Slack for Mac admins: A primer

SlackSlack is the new hotness for the Mac admin support community. Since May, more than 850 people have joined the MacAdmins team, which is now one of the larger virtual gatherings of professionals from the education, enterprise and consulting markets supporting Apple products using commercial and open source tools.

Why should you be on Slack?

The Mac admin community is global yet very close. Its members have a history of supporting each other with tools, scripts, best practices, job postings, meetups, conferences and personal friendships.

The Mac admin community is global yet very close.

Everyone needs support and everyone can provide support. That’s what makes a support community. Here’s how to jump in and get started with the Slack MacAdmins team—a welcoming community that’s easy to join.

  • team (tēm) noun A group coming together to achieve a common goal. MacAdmins is the Slack name for this community.

Sign up1) Sign up

Slack requires someone invite you to the MacAdmins team. Visit macadmins.org and enter a valid email address. Everyone within the MacAdmins team can see this address but it’s not posted publicly outside the team. You can change your email address at any time.

Follow the instructions you receive at this email address to complete the sign-up. Note in the email the team Slack domain is macadmins.slack.com.

2) Create a username

Slack usernames are like computer account and most other account names. They’re short, lowercase and must be unique. Later, you can add your full name and set your preferences to show display names instead of username.

3) Explore Slack

If this is your first time using Slack, take a little time to review the Explore Slack tutorial.

Slack profile4) Complete your profile

After exploring Slack, let others know more about you by completing your profile.

  • profile (prō fīl) noun A user’s summary of personal details or current situation.

People want to know about you. You may have common interests, live in the same city or have mutually beneficial skill-sets. Your profile is your introduction to the MacAdmins team. Add as little or as much detail as you like but keep in mind that more detail helps others find and connect with you.

Locate your username in the upper left corner of the Slack page and choose Profile & Account and then click the Profile tab.

The most important piece of information you can add to your profile is your name. Your real name. You’re participating in a support community of professionals.

While you’re there, click on the Photos tab and add a picture of yourself or your favorite avatar. Keep in mind that people like to see people’s faces. A mugshot really makes getting to know you easier, especially if you attend conferences or meetups.

5) Read the Code of Conduct

You’ll find it here: https://github.com/macadminsdotorg/codeofconduct

A handful of your fellow Mac admins are responsible for monitoring the MacAdmins team and making sure it’s a great experience for everyone who participates. But they have rules—reasonable and professional rules—about how you should behave.

You only need abide by Wheaton’s Law: Don’t be a dick. The rest is just commentary.

Wheaton’s Law: Don’t be a dick.

6) Join some channels

The first thing you’ll want to do in the MacAdmins team is join some channels.

  • channel (‘CHanl) noun A chat room created by MacAdmins team members to help focus conversation around a specific topic. Channel names begin with the pound or hashtag symbol #.

MacAdmins team members have created a little more than 100 channels about specific topics. They include #general, #jamfnation, #filevault, #ios, #munki, #osx-server, #reposado, etc. Twin Cities Mac admins should look for #mspmacadmins.

  • fracture (‘frakCHǝr) verb The cracking or breaking of something. When someone creates another location to discuss the same topic, that person is fracturing the conversation.

Before creating your own channel, search for a channel that may already exist. Chances are one does already exist. Keeping track of two or more conversations about the same topic is difficult. Don’t fracture discussions around a topic.

Look for the channels list in the upper left corner of the Slack window. To see a full list of channels, click the link at the end of your channels list. You can preview a channel without joining it to see if the conversation interests you. Join the channel if you’d like to keep up on what’s discussed there.

Channels you’ve joined appear in your Channels list. Bolded channels mean there’s new discussion to see since the last time you viewed it.

Slack mentions7) Mention someone

If you’d like to call attention to someone then mention that person.

  • mention (menCHǝn) verb A reference to someone. Mentions begin with the at symbol @ followed by a username.

People like to hear their names in conversation. Mentions are a good way to let someone know you were talking about him or her. They’re also a good way to let someone know in a channel that you’re speaking directly to him or her.

Use the message field at the bottom of the Slack window to mention someone. As you type a username, Slack auto-completes names for you. Start your message with a mention if you’re wanting to speak directly to that person. Or just mention the person in the middle of a comment or question such as:

“I read that @martin.moose just updated his script.”

8) Direct messages

You can have conversations within channels where any MacAdmins team member can participate or you can choose a single team member for a private conversation. Just click the username on the left to start a private conversation with that person.

Private conversations allow you to discuss sensitive topics with someone or just filter out the noise from the rest of team. They’re a great way to get 1:1 advice from another Mac admin but remember that your discussion may benefit someone else. Stick with channels for conversation and use direct messages only when you need the privacy.

9) Download Slack apps

Slack offers apps for Android, Windows, OS X and iOS. And the iOS app includes a Apple Watch app.

The desktop apps offer a rich experience that looks identical to the website. But once you’re signed in, you can leave them running in the background and check them at your leisure. The mobile apps, especially the Apple Watch app, are better suited for receiving alerts that you’ve been mentioned or that someone has sent you a direct message.

Channel Info10) Channel Info

You can find out more about a particular channel by clicking the Show Channel Info button at the top of the window. This opens the Channel Info pane to the right of the window.

The Channel Info pane includes a brief description of the channel and a link you can click to invite other MacAdmins team members to the channel.

Pinned items are chat messages in the channel that someone thinks everyone in the channel should see. For example, if someone posts a meetup announcement in the #philly channel then he or she can click the cog icon to the right of the announcement and pin it to the side. Unless the channel is restricted, anyone can pin or unpin anything.

The Channel Info pane also lists Members who’ve joined the channel. Joining a channel indicates you’ve got a shared interest in the channel topic with the other group members. Green dots to the right of the member names indicate those MacAdmins team members are online right now.

11) Integrations

What makes Slack slick is its integrations or connections to other online services. Because MacAdmins is using the free version of Slack, it’s limited to five connected services and these are already in use. But anyone can take advantage of these integrations.

For example, anyone can subscribe to an RSS feed in a channel by visiting the channel and using the /feed slash command. The #mspmacadmins channel is subscribed to the Twin Cities Mac Admins RSS feed using:

/feed subscribe https://www.mspmacadmins.org/feed/

New posts from the site automatically appear in the channel in a few seconds.

Other integrations include:

12) Slash commands

IRC users should be familiar with slash commands and Slack includes a similar feature for keeping your fingers on your keyboard for quick access to common tasks. Enter the following commands into the message field at the bottom of the window:

Shrug

toggleaway

Reminder

13) Practice with slackbot

Want to try a new slash command or emoji code but you’re not sure what will happen? Practice with the slackbot. This is the first user listed in the Direct Messages list to the left of the Slack window. Click the slackbot user to start a private conversation. Everything you type and say will be kept private just between the two of you.

slackbot

A great time-suck

Like any other social medium, Slack can quickly become a great time-suck, especially during your first days using it. You can avoid its vortex with a few simple rules.

  1. Join only to those channels that interest you most. Don’t join all of them. You can always preview a channel without joining it.
  2. Don’t try to read everything in those channels with lots of chatter.
  3. Be consistent reviewing channels you’ve joined. Like your email Inbox, check them on a regular basis (hourly, daily, etc.).
  4. Don’t let bolded channels (indicating new messages) distract you from work. Quick Slack if you need to remove its distracting influence.
  5. Be judicious with messages and pictures you post. It’s OK to post most anything in #general or GIFs in #giphy, but try to keep channels mostly on topic. We’re human, so off-topic conversations will happen. That’s OK.

Above all

Participate. That’s how communities thrive.