Cultivating Open Source and Drupal in China

Following on from my previous blog posts around how Drupal and open-source are growing in China, we must start looking at how the overall ecosystem can be nurtured to turn one of the most populous countries in the world on to Drupal.

From a developer perspective, it’s clear to me that, for the most part, what works for the rest of the world will also work in the Chinese microcosm. That is: running camps, sprints and hackathons is a fantastic way to get people together. But sponsorship and event management for these is sparse right now. Powerhouse organizations, dev shops, and associations have yet to fill the void and corral the developers into an organized community.

The mentality that must be overcome in developer minds is that Drupal and open-source are just jobs. Rather, a developer passion should be incited, as it has been with myself and countless other Drupal evangelists. Once developers have this passion, Drupal becomes more than just a job and they start to live and breath the technology. This submersion breeds a desire to code the Drupal way, produces more giving back, and leads to better developers who follow best practices.

Drupal for many Chinese developers right now is just a job. If a user story requires words to be added to every page and a hack to index.php does that, a developer may just use that approach. What causes this is a results-based style of development indicative of the lack of formal training and an a lack of understanding about the greater platform.

From observing communities globally, I see three key personas in the creation of a successful open-source community.

The community lead

Volunteers around the world take ownership of the running of their open-source communities. These people are the linchpins of a community, more often than not sacrificing their own time for the benefit of the others in the region and the project. Often the community lead will drive participation until the local group becomes self sustaining.

Businesses using Drupal

With Drupal providing a direct cause of business success, a responsible organization understands the merit of open-source tools, and the benefits they receive from using contributed code. The responsible organization should also give back through sponsorship, resource contribution, and other forms of community support. When enterprises and governments throw their support behind a technology, it’s seen as a stamp of approval to other organizations evaluating CMSs, thus furthering its use globally.

Community Members

Regardless of whether you’re a developer, a themer, a site builder, or an end user, the local Drupal community should cater to all. Much like a business, individuals have benefitted greatly from the freedom implicitly provided by Drupal. To return the favor, community members should attend events, speak about their projects to upskill others, and involve themselves.

The running of a successful community is dictated by:

  • Frequent meetings
  • A wide range of discussion topics to cater to community members with differing interests
  • Advocacy at a grass roots level to bring in new members without creating an elitist atmosphere that isolates beginners
  • Work with other communities to foster healthy relationships and further grow the community. Drupal 8 has become a more standardized PHP framework, using numerous other open-source tools. Community members, too, should broaden their skill set.
  • Representation to the local community, and communication with the global community to increase the wider perception of the members and their contributions
  • Proactive outreach to locals with Drupal skills who may not be aware of the community or uncertain of its aims. This can be done using:
  • Support from individual developers, design agencies, systems integrators, and enterprises with in-house Drupal talent.

Finally, from a China specific standpoint, I’ve been informed by local community members of two common misconceptions held by foreigners entering the Chinese Drupal scene:

  • Reluctance to participate isn't necessarily a malicious act. Quite often, culture is used as an excuse for not doing a good job or refusing to contribute code. An appreciation for the benefit of open-source practices, and a reduction in the expectation that financial compensation is required for contributing are key. A sense of pride too, means developers are less inclined to share their work for fear of being criticized.
  • Food, not beer, should be used as a bribe for community participation. Most community events I’ve been to in China end with a hotpot or shared dinner and an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other over food. My experiences elsewhere in the World focus more on open bars and catching up over drinks. Catering to the audience will allow community members to feel more comfortable joining in.