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Open Innovator
Author: Claire Sykes
Posted: September 4, 2012

 

Alumnus Jacob Redding is bringing high-profile web development to Portland.

WITH THE WIND whipping his face, Jacob Redding ’03, MS ’04 muscles the 100 miles from Portland to the Oregon Coast. He bicycles everywhere, but the open road cannot be beat.

Open also defines his preference in computer software, including something called Drupal. It’s among the largest and most active open-source programs in the world for website management. Redding is executive director of the nonprofit Drupal Association, now based in Portland. Unlike proprietary software, open-source software makes its underlying source code—the program’s instructions—accessible, transparent, and free. That means anyone can download Drupal, use it, change it, and see other users’ modifications—without paying a cent.

“Think of it this way,” says Redding, 33, leaning forward with a smile. “The source code is the map to how something works, like a building’s blueprints. Just as an architect has access to those, anyone working in software should have access to the source code.” Developers make about 3,500 source code changes per week to Drupal, which all go through a peer review process before approval. “On the geeky side,” says Redding, “Drupal is a modular, extensible, and robust framework, so they can build more complex websites and web applications more quickly.”

It all began in 2000 as a small online dorm message board built by two University of Antwerp students, Hans Snijder and Dries Buytaert. In 2006, Buytaert started the Drupal Association in Brussels, Belgium. Today it’s grown to power about a million websites, from personal blogs to small-business, corporate, government, and educational sites. PSU’s website is one of them.

By 2009, PSU’s expanding website had reached a complexity that warranted a change. Enter Drupal. “It’s a very flexible software program that can grow as the University grows. And if we wanted to, we could quickly integrate 

new features, such as social media and blogs, at a minimal cost,” says Kristin Boden-MacKay, director of web communications at PSU. “We also chose Drupal for its strong developer-community support. If we ever have a problem, there’s a wide network of experts out there to help us, for free.”

ADMIRATION FOR web communications also comes easily for Redding. He’s been captivated by computers since he was 10, when he got his first computer, a Tandy 1000 from Radio Shack. A job as a network administrator’s assistant for the Beaverton-based tech company, SQLSoft, brought him at age 18 to Oregon from California. He paid his own way at PSU, earning degrees in accounting and finance, adding a new dimension to his web skills.

In 2007, while living in China as an open-source consultant and technology manager, Redding began volunteering for the Drupal Association. When he returned to his Manhattan apartment in 2010, he became its first paid executive director, continuing to foster the U.S. side of the previously all-volunteer nonprofit founded to support open-source developers. In October 2011, he moved the association to Portland.

“This was the best move for the organization,” says Redding. “Many people in Portland are working in open source, and that creates an environment for doing more business. Also, there’s great access here to employees, insurance brokers, lawyers, and others who understand open source,” adds Redding, who is single and wasn’t keen on leaving his life in New York.

Redding had moved to New York shortly after graduation from PSU, which couldn’t be farther from his small-town Fowler, California, roots. But how could he refuse the PSU Business Accelerator’s 2011 invitation to base the Drupal Association at the University? Portland Mayor Sam Adams and the city of Portland, one of Redding’s clients, couldn’t wait to tell the PSU Business School about him.

TODAY, THE DRUPAL ASSOCIATION is a $3-million operation with 19,000 members and eight full-time staff. They share space with 25 start-up science and technology companies at the 50,000-square-foot Accelerator, which facilitates business incubation and advancement through a range of support services, while serving as a “living laboratory” for the University. “The Accelerator also allows us to network with companies here,” says Redding. “We’re a start-up. We’ve grown fast and need people. But the knowledge-sharing goes both ways.”

Drupal Association members also learn from each other, at the organization’s annual events: Its two international conferences each draw about 2,000 to 3,000 participants, with one coming to Portland for the first time in May 2013. Then there’s the largest code sprint in the world, where 500 Drupal developers sit together in a room writing software, generating new innovative technologies. “What normally would take months or years, we can do in one to two days,” says Redding. There are also trainings and www.drupal.org, which is visited by 2.5 million people every month.

When he’s not “making sure the association is in line with what the open-source community expects us to do,” he says, he’s flipping steaks on the grill or taking in Portland’s vibrant jazz and blues scenes. Oh, and don’t forget the bike.

“Portland is great for cycling. There are a lot of good bike paths, smooth roads and patient drivers,” a big plus for Redding, who zips around town commuting to work and clicking off 100 or more miles some weekends. “I do miss New York,” he confesses. “It moves faster, including the technology. But here is where I live.” For how long, he doesn’t know. “I love this city, but eventually I’ll end up on the East Coast again, closer to all my family.”

For now, it’s the West Coast, wide open and waiting. While bicycling to the beach, Redding may be pondering those icy waves he’ll surf, but you can bet he’s also dreaming about Drupal. What excites him the most? “Software technology moves faster than any other industry. You always have sand beneath your feet, so you have to keep changing and innovating. And you can do that faster when you give the blueprints of a software program to society. That’s where the magic happens.” 

Claire Sykes is a freelance writer based in Portland.

Photo: Jacob Redding is an avid bicyclist and executive director of the Drupal Association, a membership organization that provides networking and education for users of Drupal open-source software. Last year, he moved the association to the PSU Business Accelerator from New York. Photo by Edis Jurcys.