each group, there is a sense of accountability there because they're publicly a part of this group, and the group has rules, and the group has By-laws and it's established.
The first thing I would do is start with that. I know there's probably ... DrupalCamp is probably among, it's unbelievable. It's a great camp and that they ... I'm not sure if they have an official group or not but, the more ... if you don't know the people, you need some sort of accountability, and that's the one thing that I think we've done very well. We've organized our group as if ... If we want to apply for, and that has always been our goal, to apply for 501(c)(3) status, we would be ready. We would be all set to go.
We're in corporate ... We have an LLC, so that's the first step. Do not, I repeat, do not organize this camp under your own checking account. Do not do that, because we signed a contract for $20,000 with this hotel, do not, I repeat, do not run a camp, and just be like, "Oh it's cool. I'll run through my business," or "I'll run it through my own account." It is not a good idea at all.
Chris:
Keep the financials separate.
Kaleem:
Keep the financial separate. We have our own LLC, our own bank account, and everything is within that tax ID. That's the first part of advice is the group. The second piece, find a venue that is going to be ... in the first couple years, find a venue that's scalable. What I mean by that is, find a venue that's going to allow you to go if you only have ten people, to 50 people, to 300 people, that is going to allow you to change the numbers as you're moving on.
That was what was great about going to Kennesaw when we moved is, we could change the numbers very late because we weren't paying for a [inaudible 00:11:50], we weren't paying for, "the rooms, per room." We were just paying an overall fee. That is definitely the piece of advice that I would give. The two pieces of advice.
Organize the company into an LLC or some sort of tax I.D. number so you're all protected because if something happens, you don't want the liability for trying to do something good on you.
Chris:
Right.
Kaleem:
I would do that. Then the next thing is having a scalable venue, that you have to be able to change the numbers as you get further along. Then once you've got your core sponsors together, and of course getting the sponsor stuff out, once you have your core sponsors together and they're committed every year, then you can try to take a risk for a hotel type venue, or something larger once you have more data.
We know that we're going to have at least 80 to 90 or 100 people. We had that data to make an educated gamble.
Chris:
Yeah. Get a little bit more established, you could predict what's going to happen.
Kaleem:
Absolutely.
Chris:
That makes a lot of sense. When you put on these camps, I'm going to keep going with a few more these questions,
Kaleem:
Yeah, yeah. This is great.
Chris:
Because this is really interesting, are you looking at ... and we talked a little bit about this earlier. Is there a certain demographic of user, "in the community that we're going after" because if the way ... We've been in the community for a long time. We started as site builders developers, which you kind of had to be that dual, that sort of hybrid role whereas Drupal 8 lets you split from that a lot more now. You can do a lot just by being a Site Builder, by installing Drupal clicking buttons you don't have to know the code, and I feel like the community has started to split a little bit that way where we've ... maybe the newer people who are entering the community because they wanted to create a site using Drupal. They are not as easily able to get in and touch the code, and work with the code, and become the developers or participate in the community the way that we did traditionally.
When you put together a camp like this, is there any thought to how you structure sessions or who you invite to try and open up that diversity, or really looking at the people who build Drupal as opposed to people who use-
Kaleem:
That's an unbelievable question because, we probably haven't thought of the camp that way to be honest with you. Just to ... how we planned is just, we put our head down and just started planning it. We basically depend on the community to submit sessions, and once those sessions are submitted we look at, okay ... we kind of have a little bit of a historical knowledge, so we know front end and site building. Those sessions need to be in the program.
It's almost like how I started. I started as, my boss comes to me and says, "I need this website with a password protected website." They're like, "Try this thing called Drupal," I had to start clicking around, clicking around, and I put together somehow. Then I got to figure out how to style it. Right? Now, I'm like, "Oh! How do I style this thing?" I feel like, no matter what, every camp has to have a site building piece, and then the theming piece, and then after that, you can get as complicated as you want.
As far as who you're trying to attract, it's really a wide spectrum. You're trying to attract the site builder, you're trying to attract the themer, you're trying to attract the advanced people. In a perfect world, we would really like get more people involved outside of the Drupal community. I've loved that the Drupal Island analogy from a few years ago, I think it's just the coolest. Whoever came up with it, genius by way. I can't remember who it was, but it was genius.
The front end stuff is real popular right now. The React, ongoing, the decoupled. Next year, one of the things that we're going to try a lot more to be deliberate on, is to try to find some more maintainers in the java script community. I think that's important. Also, probably Symfony... not probably, also Symfony. We had a couple Symfony talks but really using the technologies that we're using that are from outside of Drupal, I think can add a lot of richness to the camp. Get a lot of more front end people here just that are outside of Drupal.
I also think component-based theming is definitely the future that looks really impressive. Again going back to who's really doing component-based theming very well, and trying to get those people here. I would say who we're trying to attract are really the site builders, the themers, the hardcore back end developers, and then the people who are outside of the Drupal Island Technologies that we're connecting with.
Chris:
Do you feel like there's a place in the Drupal community for the people who ... going back to the people who are picking it up for the first time, who are told for their job, or is there a hobbyist section out there, like, "I'm going to try building my site in this Drupal thing," and they downloading themselves Drupal 8. Is there a place in the community and in these camps for this? I don't know?
Kaleem:
A beginner?
Chris:
I guess you could call it beginner. It's almost like a different type of ... it's not something we've seen before. Drupal, up until 8, has never really been a drop-it-in and build a site by clicking buttons and you're off and going. Drupal 8 is really the first version of Drupal, where you can create a usable site without having to plug a bunch of stuff in or write some custom code. Maybe it is just beginner, but this new wave of ... this new life of Drupal, is there a place in the community for people who are getting involved that way?
Kaleem:
Yeah.
Chris:
Should there be, or how can we do better with that?
Kaleem:
There definitely should be, and again, I feel like the more you say things and the more you speak things, and I always loved this term, 'speak things into existence', everyone's saying this enterprise level CMS. Just stop saying that. Stop saying it because we're going to make that true. There are plenty of people out there that just, "WordPress is ..." there are plenty of people out there that don't like to use the most popular tool.
WordPress is like the real super. Everyone's using it. There's so many people that always want to do something that everyone is not doing. Like, "Let me try this other thing, because it's not WordPress." It's fine to be that. It's great to be that. For me, yes, there is absolutely a space. The trainings for us, we always make sure that there's a beginner training, and that's in an all day beginner training, because, just learning how to set up your local environment is a huge hurdle for a lot of people. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
I would definitely say that there's a huge place for that. The trainings are really where that happens, and usually our beginning trainings are always closely sold out. That shows you right there. Doug Vann's done some great trainings, OST training has done great, Mike Anello from DrupalEasy ... those trainers, their sessions aren't empty for a reason.
Chris:
That's a really good point.
Kaleem:
Their sessions are not empty. They're never empty. There's definitely a place for them.
Chris:
That's really interesting. So many cool ... like this new facets to look at when you look at the community as a whole, because it is such a large and diverse community in terms of just skill sets, as well as backgrounds, and the people.
Let's turn this away from Drupal a little bit, because you've said some really interesting things about running your own non-profits, and we talked a little bit earlier about your musical background. I love this question. I ask everybody this question. If you woke up tomorrow and the internet was gone, you're not working on a keyboard in front of a screen anymore. What do you do?
Kaleem:
I'm definitely going to be in a metal band again.
Chris:
Again?
Kaleem:
Yes, again. Yes. I was in a metal band in college, HOOD, ‘Hunter Orange Overdose’ baby. I tried to find it somewhere. I don't even know if we're on the internet anywhere but, yeah that live music scene, it's just there's some energy about it that you just can't duplicate being on stage in front of people screaming, and the crowd surfing. It's ... Wasn't Jeff Robbins in a band?
Chris:
Yeah.
Kaleem:
Yeah. Same thing. Yeah, he toured a little bit in the Boston area, I think, right?
Chris:
Yeah, he was signed to A&M Records.
Kaleem:
Yeah. Yeah. I would definitely do that. As I'm getting older maybe I wouldn't be playing, but I would probably be somewhere in the music business, like a promoter or something. As you can tell, I like putting on a good party.
Chris:
You do a very good job of that.
Kaleem:
Through tons of good parties in college. Don't want to put anyone's stuff out there but, they were very good. I have to say the parties in college were good.
Chris:
What instrument did you play?
Kaleem:
Guitar and I sang. I didn't really know how to play guitar too well, but I figured it out after a while, but yeah I was it was fun. I still have it. I have a [inaudible 00:21:07].
Chris:
Oh! Nice. Very fun. What's the best concert you've been to?
Kaleem:
Okay. Let's see. I actually ask that question in interviews, believe it or not, so I have my answer. Mine would be ‘Rage Against The Machine' and 'Wu Tang Clan.'
Chris:
Oh wow!
Kaleem:
The place in Massachusetts at the time was called Great Woods. That one was just two of my favorite groups. It was perfect. It was hard rock, and then it was my hip hop, Wu Tang Clan, my favorite. The best rap group of all time. No doubt. Wu Tang Killer Bees. It would definitely be that. Close second concert would be, the first time I saw KORN with the fur side, which was a very odd pairing. Never heard of KORN, and they came out and they blew my face out. It was pretty cool.
Chris:
Yeah. Oh man. That would be an amazing show. I always like to wrap up the interview with a little thanks and gratitude, because I think what we've been in the community for a while. I think anybody who has, probably in any career, has had a little push along the way, somebody who reached out a hand when they needed it or gave them a little shove when they were down. Is there anybody you like to say thank you to, who lended you a hand when you are in need?
Kaleem:
Yeah! I would have to say Dave Terry from MediaCurrent. He's a cool dude man. The fact that they built up the whole Atlanta Drupal Users Group in the amount of time that he and Paul actually ... both him and Paul. Paul Chason, as co-owners of MediaCurrent, their philosophy on giving back, and their philosophy on letting their staff contribute, I don't know if you've heard Damian talk about that today, that they actually give them X amount of hours per week to contribute.
I Remember going ... the very first meet up I went to, I was scared as hell, man. I mean roll in and the place was packed. All these people had these blue MediaCurrent jackets on, I was just like, "Who are these people?" And, "Wow, that's the dude who does meet the meta tag." I was like, "Oh, that's that dude." Or whatever, and I had a bunch of questions as far as like how to do consulting with plan and remote companies, and I asked him, how do remote ... he's just been ... I don't want to say he's been my mentor. Dave, you don't know this, but you're kind of like my mentor.
You don't know this, but that's what's happened. He's always just given me really good advice, so yeah. I would definitely say Dave. As far as like hands on Drupal, he doesn't know this either but, Mike Anello. His website is where I got a lot of help. A lot of help, and taken trainings with him. Chris Shattuck and him did a mentor training in DrupalCon Denver. That training was like the first training that showed me how to use Drupal. How to actually let go of my fear of the command line and begin using Drush, and to begin to start advancing myself. I would say it would be Dave Terry and Mike Anello.
Chris:
The DrupalEasy podcast was definitely in my playlist. It still is in my playlist.
Kaleem:
Yes. That's how I found out about all these cool things, was the DrupalEasy podcast, I was like, "I got to listen to this thing." He showed me the planet. I didn't know anything about Drupal planet. He was like, "You got to get on the planet." I'm like, "What is this?" And he's like, "That's the planet. You got to get on it."
Chris:
Everything comes through.
Kaleem:
Yeah. Yeah. I would definitely say, Dave Terry and Mike Anello.
Chris:
That's awesome. Kaleem, thanks a lot man. This has been really an awesome conversation. I love to get into the guts of the community and their stuff, and well done.
Kaleem:
Thank you.
Chris:
Nice job with the camp, and hopefully I'll be back next year.
Kaleem:
Awesome. Thanks man.
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