Laura Caraker's journey at Acquia is remarkable. In this podcast, she and I talk through how she joined Acquia Sales, wanted to know more about Drupal and ended up joining the technical side of the house via her stint at Acquia U, Acquia's Drupal and tech boot camp. Her advice for others interested in technology? "Don’t be afraid to get involved."
Interview video - 12' 30"
Early days: Acquia Sales
jam: So why don’t you introduce yourself? Tell us who you are and what you do now.
Laura Caraker: Sure. So my name is Laura Caraker. I am currently on the Solutions Architecture Team as an associate solutions architect. I have been here for a little bit over two years now.
jam: I remember meeting you in Acquia’s old office a couple of times because your desk was positioned in a place that I would always walk through the office, and you and your deskmate at that time seem to be having far too much fun.
Laura Caraker: Yes. Yes, we really did and it was a great place to sit too because I could see everybody coming through. So it was nice.
jam: What was your job back then?
Laura Caraker: I was a business development representative. I think that was close to when I first started. I remember you were wearing your mustache suit, full mustache suit.
jam: Well, I mean, I have to keep up appearances, right?
Laura Caraker: Yes, of course.
jam: Now, what does a BDR do, a business development representative?
Laura Caraker: So a BDR is an entry-level sales position within the company. So, it’s generally for people right out of college or looking to jumpstart their career. If they’re looking into the business side that’s the first-level role they would take.
Love at first DrupalCon
jam: But Laura, that’s a sales job and now you’re doing a Drupal job! :-) So this actually totally fascinated me. So here’s what I observed that really truly captivated me. I met Laura in this entry-level sales position and then at DrupalCon Portland, I ran into you.
Laura Caraker: Austin.
jam: Was it Austin?
Laura Caraker: Austin.
jam: At a DrupalCon I ran into you and I said, “Wow! You’re here!” because that’s – at a large company like we are, I thought it was a little bit unusual that a junior salesperson would be at DrupalCon. I said, “What are you doing here?” And you said, “We won this, you know? We made this number and our prize was to come to DrupalCon,” and I asked you about it. And how was your first DrupalCon?
Laura Caraker: I loved it. It was also my first time in Austin, so that contributed to the positive experience too, but it was great having been here for just a few months at that point to go do a community event like that with coworkers you don’t usually talk to and see the community itself as well.
jam: What was your tech experience before you came to Acquia?
Laura Caraker: Slim to none. I know very basic or I knew very basic coding like HTML. It was more of a hobby. I had a WordPress blog before coming here so – but not far beyond that.
jam: Do you have a first Drupal memory?
Laura Caraker: Probably DrupalCon itself was the most prevalent Drupal memory itself. With the actual technology, the first time I used Drupal was Drupal Gardens.
Teach me all the Drupal!
jam: Okay. So what I’ve observed is you came in as a salesperson. You got excited about this thing and you’re now in a technical job. Of course, the piece in between that somehow was Acquia U, but describe working in this organization and what happened along the way, how your – what caught your attention, what got you excited.
Laura Caraker: Sure. So I’d say what got me the most excited about working here was the people. So you always want to perform very well because you enjoy the people that you’re working with and you want to work hard for them. But every day in sales I found myself on phone conversations, talking to people about Drupal and our products, but never fully understanding it to the level I wanted to, to have the confidence to really sell it, and since I was always sort of fascinated by technology in general, I wanted to learn more. So I was in that role or moving along that team for a year and a half-ish, and then I had always been interested in Acquia U and the idea behind it, but there hadn’t really been anybody internally that had wanted to do it, and when I saw that the prerequisites weren’t too demanding, I reached out to Amy and asked what she thought about it, and I talked to my boss, and then everything kind of came together.
jam: Wow! So, describe how it was going through the curriculum and getting up to speed on PHP, and version control, and Agile, and all this stuff.
Laura Caraker: Very difficult. It was difficult too because I started with a group of maybe eight to nine other people and they all had different levels of experience. Some of the kids had coded for a while just using different programs. But generally, around the room, not many of us knew Drupal very well. So that was a little less intimidating. It was definitely difficult to learn everything at once and try and put it all together, to understand what it all means together in workflow and things like that, but I made it through. I survived. I’m still learning every day.
jam: Is it fair to describe it is a boot camp?
Laura Caraker: Yes. Like a boot camp classroom, basically.
jam: What sort of – well, you’re in a technical role now at Acquia in the solutions architecture team which enables people to design their projects right, to succeed at them?
Laura Caraker: Yes.
Baking it all in
jam: What sort of career doors do you think Acquia U has opened for you?
Laura Caraker: Well, initially, my first intention was to go to Acquia U to enable me more as a sales rep. The initial plan was to come right back to the sales team. So around the end of that program, I was starting to get a feel for other departments. So right then and there that opened the opportunity to join the solutions architecture team. I had other opportunities too. It was very flexible now having the Drupal knowledge and Acquia knowledge of where you can go. So, I really liked all the different opportunities I had and the solutions architecture opportunity was the most attractive to me because it combined skills that I had already gained in sales with the new skills I had, and I knew that if I went right back to sales, I may not exercise all the new skills I was learning. So I was nervous to lose them and I wanted to actually work with them every day so...
jam: So you got – you’re baking them in now?
Laura Caraker: Yes.
jam: Right, and you’re making a broader base really, and using it every day is, of course, the best way to really make it stick?
Laura Caraker: Yes.
Biz background with tech skills - the future is bright!
jam: I see that. What was your major at college?
Laura Caraker: Sport management.
jam: Okay, but management, right?
Laura Caraker: Yes, I was in a business school.
jam: You did a business-y thing at the business school and now you’ve got all of these technical skills, and your role is actually right in between those two worlds...
Laura Caraker: Yes.
jam: ...because, essentially, you need to take business require – figure out what the business requirements are which is a set of skills, in and of itself, that’s quite tricky, and then express those in a technical architecture with our specific technology. That’s actually really exciting because I think that you’ve got an enormously – a growing and very complementary skillset that’s going to make all sorts of things possible in the future.
Laura Caraker: Right.
jam: What’s your first startup going to be then?
Laura Caraker: Oh, I have no idea. I haven’t thought that far yet.
jam: I mean in one possible set of outcomes, right? This is actually an ideal position to be like a technical founder or co-founder of something that’s wow!
Laura Caraker: Tom Erickson started as a presales guy.
jam: Career path "Tom Erickson"!
jam: No - so what I love about this is that you went from sports business background into selling and our crazy technical thing caught your eye, right? And you went for that.
Laura Caraker: Yes, and I actually did minor in IT in school in addition to the whole sport management business thing but it was pretty basic level, just binary, basic computer IT thing. So, it’s cool how both of them combined into this role, a few years later, where I am.
"Don’t be afraid to get involved."
jam: It is tremendously exciting and I want to point out that Drupal and technology today, despite how complicated things are - complex things are, and how many systems and how much there is in today’s web and digital technologies. There are enormous possibilities for people to come in. Self-taught, university-taught, you can go to boot camps. You can read books. You can really – talk about people who are – say something to the people out there who are not sure they’re doing the right thing, and talk about the chances that you see in technology today.
Laura Caraker: Well, I mean in terms of technology, there are a lot of chances. Drupal specifically? I’d say out of the different technologies I’ve seen, it’s one of the – it definitely has a learning curve, but it’s one of the easiest ones to get involved with because of how vast the community is, and all the resources that are available. So this entire journey has been a huge learning experience for me, but I’ve never had an issue finding help, whether it be with an Acquia or within the Drupal community itself.
jam: Very good.
Laura Caraker: So don’t be afraid to get involved.
jam: Don’t be afraid to get involved. That’s really cool. When are you giving your first DrupalCon session?
Laura Caraker: Someday I will. I’ve actually been doing a lot of Drupal camps, gearing up and potentially preparing some sessions here and there, demos. I’ll be doing something at DrupalCon this year hopefully. We’ll see. Nothing – maybe not a session yet, but that’s the goal one day.
jam: Awesome. But you’re definitely out there engaging with the community, showing people how to use stuff. Wow, fantastic! So thank you. So you’re passing it on straightaway as well?
Laura Caraker: Yes.
jam: I find your story so exciting. It’s really – congratulations.
Laura Caraker: Thank you.
jam: It just seems it’s incredibly – it’s exciting. I’m excited for you. I hope you’re...
Laura Caraker: Yes, I’m pumped. I feel very, very lucky to have the opportunities that I’ve had here at Acquia and with Drupal in general. So it’s very exciting.
jam: Welcome to our community.
Laura Caraker: Thank you. I love it.
jam: Thanks for taking the time.
Laura Caraker: Yes, no problem. Thanks, jam.