Stefan Kaeser, better known to the vBulletin Community as Xenon, kindly agreed to answer our questions for this Admin Zone Interview. Xenon is an Administrator at the official vBulletin Hacking Site vBulletin.org. He is well respected as both a coder and as an Admin. We thank Xenon for taking the time out of his busy schedule to tell us about himself and his work.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hmm, where to start? I'm a young man in my mid-twenties. I'm still single, and live in a small apartment in a mid-sized town in Bavaria, Germany. I grew up in a little village within the Bavarian Forest, and I still miss the calm life there... but I enjoy the town I live now as well. I can go up per pedes, sitting around in a Coffee Shop, or going out with friends. On the other time, I have to study Computer Science and Mathematics at the University. So you see it's not such an interesting life, but I enjoy it.
How did you come to be Administrator of vBulletin.org?
I think you can describe it as the classical way. I joined vBulletin.org on day one, and helped a lot of users with their coding. So as some of the older mods were gone, I was made one. After doing a lot of moderating and always begging the former admin to do this or that (even giving him complete files or codes to upload), he (Chen Avinadav) chose me and Erwin to take over his job as he doesn't have the time anymore.
How would you describe your Moderation style?
It would be better to ask the users about that ^^. Personally I think that my Moderation style is just as it should be most of the time. I consider myself as a user first and try to have fun and such. I normally have a line, if you don't cross this line, then you can live with me just fine. But once the line is crossed, I am very strict. Even so, I always prefer to talk to the users before taking any major action. As experience shows, that doesn't always work, so if the last barrier is down, I’m not a nice mod anymore. But apart from those individuals, I’d say my moderation style is quite fair, and users appreciate it. Some say I should be more strict on some issues, but as I said, I’m more a user myself, and consider what I would want to have as a moderator/admin, and then I try to behave like that.
What trait or skill do you think is most important for managing an online community?
Managing an online community means that you must have much patience and a thick skin. You must be able to draw a line between you as a human being and you as the authority. It's normal that from time to time a few users rise up against the authority, for whatever reasons, so you have to be able not to take these things personally.
Are there any particular things that drive you crazy as Admin?
Well, as my last answer shows, you must have patience, and I think I have it. But even so, I can get little upset if users are being ignorant, not reading the rules/announcements and then rant about it. There is nothing more upsetting then moving a ton of threads into the correct forums, just because users seem not to be able to read the forum descriptions. I know, that this is a general problem on online communities, so I’m not getting that mad than it may sound now, but hey, you were asking that question.
vBulletin.org went through a bit of a reorganization a few months back, and now seems to be quickly regaining it's old glory. What went wrong, and how was it made right so quickly?
Well, I cannot say anything went wrong. Let's blame Jelsoft (or more specifically the vBulletin devs for their delay ^^), for those bad times. Actually the greatest problem we had, was that we didn't allow vB3 Hacking during the Beta Stage, which forced a lot of users to search for other places. Now that vb3 Hacking is allowed and the amount of hacks is increasing, we are again on the way to reach the old glory or even going further Another thing could be that interaction with Jelsoft is getting better. This and our increased staff lead to a better mood of some of our mods. Some were overworked, and therefore their skin wasn't that thick as it should have been sometimes... But now, we have much more fun again on working on vbulletin.org, you can see that in our private chats, and also in our hack releases/supports/also. And we won't stop now, there are so many plans to fulfill in the future to make vb.org a better place day byday.
How has vB3 affected the vBulletin hacking Community?
I think the cleanness of vb3's code leads to better coding by the hackers as well. vB3 is much easier to hack than vb2 was, mostly because of much more outsourced functions and the template conditionals. But on the other hand i think that the hacking community hasn't reached its best level right now. If you take a look into the Release forums, you can see that most Hacks are just ported over from their vb2 counterparts. Of course they are coded in a much better way, as the coders gained more experience over the years, but I hope that we will see some fresh ideas soon, once the needed ports are done.
How did you become such an expert code hacker?
Well actually it's learning by doing. In the days of vB 1.1.6 I was an admin somewhere else, and i needed a simple addition to the acp, so i asked on vb.com (vb.org wasn't open during that time). As no one cared about my request, i just opened the files and tried to do it myself. I have coded in Basic, C and HTML before so you can say i did know the basics, but it was the first php code change ever. Since that day I continued like that. Every time I got an idea for a cool feature I would sit down and try to do it. And if it was a feature I didn't really need, then i just tried to do it in my mind as training. That ability, and the free time for answering requests on vb.org got me deeper into the vb code than ever expected. As I am a perfectionist, every time i see a piece of code, I try to optimize it, and so I got to the coding level I am now. People consider me an expert, but I am still improving myself. You can always learn something new.
How much of your time is spent on hacking?
Actually, not as much time as I’d like to spend on it. I have to do a lot for the University, and administrating vbulletin.org takes a lot time as well, without hacking... But I at least try to spend at least 2 hours a day on codes in general.
What advice would you give to people just starting out learning to hack?
Doing it the same way that I did. Trying to find features you need. If there is already a hack, then download it, and read through it. Try to understand it, and change little things on it, so it fits absolutely. But most important is to do it in small steps. You cannot start with big hacks like the store hack for example. Always going forward slowly, having one bookmark open on php.net to look up functions immediately if you don't know what they're doing.
Are you Admin of any other Boards?
I am Admin of www.strategy-forum.de, but that's just for fun. But it's my own board. Apart from that I am admin in some other boards, for technical things, but not publicly. I don't have that much time to administer any more boards.
What is the significance of your username Xenon?
The name has it's roots in the Greek language. It means "the unknown" and I though that fits in best for me, as no one really knows me, and I always like to be mysterious.
What Boards or other Websites do you visit for fun?
vbulletin.com. Hmm, I consider vBulletin as my hobby, so most websites I visit have to do with codings. Apart from that there are www.comicforum.de as well as www.startrek.com. And a few private sites of my friends.
What do you do when you're not online?
Hmm, when should that be? ^^. Well, I’m online most of the time, but when I’m not, then i go out with friend, or if i am at home, then i enjoy reading books (mostly philosophically ones like Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Sun Tsu or such). I also enjoy going up in town, sitting in a Cafe and drinking coffee. Watching DVD's or going to cinema is also a way for spending my time.
Tell us something we don't know about you.
Well if I’d do so, then you would know, and then it would be a paradox, as you said I should tell something you don't know.
What does the future hold for you - what are your intermediate and long range plans/goals?
I hope the future holds a lot of money for me. My intermediate plan is to finish my studies on university to get my diploma. Maybe even getting a Doctor's title if i want to stay there a bit longer ^^. Apart from that I’m looking for a job as coder in the future. My long range plans are to find such a job, maybe moving to Japan (I love that country), keeping as healthy as I am now, and who knows, maybe even children, but those can wait (as I enjoy being single, and a woman is unfortunately needed ^^).