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The Women of the Drupal Community: Katherine Druckman

Katherine Druckman, a senior software engineer who was also director of digital experience for Linux Journal, shares her open source advocacy.

Name: Katherine Druckman

Drupal.org ID: katherined

Location: Houston

Job Title: Senior Software Engineer

Katherine Druckman is a well-known advocate for open source and has been involved in all things digital experience from web development to content strategy to UX and technology marketing. For over 12 years, Katherine served as Director of Digital Experience for the popular Linux Journal publication, where she made history by selecting the first woman to be featured on the magazine’s cover fellow Drupalist, Angie Byron. 

In addition to her Drupal contributions and work on big digital initiatives like Acquia CMS, Katherine also co-hosts the podcast, Reality 2.0 with fellow open source enthusiast, Doc Searls.Katherine is deeply invested in the ongoing cultural and ethical conversations around technology, privacy and inclusion. In our conversation for this month’s Women of Drupal feature, Katherine shared how she’s helped spread Drupal’s impact to a wider audience and offers advice for other passionate technologists who may be just starting out. 

How did you get your start in tech?

My start in tech was actually Drupal-related. I used Drupal for some personal projects, and then I started helping other people with their projects. About a year into using Drupal, I ran into a college friend at an alumni event and his wife happened to have recently taken over Linux Journal and needed Drupal help, so I joined and stayed for 12 years, learning along the way.

How did you first discover Drupal?

I was looking for a way to easily manage document uploads and some other CMS-type features for a personal web project, and emailed a friend of mine who I considered to be very savvy about such things. I asked him if he could recommend an open source CMS, so he pointed me to Joomla and Drupal. As much as Drupal had that notorious learning cure (this was Drupal 4.7), I found it to be more flexible and easier to work with. I kept getting stuck and not being able to easily get Joomla to do what I needed, so I kept going with Drupal.

What Drupal function, project or contribution are you working on and/or most proud of?

Right now I’m working on Acquia CMS, and I’m really excited to be a part of what I expect to become a widely-adopted Drupal distribution. I have been interested in distributions as an impactful way for people to get started with Drupal projects, and I actually edited a special Linux Journal issue devoted entirely to Drupal distributions years ago, so I feel like I’ve come full-circle in a way.

Out of all my Drupal work, I am most proud of two things. The first may never be topped, and that was suggesting we put Angie Byron (webchick) on the cover of our 2011 Linux Journal Web Development issue. That was a great moment for me, and allowed us to really sing her praises and thank her for the work she was doing on Drupal 7. Seeing Angie’s face on bookstore newsstands at the time seemed like both a wonderful celebration and a slight act of rebellion because she was the first ever woman on our cover, and it was long overdue. At the time it felt to me like it was about all of us; a chance to look around and acknowledge Angie first and foremost, but ultimately all women of Drupal, open source and even tech as a whole.

The second thing I am most proud of is a bit smaller, more personal, and more recent, which is a contribution to the Claro core theme that I helped with. The issue was a UI improvement with the Media Library in Claro, and it was the first time I had made what I considered an impactful, tangible core contribution, and it’s hard to articulate how significant it was for me as someone who has used Drupal for so long, but it was fabulous.

What are some challenges you've faced, technically or career-wise?

My greatest technical challenge was probably migrating from Drupal 6 to Drupal 8 mostly by myself. I think that process really allowed me (and frankly forced me) to quickly expand my technical skill to a level I hadn’t needed up to that point. Fortunately, this sort of thing will be so much less daunting going forward as a result of so many improvements in the upgrade process from Drupal 8 to 9, and the upcoming Drupal 10.

What inspires you? What keeps you passionate about your work?

So many things! Above all else, I love working with extremely smart people, and I get to do that every day. I feel ridiculously lucky. I also really enjoy looking toward the horizon to ponder what’s next with web technology. I think it has become more and more important that technologists consider ethical perspectives as much as technical ones, especially with regard to data privacy, accessibility and inclusion, algorithmic bias and our role as stewards of innovation.

What are some other aspects of the Drupal community that you're involved in?

I have volunteered on the DrupalCon programming committee for the last two years, which has been extra challenging thanks to covid, but I think the virtual conferences have been successful, and I hope the format and resulting lower cost, has allowed people to participate who haven’t had the opportunity in the past.

How do you think we can help empower women in tech and work toward better gender inclusion? 

I think it’s incredibly important for women to find good mentors, mentor each other and help each other locate job opportunities. It’s also obviously not just up to women to create environments for success. I have found really wonderful allies throughout my career who truly value more diverse teams and who are frankly more successful themselves as a result. This is a tough question to answer, but if I could make one wish, I think it would be for more people to viscerally understand how much everyone benefits from greater gender inclusion.

What does the future of Drupal look like in your opinion? More adoption, new features, any major changes?

I’m really excited about the Easy Out of the Box Initiative. I envision Drupal getting to a kinder, gentler and more approachable place, which will drive more adoption, as well as ease the burden for new users. I’m also quite impressed with the work that has been done on Claro and Olivero to make Drupal more appealing out of the box. With such a lovely first impression, I think this starts the ball rolling for people to really dive in and grow to love everything else about Drupal’s flexibility, security and other attributes that they may never have taken the time to find.

What advice would you give your younger self or someone who is just starting out?

Don’t worry so much. Ask more questions. Never be afraid of looking stupid. Ask for help. Seek out mentors. You are probably more qualified for that position than you think, so go ahead and apply. Perhaps most importantly, there are so many paths to happiness in your work, so try to find the work that brings you joy, whatever that means to you. 

In my experience, the Drupal community has been an incredibly friendly and welcoming place, and it is full of encouraging people who love helping new Drupalists get started, so don’t be afraid to reach out.

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At the recent DrupalCon North America 2021,  Katherine and fellow members of the Drupal community discussed how to encourage more companies to contribute to open source. Check out the full presentation, here

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