majestic cedar pine
Creative Commons License photo credit: digika

In sporting circles, especially in the National Football League (NFL), the idea of a coaching tree is fairly well known.

According to Wikipedia, a coaching tree is “is similar to a family tree except it shows the relationships of coaches instead of family members. There are several different ways to define a relationship between two coaches. The most common way to make the distinction is if a coach worked as an assistant on a particular head coach’s staff for at least a season then that coach can be counted as being a branch on the head coach’s coaching tree.”

In other words, if a coach works as an assistant under one head coach, and that assistant goes on to become a head coach, that assistant is a member of the head coach’s coaching tree. The Wikipedia page for NFL coaching trees gives the pre-eminent example of Bill Walsh, the former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

The tree can extend many generations. In fact, the Walsh tree lists a total of 36 past or present NFL head coaches who can trace their coaching “roots,” if you will, back to Bill Walsh.

How Deep is Your Moderator Tree?

Recently, I have been thinking about this and how it applies to those who have been a moderator under me. I think that, as a leader or manager of any kind, there should be a sense of pride when someone that you managed goes on to do great or greater things. There is something to be said for an effective leader that has many people who have worked under him or her who go on to make a name for themselves, in one way or another.

Now, I have no delusion that would allow me to suggest that I deeply impact the lives of my moderators. Maybe I have some impact, with some, sure. But what they go on to do, they deserve the credit for. If I helped them, in any small way, that is all the better and I am thrilled to have been able to play that role, to recognize them early on and to maybe give them a slightly wider platform to speak to.

What Are Accomplishments?

One of the things that the vast majority of my current and former moderators have in common is that they are great people. They are young and old, male and female, international. Mothers, fathers, grandparents. Single, married. Stay at home parents, providers. They are a great mix of all sorts of backgrounds. And they were invited to join my staff because of the exceptional human qualities that they possess.

I am going to mention a few names, as an example of professional accomplishments that some of my ex-moderators have gone onto, but at the same time, I don’t want to undermine the personal successes that everyone has accomplished. Writing a book, for example, means little in the grand scheme of things. Being a good parent or providing for your family, means the world.

These are things that quality people do, that they don’t necessarily get the greatest credit for, even if it is deserved. Nonetheless, those are the greatest accomplishments and my staff members, past and present, are of that high level of quality – generally speaking.

I am so proud of that, but I am also proud when members of my team go on to accomplish great things professionally, when they are given great opportunities and take advantage of them. I’m just happy to see someone I recognized, go on to be recognized by others in the same way.


Jared W. Smith

Jared is one of my best friends in the world. I met him nearly 10 years ago through our use of phpBB 1. He was member #3 on the Support Forums and was a member of my Support Team there. He played a pivotal role in our early development.

We’re the same age, so we were 15 way back then and those are such fun times to look back on. I feel like we were laying the foundation for what we would later become. He was a great member of the team, supporting me through what were challenging times for the site. He’s just a consummate good person and, through those early days, our friendship was forged.

When an editor at Apress approached me to ask if I’d be interested in writing what would become the second phpBB-focused book ever released (“Building Online Communities with Drupal, phpBB, and WordPress”), I knew I couldn’t write the book. I know phpBB very well, but I’m not a programmer and wouldn’t be the right choice.

photo credit: Jared W. Smith

But, I knew someone that would do great. Jared jumped at the opportunity and had a book deal with a major technical publisher just before he turned 21. That’s no small feat. He knocked the book out of the park.

After more than a couple of years as the Webmaster for the College of Charleston, Jared became the Webmaster of ReadWriteWeb, one of the most influential technology publications and one of the top 20 blogs in the world.

(Speaking of personal accomplishments – he just recently got engaged!)

Jeremy Rogers

Before I was approached to write the second phpBB book ever to be published, I was approached by a small press in the U.K., Packt, to write the first one. Same deal. I was not the one to write this book. But, I knew who was.

Jeremy, well known throughout the phpBB community as Thoul, co-wrote the first phpBB-focused book to be published, “Building Online Communities with phpBB 2.” It was later shortened and released as the smaller “phpBB: A User Guide.” I wrote the foreword for the big version and served as a technical reviewer for both.

Just like Jared, Jeremy jumped at the opportunity and did a tremendous job and the book was great. But, Jeremy’s influence goes beyond that. I feel confident in saying that he has literally helped at least hundreds of thousands of people through his writing and his work at, his personal website and elsewhere.

You’re talking about one of the most prolific and influential hack authors of the post-phpBB 1 era. He was member #1,427 on the Support Forums (disregard the number in the URL) and has the most posts of anyone all-time, currently 17,901. He has been honored through the Awards with remarkable consistency and longevity, with 13 total honors, at least one in every year that we have run the program, except for 2008, from 2003 through 2010.

I was very thankful to have had Jeremy as a member of my team for so many years, where his attention to detail as a moderator and his team-oriented nature was equal to his skill with phpBB. We even collaborated on a few hacks, like Censor Block, that were great feature ideas for not only phpBB, but for any forum software.

Just as remarkable is that not only is Jeremy prolific, but his work is high quality. When it comes to the programming of phpBB, Jeremy’s mind is amongst the best there is. What makes him truly great is the modest, kind way that he shares it. When I think of some of the great figures in the history of not only, but phpBB in general, I think of Jeremy.

Meik Sievertsen

On the phpBB tip, I really had to bring up Meik. Just like Jeremy, Meik was a highly influential hack author during the days of phpBB 2, authoring one of the most popular hacks for that version of the software, the File Attachment Hack.

Meik went on to join the phpBB development team in February of 2003 and eventually became the Lead Developer of phpBB in September of 2005. He is a vital figure in the development history of phpBB and played an extremely important role in where the software is today, including his leadership in tightening up phpBB 2 and, perhaps more importantly, getting phpBB 3 to a gold release, which was a tremendous milestone and accomplishment for everyone involved.

He brought a great attitude, candor and classiness to the role and he did a great job, before leaving the post in January of 2010. He is now the Server Manager for phpBB.

What a lot of people don’t know was that, before he was the Lead Developer of phpBB, he was a member of my Support Team at Meik, like anyone who is great at helping others, understood the value of helping others in a kind manner. He went on to do a lot of great, great things for the phpBB community as a whole.

Adam Polselli

Finally, I wanted to mention Adam, who was a Moderator at when it launched. He also designed the website and we still use his design to this day.

I mention Adam as yet another example of someone who I might not have done anything for, but someone who I am proud to say was once a member of my team. Though we don’t keep in regular contact, I’ve known him for maybe 8 years or so, going back to when we were both members of staff at the SitePoint Forums.

It was always clear to me that Adam possessed great talent. He has a great eye, great vision and the ability to actually execute on what he sees. And, over the years, it’s been great to watch him grow, become even better and build his name. I can always say that I knew him when he really just got started freelancing.

photo credit: Rdio

In April of 2009, he joined as a Senior Designer. He left the company later that year to join promising music streaming startup Rdio. I always get a kick out of the fact that, whenever someone points me to Rdio, it is my friend Adam’s name and profile that I see on the index page, as an example of the power of Rdio.

These are just four immediate examples to come to mind. But, there are others and this post can only be so long.

Key Takeaways

The old adage about surrounding yourself with smart people is true. Surrounding yourself with smart, good, kind people is the way to go and increases your chances of success. Some people get caught up in trying to make sure that they have some sort of upper hand on those that they manage.

That’s a recipe for weakness. The key is to recognize the strengths of the team and allow those strengths to show. I don’t tell Jeremy how to program, just like I don’t tell my moderators at how to practice the martial arts. Those aren’t my strengths – those are their strengths. Them knowing more than me doesn’t make me feel insecure.

In fact, it’s strength and I utilized it to the best of my ability, deferring to them to exercise their strength and guide my decision making processes, whenever questions of that nature needed to be considered.

That doesn’t mean I couldn’t help them. In fact, I tried to help them whenever I could. Whether it be book deals, references or anything else – whatever I can do to help them to grow or reach a place they want to be, I’ll do. I allow them to tap into my strengths, whatever those are, not just on our community, but in general. Help your people become greater – if you can.

Finally, understand that your people, if they are great, will probably go on to do great things with other people or for their own projects. Whether it’s a paid position or a volunteer role (as is the case with me), their time with you is almost certainly limited. Don’t be selfish. Appreciate what you did while you were together, help them to achieve what they want, if you can (whether or not they are still on your staff), and be proud of them when they go on to great things.

One of the beautiful things about relationships like this, that are supportive, is that you are building connections you can have for a long time – maybe the rest of your life. They are a resource for you and you are a resource for them. It can go deeper than that. And no matter what they move on to, you can always say “hey, you remember when? Yeah, yeah, we did that. Good times.” And now, let’s reach for that next level.