The Personal Life of Dries Buytaert: “Family Has Always Been Very Influential to Me”

Inc. Magazine

A certain amount of vulnerability is involved in reminiscing about one’s family, and Buytaert is no exception. In a fireside chat hosted by the Drupal India Association, Dries Buytaert did a Knausgård, although positively. Here is an excerpt for those who want to know about the lighter side of Buytaert—his Min Kamp (My Struggle)!   

Dries Buytaert is the Founder and Project Lead of Drupal and co-founder of Acquia. In conversation with hosts Rahul Dewan and Shyamala Rajaram, he opens up about living and growing up in a close-knit family and how they encouraged him to pursue his interest in computer science. He shares how he has balanced his work and family time and followed his hobbies. 

Dries love photography, tennis, travel, meeting people and learning culture. In school, a student is expected to do all their homework by themself. It is not physically possible to do everything by yourself in the workplace. So to unlearn the years of schooling and prioritise ruthlessly is the key to managing a large community project. 

“Doing the most essential five tasks and dropping the other 100 does not make me uncomfortable,”

says Buytaert.

“Dropping the things I need to, no more bothers me. It was learning. One should go through some pain to come out as harder. It would help if you fell from a skateboard a few times until you no longer fall.”

Born in Belgium, Dries grew up with his family that stayed within 30 kilometres’ reach. When he moved to the USA, they were in a massive shock as he moved away from the rest of his family. He was always close to them, which influenced who he is today. He has always been the technical support person for his family’s smartphones, tablets, and computers.

Both of his grandfathers had a significant influence on him. One of his grandfathers was a writer and publisher; he passed away before Dries was born, but the interest in reading and writing comes from him. His other grandfather was a scientist who loved to invent and build things, and he picked up on that.

His father bought him a computer when he was six years old. At college, he got attracted to the web and computer science. Father encouraged him to join computer science. Dries’ father was a medical doctor and very entrepreneurial. So he always wanted to start his own business. 

His mom was very influential for him, just like most moms are in everyone’s life. His interpersonal behaviour comes from his mom, who is very caring, sweet, and kind, and he believes he has a lot of her in him as well.

Parents are proud of him and his work, but they didn’t understand the scale of his growth professionally until recently when they attended DrupalCon in Amsterdam for the first time in 20 years. That’s when they finally understood Drupal, the community, and its reach.

Dries has two boys, one is 14, and the other is 12 years old. The eldest one plays tennis, loves learning and studying, and is good at school. The younger one has so much energy, is rebellious, and loves basketball. Dries plays with both of them, especially since tennis is his favourite game and he has played it for about 30 years. He also enjoys playing basketball. He played it as a kid though he doesn’t believe he is good at it.

Talking about his kids’ interest in computers and technology in general, Dries said he doesn’t push them to get into computers; he is very strict and gives them very minimal device time. The oldest one follows with stemIT, an extra science class at school with HTML, but he received only 6 out of 10. 

They are interested, and maybe they would like to get into Drupal one day. But he doesn’t push them for it. He wants them to discover what they like for themselves. He would be happy with them doing anything they like.

As Dries travels a lot for his work, he tries to communicate with his kids through messages. Thanks to technology, staying in touch with them is more manageable. Talking about space and planets with his eldest son is fascinating. He believes they are reaching an age where you can learn a lot from them and have engaging conversations, and it’s interesting when they get better at things than him. For instance, his kids know more about Star Wars - the names and relations between each character, which he finds hard to keep up.

Like he loves tennis, he loves photography, travelling, reading, and writing. He prefers going around with a camera to take pics. It helps him appreciate the details and exciting details to slow down in life.

“I do not meditate the classical way. But writing, photography, looking through a camera and taking pictures, appreciating the details I see through the camera lens is meditation to me. It unfolds me.”

During the chat, he also talked about his routine and how he has a set time for the family where he doesn’t schedule anything despite having to work 10 hrs a day with around 15 different meetings with different teams from Drupal and Acquia. During this time, he spends time with his family helping kids with homework. And on weekends, he tries to disconnect from work. He is comfortable not looking at his phone for a few hours and just taking a break from work.

“My days are 10 hours of work, 15 different meetings with different teams, programs, email, making presentations. After 8.30 pm, I refuse to get on the phone. I spend time with my family sharing a meal together. I disconnect from work on weekends, not looking on a cell phone for 4-5 hours on Saturday.”

He also shared an anecdote about being close to burnout once. He said that humans have to go through pain to learn a lesson. One of his lessons is prioritising the work and accepting that you can’t do everything. He has gone from a student to someone running the largest open-source project and a big company like Acquia. 

...And the challenge is in school, you have to do all your homework, and if you don’t do it, you are in trouble. But once you are working, it’s not strictly possible to do it all, and you have to unlearn what you learned in school and prioritise what you want to do. It’s uncomfortable to some in the beginning, but it’s essential. I do not feel anxiety about prioritising my work.

He added that it’s true you need to hit bottom to come up. He is much more resistant to stress than he was earlier. It did not come automatically; you have to go through the pain to come out smarter. You have to fall off the skateboard a few times until you learn not to fall.

He said not everyone in the world has the privilege to have a family to support and encourage them. No one is ever self-made; we need a family to go ahead. He feels fortunate and privileged to have a family that has always cared for each other and helped.

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