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What does a Drupal developer do?

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Now that we have discussed some of the concerns with career growth, let’s talk about beginning a career in Drupal. I am not aiming for comprehensiveness but I hope to give a broad overview of what a Drupal developer role looks like in the real world. Needless to say, every company or agency is different. You might have a very different set of responsibilities depending on your organization. One of those responsibilities would be to build and develop Drupal websites and we are going to talk about that here.

Working in an organization essentially means working with other people. That is how you multiply your impact. All the roles do have some amount of dealing with people. Initially, you only might have to worry about collaborating with people but as you grow, the scope increases. Eventually, you would have to mentor and maybe even manage people. All along this journey, you would also increase your knowledge and area of impact technically.

Early roles

As someone who has very little experience with programming, you might start off with Drupal by building sites using UI and simple CLI commands (drush or console). Your challenge would be to understand content types, taxonomy terms, users, roles, permissions, etc. You would need to understand how to design a content type that is actually useful for what you want to represent and add fields to it. Moreover, you might know enough PHP to find snippets to alter forms or pages and implement those as per requirements.

At this stage, you might not be expected to solve complex problems or scale websites with heavy traffic. You might be working under the supervision (and mentorship) of someone with more experience with Drupal. It would be expected of you to collaborate with other people on the team such as front-end and QA engineers if any and complete your tasks the best you can.

You would need a strong set of fundamentals here such as git, basic PHP programming skills, and a working knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. You would need more of an awareness of your software stack but wouldn’t have to go deep.

Intermediate roles

With around 2-5 years of experience, you will begin to pick up a more complex set of tasks. You would write more complex modules with proper object-oriented code. The site-building requirements also would be more complex. You would have to implement content types with complex relationships with other entities. The code required to tie these things together would also get more complex. You will also have to worry more about how to solve a requirement in the best way rather than just implement something.

At this stage, you would be expected to participate in code reviews and share your feedback. In fact, some organizations (like mine) encourages all levels of engineers to participate in code reviews, so this might not be new. Take this opportunity to also seek mentorship from other folks to go deeper into Drupal and other technologies. While you only had awareness of your stack earlier, you should now have a working knowledge of various elements in the stack. You would also be involved in discussions with other teams to build integrations your system needs. Essentially, you should understand how the pieces fit together and how they participate in making the system work.

You should also begin to question requirements and try to understand the business problem. Your value at this level is not just your technical skills but also solving business problems. In other words, it’s not just about solving the problem right but solving the right problem.

Advanced roles

After about 5-10 years of experience, you will now be responsible for the entirety of a system. You may begin with simpler systems where Drupal plays a major role and then move on to more complex systems where Drupal is just one piece of the puzzle. At this stage, more people will turn to you to solve their problems and you will have to figure out how to solve those problems yourself, guide them, or delegate it to someone else.

You should also be much more familiar with the entire Drupal ecosystem and how it can fit in with other parts of your stack. You are close to approaching what could be called the “architect” role (but we won’t go there today). As an IC, you will have a lot more impact but you would also play a significant glue role in your team (or teams).

This is a vast topic and I might come back to this in a future post (or multiple posts). Like I said before, this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide, but just a broad overview.

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