What separates Drupal from other content management systems and even other open source projects is the community. More than 1,000,000 members strong, this global collaboration of developers, designers, trainers, strategists, coordinators, editors, and sponsors makes Drupal possible.
Drupal is also committed to diversity. In the spirit of that, this series will showcase the women of the Drupal community. According to the Women in Drupal group, “only about 1.5 percent of the people involved in open source are women, leaving us terribly underrepresented. In the Drupal world, we're up to a whopping 17 percent.” It’s time to put the work in to change that. We’ll focus not just on Drupal contribs, but each woman’s path into and through the tech space and what advice they can share for the next generation of women looking to get involved in technology.
At DrupalCon Vienna, I had the pleasure of meeting with Elli Ludwigson, aka ekl1773. Located in the D.C. area, Elli has been a Drupalist since 2013. Her role in the community is as a mentor. In addition to Drupal, Elli is a true Renaissance woman; she’s a photographer, she works for a local woman-owned co-working space, a farm, a women’s consignment boutique and a cartoonist, is a volunteer developer for a nonprofit called Hope One Source, a board member for nonprofit Slow Food DC, is a semi-decent baker (though I suspect she’s much better than that) and gardener and if that wasn’t enough, she’s learning calligraphy.
Reena: How did you get your start in tech?
Elli: I’m self-taught. I started out after college as a librarian, but I quickly learned that the Internet was a more adaptable way to get information to people who need or want it so I got into web development. I started out using free resources like Codecademy and Coursera, and of course O’Reilly books. At that point I thought I just needed to learn HTML and CSS and go forth …
R: How did you get into Drupal?
E: After teaching myself some basics, I started looking for volunteer events in the D.C. area. One of the first I went to was Code for D.C., where I met a bunch of great people including Jesse Beach. She said I would love Drupal and the Drupal community and that it was easy to get started. I began by attending weekly mentoring hours in IRC and with the help of mentors like xjm, yesct, heddn, cottser and joelpittet slowly figured out the issue queue and how to navigate core. It was a great way to contribute with minimal pressure, a strong support network and to be able to ask loads questions.
R: What Drupal project or contribution are you working on and/or most proud of?
E: I’m mostly focused on moving the mentoring program forward to bring more folks on board to contribute. There’s a lot to do updating documents and structure to make it super easy for anyone to participate as a mentor or a contributor.
R: What challenges you've faced; technical and career-wise?
E: It’s been difficult to stay on track moving forward with learning and working on my own while juggling other obligations. I’d really love to be in a position where I could work with Drupal full time and continue learning. I do keep coming back for the community, it’s completely true. The mentoring folks have been a complete pleasure to work with, I’m very grateful to all of them. I’m also highly vulnerable to rabbit holes and seem to have a particular penchant for tangling with DevOps matters setting up environments when maybe I should take an easier way out in order to focus on the actual project.
R: What inspires you? What keeps you passionate about your work?
E: Seeing issues in the world that need support and fixes and coming together to make those things happen. There are so many ways to help. Listening to call-ins on NPR made me want to be a librarian so I could help people find the information they need. I want to encourage more people around the world to learn how to research and think critically, or to connect with others who have complementary skills. I’d love to help people get relevant info when they need it, like in times of crisis. For example; Where can I get food and shelter when my home has been destroyed by wind or water or war?
In the spirit of that, I’m working on a project called Hope One Source with Chris Teitzel and Tim Underwood. It’s a Drupal site that connects people experiencing homelessness with local social services and a lifeline phone. It’s mostly a texting service and it can auto send messages based on your profile. In the future, I’d like to help them expand the services to other cities and countries, migrate to D8 and fine tune the user experience.
R: What does the future of Drupal look like, in your opinion? More adoption, new features, any major changes?
E: I would like to get the mentoring program running at full strength. I stepped away for a couple years and it’s very different now. I had a lot of catching up to do at DrupalCon Baltimore. I’ve been really impressed by the work the Drupal Diversity and Inclusion group has been doing and look to them for guidance and good examples. There are lots of folks out there who have so much to contribute and I’d like to help them feel welcome and needed.
R: What advice would you give your younger self / someone who is just starting out?
E: Don’t give up. But if it’s not working perfectly, look for a different path or take a side path. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do one specific thing, focus on the end goal and reassess regularly.