Sun were great hosts and despite the event being free to attend, a lavish array of sandwiches, fruit and cake was laid on, washed down with a selection of tea, coffee and fruit juice. The venue was great too, with a very large, clear projector, and a nice cool room in spite of the scorching weather in the City.
For me in particular, the most useful talk of the day was Stewart Robinson's on some of the development and management techniques being used by the team redeveloping the Economist in Drupal. It was good to discover that even on large-scale projects, the usual Drupal problems can rear their ugly heads (everything is in the database, like views, so making testing changes live can be problematic), and it was good to hear about some of the proposed solutions, such as putting everything in the code (views, content types, CCK field definitions, etc) which is then kept under version control, and using a contributed module to generate the database structure or records from the code.
For a lot of smaller Drupal developments, corners are cut to save time or money, but the Economist's approach obviously has to be extremely comprehensive, including full unit testing and browser testing, but these words can often be thrown about very conceptually. Stewart presented some very tangible methods of implementing these (simpletest and Selenium, in this case), and these are valuable insights that are often found only occasionally while scouring the personal blogs of Drupal developers.
The other talks were entertaining but most were of less value to me personally, serving as an introduction to Drupal and what its capabilities are in the online publishing world. No doubt a large proportion of the audience would have found this relevant, and I think it was good to provide a little bit that everyone could take away with them.
The penultimate talk was on the development of a solution for IPC Media. Although it was a Drupal solution, it showcased how, in this case, Drupal was being used for its administration and data entry interface, completely ignoring the front-end side of it. Although it was interesting to learn that this kind of thing can be achieved, the audience was then shown custom modules that could provide a graphical image uploader, selector and cropper, but told that these modules were not available to the wider community.
Unfortunately, I found this was like having to watch a man guzzle a nice cold beer after I've just crossed a desert on foot. These are certainly modules that would be very useful additions to the Drupal community, and it seems odd to bring to light the existence of such modules at an open source event and then snatch them away again behind lock and key.
Overall, I'd like to thank and commend Sun for hosting such a useful event and the individual speakers and organisers for their hard work. I think smaller events like this, as well as the twice-yearly DrupalCon, are key to the continuity and expansion of the Drupal community.