100 Issues Later: You’ve Come a Long Way, Umbraco!

I don't know the origin story of Skrift, but I like to think that some eight years ago Erica, Janae and Kyle were sitting in a micro brewery somewhere in Washington State spitballing ideas on how to contribute to Umbraco. I get involved in all the Umbraco activities that I do because they allow me to collaborate with some of the brightest and kindest people out there. 

Eight years is a long time to have kept any initiative going, especially a monthly one, and I'm sure it's a testament to The Skrifties friendship that they have. And haven’t we all benefited as a result? Skrift is not just a place to publish a blog post. As an author you get editorial feedback and a writing credit in a ISSN registered publication. As a reader we get high quality articles, curated content from the wider community, and promotion of the various initiatives happening around the world - all wrapped up in Erica's glorious graphics.

I met Erica for the first time at Codegarden in 2012 (for both of us our first CG) and all three Skrifties and I received our first Umbraco MVP award at the same time. Thus I feel we have been on our Umbraco journeys together. So to commemorate the wonderful milestone of the 100th Skrift issue, I hereby invite you on a trip down memory lane as I explore how the Umbraco landscape has changed since their first issue. But be warned: this article is not just a history lesson, there’s some personal opinion sprinkled around as well!

How it was back then

I should set the scene for the start of our nostalgic wanderings. It’s April 2015 and Belle, the AngularJS backoffice, has been out for over a year. The current version of the CMS is 7.2.4 and a couple of months ago Umbraco celebrated its 10th birthday. There are 5 Umbraco MVPs, 16 employees at Umbraco HQ, Codegarden is still being held in Copenhagen, and people have just about forgotten the wrong turn that was version 5

And, of course, Skrift released their first issue. It seems fitting that one of the articles was written by Doug Robar. Doug was one of the earliest - and friendliest - members of the Umbraco Community. It was people like him that shaped our world into the friendly, respectful space it still is today.

The only constant in technology is change

The obvious first thing to discuss are the technology changes. The reign of version 7 lasted for six years, dethroned by version 8 in February 2019. To be honest, the handling of the v8 release wasn’t Umbraco’s finest hour. We had been told that various ‘channels’ would have the opportunity to review and provide advance feedback, but then suddenly the full release appeared on nuget. As a result packages weren’t anywhere near ready and adoption was slow. 

In September 2021, the release of version 9 (the first on .NET core) was a different story. By now, Bjarke Berg had joined Umbraco HQ to lead the transition and was ably assisted by members of the community as “The Unicore Team”.  Thanks to the hard work and dedication from them, and many others, we had a feature complete beta five months before, and the first RC over two months before the release. Core-blimey 😉, that release was one to be celebrated.

Since then we have had a predictable release cadence of two majors per year, and minors every six weeks. Whilst HQ might need to change what version a new feature is coming in, at least we developers can now plan for the majors well in advance. When v8 was released, I remember a core HQ developer saying to me “but surely no-one uses a .0 release for a production site”. Well that was definitely true for v8 and of course v9 considering the leap to .NET core, but I don’t think it’s been the case since then.

People left… but the wheels never came off

I’ve attended a lot of Umbraco events in my time and I used to hear phrases such as “Well, Umbraco’s f***ed if so-and-so ever leaves”. One of those so-and-so's was the effulgent founder of Umbraco, Niels Hartvig. 

Kim Sneum Madsen took over from Niels as CEO in 2019 so that Niels could focus on what he did best: inspiring and growing the community. In August 2021 we were informed that Monterro, a Swedish venture capital firm, had taken a major share in Umbraco, and thus Niels had left Umbraco completely. He had actually taken a step back over ten months previously but “thanks” to the pandemic, the community hadn’t really noticed. The world had turned upside down, so an invisible Niels didn’t make it to the top of anyone’s concerns. When the acquisition was announced and people did start worrying about how Umbraco would survive without Niels, we learned that we already had been, for months!

Other so-and-so’s people worried about were the core developers Shannon Deminick and Stephan Gay. They also moved to new pastures some time ago. I’m sure it took a lot of hard-work from HQ to get there, but it now seems that no single person is indispensable, rightly so for a project of this size.

The evolution of the MVP program

Before 2016, you didn't start community activities like Skrift with the hope of being made an Umbraco MVP. Back then the only way to make the shortlist was to appear in the karma leaderboard, with karma points being earned by posting on the Our forum. At CG16 Umbraco announced that they were going to celebrate other types of contributions, which led Erica, Janae, Kyle, Ravi Motha and myself to being awarded "Community" MVPs that year. 

This decision to recognise the value of contributions outside of forum posts and pull requests feels a real turning point for the ever growing, healthy, inclusive community we have become (or perhaps I should say “are becoming”, as we can always do better). This was the first time that the MVPs were not all men, and several people told me that day that witnessing women being celebrated on stage made them picture themselves up there too. There's a reason why people say "you have to see it to believe it". 

Today there are 83 Umbraco MVPs. 26 have over 5 awards, proof surely of the loyalty that our community breeds. Over 20 percent identify as women and 13 are based outside Europe (despite Brexit, Europe still includes the UK, thank you very much!). 

I sometimes wonder (worry?) if the MVPs feel a bit cliquey to those outside. I hope not. It’s not all statues and free cloud sites (one each for personal use). One of the expectations of MVPs is to give honest feedback to HQ, both positive and negative. The latter can be an uncomfortable, albeit undeniably valuable, thing to do. But if there’s one thing that binds us all together: it's our passion for the product and the community that surrounds it, and a desire to keep growing both. 

If I counted correctly, 30 people had written Skrift articles before they were first made an MVP. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s the only thing that they did to earn recognition, but perhaps food for thought for people wondering how they can make more contributions!

It’s not all code, code, code

Speaking of contributions, it used to be that pull requests were the gold standard, which made sense when there were far fewer people employed by HQ and there were a lot of improvements needing to be done. Nowadays, however, there are a plethora of activities that your time would be valued for: package creation or collaboration, attending meetups, organising meetups or festivals, writing blog posts, creating videos or podcasts, helping people on Discord, talking about Umbraco on Mastodon or at conferences, being part of a community team and, of course, making pull requests.

The community team initiative started in 2018 when some community members offered to provide regular input on the CMS documentation. I think their point was that as they were the experts in using the product, wouldn’t it make sense that they helped to review and guide the documentation? Thus the Documentation Curators team was formed. This team initiative proved so successful that HQ have formed nearly ten more since. A team comprises community volunteers and one HQ ‘steward’ whose job is to ensure that the input they bring from the community is properly valued and considered internally. 

I think the Accessibility Team deserves a special mention as it was created by community members themselves. A group of accessibility experts and advocates banded together in April 2019 and set about auditing, and then improving, the accessibility of the backoffice. You can read more about the creation of the team, and accessibility in general, in Tiffany Prosser’s article in Skrift issue 50. 

Hopefully people in our community know that there are ways to contribute beyond coding, and maybe we’ll see more non-developer MVPs in 2024. I hope so, we all benefit from having a diverse range of skill sets in our community who can provide guidance and feedback to HQ.

We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…

…but most likely at Codegarden 2024. That’s when I expect (hope!) to next see The Skrifties for example, at the annual Umbraco jamboree now in Odense in Denmark. In 2016 the conference moved there from Copenhagen. Yes it makes sense to have the event in the same city as HQ, but I am a bit sad that we no longer get to go on a boat trip around Copenhagen’s waters sticking Umbraco stickers on all the low bridges.

If you look closely at the ‘Women at Codegarden’ photo at CG16 it actually includes the female barista. Now perhaps I’m being unkind in thinking she was there to up the numbers, maybe she was also an Umbraco developer... But I’m relieved to say that in more recent years, there are enough women speakers and attendees to fill an entire stage. I just wonder if we should take that photo any more. That’s not to say we still haven't got work to do in order to make our events more representative (in many ways). I confess it just felt to me a bit ‘not of our time’ standing up there on stage this year being labelled. 

If you’ve never been to a Codegarden I do hope you can make it one day. It is where a lot of people “get” the community. But you can also feel connected to other Umbracians by attending meetups: either in-person - if you’re lucky enough to live near one - or online. I don’t have the statistics on how many meetup groups there were when Skrift started, but there are now 35 globally, with groups in North America, Europe, Asia and Australasia (and virtual). I know I have learned much from attending the London meetups over the years, and made many a friend whilst doing so.

Journey’s end

There are many other things I could write about, such as the launch of Umbraco Cloud which now helps support the open source product, the recent acquisitions of community packages and resulting pricing changes, or HQ’s funding of open source projects, but I’ve already exceeded the suggested word count! 

So our trip down memory lane must come to an end. Thank you to Skrift for all your hard-work over the last eight years, and of course, to anyone who has written for them. I’ve enjoyed re-reading lots of the articles whilst writing this one. Many stand the test of time, especially the thought pieces. Here are just some you might want to re-visit:

Some people think that Umbraco has lost some of its quirkiness over the years, that the core is too closed and community innovation isn’t as welcome as it used to be. Well maybe there is some truth in that. But the changes that have happened since Skrift’s first issue mean the product is continuing to reach more people, to power more websites, to be used in more countries, to solve more interesting and varied problems, to expand people’s networks, and to forge more friendships. And I’ll take a well planned, reliable release cadence and a healthy, happy, inclusive community over how it used to be any day.

Lotte Pitcher

Lotte is a .NET / Umbraco developer, Microsoft MVP and passionate advocate for being an active member of a healthy, inclusive tech community. She is part of the Developer Relations team at Umbraco and runs PAM Internet, a micro-agency in London. Outside of work, Lotte is most likely to be found on a padel court, strumming a ukulele, or being a Candid Contributions podcast host.

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