What makes a successful volunteer Discourse sysadmin?

I’d like to recruit a volunteer to support our nonprofit’s Discourse site on the tech side of things.

This would be someone who handles things like

  • Digital Ocean
  • Troubleshooting bugs that I myself cannot figure out
  • Contributing to Discourse’s open source code when there’s a feature we think could really help the entire Discourse user base (while solving for our own organization’s needs)
  • (one day) Collaborating with a front-end developer to incorporate Discourse with our main website.


  • How do I describe this role and its responsibilities in order to properly recruit someone? Is the title sysadmin correct?
  • What are things that make people really excited to volunteer on the sysadmin side of things?
  • What experience and/or skills would set someone up for success to take on this role?
  • Where are good places to recruit?

For those who are interested, my nonprofit is Youth Power Coalition!


This is a good problem to have because it means your community is growing.

Since you’re using Digital Ocean for hosting, then it would be good for any potential candidate to be already familiar with their dashboard. If not, it’s not really a big deal. It’s very simple, and they can figure it out in no time.

As far as the things they’d need to do, well… that depends. For the most part, they won’t even need to do any Digital Ocean work since the site is already up and running.

Some tasks that might come up:

Bugs can be annoying to track, but to keep it simple, here’s what I recommend.

If you notice something wrong, your first port of call should always be safe-mode. If the issue still occurs in safe mode, then it’s probably a bug in core. If you let us know, we’ll get it fixed ASAP.

If the issue does not occur in safe mode, then it’s probably happening due to one of your plugins/theme components. Safe mode gives a few options like (disable all plugins - disable unofficial plugins - disable theme)

This should help narrow down the issue. Further debugging depends on the cause of the issue.

Themes can only modify the front-end (they don’t make any changes on the server) so, if the candidate knows a little bit about the browser inspection tools, they should be able to get some hints from there.

Plugins can modify both the front-end and the back-end. If the issue in a plugin is on the front-end, then the browser inspection tools should be enough to debug. If they’re on the back-end, then the candidate will need to look at /logs on the site to track the problem.

That’s awesome! There’s nothing like scratching your own itch. I’m positive that the community here will appreciate those contributions.

I’m a bit curious about this point. What’s stopping you from doing this today? If you’re blocked by anything, please create a topic for that, and we’ll try our best to help.

I sort of went over some of this above. I don’t think you’re looking for a sysadmin.

I think what you’re looking for is someone proficient enough with front-end tasks. The back-end tasks they might need to perform are well documented here, and they should be able to get up to speed on those in no time.

I don’t think you can get anyone excited about anything unless they’re passionate about it.

That said, if one of your existing community members has the skills required for the position and is passionate about your community’s goals, then that’s the golden ticket.

In other words, you need someone that is actively engaged in your community that can do the work. That would be the best.

That depends on the context. If they’re only responsible for making sure the site is up and running, then it’s mostly.

  • able to use the browser console to debug
  • able to read through /logs
  • knows how to use safe mode
  • knows how to use terminal for manual upgrades and such

if You want a candidate that can also help create new features for your community

  • CSS/SCSS (plugins/themes)
  • JavaScript (plugins/themes)
  • HTML/Handlebars (plugins/themes)
  • Ruby (plugins)

I mentioned this above, but it’s worth noting again, the best place you can recruit is from within your community. It’s ok if people have a slow start.

A pinned topic on your community should work.

If you don’t get any leads from there, double down on it and ask your community members to recommend someone they know.

If you don’t get any leads from that, widen the scope and reach out to your email contacts.


How’s this role description?

Online Forum Frontend Developer


Youth Power Coalition is seeking a Volunteer Frontend Developer who will contribute their technical skills to a grassroots movement for youth-led collective impact.

Our movement is about young people making decisions in every space where decisions about young people are being made, from nonprofit boards to city hall.

We are led by those most impacted by inequity, including Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color, people with disabilities, people from poor/working-class backgrounds, and people who are LGBTGIA2+.

You’ll be taking our online forum from an alpha product to a fully-fledged platform that enables our movement to communicate transparently, in line with our goal of making sure everyone, especially young people, have the information they need to fully participate in decisions that impact them.

Check out our online forum at hub.youthpowercoalition.org.

Learn more about Youth Power Coalition at www.youthpowercoalition.org.


Our forum is run on Discourse, an open-source software product designed for online communities. We’re hosted on Digital Ocean.

Your responsibilities include

  • Customizing our forum with themes and plug-ins
  • Contributing to Discourse’s open-source code
  • Running rake tasks
  • Leading a project to merge our organizational website with our online forum

The languages you’ll need to know are

  • JavaScript
  • HTML/Handlebars


We’re looking for our volunteer to join immediately.

After an initial onboarding process, we’ll discuss what makes sense in terms of the hours you’d like to dedicate to this work. Maintaining our forum is generally 2 hours/month. The hours required to update our forum vary depending on the exact project and our timeline but 2 hours/week would be ideal!


Interested? Please email Deborah at deborah@youthpowercoalition.org.


I’d probably use a different term for this. Software engineer implies full-stack - competent in both front-end and back-end - I think this might limit the number of applicants you get.

Maybe go with Front-end Developer?

The worst that can happen is that you get a lot more applications to read through.

For the most part, running those tasks is basically copy/pasting the commands into the console. It’s a good idea to elaborate on that for anyone that’s not familiar with rake (most people aren’t)

If you don’t plan on adding very complicated features to your forum, then I would suggest removing Ruby from that list.

Think of it this way


Those are languages that a lot of people already know and understand. So… more applicants.

Once you add Ruby to the mix, it limits the number of applications you might get.

Plus, almost everything can be done with themes/components these days - so no Ruby needed.

I wouldn’t make Ruby knowledge a requirement unless you plan on adding very complex features to your site.


Thank you so much!

I went ahead and made this change.

This one, too.

I have to admit that I have little idea of what this means. How would you recommend I elaborate on it?


Mostly that it’s OK if your applicants don’t know how to do those and that’s it’s something they can learn.

As long as the applicant is comfortable with the digital ocean console, they won’t have any issues.

You can find a few examples of those here.

Have a look there and gauge how often you normally need to do those in your community. This should give you an indication of how important this is for your community.

From my personal experience, this will be a very minor part of the work they do. Almost everything can be done from within the site.

Also worth noting that they can always come here and ask if they ever get stuck on anything.