Drupal founder, Dries Buytaert, on passion, believing, and the open source way

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Five questions


While attending DrupalCon San Francisco 2010 last week, I got a chance to catch up with Dries Buytaert, founder and project lead of Drupal as well as co-founder and CTO of Acquia. Dries is a very humble guy. I first met him in December 2009 in New Orleans at a Do It With Drupal event. He's an icon in the Drupal world, but I wanted to get some insight beyond the bits and bytes. I sat down with Dries, and we talked about the open source way and some of the things he's learned over the past 10 years. What's intriguing to me is how for him, this seems like an accident, but he's navigated the waters of open source to accomplish some amazing things.


Dries Buytaert

What principles have you taken from the open source communities you participate in and applied to your life outside of Drupal and Acquia?

One of the things I learned with Drupal is that the more you give, the more you get back. Ironically, I learned this through Drupal, a software project, rather than through a more conventional way. Thanks to Drupal I'm much more aware of this, and I consciously apply this to all the things I do, both in work and in life.  Open source has also taught me that, if you want the best results, make sure people are passionate about what they do. Passion beats everything.

In Milow's song, "Born in the Eighties," they talk about things you can't control and how dreaming out loud won't get you far. What are some of the obstacles you've had to overcome to achieve your dreams, and how did the open source way help you with those accomplishments?

In the song, Milow talks about how his life as a singer is different from that of his friends, how life took an unexpected turn, and how he is afraid that things might not work out in the long run. At least, that is my interpretation based on how I remember the song right now.

When I started Drupal, I didn't have a grand plan for it, and now ten years after I started, I'm leading a worldwide project that is changing how many people collaborate, communicate, and interact with each other online.  We estimate that there are 500,000 sites built with Drupal. There are thousands of people making money with Drupal.   I never expected this to happen, and I feel that I have a very unique situation as the leader of the Drupal project. Certainly, my life is different from that of many of my friends.

I enjoy everything that I do, and I hope that I can continue to do what I like doing best because we have only begun to scratch the surface. I don't want to look back and see a missed opportunity a few years down the road. So in my keynote at DrupalCon, I talked about how we need to maintain what we do. As we grow in size and more people join the project, the Drupal community needs to stick to its core values and the culture that we established many years ago. We need to keep innovating, collaborating, sharing, striving towards simplicity, and having fun. If we do that, I believe we'll continue to do amazing things.

Dries present the State of Drupal at DrupalCon SF 2010

Dries presents the State of Drupal at DrupalCon SF 2010, photo by Jason Hibbets

If you could give one principle of the open source way to the next generation, what would it be?

Do I have to choose just one? For me, this is passion and believing. Beside the passion and believing in what you're doing, the number one thing is to have fun. Having fun can be applied to everything in life. If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong. If, on the other hand, you are having fun, you can do big things.

People come to me and ask how they can contribute. I always tell them to do what they want to do. If I told them what to do, then it wouldn't always be fun and it wouldn't necessarily translate into the passion that I'd like to see happen.

We saw your Myers Briggs type listed on your resume. How has knowing more about your personality type helped you to collaborate more effectively with the teams you work?

According to the Myers Briggs test, my character type is ENTJ – or field marshall. Knowing my profile really hasn't changed my approach to my leadership style. It really helps me, when I understand how other people think and operate though. With that in mind, I think it might help others to know my character type as it helps them frame my reactions, or lack thereof.

Meeting people in person, like last week at DrupalCon, gives you a chance to learn much more about a person than you can over email or IRC. Knowing someone's personality, can change the relationship you have with that person, often in a positive way.

Where do you see open source principles having the next greatest impact outside of technology?

The principles that come to mind are those of self-organization and scratching your own itch. Getting out of people's way as much as you can, and enabling people to accomplish what they are passionate about. When people can come together and take action collaboratively, impressive things can happen. And I'm not just talking about technology, I see it happening in many places like our governments and in local communities. This can be fueled by openness and transparency, two other principles often found in open source.

More information about Dries:

Jason Hibbets is a Community Director at Red Hat with the Digital Communities team. He works with the Enable Architect, Enable Sysadmin, Enterprisers Project, and Opensource.com community publications.

1 Comment

It's always interesting to see the people behind the projects.

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