Britain’s got Drupal talent

Paul Johnson, Drupal director at CTI Digital, waves the British flag to celebrate a boom time for open source talent in the UK

The White House famously uses Drupal and its most headline-grabbing sites to date have come from the US. However, Drupal’s future may well be more vibrant in the UK than across the pond.

More than ever, major projects in the open source technology are happening outside America and Britain is uniquely placed to become the new home of the best Drupal coders and designers in the world.

Many of the major Drupal sites in use worldwide are already British developed (MTV UK, The Economist, Oxfam, Amnesty International and The BBC Good Food site has just re-launched on a Drupal platform. This is incredibly significant as this is one of the BBC’s flagship sites and the UK’s most popular recipe website, attracting eight million unique users and 40.9 million page views per month. Where this BBC site goes, others are bound to follow.

It’s clear that open source is big business. That business needs a deep talent pool to satisfy the multi-national corporations betting their futures on Drupal. And that’s why so much focus is on the UK and our blooming array of amazing individuals and companies.

In 2013, talented people no longer have to go overseas to find the best jobs. Let’s just look at a few of the shining stars.

Alex Pott’s knowledge and skills place him in the ranks of just a handful of Drupal developers worldwide. He's been handed the honour of being a co-maintainer of Drupal 8, one of the gatekeepers for this vast community of developers. He has an understanding of Drupal few others can match.

Also playing a lead role in the development and experience of Drupal 8 is Lewis Nyman. Nyman has been involved in designing landmark sites such as Comic Relief, Royal Mail, Post Office and

Graeme Blackwood is a designer and project manager with an impressive portfolio of household name clients including Johnson and Johnson, ITV, the BRIT Awards, Robbie Williams, British Gas, Unilever and the Royal Society. This has seen Blackwood come on board as creative director for DrupalCon Prague 2013.

Open source government sites

Mark Anthony, director of Sirius Open Source, has long been a trailblazer for open source in Europe. Speaking at the recent Drupal camp London business day, he nailed just why this country is flourishing when he stated that ‘the UK is uniquely positioned in having an open source, open standards policy’.

This is the Whitehall policy that made open source the preferred option for all government and public sector websites. These were the sites that had long been left behind, stuck on outdated software and servers and offering poor usability.

Now significant organisations like The British Council are re-affirming its commitment to Drupal by investing in new projects. It’s something it had been using for years and now, thanks to the skills of my company, CTI Digital, it's able to take worldwide through initiatives like the International School Award. Drupal is firmly established as its preferred web platform.

The Drupal open source project is a ‘do-ocracy’ and, as it has grown into this multimillion pound concern we see today, it needs smart, savvy agencies, experienced in a multitude of disciplines and business needs, to come to the fore.

While on one level we all compete against each other for contracts, we are also standing shoulder to shoulder, writing code in a collaborative manner. Coders work together remotely to build Drupal and extend it. For example, Sebastian Siemssen is a leading coder based in Vienna and proof that great minds don’t see geography as a barrier; he works with a guy to maintain Drupal’s Omega theme who's based in my office in Manchester.

CTI Digital’s Matt Smith is just 21 and the co-maintainer of Omega. 58,000 sites use it and rely on Smith and Siemssen to help frontend developers around the globe adopt the latest techniques and best practices.

Smith is also one of our team pouring huge amounts of energy into CTI’s role as DrupalCon design partner 2014 to ensure that Drupal is taken to new heights.

So, we have the skills in this country, there’s no doubt about that, and the climate is now right for large organisations to see open source as a creative option.

Are there other reasons for the UK to be supporting such a flourishing digital industry? We cannot ignore the public’s appetite for social media and new technology. In the UK, we don’t grudgingly accept new developments; we love them.

As a result, agencies working in digital are dealing with clients who don't see technological advances as any kind of risk, but rather as a necessity to communicate with the public

Just 10 years ago, open source wasn’t taken seriously. Those days are long gone, rather than have to convince clients of the benefits, they are now coming to us specifying Drupal.
For The British Council, the most important elements of the International School Award site we designed for them were usability, internationalisation and to better meet the changing needs of its business. Thanks to the talent within our organisation, we delivered a project that's been successfully received globally.

Our universities must also take credit for producing such a bumper new crop of skilled young individuals. It’s not enough any more to have a course lecturer who was recently in industry; they have to have people who are currently in industry to keep up with the pace of change. Otherwise, coursework they draw up for students in year one may well be outdated by the time these students reach year three.

Dr David Newton at Salford University and David Edmundson-Bird at Manchester Metropolitan University are doing particularly good work in this area. They are both working very closely with industry to equip students with the right skills, so that when these young people emerge from a three-year course, they are ready to work immediately and be real assets to the companies that take them on.

Drupal takes its name from the Dutch word for ‘drop’ (druppel). However, this current wave of UK talent is far from a drop in the ocean. Long may it continue.