We are proud of each member of the Strapi community. For this first Community Spotlight, who better than the one and only Derrick Mehaffy, that many of you already know?

Derrick is the most active member of the community who warns others on Slack that he is not a Strapi employee. Indeed, he's so present on our communication channels that newcomers usually believe the opposite.

Derrick has more than 86 contributions in the main repository, 64 pull requests as well as 83 issues, which makes him the member of the community with the most contributions. If you have a question on Strapi, he will probably be the first one to answer. To get to know him a bit more, we asked him a few questions.

What is your educational background?

To be frank, as far as typical education the only thing I have is a standard American High School Diploma. Almost all of my knowledge is completely self-taught although I do have quite a few Technical certifications (mainly geared towards data centers and hardware). I've always been a very hands-on learner and I firmly believe the best way to learn is to just jump straight into the problem, position, or opportunity.

When did you start using Strapi and why?

I started looking at different API frameworks (or headless CMS systems) about 2 years ago, with the goal being something straight forward, easy to start working with, and absolutely most important self-hosted. For the past 3 years or so I've been a member of a "player group" in a video game called Elite Dangerous, somehow I managed to make my way up within the group (the largest player group in the game) to the point where I was leading a small team of like-minded players that come from a technical background. We call ourselves the "Research & Development" branch of the group, and for those that play Elite, you know it holds a vast amount of scientific data relating to many different aspects of the game. Our player group focused very strongly on all this scientific data and puzzles.

Interactive 3D Map using Three.js Interactive 3D Map using Three.js

Originally we started storing what we found on Google Sheets (roughly about 60 different spreadsheets) and as things progressed we realized we needed a better system not only to store and keep track of changes but also to offer the data to other developers all through the Elite community. We started out trying to build our own API (at the type we were using ASP.net and C#) but as our team grew we realized that most of us have a lot more experience using Javascript. We started looking at and prototyping different options but nothing really suited our needs until I found Strapi. I realized at the time (this was back in Strapi alpha days) just how much potential Strapi had, being open-source, self-hosted, with an extremely active group of developers that were responsive and very dedicated. As I started to dig and play around, the more and more I was loving it.

What is the thing you built with Strapi that you are most proud of?

The funny story about my particular use-case is I am not your typical "Headless CMS" user. I do use Strapi for storing information just like any CMS use-case, however, in my case, the goal was not to build the best and brightest frontend (or even multiple frontends) simply put my goal was to build a system where the hundreds of other developers in the gaming community (Officially it's called the "Elite Dangerous Community Developers") could pull from our pool of data and use that in their own applications. We get our data from an in house plugin for a Python 3 based desktop application. That plugin, as well as others who also built their own applications to send us data, is honestly what I am most proud of, and the reasoning is simply that so many different people come together with a singular goal in mind to build (and run) a hobbyist application stack in our free time and with money out of our own pockets while expecting nothing in return.

Derrick's Strapi Admin panel

Not only do we love building and playing around with completely new systems, languages, and finding ways to problem-solve issues we have never experienced, I also openly look for those interested in learning to code or learning how to manage server and network infrastructure. My little team of developers absolutely could not make me more proud of the community that I help manage. (For those interested, if you are an Elite Dangerous player, don't hesitate to look up Canonn Research. Stop in and say hi!)

Why are you so invested in this project?

I have always been a firm believer in free and open-source software, for those that speak to me on a regular basis (or even just in passing) know I am a very avid Linux enthusiast. And spending the past 2 years talking with Strapi's team, community members, and users of the software I can see so much room for growth and possibilities with the project.

Derrick Github

When I first started, I noticed a gap where there were so many developers but not near as many "DevOps" and I myself working in the Data Center Operations and Engineering fields the past 6 years, realized that I may be able to help others. Before I found Strapi I really didn't have any technical background in programming, sure a bit of Python, bash, and general scripting but nothing really focused in Javascript. My thinking at the time was if I donate some of my time helping others with their questions on "DevOps" maybe they could help me in the future with my Javascript questions.

Needless to say, the community provided, on average I talk to probably 100 or more community members a week, I read through every Github issue, pull request, and code commit (even though I may not understand everything, I certainly enjoy learning as I go). To me the Strapi community is part of my family, we are all focused on making the project better, faster, and easier for everyone. I can honestly say that I very much enjoy talking to and in some cases even meeting up with my newly found friends within the community.

How do you see yourself evolving in the future within our community?

As was mentioned earlier there is a running joke in the Strapi community regards to my handle on slack "DMehaffy (Not Strapi Employee)" in that I speak so much to the community both on Slack and on Github, most believe I am on the Strapi team! And while I know my development skills aren't quite up to par with the rest of the Strapi team, I would honestly very much love to join the team. I urge anyone who is in the same position I am, set goals for yourself and push yourself beyond your limits. Don't be scared to dive in and learn something. For those that know Alex Bodin, Jim Laurie, and Cyril Lopez from the Strapi team, I am constantly shadowing their work, asking questions, and making suggestions. And for those of you with the skills, I would very highly suggest you look at applying for a job with Strapi.

Just over a year ago, the Strapi team had invited me to Paris to speak with them at a local conference, I had never done any kind of public speaking before and it was very far outside my comfort zone, to say the least. There was absolutely no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to meet the Strapi team in person and I absolutely was not disappointed. The moment my flight landed at home in Phoenix, Arizona I told myself I was going to do whatever I could to get to their level, and I would tell anyone else in the community to do the same. Set your goals high and if you are stuck don't be afraid to pop into slack and reach out to anyone in the community, myself included.

Feel free to ask any questions you have by posting a comment below. We look forward to hearing from you!
If you want to be featured in the next Community Spotlight, send us a message here and we'll be happy to discuss.

And if you liked Derrick's story, start contributing to Strapi. All contributions and users are welcome!