Learning Drupal 8: Mitosis Isn't Just for Science

You probably learned about mitosis in high school science class and have since forgotten all about it. Mitosis is the scientific term for when chromosomes in a cell nucleus separate into two identical sets of chromosomes, each in its own nucleus.

We performed our own type of mitosis when preparing the staff at Acquia for the release of Drupal 8. We divided, conquered and divided all over again – accelerating the pace of training that otherwise would have plodded along and drained internal resources.

This is the third installment in a series on Drupal 8 instruction and it seems appropriate at this point to look at how our spin on mitosis not only helped us stay focused on the ordinary flow of business – employees needed anywhere from 10 to 80 hours of training, depending on their job duties – but also had people benefitting from the power of collaboration.

As we started the training program, we had already read a lot of documents to prepare fro Drupal 8. But as helpful as they were, we knew nothing would beat the advantages gained from hands-on training. It also made sense to train in bite-sized fashion so no one would feel overwhelmed by learning the more than 200 new capabilities of Drupal 8 while also trying to stay on top of regular work.

So we first paired four people into two groups and gave them – and me and my co-author Kent Gale – two months to port a module from to Drupal 7 to Drupal 8. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a thorough, consistent stream of documentation to lean on, so our pairs immediately went off in different directions. At that point, we changed tracks and reorganized groups: teaming one person who knew even a little bit about Drupal 8 with another who knew nothing about it. Right away, there was a constructive back and forth with each pair. Trainees did spend time reading materials on their own, but they clearly benefitted by working together. Between sharing a computer and spending a lot of time together, it became a lot easier for them – and us – to ask the right questions and solve problems.

When that round ended, both members of each team understood Drupal 8, and each then paired with employees who needed instruction, again performing our version of mitosis. Four became eight; eight became 12. We eventually dropped the original four trainees and kept moving along, with a steady rate of 12 trainees. Twelve was the ideal rate of training we could support.

Once we gained steam, we recognized each training session had to last three months rather than two so we could provide 40 hours of instruction to our higher level people, the “code makers” and “fixers.” Three months enabled us to handle vacations and sick days, and gave us a firm idea of the speed we needed to maintain when training.

It goes without saying that when your outfit starts planning training, it’s crucial to determine how quickly you can do it. Only when managers and teams collaborate will you be able to truly learn what can be done.