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To Drupal or not to Drupal… that is my mid-career crisis

Two months with a new puppy

As the year came to an end, I shared a blog post title, Ozzy, the puppy, vs. Drupal, the open-source project. This blog post began a discussion about the sustainability of my involvement in the Drupal community, specifically focusing on the maintenance of the Webform module.

In the New Year, Ozzy and I reprioritized my commitment to maintaining the Webform module for Drupal 8/9; I changed my morning routine. Instead of opening my laptop at 5 AM to start work, usually on the Webform module, I make a cup of coffee, sit with Ozzy, and read a book for an hour. It's something I haven’t done in years. Then I take Ozzy for a walk in the park. Because work and family come first. Gradually, I’m timeboxing my contribution to Open Source to a few minutes during the week and an hour or two on weekends. This change is a personal decision as to how I manage my time and commitments.

Changing my commitment to Drupal is a taxing decision because I’ve been a very active contributor to Drupal for the past 5-years, and a member of the Drupal community for over 10 years. Overlapping with that, I’ve held a full-time job at the same organization for over 20 years, and now I have to face professional change, challenge, and a decision.

Two decades working for the same organization

In my first ten years with this organization, I built and maintained a custom Content Management System (CMS), using ASP Classic, JScript, and ColdFusion. Ten years ago, we transitioned the organization's website to Drupal 6, and then more recently migrated to Drupal 8.

Now the organization is building a Digital Experience Platform (DXP), and they have chosen to move to a proprietary CMS. Naturally, I have strong opinions about Drupal compared to other proprietary DXP and CMS products. My opinion would require a dedicated blog. Still, I worked to help my organization go from a simple information-only website to a rich, interactive website. Now it is time for the website to become a personalized digital experience. The process of seeing the organization plan and build a DXP is a great learning experience as well as an opportunity. This significant change forces me to think about my career and commitment to Drupal.

10 years before Drupal

For the first ten years of my career, I worked with Windows-based technologies. I am a self-taught developer who could initially only afford a Windows 95 machine. I do recall a gradual sense that the Windows technology stack felt limited. Ten years ago, there was no immediate or very open community regarding Windows development, which made me uncertain about my career prospects.

At first, I thought I would learn .NET, but when I started working with a senior .NET developer, I found them to be unsupportive, not collaborative, and almost prohibitively protective of their knowledge. My past experiences with lead developers, who should act as mentors, was discouraging. As a front-end developer, knowing just HTML, I remember being made fun of by not knowing what was a server-side include and accidentally breaking an application. I’m sharing this experience because it helps explain how I discovered Drupal and, ultimately, why I am so active in the Drupal community and enjoy helping people in this community.

After being discouraged by that individual .NET developer, I bought a copy of The Linux Bible, followed by the O'Reilly PHP book, and then read Pro Drupal Development by John K. VanDyk and Matt Westgate. Even though this book is for Drupal 6 and outdated, the information was so career changing for me; it still sits on my bookshelf.

I discovered Drupal, the community when I attended my first Drupal NYC meetup, and Bob Christenson, the owner of Musterseed, explained Drupal's theming system. At the same meetup, I met Robbie Holmes (robbiethegeek), who was, and remains, always willing to answer questions and mentor newbies.

Everyone has a story about how they discovered Drupal and the community. It is nice to share my story while sorting out my future.

I came for the software and stayed for the community

10+ years of Drupal

Looking back at my past ten years in the Drupal community, I see the experience in two parts. The first part is as a consumer of Drupal and the second part is how I’ve come to be a Drupal contributor. I’ve talked about why I contribute. This post explores if I should continue contributing to Drupal and if I continue, how much I can contribute.

It is worth weighing the pros and cons of my contribution to Drupal.

Building and maintaining the Webform module pushed me professionally to a different level. Drupal is technically challenging, and building a subsystem like the Webform module was even more challenging. I enjoy designing software, writing code that solves complex problems, helping people get the most out of the software, and being part of a community. As part of the Drupal community, I became comfortable speaking publicly and writing blog posts.

For me, there’s only one con of contributing: it’s a lot of work and responsibility without being income generating and my unpaid contributions are not sustainable economically. And yet, I feel guilty about the prospect of leaving the Drupal community. The fact that 125,000 plus websites could be impacted if the Webform module is not maintained nags at me. I should not feel obligated to maintain something that doesn’t provide any compensation or immediate benefits, potentially distracting me from focusing on paid work.

Stepping back from being a Drupal contributor and looking at this problem as a Drupal consumer provides a different perspective. Drupal is an enterprise CMS and is becoming a DXP - maybe it is not okay when a key contributor leaves the community. When a subsystem is not maintained, it can create a gap in the Drupal ecosystem. Exploring the question, maybe it is not okay when a contributor or organization leaves the Drupal Community, also requires a dedicated blog post.

Right now, the question is how should I handle my “mid-career crisis.”

Today and tomorrow

To Drupal or not to Drupal isn’t an easy decision. It helps to share my career history before Drupal entered my life and how I became involved in Drupal. The takeaway from my journey to Drupal is…

I love to code, create, and contribute to an open product that solves complex and challenging problems while sharing my code, knowledge, and experience with other technical and non-technical, like-minded individuals.

This statement helps me conclude that I need to:

  • Do my job and enjoy my life with Ozzy and my family. 
  • See this experience not as a crisis but as a challenge. 
  • Focus on my immediate bill-paying task, which is helping my organization migrate away from Drupal to a new DXP 
  • Come up with a plan to figure out what’s next in my mid-career challenge. 

For tomorrow, I need to write out a 1-year, 3-year, 5-year plan for my career and the Webform module. I should also talk more about my thoughts on contributors, like me, leaving the Drupal community. I’m wondering if there are any other contributors in the same boat? I’ll probably feel obligated to provide a personal comparison of Drupal to all those proprietary enterprise Content Management Systems.

For today, thanks for listening.

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