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Talking about Advanced Webforms and Showing Code

· Drupal,Webform,Advanced,DrupalCon,Seattle

For the past two North American DrupalCons, my presentations have focused on introducing people to the Webform module for Drupal 8. First and foremost, it’s important that people understand the primary use case behind the Webform module, within Drupal's ecosystem of contributed modules, which is to…

Build a form which collects submission data

The other important message I include in all my presentations is…

The Webform module provides all the features expected from an enterprise proprietary form builder combined with the flexibility and openness of Drupal.

Over the past two years, between presentations, screencasts, blog posts, and providing support, the Webform module has become very robust and feature complete. Only experienced and advanced Drupal developers have been able to fully tap into the flexibility and openness of the Webform module.

The flexibility and openness of Drupal

Drupal's 'openness' stems from the fact that the software is Open Source; every line of code is freely shared. The Drupal's community's collaborative nature does more than just 'share code'. We share our ideas, failures, successes, and more. This collaboration leads to an incredible amount of flexibility. In the massive world of Content Management Systems, 'flexibility' is what makes Drupal stand apart from its competitors.

Most blog posts and promotional material about Drupal's flexibility reasonably omits the fact that Drupal has a steep learning curve. Developers new to Drupal struggle to understand entities, plugins, hooks, event subscribers, derivatives, and more until they have an ‘Aha’ moment where they realize how ridiculously flexible Drupal is.

The Webform module also has a steep learning curve

The Webform module's user experience focuses on making it easy for people to start building fairly robust forms quickly, including the ability to edit the YAML source behind a form. This gives users a starting point to understanding Drupal's render and form APIs. As soon as someone decides to peek at the Webform module's entities and plugins, they begin to see the steep learning curve that is Drupal.

Fortunately, most Webform related APIs which include entities, plugins, and theming follow existing patterns and best practices provided by Drupal core. There are some Webform-specific use cases around access controls, external libraries, and advanced form elements and composites, which require some unique solutions. These APIs and design patterns can become overwhelming making it difficult to know where to get started when it comes to customizing and extending the Webform module.

It is time to start talking about advanced webforms.

Advanced Webforms @ DrupaCon Seattle 2019

DrupalCon Seattle is scheduled to take place in April 2019, but session proposals are closed. There are a lot of changes coming for DrupalCon Seattle 2019. The most immediate one affecting presenters is that proposals are limited to either a 30-minute session or a 90-minute training. I understanding this change because a well-planned and focused topic can be addressed in 30 minutes while training someone requires more time. I’m happy to say that my proposal for a 90-minute Advanced Webform presentation was accepted. Now I need to start putting together the session outline and materials

Talking about advanced ​webforms for 90 minutes is going to exhausting so I promise everyone attending there will be a break.

I’ve decided to break up this presentation into two parts. The first part is going to be an advanced demo. I’ll be walking through how to build an event registration system and maybe an application evaluation system. During these demos, we’re going to explore more some of the Webform's modules advanced features and use-cases.

The second part of the presentation is going to be a walkthrough the APIs and concepts behind the Webform module.

Topics will include…

  • Creating custom form elements

  • Posting submissions using handlers

  • Altering forms and elements

  • Leveraging API's

  • Writing tests

  • Development tips & tricks

This presentation is going to require a lot of work. Luckily, I have six months to practice my presentation and work out some of the kinks.

Talking about code is hard

Fortunately, there are plenty of DrupalCamps before DrupalCon Seattle where I can rehearse my presentation. Two weeks ago, I presented the second part of my training at BadCamp and learned that scrolling through code while talking is challenging. I struggled with clicking thru PHPStorm's directory trees and showing different interfaces for entities and plugins.

Being able to navigate and understand code is key to climbing Drupal's steep learning curve.

I enjoy giving live Webform demos because I really believe that physically showing people how easy it is to build a form makes them feel more comfortable with getting their hands dirty. Even making mistakes during a live demo helps people see that clicking a wrong button is just part of the process. For me, the most successful and inspiring presentations are the ones where I walk out of the room with a new appreciation of the topic and a new perspective regarding the best way to learn more about the subject matter. My live demo of code at BadCamp did not work great but now I have the opportunity to improve it and I need to…

Figure out how to show the code.

Showing code during a presentation

A few years ago, my friend and coworker, Eric Sod (esod), did an excellent technical presentation about Drupal Console, which is a command line tool used to generate boilerplate code, interact with and debug Drupal. He figured out how to get past the challenge of talking and showing people how to use a command line tool. He did this by recording each console command. It was an inspiring presentation because he calmly stood in front of the room and explained everything that was happening in his recorded demo. He didn’t have to worry about misspelling a command.

Eric's approach to pre-recording challenging demos may be the solution that I am looking for. I am going to test it out at DrupalCamp Atlanta.

Going on the road and practicing this presentation

The biggest takeaway from this blog post should be:

The road to presenting at DrupalCon requires a lot of practice.

If your session proposal did not get accepted for this year's DrupalCon, keep on practicing. Make sure to record your presentations, even if it is a private screencast so that you can share this recording with next year's DrupalCon Minneapolis session selection committee. They want to know that you are comfortable getting up in front of a sizeable and curious audience.

There are plenty of upcoming local meetups and DrupalCamps where you can present..

Below are the DrupalCamps I am hoping to speak at before DrupalCon Seattle.

I hope to see you at a local DrupalCamp or we can catch up at DrupalCon Seattle. And if you have any suggestions on how to improve my presentation, for the next six months I’ll be working on it and I’m all ears…

If you want to know where I am speaking next, please subscribe to my blog below or follow me on Twitter.

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