'I Love to Spread the Word About Drupal' | Interview with Martin Anderson-Clutz | EvolveDrupal Montreal

Martin Anderson-Clutz

 The Drop Times (TDT) conducted an in-depth interview with Martin Anderson-Clutz. Martin is a Senior Solutions Engineer at Acquia, with a very long career in Drupal. 

Martin is a speaker at EvolveDrupal, Montreal. In his answers, Martin addresses the challenges and prospects of Drupal. Starting with the Drupal scenario when he started his career, Martin goes on to explaining the changes that happened through the years. The interview also touches upon the importance of Drupal 10. Martin is a Drupal evangelist who really loves to spread the word about Drupal. 

The future of Drupal is not dependent on the fortunes of a single organization, so if you do need to rebuild your site, an open source choice like Drupal is a much safer bet than proprietary vendors, who could decide to shift attention (and resources) away from their CMS products.

Read the full conversation with Thomas Alias K, sub editor, TDT below. 

TDT [1] It is a fact that you are one of the most prominent figures in the world of Drupal. Also, the record of holding the first triple Drupal Grand Master is with you. In this background could you talk a bit about your introduction to Drupal? What circumstances led you towards Drupal?

Before Drupal, I was using a custom CMS built around a PHP framework that would later become CodeIgniter. A customer wanted a website built to handle content in five languages, with versioning. I decided to find an existing solution instead of trying to build those capabilities myself. My search for the best multilingual CMS brought me to Drupal, and I think its multilingual features continue to set Drupal apart to this day.

TDT [2] Drupal is known for its steep learning curve and the comparative difficulty to master. But you found it easy to work with. How did this happen?  What features of Drupal made you feel that it is powerful and  aligns with your ideas?

The basic site building features of Drupal were much easier than anything I had used before. I haven’t tried out a ton of other CMS options, but I haven’t found anything that to me is fundamentally easier. My wife had a Squarespace website for a time but found it very frustrating because everything was so freeform, it was hard to make things consistent.

I believe the perceived complexity with Drupal comes with trying to implement deeper customizations. For a long time that meant learning a long list of hooks, which aren’t a common pattern in other CMS and framework options. Fortunately we’re moving away from that, but finding the right classes and methods can still be tricky.

Sometimes I’m amazed by what you can accomplish with just a couple of lines of code in Drupal. Unfortunately, it might take you days to figure out how to write those lines.

I believe that what helped me “click” with Drupal was the community. The size and engagement of our community has long been the envy of the open source world. I can go into the Drupal Slack channels and ask questions about search or webforms, and often the maintainers of the most popular modules will chime in to help me out. I try to pay that forward by being responsive when anyone needs help with a module I maintain, or more generally a topic I know something about.

I see that there’s already been some work on creating an AI model trained to work with Drupal code specifically. I think that could be a game-changer for Drupal development, in helping answer both simple and complex questions about how to accomplish various tasks in Drupal, and even provide example code to get started. It’s an exciting development, but I believe our motto “Come for the code, stay for the community” will always be true.

TDT [3] You have had a long career with Drupal, how do you assess the growth of Drupal in these years? Both as a developer and a user.

Speaking generally about the growth of Drupal, my impression is that Drupal may not be in use by as many sites as during its peak, but its adoption by large organizations, some which have a global audience, mean that the reach of Drupal has never been wider.

When I started using Drupal, many of the modules provided solutions: a job board, a staff directory, and so on. Over time the emphasis shifted towards tools: CCK, Views, CTools, and so on. These powerful tools have made Drupal incredibly adaptable, and easily able to accommodate very unique requirements.

We have seen a dropoff in the use of Drupal for smaller projects, and in particular for organisations with smaller budgets. I’m hoping that our renewed emphasis on the site builder will help make Drupal a better fit for some of these organisations, because those kinds of projects also help to bring more people into our community.

I have worked on an approach called Configuration Kits, I know Jacob Rockowitz is working on Schema.org Blueprints, and now the Drupal community has a strategic initiative for Recipes. I believe the common thread for all of these is the desire to move back towards providing modular solutions that help a site builder quickly build out the common parts of their site requirements. Combined with the work underway on the Project Browser, that would allow even someone new to Drupal to quickly build out a feature-rich website with minimal effort.

The development tools for Drupal have never been better. There are cloud-hosted IDEs and local, containerized tools like Lando and DDEV. Code linters and automated deprecating scanners make our lives easier, and more critically make it simple to keep modules ready for the next major version of Drupal. Composer and drush make command-line management of Drupal sites more powerful than ever. And some of my colleagues at Acquia are doing some exciting things with Code Studio, to provide a turn-key solution for automated testing and automatic updates on Drupal sites.

TDT [4] What does it mean to be part of Acquia? As a Senior Solutions Engineer there, what generally are the most important tasks that come over to your desk?

In the first job where I really embraced Drupal, I had a small team, so if I got stuck on a Drupal issue I sometimes had to keep chipping away at it on my own, if I couldn’t find a solution among the community resources. Later, I joined Digital Echidna, which had an amazing team of Drupal aficionados. I could frequently find someone who had previously encountered and solved my issue, which dramatically reduced the frustration of troubleshooting numerous Drupal quirks. Acquia is an order of magnitude larger than Echidna was, and includes a number of extremely prolific Drupal contributors. I feel privileged to draw on the expertise of some of the brightest minds in our community, though if I’m honest a significant number of these same luminaries often are active in the Drupal slack channels answering similar questions.

As a Senior Solutions Engineer, one of the best parts of my job is showing teams evaluating different CMS and DXP options what is awesome about Drupal. I like to think of myself as a Drupal evangelist, promoting the amazing capabilities of Drupal and hopefully bringing in more future contributors.

Sometimes these prospects want to see unusual features. Researching how to demonstrate these requirements has led me to dive deep into Drupal’s sprawling ecosystem of contributed modules. That, in turn, has helped me shed light on some lesser-used gems in my role as Module of the Week correspondent on the Talking Drupal webcast, which has itself been an amazing experience.

Sometimes the unusual requirements don’t actually have an existing solution, but aren’t particularly onerous to create a new module to address. I’ve gotten better about recognizing when these modules could be reusable, and a number of the modules I’ve released in the past couple of years really came from work I had done to demonstrate Drupal’s flexibility.

TDT [5] Has the arrival of Drupal 10 changed the game in favor of Drupal? Do you see a visible excitement about the CMS’ newest version in the tech circles?

There’s a lot to be excited about in Drupal 10. Dropping support for Internet Explorer is really a major improvement because it allows Drupal’s front end to take advantage of a whole new set of more modern capabilities. We got a taste of that in the 10.0 release with the responsive grid, and the ability to change the main colour scheme for Olivero using a CSS variable. We’re going to see even more improvements when 10.1 lands.

Another major step forward is the move to CKEditor 5. Similar to the move from Drupal 7 to 8, CKEditor 5 represents a complete rewrite under the hood. In the Drupal 10.0 release we see a cleaner look, and the rewritten media integration is beautiful too. But moving forward I believe that this new version of CKEditor will provide exciting new capabilities. Already Drupal 10.1 will include Autoformat, which allows content creators to use Markdown-style commands for formatting content. Also, the CKEditor 5 Premium Features module allows sites to add sophisticated collaboration features, similar to what teams have been using in Office365 or Google Docs. These are just a taste of the innovations we’ll see for the upgraded WYSIWYG.

It was a huge loss recently when Red Hat decided to effectively shutter OpenSource.com. Obviously the biggest loss was to the talented people who worked on that site, but it’s also a big loss for Drupal, because that site was a terrific platform for Drupal voices to engage with the larger open source community. I love to help spread the word about Drupal, and that’s actually one of my favorite things about working at Acquia.

TDT [6] Why is migration to Drupal 10 still a challenging prospect? What do you have to say to those still lagging behind and especially to the people who use Drupal 7, which is not a small number?

Drupal 7 is still the most used major version of Drupal, according to drupal.org. Because of the deep, foundational changes that were part of the move to Drupal 8, for most sites the move to a modern version of Drupal is effectively a rebuild. With the economic uncertainty right now, particularly in the tech sector, many companies are putting a lot of scrutiny on spending, so a site rebuild, particularly for a complex site, is tougher to get approved.

That said, open source has never been a better choice. The future of Drupal is not dependent on the fortunes of a single organization, so if you do need to rebuild your site, an open source choice like Drupal is a much safer bet than proprietary vendors, who could decide to shift attention (and resources) away from their CMS products.

There’s never been a better time to upgrade your Drupal 7 site. There’s a robust set of tools to help with the migration, and every day the pool of existing code to help make that migration easier gets bigger. There is a module that can help to automate the migration of views, though I haven’t personally had a chance to try it out. There’s also a module to automate module upgrades from Drupal 7, though it could use some more community support. But the most exciting part of moving to Drupal 10 is how much business logic can now be implemented without writing custom code.

The ECA module and the growing ecosystem around it allow a site builder to use visual tools (like BPMN.io) to define the business logic, and turn them into functional parts of their application.

TDT [7] You began your Drupal community activities by attending meetings of Drupal User Groups in Toronto and Waterloo, Ontario. How effective were the community activities at that time? How do you compare them with Drupal community activities of today? Has it come a long way in Canada and overall?

The lockdowns during COVID were a definite challenge of a lot of the local Drupal groups. I saw it as an opportunity, because it allowed me to participate in conversations with people in far-flung parts of the world. But a key component of Drupal’s community has always been those local bonds, and many groups struggled to find their unique relevance with so many online conversations underway. And Zoom fatigue was real.

In Canada specifically, I would say things are mostly back to normal, but not yet entirely. Some of the local groups are back organising in-person meetups, but others I suspect are still trying to find the right balance between safety and community engagement.

TDT [8] You are attending EvolveDrupal, Montreal as a speaker. It is also the first in-person Drupal meetup in Quebec since 2019.  How do you look forward to it?

Montreal is where I grew up, so I’m really excited to be heading back. I’m always excited to share ideas with other voices in the Drupal community, and the agenda for EvolveDrupal has some compelling sessions I’m looking forward to.

TDT [9] At the event you will be discussing ‘The Future of Drupal 10.’ What will be the major takeaways from the session? What are the major issues that you will address during the speech?

I hope my own excitement for Drupal 10 and the broader changes it heralds will be infectious, and attendees will leave inspired to start their next site with Drupal 10, and to get their older, Drupal 7 sites upgraded. I’ll give a quick recap of the changes we got in Drupal 10.0, the new features that are coming in 10.1, and the initiatives that will make Drupal even more compelling in future versions. We’ll also get hands-on with some contrib modules that provide exciting new capabilities, some of which are intended for eventual inclusion in Drupal core.

Disclaimer: The information provided about the interviewee has been gathered from publicly available resources. The responsibility for the responses shared in the interview solely rests with the featured individual.

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