Interview – Wayne Luke, SitePoint Forums Administrator

If you’ve spent any time in the SitePoint Forums, you’ll know of W. Luke, our omnipresent Administrator. For years, Wayne’s managed the forums with an expert hand — yet he’s remained a virtual enigma to the majority of Community members.

Today we present the inside story on our esteemed Admin. What does he do for work? For fun? How did he get involved with SitePoint in the first place? And what are his plans for the Forums? Wayne reveals all…

SP: Firstly Wayne, can you tell us a little about your history? Have you always had an interest in the Internet and worked in IT? What kinds of roles and businesses have you been involved with through you career?

Well, I grew up destined to be a cancer researcher: my mother always knew that I would find a cure! However in my second year of pre-medical school, I decided that I really didn’t like the sight of blood. It was then that I started seriously studying computers. Before that, they were a cool toy that I played around with occasionally.

I came to the Internet through big business. In 1989, I signed up for AOL and joined the world of instant communications. I forget what it was called then, but it was a Macintosh-only community, competing with Compuserve and Prodigy. Anyway, I started spending a lot of time online and thought it would be cool if anyone could setup a community like this.

In 1994, I found HTML while I was going to technical school to become a C++ Programmer. It was a hobby and I played a little. My computing career started as an Implementation Programmer for a Banking Software company where I made customizations to our standard software package for over 80 customers. One of those customers was St. George Bank, based in Sydney. This allowed me to travel at the company’s expense, and see a little more of the world.

Since that position, I have worked for the 5th largest Insurance Company in the United States, upgrading their proprietary systems under Visual Basic and SQL Server. My last corporate job ended in 2000. That job was with Protection One, which is a security alarm company. There, I worked with three others, rewriting the entire Patrol suite to upgrade their systems over 18 months. That project included Visual Basic, ASP, C++, Oracle, SQL Server, Sybase and HTML.

Since then I’ve been working on my own projects, providing full time support for vBulletin and managing the Forums.

On SitePoint Forums

SP: So how did you first get involved with SitePointForums? And to what do you attribute their success?

In 1999, I created a Website for an online game that I liked. I was looking for ideas on how to fix a problem with its frames in Netscape 4.X.X and did a search for Webmaster Resources. At that time, I was using Hotbot all the time and Webmaster-Resources.com came up as number one. While I was checking it out, I found the forums and decided to ask for a review. Well, my site got torn apart! I implemented some changes but was determined to prove people wrong. So I read every single post made to that date. I started posting questions and ripping apart ideas. Sometimes I would post 100 messages in a day. As time went one, the Administrator of the time asked if I wanted to be a moderator. At that time only the Website Reviews forum was moderated so I decided to go for it. I started posting more, at one point one out of six posts in the forums was mine. Eventually, they asked me to be a co-administrator of the forums.

The success of the forums, I think, can be attributed to the active management behind it. This isn’t only myself and the other SitePoint Team members but also Nicky, the Advisors and the Mentors. I could never run the forums without their help and support. It is the great content on SitePoint (and Webmaster-Resources before it), that brings people to the community. But it’s the staff and regular posters that keep them there.

SP: Everyone knows you as the Forums Administrator — but what does this role involve? What does a working day in the life of Wayne Luke actually entail?

Well my days aren’t really set in stone. I usually wake up between 5:30 and 7:00 in the morning. I get my stepson off to school and eat breakfast. I’ll usually work for a couple of hours checking up on new posts, reading the nightly email. While I’m doing that, I listen to the news from a source like National Public Radio or Fox News.

After that’s done, I usually check my other sites and take a break. From there I will meditate and reflect on the rest of the day. Sometimes this is includes quiet meditation and sometimes it includes playing music for my plants. After that I will work until the heat of the day which is about 4:00.

I could be more organized about my work, but most of my day is actually spent answering support questions for vBulletin. I try to relax in the heat of the day and not do much, sometimes I take a nap. In the evenings, both my wife and I are usually on the computer. I try and check a few new posts at SitePoint here and there and do some research on some subject that pops into my mind. After 11:00 p.m., I usually watch a movie or play a computer game. The schedule is slightly different on Tuesdays and Thursdays because I usually spend time packaging up and shipping sales from my online store, and helping out in the retail outlet.

SP: How do you think SPF differs from other forums? In what ways has this difference in SPF’s character been influenced by administrative choices… choices you’ve supported, and choices you might not have fully supported? And what are some of the main points of SitePoint (excluding the Forums) that you feel are "make or break" points of the site?

Well a breaking point is Servicesbase. I don’t think it has been fully developed to its potential, and could be a much more productive part of SitePoint. I feel it should be more like a directory of services and tools available to the Webmaster. It could go much further.

While I think most people come to SitePoint for Web building information, I feel that more information could be given on the ecommerce situation, including comparisons of different providers and software packages as well as a place where people could purchase services. Unfortunately, this has never come about, much to my disappointment.

The best part of SitePoint, I feel is the articles. There are some great contributors out there and we are all lucky they share their knowledge.

SP: How has SPF evolved in terms of structure? What are some of the tough decisions did you have had to make — and how were you able to implement them without "losing" the team around you?

Well, I like to apply what I call "Adaptive Evolution" to the forums. They grow in a way that’s dictated by the community at large. This is why there is an imbalance of discussions — there are more on building a Website, even though I think that’s only 10% of the job, and the easiest thing to do.

However, the community keeps asking for more in that area. When I make major changes to the Community, these are often discussed with the Advisors and Mentors. This allows the group to remain a team and involves everyone in the process. I think this allows the community to grow at a good pace, but it feels more natural than it could be if handled otherwise.

SP: Can you describe what it’s like to work successfully in an "online team"? What kinds of challenges does working over the Internet with a dispersed team present? What tips would you give to someone else trying the same approach?

Well, the largest problem that crops up is communication.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that visual cues don’t get translated in your words, so sometimes a comment or opinion ends up being interpreted as a reprimand, and reprimands are interpreted as being much sterner than they really are. This has caused a few problems over the last few years. Luckily, I work with a group of very talented individuals so we can usually talk it out.

The other problem is that with a group in a forum situation, time can pretty much be thrown out of the window. What could be handled in 15-20 minutes in a face-to-face meeting often takes weeks to handle online. As not everyone has the technology for instant communication via something like Netmeeting or Voice Over IP, it can be frustrating at times. My advice to others would be to take advantage of instant communication technologies from the start. Instant Messaging is nice, but it’s not the best solution — and conducting meetings in a forum setting is a practical impossibility.

SP: Have there ever been any "leadership disputes" at SitePoint Forums? Do you find it difficult balancing the needs and agendas of your team members with the fact that they’re geographically remote, and participate on a voluntary basis?

There have been disputes over different items. However, I run the forums under what I call a "Benevolent Dictatorship". This means that in the end I have final say with regards to the forums, unless I’m overruled by the SitePoint Founders.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to the Mentors’ and Advisors’ ideas. I consider them akin to the Cabinet of the President of the U.S.A. They are more my advisors than they are the community’s: they help guide the forums, and are constantly thinking up new ideas. In this way, I think that we can come to a mutual agreement on how to direct the community without stepping on each other’s toes too much.

SP: What is the most difficult thing you’ve been faced with while leading this online community?

The most difficult thing is managing personal opinions on various topics while allowing an open discussion on the forums. I don’t want to say "free speech" because we don’t really allow that, but I do want to allow open discussion even if I disagree strongly with the views expressed.

SP: And what’s the best thing you’ve gained from your work with SitePoint?

Well, first off it would have to be the knowledge I’ve gained from everyone in the community. When I first joined the forums, I was just a hobbyist with a couple of pretty bad Websites. Since then I’ve grown, learned new technologies, and met a lot of really great people. There are many in the community that I consider good acquaintances and a few that I consider friends. This fellowship and sharing of knowledge is what I see as the community’s greatest triumph.

SP: What’s your favorite aspect of running SPF?

The people. It’s the best place to meet people with the same work-related interests that I have — people from all over the world. Just learning about different countries and the trials they have in technology or the advances they have over what I am used to is exhilarating to me.

SP: Tell us about one thing in your history with SP that made you feel proud of SP and the job you do here.

I don’t know if there is just one thing that makes me feel proud about SitePoint or the forums. If anyone had asked me 4 years ago if I saw myself running a large community like this, I would have said "No". By nature, I am not a very outgoing person, however in the forums, that’s different.

Maybe in a roundabout way, I’d have to say that I am proud to be given the opportunity to help so many others and learn about other cultures, ways of doing business, and developing software for the Web.

SP: And where is SPF going next?

I would like to see it move towards being a more service-oriented community where people know they can get the answers they need, find great products or locate service providers to fit their requirements. It has some of these elements now, but the result is too chaotic for it to be beneficial to everyone. The goal is to bring order to these elements so that they can benefit everyone, including SitePoint.

On Time Management

SP: How much time do you dedicate to SPF each day – and how much time would you spend, on average, posting? Administrating?

I honestly don’t know. As I don’t have a time card, I’ve never tracked the hours. I would have to guess on average it would be 2-3 hours a day with spikes when a new version of vBulletin is released.

SP: How do you manage your time? Do you have a fixed day routine in which you order the immense number of tasks you have?

I could probably use a more set schedule, but there are many things in my life that preclude my having a schedule set in stone. Usually I just write things down and cross them off as I finish them. Any new task is added to the bottom of the list unless I’m told it is important.

SP: How do you juggle your responsibilities here at SitePoint, your other jobs, your wife, your kids and your sanity? Do you make clear distinctions between work, SitePoint and family?

Sometimes it’s very hard to juggle everything. When my family is around, I tend to place them first above anything else. This means in the evenings and on weekends, I really get very little done. Usually, I’m an early riser, so I can work easily during the day.

Usually the weekends are so hectic though that I look forward to the workweek so I can relax a little. The fact that I work out of my home actually gives me four hours extra to work every day, though I don’t always use it for that purpose. If I worked in an office somewhere, chances are I would get less done and not have as much time for the family.

One thing that I do is meditate for about a half-hour every day. This allows me to focus and get settled in for the day ahead. If something happens where I can’t do my meditation, I have a very unproductive day. For working on SitePoint I check the forums and help throughout the day. Since it is all accessible through the Web, I can manage it from any PC quite easily. Other work is given a higher priority than SitePoint, though I still work to dedicate enough time to all projects.

On Life

SP: What do you do when you aren’t working on SPF?

I manage a couple of other small sites, including a small religious community and an online store that sells items for earth-based religions, mainly things like teas, oils, herbs, gifts and books.

For hobbies, I study homeopathic medicines and herbalism and watch movies. Recently, I have started experimenting with making Mead. It is a great soothing task with a great product at the end. Occasionally, I like to play games, mainly things like Starcraft and Red Alert 2.

I also volunteer on the local Hate Crimes Task Force to help bring them to a end. Just recently, I was appointed the Vice President of a new charitable organization where we will operate a food and clothing bank, as well as give counseling to those in need.

SP: Do you visit other Webmaster-related sites regularly? Which are your favorites?

The only other Webmaster sites I visit regularly are support forums for vBulletin and Oscommerce. None of the others provide me with anything I can’t find in the SitePoint Forums.

SP: You told us you use msn explorer for gaming on msn zone. What games do you like on msn?

Well I use it for more than games. Usually I only play things like Bedazzled and Mahjong on MSN. Occasionally, I will play chess or checkers there as well. I use MSN Explorer as the basis of all my recreational browsing, and to manage the ebay auctions I bid on. Often, I use it for browsing news, their community groups, listening to digital radio and getting the local radio. For these purposes, I feel it provides a better interface than the normal Internet Explorer one.

SP: We know you’re into fantasy books – which are your favorites, and who are your favorite authors?

I am a fantasy reader. I currently have over 800 different novels in the genre. My favorite authors include Anne McCaffrey, Anne Rice, Piers Anthony, Douglas Adams, R.A. Salvatore, Ed Greenwood, J.R.R Tolkien, and Terry Brooks. There are many other authors I like as well but these are the got-to-have ones.

SP: Can you explain your avatar to us?

It is a painting by Jonathon Earl Bowser called the Dark Knight. It was supposed to be an illustration in his unpublished novel. I picked it for the symbolism it represents to me: that of a wanderer seeking truth. You can see the whole picture here.

SP: Do you ever go on vacations? If so, what’s been your best holiday experience to date? How long were you away from SPF?

Occasionally, I do. My wife and I always go on a religious retreat the first week of February, where we spend time meditating and focusing on life around us, and reflecting on the past year. This is the only time I’m truly away from SitePoint, as we don’t take phones, computers or any modern communications devices with us. It’s a time to be away from that.

Other times we like to take weekends here and there to visit family. However, I simply use their computers to log in and check the forums and SitePoint. My best holiday so far in my life would have been traveling across 30 states when I was eleven and seeing many different sites. In the future, I’d like to visit Europe, mainly the northern islands of the U.K., and Australia.

SP: We’ve been told that you’ve gained a lot of your knowledge from books. Which are your favorites?

Favorite books? Hmmm, that’s a hard one, because I’ve read so many.

I’d have to say my all-time favorites would include the works of Homer and Virgil, the writings of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. I also liked the works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, and Steinbeck. You can pull a lot of information about life out of their books even though they are fictional.

I’m also an avid reader of History Books and can always recommend the Encyclopedia Britannica as a good source of information. Lately I have been reading manuscripts from the 13th and 14th centuries, which cover the thinking of the time, from religion and politics, to other things like woodworking and herbalism. I don’t really read computer books. I do own a couple of hundred of them, but have never read one cover to cover. I use them as references and refer to their indexes a lot.

We’d like to thank Wayne for giving his time for this interview!

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