Learning Drupal - Part 1

Learning Drupal - Part 1

I try to always start any blog post with a pretentious-sounding quote, so let's go with:
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step"
Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu
The Way of Taoism
600 BCE

A 2600 year old quote- now that's pompous! But also semi-relevant. Drupal isn't easy to learn, but it is learnable- one step at a time.

The Learning Cliff

I recently presented a session at a DrupalCamp on "Learning Drupal - Surviving the Drupal Learning Cliff" and I thought I'd break that session up into a few blog posts. My focus was helping beginning Drupal users, sitebuilders, developers and themers locate the wealth of Drupal information available both online and in meatspace. Some initial considerations on how to go about individualized Drupal learning:
  • Stage of development - are you just learning what Drupal is? Have you been exposed to Drupal as a site admin for a few months? Are you a skilled PHP developer who needs to learn the architecture of Drupal?
  • Technical level / acumen - do you understand the basics of computers and the Internet? Are you an experienced software developer in another language? Do you rock all over Photoshop and Illustrator, but don't know how to translate that to the web?
  • Timeframe - do you have to know how to build a module in a week or get fired? Do you have a few months to slowly build your knowledge?
  • Best Learning Method - do you learn best by watching videos? In a classroom? By reading a book and working the examples?
  • Project Role - are you a Drupal webmaster? Project manager? Code monkey?
  • Cost - poor college student? Have a large training budget and can hire webchick for a week to personally tutor your team?

What Can Drupal Do?

The first thing any beginner Drupaler should learn is what can be done with Drupal. See who is using Drupal and what they are doing with it. Get some inspiration. But where? showcase-300.png

Acquia's Drupal Showcase. Acquia has collected hundreds of the best Drupal sites, categorized by industry. High-tech, legal, education, media- it's all there, with screenshots and links. Dries also tracks especially interesting Drupal sites on his personal blog.

Dive In!

Once you've seen what can be done with Drupal, you are probably itching to try your hand at creating a beautiful website. Installing Drupal isn't trivial, but fortunately there's a better option to get started. dg-300.pngThe easiest way to create your first Drupal site is with Drupal Gardens, a free (well, fremium) hosted Drupal 7 sitebuilding and management place for your Drupal website. There's nothing to install, so create a free account, choose the website features you want, pick a theme, and let Drupal Gardens generate your new Drupal 7 site. You manage it just like any other Drupal website. You can let Drupal Gardens host it, or download it and put it on another server. You can't hurt anything- just play around and see what you can do.

Local User Groups

Did you know that there is a Drupal Users Group near you? Probably, and depends on what you consider nearby. LevelTen hosts the Dallas Drupal group, with monthly sessions for both beginning and experienced Drupal users, themers and developers. We draw Drupalers from the local DFW area and for 150 miles around. Live in Malaga, Spain? There's a group for you. Long Island? Ghana? We gotcha covered. Two places to look for local Drupal users groups are groups.drupal.org and Meetup. Groups has more user groups listed, but Meetup has a better feature set for managing users and meetups. Some groups, like Dallas use both. You don't have to limit yourself to just Drupal user groups- Meetup tracks many other interesting and relevant groups- just in Dallas alone we have Results Oriented Web DFW, Dallas Interactive Marketing & SEO / SEM, Dallas PHP, DFW Apache LAMP Group and a hundred more. Go expand your horizons!

DrupalCamps

How about 1-3 full days of concentrated Drupal learning and networking with hundreds (sometimes thousands!) of Drupalers including some top-name Drupal luminaries, all for somewhere between $0-$50 ? It's called a DrupalCamp and one is probably happening around you soon. We've put on three community-centric Dallas DrupalCamps and I've been to a dozen more, all over the country. They have all been great- and user groups everywhere work hard and lose money putting them together, just for the sake of the community. You've got to go to one, and even help organize it or at least volunteer if you can. BuildAModule.com keeps the most updated and accurate list of DrupalCamps so check it out.

Next time...

That's it for Part 1 - coming in later parts we'll look at how to find training classes, official Drupal documentation and user forums, site recipes, blogs and blog aggregators, books, podcasts, videos, slide decks, distributions, Twitter, IRC, and more. Stay tuned.