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Nat Catchpole on Three Months at TAG as a Drupal 8 Core Committer

May 09 '16

Three months ago we announced we were hiring Nathaniel Catchpole (catch) to work on Drupal core, and yesterday we reflected on how beneficial that move has been. In anticipation of DrupalCon New Orleans, and with the release of 8.1.1 this week, we also wanted to give Nat a chance to share his perspective on the last months.

Nat says:

“I’m working at Third & Grove 20 hours each week on core, with complete control over how that time gets spent. Having regular, guaranteed hours to spend on Drupal core has made a big difference to what I’m able to get done each week.

I’ve continued to focus a lot on the RTBC queue, since this is the ultimate bottleneck for most changes, and have made 350 commits in three months. I’ve also started to work on core patches again, having not done so consistently since I became branch maintainer in 2011, with a couple of critical bug fixes landing in the past couple of weeks.

Apart from that, I’ve been focused on making 8.1.0 a solid first minor release. 8.1.0 really marks the point where the new core release cycle gets properly put to the test, and it’s been a lot smoother than getting to 8.0.0 was, at least!

It was great to see BigPipe go into 8.1.0 as an experimental module. This both validates that we’re able to make significant improvements in minor releases, and also marks a high point of six years of work on Drupal performance and caching.

I worked on some of the very early render caching work in 7.x with Moshe Weitzmann and others, and cache tags early in the 8.x cycle in 2010-11, but wasn’t able to dedicate significant time to work on it directly once I started committing to core. This has been fully developed and taken to its logical conclusion by Fabian Franz and Wim Leers, both in terms of enabling core to fully integrate with the techniques, as well as adding key concepts like cache contexts. While a contrib project at the moment, Refreshless also demonstrates that cache tags, metadata bubbling and cache context allow us to generically apply advanced performance techniques that, at best, would have to be handcrafted in other systems, including Drupal 7.

With 8.1.0 out, I’m planning to continue focusing on day-to-day review of issues and ensuring the stability of releases, while trying to continue forward planning for 8.2.x and later minors. The consistency of paid core time really helps to know that if I start something one week, I’ll be able to continue working on it the next week too.

There is plenty of work to do on Drupal core, and I hope that other companies follow the lead of Third & Grove to add to the number of paid contributors. There’s a lot of indirect funding of Core work via client projects, and the other core committers, Alex Pott, Jess Myrbo, Angie Byron, and Alex Bronstein, have full funding now, but there’s plenty to be done and a lot of responsibility still on people who are 100% volunteers and who could definitely use regular hours.

If you’re reading this and thinking it would be a good idea to offer support in this area, note that Roy Scholten of the core UX team is currently looking for some core funding. There are real opportunities to improve Drupal’s UX in minor releases over the next few months and years, so I hope someone takes him up on that.”

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