I wrote the original opinionated guide to the MacAdmins Slack in 2018, nearly five years ago. I thought it was time for a new, updated guide.
I love MacAdmins Slack. I am logged in most workdays. I use it for research, solving problems, camaraderie, and just plain fun. The community there is wonderful. If you are new to Slack or similar chat/community apps, it can be a little strange.
The MacAdmins Slack also stands out due to its unusual size. As of this writing, there are more than 50,000 accounts on the MacAdmins Slack and more than 5000 weekly active users. There are also far more than 1000 channels.
You might be new to Slack, or new to a public Slack of this size. You might also be new to managing Apple devices and have not encountered the MacAdmins community before. The community in the MacAdmins Slack is amazing, but there are also a few things that are particular to this Slack. So, I tried to put this guide together to help new members get some orientation.
This is, as the title says, highly opinionated. The community is large and diverse and you will find differing opinions on nearly everything.
Note: I have also recently had the honor to join the admins group in the MacAdmins Slack. Nevertheless, this post will often reflect my opinion. The Code of Conduct, however, is “important and enforceable. The Mac Admins Slack Admin Team will enforce this code throughout all channels within the Slack.”
What is Slack?
Slack is a popular message board application. It’s a cross between a bulletin board system and a chat room.
Slack has a web interface and clients for most operating systems. The user interface can differ between the different platforms. Instructions in this post will be for the Mac standalone app version, though most advice will be valid for Slack across all platforms.
The MacAdmins Slack is a particular instance which specializes on topics relevant to Apple Administrators. (macOS and iOS, despite the name) You can sign up here. Please read the Code of Conduct here, as well.
The MacAdmins Slack started out in 2015 as an employee sponsored instance, but since 2022 it is funded by the MacAdmins Foundation.
There are a few terms particular with Slack which might be confusing at first.
Slack help has a helpful general glossary, which can be helpful.
An organization can set up a Slack “Workspace.” You can be a member of and logged into multiple workspaces. You may have a workspace for your job, the MacAdmins Slack and maybe some other social workspaces. You will have a different login and username for each workspace.
Within a workspace, Slack is separated into “channels.” Channels can be public or private. Channel names are prefixed with the symbol
When you sign in for the first time, you are be added to the
#announcements channels by default.
In the left sidebar at the top of the list, you will find an option labeled “More” and in that submenu is a “All Channels” item that allows you to browse and search existing channels. You can also use the search field at the top of the window to search for channels (and everything else).
When you are typing a message and start a word with the
# character Slack will treat this as a link to a channel. When you start typing the channel name Slack will suggest auto-completions. If a channel with the name exists, the word will be linked and users can click it to be taken to that channel.
Public channels in MacAdmins Slack are either on a generic subject (e.g. #security), particular technology (#ios and #macos, and each incarnation, such as #ventura and #monterey), software (e.g. #jamfnation, #microsoft-office, or #adobe), open source projects (#munki, #autopkg, #swiftdialog, or #installomator), regions or countries (#anzmac, #london, #benelux, or #macadminsfr), events (#psumac or #wwdc) or pretty much everything else.
The language on MacAdmins is usually English, though regional channels are often in that region’s language. Be aware that English is not everyone’s first or main language. While this can make communication frustrating on both sides, please remain polite, patient and friendly.
All channels can have a topic which is displayed at the top next to its name. Many channels will use the topic to lay some rules particular for this channel. When you join a channel make sure to read and respect the topic.
To be honest, there are way #toomanychannels. The reason for this is that anyone can create a channel. Before you create a new channel, you should browse and search and maybe ask if there is already a channel for that particular purpose or topic. #general is usually a good place to ask if you can’t find something obvious in the channel browser.
In addition there are private channels, which work basically the same, but cannot be searched and only joined on invitation.
There are a few channels that have special roles or uses:
#general: the “anything” channel, as long as the topic is somewhat MacAdmin related. Questions asked here may are often answered directly or you will be referred to a different channel.
#announcements: used by the team of admins to… well… make announcements. You cannot post in this channel and you cannot leave this channel.
#ask-about-this-slack: for questions to the admins about the MacAdmins Slack (not a support channel on Slack in general)
#gettingstarted: for people new to managing Apple devices. There are quite a few ‘seasoned’ people in this channel ready to answer question you might deem to basic for other channels.
#jobs-board and jobs-chat: The ‘board’ channel is for offering or seeking for jobs. This channels rules state that any discussion about the post and work in general should happen in #jobs-chat. There are some more channels that have this dichotomy, e.g. #blog-feed and #blog-chat.
Emojis are an important part of Slack..
You can just insert an Emoji when typing with the standard macOS or iOS emoji picker. You can also type an emoji name or ‘code’ between colon characters
:grin: will turn into the grinning smiley. This is usually more convenient than the system pickers.
When you see an emoji, you can hover the mouse over it to learn its name or code.
You can react to a post with an emoji with the reaction button. (the smiley with the + symbol). Then the emoji will be shown attached to the post.
Multiple reactions by different users will be shown next to each other, and they will be counted up. When you hover your mouse over a reaction, it will show which users added that particular reaction.
Be generous with reactions: it never hurts to show appreciation.
Some emojis/reactions are unique to Slack or carry special meaning:
:+1: displays as the ‘thumbs up’ emoji, which is commonly used to show approval or support, though some prefer
:protip: highlights a great tip; a bot gathers all posts with this reaction in the #protips channel
:raccoon: notify that an ongoing discussion might be better suited for another channel (Why is it a raccoon?)
:dolphin: when leaving a channel states that you are merely leaving to prune your channel list and not because something has upset you. It is a reference to Douglas Adam’s “So long and thanks for all the fish.” You do not have to use this every time you leave a channel. In high volume channels, it would be very annoying. Save this emoji for situations where it makes sense
You can upload your own emoji. Or add new names for existing ones.
To Thread or not to Thread
You can reply to a post directly in a channel’s timeline or create a ‘thread’ where the replies are collapsed or sorted with the original post. Use the speech bubble icon to create a thread. When replying in a thread, you have the option to show the reply in the channel’s main timeline as well.
Replying in a thread has the advantage of keeping the message timeline of the channel clean, especially in busy channels where multiple discussions on different topics may be going on at the same time. You can also reply to your own post to supply more detail on your post when you don’t want to clutter the main timeline.
You will be notified of new replies to a thread when you wrote the original post, replied to it, or were mentioned in it. You should be aware of this, especially when the discussion in the thread drifts away from the original question. Be mindful of all the people in the thread that will be getting notifications for something they may no longer be interested in and consider moving the discussion to a new thread. You can turn off notifications for a particular thread you not interested in anymore.
In the MacAdmins Slack there is no general rule on whether you should reply in threads or not. In general, you should prefer replying in threads in busy channels and avoid them in quieter channels. Mostly, you want to follow the lead of other channel members.
Set up Do not Disturb
To avoid excessive notifications, you can set Slack to ‘Do not Disturb‘ mode by clicking on the bell icon next to the Workspace name. You can snooze the Slack for a certain and setup a recurring schedule to mute notifications overnight.
A user who mentions you while have the ‘Do not Disturb’ mode enabled will be informed why you may not be reacting.
Manage your Notifications
Aside from the ‘Do not Disturb’ feature you can further manage the notifications Slack can send to you.
In addition to be notified when you are mentioned (
@ed) you can add certain keywords that may be interesting to you. (e.g., I have keywords for my books and some of the projects)
Use the ‘@’ Wisely
You can ‘mention‘ another user with the @ symbol and their username. With Slack’s default setting the user will get notified of a mention. When you use
@scriptingosx in a post, it will notify me, even when I am not in the channel.
This can be very useful to ‘summon’ someone into a channel, because they might be interested or able to contribute to a discussion. Be very mindful with mentions. Remember that you may be ringing all of someone’s devices with it.
Slack is not Email
The MacAdmins Slack can get very busy. You may have the urge to keep up with every message in every channel you follow. This may be possible when you are in just a few channels. However, I have gotten used to just hitting ‘shift-escape’ (Mark all as read) in the morning and maybe again in the afternoon. I try to keep up with discussions and threads I am part of, and have learnt to be ok with missing most others.
You can prune the list of channels to a manageable size, but even so there will probably be more than you can read. You can also sort the channels into customized sections in the sidebar, which can help a bit.
You can use a simplified MarkDown-like syntax to format your posts. Enclosing a word or sentence in underscores
_ will turn it italic, asterisks
* will turn it bold.
If you have trouble remembering the syntax, you can also see the most common formatting options in small text under the message entry field.
Since MacAdmins Slack is a technical forum, posting commands or pieces of code will be fairly common. When you enclose a sequence of words with single backticks it will be shown in monospace font, which others will usually understand to be a command.
When you use triple backticks, Slack will interpret the text in between as a code block. Other special characters and white space (multiple space, tabs, new lines) will be shown as is. This is useful to share short code blocks or log sections.
You can also use the code and code block options from the formatting toolbar.
To share full scripts or longer log files, use Slack Snippets. You can create a snippet with the big ‘+’ button next to the text entry or by just dragging a script or text file into the slack window.
Editing and deleting
Other Slack workspaces may allow you to delete your own posts or edit them indefinitely. In the MacAdmins Slack, you cannot delete posts and only edit them for a short time after they have been created. The goal is to reduce trolling and gaslighting.
When you accidentally posted information you want to be removed, like the password you entered in the wrong app or personal information in a screen shot, you can ping one of the @admins for help.
We all use Slack to ask for help when we are stuck. The willingness to help each other out it one of the strengths of the MacAdmin community. However, when you do have to ask for help, there are a few common courtesies you should follow. (These hold true for any request for help, like a support incident.)
Don’t just say “Help, XYZ is broken!” Don’t ask if “anyone knows ABC?”
Vague questions will, at best, yield vague or very generic replies. But usually it will not receive any reply. Most readers of this questions will be careful to reply. Once you reply to a question, even if it just with the request for clarification, there is an expectation that you will follow-up with a proper reply. But if the question is vague, I cannot judge how much effort that will add up to be, or maybe the question might move out of my area of competence entirely… It is far less effort to not reply at all.
Don’t ask permission to ask a question. Just ask.
Keep in mind that everyone on the MacAdmins Slack has a job, which is not answering your questions. We are all volunteering our time to help each other out.
Don’t @ or DM people just because they have helped you before, unless you want to follow-up on something very specific and/or they have made it clear you are welcome to do so. This also applies to prominent contributors or owners of tools and projects.
There is a much larger audience of potential helpers in the relevant channel. There is a much higher likelihood of a response when you are not annoying.
Keep your question relevant
Sometimes a question might just drown in another ongoing conversation. Sometimes, especially on the less busy channels, no-one will be around to answer. Be patient before you start cross-posting to other channels. When you feel you have to cross-post to another channel, you can share or forward the original post to another channel. This has the benefit that a discussion will not be split between two channels with two different audiences and avoid repetition and redundancy.
If you feel your question drowned in some other discussion, it’s ok to repeat your question, once the ongoing discussion subsides. You can share or forward the original post with a remark to the same channel. But don’t spam, maybe it’s just that no-one really has an answer. Maybe try re-formulating the question with more detail. Or ask if there is another, more appropriate channel to share the question with.
Watch the (world) clock
While there are MacAdmins logging in from around the world, the MacAdmins Slack is still busiest during North American office hours. Keep that in mind when posting questions, especially if you are hoping for a specific person to reply. Be aware of time zones when you post in regional channels, as well.
You can see a user’s local time in their profile. This might give you an idea of when they might be online or not. You can get to any user’s profile by clicking on their icon.
Be Descriptive and Specific
Explain what you are trying to achieve, in which context. Show what you already tried to fix the problem. (you did try to solve it yourself first, didn’t you?) I find, that often the act of formulating the question properly helps me figure out the solution myself, or at least get closer to a solution.
People who want to help you will follow-up with those questions, but will be more likely to help when the request is well formulated and has (most of) the necessary context. Don’t make people have to guess or make assumptions.
Does anyone know policy scripts?
My policy script does not work! Can anybody help?
I am trying to build a policy script that prompts the user for a computer name and sets it. I am using
osascript, but it is failing with a strange error and I don't understand why?
Even better: add the script (or the relevant part of the script) and errors you are seeing.
What do you want to accomplish?
Even when you ask questions properly and with detail, you may get the the counter-question: “What is it you actually want to accomplish?” or some similar phrase. This is a recurring question on the MacAdmins Slack.
When you get this question, someone believes that you may be narrowing down on a dead end and a completely different approach may be more appropriate. They want to get your ‘big picture’ to understand the context. The problem of focussing on a detail of the solution rather than the actual problem is also called the “XY Problem.”
Take this time to step back, explain your goals and let the MacAdmins community help you gain some new perspective. It may be hard to let go of what you are doing but resist the temptation to double down on the vexing detail. This question can lead to the most interesting discussions.
Provide the solution
Sometimes you might ask a question and then figure out the solution yourself before someone answers. That’s great. But be sure to let people know you have solved the problem and share the solution you found. When someone searches the Slack for the same question, they might just find your solution!
Join the Slack and Enjoy!
Overall I feel the MacAdmins Slack is a great place to share and receive knowledge for MacAdmins. I you still haven’t signed up, go and do it here!
If you already are a member, I hope you learnt something useful here. If you think I missed something important, then let me know! (My user name on the MacAdmins Slack is @scriptingosx.)