This is a transcript. For the video, see 20 years of Drupal An interview with Francesco Placella.

[00:00:00] Michael Meyers: Welcome to another edition of the Tag1 Team Talks the vlog and podcast of Tag1 Consulting. I'm Michael Meyers, the Managing Director of Tag1. And today we're celebrating and looking back on 20 years of Drupal, we're really proud to have been a part of Drupal's history, and we're going to be talking to many of the Tag1 team members that have made major contributions and been a big part. And long-standing part of the Drupal community. Today. I'm joined by Francesco (Placella) who is a very well-known long-time contributor to the platform. Francesco, could you give folks just a brief overview of your role in the community?

Some of the things you've done over the years?

[00:00:40] Francesco Placella: Sure. So hi everyone. I'm Francesco Placella, my nickname.on is Plach and I've been a member since I think it was 2007, something like that. So almost 14 years now.

I think I started working with Drupal 5. It was at that moment. I was running my web agency with a business partner, a dear friend of mine who's also on the Tag1 team now. And yeah, we, we were looking for a CMS and we stumbled upon this interesting, very interesting tool that was Drupal. And so basically in the years, we were involved, started being involved in the community and we start working on mainly multilingual stuff. It was because at the time it - there was already work in that area, but it wasn't fully mature. And so there were many projects we were working on that were actually relying on multilingual. So we start then becoming involved with that. And by the time D7 was out I was subsystem maintainer for the language system and the content translation modules.

And then I stayed involved with that area. I worked on the Entity Translation and Title modules. I authored them. And, and also more or less at that time, I was called by Gabor Hojtsy who just had just been appointed as D8 and nine. So the D8 multilingual initiative maintainer.

And so I was involved also with that. And with the years we were able to basically complete and, and take to maturity all the multilingual features, of D8 working and improving on the, all the fantastic work that was done during the D6 and D7 cycles. And. With that basically I was involved also in, in other areas of, of course, or started working on the Entity system with a particular focus on the form entity form subsystem and the entity storage subsystems.

And after D8 was released as well, my attention turned to the integration between the content translation systems and revisions. So I did a lot of work also in that area, and then a few years ago, I think it was 2017, I was appointed as provisional framework manager and then a full framework manager after a couple of years.

So, and I've been serving as a framework manager until a few weeks ago, and that's more or less my journey.

[00:03:38] Michael Meyers: Wow. It's pretty amazing. Do you remember your first commit to Drupal? Was it in multilingual or do you remember roughly what it was, how it went?

[00:03:50] Francesco Placella: So I'm sure it was multilingual I remember one Maybe the first one on one of the first ones was about actually as simple, of course, the simple fix about being able to uninstall the local module.

I think it was D7 or, yeah, I think it was D7, so yeah, baby steps, but yeah, I think it was in the multilingual area.

[00:04:17] Michael Meyers: Do you remember the process? Was it like, smooth and easy? Like I'm wondering. You know, from first commit to framework manager who oversees all the commits what was that process like versus what it might be like today has a lot changed or is it pretty much

[00:04:35] Francesco Placella: Well it's, it's changed somehow, I mean, at the time now we have these fantastic merge requests.

And at the time we were still working with batches, but yeah, that's a big news are fairly recent news actually. So I think most of the people are still familiar with that workflow, but I think the main difference was that we had way less Gates. Yeah. And constraints too. Satisfy before a patch would be committed.

For instance, you didn't need to have a full issue summary before a commit. And I think it was really hard at the time to be a committer because yeah it, it was probably, there was way less pressure on the contributor. And so basically all the pressure was on the committer, instead. Now we are more we became better at balancing the work, the shared between contributors and committers, so that committers can really focus on evaluating the patch with or the merge requests with all the information already in place.

[00:05:50] Michael Meyers: There was no test harness in, in five. Or even in six, really, you know, sort of the beginning of testing. So yeah, much simpler to create a patch and, you know, I think in D7 we already had batch. So I remember being some - somehow jarred at the beginning, by the requirement of having to provide automatic testing, which became of course, actually one of my favorite requirements once I became a committer.

But yeah, I remember the first times I wasn't really that familiar with the concept of automatic testing. And this is. And an example of how the involved in the Drupal community makes you a better developer, but they're professional overall, because you get exposed to the cutting edge technology, the cutting edge best practices and so on.

Yeah. And so, yeah, I remember being jarred by that and I was kind of wonder , but I'm already providing you a fix. Why do you want me to do more work? But then it took me really a short time to start seeing the advantages of that approach.

Now there, there are a lot of people out, you know, open source and become so popular, which is awesome, you know, and it's great to see so many projects cropping up.

You know, looking back on Drupal, you know, we've had this amazing opportunity to see it mature over the years, go from you know, it was a pretty sizable community, you know, even in the Drupal 5 days, you know, as far as open source projects go but to see that maturation and the changes that need to take place.

he scale of the platform to where it is today, you know, a lot of governance, a lot of things like testing it's sort of the nature of the beast. And it's great that it helps people grow, but it has you know, some friction some downsides as well. You contributed in, in so many different areas to a Core.

Is there something that really stands out that you're most proud of? Looking back on all these years, something that you're like, man. Yeah, I was, I did that.

[00:07:56] Francesco Placella: Well. I mean, I'm feeling that probably all the contribution to the multi-lingual subsystem and the content translation is the content translation, subsystems are, are the probably the most important things I've worked on.

We, if we keep in mind the effect that they had on - the likely effect because I don't have a strict measures about it, but the likely effect on, on the user base and on the types of projects that we're able to adopt Drupal, I think that's probably the the work where I, where I provided the most, the most value, although probably the stuff I'm most proud of is all the Entity storage work I've done because actually it's not, I think fully complete at least.

In, in the idea that I originally had originally had in mind, because my original plan was to be able to switch from a database schema that was supporting multilingual or revisions or a combination of both or none of them dynamically. Right now, we are in a position when you can, when you define, an entity type, you can pick one of these flavors.

And the system will already automatically provide a schema for you will. And, and that's a really great, although it took, it was kind of painful to get where we are here, where we are, all the updates kind of work. And well, I mean, it, wasn't a major source of update bugs at the time, but that they are sorted out and.

Yeah, I think that's probably something that if we keep building on we'll, we'll provide even more value in the future. And I think one of the, probably not obvious advantages is that it forces you to define all the pieces of data attached to an entity as fields. Which in turn opens the possibility to reuse all of them.

Incredible features, Drupal features that are built upon fields and entity types. So it was a key decision, architectural decision. In the direction of introducing more consistency, because one of the key features of the Drupal 8 cycle was introducing the configuration management system and, and that brought consistency in the configuration area.

But I think this choice. Even if it's not super obvious to regular users, was a key decision in bringing consistency in the content storage area? And so this is probably what I'm most proud of, although yeah, as I said, probably the, the work I did that had a big, the biggest impact for the Drupal community at the moment was the multilingual stuff.

[00:11:09] Michael Meyers: What is your, and this is, this is my favorite question. I'm going to put you on the spot here. What is your favorite thing about Drupal as a platform and what is your least favorite thing about Drupal?

[00:11:22] Francesco Placella: Okay, this is a hard one because there are so many things I love about Drupal, of course. And of course there are so many things that I don't like about Drupal because you can still make things better.

I guess that's why I've been involved so many years, I guess. And I like to make things better. So I guess one of my favorite things. Based on the previous experience was the introduction of the configuration management system in Drupal 8, because that was really a game changer. In my daily routine at work, it's really a completely different from.

Having to manage everything through, well features does a good job, a good job. But I think the configuration configuration management system takes it to the next level. And so, yeah, that's one of my favorite ones. So. Of course, the stuff that was introduced in the last years is great. It's actually like a layout builder.

The media, well, the media improvements we got into in recent years are really awesome. And I think those are really one of the keys of the product success we will have in the future, along with all the workflow and, and content moderation subsystems, but I think, I think the content management system.

So from a very selfish perspective, it's one of my favorite features actually talking about the least favorite probably. Well, right now it's, we're probably in a slightly different spot, but I must say that well historically one of my least favorite features was actually multilingual stuff. I wasn't really happy about multilingual when I started adopting Drupal.

And that's why I got so involved with it. But in time, probably one. And, and other a subsystem that gave me similar vibes I think was the, all the calendar related stuff date and calendar. So data has improved hugely over time. And I think we are not really there with calendar, but I'm hopeful that we will get there some sometimes.

So, yeah, I think it's not like I hate it, but I think we could do better in that area.

[00:13:55] Michael Meyers: A very open source answer. I didn't like multilingual. So I got in and I changed it and I made it better. And years later, you know, was in control of it. That's, that's pretty cool. What do you think Drupal needs most?

You know, what do you think is, is sort of the game changing feature or something that's really missing that it needs to have.

[00:14:23] Francesco Placella: So, I'm not saying anything new here because Dries has already pointed this out in many of his keynotes, but I think one of the secrets of Drupal success has been the dedication of the community and its ability to basically implement so many features in so many directions that basically make Drupal hugely flexible. I think probably one of the things that. Drupal needs the most to keep being successful is more involvement by agencies and, and especially large ones and their large organization in, in the funding of people working on, on Drupal, because Drupal has grown to a, such a size that the model, which we had for so many years, I think is starting to.

To be a little not great. I think because the code base is so much larger. And the features we are building are so much more powerful and all encompassing. And so just maintaining those is a burden. And so the, the core team is doing the core maintainer team is doing a fantastic work, but it's it's proven challenging to find more people that is able to perform that work because doing that.

Only based on voluntary work is, is really hard. And so I think that's an area where we, we need, we need work. And instead of if we are talking about features, I think that. Continuing improving on the workspaces area will will bring a lot of value to enterprise level customers. And I think that's an area that will really make Drupal shine.

And if we think about them, ambitious projects, of course, it's still improving on the JSON API abilities and all the support for decoupled systems is going to keep Drupal relevant. And I also, I think that all the automated updates initiative is going to be really important to be able to still compete with the rest of the CMS ecosystem.

So, yeah, I think those are the most important ones, although Yeah, I still have these favorites of mine. That is media. I think media is great. And the improvements that were made over, the D8 cycle is we're great. And I think there's still room for improvement there. And if we do the right moves like fully integrating media library and building up on it We are really going to reap the benefits.

And I think we are, we are also in a, in a good place with all the improving the, the Drupal UX, because I think that's really important direction. A new , better looking theme. In a new administrative theme, all those are key improvements that I think are really going to provide a lot of value.

[00:17:58] Michael Meyers: Cool. What has been the best thing about being part of Drupal?

[00:18:07] Francesco Placella: I can see at least two best things. So one, as I was mentioning at the beginning of this call was the way I was able to grow, to learn new things, to become better. And at the same time to test my abilities. As I, as I went on by providing code that was better and better looking at my eyes, learning new tricks and also being just able to express my creativity.

So seeing basically that all the ideas that I had, that I couldn't express during my day job were - were it's still possible to express in a more welcoming environmental or flexible environment. And the other best thing is probably the complimentary thing. So that by, by doing this, I was able to know a lot of people, lot of people that were that became friends of mine that provide me a different perspective on so many issues that overall made me a better developer and hopefully a better human being.

So I think these probably are the two best things that happened to me by joining the Drupal Community.

[00:19:32]Michael Meyers: At this point, I'm sure that there are too many people to thank, you know, that you work with on a day-to-day basis. But looking back to when you first got started, is there, you know one or two or a few people that you want to say, Hey, you know, thank you for helping me, you know, get that commit in, you know, for introducing me to Drupal or.

[00:19:58] Francesco Placella: So, yeah, as you were saying, there are so many that probably it would take me. I collect this, just to name them all, but probably the most relevant person in my involvement was Nat Catchpole because he was there from the very beginning, from It was one of my mentors at the very beginning, along with Nedjo Rogers and Sun, Daniel Kudwien, those are the three key people that got me involved in the project.

And as time went by Nat has been a constant presence in, in my, in my relationships with the Drupal community. And so I think my biggest thanks. Go to him. Although of course, another person that I cannot avoid to mention is Gabor Hojtsy. , who. Basically helped me do a lot of work in the multilingual area who hang hung out with me during DrupalCons and helped me feel at home while I was still new to the project and I was knowing almost no one.

So, and also Webchick. She was the first committer I seriously interacted with. And she was, well, she, she was webchick, you know, her, so she was awesome. Always providing constructive feedback and, and. Always, uh, encouraging me. So she was really a key person in my involvement of the, of the project.

[00:21:40] And then of course I probably need to thank the. Committer team because they were also a huge source of, of learning for me. I think I learned much more than actually I , I taught while I was on the team. And so I really thank them for giving me the opportunity to be part of that amazing team.

[00:22:10] Michael Meyers: Wow. Thank you. Really appreciate you joining us today, giving us your perspective and looking back on 20 years, look forward to seeing you again on a future Talk. Have a great day.

[00:22:22] Francesco Placella: Sure. You too. Thanks a lot.

[00:22:26] Michael Meyers: Yeah, that was awesome. Thank you. Take care of Francesco.

[00:22:29] Francesco Placella: Bye-bye thanks,

[00:22:30]Michael Meyers: Bye.