Every week, we’ll be posting an interview with one of our many beloved contributors here on Meta. Find them all in #user-interviews. This week:
Jay Pfaffman @pfaffman
Tell us a bit about yourself!
Location: Reno, Nevada, USA
In my last life, I was a college professor who taught future and current teachers to use computers to support their teaching. I thought and taught that Open Source Software was important for education (e.g., It’s time to consider Open Source Software). Before that, I was an early adopter of Linux and once ported Sendmail, UUCP, and a couple different mailing list managers to Linux to run a mailing list for about 600 English teachers over a dial-up link.
I play guitar, though haven’t much lately, and plan to ski this season, as Lake Tahoe is less than an hour away. I spend the vast preponderance of my time doing stuff with Discourse these days. I’ve always liked managing computers and now I get paid for it.
How did you first find out about Discourse?
I was unhappy with the Learning Management System that my last university used and thought that I wanted something like Stack Exchange to support students learning about various computer applications in my classes. Somehow I found Discourse, and adopted it as a way to teach my classes.
What are you using Discourse for?
I do Discourse training, support, installations, and imports full time. I have a Discourse instance that I’ve been using as a means to keep track of what I need to do for my clients, and a tiny instance that I’ve been using with my family. Meta is the Discourse instance that I use the most.
How did you get so involved in the Meta community?
I’ve always been a big Open Source Software advocate and liked the community when I started using Discourse and wanted to give back. About a year ago, I left my faculty job for my wife to take hers and started doing Discourse consulting full time. @codinghorror handed over the $99 community install business to me, and on I’ve gone.
What compels you to contribute to Discourse?
I’ve always been interested in helping those who aren’t “good at” computers learn to use them. Discourse gives me a new way to do that.
Tell us about a non-Discourse community that you’re involved in!
I’m still new in Reno and don’t have much community here, though I have recently joined a wine tasting group.
What kind of significance does the open source movement have to you?
When I was teaching educators how to use computers in their classrooms I was a staunch advocate for Open Source Software. When teachers are spending a bunch of money out of their own pockets for copy paper, I thought it all the more importer for them not to spend money on software. Software, unlike diamonds, is more valuable the more people who have it. I know many people who use a certain very popular word processor primarily because the people that they collaborate with use it. (I can’t stand word processors and use Markdown, LaTeX org-mode and LaTeX pretty much exclusively.) I used to make moral arguments about why schools should adopt and embrace OSS, but no one really listened.
What has been the greatest challenge in learning about Discourse and its community?
It took me a very long time to figure out the multi-container config.
It took me a very, very, very long time to figure out multisite.
Any ideas on how to improve the Meta community?
- No good place for real RTFM questions, which is compounded by the fact that there’s no FM.
- Perhaps there should be a “newbie” category (probably with a better name), where people could ask rudimentary questions like “How do I control access to categories” with impunity. That’d offer a place where nearly-new members could provide useful help.
Any advice to future contributors?
My current peeve is people who ask a zillion questions about Discourse before installing it. My advice is to just do it.
I think there’s a big need now for some documentation, so even if you’re not a programmer, you can help out by creating tutorials or other kinds of documentation to help new administrators figure out the basics.
I’d love to see a small suite of proof-of-concept plugins that include just enough to demonstrate overriding a particular thing. This could be a good project for someone just starting out with writing plugins.