The challenge of opportunity

Picture of a 500,000,000,000 dinar noteAll signs say that Drupal is booming. Job listings on monster.com went from 65 in October 2009 to 120 a year later; DrupalCon has likewise nearly doubled in size every year for the past three; and Drupal consultancies report a perennial shortage of talent.

This all seems familiar to some of us -- but not all. You see, many Drupal professionals are around (or below) Dries' age of 32. That means they were 16 or so when Netscape went public in 1994, signaling the start of the internet boom; they were only 22 when the tech-heavy NASDAQ exchange crashed in 2000, signaling its end. So many of these "average" Drupallers have no personal experience of the boom-and-bust cycle that took down dotcoms, and the CD-ROM industry before that, and arcade games before then, and so on.

These cycles are predictable as cold days in autumn. We don't know exactly when they're coming, but they're coming all right. Neither summer nor winter can last forever. (Ecclesiastes and all that.)

I've had the fortune of going through two booms, first as a tech journalist and public-relations executive during the dotcom boom, then as a real-estate broker during that bubble. (I got into both of them as they were starting and got out a little before their crashes. Make of that what you will.) Now, I'm not predicting a specific end to the Drupal boom -- winter may yet be far away -- but I'd like to give the warnings now that I wish I'd heeded back then.

  1. Don't be about what Drupal is. Be about what Drupal does. Yes, it's web development software. But what will that matter if the web as we know it disappears? So think instead of what it accomplishes. Drupal is a distributor of information; sales channel; organizational tool suite; vote-management system; and so on. Ensure that the skills you're gaining now through Drupal will be valid regardless of Drupal. (Human society has needed sales channels and information distribution for thousands of years!) Broaden your horizons, so when one pillar falls you'll be able to jump to another.
  2. Listen to buyers. There's a saying: Nothing is sold, everything is bought. As the industry became heavy with tech-savvy visionaries in the late '90s, often products were solutions looking for problems. They were at times elegant, clever, and brilliant... but impractical, poorly aimed, or unwanted. Successful leaders are those who see where the mob is going -- and run to the front of it.
  3. "Be nice to people on the way up "...because you'll meet the same people on the way down." (Wilson Mizner)
  4. Keep the slow times in mind. As money, opportunities, and prestige increase, it's easy to lose a sense of perspective. That's what leads the newly successful to buy houses and toys based on $7,000/month salaries, when a year earlier they were making $2,500/month. Then when their power evaporates in a poof of stock options or price plunges or public caprice, they were back to making $2,500/month -- or not. Assume that great increases in power are temporary and plan accordingly.

I know this is an awfully macabre post to make at such a moment of joy and celebration in our community, but it needed to be said.

Anything to add to this list?

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Comments

A bit of realism in this period of Drupal-enthusiasm is good to keep healthy minds. My conclusion for the Drupal community : let's make sure we can follow the web as it's moving, and keep innovating, so we're not going down !

Ah, don't disregard us 32 year olds. I was there to watch the beginning of the boom and the fall, to watch my small Internet at the age of 12 explode into what it is today. Perhaps not at a professional level, but at a very personal one. Good warning and something I'm often thinking about. The Drupal community is strong, though, so I look to the future with optimism, whether it's within Drupal or without, it will remain a part in some way.

I always resented people who looked down on me because of my age, myself. Believe me, I don't discount young peoples' intelligence or abilities at all! Only a fool would do that. When I was 12 I was writing BASIC programs for TRS-80s. A friend of mine was into BBSes and phone phreaking. It was so *exciting*, but the structures and career opportunities really weren't there yet. I was around your age at the end of the dotcom boom, and it seemed to me that 40- and 50-year-olds were... well, slow. People my/our age were dynamic! Exciting! Innovative! So I wondered what the older folks provided. I think it's simply perspective. (Better to do one right decision slowly than three wrong things quickly. ;) ) Certainly 12-year-olds can watch and understand the market... but they don't usually get to sit in on the business meetings. Anyhoo, I'm rambling. Mostly I feel old these days because I moved to a college town, where I'm literally twice the age of my friends.

I was there to watch the beginning of the boom and the fall, to watch my small Internet at the age of 12 explode into what it is today. Perhaps not at a professional level, but at a very personal one.