As discussed in my previous blog post, the organization I have worked for more than twenty years in is moving away from Drupal to a new Digital Experience Platform (DXP). In turn, this change has created a mid-career challenge for me. It means I need to reevaluate my plans in terms of my career, my relationship with Drupal and its community, and the Webform module's future. To Drupal or not to Drupal is what I am now facing.
The majority of my contributions to Drupal are not sponsored. I contribute code and respond to support requests in the early hours of the morning or late in the evening and travel to Drupal events and conferences on my own dime and on my own time. A close friend quantified my unpaid work on the Webform module as a "professional/intellectual hobby." That statement stung a little, but hobbies are generally unpaid and motivated by a personal passion, which is an accurate summation of contribution to the Webform module.
For the last five years, my contribution to the Drupal community has focused on the Webform module, one of Drupal's most-installed modules. If the Webform module isn’t maintained, it could hurt the Drupal community and organizations. It should be a concern that I might not be able to maintain the Webform module. Open-source projects like Drupal rely on the sustainability of the code and the community.
The sustainability of my contribution to the Webform module is why I have decided to share my 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year career plan with a potential Webform roadmap.
Do my job and accomplish the task at hand; my organization's migration away from Drupal.
It’s sad to me that my organization is migrating away from Drupal. At the same time, I understand their decision to move to a different platform. I recently convinced them to use a Schema.org-First approach for the new website's information architecture and look forward to seeing the benefits in action. Now I can assist with the migration, embrace the change, and learn something new.
Many organizations have done Drupal vs. some other CMS, but I think my hands-on expertise with Drupal might offer some unique insight when learning a new CMS. Migrating to the DXP's new CMS will consume a lot of my time. As a result, I’ll need to limit my involvement in the Drupal community,
attend fewer virtual conferences, and limit my focus to the Webform module's maintenance.
Currently, Webform module is in a great place with a stable release for Drupal 9 and only 30'ish open issues. The Webform module's code is well-documented, stable, and reliable, with good test coverage. As long there are no major unexpected API changes in Drupal core, the Webform module is easily maintainable for the next year.
When the end of the year arrives, the challenge will be to plan and determine my long term involvement in the Drupal community and the Webform module's future.
Contemplating a three-year plan gets a little murkier for me, yet potentially more absolute where Drupal is concerned - it comes down to this: - to Drupal or not to Drupal.
There are two paths in front of me: either I continue to work for my organization, adopt the new platform, or leave my organization and find a new opportunity in the Drupal ecosystem.
The organization that I work for is one of the best employers in New York City. It makes sense to stay with this organization, help grow its new platform, and look for new opportunities within the organization. Staying with the organization that I have worked for the past twenty years is the safest path.
There are not too many organizations that can provide a lifelong stable career path in the current
work world. At the same time, as a technology, Drupal can be a lifelong career path.
I can't see Drupal as a "hobby" when my day-to-day job is not using Drupal. After five years of contributing daily to Open Source, I have contributed enough of my free time and would love to contribute more. Unfortunately, my situation's practicality and reality are undergoing significant changes, and choices have to be made.
There are many opportunities in the Drupal community for Subject Matter Experts (SME) to contribute and evangelize Drupal. My contributions via the Webform module is my calling card, and it’s reinforced by presenting at conferences, recording videos, and writing blog posts. My pitch to potential employers could be a combination of my past contributions and how I view myself contributing in the future. I’ve already given a lot of thought to what the next version of Drupal's Form API and Webform module looks like. Is it headless? Does it use React? Is it voice friendly?
The fact that I have the wherewithal to work on the same website for 20 years is evidence that I enjoy the process of watching something grow and change. If I stay in the Drupal community, I could easily maintain the Webform module for a very long time. If I chose to leave the Drupal community, I would need to hand off what I built gradually. The Drupal community can work to resolve Webform problems like Drush upgrades and removing deprecated code.
I rarely talk about the Webform module's Open Collective because I don't see the funds helping sustain my contribution, but they could help sustain certain aspects of the Webform module. I am very grateful for the support, and some of the funds have helped the Drupal community. I smile every time someone makes a contribution to the Webform module's Open Collective because it means they appreciate and value my work.
With that said, Open Collective funds could be used to pay for travel and time to present at conferences. Funds could compensate other people helping to maintain the Webform module. A junior developer could be reasonably compensated for wrangling the Webform issue queue while building their Drupal career.
Five years from now, it’s hard to imagine how websites, their supporting technology, and communities will look like in the Drupal community or outside the Drupal community.
When I start to think about my career in five years, I can't help but recognize that I will be 51 years old. As in every industry, ageism exists in tech. It’s cheaper to find younger developers who can be paid less and are willing to work more hours. And with this acceptance that ageism in the work world begins at 50, I also accept that my age influences all aspects of my life, and seeking out some stability in one's career has to happen.
As we age, of course, we gain experience, which is a valuable commodity. However, that experience is only useful if one shares it through leadership and mentorship. I find mentoring to be the most rewarding way to lead and give back. It also manages to have the extra benefit of keeping me on my toes and often teaching me something new.
The organization I’m working for heavily invests in technology, and there are always opportunities to grow. Simultaneously, an organizations’ opportunities may be driven by management, which means change and movement in different directions. This discussion, to Drupal or not to Drupal, is happening because my organization has chosen to use another CMS
With Drupal, the drop is always moving.
Drupal's supporting organizations are moving Drupal from a CMS toward a headless Digital Experience Platform. We will no longer be building web pages. Instead, we are going to provide digital experiences. In five years, voice application won't be an awkward stepchild of Drupal. The JAMstack could become the preferred approach and part of Drupal's frontend. Even the definition of supporting organizations within the Drupal community is going to change. Hopefully, there will be more supporting organizations helping to sustain the community and the software.
If I chose to remain committed and part of the Drupal community, similar to staying with my current organization, it will become essential for me to continue contributing code while using my experience to help guide the project.
With the industry's shift to headless CMS architectures and modern front-end frameworks, like React, how forms are built in Drupal and other applications will need to be wholly re-envisioned. The Webform module will most likely need to be rebuilt. Rebuilding the Webform module is not something I can do in my free time. Multiple organizations and contributors are going to have to collaborate to build the next generation of Form API. The Webform module is going to have to be a shared effort and possibly an initiative.
One of my Webform daydreams is figuring how to architect a form builder to support web pages, voice applications, and wearable devices. Conceptually we would need to figure out how to define a form's inputs and questions to understand the context a user is completing the information. For example, a simple "Your first name" text field on a webpage’s webform needs to be converted to "What is your first name?" via a voice application. If the input is already completed and the voice application would now ask, "I have Jacob Rockowitz as your first and last name, is this correct?"
It is exciting to think about how data collection will evolve on the web and how Drupal, as it always does, will adapt to this challenge.
It is hard to give up a stable, reliable job where I have worked 20 years to help build, maintain, and evolve the organization's digital presence and experience. It is equally challenging to let go of the work and sweat equity I put into the Webform module and my relationship with the Drupal community.
Both my organization and Drupal offer tremendous opportunities with lots of possibilities; the challenge is that they are pulling me in different directions. I’m grateful for this time and opportunity to think about the options and discuss them with the Drupal community.