Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Drupal is to web development as Powerpoint is to design

I was recently talking with a friend about how hard it is to find a good Drupal developer. While Drupal is the second-most widely used CMS, finding developers who know how to work with it properly is really challenging. I think there are three reasons for this.

  1. Drupal is so ubiquitous that most PHP developers have had at least some level of exposure to it.
  2. You can get a lot done in Drupal without knowing what you are doing.
  3. Most of the people hiring Drupal developers are not able to evaluate the quality of the work.

In thinking about this, an analogy came to mind:

Drupal is to web development as Powerpoint is to design.

PowerPoint is everywhere. Anyone who knows a little bit of PowerPoint, and can search the web for images, can convince himself that he is an adequate designer (or at least a good visual communicator). But the more you care about design, the more horrifying these amateur presentations are. PowerPoint itself isn't bad. If you do have good design skills, PowerPoint can be an incredibly powerful design tool. But there are more bad designers working in PowerPoint than good designers.

Similarly, Drupal has a huge library of modules that you can install and configure about as quickly as you can drop an image onto a slide. An expert Drupal developer will know what modules to use, have good judgement of when to use them, and have a solid process for testing and managing configurations. A Drupal amateur is unaware when he is creating a mess that is going to create embarrassing situations in the future.

So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff in the Drupal developer ecosystem? I tend to focus on three areas:

  • The types of sites the developer worked on. Wrong answer: "I build Drupal sites all the time."
  • How the developer finds modules to use. Wrong answer: "I just search for them."
  • How the developer manages configurations across environments. Wrong answer: "I just click boxes."

By asking these three questions, I can usually get an idea of expertise and craft that a Drupal developer applies to his work. Happy hunting!