Who Are We

The question of "who are we" can be hard to answer. Or very simple. It all depends on your point of view. If you are looking at us from far enough away, then it's quite simple - we are a web development company.

But looking at things from afar can be boring. In fact, if you are reading this chapter you are probably looking for a more zoomed in explanation. So let's zoom.

Early days

Brice Lenfant and Amitai Burstein, now the co-owners of Gizra, met for the first time in 1998. And again, in 2002 at different social events. And at this same time, by chance, they became balcony to balcony neighbors. In 2004 they worked together for an Israeli software company in the textile industry.

In 2005, Brice, with his wife, relocated to New York, where he worked as the support and QA manager for the US branch.

In 2006, after Amitai completed his B.A in fashion design at Shenkar, he with his wife, relocated to Delhi, India so he can take on the role of the regional manager of the south east region, supervising over a dozen local employees.

In 2007, Brice and Amitai, combining both their deep knowledge of the textile industry, pattern making, and of course software development, invented a new system called MTM (Made To Measure). It was a way for people to enter their body measurements and get a pattern for a garment that fits them precisely. Precision that usually can only be reached by going to a tailor. If, for some reason, you are interested in seeing how in depth they had the concept covered, you can read this online article that they published.

The excitement about this revolutionary approach of MTM led Brice and Amitai to form a partnership, register the company, and begin work on simplePDM - a web site that would allow pattern makers to digitally manage their files, catalogues, and collections. They created this video (and we mean they created - they wrote, drew, recorded and edited all on their own) to help understand the concept. Essentially, it's like Google Docs, but specific for the textile and garment industry.

The technological decision to go with Drupal, they owe equally to a good investment of time in finding the right technology, and to pure luck. At that time, it seemed the better option, where today most of the other options don't even exist.

As good startup-y stories go, Amitai's balcony was Gizra's office in those early days. Brice and Amitai started learning Drupal and the world of web. In fact, to be completely honest, while Brice already came with some coding experience, it was Amitai's first steps in the coding world.

Embracing from the very beginning the nature of open source, they started contributing back to the community. Gizra's first module was a completely silly way to implement a silly idea. But you know, they were young and they needed the money.

As "bad" startup-y stories go, like for most entrepreneurs working on their first idea, after 8 or 9 month of having zero income, Brice and Amitai decided it was time to re-think their idea. They didn't completely decide to shut it down - that happened only a few years later after a few retries. They realized that as they worked on their own project, they actually learned a lot on how to build websites. So they unsurprisingily decided to go into the service providers market.

They kept the name "Gizra" which means pattern or silhouette in Hebrew, and posted in community related sites that there's a new kid in town. Thanks to their contributions, people in the community already knew their names, so the very next day they already got their first $100 work order. Gizra was on its way to the top!

Technical Recognition

Like any new company, we struggled to get clients (a struggle we still face, although we're already equipped with better tools and knowledge). Even though income was poor, Brice and Amitai decided to travel to the 2009 DrupalCon Paris.

It was the first time they attended a conference, let alone an international one, and it was a blast. They finally got to meet their Drupal heroes, people that at certain periods they were even in daily contact with them, thanks to their contributions and involvement.

Finally, Brice and Amitai had the opportunity to meet in person people like fago, klausi and dasjo, that they were working with on the issue queue. Their first dinner with their new yet old Drupal friends, was in fact a first in what to become many more dinners and DrupalCamps, DrupalCons and other social events. In Paris they got their first taste of the Drupal community, and have been loving it ever since.

Beyond that, Brice and Amitai were fortunate enough to meet Moshe Weitzman, a legendary Drupal core contributor who also had many high profile modules (Drush, Organic groups and others). Moshe knew Amitai from the issue queue, where Amitai was submitting patches to either fix bugs (and most probably introducing new bugs in the process), or suggest new features. As it so happened, Moshe was already looking for a new Organic Groups (OG) module maintainer. OG is a high profile module, that exists forever and is responsible for mini-site functionality. That is, on a single site, you can spin up as many subsites as you want, and each one can behave completely independently from each other, while still giving the site admin an easy way to administer them all.

Moshe suggested that Amitai take ownership of OG, to which he immediately replied "no." It was a huge responsibility and he felt completely unworthy. Thirty minutes later, he said "yes, but you should stick around".
The next day Amitai already suggested to Moshe a complete re-write of Organic groups.

They returned back to Israel, with commit access to one of the most important Drupal modules. Even back then, they knew this was an important milestone.

Theatrical Recognition

Even though they were handed a significant module, Gizra was still quite unknown by the international community. They did however hire our first employees: an office manager who was also a project manager, and followed by a developer.

Amitai, being the maintainer of Organic groups, indeed started re-writing the module and upgrading its architecture to make it ready for the, back then, new Drupal 7 release.

A year passed, Brice had a new baby girl, and Amitai as well, and it was time for DrupalCon Copenhagen (2010). Amitai submitted a session that was accepted - about the new OG for Drupal 7.

Amitai decided to take a different approach to the talk. Rather than making a boring presentation about the nitty gritty technical aspects, what checkbox or button needs to be clicked, they gave a more theatrical session. Brice and Amitai performed in the first fifteen minutes of the session a completely imaginary scenario where Ban Ki Moon, the secretary general of the UN, approaches Gizra and commissions them with building sites for all the countries in the world. Through this story they illustrated the new features of OG.

It's worth mentioning that as much as the scenario was completely ridiculous, in the end of the session one of the people in the audience approached Brice and Amitai and told them he was working in the UN, building an OG site for them - and in fact, their story wasn't so far from reality.

The impact of this session was immediate, and once again another DrupalCon ended up being an important cornerstone in Gizra's life. Invitations to appear at different Drupal camps and Drupal events around the globe started coming in with events in: Greece, Belgium, France, Spain, Canada and more. Each got a completely new presentation.

From a fashion show in DrupalCon London (2011), An Ant eater working on OG in Drupal Dev Days Bruseeles, to a full blow application made for creating ridiculous issues, Amitai always tried to make his presentations informative and interesting.

First International Client(s)

In 2011, Gizra received an inquiry through the contact form - a request from an Israeli born, New York resident that worked for a US based startup. They were called Medico.com (after $2 million dollars and 2 years of operations) and were looking for a Drupal web shop. They were building a stackoverflow like platform for QA in the medical industry. That is, when you wake up with a headache, you can ask what to do, and get answers from the community or paid doctors.

They had a european company working for several month, but they had a feeling that they were not the right team for the job. They saw our names as presenters for DrupalCon Chicago, linked us to our OG work, recognized the Israeli name, and the rest was history.

For a year and a half, we worked along with Nir Yariv, the project manager, who later joined the Gizra team.

It was our biggest client at the time, paying in dollars, and it gave us a lot of freedom to constantly iterate and polish our work. We were heavily invested for the first time in automatic testing. The tool we used was bare bone selenium. It was a horrible experience in terms of false positives and taming the automatic tests, but it showed us what we believed all along - real platforms can't be built without a certain amount of automatic test coverage.

Even though it was our first international client, we were already work-life balance aware. The automatic tests made it possible to maintain it, as the platform hardly broke.

The platform, originally starting in Spanish, didn't pick up, so Medico decided to translate it to English and Portuguese. They required an activity log that could be translated. That was the birth of the Message module, later becoming a set of modules know as "the message stack".

The site in Portuguese at a certain point picked up rapidly and we saw heavy use by Portuguese people. This sudden success in the Portuguese market was not enough to impress the investors who pulled the plug and didn't fund the second round.

We were five people in the office when we were told that the money is going to end in a week or so.

Commerce Guys

Luck, or asking the universe or whatever you decide to call it, brought Commerce Guys (CG) to us immediately after the work for Medico ended.

We knew the owners for some time, and were always good friends that shared a similar technical vision. So that might have been the reason for them to ask Gizra to jump on board and help them get their Commerce Kickstart distribution up and running. The timeline was fierce given the amount of tasks they wanted to complete, and scrutinizing code reviews were in abundance. Just the way we liked it.

If you look at our fancy Drupal's installation profile scripts you might not recognize it, but it all started with the work we did a long time ago with CG.

Harvard University

DrupalCon Denver 2012 arrived, and not long after Entity Reference was born (it started with Damien Tournoud from CG who later asked Amitai to become a co-maintainer) and was followed up with the complete rewrite of Organic groups for Drupal 7. You already read about the complete re-write for OG for Drupal 7? Yes you did. However the 7.1 version had flaws that we wanted to fix. So we went ahead and fixed all the architectural issues we wrongly committed in D7. This 7.2 is still up and running, and is the basis for OG for Drupal 8, that has similar concepts just different code (since Drupal 8 is so different from Drupal 7).

Brice and Amitai, for the first time decided to attend a higher Education session. It was by the people of Harvard's OpenScholar (OS) distribution. The presenter, Ferdi Almahdi, who was also the project lead of OS, started the session by asking Amitai, who he recognized as the OG author:

  • "Are you interested in OpenScholar?"
  • "Does it use Organic Groups?", asked Amitai
  • "Yes, a lot" answered Ferdi.
  • "In that case, yes, I'm interested".

Little did they know, that it will lead to an ongoing relationship that has already crossed 4 years, and at its peak had four full time developers on it from Gizra's side.

It all started from hearing the session, then approach Ferdi and Richard Brandon (once the lead developer, and now the project lead) and offer our services. They said they will contact us when the summer vacation ends, and they did.

They asked if we could consult for them on how to port the OG vocab module to Drupal 7. Quickly, it became obvious that the right way to do this was for us to take on this non-trivial task.

They initially thought we were going to have some per tasks relationship (i.e. we will have a work order per set of tasks), but we immediately recognized it as a "foot in the door", and decided to dive into their platform.

We raised some issues, and gave them suggestions, and solutions that quickly translated to us becoming part of the core team of OpenScholar. This was probably one of the most important milestones of the early years of Gizra.

More to come...

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