Andreas, AKA "the hacker formerly known as KirbyDE", recently joined the Jelsoft staff as a vBulletin developer. As Kirby, Andreas was the source of quite a few modifications and hacks at vBulletin.org. Now, he's using that experience to troubleshoot bugs in the vBulletin code. Although this takes up a fair bit of his day, Andreas still takes the time to publish new hacks and give hack support when he has the time, and to give advice to other hackers regarding modification techniques. Between bugs, Andreas found some time to take part in an Admin Zone interview.
Can you give us a brief bio?
My name is Andreas, and I am 26 years old. I was born in a small village in Bavaria (Germany) and grew up there. After finishing school, I did my one year of civilian service (instead of going to the army) at a residential home for the elderly. Since then, I've been studying computer science at the University of Technology Darmstadt (Germany).
What is your educational background?
I did my Abitur back in 2000. At the moment, I am studying at the university.
What do you consider as your accomplishments up to this point?
I’ve successfully gotten a driver’s license. (Was a bit of a problem, as it took 3 attempts to complete ...)
Jokes aside: Nothing really special I think.
Any failures you’d like to tell us about?
Spellcheckers... and women.
I’ve tried to write a good spellchecker several times, but always failed. Also, I am still single and expect to keep this state for another long time.
What are your favorite books? Movies? TV shows? Music? Games? Foods? Beverages?
To be honest, I don’t read many books - except reference books.
I like science-fiction and action movies, Enemy of the State and Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home being two of my favourites.
Normally, I don’t listen music, except when I am in the car or at work (I used to work at a gas-station part-time, still doing so every now and then). Guess nobody would believe than, but I only have 2 music CDs - in total.
Although I do have a TV, I seldom use it - most content is just stupid or boring. What I do like are shows like Who Want’s To Be A Millionaire or “Wetten, Dass ...?” (don’t know if anybody knows that,
it’s a show where people bet they can do exceptional things like dragging a 40ton truck with muscle power).
I like playing games like monopoly or settlers with my friends or family; sometimes I also do CSS or UT network matches, but I am utterly bad at that.
Games like Warcraft or Age of Empires are also nice.
My favourite beverage is Apfelschorle (there doesn’t seem to be a good translation, it’s basically sparkling water with apple-juice).
And now the surprise: I hate beer.
How did you get involved in coding?
Uuh, that was a looong time ago. I guess it was when I was about 12 yers old or so, and started “playing” the my dad’s old computer. He got a new one at this time gave me his old (it was a 286 with 1 MB RAM and 40 MB HDs). I had some addresses that needed to be entered and formatted. After some time, I got annoyed by doing the formatting manually and tried to do some macros to help me, which I got to work quite well after a while. I continued writing little “programs” with batchfiles, BASIC (sigh!) and debug.exe ... it didn’t last too long until I realized that those tools were too limiting and I needed a “real” programming language. So I saved all my pocket money and bought Turbo Pascal 7 from Borland. That was the language I used to teach myself general programming concepts (e.g. loops, pointers, data structures like arrays, etc). I’ve then spent several years with it (and the Windows Version and Delphi), afterwards moved on to C++ and later Perl, JAVA, x86 and MIPS assembler, etc. - and lately PHP.
Tell us about your career as a vBulletin code hacker.
That was a bit strange...
Back in ... I think it was 2003, one of the Admins (he was the tech guy) of my Board somehow disappeared, and the board suffered some problems and was way behind update schedule. As I had just become part of the team and also had some experience with bulletin board software (I was hacking UBB light around 2000/2001), I offered to help with the software. So I fixed the problems, helped with the upgrade and added some stuff which the admins wanted to have. While doing that, I realized how powerful and well-written vBulletin was and started to look more into it - so I come across vBulletin.org.
I read a few threads, registered and started to answer some questions, contributed code here or there - which was really bad code at the beginning.
Tell us about the vBulletin hacking community.
The community is amazing! There are so many creative ideas ... wish I had more time to implement some of them.
Though, I think there are also some problems. Many users (mostly newbies), don’t read installation instructions carefully enough - and it get’s pretty annoying having to state “please follow the instructions and upload the files there and there” for the 259[sup]th[/sup] time.
It would make life easier for both, hackers and end users, if the users were carefully following the instructions - most of the time they are precise. Also, I somewhat have a feeling that there are way more requests than people who actually fill them, which is pity.
I would encourage everybody to try and do it himself if possible in any way; it’s the best way to learn how the system works - and you gain the ability to modify everything exactly in the way you want it.
How has the vBulletin.org community changed over the years? What direction do you see it going in?
I am not a member for too long, so I can’t really say what long-time changes there had been. From my experience, there seem to be less “active” members (eg. those who release hacks) at this time - seems like many (Tigga, KuraFire, Logician - just to name a few) formerly active coders have more or less left the scene, some others have gone commercial. But this might be just normal fluctuation, as it happens in any community. As there are several hundred Hacks already (and new ones coming in every day), I think we don’t have anything to fear about that.
How did you come to join the Jelsoft Team? Is your position with them full or part time?
Some time after 3.5 final was released, I was contacted by Jelsoft asking if I would like to join the team, helping in maintaining vBulletin 3.5. It is a part time job, my main occupation being tracking & fixing bugs.
What are your thoughts on vB 3.5 compared to previous versions?
3.5 is a big step forward. Especially the introduction of the data managers is important in further development, as encapsulating the data and handling it at one central point helps to prevent errors (for example when the same could would have to be run in several subsystems).
How has the plugin system changed things for users and for the hacking community?
It has made things a lot easier for the enduser, and it also makes it easier for hack authors as you don’t have to write your own installers for templates or phrases (many hacks come with their own phrases, templates, etc.) or endless installation instructions.
Though, I am a bit concerned about people becoming “lazy”. In previous versions, we had to modify the files - and even if one had no clue and was just following instructions, there was a chance to learn smth. as one had to look at the code.
Now with the plugin system, it’s more or less plug & play, which gives newbies less understanding about how the system works if they don’t start to code on their own.
In the end, this could mean that there will be only a few people releasing hacks, but I hope that this won’t happen - there are so many creative ideas out there that are at least worth to be implemented as a Hack.
Any hints regarding the future of vB?
It’s done when it’s done!
Did you mind giving up your old username, KirbyDE? What was the significance of that name anyway?
Not too much. As most of you will know, Kirby is a character from old Nintendo Video-Games (Kirby’s Dreamland, etc.). I liked these Games when I was young, so I chose this as a Nick - and as Kirby was already in use I added the TLD of my home country (Germany=.de).
What does your vB.org signature, "Wirtschaft ist wie Wippen: Wenn der auf der einen Seite vor Schwäche runter fällt, knallt der andere auch auf den Arsch", mean in English?
Hehe, interesting question. The vBorg signature originates from some post on my board (Planet-Liebe). I found it pretty funny and very true, so I decided to put it into my signature.
It means that economy doesn’t work it is only based on exploiting poor(er) countries. When they get too weak, the richer countries will run into problems.
How is being an official vBulletin developer similar to modifying the code as a hacker? How is it different?
It is similar in the aspect that both is about vBulletin code. However, developing vBulletin is far more completely than developing hacks. One has to keep future plans in mind, do a lot of checks to not break other parts of the product, and so on.
As a Hacker, you just do your Hack - if it breaks something only a few people will be affected so it’s not a big problem and easy to fix. vBulletin itself on the other hand is being run by thousands of users on many different systems.
Will you still be releasing hacks on vBulletin.org?
If time permits, sure. But support for them (except bug-fixing) will be almost nonexistent.
Describe your typical workday schedule.
Checking if there are open support tickets that need my attention, then checking the bugtracker for responses or new added bugs. If there are new bugs, trying to reproduce them, track down the issue and fix it. Afterwards checking feature suggestions, developer discussions.
What other projects and/or ventures are you involved in?
Except “my” board (Planet-Liebe) and some small programming jobs every now and then - none.
What advice can you give people just getting into programming?
Don’t start with a lousily typed language! IMHO that’s the biggest mistake one can make, as it leads to bad programming style. A good choice for a beginners language (although I don’t like it too much ) is JAVA.
What future changes do you expect in forum software development?
We will see a transition from “just” forum software into complete community frameworks that include photo galleries, blogs, chat, friendship networks and so on.
The community factor is becoming more and more important.
Giving people the ability to post messages isn’t enough, you have to keep them entertained - keep them interested in being online on your sites.
What is your opinion on the open source vs. proprietary software debate in general?
Both types of software do have specific advantages and disadvantages, and I don’t think that one category is superior over the other in general. There are a lot of good open source projects (Apache for example). Without them, computing in general and specifically the web wouldn’t be the same as it is today - as it wouldn’t without proprietary software like Microsoft Windows.
Which online communities do you enjoy as a member?
Uuh .. a lot! Can’t name all of them.
How many forums do you own / administrate?
One, my Hack-Testboard kirbydemos.ath.cx/forum (And, of course, dozens of Test-Installations).
How would you describe your moderation style?
I am trying to be fair to everyone. Whenever there are disputes between users (or users and staff), I try to find a compromise which is acceptable for either party. Also, I try not to get too involved in discussions, as this causes you not to be objective any longer. Though, I must admit, I do fail at this quite often.
What are the most common technical mistakes you see new admins making?
Sticking too many hacks into the board.
One should only add the Hacks that are “really needed”. 5 “extra pips” on postbit and a 3 row navbar menu doesn’t add functionality, it just makes the site bloated and hard to navigate.
What are the most common administrative mistakes you see new admins making?
Creating too many forums. If you are just starting a new board with a few members, there is no need for 100+ subforums - as there will only be a few posts anyway. I think it’s enough to start with a few forums (Site Feedback/Problems, General Small-Tals/OT-Forum, 1-3 “Topic Forums”), and only add new forums when they really become necessary.
What are your thoughts on blogs in general? Will blogging become more popular or will it fade away? Do you have a blog?
Blogging is important, but not as a standalone feature. The “Blog-Hype” has already passed, and I think we will see Blogs becoming an integrated part of active communities.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known 10 years ago?
I should have spent more time meeting friends, etc. than sitting in front of my computer ...
What does the future hold for you?
Who really knows the future? At least I don’t and I think sometimes it’s best if we do not know what the future holds.