When you ask people, “What makes Drupal different?” you can expect a variety of answers. Many people are likely to point to its flexibility. The technically-minded might reference Drupal’s hook system or Entity API. One of the most common answers, however, will be one that many people new to Drupal will find unexpected when discussing software: the Drupal community.
When I’m training someone new to Drupal, whether it is a complete novice or a seasoned developer, I start by introducing the community. Why? Well, without understanding the community and what it brings to the table, you won’t understand the full power and appeal of Drupal. In addition, the community is full of helpful people, good advice, and useful resources. These are great for someone new to Drupal, and they remain useful even to Drupal experts.
DRUPAL 8 IS POWERED BY ITS COMMUNITY
Drupal is an open source community project. Without the thousands of people contributing to the project, Drupal would be nothing like it is today. When you learn about Drupal, it is important to understand that Drupal wasn’t written by some faceless corporation. It was built - and is still being built - by people like you…so much like you, in fact, that there aren’t any real barriers preventing you from becoming one of them.
We are currently looking at the release of Drupal 8. Each major release of Drupal constitutes a dramatic change in the architecture and functionality of Drupal itself. The decisions that shape these changes come directly from the community.
The true power of Drupal comes largely from the ecosystem of contributed modules distributed through and maintained on drupal.org. It is impossible to understand this ecosystem without understanding the Drupal community because, in a very real way, the community makes up this ecosystem. Community members don’t just build these modules. They also put them through a variety of use cases, report and help fix bugs, and make suggestions for improvement. The Drupal security team screens modules for critical security issues. Volunteers from the community write documentation, training materials, and case studies.
That documentation? It is incredibly useful - that’s another reason to understand the Drupal community. A lot of this documentation is on drupal.org, but probably even more is available elsewhere on the web via blog posts, videos, eBooks, and podcasts. There is a huge amount of free online material available, but it takes at least some knowledge of the community to make the best use of it.
MEET THE COMMUNITY. LEARN FROM IT.
Drupal is everywhere. Chances are, if you live in a reasonably populated area, there is already a local community of people near you who do Drupal. Local meetups are typically coordinated through groups.drupal.org or sites like meetup.com and they give you a chance to meet face to face with other members of the Drupal community in your area. This is a tremendous resource for people new to Drupal. A common format for meetups involves people asking about specific problems they are having and having others pitch in to help them. In addition, many meetups are specifically focused on introducing people to Drupal.
Similarly, regional Drupal camps and international Drupalcons are incredibly useful resources for Drupal beginners. In addition to the benefits of meetups, they also offer a wide variety of talks on various Drupal-related topics, many of which are pitched for newcomers. These can be useful even if you can’t attend the event, as many of them are recorded and available online.
YOU CAN’T DO IT ON YOUR OWN
I've had people show up to a beginner training who have been trying to learn Drupal on their own for years. Sure, they’d managed to set up a basic site and use a couple of modules, but they knew they were missing something. When I’ve told them that they can’t learn Drupal on their own, they’ve thanked me. Without standing on the shoulders of other members of the community, it would be impossible to gain a functional understanding of when to use which contributed module, what to avoid, and how to engage in best practices.
YOU ARE THE COMMUNITY
When you download Drupal, you become a part of the Drupal community. As a Drupal trainer, it is my responsibility to introduce you to the community you’ve joined. Just as there are tremendous benefits available to you through this community, there are also things you can give back to it. I wouldn’t be fulfilling my responsibilities to the community if I didn’t inform you of them.
As a Drupal user, you have opportunities to help improve the very tool that you are using:
How often have you eagerly looked at the newest version of software you regularly use only to find that all the so-called improvements it made were things you consider bloat? With Drupal, you can actually have a voice in shaping the direction that the software takes.
How often have you been working with a piece of software when you had an idea to improve it… and immediately discarded pursuing that idea for the lost cause that it was? With Drupal, if you are a developer, you can work on a module to make that improvement yourself. If you aren’t a developer, you can submit a feature request or even sponsor development.
With Drupal, these aren’t lost causes. They are opportunities. This mindset, this desire to work together to improve the tools we have, is integral to the Drupal community. Once you begin to share in it, not only will you be a part of that community, but you will begin to realize Drupal’s true potential.