Jay Friendly joins Morpht

26 November 2018

Hello! Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Jay Friendly, commonly known in the Drupal community as Jaypan, and as of this week I am the new Technical Director at Morpht. I am really looking forward to this new position, and will be writing blog posts from time to time for our website on various issues from programming, to business, to reviews of new web technologies.

For a little background, I am a Canadian citizen, though it has been nearly two decades since I lived in Canada. I have been living in Sydney for the past year, and spent 17 years in Japan prior to that. While it is not uncommon for people, including many Aussies, to move to Japan for a year or two, there are few of us who ‘go native’ and stay as long as I did. To stay that long in Japan and maintain my sanity, I basically had to drop all my preconceptions and expectations of the world, learn to live in an extremely foreign land and communicate in an extremely foreign language, with people who think very differently from that which I grew up with. While there were of course inherent difficulties that came along with this adaptation, the skills I learned from the experience have bled out into every aspect of my life. For example, as I was learning Japanese, to get through life, I needed to became adept at asking questions and explaining things with a limited vocabulary. This skill has proven itself invaluable in my professional life, as I am generally able to find ways to explain difficult technical concepts to clients without resorting to tech-speak that may as well be a different language for those with limited technical knowledge.

My background in development began in university, where while studying Physics, I was required to study one year of programming in the C++ programming language. This ended up being my favorite class in university, and while I’ve never worked a day in my life in Physics, I’ve spent many days, months and even years programming. In my early years in Japan, I had a lot of time on my hands (TV gets boring pretty quickly when you can’t understand what they are saying), and with my family being overseas, and this being pre-Facebook, I decided I wanted to build a website to share photos I was taking with my family and friends. As I studied how to build websites, and while I built that first one, I quickly realized that this was something I really enjoyed, and that it was what I wanted to be doing for a career. So after that first site, I started to build more sites to increase my skills, sometimes for people I knew, sometimes just for a hobby for myself. These early sites were nothing special, but they gave me a solid base in the foundations of the web; HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Even now, in this day of server-side programming languages and frameworks, having a solid fundamental understanding of how these base technologies work, and work with each other, has enabled me to not just use these frameworks, but actually contribute back to their development. It’s also brought me to be able to understand when to use a pre-existing solution, and when to build something custom. As the complexity of the sites I was building increased, I eventually went on to focus on learning the PHP programming language, as well as MySQL databases. These again gave me an understanding of fundamentals, before moving on to frameworks that handle many of these low-level concepts.

I eventually managed to leverage my growing bilingualism and technical skillset into a job as the web guy at a small Japanese company that published textbooks for learning English. It was a new position, and I was a one-man team. After a couple of years, I realized that trying to do everything from scratch was re-building the wheel over and over. At the time, the term CMS was starting to make itself heard throughout the web world. These CMS sounded intriguing, and I eventually sold my bosses on the benefits of switching to one for more rapid and secure development. So I spent the next month evaluating various CMS to determine which would be of the most benefit to our company. In the end, I settled on Drupal, as it was known at the time as the developer’s CMS, and as a developer, I loved the flexibility it gave me in being able to download modules for functionality when they existed, while being able to code custom, secure solutions within Drupal when there was no existing solution.

And with that, we started using Drupal. However, Drupal was not used much in Japan then (and still is not), and there was no community at the time with whom to discuss issues or problems. I had no mentors, I had no peers. I was just a lone programmer working with a complex framework, and when I didn’t know how to do something, or when there was a bug, if I did not handle it, it did not get handled. This forced me to dig into Drupal at a level that most Drupal developers never need to, in order to understand what was happening so that I could fix it. The more I learned, the more I liked it, and the more I wanted to help others understand the things that I had to figure out on my own. Early on, I found the forums on Drupal.org, and as I read problems people were having, I’d try to figure out the answers on my own as a bit of a challenge. When I could find a good solution, I would post it to help the other person. This reading, learning, and teaching, really allowed me to really hone my Drupal understanding even further, as well as build up a bit of a name within the Drupal community.

I eventually went on to start my own Drupal agency in Japan, which I ran for six years, working with clients from around the world, including multi-billion dollar behemoths in Silicon Valley and Tokyo, before closing shop and moving to Australia last year.

In recent years, the Australian government has started using Drupal heavily, putting out GovCMS, a Drupal distribution specifically for government sites. Australia also has a rich online culture, and Drupal is in heavy use here. For me, this is a stark contrast to Japan, where Drupal is almost unknown, and I am really enjoying having a community of people who understand something I’m quite passionate about. This makes Australia a particularly attractive place to live, as it allows me to work in my field in a place where that field is given healthy value.

So here I am now, the Technical Director at Morpht. I’ll be wearing a few hats with this job. One of my primary roles will be to liaise with our clients, listen to their requirements, and evaluate said requirements on a technical level. I will also be exploring and reviewing new web technologies and determining their appropriateness for usage within Morpht, to ensure we can continue to provide modern solutions and stay at the top of our game. I am also looking forward to continuing the good work we've been doing on community projects like Paragraphs, Modifiers and GovCMS. And finally I will share my Drupal knowledge with our developers, as well as take in their knowledge, so that we can create quality long-term scalable solutions for our clients.

I’m particularly excited about working for Morpht as they are the most ‘Drupal’ agency with which I have worked. Morpht is very committed to the community, hosting the monthly Sydney Drupal meet-ups, contributing to major modules in on Drupal.org, submitting bug-fixes (aka patches) to Drupal core, and having a number of Drupal developers with many years experience in Drupal. On an internal level, this makes my job easier as I am able to discuss complex Drupal issues with our developers without having to first explain the basics. We speak the same language.

I’m also very excited to get out and interact with the Sydney business community, bringing technical solutions to their business needs, and building our businesses together. I hope to bring together Canadian friendliness, with the Japanese attention to quality, and the Aussie penchant to have fun, in order to create satisfying quality experiences and products for and with our clients. Thanks for having me, and I’m looking forward to seeing you around.