Bangalore to Seattle is no short trip, but Hussain Abbas made the journey, stopping at many Drupal camps along the way. He tells us why DrupalCon is so important, and where to find the best biryani.

00:00  / 
Download
icon - transcript Created with Sketch.
Transcript
The thing with DrupalCon is the people. I guess by this point it's cliché to hear that, but you know, it's still true so I'm going to say it anyway. Drupal is...you come for the code and you stay for the community.

This Episode's Guest

Hussain Abbas

Hussain Abbas

Hussain began working with PHP in 2001, and at that time, wouldn't touch any CMS or framework and preferred to write his own. He grew tired of issues with PHP and was about to switch to another language when he came across a volunteer project that needed Drupal's capabilities, so in 2010 he tried Drupal 6.

Transcript

Transcript

Chris:
I'm here at DrupalCon Seattle and I'm talking with Hussain Abbas on this episode of Behind The Screens. And Hussain, I've seen you at a few DrupalCon events and around the community. You came all the way to Seattle from India, correct?
Hussain Abbas:
That's right, that's right. This would be my fifth DrupalCon in North America actually, but fifth in a row. I started attending since Los Angeles and yeah. Every year I'm fortunate enough to come here and initially it was due to my organization, and now this is the third year I received a grant from the Drupal Association so, yeah. They are the people who make it possible for me to attend.
Chris:
That's wonderful. Why is it important for you to attend DrupalCon North America as opposed to Europe or just to go to smaller camps? Why did you want to come here?
Hussain Abbas:
Well it's not really that. You know, I would love to attend DrupalCon in Europe. Unfortunately, the dates have never worked out for me. It will this year; I'm looking forward to DrupalCon in Amsterdam this year. I missed the last year. The dates always coincided with something else. And the thing with DrupalCon is the people. You know, we always say that even though at this point it is cliché to hear that but it's still true so I am going to say it anyway. Drupal, you come for the code but you stay for the community. That was my story and I'm sure it's the same story for a lot of people over here. So that's essentially why I am here to meet the people. And I started off attending events, I think the first international event I attended, Drupal related event I attended, was in Melbourne. And Los Angeles was right after that, and it's been a great experience. Every event I go to it's a great experience. Just if I pick one and maybe I'll fill three of your podcasts.
Chris:
Yeah for sure. And you said earlier, we were talking that you've been doing a lot of traveling leading up to coming to Seattle. So where have you been and what have you attended? Tell me about this journey that you've been on.
Hussain Abbas:
Well this trip has been the longest trip I've been away from home. I miss my family you know, my kids. So I started off this trip with Drupal camp London. That was on March 1st and 2nd. And immediately after that we had Drupal Mountain Camp in Davos. So it's just like the next day took a flight and went to Davos. And right after that, you know, I could have gone back home but I didn't want to do a lot of flying. I mean, I love traveling, flying not so much. So, I stayed in London for the rest of the 20 days or so. And so it's like straight from London to over here and at the end of this week I'm going back home.
Chris:
So finally getting some break to head back home after Seattle. How long have you been away from family all together now?
Hussain Abbas:
It will be 45 days... well technically it won't be 45 days because when I reach back my family won't be at home.
Chris:
Oh no, so where will they be?
Hussain Abbas:
They're in Mumbai right now. So later this month I will be going and picking up my kids from Mumbai. So in all, I will be away from my kids for what about 55 days?
Chris:
Wow. That's quite and adventure.
Hussain Abbas:
Yeah. Well they're having fun. And I hope they're missing me. I am missing them, but yeah they're having fun in Mumbai and I'm traveling.
Chris:
So tell me a little but about what you do in the Drupal community. What particular part of Drupal do you work on, do you enjoy being a member of?
Hussain Abbas:
When I started off in Drupal community it was through code contributions. I had a free afternoon once and then I though okay a lot of people are talking about Drupal Aid. Let's go see what's going on over there. This was I think around 2013 or 2012, I could be mistaken but around that time. I thought okay, let's go see different issues you know, what's going on. And then I thought okay this is something I can help but I started off with your simple reload typo corrections and all that. And it kind of snowballed and before I knew it, it was like okay these shoes are getting committed. And it was surprising to know that people know me. You know that was my first experience in Melbourne and especially in the DrupalCon in Los Angeles. A lot of people just came up to me and said, "oh Hussain" and I don't even know them. And then they would introduce themselves and said, "oh yeah we know each other from the issue queue."
Hussain Abbas:
That's how I started. And things changed since then. I don't get a lot of time to contribute in code anymore. Occasionally I do you know, like I saw various roles at my organization, I am an engineering manager. Also, I have oversight on the best practices and all that, and whenever there is an opportunity, whenever there is something we can fix in Drupal Co. I help over there. But my primary contribution now is to help people do the contribution themselves. That's something I do in my organization and I find I do more of that in the Drupal community as well.
Hussain Abbas:
So, aside from organizing events I have been organizing events since, well I don't remember how many years now, but I think around 2015 or something like that. So me setting up camps and events of different sizes, helping chair different events for example, DrupalCon Central Asia I was one of the track chairs, but also one of the volunteers on sight when we were touring the location where we would hold the event. And it kept on going from there for example, I held out a bet, like very little bet, but I held out a bet and the value and principles committee that's talking about the Drupal values and principles that we have. We have a focus on the principle number 8 right now. So that, and the DrupalCon Amsterdam advisory board. So these are the kinds of things I do right now. Code, not so much, but yeah occasionally you know it does come once in a while.
Chris:
Yeah, a lot of people may not realize that there's a lot of ways to contribute back to the community without needing to write code. Drupal is code. There is a basis for that, but there are so many other facets to the whole organization of the Drupal project, where people can contribute without knowing how to write PHP or JavaScript or any of that. And one of those, it's one of my favorite things to do, is stay on Friday to do what used to be called Code sprints now it's the contribution day. Yeah it's not a sprint, it's not all about writing the code. It's about helping people and teaching people. So will you be a part of that on Friday.
Hussain Abbas:
Yes, I'll try to be a part of it for the first half. I'm flying out on evening. So, yeah I'll probably be here for a couple of firsts.
Chris:
Could you think of something that the community is doing really well right now and maybe an example of something where you think the community could stand to improve?
Hussain Abbas:
I think it's the same answer, like you know if you look at it from different points of view it's the same thing that we're doing. We are quite good at introspecting ourselves and seeing that in many ways, not in terms of code, but in terms of community we are pioneers in how open source communities should run. So we are at the position where we are innovate, we are leading the pack. And we have a lot of impact in the open source communities, because of the fact that we are pioneers here, but also then we have to be a little bit humble, but that's not exactly what I'm looking for. But you know, something like being a moderate on these terms. I do see that people try to model the tone of the voice so that we're not appearing too aggressive, you know it's not like this is how we've run community so this is how we think, everyone should run communities. I mean of course we don't try to do that. It's like we're walking a thin line.
Chris:
So maybe not enforcing our opinion, but sharing our opinion so that others can learn from it instead of prescribing it.
Hussain Abbas:
Right. And the communication is a tricky business. Especially in these things where a person's ego plays a bigger role it's really important how we communicate. And I think what we do is at times we introspect and see how we are doing at this dimension of communication. So that's a good thing that we're doing. Like I said, we are already pioneers over here. It's not like we have to grow somewhere else. It's all about sustaining our position. That we are a part of a larger community, the larger open source community. But another way I would say is the humanity of all the people on this planet you know. We are a part that. We are writing this open source software to help people. Right? And people are complex beings you know, emotions and ego, and we have to understand how that works. I think we are doing a good job at that. You know, we introspect and that's a good start.
Chris:
Yeah, I agree. The community's grown so large since I've been a part of it, since you've been a part of it even that I think we need to. I like the way you phrased that. We're good at being introspective and taking a look at where we are and how we can position ourselves forward without being direct or prescriptive of the way it should be because we do it, but sharing what we know and including everybody. Especially for people who are newer to the community may not have that viewpoint where those of us who have been around for a number of years have seen it grow and watched what we've become. To walk into it fresh is a little bit different. So you have to know where you came from to know where you're going, is one way to say it.
Hussain Abbas:
Certainly.
Chris:
So I'd like to get to know you a little bit more as a person. We've talked about the community and the code a bit. So I've got a couple fun questions here. We'll toss a few of these in. If you could have an endless supply of any food for the rest of your life, no money, no fee, what food would you choose?
Hussain Abbas:
This is really easy for me. That would be Ambur Biryani.
Chris:
I might have to ask you how to spell that and what that is so I can put that into the notes.
Hussain Abbas:
So you might have heard of Biryani. It's a really popular dish. It's an Indian dish, but it's carried all over the world. Now there are like many diverse styles of Biryani. And the one that's my favorite is from a place called Ambur. It's a small town in Tamil Nadu, in south of India. It's a very simple Biryani. You know Biryani, is essentially rice cooked in gravy or some sort of flavorful gravy. And some of them are very simple you know like just rice. Like they're just colored because of the gravy. And some of them get really complex you know with lots of different kinds of meat, and vegetables, and nuts, you know dry fruits and everything. So I like it simple. And Ambur Biryani is one of the simplest Biryani there is.
Chris:
I need to expand my culinary horizons a little bit and start exploring some of these now so I'm going to use this interview as that excuse to learn what everybody's favorite dishes are from different countries, different places around the world and start experimenting.
Hussain Abbas:
If you're in Bangalore this is the restaurant that actually started off the Ambur Biryani. So they serve it on a banana leaf and everything you know. We should go there.
Chris:
I will come to India and you can take me and I would love that.
Hussain Abbas:
Yeah sure.
Chris:
All right, one more. We'll throw one more of these fun ones in here. One household chore that you would never have to do again, you can get rid of it completely, it's always just done. Which household chore do you get rid of?
Hussain Abbas:
Folding clothes. I am fine with laundry you know I get laundry done, but the folding clothes part is very boring. Very boring.
Chris:
It's very true. You got to find the right thing. I always put a TED Talk on in the background while I'm folding clothes and trying to distract myself with that.
Hussain Abbas:
Podcasts for me.
Chris:
Yup there you go. Hey, this could be part of it now. If you're folding your laundry throw on the Behind the Screens podcast, learn a little bit about the community. You've done a lot of traveling as we were talking about. Tell me one of your favorite travel tips. What's something you would share with somebody else about how to manage when traveling for so many days in a row over such distances?
Hussain Abbas:
Checklists. I think that's an easy one you know a lot of people already know this, but this really helps. Earlier there's always something I would have forgotten, but now I have a checklist. It's like muscle memory, okay put in one of the universal convertors, the power convertors right, you need that. I carry around the electronics that I need carry. Things like my presentation remote and the VGA convertor and all that. So I carry a case and everything is in there. That actually makes it very easy at airports you know, if they ask me to bring extra electronics. In India, they ask you to remove all the electronics from the bag not just the laptop. So this is very easy, just take the box out and keep it and no messing with wires and everything. So I try to organize all of that as much as possible, which it serves two purposes you know. If I work remotely, so wherever I go I start working. So all I have to do is take one box, not worrying about okay I'm taking multiple things. And while traveling it's the same things. Just pick it and I'm sure I have everything I need.
Chris:
That's a great tip. Just have it all ready to go right there. And for extra security too that makes a very simple to get through. I hate that when you have to fumble through the airport security pulling things out, trying to stuff it all back in. That's a good tip.
Hussain Abbas:
It's meaningless here you know, over here you end up asking the security staff, "do I need to remove anything else?" No just laptop, you're fine. And like I'm done in 30 seconds. Indian airports, remove the camera. One time they asked me to remove the lens for some reason.
Chris:
Wow, that's intense.
Hussain Abbas:
Yeah that is. There was a phone charger left in and I had to remove that as well.
Chris:
Wow. Well that's good to know for anyone traveling through India. They're very thorough.
Hussain Abbas:
They are.
Chris:
Well one last question Hussain. We've all been in the community for a while and I think we've all found someone whose given us a push every once in a while to help us along. Is there anyone you'd like to say thank you to or share some gratitude towards who maybe gave you a hand along the way?
Hussain Abbas:
I don't think that any person can travel the whole journey, in anything not just open source journey, but you know in anything, just on their own. So there have been many hands along the way. I've been fortunate to receive help from a lot of people. You know, amazing people. The names just go on. So instead what I'm going to do is I just mention two people who helped me the beginning of this journey, and that was the encouragement that I needed to keep going. Otherwise, I never would have started I guess. First is Ancor. He is actually my boss. And when I joined my current company Axelerant, I had a bit of a tough time with something, and he recognized that and instead he said rather than doing all of this just become a full-time code contributor. And I did that. That provided me a lot of opportunities to grow the contributions that I was already doing. Now I could do it full-time. Well 80% of time, but that's practically full-time.
Hussain Abbas:
And the second person, I mentioned my first trip to a Drupal event in Melbourne right? So Angie Byron, Webchick. She was keynoting this event and that was a great trip for me in many ways. But one of the strangest things that happened to me over there was when I walked into the keynote, I was a bit late. Honestly, I was about 20 minutes late. I didn't realize I had to walk all the way, but anyway yeah. So, I walked into the room, and I see my photo on the screen, and I was shocked. It's like, you know you have those weird thoughts? My weird thought was that they have a camera. All that late-comers, and whoever walks into the screen is a shame wall or something.
Chris:
But it wasn't was it?
Hussain Abbas:
It wasn't, yeah. So Webchick did a really cool thing, you know I think she does, every now and then where she collects all the contributors who are going to attend that event and puts it up in the keynote. It lets all the attendees know that the contributors aren't like special people. They're here. Anybody can be a contributor. Anybody can contribute. And of course at that point of time, there was still many forms of contribution. There always were. But they were not as recognized. It was just code. So all the people on the list were mainly code contributors. Now that has changed.
Hussain Abbas:
And I think I went off in a different direction so I'll just get back on the topic. So that particular trip, what she did at that time, and the sprint you know you just mentioned the sprints we had a sprint at that one. They were still called sprints back then. And I helped someone fix and issue, and that was picked for the code comment, the live comment, and I mentored over there so again I got to be there along with everybody, along with the chick while she was commenting the code. And then the other people who were there who helped fix this issue. And like these two events, but everything between them as well. It was a huge motivator for me to see the value in contributing. In being part of this community. I had never met Webchick earlier. I mean of course I knew her from issue queues, that's it, but that's it I never met her. So someone you've never met does something like this. It was really amazing for me.
Chris:
That's an incredible story. I can't imagine that walking into the room late, everyone's already involved and you see your face up on the screen. That must have been surreal.
Hussain Abbas:
It was. It was. It was. Like I said, the shared the paranoid moment right?
Chris:
That's incredible. Hussain thank you very much for taking a few minutes to talk today. I really appreciate it.
Hussain Abbas:
It's my pleasure. I really enjoyed this chat.

Published in

About host Chris Albrecht

Chris Albrecht
His backend brings all the nerds to the code. Skilled in Drupal development and architecture, you can often find him running through the Colorado wilderness and hosting the Behind the Screens podcast.