March 14th, 2014
Since joining Drupal.org in 2007, Lee Rowlands (larowlan) has been an important contributor to the Drupal project. A major core contributor and Drupal 8 advocate, Rowlands has become a well-recognized and celebrated member of the Drupal community.
Rowlands is an important Drupal figure in Australia, and has spoken at DrupalCamp Brisbane 2010, Drupal Downunder Melbourne 2012, DrupalCon Sydney 2013 and Drupal South Wellington 2014. An occasional mentor during Drupal Office Hours in the Australian timezone (GMT+10), Rowlands is also a well-recognized figure in the international Drupal community for his involvement with core and his contributions to a huge variety of projects on Drupal.org.
How did you get involved with Drupal?
Jim Morrison and a naked native american came to me in a dream and told me it was my destiny. Just kidding. I started up my own IT consulting business and I’d built a couple of Drupal 5 sites.
The third site I built needed some tricky mapping functionality. This was in Drupal 5 and the site was for a locally owned fishing tackle franchise. Their point of difference with the big national chain-store was local knowledge. So they had this great idea to create a series of online fishing maps for local regions, each featuring points of interest for that region. Each point of interest had a marker icon based on its type, eg there were boat ramps, fishing spots etc. Each marker had a popup with an image and some text. The kind of thing you can build on your own with Google Maps now, but back then – it was a fairly new concept.
At the time gmap module was the go-to mapping option (Drupal 5) but it didn’t support the image/marker/description functionality. So I wrote a patch to allow wiring up a content-type with gmap functionality to do so. And in order to post the patch, I had to sign up for a Drupal.org account. So that was my first comment on Drupal.org, a sizeable patch!
Not long after that I pitched the idea of a website to a local motel that had just had a renovation. At this stage Drupal 6 was out and the go-to ecommerce solution was Ubercart. My pitch included online-reservations so I worked with Will Vincent to round out a hotel-booking solution for Ubercart. That’s how I got my CVS access on Drupal.org.
Contributing my code back to Drupal.org opened my consulting business up to the world. Up until that point most of my work had been for local businesses. Once I had a project on Drupal.org I started receiving work offers via my Drupal.org project page, mostly for adding new pieces of functionality.
I continued building sites and I always ensured that I had contract provisions to open-source any generic modules that the project needed. Over time I ended up with more than 30 contrib projects on Drupal.org, all with varying degrees of maintenance. Each of these kept resulting in work referrals and I kept expanding my skillset and client-base.
Then Drupal 7 came out and it felt like I had to start learning all over again. I had a long car-trip coming up so I downloaded the mega ‘Upgrading 6.x modules to 7.x’ thread from Drupal.org and spent about three hours taking in all the changes. As soon as I had net access, I subscribed to the Drupal core issues RSS feed. At this stage my motivation was just to keep across changes happening in core, but after a while I started seeing issues posted that I realised I could fix/work on. So I started commenting and posting the odd patch.
Not long after an epic thread was posted by @sun in the issue queue titled ‘Make core maintainable’ (https://drupal.org/node/1255674), basically it was proposing that if we didn’t get more hands on deck in core, the only way forward was to start dropping unmaintained modules. I jumped into irc and put my hand up to maintain forum, one of the modules on the chopping block. I had a conversation with @chx who later remarked ‘yesterday I saw a guy on IRC who was contemplating on taking the forum module maintainer hat’ (http://www.drupal4hu.com/node/303).
So from there I took a more active role in core contribution. Those threads are a great read, even today, as they indicates the level of frustration that core developers were experiencing in the first six months of Drupal 7’s release.
What do you do with Drupal these days?
I build sites for some of Australia’s largest government, education, media and non-profit organisations with one of Australia’s most respected Drupal Agencies, PreviousNext. It’s a great team and I get to work on interesting projects.
After all this time I still enjoy working with Drupal. Sometimes people lament Drupal’s ease of site-building, likening it to ‘golden handcuffs’, but that’s where contributing to core and contrib help. If you find yourself stuck in a ‘click-monkey’ rut, contributing code lets you flex your ‘code-monkey’ muscles.
You’re involved with quite a variety of projects in the Drupal community – can you describe some of the things you do and why you like them?
I particularly like working on Drupal core because it helps me keep abreast of upcoming changes. I don’t have a CS education, I have degrees in mathematics and engineering, and I’ve been quoted before saying I got my CS education in the Drupal issue queues. As a contributor you are incredibly lucky to have your work constructively reviewed by some of the world’s best programmers. Every time someone makes a suggestion on your patch, you learn a little more. I’ve learnt so many programming concepts from reviewing other’s code and having my code reviewed by others. Particularly during the Drupal 8 cycle, where we’ve effectively rewritten Drupal in a new language – PHP 5.3.
What’s the coolest project you’ve worked on?
Its not live anymore unfortunately but I worked on sendmypostcards.com which was a Drupal 6 site with Ubercart where you could create your own postcards and pay to have them printed. You could use your Facebook photo-galleries, Flickr account or upload your own files. The designer/editor was built with jQuery and the site used batch-jobs to generate 300dpi print-ready PDFs. It was a challenging project but it did end up spawning a number of contrib modules including Image Cache External which allows you to generate derivatives of remote images. Unfortunately the site didn’t last, but I did get a couple of Christmas cards printed and sent to my office. It was great to have something tangible, I still have them mounted on my office wall.
What changes do you hope will come in Drupal 8?
I’m disappointed we didn’t get a layout builder in core but I’m excited by the opportunities for it to develop and mature in the contrib ecosystem. Some of the work done as part of the Scotch Initiative by @sdboyer and @eclipsegc was pretty awesome. @sdboyer stepped me through the ‘Princess’ branch (the name was a dare) at the stage when it was fairly functional and the possibilities it opened up were pretty awesome. Hopefully that work will be leveraged for what becomes of panels/page manager in Drupal 8.
What is your favorite part about the Drupal community?
Getting to work with insanely intelligent and brilliant people. There are so many awesome people working with and on Drupal every day who are always willing to share their experiences and knowledge.
Tell us a little about your background or things that interest you outside Drupal?
I live in Central Queensland at the Southern tip of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. We have three World Heritage listed destinations all within our reach – the reef, Fraser Island and Mon Repos Turtle Rookery, where you can watch Marine turtles lay their eggs or the hatchlings make their way into the world. The climate is great, the cost of living is low and the people are some of the friendliest in the world. I get to work out of an office with two great Drupal devs who also work for PreviousNext, @nick_schuch and @grom385. Its a great lifestyle, our office is right on the beach.
Outside Drupal I’m passionate about family, with two school aged children and I’ve been married for 15 years. I’m lucky that Drupal gave me an income while my children were pre-school aged and when they went off to school I was able to turn this into a career.