Interview with Suzanne Dergacheva of Evolving Web: The sky's the limit with Drupal

Suzan Dergacheva 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.

We had a great talk with Suzanne Dergacheva, co-founder of the Canadian web agency Evolving Web and member of the Drupal Association Board of Directors. She's also involved in the Admin UX study and in the Promote Drupal initiative, and is an active member of the Canadian Drupal community. Find out more about Suzanne in our interview.


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

I started a web agency in Montreal about 12 years ago, Evolving Web, and after about a year we decided to specialize in Drupal; so, I started going to Drupal meetups and got really involved in the local community in Montreal, even organizing DrupalCamp Montreal. 

Then over the years I’ve built up my Drupal team at Evolving Web, kept going to events and got more and more involved, organizing things like codesprints and then getting involved in contributing in small ways - with documentation, etc.

A couple years ago I started getting involved in the Admin UX study for Drupal and I’ve been really passionate about that. It’s an initiative to improve the content editor experience for Drupal. One of the things I’m most excited about right now is actually the Promote Drupal initiative, which I think has a lot of potential to build the market for Drupal.

Last year, I was then elected to the board of the Drupal Association; it’s been a lot of fun just getting right in there and seeing the potential of the communities and all these ideas around growing Drupal. I’m really excited about that too. 


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

I think the first time I downloaded Drupal was about 6 months before we decided to start using it for projects. My business partner and husband Alex said “Oh, maybe we should try using Drupal!” and I think I went to and tried to install it, and I didn’t get very far. That was probably my first encounter.

But the second encounter was when we had a project for a political party in Quebec. Every website here in Quebec has to be in English and French, so they were pretty keen to use Drupal. So we said to ourselves, “Okay, we know Ruby on Rails, we know WordPress, I think we can figure out Drupal. No problem, we’ll figure it out!” 

This was when Drupal 6 had just come out, and there were some bugs in the multilingual system that we found. So, the first encounter with Drupal was a very positive one, but also a challenge, and we got right in there and started fixing things. 

To the question of what convinced me to stay, the software or the community, I would say both. In the last 6 years, I built a training program around Drupal, so I think what keeps me really excited about Drupal is that when I teach people, they feel very empowered. And there is a learning curve around Drupal, but I think when I get to actually help people learn and get over that learning curve it’s very inspiring, and so that’s a big part of what motivates me. 

And what keeps me involved in the community is just how much I can learn from everyone and how passionate everyone is. There are so many examples of people in the community who have really inspired me. That’s what keeps me not just using Drupal but giving back and being involved.


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

One of the great experiences I’ve had was I think about 6 or 7 years ago now when we organized a DrupalCamp in Montreal and we decided that instead of just a DrupalCamp we also wanted to organize a codesprint. 

We figured that since we’re in Montreal and we all build multilingual websites, we should organize a multilingual codesprint. This was when work on Drupal 8 was just starting, it was still a long way off and work was just beginning on the Multilingual initiative

Because we decided to do this far enough in advance, we were able to get a community grant from the Drupal Association to help us pay for different people to come from Europe to participate. That meant that we had Gábor come, as well as Francesco Placella (plach__) who created the Entity Translation module for Drupal. 

We had these people coming from Europe to participate and that inspired a lot of excitement in the local community. The developers on our team got really into it; we had a lot of momentum behind this codesprint.

It was just so exciting to see how this local group could create an international codesprint and really get some good work done. Drupal 8 was a long way off, but still we were able to make some good progress that weekend.


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

What I would normally say is that when you look at websites, they are really very similar, they have a lot of the same features. You have a menu across the top, you have a logo in the top left corner, so instead of creating a website from scratch you want to use a platform to do it.

What Drupal lets you do is get a lot of these features that everybody uses out of the box, while also giving you the flexibility to customize your website however you want. You can add features, you can add things like event search and ecommerce - the sky’s the limit. Drupal strikes that balance of providing key features out of the box, and also letting you customize everything.


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

I see Drupal evolving to become more mature and used by bigger and bigger organizations, which is really exciting. I also hope that Drupal, being such a flexible tool, will still be useful to the organizations that use it today. I think it’s versatile enough that it can be used by many different communities; for example, the higher education and non-profit communities have really embraced Drupal and I see that being a long-term thing.

I see Drupal kind of growing to new places, new applications, especially with the maturing of decoupled Drupal solutions. I think it’s really going to evolve a lot in the near future. We’re going to see more standardization on how to do decoupled Drupal and that’s really going to change the landscape.

I also think that the Drupal community is evolving. At the last DrupalCon, there was a content editors / digital marketers track, and it was really exciting to see people coming from the community who aren’t necessarily developers, but more people on the content and marketing side, people we think of as users.

I think Drupal needs more of that, our community needs to embrace people with a larger set of skills and backgrounds in order to keep growing. We need to have marketers, we need to have UX designers and project managers involved in the project in order for it to be successful. 


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

There are a couple of things I'm excited about in Drupal right now. I’m really excited about things like the Media initiative, which seems like it’s really driven by creating a great user experience. It’s always really positive to start to see development that isn’t just driven by a functional set, but more in terms of “here’s what the users wanted and here’s a picture of what we want to build”, with the focus on a good user experience.

Another initiative that I’m really impressed by is the Layout Initiative. It’s such a mature initiative. The focus on accessibility really shows that Drupal is such a leader in the open source community. The team is creating a tool that’s so flexible and innovative, and gives so much power to the content editor, but at the same time really focused on creating a tool that’s accessible and can be used by anyone.


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

Beyond code there are some of these initiatives that I think are really worth highlighting. I’m really excited about where the Promote Drupal initiative is going and how to get more marketers involved in that. There’s also an event organizers working group that’s being formed to help Drupal Camps come together and share resources. I think both of these have the potential to grow our community.


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

This summer I joined a bike club and that’s been really fun, doing something not in front of a screen and instead just getting outside. And, just like with Drupal, people are really passionate about cycling and welcoming novices like me into the community. So I’m excited about going to DrupalCon Amsterdam in October and cycling around!