Name: Jordan Harrison
Drupal.org ID: mizvalentine13
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Job Title: Program Manager
As supporters of a global open source project, the Drupal community is founded on a mission of public improvement and accessibility. However, even the most innovative and open spaces can still suffer from bias when it comes to issues like gender equality and diversity. Women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields often find themselves having to prove their expertise again and again in the workplace and advocate harder for the same leadership opportunities as their male colleagues. These biases are difficult to recognize, which is why we should all be actively doing more to encourage a more progressive tech environment from the top down.
In this month’s Women of Drupal profile, Acquia Program Manager and enthusiastic Drupalist, Jordan Harrison discussed how organizations can work to build a structure that proactively seeks to recognize biases and advocate for better leadership opportunities for underrepresented groups. Jordan also discussed the elegant and exciting evolution of Drupal’s admin experience and the powerful feeling of bringing web experiences to life with the support of the Drupal community.
Throughout her career, Jordan has worked in graphic design, web strategy and user experience before taking her current role in program management at Acquia. Since her introduction to Drupal back in 2012, Jordan has participated and presented at DrupalCons and Drupal Camps around the world. At DrupalCon Amsterdam 2019, she led a program on how to select and implement the right IT solutions for a major enterprise. She’s even been given a custom hashtag #jordanhasstories for all her fascinating tales. Keep reading to hear more of her stories and learn about her unique career path.
How did you get your start in tech?
I started my career as a graphic designer, and at that time, web development was fairly young as an industry. So it was pretty common for folks in my position to go from print projects to designing web pages. As I got deeper into UX work and expanded my outlook, I found that I enjoyed coding more than visual design, and it's been a natural progression to technical leadership and program management from there.
How did you first discover Drupal?
I started a position at Carnegie Mellon University in 2012, leading a new web development and strategy effort at the School of Computer Science. I had been working in Wordpress and Joomla at the time, but CMU really needed a tool for application development and neither of those platforms had the flexibility I needed. I was familiar with Drupal, and from the moment I first stood up a local environment, I was sold. It was one of the very few open source solutions that our security audit team would approve, and it also empowered me to get some pretty powerful sites up and running single-handed while I hired up a dev team. By the time I went to my first DrupalCon in 2014, I knew this was a community I wanted to be part of for the long term.
What Drupal function, project or contribution are you working on and/or most proud of?
I love going to Drupal Camps and Cons, participating in BoFs and being part of the community, but I was always too nervous to present. Starting last year, I challenged myself to propose my first sessions and was accepted to DrupalCon Europe 2019 and Florida Drupal Camp 2020. This has been very rewarding (and really fun!) and I look forward to speaking more in 2020.
What are some challenges you've faced, technically or career-wise?
Like a lot of people who forge a non-traditional path to a technical career, I’ve struggled with imposter syndrome. It's easy to tell yourself that other folks are smarter, better, or more experienced than you. And it's true! There will always be someone who is better than you at something. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have something to say, ideas and experiences that can help others, and unique perspectives that are worth sharing.
I really thank my friends in the Drupal community for pushing me to do more and share more. Some friends in Drupal even (jokingly) gave me a hashtag, #jordanhasstories, to remind me that an unconventional career path makes for some pretty great tales, and to remind me to share them!
What inspires you? What keeps you passionate about your work?
I have to be helping people, always. What we’re building are tools, and how well you build, deliver, and support a tool can have a tremendous impact on the human beings who use it. Am I shipping an app that’s going to make a site editor tear their hair out? Or am I shipping something that’s pleasant to use, thoughtfully designed, and lets that end user do things they couldn’t before? The human impacts of the systems we build, and the communities that support those systems, are what’s really interesting to me. I don’t care about throwaway tech; I want to help build things that matter.
What are some other aspects of the Drupal community that you're involved in?
I’m not involved in this way yet, but my challenge to myself this spring is to start contributing to Drupal’s documentation. I’ve developed a ton of support materials for Drupal as part of internal teams, it’s work I truly enjoy, and I feel that its a direct line to helping people get to know, love, and do amazing things with Drupal.
How do you think we can help empower women in tech and work toward better gender inclusion?
First and foremost, hire or promote as many women and non-binary people (as well as members of other underrepresented groups) to positions of leadership and power as possible, in technical and non-technical roles. At every level, do regular compensation reviews to ensure that people are paid equitably regardless of gender or any other demographic factor. Diverse teams have fewer blinders and fewer blinders make better tech; we have to start thinking of a diverse workforce as a critical part of our methodology, not something we do because we’re supposed to.
We also have to ensure that every employee receives real, practical training on implicit bias and how to address it; everyone has some bias, and everyone is capable of recognizing and overcoming it given willingness and the right tools. There are experts in the field who will facilitate this work in a way that matters, and every company should be hiring them. Nobody is expected to be perfect on day 1, but anyone unwilling to do the work to create a culture of inclusion should be fired. This isn’t a “nice to have”, it's a job requirement.
Companies also have an obligation to construct their operations and policies to foster inclusion, from thoughtful HR policies and manager training to structures that empower people from underrepresented groups in terms of attraction, retention and promotion. We need to create benefits structures (e.g. maternity/paternity leave, adoption/long term care/childcare assistance, healthcare, disability, retirement, flex time, PTO) such that nobody is forced to choose between family, health and career.
For women and non-binary people already in power, take the time to mentor, teach, and go out on a limb on behalf of those with less power than you. But men in power need to make this a priority, too. Members of majority groups can often take greater risks with fewer consequences than the rest of us, and we need to foster a culture where men feel a responsibility to vociferously advocate on behalf of members of underrepresented groups at every opportunity. If you don’t use your power and influence to help someone, you don’t deserve it; this isn’t just our work, it's everybody’s work.
What does the future of Drupal look like in your opinion? More adoption, new features, any major changes?
I’m really excited to see how the administrative experience of Drupal evolves over the next few years. Efforts like Claro, Layout Builder and Cohesion are starting to bring to life the admin experience I always hoped for in Drupal: elegant, intuitive, and joyful to use. I think the manner in which we guide users to interact with a CMS has a tremendous impact on adoption, as well as long-term user satisfaction and empowerment. How the platform functions is important, but if a user can’t easily engage with that functionality, it's almost a moot point--like a Porsche with no steering wheel.
What advice would you give your younger self or someone who is just starting out?
Know your worth and demand to be paid for it. Be a good team player. The only good reason to get power or position is to lobby on behalf of other people who don’t have it. If you’re a developer, teaching yourself how to learn is more important than how many programming languages you already know. Don’t worship shiny new tech, and don’t cast out old tech too readily; tech is a tool and a tool should be evaluated against a use case (and ‘cool’ is not a use case). If you’re a manager, remember that you have an obligation to your employees to be a shield not a screen door in terms of stress from above. Make sure you know why you’re doing what you do, and that it matters; life is long, money is fleeting, but being a force for positive change will come back to you in ways you can’t even imagine.