I seem to have a knack for taking unpopular positions. Part of me likes to believe it’s because I see the world differently than most people, part of my uncanny ability to see through the facade of mob group think and break things down logically. Something that seems to come up and bite me in the tail again and again is the church of Drupal. I’m using the term church of Drupal half jovially, of course there’s no real organized Drupal religion. There’s just a deep seeded culture that’s probably one of the biggest turn offs I’ve ever experienced in an open source project.
What I’m about to rant about will annoy a lot of people. Let me be very clear, Drupal is an excellent piece of software. I have a lot of respect for Dries and his ability to successfully commercialize his own open source vision. I have a lot of respect for open source programmers who contribute code to projects outside of their paid work hours. I think Drupal is an amazing platform that I’ve spent the last year of my life learning the ins and outs of, and I plan on continuing to use it a great deal. With that said, buckle your seat belts, because I’m “about to blow the lid off this mother ******.”
The Drupal community; to me, feels toxic and cult like. Never before have I poked my nose into a community that is so awkwardly demanding of its participants while constantly flaunting a “community” that at least for me has been a hit or miss train wreck of trolls, snake oil salesman, and some good hearted honest people thrown in between.
Dries and the “community” have decided that certifications are “useless.” I think this position is mostly harmless when it’s not acted on. Unfortunately it’s actively acted on. Dries and his multi million dollar company Acquia obviously stand to benefit a great deal by a vibrant and submissive community of developers. In lieu of a push for standardized certifications it has become the will of the community that your effectiveness as a developer will be judged directly by your participation on drupal.org. That means patching, updating, contributing modules, and good will towards man kind. It sounds pretty cheerful. We all love Drupal, so lets all contribute to the project directly, and reward those that contribute the most with the respect of a seasoned veteran.
I take a few different issues with this approach, and I wish my prose was elegant enough to really drive the point home on why. You’ll have to bear with me as my chubby fingers string together a bunch of harsh words that make people dislike me.
My first issue is that of “certified to rock,” a drupal.org based website that uses a secret and proprietary algorithm to determine your rank in the Drupal community. Right from the beginning I find it abhorrent that an open source project, that prides its self on being open, would consider using a top secret algorithm to determine anything much less a developer’s value. Not too long ago I saw a tweet advertising a Drupal job so I clicked on it out of curiosity (it’s always good to know what the latest hiring practices are.) One of the requirements was a Certified to Rock score of five or greater. Before that point I had never even heard of Certified to Rock, so with my curiosity peaked I went to the website. I rate a zero on a scale of one to eleven. I don’t have any contributed code on the Drupal website, just a few helpful comments paired with some “help me out here” questions. What I do have is around ten professionally developed websites at this point written in Drupal, all using custom themes, some using custom or tweaked modules. A zero. It sure makes Wordpress look a lot more inviting.
Even though the Certified to Rock algorithm is kept a secret it’s pretty obvious what its doing. It’s looking at how much code you’ve contributed directly to the Drupal community. Whether that’s in the form of patches or modules I don’t know, but if I’m ranking zero that would be a prime suspect. The funny thing is, one of Certified to Rock’s main bullet points is that its an effective alternative to certification because certifications are a barrier of entry for professionals.
COUGH COUGH EXSQUEEZE ME? BAKING POWDER? /obscure Wayne’s World reference
I don’t know about anyone else, but I spend the majority of my life sitting in a cubicle, banging out code for people who are nice enough to give me enough money to pay my mortgage. My clients have nothing to do with open source, nor would they care to understand if I tried to explain it to them. They just need websites, software, and web apps that power their businesses. I’ve been using open source software for over a decade, I’m thankful that it’s there, I love it for what it is, and I will contribute whatever I can when I can, but there is not enough time in a day to come home, shut out my family, and put some sort of ball and chain on so I can appease the Drupal community should I ever need another job. I do not have the time resources at home or at work to make a meaningful contribution to Drupal. Period.
Certification on the other hand would let me use my year of Drupal experience to pass a standardized and meaningful test that proves I know what the bleep I’m doing. If a couple of hundred dollars is too great of a barrier for a developer to pass an employment requirement, employers aren’t paying enough. I would feel completely comfortable throwing down a couple of hundred dollars to use my pre-existing expertise to pass a test that takes a few hours. Even with a week of preparation, the time resources required are significantly less than making a meaningful string of contributions to Drupal. I’ve already read three gigantic books on Drupal, one more isn’t an issue.
Claiming that certifications are useless presents a huge barrier of entry for developers that don’t already hold a strong presence on drupal.org. Unless your employer actively wants you to contribute to Drupal or you run your own shop and actively contribute to Drupal, you have no segway. As a programmer I prefer things to be black and white, yes or no. Not proprietary and analog with no clear attainable milestones.
So lets say I want to make a contribution to Drupal. I have websites, I’ve obviously written custom code, so why not contribute something a little less meaningful as a token of good faith? I looked into that, and all I got was a trolling by some ego inflated Drupal contributor that makes me not want to take part in the community at all. I had developed a sticky social sharing bar for my website, if this post is still recent it’s most undoubtedly there to your left. I thought, well, maybe I can package this up as a module and share it with the community.
I wish I never bothered. I was quickly reminded of the complete lack of social skills that some programmers have. A contributing developer who most likely has a Certified to Rock score of greater than zero, completely belittled me, my idea, and my puny attempt to contribute something nice to Drupal.
“Oh, it's trendy? Okay, then, go ahead and do it then. What do those pesky visitors know, anyway?
Forgive the trolling, but this sort of anti-usable begging for attention really is a cancer on the web in my opinion. Fortunately, most Drupal users seem to know better, but then these sorts of "how can I more effectively annoy my visitors?" threads show up...
” - It’s okay because he said to forgive the trolling
This was my first experience with Drupal.org. Suffice to say I did not contribute the module, nor will I. While many of the other posters were very friendly and helpful, Mr. Sociable’s post is there, in its glory, unmoderated, unnoticed, permanently mocking a good hearted netizen that was only trying to do the right thing. Certified to Rock? I will gladly pay a few hundred dollars if it avoids brushing against that gentleman again any day.
So it seems that not only is there a culture that I must contribute to Drupal, there is an invisible set of standards everyone is expected to adhere to or face the wrath of a developer with absolutely no social skills. No thanks.
Once again, certifications avoid this. Either you know how to write a Drupal module or you don’t. The question of certification and proving your ability as a developer seems pretty black and white to me, but the community has contorted it into many ugly shades of gray that I have very little desire to be a part of. I have an unfortunate feeling that if Acquia found a way to make certifications profitable we’d see a complete flip flop on the issue.
If or when the day comes that I need to seek new employment, my employers will either need to judge me by more realistic merits, or I’ll have to drop Drupal altogether for a more favorable environment. An unfortunate reality. Drupal, you are a fantastic piece of software, but I will never join a cult, software based or otherwise.