When you help someone up a hill, you get that much closer to the top yourself. -Anonymous


In 2006, I took a summer internship that ended up keeping me somewhat less than busy. I had been a Board reader previously, but it wasn't until that internship that I read it consistently every day. After a few weeks of consistent reading, I applied to be a writer, and was accepted on August 1, 2006.

When school started up again in the fall, we had a number of new writers and a new editor as well. Everyone was busy trying to handle the huge spike in questions that comes with the new semester. I noticed that in all the bustle, some answers were slipping through with misspelled words or grammatical errors that didn't reflect well on the Board. I started taking an hour or so every night to proofread the new answers written that day, flagging any answers with obvious errors so that either the writer or one of the editors could fix it.

Well, apparently the editors got tired of seeing all my flagged answers because on October 14 of that year, I was invited to be an editor. At first, I was mostly responsible for preparing the next day's posts, while the other editors took care of managing our writers, sending out applications, coordinating with our web developers, and working with our sponsors.

Over time, the other editors moved on, and I inherited the role of head editor. It's hard to remember all the significant events that happened over the 2 years I was in charge of the Board, but one thing stands out clearly.

Board 5.0

The current Board software wasn't too bad from the reader's perspective, but from the inside it was a different story. All answers had to be written in HTML, which meant that every writer had to learn how to write things like <a href="http://theboard.byu.edu">This is a link to <b>The Board</b></a> just to put a link in an answer. This was a steep learning curve for many of the writers.

The management tools used by the editors were even more lacking. All writers were supposed to contribute at least 8 answers every week in order to maintain active status on the Board. Unfortunately, there was nowhere that writers could actually see how many answers they had written! There was a page that showed how many of their answers had posted that week, but that metric wasn't always the same thing. (e.g. A writer who answered eight 10-hour-old questions the night before the deadline would see a big fat zero on that page, since none of their answers had actually posted.) That difference between answers written and answers posted had caused a number of hard feelings between editors and writers over the years.

Unfortunately, the current Board system was built somewhat like a house of cards; it looked nice and mostly did what it was supposed to, but making any change was likely to bring disaster. So the software stayed in a mostly stagnant state, and Board staff became more and more frustrated with it.

From the first day I was accepted as a writer, I had heard that the legendary "Board 5.0" project was under way. It was supposed to be a complete rewrite of the Board software, allowing us to many things that we couldn't do previously. Our current web developers were designing the new system, and it would be great.

But the story never seemed to change. Design was under way, but no actual programming ever seemed to happen. By the time I became head editor, none of the developers who had contributed to the design work were even around any more. A fresh start was needed.

In one of my computer science courses, we had to build a web-based system using the Ruby on Rails framework. I decided to build a prototype of what Board 5.0 could be. In just two weeks, I had a basic system that supported questions and answers and automatically posted them after one hour, varying permissions for readers vs writers, and a simple commenting system. It was far from a production-ready system, but it demonstrated the power of building on an existing framework instead of writing our own from scratch.

I talked to Curious Physics Minor (our lone developer at the time) about the possibility of building Board 5.0 on Ruby on Rails. He was interested, but didn't know any Ruby. He was a fan of Python, though, and he'd heard about a similar framework for Python called Django. He started investigating it, and liked it a lot. So on December 16, 2008, we tentatively decided to start building 5.0 based on Django.

CPM and I started learning Django, and made quite a bit of progress. We took the summer of 2009 off for real-world work, but got back at it in the fall. I realized that I didn't have time to do all the Editor stuff that needed to be done and help out with development, so in August 2009, I stepped down as an editor and focused completely on getting 5.0 ready to go. A couple months later, Laser Jock started helping as well.

On July 30, 2010, we held a ribbon-cutting party with the writers and launched Board 5.0 to the world. It was the culmination of a project that had been under way for nearly five years, and everyone was thrilled to finally have it available.

You can read more about the changes introduced in Board 5.0, and the history behind it, on our Behind the Board page.

Getting Board 5.0 finished was the main focus of my Board editorship. Of course, as an editor I dealt with hiring and firing, sensitive questions and occasional internal disputes. I feel like I did a good job of all that, but Board 5.0 is the thing I look back on as my big contribution.