Tom Sliker started Broadstreet Consulting more than a decade ago, and has made Drupal a family affair. We dragged Tom out of the South Carolina swamps and into DrupalCamp Atlanta to get the scoop.  How does Tom service more than 30 clients on a monthly basis with just a staff of five people?  His turn-key Aegir platform, that's how!

This Episode's Guest

Tom Sliker

Tom Sliker

Tom Sliker serves as the ringleader for the Broadstreet team and has managed to build a diverse, talented, multi-faceted team that has performed a wide range of projects.   With over 30 years of software development and integration experience, Tom brings a wealth of technical and business knowledge to his customers and his team.

Transcript

Transcript

Chris:
We're here at DrupalCamp Atlanta going behind the screens with Tom Sliker. Tom, you're the president, CEO of Broadstreet Consulting. So tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do there at Broadstreet, and why you're here at Drupalcamp Atlanta today.
Tom:
Right, yes. I'm with Broadstreet Consulting in Wagner, South Carolina. Been doing Drupal since 2007, and started as a little side business building websites for families and friends and grew into helping small businesses get found on the internet. And so now we do full digital marketing suite of products from web development with Drupal.
Tom:
We also do all forms of digital marketing. So we're doing social media marketing, content marketing, email marketing, local stuff with Google Partner. We do a lot of Google AdWords and a lot of SEO work as well.
Chris:
So Drupal is the primary technology stack that you use. Is that fair? Or are there other technologies that you're incorporating there as well?
Tom:
It has been exclusively Drupal. And just in the last couple years we started to support WordPress sites, but we don't actually build our own WordPress sites. We usually build everything with Drupal.
Tom:
We've got a multi-site instance with Aegir. And so we've got an installation profile that we've been kind of tweaking and improving over the last 10 years that kind of gives us a really nice website that has all our favorite tools, all of our setups, all of our things all ready to go.
Tom:
The beautiful thing is ... For me as a person who's not as technical these days, not as in the trenches, I can create a new website with one click.
Tom:
And so then we can set somebody on it to go do all the other things that the customer needs.
Chris:
Wow, that's pretty incredible. I haven't heard too much about Aegir in recent times. I know it was very big when it came up and it was kind of a revolutionary way of putting together Drupal sites.
Chris:
So it's still being maintained, it's still out there and being used. And you've got a profile you've been holding over 10 years now-
Tom:
Exactly.
Chris:
Point and click setup ... that's pretty incredible.
Tom:
Yup. Works really well.
Chris:
So how many people do you have there at Broadstreet that you're working with?
Tom:
There's five of us basically that run the business. I've got a girl in the office, I've got the ... doing bookkeeping, and some basic content stuff. Got a graphic designer. Full time ... my daughter Margery who's a digital marketer. She's a Broadcast journalism major. She does a lot of content creation and she's also our Google AdWords expert.
Tom:
That's the team. We have about 30 clients that we service on a monthly basis. Most of them long term, some of them have been doing business with me for 15 years.
Chris:
Wow.
Tom:
Built their first website. One of them we built their first website in 2003.
Chris:
No kidding! Wow. That's a heck of a contract.
Tom:
Yep, yep. It's been good.
Chris:
And so we were talking a little bit last night. You just mentioned that your daughter is there working with you but you also mentioned that your son ... you brought him up into the webspace, so to speak.
Chris:
I thought that was a very cool story about the whole family working in the same industry but had come from different pathways to get there. You said you daughter was a Broadcast journalism major and now is working for you in tech. So tell me a little bit about how that journey went. First of all, this is your first camp in a little while. You've taken a break from coming, too. So what brings you back? And how did you go about getting your kids to come in with you?
Tom:
Okay. So what brings me back to the DrupalCamp mostly is just the community. I've missed being engaged with the community. Last couple of years, I've been focused really on my own business and our own challenges and growth opportunities.
Tom:
But yeah, now I'm really excited about getting back engaged with the Drupal community, seeing people that I haven't seen in a while and that kind of thing.
Tom:
But the path to having it like a family business ... I started doing it, like I said, nights and weekends. I was just doing websites and helping ... You know, it was actually when my second child started college. I was thinking, "I need to make a few extra bucks but what can I do? Well, I build websites so I'll try that."
Tom:
And so I started really just beating the bushes and getting a job here and there. It was a little side thing and it kind of kept growing. And some of the customers who we were doing work for did really well, so we kept having more demand for more work.
Tom:
Yeah. Kids around the house ... 14, 15, 16, you want to put them to work. So Tommy, who's my second child, he really took to the coding part of this. And so when he was in college he was going for, I think ... it was basically graphic design. But he was also doing Drupal at nights and weekends helping me out. He's now a full-time, front end developer for Kanopy Studios. And he works from his home in South Carolina. Works on a lot of projects out in California.
Chris:
Yeah. 'Cause Kanopy is based out of the Bay area, San Francisco Bay area.
Tom:
Exactly.
Chris:
And that's pretty amazing that he ... I love that remote nature. So South Carolina all the way to the Bay area. You can work for those different companies anywhere in the world now.
Tom:
Yeah. And the little town I lived in has one traffic light and the only that Tommy lives in eight miles away has no traffic lights, just a couple stop signs.
Tom:
But we have high speed fiber, a loop that comes all the way through that whole area. And so by living in town in these two little areas, we can get super high speed internet. It's a pretty sweet deal.
Chris:
Wow. I love that. That's amazing.
Chris:
That's really cool that you have ... It's a whole family. Like a family affair. You can get together with the kids and all talk the same technology, know what each other are talking about.
Tom:
Well, yep-
Chris:
That's fun. You can have those conversations together.
Tom:
Yep.
Tom:
The other reason for coming here is I hired a new graphic designer who knows nothing about Drupal, never heard of Drupal, still learning web development. But by bringing him here, I wanted him to kind of get the taste of the Drupal community.
Tom:
He got full immersion yesterday and went into some training. Came out really liking all the people and the class. We went out to dinner last night, just did the regular Drupal thing. And so I wanted him to get a feel for the vibe of this community. It's been a really important part of my life and my business for the past 10, 12 years.
Chris:
Yeah. Oh, that's fantastic!
Chris:
So sounds like things are going well so far. We're on a day of half trainings and then the second half of the day is key-note and sessions. And then tomorrow will be all day sessions.
Chris:
Is there anything in particular that you're hoping to get out of it? Or is it more just about being here with the people? Is there a session or a particular training that you are excited about?
Tom:
Yeah. There's no particular. I haven't really looked carefully at my list or made my plan yet.
Tom:
But it really is mostly about the people. Seeing people that I've known ... I just saw a guy that used to be in the South Carolina Drupal group, and he moved to Baltimore. And so he's walking through and we catch up.
Tom:
Seeing people, reconnecting with people, meeting new people. I met a guy yesterday that just started doing Drupal and doesn't know anything. So I was telling him how much he was going to enjoy this and how much ... I feel like Drupal has always been good to the beginners. The people that come in and don't know. It's a very ... some tech communities can kind of push down the people that don't know much, and everything's talking about all these complicated stuff.
Tom:
But I always felt like Drupal was very welcoming to the new people.
Chris:
I would agree with that. Absolutely.
Chris:
So I'm going to kind of go back to the technology a little bit 'cause I have some questions around that. So you're using Aegir as your ... your platform to spin up new sites. It's managing multiple sites for you.
Chris:
I assume those are all running on Drupal 7 now, is that right?
Tom:
Pretty much everything is 7. You can do different profiles, so we've got an 8 site. We've got a CiviCRM site. We've got different models so we can ... If I wanted to create a CiviCRM or whatever, I could do that with a button too.
Tom:
But yeah, we do have Drupal 8. But the 7 is the one that we've invested a lot in in the last several years.
Chris:
Sure. Yeah. It has a really long life span. It's solid.
Chris:
Do you have a plan in place to upgrade those to Drupal 8? Or is it going to be a client by client thing?
Tom:
Yep. Probably next year is what I'm thinking. I haven't really looked at the ... the end of life on 7 yet. But I figured next year we should be trying to upgrade everybody.
Tom:
We're actually doing ... I forget what the release is that just came out. But we're going to do an upgrade of everything up to that platform in the next month or two.
Chris:
So with that architecture, is there some piece of advice or some kind of tricks ... something that you've learned recently that you could share with people? That if they're looking at Aegir or if they have a similar challenge where they're managing multiple websites that they're interested in the doing what you have here, like a single click install. Something you would share with them as a kind of a 'gotcha' that you just figured out? Or a common problem they should try and avoid?
Tom:
Yeah. To do it right, there's things that you have to do to ... that we've learned over time as an example. Our development site, we came up with a naming convention so that on our [inaudible 00:09:19] we automatically disable CSC aggregation. As an example. Things like that.
Tom:
So we've automated a lot of those things so there's no as much ... figure things out when you go to create something new. Or flown a site, or moved something into development of our ...
Chris:
So to have the Aegir instance, is that just living on one of your own servers? And then it spins up? It does everything you need it to do. How difficult is it to get that setup or-
Tom:
It's taken a while. It has taken a while to get it where it's push-button. And I do have a system administrator who's looking at it at least every week. He's always looking for ways to improve and ... of course, security's important.
Tom:
But for me, we've kind of got it to where myself and also non-developers like a graphic designer, other people, can clone a site, add a site, those kind of things. Just do backups ... just all that stuff really with a nice little one-click interface is very handy.
Chris:
Wow. That's really cool.
Chris:
And I imagine you might get some people pinging you about how you have that set up and what sort of configuration you're using. 'Cause it seems like there's a lot of people in that same field, I think, where you're managing multiple sites. Or you want that ease of implementation where you don't need a week and a couple of developers to stand up each site and get it running, get the environments in place. To have that all in one-click just sounds ...
Chris:
That's kind of like the utopian instance, I think, of how to manage these sites.
Tom:
Well it's not utopian. It's pretty good, it's solid. But you know, there's always problems.
Tom:
And of course just like any other development project ... as you progress, the newer sites are way better than the ones we did three years ago. And so now you have multiple versions kind of ... It's not like our all sites are identical.
Chris:
Sure.
Tom:
Some of them have older versions of what we were doing. We try to keep improving at least once or twice a year. We implement changes and enhancements to what we call our base site.
Chris:
So I'm going to kind of flip this a little bit now. We've talked about the technology and the history.
Chris:
So my first question ... I like this question. If you woke up tomorrow and that was all gone, the internet had just disappeared overnight, what's the first thing you'd do in the morning?
Tom:
Well fortunately, I've printed off most of the internet. I'm a pretty big user of paper. No, uh-
Chris:
So recreate the internet page by page.
Tom:
Nah, I'd probably just stay where I am. I live in a small town. It's quiet there, there's swamps and rivers nearby. I'd find something else to do.
Tom:
But I love this. It's amazing being part of the Drupal community. Being able to interact with people from all over the world, all over the country, and to see them repeatedly and have this common interest.
Tom:
It's a great community to be a part of.
Chris:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So if someone were to come visit you ... if I showed up the day the internet went out, what do we do in your town? Show me around.
Tom:
Well, we'd go over to Tyler Brothers, one of my clients. We'd go buy us some Carhartt clothes or some hiking boots or something like that. And then we'd probably ... we might need to drive somewhere after that.
Chris:
It sounds kind of nice being just ... no big city. Just out, quiet, remote ...
Tom:
Yeah. There's places to eat but there's no places to drink. You gotta go a way to do that.
Chris:
I can get down on that. Just some quiet relaxation, maybe a little hiking, maybe a little swamp.
Tom:
Yep.
Chris:
Alright. I'm down for that.
Chris:
And so you mentioned since 2007 that you've been in the Drupal ecosphere. If you can be any module in the Drupal ecosystem, what module would you be?
Tom:
I like Aegir. I would probably have to go with Aegir. At least in my operation, he's got his fingers in everything. Sees everything that's happening, you know? And critically important to everything that we do.
Tom:
So I'd go with Aegir.
Chris:
Yep. And it's efficient. You can get everything done just by one click. There you go.
Tom:
Then I could go hiking in the swamp.
Chris:
Yeah. There it is.
Chris:
Alright. And Tom, finally, is there anybody you'd like to say thank you to or share some gratitude with who maybe gave you a boost when you needed it? Or something like that?
Tom:
Yes. I will name one person. And actually, Ryan Szrama, is the guy that ... the first time he met me, or one of the first times he met me ... and I had my son with me, Tommy, who's miraculous. Also famous for 'Everyday I'm Drupaling,' the video. I'll give you a link to that.
Chris:
So your son is responsible for the 'Everyday I'm Drupaling' video?
Tom:
Yes. It was brainstorm. He wrote that whole song in one night. Did the video the next week. It's classic. Drupal classic.
Chris:
Wow. Alright.
Chris:
Well, Mike Herchel is going to have to track you down and get your autograph. I think he owes you some royalties. He starts every one of his presentations with that song. He owes your son some money, I think.
Tom:
So when I introduced Tommy to Ryan, Ryan's like, "Oh man. I want to do Drupal with my son one day." And I thought, "Yeah, it is pretty cool to be doing something you love. You know, work stuff and having that in common with your kids."
Tom:
But anyway, Ryan though is to me a great example of the Drupal community. When I was learning Ubercart ... whatever version it was with Drupal 5, I spent a lot of time alone at my computer trying to figure stuff out. Googling stuff, trying to find stuff.
Tom:
And every time I had a problem, it seemed like what came up was Ryan Szrama. He had the answer. And a few times I'd ping him on chat. To my surprise, this guy would answer my questions, acted like he really cared about what I was doing. He's proven to be a great asset to the Drupal community and he's become a friend as well.
Chris:
That's wonderful. He's a great guy. I'd met him a few times now, so ... I love hearing those stories. And you know, the people who we all look up to, they're human. And they care. They genuinely care. So that's a great story, I like that.
Chris:
And we look forward the young Szramas on the commit credits soon.
Tom:
There you go.
Chris:
Alright, well Tom, thank you very much for taking a few a minutes to talk to me today. I really appreciate it. Great conversation.
Tom:
Thank you.

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.