How do you maintain one of Drupal's most prolific modules, run a business, have a family, and stay balanced? Amitai Burstein spills  his secrets to success and how you can join him! Also, sushi!

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I am the benevolent dictator of myself.

This Episode's Guest

Bio - External 9338

Amitai Burstein

Amitai is the technology leader at Gizra. He is one of the top architects and contributors to Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 and a key architect behind Open Scholar project. He also speaks regularly in DrupalCons and other open source events.

Transcript

Transcript

Chris:
Today, I'm going behind the screens from DrupalCon Seattle with Amitai Burstein. Amitai, you've been in the community for a little while and I think most people would probably recognize you from a lot of the work that you've done with the organic groups. So tell me a little bit about your Drupal background and why you decided organic groups and what is the status of that today.
Amitai:
Sure. Hi folks. So you might know me from my Drupal name, Amitibu and indeed I've been involved mostly in organic groups, I think that's what most people know me. Also, the message stack and RESTful back into Drupal Seven days and entity reference both in Drupal 7 and I've actually started the patch for entity reference in Drupal 8 but I dipped my toes in Drupal 8 made sure that entity references in Drupal core just so I could use it in organic groups. Since working on organic groups, very diligently on Drupal Seven I kind of shifted the way that I've been doing stuff in Drupal Eight so it's going much, much slower. I could probably blame the fact that I have three kids now and a business to grow. But also, I think that the community has a bit change in how it's approaching different projects.
Amitai:
So things are going slowly but quite steady. I mean it's an alpha release organic groups eight, which is probably, even though it's an alpha release, it's probably more stable than what I would call a proper release in Drupal Seven I know the European commission is using it in production for some of their sites in Israel, we're using that in productions for some big UN sites. So I'm probably less vocal in terms of public relations about how organic groups is ready. And I mean I'm no longer looking, I no longer feel that I'm in a popularity contest of how many people downloaded the module. So I'm using it. The tool is working. There are a few great maintainers working on that. Yeah, so that's a real quick recap of where we are with the OG.
Chris:
So organic groups started back in, it was the Drupal 6 was the first iteration I think?
Amitai:
I'm not the original author of that. Moshe Weitzman is actually the original author of that and I think that one started even before that, maybe 4.7 or something like that now. And then he handed over to me in the end days of Drupal Six just before Drupal Seven so it's been there for a long time now. There is another way of doing stuff like everybody's asking me about the group module. [crosstalk 00:02:35] Right, right.
Amitai:
So group module is something that I've also blogged about. I think it's a terrific option for people to work. Me and Christian were good friends. We look at things a little differently. We're trying to solve the same problem. We have different approaches. I think OG's approach is a little better in terms of how it's leveraging entity reference and basically providing a slightly different set of functionality. On the other hand group, I think Christian is investing more time in group than I do in OG. So in terms of people looking for a solution for right now, often time I see them going for group. Again I chose my stuff and they are working and I think it's great that the community has like a few options to look at and ways to go and the opportunities to collaborate.
Chris:
It's good to see that there's not a monopoly so to speak. There's not one single solution, but that there's also not a hundred solutions. If everyone were to fork and go their own way and have multiple solutions to try and solve the same problem, you dilute the talent pool who is all developing on that. So it's really nice to see it and people collaborating together and realizing that there are strengths in either side, but it makes it easier for be able to come into this, to install those modules, to choose the one that fits them best. But you can still share knowledge with the people in those other modules to figure out the right way to approach your own solution.
Amitai:
Absolutely. I think there is also a nice example from Drupal Seven days that actually propagated to Drupal Eight is like we used to have a few solutions for Drupal Seven on how to do RESTful, so we had services and we had Rest WS and Mateu, your colleague from Lullabot and myself, we started the RESTful module for Drupal seven and I think that JSON API in a way where I've stopped at a certain point and Mateu has advanced way, way more significantly than I have, but I think JSON API is in a way a result of this effort that we've started in Drupal Seven of kind of exploring the terrain, and the landscape of what we have. And I think that we didn't jump immediately into forking, like you're saying, like we didn't want to have too many options. There's a lot of gut feeling. What is the right point of saying, okay, collaboration won't fit here. I need to fork and maybe we'll collaborate at a later time after I've explored the landscape and what we have. So yeah, I think it's a healthy thing in the community to have those things.
Chris:
I would agree. When you took over organic groups, is that something that you were doing voluntarily or were you doing it as a job? Were you being reimbursed for it?
Amitai:
So no, I think that OG was both my university in learning how to code. I mean I've started fashion design, that's my degree. I didn't know how to code and when Moshe offered me organic groups in a way I think he offered it to me that time, I'd look at it and I said he's crazy. Like I don't know anything. I think this is kind of what a lot of people are feeling and when they are afraid of contributing as I am not worthy, having that thing. I was never reimbursed. I did, however established I think my name and the Gizra, my company name a bit more in the community and through that got a few more work. I mean working for the European commission and the UN and Harvard University, I think a lot of it is thanks to the portfolio that we have. But definitely it involved a lot of many, many hours of investment of my free time, which was fine. I mean this is how I decided to tackle that thing.
Chris:
That would be my next question is why, why did you want to take that particular challenge on when Moshe came to you and said, here's organic groups. Do you want to take this and run with it? What made you say yes to that?
Amitai:
So initially I said no, cause it was frightening. I think in a way it's maybe somewhat related to my personality in the sense that I like to put myself out of my own comfort zone and I encourage others to do so. I think it's very typical to think that you're not worthy, or you're not good enough to do the things. And in a way, and this is something that you need to kind of remind yourself and practice it the same way you're training, right? You need to remind yourself that you're worthy if you are willing to put your time, and you really want something. And I really wanted to be a better developer. I really wanted to see if I'm able to bring myself and do those things like establish a module, which is one of the top 100 let's say. And for me it was a challenge and it took me a few years to reach that challenge.
Amitai:
And in a way, the reason I'm less involved nowadays in like writing new modules and stuff like that is I kind of feel that I ticked a checkbox and I reached that point that I wanted to be in a way been there, done that. And now I have the new challenges of you know, growing my business and being a better business man. And I like looking at more of the businesses stuff. I'm investing way more hours than I used to in exercising, training for example. Like I'm choosing different challenges in my life and I take the time in reaching there. I'm not impatient. It's fine if it's taking a few years to reach my goals.
Chris:
But stretching yourself in different ways now to, different parts of your brain, different parts of your body.
Amitai:
Yeah. Although in a way, it's very connected. I'm doing more physical training. Like I'm practicing almost two hours a day, but in a way I'm contributing also to my coding skills or my business skills. Cause I have two hours when I don't have enough oxygen in my brain, so I don't have the time to be stressed about the nitty gritty stuff. And suddenly after two hours, when I'm thinking about the rest of the days, I sit way more clearly. So I think everything in the end, whereas with one person and one soul and everything is interconnected.
Chris:
That's a really great way of looking at it. It's very easy to get yourself lost, sort of tied up in a job or in the code and it can really leave you unbalanced. And actually, I gave a talk about a similar concept. Last DrupalCon, I didn't bring it back to this one. But yeah, keeping your mind, your body and your spirit all balanced will help you drive each one of those further. You can't have one dominate the others.
Amitai:
And in a way, one of the reasons when I went to and started practicing every day for example, is I realized, so I have Gizra like for 10 years and it's going well. But all those years I've been pushing really hard. A very specific thing like pushing up the mountain and getting the team behind me or in front of me or whatever. And I told myself if for 10 years I'm going through the same path and just pushing, I've never worked too many hours but pushing in a certain way and I'm not feeling that I've advanced enough as much as I, as I want to. I can either continue pushing or pushing harder or I can take three steps to the side.
Amitai:
So in a way to improve my business and it's worked. I actually reduced the amount of hours that I'm working, so I'm working about six hours a day or so. And it sounds weird, like how come you're working less? And that was kind of a bet with myself that I had and I said, I need to look at things from a different angle. So I think again, I agree with you. Everything is like connected you cannot stress yourself, you cannot continue in the same path that you're going over and over again.
Chris:
So you run your own business, let's say you were to give yourself an entire month off, fully paid, you don't need to worry about money, but entire month to just do what you want to do, take some time away from, from work. What would you do with that time?
Amitai:
Oh wow. I guess I have to take my wife and my kids with me. Right? Or how much of a fantasy.
Amitai:
[crosstalk 00:10:50] as far as, as far as you want to take it.
Amitai:
I'm kidding. Definitely on a nice vacation, dividing my time between the beaches of Thailand and moving around in Japan, which are like two places that I adore for vacation. And I definitely see some, a good ratio between chilling out completely and continuing like to practice, which is something that I absolutely love. So again, like a month is, nice vacation. But if you'd asked me for the same thing about what would happen in two years at prolonged time, because you know, vacation is a vacation, it's a change. What would I do for five years? I wouldn't want to do to be on the beach for five years. That's leads again, exaggerating. And I think that kind of the life that I'm running right now is, I don't want to call it perfect cause it's not perfect, but I really found a good balance between the faith.
Amitai:
I have my family that I want to spend the time with. I have the work, I want to feel myself progressing. I have my sports, I have my friends. So I think in the end all those vacations that we are taking for the one month are just to adjust us back into something and give us the perspective of what we want to do when we grow up and I'm doing air quotes and living the life that's our life, what we're having right now. So yeah.
Chris:
There's a quote who I'd have to look up the author, I can't remember exactly who it was who said this now, but it really stuck with me. I've got it written down. "I want to build the life that I don't need to take a vacation from." ([crosstalk 00:12:26] Yeah.) It's having that everything in balance is I think at the core of that.
Amitai:
I can stand behind that quote.
Chris:
And so well speaking of balance, right before we started this, you were showing me a video of yourself at a Japanese garden here in Seattle and you actually have a BOF that you've done. Will this be the second DrupalCon where you've done this?
Amitai:
Actually going to be the third or even the fourth. The third, the third movement BOF that I'm running.
Chris:
So tell me about this movement BOF.
Amitai:
I'll give you a quick context of what we have. So historically, let's say I've been on every DrupalCon I think I've been subscribing, not subscribing , I'm putting a presentation and not every time it's being accepted, which is fine. And from my perspective I decided that I don't really care. Either it's not officially accepted, I'm going to do a like I don't know, a BOF presentation. And then they said you cannot do a BOF presentation. So I said, okay, I'll do a staircase presentation, I will share my knowledge. You will not stop me from sharing my knowledge. So this movement thing that I've been doing, all those handstands and bridges and what not, this is something that really got into my life, which I really like.
Amitai:
So when I came here, I told myself, well, I'm not going to contribute to any of my Drupal knowledge, but maybe I can like contribute some of this, everything that we've discussed, this balance. Not the hand balance necessarily, but you know, moving your body through a different way. And I absolutely love it. It's like it's been, we start about 20 people and then I tell everybody, all right, let's squat. And then we end up being 10 people because it puts a line, it puts a line of who's willing to have sore legs and who are not. I'm kidding. This is a very beginners' thing. But it's really fun because you get to see people from a slightly different perspective of what you see.
Amitai:
I mean, you're working with Sally, right? Just see her at coding, you'll see her slack. You don't see her now training and jumping and I don't know on the floor doing silly stuff and it's fun. Like it's game and it takes the silly out of every in nature and one of us and it, you know, when you're training together it has a nice feeling, and a tiny community in a way. So for me, that's kind of what I'm excited about nowadays. And I want to have my friends, my Drupal friends, which are happened to be also real friends, enjoy this thing with me. So it's kind of my own small thing. I don't put it as on the official BOF.
Amitai:
I try to keep things a little more radical I think in a way. So I just tweet about it. Whoever wants to come, comes. Everybody gives me their excuse, they're hurting the shoulder, they're hurting and everybody's a little hurt. And I would say that's fine. Like there's always a progression you need to move if you're just sitting, if you're just typing, if you're just thinking with your head, it's not good. You need to straighten, straighten your not straightened, stretch and make yourself a little stronger, and then in the end you just have a nicer day. Let's say it's like that or maybe even a better life. I don't know.
Chris:
Absolutely. When do you organize this BOF in relation to the schedule of the conference.
Amitai:
So I'll call it traditionally. Even though it's the third time, but it works. So I'm doing it after the closing session and we meet and we go outside there from the nurse place to practice and I like the fact that it's after the closing session, because it really lowers the amount of excuses that people have because again, it's not difficult if you're coming to a DrupalCon, you're not thinking about yourself now doing isn't necessarily a physical stuff. And I find that maybe it's very related to what you asked me about, Moshe asking me to do organic groups and my initial answer is no, I am not worthy. Like yeah, show you my handstand and like everybody is telling me I cannot do that handstand. I say, of course you can. I've been practicing every day for the past two months and I'm still really far from perfecting it.
Amitai:
It's just about letting yourself, exactly what I said earlier about getting out of our comfort zone. So it's my own small thing. I think that's one of the thing that I really love about Drupal and where I place myself in Drupal and in a way that's the reason I'm not doing Drupal Core. I kind of liked my own small islands. I had it in organic groups and in RESTful and in message and entity reference, let's say the module where I'm the benevolent dictator of myself. So I love the community and I love being by myself in the community and like having small groups of people where it's more group, but everybody's invited. And so that's kind of my thing nowadays.
Chris:
I love that you can bring that to an organization, a gathering like this. It's like you said, it's not code, it's not typically what people expect when they come, but it is part of being human and part of this group and part of the community. And I agree with you pushing yourself just a little bit out of that comfort zone. People aren't coming to the conference on Thursday prepared with yoga pants and headbands ready to start exercising. But you don't need all of that. It's like you said, it's sort of a beginner level. It's just about let's try something a little new and get a little bit of balance in our lives and show how stretching and breathing and just hanging out with people in a different context can kind of revive you a bit.
Chris:
And I think that's really amazing what you're doing and I hope you continue to keep doing it.
Amitai:
Thank you. Thank you.
Chris:
So let's, let's have some fun with a couple of new questions here. I brought out for this series of interviews. ([crosstalk 00:18:18]Sure.) If you could take any two animals and create one super pet out of those animals, which two animals do you put together?
Amitai:
Super pet? A cat. Let's start with the cat.
Chris:
Okay. You got a cat base.
Amitai:
And the super power. Wow, I don't know. I put it with the tiger. I know it's from the same family, but let's create the tiger kitten.
Chris:
It's like a house cat with the ferocity of a dog to protect the house. ([crosstalk 00:18:49] Yeah. Yeah.) I like that. Okay. I'll go with that. Or if you could have an endless supply of any food, what would it be?
Amitai:
Sushi hands down like there's no question about it.
Chris:
Is every time you opened the fridge more sushi ready to go? Or I guess I can say, in the fridge or sushi chef in the kitchen. You walk up, there's this, there you go.
Amitai:
It's my fantasy. I'm, I'm, I'm going with, with, with the chef. The chef is always there.
Chris:
Yeah. Better way to go. That's, that's a better answer than what I had. All right. Let me do one more fun question. So you mentioned that you used to travel a lot more for camps and conferences. Do you happen to have just a really terrible travel story in all of that?
Amitai:
So I have a story. It's not terrible, but it's from this flight here. So I'll just share it. So it was a quite long flight from Tel Aviv to New York. It's like 11 hours and then a layover in New York. And then a five and a half hours to Seattle. It's okay. I'm completely jet lagged. I'm talking out of my jet lag. So when I arrived to the claiming bag area, I waited like 30 minutes, and I realized like the luggage is not there. So I go to the customer service, and I tell the lady, "my luggage is not here." So she says, "okay." And I'm saying, "ah could I have it?" And she's like, "it's probably on another flight." And I'm saying, "all right." And I say like, she's cool. So I decided I'm going to be cool as well about it. She said, "it's coming on another flight." And I said, "I expected it to come on my flight." And she says, "do you want to have it?" I said, "yes, can you send it to me, to my hotel?" Yes.
Amitai:
And it was a very, like, it was a very casual thing and you know, I'm happy that I was very cool about it because you know, my perspective, I've traveled literally half of the world. The fact that the luggage, which by the right arrived the hotel like three hours later, is there is miraculous. So I could have been an asshole about it and like shout and scream and tell myself like that's impossible. How dare you. But it's amazing and, it worked. So it's not this disaster there. Of course disaster, I don't know, 44 hours travel and stuff like that. You can hate yourself and everybody around you or you can just try and be okay about it. I'm not always as much as cool as I'd like to say, but on that occasion I was able to stay, you know, fine.
Amitai:
And in the end, enjoy the flight.
Chris:
That can be really nerve wracking and..
Chris:
Everybody's afraid of not getting their luggage. But there's something about confronting your fears and you know, in a way I think I'm kind of expecting of losing my luggage because then you have, okay, I have like six days and I have nothing a part from the clothes on my body. What do I do now? I don't know. Everybody's afraid of the fear when you're confronting it is, I mean it's not that terrible. You have your credit cards, you buy your shirt, you loan a coat and you're okay.
Amitai:
That's a great outlook on that. All right. And finally Amitai, if anyone could come to mind that you would like to say thank you to or share some gratitude with who maybe gave you a hand along the way in your career.
Amitai:
I know you mentioned Moshe earlier, is there anyone you'd like to just extend a hand out and say thank you to?
Chris:
Wow, there are a lot of people and I think along the way, like I had so many people like looked at. I remember in the beginning like I was looking at all the work that Merlin Of Chaos and Fago have been doing, but slowly I've picked up so many different names. So it's really hard for me to put the names of all the people. I don't know, I'm really grateful for a lot of people. You've mentioned Moshe just now. I went to his presentation and Greg's, Greg_1_Anderson, and they were talking about how they have been working about Drush for more than a decade. So I think it's like, I'm just grateful for all those people that I've been using their modules for so long.
Chris:
And you know, they're not billionaires from doing Drush. If somebody in the audience speculates they do, they're not being paid for every single hour. So I'm really grateful for everybody in the community that's doing something and, keeps the torch moving forward.
Chris:
Amitai, Thank you so much for taking a few minutes today.
Chris:
It was fun. Thank you.

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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.