What I Brought from Drupal to Salesforce

If you look over this blog, or know me, you will see that I’ve now have reasonably significant experience as both a Salesforce and Drupal developer. The last couple weeks I have been thing about what from my Drupal experience supports my work as a Salesforce developer.

I think there are three parallels that are encouraged in Drupal developers that helped me learn to be a good Salesforce developer quickly.

  1. Embrace, don’t fight, Platform Constraints
  2. Extend the Platform’s Strengths
  3. Leverage Events

Embrace Salesforce Platform Constraints

Both Drupal and Salesforce run in constrained environments. Web applications, regardless of their purpose, have to protect themselves against bad actors and bad neighbors. There are execution timeouts and memory limits, for both platforms. Salesforce adds a variety of additional limits and governors, but they are all logical extensions about memory and time. Lots of other platforms allow developers to ignore resource use until they reach a crisis point. Don’t believe me, just check the memory used by Chrome, Electron Apps, or any other Chromium-based application.

Working in resource constrained environments forces you to think through how to use the resources you do have efficiently. While these platforms aren’t like working on hardware with highly limited resources, they still can test your resourcefulness.

Drupal and Salesforce both provide ways to run large jobs across many processing contexts. New developers on both platforms often only resort to using batch and queueable operations as a last resort, but learning to use those solutions is critical to success on most interesting projects. When you try to avoid them you create solutions that appear to work and fail at scale.

Coming to Salesforce from Drupal, I already knew and understood the importance of asynchronous batch processing. So when solutions needed batch processing it was second nature to learn that part of the platform.

Extend the Platform’s Strengths

For all Salesforce’s push and marketing to avoid code, Salesforce developers are often taught that once you write code you just do everything in your code. The interfaces you can use to extend the platform’s existing solutions are treated as advanced topics. But when you work with Drupal, you are encouraged from the start to create modules that build on and extend the platform’s existing strength. Drupal developers are encouraged to leverage the features and utilities all around them.

This has always been true, but even more after Drupal’s move to leverage Symphony plugins and services. As a developer used to extending the platform, I came to Salesforce looking for ways to extend the platform’s declarative tools.

Often Salesforce developers create powerful solutions built purely in code triggered by record changes or simple buttons. They look passed Apex Actions that extend the Flow declarative automatons, platform events, and other tools that extend the system. But when you embrace a platform’s basic structures you often create more flexible solutions than your could with pure code.

The mind set of extending a platform, which I brought with me from my Drupal work helps me create tools and solutions that are designed to adapt over time.

Leverage Events

Event driven architectures are not new, but their popularity continues to grow. Where platforms used to follow informal patterns that equated to event systems, now we see formal event structures being build to replace old habits.

Drupal and Salesforce both have had event frameworks for a long time: Drupal had hooks (events by naming convention), Salesforce had triggers.

Both have seen major upgrades to their event patterns in recent versions. Platform events in Salesforce, still making their full power clear to a lot of developers. Symphony brought proper events to Drupal in version 8 and continue to help push the platform forward.

I have learned to leverage the events systems on both platforms. Understanding them as tightly constrained state machines, and learning to push them to their limits, helps me get the most from both platforms.

My experience with Drupal hooks and events has made it obvious to me when to leverage Salesforce’s Platform events. As Salesforce increases the number of places you can use them in their declarative tools, it increases the value of this approach.

So What?

As a developer, what you learn in one part of your career can make you stronger in the next. As a field we’re not actually that creative. Even if the details are different, the concepts will often carry forward because they are built on the same fundamentals. Whatever platform you are using today, learn how to make it sing – it’ll help you learn the next faster and better.

Salesforce Developer Podcast Episode 119

This week’s Salesforce Developer Podcast featured an interview I did with the host, Josh Birk, the end of last year. As much as I still don’t like the sound of my voice on recordings it was a fun interview and I am really excited to see it come out.

We talk about Snowfakery, Salesforce Open Source Commons, the evolution of PHP, Drupal, my career in general, and even a bit about spinning. I’d love to hear what you think.

SC DUG July 2021 – Queries on Queries

For the July 2021 SC DUG, I gave my new talk titled “Queries on Queries” which poses questions to ask yourself when migrating data between systems. Data migrations are often critical to project success, but all too often that are treating as a throw-away process. This talk is intentionally platform agnostic building from my experience with both Drupal and Salesforce.

If you would like to join us please check out our up coming events on MeetUp. You’ll find our meeting times and, once you RSVP, remote connection information.

We frequently use these presentations to practice new presentations, heavily revised versions, and test out new ideas with a friendly audience. So if some of the content of these videos seems a bit rough please understand that is some of the point. If you want to see a polished version checkout our group members’ talks at camps and cons.

If you are interested in giving a practice talk, leave me a comment here, contact me through Drupal.org, or find me on Drupal Slack. We’re excited to hear new voices and ideas. We want to support the community, and that means you.

SC DUG June 2021 – MQTT and Drupal

In June for the SC DUG meeting Will Jackson from Kanopi Studios gave a talk about using MQTT with Drupal to connect to local IoT devices. A fan of home automation, Will has created a Drupal 8/9 version of the MQTT module. He is hoping to encourage more people in the Drupal community to join the fun.

If you would like to join us please check out our up coming events on MeetUp. You’ll find our meeting times and, once you RSVP, remote connection information.

We frequently use these presentations to practice new presentations, heavily revised versions, and test out new ideas with a friendly audience. So if some of the content of these videos seems a bit rough please understand that is some of the point. If you want to see a polished version checkout our group members’ talks at camps and cons.

If you are interested in giving a practice talk, leave me a comment here, contact me through Drupal.org, or find me on Drupal Slack. We’re excited to hear new voices and ideas. We want to support the community, and that means you.

SC DUG April 2021 – Getting Started with Electron

This month I gave a talk at South Carolina Drupal User Group on Getting Started with Electron. Electron allows you to use your web developer skills to create desktop applications. I based this talk on some of my recent side projects and the Electron Project Starter I posted the end of last year.

If you would like to join us please check out our up coming events on MeetUp for meeting times, locations, and remote connection information.

We frequently use these presentations to practice new presentations, try out heavily revised versions, and test out new ideas with a friendly audience. So if some of the content of these videos seems a bit rough please understand we are all learning all the time and we are open to constructive feedback. If you want to see a polished version checkout our group members’ talks at camps and cons.

If you are interested in giving a practice talk, leave me a comment here, contact me through Drupal.org, or find me on Drupal Slack. We’re excited to hear new voices and ideas. We want to support the community, and that means you.

SCDUG March 2021 – AWS: How an online retailer came to conquer the Internet

Chris Zietlow from Mindgrub gave his new talk on AWS: How an online retailer came to conquer the Internet. He explores the Genesis of Amazon Web Services, how it became widely adopted, and a birds eye view of some of the more common problems their services can solve.

If you would like to join us please check out our up coming events on MeetUp for meeting times, locations, and remote connection information.

We frequently use these presentations to practice new presentations, try out heavily revised versions, and test out new ideas with a friendly audience. So if some of the content of these videos seems a bit rough please understand we are all learning all the time and we are open to constructive feedback. If you want to see a polished version checkout our group members’ talks at camps and cons.

If you are interested in giving a practice talk, leave me a comment here, contact me through Drupal.org, or find me on Drupal Slack. We’re excited to hear new voices and ideas. We want to support the community, and that means you.

Why and How to Write Good How-To Articles

Part of contributing to any open source project, or even really being a contributing member of any community, is sharing what you know. That can come in many forms. While many projects over emphasis code, and most of us understand the value of conference talks, good how-to articles are some of the most critical contributions for any software platform. There isn’t much point to a tool if people cannot figure out how to use it.

Why do I write how-to articles

I’ve contributed code to Drupal, some of it even good and useful to others. But usually when I hear someone noticed something I created it’s blog posts about how to solve a problem.

When I struggled to find the answer to a question I expect it is a candidate for a how-to post. I am not so creative that I am often solving a problem no one has, or will want to, solve for another project. And I am good enough at what I do to know that if I struggled to find an answer it was probably harder to find than it could been.

That helps me find topics for articles that are helpful to the community and benefit me.

How-to articles help others in the community use tools better

The goal of a good tutorial is to help accelerate another person’s learning process. The solution does not have to be perfect, and I know most people will have to adapt the answer to their project. I write them when I struggled to find a complete answer in one place, and so I’m hoping to provide one place that gives the reader enough to succeed.

Usually I combine practical experience earned after digging through several references at various levels of technical detail – including things like other people’s blog posts, API documentation, and even slogging through other people’s code. I then write one, hopefully coherent, reference to save others that digging extra reading.

The less time people spend researching how to do something, the more time they have to do interesting work. Better yet, it can mean more time using the tools for their actual purpose.

How-to articles serve as documentation for me, colleagues, and even clients

The best articles serve as high level documentation I can refer back to later to help me repeat a solution instead of recreating it from scratch. When I first wrote how-to articles I was solidifying my own learning, and leaving a trail for later.

They also came to serve as documentation for colleagues. When I don’t have time to sit with them to talk through a solution, or know the person prefers reading, I can provide the link to get them off and running. Colleagues have given me feedback about clarity, typos, and errors to help me improve the writing.

I have even sent posts to clients to help explain how some part of their solution was, or will be, implemented. That additional documentation of their project can help them extend and maintain their own projects.

How-To articles give me practice explaining things

One of the reasons I started blogging in the first place was to keep my writing skills sharpened. How-to articles in-particular tend to be good at helping me refine my process in specific areas. The mere act of writing them gives me practice at explaining technology and that practice pays off in trainings and future articles. If you compare my work on Drupal, Salesforce, and Electron you can see the clarity improve with experience.

How-To articles give me work samples to share

When I’ve been in job applicant mode those articles give me material to share with prospective employers. In addition to Github and Drupal.org, the how-to articles can help a hiring manager understand how I work. They show how explain things to others, how I engage in the community, and serve as samples of my writing.

How-To articles help me control my public reputation

I maintain a blog, in part, to help make sure that I have control over my public reputation. To do that I need inbound links the help maintain page rank and other similar basic SEO games.

From traffic statistics I know the most popular pages on this site are technical how-to articles. From personal anecdotes I know a few of my articles have become canonical descriptions of how to solve the problems.

When I first started my current job we had a client ask if I could implement a specific feature that he’d read about in a post on Planet Drupal. It turned out to be mine. Not only was I happy to agree to his request, it helped him trust our advice. My new colleagues better understood what this Drupal guy brought to the Salesforce team. Besides let’s be honest it’s fun when people cite your own work back at you.

Writing your own

You don’t have to maintain a whole blog to write useful how-to articles. Drupal, like most large open source projects, maintains public wiki-style documentation. Github pages allow anyone to freely publish simple articles and there are many examples of single-page articles out there. And of course there is no shortage of dedicated how-to sites that will also accept content.

The actual writing process isn’t that hard, but often people leave out steps, so I’ll share my process. This is similar to my general advice for writing instructions.

Pick your audience

It’ll be used more widely than whoever you think of, but have an audience in mind. Use that to help target a skill set. I often like to think of myself before I started whatever project inspired the article. The higher your skill set the more you should adjust down, but it’s hard to adjust too far, so be careful is aiming for people with far less experience than you have – make sure you have a reviewer with less experience check your work. Me − 1 is fine, Me − 5 is really hard to do well.

Start from the beginning and go carefully step by step

Start with no code, no setup, nothing. Then walk forward through the project one step at a time writing out each step. If you gloss over a detail because you assume your audience knows about it add reference links. You can have a copy of a reference project open but do not use it directly; it’s there to prevent you from having to re-research everything.

List your assumptions as you go

Anything that you need to have in place but don’t want to describe (like installing Drupal into a local environment, creating a basic module, installing Node, etc) state as an explicit assumption so your reader starts in the same place as you do. Provide links for any assumptions which are likely hard for your expected audience to complete. This is your first check point – if there are no good references to share, start from where that article you cannot find should start (or consider writing that article too). 

Provide detailed examples

Insert code samples, screenshots, or short videos as you progress. Depending on what you are doing in your article the exact details of what works best will vary. Copy and paste as little reference code as possible. This helps you avoid accidentally copying details that may be revealing of a specific project’s details.

If you look at mine you’ll see a lot of places where I include comments in sample code that say things like “Do useful stuff”. That is usually a hint that whoever inspired the article had interesting, and perhaps proprietary, ideas in that section of code (or at least I worried they would think it was interesting). I also try to add quick little asides in the code samples to help people pay attention.

Test as you go

Make sure your directions work without that reference project you’re not sharing. This is both so your directions work properly and further insulation against accidentally sharing information you ought not share.

End with a full example

If you end up with a bunch of code that you’ve introduced piecemeal, provide a complete project repo or gist at the end. You’ll see some of my articles end in all the code being displayed from a gist, and others link to a full repository. Far too many people simply copy and paste code from samples and then either use it blindly or get stuck. Moving it to the end helps get people to at least scan the actual directions along the way.

Give credit where credit is due

If you found partial answers in several places during your initial work, thank those people with links to their articles. Everyone who publishes online likes a little link-love and if the article was helpful to you it may be helpful to others. Give them a slight boost.

SC DUG October 2020: Getting Started in Consulting

This month’s SC DUG featured Mauricio Orozco posing questions about getting started as a consultant to long-time members who have all done some work with Drupal as a consultant.

If you would like to join us please check out our upcoming events on Meetup for meeting times, locations, and remote connection information.

We frequently use these presentations to practice new presentations, try out heavily revised versions, and test out new ideas with a friendly audience. So if some of the content of these videos seems a bit rough please understand we are all learning all the time and we are open to constructive feedback. If you want to see a polished version checkout our group members’ talks at camps and cons.

If you are interested in giving a practice talk, leave me a comment here, contact me through Drupal.org, or find me on Drupal Slack. We’re excited to hear new voices and ideas. We want to support the community, and that means you.

SCDUG August 2020 – “Good Enough” Testing Plans

Drupal SC Logo

This month I gave a talk at SCDUG on encouraging creating testing plans for teams that have been resistant for any number of reasons. This talk is meant to help people argue for the value of testing, and help you create a testing plan that will save more resources that it costs. This was an initial draft of that talk that I’ll be giving a revised and improved version of at Drupal Camp Atlanta in September.

If you would like to join us please check out our up coming events on Meetup for meeting times, locations, and remote connection information.

We frequently use these presentations to practice new presentations, try out heavily revised versions, and test out new ideas with a friendly audience. So if some of the content of these videos seems a bit rough please understand we are all learning all the time and we are open to constructive feedback. If you want to see a polished version checkout our group members’ talks at camps and cons.

If you are interested in giving a practice talk, leave me a comment here, contact me through Drupal.org, or find me on Drupal Slack. We’re excited to hear new voices and ideas. We want to support the community, and that means you.

SCDUG July 2020 – Drupal in SC State Government

Mauricio Orozco from the SC Commission for Minority Affairs gave a talk about the state of Drupal within the SC State government. In recent years Drupal has grown from a tool used on a small number of projects to the platform of choice for all new agency sites. He spoke about the state’s initiative to move more to Drupal, South Carolina Interactive and their role in supporting government projects, which agencies are moving toward Drupal, and how this is benefiting residents of South Carolina.

If you would like to join us please check out our up coming events on MeetUp for meeting times, locations, and remote connection information.

We frequently use these presentations to practice new presentations, try out heavily revised versions, and test out new ideas with a friendly audience. So if some of the content of these videos seems a bit rough please understand we are all learning all the time and we are open to constructive feedback. If you want to see a polished version checkout our group members’ talks at camps and cons.

If you are interested in giving a practice talk, leave me a comment here, contact me through Drupal.org, or find me on Drupal Slack. We’re excited to hear new voices and ideas. We want to support the community, and that means you.