For 13 years, Matt Westgate has been at Lullabot's helm, and though both Drupal and Lullabot have evolved, the spirit of community remains. Matt shares his insights on the past, future, and ferrets.

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I'm really driven by making sure we get new voices into the Drupal Community.

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Chris:
We're here at DrupalCon Seattle and today I'm going behind the screens with Lullabot's CEO Matt Westgate and a really loud roller bag.
Matt:
No, no. We are live from our helicopter.
Chris:
Yes, live from the Lullacopter over Seattle. It's the end of Thursday at DrupalCon this one's going to be a fun one. So Matt, thanks for taking a few minutes to talk today. I wanted to talk to you because A, I'm a Lullabot and you're my boss so I'm going to brown nose a bit. But B, Lullabot's been around since the beginning really. 2006 the company was founded, you and Jeff put it together and you started as an educational company which I think is great because it represents what the foundation of Drupal really is, teaching and sharing. That was 13 years ago, Lullabot's a teenager now and we're here in Seattle celebrating our 10th Lullabot party, or 10th what I would assume then is our 10th celebration of Lullabot at DrupalCon. So how have things changed for you over those 13 years? How would you evaluate that time span since you began Lullabot?
Matt:
Yeah, sure. Thanks Chris. It's good to be here. It's fun to be here too. I've gotten some interesting compliments at this DrupalCon. In particular, a couple of agencies have gone up to me this year and said because Lullabot was in existence they felt like they could launch their agency as well. That was really neat and inspiring to hear. I hadn't heard some of those stories before, and before this, drupal.org was barely a website. It was still using CVS for version control and we were emailing patches back and forth to each other and I had a job at university, at Iowa State University which I loved but all of this Drupal stuff was happening too.
Matt:
But I knew that I had stumbled on to something when I had printed out the Drupal code. Back in the day you could do that and not destroy your inkjet printer because you know, you try to do that now and you're taking a whole forest down. But back in the day it was maybe 10 pages front and back. I remember opening up the node module and that was the realization that you know, there was something here that was kind of going deeper than other projects. Not to mention, they had this thing, I don't know if you've heard it, it's called documentation and it just blew my mind.
Matt:
That was sort of the connective point of realizing that I wanted to be a part of this and participate in the community. Dries and Steven Wittens and Gerhard and Moshe and others all made it really accessible to join. I think over the 13 years that's stayed and we've seen the Drupal community be recognized for that and continue to be intentional and to protect that. The ability to let other people in easy to mentor and to support them.
Matt:
What we've seen over the course of the 13 years is the economic support of the Drupal community and use that power for good to keep the community going and together. And like look at us now. All these hacker kids that started, we have now jobs and families and Drupal paying for things. It's really incredible and amazing. So it's neat to see that continue.
Chris:
It is really great to see that that ... the spirit of Drupal, from when it began, is still alive and well and that it's supporting peoples careers and their families. When you began Lullabot with Jeff Robbins, you started it as an educational company. It was about teaching people how to use Drupal as it was. I think the first book I ever bought had your name as the author on it.
Chris:
At what point did you decide that you wanted to shift Lullabot from education into a services company and why did you make that decision?
Matt:
Yeah. John Van Dyke and I wrote that book, the Pro Drupal Development book and I think that came out in about 2007 or so. But you know, part of it is that education has just always been in our DNA and we get really excited when other people get excited. You know, it felt like we had found this amazing tool in the crevices of the internet and the world deserved to hear about it. Some of it's right timing, some of it's luck, although they say luck is being prepared for opportunity. But you know, I think for us we started Lullabot because we had all these awesome friends that we had made in the Drupal community and we wanted to hire them and do some great work together. So we were excited about teaching and evangelizing and Drupal kind of needed that at the time, to be honest. It wasn't a household name. I mean, it's not a household name now, but back then there's marketing things and it was called community plumbing, and you know, a whole bunch of stuff that sort of made it a little more obscure. It's in the forefront now, and when it started to move to the forefront there was sort of ... and more documentation was being written, the book had come out and stuff, there was opportunities to take Lullabot other places and do other things.
Matt:
So we realized that some of the expertise that we had been building up is how to build really large and complex websites, so we could take some of that and move it into the client services stuff that we do today. And you know, the spirit of Lullabot is still education, and I think that spirit is sort of exist in a lot of the agencies in the Drupal community of that, part of the reward is doing the hard work. But an even bigger part is pulling people into the community, being mentors, like showing them how to support and making this family bigger.
Chris:
The community, like you said, is changed dramatically over the last 13 years. The user groups all began because we were getting together with our friends and we were building this tool, Drupal, and we needed a place to share ideas and get together. That hobbyist mentality is ... it feels like it's waning in the wake of this enterprise tool now that we have this product, this major solution to complex websites. So how do you feel the community needs to shift to adapt to that to keep people coming in? Do we need to keep hobbyists alive or what is the community look like in the next 13 years going forward as we've shifted what Drupal really is at its core? Or has Drupal at its core shifted maybe is a better way to say that?
Matt:
Yeah. You know, I don't know there's a lot of moving parts to Drupal. The software these days, which does create a barrier for maybe the hobbyists to use Drupal. There's also a lot of off the shelf solutions that are more available, but look, even if you are a hobbyist and are using other platforms for your hobby stuff, it could be very likely that you have a job that involves Drupal that's paying your salary.
Matt:
You know, in that way I think even hobbyists can still stay connected to the Drupal community because there's so many other business opportunities to be involved. The thing that keeps me up at night or the thing that I worry about with a community is I've been with the community 16 years as of two days ago. So I got my little email, "Congratulations you've been ..." like oh wow, that's neat. It's a nice touch that they do that.
Matt:
And you know, thinking back on that, 16 years, we need to continue to have new faces in the community. That is one of the most important things. I'm actually personally really passionate about that, about seeing the new faces. Because we've got the contention that there's not people saying, "I want to learn Drupal when I grow up," when other technologies are so more accessible, right? It's easy to pick up Javascript and learn it. It's daunting to know where to go with Drupal to dive in and get started. Although, with all the JSON API work and stuff like the next round of Drupal developers could be Javascript developers, right? It's a gateway for them. Maybe we teach Javascript first and then Drupal, you know?
Matt:
But I want, I'm really driven by making sure we get new voices into the Drupal community. One of the initiatives that I'm working on with other members in the Drupal community is to look and try and solve ... Well maybe we won't solve the problem but to put a lot of attention towards creating a diverse talent pipeline for the Drupal community. We're doing this under the Drupal apprenticeship initiative in partnership with Treehouse, in partnership with Drupalize Me. The Treehouse team has a program called Talent Path and they've actually worked towards solving the problem of creating apprenticeship models for companies. So we're working with them to develop the first Drupal tech degree as a part of their program and we're really excited about it.
Matt:
You can google it, the Drupal Apprenticeship Initiative for more information. It's a subgroup underneath the Diversity and Inclusion group.
Chris:
That's really exciting. I think that's one thing that after sitting into the community summit this week and talking with a few people, it does seem like most agencies, and even if you look at the job board that was posted in the expo hall where agencies were putting up the positions they were looking to fill, I saw one that said junior developer, and most of the others were all senior or mid level developers. So that's a great point and I think a great initiative to be focusing on is how are we giving people this leg up into the community when they're coming out of school, they need a job, whereas ... it's a different scenario than from when we began back in the ... when Drupal was much smaller and not as enterprise. So to have a career path that we're looking at for people to start following and to get entry-level into the community and be paid for it is I think that's a tremendous effort. I'm glad to hear that that's gaining more traction now.
Chris:
If you could grant one wish for the Drupal community moving forward, what's one thing that you would want to be able to say this is ... we're going to do this now and it's done?
Matt:
I'm going to go with a wish. This one's going to be a bit candid, but I can really empathize with the situation that Dries is in sometimes. We always talk about him having to wear multiple hats and honestly? If I had a wish, and it would come true and I knew it would be beneficial, I wish that Dries didn't have to wear so many hats. I think that the tension that he carries on behalf of all of us at times is being the CTO of a company and being the community leader.
Matt:
While he does a good job of navigating it, just having that tension exist creates tension in the community, even if it's unintentional. I know ... well, I imagine that Dries struggles with that a lot of being very focused on what conversation he's having with who. But I also, if I was wanting a utopian world, Dries would be the community project leader and that would be the only role, and he would get all the support and resources that he needs.
Matt:
And, I also understand why that isn't the case. I do understand the role that he's trying to provide to bring Drupal to the next level and the importance of having a sustainable business model behind that. But you asked me for a wish, and that's my wish.
Chris:
I think that's ... I really enjoy that answer. That's something that I think most of us don't really think about. It's we're so far removed from that level of government of the project and what he's doing, yeah, as running Acquia and for the projects. It's easy to take it for granted sometimes.
Matt:
Yeah, and to also ... the way that we can help Dries with that is when we're talking about him, when we're thinking about decisions is come from a place of best intent and assume that. If there is ambiguity, reach out. Dries is accessible and he wants to know. He counts on the community to help be a guard rail for him and for that. And he does take feedback. It doesn't have to be a public rage storm on Twitter. It can be a private conversation and you know, I know that he loves the community and he cares very deeply about it and wants to make the right decision.
Chris:
So I want to take this and flip it around a little bit now. I want to get to know more about Matt Westgate the person. You keep your hands pretty full running Lullabot. Proud we have products now, we have services, we're doing support and maintenance. So I'm going to give you a month off, fully paid, take your sabbatical, whatever you'd like to do. What do you want to do with that fully paid month off of your time?
Matt:
I would definitely hang out with my kids and my wife. Definitely take advantage of that time. The other thing that comes up for me is to do something to create something with my hands. Something tangible, right? In the world of software we're just clickity clackity on the keyboard all day and there's a real strong desire that I think is not uncommon to go build something with our hands, something that we can touch and create.
Matt:
That's what comes to mind for that. Probably some home improvement projects or something like that, but yeah. That's what I would do.
Chris:
If you could take any two animals and merge them together into one super pet, tell me about your new super pet.
Matt:
Let's see, any two animals? It would not involve cats. They're not high on my priority list. No offense to cats, but I'm allergic to them. It would be a ferret and I don't know what else you'd combine with a ferret. They're already snake dogs as is, you know?
Chris:
You do two ferrets, one on each end.
Matt:
There was a movie, Beastmaster.
Chris:
Oh my gosh, yeah I know it.
Matt:
It had the ferrets, Kodo and Podo were their names and he had them in his satchel and I think my dad wanted me to watch the movie with him because it was sort of like a Rambo-style thing but I just couldn't help ... I was so mesmerized by the ferrets. I'd have him stop the VHS, rewind it and I wanted to know all about the ... I don't even know if we finished the movie because I was so attracted to the ferrets. So I'm going to say that the perfect animal already exists in those little thing ... the skunk smelling ferrets.
Chris:
All right, I'll take it. All right, if you could be any piece of furniture, what is the piece of furniture that represents Matt Westgate?
Matt:
Wow. A tree house. That's what I would be. The idea of having a private place that is also sort of a dreaming inspirational kind of thing where I can take others to the fort and you know, we can have fun and have some creativity and all of that, but also is something that isn't mainstream and common and you know, you can make it your own and you can have your whole imagination there.
Chris:
I like that, I really like that answer. Least favorite household chore. The one chore that if you would just wake up and it would just automatically be done for you, what goes away?
Matt:
It'd be taking out the trash. Yeah. I'm the guy. Takes one for the team, but you know, we live in New England and my wife is from the southern coast of Spain so whenever it's cold, I've got to pull my weight.
Chris:
Yeah. Well kids are almost old enough where they can start helping with some of that, right?
Matt:
You've got a good point. That's ... maybe we've got some new chores when we get home.
Chris:
There you go. Let's see, all right we're going to do rapid fire because I haven't done rapid fire in a little while.
Matt:
Okay.
Chris:
Rapid fire, yes or no, this or that type of questions. You get five questions. Toilet paper hung over or hung under?
Matt:
Hung over.
Chris:
Star Wars or Star Trek?
Matt:
Star Wars.
Chris:
Peanut butter crunchy or creamy?
Matt:
Crunchy.
Chris:
Mountain lodge or beach hut?
Matt:
Beach hut definitely. The chiranguita stands in the southern coast of Spain all the way. Right on the beach.
Chris:
Nice. And finally, would you rather attend a school at Hogwarts or have a wardrobe that opened to Narnia?
Matt:
Attend the school at Hogwarts, I love to learn.
Chris:
Nice. All right. I'm going to wrap this one up like I always do. Is there anybody that comes to mind that you would like to reach a hand out to and say thank you, share something gratitude with who gave you help along the way? It's a long Drupal career to try and pick people from so.
Matt:
Yeah. The first person that comes to mind is Angie Byron. She worked for Lullabot for a while but she is a beacon of hope and support for the Drupal community. She's a great advocate. I also got the chance to get to know Gábor this time around at DrupalCon which seems funny that he's been in the community for so long and we haven't had a chance, but both of those people's hearts are warm and open and full of love and great exemplars for what the community can be.
Chris:
That's excellent. Matt, thank you very much for taking a few minutes here at the end of DrupalCon to talk with me. I really appreciate it and safe travels back home.
Matt:
Yeah, you're welcome Chris. You too.

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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.