Agiledrop: Interview with Janne Kalliola – Organising CEO dinners, Drupal Business surveys and local and regional DrupalCamps

Agiledrop is highlighting active Drupal community members through a series of interviews. Learn who are the people behind Drupal projects.

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This interview is with Janne Kalliola. Janne does not code, but he is a very active Drupal community contributor. Learn about CEO dinners he helps organize and what would he be working on, if he had an extra day between Thursday and Friday.

1. Please tell us a little about yourself. How do you participate in the Drupal community and what do you do professionally?

I’m Janne Kalliola, the founder and CEO of Exove, a digital growth company headquartered in Helsinki, Finland, and offices in London, Singapore, Tallinn, and Tampere and Oulu in Finland. I’ve been coding since 1983 and made my first commercial software product in 1991, while in high school. Before founding Exove, I’ve worked at a university, SSH, Telecom Middleware company, and MySQL clustering company.

Nowadays my coding is limited to a few selected clients of Exove and some hobby projects, due to time limits. Being a father of three adorable children and a CEO of a company is now more important than coding.

In the Drupal community, I focus mostly on the business community composed of various C-level people and directors of companies working with Drupal. I am at the board of both Finnish and Estonian Drupal associations and was one of the organisers of Drupal Europe. Exove and One Shoe from the Netherlands organise annual Drupal Business survey that sheds light on how Drupal companies are doing globally.

I and Michel van Velde from One Shoe also organise an annual Drupal CEO Dinner in every European DrupalCon. It has become a tradition of open speech, peer support, and gossiping between CEOs in the Drupal community. Being a CEO can be very easily quite a lonesome work, as you cannot share your worries, vulnerabilities, and concerns fully with the rest of the organisation. Only a person in similar position understands the pressure of the work, and being able to talk about it – at least once a year – is very crucial for the mental wellbeing of company leaders.

2. When did you first came across Drupal? What convinced you to stay, software or the community, and why?

We bumped into Drupal in 2007, when a partner of Exove asked whether we could help one of their clients with Drupal related matters. I surveyed our staff of seven (or so), and our CTO Kalle Varisvirta told that he had some experience with the system. So, we accepted the gig and built our first Drupal site. The project was a success and could not have been done with WordPress that we already mastered back then – and still do. After the first one, it was quite easy to convince the next clients, and gradually we have become one of the largest Drupal agencies in the Nordic countries.

The “tipping point” for me, in the community context, was the first CXO event, organised by Kristof van Tomme of Pronovix in Brussels in 2010. I met a number of Drupal agency leaders, including Michel from One Shoe, and found out that they are open, focus and compassionate. The event is still one of my fondest memories of the business community, and it made the biggest impact on my company. I am also quite an outspoken person, so I made an impression on others, too. From that event forward, I’ve gained new acquaintances and also friends at such events.

Now I’m preaching about growth to the Drupal companies. You could call it a passion or a mission of mine. Larger and stronger companies can create and sustain the growth of Drupal, as we pay most of the salaries of the community at the end. The better the companies are, the better the situation is for the whole community.

3. What impact Drupal made on you? Is there a particular moment you remember?

On the technology side, I’m constantly impressed on Drupal’s ability to tackle bigger and bigger cases – more information, more languages, more functionality, more people, more servers, etc. – without showing wear and tear. There are numerous other content management systems, both open and closed source, that would break under such stress, but Drupal just keeps on delivering. Further, the versatility of the platform is a huge bonus, too. The open-endedness of the platform allows us to grow it to the exact direction our clients want without causing havoc with the architecture.

Speaking of community, I really love the openness and empathy of the people. There have been some rough times in the past, but the community has come together time after time, resolved the issues and moved on.

The past Drupal Europe conference was the most positive conference I’ve ever experienced, and it sort of encapsulated the positive tenets of the community.

I already mentioned the first CXO event that was a huge experience for me. My first DrupalCon in Chicago 2011 is very memorable and of course, all CEO dinners we have had during the years, have been exhilarating experiences.

4. How do you explain what Drupal is to other, non-Drupal people?

Drupal, the technology, is a well-balanced combination of a content management system, application platform, and e-commerce framework, that is a great foundation for delivering digital experiences that bring digital growth.

Drupal, the project, is one of the largest open source projects that has produced an enterprise-grade software product while keeping the community engaged and approachable.

5. How did you see Drupal evolving over the years? What do you think the future will bring?

I think that Drupal is going in the right direction. Drupal 8 was – and still is for some companies – a painful transition, but now we reap the benefits of the change.

I’m most excited about the e-commerce capabilities and the new upcoming administration user interface facelift that changes the way, how we humans interact with the system. The JSON API layer is one of the key components to allow embedding Drupal into larger IT architectures, and also creating huge potential for rich end-user interfaces with modern JavaScript technologies.

6. What are some of the contribution to open source code or community that you are most proud of?

As said earlier, I don’t code that much anymore. My contributions are thus on the community side. Organising CEO dinners, Drupal Business surveys and local and regional DrupalCamps are the visible highlights of my contributions.

The less visible work is helping other companies, Drupal Association, and the project lead Dries Buytaert with various items – typically related to growth, opportunities, or health of Drupal companies. I do this with one-to-one discussions and participating in BoFs. People already know that I don’t hesitate to say my opinion, and I’m becoming better at listening to others and drawing conclusions to get the momentum going.

7. Is there an initiative or a project in Drupal space that you would like to promote or highlight?

Drupal marketing, both in global and local context, needs more effort. The system is too good not to be known by a wide range of people. Everyone needs to do better here and participate in the effort to create a positive spiral, that strengthens itself with every cycle.

8. Is there anything else that excites you beyond Drupal? Either a new technology or a personal endeavorment.

I am blessed with three magnificent children. Seeing them growing and learning every day, makes me so proud and humble simultaneously.

The same can be said about my company. I am blessed to work with such great and friendly colleagues – I learn from them something new every single day.

If I had more time – like an extra workday between Thursday and Friday – I would work more with modern JavaScript. It is moving at the speed of light nowadays, and there are so many great things happening just right now.

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