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On 20 Years of Drupal - An interview with Emma Jane Hogbin - Tag1 TeamTalk
Episode 6612th May 2021 • Tag1 Team Talks | The Tag1 Consulting Podcast • Tag1 Consulting, Inc.
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Many of Tag1’s team members have worked in various other companies and organizations during the 20 years Drupal has existed. In those many years, we have worked for and collaborated with other Drupal users and developers all over the world. This Tag1 Team Talk highlights one of those people.

In this special edition of our 20 years of Drupal series, we are pleased to welcome Emma Jane Hogbin. Emma Jane was a very early user of Drupal and has written or contributed to documentation on Drupal.org and in her multiple books on Drupal and related subjects. Tag1's Managing Director Michael Meyers hosts Emma Jane in this chat about her history with Drupal, and why it’s community, not code.

Transcripts

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Hello, welcome to Tag1 Team Talks, the blog and podcast of Tag1 Consulting

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. I'm Michael Meyers, the

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And today we're doing a podcast where we're celebrating and looking back

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on 20 years of Drupal to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Drupal!

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We're really proud to have been a long part of Drupal's

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history and product development.

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And we've met so many amazing people over the years and along the way.

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And today I'm joined by Emma Jane Hogbin.

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Who's working at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human

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Affairs, UN OCHA and Emma, you and I have known each other well over a decade.

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I don't even want, I don't want to date us, but most of Drupal's 20

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I think we met in DC Washington, DC I probably was at a BOF because

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that's kind of what we did.

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So what year was that?

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What year, was DC?

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Yeah.

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It all kind of blends.

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it could be, it was roughly in that era.

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Yeah.

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My mom and my nephew came.

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To the conference and I've got a great picture, which, Oh, I

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hope it still exists somewhere.

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And my nephew playing foosball with Moshe.

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That's amazing.

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Yeah.

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Yeah.

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It's been a while more than, yeah.

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More than a decade, a decade, and a couple of years

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we'll leave it at that more than more than a decade.

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you know, like we were kids when we, you know, when I first started working

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on Drupal, we were, you know, I'm, I'm still a kid in, in my head at least.

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But for, for the folks that don't yet know you, can you give

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everybody just a quick background?

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You know, you have, you have done so many diverse things

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across the Drupal community.

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you know.

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Can you give people a sense of, Emma when it comes to Drupal?

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Yeah.

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So I guess my, my sort of apologies to the Drupal community is that I've kind of been

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in hiding for the last five years or so.

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but I used to be much more involved in the community way back.

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and I guess we'll, we'll give the definition of what I mean by way back

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by saying I started Drupal back in the days when user IDs were still a

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thing, as opposed to just usernames.

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And my user ID is a four digit user ID.

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So I yeah.

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I have the illustrious one seven, seven, three as my user ID number.

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I'm way old.

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Yeah, that's quite the number too.

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but I first started I guess sort of 2003 or 2004 and like many other developers

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I was going through at the time, a rite of passage of writing my own content

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management system, because that seems to be a thing that we all need to do

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at least once before we give up and start working collaboratively with

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other people on an open source product.

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And at the time I was good friends with James Walker.

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we both lived in Toronto and he said, Hey, check out, check out this Drupal thing.

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You, may, you may find it interesting and useful.

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At the time he had to, at least my memory of it is that you had to create

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a user account to download the code, which I'm pretty sure is how I ended

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up with a high or a low user ID.

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And I'm like, I don't know that that's a true memory, but I have a memory of this.

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Yours like crushes mine, by the way.

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I'm like the low five digits.

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so four digits is pretty early on.

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Yeah.

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Yeah.

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And so at the time I was looking at, Oh gosh, this is so long ago

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I was building a system that was going to be used to teach languages.

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at a university and they needed a system where the content could

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exist in multiple languages.

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So the, the post might be in Italian and then the responses might be in English,

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but they needed to be able to switch back and forth between the two languages.

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So I needed a way of storing those multiple languages and at the time.

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Again, Walker pointed me to Drupal and said, Hey, take a look.

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And I went, thank you very much and ripped out the translation tables and

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put them into my own content management system went away for a few years.

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Of course the product that I built went nowhere.

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and so to circle back to the Drupal community in the days of four point,

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the 4.6 to 4.7 transition, and really got involved in the community.

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around the Drupal five to six transition.

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So my first big Drupal event was DrupalCon Szeged, where Angie was announced

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as the Drupal six core maintainer.

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and I was quite involved in the community for the first, I shouldn't say first

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for sort of those, maybe I want to say five or 10 years kind of in between.

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and I worked with Konstantin Kafer to write the Drupal.

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Front End Drupal, sorry.

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And then went on.

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So it was Drupal six and it was sort of the accompanying book I felt to

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Lullabot's, a site building guide.

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And it just, it was, I was so lucky in terms of that opportunity that

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they had already put out their table of contents and we were able to

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pivot and say, let's make the theming guide that goes along with and it

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was just such a great opportunity.

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Excuse me, to have the.

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The work that Lullabot was doing and feel like I had this place in

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the community that I didn't need to be competing directly with anyone,

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but I could find my own place.

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So I focused a lot on front-end development, but from a sort of an

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intro perspective, you know, Konstantin has gone on to do amazing things with

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front end development work and just the.

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We know where JavaScript has gone in terms of as a programming language and where he

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saw that it would go is just blow my mind.

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But I sort of focused on the like intro to theming side of things and was quite

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involved in the Drupal community, giving conference presentations and trainings.

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I ended up writing a second book on Drupal, Drupal users guide, which was

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more site building for Drupal seven.

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And then a couple of years after that, I wrote a book on Git, which was.

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How do you collaborate in a team of developers?

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So it has I mean, it has a few Git commands in it, but it's more, how do you

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work together to come up with a workflow?

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How do you commit to a workflow and use a workflow when Git doesn't really care?

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What you do?

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You know, it's not, it has some things that's very opinionated about,

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but ultimately you can choose a hundred different ways of doing it.

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So how as a team do you come together to collaborate on it?

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so then after Git for Teams I guess it was.

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Within a year or two that I started working for the United Nations.

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and I've kind of decreased my community involvement since then.

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in part, because I've been, I think consumed in a good way by my job, it's

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been a bit sad for me to not be as involved in the community, but it's

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that community work that I feel I brought into the job and I'm trying to

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reinforce with the team and push them to.

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Contribute back wherever they can and try and get them this space to do that.

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Yeah.

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Walkah, amazing.

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Well, you know, one of the first big contributors he and Boris

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Mann created Bright, the first ever Drupal consulting company.

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Walkah was the author of the pants module, which you know, the, the, how you

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learn Drupal for, for the longest time.

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so pretty amazing guy to, to, to know, especially back then.

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Um, you also are famous for.

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Uh, clothing for a pair of socks?

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If I recall.

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So I was the first person to apply the GPL license to a pair of

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knitting socks knitted socks rather.

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And they.

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I, I assume still exist out in the wild.

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I only ever knit the one pair for Walkah as thanks for all

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the tutoring and mentorship that he'd given me over the years.

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and it's got a Druplicon on the heel.

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I'm sure we can dig up some old photos of that somewhere.

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and the, the GPL license was applied to the Druplicon because

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of the nature of the license.

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I couldn't use the Druplicon image unless I was also willing to extend

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that license to others as well, to be able to reuse the, the the

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knitted version of the Druplicon.

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So I sort of became that first person, but only, only due to the.

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restrictions or benefits, I guess, if you want to sell, say of the GPL.

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So.

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And I don't know if this is, is controversial and maybe

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we have to edit this out.

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but you know, sometime I want to say around, I think it was like 2010 you were

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famous for something to do with unicorns.

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Gotcha.

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So this was I think this would have been an OSCON conference.

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I have to, you have to, someone will I'm sure.

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Remind me what the actual conference was.

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And I Had given a few presentations on what it was like to be a woman and a

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woman and open source community competing.

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And was that a conference and out for lunch with two

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other women Gabby and Serena.

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And we sort of came to realize that this was a, you know, another rite

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of passage is just like writing and CMS was a rite of passage.

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If you're a woman in open source, you will eventually give a talk

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about being a woman in opensource.

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And this became affectionately referred to as the unicorn law.

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And I think it's something that, you know, here we are the day after

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international women's day having this talk now that I've like dated it, sorry,

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you may want to edit that bit out.

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but I think it's still a really important process that a lot of women go through

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and women and other minorities within the computing field go through where.

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You feel like you're alone in your experiences.

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And then you had the opportunity to talk about those experiences and you

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realize that it's actually, it's a very common experience to feel alone and

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then feel part of a larger community.

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So the unicorn law celebrates, I guess, that experience and

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hopefully helps individuals to feel like they are, they're not alone.

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even if they are in a minority situation, Yeah,

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we I think Drupal does better than many in a lot of instances.

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It's a very welcoming and open and diverse community, but we,

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we still need to do so much more.

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And I think we recognize that and, and are, are making efforts to do so and

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is, you know, a pioneer of the community and, you know, forming groups within

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the community to help foster that.

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you know, thank you.

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That's been amazing.

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And you know, w we'll keep carrying the torch.

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I hope.

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Well, I'm one of the most exciting things for me as well was, you know, I certainly

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was very involved in the Drupal community and then whether it was consciously

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or not, you know, I really took a step back from applying to conferences and

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applying to give those presentations because I felt that it was important that.

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More than just me have that opportunity to stand up on stage, to be recognized.

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And it was, you know, standing up on a stage was how I had the opportunity to

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work with Konstantin on Front-end Drupal.

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I was recognized by a publisher as having someone, you know, is

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having some skills that maybe could be put into, into book form.

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And I feel it is so important for the current generation.

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You know, I'm not, not I'm in my forties, but I'm not that

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old for the current generation.

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To stand up and support where they can a diverse community and then to step

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aside and amplify the voices of the next set of people who are wanting to come

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along and have that opportunity as well,

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our grandchildren,

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but we are kind of our.

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I think, I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but I have a memory.

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I think you switched to becoming like a mentor.

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I think I remember doing a talk at DrupalCon and in order to do it,

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I had to go to a class with Emma.

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Like all the speakers were required to go to like a web bar with you to

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learn how to give a presentation.

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And I was like, ah, I mean, like I've done so many talks.

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Like I can't believe I have to do this.

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And I went and I love and respect you, but, you know, I was just like, Oh,

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I can't believe I to do this shit.

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but I learned so much.

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I was like, I was like, you know, it was like one of those like teaching

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moments in life where I was like, Oh wow, I can be such a better speaker.

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You know?

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Like it was very helpful.

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I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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I'm glad you showed up even under duress.

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And I think that a lot of people have had a similar experience.

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who've gone through sort of the, the conference presentation cycle.

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I know I went to a session that was given by, Oh, I'm

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going to blank on his name, Mr.

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Conway, w what's his first name in any case that OSCON gave and I was

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like, I haven't given public speaking, like I've been doing public speaking

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competitions since I was 12, 13 years old.

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Like I don't need help to stand up on stage and say words and it was so good.

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It was so interesting to see someone else's perspective on how

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they put together a presentation, what they think is important.

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What's the timeline.

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How do you, you know, what do you do a month out?

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What do you do a week?

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What do you do the day before?

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So I think it's you know, it's not necessarily that I was any better

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than anyone else, but just having that structured time to think about how you

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give a presentation was something that the conference recognized as being important.

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And I, whether I drew the short straw or the long straw, I'm not entirely sure.

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but it was nice to be able to provide that, that feedback to people.

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It was hugely helpful and it's, I think it still helped me to this day, you know?

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I've done a lot of talk since, and I'm, you know, one it's taught me

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that I could always learn something more about how to be a better speaker.

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but, but, you know, to, you know, it was really helpful to this day.

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So thank you for doing that.

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Looking back on on Drupal, do you have, like, is there something that

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your most proud of, or stands out to you as like a really special moment?

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I think the special moments and the stuff that I'm most proud of is, are

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things that the community wouldn't have necessarily seen or observed in the

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sense of the personal aha moments that.

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People in the community had around how to collaborate in an open space.

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and I feel like our community started out as a bunch of I

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don't know, that's fair or not

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That's an interesting characterization.

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but we, we had a lot of people who needed to be.

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assertive to get their opinions heard in how they collaborated

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and how they work together.

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And I feel like the biggest contributions that I'm most proud of were to help punt

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people into a room and have more nuanced conversations or to talk to someone

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privately and say, I understand where you're coming from, but have you seen

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this from another perspective and that I don't, I mean, I don't think I did any

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heavy lifting in terms of any of the code.

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I don't think I did any heavy lifting in terms of the community working

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group and really important work that happened to even set up and

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structure the community working group.

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But I feel like some of what I was able to do, which had the longest

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impact or long-term impacts was to.

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Say to some of those really big personalities, like,

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well, what are you doing here?

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What's what is the, what are you trying to achieve?

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And how can we make your voice be heard and understood and respected

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in a way that acknowledges how to phrase it in a way that you can

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still have your voice, but it isn't.

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A voice that threatens other people.

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I remember when the Drupal code of conduct came out, which

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is really unfortunately named

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greatly named depending on how you want to look at it.

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Um, and one of the things was about you know, profanity.

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And my first reaction was like, Who the F would care like it's my effing, right?

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-------..., you know,

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like a big swear fan,

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I'm a god damn New Yorker, you know?

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So I think that , um, I, you know, again, I learned a lot from the community as to

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how my behavior and what I see as normal is like, you know, growing up in, in New

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York, whatever was natural to me could be not just off-putting to somebody,

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you know, but, but really, you know, detrimental to having a conversation

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or an impact in that environment.

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And it, you know, I really.

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I don't know, I struggled to wrap my head around it for a

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while and I still am, frankly.

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Um, you know, I'm trying to, to learn and get out of my ways and, and be better.

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And so you know, again, thank you for, you know, these aren't, you

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know, I, I, you know, I don't think you should feel like they're unseen.

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I think that

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they, well,

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hopefully they were, hopefully they were done in a way that wasn't publicly

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humiliating someone or calling out behavior, or, and I think there's lots of.

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There's lots of places and opportunities for that.

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But I feel like in some ways, my bigger contributions were being

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brash in the bar to the people who were being brash and saying, do you

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realize this thing that you're doing?

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And it's the, you know, the late night conversations where meeting someone

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at their own, you know, with their own language and in their own space and

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saying, let's take a look at how this is being perceived in the wider community.

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And it, you know, I don't know, I'm a, be a little bit immature on the

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best of days, a little bit immature.

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So I certainly, you know, I needed those course corrections

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to come back to me as well.

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but it was that you know, hopefully the, well, I guess in some cases,

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very loud conversations late at night with people that I feel.

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I learned a lot.

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I grew a lot, and I hope that, that they had an impact as well in terms

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of how those people were able to then communicate and get their ideas across.

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I know it could be it for some, it was really frustrating because

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they felt they weren't being heard.

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And the only way that they knew to be heard was to be bigger and louder,

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and it was treated who they were, but it wasn't necessarily helping

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them to, to move their ideas forward.

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So, do you have a favorite and least favorite Drupal feature?

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Don't hold back.

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Be across any version.

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Okay.

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So.

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I'm going to do this a little bit differently.

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I'm going to go with not, these are not necessarily worst or best.

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These are when you say, what are the Drupal features that you like most?

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And then these are the first two things that pop to my head.

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The first one is and I'm, I'm.

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Horrible in my pronunciation of names.

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So I , um, years later I should be able to do this by now.

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Amitai I'm going to give as a worst and best feature.

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Like I'm not there's no, I don't mean to say he's worst or best.

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Like, this is the first thing that popped to my head was him.

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And it's his.

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Um, you know, if he didn't get a session accepted, then he would

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just go and give it as a BOF.

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And he would put this incredible thought and energy into how he was

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going to portray the information in a way that was unique and challenging

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and a little bit off the wall.

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And, you know, he wrote the original version.

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I think he was one of the original versions of organic groups, which

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certainly been used by many or by me on many different websites.

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and then the second sort of best or worst feature.

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is Moshe Weitzman saying to me, my code self-documenting, I don't

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need to write any documentation.

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And my like,.

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This was my thing.

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Documentation was my passion at the time.

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And I was really involved in the Drupal docs community.

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And I'd written a, I would have written a book at that point already.

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And he was just like, I don't need to, I don't need to do that.

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My code self documents.

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Whether he still remembers that conversation.

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or not, I have no idea, but those are the two that just kinda like.

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Spring to mind.

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And then, you know, sort of the more I start thinking about individuals, then

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the more I kind of get fantastic memories of what it's been like to be part of

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the Drupal community, but I don't have a piece of code that I would give as my

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best or worst for Drupal specifically.

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It's the community not the code.

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The you ever, the politician, Emma, you shouldn't run for office and

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Been there, done that.

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I'm going to try again and you can Dodge.

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That's fine.

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Do you see a a major feature or, or it could be something in the

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community and event you know, do you picture something as a, as a major

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turning point or catalyst for Drupal, something that really, you know was a

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key part of what made it so successful

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in the variations of how you've asked that question?

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I would say the key part of what's made Drupal successful.

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Is by keeping the code free and it didn't adopt the the model that WordPress had

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in terms of charging money for code.

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And I think that's part of what has continued to attract me to Drupal is that

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there is an openness to the collaboration.

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, but you know, when enterprise can come and take code from the community,

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when you can use it and install it and not have to worry about it,

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we know it's correctly licensed.

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We know we're not having to worry about you know, it's

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gone through security process.

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and if it's outside of the security guidelines, it will be marked as such.

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I can trust that code for as much as we're going to use it.

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I can contribute that code back as an enterprise or as an individual.

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But that that decision was very different than how WordPress went

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and maybe WordPress ended up as more installs or a bigger percentage of

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the web or whatever it happens to be.

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But that that aspect of it, I think for me, was the key to its success in

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terms of its adoption and the people who wanted to use it were different.

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They're just.

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A different attraction than what a WordPress might've been.

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but I, you know, I, I guess I have a hard time saying any one part of the

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code was the key point in terms of the success or the failure, because I, I, you

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know, I'm one of the, the Kool-Aid kids.

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I really think it was the community that made Drupal what it is.

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not any one piece of code.

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And every piece of code that went into Drupal was reviewed by the community,

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had discussions with the community.

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you know, sometimes arguments sometimes falling out sometimes massive

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celebrations, but it, you know, without the people it's, it's, it's just a bunch

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of code and ultimately it's a bunch of code that's going to be rewritten

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and refactored and gone in the future.

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Yeah.

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So many amazing memories, so many amazing people, Drupal is, you know,

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I think very special in its community.

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And I think widely recognized for that.

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I mean, there.

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So many amazing people.

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what do you think Drupal needs now?

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this is my third Dodge, so I feel like I, you know, like I've come up

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to bat three times and I'm going to give you for the third time a Dodge.

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So my difficulty in this one is I haven't really been involved in

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the Drupal product or community really in the last several years.

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and I mean, the biggest involvement that I have right now in the community

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is the fact that I give a monthly donation because my income is I

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make money because Drupal exists.

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And I'm so grateful that Drupal has allowed me to develop my career,

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to champion my work in terms of putting me on a stage to talk about

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things, to write books about it, to celebrate all the weirdness.

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That is me.

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And so my, you know, my biggest involvement right now is giving

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a little bit of money back every month to the association.

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So I don't, I don't know what.

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Drupal needs right now.

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I think, cause I'm not involved.

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I think you just hit on it.

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Actually, I think that's, I think that's the perfect answer.

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I think that one of the things that Drupal needs more than anything is

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financial support from the people that have benefited from it, from the

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people that make a living off of it from the organizations that use it.

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you know, less than a fraction, like one, 100th of 1% of the people that

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download and use Drupal contribute anything, whether that's code or funding

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and so many, so many benefit from it.

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And it's you know, it's, it's the.

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You know, the tragedy of the commons is the perennial problem with open source.

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And so, you know, with COVID like many organizations, the DA almost

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went bankrupt and there was a flood of support from people, from organizations,

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you know, and thankfully it's.

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Back into a good place, but it's, you know, let's be honest.

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It's never been in a great place, you know, like, you know, money is not

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raining from the sky to support the DA.

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You know, money is not raining to support development.

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And so you know, that's amazing.

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I think the fact that you still give, even though you're not as involved

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as you once were is, is amazing.

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And I, you know, I really, I really do think that what the project needs,

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perhaps more than anything is, is funding.

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And that's a very unique answer.

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So you didn't Dodge.

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Yep.

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I think you hit a grand slam

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. I think I did a reframe.

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I learned from the best.

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Emma, I know you think Walkah and I'm sure you know, that there are many, many people

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along the way that helped you, but, but thinking back to those earliest days and,

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and people like Walkah , uh, are there any individuals that you just want to

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say hi to a shout out, to thank you to,

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Oh, I so.

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I genuinely am horrible with names.

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So I don't, I don't want to start playing the playing the

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name game and forgetting people.

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I feel like I'm now like, you know, receiving my Oscar and I don't

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have my list right now to my hand.

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So I'm not sure who to thank.

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but I'll thank my mom.

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Michael.

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You're amazing, its just been great.

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I certainly, I definitely have a list of people that I would

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love to see you interview.

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and I I'll slide you that list after, after we're done, but it's, it's, I

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guess everyone who has showed up to one of my talks who bought a copy of

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my book , um, who supported my career as I tried to figure out what it meant

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to be increasingly less and less of a developer in a developer world.

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Um, Anyone who has ever championed the non-technical side of what it means to

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be part of a software community, gets my, my undying gratitude and thanks.

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it's I think it's, it's easier to be a developer.

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People understand how that work happens.

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and it's I'm I, yeah, I've had, like I said, I've had so many.

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Hallway conversations and.

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opportunities where people have championed my work.

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and it, Hey, thank you.

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It landed me a job at the UN.

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I appreciate your support.

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Well, 1,173.

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what a UID, Emma, thank you.

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So much for sitting down with us, what a wonderful trip down memory lane.

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I always love chatting, and I appreciate you sharing, you know, your, your Drupal,

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backstory, and history with everybody would love to see your list of folks.

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You know, we're going to, we were talking about this before the interview.

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These, these have been so much fun to do for me.

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you know, especially, you know, in an age of COVID and not having

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conferences, like really the best part is the people is the community.

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And I miss that so much.

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So it was.

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really great to see you and I hope that we can meet in person sometime this decade.

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That would be great.

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you so much for joining us and thank you to our audience for tuning in.

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