June 7th, 2016
Matthew Lechleider (Slurpee) has been active in the Drupal community for over a decade, and his hard work has directly led to an incredible amount of community growth. The founder of a Chicago Drupal User Group and our community’s chief advocate for the Google Summer of Code and Google Code-In programs, Matthew has been a key part of growing the Drupal project and our global community. Here’s his Drupal story.
“In 2005, I was a full-time university student working at an internet service provider so I could put myself through school,” Matthew said. “I was working as a network/systems person, and since I was at an ISP we had a lot of people calling us and asking the same questions over and over. At the time, I knew bit about web development and programming, and I thought, ‘I bet I could make a website that would answer these people’s questions.’ And that’s how I found Drupal. I proposed it to my boss, and the next thing I knew I was working on a full-time project getting paid to work with Drupal 4. I built the website and it was really popular— and we noticed that the phone calls went down. We were tracking our support calls at the 24-hour call center, and when people called for help, we would refer them to the website as a resource. So it really was a big help.”
After that, the next steps were logical for Matthew. He put together a Drupal meet-up at his Chicago-based company. The group grew quickly each month, and in no time at all, people were asking about training and “Introduction to Drupal” classes. “I started teaching those classes,” Matthew said, “and then next thing you know, people were asking for private trainings and businesses were asking me to come to their offices and train new Drupal developers. When the people I was training came back with advanced questions, I realized how much money they were making, so in 2008 I went from being a network engineer to focusing on Drupal full-time. Since then, I’ve started a Drupal business and worked on some very big projects.”
“I never thought I would be a web developer, but I fell into Drupal, saw how great and easy it was, and decided it was a good thing to be a part of,” Matthew added.
Over his time in Drupal, Matthew has converted a lot of Chicagoan web developers into Drupal users. “It’s pretty cool to be part of something bigger than yourself,” Matthew said. “It’s like a big tidal wave — I feel like I’ve been riding this Drupal wave for a long time. I didn’t think I’d still be work with Drupal this many years later.”
Many people in the community know Matthew only by his user username, Slurpee. But how did he come by that handle?
“I was probably eight or nine years old, learning about computers, and I had some nicknames I was playing around with. But it’s like that movie ‘Hackers’: you have to have your handle, you have to have your identity. It was the middle of a hot July in the summer, and as I was figuring out what I should call myself, I realized I had bout 20 empty slurpee cups surrounding my computer. I really do like slurpees. So that’s where that came from.”
As a long-time Drupal user and evangelist, Matthew is incredibly excited for Drupal 8.
” I have a traditional programming background in computer science, and Drupal wasn’t always the most professional CMS,” Matthew said. “Now, I’m very excited about Drupal 8— it’s like Drupal grew up and went to college and got a graduate degree. Drupal 8 is the way Drupal should have been a long time ago. I’ve built some of the biggest Drupal projects in the world, and when you’re talking to those kinds of massive clients, it’s hard to sell systems like Drupal four, five, and six. They’re out paying the big money for the huge enterprise solutions, and Drupal 8 is big. It’s ready to go, and I really think it’s on par with everything else these days.”
When asked about his favorite Drupal 8 feature, Matthew said, “As I work with big sites, it’s been a big struggle to deal with continuous integration, which is resolved in Drupal 8. As a person with a sysadmin background, I think integration is probably the thing that will save the most headaches. It’s going to be a very cool tool to work with.”
Google Summer of Code and Google Code-In
Matthew is also heavily involved in several of Google’s student coding programs, and runs point on keeping Drupal in the Google Summer of Code (GSoC) and Google Code-In (GCI) programs.
“I’m a bit younger than other people in the community, and I started with Drupal when I was 19 years old or so. I was going to college when I got into Drupal, and I remember talking to people about it at school… and nobody had any clue about it, not even my teachers,” Matthew said. “Fast forward several years: I was working in the community, specifically on the VoIP Drupal module suite. At the time, we had a student come to us about GSoC —this was in 2012— and he said, ‘hey, I want to work on this project for you guys as part of the GSoC. Can you be a mentor?’ I said sure, and that’s all I was that first year. The next year, nobody wanted to organize GSoC for Drupal, so I stepped up and said that I liked the program and would get the ball rolling. I spent a lot of time revamping the things that Drupal does with Google, got us accepted back into the program, and we’ve been participating every year since, both in the Google Summer of Code, which is for university students, and the Google Code-In, which is for students ages 13 through 17.
“Getting back to what I said earlier about being a student, when nobody knew what Drupal was, it was a bit harder to get involved. Knowing that there’s a program like this in schools around the world, pushing these projects to students, I think it’s critical for us to participate. If we want this project to continue to be successful, we have to focus on younger people. They’re the ones who are adapting and changing the tech as we know it, and if they don’t know about Drupal, they won’t use it. But if we embrace these kids and show them how awesome Drupal can be — we have impressive students doing impressive stuff— it’s great for everyone. That’s why I think it’s super important that we spend so much time on the GSoC and GCI programs.”
For those who are interested in getting involved, there are both GSoC and GCI Drupal Groups, a documentation guide for GCI, and a guide for the GSoC students who are just getting started. There is also a #drupal-google IRC channel on free node.
“It’s fairly easy to get involved,” Matthew said. “If you’re interested in helping, join the groups — we send out lots of updates — or you can can contact me directly. You can find us on IRC, or if you know of a student who wants to get involved, all they need to do is read the documentation. It covers everything. We spent a lot of time on that documentation,” Matthew said.
Being part of something bigger
When asked what drives him to participate and organize the community, Matthew’s answer was simple.
“Honestly, it’s all about being part of something bigger than myself,” he said. “I’ve been participating in computer hacker nerd groups since I was a kid, and back then (in the 90s) it was fairly difficult to find out about these kinds of groups. I attended something called 2600 — does anyone else remember that? — I thought it was so cool to be a part of something like that. I’ve been in IRC every day for over 20 years participating in communities, and it’s so exciting to be part of a huge thing bigger than myself. Now I’m getting recognized for it in Drupal, which is cool,” he added.
“Drupal is by far the largest community I’ve participated in from that point of view, and it’s been an exciting ride. Honestly, I thought it would have been over by now — I’ve been part of the community for over 10 years and that’s a long time — but I’m excited to see where it goes. For me, Drupal is more of a lifestyle than a career. Technically I’m a web developer, but I spend so much of my time volunteering and going to events. I can go to a DrupalCon in another country and see my friends from all over the world. Seeing how mature our community has become over the past decade continues to excite me, and and I plan to be part of this for as long as possible.”
“The money’s not bad either,” he added. “I live a comfortable life working from home. I like to travel a lot, go to music festivals, or go on Phish tour for weeks at a time, but I can still work. I have a mobile hotspot, and just bring my laptop with me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been set up at a camping spot in the middle of nowhere, working on my laptop, or how many times I’ve been in a random country looking for internet so I can get some work done.”
“Working remotely, or working from home, gives me a lot of freedom. It lets me go to the skate park when all the kids are at school— I skateboard, and bring my board with me when I travel — and there’s time for me to go running every day. It’s actually one of my favorite activities, my running break — halfway through the day, I get up and I go running. It helps me keep my sanity.”
“I also like to snowboard,” Matthew continued. “I’ve been skateboarding since I was 5 — since I could walk and talk I’ve been skateboarding — and I started snowboarding a couple years after that. Going to DrupalCon Denver was exciting, and there was a DrupalCon snowboard trip. Lots of people went to Breckenridge together, and that’s the other cool thing about the community: these people are fun, they like to go out and do things together.”
Helping camps and communities around the world
After a decade in the Drupal community, Matthew has a lot of great memories of traveling, teaching, and sharing.
“I was invited to organize the first DrupalCamp in Sri Lanka and hold training classes there,” Matthew said. “It’s an island just off the coast of India, and when I went in 2012, they had just finished having a civil war. I was one of the only foreigners there, and there was military presence walking around. I wasn’t allowed to leave my hotel unless the Drupal people came and picked me up, and they were absolutely wonderful. They were so nice and appreciative, and so many people were incredibly smart and really talented. After I did a training or presentation, they all had a million questions and we ended up talking for hours. And that was when I had an ‘aha!’ moment and really felt like I was part of something bigger. It drove home that it’s my responsibility to spread the word of Drupal as much as possible.”
“That was actually one of the trainings that I did when I was traveling a lot” Matthew added. “I literally traveled for years living out of hostels, and couch surfing. I was being contracted at the time to go teach Drupal in Europe, Asia, and Australia.”
And for Matthew, one of his proudest accomplishments is Drupal’s participation in the GSoC and GCI programs.
“I think it’s cool that I maintain Drupal’s relationship with Google,” he said. “It’s Google. They’re the biggest tech company ever, and I have this relationship with multiple people at their offices. They’re all super nice and it’s great that they’re pushing this open source stuff. They want our community’s feedback, and I think it’s really cool that I can represent Drupal with Google. They’re trying to give us money and get us to do more with the students. It’s something I think is really great.”
The importance of networking
When asked if he had any advice for new Drupal users, Matthew had several thoughts to share.
“Find your local communities and participate,” he advised. “Go to as many events as you can. If you have to drive a couple of hours to go to a Drupal camp, do it. If there isn’t a local community in your area, start one. If you go to meetup.com and post a similar topic, even if just one other person shows up, that’s cool and the community will grow. Drupal is a software, but it helps to get some face time in with other people. Network. Go out. Have some coffee (or beer). Hang out. Bring your laptop and start sharing ideas— you’ll be surprised at how welcoming the Drupal community is. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat at the bar until the bar kicked us out just helping people fix websites and giving free training.
“If you’re struggling, it’s important to network with other groups — non-Drupal groups — like a web-dev group or an open source group or a Linux group or something. That’s what helped me when I did the first Drupal camp for Chicago 2008. We were thinking 100 people might show up, but we did a lot of networking. I contacted every tech user group in Milwaukee, Detroit, southern Illinois, and Minnesota. I found every group that was related to web or open source or Drupal, and I contacted every one of their organizers. Within a couple weeks we had over 200 registrations, and people were emailing us about hotels and hotel accommodations. It was a big wow moment for us.”
As for those who are involved in the community and want to do more, Matthew has a few tips.
“If you want to teach training, my advice is not to focus on the curriculum. Everywhere I go, everyone wants me to submit my curriculum. I’ve taught a lot of classes, and I’ve learned that every group of students is going to be different. I can’t tell you how many times I had a curriculum and thought I was going to go through the whole thing, and instead I wind up talking about something else. Make sure you understand your students, and teach them what they want to learn about.
“And it’s not even all that difficult,” he added. “Here’s what I do for Global Training Days. You know what happens when you make an event that’s free anything? You get all sorts of people registering. So I keep the classes as small as possible — so whenever anybody registers for the event, I don’t give them the address unless they give me their phone number. When someone registers, I call them and ask them, ‘what do you want to get from this training,’ ‘what is your experience,’ — and I can’t tell you how many people have thanked me for that. Requiring a phone call with the registration helped keep the classes smaller, and limit it to people who were actually new to Drupal and would be in proper context of attending a GTD. So, that’s my advice — know your audience. Don’t assume everyone knows about Drupal. Don’t worry about a set curriculum — go with what you students are actually looking to gain from the experience.”
For those who are looking for more tips, tricks, and knowledge from Matthew, his wisdom will soon be available at your fingertips in paperback form.
“I’m working with Packt publishing on a collection of ‘Drupal 8 Administration Cookbook Recipes.’ They’re step-by-step tutorials that teach admins to do everything from getting started with Drupal to doing advanced site building stuff, and it’s coming out in later this summer. I’m pretty excited about it! I’ve always read a lot of the Drupal books and I’m excited to make a contribution. I started on my own but have had a Drupal business for several years, and have had several people who have worked for me. The book is literally just a collection of all the same questions every client always asks. It’s almost like a tell-all: here’s step-by-step documentation for how to do everything. Now stop asking us,” he added with a laugh.