The Journey to Drupal World

Konstantin KomelinKonstantin Komelin

This presentation has been given at the closing session of DrupalCamp Helsinki 2014.

My light talk is not about technical things. I'd like to tell you a story.. a story of our journey to Drupal, a story of our Drupal Community in St.Petersburg.


A couple of words about myself.. My name is Konstantin Komelin. I'm a web developer, co-founder of the Drupal Community in Saint Petersburg and organizer of local events. I have been working with Drupal for about seven years.

The First Meet

Now I'll tell you how I personally met Drupal. It all began In 2007, when I was a student. My university lecturer invited me to work for him part-time on his team. I quickly accepted his offer because it was a great opportunity for a young student to get practical experience. I was excited by everything that was happening, similar to I believe, many of you at your first job;) It was a new world, full of ideas of Open Source, ideal software and best practices. Honestly, I didn't like PHP after C# because of its freedom in types and procedural notation. I tried several PHP frameworks that time, and not many of them I wanted to continue using.

A Good Smell of Drupal Code

One day my boss asked me to help with a Drupal module. It was just Drupal 4.7. As I remember the first thing that surprised me was that its code smelled good, it was clean and had excellent documentation.

A Drupal Island in the Ocean of PHP Chaos

Later I completely fell in love with modular architecture and "don't touch the core" principle of Drupal. For me It was like an island in the ocean of PHP chaos. Since that time I have been using Drupal for my work and for my personal projects.

A Daring Decision

Do you like challenges? I enjoy challenges and always look for something that challenges me. One day surfing through the web I found news about DrupalCon Munich. I thought: Why not attend? I had never been in an English speaking environment until that time. Even though I worked hard to learn the language it seemed scary and challenging.

Moreover, my company didn't support me in my trip, so my wife and I decided to spend our own money and vacation time to visit Munich. And I should say that we've never regretted it!

My First DrupalCon

I had never seen such a big number of Drupalists in one place before, it was like a parade. I tried to meet all those people, to talk to them, to learn where they are from and what they did.

I attended a bunch of presentations and had a lot of fun in beer gardens. It boosted my technical skills as well as broadened my social horizons.

If you've never been at DrupalCon this is a Must. It will change you for the better, believe me.


My wife is unfamiliar with IT but she felt like a real Drupalist there. She especially liked the friendliness of the community. When we came back home she even made Druplicon-badge for my t-shirt. Drupal is not just a very powerful framework and CMS, it's a huge community of amazing people all around the world. They are helpful, communicative and friendly!

We Started From the Ground Up

Later that year I also attended DrupalCamp Helsinki where Emma and Joonas shared their experience in community building that motivated me more.

When I finally came back home I shared what I've seen and what I've learnt with my friend Alex. He supported me and we decided to organize a community group in St.Petersburg.

We searched for people who worked with Drupal in our region and run the community website. Then we announced our first informal meeting and invited all to join us.

Six enthusiasts, full of energy to change our local Drupal world met together in a Chinese restaurant. We discussed the future of the community, our work and plans. It was great fun to meet people who are also passionate about Drupal. This event has become our community group birthday.

Our Achievements

Since the time we started we have done a lot. Here are our statistics:

  • Members: > 155
  • Initiatives: 45 Drupal Drinkups: > 50 Drupal Meetups: 5 Code Sprints: 4 Drupal Camp: June 7th, 2014 Let me explain some numbers and our exclusive features.

Our Members

The registration on is not open for everybody, it's open for people who are polite and don't have negative behavior such as using filthy language or spam. It's our approach, it's not right or wrong, it just works and prevents possible problems. We prefer 100 of active and polite members to 1000 spammers and flooders.

Our Initiatives

There is a feature that we are especially proud of. It's our community initiatives. Our site contains a section where any of our members can suggest their own initiative. Then we try to implement it together.

It can be some site improvements, such as a better WYSIWYG editor, or organizational suggestions, such as organizing a code sprint or barbeque party.

Some of the initiatives are actively supported by the community, some of them we have to postpone or even close, but they all reflect our activity and collaboration. It's like a common breath of the community.


There was a guy who didn't like public and formal events in our community. He always asked us to organize weekdays events and in a less formal environment like a pub or bar.

We didn't listen to him because we thought that any event should be useful, should have presentations and formal speeches. Last year he tragically perished. After that we decided to hold weekly events (every Thursday) in pubs. We've called them Drinkups. Now they have become incredibly successful and popular, and we've already organized more than 50.

Newbies ask questions and get advice, professionals discuss their problems, even potential clients hire contractors there and we all have fun talking about everything we want.

From this example I wanted to emphasize the importance of listening to every member because they see the picture from a different angle.

Code Sprints

There is nothing better than working on a good team. The team of dedicated and responsible people who really care about the project. Who you don't need to push to do something.

There is nothing better than the moment that you realize that your code is being used by hundreds and thousands people. These people need your code, they rely on it. Your code is useful and because of that you feel needed.

This is all about our Code Sprints. Usually we work on contrib projects. Everybody can join us to help with one of the proposed projects or propose their own.

Tomorrow I'm going to write some code at Code Sprint in the Wunderkraut office. Wanna join me? You're welcome! Let's make something useful together! (I participated at the Code Sprint and completed a collapsible mobile menu for Drupal 8)


Drupal White Nights 2014 is the first Camp in Saint Petersburg. It's gonna be awesome. You're welcome to join us.

The Lessons We've Learnt

Of course, the community building was not always easy and we, as all humans, learned from our mistakes and difficulties. Now I'm going to tell you about important lessons we have learned on our way that I believe will be useful for you also.

Trust first

It's a common problem of young entrepreneurs that they cannot delegate responsibility to somebody else. They don't believe that somebody can solve problems as they do.

The same works for community leaders who have just started and for us in the past. We had to learn how to delegate some tasks to our members, we had to start trusting because a day doesn't contain more hours than 24. You'll never know that a person is trustworthy if you don't test him or her.

Now we have some sort of Board of Directors who help us with site development, give advice and help to solve problems. So trust first and then make conclusions.

The Language Barrier

Russia is a big country, we proud of our own language but we do not always speak English well. We cannot dictate to other people that they should use English on the Internet. It will never work for our newbies. However, the main Drupal site is in English, all documentation is in English and the worldwide Drupal community speaks English. So to promote Drupal in our region and our country it's not enough to just teach newbies the best practices of development and use, more important is to interpret the basic principles of Drupal and the Drupal Community to our members to prepare them and try to stimulate them to learn this language because it opens the door to the Drupal world.

Helpfulness Makes a Difference

I know a couple of big online communities in Russia that are not very friendly to newbies. Members criticize newbies' questions, laugh at them and send them to the English documentation. Such behavior discourages people from the platform and even from online communities in general. We do respect newbies, answer their questions and help them to find solutions for their problems. Professionals, please remember that in the past you all were newbies.

Communities grow around companies

My personal experience confirmed that people more likely gather around companies rather than around individuals. The companies can sponsor events, host code sprints, offer job to community members and so on. We have a few companies that are ready to support us in Russia. Unfortunately, it's not enough to operate well. We actually worked two years without any financial support, and we invested our time and money to the community. Recently I realized that such an approach can't work all the time. We need to either start our own non-profit organization like your Drupal Association Finland or find commercial organizations that work with Drupal and are interested in growing a community in our region. You are happy (an appeal to the audience), you have both: Drupal Association Finland and great companies that support your community and events. So let's thank and applaud these amazing people who made this conference possible!

How to contribute?

One of the main parts of our community life is contributing to Drupal. This is our way to pay back to Drupal and the Community for such great power that gives us a chance to build amazing websites and services. I'd like to explain how we all can help.

Write Code Provide and review patches, improve usability of interfaces, test existing functionality and write documentation for Drupal core and contrib extensions.

Maintain contrib modules and themes. This is a good chance to start quickly because they usually need less knowledge than the core.

Help Newbies Answer questions on forums and chats. Organize trainings, for example Global Training Day that are usually very handy for new people. The closest one is on May 30, 2014.

Organize Events Organize whichever event you like, even if it is Drupal masquerade or marathon. Just try things out and determine which one fits your community needs better. Use, for example, Drupal Group Finland to find people from your location and ask them to join you.

Set Precedents Create web sites, big and small, for intranet and Internet, for government and health care. People need examples to believe in power of Drupal. At least start from your own blog ;)

Promote Write blog posts, give presentations or create videos that highlight the power of Drupal. I personally think that the more we mention Drupal on the Internet the more popular and better it becomes.

Why to contribute?

It's important to understand how we benefit from the contribution and being an active member of the community. Learn Drupal now is not only a PHP framework, it's a set of Open Source projects working together, for example Symfony, Twig, Zend Framework, Backbone, jQuery and many more. By working with Drupal you learn all this stuff. It's a wide range of skills that can lead to better job opportunities and improve your position in the market.


We all have ideas but these ideas are nothing if nobody knows about them. In the community you can share your best experiences and practices and receive some advice in response. Together we become wiser and move our industry forward.


By working together with representatives of different companies you build your network that can help in the future. The contributing to Drupal is a great and efficient way to learn, exchange ideas and build your network.


Some people try to find excuses to not contribute. They say that they don't have enough time and skills, Drupal is too complicated or their code is not ideal. These all are just excuses. If you want you do, otherwise move on.

You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great. // Zig Ziglar


Now it's time to stop finding excuses and start doing something useful that makes the online world better. By looking at our member's activity I see that our common efforts were definitely not a waste of time. I hope that all of you after this fantastic conference will be a bit more involved in the Community in one way or another. I would like to thank Drupal Association Finland, organizers, speakers and all attendees for such a great conference that I believe broadened your horizons and allowed to look at Drupal as not only software but also a strong community. Watch it on Youtube