Drupal shop in the DC area makes technology work for the unemployed

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When the US Federal government shutdown from October 1 - 16 this year, a small Drupal shop in the Washington DC area turned a list of freelance gigs for furloughed employees in a Google doc into a website in five hours. Unfurlough.us went live at 1:00 am EST on October 4, accumulating 50,000 page views in a little over a week.

Mike Endale of BLEN Corp says he knew right away the group had built something outstanding. Here what Mike has to say about Drupal and the site's furture plans now that government employees are back to work.

What prompted the creation of Unfurlough.us?

When the government shut down, we thought about what we could do to help those who were furloughed. After looking around to see what others were doing, we came across a Google Doc created by Tom Clark, the vice president of marketing at myEDmatch.com, and promoted through 1776, a tech incubator in the DC area. We thought it was a brilliant idea and immediately partnered with them to build a Drupal site and feed the Google Doc into it. We started building the site in the afternoon of Thursday, October 04, 2013. Five hours later, we launched it and posted a link on hacker news.

Tell us about how the site was built. Really in 5 hours?

We are a Drupal shop. We spend most of our time designing and developing websites applications that run on Drupal. Whenever we think of an idea, one of the first questions we always ask ourselves is: "How do we implement it on Drupal?"

We love Drupal because of its architecture, extensibility, and proven ROI for its users. The core is maintained by some of the best PHP developers and technical architects in the world. Its hook system allows developers to use it as a framework for almost any application one can conceive of. There are thousands of modules that are easy to install and well maintained at a centrally located repository. Tools like features and drush make it easy for a systems administrator to manage and deploy Drupal sites. Once we realized how we wanted to help furloughed employees, we naturally turned to Drupal to implement it.

We then discussed what theme and modules we should use. We almost always use Chaos tools, Views, and Panels modules in our Drupal applications. And we knew that the Panopoly Drupal distribution comes bundled with those modules, so we started out with that. As for a theme, we wanted to make it responsive but we did not have a lot of time to spend on it, so we went with Responsive Bartik D7. After about five hours of development, we went live.

What can you tell us about the site's users?

When it launched, most of the individual users were government employees who live in the DC/MD/VA area. While most were located in the metro Washington DC area, some were contractors who live in states like South Carolina and Pennsylvania. There were, of course, a few users in Europe or Asia who took the opportunity to post their resume in hopes of finding a job.

Now that the government is up and running again, and furloughed employees are back at work, what are the plans for the site?

We think there's a need that continues, so we are planning to convert it to a site that connects part-time gigs for government employees. We take submissions. And, right now, we're reaching out to those who have submitted already and thinking through a rebranding phase.

Tell us about the team behind the site.

 BLEN Corp was founded in 2004 at the intersection of technology and the arts. We bring aesthetic beauty and technical efficiency into every product that we build. In a relatively short time, we have grown from a two-person shop into a small-size Drupal shop that has been delivering tools and technical support to the Federal government and corporations in the DC area. We recently partnered with ForumOne and built Truman.gov. And 1776 is a technology startup incubator founded by Donna Harris and Evan Burfield.

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Jen leads a team of community managers for the Digital Communities team at Red Hat. She lives in Raleigh with her husband and daughters, June and Jewel.

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