For over 13 years, ColdFusion has been a great language for ILAO. And I've had a great career as a CF developer for longer than that (since version 4.5). It has allowed me to build some really cool things quickly. Some at ILAO would (and have) called it a dead language. I disagree a bit but it has matured along the same lines as COBOL did. It still populates a number of websites, particularly in government and education, but there is zero to negative growth in the developer community. And that's a huge problem for ILAO. We need tech staff but ColdFusion makes it impossible to add staff. As a result, ILAO and I are both ready to move to a new phase in our development: Drupal.
Several months ago, we began the process of evaluating moving to another platform. Back in 2001, when ILAO first created its web platform, there wasn't a lot of robust content management systems that could deliver what ILAO needed So ILAO built a custom content management system. Fast-forward to 2014 and platforms like Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress have destroyed any need to create a custom CMS. And that's a great thing. As legal aid service deliverers, we should not be in the business of reinventing routine technology solutions; we should, instead, be pushing the limits of existing platforms and developing new, innovative solutions with real benefits to our clients, advocates, volunteers and other users.
So why Drupal? At the end of the day, it really was a no-brainer for me. At version 7, Drupal offers a whole lot out of the box just with core and contributed modules. I estimate we can get 70-80% of what we need without having to write any custom modules. And Drupal 8 offers even more in the future. A lot of the time I currently spend making minor tweaks to our platform will be freed up with Drupal because most of that work can be done in Drupal without touching a line of code. Some of it can even be handed back to our content management team to do themselves.
We made the decision to move to Drupal in February 2014 (more or less). By April 1, I'd already attended my first Drupal camp, connected with the Fox Valley Drupal meet up (whose members have taught me so much--Panels, Views, Features, Migrate, Feeds...all cool tools we'll use!) and completed online classes on site building, theming, and module development through DrupalTutor. By the end of May, I had developed two Drupal sites, including conference.illinoislegaladvocate.org (which was used to support the 2014 Illinois Legal Aid Advocates conference this month). I've also site built, themed, and created a couple of custom modules. I've found in Drupal what I never really found with ColdFusion...a very welcoming and supportive community of developers, themers, and site builders. In fact, I spent an afternoon last week co-working at a small Drupal shop with fellow Drupalers and got some really great guidance at a Meetup on an issue I was working through.
And I've come to appreciate the geniune beauty in the Drupal architecture. The ability to use hooks to alter existing functionality, to create modules that can be themed elsewhere or that can hook into other modules is extremely powerful and flexible. Using Drupal means I can focus on what I love to do - building useful tools that expand legal services - and let a themer/front end developer focus on making it beautiful. And put control back in the hands of our content managers for content things they currently need to rely on me to do.
But what excites me most about this move is that we will soon be in a position to share our products with the world. A large number of statewide websites outside of Illinois are already on Drupal. I can't wait to be able to send out an email to the LSTech list that says "ILAO's custom module for x is now available on GitHub" so that others can use what we build. I can't wait to be able to borrow code from those states as well. I can't wait to be able to build my first module that has geniune utility outside of ILAO and outside the legal aid communtiy and share it as a contributed module on Drupal.org. I'm very proud of the technology I've developed at ILAO in the last decade, but I can't wait to build our next generation platform and share it back. That's the challenge I've given myself: to think, with every line of code I write, about how I can abstract it into something that gives ILAO what it needs but also solves a broader problem for someone else. It's a very exciting time for tech at ILAO! And I am thrilled to join the open source and Drupal community!