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Drupal Stories: Larry Garfield

In this blog post, I interviewed Larry Garfield who is a senior web architect at Palantir about his Drupal story. Check it out below!

Q: How did Drupal find you?
A: Back in 2005 I was looking for a system I could study and learn from in order to build a new BBS for my online Star Trek RPG club. A friend of mine suggested I look at Drupal as it's what the Howard Dean campaign had used. I never quite left. (I finally got around to relaunching my RPG club on Drupal 5 in 2008... just as Drupal 6 was released.)

I did a few independent consulting projects with Drupal 4.6 before I started working at Palantir.net in late 2005. At the time, Palantir was not a Drupal shop or even an Open Source shop. In fact, when I was hired I was told not to expect Palantir to ever be doing Drupal. I sufficed with working around the edges of Drupal 4.7 on my own time just for the heck of it.

A year and a half later, Palantir made the decision to go Drupal after all rather than rewrite our in-house CMS for the third time since I started, having had one successful project with a client that requested it specifically. The degree to which I was responsible for instigating that decision is a matter of some historical debate, but either way it was a very good move for Palantir.

Q: What made you stick with Drupal?
A: Ironically I got involved just about the time that the original server host crashed. Dries put up a donation page asking the community to chip in $3000 USD to buy one new server to host at Open Source Labs. 2 days later, he had $10,000 USD and Tim Bray at Sun sent an extra server, just because. I knew then this was a community and project with legs, and hitching my horse to it was a safe bet. I was right. (See my blog post from back then for more details.)

Q: How has Drupal made a positive impact on your life?
A: In 2005 I was a small-fry freelance web developer, and not doing very well with the "freelance" part. These days I'm in a leadership role in a top-tier open source project (Drupal), a leadership role at a top-tier Open Source development firm (Palantir.net), a leadership role with the broader PHP community as the Drupal representative to the Framework Interoperability Group, and for some reason I've given four conference keynotes this year alone, out of what will probably be close to 20 presentations by year's end.
Through Drupal, I'm able to help make the web development world a better place. That's what's important.

Q: What is the coolest thing you built or did with Drupal?
A: There's a number of projects I've done that were off-the-beaten-path. Most of them came down to a designer that designed completely ridiculous visuals that we somehow had to make work. We've always been able to pull that off, even if it meant doing disturbing things with theme registry alter hooks and sessions. Some of those I'm both proud and ashamed of at the same time.

More recently, the most interesting project I've done is a Decoupled Drupal project for video streaming service Ooyala. They wanted a CMS to manage metadata to power a "Netflix in a box"-like video service, but it had no public-facing UI. It was strictly an API for arbitrary client applications to leverage. We therefore built a dual system using Drupal for content management but exporting data to Elasticsearch, which was then accessed by a Silex application to serve the public API. It's shown itself to be very robust over the last year, in fact. (See the presentation we gave at DrupalCon Amsterdam or the technical case study for more details.)

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring Drupalists?
A: Drupal will try to draw you in. Once you get connected to the community you'll be hooked. Watch yourself. :-) It's actually really easy to become Drupal myopic and the energy and excitement around Drupal can be infectious.

First, however, remember that you should not let yourself become Drupal myopic. The way to be a better Drupal developer is to be a better PHP developer, first. Always keep an eye on what is happening in the larger community, and bring that knowledge back into Drupal. Or bring Drupal knowledge back out. Building a stronger PHP community is building a stronger Drupal community.

Second, if you want to make Drupal more than a hobby make sure you do so sustainably. One of Drupal's biggest challenges is that high-level core developers surge in activity, burn themselves out, and leave once their free time gets too thin to keep up. Don't let that happen to you. Contribute, sure, but do so at a level that is sustainable for you. By taking care of yourself and ensuring that you don't push yourself too hard (and encouraging others to do the same) you're helping to make Drupal itself more sustainable.

Q: Anything else you'd like to add?
A: Never stop learning. When you stop learning, you're dead.

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