Nov 07 2018
Nov 07

Your browser does not support the audio element. TEN7-Podcast-Ep-044-DrupalCamp-Ottawa.mp3

It is our pleasure to welcome once again Tess Flynn, TEN7's DevOps Engineer and DrupalCamp ambassador, to discuss the 2018 DrupalCamp Ottawa.

Here's what we're discussing in this podcast:

  • 2018 DrupalCamp Ottawa
  • Minnesota maple syrup
  • Camp format
  • Ottawa's move to Drupal open source
  • Award for travelling the farthest to attend
  • Camp without BOFs
  • Drupal 101
  • Keynote: “Building Accessible Experiences”
  • Accessibility is a core aspect of the entire design experience
  • Socketwench presents: "Healthcheck your site!"
  • Building software as a service
  • Privacy laws differences between Canada and the US


IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I am your host Ivan Stegic. In this episode of the Podcast, we’re talking to Tess Flynn about her visit to DrupalCamp Ottawa 2018, that happened on Friday, October 26. Tess, welcome back to the Podcast.

TESS FLYNN: Could you even use fortnight now? Isn’t that copyrighted?

IVAN: (laughing) Well, it’s spelled differently, so I think we might be ok. Yea, good point though. Let’s see, DrupalCamp Ottawa. You just got back from Canada. Did you bring back any maple syrup?

TESS: I did, but the problem is, that some of the maple syrup we get here locally actually tastes a bit better than the kind you get from the touristy travel shops that you get in Canada.

IVAN: Yea, we’re a little spoiled in Minnesota with maple syrup, I agree. So, DrupalCamp Ottawa is a little different in format than DrupalCorn that we talked about last. It’s one day of Camp, it’s a Friday, so 25% the length of the other Camps. How did that feel compared to the extended four days that we talked about last time?

TESS: I think that it actually felt rather appropriate. Mostly because you can’t really talk about this Camp without mentioning the fact it is doing head on comparison competition with BADCamp.

IVAN: Oh, that’s right. I’d forgotten that BADCamp was at the same time. What’s the format for BADCamp?

TESS: BADCamp’s a little bit more like TCDrupal. There’s a day of training, then two days of sessions, then a day of contributions.

IVAN: Do you think that affected attendance in Ottawa?

TESS: Well, I actually was wondering about this, as well. The question whether or not is, if you actually had the choice between the two, would you go to one or the other. And I think that’s kind of a false dichotomy, because from another perspective Ottawa is in a completely different country. Even though it’s not very far from Minnesota, at the same time it is technically a different country. So, there are reasons to actually choose a date that even coincides with one of the biggest regional Camps in the United States.

IVAN: And it’s also on the complete opposite end of the Continent as well.

TESS: Yea, it’s on the Eastern time zone.

IVAN: And, how large was DrupalCamp Ottawa, in terms of number of people?  Just share attendance. Just a guess.

TESS: They said that about 250 people registered. Some of those were going to be sponsors, and a fairly typical pattern is that they’ll register more people than actually shows up. So, I would probably guess maybe 175 at least, probably more like 200 and change.

IVAN: Wow, that’s a whole lot for regional Camp and only one day of programming.

TESS: Well, you know, it’s that other country factor, and there’s a lot to really unpack there, because it’s not just a DrupalCamp somewhere else. There are specific regional concerns that go along with having a DrupalCamp in Canada and using Drupal in Canada.

IVAN: So, let’s talk about that a little bit. Would you guess that most of the attendees were from Ottawa and from Ontario?

TESS: I would probably say so, because Ottawa, from what I recall, is the Capitol. So, there’s a lot of government in Ottawa. A lot. And, Ottawa is trying to pivot towards doing more Drupal open source, and more open source in general. So, the idea that a lot of people would attend this Camp to get more open source information makes perfect sense. And, to put it in the same city that a lot of people work in, also makes a lot of sense.

IVAN: It does make a lot of sense. Now, I heard you received a special award.

TESS: (laughing) There was kind of a joke about that. As a Camp speaker, there’s always kind of a little bit of a joke about, if you were the farthest one to attend the Camp. And, from my knowledge, I might’ve been one of the few Americans to attend the entire Camp, and probably the only one that really needed to take a flight to get there.

IVAN: (laughing) What was the prize? Or was it just a proverbial pat on the back?

TESS: It was more like, “oh, really, I am the furthest away one. Oh, that’s nice.” That was it. (laughing)

IVAN: (laughing) Now, I looked at the schedule and it looked like it was broken up into three tracks for the day, and it loosely seemed to be something along the lines of front end, back end and everything else. And, everything else was kind of like business, strategy, communications, content, which kind of makes sense. Did I get that right? Was that more or less how it was?

TESS: It certainly felt like that. I mean with only one day of Camp, and only about four different session periods, there’s not really that much need to break it up along too many different functional lines. There’s only so many slots available.

IVAN: And no BOFs from what I could tell.

TESS: No. I don’t think they had the room available at the venue in order to do that, but they might have.

IVAN: I see. Nice segue into the location of where the event was, it was at the University of Ottawa. The website says the SITE Building. Could you tell me more about the space?

TESS: That place has just got such an interesting personality. How can I explain this? Like if someone took material design and construction aesthetic and mashed them together, you get this combination of bright colors and metals and all sorts of interesting things. It was really, really, a nifty little venue. It was very visually interesting. And, because the Camp wasn’t particularly big, everything was in one building, so it was very easy to find everything.

IVAN: So, three rooms, all in one building. I would assume lunch in a central place, as we’ve come to expect?

TESS: That’s correct.

IVAN: Right. That’s great. That seems to make quite a cozy atmosphere for attendees. I really like those, when they’re all close together and bunched up. Let’s talk a little about the pre-keynote. It looked like there was a session on the scheduled called Drupal 101, that seemed to be very inviting for beginners, kind of before the keynote happens, if you’re new to Drupal, not sure what a node is. The description says, “bring your coffee and get a quick course in Drupal terminology.” I love this idea of kind of giving an intro before the festivities or the keynote begins.

TESS: Yea, I rather liked how that went because it provides a nice bit of framing, that would’ve otherwise been taken out by a training session on the first day of a multi-day Camp. And, I think it was a nice compromise in order to allow people who have heard about this Drupal thing, and then get a nice introduction, so that they can get value out of the Camp. And, because the Camp was on a Friday, some people might be attending this on their work hours.

IVAN: Yea, I think that’s a great welcoming idea. It would be interesting to talk to the organizers to hear what their take on the motivation behind that was. So then, that rolled into the keynote and the keynote was titled, “Building Accessible Experiences.” And, it was from developer advocacy lead at Shopify. I can’t pronounce Tiffany’s last name, I’m going to try, Tiffany Tse. Any ideas if I got close, Tess?

TESS: No, I don’t think the coffee had quite kicked in, and I think I barely missed her last name too. So, I can’t quite remember the pronunciation either.

IVAN: (laughing) We’re sorry Tiffany, if you’re listening. Call us and let us know how we did. Yea, so Shopify, first of all, I love the fact that the keynote was from someone outside of the Drupal ecosystem.

TESS: I just really appreciated this particular keynote. A lot of keynotes lately, including one that I gave myself, tended to be a lot more broad-reaching, a lot more big ideas and directions and business policies. And this one was a lot more down to earth, a lot more practical, really put you into the pilot seat of, “okay, you’re going to be an accessibility designer. What’s wrong with this?” And, it was just a wonderful experience, because it really sat you down and made you think about what you were looking at, and it was nice to do that as the first thing in a Camp, because it felt very direct.

IVAN: Glad to hear it. So, what do you think your major takeaway from the keynote was?

TESS: Well, I think the general message that I took away from it was that accessibility is not something that you can just bolt on later. It is a core aspect of the entire design experience, and you should consider it very carefully from the very beginning, because a site can be a lot more versatile than say an application can be. And, it has a lot more audiences, and a lot more modalities in which that, it is presented to different users. And, it was really, really, well communicated.

IVAN: And, further to that, the thing that I always want to try to remind everyone we’re working with, and the people that we help with our sites is, not only is accessibility important to think about from the design aspect and right from the beginning, but it doesn’t stop after you’ve launched a site. It’s something that continues, that all members of the team that are responsible for the site have to be aware of and continue to build on. It’s not something that you just launch as a feature, and you’re done. So, I’m glad to hear that was a good keynote. And, it looks like your session was directly after the keynote, in the same room (laughing). So, did you luck out and have a whole lot of people stay?

TESS: I apparently did have a lot of people staying for that session. I was kind of surprised, actually, about the number of people that attended. I think it was some 50 people that I counted right before I started. And, I know that some people came in after I got started as well, that I didn’t get a chance to count.

IVAN: And you gave away all the TEN7 swag at your session.

TESS: Yea. We were running a little bit late because the keynote ran a little bit long. So, when I first set up, I basically put everything out, and anyone who was an early bird I said, “here, come take. Don’t make me take this back through American security.”

IVAN: (laughing) Yea, we were a little light on swag at this Camp, because of the fact that you were traveling internationally. But, I’m sure we had enough to make some people happy there.

TESS: It all vanished anyway.

IVAN: Yea, that’s what we want. Any particularly interesting questions that came up in your session, that maybe you haven’t heard before?

TESS: So, the thing with my sessions is that very rarely do people actually come up with questions, because once I tend to get started, it’s really hard to get a question in edgewise, because I just have (laughing) such a presentation that is just a firehose of nonstop rambling for almost an hour. And it’s really hard for people to just stop and ask questions. Sometimes people do, but my sessions tend not to get a lot of questions.

IVAN: I think you do a great job of explaining things so clearly with analogies and with detail that, that’s maybe why there aren’t any questions. I certainly appreciate attending those. So, just looking at the other sessions on the schedule, a few that peaked my interest, “The New Face of CiviCRM.” CiviCRM still makes me a little scared, so I’m glad that there’s a new face. “Building Software as a Service in Drupal,” another session I thought was something I might have attended had I been at the Camp. And then, “Drupal as the Base of an Inclusive Workplace,” which was Mike Gifford’s session. It’s an interesting idea. I kind of read the description of the session, the fact that Drupal is largely still known as a CMS, and people really don’t realize that it’s much more than that, especially when you think about accessibility and user experience. You went to that session, right?

TESS: I did. But I went in with the expectation, because I didn’t read the description very well, that it was going to be a little bit more culturally focused, and how to build a more diverse team as a result of using Drupal. And, so, when they started going on the technical merits I was like, “Ahhh",  and it’s totally my fault, I didn’t read the session description very well.

IVAN: Oh. So, what was your takeaway then from that session?

TESS: A lot of it reminded me of the keynote, but it also kept pointing out one thing that was really important is that, accessibility doesn’t just benefit those who are disabled, because accessibility is not just going to be for those who have a permanent disability, but a temporal or situational disability as well. And, there was a lot of focus on bringing that into the conversation as well.

IVAN: Mike does a great job of being inclusive, and I imagine that was a wonderful session to attend. Did you go to the “Building Software as a Service on Drupal” session?

TESS: I did go to that one. I also, kind of was hoping this one was going to be a little bit more business focused. It actually was mostly a technical discussion about how to use Aegir, which has been around for the better part of 10 years in Drupal circles, and is still going, and is still a method to provide a Drupal solution as a software as a service. And, the next version of Aegir is supposed to finally support more than just Drupal, and virtually any php application, and possibly any web application that can be deployed.

IVAN: So that’s how you say it?

TESS: What? Software as a service?

IVAN: No. Aegir. I always wondered about that.

TESS: No, I only remember that because I think I listened to. Was it a Drupal easy podcast, like years ago, half a decade ago, about Aegir? And that was like one of the first things that they were going to talk about was, “how do you pronounce this? It’s got a diphthong in it, why?”

IVAN: (laughing) I want to spend some time talking about this building software as a service session. So, from what I understand, Aegir’s basically a way for you to host your own site, and maybe even sell hosting to others as a service, particularly just Drupal sites. And you said that it would, in the next version, be supporting more than just Drupal sites, but PHP applications as well. Is this the basis for Pantheon? Is this where Pantheon started? I have no idea. How is it similar or different to Pantheon?

TESS: I don’t know if Aegir was actually used in Pantheon at the beginning. I do know that they were using their own home brewed containerized solution, possibly using Xen or KVM at some point, and that they recently transitioned to Google Kubernetes engine in order to run most of their container systems. And primarily the product that they have is a web front end and a pricing tier in order to better leverage all of that usage. And, I’m not sure if they ever really utilized Aegir for that or not.

IVAN: It looked like this was a session that was more in the style of a BOF, the way the description was written. It felt like it was going to be more discussion oriented. Did that turn out to be the case?

TESS: It did turn out to be the case. I was really hoping for a lot more perspective from the business perspective, because it felt like it was very technically focused, very capability focused, as in Aegir can do this, Aegir can do this, this is how you do this. Yes, you can run it on your own hardware, why would you want to do that? And, this is where one of the key things that I took away from the entire Camp starting sitting in my mind, is, that, because I’m not in the West, there are different concerns for hosting, and a lot of Canadian companies do not want to rely on any US hosting. And I cannot blame them, considering our utterly lackadaisical privacy laws. And, I’m being generous when I describe it that way.

IVAN: So, what turned out to be the options for Canadian companies for doing hosting, if they’re not going to rely on US technology?

TESS: Well, I think that AWS is now involved, but that’s still a company that’s technically owned and operated from the US, and that might not be as comfortable for people. I actually haven’t had enough time yet, to really investigate the hosting market in Canada. It feels like it needs more development, honestly, is my initial impression. I could be wrong about that. I can guess that there’s probably a lot of on-premise hosting, but not nearly enough, like cloud-based hosting. And, there might be a lot of shared hosting, as well, that is used by a lot of smaller sites. But I’m really concerned that there’s just not enough cloud hosting, that is also hosted in Canada, in order to make sure that the privacy laws still apply, that the local/regional laws still apply, and that these are actually utilized for Canadian sites. And, this may be a hollow argument if a lot of the Drupal market share is government, because they’ll be more likely to self-host than use cloud products. Although, that made me think the following day, why isn’t it that the Canadian government itself, doesn’t form a wholly-owned and operated company that does nothing but hosting an infrastructure providing in a cloud facility. They’ve got to have more than one data center under their ownership already.

IVAN: Yea, that’s a good point. It seems like a market opportunity, that a company like Pantheon or Acquia could certainly take advantage of. But then at the same time, they’re a US company that are operating in Canada, and so, maybe there’s a Pantheon Canada that gets formed, or a company that’s run and operated in Canada by similar or related people to the same US company, and yet they have their own privacy standards and use privacy protocols that are acceptable to the Canadian laws. I think Google has GKE zones that are available in Canada, so in theory, you could potentially do that. I suppose.

TESS: Yea, I think there probably are some GKE zones in Canada as well. I have to look into that to be sure.

IVAN: Maybe we should start a hosting company, Tess.

TESS: I’m all for that.

IVAN: (laughing)

TESS: Ottawa isn’t bad, but I like Toronto more. (laughing)

IVAN: (laughing) Ok. We could be wherever you want.

TESS: This is a thing of mine though. When I used to do business travel a lot, I noticed that I tend to get immediate impressions of places that I touchdown in. It’s really weird, because it doesn’t seem to make any logical sense to me either. But Toronto had a very familiar vibe to what I’m used to in Minneapolis, but there were certain rounded corners that I didn’t have from the same vibe in Minneapolis. And those were probably where a lot more of a Canadian cultural vibe was poking out. And, Ottawa felt very similar to that, but a slower pace. It’s a little bit hard to describe. I wanted to describe it using a music analogy. So, the thing that pops to my mind is that, there is a video game called Undertale that has been around for a while, and towards the end there’s this one area of the game that has very upbeat, fast paced music. But if you take an alternate story path in that game, that same music plays, but in a very slow, lumbering pace instead. And, I didn’t get that exact feeling, but it definitely made me think, “wow, this is the same song, but it’s slightly slower. That’s interesting.” (laughing) I know this is all a ridiculous subjective, but that was something that just kept coming up when I was there.

IVAN: It felt familial and accessible I would argue. So, no direct flights to Ottawa from Minneapolis. Did you fly through Toronto?

TESS: I did fly through Toronto, and that was actually fairly easy. It’s only a two-hour flight from MSP and you could get a direct. The only problem is, once you’re in Toronto, you have to catch a one hour connecting flight to Ottawa. Now, I didn’t have any problems going to Ottawa, but coming back I just kept getting hit with delay after delay, and it was a little bit frustrating, because we left probably 15 minutes from Ottawa, from when we were supposed to. I didn’t mind so much, because I had enough time to account for the difference. But then once I landed in Ottawa, I failed to remember that the international security procedures had changed since I last traveled internationally. And now you have to go through international customs as an American citizen on the international side, rather than the US side. And that was a Kafkaesque experience to say the least. I felt like I was reenacting the movie Brazil a little bit there.

IVAN: (laughing) Yea, we had that same experience flying through Toronto on the way back from Europe this year, and, it actually made me think of, kind of what laws apply on the Canadian side after you’ve cleared US customs. I know that it’s US law that applies, but that just feels wrong.

TESS: Someone explained to me that Canadian transit agency, their equivalent of the TSA, is actually a superset of TSA law which just makes me go, “oh geez.” (laughing) In TSA law, if you know even a little bit about it, is already this nightmarish labyrinth of weird edge cases, and political meddling, and none of it makes any sense anymore, and it hasn’t since about 2007 honestly.

IVAN: Yea, it was pretty insane, certainly Kafkaesque as you said, going and clearing customs in Canada for the US, and then physically being in Canada, but technically being in the US after you’ve done that.

TESS: Well, the real hilarious part is the nature of how this works in the Toronto airport. When you actually go through Canadian security at the Toronto airport, and you first get cleared, you’re opened into this wide foyer and it’s got this giant flower sculpture thing, and the underside of each petal is actually your arrival and departure time screens. It’s really nice. And then afterwards I had to walk through there to go to a completely different concourse, and when you get to that concourse you have to go through security again, then you have to go through customs again, then you have to go through the customs waiting area, because they won’t let you go directly to your gate. Then after you go there then you walk to your gate, and by the time I got all the way to the end of my gate, I was on the other side of a glass window, and on the other side of that glass window that I was looking right through, was the giant flower. And that took an hour and a half.

IVAN: (laughing) Wow. Well, I think we have a little more time to talk about the other session that kind of peaked my interest, and you also I think went to it, was the “Journey through the Solr System.” And, the only reason it peaked my interest was because I thought the title of the session was amazing.

TESS: The slides were also great too. They had a really nice visual style that I really appreciated. It made it very fun, but at the same time it focused on information. And the talk itself was also different than I expected. Now, usually when you think of Solr and Drupal, you’re going to think of, well you’re probably going to use a search API implementation, and it’s going to be one site, and you’re going to configure which entities that you’re going to have going to which in that system, and then you’ll use views in order to make your search pages and yada, yada, yada. Well, they couldn’t do that with this solution. The problem is that they have some two hundred different sites, and they had to have a unified singular search mechanism. And it wasn’t a multi-site either, so you couldn’t kind of cheat and use some of that facility in order to populate a single index. So, either they had to come up with a completely custom solution in which any time content was posted for each individual site it went back to a standard search API server, or they’d have to do something completely different. What they used to use, they used to use a Google search appliance, and this was great because it was on premises, all of the data was local, they owned it. And then, suddenly, those yellow boxes stopped arriving from Google because Google deprecated the entire product line. Now you have to forward all of your search index information to some American server, and this is not comfortable for some people, and that is perfectly fair. So, they could’ve paid for a different solution, or they could’ve went, “well, we’ll just risk the privacy implications,” but instead they decided, “you know what, let’s see if we can try to build one of these ourselves.” So, the solution they came up with was, a high availability Solr configuration with an open source web crawler called Nutch, and it was just a fascinating combination of elements to make, basically, your own Google, but within your own organization, for your own sites, without having to have a direct backend connection.

IVAN: Nice. I really love that name, Nutch.

TESS: That was a really, really fascinating talk, and I wish that I could’ve captured more of the technical details of that, but I was coming right off of doing my session, so I still had a lot of adrenaline in me. (laughing)

IVAN: Yea, and I’m sure that the session video will be posted once it’s available. Yea let’s talk about that a little bit, and then I think we’ll wrap. So, it looks like there were sessions that were recorded again, courtesy of Kevin Thull and his equipment.

TESS: Well, not quite.

IVAN: Not quite?

TESS: Not quite. Kevin Thull was not there, he was at BADCamp.

IVAN: Oh. But his equipment was there.

TESS: Well, from my understanding what happened is that Kevin Thull trained the DrupalCamp Ottawa staff, and provided them a list of the hardware that he uses for his talks. So, they reimplemented all of that under his guidance, and then ran it themselves, independently. So, it was a very familiar experience. Everyone had the big red button that they had to press. So it was very, very familiar. I do know that they have a few gotchas with the session recording, but they had generally had a fairly good capture ratio.

IVAN: That’s wonderful. I do see that on the DrupalCamp Ottawa website they published a playlist on YouTube, and I think there are about six videos on there right now, six sessions that are currently available with the note that they’ll be adding the rest of the sessions in the coming week or so. So that’s great. We’re going to have a recording of your session, and you could probably go back to the Solr session as well and check the details of that one out as well. Well, all in all, a good Camp. Something that maybe I’ll consider going to next year, and maybe we’ll send you again next year. Tess, thank you so much for spending your time with me and talking through DrupalCamp Ottawa 2018.

TESS: No problem.

IVAN: You’ve been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.

Oct 24 2018
Oct 24

Your browser does not support the audio element. TEN7-Podcast-Ep-042-DrupalCorn.mp3

It is our pleasure to welcome Tess Flynn to the TEN7 podcast to discuss attending the 2018 DrupalCorn and presenting "Dr. Upal Is In, Health Check Your Site". Tess is TEN7's DevOps engineer.

Here's what we're discussing in this podcast:

  • DrupalCorn2018
  • DrupalSnow
  • Camp scheduling
  • What it takes
  • Unconference the conference
  • Substantive keynotes
  • Dr. Upal is now in
  • The good health of your website is important
  • It takes humans and tools
  • Every website is a bit like a person, it’s a story
  • Docker-based Battle Royale
  • Auditing the theme
  • Mental health and tech
  • Drupal 8 migration
  • A camp with two lunches
  • Loaded baked potatoes and corn
  • Cornhole
  • Catching Jack the Ripper
  • Onto DrupalCamp Ottawa


IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I am your host Ivan Stegic. In this episode of the Podcast, we’re talking to Tess Flynn, about DrupalCorn 2018, that happened at the end of September, in Des Moines, Iowa. Tess, welcome back to the podcast.


IVAN: So, DrupalCorn. I love that it’s not DrupalCamp Iowa.

TESS: (laughing) That’s one thing that I always appreciated with it. They have a sense of humor to match their camp.

IVAN: (laughing) It’s just great. I think we have to come up with something for TC Drupal and I don’t think we can top DrupalCorn.

TESS: I still miss the Cherry logo that we had years, and years, and years ago. Although the snow globe one’s pretty good.

IVAN: So, DrupalSnow, maybe? 

TESS: (laughing) That would be an interesting thing to do, like a one-day event, in the middle of winter. (laughing)

IVAN: (laughing) We’ll see how many people come out to that, huh?

TESS: BOFs and sledding. (laughing)

IVAN: (laughing) That would be fun. That’d actually be fun, actually. So, let’s see, DrupalCorn, this year it was at the Center for Higher Education in Des Moines. Is that on campus somewhere? I’m not familiar with where that is.

TESS: So, it was in the business school, that got bought out. There’s a bit of a story about this. It used to be, I think, an independent business school, and then it got bought out, and brought into the university system, and, yeah, there’s a bit of an interesting story behind that, but that one’s not mine to tell.

IVAN: (laughing) Ok, so, on some sort of a former business school campus, and from what I could tell, the format was exactly the same format that we’ve had at DrupalCamp Twin Cities. So, training on a Thursday, session and keynotes, Friday, Saturday, and then contribution day on a Sunday. That’s a lot of programming for a camp.

TESS: It is!

IVAN: Yea, it is. Do you think it’s overkill?

TESS: I think that it’s up to the camps to really determine if that scales for their audience. And, I did participate in the closing session, for DrupalCorn, which was mostly for camp organizers and volunteers, but I was in the same room, and I decided, oh, I’ll just stay around and how it goes, because they were inviting anyone who wanted to stay for it. And, it sounded like they had lots of people attending the training sessions, that they had no problem filling those out. And, the first two days, seemed perfectly fine. It didn’t seem like there was a massive drop off in individuals or people at either one of those.

IVAN: And, that closing session, was that on a Saturday?

TESS: That was on the Saturday.

IVAN: Ok. I mean, it takes a lot of time, and a lot of money, to plan and execute such an extensive program, and I am always amazed that camps do this, and that it’s all volunteer based, it’s not for profit, people give of their own time. It’s amazing! It’s just amazing!

TESS: Well, DrupalCorn serves a lot of different camps in the Greater Midwestern area in the United States. There were lots of people from Kansas, which just surprised me. I was like, “why are there so many people from Kansas here?” And, “why don’t I see those same people at Twin Cities Drupal camp?” And, a lot of it comes down to, “well, it’s closer.”

IVAN: Yea, it’s closer. Like, you would have to drive twice as far, to the Twin Cities, or fly. So, that does make a difference. Was the size of the camp, kind of what you would expect, 200 or so people? Was it any bigger or smaller, this year?

TESS: It felt like it was a bit smaller this year, mostly because they took last year off, for various reasons. And, there was actually an interesting discussion about, if camps should do that more often, that we could talk about.

IVAN: You mean, take a year off?

TESS: Mm hmm.

IVAN: Yeah, so, was that part of the closing session? Where was that discussion?

TESS: That was part of the closing session.

IVAN: So, what were the thoughts around it?

TESS: So, the reason why they decided not to have one last year is there were some people who were starting families, and had vacations, or had other things that were just happening, and they just couldn’t get their core organizational group together, in order to do that. So, it seemed like it made more sense to just, not have the camp that year. And, at first it was really disappointing, because I remember talking to one of the organizers at Baltimore, and being like, “aw, there’s going to be no DrupalCorn this year, it’s one of my favorite camps.” But, since then, I thought, this is actually not a bad idea, because, I’ve gone to DrupalCorn for the previous two, if not three, years. Then they had the year off, then they had this year, and, one thing that I was kind of surprised by, is that, compared to the last DrupalCorn, there was more energy at this one. There was more focus. There was more drive. There was more enthusiasm. I think that actually is something to be said about taking a year off, occasionally. It lets your organizers rest, so that the next year they can really go at it. And, I’ve been thinking a lot about Twin Cities DrupalCamp, because DrupalCon Minneapolis is in 2020. Should we even have a camp in 2019? That’s a tricky one.

IVAN: Yeah, that is a tricky one. It feels like we’ve been evaluating whether or not, not just whether or not the camp’s going to happen, but, what the format of the camp might be, as well. And, I was at the Twin Cities Open Source CMS Unconference, whew, mouthfull (laughing), this weekend, and, it just struck me that, having an Unconference like format for a camp, makes it so much easier to organize, and to put together people that are kind of basically there to learn, just like what the camp is for. And, I wonder if it isn’t, not just taking a year off, but maybe there's an Unconference like event, might be a thing to consider as well.

TESS: Yeah, and I think those concepts can actually play well with each other, because people who like the Unconference format, might not be the same people who normally run a traditionally and conventionally-focused camp. In which case, why not just do a slightly different Drupal event that year, for the area? That might work too, then you can compare and contrast later.

IVAN: Yeah, that might be a good idea for us. It’s interesting how all of this has evolved in the community, and how Drupal compares with local camps, and WordPress, and other communities. It’s just fascinating that all of this happens the way it does. So, I want to ask about the keynotes. So, I want to ask about the keynotes. There were two keynotes – Tiffany Farris from keynoted, and I think the title of her keynote was, “Learning at Work,” and that was on Friday, and then, Matt Westgate from Lullabot, keynoted, and I love the title of his keynote, “How to Fall in Love with Drupal Again.” What are your take-aways from the two keynotes, maybe either as a whole, or individually? I assume you went to them?

TESS: I did go to them, but, both nights, the previous night I had terrible insomnia problems, I was just not getting used to the hotel bed, and, so, I was real dreary and I couldn’t quite remember, and my nose was already, like on the screen, working on my module project, anyways. So, I actually had a hard time remembering almost anything about those talks right now.

IVAN: Oh, no!

TESS: The caffeine just didn’t kick in yet. (laughing)

IVAN: Well, I would then recommend users who are listening, or listeners, to look at the recordings on the website, because I’m pretty sure that Kevin Thull was there, recording every single session, and most likely, the keynote is included there.

TESS: Yeah, I believe that, I did talk to him after the first day, and there was one keynote session that just didn’t record for other reasons, and the next day, there was 100% capture.

IVAN: Wow! It’s just amazing what he does for the community, isn’t it?

TESS: I always have a special place in my heart for the AV guy. (laughing)

IVAN: (laughing) Yes, absolutely. So, the schedule at DrupalCorn wasn’t just sessions, right? Wasn’t just pre-prepared sessions. There were BOFs (Birds Of a Feather) listed there as well. Did you go to any of them?

TESS: I did not. I didn’t find any of them that were that interesting. I found a lot more sessions, which were interesting, so I really wanted to go to a lot of those, and I do remember that on the first day I was there, Friday, even skipped out on an entire session period, and took over an empty BOF room, just so that I could decompress and go over my talk before giving it in the next period.

IVAN: It was probably a good thing. So, let’s talk about your session. So, you presented "Dr. Upal is in, health check your site". Can you tell us a little bit about your session, and maybe what you were hoping the outcomes of the session would be?

TESS: So, really, the session is about trying to instruct people, how to perform a technical audit of your Drupal site. A lot of the time, people who have Drupal sites, who are individual organizations, or are freelancers, might not necessarily know how to really inventory a site. There’s a variety of different circumstances. Like, you’re looking at doing an upgrade, but you don’t know what all your site has in it; you’re a new employee and you don’t know how to quite wrap your head around the site; the site was just dropped in your lap, and now it’s your problem, and you need to figure out what to do with it. So how do we really get a good sense of what a site is doing? How it’s working? Is it healthy or not? Does it have problems or not? Does it have things that will become problems in a short amount of time? What tools can we use to examine those, and how can we perceive all of this, and make it so that we know how to proceed, to get our sites back onto a track towards being healthy.

IVAN: So, the health of your website is really important, and that’s exactly what your talk sounds to be about. You talk about some tools during the session, but you also point out that there is human interaction that needs to be done to evaluate the site itself. Right? It’s not just about running tools.

TESS: Yeah, no one tool or even the entire toolbox of tools, is going to be able to tell if your site is healthy or not. Every site is a bit like a person, it’s a story. You need to figure out where it begins, how it's changed, what its plot is, what it’s twists and turns are, what characters are involved in its development, and then kind of get that whole sense of what that story is, so you could see where it’s going in the future.

IVAN: I love that idea of your site being a story. It’s kind of a live, breathing thing, that doesn’t change. Or people think that it isn’t a live breathing thing that doesn’t change, but it is, and people add content, and submit forms, and things get out of whack sometimes, so it’s not exactly the same as when you launch it. And, I love the idea that it needs a doctor, just like a human does, as well. That’s a great idea to think about. So, your session went well. I know you usually bring swag, and you give that kind of stuff out. That’s awesome. Now, there were some sessions in the schedule that caught my eye, that I thought were really interesting, that I wished I could’ve gone to, if I had gone to the camp. One was Wilbur's Docker-based Battle Royale, which is a great name for a session. The other one was, a guy by the name of Andy Olson, and he had a talk called “Audit your Theme.” Now, I know you’ve seen Wilbur’s talk, probably at TC Drupal, did you by any chance go to the other one?

TESS: I did go to the Audit your Theme one, because that was really quite interesting. Theming is not my particular specialty, and I actually really don’t know how to approach that entire discipline, of auditing a theme, and this gave me a lot of framing, for how to look at that and what to look at, and that was really, really fascinating.

IVAN: So, were there tools involved in that presentation as well, or was it kind of, a mixture of tools and human interaction? What was the, kind of the crux of that session?

TESS: So, there was a combination of tools and human interaction. We had several different tools, like we had some linters, we had some other performance analysis tools, and other CSS compiling efficiency check tools that I had, quite frankly, never even heard of, or conceived that they existed, but as soon as they were revealed to me, I was like, “of course, they would have something like that. Why didn’t I think about that until now?” And, it was really just an eye-opening experience.

IVAN: So, those were kind of two that caught my eye. What sessions did you go to that were interesting outside of Andy’s?

TESS: Oh man, I’d have to bring up a schedule, because a lot of that just got swapped out of my cache already. (laughing) Let’s see. I went to the gulp session, but the caffeine still had not kicked in yet, so that was just, I don’t remember anything at all from that. And, then that’s where I skipped a period, because I needed to practice.

IVAN: So, there were four tracks?

TESS: Yeah, there were several different tracks. I went to the Mental Health and Tech one. It is a very similar presentation to one that’s been going around, at a variety of camps and cons, but it’s really nice to see an update on that. I think he’s doing good work bringing that talk, repeatedly, to our community. I went to the Legos session, "Building your Legos, a Practitioner’s Guide to Building Reusable Components". There’s a module that’s called Legos. And, I didn’t know about this, and it was actually a fascinating counterpoint to paragraphs only sites. I thought that it was kind of fascinating, but at the same time I was like, “ahh, I have some concerns.” I think actually during the course of that talk, there was some mention about how you can’t get certain paragraphs to display with different view modes, and I know that we’ve done that before at TEN7, using a module-only solution, so. That was an interesting problem. (laughing)

IVAN: I would guess you maybe went to the Migrating Drupal 8 entities talk?

TESS: I did go to that one, and I felt kind of bad after that, because I went to it, knowing that, “ok, let’s see how this guy handles this", because unfortunately I know way too much about migration stuff. I have joked on Twitter that at some point, when you become a Drupal 8 migration expert, you start sounding a bit like a babbling prophet (laughing), instead of a developer. Talking about plug-ins and pipelines, and transformation and ETLs, like, I don’t know what any of this means any more (laughing).

IVAN: (laughing) Well, you certainly are our migrations expert at TEN7, so, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

TESS: It was generally a good talk. What was most impressive is, he smashed an awful lot of content, into a very narrow talk. I considered writing a talk about doing migrations before, because I have a blog series on this, but I decided that it was just way too much to squish in to even a 50-minute talk. It was just going to be like a fire hose, and it was a fire hose in this talk, and I believe he did a really good job of it. He used a different technique for importing paragraphs than I’m used to, so I actually put that forward at the end of the talk as an alternative.

IVAN: Very good. Now, were the sessions at DrupalCorn all the same length, or were there shorter ones and longer ones?

TESS: I think that they were all the same length this year. The big thing that was different this year, was that there was two different lunch periods, which was interesting.

IVAN: Oh, lunch one, lunch two?

TESS: Yeah.

IVAN: Really!

TESS: Lunch is actually one of the things I like the most about DrupalCorn, (laughing) mostly because, one thing that I really tended to like about DrupalCorn is that, because it’s in Iowa, there’s not much in Iowa. Even when you’re in Des Moines, it’s not the same as even being in Minneapolis, it’s definitely a smaller metropolis, and as a result, one thing that’s really kind of nice about DrupalCorn is that it has a generally, very familial vibe. You don’t feel like you’re going to a camp, you feel like you’re going to a dinner, with friends and relatives, and you’re all going to have a good time. And, that’s what it often feels like, and I really enjoy that particular feeling.

IVAN: So, basically, they had two lunches available through an extended period of time, over the course of two sessions. So, you basically don’t have one hour where there are no sessions going on. There are sessions going on throughout the day, and you choose when to take your lunch.

TESS: And you got to bring the lunches in with you to the sessions.

IVAN: Oh, you did! So, there wasn’t a lunchroom, or a common space?

TESS: Not really! There was plenty of places to sit down. There was a kind of common space, but there wasn’t many people using it. In this particular venue, they actually did have a café, that you could sit down and actually eat lunch in, and that’s where lunch was actually being served. And, some people did that, but some people also just, filled up their plates and headed off to the next session, and just sat down, and quietly munched while the session was being given.

IVAN: So, was it like a buffet style lunch?

TESS: Yeah, it usually is with DrupalCorn. One of the lunches is the traditional loaded baked potato.

IVAN: Ooh, that sounds good!

TESS: Oh, it is good! It is very good!

IVAN: Was there any corn? I guess that’s a question I have to ask.

TESS: This year, I think there wasn’t. (laughing) I could’ve just missed it. I remember the first lunch I went to, they nearly ran out by the time I was in line, because I showed up late.

IVAN: So, all in all, a good camp, kind of similar, regional camp would be Twin Cities  DrupalCamp. It feels like it’s the same amount of time, 4 days, about the same number of tracks, 3 or 4, BOFs, lunch, and good people. Any social activities in the evenings?

TESS: Yea, there was a speaker dinner on Thursday night, before the regular sessions were given, and that was wonderful. That was right in town, and it was a welcome respite from being in a car for four and a half hours. (laughing)

IVAN: Oh, my goodness! I’m sure. So, you got to mingle and meet with all the people that were giving sessions. I’m sure some familiar faces there too?

TESS: Mm hmm. And, then, the following night there was another dinner/cornhole event, that was in kind of a, it’s hard to describe what it was, it’s not really a sports bar, it felt like a rented bar/restaurant space. It’s hard to describe, but they had really, really good burgers.

IVAN: Really? So, forgive me for not understanding what cornhole is. Maybe you can give me a description.

TESS: So, first of all, imagine a board that is at an incline of, let’s say, ten to fifteen degrees off from the ground, and about three-quarters of the way up from the edge that is touching the ground, to the top of the board, is a hole, and the rest of the board is very highly glossily painted, so that it’s kind of slippery.


TESS: Now, you stand away from that board, at the other end of the playfield, a distance of approximately, sorry my eyes are calibrated to meters, so let’s just say 4-5 meters away, and what your job is, you have a beanbag, and you need to toss the beanbag so that it goes into the hole. And that sounds really simple, except that there’s a bit of technique to it. You can’t just toss it, and have it land directly in the hole, it’s best to kind of, put a bit of, either you have to undershoot it, but with force so it goes up the board, and down into the hole, or overshoot it, with just enough force so that once it lands, gravity will actually carry it back down into the hole, because you almost never could throw it directly in.

IVAN: So, this sounds like a game that you would play in bars, and maybe you’d get much better, or much worse, depending on how much beer you’ve had.

TESS: (laughing) That’s generally the idea, yes. I was introduced to this at the first DrupalCorn I went to, and that was a lot of fun. That camp was particularly a lot of fun, because it was in a school, and they had all of, every event, every lunch, every before event and after event, was actually in the same location, so that really made it feel very comfy, like you were just coming home to have some fun, and that was great.

IVAN: That’s awesome. And, so that was the social events Friday night. Saturday and then contribution on Sunday. Nothing on Saturday night then?

TESS: I think there was something on Saturday night, but at that point, I was kind of fried, because I’m kind of an introvert, and I just decided that, “I think I had enough,” and instead kind of staged my own little introverts game night at the hotel lobby and we got pizza, and played a card game where you’re trying to catch Jack the Ripper. It was actually a lot of fun.

IVAN: Oh my! So, there were games as well, at DrupalCorn? Awesome.

TESS: Mm hmm. I think the previous night there was also some board games after the cornhole event, but I was too fried after that too.

IVAN: Sounds like a great camp. I’m glad that you were able to go and report back to us, and I know you’re going to DrupalCamp Ottawa next week.

TESS: Oh yeah, first time going to Canada. Going to be interesting.

IVAN: Well, why don’t you remember as much as you can about the camp, and we’ll have you back on the Podcast to give us a kind of a review of that camp as well.

TESS: I will try my best.

IVAN: Well, thanks so much for spending your time with me, talking about DrupalCorn.

TESS: Mm hmm.

IVAN: You’ve been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.

Oct 17 2018
Oct 17

Your browser does not support the audio element. TEN7-Podcast-Ep-041-Steve-Persche.mp3

It is our pleasure to welcome to the TEN7 podcast Steve Persch, lead developer advocate at Pantheon.

Here's what we're discussing in this podcast:

  • Steve's background
  • Celebrating a Drupal birthday
  • Theater background and blogging
  • WordPress experience
  • Improv comedy and Comedy Sports gaining self confidence
  • Experience at Palantir in Chicago
  • Contributing to Workbench
  • Discovering Git
  • Teaching WordPress' Gutenberg editor
  • What the WordPress & Drupal communities can learn from each other
  • The 2018 Twin Cities Open Source CMS Unconference
  • WordPress, Drupal & Joomla
  • Supporting Backdrop
  • Alexander Hamilton
  • Steve Vector (alias)


IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I am your host Ivan Stegic. In this episode of the Podcast, Steve Persch, lead developer advocate at Pantheon. Steve has been on for at least 11 years, and before Pantheon he was at Palantir in Chicago. Steve! It’s my pleasure to welcome you to the Podcast.

STEVE PERSCH: Well, thanks for having me on! I guess I just missed my Drupal birthday again. The last one I remembered was 10 years. (laughing)

IVAN: Yea, it looks like more than 11 years. That’s a long time!

STEVE: Yea! That makes sense for what I was doing 11 years ago.

IVAN: How many versions ago is that?

STEVE: Well, I got into Drupal with 5. I think 5.0 was the current version when I started working with Drupal.

IVAN: I think that’s when I started too. Let’s see, 11 years ago would be 2007, so that’s when TEN7 was founded, so that would’ve been Drupal 5 for us, as well, I think.

STEVE: Yea. I’ve worked with WordPress a little bit before that, and, the first time I remember distinctly hearing the word Drupal was at an Arts & Business council of Chicago event. I was on a panel speaking about some WordPress sites I had made for a theater company, and one of the questions from the audience was basically, “WordPress seems to work with these blogs that you’ve talked about, what would be used for something more complex?” And, someone else on the panel said, “well, obviously, Drupal is the thing for that.” I made a mental note, started looking into Drupal because I knew I wanted to be building more complex sites.

IVAN: So, tell me more about those WordPress sites that you’d been involved in, prior to that. How did you get introduced to WordPress?

STEVE: I got introduced to WordPress because, well I wasn’t asked, I volunteered myself to build some blogs for a theater company when I was in college, between my junior and senior year I had a summer internship with the Looking Glass Theater Company in Chicago. It’s a prominent theater company that came out of the college that I was going to. I was super into what they were producing, very happy to have an artistic department internship, which mainly meant things like filing headshots, and running auditions, things like that. About three weeks into the summer internship I heard one of the artistic directors just kind of, muse aloud that they really should have a blog, because that was the thing to have back then. In the nineties they had produced a physical 'zine, and this artistic director, I think, was missing that kind of creativity and wanted a blog, and I had just taken a class on web development, so I volunteered myself, and basically, that summer changed from regular artistic department internship to Steve figures out how to build WordPress sites by the end of the summer.

IVAN: And that was WordPress early on, I would imagine, with version 2 maybe?

STEVE: Yea, 2 something.

IVAN: 2 something, wow! So, you’re obviously studying some sort of art degree then?

STEVE: Yea. I was a theater major at the time.

IVAN: Wow! A theater major. And now you are a lead developer advocate. That’s almost as crazy an arc as Drew's.

STEVE:  I know. Well, I think there are a lot of people in the Drupal community with a similar arc of basically being the person at some kind of organization, who somehow became responsible for the website, or volunteered themselves to be responsible for the website, and then just kept going from there. I think for, certainly myself, and I think a lot of people in the Drupal community, the web development career path looked more appealing then whatever was the other career path.

IVAN: So, let’s actually take a step back. I want to find out where you were born, and where you grew up. So, prior to landing in the WordPress development business in liberal arts college, where did you grow up?

STEVE: Yea, so, I spent almost all my life very close to Lake Michigan. So, I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, same home all the way from birth through graduating high school, and then to Northwestern University in Evanston, just North of Chicago, then moved to Chicago for seven years or so, back to Milwaukee for four years, and now Minneapolis.

IVAN: So, tried and tested Midwesterner.

STEVE: Exactly. Yea. Love the midwest.

IVAN: That’s awesome. I love it too! So, you went to high school in Milwaukee, made a move to Northwestern, and studied liberal arts. And, you did an internship at a theater company, and somehow this led to Comedy Sports, right? I saw that in your bio as well.

STEVE: Yea. Comedy sports was even earlier. So, Comedy Sports is an improv company that started in Milwaukee, there are branches all over the country, though. The way I like to explain Comedy Sports for people who aren’t familiar with it, is by referencing Whose Line is it Anyway, pretty much everyone has seen that at some point in time. And, on that show they say everything’s made up and the points don’t matter, but in Comedy Sports, the points do matter. It’s the same kind of short form improv but it’s done as a faux competition. Basically, there are three people on two different teams, the red team and the blue team, and they’re competing for audience laughs and points, and things like that.

IVAN: And this was in high school?

STEVE: It started in high school, yea. I first saw it when I was in grade school and the high school Comedy Sports team came to visit my grade school, and do a show, and I thought that looks amazing, I want to do that. It further confirmed my choice of high school. I decided to go to the same Catholic high school that my parents had gone to. My brothers decided to go to a different Catholic high school in the area, but I wanted to go to the one that had a much stronger arts program. It was also coed, that was a factor in the decision.

IVAN: So, unlike me, you saw them do improv, and you thought, cool  ! I totally want to do that! (laughing) I look at that and I’m like, “Wow, that’s really scary. I don’t know how I could do that. I should probably do that to put myself outside of my own comfort zone.” What was attractive about it?

STEVE: I think what was attractive about it for me was, knowing that it was outside of my comfort zone. That it would push me to do something that wasn’t very natural. There are a lot of people in improv who are, natural, extroverts in doing improv, and it’s just kind of a natural extension of their normal personality. For me, it was more of an effort. It took me outside of my comfort zone, but it was something that could be practiced, it was at least in Comedy Sports, something very structured, so it is, of course, loose and comedic, and you’re making things up, but, especially with short form improv, there is a lot of structure there that I could hang on to and feel like I knew what was going on.

IVAN: The structure to me sounds really interesting to be put around something that’s supposed to be unstructured.

STEVE: Yea. One thing I’ve noticed. I did improv starting in high school, age 15 or something. I was heavily involved in improv really all the way through my time in Chicago, which ended in 2014, and then coming back to Milwaukee in 2014. I did start performing at Comedy Sports again for about a year and trailed off as I started the job at Pantheon and had a baby, basically, other things became more important. And, all through that time I found that people not doing improv assumed that there must be some trick to it, that we must be planning something out in advance. But, it’s not the content that gets planned out in advance. You don’t meet backstage and say “alright, we’re going to do a scene about a baker. And, the baker’s going to go on a journey, or something like that.” You might talk about the pace at which you want to play, you might talk about the styles or techniques, the improv techniques that you want to use, but the content is always made up on the spot.

IVAN: How do you think it’s helped you with your professional career? I’ve seen you give very many talks, and I’m always impressed by how eloquent you are. I’ve seen you on panels before. They must be related to the training you’ve had in improv, at Comedy Sports.

STEVE: Absolutely! The improv training gives me confidence to get on stage without a full plan. And, maybe that’s not always a good thing. Maybe I should be stepping on stage at a conference or something with more of a plan. But, it does help just reduce that anxiety, that I know I would be feeling, and do still feel, speaking at a conference or speaking at different work events. I still feel that anxiety to some degree but knowing that I have that improv background gives me more confidence to just start, then just do it.

IVAN: So, spending time in the theater, you started getting involved in WordPress. How long were you in WordPress before that panel discussion and someone mentioned Drupal, did Drupal become something serious to you?

STEVE: About a year. So, it was the summer of 2006 where I was starting with that WordPress site launched by Fall of 2006. Maintained those sites for a little while, and basically that senior year of college was a transition for me. I finished all my graduation requirements in fall, and just kind of pretended to be an undergrad through June, continued with my improv group, produced and directed a play, did all the undergrad activities, just didn’t go to any classes other than my acting class. That then gave me more free time, to take on web work on the side. So, during that year I maintained a static HTML site, which gave me a great appreciation for server-side languages. Hearing Drew mention maintaining 5,000 static pages, I thought, “oh yea, that was formative for me too, having to maintain  the static HTML website for the theater company, that was however many hundreds of pages, and seeing there are menus that are kind of the same, but inconsistent, presumably because no one was paying too close of attention, and now it’s my job to pay attention to such things, and I’ll put it in PHP includes and eventually just switch it over to Drupal.” So, it was about a year, I guess, of thinking WordPress is the thing to switching to Drupal, as the thing that’s going to help me build what I need to build.

IVAN: And, was that about the same time that you started at Palantir? Or, was there something in between there?

STEVE: Four years in between. So, I was a freelancer for a number of years. I did some subcontracting, started with a company called Mighty Bytes, got to have those pun names. Started there in 2009 and worked on, what for me then, was the biggest website that I had ever worked on. It was a music startup. I don’t think it’s around anymore called Music Dealers. Basically, the idea was if you are an independent music producer, or band or singer, or whatever, you could upload your MP3’s to this site, Music Dealers will then try to sell that to McDonalds, or film producers, basically, anyone making commercials, televisions, movies, and they’ll just give you a direct 50/50 cut of the royalties. That was an education in complex websites, kind of, trial by fire.

IVAN: Yea. So, then you started at Palantir in Chicago.

STEVE: Two years later.

IVAN: Two years later. Ok. And, had you ever contributed to before starting at Palantir? How soon did you start?

STEVE: In bits and pieces. So, in that time at Mighty Bytes, I was “the Drupal guy” and I would go to Drupal meetups, and I spoke at Drupal Camp Chicago in 2008, so I did have some community role and a few minor patches, but I kind of felt intimidated knowing that there were companies out there like Palantir, who had developers who, at least by appearance, were much deeper, and Drupal knew much more than me, and looking back there were things I was working on at Mighty Bytes that I could have, should have contributed back to, but for whatever reason I thought, well maybe this isn’t good enough, I need to work on it more, and would never get contributed. But, at San Francisco, DrupalCon in 2010, that was the first time I distinctly remember getting that really positive, contributor feel. Someone from the White House was there and they showed a list of modules that the White House was using, and one of those modules was a module that I had a patch in, and that feeling of, “oh wow,” I mean, it was a tiny patch in rules module, but just knowing that I had contributed to a piece of something that was inside of the White House was very satisfying, and basically gave me the Drupal bug even stronger than I had it then.

IVAN: Yea, there’s something about being able to contribute code, and it actually being used in production and affecting people’s lives that really makes you stop and think about the real power of open source, and what we’ve created in this ecosystem. And so, you’re at Palantir and Workbench is this thing you start working on. Was that a problem that Palantir was trying to fix, by introducing Workbench? What’s the genesis of that idea?

STEVE: So, I joined Palantir the month before DrupalCon Chicago, where Workbench launched. I started in February 2011, Workbench was basically getting polished up internally. Essentially, it’s a suite of modules that helps with content, workflow and governance. So, it basically provided a better landing page dashboard for people who are signing into the site to work on the content. Basically, an improvement over that admin/content view that you get by default. In addition to that base module of Workbench that was basically just that, landing page set of views, and a grid sort of thing. There was Workbench Moderation which was meant for publishing workflows, a draft needs review, published sort of workflow. and then Workbench Access which allowed for different content editors to have permission to different sections of the site. It was made because there were, I think, three major projects running simultaneously at Palantir before I joined, a university, a museum, maybe two universities, I’m not quite sure. But a couple of large institutions that needed those things, needed the ability to section off different parts of the site, so that only the appropriate people could edit pages, and they needed an approval process, by which people could move from draft, to needs review, to published, and possibly additional custom states. So, when I joined Palantir, pretty much everything was written. There was some testing to do, some clean up to do, and I was basically able to spend my first month on the job leading up to DrupalCon Chicago, finishing off a couple patches, adding some documentation, I think, and starting to think ahead towards what additional functionality might go into these modules.

IVAN: It’s quite an exciting time to be joining a company when it’s releasing a new site or releasing a new module, and DrupalCon is in the same city as where you’re based.

STEVE: Yea, it went from DrupalCon San Francisco feeling like, “I’m not quite fully in this community.” I kind of felt like a bit of an outsider at DrupalCon San Francisco in 2010, to then being hired at the company that, the owners of Palantir, were the co-chairs of DrupalCon Chicago. Of course, Palantir at the time had a ton of people who were top contributors and had a bunch of sessions going on at DrupalCon Chicago, so it felt like a fast track to the inside. Ken Rickard, the author of Domain Access, was one of the main authors of Workbench Access, so, yea, for my first week on the job, he flew into Chicago from Georgia, and, basically, started mentoring me, getting me ready to contribute to those modules. I had never used Git before, so that was something I had to learn quickly.

IVAN: That’s a major thing. (laughing)

STEVE:  Yea. That’s my advice for learning Git, just start, and don’t go back. I sometimes reference Git as an easy thing to learn, when I talk with other developers, and they look at me funny, and I think, well, ok, I guess it was easier for me because it was just a hard transition from SVN at my old job to all Git at the new job, and I could always lean over the cubicle wall and ask somebody for help if I needed it.

IVAN: I remember the days of SVN and CVS even, before that, and boy, those were tough days. I was so glad when we discovered Git and decided to just standardize on that.

STEVE: Yea, everything got faster and easier.

IVAN: Yea. Absolutely.

STEVE: My first version control was just Dream Weaver, check in, check out.

IVAN: (laughing) I think that still exists, doesn’t it? It must exist.

STEVE: It must! Yea. I think so.

IVAN: Cool. So, fast forward to Minneapolis, with a stop in Milwaukee in between, and you’re now at Pantheon, and you’re not just exercising your Drupal skills, you’re actually bringing back all of the WordPress things you learned long ago, as well, right?

STEVE: I am, yes. So, at Pantheon we’re a platform for both Drupal and WordPress development, so, it’s nice to play in both worlds. In fact, at the past couple DrupalCons I’ve done WordPress focus sessions. At DrupalCon 2016 I did Lessons from WordPress Core with Andrew Taylor, one of my co-workers, and then this year we did, Andrew and I did another session on the Gutenberg editor that’s coming to WordPress core.

IVAN: Do you spend any time at WordPress conferences talking about Drupal?

STEVE: I try to. I don’t think I’ve gotten any of those sessions accepted myself, but plenty of my co-workers have done that.

IVAN: So, it always feel like we’re up against each other as CMSs, right? WordPress does this better, and Drupal does that better, and we really have genuinely, passionate people in both communities. Are we really that different as communities?

STEVE: No! Definitely not. Well, I go back and forth on that question. In my time at Pantheon, so I’ve been here three years, and the first few WordPress conferences I went to, I thought to myself, wow, these differences are so completely exaggerated. I’ve been deep in Drupal for years, and I’ve been hearing that WordPress is totally different, and they’re still on PHP 5.2, they have different spacing rules. How could we ever work together?” As I went to, I think it was WordCamp US, basically, the DrupalCon equivalent in 2015, I went to some contributor like days, before the main event, and just thought to myself, “oh, yea, these are developers working in a GPL, Land Stack, CMS, trying to solve pretty much the same problems for pretty much the same sets of clients, and we need to break down these walls that don’t need to separate us.” In those three years, I’ve gone back and forth, like I said, a little bit, thinking, there are some differences. WordPress, I think, has done a much better job of keeping the end user in the community. There aren’t many decisions made in Drupal core, made by people whose job it is to use Drupal, like, purely through the UI most of Drupal is driven by people who interact primarily with the code, and that just changes the priorities changes what gets built. I guess one of the main reasons that WordPress has just continued to grow in its adoption wall, Drupal is at a similar spot to where it was years ago.

IVAN: What do you think the top things are that we can learn from each other as a community?

STEVE: I think the main thing I’d like to see Drupal focus on, as far as a lesson from WordPress, is to keep that focus on the main end user, as I look at, say the, the initiatives that are currently happening in Drupal 8 core. A lot of them are, sort of, two sides of the same coin. So, there’ll be an initiative that is developer focused, and then a separate initiative that’s basically what that will mean for the end user, and in WordPress those would just be one in the same. And, actually, in WordPress right now, there’s pretty much just the one core initiative of getting this new Gutenberg WYSIWYG editor finished, and merged into core, whereas, Drupal is, I think, working on literally 11 or 12 different initiatives at once. And as far as what WordPress could learn from Drupal, the modernization that’s happened in Drupal’s PHP code base, has been beneficial, and the fact that the WordPress is still on PHP 5.2, holds some things back.

IVAN: Yea, it certainly seems to. Have you heard of the Twin Cities Open Source CMS Unconference that Tim Ericson and Wilbur Ince are putting on?

STEVE: Yea, Tim was telling me about that a couple weeks ago. I think that’s a Saturday in October.

IVAN: Yea, I just found out about it last week, and we have an email out to Tim and Wilbur. I’m hoping to get them on the Podcast so that we can record something about that. It seems to be the natural evolution of these two or more open source communities living together, trying to talk to each other. Right? It seems like this is a way to get ourselves off of our respective islands.

STEVE: Yea. In Drupal we’ve talked about getting off the island so much, and that was, basically, the metaphor we wove through that DrupalCon presentation at New Orleans, that Drupal has a twin island essentially in WordPress. WordPress also has the same kind of getting off the island conversations, because they know that they’re about just as isolated from the wider PHP community. Perhaps even more so, because there’s not the composer bridge in the same way that there is from the Drupal community to the rest of the PHP mainland, as it were.

IVAN: Yea. And it’s not just WordPress and Drupal. Joomla still has a presence in the market.

STEVE: Yea, Joomla’s still around with a pretty decent market share. But, it must just be my filter bubble that I, sort of, very rarely encounter people using Joomla. I mean, of course, my job is to work with developers who use Drupal and WordPress, but for the market share Joomla, has, I’m surprised I don’t see it.

IVAN: I’m surprised too. When we first started working for clients, when I first started TEN7, we built a WordPress site, a Drupal site, and a Joomla site, and I kind of did that to see what the major differences were, and where we would hitch our bandwagon, so to speak, and Joomla I remember being…it felt like it was solving all the problems in all the right ways, and I guess I just lost touch with it.

STEVE: Yea, Joomla never really clicked for me. It must’ve been Joomla 1.5 at the time? In 2007. So, after hearing that person on that Arts & Business council panel say, “Drupal is what you need.” I did some more research and I came across Joomla, and kind of did the same thing of trying to figure out can I build the same basic functionality in WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. And, it seemed like I could, but Drupal just clicked for me in a way that Joomla never did. I never felt the same level of comfort in the admin UI, the way information architecture got built in Joomla just didn’t click for me the same way it did in Drupal.

IVAN: So, Pantheon is not supporting Joomla just yet?

STEVE: Correct. I suppose because we are basically providing PHP, we’re providing a database.

IVAN: That's the way to do it, right?

STEVE: We added WordPress years ago partially because this was before I joined Pantheon. But, as I understand the story, one of the major agencies using Pantheon basically, figured out how to make it work, and told the people at Pantheon at the time, “hey, we got WordPress running. Are we allowed to do this?” (laughing) And Pantheon basically figured out, “well, if you got it working already, we should make our real support for WordPress more mature.” There are people who run Symphony, Pure Symphony applications on Pantheon, and we don’t support it in the same way we support Drupal or WordPress. Like, you can open support tickets with Drupal and WordPress, and we’ll be able to help you to some degree, but if you got Joomla running, or you got a Pure Symphony app running on Pantheon, we simply wouldn’t be able to help you if it suddenly broke.

IVAN: And you also support Backdrop, don’t you?

STEVE: That’s a little muddier, in that it’s something that runs on Pantheon, because its code base is so similar to Drupal 7. It runs, but it’s not something that our support team is capable of answering questions on, the same way they’re capable of answering questions on Drupal and WordPress. So, it is in kind of a gray area, and that’s probably something that we should clarify.

IVAN: You should talk to Drew and see what he says. (laughing)

STEVE: Exactly. I’ll see if we can prioritize getting more Backdrop clarity, because there are some Backdrop sites running on Pantheon, but we don’t have it documented the same way we have Drupal and WordPress documented.

IVAN: What are you excited about in Pantheon right now? What’s coming up that you may be can tell me about, or can’t tell me about, that is really kind of making you itch?

STEVE: One thing that excited me relatively recently was hearing about the Drupal 9 announcement, that there’s suddenly much more concrete information that’ll inform how people migrate away from Drupal 7 eventually. I released a blog post about that last week with kind of an edu focus. I think the Drupal 9 timing announcement will encourage some people to stay put, basically, take it as a green light to just stick with Drupal 7 until Drupal 9 comes out. And, some people will take the timing announcement, but perhaps, more so, the release of 8.6 with a lot of front-end public facing, or end user facing features, that I think will prompt a lot of Drupal 7 site owners to reconsider.

IVAN: I think you’re right. I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head there. I’m excited for it as well. It’s a really interesting decision to sunset support with two versions at the same time.

STEVE: It’s supposed to be the case that moving from 8 to 9 will be the same level of complexity, as moving between 8.5 and 8.6, but we’ll only know when that actually happens.

IVAN:  Do you have any recommendation for a book that you’re reading right now, or a book that I should be reading, that you’re absolutely enthralled with?

STEVE: Sure. So, the Alexander Hamilton book comes to mind, because the Hamilton musical is in Minneapolis right now. I was lucky enough to see it with the original cast. It was the best birthday present ever. The play opened on Broadway in October of 2015, so it was the same month as my birthday, I started listening to the soundtrack, thought it was great, mentioned it to my wife Paige, and she, while I was at BADCamp that year, just decided, “oh, I’ll just get tickets.” There was a tiny window of time after it opened on Broadway, where you could, just get tickets, and we had to buy them for the next Spring, but, yea, we were able to see it in March with the original cast. The reason I bring it up as a book, is because, I feel like the book, of course, is longer and covers more detail, and the part that I like about the book that you get to some degree in the musical is, that these are just real people. They get mythologized in so many ways, in popular culture, but the depth of the book for me was one of the best ways of seeing the regular humanity of the Founding Fathers.

IVAN: Yea, I agree. I’m a big fan of Hamilton and I was able to see it in Chicago last year, with my daughter, who basically memorized the whole album, the whole book, and also has the book you’re referring to. So, I never really thought about actually picking the book up and reading it. So, now I think I’m going to do that.

STEVE: Yea, it’s pretty good.

IVAN: Well, thanks for the advice. And, thanks for the suggestion, and really appreciate having you join us on the Podcast. Thanks so much for spending your precious time with me.

STEVE: Thanks for having me, Ivan.

IVAN: So, you’re @stevector on Twitter and on So, maybe before we sign off, tell me about Steve Vector. I should’ve asked about that before. How did that come about?

STEVE: Yea, you know. Calculus class, senior year of high school, there was a website we were supposed to sign into, basically a forum, and make conversation about Calculus, so I thought, “well, the username that I should have for this Calculus website is obviously Steve Vector,” and, I should’ve left it there, and just made Steve Persch my username in other places, but I did not. So, I’m Steve Vector, I guess, for the foreseeable future.

IVAN: That’s awesome. So, @stevector on Twitter and on, and on GitHub.

STEVE: Pretty much everywhere.

IVAN: And, I would assume you have as well?

STEVE: Oh, I do. Yes.

IVAN: We’ll link to all of that in the show notes. You’ve been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.

Sep 19 2018
Sep 19

Your browser does not support the audio element. TEN7-Podcast-Ep-039-Drew_Gorton.mp3

Today, it is our privilege to be talking with Drew Gorton, Director of Developer Relations at Pantheon and long time web veteran.

Here's what we're discussing in this podcast:

  • Drew's history
  • Cherishing our kids
  • What is Prairie High School
  • Going to St. Olaf College
  • How to choose a college major or not
  • Teaching English in Japan
  • Learning to swim and function in an unknown culture
  • Starting a tech career in Japan of all places
  • Building world cultural exchange with websites
  • Building Gorton Studios
  • Access a database? We don't need no stinkin' ticket!
  • Contributing Backup and Migrate Drupal modules
  • NodeSquirrel
  • Becoming a part of the Pantheon family
  • The joy of leading wonderful teams
  • The joy of cooking
  • The nerd and his love of science fiction


IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I am your host Ivan Stegic. In this episode of the Podcast, Drew Gorton, Director of Developer Relations at Pantheon. Drew’s been involved with the web in some capacity, going back to 1996, while teaching English in Japan. He started Gorton Studios here in Minneapolis in 2001, and then in 2015 their product NodeSquirrel was acquired by Pantheon, where he now leads their Developer Relations team. I’m so glad to be able to call him a colleague, a fellow Drupaler and a friend. Drew, it’s my pleasure to welcome you to the Podcast.

DREW GORTON: Wow! It’s my honor as well. You dug into the history vault for that one. I don’t think I have a Wikipedia with me today. How did you come up with all of that? (laughing) All true?

IVAN: (laughing). It’s all true. Well, I kind of looked at your LinkedIn profile, to be honest.

DREW: Oh right! I suppose I probably have some information on there. Alright. (laughing)

IVAN: (laughing) Well, let’s start at the beginning. The beginning of Drew Gorton. So, where did you grow up?

DREW: I grew up in Southeast Wisconsin. So, between Milwaukee and Chicago. It’s a town called Racine and it’s about 80-90-100,000, somewhere in there. My parents still live in the house I grew up in. I was there through high school and that’s kind of poignant for me, because we’ve talked about this before, but, I now have two high school aged children. One of whom is a senior this year, and I’m very aware of the fact that after I left for college, I never went back home again to live. This is one of the things, as a parent who enjoys his adult sons, realizing like “whoa, wait, I might have limited amount of time with them.” But, yea, I came up here, into the Minneapolis area for school, and then after graduating, lived abroad for a while, and did some other things, but then came back and settled down. I’ve basically been in Minneapolis for twentyish years and doing web and Drupalee things for much of it.

IVAN: I know how you feel with the adult kids and leaving home. Interesting to think that once you leave, it’s still in your brain somehow, but you never really think about going back, and now the opposite is happening. It really teaches you to cherish those moments with those adults and kids.

DREW: Indeed.

IVAN: Now on your LinkedIn profile, it said you went to the Prairie School. What is the Prairie School? (laughing)

DREW: Wow! You did dig. Yea, that was the high school I graduated from, Racine. So, Racine is big enough to have a few high schools, so they have three of them. Prairie is a college prep school. It was actually a really good change for me. I went to where I grew up, actually was kind of on a boundary that kept changing. So, I never went to a school for more than two years before transferring over to Prairie. As a kid I was actually not terribly well adjusted to social niceties. I didn’t get other kids. So, basically that means that and the frequent switching of schools, meant I was a pretty isolated kid, and I was doing really badly in school. Despite having all sorts of potential and doing well on standardized tests and things like that, I was kind of feeling output and a bit of a discipline problem. So my parents decided a change was needed, and they packed me off to the college prep school, and it was a pretty fantastic change. I really was glad they did that. I don’t know what bridge I’d be living under if I hadn’t had that big change there. (laughing) Probably not a bridge, but, yea, it was a good change. So, Prairie’s a small college prep school in Racine. So, I graduate glass of thirtyish kids.

IVAN: You’re a liberal arts graduate. You started a web company. You sold a product company. Now you lead a group of engineers. So, tell me about your time at St. Olaf. What did you come out thinking you would actually be doing?

DREW: So, I went to college thinking I was going to become an architect. I was intent on studying math and physics as an undergrad, and then going and doing architecture essentially post-grad. By the end of my freshman year I was convinced that physics sucked. Looking back, I’m aware now that that was just really a couple of bad profs, basically. The teaching was not great, and at the time, what I knew was, this is not interesting, I don’t know why I used to like this, it’s just really boring. And, these other classes that I’m taking are pretty exciting and interesting, and I’m really getting into them. That was enough to push me out of physics, and then that started a slow evolution that, actually in my senior year ended with me totally flipping my majors around to Spanish and religion with effectively a minor in math. I needed like two more classes to have a triple major, but I decided not to kill myself. That was part of what I was actually up to. I kept a math major all the way through because I thought, basically, well, math is employable somehow, probably. Right? I don’t think I can pull that off with a philosophy degree. In my senior year I just decided, “No, it’s fine.” I was in a seminar about fractal and chaos theory, which I really enjoyed, but it didn’t have a lot to do with bookkeeping, and I just decided if I’m really holding onto this with majors in an attempt to be employable, I’ll move up four semesters past the point where any business is going to care about this, and so, I’ll just go do the things I’m having fun with. So, I ended up with the philosophy and religion degree, and Spanish. The love of Spanish happened actually also from my time at Prairie, is when it started. My senior year at Prairie I had a friend who was an exchange student, and I actually got to be good friend with him. And at the end of my senior year, I actually went to visit him in Spain for about a month, and it was really an impactful visit, and it really turned Spanish from being a class that I would joke around in and not really do very well in, in high school, to something that I really, really enjoyed, because I was happy to get to interact with people in this hitherto, you just be like kind of purposeless thing in my mind, but all of a sudden it opened up the ability to communicate with the family and the friends and all of the people. When I started college, I knew I actually wanted to continue doing Spanish and maybe study abroad. And, I did all those things. And, I did it enough that my major was right there, as I was contemplating “what do I want to do? I need to graduate soon. What are the majors I want to do?” And, Spanish was one of the choices.

IVAN: So, are you bilingual or trilingual? Because I know you taught English in Japan, and we’ve talked about Japan in the past, you and I. But, I don’t recall.

DREW: Yea. So, those are tricky things to claim. My English is better than both of them. My Spanish is pretty good. At one point in time I would’ve been able to have a conversation like this at the natural speed in Spanish, and I possibly could still do that. Although, I’m sure there’d be words I’d search for, and every so often I get into a new situation where I do speak Spanish, and that happens, but I can usually just explain around it and be like, “What’s the word for forehead? You know, the thing that’s above your eyes and below your hair? What’s that thing called?” You know, I can say those kinds of things. (laughing) My Japanese used to be quite good as well. I went from no Japanese on arrival in Japan, to being able to do things like lease a car and sign an agreement, and certainly, obviously, live there. We were there for three years and just lived in a professional society and do all of the things that you need to do to survive and thrive in a different environment. But, my written and reading of Japanese, is not nearly as good. Japanese is a hard language to truly master. There’s a ranking system, like an official Japanese government, like your level of proficiency in Japanese, and it’s got four levels and wow, I think I’m a three. One is like, University Professor, can really be incredibly articulate and read and write, and a lot of the focus is on reading and writing. And, basically, my level of Japanese is conversational, like, this person can live in Japan and read a newspaper article and converse, but they’re not going to write a paper. A research paper in Japanese would’ve been out of my grip at the time and like nowadays I look back. I got notes I would take in Japanese, every so often actually we moved houses two or three years ago, and I had occasion to look back and discover a notebook that I had written, and seeing your own handwriting and being like “what in God’s name?” (laughing) I was like “oh, man”. I mean I obviously knew this at one point in time, but I really have to struggle to figure out what I wrote down. Like recipes for example, like talking with friends, got recipes, like, wow, ok, is that chicken or is that pork? (laughing) Yea

IVAN: It must’ve been fascinating to immerse yourself in a completely unknown culture and society, and then have to learn how to swim and function?

DREW: Yea. It was an awesome opportunity, and it definitely shaped a lot of who I am today. I know that for a fact. It’s hard to know exactly how that happened. You know, like to isolate the specific things, but I know that at the point in which I left for Japan, I had, at that point in time, lived in Spain. I spent basically a year in Spain, and so had some level of familiarity with “Ok, it’s different, but, it’s also kind of the same. We’re all just people, we like to eat food, some people are nice, some people aren’t. Going to Japan was an additional level of that. Between Spain and Europe in general, and the United States, there’s a lot of shared, cultural, kinds of influences. So, historically, Europe is dominated by Christianity for example. A lot of that is here present in the United States, and so there are just cultural touchpoints and understandings and such that are Judeo Christian in background. Whereas, you go to Japan, and it’s very different. You don’t have that. That’s just a completely different world view. At the same time, we all like to eat, some people are nice, some people are less nice, some people are welcome with strangers, some people aren’t, so. There are a lot of commonalities again, but, there was enough differences that it also just gave me a cleaner understanding of what it is to be human, in a way that you can see through a few more layers and realize just how much each of us is a product of the stories we tell and the civilizations we celebrate and the histories that we remember and share.

IVAN: And you taught English there, and you weren’t there alone, were you?

DREW: That’s right. Yes. I was there for three years. I taught English in a high school. I was fortunate enough to be in a high school that was considered one of the better high schools in the area. So, I had kids who were motivated to learn and engage in the classroom, and that’s a great situation to be in as a teacher. But, then I was there with my wife as well. We had both lived individually, separately, in different countries. I got married soon after college. I lived in Spain, she lived, at the time, in Czechoslovakia, but currently Czech Republic. We had these amazing experiences, and we felt, ”I learned a lot while I was there, you learned a lot when you were there. You have all these stories. I have all these stories. What if we did something together?” About a year after being married, both of us were in jobs, that we're, paying the rent, but not terribly interesting and we decided, well, now is the time to do it. We actually looked to Latin America, primarily, as the place to go. She has four brothers and sisters, five total, who had all been born in either Venezuela or Mexico, because her parents had lived there for, I think, 17 years or 20 years -- a long time, in combination of those two countries, as American ex-pats. So, she grew up with all the stories of Mexico and Venezuela and some light Spanish being spoken in the house and used for household terms. So, there was again, with both of us, there was a touchstone to Spanish. However, Latin America was not a place either of us had lived before, and we decided “well, let’s go try and figure out what we can do. Latin America will be new for both of us, but also, it feels like it’s also something nearby to both of us.” And, we ended up looking around to these things and applied to something called the JET Program (Japanese Exchange Teaching Program), on a fluke basically. Someone said “Oh, well hey, while you’re looking at things international, there’s this one thing, you could fill out the paperwork.” We were like “Japan, that’s weird. Ok. Alright, it’ll be good for the experience, right?” So, we filled out the paperwork, wrote the essays – whatever the things were – and then kind of forgot about it. And like two or three months later they followed up with us. We got a letter. It was like “Hey, I really loved your applications. You should come to Chicago to interview at the Consulate.” We’re like “Japan? Chicago? I don’t want to go to Chicago.” (laughing) “Wait”. And I’m like “Your sister is in Chicago. She’s kind of fun, we can go hang out with her and like we’ll spend the weekend, we’ll do that, and then maybe we’ll do this thing, and then we’ll just come back and whatever.” We’re like “it’ll be a good experience.” So, then we went, we went to the Consulate, we had this fun weekend, and then again, like two or three months later, we kind of forgot about it, and then they wrote, and they said, “we would like to send you to Japan.” We’re like “Um, really!” (laughing) Then we just, again, kind of went with it. Like “Well, okay. It can’t be that bad, right? It should be fun. We can do anything for a year, right?” So, we went for a one-year contract and then it was renewable after three years and we did that. Went through for three years. Three years turned out to be a natural breakpoint, just because of the way the Visa system works. We could have stayed longer, but it was just getting to a natural endpoint, and we looked around and saw other ex-patriots there, and we saw that it was basically three years, another cut off at seven years and you know, then you’re there for life. We were kind of thinking maybe we’d start a family and things like that. So, it was a hard decision at the time, but it was also a good decision. So, we came back, in Minneapolis, basically ever since.

IVAN: While you were in Japan, were you thinking about, or were you involved in the tech scene in any way? Or, did that come after you got back to the United States?

DREW: It started in Japan, actually. I graduated from college in 1994, and, one of the guys I lived with at the time in 1994, got really excited about the web, and he told me, he took me aside and said, “Hey Drew, I think you’d really like this.” His name was Ted, a successful electrical engineer. He helps design chips these days. He took me aside and he was like, “Drew I think you’d really like this.” I remember he showed me the screen and he said, “hey, look at this, you could find things all around the world.” I remember being totally not impressed. I was like “Ted, that’s super nerdy. Let’s go have a beer.” (laughing) And like, thinking like, “whatever, we’re playing cards. Come on. Join us.” I think I talked him into it. He was like “no, you’ll really like this.” I was like “Ted, I’m sure I would. Have a beer.” Then I went and lived in Japan and that was an isolating experience. That was 1995 to 1998. At the same time, the web was starting to grow, and actually, probably in 1996, I realized I’m using email to keep in touch with my family. These things are emergent and real and new patterns. I started wanting to give those same opportunities to my kids, the kids I was teaching, and so I started studying email exchanges with students who were also learning English in different countries. So, Scandinavia, and then also we ended up with kids in Northern Ireland we were communicating with, who, obviously spoke English quite well. Then the next extension of that was, “Hey, what if we could create little pages about ourselves, and post a picture, and put something together, and use that and just get a little bit more of a sense of who these other people are.” So, we started doing that back and forth, again, with the students in these different countries. It was just transformational. It was like, I could see the same exchange happen for my students that happened for me when I lived in Spain. I thought “this is real. I’m talking to someone who’s actually very real.” I see their face. I see that person. They’re really huge. I want to communicate with that person and put a little extra effort into it. Now, English was not a subject you needed to take to pass a test in order to get into a good university. It was those things, yes, but also actually this really cool thing -- you could learn in order to communicate with somebody impossibly far away. The world has really shrunk a lot in the last twenty years. Talking about this now it sounds incredibly old timery, in like, my kids don’t have a sense of this at all. But at the time it was just really eye opening to me, and I knew that I wanted to be involved with this technology, basically, right away. I was like “well, I’m teaching here, this is good.” When I came back, I knew I wanted to be involved with web stuff. What that meant. How you do that – I didn’t know. But, I saw it as a technology that was fundamentally transformable, and it was powerful, and there are philosophically a number of things that were really attractive to me. The freedom to interact with people around the world regardless of what you look like; what language you might speak, although you need at least a common one; what your belief structure is; your gender. All of those things can be stripped away, and you could interact with folks everywhere. That’s transformative. And, still, we’re not done yet. We’re still in the early days of the web, but it is a fundamental building block in building a world culture, basically. Like this is still transforming the way that we think and identify ourselves, and, while there are all sorts of instances of people doing not so great things with these tools, fundamentally, I think it continues to be a transformative power for the good.

IVAN: I agree with that, and I hope it continues to do that. It’s always been an ideal. I remember when the web started. I was in high school and in South Africa and we were completely isolated, and we just started becoming reintegrated into the world, and at the same time the internet was starting to connect us. I remember being overjoyed with the idea that I could connect on this level playing field, with everybody else. I still believe, and I think you do too, that this is something that will transform our world and our culture. It’s had a little bit of bad press lately, the last few years (laughing), but I think we both still believe in the ideal that maybe this is just a bump in the road.

DREW: Well, I do believe that. I think it was perhaps a naïve, sort of, my own like “Wow, I’m connecting with people.” But, there are many people who grow up and are in environments that push them towards extremism and have situations that are way less privileged than mine. So, it is changing the world. We are becoming a worldwide civilization. It turns out there are a lot of people with strikingly different ideas for what good is, and what should we be doing. And so, there are some pretty horrendous activities that happen in the name of what presumably people think are the right things to do. But, still fundamentally, we are so much more connected today, and we’re starting to learn more about each other, and that’s not without friction for sure. I guess, overall, fundamentally, I believe that that friction is probably a necessary part of learning about each other.

IVAN: And, I think as it matures, and as we learn about those frictions, we can learn to adapt to them. And my hope is that ultimately, we evolve past all of the trouble and past all of the issues that we have. So, you landed in Minneapolis. You chose Minneapolis, and you immediately founded Gorton Studios. Or, was there an interim period?

DREW: There was an interim period there, yes. What we immediately did was, we both earned a pretty nice salary while we were in Japan, we were able to use that to pay off student debts, which was great, came back and had some money saved, And then had actually paid into the equivalent of social security in Japan. When you leave Japan, and say like, thank you I’ve paid in social security, can I have that money back? They say “Yes”. That’s very kind of them. I don’t know that other countries do that. So, you file some paperwork, and then you get a nice big, lump sum. Anyway, we went back. My wife’s parents live in Minneapolis. We lived in their basement. Low rent. Would do things like make meals together and play cards every night. After six months, all of a sudden, we realized money is running short, and we didn’t have jobs. We knew we would take awhile to let our heads clear, after being abroad for so long. And, then, came back and again, like six months later, realized “Oh, we can’t stay retired forever. We should do something.” (laughing) Which was really a bummer. Retirement was great! I liked it. So, both of us actually went back to jobs we had been doing before. At the time for me, that meant going back to the insurance company I had been working for, where I did tech support. I told them “look, I’ll do tech support. This is fine. I don’t want to do this long-term. What I really want to do is this web stuff. However, all of the docs are web documents. So, I ended up taking over internal websites and then did that for about a year, to the point where I could legitimately call myself, “Alright, I’m actually pretty good with this stuff.” I was troubleshooting it for other people and, again, maintaining a pretty large site, without the advantages of things like PHP and maintaining a site by hand that had 5,000 pages of it. It was just like our internal help documentation.

IVAN: Service (inaudible) are your friends at that point.

DREW: It couldn’t have been there, but I don’t think we used them at all. It was like the header, and you got 100 docs that have 5 links to the top and somewhere along the way you copy/pasted the wrong header, and now you’ve got like 600 docs that have a (laughing) slightly different version, footer, and everything else. Oh yea, it was a beautiful way to learn that you don’t manage this by hand. So, then I went from there to a web development job at a dotcom startup, and that lasted about a year. I really enjoyed some of the people I worked with and the work we were doing. We were doing, what we were calling it at the time, webcasting, which was taking television feeds and putting them online using RealPlayer.

IVAN: RealPlayer. Wow!

DREW: We were using RealPlayer, and I think the Windows Media was maybe out in some format at that point. But we used RealPlayer and at least one other one. We also had some custom stuff that allowed us to basically advance slides for recorded versions. So, at the time it was like a ways ahead of things. But, we never had a repeat customer. It was very clear, to me, that it was not worth what we were selling it for. I went independent. I’d been moonlighting at the time, and then that just really took off. I went independent in 2001, I remember incorporating January 2001, and essentially it worked out, despite the fact that the dotcom crash and other things happened in short succession there, but I had enough clients lined up and enough savings, and other things. There were some dark years in there, where I worked many, many, many, many, long hours and, but made it. The lean years were probably done within three or four, and then I was able to start growing a team; had an awesome team, with folks such as Lynn Winter on it. Lynn was probably with us for eight, maybe even longer, years. Before that she was a client. I was really blessed to have an awesome team of people who incredibly stuck around for a long time, and just really great quality people.

IVAN: Yea, Gorton Studios existed for about 14 years, and I think you guys made some significant contributions to Drupal and to the Drupal community. Most notably, I think, Backup in Migrate. Right? Like, that’s one of the top 10 modules of all time that Drupal uses, and that was something you and Ronin created. I’m going to go out on the limb here and say you wrote some of the initial code with Ronin? Or, Ronin wrote some of the initial code with you? Basically, this was your baby?

DREW: Yea. It was much more Ronin’s baby than mine. I contributed small bits, and like any open source thing, it started out as a scratch, you have an itch. We were dealing with a host at the time, there was no access to the database, unless you filed a support ticket, and if they weren’t prompt about getting back to you, you were like, “Hey, I guess I can’t work with the production data, which I kind of need in order to duplicate this thing, so I can build the next thing, whatever it is.” And, like one day while noodling this over and being really frustrated, I think Ronin and I were kind of maybe batting this around out loud, and essentially realized, “You know actually does have read and write access to this database? Drupal. Drupal itself. We don’t need no stinkin' file system, filing some stinkin' ticket. We’ll just write a thing that allows us to actually just grab all the stuff.” So, the first version of Backup and Migrate was an internal tool only, and we called it DB Dump. It was really straightforward, and then we used to grab all the things and then we added like, “Oh, actually what we don’t want is like cache, and stuff like that, so we had to exclude these things, and then over time we realized, actually we even got some clients, we got like all the zip codes in the United States. So rather than just defaulting to exclude cache, how about we interface to be able to exclude other tables like that. If you don’t need 50 megs of zip codes, or whatever it was, on every single DB dump that you want, go ahead and exclude those. So, that was absolutely it. Then, we realized over time, actually I wonder, this could be a tool, a better thought was this could be a tool to move back and forth between environments. Then we decided, “You know, we should contribute this back. I don’t’ know if anybody else wanted this thing, but maybe somebody else has a crappy situation and then contributed it back. It was early enough, and enough other people had this particular pain point for ease of moving things back and forth, that it really took off. Then, once it’s popular…

IVAN: …then you have to maintain it.

DREW: Yea, you have to maintain it, absolutely have to maintain it. But, we also saw it as a way to give back. We, at the time, were working a lot with Drupal and felt like it was providing just a tremendous amount of value to us, and it was like just trying to be an open source citizen basically. There’s so much that we’re getting from this platform from this community, we’re just going to toss them this one little tiny thing. We tried to toss it more than one little tiny thing. There were other things that we contributed in time, and money & other things. It was definitely a concrete example of “Let’s try and give something back,” which is probably 5% of the value if you were to somehow quantify everything that we got out of Drupal. It would be fractional, but we were devoted to giving back, not nothing, but again, it just felt like a good citizenships kind of thing initially. Then, people say appreciative things and that becomes its own, sort of, reason to continue. People say, “this is an awesome module.” You’re like “really? You’ve heard of my module? That’s crazy.” Then you hear that a bunch of times and you’re like “oh, well, that’s pretty cool. I like it when people like me. Maybe I’ll keep working on it.”

 IVAN: I remember using Backup and Migrate for the first time and being so thankful that it existed and then I was curious like, “who made this? Where did this come from?” I went to the page and was like, Ronin and Drew? Hold on a second (laughing), I love these guys. It was awesome. So NodeSquirrel was like an actual extension of Backup and Migrate right? It was another itch that you wanted to scratch, right?

DREW: Yea. Totally. Again, that had been a light discussion for many years, like “oh, we should think about a product.” Because when you’re a services company…I don’t know…we certainly did it, and I hear others do it a lot, like “I wonder if we could build a product. It’s great that we can go ahead and bill clients, but we always have to find a new client.” You know, if it gets tiresome you feel like you’re like a hamster on a wheel, sort of thing, like “we should build product.” I think that’s a common, sort of, thought process and I have strong opinions about that as well, and absolutely something we can talk about. I gave a session at DrupalCon about this a few years ago. I think DrupalCon Barcelona, something about bridging the gap, doing products as a service to this company. And, at one point in time, Ronin just actually said, “You know what? I can just do this. I’m just going to do this in my spare time. I’m just going to do it to like, goof around, and see if I can build it. I’m going to challenge myself with something to build, to see if I can build a hosted version, basically a host destination for databases, that would be secure, and off site, and something you can just rely on.” And, he knocked it together using Drupal, so obviously a Drupal module feeds it – Backup and Migrate. The site where you would go to find out more about it, well, actually there was no marketing site to start off with. But, then he built the receiver on the other end, which was a Drupal site, with a bunch of Drupal modules in it, including quite a bit of stuff for the storing of the databases and stuff, which was custom of a lot of the functionality, it was just standard stuff. It was views for admins being able to see things listed, etc. And, then, he basically brought it in and said, “You know what? I’ve been having a lot of fun with this, and it’s cool, but I don’t know what to do next, and it’s just basically been a pet project, but I think it might have legs. I think it might go somewhere. Would Gorton Studios like in on this?” That started off a lot of conversations like, “Well, that’s cool. I don’t want to take your baby.” Like there was a lot of dance back and forth, like “you built this thing. Are you sure?” His feedback was basically “Yea, I am sure, because I’ve done all the programing, that’s fun, now it needs like marketing and branding, and stuff. Like nobody’s ever going to do this, I don’t think.” And, I don’t know, like, those next gaps were totally opaque to him, and actually, frankly, to all of us, but we knew maybe how to take a crack at it. So, he brought in Gorton Studios, we had a little charter we formed at the time, and we ran it as an independent company. Underneath Gorton Studios it said obviously, by Gorton Studios and managed to learn our way and sort of, block our way, into a modest amount of success. It was going well, like graphs off to the right, making the money, etc., which was cool as a product, essentially to the point where it became a problem. So, for me as the CEO, again, it was in 2015, so probably in 2014 I realized that it was growing enough to merit real attention and time. And that was a problem. Like, “Ok, now we’ve been just doing this kind of round the edges in our spare time, but hadn’t really made it a huge push.” We would show up to Drupalcon, have a booth, do other things, but then we’d go home from Drupalcon, go back to our billable work and then maybe remember to tweet once a month, or something like that. Again, it continued growing through all of that, but we realized that…or I realized…I did a lot of thinking…either I need to hire someone to be devoted to this full-time or, we need to sell this to someone who will do that same thing, or well I suppose the other one would have been shut down. But basically, I was looking between those first two more. Like, do we need a full-time, staff this, dedicate actual money, what does it look like, we’re going to break off and again, give it the attention it deserves for the potential that I see in it, or, I can go for the quick win and sell it to somebody and just make gazillions of dollars. (laughing).

IVAN: So, you went for that option.

DREW: Yea. Actually, I did both simultaneously. I spent a lot of time planning those things, and then at the same time, actively talking to folks. Amongst the people I had an early conversation with was Zack Rosen, he’s the CEO of Pantheon, and just wanted to pick his brains. Because Pantheon came out of an agency that had built a product, a platform, and then went on to great success. I kind of wanted to, just the balance and how to do things, we just really started getting into it and had an awesome conversation. It was at a Pantheon partner dinner in the 2014 range, I happened to crash that dinner to hang out with some friends from Think Shout, who are a great agency based in Portland, than I just sat at their booth, and Zack was kind of doing the rounds, like “Hey, I’m Zack Rosen, I’m the President.” Going around and being sociable, and doing all those…like working the room, in a really great way actually…I mean, it was just a very authentic way, but sat down and I was like “hey Zack, I just want to talk to you for a little bit,” and we ended up talking for like three hours. I kind of killed his circuit over the room. And, then we saw each other again and it was like “Wow, we’re just talking, this is really cool.” We talked a few more times at different events over the next two or three months, where we just ended up being together, and we would actually, we just said, alright we’re going to take a couple hours, I’d really like to pick your brains and get a feel for this,” and, at the same time I was really developing a sense of “Aha, I also think Pantheon might be a potential customer for this.” So, I started in the back of my head thinking, “Alright, I’m going to be able to sell this to these guys. That’d be pretty cool. Problem solved. Get some money and good, I’ll go back to continuing this cool agency I’m running.” I think what Zack was doing is like, “Mm hmm, this is an interesting guy. This product could be cool, but I’d like to have him on my team.” So, I think I was selling his notes, and he was selling me Pantheon. It worked out. I’m happy with where we landed. But, yea, that process went through, and actually, when it first was broached actually, I have to give credit to my wife as well. Because, Zack was like, “You know what? We’re kind of interested in buying NodeSquirrel, but I really want you to come with it. You and Ronin as well.” I actually just laughed. I was like, “I can’t speak for Ronin. You talk to Ronin. If Ronin wants to, that’s cool, but I already have a…it’s got my name on it. It’s called Gorton Studios. It’s actually my name. I do a thing already.” And I just kind of laughed. I thought is this like a negotiating technique. That conversation happened to happen in San Francisco. So, when I came home and told my wife, “Hey, honey, the funniest thing happened. I was talking to Zack, and he thought they’d like to hire me too.” I was like, “Can you believe it? That’s just ridiculous.” She had one of those moments of clarity that I remember, she just looked me deep in the eyes and was just like, “Drew, you have been looking for a change.” This is like slap, slap, slap, across the face. “This would be a pretty cool change, wouldn’t it?” Then I just remember thinking “Oh! yea! That would be pretty cool, huh!” (laughing) “How obvious does that have to be before I see it, my goodness. Thank you. Thank you love. I’m so glad I know someone who knows me better than myself.” At least in some ways. So, yea, so I went into it, the next time we had that conversation, with an open mind. And, that’s how it checked out. It’s been great.

IVAN: What’s it like going from being in charge of all the things as a CEO, to being a part of something that’s not yours. It’s not your baby. What’s that like?

DREW: It’s awesome. (laughing) I can say that, because I have a lot. I have just very high confidence in the people I work with, and that was really important to me going in. I wanted to make sure there was a clear roll for me, that I could see myself making a difference, and also, I could see myself having a lot of comfort knowing that other good people were making good decisions that I would agree with. Maybe not every decision, but I would agree with the decision-making process. And, having been a CEO, I’m very aware of the fact that a lot of the decisions that you need to make, are based on imperfect information and that don’t have a clear, “Well, duh, the obvious answer is this.” I mean, if you only got those questions as a CEO, there would be something terribly wrong. That would mean the people who are doing the work didn’t have the power to make decisions. Basically, the only decisions I would derive that I needed to make were always the messy ones, like, all the easy ones were taken care of. And, even many of the hard ones were taken care of. It’s really only the particularly snarly ones. And, so, one of the things I really enjoy now, is a hand over situation, like “hey, I’m going to weigh in. Here’s what I think is going on. Here’s the things I’m able to see. Here are my recommendations. Enjoy.” (laughing) And, I think it’s fantastic. I’ll leave it there.

IVAN: Ok. (laughing) I was actually going to ask you what the best part of your job is right now, but I think you just answered that.

DREW: Well, I enjoy that freedom. I enjoy the ability for me to be able to have less emotion and angst, perhaps  tied up in my work. There are pressures with being responsible for the paychecks of others. I’m a manager at Pantheon as well, and I still feel some of those pressures, but it’s far less visceral. At the same time, I’m very aware of the fact, I think one of the things that I learned as a CEO is, all companies are two to three months from going out of business. Every single one. We see that in the companies with massive corporate layoffs. It doesn’t matter what size you are. It’s just possible. As a services business, what you end up doing, is you find a new client. And, of course, you find a new client, because you’ve always been able to find new clients, but you don’t know which client it’s going to be, and there’s always some…that is a real recurring pressure.

IVAN: Angst.

DREW: Yea, absolutely. And, so, Pantheon needs to find new clients. It’s a product. But we need to continue doing our work, but not seeing that thing every day is, like I know it’s true, I’m also not, sort of hit with it every moment, and so, I appreciate that. However, coming back to the thing I like the most, I love the fact that I lead yet another great team. So I have this just really cool team with developer relations folks and they’re all experienced, talented, technical people, who have done real work, really interesting stuff elsewhere in the world, Drupal and WordPress and some other systems as well, and they’ve done it well enough to get to a certain level of experience and expertise, and accolade from people around them, but then they’ve also got personalities that are just really warm and open and welcoming. They give talks at different camps and they make friends with lots of people, and they’re just a really warm, wonderful group of people. So, listeners of the Podcast might know, for example, David Needham, who is a Minneapolis ex-resident, who lives in Illinois these days, but he’s a member of the team. Steve Persch also on the Drupal’s team, used to be from Palantir, lived in Chicago, then Milwaukee, now he’s actually in Minneapolis, actually, in the last few months.

IVAN: Hi Steve! We should get Steve on the Podcast.

DREW: You absolutely should get Steve on the Podcast. He’s a great person.

IVAN: I think that would be great.

DREW: Yea. And then Dwayne. Anybody who has ever gone to the Drupal camp has probably met Dwayne. Dwayne is our road warrior. All of us get out on the road. Then we got Tessa here, locally in the community as well. She’s a little bit more active with WordPress, but again, just these fantastic people. And, Andrew Taylor in Portland, these days. Again, more visible in the WordPress space, but again, all of these folks have given sessions at Drupalcon. And again, I love the fact that I work with these great people. What we try to do is cross pollinate best ideas, best practices and help others do their jobs better, and yes, we like it if you use Pantheon as part of that. We hope that we're spreading best practices, like continuous integration and other things like that. People will pick them up and use them however they want, but take the code rebuild, fork it, make it your own thing and use it to make your agency more effective. And it’s really easy, Pantheon, because it’s a pretty great platform. I really wish Gorton Studios had discovered it, it would’ve saved us a lot of freaking hassles. Servers are not fun. I used to end up dealing with servers more often than the rest of the team, and so I felt it perhaps a little bit more acutely, but servers suck. (laughing)

IVAN: I’d rather someone else did them as well.

DREW: Oh man. Yea.

IVAN: I have to say I’m very impressed with and have always appreciated, the amount of contribution and care that Pantheon takes about open sourcing as many of the things that you guys are working on as possible. You mentioned Zack early on, and I remember TEN7 and myself being very interested in Pantheon, very early on. One of the things that struck me was the authenticity that I felt, that Pantheon had, and it felt like you guys were the small fish going up against the bigger fish, and I think you’ve been able to swim upstream, and I see only good things coming forth from Pantheon. I’m glad to see that.

DREW: Thank you. Yea. That’s a great word to describe it. So, Zack is incredibly authenticate, and so is the rest of the leadership too. Just all good people who might disagree on the way to do something, but not the why. We want to make life better for our customers. Like “Ok, good, we all agree, great. Now what are we doing tomorrow?” And, to have a team around, which you could have a great dialogue about things like that. Again, you might not agree with exactly the outcome, but you also agree “Look, there’s a lot of stuff going on here, we need you to make an expedient decision. The decision is made. Let’s do it.” That feels great too. “Right, we’re going to do it, cool.” Now we’ll readdress in six months if we need to, or whatever. It’s great.

IVAN: So, I want to ask you two more questions. Actually, both of them, they could be work related or not, it’s up to you. What’s your favorite thing right now? In the last 24 hours, 48 hours, what’s your favorite thing?

DREW: I like cooking. (laughing) So, one of the things that I’ve really discovered over the last 3-5 years is the simple joy of providing a good meal for others. Last night, my youngest son, who is a freshman in high school, he did his first marching band at the football game. We came home at ten, eleven o’clock and got home, and he hadn’t eaten dinner. I made him, and my other son quesadillas and I had one myself too, because why not? We just had a little time together. Teenage boys that are eating make appreciative noises. (laughing). It’s just a simple joy.

IVAN: It is. Cherish them while they're there. And, my last question before we wrap up. What book should I read next?

DREW: I read a lot of fiction, and I enjoy science fiction and fantasy, because I’m a nerd. The series I have most recently just earned through is called The Expanse, which I also have come to learn is a television show. It is an extraordinarily, well-written series. The author's name is James Comey.

IVAN: James Comey? As in the former FBI director?

DREW: Could be. I think it’s Comey. I’m going to google this up.

IVAN: I mean, is he moonlighting?

DREW: It is not the same guy, I do know that.

IVAN: Well, for a moment I thought he might be moonlighting.

DREW: Corey. You’re right. James Corey. Which happens to be a collaboration of two different authors, but, it’s set in a not terribly far future, in which Mars has been colonized, but is being terra formed, and the asteroid belt is being worked, and it has basically created three distinct civilizations, all humans and historically all over us. But after a few generations living in the outer belt, after a few generations living on Mars, you start to have your own stories and such. So, geopolitical’s not the right word, it’s like solar political, or solo political background upon which they’re just great storytelling. And into that mix is injected some alien technology, and it’s great storytelling, and it's also extraordinarily plausible. It’s not so far ahead that you have imaginary lights, embers, or ray guns or other things like that, that you’re like “well, I don’t want to know exactly how that works, but, whatever, it’s kind of interesting.” It feels very authentic. The thing I enjoy about science fiction and fantasy is it allows you to take, well done science fiction and fantasy, allows you to take real people and put them into a different environment, and then basically look how that environment might shape their behaviors, in a way that is eye opening. And, that’s awesome. It’s an awesome experience.

IVAN: Thank you for the recommendation. We’ll definitely link to it in the transcript.

DREW: Awesome.

IVAN: Drew, thank you so much for spending your precious time with me.

DREW: Thank you! I really enjoyed this. I hope I wasn’t too long-winded. I think I might have been. (laughing)

IVAN: I think you’re good. So, you’re @dgorton on Twitter, and on, and you’re Drew Gorton on You’ve been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.

Sep 05 2018
Sep 05

Your browser does not support the audio element. TEN7-Podcast-Ep-038-Lynn-Winter-Project-Management.mp3

Today, we are privileged to be talking with Lynn Winter, web project manager, content strategist, pro sports cameraperson and conference producer.

Here's what we're discussing in this podcast:

  • Lynn's many jobs, talents and skills
  • Picking strawberries
  • Babysitting, maybe not
  • Growing up in Northfield, MN
  • Attending Hamline University
  • Working at TPT (TwinCities Public Television)
  • Roles of a TV production manager
  • Working as a camera operator for professional sports teams
  • Doing MN Vikings games
  • Getting called up for the big game... Superbowl
  • Doing the NCAA Final Four
  • Moving into the digital world
  • Starting at Gorton Studios
  • A passion for content strategy and user experience
  • Manage Digital, an annual conference


IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I am your host Ivan Stegic. In this episode of the podcast, Lynn Winter, someone who has done many seemingly different things since the turn of the millennium, everything from leading projects to content strategy, to participating in the video production of the Superbowl in Minneapolis this year, to starting a conference called Manage Digital for people who manage and lead digital projects. Wow! Lynn, it’s my pleasure to welcome you to the podcast.

LYNN WINTER: Thank you! Thank you! I think you forgot my strawberry picking times.

IVAN: Oh! I had no idea (laughing). Tell me more.

LYNN: That was the critical part of my career.

IVAN: (laughing) Where did you pick strawberries?

LYNN: At Lawrence’s Berry Farm, just outside of Northfield. It was my first, kind of official job after babysitting didn’t work out so well. But, essentially you get up at the crack of dawn and go sit on your hands and knees in the field for like six hours a day.

IVAN: And, why did the babysitting job not work out?

LYNN: Well, I just don’t think I was that great. But there was an incident with twins that were one years old, and, we met the parents at a garage sale once, and my Mom’s like “oh, yea, she can babysit.” And, I think I was a little too young and they were really large children, like 30 lb. each, and so we went out in the yard, and it wasn’t fenced in, that was in the country, and one twin ran to the right and one twin ran to the left, and that was it. I was pretty much done doing that. I didn’t really enjoy that.

IVAN: Well, you know, it’s very iterative. It’s like Agile. You fail fast.

LYNN: (laughing) Yes, it was fast. I mean, I had other babysitting jobs too, but, I realized that really wasn’t enjoyable for me.

IVAN: None of them involved kids being stung by bees or hornets, did they?

LYNN: No. No. Not at that time.

IVAN: So, you’re a native Minnesotan.

LYNN: I am. You betcha.

IVAN: (laughing) Where were you born?

LYNN: I was born in Northfield, Minnesota, which is just about 40 minutes South of the Twin Cities.

IVAN: You know, I’ve never understood that? Why is Northfield South of Minneapolis?

LYNN: Well, North of something right? It’s also named after a guy named Northfield, or North. I should know this, because we had to learn about this in Middle School. I think it’s John Northfield? I feel like a quick Google is in order, but I’ll save that for later.

IVAN: Ok. So, you grew up in Northfield,  and you went to school probably somewhere in Northfield? I know you went to Hamline.

LYNN: I did. Yes. I went to all the schools, the high school and whatnot, and then when it came time to pick college, I could either go with 50 of my classmates and stay at Carlton or St. Olaf or head out of town and try to separate from my parents. (laughing) I clearly didn’t go far enough, because I still saw them about every single week at Hamline, but I tried. I tried to get a little distance.

IVAN: And, what did you end up studying at Hamline?

LYNN: I have kind of a weird background. I got a major in communications, a minor in television production, and another major in chemistry.

IVAN: Wow. I didn’t realize your other major was chemistry. I actually thought that was a minor, but why chemistry?

LYNN: I took all 18 classes for that. I started taking, at a liberal arts college, you have to take a lot of the basic requirements to knock that out, so I took my chemistry and calculus right away to do that. It came very easy to me. So, I just kind of continued on, and I kind of think that was my parents’ major and then I got a major for myself (laughing) and went into communications. But I always had that fallback of chemistry that I never, ever used again.

IVAN: I actually studied chemistry in college as well, for one year. And, I kind of did it as a – I had to fill my class schedule, and chemistry was the class that filled the hole in my schedule, that I kind of just had to do.

LYNN: It fit perfectly? Yea.

IVAN: Yea, it fit perfectly. So, I only did one year of it, but I had an absolute blast doing chemistry.

LYNN: I think it’s fun until the later years, when I got more into production and editing, and I found that a lot of fun, but, as you get further on, you adjust your research in a lab, so I spent a summer at Hamline doing research in the summer out in Montana, doing research, and I realized I was not the kind of person to sit in a cubicle lab, playing with chemicals all day long, not talking to hardly anyone. It just really wasn’t me.

IVAN: It didn’t work out. But your communications background and other major, that allows you to talk to a whole bunch of people all the time.

LYNN: (laughing) It does! In chemistry, I could never communicate, but now, I’m good.

IVAN: Is that how you ended up at TPT? Because your minor was related to video production?

LYNN: I think so. Right out of college I got two internships. One at the Film Board, where I spent most of my time just making copies and answering the phone. And, then I got an internship at Twin Cities Public Television for this Show called “Almanac” which has been around for 30 years maybe. It’s a local, political show. So, I did that.

IVAN: Wait. Thirty years? Hasn’t it been around for like, a hundred? (laughing)

LYNN: (laughing) I don’t think quite that long, but it’s the staple show around there. I really liked that. And, then, they had a couple job openings and I got one as a production scheduler, so I became the crewer for all the different shows that they were doing. So, I booked people in the studio, booked the videographers, the editors, and did all that scheduling for a couple of months. Then, when the woman came back from maternity leave, I got a job as a production manager. So, then I had a career there for about eight years.

IVAN: What does a production manager actually do?

LYNN: In television, you’re in charge of all the details of the project, so I did grant writing, as far as timelines and budgets, I would manage budgets, manage fund relations on a lower level, just reporting kind of stuff, I’d book the crews. Some shows would be in the studio where they would have a bunch of people shooting for a day or two. Some would be documentaries, where they would be shooting in New York, or locally. So, kind of dependent on what they were. Then we also had things called websites back in those days (laughing) that were basically static HTML things that lived and never got touched again after the show aired. So, just a lot of details, getting things delivered to PBS, just tracking down stuff.

IVAN: Project management. Basically, trying to keep all of the balls in the air that you’re juggling, continuously juggling, and making sure everything’s getting done.

LYNN: Exactly.

IVAN: Did the opportunity ever present itself to operate any of the cameras during these production days?

LYNN: Not at TPT, because we are a union house. So everything, audio engineers, editing, camera people, lighting, that was all done by union. So, specific people had to be booked through the union, and then seniority fashion. So, I never did that there. I did do some assistant directing, but that was a non-union role.

IVAN: So, your videography experience and your love of many different Minnesota sports and camera work, that’s different. That didn’t start at TPT.

LYNN: No, it didn’t. I actually got three new jobs right out of college, all in the same week. So, I didn’t learn anybody’s name, and it was super confusing (laughing). But I got a job at a local cable station out on the West Metro, that did high school sports. Then I got a job at the Minnesota Wild, because they just had started their franchise, and I got a job at TPT. And, kind of leading up to that, in the summer right after I graduated, I worked for the St. Paul Saints. So, I got paid 25 bucks to work an entire Saints game, usually out in center field, and that could go for five to six hours. It was amazing!

IVAN: Wow!

LYNN: Those were the days of big money! (laughing)

IVAN: Well, I mean you get to watch the game. Is it true though? Do you get to enjoy the game?

LYNN: It is! Though baseball’s probably my least favorite sport to shoot. But, I’m essentially getting paid to hang out and watch the game.

IVAN: That’s actually kind of cool. It actually sounds like my dream job. I wish I could take pictures of the Twins for example. That would be awesome!

LYNN: It’s not a bad job. Except, it’s also nice to have a hotdog in one hand and a beer in the other (laughing), but that was kind of frowned upon.

IVAN: Ok. So, you’ve done the St. Paul Saints, you did some high school work, and you’ve most recently worked at the Superbowl. So, talk me through how you get from St. Paul Saints to a Superbowl.

LYNN: So, lucky, and knowing somebody, I got right when the Saints season ended, as the Minnesota Wild franchise started out – so that clearly dates how old I am – so in 2000, the Minnesota Wild started their first season. Somebody had called over to the crew at the Saints and said, “we need someone that could work every single game.” I said, “Well, we can because we’re full-time there,” which didn’t last for about six months, and they gave my name, and so I got to start working every single home game, and basically what they called the “utility” which pulls the cable. Well, in football, pulling the cable means you run up and down the entire field, and wrap cable and help someone. In hockey, it means you just stand there and watch the game because there’s only two moments you actually walk on the ice for about 10 steps and then you come back. So, it was this great opportunity, but it was also horrifying. I’ve never really watched hockey, I’ve always been a basketball person, and the first game – in hockey, so many years ago it was very different than it is now – and the first game the refs moved the net aside so that these guys could just beat the crap out of each other and bleed everywhere. It was just horrifying! (laughing)

IVAN: That sounds awful!

LYNN: It is, but it’s very different now (laughing), people care more about their head and being safe and stuff.

IVAN: Go figure!

LYNN: But, you had asked me how I kind of made that transition. So, I started working there, then I started working at the old Metrodome Stadium, doing Gopher sports and football, doing Vikings, I worked Twins there, and so I started adding different sports and adding, the Gophers. So, when the Superbowl came into town, all the folks that were working the Viking games, which I do, we're kind of asked, “Do you want to work for the game?” I think we had about 20 different cameras for just in-house production. So, the only people that saw our work, were the people at the stadium. Then on top of it, there’s hundreds of cameras that go out for broadcasts or national and all these other kind of things. So, I got the pleasure of shooting up high on top of the scoreboard and shooting the entire Superbowl and watching the half-time show. So, it was pretty fun.

IVAN: You said hundreds of cameras. That sounds amazing.

LYNN: It’s kind of amazing, and kind of ridiculous all at the same time to think of how much money goes into a production like that. Also, we rehearsed for about a week, as well as the people that do the half-time show, it’s a whole different group of people, and they did that night and day for weeks. So, the amount of money that goes into such an event is astonishing. So, kind of exciting and kind of sad, when you could think about what we could do with all that money for good.

IVAN: What do you think your most exciting moment has been behind a camera lens?

LYNN: I would definitely say the recent Vikings game this year, when we were in the playoffs, and I’m going to totally forget who caught the ball, but it was a Minneapolis miracle (laughing) and for the last fifteen minutes, we were just being really sad on headset because we knew we we're going to do what we always do and blow it -- the Vikings are going to lose it again. And it was really interesting because next to me I had video people for each team. So they were kind of bantering back and forth and making bets on the game, and so the whole thing was going, the Vikings were kind of losing and then the last throw comes in, the last second, then the first thing I noticed is on the headset, in one ear I have the radio call and in the other ear I have my director, and the radio people start screaming, and then my director starts screaming, and he’s calling a different camera every half a second, just shooting everything, and the whole crowd is just elated. It had to be the most electrifying moment in a sports event that I’ve ever been to. So, I think that’s kind of going to be my peak (laughing) which is sad, I've got a lot of years ago

IVAN: (laughing) I was going to say, now you can retire from camera operator, right?

LYNN: I did do the Final Four when it was here last. And my favorite basketball team of all time won it, and I was on the court, mostly doing nothing, because I was the third utility behind a camera, so my job was just to make sure he could walk through a crowd. So, I got to watch my favorite team and my favorite coach during the national championships. That was pretty cool too.

IVAN: Well, you have to tell us who your favorite team is.

LYNN: Duke Blue Devils. Which I’m sure a lot of people don’t like them (laughing), but I’ve been watching them since I was a little kid.

IVAN: So, that’s your team, and, you recently shot the X Games.

LYNN: I did. For the second year around for ESPN.

IVAN: Do you think that you’ll be available and interested in the Final Four? I believe they’re coming here too.

LYNN: I hope so. I absolutely hope so. Those big events are fun and painful and fun. (laughing)

IVAN: (laughing) Are you afraid of heights?

LYNN: No. Unless I’m jumping out of a plane, but no. (laughing)

IVAN: Ok, so, there’s no problem with actually lugging all your gear up to the top of the scoreboard and setting that up?

LYNN: Once they set it up, like two years ago, they have never moved it again. Where that camera is, on the end zone, it’s on top of the catwalk, so there’s really no safe way to put it up, so I walk up a very steep, like industrial ladder to get there, and then I can look to the ground and see four levels below me. So, they had to use a crane to get the entire system up there because of the weight of it. It stayed there for two years and never moved.

IVAN: Ok. And, do you wear a harness when you’re up there?

LYNN: Sure! (laughing)

IVAN: You should wear a harness, Lynn (laughing)

LYNN: (laughing) I totally do!

IVAN: Ok, good. We’re glad to hear it. So, this whole video production skill you have that you learned, that you implemented for seven years, somehow transferred over to managing websites and projects that you’re building user-centric websites for. I know that Gorton Studios did some work with TPT in the early days, and they did some work for TTBook. We talked to Matthew Tift about that. Is that how you were introduced to Gorton Studios? Through TPT? Or, how did you make that transition over?

LYNN: Yea. That’s exactly what happened. The owner of Gorton Studios, Drew Gorton, used to be my contractor and contracted worked through TPT. So, he had worked with me on educational stuff, department stuff, in a couple different areas, national productions as well, doing stuff building websites. So, he had worked with me that way. I also had one of my old coworkers, Erika Stenrick, who then also moved to Gorton Studios. We worked closely on several national production projects. She was a producer there. And so when a job came up at Gorton Studios, she said, “hey, we need a project manager. We’ve never had one. Do you want to do that?” And so, I thought about it long and hard and then made the jump into digital since TV has grown a lot, but is also a little bit stagnant as well.

IVAN: And when was that?

LYNN: That was in 2008.

IVAN: 2008. And so, you basically found Drupal through Drew and through the websites that they were building?

LYNN: Yea, exactly. I took on a role that they hadn’t done before which is actually a great story, because two people sat down and wrote down all the things they hate about their job, and then they put it into one job description. (laughing) That was my job.

IVAN: (laughing) Really!

LYNN: Yep, no joke.

IVAN: No joke.

LYNN: It turned out it matched up really well with things I was good and interested at, but at the same time, it kind of established this interesting vibe of like, “you’re doing the stuff we hate over there.”

IVAN: And that makes us happy!

LYNN: Yea, it was hard. Because you go into an agency that never has that role and try to find a spot. And that’s always been kind of my struggle in the beginning of getting into the Drupal community, is finding my people and spot in the community. I always kind of think of it like in the television production world, project managers have been around forever. People know exactly how to find you, they respect the role, they know how to hide from you for certain things (laughing), but it was really established, it’s been around for so long. With the web world so new, it doesn’t feel like it, but it is, it’s so infant in where it’s going, the project manager role is just that. And, you have a lot of people in that role that are doing good things, and a lot of people doing bad things, because there’s no formality around it. So, I had a lot of struggle around trying to find my people, and my role in the community, for several years.

IVAN: And, when you first started, it was doing all these things that these other people hate. Some of which you may have loathed or liked. How did that role evolve and how long did it take before you were really owning it and doing what you wanted to be kind of pushing?

LYNN: I don’t know exactly the length. I’m sure it was at least a year. Part of the challenge in the beginning is I went and had a baby, so I started the job pregnant, in my first trimester, which I'd never recommend starting a job when you’re exhausted and trying to figure that out. But, I think it was a while to kind of figure out what are things that make sense, like, should I answer maintenance calls and deal with that even though I have no context. Should I just work on full projects? Then solving problems along the way. So, I really started being nosy and butting my head into different areas. It’s hard to believe for me, but, kind of figuring out how, if I get in there am I helping just myself, or am I helping the team? So, should I do that, or should I shift over here? Then kind of testing and trying new things with clients. Like, here’s this client problem, how do I solve it? Let’s try this thing. All these concerns about financials, how do I solve that problem? Ok, so now there’s all these concerns around content. So, I kind of took time to figure that out and then that’s really what changed my role over the years.

IVAN: You’re very passionate about content and about user experience. Years that we’ve worked with you and collaborated with you, that’s been very clear. When we first met, I thought “Oh, Lynn’s a project manager,” but as soon as you start working together, you realize “oh, yea, she can definitely manage people and projects, but this whole content and user experience thing, this is what she’s passionate about.” At least from my perspective. When did that change?

LYNN: I think after a couple years when I was solving the project management problems like finances, how often do you communicate, where do you communicate, all those things, and that became like “yep, I got this.” Those aren’t those problems anymore. The next problems came into clients aren’t writing content ever, or really stepping into sales, trying to figure out what you need in sales, where you better estimate and figure out their needs. That changed what I started doing. And what happens at a really small agency, in a really great environment, like Gorton Studios was a wonderful place with talented people that allowed you to grow and pushed you, so if there’s something that nobody was doing because there was only five or six or seven of us, depending on what year it was, go and do it. Nobody cared. You could go try that thing. Nobody was doing content strategy. A couple of us were interested in user testing, and a client had those needs. So, let’s go do that over there, and at the same time then we’re solving project problems. So, I just started growing, had the ability to grow different skills that were outside of the project management that I could fit into my day with something I was interested in and then solving problems. I didn’t want to just be like “I’m the person you talk to when you want to know the budget.” Or, you have to track details. I think that makes that role really ineffective. You don’t want to just be the person you figure out the details with, you want the project manager to either have a strength in technical aspect, have a strength in content, a strength in some area to make them integral into the whole conversation.

IVAN: Yea.

LYNN: But I have opinions. (laughing) I just put my opinions out there and it didn’t stop. I couldn’t zip it closed. They just kept coming out.

IVAN: Yes, you do have opinions. I do like that about you. (laughing)

LYNN: (laughing) Sometimes good. Sometimes bad.

IVAN: Never bad. Your opinions are never bad.

LYNN: You should meet my husband, then.

IVAN: (laughter) So, you became quite interested in and really excelled at content strategy, in my opinion, focusing on the user experience. It is interesting that a small agency, as Gorton and as TEN7 which is very comparable, I would consider us very comparable. It does allow you to flex what your skillset is and go down those rabbit holes of “Oh, I might be interested in that and no one is doing it. Let’s see if I could do that.” Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. So, it seems to me like it was, as all things I’ve noticed lately, serendipity and luck and good timing. That’s sometimes how these career paths work out. So, you’re not at Gorton anymore.

LYNN: I’m not.

IVAN: You are on your own. You are still passionate about the user experience and content strategy. You started this thing called Manage Digital. Why another conference?

LYNN: (laughing) That’s what we need in this world! More conferences!

IVAN: (laughing) We do! More conferences! I don’t mean that in a bad way. I mean there’s obviously a reason you started this. People have gone to it. You’ve had one successful event. What do you think about the conference? What is the hole you are filling?

LYNN: When I would go to Drupal conferences, and I love it. I love the Drupal community. I love getting to know people, learning, connecting. But, for years, there was nothing for a so-called project manager or even content strategy at a Drupal conference. I think it was not until New Orleans, which I think is the first year they started a project manager track, so that was the best way to start connecting with more people and just seeing that need out there. People are looking to have these conversations to build these mentorships, and it’s really hard to find that anywhere. I have gone to the National DPM Summit, which is a wonderful event. I know the people that put it on, as well as I’ve attended a couple of years, and I think it’s a great event to go to. But because it’s national, it’s expensive. It cost a lot of money for the fee, it cost a lot of money to travel, and you’re also building a national or international network. You’re not necessarily building a community locally. So, just kind of feeling that sense that I’ve always been trying to find more people around here because there isn’t formal training. You learn about Agile or your PMP. But your PMP is not digital PMP, it's everybody's PMP. It's road construction PMP. It's all these things. Then, by the way, you need to spend a bunch of money, and they’re going to give you this big, heavy duty process, which I’m not a big proponent for, and then that’s your structure. That’s how you learn. A good project manager is the stuff in between. It’s not these processes you implement or these documents, it’s the flow in between. So, I really wanted to help support that community and bring them together. Then when I went freelance last summer, I thought, “Well, gosh, I have no excuse anymore. I’ve been thinking about this conference." We have a really strong community in the Minneapolis, St. Paul area, we have 800 people signed up for the local meetup – obviously 800 don’t show up – but we have a good showing of 50 to 100 people every time, so there is a need for people, and more than half are new every time. So, I thought let’s just try it, let’s put some money on the table, ask my husband how much money can we lose to try this (laughing) and say ok, I want to put together a one-day event and the first goal is to network. Find people you can find as a mentor or find people you can confide in, just to complain, or get things off your chest, or just say “hey, I’ve got to do this thing now, because it’s outside the PM role, but I have to do it. How did you do this?” I get those questions all the time. “How do you make this type of weird scope document that I’ve never made before? Can you share something with me?” So, I put together this company called Manage Digital. We had a one-day event. We had 140 people, which I’m pretty stoked about, and we had three national keynotes, two of them have written books. Thank God for connections, right? (laughing)

IVAN: Yes absolutely!

LYNN: Breakout sessions and gave people time to meet each other. And, I kind of gave people, as a good PM would, tasks for the day. People were required to meet one person. At the end of the day, they had to reach out to them within a week and then write down some things that they took away and to implement. So, I tried to run it that way. I was really blessed to learn we had a lot of people that I’ve known over the years kind of help out, help with the design and the website, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them, because everything was free, everybody volunteered, to make it happen.

IVAN: The conference was free to attend?

LYNN: No, the conference wasn’t free, but it was really low cost. It was 125 bucks, but it turns out when you put on a conference, food is expensive.

IVAN: Yes, it is! (laughing)

LYNN: (laughing) It was really expensive. So, we have a little money in the bank for next year, but basically, everybody that helped put it on, did it out of the kindness of their heart.

IVAN: And, what about next year? Do you have any details to share about 2019?

LYNN: So, the first thing is people would ask me, “Well, we’re going to do this again? We’re going to do it right? We’re gonna?” I’m like, “well, let me just have a moment to break. Let me think about this.” But, I do want to do another one next year. We did it in May this last year, so it would probably be around the same timeframe, right after DrupalCon, right before people break for summer. But, what I want to do is more networking time during the event. I think we did a little too much of present to people, and I think the key is that there’s so many people in the room that have really interesting things, and so I want to get more people involved and build more relationships on certain topics. I’m not sure exactly how those spots would be figured out, but I kind of got a couple ideas in my head.

IVAN: Are you looking for sponsors?

LYNN: Are you offering? Yes. (laughing)

IVAN: Yes. I would love to have TEN7 be a part of that. I think TEN7 would love to be a part of the Manage Digital conference.

LYNN: That’s great! It’s a great community to grow, and it only helps agencies find new people and grow our community here, so, I think that’s wonderful. Thank you.

IVAN: Well, you heard it here first.

LYNN: Yes, and I’m putting it up on the social channels immediately. (laughing)

IVAN: Do it. Yea, that’s absolutely cool. You could absolutely do that. You talked a little earlier about the fact that you’re really not into the heavy-duty process. How you’re into the flow in between and not big documents. One of the things that I really appreciate about your approach is exactly that – your flexibility – your attention to our clients' needs, and not doing things for the sake of doing things. Being able to change your approach based on what the client’s needs are. Why are you like that? Why do you do that? (laughing)

LYNN: Well, (laughing) I would say I’m like that in all things in life, and I wouldn’t say I started that way. When I started doing project management, when I moved over to digital, I really tried to make a process and I tried to be like, “ok, here’s what we’re going to do. This is how we’re going to do it, and this is when it’s all going to happen.” So, that was great. Then I swayed a lot of times, “but these are the exact steps, so I can figure them out and process them.” But then I had these schedules and processes that didn’t work for the client, or that really pushed my developers and designers to go too fast. Then I was like “I don’t want them to be mad at me. I’ll make it longer.” Then we were not being efficient and saving money. So, I probably spent a good year or two with this whole Richard Pannek philosophy like, “Tell me what I need to know. I’m going to execute my list. I can check off my boxes and then, there, I’ve got the whole world wrapped up in a pretty box and it will solve it.” Until you realize it’s not at all how it works. You also have a wonderful person working side by side with you in every meeting, that’s super helpful, she’s a wonderful designer and she’s flexible and could roll with things. And, over time, I kind of realized when the moments are right to be flexible and when the moments are right not to be. So, I would really say working with her for so many years helped change my personality. Probably not at home, but like in that space, and just realize that a process is simply a framework and that you have to have structure in order to get feedback and responses and move things forward, but you also have to be flexible in order to get the best product and do the right thing for users, the right thing for the client and the right thing for your team. So, I’ve just kind of learned with a lot of trial and error, how to be able to roll with it and being comfortable. I don’t think it’s something when someone starts as a project manager, I don’t think you could be there in the first year or two, you really have to have your structure. Then you realize after a while its all just about relationships. The entire job is about relationships with all people, internal and external, and managing that. I also, after Gorton Studios, I spent a couple years at another company, where I managed the team, and I brought my ideas of process to that team, and what I learned is that process, while wonderful somewhere else, didn’t work with that team. That was also eye-opening for me of realizing while there’s fundamentals you can take everywhere with you, and beliefs and principles, it really changes depending on who’s sitting at the table. If you can’t roll with it, you’re trying to force something and then you’re the PM on the outside, trying to get things done. And, I want to always be the PM on the inside, collaborating with people.

IVAN: It’s a good lesson and reminder to all of us who are working in software, and in any other industry, that really, it’s about the relationships and the interactions between people, and one of the side effects is the product that we produce. You can have the best tools and the greatest processes, and everybody can be doing things according to the playbook, but ultimately, it’s about humans, our interactions and making sure that we have empathy that everybody has something that they’re dealing with in some perspective that they’re coming from and really, we’re just trying to get through those things every day.

LYNN: Absolutely. But I didn’t say empathy to be fair. (laughing) I’m just kidding. I’m supposed to be hard and cold. I’m 100% German, there’s not empathy there. I’m just kidding.

IVAN: Yea, you’re just kidding. (laughing) So, we’ve covered a ton of history and process and how you evolved and all that. I want to ask you what’s your favorite thing right now?

LYNN: Right now? My favorite thing is my ability to learn and grow. In my last position I did a lot of teaching and figuring things out, but right now as a freelancer, I’m working with lots of different agencies, and thus, different clients, and I’m learning so much every single project, because I have to work within new tools and processes, and with people. I feel like there’s a stagnant time for a couple years, and now I just feel rapid information coming in. “No, I’m going to try this, and I’m going to do this, and what about that over there?” So, I’m just having a blast. I feel like this evolution in my content strategy work right now is just growing so much. And, I’m getting to do content strategy about 75% of my time, and it was always a piece for several years, but not my focus. So that’s been nice.

IVAN: We’ve enjoyed working with you so much and are looking forward to the new projects that are on the horizon to keep doing that. So, I’m glad to hear that you’re enjoying that part of your job. Well, thank you so much for spending your precious time with me.

LYNN: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

IVAN: So, you’re lynnwintermn on Twitter, Manage Digital Conference is at and your personal website is That’ll all be on the transcript on the website, so feel free to link to that, or use those links when you visit the site. You’ve been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening. 

Aug 08 2018
Aug 08

Your browser does not support the audio element. TEN7-Podcast-Ep-036-Matthew-Tift.mp3

Dr. Matthew Tift, Senior Drupal Developer at Lullabot, musicologist, podcast host and educator, sits down with Ivan Stegic to discuss his fascinating career and passion for those things open source.  

Here's what we're discussing in this podcast:

  • Matthew's midwest ties
  • Walking meetings
  • The advantage of working at home
  • Working with Wisconsin Public Radio
  • Sea Grant Non-Indigenous Species Project
  • Dogpile and Metacrawler
  • Automate that process
  • C#, ColdFusion, VB6
  • Discovering Drupal
  • TTBOOK, To The Best of Our Knowledge
  • Accessible public information
  • Teaching kids to code
  • Finch Robots
  • Tonka Coder Dojo
  • The Open School House
  • Live coding, Algorithmic Music
  • Algoraves
  • Syncthing


IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I’m your host Ivan Stegic. In this episode of the podcast, Dr. Matthew Tift. Someone whom I’ve admired for quite some time and with whom I’ve been lucky enough to work with for a short period of time on a project a few years ago. Matthew’s a Senior Developer at Lullabot and the host of the podcast Hacking Culture, which is about free software and the art of hacking. Matthew, it’s my pleasure to welcome you to the Podcast.

MATTHEW TIFT: Thanks Ivan, for that generous introduction.

IVAN: You’re welcome. It’s all true though, right?

MATTHEW: (laughing) Absolutely.

IVAN: So, I wanted to start out with your birth, if I could. Where did you grow up?

MATTHEW: I grew up in South Minneapolis in Minnesota, and I think I was born at the University of Minnesota and lived in South Minneapolis until I was about eight years old, until the time that my parents moved out to the suburbs, but I have spent most of my life in Minnesota. And that’s where I am now, out in the suburbs of Minnesota, near my parents.

IVAN: (laughing) So, you’re near the suburbs of Minnesota. So, you’re still in a city?

MATTHEW: No. I’m in the suburbs.

IVAN: Oh, you are in the suburbs.

MATTHEW: In the western suburbs.

IVAN: Oh, I see. I see. By a lake, I would assume? We have a lot of lakes in Minnesota.

MATTHEW: Yes, I’m very close to Lake Minnetonka and I walk by that lake quite frequently.

IVAN: I’ve recently started walking around the lake here in the city during meetings. I found that it takes me about an hour to leave my front door, walk around the lake and come home. So, if I have a one-hour meeting that I can be on my phone with, I try to do that with walking. Are you doing the same thing?

MATTHEW: Exactly. I know that I can walk to Excelsior, Minnesota during my meetings and sometimes I get to go to the library, other times I go to the book shop or even grocery shopping, depending on the type of meeting. And, other times I’ll just walk around in the woods if I have to be talking more and I need it to be quieter. But that’s one of the fantastic benefits of working from home.

IVAN: I agree. Ever since TEN7 started doing it last year full-time, it’s been certainly a new experience to try and do it and work from home 24/7 but still have the kind of personal interactions that you end up having in an office environment. I think all in all it’s for the best. I can’t imagine going back to working in an office.

MATTHEW: I feel the same way. It’s been 10 years for me now, working at home. My oldest daughter is starting high school in the Fall, and every morning for school, since she’s been in Kindergarten, I’ve been able to walk out to the bus stop with her and my other daughter. So, I’ve been doing that for about nine years. It’s one of the many benefits that I like to cite when I’m working from home that I go out to the bus stop, pick them up from the bus stop, make dinner at home, and I get to make every class party and play and all kinds of fun school stuff over the years. It really has been a wonderful gift to have that.

IVAN: Do you think you’ll be walking her to the bus stop now that she’s in high school as well?

MATTHEW: I don’t know. Each year I keep thinking she’s going to be embarrassed. My wife goes out there as well, because she works from home too, and I keep thinking one of these years she’s going to say she doesn’t want us to come out with her, but I guess we’ll see. I don’t know. I purposefully have not asked or pushed the subject. I just keep going until she says, “you don’t need to come out with me anymore.” Which I expected to happen years ago.

IVAN: (laughing) Well, hopefully she’s not listening to this Podcast, so she won’t get any funny ideas. (laughing)

MATTHEW: I’m not sure. She might be listening. She’s in the other room. But I think she’s currently editing videos for her Instagram feed.

IVAN: Wow. Well, you mentioned that you’ve been working from home for the last 10 years. So that would put us back to 2008. I know for a fact you haven’t been at Lullabot for that long, so you must have been working from home even prior to that?

MATTHEW: Yes, that’s correct. When we moved back here shortly after my second daughter was born, I had my job at the Wisconsin Public Radio, and I had other job offers to move back and work in an office in Minnesota, but luckily Wisconsin Public Radio didn’t want me to leave, and they allowed me to work from home when we moved from Madison, Wisconsin to the Twin Cities in Minnesota, and that has been a really lucky thing. It was something I never really had imagined could happen, or would happen, but it just kind of all worked out.

IVAN: Yes, you’ve been a proponent of working from home for a very long time. In fact, when we first met, I was trying to get you to work for TEN7 for a while. In fact, I remember when we still had an office you would come in one or two days a week, and I honestly always felt like I was asking you to do something you really didn’t want to do. But, I think secretly I was wondering how we could all be doing what you were trying to do full-time.

MATTHEW: Yea. That was actually not a terrible thing for me to be able to get out of the office and work in somebody else’s office for one day or part of a day each week, and it was nice to be able to, sort of, juggle my schedule and get my work done when I needed to, but still be able to go downtown and see people and have face to face interactions. A lot of my coworkers at Lullabot pay to have an office. I shouldn’t say a lot, there are a few, and I’ve always thought that was a little bit odd, but I do understand that it is nice to have that day to day human interaction, and I don’t know if I would be working from home this long if my wife also was not at home, and my kids weren’t also around. I could see how that would get to be maybe a little bit more wearing on day to day basis, if it was just me by myself out here in the suburbs. (laughing)

IVAN: By a lake, with the woods around. (laughing) I think I agree. I think I’m in a similar situation, that I have my wife at home and my kids are at home now as well, now that the summer is in full swing. I think struggling with isolation and being at home alone certainly pushes you to either having a regular place to go, or even a coffee shop or a library visit, at least once a week. I know that’s certainly things that people do, especially at TEN7 and I’m sure at Lullabot as well. I want to go back to your mention of Madison and being at Wisconsin Public Radio. It feels like a natural fit given that you have a history of musicology and code that you would be at a public radio station. So, talk to me about how you ended up at Wisconsin Public Radio. Were you doing Drupal? Were you doing music? What was the impetus to be there?

MATTHEW: Well, that is a complicated story, but I guess the main reason is I needed to start supporting my family, and I was in graduate school. So, I was finished up with all of my course work, my master’s degree and then my course work for my Ph.D. and then just working on my dissertation after taking my comprehensive exams. So, there’s this period when you’re in graduate school, when you kind of shift from being a student, where you’re going to classes to where you’re just working on research. And, that gives you some flexibility which can result in long periods of people finishing their dissertations.

IVAN: Some people.

MATTHEW: Some people. But in my case, it gave me a little flexibility, so I could shift from having a student income, I guess, to have a “real job.” I had been supporting myself through graduate school by being part of a project called the “Sea Grant Non-Indigenous Species Project,” and it seems strange, but it was basically, we created a website that had a whole bunch of information about non-indigenous species, and I did research for that and automated the process of finding information about non-indigenous species. And, this was the kind of thing that people had to do before Google (laughing), if you could believe that. Back when I started there, people were using things like Dogpile to do searches.

IVAN: Ah, Dogpile. And who was the other one. Was it AltaVista? No. There was another one, Metacrawler, I think. I remember using those.

MATTHEW: I can’t remember the different names – Yahoo Search – I guess.

IVAN: (laughing) So, the description of the project seems biology or ecology related. That’s not music.

MATTHEW: That’s correct, but it is a department that needed somebody that had technical skills, and I guess I convinced them that I could do that, or I could do research. I don’t know why they hired me, per se, but it worked out pretty well. That was a position that offered a small stipend, but it paid for everything, all of my course work and so I didn’t have to pay anything for graduate school. That was the big thing. That and health insurance. We had a strong union back then, and we didn’t even have to pay any copays or anything like that.

IVAN: Wow.

MATTHEW: So, I had this job getting a stipend, and I needed a real job. Wisconsin Public Radio was actually across the street from the music school on the University of Wisconsin, Madison campus. I originally applied there for – get this – a “sales” position. (laughing)

IVAN: (laughing) Really?

MATTHEW: Really!

IVAN: Wow. That’s like the antithesis of open source, right?

MATTHEW: I don’t know.

IVAN: Well, I mean, I guess sales is, you’re selling services not products maybe, but I guess I can’t even imagine you as a sales guy.

MATTHEW: So, I don’t even know if sales is quite the right term. Non-profits use the term development or fundraising.

IVAN: Advancement.

MATTHEW: Yes, advancement. Now at Wisconsin Public Radio, they needed people to go out and essentially sell people on the value of supporting Wisconsin Public Radio, and just getting those mentions where it has these announcements that sounds like ads, which are actually called underwriting, and they don’t have calls to action, and they don’t have all these other things where they say, “Support for Wisconsin Public Radio is brought to you by such and such company.” And, it just mentions support. I’m getting off track because I applied for that job and they had two openings and they didn’t give me the job, and they let me know I was third on their list, and they said, “look for other jobs.” So, I thought ok, I like the idea of working at a place doing music. Then they had another job opening up which was called, it was a traffic position, (laughing) which is a job sort of scheduling the things that go on air. Scheduling underwriting, for example, and that was what this job was. So, I started that job, and I realized immediately that it was totally paper based. It was really ripe for becoming an automatic job – I can’t think of the right word right now.

IVAN: So, digitized right?

MATTHEW: Digitized, yes.

IVAN: Automated.

MATTHEW: Yes. Rather than people literally turning in sheets of paper, hand filled out, I made web forms and I made fillable PDF’s and things like that. So, suddenly we didn’t have to keep file cases. But what I ended up doing was really working myself out of that job. I got on another interview committee for somebody that was what they call “the database manager” at that time, managing a sequel server, and after our first meeting is said to my boss, “you know what? I think I can do this job and my job.” She said, “what? How would we do that?” Well she ended up figuring it out, so I started doing this other job and my job. They taught me how to do VB6 programming.

IVAN: Wow!

MATTHEW: And I taught myself sequel server, and I learned Cold Fusion and I started learning all these other technologies like and Flash and ActionScript and upgraded things to or something like that – upgrading VB6 code.

IVAN: To and I have some history of that too. I feel your pain.

MATTHEW: The fun thing about this one is I started doing that job, and that too seemed to be a job that I could automate. People needed things. I created processes for them. I wrote these little executables that they could stick on their Windows machine and they just ran, and then suddenly that job wasn’t needed anymore, and then I said, “you know, our website at Wisconsin Public Radio that’s on cold Fusion, really needs to be upgraded.” Everybody said, “Duh, it needs to be upgraded five years ago.” So, for years I have kind of been pushing “we should try Drupal. We should try Drupal.” Eventually they decided that would be a good idea, “we should try Drupal.” And then sent me to Drupal con and back in San Francisco, and we had hired a development firm to help us launch one of our national programs. It’s called TTBOOK, To The Best Of Our Knowledge. So, I think we launched that site on Drupal back in 2009 or 2010. So that’s how I came about Drupal, was because I kept working myself out of jobs and eventually I thought this web development thing seemed a lot more fun than writing executable code for Windows machines.

IVAN: So, you had a history of Windows based naturally proprietary closed source software writing in an organization that was for the public, and you basically worked yourself out of two jobs, but at the same time you were pushing for Drupal. Why Drupal? Why were you not pushing for WordPress or Expression Engine? Or something else?

MATTHEW: That’s a good question. I remember at the time I had started reading some of these early books on free software and what that all meant, and I knew that it should be something that was free and open source. I didn’t use the term free software at that point, I thought of it as open source. And at the time I thought that that just made more sense for a public radio station to be using open source software, and there seemed to be a lot of other universities and public radio stations using Drupal, so it was really kind of an easy sell because at the time Minnesota Public Radio was using Drupal, I think, and WNYU and some other stations. I can’t remember actually how far back some of these go, but I would go to all of these meetings of other technologists in the public media world, which means public radio and public television, and there were some people using Drupal, but specifically what we liked about Drupal was that this national show TTBOOK, it was difficult to find episodes. So, just the idea of putting audio on the web was still kind of new back in 2008 or 2009, and they wanted to be able to take their hour long show, cut it into segments, add all these taxonomy terms so they could be searchable and findable, so they could either listen to the whole episode or parts, and really Drupal seemed like it was well suited to that task in ways that WordPress or Expression Engine wasn’t. Plus, it just seemed like the motivation that a lot of people had to use Drupal in those days, which is still strong now in education and non-profits was very appealing and very attractive to lots of my coworkers at Wisconsin Public Radio.

IVAN: Were you the only person who was driving Drupal? Or did you have people you were able to band with? Not bandwidth…but people you were able to band with?

MATTHEW: Yes. That was kind of a complicated thing as well, because the good thing about TTBOOK is they had raised money to pay for a development firm to help us build TTBOOK. So, for that particular project, we partnered with Gorton Studios, which is actually here in Minneapolis. Or, was here

IVAN: Was, yea.

MATTHEW: Was. Gorton Studios is no longer…or maybe it still is.

IVAN: I don’t know that it is.

MATTHEW: Anyway, we worked with them and that seemed to be such a successful project, that we would go around to public media conferences talking about what we did. And then, the people at TTBOOK, all their conversations with other people saying “we want that. We want our site to be searchable, so people could find our content. We want our audio on the web. We want it to do this, that and the other thing.” So, it was kind of this model site for a while for a lot of stations, and then eventually we decided let’s do all of and then they started hiring other people to help. We hired another Drupal developer. We hired somebody else who was basically like Director of Digital, or something like that, for more of the…I can’t exactly remember the titles that they had, but it was people involved in determining how we could have a digital presence. I mean that was a new thing at a public radio station that had been around since the early 1900’s.

IVAN: So, it sounds like you decided to go to Drupal, found some people that shared the same vision, raised some money, hired an agency, had a successful project, saw that there was value in these things you were building, and then it kind of just spiraled from there.


IVAN: When you were in the process, in the weeds, while you were doing this, did you ever think that you might take components and parts of what you were building, and make it generic enough that anybody else would use it?

MATTHEW: Yes, and we actually did that. I pushed for it. There were a couple of modules that I made early on that I knew I wanted to contribute back to Drupal. Part of my motivation came from when I went to my first DrupalCon, which was again, in San Francisco. I remember Drupal went from being this faceless website technology to “oh my gosh, these people are having so much fun. This is so unbelievably unlike academia, this is awesome.” And, the week while I was in San Francisco learning Drupal, meeting people, I was tweeting about it constantly, and I remember some of my friends saying, “you know, I still like you Matthew, but I’m just going to warn you. I’m going to unfollow you for a while because I don’t want all Drupal all the time.” (laughing) So, I was having a lot of fun. Then, when we created TTBOOK, I think one of the modules that we came up with, that I think Gorton Studio did most of the development, Ronin wrote a lot of it, it was called something like “media playlist”. It was a module that allowed people to go click through the site, and then find audio of what they wanted and then add it to a playlist and then play through those. I’m not sure if they’re still using it or not. Again, this is awhile back now, but I’m going off my memory. I think that module, obviously it’s got to be out there somewhere, and I’m not sure if that’s the correct name, but…

IVAN: It is. I was able to use the power of the Google. (laughing) It looks like it’s still out there. It looks like there’s a release candidate for version 7. It’s out there.

MATTHEW: Oh, wow!

IVAN: You have nine commits and Ronin has four. But basically, it says exactly what you described – adds playlist functionality onto the media module.

MATTHEW: Ok. I have closed all of my browsers and other things, so, I’m purposely trying to not do that, so I’m impressed (laughing) that those facts are all correct. Or, I should say I’m surprised.

IVAN: So, I personally think that our public institutions in the United States should be more open and more information should be available to the public, because at the end of the day the government is the people, and we own that information, and so we should have access to that information. And, I’m just so proud and amazed that you’ve been part of an organization like Wisconsin Public Radio that wanted to contribute back source code and wanted to provide the work that they’d invested in to others so that they could be reused. And that’s certainly something that’s near and dear to my heart. So, I’m happy to see that that was something you were involved in.

MATTHEW: Yea, it’s been fun. Those days it was really kind of my passion to go around to these conferences and, I did things like a Drupal developer clinic where I talked to other stations about we use it and kind of show people that. Spend the whole day trying to teach other developers why they might consider using Drupal, and be on panels, and just talking to people about what we did with TTBOOK. We did webinars and things like that, because this was all kind of innovative. I had been part of another group in public media, and the name is escaping me right now, but it was a free software advocacy group that had tried to do similar things, that they came out with a custom CMS called something like “public media manager” or something like that. We were all big open source advocates. We were working together. We were trying to create solutions for things that other stations could use. We wanted to create these reusable components. So, for example, somebody would make a python script that used the NPR API and did interesting things showing where people are listening, or some sort of data, or something like that, that they could get as an NPR (National Public Radio) member station. So, we would do these kinds of things, but they were really kind of technology specific. And after being part of that group for a while and realizing that, well they’ve built this great custom CMS that was used at North Country Public Media, and the desire was to have other stations use it, but it really ended up just being a custom CMS for this one station, as far as I know. What Drupal seemed to offer was this more generic platform that offered a lot of the same functionality, and it created a good place where anybody using Drupal, not just public media, could use this -- for example, this playlist module. And, that was the thing that kind of made me think “ok, this is a good sort of platform that we could try and collaborate on.” And since other stations picked up using Drupal, National Public Radio is using Drupal, American Public Media, Public Radio International, the list goes on and on. If you look online there’s lists of all the public media stations that use public radio. It’s been, I think, good for public media to have this as a collaborative platform. I feel like that was kind of a fun thing to see grow over the years, and it’s good to see that that continues to expand.

IVAN: You talked about how you would have webinars, and how you’d be part of panels, and how you tried to educate people about Drupal. And, I’ve seen in the last couple years you’ve been speaking a lot about teaching kids how to code, and so it seems like your focuses kind of changed a little bit in that regard. Is that something you’re passionate about right now and you will be continuing to do that? Tell me more about the teaching kids to code work that you’ve been doing.

MATTHEW: That’s been a lot of fun too. That has been a project where I volunteered to help out with an hour of code day at my kids’ elementary school. The school tried to have something for all of these kids, ages K through 6, and I thought, “how the heck are they going to teach Kindergartener’s coding?” But once I started helping out with these different hours during the day, and seeing the kinds of things that we could do, I just saw that these kids loved what they were doing and that you could teach, sort of, coding principles even on iPads with things that, to me, look like four each loops, or something like that, but for the kids it’s just rearranging little characters on the screen. So that started out, and then I started teaching a coding class at that elementary school, which started out as a class to teach, I think we used Minecraft, and then me and this other guy taught using a type of Minecraft, it was like an extension or something called Bird Brain and we were able to program these little robots called Finch Robots. The kids loved doing that because these 5th graders, we could make the robots drive around in a maze, or use all of the different sensors, or make them follow a line, or draw patterns, or that kind of thing. So, there was that aspect of it. And alongside that the school district where my kids go to school, the Minnetonka School District, started an initiative that they called “Tonka Codes” which has been a really innovative initiative where they wanted to have coding in the curriculum K through 12. So, I ended up on this group called the “Tonka Codes Design team” and did a lot of free software advocacy there, but that has been a project that is continuing to roll out. It started out in the elementary schools. So now in the Minnetonka School District K through 12 there’s some aspect of coding that is integrated in the curriculum, and I’ve done a couple of other podcasts discussing this, and I have other talks, so I don’t know if I want to get too much in the weeds on that, but I’ll just say it’s been I think real key in our district to have this in the curriculum. So, there’s three different kinds of ways that kids can learn to code. One is what they call extracurricular, which is after school or before school. The other is co-curricular where they have something that’s like, instead of lunch they go to coding, and then there’s curricular, which is where it’s actually a part of the classroom. So Minnetonka’s done a great job of doing that, and I think that’s important because not all kids have access to these awesome other programs that are mostly extracurricular. That in other words, if you want to be able to do something like one of those classes I mentioned after school, you need to have a parent that has the ability to come and pick you up, or to change your bus schedule, or to drive you somewhere, or to buy you something, like if the class requires a Raspberry Pi, or something like that. So, giving kids the opportunity to learn coding has been really fun and some other kids at the high school started a “Tonka Coder Dojo”. It was a student run chapter of this “coder dojo” group. So, I helped out with that as well which was an interesting experience, because with all these things that I’ve taught, like when we would post this finch robots class, for example, it would just fill up within minutes of sending the email. Then we’d say “ok, well can we double it? Alright, maybe we can have two kids per robot or something.” We’d find ways to allow more kids to come in, but they would always fill up right away. And, with the “Tonka Coder Dojos,” the same way where, if it’s like Saturday mornings at the high school, and then there would be one class to teach Android development, one for HTML, one for Minecraft coding, all these other topics, never really Drupal by the way, because kids don’t think Drupal’s cool. But, would be interesting is when these parents would always show up and they would say, “oh, uh, I didn’t know it was full,” and they would drop their kids off with us. (laughing) Oftentimes the kids didn’t actually want to be there, they would rather just play Minecraft than do Minecraft. I realized there’s quite a few more parents that kind of would push it on their kids, than kids necessarily that wanted to do it. So that’s been interesting. Another funny story was the parents would sign their kids up as instructors. (laughing) They would say “oh, the students are filled, I’ll have my kid be an instructor.”

IVAN: No skill to be an instructor. The work that you did with those kids, the curriculum itself, is that Open Source? Can other school districts use that?

MATTHEW: The knowledge around it is definitely something that they are sharing. Eric Schneider is the Asst. Superintendent for Instruction for Minnetonka schools. He has been out talking about what they’re doing and encouraging other schools to do that. I’ve been on a podcast with him, it was a Lullabot podcast I think, talking about this. So, all of the approach in how we did that, they’re definitely sharing. Some of the projects that they do are shareable. I think a lot of it is actually proprietary, and I haven’t been as involved in some of the day-to-day stuff recently, so I don’t know just how much of what they’re doing is shareable. I do know that there’s a project that definitely is focused on open source if schools are interested in that. There’s a book called “The Open School House”, I think that’s what it’s called, and that’s all based on using free software in public schools, and it’s written by a guy out East that has converted his whole school to using, I think Linux laptops, so I think he shares a lot of the more technical details of how to do it with free software. His name is Charlie Reisinger.

IVAN: We’ll link it in the show notes on the web. So, this seems to be one of the things you’re passionate about right now. Are there any other things that you’re passionate about right now? I guess we haven’t had a chance to talk about your musical background as well, and I don’t even know what a Ph.D. in musicology is. So many questions still remain. So, let’s talk about your passions right now outside of the kids coding that we just talked about.

MATTHEW: That’s an interesting question because of, sort of in general, I’m suspicious of this feeling of being passionate about anything. I tend to look at these different activities while I’m doing them and say, “is this useful for me? Is this useful for other people?” And if the answer is yes to both of those questions, then it seems like something good to do. Lately I have been interested in a different kind of activity. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to other people, or if you were getting at this, but I’ve been interested in something called “live coding.” Live coding is essentially creating music with code.

IVAN: I was going to ask about violin phase performance. Is this related to that at all?

MATTHEW: Yea, so a little bit, sort of musically I guess you could say. It’s from the same lineage. When I was in college, for my senior recital I performed a piece called “Steve Reich's Violin Phase” where I recorded myself playing the snippet and then I looped it. It used to be done with tape back in the sixties, but I did it on my computer, of course, like my Mac ll or something, and I looped it and then I would play it and gradually phase it just a part of a note ahead, and then keep playing with myself over and over again and it creates this really interesting, constantly changing, repetitive sound. It’s kind of difficult to explain, but it’s basically just music that’s looped over and over, and then you're kind of playing with it. This actually has a score. You can play it as a string quartet and there’s other ways. But with that particular performance I did it with my computer. I always thought that was a unique piece. It’s kind of fun to be able to use the computer, and use my violin. Live coding is similar to that except its infinitely more possibilities, because I’ve been using this program called “TidalCycles” or “Tidal” for short, and it’s written in Haskell which is a real sort of computer sciencey geeky language. But, what I’m able to do with that is to play notes on the computer, sort of sculpt sounds, and loop them into cycles that are repeated over and over, and then sort of add to that. What I really like about live coding is that there is no score, there are no works. It’s really all about how I’m feeling in this moment and playing around with sound. So, it’s not the kind of thing I’ve done any performance with. Although a lot of people do. It tends to be a lot of people that do what they call “Algoraves”. So, it’s algorithmic music, and they do it at raves, and it’s this fascinating combination of making music with code and living in the moment. It kind of combines all of these passions of mine, and I’ve found that it actually informs a lot of how I understand my day job doing Drupal work. So, that probably is a surprise to most people who would hear me say those words, but what I’ve understood now is, that live coding is all about being in the moment, writing code that’s going to execute right now. I don’t necessarily know what it’s going to do. I might have an idea about it, but it’s all about being ok with that. In our day jobs, when we’re writing Drupal code or other code for clients, we’re writing for the future, in essence. We’re writing for specification. We’re writing code to do something eventually. We’re going to pass it up the chain, it’s going to be edited, it’s going to be tested, it’s going to be run through the wave process and everything else. So, there’s always the sense of “I’m doing something for another time.” So, live coding has given me a different perspective on how I do my work, and how I understand and go about my day-to-day activities thinking about how much am I actually enjoying writing this code for Drupal, right now, and noticing those moments and thinking “what are the situations that led to me sitting here, delighting that I got my alter hook functioning correctly?” or whatever the case may be. It’s been a real fun process learning about live coding, and one of the interesting side notes is that there’s a lot of academics involved in this. So, there’s a ton of academic literature that’s been coming out over the past decade or so, since I finished graduate school, examining this practice. I’m currently reading a book called “The Oxford Handbook of Algorithmic Music” and its getting to be more of a thing, although it’s still more popular in Europe than here in the United States, but it’s been the area that I’ve been exploring quite a bit recently, because it feels like it’s a beneficial practice to engage in the way of coding, where you’re enjoying it in that moment – right then.

IVAN: It seems quite related to the idea that the journey is more important than the destination. And that living in the moment and trying to experience the moment right now, could be disconnected from what the result is. That’s a really interesting take on code. It never dawned on me that fundamentally every code, snippet or project that we’re a part of as an organization is building something that we'll execute in the future, that we’re planning for in the future. And, even though you’re writing that code now, you’re not really enjoying it, or using it maybe ever, because a client’s using it, or a user is interacting with something on the web. So, to hear you describe that process, I’ve not heard of that before. That’s really interesting. How would you say the algorithmic music, because it’s music that you’re creating right? The output is sound?


IVAN: How does that sound differ from the sound that has been tweaked and produced, and an artist went in a recording studio and they tried something, and it didn’t work, and they tried it again, and they finally got that thing they wanted, and then that becomes the memorialized song that everybody knows. How does that thing differ or has is it similar to what is coming out of the speakers when you’re live coding?

MATTHEW: There aren’t any particular rules around live coding, so it can really be lots of different things. Somebody who does live coding where they might, for example, sculpt that perfect sound and that rhythm and that beat, they might, for example, take all of that code and then go do a performance with that as a starting point and maybe just tweak a few little things. That might be a little more similar to the process of creating a musical work and then sharing it. Now, in live coding, another view is that you should always start with just something simple and then develop it. So, in that case then, you don’t know where you’re going. There’s various ways that people use recording studios, but generally speaking it boils down to people either experiment with stuff for a while until they have something cool, and then they go into the recording studio and try to perform it, or they play around until they get that perfect thing, and then they try to figure out a way to perform it, when they want to play it for someone else. So, the live coding bit could be done either of those ways. People could definitely use the live coding tools and know exactly what they want to do throughout that performance, but in general there’s this algorithmic component to it, where there’s all of these different ways of transforming the sound and you sort of develop a toolkit. But you don’t exactly know what it means to say, “I’m going to play this sound one eighth of the speed. And now I’m going to play it 64 times or 500 times the speed of what it was before.” You can’t always anticipate exactly what that will sound like, or what would it sound like to suddenly add something that every third beat changes by a quarter of a beat. So, in a sense, the algorithm as it changes becomes the accompaniment, that you as an individual are playing, sort of, with the algorithm. That's the accompaniment. That’s the other musician. Now, there are other ways of doing live coding where you’re working with someone where maybe they’re doing visuals and you’re doing live coding. In the manifesto for live coding, they project their code on the wall in the venue. And the venue could be an orchestra hall, or it could be a school, or it could be a rave at 2:00 in the morning. All of these are ways that people do live coding. There’s interesting TED talks on this on the web and what not, but in general there’s lots of different ways that people do it. It’s really fascinating to me that it can take on a real musical sound, or it can just really take on an interesting sound aspect. What I personally like the most is not trying to do anything, but more like seeing “oh, what happens when I do this? And what’s my reaction to that? Oh, that sounds weird. Ok, I think I want to change that. Or that sounds really neat, I think I’m going to just listen to that for a second.” So, there’s this aspect of cultivating present moment awareness that I haven’t found with many other activities other than say meditation.

IVAN: Yea. It strikes me as being similar to being a DJ. I talked to Lex on the Podcast a few episodes ago, and he’s been tweaking and playing sounds and extending them and compressing them, and we talked about it as music that you distort and play and create an experience for someone else. There seem to be quite a few overlaps between what we discussed in being a DJ and what you’re describing.

MATTHEW: Yes. One of the big differences would be in the process. So, the result may sound similar to a listener, but a lot of the people that are sort of tweaking sounds are turning knobs. They’re using different synths, they’re combining maybe even physical machines in their rack. Live coding is really focused on the actual writing of code.

IVAN: Amazing. Can you give us one or two resources online that we should look at? If you have any off the top of your head, besides the Wikipedia entry? (laughing)

MATTHEW: (laughing) There’s a website called “” and this is a place that has the manifesto for live coding, and it lists a whole bunch of the other live coding languages that exist. It has lots of information basically about live coding. The language I’ve been using you can find out more about at So those are a couple of resources that come to mind. But, I think if you start at TOPLAP you can find out quite a bit of information about what live coding is. I guess I’ll stop there.

IVAN: (laughing) Yea, you could probably go down the proverbial rabbit hole on that.


IVAN: Are you using Open Source everywhere in your life, or have you found that there are certain things you just simply can’t do using Open Source software?

MATTHEW: There are things that I cannot do using Open Source software in my job.

IVAN: In your job, ok. What are they?

MATTHEW: Well, for example, people unfortunately these days use Slack to communicate, and up until May of 2018 I could use HexChat and use their IRC bridge to connect to Slack channels via a free software client like HexChat or IRC client. But, Slack discontinued that particular integration, and now I’m forced to use Slack. There are lots of situations where people have Google calendar invites, or Google Hangouts, or they want to do a Skype meeting. All those kinds of things require proprietary software. But whenever I have the choice I never choose proprietary solutions if possible. So, it takes some work, for example, to continually maintain these things and try and do the things I want to do using software. There are lots of websites where if I’m visiting that on my machine that doesn’t run proprietary JavaScript, the web looks quite a bit different if you can’t do that. Another one is my kids. They want to use stuff, and at one point my daughter really wanted to do her editing on “Adobe Addition” or something, and I could not find a free software alternative. She diligently tried some other things. She just said, “I just can’t do the stuff I want to do,” so I ended up having to install Windows on a machine (laughing), Linux on it. I don’t want to interfere with somebody else’s happiness for my own desire to write code that is free for everyone to use.

IVAN: Well, I admire that about you Matthew. You’re one of the few people I know who really try to live their principles in the free software community. I’ve tried it myself, and it’s hard, and I feel like it’s a process to me, and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to get to 100% free software usage myself. I’ve tried to cut down on use of Google Drive and have my own san and tried to use things like “Open Cloud”. And I have a Synology as well so I’m using its software, but it’s certainly a process and trying to shift out of some proprietary solutions that you already have, when it’s just so easy to use, is difficult as well.

MATTHEW: Sometimes it’s better. There’s a technology for file syncing called “Syncthing.”

IVAN: You’re the one that told me about that. I’ve seen that. It’s REALLY good!

MATTHEW: It’s really good. At one point the Android client stopped working, but I needed to get some other stuff done, so I moved some other things over to Dropbox and I just thought, “wow, this is really limited. I can’t do the stuff I want to do.” Then Syncthing got fixed. So occasionally I try these other things, but it’s not like it’s always better.

IVAN: (laughing) Well, thank you so much for spending your precious time with me and with being on the Podcast. I really appreciate it.

MATTHEW: Thank you for having me on Ivan. It’s been fun.

IVAN: You’re Matthew Tift on Twitter. That’s @matthewtift. On you’re @mtift and your podcast Hacking Culture is @hackingculture, also on Twitter. You’ve been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at And if you have a second, do send us a message, we love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thanks for listening.

May 30 2018
May 30

Your browser does not support the audio element. TEN7-Podcast-Ep-029-Wilbur-Ince.mp3

Wilbur Ince, Drupal Frontend Developer and Human Rights Activist, sits down with Ivan Stegic to discuss his career, road to Drupal and the valuable volunteer work he does.

Here's what we're discussing in this podcast:

  • Origin of Ince
  • Origin of Wylbur
  • Growing up in Minnesota
  • Living abroad
  • A short-lived marketing career
  • Discovering Drupal
  • Meeting Allie Micka
  • Impact of joining the Twin Cities Drupal community
  • Twin Cities Drupal Camp's success
  • Raining Training
  • Team Roadkill
  • Cycles for Change, the Bike Library
  • Amnesty International USA
  • Working Hard – Doing Good


IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I’m your host Ivan Stegic. In this episode of the Podcast I’m chatting with Wilbur Ince who is a frontend developer at Electric Citizen, an avid cyclist, an active member of the Twin Cities Drupal Group and has described himself as anti-war and pro-people. He’s based right here in Minneapolis, Minnesota and I’m so glad to be talking with him today. Wilbur welcome to the Podcast.

WILBUR INCE: It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

IVAN: It’s a pleasure to have you. It’s nice outside again! We’ve been doing all these podcasts in the cold winter and the last couple of weeks the sun is shining. It’s good to be alive.

WILBUR: It has been a very interesting spring, hasn’t it? I don’t know that it’s ever lasted so long before.

IVAN: I agree. And it seems like the trees and the grass suddenly became green.

WILBUR: Right. I think the biggest thing I noticed now is that the length of the days already longer, and it seemed like we missed spring. All of a sudden we’re in summer.

IVAN: I’m okay with that. (laughter)

WILBUR: Yea. Yea. That’s good.

IVAN: So, I wanted to start with your name. Wilbur Ince. I’ve seen it spelled with a “y” online and I’ve made the mistake of actually writing it with a “y”. I think it’s a mistake. But I think that’s your username, I’m not sure. So I want to ask you about the difference between them, because there’s also two websites.

WILBUR: Right. Well, at some point I realized to go on websites with Wilbur you’re always going to be fighting and have to have a unique name like “Wilbur - Ince”, “Wilbur.Ince”, “Wilbur.6148” and I saw somebody else, I actually copied it where they replaced the “i’s” with “y’s” and I came up with Wylbur and I have almost no problem getting that everywhere. So, any social media, any kind of website presence if you look for Wilbur.

IVAN: That’s really a great way to kind of hack the system. I tried doing that as well with my first name, but there’s a ton of people with Ivan.


IVAN: And then even exchanging the “a” with the number 4 doesn’t really help either, so, kudos to you.


IVAN: Now, your last name “Ince”. I did a little bit of research. It’s either from one of two counties in the Northwest of England, or it’s a Turkish name. Have you researched your ancestors?

WILBUR: You know, I haven’t done a lot of that but my brother and my sister have. They’ve done a ton of work on that, and actually you’re wrong on both and that’s interesting. (laughter) So, we do know and have heard about the, there’s a Turkish movie director that has the last name Ince. I’m trying to think if that’s Will or not, if it's Will Ince. I also know about England. But really where it came from is that we were German immigrants, and we had a very complicated name. It was spelled “Unectz” and at immigration the three brothers were there and they looked at them and they said “no, that’s not going to go here.” And so the three brothers actually picked three different derivations of that – “Unce”, “Unze” and “Ince”. And those three brothers all settled in Minnesota, and so we had relatives that are named Unce that are, you know, far back related to us in the same town that I grew up. I grew up in Shakopee.

IVAN: In Shakopee…

WILBUR: By the Twin Cities.

IVAN: And you said that your ancestors settled in Minnesota, so you are truly born and bred Minnesotan?

WILBUR: Yea, oh yea. I’ve been here my whole life. I actually spent a little bit of time in Brussels in the mid-nineties. Before I was a technical guy I was a marketing guy and I worked with the frequent flyer business and I lived in Brussels for a couple years and I missed Minnesota and I came back here.

IVAN: Why did you go to Brussels?

WILBUR: I worked with Sabena, the ex-airline of Belgium and I helped them launch their frequent flyer program.

IVAN: My goodness, I think they're called Brussel Airlines right now.

WILBUR: Oh, is that right?

IVAN: And we ended up flying over spring break with them, over to Brussels. So we were just recently in Brussels. It’s a beautiful town. Beautiful city.

WILBUR: Yea. And it’s a great place to land as an ex-patriot. I was there for a couple of years and it's nice, but they have Spring and they have Fall. There’s no Winter and there’s no Summer, you know. We’re really lucky to live in a place that you can get 100 degree days and you can get minus 40 degree days, you know.

IVAN: For those of us who don’t have AC, 100 degrees right now sounds like hell.

WILBUR: Yea. Oh, yea. It can be. I think the worst thing about warm weather is when it’s at night. You know, if it's 90 degrees at night, that’s impossible.

IVAN: It is impossible. So, you grew up in Minnesota, spent some time in Brussels, Belgium, came back to Minnesota. It sounded like you became a technical guy from being a marketing guy. When about did that happen?

WILBUR: You know I had a pretty typical American upbringing. I have actually about 50 first cousins. We’re German Catholic, so big families.

IVAN: Wow.

WILBUR: Yea. And so I was one of the first people to go to college and so, you know, you studied hard and I went to college, graduated from the University of Minnesota. I worked a couple years and then went back and got my MBA. And I ended up, you know, working in frequency marketing. And, that’s the marriage of marketing and technology. You know where it’s tracking peoples’ behavior and retracting things and then we’re rewarded for them or encouraging them to buy more things. And in that process I realized I was a technical guy. I just love to solve puzzles and problems. And then have just sort of a terrier kind of personality about learning and finding about things, you know. What I also found out is that I’m not a very good marketing person, because in marketing you have to lie a lot and that was just too much, you know?

IVAN: Yea.

WILBUR: I actually retired from marketing in 1994, after having a successful run as a marketing person. I just thought there was something else, and of course in 1994 technology was just really taking off. So that was the way to go, and I didn’t know what I was going to do after marketing,F but that seemed to figure itself out.

IVAN: I know Drupal wasn’t around in ’94, so you must have done something to do with technology and the web before Drupal? And I guess the question is what was that thing and why did you come to Drupal?

WILBUR: Yea. So after being a marketing guy, really, I made my life a lot simpler and I was doing a lot of work with a non-profit bike shop in town, where we were recycling bicycles and teaching people bicycle skills. And they needed a website. At that time, you know, we were hard coding websites and I got to a point and I said hey, you know, it would be great to have this menu show up the same on every page. And somebody said, you should look at PHP, that’s the thing. PHP is the thing. And, somewhere along the way there I figured out PHP and then I met a woman named Allie Micka.

IVAN: Oh Allie! Shout out to Allie Micka!

WILBUR: Allie Micka is… if you would look at the etymology or the tree of where everyone came through and got exposed to Drupal in the Twin Cities, she probably touches everyone. And, so she got me on Drupal and I started looking at that and, I mean, my intention was really to get websites to people that didn’t have money to build them, you know, non-profits and little local organizations, and that’s how I got into Drupal. And so I just sputtered around and made a lot of websites for a lot of people and a lot of little different causes, and it took me a long time to figure out that, I don’t even know when I became a pro. I think it was a couple years ago. Also, you just sort of realize to yourself, it’s like I guess this is my thing. I’m really pretty good at this. I know a lot more than I thought I did.

IVAN: And I’m writing invoices every month and I’m getting paid to do this, and this thing that I love that used to be a hobby is actually turning into a profession.

WILBUR: Right. I think it came clear when you would get questions from people about how to do something, and then you’d be like oh, that’s easy. Here just do this and that and that. And when you answered more questions than you had, I think that’s when I was like oh, yea, I think maybe I know what I’m doing.

IVAN: So your introduction to Drupal and the Drupal Twin Cities community really comes through Allie, and she is kind of the roots of the Drupal Twin Cities group. I really should ask Allie to join me on the podcast. That would be a really interesting discussion I think.


IVAN: And, do you recall the first Drupal event in the Twin Cities that you ever attended?

WILBUR: I don’t. I worked at a non-profit bike shop over in St. Paul. It’s called Cycles for Change. And, we were in the Renaissance Building in downtown St. Paul. I had met Allie at a PHP user group meetup. She was looking for space and she moved into that building and so that was a long time ago…2005, 2004. But I think there’s a lot of common stories in the Twin Cities about people that came to Drupal kind of organically through other things. Especially through the non-profit community and activism. I think that’s really a big part of the Twin Cities. What makes it special is how many people use Drupal because they have this community focus, you know, and giving back kind of a thing.

IVAN: I agree. And it strikes me that everything that Drupal Camp Twin Cities has done in the last several years since its existence, I think we’ve had, what is this now the sixth camp coming up now? Fifth or sixth? All of it has happened through volunteer, and you get sponsors of the camp, but the camp itself is all run by volunteers every year and it amazes me that it happens every year, year after year. And I think that activism that runs through the community is what drives that. You’re a very highly active member of the community.

WILBUR: You know, it's great to hang out with people like that and be part of an organization like that. You talk about this camp, right. When you think about it, we just went through and did the sessions, we picked the sessions. You look at the sessions and we have a hard time every year because we have too many advanced sessions, and we look at the camp and we say what are people that are new to Drupal, do we have enough sessions for them? Because we have such high flyers in this area and such good sessions. If you look at a camp like that, if you look at an event like that, four days and it costs $35. I mean you go to other camps, you know, lunch costs $35. Or $1,000, $1,500 conference fee. We’re doing this for nothing.

IVAN: We’re doing it for nothing.

WILBUR: It’s really amazing.

IVAN: And it's four days of programming as well. It’s not a day conference or two-day conference. Do you want to talk about what it looks like this year? When it is?

WILBUR: Yea. You know every year we plan this thing. We seem to be letting it go a little bit farther before we really dig our heels in and I think we’re really having a little trouble, just because we’re so far behind, but I think that’s part of the mystique of these camps, is that they're organized by people and that let’s all get together and if you have something to talk about then come and talk about it. What’s been happening the last couple days is, our web form on the website was not forwarding messages to us, and so the first day is training and we were kind of scrambling because we were trying to get together some training options, and now we have those three trainings set up and we had three people, three organizations that had contacted us, asking if they could do training at our camp. And so, now, we’re adding a fourth and a fifth training session and maybe a sixth.

IVAN: Wow. I thought we were only adding a fourth one. I didn’t realize we might actually be adding three more. That’s incredible. Six training sessions.

WILBUR: You know the fourth is official and the fifth and sixth are potential. Promet is one of the places. Mike Anello who does a very famous Drupal podcast wants to come and do a session because he’s going to come to our camp. It’s raining training sessions on us.

IVAN: It’s raining training!. So the first day is June 7, we’re doing all of those trainings. The second day is the Friday, the 7th is a Thursday, the second day’s a Friday. The keynote's still scheduled for that Friday am I right?

WILBUR: I think that’s right. I haven’t been involved with the keynote planning, but the keynote would be on Friday and then we’d have just sessions on Saturday.

IVAN: And then a sprint still on the Sunday.

WILBUR: And then the sprint on Sunday. Right. We just published the schedule, so go and take a look at it, but a lot of really power packed presentations. It’s going to be really a fun camp. Great for people that have been working with Drupal 8 and want to kind of level up. This is a place to really get some questions answered and really find out from people that are really doing it in the field. It should be really good.

IVAN: That’s right Wilbur?

WILBUR: Yup. Yea.

IVAN: One more questions about the camp if you don’t mind?


IVAN: One of my first interactions I remember with you was helping out with one of the parties. And I know you used to be the head honcho…the main guy…the big squeeze for the Saturday night or the Friday night party. Any plans for that this year? Are you helping out with that again?

WILBUR: You know, I’m not on the party circuit at this time, and I don’t know what’s going on with that. Sorry. There’s a lot to do with the party. The first couple years I worked with the Friday night party. For a few years I was kind of the guy on the Saturday party. Now the Friday party is kind of the official party and then the Saturday party was like ok, this thing is done. And, it’s really more the organizers' party, because we could finally relax. It’s like let’s just hang out. We don’t have anything to manage anymore. And so, that was kind of fun because I took the lead from other people that said you know the best kind of a party is not at a bar where there’s music blaring and you can’t talk to anybody. It’s really kind of a comfortable place to hang out. So, a friend of mine and I do a micro cinema called Casket Cinema, and he has a studio space in Northeast Minneapolis. So I got his space and had somebody come and just cater a barbecue. We shuttled people to and from the event. I’m in a bicycle club and we used our converted school bus, a 1988 school bus to shuttle people back and forth and that was really, for me, one of those really fun times when everybody can just hang out and relax and it was totally that hip Northeast Minneapolis artist scene kind of played out.

IVAN: I recall hanging out on the roof of that bus, and I couldn’t understand how it was that you had access to a bus of such sorts and then I got to talking to, and it was very evident that you were involved in this thing called RAGBRAI that I’m still not really sure exactly what it is. I think it’s a week long bicycle trip? Do you want to tell us a little more about what that is?

WILBUR: Sure. Yea. I’m involved with a very, very unorganized/organized club called Team Roadkill. We had a couple of lawyers on our crew and they got us incorporated as a nonprofit, and we own a bus together, a 1988 GMC customized school bus. And it’s funny because we have this really good organization and sort of look good on paper and it’s just a bunch of people that like to get together and ride and drink beer. So, our big event every year is called the RAGBRAI. It’s an acronym. It’s short for “Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.” So this is an event. Anybody that’s been from Iowa knows this. This is actually the largest and the oldest ride in the country, organized bicycle ride. Every year about 12,000 people go across Iowa. Seven days from the Missouri River to the Mississippi in this annual pilgrimage. They pick a different route across Iowa every year and stop in at small towns and it really captured the small town and middle America feel of Iowa. So, you ride into some small town and you buy homemade pie from a church lady that makes these pies every week for church and she charges you $1.50 for the pie and she thinks she’s making a killing, because she charges just a $1.00 for that pie and you think you’re in heaven because you’re getting a slice of homemade pie from some lady in Iowa for a buck and a half.

IVAN: Wow. So you must have someone that drives the bus that isn’t riding? Someone that keeps track of the whole maintenance of all of these bikes and then do you camp every night? Or how does that part work?

WILBUR: It’s a camping thing. The whole idea of the team kind of came around on the RAGBRAI because when you have 12,000 people going into a small town in Iowa, facilities become stretched to the max and so the team our club, kind of takes care of a lot of things that are difficult in that situation. So we have a shower system on our bus for people to take showers at night, which is pretty decadent on this kind of an event. We’ve been doing this, our club is about 35 years old. I’m not the original people that put this together. We have so many people that have ridden with us and gone along with us that pretty much anywhere we go in Iowa we have connections to somebody’s family and we stay in their yard rather than in the campground over at the county fair. You get to really meet people and it’s a lot more civilized than being in a giant campground with 12,000 other people.

IVAN: Wow. And that’s this July.

WILBUR: Every year the last full week of July everybody rides across Iowa. This’ll be my 20th year doing this.

IVAN: Wow. And you must spend a fair amount of time practicing and training for the ride. I mean, it’s one week from one major river to another in Iowa. I’m guessing there must be 150 miles at least?

WILBUR: The average is about 60 miles a day. They kind of alter the route. Right now they’ve really been keeping the distances per day pretty low to keep the family factor there. So between 50 and 75 miles a day. At some point in the nineties when I was doing it they were really, there’s a lot of partying that goes on, on this ride if you could believe that (laughter). During the day people drinking beer in these small towns. And so they really wanted to get rid of the party factor on the backside of the ride, you know, these are the people that kind of lag, and so they were making one year they had, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday were all 90 miles plus per day and that’s…

IVAN: … that’s killer.

WILBUR: It’s killer. Especially in Iowa in summer. You know you can get a 100 degree day, you can get a 20 mph headwind and that can just destroy everyone, you know. But then the partiers just get on their school buses and drive to the next event. So they abandoned that.

IVAN: So, you’re involved in the Drupal community. You’re involved with Team Road Kill and RAGBRAIi, but you’re also an activist. You’ve been doing work with Amnesty International recently?

WILBUR: You know one of the things that changed after I got out of marketing and kind of had some successful years, was that I realized it’s easy for you to get a fancy job and make a ton of money and have as much money as you want. But that’s really not what life is about for me. I did a lot of reading up on this and philosophy of what kind of a person I wanted to be, and I came upon an idea that I was going to spend one-third of my time doing charitable work for other organizations, other people. And, I try to keep that up. And, that’s pretty easy for me. So, I really like Amnesty International right now, that’s a great organization because they speak out for prisoners of conscience. And it's very satisfying as an individual to work and collect signatures and to send these petitions on to despot leaders in another country and say hey, you know, there’s this person you put in prison and you know, you need to give them a fair trial and you need to drop all charges and release them. And when that happens, a local kid from Shakopee makes an impact on the world. That’s really satisfying. And the other kind of activism I really like to do is really local stuff that doesn’t happen. I worked with the bike shop here, it’s a nonprofit bike shop that really advocates bicycle transportation for people. And, when you can just sit down and work with the public and make a difference in somebody’s life, that’s fantastic. Empower somebody to take control of their life by getting on a bike and riding to work.

IVAN: What’s the name of the bike shop?

WILBUR: Cycles for Change. They have two locations. One over in St. Paul and one over in Minneapolis.

IVAN: Is that the nonprofit that’s on Chicago in South Minneapolis?

WILBUR: No. That’s Full Cycle actually.

IVAN: Oh, that’s Full Cycle. That’s another nonprofit cycle shop right?

WILBUR: Yea. Cycles for Change came up with a really revolutionary program. They call it the bike library and so think of it like a library. A person comes and they say “I’d love to have bike.” And you say “that’s great. Here, we’ll check you out a bike, but it's not just a bike, you get a bike, you get a helmet, you get paniers so that you can carry your groceries to and from the grocery store. You get access to training to maintain your bike. You get riding lessons. They’re not called riding lessons – what are they called? Cycling lesson. How to ride safely in the city. What to avoid. What not to avoid. We think it’s as easy as riding a bike but really there’s a lot of strategies to making being a bike rider a lot nicer. And so you get all this stuff and you say “here you go, here’s all this stuff.” And people come in and they work on their bike and they learn about it, and after six months they go back and they talk to the person. They say how’s it going? Are you riding to work? Are you using your bike a lot? And if the person says no, it’s just not for me. It doesn’t work for me. No problem. You can give us the bike back. Everything’s great. If it’s great, if they're doing it, they say here, the bikes all yours. The bike is, the lock, the helmet all that stuff. We made a new bike rider, and now we can go on and work on the next one.

IVAN: Wow. What an incredible program. And that’s free to the individuals that are participating?

WILBUR: Free to the individuals. They just apply. They say I have a need. This is what I want to do. And they take it from there. And they’ve done that for hundreds and hundreds of people already. And it's really a program where it’s like let’s not just put out free bicycles. Let’s really like change people into bicyclists.

IVAN: I love the idea of it being a library, where it works out or it doesn’t work out. It doesn’t work out no big deal. We read the book, didn’t like the book, bring the book back.

WILBUR: Yea. Right. There’s no shame in that right? But now you gave it a good chance and we took away as many as the barriers as possible and tried to make you as successful as possible.

IVAN: So they’re online at and is that a website you help them with as well?

WILBUR: This might be one of those uncomfortable, embarrassing moments, because remember when I said when you first learn how to do websites, I worked on their website and we had a Drupal website there and I learned so many things from that website for many years. Then I took a little break from Cycles for Change, but I helped them with their hosting and that’s what I really did. I still manage their hosting, but now they had a group come in and say hey, we have a bunch of students that are learning that other content management system WordPress, and so they built a website and I said that’s great. Let’s use your website. But what I do is I give them some continuity with that and I’m their devops for their website and if they have any issues then I take care of that. That’s been happening for 2005, so how many years is that?

IVAN: Thirteen.

WILBUR: That’s a long time. I’ve been there a long time. It’s a lot of donated hosting.

IVAN: Yes it is. I don’t think there’s any shame in the switch to WordPress at all. It sounds like it was the right thing for them at the right time. So, kudos to you for supporting them. I do want to just take one step back and ask a little more about Amnesty International. I’ve always thought of them as a large international organization that does things for human rights that really I have no power of changing or participating. But it sounds like you’re doing that. It sounds like they have a local chapter of some sort. Can you speak more to maybe a case that you’re working on right now. I don’t know if you call them cases. How you got involved with Amnesty and maybe how others might get involved as well if they have the inkling.

WILBUR: Yea. Amnesty is a large international organization. Their mission or their continued mission is to speak out for prisoners of conscience. And so, their main work is that they have country specialists that investigate cases that are reported of prisoners of conscience, and they get the facts and they figure this out. Then they’ll organize campaigns to put pressure on people to alleviate that situation. So that’s the international organization that everybody knows and that people get a membership to and they pay their $35 a year and they’re a member of Amnesty International. Then, that campaign is there and that is typically letter writing campaigns where we’ll be writing letters to the leaders of those countries or to the Prime Ministers, or to whoever is in charge that can make an effect. And, people, like you and I will sign those petitions. We can go online to Amnesty International or Amnesty USA and we can sign those petitions and those get sent to those leaders. Then the local chapters are kind of another part of this in that we can actually do our own sort of individual events to support that. That’s really where I’m involved with the organization, and that’s where you can meet other people and what we like to do in the Twin Cities a lot is to piggy back on other organizations’ events and be there at the place and say oh, if you’re interested in this then here’s a way you can help. You can sign petitions about these. So not all places have a local organization, but we’re really lucky again in the Twin Cities here to have some really prominent advocates from the Philippines, from Nigeria, North Korea, there’s a North Korea specialist that’s in town and we also have the Humphrey Institute over at the University of Minnesota. They provide fellowships for people that are human rights advocates, and so through that organization, if you come to our local chapter meetings which are the third Sunday of every month, it’ll be this Sunday at 2:00 at First Congregational Church, we have speakers from all over the world that are directly involved with these actions. That come and talk to our group of 15 people. It’s really impressive how quickly you can get associated with people that are really making a difference in the world.

IVAN: That’s Did I get that right?

WILBUR: That’s right.

IVAN: I just took a look at that.

WILBUR: That’s my next Drupal website actually.

IVAN: Is it really?

WILBUR: I just sold them my new website.

IVAN: I just clicked on the link for the Facebook page and it’s showing three admins, all of whom I know. Chris Dart works for TEN7 He’s one of our developers, so you know Chris pretty well I would imagine?

WILBUR: I don’t know Chris very well.

IVAN: You should talk to him at the next Amnesty International meeting.

WILBUR: I will.

IVAN: Third Sunday of every month from 2-4 at the First Congregational Church of Minnesota.

WILBUR: Yea. It’s a humbling experience and it's empowering to be able to just do a little bit of work and help other people, you know. When we think about our problems here and we look at some of these cases that we help, people that get thrown in prison, one of the things our local chapter does is we adopt a prisoner of conscience. Somebody who is in another country and maybe it’s a case that’s fallen to the wayside, and we’ll say let’s do this and let’s actually try and call the Prime Minister. So our last case was with an Ethiopian Journalist, his name was Eskinder Nega. And, this guy, I mean if you think we have courage, this guy was a journalist in Ethiopia which has a pretty horrible human rights record. And he would write about how he disagrees with the government and he gets thrown in jail in 2005, and he spends seven years in prison and there’s an Amnesty campaign and he gets out.

IVAN: He does?

WILBUR: And he comes back out and he starts writing again about things in Ethiopia. And he gets thrown back in jail and he spends six more years in jail. And so this was a case that had fallen by the wayside and our local group picked it up and we started making calls and we actually had an Ethiopian refugee here that was still connected in Ethiopia and he started making calls and some things have happened in Ethiopia where they’re releasing a lot of prisoners of conscience and Eskinder Nega got released again. And, he was getting around with a bunch of things and he got thrown in prison again, but now he’s out again. When I think about my activism, right, I just am organizing volunteers to sign letters, I’m not getting thrown in jail over and over again. So, people like that, real freedom fighters right, really people that are trying to change the system, that’s amazing.

IVAN: That is amazing and kudos to you for doing that. I admire that activity that you have and the amount of time that you spend in your principled, just persistence with this.

WILBUR: Thank you.

IVAN: Do you ever get a chance to arrange a meeting or a meet up with any of the people that you’ve helped?

WILBUR: Through the miracles of Zoom meetings like this and Hangouts, we’ve had calls with people and I was really trying to get us to have a call with Eskinder Nega and really to complete that circle and just... It almost makes me cry to think that we can get him on the phone and say hey, you know, it’s great to meet you and we want you to know that you were our prisoner of conscience and we really pushed hard to get you out and it’s great that you’re there. And that’s maybe some of the miracle of our technology right? Is that would could make that happen. We could have Eskinder Nega at one of our meetings in Minneapolis.

IVAN: That’s just a wonderful part of what technology can do and I hope that we continue to invest in the open web and in the principles that we believe in. The fact that the internet can help more than just bad actors and that there are more good actors on the web, and in the world and that ultimately we’re all just humans trying to make it to the next day. So if someone wants to get involved with Amnesty International they can go to or to just and either become a member or contribute a donation.

WILBUR: To come to our meetings, I think the best place to get information if you’re on Facebook is to look up Amnesty Group 37.

IVAN: So Amnesty International Group 37 in the Twin Cities and the meeting is this Sunday, so see you there.

WILBUR: Sounds great.

IVAN: Wilbur, thank you very much for spending this time with me. It’s really been a pleasure to get to know you a little better and to speak with you.

WILBUR: You bet. Thanks for having me.

IVAN: You’re welcome. You’re Wylbur on and also on Twitter and wherever other social media is on the web., we’ll see you online. You’ve been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at And if you have a second, do send us a message, we love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.

May 02 2018
May 02

Your browser does not support the audio element. TEN7-Podcast-Ep-027-Kaleem-Clarkson-Inclusion-Evangelist.mp3

Kaleem Clarkson, Drupal Front End Developer, Inclusion Evangelist and Co-founder of Blend Me, Inc. sits down with Ivan Stegic to discuss Kaleem's Drupal origins, as well as other related issues.

Here's what we're discussing in this podcast:

  • It's only rock 'n roll
  • Concerts for Charity
  • DrupalCon Atlanta
  • The Big Easy, Portland
  • Trey Anastasio, Bob Weir and Béla Fleck
  • Stephen King
  • Kennesaw State University
  • Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
  • Atlanta Drupal Users Group
  • Mini DrupalCamp
  • Drupal Diversity and Inclusion (DDI)
  • Code Switching
  • C'mon down


IVAN STEGIC: Hey everyone, you're listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I'm your host Ivan Stegic. In this episode of the podcast, I'm chatting to Kaleem Clarkson who is a Drupal front end developer and entrepreneur, based in Atlanta, GA. Kaleem, welcome to the podcast.

KALEEM CLARKSON: Hello everybody. Thank you for having me.

IVAN: It's a great pleasure to be talking with you. Now I think that I might have sold you short on the initial introduction by saying you're a front end developer and entrepreneur because I've seen your LinkedIn profile and there are many titles on that profile. You are what seems like everywhere.

KALEEM: Yeah. I kind of like to do a lot of things a lot of that is old history. Early on in my career I started my own nonprofit in college. I had a lot of fun with that called Concerts for Charity. We booked a lot of concerts all over the place got to work with some cool artists. We got to book Blind Melon on their comeback tour. That was cool. Slick Rick. Uh, I don't know. I don't want to name drop. Sorry.

IVAN: Well you just did but that's okay. I'm going to assume they're metal...

KALEEM: Well, yeah. Yeah, we did do a lot of metal shows. I guess Blind Melon was kind of like, remember the Bumblebee song?

IVAN: Oh, yeah.

KALEEM: So unfortunately the singer passed away years and years and years ago, but they made a little come back and we were like one of the first venues to be able to book them in Portland Maine at a club called The Big Easy back in the day. So yeah, I mean that was really fun. So that was kind of like where I started. My first interest was definitely nonprofit life, and we ended up doing a lot of great things. We did a documentary with Trey Anastasio from Phish. It was with a voter registration group, they were so great. Andy Bernstein, it wasn't Rock to vote. It was A Call to Action was a documentary with a nonprofit called Headcount. There we go. I knew it was gonna come to me eventually if I kept talking. It was really neat. They're a great organization. They still exist. They started in the jam band scene kind of and you know, they just registered voters at concerts, plain and simple. We were able to connect with them and we did this documentary. That was great. Their board of directors is awesome. They have you know, Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead on there, you know Bela Fleck from Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and so we were able to record this documentary with those artists and we got the premiere it on HBO in Manhattan, so that was pretty dope. That was that was pretty cool. So yeah, there was that and then I kind of moved on from there. Moved to Atlanta with my wife, and my wife and I moved down here and it's been great. We've been here about ten or eleven years. I work at Kennesaw State University. I work for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. So I owe all my Drupal education to Kennesaw State.

IVAN: Thank you.

KALEEM: Pretty much how many Drupalers come aboard, you know, my boss came to me and said I need a password protected website for our accreditation reports. I go to the IS department and they're like, yeah, there's this thing called Drupal here you go. And I think that was Drupal 6, the tail-end of Drupal 6. So, I started like a like a lot of people start. I downloaded the the tarball, installed it. I wasn't allowed to add any modules because that was controlled by the University and then I just kind of grew from there. I remember after going support, how do I learn about this Drupal thing? And they were like, uh, you need to go to these meetups. That's probably your best place. So I showed up at one of these meetups in Atlanta and I show up and the place is packed and, all these people with Mediacurrent jackets on. It kind of took off from there. So, I currently still work there and then most recently, my wife and I started our own consulting company. So it's been a fun ride. I like to do a lot of things. And then with the Drupal Community as far as the Atlanta Drupal's Users Group, I just got more involved with the Atlanta Drupal's Users Group. And at the time I believe, Mediacurrent was kind of running all of the DrupalCamp Atlanta for a long time, and they just you know, they blew up with the ton of work and they just like hey, we need a break for a second because we haven't really really big client. I'm not sure if I can say what league it was but it was a very big sports league. So, I stepped up and said hey, you know what? This is what I do at my university job. I organize a lot of conferences, for faculty development. So teaching faculty how to teach layman's terms. If my boss ever hears that, he'll kill me because development is so much more than that, but for most people that's what I tell them. So yeah, that's how I got involved and then I stepped up and so I'm in my fourth year at Druplacamp as a project lead so it's been really exciting.

IVAN: Thank you for doing that. Volunteers don't get enough praise and thanks across the many different camps and cons and industries that they deserve. So thank you.

KALEEM: Appreciate that.

IVAN: Thank you for stepping up.

KALEEM: A lot of people ask me why, why do you do it?

IVAN: That that was actually going to be my next question. It seems like you were thrown into Drupal because you wanted to achieve a certain outcome.

KALEEM: Absolutely.

IVAN: But you stayed with Drupal. You were part of the community. You're continuing to give back, you're organizing. Why? Why? Why?

KALEEM: This is gonna sound odd. But so, you know, in college I had a pretty good time. Okay. Went to college in Wooster, MA. And I went to college at the time Worcester State University is about 45 minutes west of Boston.

IVAN: And you're from Maine, right?

KALEEM: Right. I probably should have said that first. I'm originally from Bangor, Maine. So I grew up in the whitest state in the country believe it or not.

IVAN: I didn't know that, all I know about Bangor, Maine is that it is what seems to be in the most northeast corner of the United States you could possibly be in and maybe there's one or two other places.

KALEEM: I think there's obviously some... Bangor is only about halfway up the a little bit more than halfway up the state. So there's more but I think that's the last airport.

IVAN: Is it really?

KALEEM: Yeah, the most people associate Bangor with Stephen King, of course. Hi, Mr. King!

IVAN: And Paul Bunyan.

KALEEM: And Paul Bunyan, yes. So hi, Mr. King, hopefully you doing well, it's Kaleem! It was great growing up as a very safe place to grow up but it's kind of funny a lot of my childhood experiences I'm realizing were valuable experiences to kind of teach other people about diversity and inclusion. So it's been kind of it's been kind of rewarding I guess from that from that standpoint. So but anyway back to why I do things, voluntarily, so I went to college had a great time. I played Division 3 college football there. And basically we threw a ton of parties... like when it comes down to the basics... we just threw lots of parties that I actually, you know, I actually enjoy throwing parties. So I like to put on a good shindig and make sure people are having a good time. So, that's how Concerts for Charity really started. I was like, I want to do do something good for people, but at the same time I want to have a good time.

IVAN: You want to have fun and do good at the same time...

KALEEM: I mean, it just makes sense. 

IVAN: Absolutely!

KALEEM: You know, so that's kind of you know, some of my motivation for you know doing DrupalCamp Atlanta, I want to make sure everybody has a great time. So I've just kind of morphed into kind of a weird like event planner from college. So yeah, that's why I like to do it like to do, make sure people have a good time.

IVAN: When is this year's DrupalCamp Atlanta?

KALEEM: You had to do that to me!

IVAN: I'm so sorry!

KALEEM: I want to say it's November 8th... it's Call for proposals are not open quite yet, but just keep an eye out follow our Twitter, @DrupalCamp_ATL, you can just start just you'll find us. DrupalCamp Atlanta, when we stepped up the kind of take it over as a user's group, we decided to bring it to Kennesaw State University, which where I work now and, it was just easier for us to be able to get the venue. And it was great! We had it there for two years, and that was actually where Dave Terry and the Mediacurrent team did the very first DrupalCamp was kind of like a homecoming type of event. And last year, we just decided based on the feedback, everyone was like, you know Kennesaw's a long way from the airport.  It's about an hour ride. So, we decided to take a chance, take a huge risk and just go straight hotel. We did a contract with a hotel in Buckhead. Which is kind of like the tech center of Atlanta, it's where Atlanta Tech Village is, where a lot of startups are, and it was great. It was it was fun because basically people stayed in that hotel. They went right downstairs to all the sessions were and you know, that was it. So, we're there again and it is November 8th through the 10th. So, a day of training and then a morning of training. So, it's almost like three days really. We have one day that's one dedicated to all day trainings, then on Friday we have a morning training. And I don't know if anybody else does it this way? So all you organizers out there let me know.

IVAN: Actually, I've been part of the Twin Cities DrupalCamp organization over the last few years, and we've typically had full day trainings on Thursdays, do two session days... so Friday and Saturday, then sprints on Sunday.

KALEEM: Okay. Okay.

IVAN: Yeah and it's it's a lot of work to put on a camp that's four days long. I don't know how it happens. But it does, it happens... people do it. You do see Saturday session attendance does seem to kind of drop down. We don't see as many people on Saturday as you do on the Friday. And we've kind of changed it in the last few years. I don't actually know what's going on this year. I haven't been involved in this year's organization at all, but I do know it's coming up in June in the Twin Cities. So we would love to have you visit us if you have a spare weekend.

KALEEM: For sure. Yes. Yes, a spare weekend. Of course, of course. The one thing that we did differently, because that was actually one of our issues was Saturday attendance is that so Thursday is a full day training then Friday morning are half day trainings.

IVAN: Why do you do that?

KALEEM: Because people really enjoy the trainings. A lot of beginners come to DrupalCamp Atlanta. And then you also do have the advanced people. So I just feel like the value of trainings -- you get a lot more out of them versus a 50-minute session. So, we decided that the half morning trainings work, and then we don't start the Camp, as far as concurrent sessions until 1:30. So, there's not that many sessions on Friday, but we have our little after party Friday night and then we load Saturday so that people don't leave. 

IVAN: That's really interesting approach. Your training sessions, are they sponsored? Like, does Pantheon do a day of training, or does Four Kitchens come in and do headless. I know we've done that in the past. Or are the trainings designed in a different way?

KALEEM: I think it's probably the same same thing. We just reach out to different trainers. It was funny. I was talking to Mike Anello one day. I was like, you know, I feel bad going back to the well should I say because we have been pretty successful of not reusing the same trainers as much, but then last year it was just getting difficult because you know, there's only so many people that do trainings. Yes, there are great companies that do great work for building websites, but I have kind of a bias in faculty development and I listen to all of my associate directors who are you know, all above me and watch what they do, and there's a major difference to being a content expert versus a good teacher. That's why teaching centers actually exists. I don't know if all you know this but guess what a lot of Faculty don't get any training and teaching before they go in the classroom. Just a little just a little tidbit.

IVAN: There's no real time like shadowing someone? 

KALEEM: Now you get a PhD you're thrown right in the classroom. We like to go after the organizations that do trainings. I was talking with Mike Cannel {inaudible} is a training company. She is... what's-her-name Susanna... don't kill me Susanna... I'm not even gonna attempt to say your last name from Evolving Web from Canada.They do lots of trainings, Turning Leaf I think Big Leaf, Man, I should have had all these companies listed. I'm still sorry guys. If I'm destroying your company titles, I apologize. We'll hook you up in Drupal Camp Atlanta.

IVAN: Suzanne Kennedy. Oh, Dergacheva.

KALEEM: We actually talked and she taught me how to say it. Dergacheva. Let's go with that. So anyway, we try to go after companies that are actually doing training as a business. And I was talking with Mike, I feel bad because you know, there's only so many companies that do trainings all the time. And he's like don't feel bad, that's what we do for a business. It's a great opportunity for all of us. We're actually honored to come here. So it was very nice to hear from of how he thought from his perspective. So yeah, we reach out to them. We don't pay our trainers, they contribute their time, and we try to keep the training costs as low as possible. Just basically to cover catering.

IVAN: Do you guys also do BOFs?

KALEEM: That's one area that we have to do a little bit better. BOFs, you know our camp ranges anywhere from 180 to 200 people. I know that's decent size for some camps but you know, like compared to you know, Drupal Corn and even Mid Camp must have more than that for I think it's getting much larger.

IVAN: BADCamp and NYC as well.

KALEEM: Yeah, it's just like when you're organizing you just doing so many things in like the BOFs or the one thing that just kind of always just fall off our radar, because there's only always only so much room space, especially, you know, because we are doing a different model, by using hotel. Hotels are very expensive. There's a lot of risk associated like our contract, I think was about $30,000, hotel room guarantee. So space was limited. So we just we just didn't do it.

IVAN: So at Twin Cities Drupal Camp, we rely quite heavily on the Drupal Association for all of the fiscal responsibilities with putting our camp together, said that it's really expensive to get a hotel in the mix. I know that using an University or any other location, you still have to sign a contract you still have to pay for it. Do you also use the Drupal Association or do you have some other format for your camp?

KALEEM: We do not. We do not use the Drupal Association. We have our own... but you know what? I think I talked about this once on the Lullabot podcast. That's one piece of advice I would give to organizers is go ahead and incorporate and get your own LLC. We have our own LLC. We have our own.

IVAN: So you're actually a for-profit. You're not not a non-profit.

KALEEM: Correct?

IVAN: That's interesting.

KALEEM: We're an LLC. I guess technically where they you know, how you've seen those commercials where they say we are a not for profit, there's actually a difference between the two. So yeah, I guess we're registered as an organization, a not-for-profit, but that's not the non non-profit 501 (c) 3 status that most people think. But we are actually in the process of, you know, we're set up, we have bylaws. We have our official board. We have official voting procedures. So we are set up to actually apply for 501 (c) 3 status. We just haven't done it yet. So yeah, we don't use Drupal Association at all. I believe they take a percentage of funding, I think it was 7% the last time I checked and you know what 7% to us is a big deal.  We just kind of do our own thing. Luckily thank you so much to all our sponsors, you know if it wasn't for you we couldn't do it. So we've just been very lucky and again, a lot of most of our success is because of Dave Terry and Mediacurrent. They were able to pass on all of that knowledge, pass on the sponsor contact information. You know, sensitive information to just pass off to a bunch of volunteers. We built in that trust, and that was a huge reason why it's successful.

IVAN: What are your current passions? I know that when I first saw you speak, it was as a person asking a question in the Drupal Diversity and Inclusion session that I went to, and I was struck by your story about how you came to be involved in DDI, and it seems to me to be one of your passions and I was hoping you could kind of tell the same story about how you got involved.

KALEEM: Yeah, I wish I could remember what question I answered.

IVAN: I don't remember what question it was, either!

KALEEM: So I think I remember, so I just got up and I just said, you know, a lot of people jump to the conclusions. So first off, let me just first say... diversity is a very fluid topic, it's changing every second and there's a million people out there that say they're experts. And I always laugh at that because it's like, man, how you going to be an expert on this topic? It just changes every single day, it changes so frequently, and it's really about people talking about their experiences. That's how I feel, so don't destroy me, people out there because I know that there are people that are love to destroy me on diversity issues. But it really kind of came about by accident really, I mean, I really had no intent to get into diversity inclusion and again, it's probably because of where I grew up, you know. I grew up in a situation where I didn't know any different as far as being you know the quote-unquote token black kid everywhere. I'm always that person, and I had to learn how to adapt frequently. It's funny because its actually a real term that called code-switching. I don't know if you've heard of that term.

IVAN: Code switching? Yes.

KALEEM: Yeah code have you heard of that term?

IVAN: I have but I haven't heard of it used in the same -- in the context that you would describe.

KALEEM: Yes. So, code-switching in DDI is a situation where, you know, you talk one way around your friends, but then you have the ability to change how you talk or how you act based on your environment. 

IVAN: I've experienced this my whole life! So I now I have a name for what it is. I grew up in South Africa to parents that immigrated from Croatia. So I spoke Croatian and thought Croatian at home, but when I went to school, it was all English from a South African point of view. That's code-switching.

KALEEM: Yeah, being able to you know, of course is going to be who were saying. Well guess what you shouldn't have to code switch. You should be able to be yourself. And look I agree with those sentiments of course, but I'm also a very, maybe me being from the Northeast too kind of makes me a little bit more harsh I guess, but I'm also kind of a realist, you know. I know that's how it should be but that's not how it is. So, yeah, I guess I do have some privilege there because I've always been able to code switch my whole life. So I I didn't realize that I had that ability. So, you know, I saw some posts on and I was like, well, I mean, I don't see very many people that look like me. Maybe I can provide a prospective that's different and a perspective that is gonna kind of go against the grain like, you know, you see an African-American on a DDI team you're going to make an assumption that you know, there's a certain tone, there's a certain angle that they're going to play, and I just feel like I do provide a different perspective. Oh, yeah, and I remember what I when I talked about was... they were talking about how do we get underrepresented groups involved with Drupal more often than not? We need to provide financial scholarships so that we can get more underrepresented groups involved. The one thing I feel like we just need to be a little bit careful of is jumping to conclusions. So, I'm from an under-represented group, but I didn't need any help financially, you know what I mean, sorry, I'm sure Kobe Bryant kids don't need any help financially or LeBron James' kids don't need any help financially. It's all coming from a good place. And that's probably a barrier for a lot of under-represented groups, but that's not the barrier for all. You know, we're in a situation right now in society where you know, you can't be right in the middle. You know, you kind of are far one side of far the other side and I feel like I put myself right in the middle.

IVAN: I think it's important to be centrist. I think we're all fundamentally centrist. It's the society that we live in and the experiences that we have that push us in one way and another. We kind of need that and yearn for that balance. And you know, what? It's hard to be in the middle. It's really easy to go extreme, because that's what you can you know, truly realize your fears and just let them, you know, let them be a bad thing on the world, right?

KALEEM: There's a group for you, right?

IVAN: There's a group!

KALEEM: If you all the way to the far left, there's a group for you. There's support for you. So it's natural to be that way. Right? There's a group all the way to the right. You know, like I remember someone asked me a while ago, I think it was in college was like, oh, how come you don't hang out with the basketball team? What does that mean, bro? I mean, I don't even understand what that means like, I like metal music and I like, you know partying so whoever likes those things. I don't just hang out with some people from the basketball team, but they were also people that had multiple interests too, but it wasn't like, you know, they're like, oh, why aren't you hanging out the basketball team? What place? Hey, I'm a football player and then be like, you know we go out.

IVAN: Just for those who don't know what DDI is and what Drupal Diversity Inclusion is... can you give us a quick description of the group, and maybe when it started?

KALEEM: I don't know the answers to all that.

IVAN: I have two thoughts. I think, I think DDI started two years ago.

KALEEM: So what's funny is there's a website called Drupal Diversity, which I did have the pleasure of working with some people in the theming. It was fun to do that with everybody.


KALEEM: Let's see, the history, Nikki Stevens gave a presentation and started the group. They don't have a year on here, which they should have a year on here.

IVAN: We should open an issue in the queue.

KALEEM: Nicki if you're listening, I feel like you should put the year... oh, DrupalCon New Orleans.

IVAN: New Orleans would have been 2016.

KALEEM: So I just saw the channel and jumped in. Saw a lot of conversations. And you know again, that's something that my wife and I also stumbled upon as far as you know from the consulting side. And I figured that I should lend some of my personal experiences and help out. So, that's really what I have for it. There's a whole bunch of other people have done a lot more work than I have in the initiative, but I felt like you know it is a place where I should try to help, because I could definitely provide a... because a lot of times in these initiatives... and that's actually something that I also brought up in that thing... a lot of times in these initiatives, there aren't very many people of under-represented groups that are actually participating. So I kind of looked at like who you know participating. I'm like, well, I feel like the because diversity is a lot of things. So I'm sure there's you know sexual orientations how people identify, religion... there's a lot of things right but visually there weren't there wasn't that much like I felt like you know why I should definitely I shouldn't be on the sidelines for this I should definitely help. So that's really where I came from.

IVAN: And I think you're right. I think that's you have to... in my opinion, if you want to see additional diversity being modeled through the rest of the community, you have to... not be modeled, if you want additional... if you want diversity in the community, and you want more participation and involvement, it's easier if you as a community member see that behavior being modeled for you, because then you know how you might want to behave. And so I felt kind of bad when I thought... I want to be part of this, but I'm just gonna join the channel and then what? So I don't know how like... I don't know if that's good or not? And I think that xjm or Kathy or one of them said something like, that's okay... you can join the channel, and you can participate by lurking, because when you're lurking, you're actually seeing that behavior be modeled, and when you see how that behavior is modeled you very easily can take it out into the community, and remodel that to your peers in IRL, in a camp setting, in your daily work life. And so that actually made me feel like... oh, it's okay that I'm just here watching because I'm actually learning something subconsciously.

KALEEM: You know and that's the thing. It's like... I've said some interesting things before where people probably just looked at me crazy. But like, you know, I was in one of those roundtables... private roundtables....

IVAN: Panels.

KALEEM: I told a story where I was like what you know, I'm a different animal in this field because it's just how I am and who I am. In high school I had a beer with a skinhead before. People just...  I wish I had a camera. Oh, I'm gonna call you out Fatima. I'm gonna call you out. I'm sorry @sugaroverflow. You should have saw her face. She was like, what? Oh my God! No way! But uh, yeah because I was like... I had to know I was so curious. Why the hell do you hate me? You don't even know me. I mean we are actually drinking the same beer and actually you're wearing a shirt of a band that I like. So we had a crazy conversation. I mean, I wish I could remember what we were talking about. But of course, we didn't hug it out and nothing like that. But at the end of the day, I feel like of course I wanted to you know, I was of course, I had feelings inside of I shouldn't be talking to this person. I can't stand this person but you know, I heard some things that he said from his point of view. I didn't agree with it, but then he heard some things that I said and maybe he agreed with it or not. And the night was fine after that, but like... you have to be able to... you need a safe space. That's what's great about working at Kennesaw State University is we have tons of resources and trainings and academics are always researching this stuff and they're very thoughtful. And we attended a safe space training... and it's a training so that you make sure everybody feels included, and one of the areas that I always thought was interesting as far as safe space that no one really kind of touches upon is sometimes people want are curious and want to ask questions. They shouldn't be dragged across the coals because they asked a question that they're honestly curious. The question could be offensive, so like how is someone going to learn if we can't talk? And someone the other day was like well, how did you stumble upon doing diversity consulting? And I'm like, I don't know somebody asked us. Well, you know, they probably asked you because they felt comfortable. My wife is white. We have a biracial family. Maybe that comfort was enough for them to say hey, we have a problem. Can you help us? And explain and maybe they were comfortable saying why they were they were uncomfortable. So, I always say diversity is about being comfortable being uncomfortable. Like... it's okay to feel uncomfortable.

IVAN: That's a great way to summarize it. It certainly is. I do see the slack channel on Drupal slack the Diversity Inclusion channel as being a safe space. I know, like that's one of the two or three channels that I'm actually following, and it's most certainly a safe space where you can say something and not worry about the backlash and you can... but I do think it takes time to get used to that.

KALEEM: Of course, you know and someone's response might be a little harsh, but at the same time, I think there's other people that jump in and say hey no, it's okay. That's a good question. And actually this is why, I remember someone posted like hey, this is a blog post I'm writing. Can you provide us some feedback? And they got crushed but like other people made them feel okay, like no. First off, we're not attacking you. We are very proud and happy that you asked the question. So, don't, please don't take any of the criticisms as attacks on your actual question, we're providing the feedback. So, that's the part that's really been intriguing. My boss has had a huge impact on me. He's very well known in the factor development field and he talked a lot about LGBTW. So, without him without the my colleagues at work, I definitely wouldn't have a lot of this knowledge that I have. So, again we are all very comfortable with each other. So we ask all sorts of ridiculous questions.

IVAN: And also you're really nice and easy to talk to so I think that helps too.

KALEEM: Yeah, I try to be... that's right.

IVAN: Well, I don't know what else to ask you. I mean, we're kind of running up against our kind of soft limit of 30 minutes. I feel like I do have a whole lot more to ask you but we're gonna we're gonna have to wrap it up. Do you have anything you wanted to say or ask?

KALEEM: I don't know. Let's see. You know the put me on the spot here.

IVAN: I know. I got to put you on the spot as well. That's okay.

KALEEM: I gotta do my you know, if I'm not marketing I'm not doing my job, right? Okay also have minicamp online coming up in June.

IVAN: What is that?

KALEEM: It's minicamp online. So what we've decided is the... what we've decided as the Atlanta Drupal Uses Group is... we no longer do meetups, because it was very difficult anyone's ever been in Atlanta, traffic is very difficult. So it was hard for people to get to a place in the city at the right time. So we decided look why don't we take the money that we make from DrupalCamp Atlanta and try to put on other programming at a much reduced cost to the community. So, the first year we did minicamp as a single day track in person Camp. It was great. We had about 100 people. It was awesome. But then we realized you know what maybe we should try this thing online. So, this is our second year doing online. We did it last year. It was great. I think the call for proposals has already ended, although the link still up there. So yeah, we're gonna have Drupal Minicamp Online is June 7th, Thursday June 7. It's very affordable. It's like, you know twenty, fifteen or twenty five bucks or something like that. We're gonna have some great speakers and you're going to be able to attend the conference right from your office, right from your computer. We use this, I can't remember the platform that we use, but basically it's really cool, you know, you can chat and ask questions and it's really neat. People enjoyed it last year. So, We have many Minicamp coming June 7h. And of course. DrupalCamp Atlanta. We need more presenters. We want we want to break the 300 mark. So Hotlanta in November! If you're in the North, it's still about 80 degrees, 75, 80, so come on down and enjoy it. And, I have to say that's probably about it.

IVAN: We'll put those links in the transcript. They'll be on the website as well. So that's for the one day track, June 7th.

KALEEM: That's correct.

IVAN: There's the Atlanta User Groups. DrupalCamp Atlanta from November 8 to November 10. That's a Thursday through a Saturday. The website for that is Kaleem, it's been a great pleasure speaking with you. Thank you for your time. Great conversation. You're kclarkson on And @kaleemclarkson on Twitter. And I don't know how many times I've had to prevent myself from saying Kelly Clarkson.

KALEEM: Actually Kelly's my cousin. We're tight.

IVAN: Oh you are.

KALEEM: We're cousins... cousins from another mother, of course, right?

IVAN: Thanks very much for your time.

KALEEM: Awesome.

IVAN: You've been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at And if you have a second, do send us a message, we love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thanks for listening.

Apr 18 2018
Apr 18

Your browser does not support the audio element. TEN7-Podcast-Ep-026-Chris-Weber-Software-Engineer.mp3

Chris Weber, software engineer at The Nerdery in Minneapolis, sits down with Ivan Stegic at DrupalCon Nashville 2018 to discuss Chris' Drupal origins, as well as other related issues.

Here's what we're discussing in this podcast:

  • DrupalCon Nashville
  • Hot chicken at Hattie B's
  • BOFs (Birds of a Feather)
  • Web Components Summit BOF
  • The hype cycle
  • Google I/O
  • DrupalCon's value
  • Chris' Drupal origins
  • Kookie Kids
  • The Nerdery, Minneapolis
  • The evolution of Drupal
  • Automated testing
  • Google+
  • The Twin Cities Drupal Community


IVAN STEGIC: Hey everyone, you're listening to the TEN7 podcast where we get together every fortnight to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I'm your host Ivan Stegic. And in this episode of the podcast, I'm at DrupalCon Nashville 2018, and I'm sitting down with Chris Weber also known as cosmicdreams on, and he's a software engineer at The Nerdery in Minneapolis. Chris, welcome to the podcast.

CHRIS WEBER: Thanks, Ivan.

IVAN: It's nice to see you here. It's great in Nashville, isn't it?

CHRIS: I know I know I, this is my first time in Nashville. And, I've been, unlike other Cons been trying to go to the local restaurants and trying to like get out and see the city some it's really great. The atmosphere downtown's really great.

IVAN: I agree. I had some hot chicken yesterday.

CHRIS: I had some hot chicken yesterday.

IVAN: How hot was yours?

CHRIS: Well, there was a there were five levels it was mild, medium, hot, dang hot and shut the cluck up. I knew that the people had told me that the last one was just gonna kill you. Yeah, so I took the middle of the road.

IVAN: You know, I did too and it was hot. I like spicy but that was hot.

CHRIS: Like tell the story of that. I had a buddy in college that when he got to trouble with his parents, they just feed him peppers. So he built up a resistance over time.

IVAN: What did you have with your hot chicken, if I may ask. What sides?

CHRIS: Oh, creamy coleslaw. 

IVAN: I had that too.

CHRIS: Got to have that relief.

IVAN: Exactly.

CHRIS: That mac and cheese was very interesting. 

IVAN: I had the exact same thing.

CHRIS: Yeah, I you know, I couldn't tell by the time I took a couple of bites of the chicken, but I thought the mac and cheese was kind of spicy too.

IVAN: I agree and you went to Hattie B's right I went there as well and the line when I went for lunch was an hour to get in.

CHRIS: Our line wasn't like an hour, but it did feel like a half an hour, but we can kind of like for dinner. Okay? Yeah and the first taxi driver that I ran into in Nashville recommended Hattie B's, and like everyone recommended how to his every every driver that I went to so I gotta go.

IVAN: That's interesting because my Lyft driver also recommended Hattie B's. And Lex who was on the podcast last week, also had his driver recommend Hattie B's. I think Hattie B's might be... it's a thing!

CHRIS: It's a thing you've got to do it if you go to Nashville, go to Hattie B's. 

IVAN: One more question about hot chicken. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to eat the bread.

CHRIS: You are. You haven't eaten a full meal unless you eat the bread.

IVAN: So I ate half of it.

CHRIS: That's fine. Okay. You know, I mean at a certain point you're full and just trying to push in. Yeah, but the the spices accumulate in the bread and, actually I was expecting like eating the chicken blowing my mind eat the bread and then I'm just done. Go to bed, but it wasn't all that bad.

IVAN: So the chicken was good. How was Con?

CHRIS: Con is great this year. Yeah. I, I've been one to like try to go to the the BOFs. But this year I was like, you know there really are some compelling sessions that I just want to see and then usually after the con is over, I have like a viewing YouTube viewing party.

IVAN: Do you really? 

CHRIS: All the videos on YouTube so and I don't have to worry about this anxiety that I feel like I'm missing something because I could just go see the see the videos later.

IVAN: Kevin does a great job of recording all of those sessions. It's just incredible.

CHRIS: Yeah Kevin's the man.

IVAN: He's the man. Are the BOFs recorded?

CHRIS: BOFs not recorded.

IVAN: Okay.

CHRIS: So that's the reason to go to the BOFs. I actually had my own BOF this year.

IVAN: You did?

CHRIS: It was the Web Components Summit.

IVAN: Of course it was! And tell people what web components is. 

CHRIS: Well, web components are series of HTML standards. It's kind of been this thing that I've been following for a long time and it's kind of misunderstood. The way that I best understand it right now is that there are two standards that browsers are in the process of completely implementing. One is custom elements the ability to bundle up a set of HTML, JavaScript and CSS into a standalone HTML component that you can just drop in anywhere. But you know all that defines how that component looks and behaves. And the other one is Shadow DOM, which provides an effective sandbox for your component, so that everything that's going on in your web page doesn't bleed into the component, and everything that's going on in the component doesn't bleed out.

IVAN: Now when I was doing my prep work for this podcast, I did Google "Chris Weber components", and I saw reference back to 2013. So it's, it's been at least five years that this has been in the pipeline, hasn't it? Do you feel like it's matured, like it's something?

CHRIS: Oh, yeah. Yeah. It's kind of went through its early phases of you know, they at the at the Driesnote or somewhere, they showed the graph of the hype curve.

IVAN: Yes. Yes. I've seen the hype curve.

CHRIS: Peaks really high, then there is the trough of disillusionment...

IVAN: Yes, and then it kind of goes up and then there's a stage... so where are we right now?

CHRIS: Well, we certainly went through the trough of disillusionment. What's interesting is that at Google I/O upcoming in a couple of weeks, maybe like next month, they're going to have a reveal of Polymer 3.0, which is supposed to be like this is what steady-state looks like. This is what normal looks like instead of the oh whizz-bang-new-thing and disillusionment... and oh, you're so disorganized... you keep changing stuff... you're breaking all the things all the time.

IVAN: You refer to it as Polymer.

CHRIS: Well Polymer is Google's attempt to demonstrate what's developing, what's with web components look like. See this is the part of the confusion because a lot of people identified Polymer with as the standard bearer of web components, but it really isn't. Web components aren't supposed to be this platform, this framework, this complicated thing. It's just supposed to be a set of HTML standards like Ajax.

IVAN: Like Ajax, got it. So you mentioned Google I/O. I've been to about three or four of those conferences very early on when it was just starting out.

CHRIS: You didn't have to mortgage your house to go.

IVAN: Exactly! When you didn't have to mortgage your house and when when tickets were actually available.

CHRIS: That's awesome.

IVAN: I used to love going to that con. The swag was great. The people were interesting. It was Google's first attempt at getting into... kind of the developer community. Have you been to any recent I/O cons?

CHRIS: I only had the opportunity to go one time and that's when my buddy was a Google User Group organizer. 

IVAN: The local one?

CHRIS: Both the local the Twin Cities Google developer program or User Group organizer. And so, he gets to go every year.

IVAN: Who is that?

CHRIS: Patrick Fuentes. He's an awesome guy.

IVAN: I think I would like to talk to him.

CHRIS: Yeah, he's a really interesting guy. He's very involved in Android. And he's just a just a great human being to talk to. He's just very generous and kind, thoughtful.

IVAN: I'll connect with him get him on the podcast. You might not know, the original founders of the Twin Cities Google... it's called the GDG, Google Developer Group right now... but it wasn't called that. It was called the Twin Cities Google User Group. I think it was TCGUG Google User Group. Lloyd Cledwyn and I are the original founders of that group, and we used to have meetings in the TEN7 offices on Third Avenue South in Minneapolis. And then I kind of stepped away because I got involved with TEN7 and Drupal and I decided I... you know, I'd rather spend time with Drupal then Google, but that's why I used to go to the I/O conference.

CHRIS: Awesome.

IVAN: Yeah, so, the question about I/O was actually supposed to be a lead-in to the question of why you choose to come to DrupalCon every year.

CHRIS: Well, I at this point in my career, I never want to miss a DrupalCon. There's just so much energy here. I first started going to DrupalCon because I kind of felt like I'm a developer working on Drupal like professionally. But I'm the only person I know that does this, you know, and this was about the time that I start discovering that the Twin Cities had Drupal user group and that in the small collection of people in the Twin Cities that does that, that looked like a really awesome way to participate and finally talk to somebody else that does the thing that I'm doing. I don't have to feel like I'm alone in the middle of a wilderness. And then I keep hearing, I keep following... I kept on following in the news channel and everyone's excitement building up and plans being made and agendas being said and it's like you know what? I have no reason to participate in any of that, but I just want to be around. I just want to be a fly on the wall while people are talking about things. Maybe I'll learn through osmosis you know, something more than what I currently know, because.. we were talking today and you were saying that you know, let's just talk about how we started.

IVAN: Yeah. How did you come to Drupal?

CHRIS: I wanted to build a website for my college friends. We wanted a forum we could just sit there and talk about things just joke around but we didn't want it indexed by Google. A buddy of mine had created like a little blog or something like that and it was indexed by Google and he went to a job interview and they were asking him about it.

IVAN: What year was that?

CHRIS:  Must have been either still in college, or jus tout... maybe 2004.

IVAN: 2004? And so you chose Drupal because you wanted to build something...

CHRIS: Well, I originally did not choose Drupal. I was trying to find... so I was a computer science student and I was just trying to find something that I could tinker with what could I do with my program was very theoretical mathematics base, very little real world application. So I had to go out and find a real world application to get that itch satisfied. So I tried things like working with PostNuke.

IVAN: I remember that.

CHRIS: I tried MovableType

IVAN: MT. Yup.

CHRIS: Yeah and some of those things just you know, it didn't just feel right and I tried to go deep in other communities and I just got, the common response I got whenever I asked my questions because I ask tons of questions. Yeah was read the manual noob. Yeah. And I'm like, okay, is this just what I have to endure and then maybe one day I'll be the one telling someone that. I don't ever want to be that person that tells another person to read the manual. Then don't talk to me. So this wasn't a good fit and then I found Drupal and I went on to the support forums, you know...

IVAN: The issue queue...

CHRIS: Not even the you go to the Forum on yes, and you can ask your questions there, and I got a lot of great responses and people lent tricks to me. Then I was like, okay. Well, maybe I'll keep with this and I was able to tinker with things in my own learn things didn't really dive into code for like years. Just trying to be a good chef by grabbing modules off the shelf. Figuring out if I mixed this thing with that thing it's gonna make a better thing. So I was just a site builder.

IVAN: Just a site builder, quotation marks.

CHRIS: I mean there are levels to this, but sooner or later I got to my friends asking me to add some feature and I'm gonna have to go maybe I'll have to alter a form in order to do that. Eventually my buddy wanted to start up a business where he would do the design work and I would do the development.

IVAN: What was the name of the business?

CHRIS: Kooky Kid. All K's. Capital K Kooky. And we did that for a couple years. It was really great.

IVAN: So that was your first professional use of Drupal in business? Wow. What version, do you remember?

CHRIS: That must have been five five or six. Yeah, probably six. We had to build out like event registration websites, some marketing kind of landing page like sites. There was one site we built for a person who was on The Biggest Loser to advertise his workout spa because he wanted to take the ideals of Biggest Loser and spread it to his local community.

IVAN: As much as he could...

CHRIS: Yeah. That was the first time we were like, okay, he's gonna be on the episode gonna talk about it's going to reveal the URL for the site. It's gonna be a huge spike. What do we need to do in order to prepare? So that was... I love those engineering challenges!

IVAN: Those problem solving things...

CHRIS: Yeah. It turns out though that I'm not a very good business owner. So I eventually decided to go work somewhere. Because I kind of felt like I needed to learn at that point like the full engineering process. How far could I advance my skills if I could only just focus on the technical problems. And what would it be like if I finally could work with someone else that was also programming? 

IVAN: And you've been able to achieve that in your career. Your work at The Nerdery and in the community is yeah, it's amazing. So you've been with Drupal now for about 13 years... it's a long time. What has surprised you the most about Drupal in the last 13 years?

CHRIS: At this point in my life, I don't... it's like watching a movie. You don't want to be hypercritical of it while you're watching it, because you just want to let the story play out. You know, I try to be resilient enough so that nothing really surprises me. But when Drupal 8 was being developed. Let's roll back a little bit, when Drupal 7 was finishing up....

IVAN: Circa 2011...

CHRIS: Yeah, but... the key moment in my development life was when Dries put out a blog post and he basically said, we need help. If you're out there in the community and you're just hovering, or if you're like window watching you're just looking at and waiting for this development to finish up and you maybe would want to jump in and help out. Please do come in help us out help us get Drupal 7 out the door. And then I was like, yes, I will shift things around I will get over my anxieties. I will jump into the issue queue see where I could help out. And I remember that all I could really do was test.

IVAN: Very important part...

CHRIS: There is this issue, it's like hey, we need help testing all the JavaScript interactions that we built into Drupal 7. So it was like, okay! I've got like five six browsers go through each page. I'm going to test each page. And then webchick jumped on the issue queue and she said this is freaking amazing. And I was like star struck. Here's one of my heroes telling me that she's thankful of the effort I was putting it in at that point I was hooked, kind of like I wanted to to revisit that experience and maybe pay that forward to someone else down the line like if I can encourage other people to do all the things I just wanted to repeat that. As many times as possible.

IVAN: And you're doing that! You're at the core mentoring sprint. We're sitting in the room with core mentoring is happening right now before everybody starts arriving.

CHRIS: I think I've been doing the mentoring thing for like four years now, and that's kind of like my mission in life. My mission in life is to do whatever I can to empower other people to succeed. That's actually one of the Nerdery's core values, win by empowering others, and I know that I am not a genius. I've just been a person throughout my entire life that is willing to put in ample amounts of hard work. But there are those geniuses out there and if I could just put that seed of knowledge into somebody that they could take whatever I've been able to do and take it like light years further.

IVAN: So what's different in development today compared to when you first started, compared to D5, compared to where we're at?

CHRIS: I don't know how it is for other people. But for me, the main difference is how competent open source is. Like when I first started the company I was working at was like, hey this ColdFusion thing's really awesome. You should just really learn ColdFusion, we'll be doing ColdFusion like forever. I did we made some stuff with it was it was okay, but it was also proprietary. And every time every year that they had a major version everything was done in secret until it wasn't and then you were like, oh that breaks all my stuff. Oh you didn't actually solve any of the things I care about. So I mean with especially because I've been using Drupal for so long, when I have an issue with anything, I could jump in and create a patch, and then chances are if the if the patch has merit, it gets included into core and I don't have to support a fork of or at this this weird little thing I'm building on top. It's a part of the the thing and it's maintained by huge test suite. I can have a large amount of confidence about the tools that I'm using.

IVAN: Now, you're passionate about testing and automated testing. That's certainly something that I think we need more of in the world especially in maybe in agency life.

CHRIS: Yeah. Well, you know you go through that problem in a project where on deployment day you're just sitting there right that button and you're like, I think I know what's going to happen. Yeah, I'm pretty sure but am I do I have evidence, you know. Way back early in my career deploying was the most stressful thing possible because I didn't have a lot of confidence. I knew I fixed the things that I was working on, but you know, I've tested all the things I can. Maybe early in my career is I didn't actually test all the but when I press that button it's live and weird stuff might happen weird stuff happens that looks poorly on me and my abilities and if when you're starting off of it as a developer, you're like can I do this? Yeah, you're paying me to do this. I'm teaching myself how to do this, but. I know that I don't know everything, and I still don't know everything but you're like if I have like one or two jobs and people tell me I can't do this, maybe I'll believe them and maybe I'll just go be a car mechanic or something like that.

IVAN: Do you have a methodology that you use for testing? Do you have tools? How do you automate the process of testing your code?

CHRIS: Actually one of your friends Les, really opened my eyes to a practical approach which is to identify the five or so things about an application that are like if these things mess up then the soul of this project dies. And make sure that those tested. However, you can Drupal 8 has PHP unit which can cover functional testing, Behat is a tool set that is also somewhat supported. You just need to add in the extra libraries for Behat. You can write tests that cover those user experiences those interactions. In the past it was just straight up the Selenium client where they would record things you can just rerun that as I'm that's a macro.

IVAN: I think Behat integrates with Selenium as well. We called those four or five top things, critical paths at TEN7 and it's something we've always wanted to try to implement for a client but have never really been able to get there. So it's certainly a work in progress.

CHRIS: I had a client like three years ago and we were pitching the idea of having automated tests to them, and we actually try to break down some numbers. It's like look one test pass by one, quality assurance engineer costs this. We're planning on doing a number of iterations of this code base that that's what the project was. If we have that QA engineer do a full test passing generation, it's gonna cost this over the cost of the project.

IVAN: We can't see your hands.

CHRIS: Like the size of my head. So the sides of like to two or three of my heads would be the cost of like if we wrote automated testing so that that QA engineer doesn't physically have to test and retest all the things that the automated tests are covering and we can rake automated tests for the expensive things things that would take long in order to test, except for the fact that all the cost of writing those tests on the first iteration. So you pay upfront for the quality tests to get savings later. They were able they were receptive to that idea because they were if you're thinking long-term it makes sense.

IVAN: You invest in the beginning of the project to get the bang for your buck throughout the life of the project.

CHRIS: If you're an agency and a client comes to you, they could be very hinged on short-term thinking basis. It's just a sprint to get a site out there and then you're gonna hand it over to us and then we're going to go so maybe in that sense arguing for testing won't win. But I am I what I'm trying to get to is the point in which I am so fluent with testing that I don't have to make that argument like this testing is just a part of things and maybe it's a little bit of overhead. But because we're so was so tight, the testing is a minimal overhead.

IVAN: We're gonna wrap up soon. But I do want to ask you about Google+. You're a Drupal guy in my mind, and I know that you started the Google+ Drupal group. Is it called a group?

CHRIS: Community.

IVAN: Community, Google+ Drupal Community.

CHRIS: Yeah and when I started it, I called it the Drupal Community on Google+.

IVAN: Drupal Community on Google+.

CHRIS: Because someone has actually created a community before I did and they called it Drupal, and I was like, well, I don't want to do the thing where you name a thing and I named it thing and then...

IVAN: We have to fight about it and namespace.

CHRIS: I'll just call something a little bit different.

IVAN: So when did you start that?

CHRIS: Oh, right about the time the feature was released.

IVAN: And is it still in existence?

CHRIS: Yeah.. Yeah. The very first thing I did when that feature rolled out was I got in touch with all of the other people that had created community on Google+ for Drupal and I said, hey you're doing your thing. I'm doing my thing. Let's just work together. You know, I'll give you full administrative rights of this one, but you know, this will be a much better thing if we could just consolidate a working one. That worked out really well. We quickly got up to about 15,000 users and I found out that once you get that many users not some 1500 users. When you get to that number of users, you can't change your name.

IVAN: You can't.

CHRIS: So later when we consolidated, I could not consolidate the name. Couldn't change it back to just Drupal. Yeah, and now we're at 11,000 users.

IVAN: Wow, so the users that are in Google+ those 11,000 users, some of them are active some of them aren't. What are they getting from that community from that forum that they aren't getting on D.O or that they're not getting an IRC or they're not getting in slack or is there a lot of repetition? What's what's the value of that Google+ community?

CHRIS: There's a little repetition the posts are are visually different because of the way that they're able to combine pictures and videos and texts and stuff like that. And over the time the main reason why I created that was because of that feeling I felt when I was all by myself and there was no one I could talk to that also did Drupal because you know, I wanted wanted to have a place where other people who were just on their own could find a community of people to talk about Drupal. Kind of like an online group user group.

IVAN: So yet and yet another channel that makes people that might be more comfortable in Google+ accessible.

CHRIS: You know the philosophy was you know, if people use Google+ why not have a place that can just chill and talk about Drupal.

IVAN: I love it. Was there ever a Google Wave Drupal thing? 

CHRIS: Well Google Wave was never officially a thing.

IVAN: That's true.

CHRIS: But I was ready.

IVAN: I was there too.

CHRIS: I was you know, Wave was a really interesting unicorn, and we'll never see anything like it again. I don't think they were had huge plans probably those plans killed it.

IVAN: But they used some of the technology and other parts of their suite of products.

CHRIS: Yes their operational transform in Google Docs and stuff like that.

IVAN: That benefited incredibly didn't it?

CHRIS: Yeah.

IVAN: Thank you so much for spending the time with me.

CHRIS: Thank you. And I just want to add that of the Twin Cities Drupal Community, it's people like you that highlight how open and friendly Drupal is, it's a kind of a very challenging thing. If someone has that experience of a development community that has been really rude to them to give another community a chance, and you know at the first sign of this might not be a good thing people might be rude, you know that person like me would just run. Oh not not gonna do that again. But it's meeting people like you and people like like Joe and Tim and other people in Twin Cities that made me feel safe to participate and I want to thank you.

IVAN: Thank you. You're welcome and thank you for doing everything you do. It's important to not lose sight of the fact that we're all human and then we all have our own thing going on and is as welcoming as we can be to everyone is kind of what we should be doing. So, thank you for doing everything you do. Now you're cosmicdreams on, but you're not cosmicdreams on Twitter.

CHRIS: Well that someone already had it.

IVAN: So you're @chris_m_weber on Twitter. You've been listening to the TEN7 podcast. Find us online on, and if you have a second do send us a message, we love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.

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