Interview with Ivan Stegic of TEN7: Towards a versionless Drupal

Interview with Ivan Stegic of TEN7: Toward a versionless future of Drupal?
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.

We had a great discussion with Ivan Stegic, CEO of the mission-driven technology studio TEN7. Read on to learn more about his interesting background that led him to focus his business on Drupal, what excites him most about Drupal, and what his number one prediction for the future of the project is.


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 Ivan Stegic, I'm the CEO at TEN7. We are a technology studio whose mission is to Make Things That Matter. I was born in South Africa to immigrant parents, grew up and was schooled there. I then immigrated to the United States. I'm a Physicist and a Psychologist by training, so I have both of those sorts of backgrounds. 

I spent a lot of time in research and development, mostly in the Technology Center at Honeywell and then later at a company called Imation, which was a spin-off of 3M. My background is really in experimental science and in R&D, but I spent a lot of time with computers for a very long time, especially through my graduate studies, which is where I was introduced to open source.

Red Hat Linux was the first open source thing I used, way before it became a huge company, and that was what really informed me and allowed me to become really interested in Drupal and to start a company. 

And I sort of started TEN7 by mistake. That happened 15 years ago now, and we originally started with WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal. Those were the three things we did. I wanted to choose one thing that made the most sense for me, and I ended up choosing Drupal. 

So, I've been involved in the Drupal community, sort of on the outskirts for the first five years or so, since 2007. And I participate mostly in the Drupal community now by enabling people in my company to contribute.

And whether that's contributing through direct contribution to core, whether it's contributing through giving talks at Cons or at local camps, or facilitating people to contribute to documentation, all of that counts as contribution. I would say I contribute by proxy. 

During the day, I'm unblocking people at TEN7. My main focus is on people – making sure that the people that work at TEN7 are happy, have what they need and are contributing as much as they can, and that the clients we work with are happy with what we do and are getting their needs met as well.


2. How did you first discover Drupal? What made you decide to choose Drupal as the focus for TEN7 over Joomla! and WordPress?

Well, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't the community because it was! The community around Drupal is just incredible! Everybody talks about it, so I feel like it's almost a cliche to say it again, but it's true. 

I was building my first Drupal 5 site for the Animal Humane Society here in Minnesota, and there was a particular issue with caching that I couldn't quite get my head around, and I was having a ton of trouble. 

We launched the site and it was very slow. I realized that I didn't have caching configured correctly, and I posted in the IRC channel – if I'm not mistaken, before Slack, it was still an IRC channel, right? I posted there and immediately there were people that helped me and gave me pointers as to what I could try to fix the caching issue. And ever since then, it's been sort of a no brainer to use Drupal.

And then the other thing that really drew me to it was the fact that there was nothing prescribed about Drupal. It was basically a set of LEGO pieces that I could assemble in a way that my clients could benefit from. 

I had a really hard time with WordPress being a blogging platform at the time. And the UI in Joomla! was not my favorite, and I could not make heads or tails of the whole CMS. It was much easier for me to use Drupal. I love the LEGO pieces approach and the community, and that's sort of why I hitched our whole company to Drupal. 


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

I don't know if there's a particular moment, it's sort of been a culmination of things. If Drupal didn't exist, TEN7 would be a very different company. I don't know that it would exist, even, I might be doing something else.

A key element was getting involved in the community slowly, and locally, back when we still had camps that were in person. I mean, the Twin Cities Drupal Camp here was something that we sponsored and were a part of for a very long time. And as the pandemic has changed things, I hope we get back to doing that again. 

I think the local community is what has had the biggest impact, on me personally and on the company. I've met so many people and made so many friends through the local community and hired so many people that I don't think I would be the same person if any of that didn't happen.

So Drupal has definitely had a business impact on me and on my family and on the people that I work with.


4. How do you explain what Drupal is to someone who doesn’t know about it or who isn’t even in software development?

That's a great question! And I try to remember this and try to talk about it as plainly as possible. It is one of our values – Be Inclusive – and not just from a diversity inclusion perspective, but it’s important to be inclusive when you talk about software and how you talk about the very technical jargon that exists and making sure that you can bring everyone in to understand what this thing Drupal is. 

I often say that Drupal is the thing that lets you make a website, that lets you create the content on the page. And if a client is having a hard time understanding that, I just point them to a website and say, you see that page that's on your screen? There has to be some mechanism that allows you to control what's on that page, that allows you to make things bold and italics and into paragraphs and to insert a photo there. 

And usually I describe it as, well, Drupal is the thing that lets you do that. It's like an editor for your web page. “CMS” or “content management system” just seems so unattainable. What does that really mean? As soon as you use the word “editor” and you just allow people to think about it as “control of a web page,” I think that makes it a whole lot easier.


5. How have you seen Drupal evolve over the years? What do you think the future will bring?

Oh my gosh, what a question. So Drupal has seen so many evolutions. The most significant for me has been the evolution to being something that is user-focused as opposed to developer-focused. 

If you think about Drupal 4.7, 5.0, 6 and maybe 7 – they're very developer centric. It was created for people to build things. It wasn't created for people to edit and create things. And I think this evolution to being something that users can use to create is very important. So I've loved seeing this evolution, this focus on the user. 

I also love seeing the evolution that we've seen in best practices from a development perspective. Code reviews have always been a thing in the issue queue in, but that's been modernized now and is now more accessible to a larger audience, I think.

The fact that we are using popular frameworks out there and following their major version releases and deprecating according to those milestones and bringing Drupal along with those milestones at the same time, I think is very important.

So I've been very happy with that sort of evolution. The thing that I would love to see in the future is for us to drop the version number. I don't think the version number is important anymore, and I think that clients don't care about what the version number is. 

They’ve never really cared. They’ve only cared in the past because “version number” has been equated with a “major capital expense.” And when we do a Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 upgrade, or do a Drupal 6 to Drupal 8 upgrade, clients with complex sites have to spend upwards of $100,000. That’s not cool.

And that has been untenable for some customers. But I think that we're over this major upgrade bump. I think that we've set ourselves up for releases in the future that aren't going to be huge. And I think that if we just talk about Drupal as a product, as software, that clients will start to forget about major upgrades and major capital expenses that we've had in the past that we won't have in the future. 

So I'm hoping that's how Drupal evolves. I hope that it continues to evolve as a tool for creatives to be unique in their expression. I hope it continues to evolve the customer experience, and I'm sure that the technology will always be there to back it up.


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

I'm most proud of the recent contribution that we made to core about Bundle Classes that Derek Wright was involved in, and that we published a three-blog series about. That's been something that he's been working on for a while, it’s been in the pipeline for a while, and so I'm very proud of that. And the fact that we contributed this and use the very functionality on a major Drupal site that we support like Psychology Today is even better!


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

The initiative that I would like to highlight would be the Bug Smash Initiative that we’ve sponsored Derek Wright to contribute to on our behalf as well. I think that one's important. 

Then there's the Documentation project, that I know Joe Shindelar was involved with early on. I'm very interested in making sure there's good documentation for the community out there. 

And lastly, of course, there's the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, which is important as well, and I would love to highlight that as well.


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

I'm excited by all of technology, honestly! I'm always on the lookout for what's next. I have been really enamored with Wordle recently. So has most of the company as well. We even have a Wordle channel on Slack and have published “Why Wordle Matters” on our blog.

The story behind what the person who created Wordle did, the play on his name, the fact that he wanted to create something that was really old school, that was free to use, that was like Web 1.0. That's been something that's been interesting, not just from a technology perspective, but from a human perspective as well. So that's been top-of-mind for me. 

And then, from a technology perspective, headless has always been something that we've been very interested in and has always been something that we just haven't found the right project to use. And so the thing that we're looking at right now is NextJS, and Next-Drupal as well. It just looks very sexy and it feels like the next thing – literally. We’ll see.