Introducing Drupal Connect, the Drupal Company that does it all
It’s been a couple of months since we last had a company feature here on DrupalSN, so I’m excited to unveil our latest interview with Drupal staffing, training and design & development company; Drupal Connect.
John, a B.A graduate in Psychology with experience of working on Wall Street founded The Florez Group, a technology staffing firm in 1998.
Drupal Connect followed some 10 years later in January of 2009 and has since gone on to provide Drupal development, training, and staffing services all across North America.
Now the introductions are over, let’s begin with the interview.
First up, tell us what Drupal Connect is and what it does?
John Florez: Drupal Connect is a full service Drupal firm, we offer Drupal development, training and staffing services all across North America and Europe. Essentially, whatever Drupal need you have we have a solution that can address the need.
Where is Drupal Connect based and how big is the team?
John Florez: Our headquarters are in NYC. However, we are a virtual company and have Drupal developers in most major metropolitan areas. Some of the cities we also have a presence in are: Philadelphia, Boston, Austin, Portland, OR and Montreal just to name a few. One reason why we decided to go down the virtual route is that given the scarcity of quality Drupal developers we didn’t want to limit ourselves geographically. Our objective has always been to hire the best talent out there and by not having geographical limitations we’re better able to meet that objective.
You recently underwent a name change from Drupal Staffing to Drupal Connect, what were the reasons behind this and did the name change trigger any changes in the company’s direction?
John Florez: When we started out we were a staffing agency that specialized in finding Drupal talent. Over time we’ve evolved to becoming mostly a Drupal development firm. Drupal Connect aligns more with our current business model and really reflects who we’ve become as an organization.
What makes Drupal Connect unique?
John Florez: There are many things that make us unique but the one thing that sticks out is our deep pool of Drupal resources. Starting out as a Drupal staffing company has given us a significant advantage. in addition to our core staff we have put over 30 other Drupal developers on various projects. We are currently engaged in almost 20 Drupal development projects. With our current resources we can probably sustain a figure three times the current level . I really don’t think there’s another Drupal shop anywhere that has this level of accessible talent. Secondly, we are a group with virtually no hierarchy. Each role within the company is given an equal amount of importance and respect. Each team members voice and opinions are highly valued, this makes for a very positive corporate culture. There’s a very positive synergy among our team members , people genuinely enjoy being part of the team.
What’s a typical week in the Drupal Connect office like?
Casey Grzecka: It’s all about constant contact. Here at Drupal Connect we use every technology available to stay connected with team members and clients. Through the use of Skype, chat clients, Red Mine, Open Atrium, Google Wave (RIP) and even IRC, some may argue we are too connected. The bottom line is we use these tools to communicate efficiently and effectively to solve problems and keep projects moving forward.
How do you see Drupal evolving after the release of Drupal 7?
Casey Grzecka: The release of Drupal 7 will lower the barrier of entry for Drupal developers and End Users alike. Much of the focus of Drupal 7 has been on improving the user experience. We have already seen results of this with the beta release of the Drupal Gardens project, which is powered by Drupal 7. This better experienc will aid in the growth of Drupal’s user base. With Drupal’s traction increasing, Drupal’s core will be required to be lightning fast. After the release of Drupal 7 we will see Drupal evolve in terms of performance. Better performance yields a better product and framework all around.
What’s your favourite and least favourite thing about Drupal?
Casey Grzecka: My favorite thing about Drupal is its agility and rapid rate of change. I love learning about new and better ways to solve problems. Like a true framework, there are many different ways to do the same thing Drupal. I see this as a strength in the flexibility of Drupal. I am always revisiting client demanded features like photo galleries and video presentation to see how I can improve them.
Steve Edwards: My least favorite thing about Drupal has to be its timing to act moody during late night dev sessions. But, this experience is usually tied to a poor decision here or a missed setting there. Drupal is not the most forgiving platform. If not treated with care, it will fall on its face. But, this is usually a part of the learning curve that always yields a deeper understanding of the platform. I love the challenge that is building with Drupal.
How does Drupal in your opinion make development easier?
Steve Edwards: Developing websites and web applications with Drupal is easier than developing from scratch is that much of the more difficult low level functions of the application. Drupal acts as a common base allowing developers to extend it in a standard way. Since all developers know how Drupal works, it is easier to understand code written for a single piece of functionality for that project. Using community contributed modules allows developers to rapidly extend the usefulness of Drupal. This is much easier than building every feature from the ground up. Every day “I stand on the shoulders of giants,” as they say.
For a relatively new company (founded in Jan 2009) Drupal Connect has an impressive client list but which projects have stood out for you and why?
Steve Edwards: My favorite so far has been a project we did for G.E. with another agency called Seed Media. We had started it before DrupalCon San Francisco, and while there I went to two really great sessions on 960 grid theming and Apache Solr. I was able to start using what I learned from those sessions on this project as soon as we got back, including some Apache Solr customization. From what I learned on that project, I wrote some blog posts on Solr for our site, and have even proposed a session for the Pacific Northwest Drupal Summit (in October, in Vancouver, B.C.) on Solr, building on the presentation from DCSF.
Another fun thing about this project was that I learned a lot about a new subject. The subject of the site is scientific data visualization, something I knew absolutely nothing about before we started the project. Marc Schwartz, our cohort at Seed Media, is very knowledgeable in this area, and he taught us a lot about it and the significance of it.
For any Drupal newbies reading this what would you say is the best way to learn Drupal?
Eric Lawrence: The best way to learn Drupal is to simply get your hands dirty. Find a small project to work on for a friend or come up with a fun site to make. Like any framework, there are best practices and you’re not going to understand or appreciate those until you roll up your sleeves and do it absolutely wrong. Also, get involved with your local Drupal user group or meetup. Not only will you meet fellow Drupalers of various levels but they can be invaluable when it comes to figuring different approaches for utilizing Drupal. Please be careful; talking about Drupal can become addictive.
Which Drupal module could you not live without and why?
Jonathon Whitener: Views. This module is one of the reasons I picked up Drupal to begin with. At the time I was still writing queries by hand and having PHP print out the content. I still have to do that every so often, but Views cuts a significant portion out of that.
Ryan Palmer: I can’t live without Vertical Tabs and Admin Menu. I realize this isn’t a module, but the one project I really can’t live without is Drush. As for themes, I highly encourage all those around me to use ninesixty as the base theme when theming as to leverage the 960gs CSS framework.
Panels, context or blocks?
Jonathon Whitener: I prefer context. I’ve run across sites that have more than a hundred blocks, and the blocks administration page takes forever to load because of the drag & drop UI there. Context is a big shift in the way of thinking about block administration. It gives the administrator a lot more options (without writing custom PHP code) to define sections of the site that logically belong together. It does some other cool things too, but at its core, it’s Drupal block administration 2.0.
Ryan Palmer: Definitely Panels. The Blocks system in its current format is only useful for smaller, less complicated projects. The Block system is scheduled for a complete overhaul in Drupal 8 with the notion of “context” being baked into Drupal core. Context doesn’t play well enough with Views to be highly useful in its current format.
How does Drupal in your opinion make development easier?
Jonathon Whitener: The phrase “There’s a module for that” comes to mind. I think that using the right module combinations to come as close as possible to the functional requirement is a must for any seasoned Drupal developer. Usually, these combinations of modules will get you about 80% of the way there, and you just have to create some custom overrides in a custom module or two to make the modules do what you want them to.
Ryan Palmer: Using Drupal prevents the developer from both continuously reinventing the wheel for each project, and having to maintain a large cache of custom code. Both scenarios add overhead to web projects of almost any scope. Drupal is built with web standards and accessibility in mind, two things that suffer neglect in most web projects.
Were will Drupal Connect be in 5 years?
John Florez: I’d like to see Drupal Connect become a house hold name in the Drupal community. Also, given our borderless world we live in I’d like to have significant operations overseas. I think we will achieve these goals, we have the talent, drive and each of us loves what we do. As time goes on you’ll be hearing more and more about us.
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