Interview with Tim Lehnen: When you're trying to make a mark in the digital space, Drupal is your best choice
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're very happy we got to speak with Tim Lehnen, the interim Executive Director of the Drupal Association. Tim is honored to be serving the Drupal community for the past 5 years and is looking forward to how Drupal will evolve alongside digital innovations. Read on to revisit a touching moment from a past DrupalCon and find out more about some of the Association's notable recent accomplishments.
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 Tim Lehnen, and I'm the interim Executive Director for the Drupal Association. Prior to that I was the Director of Engineering for the Association. The board has just recently announced that we've appointed a new executive director - so I'll be happy to be returning to my role on the engineering team in June.
2. When did you first come across Drupal? What convinced you to stay, the software or the community, and why?
I first found Drupal in around 2006, around the time of the Drupal 4.7.0 release. At that time I was a student building websites as a freelancer to help pay for my education. I didn't know all that much about open source communities and collaboration at the time, and my early career actually diverged from Drupal quite a bit. However, even during that time I observed and admired the community the Drupal project had built.
In 2014 when I saw that the Drupal Association was hiring, I jumped at the opportunity to come home. Being able to engage with such a passionate (and compassionate) open source community has been very rewarding - and being able to do it for a living is a humbling privilege.
3. What impact has Drupal made on you? Is there a particular moment you remember?
Having spent just about the last 5 years working full time to serve the Drupal community there are many, many moments I could point to.
In particular, though, I'd like to highlight the #DrupalThanks campaign at DrupalCon Baltimore, where one of our partners and sponsors EvolvingWeb chose to use their sponsorship time at the keynote not for commercial promotion, but instead to give flowers to DrupalCon attendees to present to anyone else in the community that had made an impact on them and say 'Thank you.'
It's all too easy to get caught up in what is difficult and hard about the work we do, and moments like these are wonderful reminders why it is worth it.
4. How do you explain what Drupal is to other, non-Drupal people?
I echo the words of project founder Dries Buytaert. Drupal is a platform for ambitious digital experiences. That doesn't mean it's only for enterprise, or only for large end users. If you are a scrappy non-profit or start-up or really anyone with an ambitious idea for your digital presence - ambitious means you!
And yes, this means websites, but increasingly it also means other kinds of digital experiences like voice-assistant interfaces, kiosks and information displays, in-flight entertainment - and even AR and VR experiences.
On the flip-side, Drupal is not a platform for simple blogging or brochure-ware. If your needs are simple, a less sophisticated platform might serve you well. But when you're really trying to make a mark in the digital space, Drupal is your best choice.
5. How did you see Drupal evolving over the years? What do you think the future will bring?
I feel that Drupal will continue to hone in on its strengths - its highly engaged and expert community, the quality of its underlying architecture, and its pivot towards web services and decoupled architecture.
Drupal is years ahead of other solutions when it comes to robust omnichannel and decoupled solutions - and as our digital interaction models evolve further and further away from traditional keyboards and screens, I think we'll see Drupal evolve to be used in ways that couldn't have been predicted when Dries first built the platform in his dorm room 18 years ago.
6. What are some of the contributions to open source code or to the community that you are most proud of?
I've never been more than a mediocre developer, but I've always tried to find ways to contribute my project management skills. My team at the Drupal Association is the best in the world, and together we've done some amazing things for the community.
I'm particularly proud of the team's work to create the Drupal contribution credit system. It's an industry first in open source, and as far as I know we're still one of the only open source communities that allows our contributors to attribute their work as a volunteer, sponsored by an organization, or on behalf of a client customer. It's given us tremendous insight into the lifecycle of contribution for the Drupal project.
I'm also very proud of the team's recent work to move the Git tooling for the Drupal project to GitLab. I think that's going to enable a lot of new collaboration tools and reduce friction for contributors to Drupal.
As far as my own independent contributions, I was very happy to work on defining the JSON feed for the Open Demographics Initiative, to support our work to improve representation on Drupal.org user profiles.
7. Is there an initiative or a project in Drupal space that you would like to promote or highlight?
There are few initiatives I'd love to give a shout out to:
- The Drupal Diversity and Inclusion group has started a speaker inclusion initiative to help mentor new speakers.
- There are many efforts underway to get ready for the release of Drupal 9. If you'd like to learn more, follow along on twitter and then get involved!
- Finally, I strongly encourage anyone who has been affected by Drupal to join the Drupal Association as a member. If your organization uses Drupal, please consider our Supporting Partner program. Your support helps us continue to do our work on behalf of this project and community.
8. Is there anything else that excites you beyond Drupal? Either a new technology or a personal endeavor.
I'm an avid geek when it comes to virtual reality and augmented reality. I think I have four or five different headsets right now. The ability to actually inhabit a virtual world and feel present in it is something I've dreamed about since childhood.
At the same time, it feels like a very dystopian technology, and I can see how people perceive it as being yet another layer of technological isolation and alienation. On the other hand, it also has tremendous potential to help people who might be otherwise unable to travel or even leave their homes take part in new experiences, both solo and socially.
We'll have to see where it goes! As with every new technology I imagine we'll have to take the bad with the good.