Interview with a SQL Server MVP and Forum Ninja - Ronen Ariely (Pituach)
It's time for another Interview with a Forum Ninja! Today we're going to get to know the person who conspired with me first on creating this blog...
I've known Ronen for years. I first helped get him up and running as a Moderator on the SQL Server forums years ago, after being impressed by his forum answers. Then I was equally impressed by his TechNet Wiki articles. When we asked him to join the TechNet Wiki blog and Community Council, we were again impressed by how he led the community on Facebook! And, as one can only expect, he was given the MVP award for SQL Server. It's been quite a journey, and we're glad to have him helping lead our Forum Ninjas blog!
Some of Ronen's TechNet/MSDN Statistics:
- 1,830 Forum Answers
- 6,753 Forum Posts
- 42K Recognition Points
- 27 TechNet Wiki articles, with 477 Wiki edits
Some of Ronen's Forum Threads:
- All of Pitauch's Forum Posts
- Pituach shows his robust knowledge of SQL Server community content with this answer
- As he's done thousands of times, Pituach wrestles through finding an answer for the OP
With no more delay, let's get to the interview!
Who are you, where are you, and what do you do? What are your specialty technologies?
My name is Ronen Ariely (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), I am from Israel. I am a Senior consultant, Data platform architect, development architect, and project manager. I work with SQL Server & BI enterprise level solutions, and programming. I have more than 15 years of experience in variety of programming languages and technologies, leading and managing development teams and BI projects, and managing development department.
During Master's degree studies at Tel-Aviv University physics department in Israel, I specialized in seismic data analysis and Geophysical surveys.
I am playing with computers from 1983 as a child, when I first learned programming. In 1999 I was already attracted by the idea of online communities and forums. In 2000 I managed my first forum, and at 2001 I developed my first community website with forum interface.
For the last several years I have the honor and the privilege to serve as Moderator in the global interface (English) as well as in the Local Hebrew interface of TechNet & MSDN forums, in several forums, in the field of SQL Server, C# development, and Azure. In addition, I serve as Admin in all the TechNet WIKI groups on Facebook, I write TechNet WIKI blog, TechNet WIKI articles, Technical personal blog, and so on… You can read more at my TechNet WIKI User Page. I got an MVP award in the field of SQL Server.
Figure 1: Presenting at an Israeli SQL Server User Group
What are the Microsoft Forums for? Have you ever seen them have a powerful impact?
These are very good questions, that could be asked about any forum that I take part in it. Firstly, we need to answer the question: why forums? Well, Forums are my number one preferred communication channel for communities. It gives us the power to hold new discussions, and manage existing discussions.
Microsoft's forums focus on Microsoft technologies. There is a forum for each technology, for each category, for each programming language, using any speaking language. It might be a bit difficult to find the right forum, but if you need help or want to help others, then there is a forum for you. I recently wrote an article, which includes list of Microsoft forums, hoping it will make it easier to find the right forum (you can find it here). This is actually the main goal of the forums: Helping others and getting help from others.
I think that we can see success in the short term every day and in almost every thread that end with a thanks. Sometimes we even see excessive emotional reactions like "You saved me", "what could I do without you", "you are the king", "You save my life", and so on. It's always puts a smile on my face (not that I expect people to do it!).
With that been said, true powerful impact is in the long term, and it is a bit harder to see. For example, whenever I see someone who came to get one-time help, becomes an active member who helps others. In complex global interface like Microsoft Forums, which faces a very wide target audience from all over the world, it is very difficult to see the impact on the individual. I had the pleasure to meet in-person people that started their professional life about 15 years ago in forums that I served as administrator, and today they manage companies.
Figure 2: Presenting at a Dot NET Developers User Group
What forums need more attention? What could they use more of? What could we do differently on MSDN and TechNet Forums?
I must say that there is a significant improvement in dealing with specific problematic (abusive) messages or users, during the past year. In the past, could take several days from the time that I reported a message as abusive till it was treated, especially on the weekend. But these days if I send a direct email to report a specific user as an abuser, then it usually treated in minutes. Well done! With that been said, there is a lot more to do in cleaning bulk spam messages. There are forums with hundreds of offensive messages, and it disabled these forums totally.
There are several technical improvements that in my opinion must be done with the forum interface. I have mentioned these in the past and I want to mention top two issues: (1) As I mention above forum for me is simply a communication channel for the community, and as such it cannot fill the needs of the community by itself. One of the thing that I most missing in Microsoft forums is the option to send private messages. At least the moderators should have this option. There are lot of cases that we feel like we need to comment to someone in private. (2) We must have an option to write content in RTL languages freely. In several minutes an average programmer can add this option to the forum editor probably. people requested it for years, but yet we don't have this option.
This brings me to a painful point of Poor management in local forums, at least these that I am familiar with. While in the global forums we have lot of moderators in each forum (sometimes more than 20 active members that serve as moderators), in the local forums we usually have 1-2 moderators theoretically, but in the best case scenario there is one active moderator. Moreover, in the global interface there is an active owner and several Microsoft employees that help in administrative activities like cleaning spam, merging threads, moving threads to the right forum, proposing answers, and marking answers in order to close threads. Unfortunately, in the Hebrew interface there is no active owner, and I don't remember when was the last time that I saw anyone from the Microsoft team in the forums. The situation deteriorates all the time. Forums that were active in the past, reached a point that they almost completely dead. Something must be done!
Figure 3: Ronen's dog playing with his best friend.
Do you have any tips for people asking questions on MSDN/TechNet Forums?
Well, the answer to this question can fill a book, or at least a special blog. If I must summarize it into one sentence, then I want to remind people that the forum is not paid support center but a community discussion place, which is based on people that contribute their free time to help others. Once people understand this point, then they will remember to act according, from the way they ask for help, to the point that they get responses.
We are not here to do your homework or to work for you for free, but to help you do it yourself, and to help learn how to do it yourself.
Help us to help you! Give us the full information according to the question and provide us the tools to reproduce the issue in order to give you the answer as fast as we can (the information that is needed can be different from one forum to another). Keep in mind that if there is something that you can do to save us time, then you should do it.
I can summarize Forum's Guidelines for Proper Usage:
- The support in the forum is voluntarily given. Remember this at any response.
- Do not forget to thank those who tried to help! even if it was unsuccessful.
- If you open a new thread, then you are responsible for it, until you close it!
- Check responses, it is minimal decency to show that you read them.
- Close the thread at the end, by marking one or more responses as an answer.
You also welcome to vote for all the useful responses.
Figure 4: Preparing to give a lecture
Do you have any tips for people answering questions on MSDN/TechNet Forums?
I don't like the use of "answering questions", and my first tip will be: answer less and give more. What I mean is that sometimes instead of answer the question that was asked, it is much better to explain the issue and support the tools to the solution. I believe in the sentence: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (1135-1204) formulated a list of eight levels of giving (can be seen here): The greatest level is to support until the person need no longer be dependent upon others.
Giving a final answer to "homework" question will not put the person that asked the question on the path to solve his next issue. It is fast way to get our response marked as answer, but it is not the best help. Providing a direct short answer is something that any professional can do in seconds, in most cases. But providing a full explanation can take time. Even if you provide a direct answer, it is HIGHLY recommended to add some explanation. I always recommend to add a link or two to the answer, which gives the OP some more information.
With that been said, if someone asks for the answer to 1+1, then you should try to define "1", "+", "=", and "2" rigorously, and leave the OP without answer!
Unfortunately, this mean that you'll spend more time helping others, and probably you'll get less points, since people usually mark the direct answer and not the discussion, which brought the user to the answer. This is one of many reasons that personally I do not like scoring in forums. A score system leads people to focus on their score, and on the question how many points they achieved.
Tip! Remember that you came to help others, and not to show others that you know more than them. Tip! Remember that we don't know who is the person behind the question! It might be someone that works in the field for years, or a 6 years old child, which came to learn… well, we can add lot more... looks like we have another topic for a future blog.
Figure 5: SQL Saturday
Do you have any tips for moderators of MSDN/TechNet Forums?
There is a smart phrase that says: if you don’t want the answer, then don't ask the question. Well, I always have something to say about everything :-)
Moderator role is first of all an administrative role, and not a supporter role. I think that lots of people confuse between these. You can be the best technical expert and to fail as administrator and you can be the best administrator without deep technical knowledge. What I want to say is that I recommend to moderator to balance between their passion to support and help people, and their administrative responsibilities. Most of the time we come to the forum in order to help others, and on the way we encounter issues that needs our attention as moderator. My recommendation is that once in awhile each moderator should come to the forum specifically for administrative works. Check the history of old threads that have been forgotten.
Do you want to add something in conclusion?
I tried to answer the questions very briefly, but in fact the answer to each one of these questions can fill a long post, and this is part of the reason that we opened the Blog "Forum Ninjas" recently. I welcome you all join us in the forums, you can ask questions, take part in discussions, help others, and become a Forum Ninja.
Ronen, thank you for giving so much back to the community! You truly nailed it with your answer about how it's really giving. That's what matters!
Please join me in thanking Ronen, and please check out his great tips and interview above!
Let's reach Quorum in the Forums!
- Ninja Ed