Person sat by the waterside

Antje Lorch - Female Drupalista, site builder, biologist and feminist.


Firstly, tell us about yourself and how you became involved with Drupal. Happy to hear about the fact that you're also deeply involved in the STEM world and have come from attaining a Master's in Biology.

After working as an editor of a scientific journal I was doing research and writing for several environmental organisations. They all have small teams and everyone takes on multiple roles. While working on reports that take weeks and publishing press releases at 3 in the morning after observing UN negotiations for 15 hours, I was also spending more and more time making sure these were available online.

Lots of the sites were still handcrafted and a CMS was needed. I settled on Drupal because - at version 4.7 - it was more intuitive to me than other systems. I attended DrupalCon in Szeged together with my partner because - why not?

DrupalCons were much cheaper then, making it an easier decision. It was small and welcoming and I attended my first meeting of Women in Drupal there. What do you like about working with websites for smaller organisations?

I like working directly with future users and providing them with the tool to get their work done. With my background, I understand where they are coming from.

Getting the UX right means content editors can publish a multilingual press release under time pressure, and equally, others can quickly find the information they need - even if it's an old report published years ago.

It's levelling the playing field, providing small organisations, environmental and human rights campaigners, with good websites and easy access to information.

Your list of credits for contributions to Drupal is over three pages long. What stands out to you as the thing(s) you're most proud of and why?

No one thing stands out in my mind, it's always part of a bigger picture. Most issues deal with usability (UX) and/or user interface (UI) text. They are pieces that need to work together cutting across the whole system. Getting that right makes the work of our future users much easier.

Equally, what was your biggest challenge?

A computer with “do more” boldly written on the screen

Getting patches committed was, and still is, the biggest challenge.

As developers and more experienced site builders, we don't notice the UX and UI texts any more. They are always there when we're completing other tasks.

It's not "broken" in the same way as other bugs are. Editing a UI text doesn't make the site look more beautiful. You can't easily run a test and say "it didn't do that, now it does".

So, reviewing UI patches easily turns to bike-shedding or loses focus. The issues are often stuck without anyone with the authority moving them to be committed as part of incremental improvements.

How do you remain innovative in your role?

Building websites that are sustainable: sites that can develop further with the needs of an organisation; sites that have plenty of functionality with as little extra code and dependencies as possible, making them easy to maintain and keep secure.

The better Drupal is out of the box, the less effort I have to put in repeatedly adding the same functionality again and again. Fixing problems in the code, allows all of us site builders to concentrate on more interesting tasks and supporting the content editors who work with what makes for them.

What inspires or motivates you?

"Working as part of a bigger community, in diverse groups with different expertise, approaches, and even different priorities is inspiring. Seeing that all come together to build something bigger and different from than you initially imagined.

Seeing more importance placed on accessibility is also significant. Good UX is part of that, contributing to a more inclusive world around us - even if many won't notice it."

You've travelled all over the world to various Drupal events since 2008. Tell us about your favourite event(s)

DevDays have to be the favourite. The atmosphere of people working together, as peers, from different disciplines and with varying experience.

They are events that are by the community for the community. DevDays Montpellier stands out like that even cooking lunch was done together. People helping out with the mobile kitchen and then everybody sitting outside together. Such a very different experience from small groups going off to a restaurant.

What is your opinion (or experience) of inclusion and diversity within the Drupal community?

A banner saying “everyone can code”

There is high visibility of women in the Drupal community, at many of the events, and proactive efforts to foster inclusion and diversity.

Still, there are enough negative examples, such as events where 90% of the speakers are men. The good thing is probably that we can list these as examples, rather than the norm. There seems to be a willingness to change, such as a DrupalCon that changed its graphics when their sexism was pointed out.

I've wondered whether this also might have to do with the (initial) diversity of the community. Many contributors don't come from the same background only having studied and worked in IT and computer sciences.

What challenges have you come up against in your career? This can be personally, or technically.

Technically, I end up with issues where I'm not able to write the code for the changes l would like to see. Then relying on others, who also have a full issue queue, leaves me with the question: Should I invest more time and effort into learning PHP or Javascript? Or should I work on those issues where I already have the expertise and there are only done by few if any, others?

I'm also a community organiser and still run two community websites in my spare time. So I'm torn which unpaid work to prioritize. Being a freelancer means that all my Drupal contributions are done in my own time.

What advice would you give to a woman starting out in tech that you wish you'd been told?

Rather than being told something, I wish I'd been asked about my concerns and had them addressed. No inspirational advice, superstars, or amazing role models.

If I were to pick something to say then it would be to those who are already in tech than to new people: Don't lose future contributors or colleagues by assuming from your own perspective that they use the same tools and phrases. Don't tell them to 'just' do this or that.

They come from their own experiences, knowledge and perspective. The words used might mean something different to them. If they ask for help you need to figure out where they got stuck.

What does your Drupal future look like?

I would love to develop a style guide for UI text, similar to coding standards. Something that makes good UI texts a standard part of UX and a11y. It requires a few more people, and somebody willing to commit it.

Hopefully, it includes travelling around Europe to different events again, feeling that atmosphere of community, building new things, but also having the openness to find out what's broken and how to fix it.

A close up of a typewriter with the words “thank you” written in multiple languages

Thank you to this superstar female Drupalista, Antje for taking the time to complete this interview with us!


Written by

Maygen Jacques

Marketing Manager