This is an edited transcript. For the video, see 20 years of Drupal with Alex Ross.
Michael Meyers: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Tag1 Team Talks, the vlog and podcast of Tag1 Consulting .We're celebrating over 20 years of Drupal with an interview series, featuring community leaders talking about their Drupal experience. I'm really excited to have Alex Ross on the show today. Alex is the senior director of software engineering at NBC Universal, but you may also know him as bleen on drupal.org. Alex, welcome, and thank you so much for joining us.
Alex Ross: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Michael Meyers: To give everybody a little bit of background, Alex has been a member of the community for around 16 years and he's contributed in countless ways to Drupal and the Drupal platform and the Drupal community. Today we're gonna touch on what he likes about the platform, what he'd like to see change his role as a module maintainer.
His many projects include reCaptcha, Dart Advanced Image Crop, Akamai ESI just to name a few as well as how his contributions. We're also gonna talk about his role as the co-organizer of the New York City Drupal meetup. It's not only one of the best run and most well attended meetups I've been to. Um, and I've been to a ton of Drupal meetups around the world. Uh, it's also one of the most gorgeous meetup settings hosted by NBC U at the famous 30 Rock headquarters in a beautiful conference room, overlooking Rockefeller Center.
So if you're ever in New York City and they're running them, please go check 'em out. I'm Michael Meyers, the managing director of Tag1 Consulting. Tag1 is the number two all time contributor to Drupal. And we build large scale applications for Fortune 500s and large organizations in every sector with Drupal, as well as many other technologies.
Dries, the founder of Drupal once said it’s really the Drupal community and not so much the software that makes Drupal what it is. And so our goal with this interview series is to introduce you to community leaders, talk about their stories and in sharing these [00:02:00] stories, we hope that they will inspire you to get more involved in open source communities.
So, Alex, when did you first discover Drupal and do you recall your initial assessment or thinking at the time.
Alex Ross: Yeah, I, I actually remember it pretty well. Um, I was working at a nonprofit called Do Something and it was my first job really after I finished grad school. And I was trying, trying to figure out which way was up.
And we had an intern, a high school intern, Andrew Levine who to this day is one of the smartest people that I, I ever met. And I'm still waiting for my call so that I can go work for him one day. But he came in my office and we were trying to figure out how to put the new website together.
And he said have you heard about this Drupal thing? And I was like, I have no idea what you're talking about. And so I went over to his desk and he started kind of giving me the guided tour. And he was trying to explain to me what a node was versus a module. Um, and they, [00:03:00] at that moment, I actually remember that conversation really well.
I had a really hard time distinguishing the difference between a node and a module, because this was back in Drupal 5. When a node you know, to, to kind of define a new node type was basically create a new module. Um, and it, it was a very confusing time. Um, but I remember that really well. And, and I said, I don't know, this seems like overly complex.
All we need is a simple website. Um, and then two days later he walked into my office and said, okay, I made you a simple website. And that was kind of like, no, surely not. I mean, we had to have you know, a, a certain set of, of features and there's no way you could clearly have made everything that we need.
And he he walked me through it and it didn't have everything, but it had a lot. Um, and so we kind of started there and, and played with it for a while. And I finally figured out the difference between a node and a module. And the rest is history.
Michael Meyers: They issues entities and always,
Alex Ross: Oh yeah. Then [00:04:00] entities became a thing and it was great.
Michael Meyers: So you went from discovering Drupal. Um, how did you get engaged in contribution? Uh, and do you remember what your first contribution is?
Alex Ross: Mm-hmm so when I don't remember exactly what I was trying to do. Um, but I was, I was trying to do something and we were running into a wall and I was searching through all the, the various posts on drupal.org.
And I found an issue that had nothing to do with the problem that we were having. But I'm like, oh, I have that same issue. And, and that, it was actually like a defining moment for me. It suddenly occurred to me that I'm not the only person that's using this thing. There are, I hadn't been introduced to other open source projects.
I wasn't really into it. And, and it suddenly dawned on me. Oh, wait a minute. Some, some guy in, in Portland was having the same [00:05:00] problem that I was having. And if I start to read through and I was able, it was something else that I I wasn't trying to solve at that moment, but it was something else.
And by reading through that issue, I was able to really understand, oh, okay. So he tried this and this and this. Well, I tried this and this and this. And so I put a comment in there that was just like, oh, I tried this other thing. And that didn't work either. Anybody you know. And eventually someone else commented and someone else commented, which was amazing.
Um, it hadn't dawned on me that that could happen. Um, and then skip ahead a little bit of time before I actually was like, okay, I've looked at enough of these and I've read through enough of these now that I, I feel like I could take something. So I went, I, I actually went dumpster diving in the issue queue and just found something that I thought was simple enough that I could do without embarrassing myself.
Um, and it was, they were working on the, the shortcuts module at the time which I don't even think exists anymore, but it, it was there and it was great at the time and they were trying to get it into Drupal. I think they were trying to get it into Drupal [00:06:00] 6, but didn't manage to get it there and it ended up in Drupal seven.
Um but there was a like a, a. An issue with the little icon that showed up next to it being totally out of place in a certain circumstance. And I was like, I know how to fix that. Um, and I won't embarrass myself doing it and I did it and, and webchick committed it ultimately and made some comment about tar and feathering me, and I thought it was hilarious.
And, and then I just. I, I got like a, a an adrenaline high from that. So I said, oh, I'll do another one. And I did another one and I did another one. Then I suddenly like decided, wait a minute, I should probably do these for things that I actually like need to focus on and, and try to scratch my own itch.
Michael Meyers: I, I love the concept of dumpster diving in the issue queue. Yeah. um, and just to remind people, like we got involved in Drupal almost 20 years ago. Um, Open source it was there Linux was around, but like [00:07:00] almost everything I had done and built was in proprietary software.
And I had a very similar experience. It was like transformative, of course, nowadays it's GitHub it's sort of the norm. Um, but you know, it's, it's, it's interesting to, to see how long it took to get to this point. Um.
Alex Ross: I, I agree. I, I remember trying to convince once I, once I left this nonprofit that I was working for and I was working for kind of more larger corporations and what, and trying to convince them about open source and what the value of it was to even a big corporation.
Well, it was an uphill, it was an uphill discussion, cuz if, if, if you couldn't point them to the company that they had to write a check to so that they can yell at them when something didn't work, then they didn't want it. And that was a, that was a weird conversation with them is like, no, no, no, you don't have to write the check, but you have to make sure that everybody has the freedom to go in and like spend the time to fix the issues that you want fixed. Um, that was a very confusing thing to the corporate types that I was, I started to work for back in [00:08:00] the day.
Michael Meyers: Um, how did you end up with 'bleen' as your username?
Alex Ross: So there's a, there's a real story. When I was, I must have been 12 or something and AOL started to become a thing.
Um, and you had to pick your AOL username in order to IM people. Um, and I had very recently played a joke on a friend of mine based on a there's an old George Carlin routine, actually, where he's reading the, the fake news. And one of the fake news stories is scientists at Caltech have discovered a new number, the number is bleen they claim it comes between six and seven.
And I thought this was like the funniest thing I had ever heard. And I convinced a friend of mine in middle school that it was true. And like, just for like, like a couple of hours during the day. And I convinced her, it was real and she's sitting there like, well, but wait a minute. Then what comes after 16 and I'm like 'well, bleenteen'.
I'm just trying to like go with it. Um, and it happened that that was the week that I needed to pick my AOL IM name [00:09:00] and so there it was and it stuck and it's been bleen ever since. So that is the origin of bleen.
Michael Meyers: Is AIM around anymore?
Alex Ross: I don't think aim is around anymore, but yeah, that was, that was me.
I was bleen67 on aim. Oh, it was good times.
Michael Meyers: I love that you've kept that since 12, that's amazing.
Alex Ross: Yep. That's just been my online persona and, and it's, it's increased in meaning since then, like there was an episode of for you kids out there, there was a show called Married with Children, which was you know, kind of Al Bundy.
Um, and there was an episode of that where she discovered a new color, which was bleen, which is a mix between blue and green. And there was so, and then there was a, a Russian pop group that uh, started called bleen and they stole bleen.com before I could get ahold of it. So, oh, well, ah,
Michael Meyers: Gotta monitor that and grab it.
Um, so how did you go from. Making individual contributions to [00:10:00] becoming a module
Alex Ross: Yeah. Um, the, the first, I don't remember which one it was, but the first module I started maintaining, I, I started kind of co-maintaining a module that existed and was out there in the world. Um, but I know that I did it because I was very dogmatic when it came to, if I patch a module, I want that patch to be in the module so that I don't have to like care and feed for that patch any longer.
And so I posted my patch up to, I don't remember which one it was, but up to whatever the issue queue it was for that module, suggesting that it get that it'd get committed. And the, the person who was maintaining the module just wasn't responsive and, and whatnot. So I. Kind of kept stalking him and said if you let me put this patch in I'll co maintain the module.
And he's like, oh, thank God. And cuz he, he was done with this particular module.
Michael Meyers: Mm-hmm.
Alex Ross: Um, [00:11:00] and so I did and, and you know, so I, I, I got to commit my patch in and make sure I didn't have to, to worry about it anymore. Um, and then I, I, I liked the the activities that were kind of involved with evaluating other people's suggestions and patches and whatnot.
And so I got to play in that sandbox for a little while. Um, and then once you do that, then you get to be, actually, this was back when you had to like, get permission from someone to maintain a module like to start a module, you had to like, know someone. Um, and uh, I was at, I don't remember where I was, but one of, one of the, the folks that I had been working with you know, knew the right person and, and got me got me in so I could have maintainer permissions on drupal.org. Um, yeah, but that's how I got into it. And then once I started like kind of creating my own modules, that would actually be useful. I was like, all right.
Michael Meyers: I think one of the most amazing things to me about ju is, is, and [00:12:00] this is inextricably linked to the success of the software, but the size of the community has grown so much over time.
And we had to evolve from the had to know someone who knew someone to now there's all these like rules and regulations and formal processes and, and that's critical to, to scaling, um. But I think that not only did the community build great software, but they did a really great job of sort of fostering that growth.
Alex Ross: Mm-hmm.
Michael Meyers: You know, in context,
Alex Ross: I'll say I miss it. I miss the little bit more of the wild west that it started at, right. When we first got in there was, and I understand all the reasonings, why it has kind of evolved how it has, but I, there was a little bit of a sense of or there was a little bit more of a sense of I'm just gonna go in there and I'm gonna fix that.
And I, and, and so I did, whereas now it's, I'm gonna go in there and fix that. But I'm gonna talk to these three people first and I'm gonna come up with a plan and we're gonna like schedule it [00:13:00] in for something. And, and it's, it's just a little less you know, just, I don't even know the word, but it's, it's just, there's a little bit less of that ownership, even I would say on the part of just an individual who's just jumping in.
Michael Meyers: Yeah, no, I mean, it, I, I agree a hundred percent. It impacts everything from like the pace of innovation of the community.
Alex Ross: Yeah.
Michael Meyers: Because we have to go through this whole process it's for me it is so frustrating like the length of time, like it, like, if you think about how we build software at work even if we end up open sourcing it, like, it's, it's a very streamlined if not very aggressive process and, and, you know Then you go into the community now with all sorts it's because it's so mature I wonder if that's impacting people's desire to contribute because it's a totally different world than it was, you know?
Alex Ross: Yeah. I, no, I, I agree. I think that it is a lot harder now for someone to just make [00:14:00] that leap and say you know, oh, I just found an issue that I, you know uh, that I think I can handle. I'll just throw a patch in there. You know, I think it's, I think if there's a bigger barrier entry for that, for that person. Much more so now than there was
Michael Meyers: Yeah. You have to really care about it to navigate the issue queue and fight for it.
Alex Ross: Yeah.
Michael Meyers: It's not a casual affair anymore.
Alex Ross: Yeah, but, but on the flip side, you're, you're less kind of, less bad code gets in now that you're gonna have to like uh, worry about in two years, how are we gonna unwind this mess kind of thing?
Michael Meyers: Yeah. It is a very thoughtful process. And again, it's, it's probably a big part of why things are still around after 20 years is because that so it's, it's, it's the, the trade offs, I guess. Um you mentioned something you you're you went to the module maintainer, he was so thrilled that you wanted to take it [00:15:00] over.
You know, there's sort of a life cycle of being a module maintainer, where it gets to the point where like, it becomes this thankless task and everybody wants you to do something. And like you know, having maintained so many modules, you know and looking back, is there any advice that you would give a module maintainer for their sanity, for their success?
Alex Ross: Um, yeah, I, I mean, I would say that one thing I would say one mistake I made early on is thinking I needed to do everything that was suggested in the issue queue. Like there was very early on, especially I would, someone would propose, oh, it would be really great if it had this feature. And so suddenly I'm like, oh man, I have homework now like, okay.
And I gotta, I gotta like figure out how to help this person's use case. Um, whereas today it's much more so you know, I, I, I, I have much more of my own opinion about how the module should be used or, or, [00:16:00] you know, what the, the right the right way to, to decide what what feature is actually, um Applicable in that particular case.
And I've said, no that it took me a long time as a module maintainer before I was like, no, I don't think that's the right thing to do. I mean, you gotta be nice about it and you want to you know, you don't wanna be just an obnoxious, like, no, I hate you. Um, but but you should have your own kind of point of view of, of your module and where it, where it should go, where you want it to go.
Um that's, I'd say that's advice.
Michael Meyers: Awesome.
Um, you know we, we all know that successful, open source projects are, are more than code. You know, I mentioned at the opening, you know Dries's' quote that I love. Um, you were a big part of the New York city meetup. Uh, I lived in New York city for most of my life.
Um, you know How did you first get involved in New York [00:17:00] city meetup? Uh, you know had it, was it already established when you came it really?
Alex Ross: Yeah, it was established when I came along. Um, so my kind of the first person, I really kind of like looked up to that I was able to meet in person in the Drupal community was was, was Robbie the geek uh, Robbie Holmes.
And he was running it at the time that I kind of joined and it was being it was meeting up at the World Trade Center actually in World Trade Four, if I remember, I remember the conference room really well, it was at some magazine publisher was supposed to
Michael Meyers: Fast company.
Alex Ross: Yeah. Yeah. I think that was it.
Yeah. Um, and and I remember having a similar experience to what I described before is I, I kind of walked in this room and there were 50 other people who knew the thing. I knew that. I didn't think other people knew and they presented a bunch of interesting stuff and Hey, I'm working on this module or someone else presented on you [00:18:00] know, at the time I forget what it was called.
There was a fork of Drupal 6 that like allowed for like caching to work properly
Michael Meyers: Pressflow.
Alex Ross: Press flow. Yeah. And someone was someone was presenting on like, what were the things they actually changed in Pressflow, like make it work. Um, because prior to that, and, and I remember prior to that, it was to me again, I, I became very dogmatic about open source, even though I didn't really understand it to its fullest. Um, and to me, the idea that someone had forked Drupal itself and made some changes was like forboden. That's awful because now every time there's an update, I'm gonna have to worry about the fact that there's a new version of Drupal 6, but there are these little tweaks and changes that I have to worry about over here.
What's gonna happen there. I didn't realize at the time that the people who were running Pressflow were basically like the kind of pinnacle of Drupal, and I didn't really have to worry, but until I saw that presentation at that meetup I, I really had no idea. [00:19:00] Um, but I was also, I was very surprised I had the number of people that were there.
It was like 50 or 60 people that were there all stuffed into this conference room that was not meant for 50 or 60 people. Um, And I just then, then it just became about, I like these people, right? These are actually some, some pretty cool people. I enjoy spending time with these people. So I would go regularly and you know, this one moved and that one got a different job and whatever.
And eventually like you, you fall into this thing. Nobody, I don't think anybody grows up and says, I wanna run the Drupal meet up when I grow up. I think you, you just kind of become one of the the organizers. Um, and we were able to do it at, at 30 Rock for quite some time. Um, but unfortunately you know there was a period, actually, it was right before COVID where the Rockefeller center security folks decided that they were no longer gonna allow us to do it.
So it did end at Rockefeller center a couple years ago. Um, and then since then it's been largely taken over by a couple other people and they've been doing remote meet ups, [00:20:00] um, which is great. And it's allowed certain people to kind of come back who were part of the community. And you know, they.
Oops. Um, they were able to you know, kind of rejoin a little bit. Um, but yeah,
Michael Meyers: Um, I I vividly remember the the World Trade Center, that conference table.
Alex Ross: That big, long table.
Michael Meyers: You .
Alex Ross: Yep.
Michael Meyers: Uh it's. It's crazy. When you said that, like the memories just came flooding back to me. Um, and I also remember every time you'd go to the 30 rock conference, you had to like be escorted from the lobby to the room by a page.
Alex Ross: Kenneth, Kenneth, the page was there to like walk you through your Drupal meet up. It was very cool.
Michael Meyers: You literally were not allowed to go anywhere if you weren't escorted. Uh, it was pretty funny. Um, I think I think the Pressflow folks would prefer you call it a spoon cause the fork is such a dirty word.
Alex Ross: It is. I know. [00:21:00] Um, and it, and it really wasn't such a fork. It really was like, I remember it was like 14 lines of code that had to change in two files just to allow for caching and I, I but I I'd never heard the term that they, they prefer, I call a spoon rather than a fork. I like that a lot actually. Definitely going to steal that.
Michael Meyers: Moshe Weitzman taught me that. I learned spoon for Moshe. Um, Fun fact that was so Pressflow was created by Tag1 with David Strauss, who is the CTO and co-founder Pantheon Tag1 still maintains Drupal 6 Pressflow.
Alex Ross: Wow. really?
Michael Meyers: Yeah. Isn't that crazy?
Alex Ross: Right? I mean, I guess there's, there's definitely some sites out there.
You guys wouldn't be doing it. That that's amazing.
Michael Meyers: We yeah, we're the only provider that's left. Uh, there are only two of Drupal 6 long term support. Mm-hmm , we're gonna end it at the end of this year. Um,
Alex Ross: Congratulations.
Michael Meyers: it's been like eight years. Yeah. [00:22:00] Uh, but I love that Pressflow is still around.
Alex Ross: Oh, GRA. Wow.
Michael Meyers: You know, you talked about the, the maintainer of a, a a module owner is sort of the life cycle and you know how you are how things change over time the meet up and how that changed. Um, your community contributions are similar, right? Just like the maturity of the platform.
It's been a really long time. Uh, I'm curious how have things, you know have things changed over time for you, with your community contributions?
Alex Ross: Yeah. Um, definitely. And, and I would say over the last couple of years in particular, I've been less involved with the Drupal community. I mean, I, I still, I still like it there, so I still kind of poke my head in.
Um, and I still try and keep in touch with some of the folks that I keep in touch with, but in terms of real, you know substantial contributions. It has been a few years. I, I think that there's a few reasons why that [00:23:00] at least in my case, why that happened the most obvious and, and the easiest to talk about is that my team within NBC kind of started moving away from content management in general.
Right? So we, we kind of, there was a reorg of a reorg as, as things go in large corporations. Um, and my team ended up in a world where we were much more concerned about kind of moving, moving our content around to licensees and, and when Netflix or Hulu writes us a big check, we gotta give them the content and, and that sort of stuff.
Um, and there wasn't so much you know, publishers coming in and like curating content and, and hitting save and, and expecting it to show up on a site or on a, on a web app or something along those lines. Um, so in that sense, it makes a lot of sense uh, that I- my participation has dropped because my day to day just doesn't use it so much anywhere.
We do still have one system that that is in my world that's a Drupal based system. And I, I love, [00:24:00] you know, just checking in with them every so often still, but it's just not as much, and it's not as high profile. Um, but the other thing I would say is, and we, we touched on this a little bit earlier, but I, I think that some of the ways in which the community or not the community, but the, the project itself has changed and become more complex just to get involved in it, it's become more complex to handle things like issue queues and, and handle that sort of I, I just don't think that I had in my personal life, right. So if I'm not gonna do it at work, then my only other choice is to kind of keep doing it on my own.
I don't think in my personal life, I had the bandwidth to really kind of tackle those things. And because they were getting harder and not easier, cuz they were taking more time and not less, it it, it, it was that much more difficult to continue. Um, I do still play around in with one of my modules with some regularity, which is the Focal point module, which has always been my favorite.
Um parents are not supposed to say they have a favorite, but I do. [00:25:00] Um, and uh so I, I am in there still just to keep myself up to date and, and know what's going on and I, I really enjoy working on that module. So I, I kind of play around in there still, but. it's definitely less, which is sad, but it's okay.
Michael Meyers: Yeah. The Drupal community is of the technology communities and meetups and whatever that I've been part of. There's something special about it. Mm-hmm there are all these amazing people. Um that I don't get to interact with is as frequently, but fundamentally open source is about scratching your own itch, right?
Alex Ross: Yes.
Michael Meyers: On altruism and, and, and it makes total sense. Um, you touched on something there Focal Point. I, I saw that you were credited with a security advisory around focal point at one point.
Alex Ross: Mm-hmm.
Michael Meyers: And you know, not many people have been involved in the Drupal. Security team, the Drupal security team process it's a pretty small group.
Alex Ross: Yeah.
Michael Meyers: You know, [00:26:00] do you remember what, what, like, what happened? Like what that process was like?
Alex Ross: I, I definitely, I, I believe that the, oh, I think I remember what it was. um, I think there were- so Focal Point just to like super high level. It allows the user to just click once on the image once they've uploaded and say, here's the important part of the image so that whenever the image is cropped later, it crops in the right place.
And as soon as part of that module, it includes a preview. So you hit preview under your image and it will show you of your image styles. Oh, these are the five that use focal point. And it'll look like this based on so you may have one that's really long. We have one that's this way and so on.
Um I think that the issue was, if you click that link, you could, DDOS a site, right? If you, right. If you not, if you click the link, but if. Um, if you manipulate that link, you could, DDOS a site and try and generate like every image a million times for on, on the entire [00:27:00] site or something, something along those lines.
And that's that's bad. Right. We, we don't want that. Um, and so I worked with the security team on adding a token to the link that was then checked on the way in. And if that token wasn't there. You know, the uh, the, the request would just get denied in some fashion or other. Um, but I read the process was pretty, it was very similar and very straightforward to a normal issue, queue process where someone just reports a bug.
It was, it was very similar to that. Um, you just had a a, a, a small, but mighty group of superheroes who were there helping you like review the patch and whatever it was. And they weren't very interested in, does it work? They were only really interested in does this solidly very, very specific security issue that was brought up.
Right. Um, they're not, they're, they're not looking for the function of the of the module. And is [00:28:00] it still doing what it's supposed to do, but does it prevent a DDOS attack on your site? Yes. Okay. Then we're fine with this patch. Um, the rest is up to you sort of thing. Um, and then the only other part that was really different is when is when you release it, you're kind of at, whereas normally when you're a module maintainer, you wanna create a release, you just wake up that morning, you kind of go like that, start typing and you have a release.
Um, whereas with this, you kind of have someone holding your hand a little bit along the way. Um, and they're like, don't release it now. Not now. Okay. And go, and then you kind of have a little bit of that start and stop. Um, but once you do it, it's just a normal release and you know, then it's out there.
Michael Meyers: The the Focal Point module is really popular. And in particular with, with major media companies, I remember working with PAC 12, they loved it. You know, it solved two problems for them. So I wonder if like your biggest contribution to Drupal was like DDOSing every major media company in the world, ,
Alex Ross: it is entirely [00:29:00] possible.
I, I actually, I never heard of a situation where it actually happened, but someone did kind of pick up, pick up on it one day and and bring it to my attention. So, yeah.
Michael Meyers: We, we were talking about meetups and I, like I said, I just vividly remember that conference room and even, even conversations I had with people it's so crazy.
Um, do you have like a favorite memory or experience? Um, you know over the
Alex Ross: Well, I can tell you this isn't my favorite memory or experience over the year at all, but I will tell you that there was a very particular reason why we had to stop doing the meetups in the world trade center. And it was because of me.
And there, there was there. I, I, and I felt terrible about this, but it happened, there was a there was one meetup one night where the, the doors were locked already. And you had someone who on the inside had to like wave at the [00:30:00] motion sensor to unlock the door for the next person to get in. And I just, for no reason whatsoever, I decided to jump up and wave at the, at the thing, just like that jumped on, wave the thing. And there was some woman who worked at fast company in, in the lobby and saw me do this and was incensed that I would jump up and fool around during this thing. And the next day we got a call that they will no longer allow us to host the meetup there.
So it's definitely not one of my favorite memories, but I do know that I am definitely the reason why we had to stop having them there, which is part of the reason why I think I felt really guilty and made sure that we could have it at NBC afterwards. So there you go. Um.
Michael Meyers: Amazing. It was an upgrade. That room was way too small for the,
Alex Ross: it worked out at the end, but no, I think, I think one of my favorite memories was we used to do Drupal, Drupal camp NYC over in Brooklyn at Brooklyn Tech. [00:31:00] And I, I, my first, one of those, I remember it was before I'd ever been to a Drupalcon and I remember going there and I got my white I Heart Drupal t-shirt no, I I Drupal NY t-shirt, which I still have if I go in the other room it's old now and it's kind of ratty, but it, I still got that one.
Um, and you know, I, I was just like session after session, after session of really good information, it was still at that stage where I was a sponge for this stuff. And I, I remember that conference more than any Drupalcon I was at more than any other NYC camp or Drupal NYC or any of those. And it was terrific.
It was just a lot of fun. It was great people. I enjoyed it. That was that's my best memory of, of these kind of meetups and things like that. It was good stuff.
Michael Meyers: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. The whole camp process is has been a lot of fun there, there some amazing ones. Um, what's your favorite [00:32:00] and least favorite aspect of Drupal the software?
Alex Ross: Oh I mean, my favorite aspect of Drupal the software is, is definitely easier, which is it it's built even, even way back when, but still, obviously today it is built from the ground up with the expectation of being changed and modified and improved for the user for the use case. And that's not unique to Drupal.
I mean, there's other, obviously other, other open source projects that are like that. Um, but it's very consciously done in that way. And therefore it's, it's it's primary. It's kind of like raison d'être. I am here to be the beginning, not to end product. I'm here to start you off so that you don't have to write the user login thing again, because we've all I mean, everyone who, everyone who makes websites or Drupal kind of based sites and, and apps, like we've all written 10 user login systems before we finally get to Drupal sort of thing.
Um, and nobody wants to do that again, [00:33:00] like nobody on earth ever wants to write one of those agains so you don't have to worry about that, but it's there and it's prepped and it's primed for you to sit there and go, but I really do need something that does this unique thing from my use case. And, and it lays it out for it's like it kind of just unfolds which is definitely that that was its, its, you know Uh, kind of biggest asset as far as I'm concerned.
Now, that was the thing that, that really sucked me in and hooked me in there is, is, oh, I don't have to worry about this stuff. I don't really wanna worry about, I could just worry about my needs in terms of what's what's difficult or, or what I dislike. Um, I know I personally had a really hard transition between Drupal 7 and Drupal 8, and that was when, and I'm not alone in this, but that was when it became like the scales tipped a little bit. With Drupal seven. It was much more for kind of, I don't wanna say hobbyists cuz it [00:34:00] wasn't, but like someone who could be really just self taught, I figured this stuff out myself and I'm I, I can just dive in and within a few minutes I could get going and know what I'm doing to a degree.
Drupal eight is when that switched. You really needed to understand certain concepts of like computer science or, or not formal formal programming, more so than just I can jump in and do it. And I had a tough time with that. I remember when, when Drupal eight first kind of was starting to get developed. And I had a similar moment where I'm, I'm gonna go dumpster diving in the issue queue, and I'm gonna see what something small that I could just work on to like, see what Drupal 8's all about.
And it was, it was something super, super small. And I wrote one line of code as a patch. And I was like, look, it works. And it did. And it passed the tests and everything worked, but it was like 10 pages of, of code reviews on it telling me why, well, this isn't the [00:35:00] way that we're doing it anymore. Like, that's you, you need to write a listener that first does this and, and you need, this is gonna clearly doesn't need a whole new class.
And I, and I'm sitting there going, yeah, but. But in this one line, I can get done what the intent of this is. Um, and I felt at that moment, I felt like it was, it was it lost some luster at that exact moment in my eyes. That was a hard thing, but eventually I got it and eventually I figured out and, and once I did it, it made sense again, but it took a lot longer.
Um, I felt bad for the person who was coming into Drupal 8 as their first. You know, introduction to Drupal versus someone coming in at Drupal 5 or Drupal 6, where you could just read the code and it was almost just a flow, you know?
Michael Meyers: Yeah. No, it's what we talked about earlier. It used to be so much easier to contribute and not only did it get more complex, but like extremely verbose.
Alex Ross: Yeah.
Michael Meyers: In the process. Yeah. Um, ultimately I always struggle with the [00:36:00] fact, you know Drupal 7 appealed, I think to a much broader audience because of that factor.
Alex Ross: Mm-hmm.
Michael Meyers: Small nonprofits individuals even now it's migrated more into the enterprise domain because of this maturity and, and, and complexity.
Um, ultimately, do you see you know, on some on one hand it may have been necessary, right? It may not have stayed relevant as a platform. If we didn't evolve evolve to include these tool chains and build processes and everything, and, um. On the other, it dramatically changed, you know other aspects, barrier to entry, users.
Um, ultimately, do you think that it was a good change?
Alex Ross: Um, I don't know. Cause sometimes if I, if I put on my, my corporate hat, yes. Right. Because what was being brought in and you know, what that change kind of led to [00:37:00] was exactly what, what we're saying, which was the ability for, a big corporation, a big enterprise to, to not only be able to use the thing, but be able to integrate it into the larger processes that were in place.
When if you have a whole separate team that's working on monitoring and alerts and deployments and things like that, which some companies have and are able to do that a nonprofit's never gonna have, right. It's just not gonna be practical. Well you, you need to be able to hook into all of those things and be able to have certain, a certain level of expectation to make it work.
Now, on the other hand, I'm gonna put on my I'm a member of the PTA at my kid's school hat and my kid's school really needed a new website. And I was like, well, I can do that. I mean, I'm. Hmm. And I just broke out what I thought was like a simple D8 site at the time. And it was a slog. It, it, it, it wasn't, it wasn't the right tool for PTA website anymore.
I did it anyway because you know, it was, it was a nail and I had a hammer kind of thing, [00:38:00] but. It wasn't any longer that the right tool for, Hey, we just wanna be able to put up a couple new announcements every week and have a a sign up for the base bake sale form. Like it, it, it was too much. Um, and it was too difficult to like, Keep up, even with, with all of the new versions of everything, like as, as module would be improved and there was new release or new whatever it wasn't practical anymore for that kind of a world.
So was it a good thing? Depends on which hat I'm wearing.
Michael Meyers: Yeah, totally. Yeah. It's become an enterprise platform. Um, yeah, I, I run Drupal for, for two personal websites just to run Drupal. It's like ridiculous to do it for this purpose. Actually, it's a really great fit for one because you know, the content types, ease of creating things, but anyway just.
Updating the software upon releases yeah is a pain in the ass for me. [00:39:00] Um I wish that I know Pantheon has autopilot there are some solutions that are coming out, but it's like yeah, literally just updating the software is too much for me, for these like for personal usage, it's just yeah.
Alex Ross: It's not it really one thing I've, it's not meant for one person anymore. That's part of the issue is it is the expectation is that you have a team and that team might be two or three people, but you have a team of people working on a site in terms of like the, the, the care and feeding and maintenance of it.
Um, and that's not everybody, everyone has. There are, there's a thousand use cases we can come up with right now on sites that need to be out there. And, and we, where we would've thought when it was Drupal seven, that it was Drupal was the perfect solution for that use case, where it just really isn't anymore.
And that's hard.
Michael Meyers: Yeah. Yeah. I wish there were more tools like autopilot [00:40:00] whether they were commercial tools like that, or things in the community, I've always wished there would be like some sort of layer of abstraction. So you could have your cake and eat it too. Like, is there a way that I could easily contribute to eight eight, nine or 10 while having to get into the crazy complexity, but the reality is as a community, we can barely handle eight, nine and 10 and we're keeping seven around.
And so those are sort of. It's just impractical for an open source community to, to do. Um, but you know, that's what would make it approachable for, for me as a personal person.
Alex Ross: I, I agree. I also, I mean, I, I think that that's I don't know if it's like a not a great topic to bring up, but I think that's where Backdrop came up.
I mean, it really, they saw the fact, I think that enough people agree with us and it's not a big surprise. I dunno, people do it enough. People agree with us that that was, there was a vacuum all of a sudden, and that's where they tried to step in. Um, and you know, I'm sure it's, I haven't focused, I haven't really [00:41:00] played with it, but yeah, I'm sure it's great.
I'm sure it can kind of. You know, continue to sit in that space where I need to make a site for my PTA. And, and you know, maybe that maybe that's the right tool.
Michael Meyers: That was a fork.
Alex Ross: That was a fork. Yes, no spoons there.
Michael Meyers: Very big sharp fork.
Alex Ross: Yes.
Michael Meyers: Um, so. Where do you for Drupal to continue to be relevant five, 10 years down the line what do you think needs to happen?
You know, do, do you think that's possible? And if so
Alex Ross: I it's interesting, I'm not sure. I think that one in a weird way, one of the things that Drupal is, is kind of fighting as far as headwinds go, is just the fact that it's PHP based. And that alone is a, that it's a tough one. I mean, yes, PHP is still out there and it runs whatever 60% of things and whatever [00:42:00] the stats are these days and that's fine and well, and good, but.
I've, in my current role, I interview lots of people for, for various development roles. And, and I'm very involved at NBC in some of our kind of like rotational early career programs. Um, and which I love doing. I highly encourage everybody to check out the Comcast rotational programs. Um, and then but I, I interview a lot of like early career people because of that.
And no one, no one is coming outta school and going, Ooh, I wanna get myself involved in a PHP project. Right. It's just not it doesn't have the, the longevity as a kind of a relevant language in five or 10 years, will it still be around? I think so a hundred percent it will still be there.
Um, but I just, I think that it will be harder and harder to find people that are willing to like dive into a project like that. Um, I also think that it has a reputation of continues to have a reputation of really being too [00:43:00] monolithic in a world where People are probably going too much in the kind of microservices type direction, whatever, in certain cases, I think there are cases to be made for a monolithic application.
Um, but because that is the I mean, it's not even new anymore, but over the last several years, that's kind of where the industry has been going and where a lot of the, the applications have been going. I think that that's another tough hurdle for Drupal to, to overcome. Um, I think they've been taking steps.
I think that there are, you know you know, a lot of the efforts around decoupling the front end and the back end been huge and that's a big, important piece. Um, but I think it's gonna tough. In 10 years to to think that Drupal is still a relevant product. Um, I hope it is. Um, one thing that Drupal has been good at and the community has been good at is, is adjusting and adapting.
Um, but it does take a long time and those two things don't work [00:44:00] great. Right. We're good at adjusting, but it takes us a while to do it. Um,
Michael Meyers: Yeah, no, I, I, I, I, I share all those sentiments. I mean, WordPress based on PHP powers like 40% of the internet. And so yeah, it's, it's extremely prevalent, PHP, but unfortunately younger generations kind of view it as Fortran, like what like , you know?
Alex Ross: Exactly. That's my, that's my grandfather's programming language this .
Michael Meyers: Um, so yeah, that, that's a huge challenge we need to bring contributors into the community. You know, we had an experience with a, a fortune 500 company where we built a mission critical application and we handed it off to an internal team and they came in and were like, we're not using PHP.
Like they I won't get into it, but like that was their their, their biggest so visceral
Alex Ross: mm-hmm, ,
Michael Meyers: didn't matter. Like it wasn't about DRAL you [00:45:00] know, they're like, wow, it's amazing what you did in such a short period of time. But like, PHP?
Alex Ross: Yeah.
Michael Meyers: I have a we're running outta time.
We gotta wrap up, but I'll share this real quick. I remember Drupalcon Copenhagen and Rasmus Lerdorf was the keynote speaker one day. And someone asked him during the QA, like where do you see yourself? You know, or in you know with PHP in, in like whatever years. And he is like, oh my effing God, if I'm still doing this and you know, in five years, like just shoot me and that was 10 plus years ago.
Alex Ross: Yeah.
Michael Meyers: Uh, and there's the creator of PHP, but I think that has to do more with like leading an open source project and right. You know, that community has had its struggles than the language itself.
Alex Ross: Yeah. I, I mean, it's yeah. I I'm, I'm actually very, very curious to see what will be in, in 10 years. Um, [00:46:00] cuz I don't think that I have.
Um, I mean, nobody knows, but I don't think, I know. I think that there's some, some pieces of the puzzle that I'm, that I'm missing. So we'll see, we'll find out together
Michael Meyers: I'm hopeful it's lasted 20 years which is well beyond most technologies, well beyond most technologies. And so I'm hopeful, like you said, we've always adapted.
There's always been change. Um, I don't know what the future will be. Um, I like to ask every guest to pass the torch. Um, if you know you know, who should I interview next?
Alex Ross: Who should you interview next? Um, well, of the, of the folks that I've been interacting with most recently Uh Jake who runs the, who owns the Webform modules has been doing a ton of stuff.
I don't know if you've talked to him already on this, but I think [00:47:00] he's a, he's, he's got some really fascinating views on how to sustain open source in a world where it does take a ton of your time. And it does take a ton of your energy and resources. Um, so I would, I would point you in that direction.
Michael Meyers: I Rockaways Jake. Yeah. Yeah. I had leaving one of the 30 rock New York city meetups. I had a conversation with him probably for 20 minutes. We didn't even make it to the bar. You know, we just got stuck in you know, talking about what you mentioned, open source contribution process.
And that's a really great recommendation. I would love to chat with him more about that.
Alex Ross: Yep. All right. Well, consider the torch pass. This has been a lot of fun. Thanks.
Michael Meyers: Yeah. Thank you. Uh, really appreciate you joining us for all our viewers. We appreciate you joining us as well. Uh, please remember to upvote, subscribe, share it out.
Uh, you can check out all our interviews in this series at [00:48:00] tag1.com/20, 20. You can also check out our Tag1 Team Talks and the latest technology topics at tag1.com/talks. Uh, as always love your feedback. Please reach out with topic suggestions, folks you think we should interview. Uh, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That's TAG1.com. Uh, Alex, thank you so much again, and we'll see everybody soon.
Alex Ross: All right. Thanks a lot.
Michael Meyers: Thank you.