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The Women of the Drupal Community: Sally Shaughnessy

Sally Shaughnessy, VP, Client Services at Aten Design Group, shares strategies for how tech companies and the Drupal community can be more inclusive.

Name: Sally Shaughnessy

Job Title: VP, Client Services at Aten Design Group. 

Supporting diversity and inclusion within Drupal is essential to the continued success of the project. Diversity and inclusion efforts span across gender, race, sexuality, economic status and much more. Yet, it has been historically difficult for underrepresented groups to have an equal voice in the tech space. 

Our Women of Drupal series works to highlight the many contributions and ideas that women have brought to the Drupal community. By sharing the stories of Drupalists from all backgrounds and roles, we hope to encourage making tech and open source spaces more accessible and encourage tech organizations to provide more resources to these underrepresented populations.

In this Women of Drupal profile, Sally Shaughnessy, VP, Client Services at Aten Design Group, shares many strategies for how the Drupal community and tech companies as a whole can work toward building a better society. Aten is already using Drupal in numerous ways to improve economic opportunity, support local community and nonprofit initiatives and make educational resources more available. Read more to see why Sally believes that everyone, no matter how technical, has something to offer Drupal, and what improvements we can make in the future. 

How did you get your start in tech?

As with so many people, I am currently working in a field that has very little to do with what I studied in college. I started out in radio broadcasting (I was an on-air news anchor for a spell in my 20s) and eventually found my way into advertising, managing multi-channel branding and campaign projects at a large ad agency in Boston, Digitas. I worked closely with designers, writers, art buyers and print and digital production artists. It was there, in the mid-2000s I was helping teams produce Flash web banners (remember those!?), emails, social content, apps and of course websites in addition to accompanying print pieces. It was really exciting and I learned a ton.

How did you first discover Drupal?

It was about 2015 or 2016 and a team I was supporting developed a website called Grilling with Guy Fieri, a partnership site with Miller Coors. It was the first time I really understood the potential of content management systems and how much more flexible they were than the flat static HTML sites of the day. Not long after that I left the general ad agency world for Drupal-focused agencies, Third & Grove and now Aten Design Group. So, since 2016 my world has been very Drupal-y.

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

I’ve become more active in speaking at Drupal events and supporting Aten at our Expo Hall events. There are a lot of folks like me, who support Drupal engagements but not directly in the codebase, and there are great topics that we can speak about that benefit them, too. It’s been exciting to connect with marketers and strategists and PMs — and of course developers — in talks at DrupalCons and Camps. 

What Drupal project or contribution to Drupal or the community are you working on and/or most proud of?

There are a few that come to mind. Aten launched a fantastic open source solution for events management in a suite of modules called Intercept, in partnership with the Richland County (SC) Library System. It is really robust and a great alternative to off-the-shelf paid solutions.

We’ve also built a Drupal-based tuition and fees calculator to demystify the cost of going to college which is so incredibly important. We’ve launched this for two universities so far and are starting to amplify the availability of it for other educational institutions. 

I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve done with Human Rights Watch, The Guttmacher Institute and Media Matters for America, too, and so many other Aten partners — Drupal is powering a better society with the work these and other phenomenal organizations are doing.

Last, and most recent, Aten is creating waves right now with a radically improved authoring experience tool. It’s bringing true drag and drop editing to Drupal and we are beyond excited to see where this goes. Come to our webinar on October 13 where we will reveal the name and identity of it!  

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

There are hurdles for PMs in the Drupal space, for sure. For example, “How technical does a Drupal PM really need to be?”

Does a PM at a Drupal agency need to know Drupal’s out-of-the-box features, or how we make decisions about config, or contrib vs custom modules? I’ve faced discrimination from devs or resistance to work with non-technical PMs. There are expectations sometimes that we are (or should be) Product Owners that serve them with in-depth technical expertise. 

That’s not necessary, generally speaking, especially if that skill set is offered elsewhere on the team with architects, UX designers or true Product Owners. Our goals are to bring the right people together to drive collaboration and devise solutions. A PM does not need to author the technical solution but should absolutely be able to facilitate the solution-finding. Knowing the technology absolutely helps that but is not mandatory.

Here’s another challenge we face:

Sometimes the decision to use Drupal was made by someone other than the content maintainers. Less familiar stakeholders can be intimidated by the technology and may feel like, with Drupal, they’ve been handed the keys to a Ferrari. It’s the responsibility of agency partners to teach them how to drive it and get excited about all the ways this website will serve them and make their jobs easier! It’s always important to understand the best way to tailor that and reach the audiences we are working with. Live demonstrations, written documentation, pre-recorded screencasts are important to get them on board and thrilled with their new Drupal site.

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

I love working with makers. 

I love accomplishing goals. 

I love working in a space that demands innovation. 

I love playing some part in the impact our clients have on the world.

What keeps me going, after doing this for more than fifteen years, is nurturing teams and mentoring junior folks in the space. I still love working with clients but it’s time for me to start sharing my experiences and bringing the next generation of project managers and women in tech up in their careers.

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

First, the work starts in high schools and colleges. Computer classes need to be promoted and supported more by administrations and parents. Large tech companies could be more involved in college and job fairs and in-school programming opportunities to lead or guide students to code camps and programming classes after high school (not recruiting). More scholarships and grants (underwritten by schools or private organizations) for women and underrepresented groups to pursue computer science degrees would be helpful.

Human services organizations could be partnering with tech organizations to disseminate job training or internship or entry-level opportunities at health fairs and other public social service events. There are so many avenues to make the tech option more visible. Fostering an interest and demonstrating to young women that this is an excellent career path needs to be happening more. Programs and organizations like The National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) need more attention. Internships should be paid and offered more broadly so students can get real-world experience to give them a leg up on job applications. 

Beyond that, for women already in the space, we need more mentoring to be happening. Speak at conferences, get involved in Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code and NCWIT

Tech companies need to be more inclusive. Create buddy programs and match junior females with supportive seniors to nurture their career and keep women engaged and heard. Cool perks are great but you know what’s better? Paid maternity AND paternity leave programs. Paternity leave helps keep working mothers in the workforce, too. It’s not just about helping moms; it’s about supporting families. 

Female developers should be seeking out raises and promotions so that junior developers can see women in power and aspire to it themselves. This starts with women having the confidence to a) learn new skills and network b) apply for jobs that scare you (because you’re more qualified for it than you think) and c) don’t be afraid of managing people or leadership roles. “If you can see her you can be her” is more than just a slogan. 

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

I hope the Drupal team continues to demystify the power of the platform to expand the interest in Drupal. Drupal has invested so much in features and back-end infrastructure. I hope the future includes a focus on reusable front-end themes which would bring the cost of a redesign/rebuild down and make Drupal a more competitive choice in the CMS landscape.

The easier path to upgrade work is already creating loyalists out of website owners, so I would hope the team continues to add popular features to Drupal core to make it easier to launch a Drupal site and publish beautiful, dynamic content. 

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

Roll up your sleeves and dig in. It’s an exciting world out there, and it’s changing all the time. Share your ideas, and build the modules you don’t see. There is a huge community out there to support you — just ask! 

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See more of the great work Aten is doing with Drupal at their webinar: Mercury Editor: Effortless, Drag-and-drop Publishing for Drupal on October 13. 

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