Sean Walsh — Community, Coders, and Making Great Websites

By Cowerks

In 2012, Sean Walsh and Jessica Bladon founded a business called Crowd Communications Group, LLC, where they develop websites using Drupal and WordPress with a focus on helping nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions.

“I can’t even count the number of anti-fracking websites we’ve created,” Sean Walsh said.

Sean is a self-proclaimed environmentally conscious individual, practicing veganism. When he isn’t building environmental websites or eating tempeh, he explores the depths of the internet and continues to hone his programming skills.

Sean really enjoys the times throughout the day he just gets to code, but in running his own business he gets bogged down a lot of the time with other management-type responsibilities. It’s a tricky balancing act – work for someone else and do what they want you to do or work for yourself and run the entire show. Sean loves coding but sometimes needs to focus on other tasks.

The Socrates of Coders

But get this, Sean doesn’t even have a computer science background.

“Yeah, I’m not an engineer. I was a philosophy major and going to get a doctorate. But I needed a job, so I got a job running webinars and online classes.”

As time progressed, Sean’s tech background evolved into something more tangible. He worked for a company called Interactive Network for Continuing Education (INCE). Became more familiar with CSS, HTML and some of those ancient email systems. “I literally was typing HTML in some program to send out emails…it was awful looking back at it.”

Although archaic, Sean learned how to work with vital programs that would help him down the line.

After INCE (which no longer exists), Sean made a strategic move to Center of Excellence Media where he was responsible for bringing web development in-house for their medical education course and publications.

Sean did work on their ASP websites – writing a lot of SQL queries. Then he started learning more and more about this thing called WordPress. But it all changed when he went to a publishing conference in Minneapolis. “It was all about Drupal. So I rebuilt all their properties with it. Starting in 2008 was when I really started getting into open source.”

Sean turned into the go-to guy at his company if people wanted anything tech done. After a while, though, it turned into a double-edged sword.

Making Something New

“I kinda had it though. I was doing 4 peoples’ jobs and getting paid for 1. At the end of the day, I was doing more and more of the stuff that I didn’t want to do like grant writing and management.”

When Sean started drifting away from the hands-on coding tasks, he started losing interest.

“Then I thought – I can do this, I can start my own company. It took me a solid 8-10 months to convince my wife that it wasn’t the craziest idea ever. We just bought a house around that time too…”

Getting a new business off the ground and branding is tough. But finding work to do and clients is tougher. So we asked Sean what didn’t work at all for getting his business.

“Mailing,” Sean laughed. “I sent out a mass mailing to people. It was awful, I got maybe 5 leads out of it. Never again.”

Sometimes the old way of doing things is the old way of doing things for a reason and should be left in the past.

However, reminiscing about the past can be fun.

Using the Internet To Be Creative

With the accessibility to knowledge at our fingertips, ignorance is a choice. Sean follows the TheWeeklyDrop (Drupal newsletter), Planet Drupal feed, and ShopTalk (a frontend dev podcast), DrupalEasy, and Lullabot podcasts to stay ahead of the game.

Even in the early days of the internet, Sean found ways to make the most of it and learn as much as he could.

The internet has always been a place where Sean felt at home. “I played a lot of DOS video games.” Flashbacks to Lemmings, Oregon Trail, and Snood instantaneously filled the room.

“I used to play music a lot too. I used to print out long reams of paper with music tabs on them to learn new songs,” Sean said. “I had a band, Down With Digital. I really like writing songs.”

Call it a phase, but Sean has since moved on from his music career. Now he is a father and loves spending time with his family. When not relaxing at home, he considers community his current side project.

It Takes A Village

Starting a web dev business can be an excruciatingly hard task. However, Sean thinks he’s come up with the answer to growing a business in the best way possible.

“I’ve found that the best way to conduct a business is to work through community,” Sean admitted.

Being a genuine participant within the community makes business less, well, businessy. It means someone isn’t scamming the other, it means they really want you to succeed.

“It’s one thing to ‘network’ and hand them your business card. It’s another thing to be recognizable and really be involved. Being in front of people and emotionally invested in something changes everything. Like I genuinely want the Drupal group to grow, I really want the Cowerks group to grow.” (block)

Sean co-organizes the Central NJ Drupal Group Meetup (with about 650 members) and DrupalCamp NJ (an annual, 300 attendee conference) both held in Princeton.
stw-dcnj2013“One of the new Drupal 8 base themes was pushed forward in Cowerks,” Sean said. “So me, Levi Sigworth, and David Hernandez worked together and got the groundwork started. And David eventually got more involved and is a maintainer of the Classy theme.”

Sean might be onto something, though. There seems to be much more creativity involved when there aren’t any rigid business parameters to adhere to.

Let’s break that down…

Finds some friendly folks with diverse views > think about solutions to pertinent issues > then make them a reality

Meetup > Pontificate > Make

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