Druplicon at DrupalCon PortlandRecently, the number of Drupal websites on the web surpassed a million and that number will no doubt continue to grow. While there is plenty of interest from businesses, nonprofits, and government entities in implementing Drupal websites, a big challenge remains: the relative scarcity of talent.

As demand for great Drupal developers continues to grow, talent shortages are a problem the community is increasingly facing. That demand is both a great thing and a potential problem all in one.

A variety of companies and individuals are contributing their own solutions to help ease the shortage, and from training companies to camps and DrupalCons, there are many efforts to build up the talent base. Over the next few weeks, we’ll discuss a variety of different training methods, some new and some more traditional.

One increasingly popular option is “bootcamp” style training, which offers a relatively short, focused and intensive program to learn Drupal quickly. 

Individual developers, in the meantime, are taking the situation into their own hands to build free solutions that act as resources to aspiring developers.

Meanwhile, traditional training companies continue to step up to the plate, as evidenced by the knockout Global Training Day that took place at the end of February.

Stay tuned for reports on each of these three training methods, as well as information on how to get involved in training developers, or who to contact to receive training to start developing Drupal on your own.


catch’s picture

I really think the 'Drupal talent problem' needs more examination, both the extent to which there's a problem, and if so whether the Drupal Association promoting training courses is the best way to deal with it.

First of all, there's several situations which could indicate a 'shortage of Drupal talent', but reflect very different realities:

* Are there not enough Drupal development shops with capacity to take on new projects?

* Is there a shortage of contractors/freelancers with capacity to take on new projects?

* Are Drupal shops themselves having trouble finding developers to hire?

* Are organisations that are trying to build internal Drupal development teams finding it difficult to hire?

* Is this an international issue, or specific to just the US or just Europe etc?

Note that all of the above could indicated a shortage in one area, while there could be a glut of Drupal talent in the rest.

Then there are more specific reasons why organisations might be having trouble finding people:

* For any/all of the above, are they having trouble finding senior or junior developers or both?

* Do organisations offering international/nationally remote positions have as much trouble as those that only offer local/in-office positions?

* Are there differences in (employer, or employee for that matter) salary expectations for internal teams within a larger organisation vs. development shops?

* How much internal training is offered to employees within the various types of organisations, or are they expecting people to come in fully formed?

* How much is this a problem specific to Drupal vs. other comparable open source projects?

And even these questions are only from the point of view of organisations trying to hire, when the people that are rarely heard from are existing Drupal developers looking for work, or those people who are the potential Drupal developers that are expected to fill the 'talent problem'.

There's more or less three routes to become a Drupal developer:

1. Switch from a non-technology/development job to Drupal development (with Drupal as an explicit preference)

2. Switch from an existing tech/development job to a different one that uses Drupal (usually with some degree of choice, although could also be necessity if that's the only job going).

3. Have a job where the platform changes from something else to Drupal due to a migration or similar, where the decision to move to Drupal wasn't necessarily your own.

Until 3-4 years ago, the vast majority of developers came from the first two categories, however with the number of large organisations switching I imagine there's more and more in the third category now. 

If the goal is to attract more developers to the Drupal project (as opposed to force-feeding them), then really, healthy software in the form of core and contrib, and the tools that support it like Drupal.org look like the way to do it.  All three of these have maintenance and sustainability issues, all three are supposed to be the core mission of the Drupal Association.

holly.ross.drupal’s picture

The statement is based on the anecdotal feedback we hear from Drupal shops and companies using Drupal. A lot of that commentary is generated at the CxO events that we run and Megan attends at the North American and the European Cons.  The stories are generally the same - it is very difficult to hire developers at any level who have Drupal experience. Sr. Developers already have jobs, and new developers don't usually have a Drupal background.

We also hear this from recruiters who can charge a premium for Drupal developers and indicate that Drupal developer salaries are higher than other tech talent they help find. Some shops are working with Universities to get Drupal taught and find talent that way. Others are creating mentoring programs. The consensus seems to be that you have to find a good developer and know that you are going to teach them Drupal.  In any event - it all points to a lack of talent out there.

Finally, shops tell us that there is reluctance among their customers to choose Drupal because finding talent to bring on staff and that finding freelancers is equally difficult, and we hear this feedback globally, not just in the US.bIt’s definitely possible that there is a talent pool outside of the US and Europe just waiting to be tapped into (India perhaps? It’s growing fast.) 

We certainly appreciate that the Drupal developer shortage feels like a truism without more data, but we're pretty convinced it's real. We feel so strongly about it that we are trying to help address it. Of course, our near-term focus is Drupal.org, but when we are able to more consistently deliver on that experience, we want to get more intentional. There is more we can do to recruit new developers at DrupalCons. Global Training Days happen now, but could be expanded. We have board members that really want to see us move Drupal into the University space.

I hope that provides a little more context and look forward to hearing more from you.

catch’s picture

Hmm, no blockquote on here...
The statement is based on the anecdotal feedback we hear from Drupal shops and companies using Drupal.
That excludes discussion, even anecdotal, with Drupal developers or potential Drupal developers about this, which seems like a very serious omission given that's the group of people there's supposed to be a shortage of. Over the years I've had several discussions with various Drupal developers who were looking for places to work - often about the difficulty finding remote positions and/or ones that offer meaningful contribution time. Do you know if the shops and companies you've talked to were offering this when they were finding it hard to fill positions?

greggmarshall’s picture

As a developer I see and hear the same anecdotal feedback.  It is certainly reflected in the multiple contacts per day I get from recruiters, and I don't have an active profile on the usual job boards.  As a friend said after getting his next position within a week of a blog post he was leaving his current employer, "welcome to the world of negative unemployment."

I think there are lots of reasons some employers have issues recruiting.  They are unable, or unwilling, to pay the market price, which is higher than for programmers or designers without Drupal experience.  It's a demonstration of the law of supply and demand.  Or they have a requirement, real or imagined, that only on-site, in-person employees or contractors will work.  Or, as you indicated, they don't appreciate the value of their developers spending some time giving back to, or being involved with, the community.  The list of developer friendly policies could go on.

The current talent shortage is great from my perspective, although I see it limiting some decisions to use Drupal.  And I certainly am not planning on the pendulum being on the developer's side indefinitely.

greggles’s picture

I can certainly see both sides here. Over the years as a freelancer and potential employee, I've had tons of job offers that seemed like horrible work environments, pay that felt lower than a reasonable rate, etc. When I'm responsible for hiring, I've tried to give fair salaries and good work environments with remote work as an option, but we still find ourselves struggling to fill positions with qualified people.  I believe there are gaps that could be addressed on both sides.

I do think that catch makes two very strong points:

  1. That addressing a "developer shortage" without actively talking to developers will lead to suboptimal solutions. I encourage the DA to create a survey of people looking to get hired to Drupal work to see how the job search process is going for them. The results of a survey should also be really relevant for the current Job board project.
  2. There are probably "win-win" situations here, where investing in a more sustainable Drupal ecosystem overall will help yield more developers. For example, if we created a stronger culture of grants-for-core/contributed modules/themes that will raise the profiles of companies who are hiring and draw more developers to contribute in the hopes of receiving a donation.
aries’s picture

I think the key problem is finding a good PHP developer, not a Drupal developer. A Sr. dev has to know tons of other technologies, architectural level and code level design patterns, databases, proprietary systems, IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, etc. Drupal is just one piece of the puzzle. This is why it is hard to find a good candidate and this is why a client has to pay a premium, not because of Drupal.

koppie’s picture

I disagree.  I can always tell when someone was new to Drupal but had previous PHP experience because they think every problem can be solved with custom PHP code.  You need to know how to program in order to be a good Drupal dev (and not just PHP), but if you're working with Drupal it's more important to understand Drupal.

pdjohnson’s picture

Hi Holly,

Some excellent valid points raised by Catch.

Before the Drupal Association plough valuable resource and effort into contributing to a solution, I think it is valid to fire out a short survey to gauge how big and what the problem is. Previously I've used this method to great effect within the community gather metrics. This is far more effective than a threaded conversation, put it out on social media and boom you have a spreadsheet packed with valuable insight. Agency / business owners will more likely share their pains if it is annonymously done.

From my own experience and from speaking with peers I can confirm that in the UK at least, there is certainly a scarcity of high calibre Drupal resource be it site builders, developers or front end specialists.

One of the contributory factors is that graduates are not being equipped with the right skills to match industry needs. PHP was cited by far the most difficult skill to resource (Manchester Digital) across Greater Manchester region (the 2nd biggest digital cluster in Europe). Indeed Computer Scientists have the highest graduate unemployment rate presently in UK [ http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/sep/16/com... ].

Whilst not aimed at solving the immediate problems we as employers face, I have become heavily involded in Code Club [ http://codeclub.org.uk/about ] which for me is a long term investment in our industry.

I look forward to hearing what comes of this initiative and will be sure to support your efforts as much as possible.


Greg Boggs’s picture

A great tool is outreach to university computer science departments. That's how I and many of my cohorts learned Drupal. Our university taught us.

A great many universities now include WordPress in their courses, but the programs I'm familar with have a strong desire to prepare students for Enterprise level projects where Drupal is an ideal tool. 

Another community to reach out to is the WordPress community. Someone who's already a WordPress developer can quickly become a strong Drupal developer. In fact, experience in any CMS is a really great launching board for working in Drupal.

nco71’s picture

Some universities use Drupal and involve student for using it , but I believe university goal is to prepare students for a broader goal , when I was a student we were introduced to CMS'es not just one , but we were told that we can specialize in one of those CMS and get a job in that field. We were told they have all cons and pros and that we should try to see if there is one we like to use. We were introduced to most popular CMS and we can choose one for a small project to have an idea how it works. 

Drupal course could be a CMS module option or specialization. 

I also know that there are some initiatives from Drupal evangelist to go to campus and present Drupal to students which is great 

steveburge’s picture

A lot of colleges are teaching Drupal ... but almost none of them know about each other.

At DrupalCon Portland there was a BOF where lots of teachers talked and realized they weren't alone.

A whole lot of these teachers told us they were using our book "Drupal 7 Explained" for the classes. I don't claim it's the best Drupal book, but we did create is based on live teaching materials and it does follow a format that works will in the classroom.

Based on Portland, we made a curriculum based on the book: http://www.ostraining.com/books/d7e/higher-ed/. We added some details to help teachers pitch a course to sceptical administrators.

Just last weekend we found out at DrupalCamp Florida that the book is being used in a whole series of classes across Florida technical colleges.

So my takeways:

  • The classes are out there and in larger numbers than we realize.
  • These classes are in colleges, not universities
  • We don't notice theses classes becausemany are not in the mainstream university courses. Those change too slowly. Most of the classes are in technical colleges, community colleges, night classes and so on. Those teachers have more leeway to run the classes they want. But, they also get far less advertising and are harder to find.
hedley’s picture

Speaking as someone who in the past three years has been on both sides of the hiring road I've seen huge demand for Drupal developers, and this only looks like it's increasing. I stress the word 'good' here, as I think a lack of developers and a lack of good developers are two different things.

I agree with Catch that a more detailed investigation into the problems around this issue would be of huge benefit, to provide evidence and to try to understand the specific problems more.

There is some related information we can observe, such as data from ITJobsWatch: http://www.itjobswatch.co.uk/jobs/uk/drupal.do and although highly localised and not specific to Drupal, a thorough report on the digital economy in the East London tech cluster was published in June 2012 which also reported a skills gap as the #1 issue for tech startups:

One of the most commonly mentioned complaints is finding skilled staff: it was often cited as the top issue, alongside business growth. Interviewees highlight an under-supply of skilled developers and specialist staff in the uk, blaming ill-designed university syllabuses, and a lack of understanding at all levels of the education system. Despite the large pool of skilled workers in London, some firms also complain about a lack of suitable support staff.

I think that investing in training and learning materials is essential for Drupal. For it's longevity as a platform having plenty of routes in, and sharing knowledge around training will help keep a helathy number of well training developers who have learnt the right way. Another issue of course is developers crossing over into Drupal and not learning the 'right' way.

Making it easier and lowering the barriers will only be a good thing, and I think we're in the right place and it's the right time to do more of this.

hedley’s picture

No blockquotes! The third paragraph is a quote from the Tech City report.

DSquaredB’s picture

I don't disagree that there appears to be a shortage of Drupal developers. As a freelance site builder I pay attention to job postings wherever I see them. A lot of times I think those responsible for hiring have unrealistic expectations which may lead to a perception that the shortage is worse than it is. The list of "requirements" for the person they are looking to hire far exceeds the job description. As a site builder, I can build a functional Drupal website for clients with no (or hardly any) custom code using contrib modules. Of course, I understand there are larger corporate clients that require custom coding and extensive knowledge of php and other technologies and that my skill level with Drupal wouldn't be enough for their project, but there are many projects and job postings I can't consider because I wouldn't meet their list of unrealistic requirements. 

To meet the hiring expectations, maybe in addition to onboarding developers and site builders new to Drupal, boot camps to increase the skill level of more junior developers and site builders should be considered. And as one who learned Drupal mostly on my own in an area where there is not a strong Drupal community, I can attest to the importance of having a "mentor." Having someone to bounce a problem off of, to pass on a time-saving tip, or explain best practices or the Drupal way can be invaluable. 

smthomas’s picture

I can echo a lot of the same observations posted above. I think it is a combination of a lot of factors (many that were discussed above). However, one factor that was not mentioned was a way to spread awareness about Drupal to those interested in learning more about career paths in website development. While Drupal training programs are great, the business or developer generally already knows that they need Drupal.

I am starting to work on an initiative within my company (stemfuse.com - we build STEM curriculum for K-12 schools) to get Drupal into high schools. My goal is to figure out a way to build two solid foundational Drupal standards compliant high school level courses. The ultimate goal is to offer these courses for FREE to high schools. In these courses we would be able to really focus on teaching not only how to use Drupal to build websites, but why Drupal exists and how someone can immediately start giving back to the community. Each of these courses would be semester long, 90 hour courses of fully teachable Drupal material. With my companies current K-12 reach, I am pretty confident we could get these courses into 2000 High Schools in the next two years.

I know this does not solve the immediate problem of the Drupal talent shortage, but it would help build an ever growing ecosystem of new Drupal developers. I think the long term results would be huge for Drupal. 

I am open to discuss ideas about what I am trying to do with anyone interested in learning more. Also, if you know any large Drupal companies that would be interested in helping sponsor this initiative... please let me know. Implementing this big of a project (as it is planned) is not something our relatively small team would be able to do (especially to offer the courses for free) without a large amount of outside help.