Next week I’ll have the honor of presenting a session at DrupalCon in Vienna titled “Confessions of a Non-Technical Drupalist.” As the CEO of Acquia, I’ve been involved with Drupal since 2007, when Dries Buytaert invited me to join the company. I am an engineer by training, with a keen interest in computer science, software and technology, so my session’s title may be a wee bit disingenuous. But semantics aside, I am not what one would consider a “core contributor” to Drupal, yet, as I hope to show in Vienna, I am a devout member of the Drupal community.
As I make the transition from CEO back to my original role on Acquia’s board, I want to use the pulpit of my DrupalCon session to urge the community to consider the crucial role non-technical contributors have made and are still making on Drupal’s success. As anyone who has attended a DrupalCon or DrupalCamp may have observed, Drupal may be coded and extended by developers, but it flourishes because of the passionate contributions of the business community that both supports it, but which also depends on it for their economic success. The lack of a true business track at DrupalCon has long been a disappointing omission and lost opportunity to my way of thinking, yet despite a deserved focus on technical discussions, code sprints, and other “coder” topics, the biannual gathering of the community has attracted not only companies who profit from Drupal, but also the end-users and customers, the designers and facilitators, the salespeople and marketers who have propelled Drupal to the top of the list in any significant content management selection process.
The Drupal ecosystem encompasses a broad palette of contributors, some of whom have never written a line of code in their life. It includes individuals and teams at some of the world’s premier digital agencies, system integrators, design shops, PR firms, and midmarket and global 2000 brands who rely on Drupal to build and deliver the digital experiences the framework is so excellent at supporting. I believe, after 10 years of working within the Drupal ecosystem, that the true concept of an ecosystem is lost on a big segment of the community, the developers who value others only by their code contributions.
The success of Drupal over the past 17 years is a credit to the leadership of the community, at many levels, as provided by individuals such as Phase 2’s Jeff Walpole, who exhorted many people to help develop the distributions which make Drupal so appealing to the organizations who adopt them. My co-founder at Acquia, Dries, brought to Acquia a lot of the leadership principles so essential to the governance and culture of open source, and I can say that on multiple occasions, Acquia changed its strategy for the betterment of the Drupal community. It isn’t easy building a company predicated on free software, but I’m proud that Acquia has been one of the most successful commercial open source companies along with Red Hat and a small handful of others.
The influence and impact of the commercial interests aligned with the Drupal project are, I would argue, as significant as the most technical contributors. Would Drupal be powering the government of Australia, NBC Sports, Pfizer, the BBC, and Nestle if not for the efforts of marketers, solution architects and salespeople who pushed those clients to take a chance on an open source solution over so many entrenched proprietary ones? Would Drupal be on the consideration list of some of the Global 2000 were it not for the analyst relations efforts who keep it top of mind with the most influential industry analysts and experts? One thing an open source project like Drupal lacks is a marketing budget, a PR team, and a squad of dedicated salespeople pushing it to the top of the list when a prospective user is considering a fresh approach to the way they manage and deliver digital.