Oh, Drupal 8... When we were first introduced to Symfony in Denver it seemed like such a good idea. Replacing a few files of old (but thoroughly tested and debugged) code with something more modern. I personally was really happy to have a chance to make some money while learning more about a framework that I'd been interested in for quite a while. Seems lately the tension is getting a little thick, though.
Now firstly, about my own history with Drupal.
I discovered Drupal some time at the end of 2008, shortly after becoming so fed up with the website of the band that I was in that I thought to myself "this should be easier. Somebody needs to create a thing that makes it easier to build websites". I was a musician at the time, with no programming background after Basic in 1988. Drupal not only seemed to be solving the problem that I had, but also seemed to have a thriving job board full of interesting sounding gigs. This turned out to be my exit ramp from being a full time musician.
Fast forward 5 years, and I've been working with Drupal full time for only the last 4 years. I'm not emotionally invested to the degree that a lot of folks in this community are, but I do an inordinate amount of recreational pondering about the direction and future of Drupal. I'd like to share a couple points that I haven't seen written down yet. There are quite a few of them at the core of this situation, and it's very easy to get them confused, since they really are philosophical in scope.
Learning new systems
Most of the people who complain about Drupal 8 are quickly written off by folks who aren't complaining about Drupal 8. "You're stuck in the past and don't want to learn new techniques" seems to be most frequent dismissive brush off that is given. The caliber of developer talent that's leaving should put that to bed, but let's explore it a little deeper.
We're going to be learning new stuff here. Of that there is no doubt. Anybody who wants to keep doing this awesome job gets that, and I definitely gotta assume that Nate Haug gets that as well. We've all done this dance numerous times, after all. The question is whether or not Drupal 8 is something that you believe is going to continue to get you work over the long term. In essence, this is an opportunity for the whole community to evaluate Drupal's Golden Handcuffs and whether or not we want to keep wearing them. I personally don't love Drupal. I frequently hate it, in fact, but tolerate it because it gets me paid well and it's gratifying to hack through the jungle and come out the other side with a new module. But, since we're going to be asked to learn a whole ton of new techniques anyway, how do we feel about Drupal's prospects over the long term?
Personally, I've been hearing for years about the "lack of Drupal talent" being the #1 issue with Drupal's adoption in the marketplace. The community in general has done a great job of backfilling the need for training and education in Drupal, but it would seem that the all-out, take-no-prisoners mindset of radically breaking the API with every major version (and by design, no less) is a fundamentally stupid way to approach the market. Is it Drupal's outdated code that's the problem, or is it lack of developers? Because Dries, you're acting like it's one while saying the other. It's disingenuous on a subliminal level, and now we're going to invalidate a huge body of collective knowledge about how to build Drupal sites in one sweeping release.
The world's comfort with code
Second point is whether or not the concept of a monolithic framework or CMF or CMS or whatever the hell Drupal is is actually a market that's going to continue to exist. Danny DeVito's speech as "Larry the Liquidator" is the reference in the title of this article.
An increasing share of a shrinking market.
Now, when DeVito gets to the part about "who cares", I can't help but think of myself as a stockholder in the Drupal community. I'm not a core contributor. I'm not an Acquia employee. I'm just a boots-on-the-ground developer. I have 3 boys, ages 5, 3, and 1. My 3 year old has a lot of food allergies, so he's dairy, gluten, and egg free and we're a vegetarian household to boot. My 5 year old all of a sudden eats more than my wife and I put together.
I tell you all this to impress upon you that when I say that feeding my family is the primary concern, I mean it very literally. I don't have the luxury of becoming emotionally invested in Drupal, but I do have a very real concern with the direction of the project in which my resume is heaviest. My chief concern is whether or not the concept of a website built of Lego pieces clicked together in a browser isn't a great idea from an era gone by. I personally have a feeling that the human race's comfort level with writing code to get things done with computers is going to rise rapidly in the next few years. And anybody who understands anything about all this understands that code written to your specs is always going to do a better job of doing your job than a generalized platform running hundreds of DB queries to build every page, packed to the gills with modules that don't do anything that has anything to do with your project, and still requires heavy developer involvement to build anything of scale. We might have scored a bunch of big wins with the White House and NBC, but a few years from now are those customers still going to be singing Drupal's praises? We'll see, I guess.
Drupal's values != Acquia's values
This brings me to my next point, and the one that directly involves the community as a whole.
Drupal doesn't come from enterprise roots. We might be technologists, but we are a family of hippies. I spent 7 years on the road playing music festivals for a living. Shortly after I quit I went to DrupalCon SF and immediately felt at home. Drupal didn't get it's start building big government sites, it got it's start in Dries' dorm room, and made it's first American waves with DeanSpace. All you gotta do is follow Crell and Chx on Twitter, and poke around CivicActions website, and come to a DrupalNYC meetup to get the vibe that we are largely a community of activists for humanitarian causes.
And then we got Acquia.
Obviously, as an American and an entrepreneur, I don't begrudge anyone their shot at making it big. Dries has pretty much done what I might have been tempted to do if I found myself with the opportunity to capitalize on a movement like this. But, as an outsider, nascent community member, and hippy - something feels wrong.
Acquia has taken piles and piles of investment cash which legally obligates the company and it's management to do what's right for the bottom lines of the investors. What's right for the Drupal community is a secondary consideration, and it's this point around which a lot of the recent drama revolves. There are probably millions of man-hours invested by community members over the years in making Drupal what it has become, which subsequently has made Acquia such an attractive investment. Now much of that old (and thoroughly tested and debugged) code is being thrown out. It's simply human nature to get attached to your work, and when the founder of the project uses his dictator powers to rip out all your work because it's old and no good anymore, feelings are bound to get hurt. We're all professionals here, so we swallow it as being inevitable because after all, some of that code is mighty old at this point, but it gets replaced by a bunch of new code and new people and a stated new market focus - the enterprise.
Well, what if we don't want to work for the "enterprise"? Is my best career chance with Drupal to be rewarded with an Acquia gig commuting to some office park to help the new corporate account with their implementation? What about the hundreds of thousands of NPOs and good causes around the world that have adopted Drupal as their platform because the price is right and the platform itself is accessible? There's also the underlying issue - is this our platform and our community or is it your product? Further, do you really expect the adoption of Drupal 8 to be so profound that new developers like the one I used to be will put up with a learning curve that went from steep to impenetrable? I don't know. Either it will, or it will be the best damn buggy whip ever made.