Dries Buytaert: Founder of Drupal
In this, our 50th episode, Ivan is joined by Dries Buytaert, the founder of Drupal, an open source software developer, a startup founder, technology executive, father, world traveler and photographer.
- Dries' life and career
- The creation and emergence of Drupal
- Growing up in Antwerp
- Living in Boston
- Shared love for tennis
- Yet another flying start with the Commodore 64
- The power of copy/paste
- Writing code for his father's medical practice
- Wonka VM, Linux and Java
- Juggling multiple careers particularly fatherhood
- The MTV saga
- TEN7's decision to go Drupal
- The move from Belgium to Boston
- Circumventing the globe
- Benevolent Dictators for Life
- Creating thousands of roles out of one
- Drupal's Values and Principles
- Drupal as a force for good in the world
- Drupal's future and Dries' role moving ahead
- Jay Batson
- North Bridge Venture Partners
- Linus Torvalds
- Mark Shuttleworth
- Ruby on Rails
- Drupal Association
- Drupal’s Values and Principles document
- Layout Builder
- Rest API
- JSON API
IVAN STEGIC: Hey everyone, you're listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I'm your host Ivan Stegic. Well, we've hit 50 episodes. When we started this podcast in April of 2017, we did so by limiting it to only five minutes a time and by calling it an audiocast. And we did that because we wanted to experiment with some marketing that we really weren't familiar with and that we hadn't tried before. And I, of course, thought the best way to do this is to try something short and sweet, that's a quick blast of audio. Because who has time to listen to more than that? Well that didn't last terribly long before we realized that five minutes simply wasn't enough time to tell a story, or to get into the meat of an idea. I guess that's obvious now, in retrospect of course.
So I'm glad that this podcast has evolved into what it is today, a hopefully interesting discussion with people that are somehow involved in technology or in business. And what better way to celebrate a milestone like 50 episodes for a Drupal company's podcast then by talking to the founder of Drupal himself. Dries Buytaert has a PhD in computer science and engineering and founded the Drupal project while at university. He's an open source software developer, a startup founder and currently serves as a technology executive, all in addition to being the Benevolent Dictator for Life of the Drupal project.
He's a father, a traveler and a hobbyist photographer. He's won numerous awards like Entrepreneur of the Year and Fastest Growing Tech Company for Acquia. I'm honored to welcome to the TEN7 Podcast, Doctor Dries Buytaert, the creator of Drupal. Welcome Dries.
DRIES BUYTAERT: Well thank you. Thanks for having me and congratulations with 50 episodes, that's an exciting milestone.
IVAN: Yes, it is. Thank you. Thank you for the congratulations. You know, 10 years ago I didn't think we'd be here doing a podcast for a Drupal company, and 11 years ago I didn't even consider that I was starting a company that was based on Drupal.
DRIES: Well, neither did I, 18 years ago. (laughing) Makes two of us.
IVAN: (laughing) Right. Well congratulations, I guess, for starting Drupal. Do you know when the anniversary of that is?
DRIES: Starting Drupal, it's a little bit blurry, but I do know that we released, or that I released because I was alone at the time, Drupal 1.0.0, was on January 15th of, I think it was 2001. So, it’s almost 18 years ago.
IVAN: Oh, wow. Yes, that is almost 18 years ago, but that was the first release.
DRIES: That was the first release, yea.
IVAN: You were likely working on that even before that, from 2000, so that’s a long time. Well, congratulations on that. That's coming up very soon here.
DRIES: It is, yea.
IVAN: So, Dries is a contraction of the name Andries which is Andrew in English. Is Andries actually your given name, or is it Dries?
DRIES: It's Dries, yeah, which is effectively as you said, Drew in English. I don't know if people know that, but yeah, Dries is my given name. I don't have any middle names, so it's just you know Dries Buytaert.
IVAN: Dries Buytaert.
DRIES: That's it. Yeah.
IVAN: That's great. I don't have a middle name either, so, I just recently had a shirt monogrammed and it says IS on it. (laughing) So, you I guess, would be database, right?
DRIES: That's right. Yeah. (laughing)
IVAN: (laughing) So, you were born in Antwerp in Belgium in the late seventies. Do you have a favorite thing you remember doing as a child?
DRIES: I’m not sure I have one favorite thing, but I did a lot of different interests. Like, when I was young, I loved Legos, when I was older, I really got into building remote controlled airplanes, actually for some time. And then I got into writing software when I was about 10 or 11 years old. And then later in high school, I loved playing tennis. I think I almost played tennis every day in the summer. There's sort of ebbs and flows in my interest, and I think that's still true today, I have a wide variety of different interests.
IVAN: I can identify with all of those. Are you still playing tennis?
DRIES: I am.
IVAN: You live in Boston, right?
DRIES: I do live in Boston now and I still try to play tennis. I'm probably playing two or three times a month. If I could I would play multiple times a week. But between a lot of travel, I'm on the road quite a bit, it's kind of hard. Tennis is not a very portable sport, because you need to bring gear, and you need somebody to play with, and you often need to be a member of a club too. So, it's not something I can do when I travel. So, I don't get to play as much as I'd like to, but I still try to, as I said, play two or three times a month.
IVAN: Do you know how you're rated. Are you a 4.0 player, or a 5, or a 3.5?
DRIES: I'm a decent player, but again, because of the travel I can’t really play competitively. I have a tennis coach that I play with, and that works well for me, because I only play three times a month, and it can really kind of give me a good workout every time I play. So for me it's more about the workout, and I love the game of tennis too, but I don’t know my rating.
IVAN: I ask because I absolutely love playing tennis, as well, but I can't stand the competitive games and playing sets of tennis. So, I do it as a workout as well. And they usually have groups of players that are similarly rated, and so that's why I was curious. You're a tall guy, so you must love to serve and volley.
DRIES: That's right. Pretty good serve.
IVAN: So, you mentioned you loved Legos and remote-control planes. Do you remember your first computing experience as a kid?
DRIES: Yeah. My dad had a Commodore 64, and one evening or day he bought me a couple of computer books, and these were computer books for kids. So programming for kids and had little code snippets, which you had to enter sort of in the computer and they would execute and be a game. And one of the games was like Snail Race or something and you had to basically pick a number between one and five, and randomly they would move like a character across the screen. And so they would randomly pick a character, and that one would move up a position, but if the character reached the other end of the screen that one would win.
It was little stuff like that, it was probably like 20 lines of code. I remember as a kid entering 20 lines of basic code, and it was a lot of fun. You start by literally copy/pasting these things, so to speak, and then over time you dabbled around a little bit and started to try some things on your own. And then I remember in, I’m going to say it was 1994, or something, so my Dad is a doctor, and at the time, a lot of patient information and stuff was managed on paper and he came to me and said, “how do you feel about spending some of your summer vacation trying to digitize some of this paperwork and build me a database, effectively for his patients?" I said yes.
He gave me some other computer books using Dbase as a database and using, I think it was Clipper, as a programming language. And I remember spending my entire summer building this patient management system for him. And it was hard for me because, one, I didn't have any training in computer programming, and English wasn't something that I was very good at. It was not even my second language. So, I remember sitting there with a dictionary trying to translate the manual effectively, of the Clipper programming language and trying to make sense of it all. I remember reading things like array, and I had no idea what arrays were. I spent my whole summer trying to figure it out. But I got it to work, which was a major milestone for me, and I would say probably what got me hooked on computer science.
IVAN: And did your dad's practice use the software then, and did it evolve? What happened to that?
DRIES: He used some of it, and then eventually he bought something off the shelf. So, I guess it wasn't a huge success from that point of view, like it literally transformed his business, but he used some of it for a while. The part that he used was like a graphing tool, like you would measure…he’s a gynecologist and an oncologist, so he would measure basically, the baby in the belly, and he would enter the measurements in the software and then the software would plot it on a graph. And this was something that he would have to do manually. He had these sheets of paper and then he would plot the measurements on the graph and then he could tell whether the baby was growing well or not. So, that was very manual and tedious. And so that part he used the graphing portion that I built.
IVAN: And, do you think back to that copy/paste as you described it, which is really reading code from a manual and typing it into your program on that Commodore 64. Do you consider that kind of the beginning of open source software? Because that was actually code that was published for anyone to use and to modify effectively.
DRIES: Yeah that's a good point. I never thought about it, but that’s a form of open source I would say. I don't know if it came with a formal open source license. (laughing) But, yeah, there’s a lot of power in books and enabling people to learn through sharing code. Even when I got into web development, copy/paste was a powerful tool. You would browse around websites, and then you saw something that you liked, you could from within the browser, you could do a view source, and you could learn about how that website was built, and you could reuse some of that code if you wanted to, or kind of use it as a starting point to write your own. I think a lot of web development still happens that way. Maybe not most of it, but at least some of it.
IVAN: And, I think a lot of people who are learning are doing that, and it's less view source now than it is inspect element and using the wonderful tools that these browsers have now. So, that's made it easier for us, I think.
DRIES: Yeah, it would be a shame if we lost that, I would say.
IVAN: I agree. I absolutely agree. So, you were raised in Antwerp, and you got a master's degree in computer science from the University in Antwerp. And, after you graduated from that degree, you worked on something called Wonka VM for a company called Acunia, which sounds an awful lot like Acquia. (laughing)
DRIES: Yeah, that was my first real job, so to speak, as an as a software engineer out of college.
IVAN: And it was Java centric. Correct?
DRIES: Java centric. So the company was a Telematics company. We built hardware and software that would be installed in cars, and that would effectively provide navigation software or other kinds of software capabilities. And I did a couple of things. I helped build a real time operating system, first from scratch actually, and later ported Linux to this hardware platform that we designed. And then once we got the operating system running we decided to build our own Java virtual machine, because the one that Sun had built wouldn't run effectively on embedded software, on a little hardware platform.
So, we had to build our own virtual machine, and I was part of the virtual machine group. It was a small group, I think we were four or five people. And so, it was Java, but I was actually writing C code, because the operating system and the kernel and then also our Java virtual machine implementation were all written in C, because we needed to have that raw speed, because we had a very lightweight embedded hardware device effectively. But we did make that virtual machine open source.
IVAN: How did your philosophy and your ideas about open source influence that license that you used to release Wonka VM on? Because, according to my research, you basically started Drupal right around the time that you kind of ended your work at the University of Antwerp for your master's degree. So, there must have been some influence there or some perspective that influenced the Wonka VM.
DRIES: Yeah, so, I was an engineer on the Wonka VM team. I wasn't the team lead, but, I started contributing to the Linux kernel, and I helped a little bit with wireless network drivers of Linux and ended up being a maintainer of the documentation and stuff like that. And so, I got really into Linux. Then I started the Drupal project, and because I kind of came from the Linux world, it just was very natural for me to make Drupal open source. In fact, I literally copied another example of copy/paste I guess, I literally copied the GPL license file from my Linux kernel tree into my website, created a zip file or a tarball and uploaded that and called it Drupal.
So, that's why Drupal is GPL, because I was using Linux and contributing to Linux a little bit. And, so then I went to work for the startup, building or helping to build a Wonka VM, and there was kind of inbound interest, I would say, from other companies to also use an embedded Java virtual machine. So, open source at the time was sort of a hot topic but also very premature in other ways. But, for me, it was a natural thing to help make the Wonka VM open source. I forgot what license we picked for it, but yeah, it became open source.
IVAN: I think I read about those yesterday when I was prepping. I think it was a license that was pseudo BSD. No, I'm confusing that with the release of the open JBK implementation. Sorry about that.
DRIES: No worries. I don't recall picking the license, I think that was the CTO of the company, who was in charge of that. But I was just excited to be part of another open source team. So, open source has been a constant in my professional career. All the way from college until today.
IVAN: Do you think you still have any of your code that you wrote for the WLAN drivers or the WLAN project in the kernel?
DRIES: No, no. I don't think so. No I haven't looked, but I didn't write that much to be clear. It was small contributions on the edges, and then I did end up being the official maintainer of the documentation for a while.
IVAN: Follow up question, just since we're on the topic of old code. Is any of your code still in Drupal 8 from the very first release? Or has that all disappeared?
DRIES: That’s a great question. Probably all disappeared. From the original release?
IVAN: Yeah, from the original, it would be interesting to see that.
DRIES: I would say a lot of the concepts have survived. Not all of them were in the initial release but, like we shipped Drupal 1 with RSS feeds, which at the time was groundbreaking so to speak. These things are still in Drupal, and then the hook system and the node system, and there is a lot of things that have survived the many major Drupal releases, but I don't know if any code has survived from the original Drupal 1.
IVAN: That would be interesting to know. So, you spend a few years working as a Java engineer, essentially, right? And, you decide to go and get your PhD, and you spend about five years doing that. And your work for your doctorate is focused on Java, and you're working with the inventor of Java. And at the same time you're working on Drupal and basically Drupal is in its infancy, and then maybe in its angry teen years as well. How do you juggle doing these two things that, I'm sure, are taking up so much of your time?
DRIES: Yeah, I mean I think I've always worked hard. During the day I would work on my PhD, and that was pretty intense. And then at night and on the weekends, I would work on Drupal. So I would use every spare minute of my time really to work on Drupal. I mean, it was exciting for me, and it still as exciting, it’s still very passionate and I'm very passionate about Drupal. It was definitely an interesting time because, as I was doing my PhD, Drupal also started to slowly take off. We had multiple tipping points like Howard Dean started using Drupal, and first Drupal companies were being started. And we decided to start organizing DrupalCon events, and all of that was intense.
I mean I remember we would do DrupalCon and I needed to travel for them, but as a PhD student I was being paid by the University, or I guess by the government technically, but I was making like $1500 a month. In the context of Belgium at the time wasn't a whole lot of money, $1500. But like we would be like, “hey, let's do a Drupal conference in San Francisco in Sunnyvale” and I'm like, “sure, let's do that.” But the ticket alone was basically my entire salary for the month. I remember people started telling me you should really get a trademark on the name Drupal. I went to a lawyer and said, “what does it take to get the word Drupal trademarked? And, I think they came back and said, “something like $10,000.” I was like, “whoa, I don’t have $10,000.”
So, I decided to do it myself. So, I spent a couple nights or maybe a couple weeks researching how you file a trademark application and how you file it in multiple countries too. So, I still had to pay filing fees, and I ended up paying $3,000 or euros or something just to get the trademarks. But again, $3,000 was two months of my salary. So, I remember by the time I finished my PhD, I had like 400 EUR in my bank account, and I spent it all on Drupal. And so, not only did I spend all of my free time, I also spent a lot of my savings, the savings that I got from Acunia, the startup that we talked about. So I was very passionate about that. I was very busy, periods. I was working easily 12-hour days and also weekends.
IVAN: You mentioned Howard Dean as being maybe one of the tipping points for Drupal. When did you realize that this thing that you made wasn't a pet project anymore? That it was affecting people's lives and that there were some legs to this thing?
DRIES: Yeah, it happened kind of in phases, to be honest. But I remember when I was doing my PhD, I'll give you one concrete example, but MTV had decided to switch to Drupal, and I remembered their sites came down crashing, and I took that very personal. For me, it was very important that these organizations, like MTV which was a very big deal to me, especially at the time. I mean it's hard to believe even like at the time like MTV is using Drupal like my little hobby project, that I would volunteer to spend time with them on the phone at night. And so I would come home from work, from my PhD research, and I would spend my spare time, free of charge, on the phone with MTV trying to troubleshoot their performance and scalability issues.
That was important because I wanted them to be successful, because I knew if they were successful, it would be incredible references for others. But at times like that, it's when I realize you know this is for real. These are real companies using Drupal in real ways, and we need to make sure that these kinds of organizations are going to succeed. It's also really when, sort of, the first seeds were planted for Acquia, because I was convinced at the time that for Drupal to succeed, it needed to succeed with these larger organizations that would be incredible brands and references for us. And so, I also realized this is not something I can do in my spare time at night, like there needs to be a company that helps these organizations be successful.
IVAN: You co-founded Acquia correct?
IVAN: And that was in about 2007, I think?
DRIES: Yeah, that's right.
IVAN: And when did you complete your PhD? Was that about the same time?
DRIES: Technically I completed my PhD in 2008. So I started Acquia while I was still finishing my PhD. So I’d done all of the research at the time, or almost all of the research, but I still needed to write my dissertation, like your between quotes book (laughing), that summarizes the results of your research. That was a very crazy time because we were working on a major release of Drupal, I was finishing my PhD which was a lot of work, I also decided to co-found Acquia. And our oldest son was born at the time as well. So, I was like juggling a lot of things (laughing). I officially incorporated Acquia in the summer of 2007. So about 8 months before finishing my PhD, I would say. So, that's when we incorporated Acquia, so the idea must have been born several months before. So, I guess Acquia was kind of born about a year before finishing my PhD.
IVAN: That was around the same time that I started TEN7 and was deciding which CMS I was going to hitch my company to. And if I remember correctly, that was around the time that Drupal 4.7 was stable, and I think 5 was going to be coming out very soon.
DRIES: I believe that's right.
IVAN: That's what I can remember. I didn’t look that up yet.
DRIES: I think you're right. Yes.
IVAN: So, at what point did you decide you were going to call the United States your home? Because, you started Acquia, but you decided to make Boston your home just after that, right? I didn't think you were here yet?
DRIES: Right. So, because I was still finishing my PhD I had to be at the university, and then as I mentioned my oldest son was born, and so it wasn't a good time to move. But I decided to cofound Acquia in Boston for a couple of reasons. One, the person that I met, Jay Batson, as well as our first investor, Michael Scott, from at the time North Bridge Venture Partners, I think was their official name. They were both based in Boston, and the vision for Acquia at the time was to be to Drupal what Red Hat was to Linux. We would provide enterprise grade support, SLA based support and a couple of products and services around that.
So, as we've established, Drupal predated Acquia by seven years. So Drupal already existed. The original idea of sort of being the Red Hat for Drupal, is a very support intensive business model, a lot of human touch, if you will, and you kind of want to put the company close to where the largest customers are, because you need to interact with them, you need to be on the phone with them, all of these things. So, it made a lot of sense for me to put the company in the US broadly. And then because I met Jay and Michael, my co-founder and our first investor, given that they were based in Boston, that was a very logical choice obviously. Boston is a great city, because obviously there is a lot of venture capital there, a lot of access to money for starting companies. It's the second largest technology city in the United States after San Francisco.
There's also great access to talent with universities like MIT and Harvard, and so it wasn't too far from Belgium. It was only a six-hour time zone difference, and I think about a six-hour flight. And so, Boston was a great place, and it allowed me to stay in Belgium for the time being, while we were trying to get Acquia going. And I was a young dad, I guess, finishing my PhD, and then, I did a lot of, sort of, one week in Belgium, one week in Boston, one week in Belgium, kind of back and forth kind of travel. And then eventually a couple years later kind of moved permanently.
IVAN: And now you call Boston your home?
DRIES: Yeah, exactly. It's officially my home and it feels like my home. I still spend a good amount of time in Europe, but, yeah, I love being in Boston, it's a great place.
IVAN: I read somewhere, I think it might have been on your website, that you travel about a quarter of a million kilometers every year. That’s a lot of travel.
DRIES: It's a lot of travel, yeah. I don't know. Yes, that's a lot of travel, it's like what, eight times around the world or something a year?
IVAN: Something like that. So you must get a lot of miles and a lot of rewards on a credit card?
DRIES: I get a lot of miles but not a lot of rewards, actually. I think people overrate these programs and they also romanticize what that amount of travel looks like.
IVAN: It’s tough.
DRIES: It’s very tough. It’s in and out. I don’t get to sightsee. I travel economy class, and I still do. I also get a lot of energy from meeting Drupal users and Acquia customers. It’s tough, but for me, also fun.
IVAN: Well, you'll be visiting Minneapolis in 2020 with DrupalCon here. (laughing) So, I hope you get a chance to sightsee here.
DRIES: You know, DrupalCons, I usually do, because I'm usually there for a whole week, so that allows me to explore a little bit more of the city. But sometimes my travel, I'll fly to the west coast which is about a 7-hour flight, I'll be there for an afternoon and fly back that night.
IVAN: That’s tough.
DRIES: Yeah. But DrupalCons are nice because it's a whole week and there's a lot of social activities at night. It's fun.
IVAN: It is fun. It really is. So, you're one of the 30 or so Benevolent Dictators for Life. Linus Torvalds for Linux is one of them. Mark Shuttleworth for Unbutu, DHH for Ruby on Rails, and you’re effectively the final say, right? In any dispute or argument you’re basically the dad of the Drupal project. (laughing)
DRIES: Yeah. So I guess, yeah.
IVAN: So to me, it’s almost incongruent, or at least it causes some sort of cognitive dissonance in my brain, when there’s a BDFL for a project that is effectively designed to be collaborative and transparent and open. And I read some opinions online about why open source projects end up having this kind of dictatorship. And I don't like the word dictatorship, these are other people's words, but it's kind of the descriptor. How do you see your responsibility for this beautiful thing you've created evolving?
DRIES: Yeah. First of all, I don't love the term BDFL either. It’s a title that's been given to me, not something that I kind of picked myself, just to be clear.
IVAN: Exactly. Of course.
DRIES: I think my role has evolved a lot over time. I mean, in the early days I would write 100% of the code, and I would spend a lot of my time building Drupal.org. I would help run the servers behind Drupal.org. I would organize the DrupalCon events or help organize them, like intensively. And over time I’ve scaled more and more. Drupal Association would be one example of that, as a step in evolving my role, which put in place an entity, a non-profit entity specifically, that could take over the organization of DrupalCon which now is, it's a serious event. It costs a few million dollars to put on and takes a whole team of people to organize. Same thing with managing our website and the underlying hardware infrastructure.
It's now being managed professionally by people at the Drupal Association and again, also with the help of people in the community, just like DrupalCon. But these are examples of how I've scaled my role. Obviously on the technical side, I went from being the, sort of single core committer, to now having teams of core committers for each of the major releases, having committees and task forces around different aspects of the project, like a technical working group that defines coding standards. We have release managers and product managers and framework managers, all these kinds of roles to subsystem maintainers that are responsible for different aspects of Drupal core. And so, these are all examples of me scaling my role over time, and we continue to make governance changes all the time and to scale the project as needed.
I think that’s the right thing to do. As projects or organizations get bigger, you need to put the kind of organizational structure in place. You also need to scale the culture of the project and so, I try to help with that through my keynotes. Actually, last year this time, I helped write Drupal’s Values and Principles document, that's a way to help scale our culture. So, it takes a lot of effort and different people to maintain and run the Drupal project today.
IVAN: It sure does. Do you spend time thinking about the kind of the ethical implications of the technology that you've created and that you've helped create?
DRIES: What do you mean by that? You have an example?
IVAN: I guess anything can be used for good or bad things, right? And so, there's some sort of ethical implications there. And this little project you created in, I would assume a dorm room, but somewhere in a university somewhere when you released it, it's had a profound effect on the world. I mean, as you’ve written yourself, 2% of the world's websites use Drupal. And I wonder about how you think about not just the positive, but the negative effects that the software has. And how does that affect you?
DRIES: I think Drupal is primarily used for good, right. There are tens of thousands of nonprofits using Drupal to accelerate their mission, whatever their mission is. There's a lot of governments using Drupal, which technically they're doing for good. Drupal has done a lot of good things. Obviously, there is also less good, sort of, implementations of Drupal. I guess it's hard to control. But I take pride in that we have actually made a lot of people's lives better with Drupal. I believe that drastically outweighs some of the negative impact that Drupal has had, as well. I remember at one point, this is now probably 8 years ago, two FBI agents showed up at Acquia, in black suits and were like, “where’s Dries, and does he talk to me?”
IVAN: (laughing) Dries is not here right now, can you leave a message please.
DRIES: Exactly. That's exactly what they told them, because I wasn't there. But they immediately called me and said, “hey, two FBI agents showed up.” I’m like ”whoa, what did I do?” And, they left their phone number. I called them, and there was a site, and I don't know which site or what, but obviously there was something illegal on the site, and they thought it was my site. And they looked at the site, they saw it was Drupal, they found my name, and they thought I was the site owner and developer of the site. Obviously, I had nothing to do with the site. And to this day I don't know which site it was.
But I remember educating the FBI about open source and how it all works and why it's not my site. But that would’ve been an example of a site, obviously, that probably did not have a good impact on the world. And it's troubling, obviously, but at the same time I'm not sure what to do about that. So, I focus on how we make things better, and to me that's a huge motivator. The fact that Drupal is now used by 1 out of 30 sites in the world, and if you look at some of the larger sites, I think that number gets closer to 1 out of 10. So, if you think about it, what that means is, everyone uses Drupal as a visitor of the web. As a user of the web, you’re gonna hit a Drupal site. It's hard to not hit a Drupal site. Everybody visits at least 30 websites, I imagine.
And so, statistically, you're going to hit a Drupal site. What’s encouraging and powerful to me is that when you make a change to Drupal, when you make it a little bit better, let’s say you make it a little bit more accessible, all of a sudden that touches everybody, everybody that uses the web. So, people sometimes complain that it's hard to make changes in Drupal, because we’re so big, and there’s a lot of governance around it. But at the same time, if your contribution makes it in, there's a good chance that it touches billions of people, which that's incredibly encouraging and rewarding to me.
IVAN: I can't even imagine how rewarding it is to you. I can identify with that, I'm sure it's a small portion of how you feel, and the clients that we help with being a Drupal focused agency and just using Drupal. It does feel good to be able to touch people and to improve things as new versions come out. I have to thank you again for creating Drupal, like this company wouldn't exist. I wouldn't be doing what I love and it's awesome. I think I have two questions and we'll be able to wrap it up. I love your Driesnotes. I love them because you’re always talking about what's coming next and what you think we should be focusing on in the future. Not just from a technical point of view, but from the people that make and use Drupal as well. And I'm curious to know, besides the new features and the attention to the user experience, what are your hopes and dreams for the Drupal community itself over the next few years? And, how do you see yourself facilitating that?
DRIES: Yeah, it's a big question. I don't know, I have a lot of thoughts on how to answer this question. I'm not sure if I have a crisp answer. But first of all, I'm very passionate about making Drupal easier to use for the day-to-day users of Drupal. Like the content creators and the marketers and the typically less technical people, I think it's really important. That was less important when I started Drupal but today that's very important and so I'm very passionate about that, because I think it's incredibly empowering for these people.
So, we're doing a great job at that, actually. We're working on Layout Builder, we're working on Media, we're working on a whole bunch of things that will kind of make Drupal easier to use for non-developers. So, that’s super exciting. And I'm very happy that the community has been rallying around that right now. I feel like I’ve been talking about this in my Dries Notes actually for many years, and that wasn't always well-received. At least in the early days it wasn't universally well-received, and that is something that we needed to do. So, I think that cultural change has been a little bit slower than I would have liked to, but I feel like we're finally there. And so, that's pretty exciting to me, and that's exactly what needs to happen.
And if you combine that with some of the innovation that we're working on around headless Drupal or decoupled Drupal, the API first initiative, where we're focused on the Rest API and the JSON API, that really kind of propels Drupal into new opportunities, where we're kind of moving beyond just supporting traditional websites, but where we can push content into mobile applications and digital kiosks and even drive voice assistance like Siri or Alexa, push content into augmented reality applications, and all that kind of stuff. I think that's incredibly exciting to me as well. I'm very excited that Drupal communities are also embracing that. I guess the last part of your question was “how do I see myself facilitating that?” Is that right?
DRIES: For me, I try to think about, I like to optimize what I do for impact. Like I love programming, but I don't do a lot of programming in Drupal because I don't feel it maximizes what I can do for the project. So often, what I do do, is I try to help the broad vision of where I think we should go and try to evangelize that and try to organize groups of people around the different pieces that make up that vision. It’s like, I try to plant the flag, and in my last Driesnote, I could show that image with a flag, and then all of the different initiatives that help us get from A to B. How do we actually get to the flag.
So, we need to do all these different things. So, I like to kind of track those things and make sure that people are able to move these initiatives forward, so that the combined progress across all of the initiatives helps Drupal succeed. I also try and spend time unblocking people or empowering people to do things. I try to look after the sustainability of the project. I spend a good amount of my time working with the Drupal Association to make sure that the Drupal Association is well funded, that the DrupalCon events happen, because I believe in bringing people together to build in-person relationships, not just relationships on Slack or issue cues.
So, I don't know, I do a lot of different things, the things that I feel will help move Drupal forward. A lot of these things are now a little bit more in the background than they used to be, funny enough, or less in the issue cues than the developer spheres but more around governance, strategy work, that kind of stuff. Long-winded answer.
IVAN: But, a very important answer. I appreciate everything you do for the community and for starting the project and for continuing to shepherd the organization and the direction of the project.
DRIES: I do my best, but it's truly the work of hundreds, if not thousands of people. A lot of people do so much for Drupal. And in many ways my contribution now is just like anyone else's contribution, I contribute a small piece of the bigger collective effort.
IVAN: Dries, thank you so very much for spending your time with me today. I really appreciate it. Would you consider coming back in the future at some point?
DRIES: I will.
IVAN: Maybe on the 100th episode. (laughing)
DRIES: Let's do it. (laughing) Well, thanks for the opportunity and congratulations again.
IVAN: Thank you very much. Dries can be found online at dri.es, that's dries with a dot between the "i" and the "e," where he publishes on a regular basis and syndicates it elsewhere. He is @dries and on Drupal.org where he is also user Number One. We'll have that in the transcript online with links. You’ve been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.