Drupal was released 20 years ago by @dries on 15th January 2001. In this blog I want to share how it changed my life. So make yourself a tea, coffee or get beer and enjoy :) Special thanks to @mirnazim as well.
The year was 2007 Vinod and I were maintaining an online community of thousands of users on Orkut but, after 4 years running that community we realised that we need our own website.
So I bought a thick PHP & MySQL book and started making a student community site for IP University in Delhi. It was Vinod's idea to build a site with features like online forums, college information, previous year papers, helping students with admission and other issues related to education. In case you don't know IP University is probably Delhi biggest university and they have lot of private and government colleges affiliated to it. They offer hundreds of courses and based on the rank students get in the entrance examination seats are offered to them in colleges. This university was started in 1999 and ours was the first batch of engineers who graduated in 2003 so you can imagine there was little to no information available for these students. We wanted to provide that information and help them. That is why Vinod chose the domain name for the website ggsipu.info.
Custom coding was too much work for us
Building the site with custom coding was not a problem for me, however after couples of months I soon realised that I am writing too much code and it felt like I am repeating myself. Yes I tried following MVC architecture but I soon realised that it might be too much work for 2 people to not only build a site from scratch, maintain it, add more features to it and above all help thousands of students. The year was 2007 and this was around August when I started to feel frustrated with this approach.
Building this site was indeed our main ambition but Vinod and I had bigger dreams. We wanted to start our own company since 1999, the first year of our college. I first started talking to Vinod in the mechanical lab, we became friends quickly and we started discussion our future plans after engineering. More than starting a company I think we were very clear about one thing - enjoying life, staying happy and doing something meaningful in life. The plan to do something meaningful actually kicked off when we started the community on Orkut but idea to start a company was always in our head.
I knew maintaining a site from scratch will be a mega task and I was up for it. Yes I was frustrated about the fact that I had to code for a week to have a simple functionality up and running. Although I heard about Drupal and other CMS but somehow I was not massively convinced with using a CMS or any other framework because with ease of use you have to give up the flexibility. I first tried Wordpress then Moodle and I felt I need a bit more control on my site. I did think about trying Drupal as well but I never gave it too much attention because I was not sure about its capabilities.
OSSCamp Delhi changed everything
I started to maintain a blog on blogspot in July 2007. I had a static site before then but blogspot was nice and looked good, also it had an option to comment on each other blogs. While I was searching about Open Source, PHP and CMS online one day I noticed an event that was scheduled for 8th and 9th September. It was OSSCampDelhi, I signed up for the event which was in a company in Noida. It was a bit far for me back then because you know the Delhi Metro's Noida line didn't exist back then but I still gathered courage and went there. Frustration can be good motivator I guess, you just need to learn how divert this energy somewhere. I was quite familiar with Noida because after college I used to roam outside companies with bunch of my resume in my bag hoping to see a company where they might let me enter for a walk in interview. Anyways I attended both the first and second day of that event. There were lot of talks and I felt really nice surrounded by like minded people, the food was good too. It was my very first experience attending any kind of a tech event.
The talk that changed everything was from Nazim Mir, it was about Drupal and somehow I got the reassurance in Drupal. I was already trying to build a custom site in PHP and his talk encouraged me to give Drupal one more proper try and that's what I did, believe it or not I was able to not only build but also launch the site in just a week. I already knew what I wanted plus the desparation and frustration gave me a boost to work on it continuously for a week. In the beginning it was not great site but it was enough to get started. We already had a community on Orkut so it didn't take long for students to sign up.
Soon Vinod and I rebuild our first site LinuxIndya.com that we launched a year ago because it just felt right to use Drupal. We continued working on ggsipu.info for many years. The great thing about Drupal for us was that it was able to get us started quickly, using site building capabilities and using various modules and themes you can build a powerful good looking site very quickly and because it is built on PHP so you can always do custom module development for further customisation. Whatever Drupal I know is because of the problems I tried to solve while maintain ggsipu.info and Vinod always had more ideas to launch other sites, so yes developed many sites in Drupal. Mostly experimenting ideas. It was lot of fun.
I started doing freelancing in 1999 and I have done so many things like installing Linux servers, training people on Linux, writing VBA code for Chartered Accountant to automate their work and by 2010 Vinod and I were quite confident that we were ready to start a company and use our skills. We had lot of experience of maintaining Drupal site by then and that gave us enough confidence to register our company Sparxsys Solutions in March 2010.
Bootstrapping a company in India is not for faint hearted but we perservered and never gave up. Since Drupal is an open source CMS, we didn't really pay anyone anything ever for using it but we thought of contributing back to the community. So Vinod and I started providing free Drupal workshops in various colleges in Delhi NCR region. That gave us lot of confidence speaking in front of an audience, it is a great skill to have. Since 2010 we have building various site for clients and done lot of other cool things as well. We were able to find a place for ourselves in a tough market. I think none of this would have happened if I hadn't attended the event on 8th September 2007, I could have stayed at home, I could have watched a movie or gone out to meet my friends but I decided to go to Noida.
How we started Jira and Atlassian consultancy?
I will be honest making a website is one thing but making a website for a client is a pain or I should say it can be a big pain if you don't know how to manage the project. We worked with all kinds of people, built variety of sites in Drupal but it was not always smooth running a company providing website development services. We mostly worked on fixed price model in the beginning because to survive we had to be competitive and Indian clients used to prefer working on fixed price and get the most out of you. Project management was always one of my interest, because we were doing so many things like running our own sites and client projects we always relied on a system. I tired building my own issue tracking tool in PHP & MySQL, I always tried other open source tools. I knew what I was looking was from a tool but for a long time we never really found a tool that can be customised the way we wanted.
Fortunately I was introduced to Jira and it was one tool that solved lot of our problems and we were using it for many years, it started gaining some popularity in India around 2011 and I asked myself "We already have a company", "We have clients", "We know how to market ourselves", "Companies want to use Jira in India" and "We know Jira really well". So in 2012 we announced that we will start providing consultation around Jira and Atlassian tools in India. I am not sure if there were any companies in India who were doing Atlassian consultation around that time but we were quick enough to realise that we can fill in this gap and we started marketing ourselves as not just Drupal but Atlassian experts as well.
It was not possible with Drupal
We were able to start Atlassian consultancy very smoothly and as compared to making a website because this was much more profitable business for us and because of that we were able to divert our Drupal focus to non profit organisations and projects where we were able to convince the client to hire us on a monthly recurring cost instead of fixed cost. We were making most of the money from Atlassian consultation but were always very satisfied with high quality Drupal work we were doing for our regular paying clients.
Drupal celebrates 20 years on 15th January 2021, Dries has written a blog about it as well. Looking back on our journey I have no hesitation in saying that starting to use Drupal was the turning point for us. It opened up lot of opportunities for us and made our lives better.
Thank you Drupal :)
Sharing some pics of our journey
Our first office was a very humble flat in Lawrence Road. Our very first employee used to actually live here and we used to work from the living room. It was fun, feeling nostalgic while I am writing this.
Vinod pretending to work. Carlsberg was our favourite beer back then.
Me working from home when it was not cool. Thinkpad is still my favourite Laptop even in 2021.
Sparxsys second office, not the whole building :) we had a small office in this building.
I hope you had a nice time reading this blog. Sharing one more pic which I took from my roof in Delhi.
That would be the thumbnail of this blog but sharing this picture because it reminds of the days when I used to spend hours on my roof taking pictures of sunsets, sunrises, birds, cloud, insects and also this building which was visible from my roof when I used to dream that one day it would be cool to have an office here ;)
Ok that is it guys.
I hope you had fun reading this blog.
Indeed 🙂 we love Drupal