Drupal Brought In Another Level of Curiosity | Interview with Margery Tongway| DS 23

16 May, 2023

As DrupalSouth Wellington 2023 nears soon, TDT has another interview! Margery Tongway is a Senior Consultant at annex. She is a DrupalACT meetup co-organiser and a DrupalSouth committee member and organiser as well. 

Alethia Rose Braganza, a Sub-Editor at TDT, prepared a questionnaire for Margery to learn more about her journey with Drupal. Keeping DrupalSouth in mind, TDT also got to ask a few questions about the 2023 event in Wellington along with what it means for her to be a Senior Consultant at annex and more

I started working in 1999 on an IT help desk. Fast forward to November 2012 when Drupal was introduced to work, and for months I stayed up at night figuring out what I could do with Drupal.  In my earlier Drupal days I was encouraged to do a talk on stage.

 Says Margery in her recent interview with TDT. She goes on to talk about how she found herself in the tech world. From attending her first Drupal conference in February 2013 to now being an organinser read the completed interview with Margery Below!

TDT [1]: Can you tell us a little about your journey with Drupal?

Margery Tongway : I started working in 1999 on an IT help desk, but had no interest in touching websites until about 2005, mostly by accident when a job agency I was registered with suggested I could be a website support officer. I thought I’d give it a crack, even though I had no idea what to do. I was mainly doing content updates, and occasionally some CSS. This was before WYSIWYG in content editors were available, so a bit different to someone who may find themselves in the same position these days. It was quite foreign to me, but within 6 months I became *the* example of how to do HTML markup correctly!

I went on maternity leave in May 2011, and my manager at the time suggested I would be a good web developer. That probably planted that seed for me. I also had some friends on IRC who had suggested Drupal.
When I returned to work in April 2012 (I was in the public service at the time), my position had been moved around and I’d ended up in a project management team of sorts, so I quickly made an internal transfer to the web publishing team. Keeping in mind, I’d returned to a different department after the government had changed, so everyone was new to me. Within a couple of months, this new team was talking about introducing Drupal to the department, and I suspect I was just standing in the right place at the right time and said I’d be interested in giving it a go. 

Fast forward to November 2012 when Drupal was introduced to work, and for months I stayed up at night figuring out what I could do with Drupal. Although I’m dedicated to my work no matter what, this was another level of curiosity most roles hadn’t given me before. We were hosting around 20 small sites (typically under 50 pages) using Aegir, before transitioning to GovCMS in 2017.

I attended my first Drupal conference in February 2013: DrupalCon Sydney. By 2014 I was attending the local DrupalACT meetups, and volunteering for the DrupalGov conference. Since then I have volunteered for almost all of the DrupalSouth and DrupalGov events I’m able to travel to. 
I became a co-organiser of the DrupalACT meetups in September 2022, and part of the Drupalsouth Committee in November 2022.

Margery Tongway at GovCMS megameetup 2019

In September 2019 I gave my first talk on stage, in front of 350 people at a GovCMS megameetup, then to a smaller crowd at my first DrupalSouth talk in Hobart, November 2019.

I’m now preparing for my second DrupalSouth talk at Wellington May 2023. In my earlier Drupal days I was encouraged to do a talk on stage. I remember being asked to participate even when I was new to the scene. It took many years to get the audacity to be on stage, but I’ve never felt that I’m not good enough to show something I think people might find interesting. I’ve found the community overall warm and welcoming to me. What a time to be alive!

TDT [2]: What does it mean to be a Senior Consultant at annex? What prompted you to seek a career as a tech lead in consulting, and how did you get started?

Margery : It means that I take responsibility for the development work being done on a project. I make sure other developers are able to do their job, and include them as much as possible (if they want to be) in decision making so they can skill up and lead one day themselves.

“A tech lead” wasn’t something I set as a career goal (at Annex or otherwise). I found myself in the position about 5 years ago when the existing tech lead wasn’t quite living up to others expectations. I’m a bit of a reluctant leader, but feel more comfortable leading by default now.
I enjoy building rapport with the client, finding common interests which in turn leads to a better journey for all. It makes it easier when the trust is there. 

TDT [3]: What are some frequent mistakes organisations make when deploying Google Analytics on Drupal websites, and how can such errors be prevented, in your opinion?

Margery : To be clear, I’m more of an enthusiast than an expert when it comes to analytics!
I guess the first thing is that it’s often not a priority. 

As long as the analytics code is in, and data is trickling through, this is where it ends. Down the track someone will want to get more out of their analytics data, and adjustments may need to be done. This is changing with GA4, with more information available.  Assuming you can wrap your head around the changes.

The case I’ve found with Google Tag Manager - we’re basing events off CSS classes or IDs that can change, but I know it could be set up better from the start with different data attributes being included at early stages of development. I suspect analytics is  more of a priority on a commerce site - but I've predominantly been involved with non-transactional government websites so I can’t speak for that type. 
It’s an area I’d like to investigate more if the opportunity arose. 

TDT [4]: What are some of the critical talents and traits you feel are required for success as a consultant, and how have you honed those abilities through time?

Margery :  I’m not sure if there’s a  specified set of traits that work best, but I think being dedicated, responsive, and showing that you’re capable of the job is important. I feel that being authentic, for me personally, works best. My dogs always make a (mostly snoozy) appearance in the background of meetings.

I don’t have a very good poker face, and certainly don’t have a different work persona to my normal everyday self. This may not work for others. If I have missed the objective, I apologise, offer to explain what went wrong, but most importantly show a better solution that will work. And don’t stop until it’s done. I’m not sure if that’s typical of others, but that’s how I conduct myself at work.

TDT [5]: What advice would you give to other women who are just starting their careers in tech?

Margery : My advice to younger people starting out is to find yourself a mentor. It could be someone within your family who you see as successful, or someone more experienced within your workplace who you can openly talk to. I didn’t do this until around 10 years ago. It wasn’t an official set up, it’s just how I look back upon it now. These two people always had my back, and believed I could do things. There were definitely others collectively, but two in particular stand out.

In return? Well, I chat to both of them online frequently about whatever subject. One of them - I feed their cat when they go away for family holidays, and the other - we say we’ll catch up for a drink soon and it never happens! The point is that people you may initially see as work colleagues can turn your (work) life around, and also become lifelong friends. Win win.

Secondly I’d recommend going to different tech meetups. That’s where a lot of opportunities can come up, and professional networks are made. If you don’t want to go alone, take a friend. Most meetups I’ve been to don’t require you to be an expert on the subject - we’re all there to learn from each other. The other bonus these days is that you can join a lot of them online and watch silently if you’re anxious about going somewhere new.

TDT [6]: What inspired you to become a co-organizer of DrupalAct, and what are your primary responsibilities in this role?

Margery : I actually wanted to organise a meetup in Canberra prior to September 2022 but was always told someone else was going to do it. That never happened. 
Mike from Ironstar sent me a message asking if we could do it together. Since then we’ve run a number of successful meetups in Canberra, often changing the venue to get different people along each time, along with the regulars who turn up no matter what.

DrupalAct Meetup April 2023

People who are able to supply a venue are coming forward offering, rather than us asking, and speakers are also asking when there’s a free spot for them to talk too. To me this feels like it's successful.
My main tasks would be choosing a date, and we’d jointly follow up with the host venue and speakers to make sure it's still on track. I promote the meetup in Drupal and GovCMS slack groups, as well as LinkedIn.

While Mike purchases the drinks, I keep them ready to go in my fridge and cart them in each event.
On the night I set up my laptop to record talks, and let people connect via a google meet link. We’re currently trialling different ways of recording for the best experience post meetup (on youtube) for others to watch the talks later.

TDT [7]: What motivated you to be a part of the DrupalSouth organising committee this year, and what do you expect to accomplish?

Margery :  The position I went for was a permanent two year term on the Drupalsouth committee.
Previously I’ve volunteered on the day, as I enjoyed helping out a community that I felt a part of.

Margery as a DrupalSouth Volunteer in 2018

Putting myself forward to be on the committee was prompted by Mike from Ironstar, (again!). We had to self nominate and I figured I had nothing to lose. I honestly didn’t think anyone would vote for me given I don’t feel I’m that well known.
To my surprise I had the most first preference votes overall!
I was quite brief in my description and goals, which was simply along the lines of “keep Drupal going in Australia and NZ”. So my main goal is to make sure the events keep running.  I don’t have any grand plans except to listen to feedback and go from there.

TDT [8]: How do you select speakers and topics for DrupalSouth, and what criteria do you use to determine which proposals to accept?

Margery : Last year for DrupalSouth 2022 in Brisbane I was a track chair. The DS committee doesn't choose the talks, but may be asked to sort out any conflict of interests when selecting.

This is a voluntary position, similar to helping out on the day, but longer term.

While there didn’t seem to be a specific rule for selecting speakers, my decision tree looked like:

  • Is it Drupal related? 

-Yes? Next round. 
-No?  Then probably not.

  • Is this the first time this person has put themselves out there to talk at this level?

-Yes? Then a big YES from me. Personally I’d find it disheartening if  I wasn’t chosen, or excluded from the outset.
-No? No worries, that’s also fine, but lower priority.

  • Have they done this exact talk elsewhere before?

-Yes? Then lower priority again.
-No? Excellent!

After that, if I still had too many people for the allocated positions I would reduce it further by removing my second choice of “speaker from company abc”so that everyone gets to  be represented.
There are always going to be crowd favourites to include, but I think including new people into the mix will be how I do my prioritisation. 
And of course I feel bad I can’t include everyone who wants to talk. I am happy to offer an explanation if needed.

TDT [9]: What are the most challenging issues while organising an event like DrupalSouth, and how do you overcome them?

Margery : Probably the dates initially. There’s a general cycle of doing it in Australia and NZ, but then the dates can’t be in school holidays, or clash with existing events like DrupalCons in the US or EU. 
I think the current committee members are flexible and happy for the democracy style voting for deciding things. 

TDT [10]: What key steps does DrupalSouth take to ensure that the event is inclusive and welcoming to all members of the Drupal community?

Margery : We have a code of conduct we adhere to. There’s two code of conduct officers who are open to feedback if you feel something in the code has been broken. 
I feel that we’re inclusive in the Drupalsouth community, being open and welcoming to anyone interested. 
Worldwide there have been some incidents along the way, but not in the AU/NZ region that I’m aware of.



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