Dries Buytaert talks Drupal and leadership in open source

Why he doesn't mind being called a benevolent dictator

Drupal creator and project lead, Dries Buytaert, speaks passionately about the company he began as a hobby during his college days, with the business reach of Buytaert now extending into software company Acquia and Mollom.

Computerworld Australia caught up with Buytaert while he was in Australia for the first DrupalDownunder 2011 conference held last month in Brisbane, with the developer addressing claims that Drupal is a complex content management system (CMS) that becomes unmanageable once it is customised.

“At the end of the day, a content management system like Drupal is a complex tool," he said. "Building a complex website is not necessarily easy. It’s not a magical tool that will automatically build your website for you; it still needs some tweaking and some learning.”

One site that Drupal developers have taken on is the official site of US President Barack Obama.

“We’ve built some pretty complex websites with Drupal, like Whitehouse.gov and that’s not a small website,” Buytaert said.

While Buytaert said he hasn’t worked directly with Australian government organisations, he did say his personal experience of working on US government websites has been a challenge.

“I’ve done a lot of work with the US government and we’ve helped migrate a lot of departments and agencies to Drupal,” he said.

Buytaert said that a key part of the success of Drupal has come about due to the development of side projects like Acquia.

“I think a lot of the larger organisations were waiting for something like Acquia to happen because it just makes their life easier,” he said.

“It takes some of the risk out of open source because they have someone that they can call 24/7. So overall, I think Acquia is extremely well received.”

Buytaert has also been busy with the release of Drupal 7, which was launched last month and marks the start of a number of changes set to be implemented this year.

“We’re moving the Drupal project over to GIT,” he said. “The positives are that we get new features and functionality, and its more modern – people will enjoy using it more.”

When asked about his leadership style and why some open source leaders are dubbed 'benevolent dictators', Buytaert said it ties into the style of the industry.

“I’m the project lead and the way we work is I try to get out of the way, have a hands-off approach," he said. "But when it comes to resolving conflicts or making decisions when there are disagreements, I’ll make a decision.

“So in that way, I guess it is like a dictator, but it’s a benevolent dictator.”

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