Today marks a momentous occasion, as I have finally attained 20,000 reputation on Server Fault! 20k is by no means the reputation limit, and there are still plenty of other badges to be earned as well, but it is the last reputation-based milestone in my journey. It comes with the title of "Trusted User" and grants an extra layer of powers on the site just shy of full moderator power.
It took me almost two years and 490 answers to achieve it.
In case you don't know, Server Fault is a question and answer site that I have referenced many times before on this blog. It is one site that is part of a larger network of question and answer sites known collectively as Stack Exchange. Server Fault is specifically aimed at IT professionals. People who work with servers and networks in an administrative, engineering or architectural capacity to support a business's IT operations. It is not about programming, nor is it about the enthusiast user at home setting up a Linksys router... though the lines can sometimes be blurry. People come and ask questions on the site, such as "Halp I broke Active Directory" or "How do I SharePoint?", and we gain reputation for providing answers to those questions and have the community vote on them based on the quality of our answers. (Or lose reputation if your answers suck!)
20k reputation is actually just a drop in the bucket on some other Stack Exchange sites such as Stack Overflow, but the difference is that Server Fault only gets a fraction of the traffic that Stack Overflow gets. I've chosen to focus on SF as it's most closely aligned with my own professional ambitions and interests.
Q: Why did I choose Server Fault over the TechNet forums or Experts Exchange?
It's been long enough that I barely remember first stumbling upon the site, but I know I stumbled upon it while researching some problem with WSUS or DHCP or Active Directory or something like that. The site's aesthetic design was very attractive, and the layout made sense to me and it was clean and neat. The questions covered a wide range of interesting things that were right up my alley. I liked the idea of being "rewarded" for giving people good answers and rewarding others for their insight. Even if the reputation is totally intangible and practically meaningless, it still gives me a sense of progression and of having earned something. In a way, it makes a game out of answering people's questions. I know that the TechNet forums does reputation too, but the website doesn't look and feel as nice or have as many features, the questions aren't usually as varied and interesting, and the community (both the askers and the answerers) generally seem lower caliber. Serverfault is chock full of features, including a sweet chat room where you can go and shoot the bull with other sysadmin-type people.
I quickly signed up, and before I knew it I was visiting the site every day to see what types of technology people were discussing and if there were any questions there that I could answer. And after I found out the site ran on a mainly Microsoft stack (IIS, .NET, MS SQL, etc.,) I was totally in love.
*My very first answer on SF. The question was from a Windows Server admin, asking what scripting language he should learn.*
One of the quirks about Server Fault that I wouldn't see on the TechNet forums is that there are a lot of questions about Unix and Unix/Linux applications too. That's a challenge for me because, in case you haven't noticed, I'm a Microsoft evangelist. But that doesn't mean I'm a Linux hater. I know that it's a very solid platform used by millions of people around the world and I want to learn about it too. Even though I tend to opt for using Microsoft platforms and tools, I also get to see other people bringing *nix and Microsoft tech together in fascinating ways, such as this guy, who is setting up 1400 Samba4-based Active Directory Read Only Domain Controllers!
Q: Why would I waste my time answering other people's questions on the internet?
Ah. This is where it gets interesting, you see, because it's not a waste of time. In fact, spending time on Server Fault keeps my skills sharp. Being constantly exposed to new problems, and people applying technology in interesting ways that I had never thought about and running into new types of issues that I had never needed to solve before. Spending time on Server Fault is an investment in myself. I know more about my industry because of that site. It happens again and again that I'll end up reading 3000-word TechNet articles and digging through MSDN documentation on the Active Directory schema just in order to be able to answer someone else's Server Fault question. That's personal enrichment.
And more importantly, I've made friends there. People that I've had the pleasure of talking to over the phone and doing business with in real life. I've stayed up many late, alcohol-fueled nights in the chat room with these guys talking about everything from FusionIO cards to the U.S. Constitution to why I should quit my job and go work with Mark. ;)
In fact, I'm hoping to meet up with some of these guys at TechEd 2014!