Previously in the Women of Drupal series, we talked with Jenn Sramek (Ideaseed) about her journey from the Peace Corps to joining the Drupal community and providing essential support as Acquia’s director of learning services. Catch up, and read Jenn’s story, here.
With a global community of more than 1 million members, Drupal thrives from a commitment to diversity and freedom of expression, bringing together users, developers, strategists, editors and sponsors with vastly different backgrounds and life experiences.
According to the Women In Drupal group, which provides guidance and networking opportunities for women to get more involved with Drupal, women represent about 17 percent of the community. While progress is being made, there’s still a long way to go.
We started Acquia’s Women of Drupal blog series because we think that by sharing stories from real women who are contributing to Drupal, we can celebrate their achievements and inspire more Drupalists to participate and gain greater representation within the open source community.
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For this installment, our content marketing manager, Paige Breaux, spoke with Brooke Lowell, senior technical project manager on Acquia’s engineering team. Brooke is an ambitious and motivated leader who is always learning new technologies and finding innovative ways to contribute to Drupal projects.
Starting out her career in the male-dominated finance sector as a young female project manager, Brooke understands the struggles many women face to make their ideas heard in the workforce. Today, no one would call Brooke quiet. You may even recognize her from her killer dance moves and songstress abilities at Drupal meetups all across the United States!
In our interview, Brooke explains how she found her voice in the Drupal community and shares her strategies for gaining self-confidence and handling stress in the tech industry.
Paige: How did you get your start in tech?
Brooke: In high school, I took an independent study in the computer lab and started playing around with Adobe Photoshop. Some of the people next to me were learning QBasic, and after looking over their shoulders for a couple weeks, I gave it a try and fell in love with programming.
I decided to major in computer science at Marist College, and due to our proximity to IBM most students participated in projects at their headquarters. I found my team to be very disorganized and in need of a leader and direction, so I started making project plans, task lists and telling people what to do. That's when I learned that there was a job where I could do that all day and switched to major in management information systems, which started my journey to becoming a project manager.
Paige: How did you first discover Drupal?
Brooke: I previously worked as a web development project manager for a company that was using Sitecore to power their job hosting websites. They also used SharePoint for their intranet sites and content repositories. When I was looking for other job opportunities with those keywords, I came across Acquia and Drupal. I figured my skills might be transferrable, so I applied to Acquia with no knowledge of Drupal at all but decided that in order to prepare for my interview, I should download Drupal 8 and build a website. I'm sure it was one of the worst websites my interviewers had ever seen, but they appreciated the initiative, and I've been improving my Drupal skills ever since.
Paige: What Drupal function, project or contribution are you working on and/or most proud of?
Brooke: During my first DrupalCon, I really wanted to participate in as much as possible, but thought that sprinting on the last day of DrupalCon was just for programmers. I found out this was far from the truth, and that the Drupal community is always in need of people to test patches and write documentation. I found a friendly group working on a new update of COD (Conference Organizing Distribution) and was able to help test for them. I organized and edited much of their content on Drupal.org. I was glad that even though I wasn't able to contribute code, I was still able to contribute to the Drupal community.
Paige: What are some challenges you've faced, technically or career-wise?
Brooke: I think being underestimated has been a big challenge. I used to work at a financial institution that was a bit of a boys’ club. Coming in as a young female project manager, it was difficult to find my footing. I was treated a bit like an administrative assistant or given busy work for the first month or so. Then my boss was running late to a meeting with our project stakeholders and said, "You run it". He was apparently being sarcastic or thought I would just entertain people until he arrived, but when he showed up I had already had updates from all attendees, a list of action items and identified a few risks we needed to focus on, which is more than he usually did during these meetings. From then on, I was treated with more respect and given more opportunities. That ultimately wasn't my favorite place to work, but I definitely learned a lot about how to deal with difficult personalities.
Paige: What inspires you? What keeps you passionate about your work?
Brooke: I love learning new technologies. Right now it's playing around with integrating JIRA data into Smartsheet dashboards to display automatically updated charts showing project status.
When I first joined Acquia in professional services, I didn't know very much about how to actually use Drupal. So I took all of the Drupal 8 eLearning courses available internally and started creating websites. That was a fun way to start, but then I began to get into using Dev Desktop with my client sites to help QA test new features and bug fixes. Then I learned that I could do a lot of cool things with Drush, so I taught myself how that worked too.
I'm a self-motivated person who tends to dive into things that aren't my job. But doing this really helps expand my skill set. It’s something that makes me excited to come to work every day, and it's also great for job growth.
Paige: What are some other aspects of the Drupal community that you're involved in?
Brooke: Unfortunately, I was unable to attend DrupalCon this year. But for the past two years I have volunteered to participate in the Drupal Prenote before the Driesnote. In Baltimore, I wore a large beehive wig, crab-walked across the stage and showcased my subpar dancing and vocal skills. In Nashville, I was a singing and line-dancing cow. Not only was the Prenote a very fun way to kick-off DrupalCon, but I made connections with people at other companies and greatly expanded my Drupal network.
Paige: What does the future of Drupal look like in your opinion? More adoption, new features, any major changes?
Brooke: I would love for Drupal to have an easier barrier to entry. When I first started out, I made a horribly architected website because I had no idea what I was doing. Drupal is extremely powerful and extensible, but it takes time to figure out the best way to do something and not just the easiest way.
Paige: What advice would you give your younger self or someone who is just starting out?
Brooke: Don't get so stressed! I used to take work home with me every night (maybe not literally), but seeing emails come in while I'm driving home or during dinner would stress me out. I couldn't really turn off my brain and couldn't even escape from work in my dreams.
I had a turning point a few years ago when a friend came over for dinner. He was a nurse, and earlier that day he had two patients in critical condition at the exact same time. He had to choose who he would help and who to hand off to someone else. The patient he helped lived, and the other, unfortunately, did not. None of my difficult projects or work issues ever resulted in anything close to death. Now when things go horribly wrong on my projects, I always remind myself that no one is dying! This really helps me put things into perspective and approach problems more calmly, which usually results in a much better resolution plan.