05 December 2016

Module a Week talk from DrupalSouth: Gold Coast 2016


Sparks Interactive team at DrupalSouth 2016

Here’s a cap of a talk the team gave at DrupalSouth in Gold Coast, Australia, “Module a Week or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Open Source”.

TL;DR: We thought we’d give our contrib a kick up the arse. One contrib a week, every week for 3 months. Contrib is hard, change is hard, client work always likes to take priority. So how do you make a change like that stick? This was not about pumping out new modules, but about cleaning up our code base, making it useful for others and sharing. We used the tools that were there, found a number of different ways to contribute besides writing code, and took our clients along on the journey with us. This new approach is not just commercially viable, for us it is a must-do if we want to survive and thrive. People seemed to agree. Watch the talk for all the details, it’s pretty pacey and the team unpack a lot of detail in a short time. First up, congratulations to the team, most of whom were presenting at a conference for the first time, and thanks to the organisers for a fantastic conference and super easy speaker experience and AV setup. With team members coming together from Auckland and Wellington, and without much time to prep together or rehearse, we kept with the themes of the talk and ran with a ‘raw and authentic’ vibe : ).

We really weren’t sure how the talk would be received. Writing up the talk submission we wondered whether the ideas would be so obvious, people would think us fools for suggesting them. It was hugely gratifying and humbling to get so much positive feedback from the audience and afterwards.

As Steve Purkiss says, referencing the talk in his article “The End Of The Web CMS Brass Era?”: 

“their goal for 2017 is to write no custom code at all. This is how it should've been from the start, but there are a number of factors as to why people haven't been approaching Drupal development like this”

Those factors kept us milling on the fringes of contributing for far too long.

We have always known that contrib was ‘the right thing to do’ but there has always been:

  • A perception that it is too hard to make a difference through the d.o jungle
  • A sense that the overhead of designing for and managing through contrib is not commercially viable for a traditional craft-based small shop web business


  • Above all a feeling that our work ‘wasn’t good enough’ to share (definitely not that it is commercial secrets ‘too good to share’).

This initiative has changed the way we work. Not because it embodies new or revolutionary ideas, but because it got (old) ideas into action and brought everyone together at just the right time to tackle the fundamental shift in how Drupal gets done. And above all because sharing is the fastest shortcut to improved code I’ve seen in 20+ years making stuff for the web.

Wrapping a group of activity up in a catchy title (albeit somewhat misleading but hey, catchy!) and short manifesto, and creating a point of friction/discussion around it, was a lever we could use to flip our dev habits into a new approach. More than that it was a lever we could use to change how everyone thought about our web practice including design, project management, even costings and sales. Well, perhaps *especially* costing and sales!

I hesitate to break down our learnings into a bite-sized listicle, because the real magic happened when a bunch of intangible elements (attitudes, experiences, good group talk) came together in consistent action. As we said in the talk wasn’t all hugs and high fives either, and there was plenty of robust discussion in chat and toys thrown on more than one occasion - but overall, probably no more than business-as-usual and we’ll never go back.

If anyone wants to know more, we’ll leave comments open on this, or find us on twitter or email me, Dave Sparks, dave@sparksinteractive.co.nz. Happy to talk more!

Sparks Interactive team wearing Drupal Entity t-shirts

And we are definitely committing to our goal of no custom/private/one-time code for 2017. : P

By Dave Sparks