Interview with Amitai Burstein, co-owner and CTO of Gizra

Amitai Burstein Drupal Community interview cover
Community Drupal

Agiledrop is highlighting active Drupal community members through a series of interviews. Now you get a chance to learn more about the people behind Drupal projects.

Our latest interview features Amitai Burstein, co-owner and CTO of Israeli Drupal agency Gizra. Give it a read and get an insight into how the nature of Drupal contributions has evolved and how great it is to meet members of the community in person.


1. Please tell us a little about yourself. How do you participate in the Drupal community and what do you do professionally?

My name is Amitai Burstein (@amitaibu). I’ve been using Drupal for more than thirteen years, and I am the co-owner of Gizra, my company that celebrated its ten year anniversary not long ago.

I’ve been with Drupal for quite a long time, ever since 4.6. Back then, I didn't know how to code and I started as an enthusiastic site-builder. After some time I realized I needed some basic code, so I started learning by reading online books, and following Drupal issues.

Nowadays, I would say that in the Drupal world I’m mostly known for my contributed modules, such as Organic Groups (OG), RESTful, The Message Stack, Entity Reference, etc.


2. When did you first come across Drupal? What convinced you to stay, the software or the community, and why?

Thirteen years ago, I and who would later be my colleague, Brice, worked in the textile industry. Like many others, we had an idea for a startup. I can already tell you the end: that startup failed. Miserably.

We were trying to build a service that would cater to the textile industry, specifically for pattern makers - the people who are making patterns for garments.

Our goal was to be some kind of GitHub for the textile industry. This is what got me to look for a CMS. At the time Joomla was a big player, there was Drupal, and many many other options. When I came across Drupal it was evident that there was a big community around it and there were tons of modules (at the time I thought that was a good sign, but nowadays I don't think that having tons of modules is necessarily a good mark of quality.)

There was a friendly enough community, there were the modules I was able to start picking things up with, and as many a story goes, two years after starting with Drupal, I found myself at my first DrupalCon. It was DrupalCon Paris, and for me everything has changed since then.

After meeting the real people behind the nicknames in the issue queue I knew I was in the right place. Furthermore, it was at this DrupalCon Moshe Weitzman, the original author of the Organic Groups module, offered me to take ownership of OG. So that was definitely a big crossroad in my professional life.


3. What impact has Drupal made on you? Is there a particular moment you remember?

I think there were quite a few different moments that I remember, and a lot of them indeed revolved around conferences - meeting fago, the author of the Rules module (in the early days it was still called workflow-ng!), as well as klausi, Earl Miles, Moshe Weitzman, Wim Leers, Dries, Daniel Wehner, Peter Wolanin, webchick, bojanz, Dick Olsson, Josh Koenig, Stella Power and the list can go on.

Over a couple of days, I've met many different people that I had so much respect for just from reading their code. Meeting them face to face was so much better! 

With that said, I don't think I chose Drupal for the sole reason of a friendly community. I think Drupal itself - the software, even at 4.6, already delivered what it was promising. 


4. How do you explain what Drupal is to other, non-Drupal people?

I kind of don’t. I used to try and explain, but when people ask me what I do, I typically don’t go into the details of what Drupal is. If they insist, then I explain very quickly, in two sentences, what a CMS is, but I don’t go into detail about what Drupal is. 

In fact, the longer I’ve been in the tech world, the less technical I go. I do feel that my own technical capabilities are growing constantly, and I’m still learning and touching a lot of code on a daily basis, but I find that the technical stuff is usually not the interesting stuff. 


5. How did you see Drupal evolving over the years? What do you think the future will bring?

I definitely see changes on the technological side - getting off the island and starting to use more from other PHP projects, using more advanced patterns, and more integrations with JS frameworks for the frontend. 

The biggest change I've seen in the past five years is how Drupal has shifted from people contributing code in their free time into more paid work by different organizations.

This is something I felt myself, how I transitioned from spending my evenings on the couch coding for my learning experience and for my enjoyment, to nowadays where I’m doing it more as “this is my day job”. Contributing code in my spare time is something I hardly do, as I invest my time in other interests.


6. What are some of the contributions to open source code or to the community that you are most proud of?

I’m pretty proud of the different modules that I've already mentioned before. I'm also quite proud of the presentations I gave, starting with DrupalCon Copenhagen almost ten years ago. In a way I think it helped shape the expectations a bit we as a community have of presenters.

I’m not suggesting that my presentations changed the way people are presenting at Drupal events, but I feel that it showed a different way of doing presentations which is not necessarily very linear and with boring bullet points. Presentations can and should be more joyful.


7. Is there an initiative or a project in the Drupal space that you would like to promote or highlight?

I think one of the more interesting projects that I enjoy using in my day-to-day work is the JSON:API module, which is now part of core. It's really well documented, it works great, and it makes our RESTful servers fun to work with. Also, as a Mateu and Wim Leers fan boy, I'm always happy to learn from their work!


8. Is there anything else that excites you beyond Drupal? Either a new technology or a personal endeavor. 

Most things in my life excite me beyond Drupal. I love spending time with my family and friends, as well as working out. Working out every day fills me with a lot of joy (although quite painful), and makes sure that my work-life balance is even more balanced than it was before.

A technological aspect that I’ve been excited about for almost five years, is Elm - a language that compiles to JS. For me, like choosing Drupal, it's one of the best decisions that we’ve made. It’s a wonderful language to work with, and we build better products with it.

Last thing I want to highlight, which I felt went quite unnoticed in the community, was a blog post about Organic Groups and Group module - Organic Groups in 4 voices

It started as a post by Pieter Frenssen, Maarten Segers and myself - the maintainers of Organic Groups. But then I realized that a more interesting and more complete post would also include Kristiaan Van den Eynde, who is the Group module maintainer.

It’s a post that doesn't try to "sell" a module, but rather give a fuller perspective of the "story" and the people behind it, and of their thoughts and emotions. Which checkbox to hit is a bit boring and outdates quickly. How one felt, struggled, and in the end grew from the experience never gets old.