Reflections and Coming Home Again (to Drupal)

By dustin, 23 January, 2023

I've been a Drupal developer for nearly the entirety of my professional web development career, spanning the last decade. Ironically though, since I first published my own personal website, I don't think I've run it on Drupal for any significant amount of time. 

The latest iteration of the site was running on Statamic, which I thoroughly enjoyed for quite some time. Statamic is such a simple system it seems compared to Drupal. Theming is for the most part just so much simpler. There isn't really a concept of "themes" with Statamic, there are just templates, variables, and whatever javascript you want. I wrote a whole blog post about it on Unrealist, and I was enjoying it quite a bit.

Unfortunately, over the past couple of months, I've run into some issues with updating Statamic where some things I had done in my templates began causing fatal errors. At first, it was some stuff around how I was printing read times into my blog cards, and then eventually I ran into an issue with rendering images in those same cards. I tried to Google for the answers, and I tried looking at the Statamic documentation, but I couldn't quite figure it out. In the past, when I've hit problems I couldn't quite solve through sheer google-fu and force, I turned to Statamic's awesome Discord server, and usually, someone knew what I was running into and gave me the clue to fix it.

Most of the things I was doing wrong here (which let's be honest, I am doing something wrong if it doesn't work right, since plenty of other people are doing it right and running the system), were something I probably picked up from other blog posts, old docs, googling, etc. These things (doing wicked cool and easy-seeming stuff completely in the templates) were what got me into Statamic, to begin with, but they were just starting to become difficult to maintain.

A couple of things over the past few months have converged to make me really re-evaluate what I've been doing here. As 2023 starts to gain steam, one of my biggest reflections on the last couple of years has been that I have been trying to do WAY too much. I have been raising three uniquely special needs kids, working full time, and helping my chronically ill wife deal with her ever-changing symptoms and demoralizing doctor visits. 

While trying to sustain all of that, I had the bright idea of trying to start a business with one of my friends, thinking I was going to be Adam Wathan or Justin Jackson, and create a super sweet SaaS application with all my l337 coding skills. I tried two such ideas, doing quite frankly AWESOME engineering work on both, but finishing neither.

As 2023 picks up steam, I am finding a renewed appreciation for Drupal, and I feel the desire to refocus a bit on it.

Part of this has to do with a fairly recent job change. In August of 2021, I came to Capellic to help them build Drupal-based projects for non-profits like Ohio Legal HelpOperation SmileNISE, and the ASPCA. I've also become deeply involved in the building of Conversion Engine, a fundraising platform for non-profits, built on Drupal of course.

As I said, I've been working with Drupal in some way since I started at Singlebrook in 2013. When I went to Pantheon in 2016, I started a period of "Drupal adjacent" work, that was more deeply focused on DevOps around Drupal rather than a focus on the practice of actually building Drupal sites.

My time at Pantheon provided a phenomenal opportunity to spend some time on purely speculative Drupal. I created example repositories, I gave a few different technical presentations, and I got involved with a few open-source projects, one sponsored by Pantheon itself, and one not. It was a great opportunity to reflect on the first 3 years I spent drinking from the firehose while working at Singlebrook.

Pantheon was a company filled with a nearly overwhelming number of great people, doing great work. I got to know folks like Greg Anderson, Michelle Krejci, Nathan Lee, Scott Massey, and Josh Koenig who were so kind and encouraging to me. I got to travel to places I never imagined like several very memorable trips to San Francisco, presenting at DrupalCon in Baltimore, and running training at Drupal Camp in Denver, CO. 

I reflect now on how unique that opportunity was, and how impactful it was for me. At the time, I was incredibly thirsty and ambitious for more. My official title at Pantheon was "Customer Success Engineer", which essentially equated to answering support tickets and chats for most of my day. All of my open-sourcing, speaking, and other adventures were what I did when I finished my assigned work for the day. I was doing lots of cool stuff, but I wanted more.

One of the downsides of working remotely at a super-hip San Francisco start-up with amazing people who dazzle and awe you, is developing some serious FOMO. I began to get quite jealous of two groups of folks, the people in engineering at Pantheon, who actually built the super cool software that runs the platform, and the folks who did Dev Rel, the ones whose jobs were essentially to do the stuff that I did in my spare time (make cool repos, make open source stuff, speak at conferences, etc). 

When my attempts to change roles to one of those departments failed, I made plans to leave and join my friends at Tandem, who were scrappily building Lando, which I had become involved in maintaining.

After spending several years working on Drupal, Laravel, VueJS, and WordPress projects at Tandem while simultaneously trying to advance the goals of Lando and support that ecosystem, I got a good dose of realism about what it's like to try to bootstrap an open source project while keeping the bills paid. I still spoke at conferences and traveled a bit, but the stress level of doing that kind of work is not trivial, and it didn't leave a lot of time to really push what I could do with Drupal.

As I mentioned above, during this time I also really tried to make a go at some side projects. Convinced that I'd never be able to make "big money" working with Drupal, I have worked hard over the past several years to develop significant skills working with Laravel, thinking it'd be my ticket to creating my own SaaS and therefore achieving some kind escape velocity financially. 

Yet again I woefully underestimated what it would take to make that kind of thing work, especially while trying to keep a full-time job and raise a family. For anyone reading from home, you can be a great developer and write awesome code, but unless you also have time in your day to legit build a business, it isn't really enough.

Anyhow, this post definitely took more of a turn into reflection on the past couple of years than I expected, but I think my move to come back to Drupal for this site, the push I've made in the last few months to write more, but less perfect posts really is the start of a new era, and this reflection on the last few years is a big part of that.

I am coming home to Drupal, a bit more 'back to my roots' and 'down to earth'. I might be ready to reign in my ambitions a bit and focus on smaller, more sustainable things. Without so much pressure on myself to make it as some mega-successful entrepreneur, hopefully, I can lower my stress levels and have some more fun.