Think you can admin a Drupal site?

7 Feb 2008

I recently posted a modest Drupal Admin Manual for the non-technical admin.

Non-technical admin? Whozzat? Well, the specific target audience is the would-be admin client for a Drupal site. Not the person who wants to set up Drupal on his own, create a site, and then run it. Nor the person who wants to pay you to do it all: build a site and then maintain it indefinitely. I'm talking the client in between, the one who says "CMS installation, theming, initial setup – those aren't for me. I want a techie to handle those. But after that, yeah, I want to create my own content, oversee the site, and maybe even play with overall layout and features a bit." I think that describes a common client type for a Drupal developer. (It also covers the unsuspecting admin upon whom Drupalness is thrust by fate: "Here, this is our site that the last guy made with Droopy-something-or-other. It's yours now. We want ten new sections up by Monday...")

Those folks need a manual that starts with post-installation basics and assumes no Drupal knowledge at all. I hope my humble manual can be of help there. But as I've been finding, it's naive to assume that any non-technical user, or even a semi-technical one, can or will dive right into Drupal admin, even with clear instructions in hand. Drupal does a lot of heavy lifting for the non-techie admin, but said person still needs to bring some goods to the table.

Ready to take the wheel?

When sizing someone up for ability to grasp the reins of adminship, the key qualification is, of course, the one that makes or breaks any would-be techie (or heck, any would-be anything): willingness to learn. But that overarching requirement aside, here are some specific technical skills – both needed and unneeded – that I think are relevant to the question of potential as a successful admin.

Graphic design

Don't need: The admin does not need to know graphic design or its core tools (Photoshop, etc.), unless creating graphics and theme elements are part of the plan.

Need: The admin does have to know how to acquire or prepare graphics for his own use, which will probably require some simple editing skills (such as resizing).


Don't need: It's the 21st century, and a person need know nothing about HTML to handle basic admin duties on a modern publishing platform like Drupal (though HTML knowledge will certainly be handy for tricks and troubleshooting).

Need: Those who would eschew HTML had better be comfortable with its interface replacements – specifically, whatever text editor (such as TinyMCE) the site builder installed. The tools may resemble some well-known word processor controls, but there are limitations and oddball quirks to deal with. Similarly, inserting images won't be as simple as drag-and-drop; learning some (possibly clunky) tools is a must.


Don't need: Knowledge of PHP, CSS, and MySQL will let an admin do great things, but he doesn't have to know a thing about those to handle basic management of a Drupal site.

Need: An admin may not have to know programming, but he'll need to be really comfortable with configuration. Tweaking the layout and features of a Drupal site has one going at on-screen settings and switches and checkboxes and menus like there's no tomorrow. An admin needs a stomach for that sort of thing.

"This is Drupal, the most powerful CMS in the world..."In my modest and very limited experience, those are some useful discussion points for the would-be Drupal site builder to cover with the would-be maintainer of the completed site. What do you say, Drupal-savvy Reader? Did I miss some other key requirements that you need to check for in a wannabe admin, as you cast your steely gaze upon him and sneer, "Do you feel ready, punk? Well, do you?"

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