Keys to Assessing Competent Drupal Expertise

Shakib Mostafa // May 2012

Is this you?

- We have decided to go with Drupal. We just need a reliable Drupal developer to get the job done for us on time and on budget. But how do I know who to trust?

- We have a Drupal site, but lately it’s been having issues with performance. Simple things like search are not working and fixing issues seems to be more expensive than building the actual site. What did my developers do wrong?

Well, you are not alone. On any given week we get inquiries from a number of organizations that are in similar situations. We all heard that Drupal is really robust and extremely flexible, so why is it so difficult to find developers who can do the job right the first time?

The answer is simple, when it comes to Drupal, experience matters and there is a scarcity of experienced Drupal developers out there. Plus, it’s really hard to judge the level of Drupal expertise of a developer. The problem is that on an average project about 80% of the Drupal development work is easy for most developers. It’s the remaining 20% that you really have to look out for. Because it’s that 20% that destroys the budget/timeline and often times your relationship with the developer.

For instance, I recently conducted a Drupal training for an organization that had a Drupal site built by a group of developers who weren’t very Drupal savvy. They did a pretty decent job initially, but were stuck for weeks trying to create tables with sortable headers. Now anyone from the Drupal world would tell you that that’s a 5 minute task. Even if I was charging something absurd like a $1000/hour, I could still probably do the task at a lower cost.

So the question is, how do you gauge the level of experience of Drupal developers without being experts at Drupal?  Try this.. instead of asking them whether they can build Drupal sites with particular features, ask them what they would do to your site on top of those features. Things that you are NOT asking them for. Here are key areas that I like to hear back from the prospective developer:

  • Performance: Drupal provides various ways to boost performance on your site, starting with built in caching mechanisms to modules that help server-side caching of pages on your site.
  • Security: There are ways that you can protect and restrict access to pages and documents uploaded to your site, but it has to be set up from the beginning to avoid headaches later. Also developers should always have a plan for making sure that Drupal code is up to date and security updates are done on a regular basis. 
  • Search/Sort/Filter: Drupal provides sitewide searching capabilities, but often times the default search requires tweaking. Also it is easy to set up content specific filtering/sorting in Drupal.
  • Content Editing: WYSIWYG is a must and is something most developers will talk about. But bonus features such as pre-defined WYSIWYG styles, ability to browse and reuse uploaded files, ability to easily show maps/videos/pictures from third party sites makes managing content much simpler.
  • SEO: Make sure they talk about designing/configuring/developing the Drupal site to be search engine friendly. See this awesome blog piece for more info on SEO and Drupal.

Some of these areas can get complicated depending on how complex your site is, but setting up the basic capabilities is fairly straight-forward for an experienced developer.  While it may not guarantee success, developers who are thinking about these issues from the beginning provide some insight as to how much “real” experienc they have with Drupal.

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