Drupal in Greece
Greece hasn't had an easy ride lately. Through the financial crisis and collapse of public sector funding and wages, many young Greeks have suddenly lost their prospective career path. The trash collection and public transportation workers have been striking, meaning not only will you have to walk to work, you might have to avoid gigantic piles of trash, ironically decorated with Christmas lights, along the way. To add insult to injury, it snowed the day I arrived - a rare event - and many of the smaller roads in the mountains were closed.
It would be easy to feel held down in such an environment; not so the Greek Drupal community. The buzz and energy at this weekend's DrupalCamp Athens was palpable, and one could taste the optimism as plans were made for testing Drupal 7, holding translation sprints, and sharing resources on finding venture capital for startups.
With generous sponsorship from the local Microsoft Innovation Center, the event was housed, with flawless wifi and great catering, right on the Microsoft premises in the center of Athens. The budget that Microsoft provided afforded the organizers to fly in three international guest spekers. George Kanellopoulos, the organizer from the Microsoft side, beamed as he described the efforts that he and Microsoft are making to support developers working on Drupal, PHP, and open source in general. Citing the Micrsoft Web Platform, he pointed out the Drupal modules and SQL Server integration that Microsoft has sponsored as signs of Microsoft's growing dedication to fostering Drupal adoption on its platforms.
George Papadogonas, owner of Infowonders (an Acquia partner), and author of the Packt book on Ubercart, talked about the growth of his company, how the last 6 months have shown strong business interest in Drupal, and how they've begun to win contracts with the Greek government for the first time. He's facing the same challenges as Drupal shops everywhere however; it's hard to find enough great developers to keep up with the work. Nektarios Sylligardakis, owner of Eresus, a Drupal shop, is fighting the same problem by offering free training to local developers on a regular basis. This helps them get more people interested in Drupal, and spot the talented ones early on.
This was the third event of the Greek Drupal community, but it was an important milestone. Not only was the venue packed with people, it was the first international event. Amitai Burstein (pictured to the left) of Gizra.com, Christophoros Korakas, and myself were invited guests, and were shown true Mediterranean hospitality. Christophoros gave an excellent and very insightful look into the successful Drupal project for the European Commission, Capacity4dev.eu, and identified a list of barriers to further adoption of Drupal that he feels should be addressed by the community as fast as possible in order to sieze the huge opportunity in European government. Amitai gave sessions until he lost his voice altogether, covering CTools, Panels, Entities in Drupal 7, the CSS tool Less, and his fabulous rewrite of the Groups module. My session on The Business of Drupal (slides at the end) spawned discussions on the dilemas facing Greek companies seeking venture capital funding.
There is a strong sense of ethics, idealism, and cooperation among the Greeks. Stavros Messinis runs a coworking space, coLab workspace which has "great coffee, great wifi, and a great view of the Acropolis". Something to keep in mind if you want to get some work done next time you're in Athens. Kostas Kourakis runs a Drupal development co-op, Pointblank.gr, and looks to companies like Koumbit in Toronto as idealogical brethern. Kostas admonished his colleagues from the podium during his demonstration of localize.drupal.org to get involved, contribute, and find time to work on the Greek translations. The joy of contributing was evident everywhere. One developer I spoke with described how he was happy for days after his first patch got accepted on Drupal.org.
Acquia, one of the event's sponsors, was a hot topic as well, with plenty of discussion about Gardens, Hosting, Search, our partner program, our move into Europe, and the pronounciation of Dries' last name (his first name is easy - rhymes with Greece). The schwag kit of T-Shirts, Druplipets, and flyers disappeared like ice cream at a birthday party.
Finally, in the midst of a metro strike, Sunday holiday shopping, and roads closed due to snow, Maria Hompitaki confirmed all of my suspicions of Greek drivers by getting me to the airport despite near complete deadlock traffic and seemingly impossible odds. Thanks to everyone involved for yet another great DrupalCamp.