The Women of the Drupal Community: sparklingrobots

Previously in the Women of Drupal series, Alanna Burke (aburke626) shared the story of her career in tech, the importance of diversity and inclusion in Drupal, and what Drupalists really look like. Catch up and read Alanna's story, here


At Acquia’s Boston headquarters, spring has been a long time coming. After weathering a not-so-welcome mix of rain and cold, brighter days have been hard to come by. This all changed after I had the opportunity to jump on a call with Tara King (aka sparklingrobots) for our Women of the Drupal Community series. I quickly learned that Tara’s passion and enthusiasm for the Drupal community can light up any room (or Zoom).

Tara is currently based in Los Angeles, and works as a senior developer for Universal Music Group. In the Drupalverse, Tara is on the Drupal Diversity and Inclusion leadership team, and is involved in community mentoring. She’s also the founder and initiative lead of the Drupal Diversity & Inclusion Contrib Team.

Chatting screen to screen, Tara and I talked about the move from site adim to back-end developer, increasing code contributions from underrepresented groups, and the label of pink collar labor.

A cartoon of Sparklingrobots by Leiah Jansen.
A cartoon of Sparklingrobots by Leiah Jansen.

Gigi: How did you first get your start in tech?

Tara: I actually started my career in event planning. I had design experience from school, and I wanted to move into that field and start my own business. I was twenty-four and thought, “I have to be able to make a website, too. I can’t just be a print designer.” I think that was maybe an erroneous assumption, but it helped get me started. So I became familiar with Drupal in the arts community in Minneapolis as a site admin. Eventually I started learning about views and site building. I decided I wanted to learn front end so that I could build my own designs. Now, [laughing] I have basically been creeping towards the back end, and I’ve discovered that I like back-end development so much more than front-end. It took me a while to figure out, but here I am!

Gigi: It’s really cool to hear how you moved from a site admin to a front-end developer, and are now working as a back-end developer. I have a feeling that this is a transition not a lot of people commit to or go through. Are there any major takeaways or lessons learned from that kind of move?

Tara: I think one thing that makes Drupal very challenging is the fact that we have multiple project stakeholders. Having been a member of a number of them, I’m very sympathetic to the challenges of managing that. I remember starting as a site admin and thinking, “Why does none of this documentation make sense to me?” The gap between the role of site admin and developer is very large, and the learning curve is very large. This gap is why I’m involved in mentoring, because I think people should feel empowered to make that transition. But it’s a difficult transition, especially if you are not supported by a job or a community.

So I think it’s both an area of great growth and opportunity, and an area of great struggle and frustration. But Drupal is pretty unique in that way - and I think that’s really cool.

Gigi: It was really neat at DrupalCon to see so many users, builders, and developers all in one place.

Tara: Yes, it’s really remarkable. I mean, even as a developer, I’m still using a lot of the same skills I had back then. I think it’s very tightly knit. I like that.

Gigi: What Drupal projects or contributions are you working on and/or most proud of?

Tara: I’ve been in the community for quite some time now, and I still wasn’t a maintainer of any modules. I think I still had a sense of fear or imposter syndrome around it. But then I had an exciting moment when I just messaged the maintainer of the Gender Field Module, and said “Hey, I see you’re seeking a maintainer, and I think I would like to do this.” She messaged me on Twitter, maybe two hours later, and it was like, “Hey, you’re a maintainer now. Enjoy.” [Laughter]. 

Tara with the Gender Field Module team at DrupalCon Nashville mentored sprints.
Tara with the Gender Field Module team at DrupalCon Nashville mentored sprints.

Then during Sprints at DrupalCon Nashville, we basically started to rebuild the module from scratch. The goal of the Gender Field Module is to provide best practices around both data privacy and collection. We are trying to encourage people to have clear policies around when you would use a gender field, and what happens with that data once its collected. We ended up having a fantastic sprint on the Friday of DrupalCon, it was so fun. I’m super excited about where that’s going. We also got a lot of new contributors, and somebody even made her first patch for the module during our sprint.

Gigi: Can you tell me a little bit more about the inspiration behind the Drupal Diversity and Inclusion contribution branch?

Tara: The contribution branch of Drupal Diversity and Inclusion got started after Dries posted his 2017 Who Sponsors Drupal Development report - I think he does one every year. The only diversity related reporting included in the post was that “less than 6 percent of Drupal contributions are from women”. The Drupal project doesn’t track any other metrics like race or ethnicity or age or anything like that. So we all had a long conversation, and I just said, “Let’s do something. Let’s get this happening.” So now I am the project lead of the contribution team that works towards increasing code and other contributions from underrepresented people.

Gigi: What challenges you've faced; technical and career-wise?

Tara: I think finding a community is a big one. I got started in the Twin Cities Drupal community, which was a very welcoming place for me. But I know that not every community is quite as warm and fuzzy. I’ve also seen a lot of communities that are strictly focused on more advanced topics that are for long-time Drupalists and ignore the basics. So that’s something I would like to see more of, local communities that have mixed levels. Because I think that was helpful to me.

I also think that impostor syndrome is real, and I’m sure that probably every person on this blog series will mention it, but job interviewing was hard for me. For me, coming from what people call pink collar work, there is a lot of emotional and organizational labor around events. It was a really big challenge, and I struggled to recognize my work as something that experts do. It took a long time to get people’s respect because I didn’t know how to communicate my skills and my knowledge, and it’s an ongoing struggle. So that’s a really long answer.

Gigi: It’s a complicated question!

Tara: It’s complicated, for sure.

Gigi: Definitely. I’ve never heard the term pink collar before, but I think it accurately summarizes the bias that’s injected into various fields of work. I also think women often take on additional work or duties in the office that are more associated with emotional labor. It’s always adding on to what they are already doing.

Tara: Right. It’s not the job, it’s always the job plus, plus.

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Gigi: What keeps you inspired or passionate?

Tara: In Drupal, I feel so inspired. What I love about being involved in community mentorship is seeing people learn and grow. For me, getting into Drupal has changed my life for the better. I make a lot more money than I used to, doing much more interesting work in a community of people that I care about. If I can give that opportunity to other people, and If I can give them a hand into this community, that’s super motivating.

Gigi: So what does the future of Drupal look like to you? Is it new features, more adoption, or what does the future of DDI Contribute team to you look like?

Tara: I think for myself, the future has further clarity and documentation around how mentoring works, and how diversity and inclusion works. I believe that we are doing really good work, but I want to share that story more clearly and more widely. So that’s my one year plan, if you will.

What I’m really hoping to see from the DDI contribution team is to see more women, people of color, and people with disabilities in leadership positions, such as initiative lead, module maintainer, or core maintainer. I think Drupal could lead the way in open source for how that can get done. So that’s my five year excitement.

When it comes to Drupal, I would love to see Drupal 8 become easier to install. I don’t think I would have gotten where I am today if I started with Drupal 8, because I don't think I would have understood how to install it. [Laughter] Right? I hate to say that, but installing Drupal 7 was a challenge but an achievable challenge. Now, I just think of little 24-year-old me trying to sort how to install Drupal 8 with just my design experience. I’ve worked with lots of different clients, some that are small and have lower budgets, and I actually think Drupal 8 is doing solid things for that space once it’s installed. [Laughter]  But the initial hurdle is very high. So I’m hoping that we can overcome that challenge, because I think it's actually a good product for small Drupal.

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

Tara: Get on the Drupal Slack channel and start meeting people. Go to your local events for sure. Or start one. People come out of the woodwork when you start stuff like that. Then just contribute faster, jump in the pool faster. I spent a lot of time feeling scared that I was doing it wrong or not knowing how to do it.

Go to a sprint. It can be difficult to get to a sprint because they’re in specific locations, but it will be very enlightening about how the community works. I think it’s like rocket fuel for learning in your community.

Or, I’ll give you this advice, ping me on Twitter or Slack, and say “Hi!” and I will introduce you to people. [Laughter] I’m happy to do that for others.

Gigi Anderson

Senior Marketing Communications Specialist Acquia