Greg Dunlap, better known to the tech world as Heyrocker, explains what a Senior Digital Strategist does and described the challenges of creating standard, customizable layouts.

We talk about what he would do if the internet went out, and how fixing pinball machines might fill the void in his heart left by the absence of YouTube, but only if he can get his hands on the manuals.

Like the rest of us, Greg has a number of people he'd like to thank for pushing him into the community when he needed it.

Finally, can you guess what Greg's spirit module is?

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This Episode's Guest

Greg Dunlap

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Greg has been involved with Drupal for 8+ years, specializing in configuration management and deployment issues.
Transcript

Transcript

Chris Albrecht:
On this episode we're going behind the screens with Greg Dunlap, senior digital strategist at Lullabot. Hello, Greg.
Greg Dunlap:
Hey, how's it going?
Chris Albrecht:
Good. Tells us a little bit about yourself. What does a senior digital strategist do and how long have you been around? How long you been with Lullabot?
Greg Dunlap:
I've been with Lullabot for about four and a half years and I've been in the Drupal community for about ten and a half years. A senior digital strategist ... A ... I would say that my role encompasses a lot of things that mostly aren't development, but very tightly related to web projects. So, I do a lot of, what would traditionally these days be called content strategy, you know, early engagement with clients doing content audits and gathering requirements and content modeling and talking about how to structure their data, how to build ... It's ... It's, like the technical side, so what fields are we going to build, what taxonomies are we going to have, what formats are things going to be expressed in? And that sort of thing. But, also a lot of editorial process, editorial streamlining a lot around content governance, which is sort of, you know, what content do we wanna keep when we're doing migrations, what do we wanna get rid of, how are we going to choose what content to highlight on the site, how are we going to choose who to create such content, et cetera. That's been something I've been on a lot with a lot of clients lately. A lot of stuff like that, which is really all stuff that has to be sorted out before the actual build starts. So, it's sort of ... it's sort of a combination of content strategy and technical architect melded into one.
Chris Albrecht:
Gotcha. So, you're sort of removed from the code, now. You're more into all the logistics that go into putting a site together and doing it well so it fits the client's needs.
Greg Dunlap:
Yeah, it's true. That's definitely a change that's been happening in my career for the last few years since I started at Lullabot. Sort of moving into the bigger picture stuff as it were. Which, I've been enjoying a lot. Mostly just because I've been coding for basically 20 years at this point. And I find a lot of the really interesting problem solving happens before, ideally anyways, happens before implementation begins. And I'm really, like, honestly fascinated with how people run their business and how their businesses work and how they ... how they make their livelihood and that's been ... That's probably my favorite part of my job right now.
Chris Albrecht:
Being with Lullabot, we get deal with a lot of larger companies and really robust organizations. What are some of the most common problems that you've run into while working with these different companies when it comes to the digital strategy?
Greg Dunlap:
The problem we're encountering a lot is the desire to have layouts and ways to organize pages that feel less templatized. That have a little more freedom to make them look like bespoke pages even though they're really not. People wanna be able to highlight different types of content on landing pages in different ways. They wanna be able to have article pages that don't all look the same. They wanna be able to really focus their content and distinguish it in a variety of flexible ways, while at the same time acknowledging that mobile is very, very important to them. So, this idea of shoving everything into an html body field and structuring the field that way won't work. They wanna ... But, at the same time, they don't want their content too structured because if it's too structured, it removes flexibility.
 
And I would say that that conflict between the ... the desire for less structure and less ... more flexibility against the desire to have a very well ... A site that performs really well on mobile is one of the major conflicts that we run into these days. And there's no right answer and it really ... it really all depends on their priorities and their goals and their editorial teams and their editorial governance and workflows and all of that kind of stuff. And that's one of the reasons that we spend so much time talking to them about those things so that when we come up with a solution, we have one that works right for them and their need.
Chris Albrecht:
Yeah, that sounds like a difficult nut to crack. Imagine everybody's so different, like you're saying, how do you come up with a solid solution that'll work for everyone?
Greg Dunlap:
It can be, for sure.
Chris Albrecht:
So, if you could offer one piece of advice to a company that maybe Lullabot is getting prepared to ... to come into help or just someone on their own who's trying to solve a same sort of problem having flexible layouts and a ... and a unique look and feel to their pages while still maintaining that structure to do with mobile and that sort of thing? What is one piece of advice you could offer them to help get them started or to prepare for someone like us to come in and help them out?
Greg Dunlap:
I think that one of the things that I like to recommend, and this doesn't always happen, I'll be honest, it rarely happens, but I think there are ways to handle imagery and media that can be somewhat templatized, but still look really good and really interesting. I mean, people get ... people get so tied up with, "I want this image right here and I want this text to flow around it," kind of thing and it's really not that necessary. And I understand it because a lot of people don't want their content to look like everybody else's content. They want it to stand out. They want this thing exactly right there. But ... but I don't think that necessarily serves anybody's ... serves the need to the users on the other end and ... In a lot of cases. So, thinking about ways in which you can get that imagery out somewhere else or in a standardized way, I think ... I think helps out a lot, but, you know, we lose that battle all the time and it's not something that a lot of people usually dive into.
 
I would also think about ways ... I find ... We find that with a lot of clients that a lot of the time they don't really even know necessarily what all content they have, a lot of the times. And, I would say that diving into the content that you actually have and making sure you understand all of the elements that come into making up a page is really important too.
Chris Albrecht:
That's something I know I've struggled with a number of times trying to, even just with smaller clients or when I was doing freelance, trying to figure all of those pieces out and put them together and I'd look back on some of those now and think, "What the heck was I trying to do?"
Greg Dunlap:
Yeah, it's funny sometimes too because it's like I remember one of my very first Drupal gigs was at the Seattle Times and we were ... we were migrating on site and we were putting pages together and doing ... and doing mock ups and all of this stuff and we had a weather widget on the page and at some point we're all just like, "Does anybody know where this weather widget comes from?" Because, we obviously don't host weather data, like we're not creating our own weather data and putting it into the CMS or anything, and nobody did and nobody ... And we started talking to people and it was like ... It turned out like this weather widget had been done five years ago by somebody who has ... wasn't around anymore and nobody remembered anything about it or what account it was tied to or how that data got in or how we authenticated with it. And so, we had to like do this like this, you know ... We basically had to do archeology to try and ... to try and figure it out.
 
And then another thing was we had a system that was creating ... that created ... We ... When people uploaded photos through our classified system, there was a system ... there was a system through which those photos would then get turned into half tones for print and that was done on a computer which had Photoshop on it and was running an Apple script to ... to turn the stuff into half tones and it was the same thing that had been done like ten years ago and nobody remembered how it was doing and ... Re-architecting the Apple script to repeat it was a ... was a failure. I spent weeks and weeks with ImageMagick trying to ... trying to replicate what this computer was doing and running tests off of the printers and stuff like that. And finally they just left it there, you know? It's like ... You know, keeping track of that stuff and knowing where everything's coming from and what all the parts of a process is is a really big deal because if you have all of that stuff in advance, then you can ... you can like take it all into account when you're planning your project. But, running into it when you're in the middle can cause a lot of pain.
Chris Albrecht:
Well, let's turn this away from all this work talk. As fun as it is getting into some of those problems and I'll agree, I do enjoy getting into some of those like architectural pieces myself. I wanna know a little bit more about what it's like being Greg. So, my first question for you is if you woke up tomorrow and the internet was gone, had just disappeared, no more internet, no more websites, what is Greg gonna do?
Greg Dunlap:
I ... We ...
Chris Albrecht:
Wow, this really turned dark quickly.
Greg Dunlap:
At Lullabot, we have these serendipity calls every Friday and they put five random people together on a call and you talk about what's been going on with your lives and stuff like that and there's always a question to seed the call and one year ... one week the question was something like, "What would you ... what would you do if ... if you were instantly transported back to the 1800s," and my ... my answer was, "I would be dead in a gutter within ten minutes," you know? I have no skills at all that translate to that world whatsoever. I mean ... I mean if the internet was gone, I would probably start to fix pinball machines for a living. I would love to do that, but on the other hand, like, I ... How would I find work? How would I, you know, connect with other people about ... about their problems fixing pinball machines and access all of the technical documentation that I would need? Would I go back to having to collect paper manuals off of eBay and having to put them in a file cabinet? You know? It's like ... it's like the entire way that we think about the world and our jobs it's so, like, you know ... Do I lose all my Google docs when the internet goes away? I mean ...
Chris Albrecht:
Oh, man, yeah. There's a lot of caveats to this question I hadn't thought of in advance that are starting to arise now in some of these interviews.
Greg Dunlap:
Yeah, it's really crazy the way that the ... that the internet has changed the way we interact with the world and part of that is just not needing to keep things like actual physical things. When I moved to Sweden several years ago, I realized that I ... I was carrying around all of this physical stuff, books, records, you know, all of this that ... that I didn't really need to because ... because ... While, I think that records are extremely cool artifacts, like, I have all my music on my computer and the fact was I hadn't actually pulled out a record to listen to it in like a year, at least. And that ... And the removal of those physical goods from our lives out into the cloud of our computers, it's like now all of that stuff has to come back somehow. All of this documentation that's out on the internet has to come back somehow. We have to buy, you know, I'm gonna have to buy, "How to build a react app in 21 days," or whatever, I mean ... I can't just go and watch Code School videos. Oh, my God, YouTube would be gone. My life is over.
Chris Albrecht:
All right, so, I like this one and I'm excited and a little scared to see where this goes, but, you spent a lot of time in Drupal earlier on in your career and still even today with most of our sites that we build through Lullabot are Drupal sites, so you're familiar with the module base and we know that everybody has a spirit animal. I wanna know what is your spirit module, Greg?
Greg Dunlap:
My spirit module ... Let me see here. Well, okay ... Well, here's ... here's a nice answer. When I ... The first module I ever wrote was called, "The Deploy Module," and it was for doing content deployment in Drupal way back in the Drupal 5 to 6 days. I guess ... I guess I ... I started writing it in Drupal 5 but I didn't really sit in till Drupal 6. And it was ... it was working on that project was the first of my interest in getting into configuration management and deployment stuff, which became sort of a ... a path for me through the Drupal world for a long time.
 
But, one of the greatest things about that module, to me, is that when I ... when I did the ... When I agreed to take the initiative for Drupal 8, I was in the middle of a little bit a rewrite for it and I knew I wasn't gonna finish ... I was gonna have time to finish, and so I handed it over to a guy named Dick Olsson, who worked at NodeOne in Sweden. He works for, I believe, Pfizer in England now, and he took it and really ran with it and turned ... And started working on these problems really intensely, and now, him and another guy from England have been focused on bringing that functionality into Core through Core's content moderation initiative.
 
And ... and to see sort of that path of ... First off, all of it ending up in Core ten years later is really cool in concept, if not in implementation, but to ... But the whole concept of, like, you know, this was my baby and I handed it over to something and it grew wings and flew is really ... is really exciting and I've been encouraging people to be more ... to be more willing to hand over their projects when they're sort of not into them anymore because ... because, see, I feel like a lot of us have real possessiveness over our projects and we feel like their ours and we don't want anyone else to mess them up and on the other hand, someone else could turn them into something awesome. And that's been like Dick's gateway into the Drupal community too. And so, I think that ... that's really great. And that's a module that I feel really good about in my heart because of all of that.
Chris Albrecht:
That's a great story. I had no idea that that module had come around. I used Deploy back in the day, and now that I think about it, I can remember seeing your name on the project page. But, I didn't realize it's come all the way around and is now being considered in ... as the functionality going into Core.
Greg Dunlap:
Yep, I mean ... I mean, the content moderation stuff doesn't resemble ... doesn't resemble the Deploy module in any way, shape, or form, and ... And a lot of functionality that Deploy had isn't necessary anymore because either it's being replicated in Core or Core functionality has changed and stuff like that. But, ideologically, you know, I came into configuration management through Deploy and Dick came into content moderation through Deploy and that ... that art has brought both of those things into Core, and that's pretty cool.
Chris Albrecht:
So, we all got here with a little help from others, I think. No one really got to where they are in this industry on their own, so ... So, is there anybody out there that you would like to thank or share a little gratitude with for giving you a push when you needed it or maybe giving you a start just helping you along the way?
Greg Dunlap:
Oh, man, there is so many people. I actually did a whole talk about this once. About how, like, you know, all ... all of the ... all of the operative things that happened to be in Drupal weren't because, like ... like ... Because of Drupal, perse. It was because of individuals that supported me when I needed it. I mean, certainly, early on, I remember Jeff Eaton coming to us at Seattle Times because I got introduced to Lullabot through working with him at my first Drupal gig and me talking to him about some functionality that I thought was broken in Core and him just saying, "Oh, yeah, you should totally do a patch for that," and me being scared and him being like, "No, it's no big deal here," and like kind of walking me through it and stuff like that. Angie Byron encouraging me to get involved with Google Summer of Code when I was around that same time was something that got me into the community closely very early on. I worked with a guy named Gary Love at Seattle Times who was very encouraging to me to get involve with Drupal. Encouraged us to do, sort of, my first talk about configuration management to the Seattle Drupal users group. Ken Rickard encouraged me to apply to my first Drupal job at Palantir when I was scared to hell of doing that.
 
You know, I mean, over the years there had been so many people who have been, like ... like members of every single local user group I've been involved with, whether it be in Stockholm or in Seattle or in Portland, or in Chicago, I just ... I couldn't ... I couldn't possibly list them all.
 
And then recently, I've been really inspired by my work with the Drupal diversity and inclusion working group and working with people like Nikki Stevens and Ruby Sangrick and ... Like, on those problems, which aren't technical at all, but are much more about technology and how we work together and how we ... and how we think about our relationships with each other as human beings and stuff like that it's ... These are the ... You know, and community management and all of that kind of thing, it was stuff that I had been really ... really interested in lately. And the ... All of those people are really inspiring.
Chris Albrecht:
So, Greg, if someone wanted to reach out to you about any of the things we talked about or just to say hi, how would they go about doing that?
Greg Dunlap:
You can always find me through the Lullabot contact page or through my Drupal.org contact page. My username is heyrocker on Drupal.org. Or, in the Drupal Slack, my user name is heyrocker as well.
Chris Albrecht:
Well, thanks for taking a few minutes today, Greg. This was really a ... This was a lot of fun.
Greg Dunlap:
Cool, 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.