Understanding the Role of a Drupal Developer
Understanding the Role of a Drupal Developer

In the ever-evolving world of Drupal, the demand for “Drupal Developers” is on the rise. But what exactly does it mean to be a Drupal Developer? This article aims to clarify the roles and responsibilities within the Drupal ecosystem, shedding light on the distinct skills required for each role.

The Three Pillars of Drupal Expertise

The Drupal ecosystem encompasses three main areas of expertise: site building, frontend/theming, and backend/module development. Each of these roles demands a unique skill set and plays a crucial part in creating robust Drupal applications.

Drupal Site Builder

A Drupal Site Builder is primarily responsible for constructing Drupal websites using the administrative interface without extensive custom code. While they may implement occasional code snippets, their core work involves configuring Drupal core and contributed modules. Site Builders possess knowledge of various contributed modules and understand how to combine them effectively to address specific requirements. They are adept at creating content types, taxonomies, navigation structures, image presets, and rules. This role is vital as it enables non-developers to harness Drupal’s power to build intricate and innovative sites.

Drupal Themer / Frontend Developer

Drupal Themers are the frontend development specialists within the Drupal realm. They excel in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and have expertise in the Drupal theme layer. Their primary task is to transform designs into functional themes, with a focus on responsive design implementation.

Drupal Module Developer / Backend Developer

A Drupal Module Developer, often referred to as a backend developer, specializes in writing server-side code, primarily using PHP and other relevant languages. They create custom modules, develop automated tests, integrate web services, and manage deployment processes. Additionally, backend developers may engage in advanced aspects of theming and often set up automated deployment pipelines.

Collaboration and Contribution

Collaboration and contribution are inherent to the Drupal community. Site Builders, Module Developers, and Themers frequently share their work and collaborate with others. This collective effort drives the Drupal ecosystem’s growth, resulting in a wealth of contributed modules, themes, and documentation.

The Drupal Generalist: Jack of All Trades

Many Drupal developers wear multiple hats, encompassing all three primary roles mentioned above. While they might excel in one area more than others, they operate in a versatile capacity. In numerous projects, dedicated site builders are scarce, and both backend and frontend developers undertake site building tasks.

Diverse Roles in Drupal Development

Apart from the core Drupal roles, several other positions play a pivotal role in the development and maintenance of Drupal applications:

Sysadmin / Devops

Sysadmins and Devops professionals manage the live server stack, deploy Drupal sites to production environments, address performance issues, and implement technologies like CDNs, Varnish, and Memcache.


Quality Assurance specialists rigorously test all changes to ensure they meet project requirements and maintain high-quality standards. They often set up automated testing procedures.

Project Manager / Scrum Master

Project Managers and Scrum Masters lead development teams, remove obstacles hindering progress, and ensure timely and budget-conscious project delivery.

Product Owner

The Product Owner defines project requirements, collaborates closely with the Project Manager to prioritize tasks, and typically holds the final approval authority for all changes.

Design / UX

Design and User Experience professionals create designs and user interfaces, potentially building prototypes that can later be converted into Drupal themes.

Who Is Not a Drupal Developer

It’s essential to differentiate between a PHP developer and a Drupal developer. Proficiency in PHP alone does not qualify someone as a Drupal developer. Even a highly skilled PHP developer can make significant mistakes if they lack experience with Drupal’s APIs and its unique development approach. To avoid complications and additional work to correct errors, it’s crucial to ensure that a PHP developer has a solid grasp of Drupal’s standards, culture, and best practices. Drupal should not be treated as just another framework to be molded according to a developer’s preferences, as this can lead to long-term maintenance issues.

Charting Your Path in Drupal Development

Whether you’re an experienced developer from another technology or a Drupal enthusiast looking to specialize, there are various paths you can take within the Drupal ecosystem.

Developer from Another Technology

If you come from a different tech background, consider starting with pure site building in Drupal. Once you’re comfortable with the basics, delve into module development. Your prior development experience will be advantageous, as you’ll already have a solid understanding of programming concepts. To excel in Drupal development, focus on learning Drupal’s APIs and its unique approach to development.

Site Builder

Site Builders have a head start in Drupal development, thanks to their familiarity with Drupal’s administrative interface. To transition into module/backend development, invest time in learning Drupal’s APIs and programming fundamentals. You don’t need to be a programming genius to start Drupal development; a foundational understanding of PHP combined with learning resources like books can set you on the right path.


For Themers, the world of frontend development is vast and ever-evolving. While you may choose to specialize further in theming and frontend development, learning some module development can broaden your skill set and open up new opportunities.

Module Developer

Experienced Module Developers can expand their horizons by delving into theming and frontend development. Alternatively, consider branching out into solutions architecture or gaining experience in other PHP frameworks like Laravel or Symfony2. These endeavors will enhance your career prospects and capabilities as a developer.

Finding Your Place in the Drupal Ecosystem

Are you a Site Builder, Themer, Module Developer, or perhaps a Drupal enthusiast exploring new horizons? Share your thoughts and aspirations in the comments below. Drupal development offers a diverse range of opportunities for growth and specialization, making it an exciting and dynamic field to be a part of.

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