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As experienced job-seekers (and regular readers at The Workplace) know, an interview is a two-way street. Just as it's important for the community to ask questions of candidates, it's also important for those candidates to have answers about key parts of the job. Sometimes the best answers come from the incumbents rather than the hiring managers (SE). So I'm going to presumptuously ask some questions on behalf of candidates known and unknown.

Current moderators (and ex-moderators, if we have any), could you answer the following questions?

  • What do you love about the moderator job on TWP?

  • How do you spend your moderation time? Which tasks take the largest amounts of time? And roughly speaking, how much time do you spend on moderation tasks (not counting your "just plain user" time like asking and answering questions)?

  • What have been your biggest challenges as a moderator? Without revealing privileged information, can you talk about how you (personally and collectively) have addressed them?

  • Is there anything you're hoping the new moderators will do or change that you never quite got around to? What's on your "moderator wish list", and why is it important?

  • What advice do you have for somebody considering this job? What are the questions people should be asking but aren't?

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    exit-interview? No-o-o-o! :) – gnat Mar 25 '14 at 16:26
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    Thanks very much to jmort253, Jim, and NickC for taking the time to answer this! I hoped to hear from some of the mods and am delighted that all three answered. Y'all gave some great feedback and advice. – Monica Cellio Mar 26 '14 at 20:33
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    Thanks for asking these questions. As I was writing my answers, I realized how much I've learned from this experience. If you decide to run, you would do a great job. In fact, we have such great candidates that it will really make it challenging to figure out where to place my votes. – jmort253 Mar 27 '14 at 3:55
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What do you love about the moderator job on TWP?

I really enjoy making the Internet a better place. It might sound kind of cheesy, but before Stack Overflow came along, it was a nightmare to search the Internet for answers to questions. Stack Overflow helped make my colleagues and I more productive, and it's great to be able to contribute to other Stack Exchange resources, such as The Workplace. The most enjoyable part is seeing and working with others all over the world who are also passionate.

How do you spend your moderation time? Which tasks take the largest amounts of time? And roughly speaking, how much time do you spend on moderation tasks (not counting your "just plain user" time like asking and answering questions)?

The biggest time consumer is the flag queue, and it's where I spend a majority of my time on the site. Some issues can be resolved with a comment, some with editing, some with post removal or post closure. Sometimes the answer is to reopen a post, and sometimes the answer is to simply make others aware of its existence and let the community do the work. It's always best when a post can be improved because it keeps people motivated. They see their efforts pay off rather than merely stifled. If I think there's value, I'll drop a link in chat to see if anyone can edit.

I also spend a lot of time in meta, both Meta Workplace SE as well as Meta Stack Overflow. MSO is the network meta, so it's helpful to know what's happening there as well.

As for plain user time, I still occasionally answer questions, but not at the same rate as before.

What have been your biggest challenges as a moderator? Without revealing privileged information, can you talk about how you (personally and collectively) have addressed them?

The biggest challenge for me, at first, was getting over the fear of making a mistake. Did I delete when I should have commented. Should I have closed that post? Should I reopen it? The answer, for me, was only to take action if I could justify it in meta objectively. I also discovered that sometimes just being honest is best, as well as being willing to work with people.

Is there anything you're hoping the new moderators will do or change that you never quite got around to? What's on your "moderator wish list", and why is it important?

I'm hoping the new moderators will continue leading based on A Theory of Moderation. I re-read it regularly. I'm also hoping we can continue using comments and editing as the #1 tool of moderation. There's also talk of a blog. It's tough to manage the flag queue and focus on taking on more ongoing responsibility, so ultimately it may be best for a non-moderator to push that forward.

I'm also hoping situations continue to lean in the direction of being judged on a case by case basis. Both as a regular user and a moderator, it's easy to get caught up in enforcing rigid rules without remembering why they're there in the first place. Using the word guidelines in place of rules may help remind us all that flexibility may be required in exceptional circumstances, and one size doesn't necessarily fit all.

What advice do you have for somebody considering this job? What are the questions people should be asking but aren't?

Most actions are immediately reversible, so if you do make a mistake, just go fix it and then leave an objective comment explaining your reasoning. You don't need to apologize, necessarily, just remain objective and factual. Use it as an opportunity to teach others what to look for, as others may have missed the same things you did.

Everything is a grey area; nothing is black and white. So be willing to work with people if they're really upset by something you did or something you're about to do. There's a fine line between keeping the site clean and keeping people excited. Know that there are certain levels and degrees of action you can take. For instance, instead of closing, edit, or protect instead and add stipulations that you're strongly considering closing the post if there isn't an answer cleanup. There are ways to meet people in the middle without compromising the end goals.

Moreover, take breaks if you need to. Pace yourself so you too will continue to be excited. There's your fellow moderators, as well as the community team, who will step in and help, if needed.

Lastly, don't take any actions if you're emotional. There are 300+ moderators in the Stack Exchange network, and they're available to help bounce ideas off. If you need to vent, do it in private, then when you come back, you'll be able to make much clearer, more objective decisions. If you're not sure you can stay objective, ask for help from the community team or a fellow moderator. You're never alone.

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    It's always best when a post can be improved because it keeps people motivated. They see their efforts pay off rather than merely stifled. - I think this is one of the reasons you have made a great mod. You have encouraged constructive changes to posts that I would have deleted outright with out a second thought. In that way you have encouraged growth in me and others on the site as well as making this SE and the internet a better place. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 26 '14 at 15:20
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What do you love about the moderator job on TWP?

Helping the site maintain its quality standards. I've found Stack Exchange to be immensely useful, and have always appreciated the quality of content. Being able to play a larger role in maintaining that level of quality has definitely been the best part of moderating the site. I want users who come to the site to feel like they've found something that can actually help them in a meaningful way, rather than a collection of commentary on a topic they're concerned about.

How do you spend your moderation time? Which tasks take the largest amounts of time? And roughly speaking, how much time do you spend on moderation tasks (not counting your "just plain user" time like asking and answering questions)?

The flag queue. As the site has grown, the queue has grown. This growth has been accelerated by graduation, since fewer people have the priveleges to handle flags (fewer flags taken out of the queue), and fewer people have the priveleges to take more direct action (more flags into the queue). At this point, pretty much all of my participation on the site is handling flags.

What have been your biggest challenges as a moderator? Without revealing privileged information, can you talk about how you (personally and collectively) have addressed them?

  1. Getting used to the diamond, and everything that comes with it. I'd never been hesitant to vote to close a question, since the closure would only happen if there was enough agreement from other users. Unilaterally closing a question (and having it noted that the closure was done by a moderator) is a bit different. I've found the best approach to deciding whether to delete or close something to be the "moderators as human exception handlers" philosophy. I ask myself "can the community handle this issue on their own?". If it seems unlikely, or seems to be a touchy subject, I'll step in. If it can easily be handled by regular users, then the decision to act is based on whether action now is more beneficial/less detrimental than waiting for enough regular users to take action.

  2. Dealing with people. In the real workplace, you can meet with people face-to-face to sort out issues. You can gauge emotion, tone, attitude, etc. and have an actual conversation about the issues at hand. Online, you're limited to text (and whatever assumptions about tone/intent you make), and face-to-face talks just don't happen. You can never tell how engaged a person is in a conversation, whether they're taking it seriously, or if any changes will come out of it. Since there's so much room for misunderstanding, you need to choose your words more carefully.

  3. Deleting comments. Plenty of comments make interesting points and are highly voted, and might be worth keeping around, but don't directly try to improve or clarify the question/answer. Deciding which should stay and which should go can be a bit delicate. Usually my decision is based on the "comments are temporary post-it notes" definition in the help center. However, I'll sometimes leave a comment (as in not delete an existing comment) if I think it adds something useful. A prime example is constructive disagreement on answers. The votes can tell you whether people like an answer or not, but a good comment can explain why.

Is there anything you're hoping the new moderators will do or change that you never quite got around to? What's on your "moderator wish list", and why is it important?

Participate more in a more direct sense. Ask/answer more questions (it's been a while since I've done either) and participate in chat (again, it's been a while). It's important to demonstrate that you're more than just a site janitor. Questions and answers demonstrate you genuinely care about the topic at hand and have knowledge/expertise to share. Participation in chat shows an interest in the community, and is a valuable way to hear concerns of users.

What advice do you have for somebody considering this job? What are the questions people should be asking but aren't?

Definitely be prepared to commit time to the task, especially while the site is freshly graduated and fewer people have the power to act. There are plenty of flags to handle, and that can definitely eat up all your time on the site, but you should make sure you participate further via questions, answers, and chat.

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    Thank you for taking time to answer and doing so thoughtfully. Also thank you for everything thing you have done to get us to this point. I hope you, Jmort, and Nick are all 3 proud of what we as a community have built and you 3 have helped to guide and make better. We are hoping you are at least considering entering the election, but either way Thank you! This site has 3 great mods! – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 27 '14 at 14:16
  • @Chad: I hope you, Jmort, and Nick are all 3 proud of what we as a community have built... Wow. Feel good moment. Thanks, Chad! – Jim G. Mar 30 '14 at 17:42
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What do you love about the moderator job on TWP?

I love most that I get to play a part in the issues that help make the community great. Since that's a pretty generic answer, I'll give a couple specific examples:

  • I like dealing with flags that get me involved in community interaction. Some things are flagged because a drive-by-user posted junk and will never be back. It's nice to keep things clean, but it's more rewarding when I get to help solve someone's problem, such as where a new user needs help understanding the community in order to form their question to get the best answers. Or, when a dispute over content reveals a new issue we've never considered before.

  • I love being a part of the deep consideration that goes into handling complex issues. The other moderators on this site really care about the community, too, and I love working with others to solve problems with an attitude of "how do we make this a win for everyone?"

How do you spend your moderation time? Which tasks take the largest amounts of time? And roughly speaking, how much time do you spend on moderation tasks (not counting your "just plain user" time like asking and answering questions)?

By far, reading takes the most time. I feel like I can't appropriately serve the community unless I'm aware of the content (Qs and As), and the interactions that have taken place (comments and meta). I haven't been too active lately primarily for this reason.

I will handle a few flags here and there, but my approach is meticulous and detailed. I know that an inappropriate moderator action can have a lasting impact, so I want to make sure I know what's going on before I make conclusions.

Any prospective moderator should be prepared to spend a large amount of their time digesting what's going on in the community. I'm convinced that you can't be successful without that.

What have been your biggest challenges as a moderator? Without revealing privileged information, can you talk about how you (personally and collectively) have addressed them?

In some cases I've been needed not just to moderate content or fiddle with admin bits, but to moderate human issues. In this case, the biggest challenge is removing my own bias so that I don't introduce yet another set of variables to already-complicated issues. Whenever you are a third party to these situations, you certainly risk making things worse than before.

To handle this, I've tried to look to other shining examples and emulate them. We have a fantastic community team that really get people, and set a great example for how to lead with perspective and calm, fair, firm, and objective reasoning. There are a lot of Workplace users who are great examples to look at, too.

(Sidebar: That's one of the things that I love about the Workplace, especially as a moderator. The very topic of the site helps me be a better member and moderator. So many good and thoughtful answers to help give me perspective.)

I've also tried to remember that at the end of the day, each individual user has something they want to get out of this site. How can I help them achieve it? I'm an optimist in this sense -- I think in most cases we can achieve a majority of our users' goals, even if they may seem in conflict at first. I always try to remember: without users we have nothing!

Is there anything you're hoping the new moderators will do or change that you never quite got around to? What's on your "moderator wish list", and why is it important?

What advice do you have for somebody considering this job? What are the questions people should be asking but aren't?

I'll answer both of these questions together.

First of all there's a great deal of validation and trust that comes with an elected moderator position, so I'm quite excited for those that earn it. The community respects you, so make sure you value that!

Second, this site needs well-formed but flexible principles. "Strong opinions, loosely held." There is a lot of ground left to define, but we've come a long way. Moderators are a key part of defining the principles this site is run on. But everyone needs to be prepared for new issues to arise and to discard old ideas that aren't working anymore.

Third, a moderator is really a servant. I hope the new moderators will really buy into that.

  • People. There's nothing more important than the users of this site. All members of the community, starting from the moderators, will need to be aware of how to cultivate positive interactions and relationships with new users and make them feel welcome, while upholding the high standards of quality that we all hope for the site.

  • Culture. And because the site is made up of people, it will have a culture whether it is intentional or not, so it's best that it be guided based on civility and principles that we want. And it needs to be protected as new users come on board. These new users will come from anywhere, so there will be a period of time where some don't "get" how things work here. Moderators especially must be careful to teach without pushing away.

What questions should people be asking?

Probably many, but there are others better to think about this than I. However, one important question is related to the idea of principles above. "What guidelines are working and which aren't?" In particular, we have a back it up rule that I think is owed a ton of credit for the high quality answers we see. However, I still see with frequency that this is confusing to new users. "Well of course, my 'experience' is backing it up! How do I cite that!?" I think we can do a better job of easing this tension. But it's a tough problem, and I don't know what the answer is!


Wow, great questions! Really made me think. I want to thank you and the rest of the community for being a great example of human interaction and leadership for me to look up to, and for making the site what it is so far.

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    +1. I have "Strong Opinions, Held Weakly" sitting on my desk at all times. I think that is a tremendous way to go about most things. – jmac Mar 27 '14 at 1:55
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    @NickC - Thank you for taking time to answer the question, and thank you for all of your hard work since the start of this site. I hope you choose to enter the election but I also understand if you are ready for a break. Either way Thank you for everything you have done to make this site a success! – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 27 '14 at 14:10
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What do you love about the moderator job on TWP?

The other mods. More than anything else, having two people you work closely with and can bounce ideas off is a learning experience. 99% of a site is the community, but the remaining 1% that the mods handle is made infinitely better by having a good team that's working with you to solve the problems that need to be handled.

How do you spend your moderation time? Which tasks take the largest amounts of time? And roughly speaking, how much time do you spend on moderation tasks (not counting your "just plain user" time like asking and answering questions)?

  • Flags: 60%
  • Meta: 30%
  • Misc: 10%

I average about 30 minutes per day handling moderator-related stuff (though not always 30 minutes a day, there is a little give and take since the other moderators can cover when you are busy, and vice versa).

What have been your biggest challenges as a moderator? Without revealing privileged information, can you talk about how you (personally and collectively) have addressed them?

Everyone in our community tends to have strong opinions. We all have slightly (or very) different ideas on what our site is, what it should be, and why there is a gap in the first place. And that is awesome and I wouldn't change it for anything.

Let's take the Comments discussion for instance. The overwhelming voice is that comments aren't the community's problem, they are the fault of the UI/stupid rules/aren't a problem in the first place at all. Yet what the community can't see is the volume of comments that get flagged, and how much time we as a mod team spend dealing with them.

So we make meta posts. And discuss whether we are being too hard/too soft in regards to the issue, try to come up with alternate solutions, but at the end of the day it's up to the community to decide what they want to do about the issue. Ideally we come to a conclusion as a community, but in the meantime we have to handle those daily tasks when there is no consensus, and that can be tough.

Is there anything you're hoping the new moderators will do or change that you never quite got around to? What's on your "moderator wish list", and why is it important?

I really wanted to get a better collection of posts. We have some good information, but it needs to be organized. A lot like our tags.

What advice do you have for somebody considering this job? What are the questions people should be asking but aren't?

99% of what a mod does can be done just as well (and sometimes usually better) by the community:

  • Commenting
  • Editing
  • Reviewing
  • Creating consensus on meta

The other 1% is janitorial work (flag handling, etc.) and making executive decisions when there isn't a consensus in the community. To be a good mod, make good use of the tools you have before being a mod, and then make sure you have the extra passion for this community to handle the decidedly less glamorous remaining 1%.

  • Oh, good idea - adding to this post for the new election. I will try to add my own answer before nominations close (but, fair warning, probably not until Sunday). – Monica Cellio Aug 6 '14 at 14:26
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Well, I wasn't a mod when I asked the question but I am now, so I'll talk to myself a bit. :-)

What do you love about the moderator job on TWP?

Being part of a solid moderator team is great. You will not be doing this alone. We've all been able to learn from each other, both about the site and about moderation. We each have stronger and weaker skills, but the team is pretty darn solid. I'm looking forward to having a new person in the mix.

How do you spend your moderation time? Which tasks take the largest amounts of time? And roughly speaking, how much time do you spend on moderation tasks (not counting your "just plain user" time like asking and answering questions)?

I guess I average about 30 minutes a day on mod tasks on the site. I'm not counting meta participation in that; I'd do that as a user anyway. Most of the time goes to handling flags, some to tracking changes on our most-active questions, and some to investigating patterns of behavior (being intentionally vague here, but if I see a pattern in flags, I look to see if it's isolated or part of a bigger picture).

My chat time is pretty erratic; I tend to monitor the transcripts of our rooms but often don't enter a room unless I have something to say. I should probably be more available in chat, as that's an important means for people to casually ask a mod a question. OTOH, many questions can be handled by higher-rep users too. OT3rdH, we don't want chat to become a ghost town.

What have been your biggest challenges as a moderator? Without revealing privileged information, can you talk about how you (personally and collectively) have addressed them?

Sometimes there is a mismatch between site rules -- both our own agreed-upon rules (like "back it up") and SE rules (like "Q&A, not forum") -- and what people do. Let me talk about the forum problem: we have a major disconnect over use of comments, which produces (a) lots of comments to dig through, (b) flags on those comments, and (c) complaints when we handle those flags or otherwise clean up. But even if the community wholeheartedly said "we want a forum, not this site" (which it hasn't), we still wouldn't do that, because we are also part of Stack Exchange. So moderating all that can be a little draining.

Is there anything you're hoping the new moderators will do or change that you never quite got around to? What's on your "moderator wish list", and why is it important?

I'd like to see some more meta cleanup -- not removing anything, to be clear, but I'd like us to refine a small collection of posts for which there's frequent need to link. Such posts should be well-written, targeted, and free of the extensive discussion that sometimes happens in comments (which is otherwise proper on meta). Jmac started to do some of this; I had lofty intentions but haven't done anything about them. It's important because most users want to do the right thing but might not know how, so giving them good guidance is essential to helping them succeed here.

(Some of these meta posts might more properly go into the Help Center. Where possible, we should absolutely do that. We have limited control over that.)

What advice do you have for somebody considering this job? What are the questions people should be asking but aren't?

Advice:

  • Work to get the community to do the things it can do. I do a little happy dance every time I see a helpful comment about one of our more-common issues from someone who hasn't done that in the past. Encourage other users, remind them of what they can do, and, when needed, be prepared to push folks a little.

  • Remain part of the community. Don't stop asking, answering, commenting, editing, etc. You're a mod but you're also a user; if you become only a mod you won't enjoy the site as much.

  • Get (or stay) involved on the network. The Workplace is a great little corner of SE, but it's only one of 127 sites. I think the best moderators are active on several sites, so they can bring lessons learned from other sites to The Workplace and so they can get valuable network perspective. And if you aren't already paying attention to MSE, I recommend you do so.

  • Think long-term. A diamond is (potentially) for life, so before standing for election, think about the level of commitment you can offer. Yes you can step down of course; nobody's going to hold your feet to the fire. But look past the next couple months and ask yourself: do I have the time and energy to do this for a while? Will this still be fun in a year? And the flip side of that: if you don't have it now that's ok; there'll be opportunities later, because (a) sometimes people do step down (or get hired by SE :-) ), and (b) the site is likely to grow and need a larger team over time.

I can't currently think of any questions that ought to be asked of all the candidates that aren't; y'all are doing a good job on that. I'll be stepping into the election chat room to ask some candidate-specific questions, and I encourage everybody else to do the same.

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