Drupal Association: Building Tools to Empower the Drupal Community

Heather Rocker and Tim Lehnen discuss the multiple missions of the Drupal Association, DrupalCon Global 2020, and the upcoming Drupal 9 release.
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Heather Rocker

Global Executive Director, Drupal Association

Tim Lehnen

Chief Technology Officer, Drupal Association

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Drupal Association (DA) covers three areas, drupal.org (open source projects), DrupalCon, the Drupal community

The DA doesn’t build Drupal directly, they build and enhance the tools that enable the community to build Drupal

Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 upgrade will be as easy as minor upgrade, and that sentiment carries forward to all future releases

Drupal 9 has a new evergreen logo, and will help with brand recognition


IVAN: 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. As most of you know, TEN7 is squarely focused on Drupal as a technology. We live it, we breathe it, we create and we care for Drupal power websites, and we do what we can to support the community by donating our time and money by contributing to camps across the nation and of course, to Twin Cities Drupal Camp here in our backyard. Even though we’re a fully distributed firm with team members in Portland, Austin, Boise and Chicago, our roots are here in Minneapolis.

So, we’ve been giddy for almost two years now with the anticipation that DrupalCon 2020 was scheduled for Minneapolis. DrupalCon was finally going to be in our hometown, and we have been really looking forward to that. But as the Coronavirus pandemic has raged it’s not only devastated families, but it’s affected the global economy and has certainly left an indelible mark on the conference and events industry as well. DrupalCon Minneapolis has been transformed into DrupalCon Global with a new date and virtual presence online. Mark your calendars, July 14 to 17, 2020.

Today’s episode is publishing on what would’ve been the Wednesday of DrupalCon Minneapolis 2020. Trainings and summits behind us, we’d be listening to the Dries Notes and looking forward to sessions, BOFs and of course a sprint day, DrupalCon. And what better way to celebrate what would’ve been than to have two members of the Drupal Association with me today on the podcast.

My guests today are Heather Rocker, Global Executive Director of the Drupal Association, and Tim Lehnen, Chief Technology Officer of the Drupal Association. Heather is a champion for the global ecosystem of Drupal and has been Global Executive Director of the Drupal Association for just over a year. What a time to have come aboard. She has been the Executive Director of Women in Technology and the CEO of Girls, Incorporated of Greater Atlanta in the past. Tim has been involved with Drupal for over 14 years, has been the Director of Engineering in the past, the interim Executive Director, and now serves as the Chief Technology Officer of the Drupal Association.

Hello, and welcome to you both. I’m just so honored to have you on the show.

HEATHER ROCKER: Thank you. It’s lovely to be here. We’d rather be with you in person in Minneapolis though, if we had our way

TIM LEHNEN: Yeah, it would be wonderful if we could’ve been there together, but it’s great to be here and great to talk about how we’re pivoting to DrupalCon Global and making all that happen.

IVAN: I’m just honored,  and it’s nice to be speaking with you both. I want to ask the first question by saying, how are you guys doing? How are your families? Where are you joining me from on the podcast today? And also, who else is using your wi-fi?

HEATHER: [laughing] I’ll let Tim go first.

TIM: Yeah, so, doing fairly well. I’m here in Portland, Oregon and the city has been doing a decent job with our Shelter In Place and quarantine rules. So for the most part we’re doing okay here. Fortunately, my family has been not too disrupted. I, of course, have been working remotely since before all this happened. My wife, who’s a reading tutor, is now working from home and doing that virtually. And so, we just got a few folks in the home, my wife and my brother, all using our wi-fi, but otherwise we’ve been very fortunate and doing very well.

IVAN: I’m so glad to hear that. How about you Heather?

HEATHER: So, we’re doing well. So, I’m in Atlanta, just north of Atlanta, Georgia. We are handling Shelter In Place slightly differently. If you’ve seen the news lately, but my husband and son and I are staying home and staying healthy. It’s an interesting situation. So, I got married in January of this year.

IVAN: Congratulations. Wow.

HEATHER: This is a very interesting way to start a marriage. [laughing] It’s a lot of togetherness that nobody planned, so we’re getting to know each other really well from a living together perspective.

IVAN: Well done. Wow.

HEATHER: Thank you. And my son is in fourth grade, so we’re also trying to be teachers or at least teaching assistance, at the same time as working full-time from home. So, it’s an interesting situation and last week we decided to bring two fairly newborn kittens into the situation just to make things interesting.

IVAN: Wow.

HEATHER: So we’ve got a house full of excitement now.

IVAN: Oh my gosh. I’m sure your son loves having kittens around.

HEATHER: It’s a nice distraction. It’s a lot of upheaval I think for children, and it’s hard to know how it’s affecting them. So, having something fun running around the house that’s not mom and bonus dad is good stuff.

IVAN: I hear you. My kids are [laughing] giving our dog a lot of attention and have been for the last eight weeks, [laughing] and I think the dog loves it. Daphne’s a big fan of us being all around, she loves the attention.

HEATHER: Exactly. Yeah, they say dogs are winning. [laughing]

IVAN: [laughing] I agree. Well, we have a lot to talk about today. I want to make sure we cover not only DrupalCon and what was supposed to be and what it is now and what it might be in the future, but that we also talk about Drupal 9 and that beautiful new logo and brand standards that came out and the thought process behind all of that.

Before we get to that, and all that, I want to kind of go back to first principles, because we do have listeners who sometimes haven’t used Drupal in the past and don’t know what it is. I want to go back and talk a bit about the Drupal Association. Let me thank you both for serving the community as officers on the Association, and I want to go to a basic level. What is the Association? Why does it exist? What role does it play? How did it come about?

HEATHER: So, I’ll hit this at a high level and then Tim, who’s been here much longer than me, can give a great deep dive. So, the Drupal Association is a non-profit organization who exists primarily to accelerate the Drupal project. We do that through three basic program areas. One is drupal.org, which if you are familiar with Drupal Open Source Project that’s what you’re most familiar with. The second is DrupalCon which you mentioned earlier, and we’ll talk about more. And the third is the Drupal community. So, there’s some great programs that we do outside of DrupalCon, although DrupalCon’s probably the most recognized. But for drupal.org, I’ll let Tim speak to that because that’s a key area that he brings to the table.

TIM: Frankly there’s a lot to talk about. We can go on all day just about this, but the Drupal Association evolved organically about the need to support the infrastructure that the community was building. Originally, if we go back more than 10 years, drupal.org and DrupalCon were effectively volunteer-organized. People in project leadership, like Dries Buytaert and some of the key early contributors, started ad hoc, creating tools to manage the contribution system on drupal.org and gathering people together for events. And as that grew and grew it became clear that that needed to professionalize and have an organization behind it, and that was the origin in founding the association.

So now drupal.org is not only the home of the code, the home of the project, it’s also really the home of the community. It’s where we organize all of the initiatives. It’s where you can find information about local events, things like Drupal Camps. It is where we recruit new contributors into the ecosystem, and finally it’s where we promote Drupal itself to the world.

As one of the perhaps the most powerful content management system, particularly for as we like to say the most ambitious kinds of digital experiences, there’s really a lot to say about what the Drupal CMS can do. And it’s part of our role to get that word out, not just to the people who already know, but to people who might be evaluating Drupal for their needs. So, there’s a lot that we do there. And in addition to that, from an engineering perspective, there’s a lot of infrastructure that goes into supporting the project; all the testing, all the code hosting, all the management of the contribution tools. So, a lot to do there, and a lot to support the community and make sure that Drupal keeps moving forward.

IVAN: So, I think you’ve outlined good reasons and areas why someone should care about the Drupal Association. What are your roles in the Association? Heather, you’re the Executive Director. Tim, you’re the Chief Technology Officer. What are your responsibilities? Heather, why don’t you go first.

HEATHER: So we laugh, lately it depends on the day. But I would say in general, it’s a small team at the Drupal Association, and we all take on a lot of responsibility in different roles depending on the day. But if I do my role correctly at the end of the day, I’m an ultimate advocate for Drupal specifically, and open source in general. So, what I try to do on a daily basis is take the vision and strategy from the Board of Directors, from input we get from the community, from working closely with Dries himself, and translate that into operational perspective from the Drupal Association. So, how do we take that long-term strategy and put that into action in both supporting the open source community as a whole, our Drupal community specifically, and then how do we move the project forward?

So, it’s a very interesting role, made not less interesting by the timing, as you mentioned, of mine coming on and a lot of events. But what I think is interesting is we constantly have the opportunity to innovate, and I know we’ll talk about that in a few minutes. But we have to look at what’s the upside from an innovation standpoint. So, that’s what we’re trying to do right now.

TIM: Yeah, and for myself acting as the Chief Technology Officer for the Association, I do a combination of very concrete work to manage the engineering team here. So, there are only four of us the engineering team on the Association side, and we do the support, the care and feeding for drupal.org itself, maintaining that site, making sure it’s up. We ensure that the Drupal CI testing system is there to provide test coverage for all the contributions that come into the project.

And we build all of the kinds of features and support for other program areas within the Association. So, for example, the engineering side of the DA is involved in figuring out our platform to do DrupalCon Global and to enable us to have a virtual version of DrupalCon. So, there’s a lot of different areas there.

I think one of the things that’s often not well understood about the Drupal Association, especially for people who are new to the community, is the DA isn’t a top down leader of the development of Drupal itself. Drupal is built by the community. It’s built by a group of initiative leads and core maintainers and community contributors. So, what we say about our work is, rather than building Drupal directly, We build the tools that enable the community to build Drupal. And that’s really my role and our role.

IVAN: That’s a really nice description of the fact that the community is actually building Drupal, and that you’re almost just facilitating it right with the tools?

TIM: Yeah, in many ways that’s our focus. Every time we can make an improvement to the tools that we provide, that can accelerate what the community does. It can enable them to do that work faster to ensure those contributions are performance and compatible with the rest of the existing code base, and to increase the pace of innovation in Drupal.

IVAN: And there’s so much work to be done there. It’s just amazing that a team of four can be doing that on such a global scale. I commend you. It’s just so wonderful to see. Jeff Robbins has often referred to the role of leading a small company or a big company and the role of CEO, as the Chief Paranoia Officer, and [laughing] I find myself in that position a lot, even more so lately. Do we have a particular person who’s the paranoia officer, the CPO right now, or is it kind of everyone at the DA?

HEATHER: If I’m doing it correctly I’m absorbing some of the paranoia on behalf of the team. The way I’ve tried to navigate is I try to take on a lot of the worry and look at all the worst case scenarios and then figure out what we can do, and then come back to the team and put plans together. So, Tim [laughing] may have another version of that, but I hope that I’m absorbing some so the team doesn’t feel quite as impacted.

TIM:  I think it’s absolutely true. And the truth is the Association, for better or worse, is not necessarily a stranger to crisis. Way, way back in the very beginning, the first shared host that drupal.org used kind of melted down, and there was a call by Dries to get donations for a server. We had a financial entrenchment about three and a half, four years ago. It’s not that there aren’t ups and downs. One thing I really appreciate about having Heather onboard for this last year though is she does exactly as she says. She’s done a very good job of focusing on how to execute to ensure that regardless of the completely unpredictable world of circumstances, we’re still able to move forward and deliver what we can for the community.

IVAN: Let’s talk about DrupalCon Minneapolis a little bit. You guys actually announced this two years ago. It was kind of the first time that the Association announced not only next year’s, like the following year's location of the North America conference, but also two years in advance. You guys have been planning this DrupalCon for awhile. So, making the pivot to online is not a minor feat. Let’s talk about the different scenarios that you were considering early on when this first came to light that there was going to have to be a change here. And how did you come to the decision that you did?

HEATHER: I can tell you we’ve run just about every scenario possible, but both from an execution and financial standpoint. We looked at what was the path early on of moving forward and what would that look and feel like and it became clear that was not an option. So, then we looked at that cancellation. There’s a theory that contracts have force majeure and everything’s okay in a pandemic, and legally that doesn’t always work out. So, we had contracts we were still locked into.

From an economic perspective, of course everybody involved wanted things to move forward because there’s so much economic impact from a conference in a city like Minneapolis. And so it has a much broader reach than just us and our attendees. So, there was some good faith efforts. Cancellation early on was not a choice, and even long-term not even a choice, because it would’ve left such a void between money that had already been spent and the lack of net revenue that we needed to move the Association forward.

We looked at cancelling and moving tickets to honoring them in 2021, but that ended up having a short-term positive effect and a long-term negative effect, where we would’ve landed in an emergency funding situation next year instead of this year. So, what we decided we needed to do was to pivot to online, and that was because two reasons. We knew that we needed a mechanism from a funding perspective. We looked at the gap and we said, Okay, we can’t raise all this through sheer fundraising, or we don’t think we can raise it also through just a virtual conference, so we’re going to need a combination there. So, we decided to move to the online virtual conference.

The other piece is, we remain dedicated to pulling the community together. I think it’s not just a financial issue for us, it’s a community issue. And we were highly disappointed that we couldn’t be together and execute on DrupalCon which, while it’s a fundraiser, is every bit as much if not more mission-centric program for us. So, it was important for us to develop an alternative that not only helped from a financial situation, but that met the community need. And I think while it is going to be a journey for us between now and July to make that happen, we feel good about the fact that we have a mechanism to bring the community together and excited about the idea that we have global.

IVAN: Any thoughts Tim?

TIM: Yeah. I would certainly agree with that. There were some more elements. As you mentioned earlier, I was briefly the interim Executive Director while we were in the search process in finding Heather to bring her on board. And, during that period is when we were making some decisions about announcing DrupalCon Minneapolis and the next events early, doing some contracting in advance with other events. It’s a little unfortunate in retrospect. We were so pleased with ourselves, patting ourselves on the back for securing these contracts in advance, getting some discounts for multi-year advance agreements, all these sorts of things we thought were going to make the next four years of DrupalCon a total shoe in, a really, really successful sort of thing.

And now we’ve had to think about how that changes. And, it’s not clear that even after this COVID crisis resolves, if we can say that it’ll even do that. But even after things return to some semblance of normal, it’s not clear that events will be the same, that they may change moving forward. So, it’ll be interesting to see how this pivot to virtual for this first DrupalCon affects what we do in the following years as well.

IVAN: How is it working with local governments and counties and companies in the Twin Cities region?

HEATHER: Minneapolis has definitely done everything they can to help us. I think where everybody met some challenges is, in lieu of governmental dictation, some of the contracts are hard to negate. And so, everybody was really good about working with each other, but we all had very similar constraints in trying to make things work.

The nice thing is we all landed in a place where we were able to significantly reduce our liability, and in a perfect world we would’ve been able to keep those contracts intact and bring money into the Minneapolis area. But it just wasn’t going to be safe to have attendees there. I think everybody was as nice as they could be. Everyone was very stressed out. It’s a tough time for the event industry on the other side of this as well, and it definitely has an economic impact when you don’t have big events coming to your local cities. And so, we’re very aware that this has an extenuating impact beyond just our circumstances as well. So, we appreciate everybody that worked with us to get here, even though it was really stressful for everybody involved. But we ended up where we needed to be.

TIM: I would add that the community itself, of course for those that don’t know, whenever we’re looking to put on a DrupalCon, we’re always looking for champions of the local region right, the local Drupal community of that city to come together with us and help us. First of all find the parts of the city that we want to highlight to the community, the usually international community that we’re bringing to that place, and also just to help us in organizing the event and selecting the program and finding speakers and all those sorts of things.

And from that point of view, I think the local Minneapolis crowd was one of the most engaged and dedicated and helpful that we’ve worked with for many years going back to all sorts of these DrupalCon events. The excitement was really high, and at the same time I know that they must’ve been, and are, hugely disappointed that we weren’t able to make it happen, they’ve been very graceful about understanding the change we needed to make, so that’s been helpful. It makes it easier for us to make the hard decisions and do the things we need to do in the community and the local region is so understanding and so helpful.

HEATHER: Absolutely.

IVAN: And I think we’re eternal optimists, so hopefully one day we’ll see DrupalCon back in Minneapolis for the conference that we were hoping it would be.

TIM: I would love that.

HEATHER: I hope so. I was very excited about coming to Minneapolis. I’ve never been. So, I would like to visit and I would like to go to Paisley Park. That was on my list of to dos. So, I’ll be back regardless. [laughing]

IVAN: [laughing] Yeah, the biggest joke and concern we had in Minneapolis was, [laughing] what happens if it snows? Because we’ve been known to have a snowstorm or two in the middle of May. I recall two conferences ago, I think we were coming back from Nashville, and I was stuck at the airport, because there was a snowstorm in Minneapolis, and we couldn’t leave Nashville [laughing] to come back home, so it’s definitely possible.

TIM: Oh my gosh.

IVAN: Yeah. Okay, let’s talk about DrupalCon Global. It’s not like all the planning’s done and you flip a switch and all of a sudden, Yeah, let’s go online. Tell me about the event, when it is. And then what about it is the same? What’s different? What are your thoughts going into it? What are you planning? Besides the people, what's new?

HEATHER: So, you’re exactly right. There was no playbook we were hiding for in the event of a pandemic. This is the DrupalCon Global event playbook. So we definitely had to pivot quickly. And I’ll give huge kudos to our Drupal Association team and our Board of Directors for huddling quickly and figuring out what we could do and what we could do well. Tim can speak to the technology pieces of it that we have to nail down, but I think we really sat down as a team and said, Okay, how can we bring the spirit of DrupalCon through a virtual experience, and how can we make this really impactful for people?

Where I think we have some exciting innovation opportunity is it is virtual. So, what are things that we can add to the mix? What are ways that exist now where people can connect virtually? There’s a lot of interesting platforms out there. Some that existed before, a lot that are springing up now, since we are definitely not the only virtual conference pivot that’s happening in 2020. We can’t be together physically, but how do we create a hallway tract? How do we facilitate networking? How do we highlight sponsors? How do we shift so that we’ve got this really great content library of knowledge and speaking engagements, and how do we use the best of peoples’ time so that it’s really interactive?

So, we’re looking at how do we let people have Q&A’s and interaction with the speakers and not just listening to a speaker do their presentation. So, I think we’re going to learn a lot through this, but quite frankly, we may translate to an in-person event in the future, and then my gut tells me that there will be some aspect of online DrupalCon in some form or fashion from this point forward. So, I think we’re going to learn a lot as we go.

IVAN: How do you do BOFs online? Come on.

TIM: No, it’s so tricky. Oh my gosh, it’s really interesting. That’s one of the things that I think has been interesting about this whole process, because obviously your first reaction to, Oh, the whole world is in crisis. Things are falling apart. You kind of clench up in a state of fear, and start thinking conservatively about, How do we just lift and shift an in-person event to a virtual event?

But I think very quickly we realized that that’s not the right approach. We have to understand that human interaction in a virtual context is fundamentally different. So, in order to create the same kind of connections between people, we need to make sure that we’re providing new sorts of tools and opportunities to make that happen. I think, I don’t know, I’ve been to something like 10 DrupalCons or something like that, and for me, one of the most powerful moments of any DrupalCon is not just the incredible information that comes from the formal program, from the actual speakers and the different events within the conference, but it’s the fact that you can find yourself sitting next to someone at the end of a session and get into this conversation about the topic. Develop this new connection to another person and then maintain that connection when you go back offline, whether it’s on drupal.org, through Drupal Slack, or just the next time you see each other at a DrupalCon. And we really wanted that to be possible, to be the case for this global event.

Plus, we’ve been saying the word over and over, we’re calling it DrupalCon Global for a reason. The opportunity of being virtual is that we can bring in people from all over the world. And there’s time zone considerations of course, but it’s a chance to have a group of people together that maybe couldn’t go to DrupalCon before. And so there’s an opportunity here really for some fresh interaction and fresh connections and new types of connections to be forged between people who attend.

Once we really started thinking about those opportunities on a conceptual level, we started asking ourselves, How do we execute that? What’s the difference between what happens at DrupalCon and just watching the sessions on YouTube after the event? What makes the difference? So, we’re looking at platforms that let you have that kind of round table experience of being in a BOF, but have these breakout session tools.

We’re looking at platforms that can simulate what it’s like to be in the contribution room, where you can select a virtual table to join for whatever kind of initiative you’re working on on contribution day. There’s some creative things that we’re looking at there. And in particular we’re trying to find ways to encourage people to be active participants in the event, and not just passively receiving. This shouldn’t be just an extension of the quarantine Netflix binging [laughing] that we’re all doing these days. It should be a conference.

HEATHER: It’s not distance learning, right?

TIM: Exactly. I think it’s going to be really cool. We’re still narrowing down all the technical details. We’re running demos of all sorts of platforms and tools, but we’re really going to try and focus on that, and I think people will find that it’s going to be a kind of unique experience. Hopefully we’re going to move that idea of passive consumption into active participation.

IVAN: I love that idea of actually flipping it on its head and making the audience more involved and be more active as opposed to passive. I think that’s definitely where the value of networking and the value of being in person is so high. And just for the record, for our listeners who have heard us refer to BOFs, birds of a feather, they’re interactive, not like a session, but group discussion almost, where there’s a topic that’s picked and everyone who is interested in that topic gets together in a room and talks about what problems they have, what successes they have, and so on and so forth. So, for those of you listening and heard us refer to BOFs, that’s what they are.

DrupalCon’s a significant milestone for the Drupal Association from a financial perspective, isn’t it? We talked about some of the numbers earlier. Can you guys give me an idea of what the budgets are that we’re looking at, and what kind of a shortfall are we talking about that we’re trying to fill in?

HEATHER: So, when we looked at the initial shortfall, both from a traditional DrupalCon plus some other economic impact on the Association because of COVID-19, we were looking at almost a million dollars of net revenue impact. Sixty percent of our total funding comes from DrupalCon, not because it’s a best practice, we’d like for it to be more of a third of our budget, and that’s where we’re headed strategically. We just haven’t had time to get there. So, it used to be 100 percent, so kudos to everyone that came before me.

IVAN: Yeah, making progress.

HEATHER: Yeah, [laughing] so everyone that came before me has done a lot of work to get us where we are, and we continue to do work. And so, we’re trying to develop obviously some revenue diversification, but you can’t do that in just a matter of months with this kind of impact. So, we looked at that net revenue impact and we said, Okay, there’s kind of two buckets to it. One is that emergency funding piece where we spawned the DrupalCares Campaign, and then the other piece is revenue that we can bring in through this virtual conference, DrupalCon Global.

So, between those two things, the Drupal Cares Campaign has gone exceedingly well, and so we’re hoping that the virtual conference has a similar level of success, so that we can pivot and move forward from a secure perspective. `We’re not naive enough to think that events will always be the same moving forward, so we are being very strategic internally about how can we be smart about what might be around the bend that we don’t know.

It’s hard to replace 60 percent of your income overnight. But we continue to do that through programs and services offered by the DA. And quite frankly, what we’ve seen through the DrupalCares fundraising program is when more people become members, when current members upgrade their membership, and when those that use drupal.org donate to the Drupal Association, that’s the kind of sustainable funding that makes this revenue diversification less of an issue moving forward. So there are ways that we can do this over time, and we’ve seen it be successful over the past month.

TIM: I would add to that, there’s another key area that I think frankly folks like you at TEN7 and others throughout the ecosystem can help us with. Just because of the scope and scale of the COVID situation even Drupal end users, who are not particularly connected to our community, are beginning to become aware of the importance of the Association, and how it feeds and sustains the Drupal project and how that could be important. We didn’t really mention this earlier, but not only is the Drupal Association being affected by the COVID pandemic, Drupal’s also being used in the fight against COVID and to try and manage it. So, it’s used by the National Institutes of Health and the CDC and Oxfam and Doctors without Borders. It’s being used all over the world to support that people's efforts. And the DrupalCares fundraiser, among those things, has given us an opportunity to try and reach out to those end user organizations, because for my money that’s I think where we’re going to find a lot of opportunity for future sustainability. And so, for folks out there listening, helping us get the word out to those users of Drupal about the importance of supporting the DA and becoming part of our community is going to be really impactful.

IVAN: Yeah, you forget that there are users of Drupal who are actually fighting against COVID, and that’s so important to bring to the surface and to remind people. So I’m glad to hear that that’s something that’s been a focus for you as well. In a nutshell, can you guys describe exactly what DrupalCares is? I think the three of us know what it is. For those who are listening who maybe don’t have an idea, what’s the elevator pitch on what DrupalCares is?

HEATHER: So, DrupalCares is the name that we gave our emergency fundraising campaign that launched toward the end of March. And the goal was, as it sounds like from an emergency funding perspective. What became clear to me though I’ve only been here just around a year, is that this was not a crisis we would solve internally. This is a crisis that the community would help us join together and solve. And so, this was the way for us to reach out to the community to say, Here’s where we are. Here’s what we need to accomplish. Now let’s do this together!

And the community rallied and answered that call in a way that proves out everything I’ve heard about the Drupal community and my time here, and even quite frankly, during the recruitment process about how wonderful this community was. It’s true, no one lied to me. It’s exciting. [laughing] Yay!

IVAN: And what was the goal for DrupalCares?

HEATHER: The goal was to raise $500,000 which seemed doable, so really ways that people could participate in that. There was something for everyone as they say. So, new memberships and upgraded memberships counted toward that goal. Cash donations, which we had over 1,000 individuals just donate cash toward DrupalCares. We had DrupalCon existing sponsors that agreed to leave their dollars intact as we figured out what was coming next. We have organizations that donated cash. We had large individual donors. So, all of those things came together to actually help us meet that $500,000 goal, and we met it almost a month in advance of the original deadline, which was the end of May. So, this has been amazing to witness. It proves the strength of not only Drupal as an ecosystem, but the strength of our community, how quickly the businesses came together to make this work.

Dries (Buytaert), our project founder, and his wife, did an initial $100K matching campaign, so that every dollar that came in was matched. And then we had a group of Drupal businesses that came together and did the same, so that all of the impact was tripled. We met the goal! We have a great story to tell! And now we can really focus on DrupalCon Global and all the other things we do at the Association. So, the campaign was a huge success and very heartwarming for all of us involved. We’re glad to ring the bell on that one.

IVAN: How exciting. How terribly exciting that we’re able to reach the goal like that. That’s just wonderful. What else are we excited about besides DrupalCon Global? What are you looking forward to? Is it Drupal 9? Is it something else? I know I’m excited about Drupal 9. I’m excited to tell clients that it’s not going to be a big deal to upgrade, that they’re not even going to notice in most cases. That’s exciting for me in addition to the new features and the new things that it brings. But tell us about what you guys are excited about.

TIM: I can nerd out about this topic for hours, so [laughing] I’m going to jump into this one a little bit. So, of course we’re excited about the release of Drupal 9, just as a milestone for the community. So, that’s a really big deal. But as you say, and what folks out there maybe don’t quite understand yet, is Drupal 9 is the culmination of a huge amount of work over the course of about the last five years, over the entire Drupal 8 cycle, to realize a vision of a Drupal 8 software that receives continuous innovation, six-month feature releases on a regular basis, and that has an easy upgrade between major versions. The days of having to basically do a replatforming, a complete migration to go from one major version of Drupal to another are over, and we’re close enough now to the release to realize that, Yes, we’ve achieved that. We’ve actually reached that point. And that’s phenomenally exciting.

IVAN: [applause] That’s awesome.

TIM: Yeah, it’s just so cool. It’s wonderful to be at that point. I was here for Drupal 8. I was working at the Association during the Drupal 8 release cycle. And there’s just a night-and-day difference between what the struggle was to try and make that upgrade happen, and even just to hit the deadline for our release date back in the Drupal 8 cycle.

And so, every change that was made over the course of Drupal 8 has just brought us to a fantastic place on that front to make these updates easier and to make these initiatives and regular feature releases more impactful. There are a few things I’m particularly excited about over the horizon of what’s upcoming after 9 comes out, the 9.1, 9.2, the feature releases that are going to be coming next.

I think what I would say about what’s going to happen over the course of the lifecycle of Drupal 9 is Drupal 8’s initial development and much of its early feature releases, maybe up through 8.5 or so, were very, very heavily focused on fundamental and powerful architectural features of the software platform itself. There were a lot of the API first work, a lot of the entity management work, revisioning work, APIs for various components in Drupal, a lot of that work was a key focus in the Drupal 8 cycle, And it’s what’s made Drupal the incredibly powerful platform that it is.

I think a lot of work in Drupal 9 is actually going to be focused on empowering users who are not the most technical engineering users, to actually be able to fully take advantage of those sorts of features. So that’s going to come in several different forms, but by empowering those regular users to be able to take advantage of all those great architectural changes, is going to be, I think, the next phase both in adoption for Drupal and in really showcasing everything that it can do.

So, a few of those things include focus on automatic update initiatives for Drupal. There was some good work on the first phase last year, and the second phase work going on now and continuing into next year that will just help reduce the cost of ownership, to make it easier to keep sites secure and up to date, and there’s tremendous work going on there. There’s also work to make both the administrative interface of Drupal and the default theme for Drupal more modern, more robust with modern JavaScript workloads and things like that, but with all the same accessibility tools and everything that have always been a priority for Drupal.

I think what you’ll see is that these first several feature releases of Drupal are going to be about that layer where the regular Drupal user, the person who spends their day job in the admin interface becomes empowered to do more and more with each of those kinds of features.

IVAN: So, when are we expecting the actual release to come out? I think we were scheduled for the beginning of June. With the pandemic going on, are we still going to hit that? Let’s talk about when it’s actually coming out.

TIM: That’s also super exciting. So, I’m going to bury the lead for a moment just to build up the story, [laughing] ‘cause I’m excited about it.

IVAN: [laughing] Good. Good. Yeah, do that.

TIM: Okay, so back in Drupal 8, I don’t know, you probably remember that the Drupal 8 release cycle, I almost measured in terms of DrupalCons. I think there were probably four different DrupalCons where the community thought, Oh, this’ll be the DrupalCon where Drupal 8 comes out. And then it was like, Oh, no, we missed that one. It’s going to be the next one. And we missed that one. It’s going to be the next one. It was an angsty difficult time, and we eventually got there which is wonderful, and I think we’ve realized tremendous work since then. But that was pain we didn’t want to repeat, right?

IVAN: Right.

TIM: So, for Drupal 9, the core maintainer team established three official release windows. The idea was if we hit any of these three it would be an on-time release. So, the three candidates for release were going to be the beginning of June, August or December of this year. So, those were the three windows, and the whole idea was that we’d be very happy if we hit really any of those.

The June date was going to be the most aggressive date for sure. What I’m thrilled and slightly shocked by is, we’re going to hit the June 3rd release, so less than a month away! Drupal 9 is going to be out, and despite the pandemic and everything else, we’re going to be on time with our most aggressive and ambitious release date. So, it’s very, very exciting.

IVAN: That’s amazing. That’s just testament to the organization and all of the volunteers that have done all of the work to go into that and all the planning. And frankly the setup that’s been done in Drupal 8 to go to six-month release cycles to get into that habit and to set ourselves up for a release of Drupal 9. That’s, I would say, early not late or on time, but early.

TIM: Pretty much, yeah. Absolutely the earliest we could’ve conceived it happening. So, it’s really exciting.

IVAN: And what does the launch actually look like?

HEATHER: So, we’re working on that. [laughing] That’s part of the, Will it be on time? Surely not with everything going on. Oh, it is. Pivot again. So, part of what the Drupal Association is responsible for is, orchestrating the Drupal 9 launch. What we mean by that is putting together some of the marketing and PR planning around it as well as a toolkit that we can give to organizations. In particular Drupal businesses, so that they can promote it amongst their current and potential clients. And so, we’re putting that toolkit together now.

We have a draft press release that we’re going to get out to all the stakeholders very soon, so they have time to do translations and to build their press list, so that we can make this truly a global effort. But, we normally would’ve had a big splash in Minneapolis going into this, so we’ve got to find ways virtually to do it, which the community’s helping us organize some of those celebrations. But, we’ve got a lot of the marketing/PR effort on our side that we’re working on right now and should have some things coming out shortly. And Tim, I know you’ve got some more information from the community as well.

TIM: Yeah. Back during the Drupal 8 cycle again. We did this celebrate D8#endcampaign, and a lot of the people in the community who were involved in organizing that effort, are working together through the Drupal community Slack to set up a celebration for Drupal 9. And that’s going to be a way, so that on the release day global communities can have virtual celebrations about the release, and that’s going to be really exciting. I think that handles a lot of the internal side, but I think a lot of the efforts that Heather is talking about are really critical for the external perception of this release, and what it’s going to mean to the larger open source community and the technology community in general.

Major releases of Drupal are typically our opportunity to reintroduce Drupal to a wider audience. Our minor feature releases, even though they often have some really powerful new tools, don’t necessarily get the press coverage in the broader technology media that the major releases do, and we really want to make sure to capitalize on that. And so, that’s why this international translated press effort is underway, new landing pages with all the highlights about Drupal 9 are being built, all of those sorts of things. So, I think we’re really excited about that. And then, at the same time, we want to build that into momentum. I think it’s going to be a story that’s not about, Oh, we build up, we build up. June 3 is a big hooray, rah, rah, rah. And then we’re done. I think we’re going to need to be telling that story over the course of really a year or more about what it means, because we’ll have a lot of people who are then beginning their upgrade process.

We’ll have the feature releases starting to come out. We’re really going to need to share and tell that story. So, that’s going to be really important. And, we’re going to need to continue to innovate. So, Dries just published The Drupal Product Survey for 2020.

IVAN: I was just about to ask you about that.

TIM: Yeah, so that just went live. You can find it in the announcement banner on drupal.org or you can find it on Dries’ blog which is very easy to find dri.es, probably one of the shortest domain names on the web today.

IVAN: That’s wonderful.

TIM: So, I’m kind of jealous [laughing] but anyway, that product survey is something that’s been done annually, but especially around the time of a new major release. It’s a really powerful tool for end users, Drupal businesses, anybody in the community to actually have an influence on what comes next. So, I said earlier that I think one of the primary focuses is probably going to be on empowering users to use those low level tools that have been built in recent versions, to create better user experience to access all of those tools. But I think there’s other opportunities, and the survey is a great way to get that word out to the Drupal project leadership about what’s coming next.

IVAN: So, the Drupal Product Survey is currently listed on Dries'  website. We will link to it from the show notes. Go ahead and take that survey. It gives the community an opportunity to weigh in on the strategic direction of the project, and I think that’s just so valuable to do. Thank you for mentioning all of those things.

I want to say something about the new logo for Drupal 9. It’s so cool. [laughing] I love it. I love that it’s being unified across the brand. That work that SIX ELEVEN has done has just been so refreshing and evolutionary. It’s just lovely to see this is happening. Tell me about the new logo. Why do we need to unify across the brand and are we going to see a new logo for Drupal 10? What’s the thought process behind this?

HEATHER: So it’s interesting. There is not an intent to have a new logo for Drupal 10. Tim and I have been closely involved in this. There was a conversation both from key members of the community and internally at the Drupal Association that we wanted to establish what we call an evergreen logo. So, instead of being tied to versions, which if you’re thinking about most of the software and technology that you use, you’re not even aware of what version you’re using, you just know you’re using it. So, we want people to know they’re using Drupal and be less concerned about the version. So we think an evergreen logo is going to help us with that.

It’s going to help us from a marketing and PR perspective as well. A lot of the input that I get from community leaders in our business community is that we need more brand recognition. We need stronger branding in the technology community in general. And so when you have people spinning up different versions of logo, and you’ve got those all over the world, it’s hard to create that brand consistency. So, we’re hoping this evergreen logo will do that. And then it was important to us to really look at it and say, Given that Drupal the product and project, the Drupal Association and DrupalCon are all really tied together, it’s part of the same ecosystem. And so I really wanted to make sure and luckily the team agreed, and SIX ELEVEN did a great job pulling this together, about let’s make sure that that tie in is obvious.

I think we learned a lot through this DrupalCares campaign, that we can do a better job telling the Drupal Association story, and our tie to the Drupal project–that we’re not at arms length from what happens with Drupal from a technical perspective–that we’re more a part of that ecosystem in a big important way. And so we wanted to make sure that it was obvious that all those three things were together. And so, I like the logo, I’m glad you like it too.

SIX ELEVEN did great work. They stepped in as a really strategic partner at a time where we not only needed creativity in what they produced, but creativity in what they would expect from an expense perspective. So, knowing that we were having a bit of a financial crisis, they really stepped up and stepped in in a major way and created something that I’m really proud of, and to your point about will there be a new D10, the idea is no.

Tim’s been really involved in this too from the very beginning and has some thoughts on it. But I’m really excited that it’s out there. I think it’s yet another thing that I’m proud of the team and the community for coming together and getting done where we could’ve easily said, You know, there’s too much going on. Let’s put this off. But I really wanted to make a push to have these major products move forward.

TIM: Yeah, I would just add a few small things to that, which is just that the evergreen sense of the logo, that notion that we don’t need to change the brand identity for Drupal with major versions, ties exactly into what we’ve been saying about Drupal 9 and it’s upgrade path. The upgrade from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 is going to be as easy as a minor version update. There’s huge progress in the contribution ecosystem already to make the modules that everybody uses compatible with Drupal 9. Even before Drupal 9’s release, something like 40 percent of the top 200 modules are already compatible, huge amounts of other modules are compatible, we’ve got new automated tools. It’s just much easier to make this transition, and that’s going to be true from 9 to 10 as well.

My understanding from the core maintainers is that this commitment to this upgrade cycle is not a one off from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9. This is going to be true moving forward. So the Drupal 9 to 10 release should be just as easy, if not easier, since we’ll have more time to even further refine these tools and the strategy of doing things. And so, if that’s really our goal, if that’s what we’re saying is important in part of the Drupal development process, that should be reflected by our brand and reflected by our logo. And I think that’s where we landed. I’m really proud of that work as well.

IVAN: I’m proud of it as well. You guys have done a wonderful job of rolling it out as well and showing off the brand and using it, and I think it’s only going to get better from here on in. And I love the word evergreen. It’s just so true that that’s what the logo is intended to be. I wonder if we’ll ever stop using version numbers and just refer to Drupal as the product?

Just like you mentioned, Heather, I don’t think some clients in the business world really care about the version number. In most cases I think it brings angst and concern about the cost of an upgrade for example. So, if we make that upgrade easy, do we consider not even using version numbers?

TIM: You know, I think we’re moving in that direction. I think that the current set of brand tools offers both a version with a much smaller and de-emphasized version number and a version without it at all. And I think increasingly we’ll start to see that non-versioned identity come to the floor. I think right now the lead up to this change and the sense of Drupal 9 being a milestone is still important to people, because it is the culmination of that promise, it is the realization of, Oh yes, we said it was going to be easy, and it actually is. So, I think there’s this sense that we still need to acknowledge that 9 represents that milestone, but going beyond that I think that becomes less important, and hopefully we can realize that with this change.

IVAN: Wonderful. It’s been really awesome talking to you both. I can’t believe it’s been almost an hour. [laughing]. It’s been great having you on the show. Anything you guys want to say in closing before we wrap it up here?

HEATHER: I want to take this opportunity to thank everybody in the Drupal community, whether you’re an individual or an organization or a camp or a local association. Everybody really came together in this time of need and made it possible for us to not only execute on the DrupalCares campaign, but the support around pivoting to DrupalCon Global, the Drupal 9 launch, the new logo. All these things are happening, and we’re committed as a team to pushing forwarding and to doing good things with your investment. And we’re developing strategic plans right now at the Board of Directors level where we’re looking to do even more.

So, I think folks from DrupalCon Amsterdam heard us launch that we’re working on ways to continue removing barriers to make contribution easier. I’m looking at how we increase brand awareness and adoption of Drupal so that we can satisfy the needs of our Drupal business community. We’re looking at further development of security products around Drupal and enhancing our member and volunteer programs, and also looking at diversity, equity and inclusion programming. So, those are all things we’re committed to. COVID or not, that we’re going to create and push out to the community, and not only for the community itself, but to make Drupal an even stronger product.

IVAN: Rock on.

TIM: Anybody out there who’s listening who represents an end-user organization of Drupal, understand that you’re part of our community, come join us. Come participate with us. Find ways to get involved. You can reach out to us at the Association, or you can simply go to drupal.org and find the community where they are. But we’d love to bring you in closer and have you be part of the future of Drupal. So, we hope you’ll join us.

IVAN: Wonderful. Thank you so much, both of you, for spending your time with me today. It’s been a great pleasure talking with you.

HEATHER: Thank you for the opportunity. This was fun.

TIM: Yeah, thanks for having us. This was really great.

IVAN: Heather Rocker is the Global Executive Director of the Drupal Association, and Tim Lehnen is the Chief Technology Officer of the Drupal Association. You can find Heather on Twitter as @hsrocker and Tim is @hestenet. And I’m not sure that i said that right, but it’ll be in the show notes. [laughing] For more information about the Drupal Association, visit drupal.org/association, and don’t forget that you can make a contribution to the DA to sustain it through this pandemic and the devastating effects that COVID-19 is having. Just visit drupal.org/cares.

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 [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.

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