What is a Drupal developer?

As the Drupal market continues to rock and roll, more and more clients need "Drupal Developers". But what exactly is a Drupal Developer? A Drupal Developer is someone who knows Drupal right? Right?!

There always has been some confusion around job titles and skills in the Drupal world. This is especially true with some recruiters and even managers and clients that are hiring. In effect, there are three main areas of expertise in the Drupal world: site building, backend/module development and theming. The skills required for each are quite different.

Drupal Site Builder

A Drupal site builder is someone who builds Drupal sites with point and click in the admin UI without writing much or any custom code. I say much, because they might implement the odd hook here and there. But most of the functionality of the site/application comes from configuring Drupal core and contributed modules. Site Builders will have experience with a wide range of contributed modules and will understand how they work together to solve a particular problem. They will understand the limitations of modules and should be able to provide a concise argument of the pros and cons of various solutions. Site Builders will build the content types, taxonomy, navigation, image presets, rules etc. One of the magnificent things about Drupal is that it does not exclude non-developers. The Drupal community and the platform provides a very powerful tool set for people to build innovative and complex sites without the requirement to be a programmer. And mastering this is a very valuable skill in itself.

Drupal Themer / Frontend developer

A Drupal Themer is the specialist front end developer. They are experts in HTML, CSS and Javascript. They are also experts in the Drupal theme layer. They should be able to take a design and turn it into the working theme. Ideally they will be well versed in implementing responsive design.

Drupal Module Developer / Backend developer

A Drupal developer is someone who writes a lot of PHP and other server side languages. They write custom modules, automated tests, consume web services, automate deployment etc. They may also be know as “backend Drupal developers”. They may also get involved in some of the more advanced side of the theme layer as well. Often they will set up automated deployment.

A note on contributing and collaboration

Drupal is inherently a collaborative project. Site Builders, Module Developers and Themers will often contribute their work back to the community and collaborate with others. It is common for module developers to share and collaborate on contributed modules, themers on contributed themes and site builders on site building recipes and other forms of documentation.

The Three Disciplines

Drupal Generalist / Jack of All trades / Full Stack Developer

It is very common to do all three. You may be more advanced in one area or another, but still act in a general capacity.

In most of the projects I have worked on, there has not been a dedicated site builder. Both backend developers and fronted developers will do elements of site building.

How a business hire and use Drupal people varies. In one extreme, a business may hire specialists. To deliver a particular piece of functionality or feature, the work may have to go through each of the specialities before it is done. One of the other extremes, is a business may assume that a Drupal person should do all three specialities. In this case, it is common for the team to be a team of “Drupal Developers” and the role encompasses site building, backend development and theming. Both approaches have their pros and cons, but that is for another day!

Other roles

Just like any other web development setup, there is a range of other roles included in the process of building and support Drupal applications. This includes:

Sysadmin / Devops - run the live stack, will often deploy Drupal sites to the live environment, deal with performance issues, setup a CDN, Varnish, Memcache etc.

QA - test all changes to ensure quality and that they meet the requirements. Setup automated tests.

Project Manager / Scrum Master - run the scrum team, remove impediments to progress, ensure delivery of the project on time and budget.

Product owner - comes up with the requirements. Works closely with the project manager to prioritise the backlog. Normally has final sign off of all changes.

Design / UX - comes up with the design and user experience. They might build prototypes that can then be converted into a Drupal theme.

Who is not a Drupal developer

This advice should be given to any recruiter or hirer in the Drupal space. A PHP developer is not necessarily a Drupal developer. It does not matter how good the PHP developer is at PHP, unless they have decent Drupal experience and understand its API’s and, dare I say it, “the Drupal way”, they will make many mistakes. You will then need to hire an experienced Drupal developer to clean up the mess left behind. Of course, I am being a bit simplistic here. In current times where demand far out strips supply, it as not as simple as that. You might be forced to hire a PHP developer who doesn’t have much (or any) Drupal experience. That is fine, but the minimum requirement should be that the developer wants to learn the Drupal standards, understand the Drupal culture and try and do it the Drupal way. You don’t want someone who treats it as just another framework that can be bent and broken to the developer's way of thinking. That is a recipe for creating a maintenance nightmare that will cost the business in the long run.

Are you looking for someone to do your web project in Drupal?

As I said before, it is up to each client and each project to know if it is better to hire a team with specialized people in each area (sitebuilding, frontend, backend) or if for your project you already have enough with a Full-Stack developer That dominates all areas.

If right now you are not sure what is best for you … I recommend that you contact me using the form on this website, and that you explain a bit of your web project. This way I can help you make the best choice for you.