Name: Jessica Dearie
Drupal.org ID: jdearie
Location: Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development
Job Title: ORD Intranet Coordinator
In recent weeks, we’ve seen a flood of support for the Drupal community. Members have come together to assist the Drupal Association and everyone who works to sustain open source projects like Drupal that provide important information and meaningful digital communications to the public. This mission is especially critical for those in nonprofit and government sectors, who are facing unparalleled pressure to deliver updates and provide services for their communities amid a worldwide crisis.
Jess Dearie has seen how the Drupal community and Drupal events can help people grow their skills and overcome individual limitations to accomplish major progress together. Jess has spent over eight years working as an IT Specialist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where she leads the development and management of an intranet built in Drupal for the Office of Research and Development. Beyond her work as a government employee, Jess also serves as a Chief Master Sergeant in the District of Columbia Air National Guard where she supports the work of the country’s 113th wing in protecting the U.S. capital and flying foreign leaders and dignitaries around the globe.
Jess’s rich history in public service and passion and technical innovation led her to join the Board of Directors at Drupal4Gov, a nonprofit organization committed to educate and train employees on the value of Drupal and open source projects in government work. Today, Drupal4Gov hosts Drupal GovCon, one of the largest government tech conferences in the country that provides essential resources and training to people learning how to design, develop and build powerful digital experiences in the government, nonprofit and education space. I had the privilege of getting to know Jess for our Women of Drupal series where she shared her history with Drupal and strategies for anyone looking to create innovative and accessible digital journeys when challenged with limited resources.
How did you get your start in tech?
I’m aging myself a little here. The internet didn’t exist when I was in college; it was starting as I got ready to graduate. My first job was as a contractor for the US Postal Service as a technical writer. I wrote system tests and user manuals for the software developed in house. After that, I transferred to the Department of State - still a contractor, but this time as in a more administrative position. However, I told my fed boss that I was interested in learning how to build web pages - so when he hired someone to start doing that work, he allowed me to learn from that contractor. Over time, I started doing web development work full time and eventually became a federal employee in that same office. I’ve been in web development ever since.
How did you first discover Drupal?
When I was interviewing for my current job, the office was evaluating CMSs. By the time I was hired, they had decided they wanted to use Drupal - so while I had heard of Drupal before, consolidating the 17+ intranet sites within ORD into a single Drupal CMS was my first experience using Drupal.
What are some challenges you've faced, technically or career-wise?
Most of the work I’ve done in Drupal has been as a team of one. I have limited contractor support, but it’s not the same as working with a team. It also means that all of the different specialties - front end, design/UX, site building, and more fall to me. I’ve enjoyed dabbling in a few, but I would love to be able to just focus on one or two!
How did you get involved with Drupal GovCon and what initiatives are you currently working on?
A friend convinced me to submit a talk to Drupal Government Days (what it used to be called several years ago). Once I presented at that event, I sought out the organizers and asked to be involved. There are so many government employees in situations similar to mine. Being able to connect with other “Govies” that face similar challenges, and learn from them, really is invaluable. I serve on the board of Drupal4Gov (the host of Drupal GovCon) and co-lead the Government Summit at DrupalCon. We’re currently preparing for GovCon 2020 and I’m learning what the virtual GovSummit will be at DrupalCon this year.
What are some of the benefits and challenges of using Drupal in the government sector?
As someone who has a small team, I really appreciate the module approach to functionality. It allows us to quickly adopt and roll out features that we would otherwise need to pay someone to develop. There are fewer technical feds around than there used to be; most work is contracted out. Contracts expire, get competed and you may end up with new contract support. Anything custom you do adds to your technical debt. Debt that gets transferred to contracts and grows. The approach to security in Drupal is solid. The strengths also create challenges - there is often more than one way to do things and determining the best strategy for your project often depends on the technical lead.
Can you share any plans or ideas for the future of the Drupal4Gov project and DrupalGov Con, particularly in today’s virtual landscape?
It amazes me how much Drupal4Gov can accomplish as an all-volunteer team. We host monthly webinars and participate in the Drupal Global Training Days. Top that off with the 900+ attendee Drupal GovCon each summer and it is incredible to see what we achieve! Did I mention, we’re all volunteers?
Our team decided to team up with Baltimore DrupalCamp 2020 and host an all-virtual event in response to the concerns around COVID-19. Now that DrupalCon Global is happening in July, we pushed back the date to September 24th and 25th. We’re partnering with other camp organizers and learning from those who’ve gone before us. Based on what we learn as part of this process, we may be able to offer more live virtual events in the future.
How do you think we can help empower women in tech and work toward better gender inclusion?
There have been times where I was discounted or treated differently and I didn’t even realize it. At least, not until I started having conversations with other women and they would point those things out to me. I joined the military when I was 19, so I’ve always been exposed to a more male-dominated career field. Working in tech was nothing compared to being in the military in the late 90s. Creating environments or organizations where women can learn from one another is beneficial. Those organizations or groups create safe spaces to discuss issues that women face differently than men.
What advice would you give your younger self or someone who is just starting out?
Seek out mentors! Learn everything you can from all the different information sources. Getting involved with volunteer organizations is a great way to grow your skills and give back - so don’t pass those opportunities by.
What Drupal function, project or contribution are you working on and/or most proud of?
My involvement with Drupal4Gov (and subsequently Drupal GovCon) always makes me proud. All of the events we participate in and/or provide keep me very busy! Right now that means supporting the monthly webinars, planning Gov Summit for DrupalCon and serving as the co-lead organizer of Drupal GovCon 2020.
What does the future of Drupal look like in your opinion? What new features/capabilities are you most hoping for/looking forward to in Drupal 9?
I’m excited to see Layout Builder grow in core. I adopt core or contrib functionality over custom code every time. I will often give up some functionality simply to be able to use a core or contrib module and avoid writing something custom. Now that I’ve finally figured out configuration management, I appreciate the workflow it creates. That said, I do think the Site Builder role has not gone away and the more we can do to enhance and simplify the steps Site Builders take to build out their sites, the better. I’m most excited about the move from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 being much easier than the move from D7 to D8!
As an open source project that embodies the values of community, democracy and freedom to do more, Drupal has always been a proud partner to those in the public sector. If you’re interested in seeing how leaders like Jess Dearie and the Drupal community continue to use technology to meet the needs of citizens and ensure public trust and security, Register for DrupalGovCon 2020 . The new deadline to submit your session is now June 15th.