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Ramping up the experience of a Drupal intern

As you saw in Monday's post from Bob the Intern, Mediacurrent has brought in an intern for the next eight weeks to help him get up to speed on working with Drupal. One of Mediacurrent's challenges was simply assimilating someone with no "real-world" Drupal experience to our daily workflow. The obstacles included:

  • how do we create a productive learning environment?
  • can we keep Bob busy enough based on what he knows at this point?
  • can we get a productive environment built in Windows? (this was not one we anticipated)


The first thing we evaluated was how much training Bob would come to us with. The Drupal Career Starter Program (DSCP) provides a good foundation for a site configurator and possibly more, depending on the skills brought to the program by the individual. Bob's background is as a former helicopter flight instructor for the Army and as a CAD instructor at Kennedy Space Center so he has high attention to detail. This made him a great candidate to focus our training on Quality Assurance. In an effort to always make our company better, we have increased our focus on testing, specifically formalizing test plans early in the project to ensure the end product matches the plan. Bob's previous experience allowed him to step in on his second day and start writing test plans and start executing test plans on his fourth day. This has the extra benefit of allowing him to gain experience in different sites, in all areas of a site, understanding all the vagaries of Drupal and various browsers. If there's one takeaway from the first week, it's that QA is an excellent starting place, when the person has the requisite drive to be extremely detail-focused. There is a school of thought that interns should start with QA but I don't think I'd automatically start assigning QA to an intern. The person has to have the right mentality to make it work and Bob certainly does.

The next problem to address was making sure we had enough work to keep Bob busy and learning. There are two ways to go with someone who is brand new to the Drupal world:

  1. have them focus on one thing and just work on that so they can become good at it
  2. let them have some space to learn different skills and roles on a team

While having Bob's main focus be QA, we're also allocating some of his time to support tasks and even some project management work. Part of Mediacurrent's business is to provide post-launch maintenance and enhancements and these tasks are also well-suited for someone who at least has a base knowledge of Drupal. Bob's spent this week setting up his development environment (more on that later) and we'll start looking for tailored support cases next week.

Finally, at Mediacurrent, as at most places I'm sure, our developers are a mix of Mac and Linux users; not a single Windows user in the bunch. Bob came to us with only experience in Windows and trying to bring him up to speed on any other OS would add to the learning. Since we only have eight weeks, we decided it wasn't a good use of his time to try to get a Linux dual-boot going. This led us to the fun that is configuring Windows to be a productive development environment. I will let Bob fill out the details in his next update, but let's say it's been time consuming and frustrating. In retrospect, I still think it was the right choice for now as learning a new OS is a big step but it is something Bob will probably want to look into long term. This was not a step we planned for so we will have to take this into account if we repeat this at some later date.

The planning was good experience and having Bob on board has been a great addition to the team. Bob will keep updating his journey and I'll post a summary when the internship is over to review the lessons to take from it.

What are some ways others have incorporated those with little Drupal experience into their Drupal companies?

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