Episode 274  on August 27, 2018Behind the Screens

Behind the Screens with Preston So

Acquia's Director of Research and Innovation, Preston So, dishes about delivering keynote presentations on diversity and inclusion, the state of decoupled Drupal, and the Travel Channels newest star.

Transcript

Chris:
On this episode I'm going behind the screens with Preston So, Director of Research and Innovation at Acquia. Preston, you're here at DrupalCamp Colorado and you just gave a keynote presentation this morning, so tell us how that went and introduce yourself to the group.
Preston:
That's right, sure. Well, my name is Preston So. I'm the Director of Research and Innovation at Acquia, where I lead up our innovation team, which works on new digital experiences that we can pair with Drupal. I also lead up a lot of our developer relations efforts, where I travel to various Drupal conferences and events and speak about how amazing Drupal is, and what an amazing community that we have here.
Preston:
A lot of my talks tend to be very code-related or technical. But actually today was the first time that I gave a keynote about a topic that's more near and dear to my heart, which is diversity/inclusion and how that relates to how open-source projects succeed. I think it went really well. I gave a lot of shout-outs to people who I think are doing amazing work in the community. I definitely want to make sure that, moving forward as a community, we continue to raise up the voices of the oppressed and marginalized whose voices we have not heard from as often.
Chris:
Yeah, I thought it was a very inspiring keynote. It was a good divergence from the code, from the technology, like you said. Something that we're all thinking about right now. I love that you bridged from describing what the different diversities, what the different affluences, about how you took all of that opportunity and exposed that. Then talked about some of the things you've done in the past, some of your own maybe faux pas, when you didn't realize you were doing it. We've all made a mistake now and then, but then that can get pointed out to us, and we can learn from it and grow from it. And how that's affecting people now and how we can do things better. Would you mind just talking a little bit about why you decided to give that type of a presentation, some of the things that you decided to put in there in a little more detail?
Preston:
Sure. Drupal has had a very significant impact on my life. So has open source. What I really wanted to do was to talk about some of the challenges that many people face and some of the challenges that I faced, actually, as a result. I used my personal story in Drupal to frame this narrative of talking about how, when we have certain privileges, we are able to succeed in a very particular way. But there are also instances where we don't have those kinds of opportunities. Being able to recognize those and also to help others deal with those, is a very important part of any work that we have to do in diversity and inclusion in the community.
Preston:
Also, alongside that I think one of the most important things that we have to recognize is that we all make mistakes, of course, and we have mixtures of different situations that envelope us. For example, being somebody who has some aspects of privilege, but then some aspects of oppression or lack of opportunity, those are ... That's characteristic of everybody. Everybody has that kind of context. I really wanted to state that not only can we grow and learn through those experiences, as you mentioned, those faux pas, but that also helps to emphasize and put a spotlight on the fact that we're all, number one, human. We all make mistakes. Number two, we are all our own people. We have very different backgrounds that we come from. It's very important to recognize that some of us frankly don't have the opportunities that others do.
Preston:
One of the examples that I used was the fact that there are many people that we probably don't know about and who are those unsung heroes in open-source contribution, who might not be made of exceptional means or who might not have the luxury of being able to contribute as openly as they would like because they might have caregiver responsibilities or they might not have a computer at home. They might only have a limited amount of time. Or maybe their work hours make it so that they can only contribute during certain times of the day and people are less available on Slack.
Preston:
Those sorts of factors are things that I think everyone needs to recognize because the more that we think about assuming that someone who has a GitHub profile, with a bunch of contributions, must be a better programmer, must be a better developer, must be a better open-source enthusiast than others who don't have those same opportunities. That is one of the most poisonous ideas that I think we can introduce to open source.
Preston:
My goal with this presentation was really to show my own experience. I don't want to force my beliefs on others, but I wanted to share my perspective and my personal context so that others can think about their own in that context and maybe add a little bit to their perspective from others.
Chris:
Yeah, it's a really great synopsis. You're going to be giving this presentation. I saw you're also keynoting in Atlanta coming up in November. Is that right?
Preston:
That's right. It's going to be a little bit different. I'm talking a little bit more about the different kinds of contribution that are available. I'll be stressing a little bit more of that section of the keynote where I delved into how this implicit hierarchy of contributions that exists is very harmful to the way that we welcome other contributors and welcome new people and bring people back. That keynote will be a little bit more about how ... I think it'll be a good sequel to this one. It'll be more about, how do we as a community innovate while fostering the kinds of contribution that we want to see and the diversity of contributions that we want to see? How do we keep from people being discouraged by some of the headwinds that we have?
Chris:
That's great. I know we're recording them here at DrupalCamp Colorado. Hopefully people will be able to find that if they weren't able to make it this morning. Then if you can make it to DrupalCamp Atlanta in November, definitely go see that. I'm not sure if they're recording theirs or not so you may just want to get your tickets and go.
Preston:
That's right, and also just to plug one other thing. We also have Decoupled Drupal Days coming up in just a couple of weeks. That's August 17th through 19th, in New York City. Tickets are still available. We have a sale going on right now. Some amazing speakers. All the sessions will be recorded for those of you who won't be able to make it.
Chris:
Excellent, so tell me a little bit more about the technical side of what you worked with at Acquia.
Preston:
Sure. Primarily my role at Acquia has been focused around this new paradigm that has emerged in the last three to four years, really, in the Drupal community. It's really exploded on the scene in the last two years. That is, decoupled or headless Drupal. When I first joined Acquia, that was a topic that I was very interested in. I worked on trying to figure out what were the next right steps for the community with regard to that angle.
Preston:
There were several things that I did during that time. I was very fortunate to be able to work with a large team of folks and write an issue that was about the adoption of a framework into Drupal that could be beneficial for its future, a lot of multiple dimensions. That did end up being React from last year. Obviously there are other people who are doing really amazing work with Vue.js as well, which I've been taking a look at as well.
Preston:
From that standpoint, a lot of the things that I do from a technical standpoint these days are really less related directly to Drupal and more related to how other people can speak Drupal. What I mean by that is, our team at Acquia built several projects that are being used quite a bit in larger projects. Things like waterwheel.js, for example, which is the lightweight helper library for performing requests against Drupal. Also projects like Reservoir which is a lightweight API distribution that has now been pretty much ... A lot of that functionality has now been subsumed into Contenta other projects.
Preston:
One of the things that I do a lot of these days is really talking about how we as Drupal developers can integrate more closely with other communities, and also how other communities can begin to leverage Drupal for their own requirements without having to really understand Drupal at all. So I've been giving a series of presentations about an introduction to decoupled Drupal, decoupled Drupal with Ember, with Angular, with Vue.js most recently, and my goal with that is to help people in the Drupal community reach out and engage in a much more robust way with these communities and feel like they can work in those paradigms, and vice versa as well. I want for those developers in the JavaScript community to feel like Drupal isn't this thing that is big and scary. It's something that is very much usable, lightweight, something that you can use as a CMS if you use a distribution, for example, and can be an exceptionally good platform for building out a whole Contenta ecosystem.
Chris:
How does that work with ... So there's lot of other modules and other pieces that have come in, especially with Drupal 8, to help support the decoupled systems. Now, a lot of my colleagues at Lullabot have put a lot of work into that. So how has that been working between collaborating these things that you've been working on with Acquia and having these other models, the other initiatives, come together to formalize all that?
Preston:
Sure. It's a really good question. I think that we are at a very good point right now, which is that we now have assurances that JSON API module, for example, which is maintained by Lullabot, multiple Lullabots, will be in Drupal core as a stable module, not experimental. I will say that the folks who are working on API first initiative that I have interacted with from Lullabot are some of the most amazing folks.
Preston:
I know that we have had a lot of change happen in the community in the last couple of years. I think decoupled Drupal especially is now considered to be kind of this accepted or standard paradigm that many people are implementing now. But the tools are still maturing. So I really want to highlight, for example, the Contenta distribution, which is an amazing project that Mateu and Daniel Wehner and Sally Young and a couple of other folks have been leading up, that really tries to map out this future for how different developers of consumer applications building in JavaScript can seamlessly work with Drupal and really not have to touch it at all.
Preston:
I think that the no configuration vision of Contenta is really great, and it's something that I believe that many other distributions can learn. There are obviously some growing pains still. We have I think some other excitement around modules like GraphQL, for example, but we still need to do a lot of work to make those ready for primetime. I'm really excited to see what comes out moving forward. The work of the Admin UI initiative, for example, as well has been phenomenal. I'm convinced, personally, that once we can get a lot of these pieces in place, especially the API portion, the web services, and also the front-end reference applications that are emerging, and also the UI applications within Drupal that are emerging, I think we're going to map out a really bright future for Drupal for decades to come.
Chris:
That's exciting. If you could pick out one thing that you've had that was, maybe one really tough problem you've solved lately that you could tease out as a good nugget, a good piece of advice for somebody, what would that be?
Preston:
Can I do an old moment? Is that okay?
Chris:
Absolutely.
Preston:
It's like way back in time.
Chris:
Sure.
Preston:
Okay. One of the things I mentioned in my presentation today is my background as an open-source developer and my involvement in Drupal stretching back approximately 10 to 11 years. I remember the first time that I was able to do exactly what this podcast does, and exactly what I mentioned in my keynote, which is to move behind the screens and meet some of the people who are behind these projects, and to realize that these are some of the most exceptionally gifted and talented people that I've ever had a chance to meet. That I can learn from them and see their work and know that there's a person behind all of these projects, is incredible. Because when you work in open source, oftentimes you're hidden behind those avatars or those thumbnails that really don't indicate anything about who you are.
Preston:
It's very crucial, in my opinion, that we have events like this, and it really does pain me to see a lot of the softness in the market with regard to local events, because that's really where we cultivate a lot of those kind of interactions, and cultivate a lot of those new contributions and new people in the ecosystem who are coming in. For me, the epiphany really is that moment when I realized that there are real people behind this, real people that I am now very close friends with, very dear colleagues of mine as well, that I look up to now today as being some of the most important influences in my life.
Chris:
That's great. That's the common theme, I've found, is the local camps, the local meetups, the local community. It's free. You can come to DrupalCamp Colorado and pay nothing, and still see all the sessions, get all the information, if you wanted to.
Preston:
Yep.
Chris:
I think it's very underestimated. Even if you're just trying to figure out how to use Drupal for the first time, you can show up and ask somebody and then I can name 10 people off the top of my head who would be glad to sit down and teach you how it works. It's a very incredible thing.
Preston:
It is.
Chris:
If you woke up tomorrow and the internet was just gone, we don't have Drupal anymore, what's the first thing you're going to do?
Preston:
Well, I think what I would do in that case is probably commence a freakout for about half an hour. Then at that point I'd probably actually go to my alternative dream, which is to start a travel show and ... Oh, well actually, that wouldn't work, because that would be on YouTube. I'd have to find a network first that would be willing to take that on, and then I'd love to do a travel show that involves some elements of learning about the culture and the language in the places that we would visit. Just a tip to anyone who is planning on trying to take down Drupal service. If you want a travel show, there's your answer.
Chris:
If we see a DDLS attack on Drupal.org tonight we know why.
Preston:
Oh yeah. Then you'll see something show up tomorrow on the travel channel.
Chris:
Fantastic. This is one of my favorite questions. Everybody has a spirit animal, an animal that represents who they are inside, but being in Drupal we spend more time in this code. So what is your spirit module?
Preston:
It's a very good question. I'm going to have to say that my spirit module ... It's a really hard decision, and I had to choose one of the original, kind of core modules that was available in Drupal 7. That is Book. I don't know if anyone has ever said Book in the past. Oh-
Chris:
Once before, yeah.
Preston:
Once before. All right, so I'm not alone. Maybe I should have chosen Color module. I like Book module because, number one, I consider myself to be a bit of an open book. I'm a very open and transparent person. I sort of wear my heart on my sleeve and I'm very, very easy to talk to. I'd like to see myself as approachable, but the Book module is really great because it actually allows you, unlike the regular content where everything is kind of isolated and orphaned in some ways, the Book module creates this progression. It's like you move from page to page and you have a very distinct trajectory and journey that you go down. I think that's very similar to the journeys that we've all taken as contributors to Drupal.
Chris:
I really like that. Very poignant.
Preston:
Thank you.
Chris:
Preston, I always finish up these episodes by offering some thanks and gratitude to someone who might have helped you along the way, so is there somebody you'd like to say thank you to?
Preston:
There are plenty of people I want to say thank you to. First and foremost, I think because I'm here in Colorado, I want to thank the Colorado Drupal community. There are some folks who have been incredibly influential in my journey, namely folks that I know from the community like the three Matts, Matt Kleve, Matthew Saunders, Matt Tucker, Greg Knaddison, Ben Jeavons, Brad Bowman, folks that have been friends of mine for many years.
Preston:
I also want to thank my colleagues at Acquia, who have been some of the most amazing friends and colleagues and confidantes throughout all of the work I've been doing recently. Also I want to make sure to thank everyone who's listening, because without you and without your contributions and your focus on Drupal, this wouldn't happen.
Chris:
Wonderful. Well, thank you for taking a few minutes. I know after your keynote and then after being assaulted in the hall, I think that shows it was a very heartfelt presentation that meant a lot to a lot of people. So thanks for taking a few minutes to talk to me today. I appreciate it.
Preston:
Anytime. I'm happy to come back whenever you want to talk more about whatever you want. Thanks so much.
Chris:
I'm going to hold you to that. Thanks Preston.
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