Meet Christian Yates: "Here's how Drupal can do that."
by Jeffrey A. McGuire
"Here's how Drupal can do that."
As Senior Director of Solutions Architecture at Acquia, Christian Yates makes sure that Drupal is able to compete head-to-head with any and all competing technologies. He translates organizations' business needs into a vision of how Drupal can solve the large-scale, complex problems that large organizations face. Since showing and doing is always better than saying, he also builds proofs-of-concept in working code to help get them on board with Drupal.
Going from static to Drupal
Christian was head of interactive and information technology for a regional division of McClatchy Newspapers, the 2nd largest newspaper company in the US. When the company decided to move off Vignette and replace it with a Perl-based publishing system that was unfortunately still static ...
He says, "I needed a tool that solved the business need of [adding] this newfangled idea of user-generated content, and blogs, and interactivity, and dynamic elements to a static site. We looked at a number of open source and proprietary solutions and selected Drupal to start implementing commenting systems, and blogs, and video systems, all sorts of stuff ... It was able to plug right in because it had very rich support for creating new things quickly ...
"We looked at a number of solutions, Wordpress, Mambo (now Joomla) ... and settled on Drupal because of the flexibility of the APIs, the technical merits, but also the merits of working with the community, being able to reuse a lot of the efforts that were coming out of the community to save us time and development ... and contribute back where we could."
Drupal: faster results, faster improvements
"In the past, if we had to build a project, we were going to do it from scratch; it was a long-term project. It might take a couple of months to get even a minor feature for the site up and running. But with Drupal we were able to execute on our ideas much more quickly, so we could have a meeting on a Monday to discuss what we needed, and by Friday, we could have something working and having the public give us feedback on it! And then could iterate on that and improve it, but we could do that so much faster [with Drupal] than we could in the past."
Contributing to Drupal beyond code
Christian has written and contributed back a fair share of Drupal code over the years. How he contributes now as a solutions architect is perhaps less direct, but important in other ways. As part of the process of getting large organizations to use Drupal for big IT and web projects, solutions architects like Christian prepare working demo installations, functional proofs-of-concept, and responses to "RFPs" (the "requests for proposals" that are often a part of the bidding process for large projects). "I go in and sell the benefits of Drupal to really large organizations." If Drupal wins the day at one of these, it can result in hundreds or thousands of new Drupal installations and new business, new jobs for Drupalists and Drupal shops, and new advocates for Drupal.
A major factor that is helping Drupal win over large, established proprietary players in these cases, is the Drupal community and that everyone involved in the project are all an active part of Drupal. When you engage with Drupal the right way, you are not just consuming something presented to you, take it or leave it. You are choosing the power and freedom to build and refine the perfect tools for your specific needs, while experiencing massive time and financial savings thanks to all the other contributors past and present.
Christian's contribution is to "make sure that Drupal is able to compete head-to-head," with Salesforce, Oracle, and others, "and get that kind of visibility."
"Working closely with people like Warner Music Group, we raise the profile of Drupal beyond the people who know about it, and surface it to other markets where it can be taken seriously as a solution for solving really big problems. Warner Brothers are so enthusiastic about it that they will get up and promote this fact to the recording industry, Billboard magazine, and to the larger community of media and entertainment companies.
"That scale of adoption and level of enthusiasm for Drupal-as-a-tool; and that Drupal is a good thing to bet your future on; that Drupal will make you successful; this is going to draw more talent and significant users into the Drupal community. I think it's going to keep feeding on itself."
Deep geek cred – Christian's road to Acquia
Christian came to Acquia by way of some experiences many of us would envy. He went from managing IT teams to (wow!) working on a project at the NASA Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University. He describes it, "... did some interesting stuff that showed how Drupal can work in ways that you might not normally use it. I built applications for managing spacecraft metadata, managing infrared spectroscopy data. That's interesting stuff that you don't normally think of using Drupal for. I think it was a natural slot into what I do today, which is to figure out how Drupal can work for you ... Take your interesting/crazy idea and say: Here's how Drupal can do that."
On working at Acquia
"There's a lot of hours, but there's a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of teamwork. We collaborate a lot and we all try to help each other as much as possible.