Getting paid in candy: How Acquia is building the next generation of Drupalists

My employer Acquia is a commercial open source company. That means that they make money (commercial) off of software they don’t own (open source) and there are more than one of us (company). It should be clear then that Acquia’s survival is totally dependent on the success of the software it provides services around, Drupal.

Drupal has been doing exceptionally well as of late. In fact, Acquia just relased “the showcase”; it is a website detailing over 1000 high profile Drupal sites. To name drop a few, The Whitehouse, Amnesty International, NCAA, The Economist,, and many, many more. Drupal is charchterized by having a very robust community of thousands of developers, rapid innovation, successful conferences, local community organizing and a thriving ecosystem of service providers.

The main thing threatening Drupal’s growth right now is a lack of expert Drupal talent to meet the demand. We now compete with the very largest proprietary systems and software companies in all industries. We have the tech, it’s proven, but we need enough people to execute. As part of the solution to this, we are partnering with Drupal consulting companies to provide curriculum and support so they can train people in their communities to become Drupal professionals. This is the main way we deliver training and will continue to be. In addition, we’ve started offering low-cost or free classes to people in the Boston area.

There are several reasons why we do this:

  • We need to test our curriculum. Yes, our willing guinea pigs sit through free training, eat snacks, get a free lunch and a beer at the end of every day all in exchange for finding typos, telling us where we were bumbling and suggesting improvements. We feel like it’s a steal for us, but it’s really a win-win.
  • We need to grow Drupal talent. Did I say earlier that Acquia’s success was based on Drupal’s success? We know that people who are not already committed to learning Drupal for their job are not going to shell out the money for professional training, even if they are interested. So these trainings provide an opportunity to build local experts who eventually go on to work for companies who need to adopt Drupal, evangelize to their friends, work for our partners, or perhaps even work with us.
  • We need to grow great trainers. Although we haven’t started this yet, the plan is to work with aspiring training partners, have them co-teach these classes and use it as a platform to build their skills and introduce them to the curriculum.
  • It is Fun! We love the newbies! I love watching people get excited about what they can build and leaving with a sense of accomplishment. People who are going out of their way to learn something are always the best to have in the class.

Our first free class in early June was a huge success! We had 30 people from various backgrounds in attendance. Heather James, Kay VanValkenburgh and I taught the first two days which were around site building and the basics of administration. I taught the second two days on module developement with assistance from Chris Pliakis, Sergey Demidenko, David Rothstein and Isaac Sukin. On all fronts we really accomplished our goals. Issues with the curriculum surfaced, trainers got experience, and people walked away with new skills, opportunities and a positive relationship with Drupal and Acquia.

Here are a few quotes from our participants:

“Thanks so much. I feel so much smarter!”
 — Scot Colford, Boston Public Library

“Yes, I would recommend to others, opportunities to ask questions were excellent”
 — Kevin Baringer, UNH

“I no longer feel intimidated by hook_form_alter”
 — Sandeep Malalur, AOL

“The team, led by Jacob was outstanding, and gave me a really positive feeling about Drupal and Acquia. Fantastic job Jacob”
 — Anonymous

“Jacob was very good about explaining code lines. Book could use some more of that.”
 — Anonymous

I’ve attached the table of contents of both of these courses to this post if anyone is interested. We’ll be offering these and other courses in the future, so if you’re interested please contact me and I’ll put you on the list to be notified. You can also follow me JacobSingh on Twitter to get updates.

See you soon!


Originally published at on July 19, 2011.

Jacob Singh
CTO in residence at Sequoia Capital. Independent product and Engineering Coach Mediocre guitarist, singer, rock climber, point guard and baker Dedicated dad. American in New Delhi.
New Delhi