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Contributors at DrupalCon Prague stand or sit with laptops and talk. Photo credit: Illek Petr.

Why sponsor a core committer?

By xjm, December 21, 2022

This post was collaboratively authored with other Drupal core committers including quietone, pameeela, catch, effulgentsia, larowlan, lauriii, and Dries.

Earlier this month, I wrote about seeking funding for my work as a Drupal core release manager. Since I was laid off, I've had many interesting conversations with folks from varied organizations, with an equally varied set of potential roles for me.

Numerous recruiters I spoke with saw the opportunity in hiring a core committer as a technical architect for client projects. It's common for organizations to contribute as part of client work, fixing issues that affect the client. Others contribute between billable projects, or in programs like dedicated 20% project time.

That said, of the folks who've contacted me these past weeks, only a few already intended to hire someone to contribute to open source in most or all of their time. So, I'm going to explore some of the value an organization can get from sponsoring dedicated time for a core committer, even if that person never works directly on the organization's internal projects.

Sponsoring a core committer is in your organization's interest because:

  1. It is a high-impact investment in Drupal's future.
  2. It can provide mentorship and professional development for your team.
  3. It will improve your organization's reputation and leads.

Funding a core committer is a high-impact investment in Drupal's future

It is an stake in the project's long-term sustainability

If your organization relies on Drupal, you have a stake in Drupal's long-term sustainability. It takes work to keep Drupal stable, secure, and relevant. Drupal is the collaborative effort of thousands of individuals and organizations, but the day-to-day, year-to-year operation of the core project is coordinated by the core committer team. Continuity in core's maintenance is essential, so sponsoring a core committer is a smart investment. 

It accelerates Drupal core and the community

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lauriii and cilefen sit onstage with a laptop, surrounded by standing contributors
Core frontend framework manager lauriii commits a patch live onstage at DrupalCon Baltimore 2017, assisted by former release manager cilefen and surrounded by the contributors who worked on the issue. Photo credit: Michael Cannon.

Veteran Drupalists will have heard of the "RTBC queue": the list of Drupal core issues marked "Reviewed & tested by the community" that are awaiting a review from a committer. This is the point when, if everything's in order, a proposed change is committed to core.

The RTBC queue is important. When I review an RTBC issue, I'm performing final or near-final quality checks on a change that typically took hours of multiple contributors' work. It scales. It empowers the community and brings more improvements to your Drupal projects, faster.

It allows the committer to focus their efforts

A committer with dedicated time can be more efficient, and also has a better chance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

In 2009, Paul Graham famously published Maker Time, Manager Time, an article that continues to resonate for programmers everywhere today. A good code review requires research, critical thinking, and careful attention to detail. Those things don't fare well amidst Zoom meetings or over-excited children. The best code reviews are done without distractions or interruptions for other responsibilities. Funding helps guarantee dedicated maintenance time. And, indeed, the IEEE published research this year indicating that funding open source projects improves their quality.

It accelerates work on key initiatives

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ckrina smiles while another contributor points at her laptop screen
Provisional core frontend framework manager ckrina collaborates on Claro at DrupalCon Amsterdam 2019. Photo credit: Illek Petr.

In 2017, Dries blogged about the impact of funding core committers. The strategic initiative leads collectively identified a need for faster feedback from committers, and indicated that insufficient committer time was sometimes a barrier for their initiatives. 

The work done in the strategic initiatives has much larger scope than the average issue. A significant new feature cannot be reviewed effectively in one sitting. It can take days or weeks at a time. If the committers are too busy, an initiative can be blocked for months. Funding dedicated committer time reduces this risk.

Funding a committer can provide mentorship and professional development for your team

Contribution teaches important skills

Drupal core's robust community can teach your team skills that will apply to all their work:

  • Constructive written communication with people from diverse social, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds
  • Effective code review
  • Quality assurance tools and processes
  • Industry best practices
  • Knowledge of Drupal's inner workings, strategic direction, and future

Once your organization supports Drupal.org contributions, a core committer becomes an excellent potential mentor, role model, and guide for your contributors. Learning from a committer can lead to better contributions as well as better code quality on your team's internal and client projects.

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larowlan sits at a table using his laptop while another contributor looks on
Core framework manager larowlan collaborates with contributors at DrupalSouth Hobart 2019. Photo credit: DrupalSouth.

Core committers are vetted and have additional important skills

The Drupal core governance describes the core committer skillset as follows:

Potential maintainers generally demonstrate expertise, consistency, and passion contributing in their area before they become maintainers.

Maintainers with commit access need additional skills. They are reliable, decisive when needed, open to feedback, and able to give others feedback constructively.

Commit access to core requires considerable trust, because of the impact a core commit can have on every single site that uses Drupal. Those recruited to the committer role are generally excellent reviewers and mentors, and skilled at collaborating with a diverse team and community.

Committers are ambassadors for Drupal

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justafish stands onstage holding a microphone and glances down at her laptop screen
Core JavaScript package committer justafish speaks at DrupalCon Amsterdam 2019. Photo credit: Illek Petr.

Core committers are also ambassadors of the core project. We do our best to support positive contribution experiences, and we know an ill-considered response can put people off Drupal contribution permanently. So, every time we mark an issue "Needs work", or identify which contributions receive credit and which don't, we have an opportunity to provide guidance that will help a contributor going forward. 

The most vital lessons a junior developer should learn are that it's okay to make mistakes, it's okay to not know everything, and it's important to ask questions. Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to know whom to ask. Committers can help with this too. Even if we're not technical experts in the part of Drupal that you're struggling with, there's a good chance we know of someone who might be, or of a good Drupal Slack channel where you can discuss the topic.

Committers manage complex requirements and empower diverse stakeholders

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catch speaking and gesturing at a table of contributors
Core release manager catch discusses the Entity Field API with stakeholders at DrupalCon Prague 2013. Photo credit: Amazee Labs.

Of the thousands of contributors to Drupal core, around 100 have volunteered for governance roles. The Drupal core governance is designed to empower core contributors while also maintaining Drupal's standards for quality, stability, usability, accessibility, and developer experience. The governance includes leadership roles for not only developers but also product strategists, design and usability experts, mentors, and organizers. 

So, when committers decide whether to accept a change for core, we must pay attention not only to our own responsibilities, but also whether 100 other maintainers' feedback has been sought and incorporated where the governance requires it. We ensure voices are included and effective decisions made even when there are complex requirements. 

Seeing this in action can inspire your teams to improve their own collaboration and decision-making, and it will also de-mystify Drupal's "how" and "why".

Funding a committer will improve your organization's reputation and leads

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The Drupal.org marketplace showing top contributing organizations including Acquia, Third & Grove, Srijan:, Mediaurrent, Tag1, CI&T, PreviousNext, QED42, Full Fat Things,  OpenSense Labs, and Lullabot.

It gives your organization excellent reputation and name recognition

Developer advocates are often key to an organization selecting Drupal (and therefore a Drupal agency) for a project. These developer advocates typically engage with the open source community, and are likely to recognize key Drupal project contributors. Sponsoring a core committer can bring a lot of community goodwill. It will help developer advocates recognize your organization as a responsible business that cares about the project and the community.

It can be part of your marketing budget

If you treat contribution as merely engineering work on software that you don't own, it can be difficult to explain a business case for a large investment. 20% personal project time might already be recognized as a good practice for professional development and employee satisfaction, but how do you explain the nebulous long-term value of a larger investment -- one or more full-time salaries dedicated to contribution -- to the money people?

Call it marketing.

It has definitely taken time for trust to be built up in that what I am doing is effectively marketing, and that is hard to quantify, but is having a visible long-term effect on leads and sales.

longwave, Drupal 10 contributor and provisional Drupal core release manager

In addition to the goodwill and name recognition that sponsoring a prominent contributor can bring to your organization, contributors you sponsor can attribute their contribution to your organization on Drupal.org. Furthermore, contributions are an important factor in the Drupal.org marketplace, and are an essential part of qualifying to become a Drupal Association Certified Partner (which gets you onto the first pages of the marketplace). 

Contributions are also weighted based on their importance to the community as a whole as measured by their project usage. Since Drupal core is, by definition, used on every Drupal site, core issue credits have the highest weight. Core committers also follow detailed issue credit guidelines to ensure that credit received for working on core is fair and ethical. 

We all rely on open source software, so we have a vested interest in it being safe, reliable, and healthy

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Numerous contributors sit around a table while others listen from behind
Numerous contributors who are now core committers discuss the Configuration Management Initiative and the Entity Field API at DrupalCon Portland 2013, including core framework manager effulgentsia, core product manager Gábor Hojtsy, core release manager xjm, Drupal 7 framework manager Fabianx, and core framework manager alexpott. Photo credit: Michael Schmid.

According to the Synopsis Open Source Security and Risk Analysis Report, 78% of all newly built applications are open source, and 97% of codebases contain open source. Businesses and organizations across industries depend on open source contributors every day. Personal blogs and small charities, national governments and Fortune 500 companies. If you're reading my blog, you probably rely on Drupal. Are you invested in its future?

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