Mediacurrent: Open Source and More with Drupal Association’s Heather Rocker

To kickoff women’s history month, we sat down with Drupal Association Executive Director Heather Rocker. Heather brings her experience as the former CEO of GirlsInc. of Greater Atlanta to encourage girls to explore tech careers. In this interview, she reflects on year one in her new role and shares what’s on the horizon for the Drupal community on the path to Drupal 9. 

1. Hi Heather, thanks for joining us! You are coming up on one year as the Global Executive Director for the Drupal Association. What drew you to Drupal? What makes Drupal different from other development communities?

I think the first gateway to being drawn to Drupal was being drawn to open source and the idea of how open source is created and distributed. That it’s so people driven and community focused really aligned with a lot of what drives me personally and professionally.

As I had the chance through the recruitment process to learn about Drupal, it became very obvious that Drupal was a leader in open source. The way that Drupal moderates and organizes the community is at the forefront of open source projects. The strength at the local, regional, and international level is strong and is growing every day.

The way Drupal recognizes contribution I thought was really impactful. You can be an individual contributor, you could be an organization, and you can be recognized for the way that you impact the project. I thought that was really ahead of other projects as well.

One of the cool factors for me was the fact that it was a large thriving open source community, but it was actually one of the few that is that large and successful that’s still independent. For me, the independent factor weighted as well because I think it really aligns with what draws me to both technology and nonprofit. The Drupal community brought in all the things that make me love working with people and with organizations. And then the fact that it’s a successful independent community is what really made Drupal stand out to me. 

2. What has been the accomplishment you are most proud of so far?

What I’m really proud of is the ability to organize our team both within the Drupal association and the board level in conjunction with our community so that we’ve got the right people in the right places. Now, we have strong leadership across all levels of the organization — board, staff, and community.

I’m excited that we’re putting the right process and programs in place so that we can really start to scale our impact effectively,better support the community and focus on questions like why does Drupal and the Drupal association exist? How do we be really strategic about those objectives and stay in alignment across the community? We’re working on a really neat strategic plan right now that I think is unlike what the DA has produced in the past. We’ll be unveiling that to the community in 2020 and you’ll be able to see what the strategic objectives are and how everything we do lines up so that we can all stay on the path to create even more impact. 

3. As the former CEO of Girls, Inc, you have a lot of experience with introducing girls to careers in technology. What are some of the things you’re focused on in your current role to recruit people, especially girls and young people, to consider a career path in Drupal?

I’ve been very fortunate to have the Girls, Inc. experience as STEM was becoming more and more of a focus as a career path. For a variety of reasons, not only because that’s where the careers are and the supply and demand works in your favor in a technology career. Depending on your circumstances, being in a lucrative, steady career in STEM can really change your trajectory. In the case of Girls, Inc, this was taking girls and their families potentially out of a poverty cycle by getting them in those jobs. 

In addition to that, I had the opportunity through the Women in Technology (WIT) foundation to develop our Girls Get IT program. I learned how vulnerable girls are when it comes to peer pressure and STEM. You really have to start in fourth grade — both girls and boys, but girls in particular — to get them excited about STEM. Then you have to stay with them in middle school, high school and college to make sure that they don’t hit one of those pieces of the pipeline that causes them to roll out. So we learned a lot about the pieces of that pipeline and how you effectively support girls in technology.

It takes mentorship for any STEM education effort to be really successful. Quite frankly, we see that in women that are mid-career as well, it doesn’t apply just to youth. Then the piece that I also get to layer in is my work as a board member with GeorgiaFIRST Robotics. I know a lot of Drupal community members that I’ve met are involved with FIRST Robotics. Hands-on exposure to STEM makes it real — it’s so important.

I will be taking all of those concepts and learnings to put together our Drupal talent pipeline and outreach efforts.  

4. What would you say to others who want to get involved to help girls and young people explore careers in Drupal?

Be present. Girls, boys, students in general, anybody that we want to have in our Drupal talent pipeline, they have to know what Drupal is first before they can get excited about it and learn it and be a part of our community. So the first best thing you can do with a student of any age is to get in front of them. They can’t be what they haven’t seen. Show them what you do and talk about your organization’s work at an age appropriate level. Spark an interest.

One of the things we’ll be working on from a resource perspective is how to utilize our collective effort across the Drupal community to organize those efforts so that we can come together – especially at the local level. Mediacurrent’s work with Kennesaw University is a perfect example. 

5. You’re in the same neighborhood as Mediacurrent’s HQ and we’re always glad to see you at local Atlanta Drupal events! In your experience, why is it so important for agency partners like Mediacurrent to give back to open source projects?

The large scale answer is open source requires it. If you think about the way that open source is structured, it’s people contributing. Not just individual people but organizations as well. Aside from the “it’s the right thing to do” reasons, there really are some good business reasons for agencies, and quite frankly, organizations of all types to be involved and contribute on a constant basis. 

The business savvy piece of that is contribution at a variety of levels, from a variety of perspectives makes for a better product. In turn that makes for a stronger community and project which all adds up to increased business success. So there really is ROI; if Drupal is a great product, it is easier to sell. And it only remains great if we have the right contribution and the right interaction. From a business perspective, you are creating a little bit of your own business destiny by being involved and having an impact on the Drupal project.

I was able to spend some time recently with Nikhil Deshpande, the Chief Digital Officerfor the state of Georgia, who runs He made it very clear that when he was looking at how to implement everything he needed to do, he wanted partners that were contributors to the Drupal project. His thought was if you’re contributing in a meaningful constant way we can assume that you’re going to be the best partner to help us implement Drupal as well.

6. What are the top three things the Drupal community can look forward to for 2020?

  1. I think the biggest thing that most people are excited about is the Drupal 9 launch. We’re coordinating with the community to celebrate Drupal because it’s such a large effort to make something like that happen.
  2. In addition to the community celebration, we want to make sure the Drupal Association is leading an effort from a marketing perspective to make sure that the business community understands why Drupal 9 is good for their business and why they should be interested. That’s going to be a huge initiative for us. I’m excited and I would assume the community is as well.
  3. We recently launched our Contribution Recognition Committee led by Mike Lamb at Pfizer. It has a volunteer steering committee but a lot of the community has been involved in giving feedback. We have a strong contribution system in place now but we realized we need to be broader in what we consider contributions so that we can be more effective in the recognition. Donating code has been the general standard for contribution. But if you run a camp, if you go to a college and help develop our talent pipeline, those things should count as well. We’re looking at how to build in systems to help reward that behavior.
  4. The other thing that we’re excited about internally at the DA, that we’re dedicated to launching in 2020, is how do we support that talent pipeline cultivation and how do we do that with a diversity, equity and inclusion lens?So we’re committed as a team to launch at least one pilot program in 2020, to address that effort. And that will definitely take community collaboration to make it happen.

Thanks again for joining us, Heather, and for all you do to make our Drupal community even stronger. We’ll see you at DrupalCon 2020!