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NHinkle: Super User’s Super Star

May 25, 2011 by . 0 comments

profile for nhinkle on Stack Exchange, a network of free, community-driven Q&A sites

Welcome nhinkle, our latest Super User moderator! He has been with us for quite some time already and has always been a valued user. As you can see from his rep graph, he’s been a steady participant on Super User and finally broke 10k rep this past April.

On of the things you might know nhinkle about are his excellently formatted answers and his participation in tag-wiki’s.

So Nathan, tell us a little about yourself, who are you and what is it you do?

Well, let’s see… I’m from Oregon, which is in the Pacific Northwest of America. Growing up in such a beautiful part of the world, I really love spending time outdoors, so a lot of what I do when I’m not on the computer or in school is stuff like hiking, skiing, paddling, and running. I’m currently studying Environmental Engineering, and am particularly interested in renewable energy. People ask me all the time why I’m not a computer science major, and I tell them that it’s something that I really enjoy doing, but I feel like I can make a greater impact on the world by integrating my passion for technology with my passion for the environment than by just repairing computers or writing software. I’m pretty dedicated to studying; you can sort of approximate when I have lots of schoolwork to do by where my reputation graph is flatter.

Some of your answers are very detailed and technical. Where did you learn all this stuff?

I’ve taught myself just about everything I know about computers. Most of it comes from just having the patience and nerve to try things until they work. I’ve definitely messed up my share of computers by playing around, but figuring out how to fix the family computer before your parents wake up is a great way to learn! I used to participate from time to time in some other forums, and while they were useful for figuring things out, I really wish Super User had been around when I was first getting started with computers, since the format is so much easier for learning. One tool I think every aspiring computer geek needs is a good virtual machine system, or an old computer to mess around on. It’s really nice having a sandbox to do your experiments in. You don’t learn this stuff overnight, but over the years I’ve picked up a lot of tricks just by following my curiosity. I volunteer my computer skills a lot; it’s a really good way to get some hands-on experience if you’re too young to work or don’t have the time for a job. Fortunately, I now actually get paid to do IT work, as I’m a student help desk worker.

How was it to finally break 10k rep?

I hardly even had the time to enjoy my new-found power before Ivo sent me a barrage of emails, tweets, and chat messages asking me if I wanted to be a moderator! I had been working toward it for a while though, and definitely was proud to break that barrier. When I ran for moderator earlier this year, I made a promise that if I didn’t win, I would work hard to get to 10k so I could make use of those tools to help out the community, and that’s what I did. Mostly, I was just excited to have more tools at my disposal to help all of you!

How did becoming a moderator end up changing your participation on Super User?

I definitely spend more time dealing with the “dirty work” than I used to – being a moderator is more about being a janitor than a police officer most of the time, though there are the days we need some sort of diamond-SWAT team. I still answer questions whenever I see something I know, although there isn’t as much of a drive for rep since being a mod gives me all the privileges. I’ve really been focusing on trying to encourage the community, from helping out new users to participating in the blog to rewarding good answers with bounties, now that I have so much reputation to give away.

You had some ‘issues’ with some features, like tag-wiki’s, being restricted by rep. Now that you’re a mod, there aren’t any boundaries left. So have you had fun ‘abusing’ your powers to do stuff you always wanted to do?

Although I was initially wary of edit suggestions, I’ve decided they’re a great way to let people get more involved earlier on, but still have oversight. Now, anyone can edit tag wikis, and I encourage you to! There are a few features which are quite handy, particularly being able to migrate questions to any site and ability to see close votes, and some other things that I’d have to kill you if I told you about. I don’t think I ever abuse my powers, but I certainly use them whenever possible to improve Super User.

Are you a Mac or a PC? Given your tags, I’d say you’re 100% PC, but you also design websites and the graphical stuff for the blog. I thought PCs and design didn’t mix?

I’ve always disliked the notion that PCs can’t be used for graphic design and web development! I do just fine with my lovely Windows 7 laptop. Most of my experience is with Windows, but I do know a lot about BootCamp (I install it about 3 times a day in the fall when all the new students come in with their brand new MacBook Pros and realize they can’t run all their engineering software on them), and can do a good amount of troubleshooting on Macs. I don’t answer questions about OS X much because I’m not familiar enough with it to answer authoritatively, but I can definitely sit down in front of a Mac and diagnose problems. My personal philosophy in the Mac Vs. PC argument is that everybody should quit arguing and use whatever works best for them. I like using a PC. I respect others’ choice to use a Mac, but really don’t want them telling me that I should use one. I could rant for quite a while about why I think Macs are inferior, but my best friend is a Mac user and could do the same for Windows. Instead we just get to work and use our preferred OS. Pretty simple.

So it sounds like you mostly like to answer questions about Windows… would you consider yourself more of a generalist or a specialist?

I’d call myself a bit of both. I actually know a fair amount about platform-agnostic things like web development, and have a pretty wide breadth of technologies I’m at least somewhat familiar with. My areas of expertise though are of course those things I use most: Windows, Excel (so many graphs for so many lab reports! Did I mention I’m an engineer?), and web stuff.

Do any of the other SE-sites attract your attention? You say you like web development, but only seem to have had a small flirt with Web Apps. And you apparently like dragon boat paddling

Of course Ivo you’re just trying to get me to spend more time on Fitness.SE! It is true though that I’ve focused most of my attention on Super User. I still check Web Apps occasionally, but most of the questions are about products I don’t use, or products I use somewhat begrudgingly (like Facebook). I only have so much time in my life, and feel like I can make a better impact by focussing my attention on Super User and giving it my best effort. If I do see a question on another SE site which piques my interest though, I’ll definitely answer, and I ask questions on other SE sites as well whenever I’m curious about something on-topic. I firmly believe that Stack Exchange is the best place on the internet to get your (relevant) questions answered! For example…

Of course, I also head over to Meta Stack Overflow a lot, mostly to hawk my latest feature requests to the SE Team. As a moderator, it’s good to stay on top of what’s happening on the network. I also like checking out StackApps to see the latest user-created apps for Stack Exchange – like my very own side-by-side edit/preview userscript!

I do indeed love dragon boat paddling! I can’t paddle right now because I’m away from home and there is no team here at college, but I’m super excited to start paddling again when I get home for summer break. It’s a fantastic sport, and I really miss it very much. I’ll also tell you a secret: Dragon Boating is a sport for smart people. Our coach would always get exasperated with us when we’d keep talking about physics and fluid flow during practice.

Or does an SE-site about your favorite topic not yet exist?

There are a few proposals I’m thinking of for Area 51. I’m waiting until I have a bit more time to get the attention of the right people before taking the effort to promote them though. I guess you’ll have to wait and see what I might have up my sleeves!

We’ve been getting several requests last week about Community FAQs and I know you’re a big proponent of them. Especially with the blog, we now have an excellent platform to write more authoritative posts. What are your thoughts on this?

I don’t personally think the blog should be any sort of replacement for Community FAQs. It definitely is a great way to supplement and highlight them though! Ultimately, I’d like to see some official support for Community FAQs in the question-asking process, as they have the potential to reduce the number of duplicate questions, saving the asker and all of us answerers and moderators time and effort. One way I like to highlight great Community FAQ posts is through the Question of the Week, which YOU should vote on! If you have any sorts of ideas for a canonical question, don’t hesitate – just go ahead and start it. Tag it community-faq-proposed, and invite others to come help you out with it. The recent question on port forwarding is a great example of a community FAQ done well.

Super User is seeing some big growth the past few months (50% growth since December). How do you feel we’re doing and what can we do to keep Super User awesome for new and existing users?

I definitely try to encourage our new users, and seeing how fast some of them shoot up in rep definitely makes me happy! I feel like we do a good job of welcoming, helping, and recognizing our new users, but of course we can always do better. It would be really cool if somebody made some short tutorial videos, perhaps in the style of Google’s explanatory videos for their new services. This would be a great resource about how the site works to point new users to. I’m not nearly good enough with animation to do it myself, but if anyone’s interested, let me know and I’d love to chat about ideas.

What recent change to Super User do you think has had the greatest impact on new traffic to the site?

All the recent blog traffic has definitely helped, although I think there’s more we can be doing to direct traffic from the blog back to the main site as well. A lot of our attention comes from web searches, so if everybody just keeps writing awesome answers, then we’ll keep getting more views. Some of the new tools available to moderators and high-rep users will definitely help us to sort out the high and low quality questions, and give new users a nudge in the right direction if they don’t quite get things at first.

You’ve been pretty involved with the Blog and written some interesting posts. Your most recent post got nearly ~70,000 views! What did you think when you saw how popular your post was, and do you have any words of wisdom for how others can promote their blog posts, too?

I think that came as a bit of a shock to us all! I owe a lot of its publicity to the people who posted it on popular sites like slashdot and hacker news, but there definitely is an element in how you write and present a post which affects its popularity. A good blog post should tell readers something new and interesting, and just like any written piece, your first few sentences are crucial: you need to grab the reader’s attention! With online news, it’s even more important that you think about your summary or even title when you post links to the blog. Know your target audience: if a site has a lot of users who care about privacy, spin that aspect. If they’re more of the modding and hacking type, emphasize how they can use that part.

Anything else that you want to highlight while you’re in the spotlight?

Not that I can think of… I think I covered everything pretty well. Ivo asks thorough questions!

And who do you think we should be interviewing next?

Oh, gee. I’m not really sure. It would be interesting to interview some folks from the Stack Exchange team sometime. I’d be interested to hear from Mark Szymanski as well – somebody to oppose Wil’s hardcore Windows beliefs!

Do you have any questions you want to answer, but we were afraid to ask?

Nope! I made you ask the questions that you were initially too afraid to ask, and now they’re covertly hidden in with all the rest. MUAHAHA! Thanks for the interview!

Filed under Interviews

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