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Interview with a Drupal expert

Martin Anderson-Clutz, Senior Consultant, Solutions Architect at Digital Echidna


Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became involved in the world of Drupal?

A long time ago I was working at an agency where we had an opportunity to build a site for a company that did automotive casting. They needed a site that could manage content in five languages (including Chinese and Japanese) as well as manage revisions. Up until then, I had been working with a custom-built framework that had a lot of code in common with CodeIgniter. I decided I didn’t want to make my custom framework support all that, and went looking for a CMS that could handle it. Its strength in managing multiple languages is what brought me to Drupal, and I think it’s still a strength of Drupal today.

You’ve achieved an incredible 25 years in the web-world and you have a plethora of experience from creative roles to front and back end roles to name only three. What does working with the web mean to you?

I think 25 years is probably a little on the generous side! I really started as a designer and kept getting deeper on the technical side because there were things I wanted to accomplish on sites and didn’t know where to find help with technical challenges. You could say I developed a lot of skills by learning to scratch my own itch.

I really enjoy working on web applications because the field is always evolving, so you’re always learning. I also really enjoy the feeling of being able to breathe life into a new solution, solve a challenge in a new way.

Web applications are great to play around with too, because you can build things and share them with the world, at little to no cost. I’m currently working on setting up a Raspberry Pi as a personal web server, so I can really play around with the technology stack. It’s an idea I got from Sascha Eggenberger.

Why Drupal? How did you end up here?

Something really clicked for me with Drupal. Once I got my head around it, it made sense and I was really impressed at the robust functionality you could build into a site with very little effort. And of course, the Drupal community is amazing. There are so many great people and so many different ways to collaborate with talented people around the world.

How have you remained innovative in your role?

It’s important to nurture your curiosity and pursue things that interest you. For a while, I was really interested in mapping functionality. Then, I was obsessed with performance, making Drupal sites run as fast as possible.

Occasionally I’ll go down a rabbit around search and how we can make Solr give the best results possible. The last year and a half I’ve been pretty obsessed with dates and making Drupal’s management of them as easy as possible.

Taking on new areas of interest from time to time gives you a fresh perspective and helps you to engage in new conversations.

Also, it’s super important to take time to pursue interests outside of Drupal. Fostering your creativity, in general, will help you see your Drupal or career-based hurdles from a new angle.

What do you think is the biggest fear companies have about adopting an open source platform?

I’d say it used to be security, but I think more and more it’s about support. It used to be that in a lot of the companies we talked to, IT departments wanted to tightly control the infrastructure behind the corporate website. I don’t see that nearly as often anymore, I would say that now they want to have “one throat to choke” when there’s a problem.

What advice would you give?

Honestly, I think the general acceptance of Open Source has changed a lot in recent years. Big corporations like Microsoft have embraced Open Source, so it’s more about making sure the support structures are in place. The great thing about working at a robust agency like Digital Echidna is having a dedicated support team.

Typically we’re working with a Drupal-optimized platform like Acquia or Pantheon that offer their own 24/7 support and though they officially can only support the infrastructure, they can sometimes help to troubleshoot application issues too.

What changes would you like to see in Drupal over the next few versions?

I’d like to see Drupal’s interface for managing dates and times work a lot more like popular calendar applications. It’s why I made Smart Date, but there have been others in the community with some similar ideas, somewhat different and with their own merits. I’d like to see something in core that moves us in the right direction.

As a community, I too often see issues that have been languishing for several years, important improvements, in some cases things that we lost in the transition from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8. Personally, I’d say that sometimes the community seems too obsessed with getting it perfect when we could easily make it better, and then open a new issue that would move us closer to perfect.

You’ve given talks and lectures at some of the biggest Drupal events to date, what are your highlights?

For me what makes a great talk isn’t the size of the audience, it’s their engagement. I love great discussion. I’ve had great talks with lively discussion at a variety of Drupal User Groups locally in Toronto, Waterloo, and London, Ontario. This year, all the Drupal camps being virtual has made it possible for me to attend a lot of events it would be challenging for me to get to, in a normal year. The recent talk at BADCAMP was another engaged audience, with lots of good questions.

What do you like most about the Drupal community?

I’d say how supportive it is. If I have a challenge with the Webform module I can often get a question answered by jrockowitz, for example in the #webform channel of the Drupal slack.

If I have a question about accessibility, there are amazing and knowledgeable people in the #accessibility channel. Similarly, the maintainers of Search API and Search API Solr are often in the #search channel.

You’ve got a lot of experience leading teams and projects in very senior positions; What’s your leadership style like? Has it changed over the years?

My leadership style has probably always been collaborative. Over the years I’ve learned to get a better read on how different people like to get tasks defined for them: Some need them very tightly defined, while others like to have some autonomy in how they’ll approach it.

Finally, are there any stories or anecdotes you like to tell when talking about your job or experience?

On my very first Drupal project (the aforementioned automotive casting company) I had to hack Drupal core to get the menu translation to work. Sad kitten. Fortunately, Drupal has come a long way since then.

Thank you to Martin for his time!

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Marketing Manager for web design, development and hosting agency, @CodeEnigma. Hold my drink, I’ll be right back…

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