192: Sustainable contribution - 1/2 - How Drupal has solved and evolved

Part 1 of 2 - Drupal user number 5622, John Faber, has been involved with Drupal since late 2003. He is a Managing Partner with Chapter Three, a San Francisco-based digital agency. Their slogan sums up well what a lot of us think about what we do: "We build a better internet with Drupal." John and I got on a Google Hangout on March 17th, 2015, to talk about the business advantages of contribution and sustainability when basing your business on open source software. We also touch on Drupal 8's potential power as a toolset and for attracting new developers, doing business in an open source context, and more! Check out part 2 here: Sustainable contribution 2/2 - Giving back is the same as making money.

This conversation was recorded via Google Hangout and hotel WiFi. I apologize for the occasionally poor audio quality.

Contribution: Pay it forward or just common sense?

With a gruelling, 5-year release cycle nearing the finish line, Drupal 8 has been a challenge for the Drupal community in many ways. It has raised many questions about the contribution models and their sustainability, from "amateur" contributor burnout to professionalization, to how to credit clients and employers for contributions, and more.

John and Chapter Three have taken an approach that only a few companies have taken so far: hiring a full time contributor to do nothing but work on Drupal itself. Alex Pott is on staff at Chapter Three with the title "Drupal Research Engineer". Alex doesn't do any billable or client work; his the specific responsibility to be a Drupal (core) contributor.

Running a business in the context of an open source toolset, according to John, "Has the tendency to straddle the double yellow line ... There's making money and there's contributing back. And we've tried to do a good job of that."

Drupal 8, big and live

The Fortune 50 Drupal 8 early adopter that John mentions ("We want to be innovative and we are willing to roll the dice on Drupal 8.") is C2HM Hill. Their site was built by Chapter Three and runs on Acquia Cloud. John points out that having Alex Pott working for Chapter Three gives them legitimacy to offer Drupal 8 services and an emergency "let's ask Alex!" channel if they were to get stuck anywhere.

"I have to tell you, it really excites me. I feel like as soon as we have this adoption rolling with somebody and they see some success on this thing, Drupal 8 is really going to be the future for a lot of organizations who've invested their time in it--Chapter Three being one of them."

Drupal 8, Drupal restart

I put it to John that some of the new features of Drupal 8--everything is an entity, everything is fieldable, combined with a powerful, flexible, Drupal-Views powered admin back end--mean that we're entering a new era of sitebuilding. We don't even know what best practices are going to look like, how much we'll need modules, how much will be configuration "recipes", and of course how much will be Drupal wrappers around other, external PHP libraries. He got very excited: "It's kind of like the beginning of Drupal again. When Drupal 4 came out, we knew that this was a platform that had extensibility, legs, and this extremely cool modular system that allowed you to do anything. And I feel as though Drupal 8 with CMI and other tools built into it ... We're right at the beginning of ... Now we have a new platform that can do ... We already know what the old platform can do and it's great! But this is great times two! Or great times unknown!"

Guest dossier

  • Name: John Faber
  • Twitter: @flavoflav2000
  • Drupal.org: flavor
  • Work affiliation: Managing Partner, Chapter Three.
  • 1st Drupal version: 4
  • How John found Drupal: "Some random guy in the [offshore fishing] club who had done very well in the beginning of the Internet era sent an email: 'You should check out Drupal. Cool project.' I installed it and I was like, 'This solves all of my immediate problems right now.' And from that point on, I began to get the idea that Drupal was actually a pretty good way to make some money, so I got myself a little cluster of clients. It's evolved from there."
  • The Fortune 50 Drupal 8 early adopter that John mentions is C2HM Hill. Their site was built by Chapter Three and runs on Acquia Cloud

Interview video