Owen Lansbury, co-founder of PreviousNext: DrupalSouth, running code sprints in the sun & GovCMS

Owen Lansbury 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.

A co-founder of PreviousNext and a member of the Drupal Association Board of Directors, Owen Lansbury is a key figure in the Drupal world, with his company also largely responsible for the mass adoption of Drupal in the Australian government. Find out more about Owen's journey with Drupal 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’m one of the co-founders of PreviousNext, a small Drupal firm in Australia with a team of about 20 people that’s now been running for over a decade.

I’ve had quite a long involvement with the local Drupal community - I was involved in many of the local Drupal conferences throughout the 2010s which has been unified as DrupalSouth over the past few years.

DrupalSouth is our main conference that we run between Australia and New Zealand, and in 2019 we formed a permanent steering committee for the event which I chair. The committee gives us consistency across the organization of these events and other local community initiatives.

I also started a term as a Drupal Association Board member at DrupalCon Amsterdam last year, so I’m very excited about being able to contribute at a global level. 


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

According to my drupal.org profile it’s been 11 years, so not the original old-school, but maybe semi old-school?
My background is as a user experience designer and in 2007 and I was doing a lot of projects that required social publishing functions - online communities, content management, those types of things. 

At that time I started looking at open source options for doing that, and there was Plone, WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. I tested all of them and Drupal was the only one I didn’t get hacked as soon as I launched a site, so I started building a couple of small sites around that time.

Then my co-founder at PreviousNext, Kim Pepper, had just finished a senior Java Developer role with another company, and, much to his horror, I said “Hey why don’t we start building some sites with Drupal?”. I think his response was “Why would I want to build sites with PHP???”.

We actually won some early projects before we’d even started a formal company, but once we won a few more projects we could see the potential for Drupal as a software with a strong future so we formalised things as PreviousNext.

This was in 2008/2009, and while Drupal use was still quite small in Australia we could see what was happening internationally and could see similar things were likely to happen for Drupal in Australia. DrupalCon DC was a month after we started the company, which we thought might be a bit extravagant to attend, so our first DrupalCon was San Francisco in 2010.

From there, we put a lot of attention into growing the Australian community, and in 2013 we helped the Drupal Association run DrupalCon in Sydney, so it was quite a rapid shift from using the software to having a strong involvement in the community.


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

As someone that runs a company that is reliant on Drupal, the biggest impact is actually employing people to use Drupal. Over the course of 10 years we’ve had about 50 people that we’ve employed, and it’s a huge source of pride to see these people establishing strong careers around Drupal, buying houses and starting families.

But if you look at a particular moment, I remember when we were running DrupalCon Sydney; it was the first big DrupalCon that had ever been held outside of the USA and Europe. We were sitting on a balcony looking over the beach and running a code sprint with many of the biggest contributors to Drupal at that time, sitting in the sun, drinking beer, writing code - I think that’s a moment that will definitely stick with me.


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

Drupal is an enterprise-quality content management system that puts incredible power in anyone’s hands to build large, complex web platforms. The democratisation of software is something that’s very important to me.


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

I think there’s been a big change in the last decade. When I first started working with Drupal, it was very much people that were only using open-source technology, and it was very accessible to anyone that knew how to hack a little bit of code, or you could download a few modules and put a website together.

Since Drupal 8 was released, it’s caused some pain for smaller users because the framework is now much more complex and requires a much higher degree of expertise to work with.

But it’s also meant that Drupal has matured into being a legitimate open-source option for use in the enterprise space, and that’s obviously had a big impact on all of the companies that are building websites with Drupal if they’ve kept pace with its evolution.

So, we now have very big companies globally, like Accenture, Deloitte and other major system integrators, using Drupal as one of their core platforms and that essentially legitimizes it as being as important as software from the major proprietary vendors like Adobe or Oracle.

It’s been exciting for us within the Drupal community to now be operating at that level in the software world.


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

We could see that there was a lot of uptake of Drupal within the government sector in the US and Europe back in 2009 when we first started, and at that time there were no prominent Drupal sites within the Australian government.

We put a lot of effort into talking to the government and evangelising the benefits of open source, and built a Drupal 7 distribution called aGov that met the Australian Government’s accessibility requirements and security regulations.

aGov was ultimately adopted by the federal government in Australia and modified for use on a platform called GovCMS that’s now running hundreds of critical websites. These days, Drupal is effectively seen as the default framework to build a government website in Australia. 

This has helped the Drupal community grow and there are a lot of very different types of companies now providing Drupal services as a result of the government using it so heavily. Thanks to Drupal the Australian taxpayers have probably saved millions of dollars! 


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

One of the big topics that Dries has talked about recently is this notion of makers vs. takers, which he wrote a blog post about. 

This has been a big topic for a long time within Drupal in terms of, you’ve got a handful of companies and individuals writing a lot of code for Drupal and contributing that back, and then obviously a lot of companies that aren’t aware of how they can contribute, that don’t have the resources or policies to be able to. At PreviousNext, we try and share our contribution approaches for others to adopt as they see fit.

One of the initiatives that the Drupal Association Board is to start considering how we can start applying some of those concepts to the community, essentially to help companies realize the value of code contribution and have structures in place to support doing that. 

There’s now specific initiatives from the DA around that, starting with the Contribution Recognition Committee. The overall goal is to help all companies be able to contribute code and other forms of volunteering, and for it to be something that helps them in their own business success in the long term.


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

This is both technology-related and personal: having a life-long passion for House & Techno music, I came to Amsterdam a week early so that we could go to the Amsterdam Dance Event - the biggest electronic music festival in Europe - 5 days, 2,500 DJs across 100+ venues around this amazing city. Luckily, there were a few days to catch up on sleep before DrupalCon started! 

[Author's note: this interview was conducted just around the time of DrupalCon Amsterdam last year.]