In July, I offered a salary of $120,000 to a young guy (he looked about 12) with only a high-school diploma.
He turned me down for a higher offer.
In August, trying to win another candidate, I upped the number to $140,000. This guy looked older. After all he did have a college degree.
Once again, a competitor scooped him right out from under me by offering more money.
What do these applicants have that’s so much in demand?
Don’t say gesundheit. Drupal is the hottest programming platform around. Developed in Denmark by a charismatic young fellow named Dries Buytaert, it’s an open-source content management system that’s all the rage.
First, let’s define some terms. “Open-source” means that the system has no licensing cost and that its code is open and available for anyone to view and improve. A “content management system,” or CMS, is a piece of software allowing non-techies to compose and edit content on the web. If you post on Facebook or blog using WordPress, then you use a content management system.
So how hot is hot? I attended DrupalCon in San Francisco this past April. Dries (who, like a rock star, goes by one name only—think of a geeky Bono), stepped up to the podium in an airplane hanger-sized conference hall, commanding a hush.
There were nearly 3,000 people in the room.
“If Drupal has changed your life,” Dries began, “I’d like you to stand.”
The din of metal chairs scraping the concrete floor would make you think the roof was caving in.
Since the first DrupalCon five years ago (with a mere 40 folks bundled in parkas in Denmark) the platform has exploded, with 600,000 sites running the platform—more than 1% of the entire Web. One percent may sound small, but remember: The Web is really, really big. Drupal’s customer base includes The White House, The Economist, NBC Universal, Lifetime Networks, IBM, Martha Stewart Omnimedia, The New York Stock Exchange, Sony Music and Zagat.
Certainly there are, and have been, competitors to Drupal, like Joomla, Alfresco, Sharepoint, DotNetNuke, Plone, Ruby on Rails, and Python. (Yes, it does seem that in order to launch a content management system, you need to give it a grunge-band name.) So why has Drupal taken off in a way that these others, most of them also open-source, have not?
The sometimes hard-to-understand truth is that some technologies catch fire due to a confluence of qualitative reasons. Consider the iPod. The MP3 player had been around for ten years by the time Apple unveiled the iPod. But Apple got the timing right, the legalities right, the design right, and the iStore link right. Just simplifying the download-and-play process for consumers was a major game-changer.
In Dries, Drupal is blessed with a talented, magnetic founder. (Drupal initiates refer to him as their “Project Lead.”) Dries has mobilized the open-source community around Drupal, creating an almost religious fervor for the platform. This community develops Drupal add-ons at such a clip that “contrib modules” now number nearly 7,000. A contrib module might be something like a calendar widget: A developer comes up with a nifty scheduler to use on a website, then he contributes it back to the community and anyone can use it—for free. The highest endorsement a Drupal developer can achieve is when one of his modules is “accepted into core,” meaning that the base code of Drupal will include the module as a from-the-factory standard feature. Getting “into core” is the Drupal equivalent of becoming a Jedi knight.
With 7,000 nuggets of free code, it’s no wonder organizations are attracted to the platform. And with more companies using it, more modules are contributed. The geometric curve just takes over.
As for those of us trying to staff Drupal teams, however, the geometric curve is operating in reverse, with Drupal resources scarce as fish feathers. (Come to think of it: FishFeathers wouldn’t be a bad name for the next hot CMS.)
After striking out all summer, I settled for hiring junior programmers whose key qualification was that they could say they had dabbled in Drupal. After investing a hefty six figures in their training, I can report they’re doing a bang-up job, thanks very much. But, for the most senior-level programming I must book a $12,500-per-week resource at least one month in advance.
When you mention the lack of available resources at Drupal gatherings, the reaction from the Drupal elite is that the problem, while regrettable, is not really something they’re losing sleep over. I can understand that. Drupalers are, perhaps, in the most enviable employment position in the entire economy.
I call it the zero-percent unemployment sector.Anna Murray, principal at tmg-emedia, is co-hosting a conference on November 9 to educate business leaders on Drupal. She will be leading a panel dedicated to the issue of Drupal staffing.