Interview with Anne Stefanyk, CEO of Kanopi Studios: Drupal can be anything you want it to be

Anne Stefanyk 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.

This time we spoke with Kanopi Studios' awesome CEO Anne Stefanyk, covering everything from her first getting to know the Drupal community to Kanopi's exciting projects and community involvement all through to Anne's love of treehouses. 


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

My name’s Anne Stefanyk and I’m the founder and CEO of Kanopi Studios. Kanopi is an agency that focuses on the full life-cycle of the website, which means we do everything starting with strategy, design, development, through to long-term support. 

And we do it in a really nimble way, where we are able to jump in at any stage of a website and immediately make positive impacts for our clients. It’s because we believe in a continuous website improvement methodology, where we can take small bites that create big wins for clients.

Our sweet spot is actually support: so many agencies do just build, and then are done. But we believe that the first day of launch is really when your site begins! So we’re there to support you as your site grows and evolves.

Beyond owning Kanopi, I am one of the chief cat herders and lead organizers of the Bay Area Drupal Camp. I also help run SFDUG (the San Francisco User Group).


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

I came across Drupal back in 2006 and I was working at an agency, so I was on the client side. I was actually very angry at Drupal; I was coming out of Flash as an agency person, and then all of a sudden I had to manage a website. So I feel very much for Marketers today: they have to manage so much stuff compared to 2006. 

But it was interesting because I started working with Drupal as an end-user, and then things switched where I actually ended up getting a job with an agency that built sites in Drupal. This was after my real estate career came to a crashing halt in 2007.

At first, I was a content editor. My first experience was going to DrupalCamp Victoria in 2006 and I met this wonderful wacky group of people: I met Chris from BuildAModule — he came up for that camp — and I met Shiraz Dindar who’s one of my employees in Victoria now, and I just found this really quirky community.

Then, in 2009, I had the opportunity to go the PNW Drupal summit in Seattle, and that’s where I met Jen Lampton! We met a lot of good people back in the day and I thought, wow, these are brilliant nerds and really fun and easy to talk to. I remember wearing my business attire the first day and not really making as many friends. The next day, I wore my hoodie, my ball cap and my T-shirt, because that was the general vibe and I was super stoked for that.

It was interesting because, coming in on the client side, I was never in the code at all. But I fell in love with the community for their inclusivity and for their uniqueness, and really so many people enjoying Drupal in a social activism way.

So it was really going to DrupalCamp PNW when I discovered there’s this whole group of people that were willing to sit down and teach me about what the heck CCK fields were, or how the user permissions actually work. And that’s when I got really interested in the actual content editing experience of Drupal and learning about it.


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

I remember when I went to DrupalCon San Francisco in 2010, I thought “Wow, people really do this professionally. This is a big thing”. And that’s when I opened my eyes to the opportunity that was beyond my backyard.

I’m from Canada, so it was in 2010 when not only did I fall in love with Drupal in a bigger way, I actually then fell in love with San Francisco. Shortly after, I had a job and a visa, and I was in San Francisco working at Chapter Three.

I really feel like Drupal absolutely changed my life in terms of where I was before to where I am now, because previously I had to have a desk job where I had to go into an office; now, I get to work from home and travel the world with really smart fun people and wear hoodies to work. Life is really good, you know.

I feel like Drupal’s really empowered some really cool stuff in my life just because of the nature of the open source vibe. I really vibe on that open source mentality, “let’s collaborate, let’s share, let’s assume positive intent, let’s make the world a better place, you know, one line of code at a time”. I just think Drupal is a really fun platform to work with. 


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

One of my biggest passions in Drupal is making it easier to understand. So, when people ask what Drupal is, I always say “it’s a tool to build websites, it is cool code that we build websites with.” It’s very basic the way I try to explain it. 

There is brand recognition on WordPress, I’m not going to lie, so I often ask “Have you heard of WordPress?”, and they usually have, and so I tell them “Well, it’s that, but it’s kind of bigger, you can do more stuff.”

So I just try to make it really easy to understand and use plain language whenever I talk about Drupal. Ultimately, I’m a big fan of asking “What are your goals? How do you want to use Drupal? How can Drupal be the tool that makes sure that you achieve your goals?”

It’s context dependent and I try to use analogies. Although we don’t like using the LEGO analogy, sometimes it helps clients understand that you get a base core kit — Drupal core is like your central core kit of LEGO — and then you have all these cool LEGO builders all over the world that build these smaller components that can pop into your master LEGO ship. Except that your LEGO ship’s really your website. 

It’s very helpful for non-technical people to understand the concept of other people contributing more pieces to a bigger, totally custom website experience, because Drupal can really be anything you want it to be.


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

It has been since about 2006 that I’ve been involved with Drupal, so I’ve seen a lot. 

I’ve seen a lot of version changes: from 5 to 6, from 6 to 7, from 7 to 8, and now 8 to 9. And, although I love that Drupal has always reinvented itself to be better, I’m really grateful we’re at a point where we’re committing to backwards compatibility. 

To me that’s really important, because backwards compatibility means that we can really create growth instead of having to rebuild every version. Because that’s been really hard on clients; as an agency owner, I’m noticing that it’s been hard for clients to accept that they need to spend a lot of money over and over again. 

So committing to backwards compatibility is going to just skyrocket our growth, I think, in terms of adoption. Because it’s now also being built in an open object-oriented framework that gives a broader sense of interest from other developers, in that it’s taking this computer stuff a little more seriously in version 8. It’s fantastic from a scalability standpoint.

I’m also really proud, honored and excited about how far Drupal has pushed the needle in terms of accessibility and multilingual in core. I think that’s something that no other CMS can boast, that our whole editing experience is accessible and that we’ve, in a sense, forced the hand to get people to compliant. I’m really excited about that. 

Also there’s been a big shift in Drupal where they have the larger corporate entities that are players in the space, whether it’s Autodesk, Pfizer, or Tesla or whatnot. I’m thrilled to see the movement. 

I’m also excited to promote the movement of getting large corporations to contribute back to open source, and what needs to happen to facilitate that collaboration. Because, without contributions back to the software, none of us would have jobs. 

It’s so important for contributions, and I think for so many agencies or big companies it’s hard sometimes to allocate time, but there are sustainable ways that you can do community work within your regular workflow. 

That’s where I really see the future; if we can continue to foster a real sense of community and foster that within the new corporate entities that are playing in our fields, then we can really get more people to contribute back. 


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

I would say that one of the contributions that I’m personally most proud of is our Community Contribution program at Kanopi Studios. I think we’ve created a sustainable model where it facilitates multiple different initiatives in our business. I want to do a talk at DrupalCon about this and we’ll see how that goes.

First, we have a dedicated Community Ambassador who helps organize commits and run sprints within our workflows to move community stuff along. AmyJune Hineline — who’s our community ambassador — also goes out and facilitates finding other projects that need support, whether it’s the Breadcrumbs module or whether it’s Bootstrap Paragraphs, and that our team is then geared up on sprints to help. 

AmyJune does 50% billable work, that’s how she pays for herself. And then the other 50% of the time she’s focused on community. Through that it’s been so cool because I’m a big community person. 

But, because I can’t code, I’ve never been able to really jump in and get credit on any of this stuff — which is fine. I’ve always just done it altruistically. But it’s great having this new system on so we get credit for community work.

I’m really excited that people are actually seeing the business value in community, because there is true business value going to these conferences. AmyJune’s evangelizing our brand and attracting talent. She’s talking to clients who are really interested in contributing; those are our kinds of clients, we want clients that want to pay for the trip.

I’m really proud that we can measure AmyJune’s ROI. I feel like that’s a model that we can then systemize and then take it to every agency and say, “You need someone doing your QA”, “You need someone handling client stuff” . . . that’s what AmyJune does 50% of her time, and it keeps her billable, and everything’s paid for that way. And we then have someone 20 hours a week working on Drupal (and also WordPress!) which, to me, is really exciting.

It’s a total win-win. And we really live by our values; we value community, it’s one of our core values.

The second part is being able, as an organization, to operationalize community contribution. We have time and resources within our workflows to do community contrib. 

Our community contrib program is where employees go on to Slack and they report what they’ve done with just a numeric value, like, “I worked 2 hours on the weekend on this” or “I spent an hour on this”, and it’s good for all the things, so all levels of people can get involved. A lot of people that are community people put the time in regardless, they just will, right? So we wanted to enable them to get recognition for doing that. 

And it’s not like somebody wins, there are different tiers; if you are doing stuff pretty regularly, then you’ll get a whole other conference day added on to when you go. So if you wanted to go to three conferences or four conferences, the people that spend time in the code, in the community, doing the work . . . they are the ones that tend to want to go to the conferences. And this is a good program that enables us to say: “Hey, you did that community work, so then you can go to more conferences.” 

All of the community people, they all want to go and travel to all the events — I mean, why wouldn’t you? It’s amazing! But there is that sustainable model that you have to balance when, as a CEO, I can’t just send all the people to all the things all the time. But those that are really jazzed up about it and want to spend some extra time getting there and contributing, there’s an avenue to be able to do that. Basically when you do community contrib, you get extra free time, on Kanopi’s dime, to do even more.

So we make sure that when people are hired, they’re in tune with that. Because I do feel like there are lots of projects, and lots of money out there. But again, if we don’t support and shine the little Drupal drop, it’s going to be tricky for all of us come later on. 

We really value people that are into community. And they understand the balance because we also have to work.


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

It’s actually one that’s not even on because the distribution requirements made it so complicated, but we ran a project called Mukurtu. It’s all run on GitHub. 

I’m really really really honored to be part of that project. It was funded by Washington State University, and it’s a project that a couple of shops worked on beforehand, with Kanopi working on launch version 2.0. 

It’s on Drupal 7 right now and there’s an incredible set of features. Essentially, Mukurtu is a website installation profile that you can spin up using Drupal 7 and Organic Groups, and have a place where you can archive your digital heritage of digital items securely online. 

So it’s great for museums, it’s great for indigenous tribes, and First Nation folks. We have some people at Oxford that are, for example, tracking the migration of different birds. There are so many different applications of this, but it is a place where you can actually use roles and permissions.

Also, it’s really tightly built so that you can partition off secure content, so Google doesn’t just take all your content and now it’s theirs. Especially when it comes to cultural assets from museums or first nations folks. So that is just wonderful. 

It runs on GitHub and it is sponsored by WSU, but we’re one of the four committers and one of the core developers on that, so that’s super fun, I just love that project.

And it’s cool because we built it for around 70-100k at the time and WSU has spun up hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of sites using that installation profile. And it runs with features — I’ve never had a site so tight. You know, regression bugs . . . they’re the bane of our existence in Drupal, and Drupal 7 was all featurizing everything, and that was just so tightly featurized that it was so nice. It was a very smooth project.


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

My dogs! I love my dogs; they’re a chihuahua and a chi-wiene, and they’re actually nicknamed “the evils.” 

But I’m really excited about treehouses, I’m a big fan of treehouses. I actually started Kanopi to facilitate that. And, as most entrepreneurs can relate, it’s been one heck of a ride and super busy, so getting to actually building treehouses hasn’t happened. ;)

Now that we have a team of 44+ and we’re getting to the place where we’re really stabilized and we’re building a sustainable agency, now’s the time that we can go build this super awesome WiFi-enabled tree house in southern Costa Rica.

We’re planning on getting that going as part of our company planning for 2020, so I’m really excited about building a treehouse for the Kanopians to go and play in.