DrupalCon Amsterdam Interview: Dries Buytaert

Ron Brawer

On the final Sprint Day of DrupalCon Amsterdam, DRIES BUYTAERT (Drupal Creator and Co-Founder & CTO Acquia) generously interrupts his lunch-break for this interview. We find a quiet – more or less – hallway and begin.

RONNIE RAY: What was the first computer you owned?

DRIES BUYTAERT: The first one that I actually used was a Commodore 64, when I was about six years old. It was my dad's, so I can't say that I owned it, but I was able to use it. I liked to use it.

So when I was about six or seven years old, my parents bought me some computer books for kids. They were in BASIC. What you had to do was type over these programs. I could barely read or write at the age of six, right? And so I literally spent hours copy-pasting BASIC code from the book into the computer. And then when I would run the program – assuming I did the copy-pasting right, there would be a very little game that I could play.

So that’s how I learned BASIC programming even before I could write or read.

My dad was a doctor, a medical doctor. He asked me to automate – or to basically make a patient management system – a computer program instead of using paper. And one night he came home from work and he gave me Clipper. I don’t know if anyone remembers Clipper, but it was a data base and programming language not unlike D-Base. He gave me a stack of books, a compiler book, and all these books in English, which was really hard. I remember spending my entire summer vacation trying to help him build this program so he could use a computer to manage his patients. I would read these books along with a dictionary, English to Dutch, to try to figure out how this all works.

So increasingly more I got into computers. And then when I finished high school – when I was 17 – I enrolled in a computer science program at the local university.

RR: Listening?

DRIES: I listen to music whenever I can. When I wake up, one of the first things I do is turn on the music. Or when I get home from work, one of the first things I do is turn on music. I listen to everything, and I like a variety. Part of me is still stuck, sort of, in the late-‘90s music, whether it’s Pearl Jam or these kinds of bands.

RR: Reading?

DRIES: I read a lot. I love reading, I love writing as well. I primarily read business books.

RR: What’s on your nightstand now?

DRIES: I was actually reading a book on stoicism, which told the history of stoicism and then tries to apply it to modern life.

There is a new book from Peter Thielson, an early investor in FaceBook and co-founder of PayPal. It’s called From Zero to One, which is a book of start-ups.

Ever since I moved to the U.S. I’ve gotten into American football. Just watching it on Sunday afternoon, it’s kind of a nice lazy activity after a very active week or travel. I like to sit down on the couch and watch football for an hour or two. I usually don’t watch the entire game, just record it and then I’ll fly through it and watch the end.

RR: To sum up...

DRIES: I’m kind of really interested in scaling, both from a technical point of view -- my PhD research was about scaling software in Java, virtual machines, and Java applications. A lot of the work I did in Drupal also involved scalability in Drupal. Even in business: How do we scale the Drupal Association? How do we grow that organization? Or how do we scale Acquia?

So I feel like maybe it’s a bit of a theme. I’m interested in both the technology side, and also the business side and the people side, and I think that excites me. It excites me to think about what we could be, and I’m trying to figure out: If this is what we want to be, how do we actually get there?