It's said that the adoption of Drupal 8 has been slower than any other Drupal version. The Hook 42 team embraces Drupal 8 and are curious about how others in the community feel. In this inaugural edition of Drupal 8 Interviews, we are spotlighting my mentor and former instructor Mike Anello from DrupalEasy.
Mike is a Drupal developer, trainer, and the co-owner of Drupal Career Online. You might recognize him from his Drupal.org profile name, ultimike, or know his voice from the DrupalEasy Podcast. He has been a part of the Drupal community for almost 12 years. He has contributed back in many ways: code contribution, documentation, mentoring, and event planning. He also volunteers for the Drupal Association as part of the Community Working Group.
What version of Drupal did you start with?
When I started, Drupal 4.6 was the official version, but I didn't actually use it. I had done a little bit of research, Drupal 4.7 was in beta and it had a brand-new form API. I figured I might as well learn Drupal 4.7, that way I wouldn’t have to relearn the form API.
How long have you been working with Drupal 8?
That's a great question. I would say a little over three years. And by working with Drupal 8, I mean code contributions... And that was probably two years before it was officially released.
I know that when I went through the Drupal Career Online in the spring of 2016, you were teaching both Drupal 7 and Drupal 8. Do you teach Drupal 8 exclusively now?
Yes, we been making the transition, every time I teach I would teach a little less of Drupal 7 and more of Drupal 8. The last class I taught, in the Fall of 2017, was all Drupal 8.
And what types of Drupal 8 sites have you worked on?
I've worked with libraries and universities. I have a couple of long term clients, I have one client that I've been working with since before I got into Drupal. They had a static site and I moved them to Drupal 5, then Drupal 7. I'm working on some smaller, I don't want to say "brochure sites" - legal organizations, nonprofits, etc. I'm not doing any media sites right now, but I've worked on them in the past in group projects.
What have some of the challenges been when starting with Drupal 8?
I think if you come from a Drupal 7 background, the biggest challenge is changing your workflow. Once you're in the UI, I don't think it's terribly different. There are some new things, but, the concepts haven't changed all that much. It really has to do with the workflow. With Drupal 8 we should all be using Composer to manage the code base, and that's a big change for some people who have 'drush dl' and 'drush en' tattooed on their forearm. Making the switch from using Drush to Composer is kind of a big deal. And, if you’re a theme or module developer there's a lot of big changes, but I think they're all for the good. I much prefer coding in Drupal 8 than I did in Drupal 7. Site building? I don't think there's too much of a difference.
What are your some of your favorite things about working with Drupal 8?
I think the theming system is fantastic. It's simpler to use than D7. One of the things I teach is module development with Drupal Console. Using Drupal console to scaffold modules is just a stroke of genius; it saves so much time. When I have to write custom modules for clients, it's such a big time saver and it removes a pretty big barrier to entry. If I have to create some big plug-in that I've never created before, I know that I can run a Drupal Console command and get the scaffolding and all the methods I need to populate. It takes a lot of the fear out of module development.
Sounds like you really like Drupal 8, what areas do you think need improvement?
As far as theming is concerned, I think the one pain point that I still have is getting access to variables in Twig. When you're overwriting a template file and you have dive down into an array, or a class, and call some methods in order to get the data. I don't know what the solution is, I have a feeling it's just better documentation or better tools. It might be some better-improved Twig functions.
What advice do you have for those who are just getting started with Drupal and Drupal 8?
Embrace the workflow. If you're just getting started with Drupal, just know that they're so much more to Drupal than what you see in the user interface. If I were to teach just what you see in the Drupal interface I would only be teaching half the story. Understanding how to get your code base, add modules the correct way, how to keep track of everything in GIT, and move things between various environments is crucial. If you want to learn to be a professional Drupal developer, or site builder for that matter, things outside of the user interface are just as important as what you have to learn inside the UI.
What do we have to look forward from you in the Drupal community?
What am I working on now? In the past when I've taught, I standardized my students using Acquia Dev Desktop and I'm looking to move away from that now. I'm looking to make the switch to a Docker based solution. It's difficult to figure out which is best, because I have students from various skill levels and backgrounds, along with various operating systems. What I have to teach has to work on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. I don't want to teach a separate lesson to Windows users than Mac users. I'm looking for the secret sauce, or secret combination of tools to recommend to our students that results in a professional Drupal development environment that has all of the tools that they'll need, or at least 95% of what they'll want, with a minimum hurdle to install. I don't want people to have to install a bunch of stuff and then spend 30 minutes having to do extra configuration. I like for things to be clean, and for the lessons to be very simple and repeatable.
What’s Mike up to next?
You can catch Mike at Florida Drupal Camp Feb 16-18 leading the Drupal 8 Configuration System Basics training on Friday and presenting a follow-up Drupal 8 Configuration System Basics session on Saturday.
The Mastering Professional Drupal Developer Workflows with Pantheon starts February 27th. This is an intermediate training to teach developers how to work with teams on multi-environment based projects on the Pantheon (link) platform. The course runs three half days a week for six weeks.
The Drupal Career Online spring program begins soon. The course is a comprehensive Drupal training program designed to provide the skills it takes for the best possible start in Drupal. Classes start March 26th and runs three half days a week for six weeks.