Just going to DrupalCon to watch is awe inspiring. The amount of people there, all sharing one common goal: to learn more and grow the power of Drupal, thereby empowering themselves... it's all really inspiring stuff. There's more than a few reasons I keep coming back.
Stay ahead of the curve.
The most important thing I've gotten out of DrupalCons is a glimpse of the future. Drupal, like most open source software technologies, moves fast. People are always working on the next version. If you don't spend some time this year paying attention to whats going on, you won't be ready next year when the curve passes you by.
We built and launched our first website for ThinkDrop in the days before DrupalCon 2010 San Francisco, around April 19th. We used an alpha release of Drupal 7. We knew we only wanted a barebones design to start so we went ahead and tried it, and Drupal 7 worked well enough to get online for the next few months.
Then, we learned enough at the convention to realize that might have been a bad idea. A few data migrations and alpha2alpha hacking we got up to speed with the latest and greated versions of Drupal 7. We hit the 7.0 release in January 2011, almost 9 months later.
We were ready and motivated for Drupal 7 because of DrupalCon, which we already had experience with when it was first released.
See how open-source gets done... "In Real Life".
These conventions are where everyone comes together to get more work done than any other week of the year. It is an impressive sight to see all of the pieces moving at once.
The Core Conversations are a window into how Drupal gets planned and built.
It is even more stunning to see a DrupalCon Sprint. At DrupalCon Denver, people filled two gigantic rooms, all to work on core Drupal 8. It was abuzz like a stock exchange floor or a newsroom at the Daily Planet. It will make your jaw hang open walking into that space.
Meet People, Learn Personalities
To come to DrupalCon, you get to see the faces of everyone that's built the things you use every day. Knowing a username and knowing a person are two totally different things.
Five minutes in person with someone will give you more information about an individual's personality than 100 page long comment threads on Drupal.org will. I can guarantee that.
Even if you don't directly engage in a conversation, Just seeing a speaker and knowing their username along with their voice, mannerisms, and appearance will change how you might interact with that person online.
Interacting with people on the internet is hard. Working with them on the internet can be even harder. Sometimes all you have to go by is a single username. The only way to really get an idea of someone online is by reading as much of their writing as possible. It's very easy to make assumptions about someone's personality when all you see is written words, which we all read as we interpret them.
It's much, much easier to work and communicate with people when you are familiar with their personalities, and have met at least once. To be a member of any open source community, it really helps to have at least a semi-realistic idea in your head of who people really are.
Work Hard, Play Hard
I know its a bad stereotype, conference goers and partying. But when done properly, you will forge relationships for business and friendship that might last forever. When done improperly, you will forge memories for all those that witness your temporary lapse(s) in judgement.
Stay wise and use the buddy sytem.
Make it what you need it to be.
DrupalCon is what you make it. Don't expect it to cater directly to you. It's really up to you to go out and make the most of it, for you, whatever your position might be. Even if you end the conference and feel like nothing specific comes out of it for you, at least it motivated you to clean up your resume or polish up your old modules. Make the most of it.
DrupalCon is a huge opportunity to learn about a huge variety of topics, and meet a huge variety of people.
Just walking around the various spaces of DrupalCon you will overhear things that will make your head spin, things you find obvious, and everything in between. It's knowledge being transfered at a phenomenal rate, all around you.
Don't stop learning!