Contributing to and interacting with the Drupal community isn’t as scary or as daunting as you might think. My advice—take the plunge by attending a local meetup or camp and be open to the many opportunities that will start presenting themselves. It worked for me! Here’s my story…

Looking back at my Drupal career, I regret that it took me so long to transition from a bystander to an active participant. I had been building my first large Drupal site for approximately 6 months before I finally faced a bug that annoyed me enough to justify creating an account so I could file my first issue. Still, I was so afraid to look stupid in front my would-be-peers that I used a fake username (frankrizzo) in order to prevent people from being able to make the connection between me and my comments, questions, and requests. This fear was completely irrational, and yet it made me so uncomfortable that it prevented me from communicating with and contributing to the community in any meaningful way.

The only justification I can give for my behavior is that I was a fish out of water. When I started this journey, I turned in my lab coat and ended my career as an engineer (where I knew virtually everything there was to know about my field of training) and jumped head first into the world of immediate gratification known as web development (where I had little to no formal training). I also got it in my head that I was unique in this regard and everyone else had a much more linear career path. However, after being in this community for 5+ years, I’ve heard story after story about how varied our backgrounds are: journalists, lawyers, designers, MBAs, bicycle repairmen, weldors, librarians, and the list goes on. And while this self-realization has finally eliminated all remaining aspects of impostor syndrome from my psyche, I still regret that fear kept me working in a vacuum during my first 2 years as a Drupal developer.

DrupalCamp Colorado 2011

The turning point for me was when I first started attending meetups. While I still kept quiet (so as to not expose my ignorance), it was at these events where I finally started to learn more about other community events and the benefits of participation. And while it was a little outside of my comfort zone to attend a conference with over 400 people (none of which I new personally beyond a casual conversation), I decided it was finally time to go big or go home.

I’ll spare all the gory details, but wanted to highlight three things that have forever changed my involvement within the Drupal Community (as well as open source in general):

  1. The keynote talk by Webchick title Getting Involved in the Drupal Community.
  2. A session by Rick Nashleanas titled The Client Perspective on Website Development and Operation.
  3. A conversation with Webchick, chx, Dave Reid and several other core contributors in the coder lounge.

Webchick’s keynote hit home for me because she really focused on the variety of ways one could contribute as well as the value of each contribution (big and small). Until that point, I had this misconception in my head that I needed to be some super human developer (you know, like Dave Reid) in order to be heard or to have any impact at all. However, I left the talk realizing the value of something as simple as reviewing or testing a patch. This is when my itch to contribute started…

The interaction with Rick Nashleanas was inspiring in a different way. I was so moved by the overall thrust of his message that I wanted to see if there was a way to take it further to the rest of the community. I went to talk to him right after the presentation and he immediately invited me to a followup BoF (which was a foreign word to me). Five minutes later, we were sitting around a table and starting to make a game plan. Several months later, it was this conversation that ultimately led me to organizing the Drupal Means Business track at the Day Stage in DrupalCon Denver.

The coder lounge experience was simply surreal. Here sat many of the biggest names in the community and I was actively involved in a heated discussion about how to tweak the drupal.org homepage to best serve all the various user demographics hitting the site. I don’t know why I was so shocked that I wasn’t dismissed for being a newb. It was yet another case of a fearful imagination gone wild. The reality was were just a bunch of normal yet extremely intelligent and passionate individuals sitting around a table hashing through ways to make Drupal better. I will never forget that experience.

Reflecting on Personal Contributions

I have no delusions of grandeur that what I’ve been able to contribute matches (or will ever match) some of the heavy hitters in the community. That said, I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish since 2011. Here are some of the highlights:

More important than the metrics is the hope that I’ve been able to (in even the smallest ways) inspire others along their Drupal career path to go from bystander to contributor. And then there is the question about whether or not I would have achieved even a fraction of these items had I not attended the camp and had the experiences I’ve just described. There’s no way of knowing for sure (it was, after all, a point of no return) and I’m sure I would have become active eventually, but I’m confident that it was a pivotal event in my career path.

Takeway Message

With over 1 million registered Drupal.org accounts, you would think that contributing (even on the order of a single patch review) would be more commonplace. However, I also wonder if people are holding back out of fear. To anyone in that category looking to contribute in a meaningful way, my advice is simple—get to a camp! You simply never know who will be your Rick Nashleanas that inspires you to take things to the next level.

PS. A short plug for those interested in attending DrupalCamp Colorado 2014! We’re only a few weeks away and we don’t want you to miss out.

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