Advanced devs and beginner devs can co-exist harmoniously. It's not rocket science.

Ben Halpern on April 12, 2018

Jeff Atwood @codinghorror @lmcdo_ @alilynnet @DominicCronin @cristynhoward @Bob_at_BH @aprilwensel @spolsky @StackOverflow an interactive tu... [Read Full]
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Here's what I don't understand about that whole attitude that Jeff seems to epitomize - we're all beginners at something.

That's the nature of being a developer. I have been coding for 20 years and yet I am constantly being challenged to learn new things and dive into aspects of coding where I feel totally inadequate and uncomfortable. For example, right now I have to dive into a topic that I have read a ton about, but still feel like a total moron incapable of truly getting started. Other times in my career, I've literally had to switch entire stacks almost overnight. The point is, whether we are new to code in general or with decades of experience, we will always encounter times when we're the "noob." Anyone who doesn't is just coasting.

Over the years, I have turned to SO from time to time as a resource, but it was never a place that I chose to go as a resource - just something was linked-to from a Google search. The few times I have tried it, I never found it welcoming or entirely helpful. There seemed to be a set of unwritten rules that all the regular contributors knew that I didn't. I doubt I will ever actively participate by choice (though I may, from time to time, have to answer a question someone posted there as part of my job). I am grateful for the many times that the information I found there helped me solve a problem, but I do simultaneously wish it was from a resource that had a more welcoming and inclusive community.

 

Yes I totally agree. Also, sometimes I'm actually a strong user of a technology or concept that I actually have a pretty poor understanding of. In these cases it's really exciting to come across an example meant for a beginner because I got by this whole time on intuition or trial and error. I finally get it and I didn't even know I didn't know.

I love Stack Overflow as a resource, but when I have to do more than read I often come away frustrated. What's tough is that improving on any of this doesn't really make Stack Overflow any more money. It's hard to convince the board of a company that has raised $68m that it's worth changing things in a way could alienate a portion of the most prolific users.

 

Clarification: My response is addressing the tweet embedded in Ben’s post, and is not a direct response to what Ben said.

This bullying and shaming needs to stop. Everybody has the right to create stuff for a particular audience. If stackoverflow is meant for non-beginners, there is nothing inherently wrong with that. Catering to everybody is simply not feasible, and as Jeff points out, there are plenty of resources for beginners.

What is especially disturbing is that they are not only being accused of creating a hostile environment, but excluding women and minorities on a website that is largely anonymous. This amounts to character assassination. You are holding the character of a creator hostage for not acquiescing to the desires of an angry mob, painting them as racist and misogynist. This behavior shouldn't be tolerated and it certainly shouldn't be promoted. Shame on anyone doing so.

Part of what makes stackoverflow such a useful resource is it's emphasis on well-formed questions. I understand that it doesn't feel good to have a question closed and commented on as "bad." It's happened to me plenty of times. In spite of a temporary bad feeling, it has ultimately made me better at posing questions that can be answered. A bad feeling does not give you the right to make vile accusations against the creators of a website.

This desire to protect everyone's feeling is both harmful and done in bad faith. If there was a desire for kindness and compassion in the industry, the above tweet would have never been made. It's absolutely disgusting to see entire groups of people reduced to a single mindset so that someone can claim to speak with authority on their behalf, in the interest of spewing vitriol.

It's OK to disagree with people, but it's not OK to perform character assassination as a result.

 

It's odd to me that so many people are using "Stack Overflow isn't for beginners" as the rallying cry here. Of course it's for beginners. Most of the questions on the site are about things that a subject matter expert wouldn't need to ask. I usually visit Stack Overflow for beginner stuff, like if I forgot how to copy an array or what the difference between varchar and nvarchar is.

I agree that one or two of the recent criticisms of SO could have been made with more professionalism. But this isn't one of those cases. As Jeff himself admits:

May I suggest, as respectfully as possible, that since you appear to possess the same Magic Triangle of privilege that I do (white, male, lives in a first-world country), maybe it isn't your place (or mine) to decide if women and people of color are being excluded on Stack Overflow? And maybe there's more nuance to the situation than overt racism or sexism, such that even a veneer of anonymity doesn't protect them? It's important to believe people when they say they've been excluded or hurt, and there's a critical mass of people who say that about their experiences at Stack Overflow.

No one is saying that SO isn't a valuable resource. Of course it is. Thousands of excellent people have used SO to share their knowledge, and their contributions have value. But as a site that is so central to software development and the tech community, it's fair to expect them to show a certain amount of social responsibility, which up to this point has been found lacking.

We had survey participation at almost the rate we would expect from our traffic, although such a low percentage points to problems with inclusion in the tech industry in general and Stack Overflow in particular. -Stack Overflow, Developer Survey Results 2018

In any case, I value your contributions here and I hope you don't leave.

 

May I suggest, as respectfully as possible, that since you appear to possess the same Magic Triangle of privilege that I do (white, male, lives in a first-world country), maybe it isn't your place (or mine) to decide if women and people of color are being excluded on Stack Overflow

I don't think the color of my skin makes my opinion any more or less valid than anyone else, nor am I bound by your ideological constraints.

You seem to imply that everyone should be reduced down to a single mindset and set of experiences based on their skin color and gender, and that the opinions of each should be ranked accordingly.

The whole concept falls apart the moment someone in your non-privileged group differs from you ideologically, at which point you almost certainly abandon this idea entirely. I'm being a bit presumptuous here, but I'd venture to bet you value the opinion of Joe Biden more than you do Clarence Thomas.

Hmm, not really a fair summary of what I was saying. The very moment Joe Biden tries to tell me what it's like to be a black person, I'll tune out. That's my point. If someone who's different than you is talking about their own experiences, there's no room for you and I to say "that didn't happen."

I have seen minorities express opinions about the tech industry that are summarily dismissed because they don’t fit the desired narrative. Here is one opinion on racism in general, from the aforementioned Clarence Thomas.

Please stop pushing this idea that there is only one acceptable opinion for a group of people to have, that just so happens to align with your ideology, and that I need to shut up and listen to it.

I agree with you. It's really sad to see people accuse Jeff of being some kind of monster.

FWIW, I'm black and living in Africa. I'm a pretty regular user of SO (Googler, asker, answerer). I've never felt discriminated against or excluded. Never have I seen colour or race come up in a discussion on an SO question. People using the survey results to claim "exclusion" conveniently forget that "white males 18-34" are also a leading demographic in software developers worldwide. (For instance, see VisionMobile's survey.

 

...they are not only being accused of creating a hostile environment, but excluding women and minorities on a website that is largely anonymous. This amounts to character assassination.

I think the results of SO's 2017 survey speak for themselves:

Stack Overflow 2017 gender survey results

 

I suggest reading this study into differences between genders in technical interviews, as it may give some insight into why there is such a disparity.

Long story short–When controlling for gender, women performed on-par with men, if not slightly better. The biggest difference between men and women was attrition: Men were more likely to pursue further tech interviews after a poor interview experience than women, by a wide margin.

I suspect a similar thing is taking place on SO. Men are more likely to continue using the site after a bad experience. The solution, of course, is to encourage everyone (because generalizations of behavior don't make them exclusive to a particular group) not to give up, and to help them build their confidence. Do not let a bad experience deter you–It is all part of the learning process.

Aside: I'm perfectly aware at how taboo it is to suggest that these differences may be behavioral, but whatever. I'm not going to feign ignorance in the face of actually trying to find constructive solutions to a problem that people otherwise yell angrily about while solving nothing

The thing about a bad experience is that it's not necessarily anyone's fault. No one is necessarily to blame. We are human and being wrong, told we didn't do well enough, or told we didn't do something right feels bad. Learning how to deal with this constructively as opposed to lashing out is something everyone should work on.

The thing about stackoverflow is that it's sometimes necessary to close questions, or point people to documentation that explains how to properly ask a question, and it's going to make people feel bad. You simply cannot moderate that away. You also cannot moderate every single comment and answer in an attempt to avoid unintended offense. It simply is not possible.

Wow.

So you see a study that seems to imply that women deal with a negative experience differently than men do (let's not get into the discussion of whether that's by their nature or due to the way they were nurtured), and your takeaway is not that "gee, maybe we should try to act more empathetic here so we don't alienate approximately half the population (that contains approximately half of the talent) and make the community a more pleasant place for all of us", instead your takeaway is that half the population needs to grow up and learn to deal with it?

That's exactly the toxic masculinity I hated growing up as a kid. Being told to "man up" and "stop being such a girl".

If half the world population has a hard time adjusting to a community that may be a sign that the community may have some room for improvement (rather than a sign that half the world just needs to "man up")

The thing about stackoverflow is that it's sometimes necessary to close questions, or point people to documentation that explains how to properly ask a question, and it's going to make people feel bad. You simply cannot moderate that away. You also cannot moderate every single comment and answer in an attempt to avoid unintended offense. It simply is not possible.

Of course, moderation is necessary for a healthy community, it's needed to protect from bullies and trolls, the problem arises when the moderation rules encourage bullyish and trollish behavior.

I've seen answers that were closed on SO that had helpful comments as to why they were closed with resources where the OP can find what they are looking for, but I've also seen answers that were simply downvoted and reported to oblivion without as much as a word to help the OP in the best case, and downright nasty comments in the worst.

To say that it simply is not possible is not true. I am a part of many communities and platforms (not least of which the one we are on now) that actively promote empathy and civility, where good behavior is rewarded by the community and bad behavior is shunned. contrast that with SO where these are the badges I am being encouraged to pursue now:

toxic badges on Stack Overflow

To be clear, this study was conducted by a woman and she concluded that

while the attrition numbers aren’t great, I’m massively encouraged by the fact that at least in these findings, it’s not about systemic bias against women or women being bad at computers or whatever. Rather, it’s about women being bad at dusting themselves off after failing, which, despite everything, is probably a lot easier to fix.

Also, I never once said the solution was to "man up" or anything of that nature. To frame it in a way that paints me as sexist further illustrates my original point.

Yes, I noticed the article was written by a woman, and if I was a woman that would be the conclusion I would take from the article as well (the alternative would be to leave the industry, as I would have no hope of changing it on my own).

As a man though, the lesson I take is WTH is wrong with this industry? Why can't we make an environment where women (and others who happen to be of the more sensitive type) feel more welcome for what they bring to the table rather than force them to mold to the environment?

And to clarify, this will make it an environment where everyone feels welcome. I don't know a single person who thrives on criticism and down-putting. At most, some people adjust to it better than others.

Also, I never once said the solution was to "man up" or anything of that nature.

Not quite in those words, but it was implied by the idea that when women have a harder time adjusting to negativity than men, the proposed solution was to have women emulate the men rather than having the men adjust their behavior.

If encouraging people to brush themselves off and to not give up will ultimately help them achieve their goals, then that is what I'm going to do. This aligns philosophically with the idea that you cannot change everyone else, you can only change yourself.

If you disagree that this is a good solution, that's fine. It's a difference of opinion. But a solution that involves baseless attacks on someone's character is not a solution.

Yes, when a newbie comes to me and they are all discouraged because they were shot down by some nasty comment I have no choice but to tell them to brush it off and not to let a few jerks convince them that they are any less of a programmer.

That does NOT mean that there is nothing wrong with the community and that we should not try to change and make a more inclusive environment.

But a solution that involves baseless attacks on someone's character is not a solution.

I don't think anyone was attacking anyone's character, the attacks (if you want to call people's frustration that), were against the community and those insisting that the way it is is the way it should be.

I think the takeaway here is that:

  • We should strive to be welcoming, inclusive, and encouraging for people who make honest mistakes, and try to avoid driving them away with harsh responses.

  • We should encourage people to pursue their interests despite the fact there are unpleasant people in the world who try to shut them down.

  • We should not attack each other personally when discussing how to deal with the fact some people are easily discouraged when someone attacks them personally.

Learn from each other a bit, in other words, and be the change we'd like to see in the world.

By the way, while W. Brian Gourlie's manner is a bit brusque, I also found Yechiel Kalmenson's characterization of W's commentary as "toxic masculinity" pretty offensive. That, I'm pretty sure, is what primarily prompted W to respond negatively (with reference to "attacks on someone's character"), on a personal level, to what Yechiel said.

 

As Jeff responded to you on Twitter,

I don't think what I wrote crossed any lines. Relevant, respectful cultural criticism has a place here. We'd like to enable these conversations our industry cares to happen in a way that is much healthier than what goes down on Twitter. I think that's what you're looking for in the first place.

 

I was more-so responding to the tweet embedded in your post, and I should have made that clear. My first exposure to it was via a retweet from Jess.

 

I hear your strong feelings here, but "character assassination" seems a bit hyperbolic, don't you think? Your experience makes sense from a certain perspective, but have you tried assuming instead that folks with different experiences than you are (for the most part) not participating in this discussion in bad faith? Try asking yourself why SO is only 7% female1 while professional engineers are 26% women2.* Listen to/read accounts of women's experiences on SO, think about what it exactly means to be a "beginner" in a particular programming topic, etc.

  • I concede that there is some conflation with geography/gender/sex here, but I don't think that detracts from the point
 
 

I think you bring up some good points. I am really disappointed with many of my SO encounters. It is ok to express that disappointment. But there is a line.

 

There are a lot of people over at Stack Overflow (Atwood included) who believe that quality and inclusion are mutually exclusive.

I mean, there are people all over the tech industry who believe that, but the people at SO say it out in the open. Consider, for example, this very unfortunate comment in response to a post advocating inclusiveness at SO:

"I firmly believe that compassion, empathy, and inclusiveness do not share mutually exclusive relationships with quality" You can firmly believe whatever you like, but empirical evidence proves that it isn't true. The site was more inclusive at its foundation, and it was inundated with crap. It was only when we clamped down did we get to a point of real quality. Your beliefs are at odds with objective reality. "And, even if (gasp) quality were to sometimes take a smaller backseat to compassion and kindness, wouldn't we all benefit?" No.

That many upvotes is just ridiculous, especially for a comment that so brazenly uses logical fallacies to prop up someone's comfort zone.

dev.to is far more inclusive than Stack Overflow. And, to be fair, we do have some of what SO would flag as "low-quality content". There are duplicate posts and questions. Not everyone speaks college-level English. People ask questions that could perhaps have been answered by a well-formed Google query. So what? It's not a zero sum game. You don't subtract the "low-quality" content from the "high-quality" content to get the value of the site. All of the content can coexist. There can be the same quantity of "high-quality" content either way.

I come here both to learn and to share knowledge. Most of us are here for the same reasons. That's what quality is. These days a dev.to post occasionally pops up in my Google results. Is it less valuable than an SO answer, just because SO deletes content that doesn't meet its stringent community standards? Of course not. If it answers my question or explains a concept I'm struggling with, the very last thing I care about is whether it's a duplicate or insufficiently-researched or tagged incorrectly, or whether there might be other posts on the site that are.

I believe that content doesn't write itself (not that I'm aware of, anyway). Good content is written by good people, and good people are driven away by condescension, microaggressions, obsessive in-grouping and out-grouping, and artificially high barriers to entry. Those behaviors should be the definition of "low quality".

I guess what I'm saying is, if you've decided that inclusiveness hurts quality, maybe that's because you've invented a definition of "quality" that specifically excludes certain groups of people.

 

I'm most disconcerted not by one person or the other arguing that point A is more important than point B (at least sometimes), but by the fact they think it has to be a choice. Being inclusive and insisting on quality at all times can be perfectly compatible, if done well. It's only when you don't care enough about the consequences of your inclusiveness, or about the quality of your quality (yes, really), that reductive, facile thinking backs us into a corner where someone's baby has to be thrown out with the bathwater (to mix a metaphor).

False dilemmas don't solve problems. They just ignore half the problem.

 

Thanks for this post.

I used to think the toxicity of SO was just due to lack of oversight/enforcement/laziness or whatever.

Following that Twitter thread over the last few days, and in particular, Jeff's responses, made it clear that it's pretty deliberate on the part of the community's creators and top participants.

 

Yeah, I hadn't seen the thread until today but I'd seen another great tweet by @aprilwensel pointing out this trend. Possibly it came about because of the Twitter thread.

But yeah, these issues motivate much of our work here. These were the kinds of things that got @jess so excited to get on board on the project and help it get to where it is now.

 

And a fine job the lot of you did!

Though I wouldn't classify dev.to as a SO replacement (except maybe the #explainlikeimfive tag).

Maybe one day we'll have a newbie friendly Q&A website minus the toxic culture where we can all learn and help each other grow.

This site is in many ways a better alternative to question sites like the Software Engineering stack exchange site. Someone can ask quite conceptual questions and have a (small but increasing) chance to actually get a conversation out of it. Instead of being chastised for asking too broad or off-topic of a question -- and this often due to moderator ignorance on the subject more than the question.

SO itself is still amenable to very factual questions. "How do I fix error XYZ123?" or "Why does Dictionary not guarantee item order?" But all others will be scolded.

 

This is a really interesting conversation and I agree with you about Stack Overflow.

It's a really useful resource but also a really hostile place. I gave up posting stuff there years ago. I found you either got abuse or no credit when you got something right.

I've also found as I've grown into a senior developer and now a head of tech I use it less and less. I only use it now if I'm being super lazy and can't be bothered to read the docs or code itself to solve a problem.

If Stack Overflow isn't for junior and mid level Devs I don't know who it's for.

 

If Stack Overflow isn't for junior and mid level Devs I don't know who it's for.

It seems to be for a very specific "type" of programmers, the kinds who see themselves as the gatekeepers of an ancient knowledge only the most qualified can dare approach.

The same kinds who still think writing algorithms on a whiteboard is an effective interviewing strategy.

 

Stackoverflow can't be everything for everyone.

Can't say much, except I'm totally appalled by how the ladies on the thread spoke to and about Jeff.

It's unfortunate some make it seem SO has been intentionally designed to marginalize.

Jeff pointed a a few links suggesting they've tried to some extent to get the platform easier to get started. It might not be perfect, but at least it's better than none.

I can't imagine how Jeff might be feeling now, with ladies painting him as the demon who've deliberately designed a platform to sidelines and attack a group.

Sad.

 

I tried to reach out to the SO community when a saw a thread on meta about it, but, as you can see from the comments and posts everywhere in that thread, they just don't seem to get it: meta.stackoverflow.com/a/365847/20...

 

Wow, seeing your comment after @isaacandsuch referenced the response here makes me feel like I'm in the company of a celebrity. 😊

 

Ha! Thanks. I am absolutely nobody, especially compared to the creator of a worldwide friendly dev community like dev.to. :) I guess though that is exactly what perplexes me. If I, as pretty much just your average developer, can clearly see the toxicity and exclusion happening at SO, then how can so many others not see it? Or refuse to see it?

I also believe that Jeff & Joel didn't sit down at genesis of their baby community and make it one of their core values to exclude people, but rather that this has happened/happens as a byproduct of some of their (what I consider) unfortunate views/opinions that have now cemented themselves into the community at large. I was, however, glad to see the response from the CTO on twitter which gives me hope for SO's future. I also think though that such thinking will need to spread to the everyday-rank-and-file in-the-trenches moderators/user-mods/and active community before we'll see real change.

A small part of me would love to see some of those types of people meet with people who feel excluded by SO face-to-face. I believe there's something about the medium of written word that emboldens many of the "old guard" of SO and I dare say that they wouldn't be so bold if having to face the people they are excluding directly.

Anyway, thanks for writing this open letter (of sorts) to Jeff and thanks for using your far-reaching voice to spread the good word, as it were. I really do hope things change. I think SO is indeed too valuable a resource to calcify and go stale.

You rock Jess, Ben & entire dev.to team!

 

Did you catch the current Stack Overflow CTO's strong distancing from Jeff here? twitter.com/df07/status/9845118682...

Goes to show how how difficult it is to change the culture of a community once it has been established. Kudos to you all for being purposeful about that from the beginning. 👏🏾

 

Yeah. I've met lots of the folks from Stack Overflow and they are awesome people and it seems like a wonderfully inclusive place to work. Sadly yes, they came at this problem with a certain perspective and built an entire ecosystem to reward it.

I got into listening to the classic Stack Overflow podcast episodes back when it was Jeff and Joel and it was really clear how differently we approached software development and thought about the the whole thing.

These are titans in our space, but flawed like the rest of us.

 

Since I was part of that DEV thread I will clarify that I wholeheartedly agree: it is extremely disappointing that you need to wear asbestos underwear and extra-thick skin to participate in SO.

It does a relatively good job for certain things -- specific error messages, common tactical howtos. I.e. The cold hard facts and examples. But it cannot be accused of being a supportive community. Its operating principles creates an automatic tension between mods and (even non-malicious) users, so I doubt it could ever become so with its current formula.

 

I read the thread, it's very disappointing that Atwood doesn't really get the point. This tweet summarizes it:

Apparently the new management is aware of the issues:

 

I have more or less carefully read through the comments here and I think this thread lacks an opinion from those who are really helping on SO.

I am there in top 20 answerers on #ruby questions, top 10 on #elixir questions, top 10 on #web-components etc. Let me share my vision on what people mostly call “toxic” here. I am spending a noticeable amount of time on daily basis answering questions (read: helping people). That simple, while many others are looking for the less-toxic, more friendly and whatever chatting room, I do damn help. That’s not a boasting, that’s a reality.

I do not care whether the OP is newbie, oldie, male, female, a pet or a robot. I am there to help. And you know what?—I refuse to answer the questions that clearly show no effort was put into. Is it toxic?—If yes, then I proudly support the toxic atmosphere on SO.

I started to code in 1986 when I was 13. There were no SO, no good books (well, no books at all,) and the chance I had to improve my skills (besides examining the available 3rd party code) was to chase anybody knowing anything (both in Usenet and in real life) and ask. I grew up as a developer in a vacuum. And I am very grateful for all those answering my questions back then, even if they were not smiling at me nor feeding me with a “keep trying, you are great, wow, smart kid” bullshit. Because I understood the main thing: they were helping me to grow. No matter how affable were their answers.

I am pretty sure that before asking any question one might do kinda investigation, try it themselves, state the question properly, and—yes—read the “How to ask” page in the first place. Well stated questions receive a very rich feedback.

Those who are whining are mostly the people who had tried to ask for the solution on their homework, got a relatively harsh answer and left the site disappointed in nobody would do their job for them for free.

SO is not a dating site. It’s a professional community. If anyone expects other people would be glad to welcome them just to make an atmosphere less toxic, it’s not gonna happen. Those people you call toxic have helped thousands already. While others are whining about them being not too friendly.

 

The annoying part is that you're half-right. SO is not, and should not, be the same kind of place as dev.to.

twitter.com/aprilwensel/status/974...

But writing in a kind style doesn't mean making things longer and more padded out. It means not calling things obvious when they actually aren't, and not jumping on the worst possible interpretation of the other poster. Half the time, the polite way uses less words.

Stack Overflow is necessarily less inviting than "a dating site", and I think a lot of its critics either don't get that or don't care about it, but don't act like it's reached its peak already. That place has a lot of outright unnecessary rudeness, and, women are raised in a way that makes them strongly abhore rudeness.

 

But writing in a kind style doesn't mean making things longer and more padded out.

I never said that. Writing anything in a kind style is just a matter of courtesy and good manners. It is beyond the frames of any website all around the world.

Also, some communities are more friendly, some are less. Even the cited answer was not actually harsh. I mean, in my understanding everybody coding for food should have an ability to at least read error message before posting a question to SO. This is also a matter of good manners. And as a regular SO answerer, I don’t answer like this, but I pretty well understand people who are actually offended by the message like “I don’t care about reading error messages, hey, fools there, who knows answers, do google for me.” And trust me, it reads exactly like that.

Offtopic: Wikipedia editors are hundred times harsher if not ruder. Which, let’s face the truth, made Wiki such a great resource.

 

This article summarizes why I have an account and regularly post here, while I have never once wanted to participate beyond lurking, sans-account, on stack overflow.

Thanks Ben and the rest of the Dev team for giving us a friendlier place to have these discussions and conversations on the internet!

 

Stackoverflow can't be everything for everyone.

To me that's the most critical point. For better or worse, most of what I see on SO is a determined effort to ensure that the site provides valuable answers for developers. It's a valuable resource because of the standards it enforces.

The guidelines enforced on the site seem reasonable. It's the tone of the responses that often go out of line. There are reasons, such as frustration with lazy, low-quality questions, but sarcastic, derisive comments are never appropriate. It's a balance between caring so much that one tries to preserve the quality of the content and caring so much that one gets frustrated and starts lashing out. When the latter happens it's time to step away and take a deep breath. It's just a website and someone else can answer the questions, or not.

For what it's worth, a decent amount of effort goes into helping people get answers. If the question is unclear, I explain in a comment why it's unclear. Sometimes I'll edit the question.* Before someone asks their first question they're provided with a wealth of suggestions to improve its quality as well as answers that may match the question.

To summarize, I think what Stack Overflow does is working. People just need to be nicer. (Maybe there's something more going on to which I'm oblivious, maybe in areas of the site I don't use.)

*Far too often the title of the question has nothing to do with the question. It's like I'm trying to bake a cake, I get in the car to buy some flour, and the car won't start. So I ask a question titled, "Can't bake cake please help!"

 

Lol @ the title. Reminds me of the day someone asked a question titled "How to give free coupon code in Laravel" 😁😁

 

Thanks for bringing light to this. Just yesterday I began writing my first blog post about the disconnect you face as someone new to the industry (especially someone from a non-traditional background, i.e. self-taught). There's intimidation whether intentional or not to contribute publicly, but I'd really love us to change that.

This part is key IMO: "Newbies ask questions that experienced devs overlook. They also get excited about all sorts of random crap that experienced devs are usually jaded towards." In the last few months I've been trying to document concepts that were/are hard for me from my view point before I get jaded or overlook concepts (which is easy to do). There's a lot of "implied knowledge" in materials online and that adds to the frustration of someone who is learning. "Should I know what this means?" "If they know and I don't, does that mean I'm not cut out for this?" I can't tell you how many times I've fallen into this trap of discouraged thinking. Especially worse is when paired with "I don't want to ask a question to someone more senior because maybe it's obvious and this person will think I'm dumb." Truth of the matter is some experienced devs don't even know the answer to your question, that's the wild part.

Anyway, I've started to feel like the more who contribute their knowledge before they feel like an influencer / thought leader, the better it will be for new comers or those feeling discouraged in their journey. We need some more rawness in the mix, but no one really wants to be vulnerable. Like you said, we really contributions from all levels.

 

I will echo not participating on SO because after a while I got tired of justifying why my questions needed to exist. Usually SO answers are a good starting point but lately I've noticed they are very surface level which is ironic because the site is supposedly not for beginners. I'm not an expert but it seems I've outgrown whatever niche they were targeting.

This is a shame because if they had been more inclusive then SO answers could have expanded into other territories instead of just being snippets for common surface level problems.

 

SO reminds me a lot of IRC "back in the day" (I haven't been active on IRC in almost 10 years so I have no idea if this still applies): a high barrier of entry/resistance to anyone new or who comes in out of the blue, with the usual canned "RTFM" or "read the topic" type responses almost always delivered in a condescending manner. Now, there's a reason for that system, it an easy (i.e. lazy) way to "separate the wheat from the chaff" with the goal of disincentivising those who want someone else to do their work, those who don't research a topic first, and those who don't abide by the established social etiquette, but it also has the consequence of creating an atmosphere where curt, condescending, unwelcoming, and eventually exclusionary behaviour becomes de rigueur. That sort of attitude stifles those that new to the culture, those that are shy and vulnerable and especially those that have already regularly experienced tactics of exclusion or discrimination such as women, "minorities," and LGBTQ+.

In Stack Overflow's defence to not being welcoming to first-time programmers, SO's original purpose wasn't to be a better tutorial site, it was to be a better Q & A site, out specifically to eat Experts Exchange's lunch. That label "Experts" should help put some context into things. SO was being specific, but at some point they became everything to everyone, and they should probably do a better job at guiding the new developer along the way, much like Dev.to does.

 

that is so accurate. I asked a question quite sometime ago and started receiving comments and downvotes, no answers and i thought maybe i asked a super stupid question so i deleted it and posted again as anonymous. didn't get any help either.

 

I created an account and then immediately deleted it. My main beef with SO is, of course, when it's used as a recruiting tool. You hit the nail on the head when you said it's not about answering your question, but the "quality" of the content. This leads to a system where you game the system and put up with egotism on something inconsequential.

So, I actually like mentoring and helping people starting out. More than solving problems (unless you consider their situation to be a problem). I never got anything of that sort outside of my very first programming gig. And though I don't like using terminology like "toxicity," for convenience sake I'll say my dev career had that--even (and sometimes especially) from other so-called marginalized groups, so I kinda grew without any help. So for me helping beginners and juniors is a big deal.

I thought of making something like dev.to but for mathematicians/majors/whatever a few years ago for the same reason--having a community that helped each other. I'd like to see what math enthusiasts think about that, but I think there's a similar mentality you hear about in the dev community.

 

Spot on.

I can't remember how many times I've googled something, clicked the top link to SO and instead of finding the answer I'm looking for, the person asking the question is being scolded for not asking the question correctly. I suppose that's one of the reasons I never really got active there.

SO isn't designed for the thing they want but perfectly designed for people fairly new to the industry, a technology, etc to ask the same simple questions over and over. Using moderators and self proclaimed experts to fight that just seems futile.

The problem with experts are that they tend to lose perspective on what is expert and what is basic knowledge.

Though it still is a good source for technical knowledge. Often I search for things that are probably considered fairly basic but I don't use often enough to bother to remember, usually takes me to SO via google or duck.

 
 

Unfortunately, I find that all too often the "truth" that emerges on SO is just someone's opinionated declarations, or something that's frozen in time and irrelevant or harmful three months later, or riddled with gotchas and bad implementation details that can lead people astray. I think SO used to be better at being what it is (exclusionary or otherwise), but has been bogged down by moderation bureaucracy, groupthink, and the calcification of "best practices" that admit no improvement.

On dev.to so far, I feel like there's a sense of hope and wonder, with a nice dash of helpfully cynical recognition of the things we (as developers in general, not just in dev.to or SO) desperately need to improve. Of course, my experience with dev.to is pretty scant so far. We'll see how my opinion of it evolves over time.

 

Just wanted to add that Atwood's claim that SO is not for beginners is utter tosh (presumably he'd love it to be just frequented by the creme de la creme of programmers).

Advanced programming topics are complicated and nuanced and require a lot of space to discuss (like we have available here for instance), mostly the answer is "it depends" and the answers certainly can't be copied and pasted.

Stack Overflow on the other hand is copy and paste central. It's where I go (via google) if I can't remember the syntax for something, or if I want to know what API options are available to me. It has a lot of dreadful code that works, but will get you in a mess later if you're not careful.

If there is vitriol there, I don't believe it's because it's full of experts, quite the reverse. Expert developers are too busy developing working features and enjoying their jobs. SO probably has slightly more than its fair share of insecure *sshole developers who love to dump on people who don't know something they know (along with others who genuinely want to help). But let's not given them all credit for being experts, there is no way I'd hire an *sshole developer like that for my team, no matter what framework they learnt last month - people like that are a total liability.

Great community you have here by the way, I'm enjoying it very much!

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