Every week(-ish), we’ll be posting an interview with one of our many beloved contributors here on Meta. Find them all in #user-interviews. This week:
David Taylor @david
Tell us a bit about yourself!
From Surrey, UK (just south of London). Currently living in Nottingham, UK.
I’m in my final year of a degree in Physics at the University of Nottingham. I take a particular interest in how software is used in physics teaching and research. For example, my project last year was to produce a working large-scale model of an Atomic Force Microscope using “consumer” electronics (LEGO Mindstorms, Arduino etc.). At the moment I’m working on producing a simple replica of “Hawk-Eye” to track a ball in 3D space using cheap consumer cameras.
How did you first find out about Discourse?
I found out about Discourse when a member of our community proposed it as a replacement for our old phpBB forum.
What are you using Discourse for?
I am a member of “TEC PA and Lighting”, a group within my University Students Union. We use Discourse to communicate online: organising events, socials, training, and just general chatter. Switching to Discourse has given a much more modern feel to our forum, along with useful new features such as the “Discourse Solved” plugin and social login.
How did you get so involved in the Meta community?
I first visited Meta to get help with migrating from our old phpBB forum. After we finished migrating, our users were missing the “Who’s Online” feature of phpBB. As no plugin existed, I started reading about plugin development. The result of that is the discourse-whos-online plugin.
From there I started developing more plugins and occasionally contributing small things to the core product. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to work on Discourse as part of the Google Summer of Code programme. My project was the Chatroom Integration Plugin, which you can read about on my blog here.
What compels you to contribute to Discourse?
There’s a great community building up around Discourse, which definitely revolves around Meta. There are always people willing to help out with questions on everything from programming to community management. Contributing code is a great way to get feedback from other developers, and ultimately improve my programming skills.
Tell us about a non-Discourse community that you’re involved in!
I regularly help out on the technical side of things in the Nottingham New Theatre, the student-run theatre on my University campus. We put on a show every week during term, with full lighting and sound design for all of them. We also have a number of online systems, many of which are open source on GitHub.
What kind of significance does the open source movement have to you?
The open source movement is a great source of knowledge for new programmers. I think contributing to open source is the best way to develop programming skills: not only does it teach the essentials of making software work, but also best practices to make that software reliable, maintainable, and documented for future users/developers.
Working on the Chatroom Integration plugin required me to ask questions in the communities of other open source projects - it was great to see just how willing people are to donate their time to helping out strangers.
What has been the greatest challenge in learning about Discourse and its community?
I think the biggest challenge in learning about Discourse (both using and developing) is the lack of documentation. The #howto categories are not nicely structured, and often out of date. You have to know exactly what to search for to find information. This is very clear from the volume of support requests that are solved simply by providing the user with an appropriate link to #howto. I really like the idea here, but obviously that was abandoned long ago.
Any ideas on how to improve the Meta community?
We encourage respondents to speak candidly on this topic. Even if no sensitive information was discussed, answers will always be presented in a short list.
There’s a fine line between brevity and rudeness. Sometimes this line is very blurry on Meta.
More communication in moderator actions: Prefer timers instead of instantly closing resolved topics. Include reasoning wherever applicable.
Any advice to future contributors?
Start with plugins. They let you explore the inner workings of Discourse without being overwhelmed with the massive volume of code!
Don’t be afraid to make a pull request, even if you’re not sure you’ve done things correctly. My first pull request to Discourse didn’t get merged. I listened to feedback from Sam and Jeff, and eventually produced a pull request that did get merged.