2017 is practically over. I am sitting with the family, thinking about the old year and the new, Of course I could write about more things than web development and Drupal, but I will limit myself to this topic for the sake of this blog. 2017 has been an interesting year for me as a web developer. Not as good as 2016 financially, but still quite interesting and educating. Here are my top points (very subjective, of course), written down below.
1. Employment: FFW, IDM, Arocom.
I started 2017 working for FFW Bulgaria and IDM (InDigiMar).
FFW Bulgaria was in the process of being renamed from ProPeople Bulgaria, and in the process of undergoing unification as it was joined in the FFW Global, a huge global Drupal based enterprise. My experience with FFW has been very positive. They are a good company of Drupal professionals, servicing mostly North-west Europe. I enjoyed working with them as a contracted developer in 2016-2017. By the summer of 2017 they stopped using contracted developers, coming to rely on in-house effort only. This was where we parted ways.
I have also been working with IDM (InDigiMar), a US-based small marketing web company throughout 2017. I have been working with IDM since early 2012, so I am considering this web agency a more or less perpetual place of work. As a contracted developer, I realize, that my salary is not fixed, but comes on hourly rate. Therefore, I prefer to put my eggs in 2, sometimes 3 different baskets, at least 2 of which are stable part-time work, which allows me to maneuver and be flexible with my time, and allows my employees to employ me flexibly.
After parting ways with FFW, I have spent a few months (July to October) trying to get my own clients for the freed part-time availability. After some time and effort of trying to get own clients, I have agreed to the colleagues from arocom.de inviting me back.
2. I Could not Get Enough Clients...
Back in 2014 and 2015, when I also worked with arocom.de and InDigiMar (I worked with FFW instead of arocom.de in 2016-2017), I remember being contacted regularly through the contact form on my website. Even though I live end work in Bulgaria, I had had a steady inflow if work requests, Small Drupal agencies, small Drupal shops, individuals wanting a Drupal website, existing Drupal websites that needed changes. While I worked for the Drupal agencies, it was clear to me, that if I wanted to do Drupal business by myself, I could. The requests I was getting indicated, that I could go into that direction if I chose to start promoting myself as a Drupal agency working for end clients.
This has started to change in 2016-2017. I was not aware of how and why it was changing, and frankly, I have lost pulse on that segment of the market, while I probably shouldn't have. Having parted ways with FFW opened a great possibility for me. I could start promoting myself as a Drupal agency, while working part time at IDM as a guarantee that I would not go out of business completely. It was more of an interesting new page for me, rather than a well planned business choice. I wanted to see what I could do if I went part-time freelance. And now I see that I was like that girl at FailArmy, who saw the wave, and jumped, and landed on the sand just after the wave had already abated.
It's a different story, which I won't tell here, but Drupal for small businesses has abated badly in 2016 and on, and I have missed that, because I have been working with companies who were in deep enough water to not feel the wave abating at that time. However, as I started to look for more small customers, I realized, that Drupal has lost a lot of that segment of CMS market without me noticing it. What I had been seeing were publications and blog posts from higher-tier companies and developers working for these companies, who had not been indicating any problems at all. As I started looking for clients, however, I realized, that smaller Drupal business market had shrunk badly. Some smaller companies and developers switched to WordPress, some closed up entirely. Most, however, were swallowed by larger Drupal agencies or merged.
It's all a long story, that I can't be impassionate about, but to cut it short, by the time when I started looking for Drupal clients, all I could find were bigger fish, who were looking for bigger Drupal agencies than a one-person Drupal shop, and who were rich enough to be looking for these agencies in their country. "Yes, sure." They told me. "Come over to where we are - Copenhagen / Brussels - and work with our team on our website." Which is not quite what I have been looking for.
I was confused, until I saw Dries Buytaert's keynote at DrupalCon Vienna 2017 on YouTube, where he said, that "Drupal is no longer for smaller websites." He have some logic behind it, which I believe was very faulted, but one thing became clear to me at that moment and explained everything. Drupal's managers and speakers have been aiming Drupal at higher market segment. They have quietly ignored the pleas/requests from small businesses, and developed Drupal 8 as an enterprise grade and complexity software. Despite Drupal 8 being very good, they have simply ignored the needs for the small businesses to adapt to the change, and effectively decimated that market segment as far as Drupal is concerned. And this was when i cried "Hurra!" and jumped into the abating wave.
3. Happy with Drupal 8, but also Learning WordPress.
A happy side in 2017 for me is that I have been able to keep up to the changes in Drupal 8, and have been using it extensively throughout 2017. Drupal 8 has become my primary CMS of work, and I have built both large websites with it (being part of projects of thousands of man/hours of size), and of smallest turn-and-burn type of projects, where I have built Drupal 8 websites in around 60-70 hours, custom theme included. So I do see how Drupal 8 can shine with both large and small, brochure type websites.
However, the effect of the transition from Drupal 7 to 8 has left my view of the Drupal community of pieces. In my opinion, giving power to larger developers and these larger developers being swallowed by a dozen large companies has lead to a dramatic shift, community was usurped by the upper segment of the industry. I could see that happening and I wrote about this before, but I also heard soothing responses from the said leaders, that constantly promised, that there would be done nothing hostile against the small businesses. Well, of course, if I had juxtaposed what was said and what was happening (wild centralization and unification of the Drupal market), then I would not have been confused, because the marked changes were showing just the opposite, as Drupal businesses were striving to get bigger, to get to service as high a segment of web development market as they could. And it was happening under my nose - the FFW merging and globalizing even while I was working there.
So while I love Drupal 8, I also have come to realize, that it's now directed by the upper segment of the market, that has very different goals and ends from yours truly. That while I am enjoying Drupal 8, there is no guarantee, that the changes introduced in the next versions of Drupal will not make it even harder to use or less desirable for the lower market segment. Starting to rewrite Drupal for Node.Js would be one such thing, and it is being discussed even now, opinions of the high market segment company owners having the most weight.
I still have faith in Drupal, and I see that at least in the observable future there will be nothing to break me involvement with it badly. I can still recommend Drupal to my clients with clean conscience even for the small, brochure websites. Still, I no longer view such option as impossible, after everything that's happened, so I have decided to diversify a little, and be able to employ WordPress as the best alternative, both as a backup, and for the clients, who would expressly ask for it. I must admit, there have not been many clients who would refuse from Drupal in my experience, and I still hope that the lower end market share will be retaken by Drupal 8 in time, unless they do something else to break it for us.
These are my thoughts as a web developer, who chose Drupal is his primary CMS. I feel very concerned, and I have basis to, but I also feel confident, that I have enough background knowledge to adapt to the situation even in the worst case scenario. Working for some larger companies and diversifying is a good way to stay afloat in business.