Drupal

Interview with Shawn McCabe, CTO of Acro Media

Written by: Tim
Published on: 8.1.2019
Shawn McCabe headshot

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 had a chat with none other than Shawn McCabe, the CTO of Acro Media. In our interview, the avid Drupal contributor talked about his most memorable Drupal moments, his love for open source and his reasons to opt for a more sustainable lifestyle. Have a read!

 

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

I am the CTO at Acro Media, so I run our product development and R&D, which puts me pretty heavily into contributing to Drupal and working in the community. I do actually get to do a respectful amount of programming myself, which is nice and not something I always got to do as Acro was growing as a company. 

Thankfully now we have a head of operations for development who handles most of the day to day runnings and I get to run wild with awesome new tech while he does most of the actual work.

I also do architectural consulting and sales work for larger clients, a lot of which involves proselytizing about our lord and savior Drupal to anyone I get pointed in the general direction of.

 

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

I was aware Drupal existed, but my first actual work with it was when I was assigned to do a large Drupal/Ubercart site, back when Ubercart was still just in alpha. At the time we’d just started transitioning from our own proprietary stuff to Drupal. I’ve been an open source advocate pretty much since I got the internet, so I was all for the move in general.

Drupal ended up matching fairly well with my own preferences, it was open source, fairly developer focused and not controlled by a single company. I found it fairly similar to Linux in philosophy and that sat well with me. That whole “come for the code, stay for the community” thing that Drupal has never resonated with me, I keep working on Drupal because I like the direction and philosophy behind it.

Lots of Drupal events seem to focus on non-coding related activities as a big selling point, but I have little interest in doing non-Drupal activities as part of the community. I am not an isolated freelancer, so this isn’t one of my few times to hang out with other developers. I know other people in the community feel differently and we chatted about it on Slack and Drupal was literally the first time a lot of developers had a single other friend who was also a developer.

That’s a really rambly way of saying that I stay for the code, all the core developers are honestly working towards the best decisions for the project and even having larger corporate backers like Acquia I don’t think has affected that. People like Wim Leers, Gabor, Fabianx, Berdir, Daniel Wehner and Bojanz have done a lot of architectural work that I admire. Working with something like Magento I don’t get quite the same experience, they care primarily about only their own use cases and contribution efforts always feel like you’re the little brother tagging along.

 

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

Haha, I remember meeting Dries for the first time and basically just getting all starry eyed and basically stammering at him. In person I swear he’s like 7 feet tall.

On a less embarrassing note, I was very proud to be on the list of the top 100 Drupal contributors at this year’s Drupalcon, as well as 4 other Acro employees. It’s been my goal to push Acro’s community involvement heavily over the last few years, so to see those efforts pay off was really great. As a company we’re also consistently in the Top 3, which I’d like to think I had a large part in. If anyone from Acquia is reading this, we’re coming for your #1 spot.

 

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

Ha! Explaining it to people not in the industry is nearly impossible, usually I resort to “I make websites”. Even then people seem to get confused, it’s like “you know websites? You use them every day? Someone has to make those”. Drupal runs like 10% of the sites you go to, even if you don’t know it.

If they know web development I just say it is like wordpress with more flexibility and fewer security holes.

On a more serious note, I tend to pitch the philosophy of open source a lot when I talk about Drupal. I find most people grasp that fairly well and can see the advantages of having control over their own stuff. Somewhat ironically, I find developers who come from the proprietary side of things have the hardest time grasping open source, the concept of opening up the code is strange and terrifying. I’ve had calls with some very large companies who shall remain nameless who had to be given the ‘Explain it like I’m 5’ version of open source, which I found baffling.

 

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

I am a big fan of the direction of Drupal 8, I love the integration with the community and the adoption of many modern development practices. I think anyone still wishing for Drupal 7 to stay around is doing themselves a disservice instead of growing as a developer along with Drupal. I’ve been working with Drupal since late in the 4.7/early in the 5.x era and I think every version has been a clear improvement over the previous. 

 

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

I’ve contributed around performance a lot at various times, I like to think those ones are the most useful since they help everyone. Drupal gets this bad rap for performance that I think is totally unjustified, install one bad module or make a poor caching choice and suddenly it seems like Drupal sucks, but it’s just a side effect of how much flexibility it gives you.

I always feel I’m 10 blog articles or videos behind though in sharing information, any time anyone else has to fix something I’ve already solved, I feel like I’ve wasted their time and they could have solved something new instead of the same thing twice. I’m mostly a “self taught” developer, which really means I’ve been taught by every kind soul who wrote a blog article or open sourced a project, which is a debt it doesn’t seem I can ever sufficiently pay back. So I’d guess I’d say I’m also proud of any content I’ve been able to give back, especially completely original work, then I’ve done my tiny bit to push society forward.

 

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

We’ve done a ton of work on the Commerce POS module that I don’t think gets as much exposure as it should. It provides a wealth of functionality that integrates completely with commerce, providing a fully integrated setup that is usually only an option for expensive or enterprise setups. It even works with hardware you can build yourself like a Raspberry Pi, of which we’ve built some samples of already.

 

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

I am obsessed with renewable energy stuff lately, I built my own ebike last year and converted a Jeep Cherokee to full electric this year as well. Shameless plug for my youtube channel and blog, except they don’t have near as much content as they should. Our head office is in an area that has suffered from increasingly bad forest fires similar to California, so I’ve tried to take my reduction in greenhouse gases seriously.

I am a fanboy of Tesla for all the work they’ve done pushing the industry forward, but they’re not really my kind of cars as they’re very locked down against customization and filled with unnecessary gadgets, which as you can’t tell from my open source rantings, is pretty important to me. 

I’ve also converted to a vegan diet (aside from the occasional screw up, you wouldn’t believe how much stuff has milk powder in it!) for the same reason. Less for the cute little animals and more so I don’t die in a fire.

I also get super excited about OpenAI’s efforts to build DOTA bots, which seems like a real advancement from comparatively simple games like chess or go.