The Women of the Drupal Community


Women of Drupal

The Women of the Drupal Community: rachel_norfolk

April 8, 2021 7 minute read
In this month's Women of Drupal blog, we spoke to Rachel Lawson, Community Liaison for the Drupal Association about the future of Drupal events.
The Women of the Drupal Community

Collection :

Women of Drupal

Name: Rachel Lawson ID: rachel_norfolk

Location: United Kingdom

Job Title: Community Liaison for the Drupal Association

The internet is a source of global connection and open source projects like Drupal bring people together to make something amazing. For over a decade, Rachel Lawson has been working to spread the reach of the Drupal community to new members through events and gatherings that celebrate all contributions to Drupal. As Community Liaison for the Drupal Association, Rachel believes in building spaces where everyone feels as if their voice and participation matter no matter their background or level of experience. Last month, Rachel spoke at Tech(k)nowday, an online conference featuring over 200 women in tech, to discuss ongoing improvements to DrupalCon and strategies for getting more people from different areas to take part in the Drupal project. 

For Acquia’s Women of Drupal series, I had the pleasure to interview Rachel about her role within the greater Drupal community. She also shared her thoughts on how we can make Drupal events more inclusive and welcoming, such as by encouraging more involvement from sponsors and scholarship providers to extend the opportunity Drupal offers to more people. See how you can get involved in building the future of Drupal at DrupalCon North America 2021

How did you get your start in tech?

I started out as a systems administrator looking after servers for organizations like the UK Ministry of Defence, financial institutions and a pharmaceutical company. And then I got into development when I was asked to build a website for Cardiff University Hospital. The hospital wanted a website to educate pain professionals like doctors and nurses. The site needed to host a lot of content and videos to teach people, all around the world, pain management techniques, so they chose Drupal to build on. That was my first foray into Drupal, and then I worked as a Drupal freelancer for a few years before getting more involved in the community side of the Drupal community.  

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

As I became more involved in helping plan Drupal events and getting into different Drupal groups, I worked on things like upholding the Drupal Code of Conduct as part of the Community Working Group and supporting our growth. Then, Megan Sanicki proposed the idea of creating a “Drupal Community Manager” position. But I actually pushed back against that job title because I believed that it didn’t reflect the spirit of Drupal. You don’t “manage” a community; you work with a community and help them. So I suggested changing that to “Community Liaison” and eventually took on the role.

And what does the job of Drupal Community Liaison involve? 

I mostly focus on things like surfacing the many diverse and different ideas and initiatives that come with having such a large global community online and working together on a project. My primary responsibilities are connecting different people to amplify the work we’re all doing, helping groups share best practices, and promoting important initiatives happening across the Drupal community.

For example, at DrupalCon Nashville, we brought together a bunch of different event organizers who now had the support and resources they need to organize events better on and be more aware of the events they’d like to go to. 

What are some challenges you've faced with organizing Drupal get-togethers and keeping Drupal together in a post-COVID world?

It’s hard! But we recognize that we’re all in the same position. When you have a unifying challenge, it creates a sense of community in itself and a sense of purpose. We had to re-think our entire event model to transfer it to a virtual world. We needed to evaluate what the value is of running an event online and how to incorporate interactive elements and socialization, rather than just having people sit in front of a screen for eight hours consuming content.

However, with the challenges of virtual events come new opportunities for change. Virtual events are more accessible than traditional conferences and they’re bringing parts of the Drupal community that weren’t as present to the front. Organizations like Drupal Cameroun are able to attend and speak at the same events as other parts of the world and bring more cultural awareness to the stage. Drupal, and the web in general, is a tool that is meant to bring people together, even if they’re physically far away, and Drupal events are an extension of that mission.

What changes and new opportunities have you seen come out of DrupalCon Global?

A major initiative that came out of the virtual DrupalCon Global in 2020 was the freedom to include more sponsors and scholarship opportunities for attendees. Before the pandemic, the Drupal Association was limited to the number of scholarships we were able to give out because of the costs of organizing the events and funding travel and hotel stays for attendees. For instance, with DrupalCon Seattle we gave out 14 scholarships so people could attended at no cost.

But last year at DrupalCon Global, we didn’t have to worry about all of these limitations and were able to fund around 150 scholarships across the global community! Through reaching out to organizations like Girls Who Code, She Code Africa and PrograMaria, we were able to expand our scholarship pool and invite people around the world to experience a Drupal event for the first time. These are new Drupal users who have gone on to make a huge impact in the Drupal community. 

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

The biggest thing I think we can do is keep expanding scholarship programs and access to resources. We need to keep creating training programs and courses that help people get the skills in Drupal they need to be employable. More so, once we invite those new people into the space, we need to make sure that space is safe and inviting so they stay.

It’s the responsibility of tech leaders in the community to make the Drupal experience feel valuable and welcoming once they step through the door. The Drupal Association is very committed to keeping Drupal a positive space, and we have had to kick people out of DrupalCons and other spaces if they’re not demonstrating appropriate behaviors to others.     

What does the future of Drupal look like in your opinion?

I love the promise of Drupal and the open web because it allows people to build communities on their own terms. Unlike these larger social media platforms and spaces, Drupal values privacy strongly and lets people build the type of platform or message board that they want to have. Drupal is uniquely flexible as a tool and it can serve many things from learning management systems to corporate websites to hobbyist projects. 

We don’t know what Drupal will be; that’s its strength. The moment we fix our minds on what Drupal will be, we’ve lost.

What should people expect from the upcoming virtual DrupalCon North America 2021 event?  

This year’s DrupalCon is going to be formatted differently to include more educational and interactive components across key Drupal initiatives. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are all designated “Initiative Days” designed to focus on specific goals that will help us build better digital experiences and demonstrating the value each feature brings to Drupal. The four initiatives we’re highlighting at DrupalCon North America are Decoupled Menus, Easy Out of the Box, Automated Updates and Drupal 10 Readiness.

This new structure to the program is meant to encourage people from all backgrounds to participate and make a difference in shaping the future of Drupal and help the wider community align on the right goals to make Drupal the greatest CMS for all.


If you’re interested in attending any of these programs and finding out how you can best leave an impact on Drupal, register for DrupalCon North America, taking place online from April 12-16.  

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