199: Constantly not reinventing the wheel - Drupal and the Agency

The co-founder of Blue-Bag, George Boobyer, has been in the business of making websites and online applications longer than Drupal has been in existence. In this conversation, we talk about why Drupal is his toolset of choice and how happy he is that PHP and Drupal 8 are catching up with object oriented code, interoperability, and other factors that will make his work for his clients even better.

"We took a look at [Drupal]; looked at some great podcasts and screencasts of how to do things with it and we were sold then and there. And we completely changed the whole business from proprietary to open source."

Ready for Drupal 8

I asked George if looking at Drupal 8 under the hood was like coming home. "Definitely. The principles that we had in Object Pascal, it's exciting to be able to start using these again." Drupal 8 moves Drupal into territory that George is very familiar with and he's very excited about the change: "Being delphi programmers, everything we did was very object-oriented and we used to do a load of object-oriented work in C#, so jumping in [Drupal] 8, the object orientation," of the code base, "is something that really appeals to us."

What are you most excited about in Drupal 8? - "There's many things. I think the integration with Symfony is exciting. I think that using standards and frameworks that have a wider usage outside of the Drupal environment ... certainly as an employer, that's going to be attractive to people that we employ ... that they've got a wide skill-base that's got a greater applicability. I think it's more exciting for a younger programmer." George also hopes Drupal 8 will make it easier for him to attract employees.

Technology choices: from closed to open

"We're not just forcing Drupal on people because we want to work with Drupal. If Drupal couldn't do it, we would do it another way."

15 years ago, when Blue-Bag was founded, the technology choices available to build online solutions were different than those today. In 2000, open source software was in its infancy; Drupal had yet to be released. George and his co-founder Guy Schneerson started with a selection of proprietary tech.

In 2000, "We were working with Microsoft platforms with SQL Server, but writing web applications in Borland Delphi (in Object Pascal), writing ISAPI-based applications." We were doing that for companies like The Natural History Museum. We wrote a system for them that they used for 12 years. And that was based around templating and all the sorts of things which we're familiar with in Drupal, but obviously, we built from scratch ... from the ground up in Delphi. With the templating system that we developed for them, they were able to restyle it themselves without any input from us. Those sorts of things that we take for granted in Drupal are key and that's what attracted us to Drupal."

Finding that Drupal's concepts matched their thinking, "Was very appealing. But the big difference for us was open source because we were working in Microsoft technologies, proprietary technologies. Our customers were having massive hardware and license refreshes every year with no change of functionality," including paying for just turning something on, not knowing whether it would solve your problems. "We were managing hardware stacks that were costing tens of thousands of pounds a year just to have a license in a drawer somewhere without any change."

Drupal lets you focus on the interesting bits

"We decided to go to open source. We looked around and evaluated a wide range of frameworks. We dabbled with Wordpress. We wrote some automated sites with Wordpress, but we just found it not really flexible for our needs. We came across Drupal because we did a lot of work in the environmental sector and it was well used in customers that we already provided solutions for. So we thought we ought to take a look at it, so we were up with the technologies that they used. We took a look at it; looked at some great podcasts and screencasts of how to do things with it and we were sold then and there. And we completely changed the whole business from proprietary to open source five years ago. That was a revelation. We threw away all our Windows machines and bought Macs ... got open source stacks, never used Windows servers again ..."

"Because we'd dabbled with Wordpress, the first thing [we noticed about Drupal 6] was that it wasn't the prettiest. But from our background, the thing that really stood out to us was its capabilities as a framework. The prettiness would come later. That's our responsibility, to make it pretty. With other CMSs that we looked at, the ceiling was so much lower and it was obvious out of the box to us as solution providers. It was obvious we weren't going to be able to extend those in a meaningful way like we would be able to with Drupal. We started doing things with Drupal that ... coming from a Delphi background, where we had to write everything ourselves, from user logins through to database connections and all the rest of it ... it just gave us a massive [leg] up and just do the bits that were different and customized for that project. That was immediately obvious to us ..."

A massive community sharing massively helps you ...

"With Drupal, you're constantly not reinventing the wheel."

Work better and faster - "When people pay for expensive licenses, they tend to be very precious about their code. From our perspective," continues George, "when we worked in C#, that was a really lonely place to be. I mean there were a lot of people working in C#, but there wasn't anything like the community and the sharing of knowledge [in Drupal]. If there are limitations in terms of it being the best or the most sexy from a developer's perspective, I think the community more than makes up for that." Drupal's killer app is the people, "and the knowledge sharing and the encouragement to share knowledge. That's key. Who hasn't solved problems more quickly by being able to find other people who're willing to share their solutions?"

Work more securely - "One of the things I am particularly responsible for is security. The community of contributions in terms of finding and solving security issues is a massive one which you don't get the benefit from in proprietary code. In proprietary code, if there are security issues, people tend to keep quiet about them. That really stands out; the fact that the community collaborates and communicates well on security issues."

Work more efficiently - "You're constantly not reinventing the wheel. We like to think that we only ever write custom code where it's absolutely necessary." Drupal lets us focus on the interesting problems and benefit from commodity solutions wherever possible.

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