Episode 262  on April 30, 2018Behind the Screens

Behind the Screens with Jeffrey McGuire

Jeffrey A. "Jam" McGuire describes how he's blending open source with business in his new company, the history of the DrupalCon Prenote, why he's keynoting a Joomla conference, and French horns.

Transcript

Chris:
In this episode, we're going behind the screens with The Mustachioed Maestro of the Drupal Prenote — I've been waiting to say that for so long.
Jam:
Have you been practicing that?
Chris:
A little bit. Jeffrey McGuire, otherwise known to the community as 'Jam.'
Jam:
Yep. Somebody tried to back port my initials to be 'just another mustache', but I don't know how I feel about that.
Chris:
So, what are you up to these days?
Jam:
I have founded a company called Open Strategy Partners, and we're building on my dozen or more years in open-source, and my ideas about communication combined with the MBA and enterprise and startup experience of my business partner, to help technology organizations. So, we have a focus on open-source touched operations, whether that's an agency or a multi-national, or an open-source product company. We like that, and we help them with strategy marketing communications.
Chris:
So, that's not Drupal specific? It's open-source of any realm.
Jam:
Right, so the thing that I've been thinking about really hard and working away at for the last, let's see, I'd say it's seven or eight years, is this intersection between open-source thinking and practice, this upside down, backwards land economy where the more you give your ideas away, the more value you get from other people. And, this whole don't compete in IT idea, and all of these ideas. The intersection of open-source thinking and practice with business value, and I ended up, in my job at Acquia, doing a lot of translating between technology and business, and helping geeks get connected to the value that they deliver to the customer, not just coding standards and build the interface the right way to [grunt], but you're connected to a value delivery chain that is enabling a client to make the world a better place, for example.
That's a really exciting story. And, when you put the whole chain together, you feel much more than just a hacker coder person. And by the same token, connecting, helping the business people understand this counterintuitive stuff around open-source, and why they should share, and why they get more out of their investment if they do it the right way, and why you need to participate in this stuff.
So, sitting in the middle of that for a long time has really, really fascinated me.
Chris:
Tell me about a challenge you've had recently about sharing your IP, or something of that nature.
Jam:
Right. The weird nature of open-source business, right? So, I am helping ddev promote their 'Dev to Deploy' tooling platform. So, for me it's super cool 'cause it's open-source tooling. You can take it, you can use it, you can do whatever you want with it. But you can also buy support, use their hosting, and so, it's a business model plus an open-source model together. Really, really exciting.
So, they're doing a typical thing where the founders have now brought in some executives to help them build out the business and I'm helping them, as well. And, it's wonderful. It's great people, it's a great company. The executives also understand, to some degree, understand open-source, but we've had trouble getting agencies to look at the hosting platform 'cause that piece hasn't been open-source yet.
The CTO, Kevin Bridges, Cyberswat in Drupal land, he's still putting together the last pieces, making sure it's far enough along for him to feel comfortable releasing it. And, the problem is not oh, I'm not gonna release my-they're not gonna release the security hardening, for example. That makes perfect sense. And, they're not gonna release their secret sauce of performance. Nobody has a problem with that, but for an open-source CTO to buy into their platform, we've had literally like, 'Don't talk to me, where do I download it on GitHub, and I'll talk to you if I want to.'
And because it's not open-source yet and they can't pull it apart themselves, and break it and put it back together, they're not comfortable having any kind of a sales conversation. Now, it's about to be open-sourced. It really will be open-sourced. That's not gonna be a problem, but it's really interesting that someone experienced in "classic business" would have a really difficult time understanding a sales cycle that involves leaving someone alone and playing with the product by themselves.
So these are the kind of challenges; communication, expectation management, timing. And, as a marketer, how do I plan a marketing campaign around something, or- two people, like developers who are by definition allergic to marketing. That's the space I'm working in, and it's fun, and it's cool.
Chris:
That is a very interesting realm. That's very neat when you're trying to combine so many different points of view into the open-source mantra.
Jam:
Yep, yep, yep. It's got a lot of dark corners.
Chris:
Yeah. So, what technologies have you been reaching into, other than Drupal?
Jam:
So, I have long had the ambition to do more than, I never wanted to be the Drupal guy. And I had the great good fortune in recent years to get around the PHP community a lot, so I've been to- I know a lot of people in Symfony, and I have been on and off a part of the TYPO3 community, the TYPO3 CMS is a really cool GPL license PHP open-source CMS, that's very, very popular in Central Europe and not very well known elsewhere, and it's really worth looking at. So, I'm helping them with that.
Ddev is an open-source product platform, and, somebody just asked me to speak at a WordPress conference, so, going back there. I'm really, I guess, my sweet spot is open-source plus business somehow.
Yeah, I don't know. We'll see where it goes next.
Chris:
What's something big on the horizon that you're looking forward to jumping into, or pushing a little forward into with the business? Or, is there something bigger on the horizon that you're looking at coming up?
Jam:
With my business?
Chris:
With your business.
Jam:
So, we incorporated in October 2017, and we've had our first full-time team member since January and that's fantastic, and we're running way over capacity. Our clients have been very, very happy with us so far, and we've got four more prospects who've come to us before we've managed to actually market ourselves. So, our challenge right now is growing, maintaining content, quality, and controlling our costs as a business. I've never built a business before, so, luckily my business partner has. So, those challenges are really, really interesting to me.
Along the way, because we're operating in this- exactly the world you know around Drupal, I'm part of Drupal Europe coming up, I'm gonna be going to the TYPO3 annual business conference, probably not the developer conference this year, but I was there last year. I will be keynoting the big annual Joomla conference, it's gonna be in Cologne this year, and they asked me to talk about what's going on in open-source right now, which is really neat.
So, I'm in this really wonderfully privileged position to be in contact with a lot of community leaders and people who are making open-source better for all of us across a lot of projects. The doors that that's opening right now are really gratifying, and I'm really glad to be able to help. And, one thing that I've tried to do for years and years, that I used to do in Drupal and now I'm trying to do it at a larger level, is cross-pollinate.
I have a brain, four faces and names, and a decent idea if we've had a conversation somewhere over a beer, I have decent idea of what you're about, what[inaudible 00:07:42] you work on, who you are, what's going on, and over the years I've connected a lot of agencies with deals, and companies with partners, and students with internships, and people with new jobs. And, I really love finding the synergy between different organizations, different people, and where they could come together, and create more value out of our communities. And, I'm doing that at a higher level and it feels great. It's nice.
Chris:
That's excellent. So, we're here at DrupalCon Nashville and I participated in the Prenote this year, which you've been organizing for a number of years now, with the help of Campbell, and a number of others. So, why do you keep doing this, and why is it important to you, and why do you think- how is it for the community. Tell me a little bit about your experience with the Prenote.
Jam:
I think that was the 18th Prenote.
Chris:
Oh my gosh.
Jam:
Yeah, I'm not 100 percent sure. Cast your mind back to DrupalCon San Francisco. A group from the Acquia support team put together a co-presentation with about ten different people doing kind of three minutes each about different bits of Drupal, the best I recall, it was a very long time ago.
It's this quick fire introduction to Drupal and DrupalCon session for newcomers. And, I moderated that and kept the show rolling, and that was neat, and I thought that that sort of a session would be valuable for the community over all.
Robert Douglass, who's my best friend and was at Acquia at the time, now at Platform.sh, he had the idea that we could kind of combine that with- I think he literally said, "Let's get onstage and tell stupid geek jokes and sing songs." He had the idea to put these two things together and so, over time the Prenote has become the quasi official conference opener. It's been in the slot right before Dries' keynote for a long time, which is why it's called the Prenote.
We've experimented with a number of formats and made some really interesting discoveries along the way. People love amateur musicians much more than they love amateur actors. Somehow, I don't know if it feels more courageous, but- so, it's not a technical orientation to the conference, but over the years depending on the location and depending on what's been going on in the community, we've taken themes emphasizing open-source values; contribute more, or don't forget to- we've given value lessons, like really simplified big statements about why we're here and what we're good for.
Like, 'Introduce yourself to your neighbor and do the funny dance.' So, it's a combination of audience participation, songs, often bad jokes, and the tradition now is to put some number of song parodies. So, tunes that everybody knows and can sing along with, but with dumb Drupal lyrics. And, as corny and as cheesy as possible. Talking about committing code and, my actual formal education is as a performer, so, one of our friends in Cologne, somebody who knows Robert and Campbell, who's been my collaborator in recent years on the Prenote, said, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah. All you musicians, you get into tech, and then the first time you show up a big conference, what do you do? You turn it into a performance.'
So, this year for example, Chris, you volunteered, we met at an event last year, said, 'Could I be part of that?' And, yes, and this is the other thing I wanted to touch on. This is the big lesson of open-source. Everybody will welcome your help, in every part of every project. If you think you can offer someone, and you make a genuine offer to help, they will treat that with respect. It could factually be that you can't help because of real reasons, or technicalities, or who knows, but everyone will accept gratefully your offers of help, and 99 percent of the time be glad that you're there and you're gonna just be able to jump in and contribute code, contribute guitar playing, contribute whatever it is, the open-source thing, and this is how we build community.
So, the Prenote has become this group of volunteers who stand up, goes out and has fun for an hour to open the Con, and I'm incredibly grateful and flattered that it's considered a tradition now. And, when they open the doors of the hall this year, when we were walking out, we saw hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of people streaming in to catch us being-
Chris:
Goofing around, early in the morning.
Jam:
Exactly, exactly, very, very early in the morning. And, they got out of bed to do that, too, so that's cool.
And, it is, as far as I know, unique to us in Drupal land.
Chris:
Something that'll continue, I hope.
Jam:
I don't see why not. We got a ton of great feedback, in person and on social media, about the one we just did, The Grand Ole Drupy Prenote Show. So, I guess the other thing we do is try to tie it the location, or something special about the year. So, this time we made it a real Nashville thing. It was all about country music.
In Mumbai, we told a story about outsourcing, and did parodies of Bollywood songs. And, we had the help of people from the Indian community to help write that. In Barcelona, we gave Catalan lessons, and there's always local flavor. There's always something that, something new every time.
Chris:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). It's so much fun. I enjoyed it and I'm excited to be part of it next year, too, wherever that might be.
Jam:
Well, thank you for your help. That was fantastic, right, your guitar playing, and your Garth Brooks impression, that took us to next level.
Chris:
Yeah, I can say I've played guitar on a stage in Nashville now, thanks to that. So, you never know where this open-source community is gonna take you.
Jam:
Exactly.
Chris:
So, if you were to wake up tomorrow and the internet was gone, which means no more DrupalCon. I guess we could still have the conference, it'd just be a lot less computers here.
Jam:
A lot more paper.
Chris:
A lot more paper, right. What would you be doing with your time, if you weren't working on the internet?
Jam:
I would probably be playing a lot more horn. I'm a French horn player and alphorn player. My formal education was in music, and I had a career as a musician, and I was successful enough to have a chamber music group that played live on the radio, and we really needed a website, and I couldn't afford something professional. And, back in 2003, 2004, making a website was hard. Robert Douglass told me about this Drupal thing, and fast-forward to me joining Acquia engineering in 2008, that was that path.
So, I guess I'd be playing a lot more music. It's such a difficult question. Life has changed so much. We're so enabled to communicate and share stuff now, and that would actually be crushing. I think I was gonna say, 'Oh, I would write more, and I- huh.' But, if you didn't have the internet, you wouldn't be empowered to communicate.
Chris:
Right, where would it be published?
Jam:
Yeah, exactly, right? And, yeah. So, I guess-
Chris:
We could take it really deep, if you want to. But, it's kinda like, 'What do you wanna be when you grow up?'
Jam:
I wanna be in a place with the internet, I guess.
Chris:
Alright, fair enough. And, finally, we've been in this community a long time, the open-source community in a whole, and I think everyone who's been here, even from the beginning, has gotten a little push as some point. Is there somebody you'd like to say thank you to, or show some gratitude with, who's given you a little nudge along the way, or inspired you in some way?
Jam:
Back in the early 2000s, I was working as a full-time musician, and a full-time translator, writer, journalist, and working 80 plus hours a week to make ends meet and I was really stressed, and trying to feed a young family, and that's challenging as a musician. It's fun and it brings joy to the world, but it's challenging. And Robert Douglass was like, 'Hey, you like that design stuff. You can do this. Here, this is html. This is CSS. Go learn this. Oh, I just found this thing called Drupal. You should check it out.'
And, a couple years of lessons, of teaching me at his kitchen table, and I was able to start working as a, I would say a site builder now, but back in the day we called it Drupal consultant.
By 2007, I was working as a Drupal consultant, and, yeah, it's all Rob's fault. Thank you, Rob.
Chris:
Oh, that's awesome. Jam, thanks so much for taking a few minutes. This was great.
Jam:
I'm really glad to talk to you. Thanks, Chris.
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