Interview with Maria Totova, co-founder of Drupal Girls: Paying it forward with Drupal mentorship

Published by Tim
on 30 July 2019
Maria Totova Community Interview cover

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 an amazing talk with the super friendly Maria Totova, a driving force behind the Bulgarian Drupal community, organizer of various educational events, avid speaker and co-founder of Drupal Girls. Have a read and learn more about her numerous interesting projects and her love for Drupal. 


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 Maria Totova and I am a back-end developer from Bulgaria. I have been using Drupal for the last 4 years and I absolutely love it! I work as a Drupal developer at trio-group communication & marketing gmbh, a leading German brand and communication agency, where we create individualized marketing and business solutions.

I am also a board member at Drupal Bulgaria, a non-profit NGO and the official Drupal foundation in my country, as well as an education manager, community leader & instructor at Coding Girls, a non-profit NGO and an international movement. Last, but not least, I am very happy to be a co-founder of Drupal Girls, a subdivision of Coding Girls, devoted especially to raising the interest towards Drupal and growing a strong and diverse community.

Being part of all these amazing institutions, I have the great pleasure to organize and conduct different kinds of events: meetups, workshops, courses and camps. I do my best to spread some Drupal love in high-schools and universities as well by teaching and mentoring students there. I especially love being a speaker at Drupal conferences and I always try to contribute and share what I have learnt. 


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

When I came across Drupal, I was a freelancer using WordPress to build rather tiny websites for small companies. So, I can say that I discovered Drupal at a stage of my life when I was searching for a change, for something more. And I found it. I started working with big brands on larger, more complex projects for great companies.

What I particularly like about Drupal is that it brings many challenges and opportunities. It's never boring. I learn a lot and do different things every day, develop all kinds of various functionalities all the time.

But most of all, thanks to Drupal I have met and continue meeting so many exciting people! I've got amazing colleagues, so smart and really crazy! :) I have found great mentors who have been helping me grow as a developer and I have made friends for life.

Indeed, the Drupal community is full of awesome people, inspiring folks, so open-minded and always ready to help. I love that! I have found the place where I fit in and feel safe and comfortable.


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

I remember my first encounter with Drupal. :) It was not really a love at first sight... When a friend of mine, who, funny enough, hates Drupal, mentioned it, I decided to take a look. I visited, went briefly through the quite strange, full of unknown terminology D7 docs, thought the themes were not so appealing but still decided to install it and dive in a little deeper.

Then, I encountered the content types and modules, and I was like: “Gee, I want to use this!” :D Of course, I went on learning Drupal, built my portfolio website in the process and a few months later I applied for a Drupal job.

Guess what? They called me and hired me on the very next day! I was over the moon! Since then, I have been absolutely enjoying my work every day at every company! How has Drupal changed my life? Phew, it has turned it upside down and inside out but in a very, very good way. I love it and I am happy. Thank you, Drupal! :)


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

I always enjoy explaining what Drupal is to my friends and students. I start by underlining the fact that Drupal is not only a CMS but also a powerful framework. On one hand, you have the full capacity to structure your data and become a great content modeler without even realizing it.

On the other hand, you can build various complex custom solutions via Drupal APIs. I tell them how easy it is to install it for less than 10 min. Then, you receive a solid base that you can build on with only the functionalities you need, depending on the type of your project and without any unnecessary stuff. I describe what an impressive technology Drupal is and focus on its main features: modularity, security, performance, reliability, flexibility, multilingual support, mobile-first approach and so on.

Of course, I don’t forget to highlight the significance of the Drupal community: all the contributions, support and the amazing events that it brings along. In the end, what persuades them best is simply seeing my enthusiasm and understanding that Drupal brings real fun. :)


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

When I started with Drupal, it was version 7. Previously, I had experience in writing object-oriented PHP using CodeIgniter (they have the best docs ever!) and I loved the MVC pattern. It took me some time to understand the drupalisms but soon I grew fond of the hook system and everything.

However, the changes in Drupal 8 brought pure delight. The OOP paradigm and Symphony have made a huge difference. I am eager to see what the future brings, especially in terms of decoupled Drupal and consumer applications. Having in mind our great community, I am pretty sure that Drupal will continue evolving and shining!


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

The Drupal Girls project is one of the things I am quite proud of. The idea behind it is to promote Drupal among ladies and bring more diversity to the Drupal community. We do this by organizing workshops, events & courses and inviting girls to join us in a safe, supportive and inclusive environment. Our main target group is high-school & university students, but we are also happy to work with teachers, instructors and developers using other technologies.

Since our vision is based on integration, we are always happy to have men at our events as well. We all know that men and women think in a different way and this is actually a very good thing! We find out different aspects while working on projects and complement each other.

In fact, more and more companies are starting to realize how important diversity is and how beneficial it is to their organizations. I am very happy that Trio, the company I work for, supports our mission and provides us with the space and everything we need for our events. I hope that more people and organizations will consider joining our initiative by establishing a local community in their city.

Since we are part of the Coding Girls family, a non-profit & non-government organization, all our work is completely volunteer. Thus, we are constantly looking for more mentors and instructors willing to educate and encourage girls to get started with Drupal.
The Drupal 8 Companion Guide is another project that is part of Drupal Girls and which I presented at Drupal Europe in Darmstadt last year. It has still some work in progress, but I will do my best to publish it soon. It is a structured and portable reference manual to various Drupal materials which both learners and instructors can adopt anytime, anywhere.

It aims to help beginners focus on the important concepts without losing too much time in a prolonged research and before they give up. I have been using it for conducting our workshops and courses as well as for building a curriculum for our Trio internship programs for university students. We are planning to provide it to high schools this autumn, too. Of course, the guide can also be used in a self-paced & self-study manner by newcomers on their journey through the Drupal realm.
In the meantime, I enjoy being a speaker at Drupal conferences and sharing my knowledge, experience or lessons learnt with the folks there. I particularly like the lively discussions at the end of the sessions, and I am always looking forward to them. One of the local camps that is especially important for me is Drupal Bootcamp Plovdiv and I am very proud to be among its organizers.

It is a two-day conference for total beginners that consists of various presentations, discussions, quizzes and workshops. At the end of the conference, every participant has their own project and a good basic understanding of Drupal.

We have been doing it for a third year in a row and I absolutely love to see new eager-to-learn eyes every time! In addition, thanks to the latest changes on community projects on, I am also happy to give credits to our great speakers and mentors!


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

Ah, there are so many great Drupal initiatives and projects that I simply cannot list them all. Of course, the first three that come up to my mind are the Drupal 9, the Admin UI & JavaScript Modernisation and the Documentation strategic initiatives. These folks are doing a wonderful job and they deserve our respect.

As a developer, I am deeply interested in the D8DX: Improving the D8 developer experience community initiative. Since I come from a Drupal 7 world, and I remember the multi-language combinations and struggles there, I cannot forget to mention how impressed and grateful I am to the Multilingual initiative!

Finally, the Promote Drupal initiative is really important to us all and should definitely be highlighted!

As for projects, I am particularly fond of Thunder: we have been using it as a foundation for developing our own distribution and I enjoy being one of the devs working on it. I also like Drupal Commerce and I am always happy to see new e-shops built on it. Most definitely, every project on deserves a recognition for all the efforts of their maintainers and contributors!


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

When I am not busy with Drupal, I volunteer the rest of my time to Coding Girls as an education manager, instructor and mentor. Coding Girls is an international organization promoting an increased presence of girls and women in technology, leadership and entrepreneurship. We have communities in different cities around the world and are constantly growing.

I am the community leader of Coding Girls Plovdiv in my hometown, where we have been organizing free meetups, courses, workshops and all kinds of tech events for more than two years. Apart from the summer break, we are quite busy as we have an event almost every Thursday. This is how I have gained solid experience in organizing events and I enjoy it a lot!

Besides, now I have the chance to do the thing I love as much as programming – teaching. I know how important mentorship is and I am happy to do it for other people, to pay it forward. :)


Coding Girls meetup