Drupal Stories Kick Off: My Own Drupal Story
by Kris Vanderwater
It’s no secret that Drupalists are in high demand. I’ve blogged about the need for training more Drupalers and getting to them earlier in their careers previously, but that’s just one aspect of the greater topic which merits a closer inspection as a cohesive whole.
Drupal is an open source content management framework with a rabidly helpful community of developers, many of whom have been involved in creating some of the most notable properties on the web. It’s not surprising that good Drupal developers are a highly sought after commodity, but what is it like to actually work with Drupal?
Working with Drupal
As open source content managements systems and frameworks go, Drupal is a strong technical competitor. It’s not flawless, nothing is, but its technical capabilities are largely unmatched pound for pound in terms of effort. And it’s this raw power, delivered to sitebuilders right in the user interface, that begins to bring into focus the framework as a whole. Drupal approaches building on the web from a very different angle than other tools of similar purpose. Many attempt to simplify their solution to the point that it is only useful within a certain subset of purposes, while others require significant code and understanding of tools like the command line (or CLI) to accommodate things Drupal can do out of the box. This gives Drupal a huge advantage for those looking to get a website online without needing to understand PHP, bash or other common web developer tools. It is the only toolset of significant complexity, flexibility, and power to be built with the admin user in mind, not the developer.
Drupal as a Gateway Drug
Drupal can do a lot out of the box, and there are a group of modules which extend these capabilities and are generally considered essential to the professional Drupalist, but even with all these wonderful tools, the simple truth is that no system can anticipate all the needs of all web sites all the time. The web is constantly moving, and this means Drupal is constantly moving. As part of this evolution, opportunities arise to improve and contribute to Drupal, and countless individuals have taken their first steps into programming through these opportunities. Many of these people have evolved into professional developers in their own right who have become key members of the Drupal community.
You Get What You Give
To many of us, Drupal was a hobby before it was a job. Others were forced into Drupal through a job and still ended up enthusiastic community members and contributors. Still others had a more circuitous route: through volunteering, political activism, science, or music. Whatever the route into Drupal, however diverse our backgrounds are, we are a community, and we work hard and play hard. As a member of the Drupal community I’ve seen places I’d have never had the opportunity to see otherwise. I’ve made lifelong friends and worked with some of the most brilliant people in the world, all the while solving big problems, building big sites, and learning skills I can use forever. The more you invest in the Drupal community, the more you get out of it.
To highlight the power of the Drupal community and how it changes lives, I’m embarking on a series of interviews with well known Drupalists. We’ll find out how and why they joined. What really hooked them into Drupal, and some of the highlights of their journey thus far. To kick this off I thought I’d put my own answers out there and set the stage for others to follow.
Kris gets the lowdown on Kris
Q: How did Drupal find you?
A: I was working for The Worx Company, (my parent’s company) at the time. We’d experimented a bit with the various “nuke” products and OSCommerce as well as purchasing another firm who had built their own CMS in asp. None of these had been particularly worthwhile endeavors on our part. I had spent many many hours trying to customize Postnuke’s output to be something sane (I was a bit of a front-ender in those days); it was an exercise in futility. Long story short, I think a newsletter my father was subscribed to from IBM suggested people should take a look at Drupal. These were the 4.6 days, so we downloaded it and got it up and running. The content management was robust and useful, but more importantly, we could actually theme it. Drupal’s had a stigma of always “looking like Drupal”, but from day one, it took a lot less effort than other solutions we’d tried.
It was quite a while before we discovered CCK and Views, but even so, the deal was sealed for us pretty early on.
Q: What made you stick with Drupal?
A: For myself, I’ve run a handful of community sites and sites for friends for a long time. A few of them were really image-heavy, and this lead me to find Image module. It was a fairly useful gallery style module with ImageMagick integration and those things conspired together to really get me using Drupal personally. I think the turning point on that though was when I did a couple stupid things and completely broke the development site I was building with Image module. Somehow I found James Walker’s (walkah) ICQ (I think) contact information, and he was kind enough to trouble shoot with me and help me fix it. He explained all sorts of stuff about Drupal, and really started me on the path towards learning to develop for Drupal.
Q: How has Drupal made a positive impact on your life?
A: Well, before I got involved in Drupal I was still learning PHP (guess I still am) and we attempting to build an XSL:T-based template front end for a custom CMS (that I was also learning to build). Writing a CMS is sort of a folly, and the people who do it should be commended or committed, or both. So in the sense that I didn’t end of following through on that, I probably owe Drupal a lot.
Beyond that particular anecdote, Drupal really accelerated my learning of PHP and surrounded me with amazing people who were willing to share their experience and expertise with me. Over the years, I wrote a lot of custom code. Only a small amount of it was general enough (and good enough) to be worth contributing back to the community. A great deal of my contributions revolved around CTools and I ended up becoming a co-maintainer for that module. Co-maintaining the most heavily installed module in the Drupal ecosphere taught me so much and ultimately lead to my involvement in Drupal 8 which just accelerated my own learning curve yet again.
Drupal has also introduced me to many great friends. People I talk to and interact with every single day. I’ve visited places in Europe and the US that I was unlikely to ever see otherwise and have been paid to work on a project that I really truly enjoyed and care about. I’m not sure you can ask for a better job than that.
Q: What is the coolest thing you built or did with Drupal?
A: At the beginning of the Drupal 7 cycle, I was working with Commerce Guys, and we were working on Zondervan Publishing. They’ve since redone the site, but I got to do so much CTools and Solr work during that project and it really set the tone of my work with Drupal 7. It pushed me into even more Panels work and this lead to a lot of my own contrib work for both CTools and my own module: Contextual Administration.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring Drupalists?
A: Find your niche: site builder, developer, themer, marketer, documentation writer, trainer, whatever! Drupal has so many facets that no one can be everything to everyone. If you like caching, go cache stuff. If you like page layout, do that. If you want to make great base themes, or do great designs, or help market Drupal, then do that. If you know how to explain things, sell or market or train people in Drupal. Whatever you do though, get really good at it, learn from other people, and give back as much as you can. It’ll pay off in spades.
Q: Anything else you'd like to add?
A: First, balance the awesomeness of your crazy Drupal obsession. Helping, giving, contributing, and being part of it all is very powerful, but balance it with the rest of your life. Your health, family, friends and even some fresh air now and then all make you a better Drupalist!
Second, Drupal really is all about the community. Go to meet-ups, events, learn people’s names, talk with them, ask what they do – in Drupal and otherwise. Don’t be a wallflower. Be awesome.