A One Track Mind and Drupal's scarce talent pool in Europe

Beyond the age-old debate between open source and proprietary software communities, one truism has persisted over the years: when one technology platform dominates in any market for any sizable period, we all suffer.

  • In the short term, the available talent pool skilled in that dominant product/project becomes very scarce in the marketplace
  • In the medium term, real innovation in that market sector tends to stall as the commercial imperative to support that increased install base takes precedence over thinking differently 

For a long time this has been a real problem with SharePoint.  In parts of North America, experienced Drupal talent is almost prohibitively scarce.

Last week I spoke at the Aarhus leg of the 2012 JBoye Conference in Denmark, where a conversation made me wonder a little about where a "One Track Mind" phenomenon might be leading us in the European Web Content & Experience Management (WCXM) market.

In Copenhagen, Drupal skills have become so highly prized that experienced Drupal developers are either impossible to find or impossible to find at a daily rate that most customers can afford. The selection of Drupal by two of the largest broadcasters based in the city -- DR and TV2 -- has largely tapped all available skilled resources locally and a fair distance beyond.

Attendees talked of long delays in being able to find development or architectural skills. As our WCXM evaluation stream subscribers know, the latter is utterly essential in making Drupal even close to properly performant. Individual Drupal experts are getting literally airlifted in to Copenhagen from other cities in Scandinavia to fill the gaps. That's costly, and not sustainable.

With Drupal becoming a default on many enterprise shortlists, this is a situation not limited to this location, and one that is likely to worsen as more projects kick off.

This is of course not an issue reserved only for open source projects.  Commercial platforms can get trendy, too. I've seen a similar situation in London around Vizrt's Escenic platform, which is used by the majority of national newspapers in the city. One paper in particular, having opted to make its Escenic developers redundant as part of an outsourcing project, has found it almost impossible to replace them, leaving the outsourcer repeatedly approaching those previously cut loose to offer them their old jobs back at far higher salaries.

In our comparative evaluation research we try and draw attention to issues like this in our "Vendor Intangibles" segment: the practicalities of living with the product/project you have selected, what is the strength of the community that surrounds it, and the availability of the talent pool on a regional basis. Much of this is drawn from our own experiences during the advisory and consulting sessions we perform for our subscribers. 

In the short term, if you are considering implementing Drupal, the advice is to very carefully look at the market rates and likely availability of the skills you'll need to import to get up and running, as part of your overall TCO. 

In the longer term, market forces will surely come to bear: customers will shy away from Drupal until enough PHP developers get incented to become truly proficient in the platform (which again, is a fairly unique animal).  In the near term, it's a risk to address directly in any project.

If you've experienced these sort of skill-shortage issues in your part of the world around any content technology, we'd love to hear your war stories. Leave me a comment, or if you'd rather comment in private you can email me in total confidence.  

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Gil, Partner, Cancentric Solutions Inc.
iStudio Canada Inc.

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