The Subforum Leader Handbook

This handbook is a compliment to The freeCodeCamp Moderator Handbook.

This handbook will give you some ideas for how you can lead your chosen subforum(s).

In short, our goal is to keep people:

  • informed
  • inspired
  • and un-stuck

A brief history of the forum

We created the freeCodeCamp forum in early 2016 as a supportive place for people to get programming help.

At the time, many people were dissatisfied with sites like Stack Overflow, and the curt answers they were getting there. (That is, if they were getting answers at all. Stack Overflow moderators would often mark new questions as “duplicate” or “off-topic” or otherwise close them before people could get an answer.)

The freeCodeCamp forum quickly became the go-to place to get programming help, and is now one largest programming forums on the web. As of November 2019, it gets more than 5 million views per month.

In 2017, the forum’s mission expanded beyond programming help. We added a “Career Advice” subforum, and a “You Can Do This!” subforum so people could help motivate one another. These have both been critical to the success of people throughout the developer community.

For the first couple years, most of the forum’s visitors were coming directly from freeCodeCamp’s curriculum. These days, increasingly more people are discovering the forum through Google searches.

Only a few people participate in any given forum discussion. But Google may guide many, many other people to that same discussion.

This means that a single person asking a single question may ultimately help thousands of people who have the same question.

This is yet another reason why the moderation is so important. These forum discussions are often the first impression people have of the greater developer community.

Introducing Discipline-focused Subforums

In November 2019, we created 7 new subforums - each organized around a software development discipline. They are:

  • Data Science
  • Design
  • DevOps
  • InfoSec
  • Machine Learning
  • Mobile App Development
  • Web Development

Each of these subforums are their own communities. They are all connected through the forum - similar to how subreddits are all art of the same And importantly, all of these communities have a shared, well-vetted moderator team.

Each subforum has different leaders who focus on keeping their subforum active and supportive.

Unlike the Programming Help and Curriculum Help subforums, these new subforums aren’t just for asking questions. They’re for sharing resources.

Hear a good DevOps podcast interview? Share it in the DevOps subforum.

Read an interesting DevOps outage post-mortem? Share it in the DevOps subforum.

Did AWS or Azure just launch a new service? Write a quick primer on what the service does and how it might be useful.

From there, the community can discuss it.

Our goal is to make each of these subforums a place people come back to each day to learn more about their field. As more and more regulars hang out on these subforums, the quality of the discussions and the resources shared will continue to improve.

Eventually these subforums can achieve the level of critical mass that large programming subreddits have - but, again, within freeCodeCamp’s more supportive community.

Tips for leading these subforums

You can apply to become a subforum leader here. This is a selective process, and I personally interview every finalist.

Once you’ve become a Moderator and Subforum Leader, you will have a lot more power to affect change here within the forum.

Use “Moderator Vision” to know who’s new so you can welcome them

As a moderator, you’ll often see little blue notes above people’s posts that only moderators can see. I call this “moderator vision” (kind of like Spiderman’s Spidey Sense).

These can give you a hint when someone hasn’t been active for a year or so, or when it’s someone’s first post on the forum. Then, when you respond to them, you can start by welcoming them to the forum (or welcoming them back).

Use the Super Secret Staff Subforum to ask questions to other mods

Only moderators can see the Staff Subforum. You can ask questions to just the other moderators there. You can also read what other moderators are talking about.

As I like to say, when it comes to having healthy online communities, there are 3 big things that matter the most:

  1. Moderators
  2. Moderators
  3. Moderators

We can all be better moderators by being better informed. And this Staff Section gives us the power to Vulcan Mind Meld and lock our collective consciousnesses.

Together we can hone our moderator instincts, and present a consistently reasonable image to the rest of the freeCodeCamp community.

At the end of the day, we want freeCodeCamp to be the most supportive developer community on the planet. And this forum is how we’ll get there.