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George Jempty
George Jempty

Posted on

dev.to posts tagged 'beginners' considered harmful

About 10 years ago I made my transition from full-stack web developer (though the term wasn't in use at the time) to front-end-focused. I had no prior ExtJS experience but was hired on the strength of my Javascript experience in general.

Prior to my first day I bought a book on ExtJS. I could not have succeeded at that position the way I did if not for the book, but still it contained at least one glaring mistake -- it referred to the configuration object literal used to create an ExtJS instance, as JSON.

What's the harm? Well to this date you will see questions on StackOverflow where the uninitiated think any old Javascript object is JSON and can't understand why parsing a string representation of the same fails.

Just within the past 7 days I started writing on dev.to again, after a hiatus stretching back to February. One of the more recent posts has to do with not blindly following the suggestions of known experts: https://dev.to/dexygen/linus-borg-s-nor-other-expert-s-advice-not-to-be-followed-blindly-1712

Well I'm seeing content in dev.to's beginners tag that is far more egregiously wrong than that ExtJS book about JSON, or LinusBorg about removing event listeners in Vue.js instances' destroyed hooks. Remember beginners, anybody can post anything on dev.to and unlike books for instance, it is not curated. Therefore I implore you, everything that you read targeting beginners on this platform, do so with a critical eye -- don't simply trust it to be correct.

Interestingly it is ironic that, the beginners being targeted are at the "don't know but know that they don't know" stage of their accrual of expertise, and that is why they are reading these articles, to try to learn more. But as long as the beginner's content is not curated (and I have now come to believe that it absolutely should be), you will have content authored by those who "don't know, and don't know that they don't know", which is at the previous, initial, stage.

There's even a term for "don't know and don't know that they don't know", Dunning-Kruger effect: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

The last two stages are "know but don't know that you know" and "know and know that you know". I like to think that depending on the technology involved I'm at the 2nd, 3rd or 4th step. Or that if I am at the 1st step, I can at least be disabused of my ignorance through logical argument. I suspect however that those suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect probably cannot be persuaded.

Yet I digress. My main point is, to reiterate, that beginners need to read everything critically; research what you read and/or seek out clarification from other seeming experts.

Top comments (25)

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aminnairi profile image
Amin • Edited on

Maybe instead of moderating the beginners' tag, we could help authors get better by pointing what's wrong in their articles in the comment section, discuss about what could be enhanced and participate in healthy debates.

Without forgetting to point what is great and what you like in what they are presenting in their articles!

In my opinion, writing an article is also a good way of learning things. Even if it is from people commenting your article.

DEVTOgether!

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briandesousa1 profile image
Brian De Sousa

Great suggestion! For me, writing is a great way to learn and dive deeper into a subject. I always appreciate positive feedback and corrections in the comments on my posts.

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ascasson profile image
Anthony Casson

Very poignant. I'd be particularly interested in having an element of peer review, even if only an option (e.g., this post was peer reviewed, this post was not, etc.). It might sound excessive, but at this stage of content creation, it can certainly play a role.

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ascasson profile image
Anthony Casson

I'm sure there are many ways to approach it.

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jasterix profile image
Jasterix

You raise a great point. What drew me to the the dev.to community was how active members have been in correcting bad info as they come across it. Of course, this doesn't 100% cure the problem, but worth noting.

Moderation is one way to address it, but the ratio of posts to moderators would have to be in a sweet spot

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guneyozsan profile image
Guney Ozsan • Edited on

This is the main reason I stopped following AI suggested Medium or Dev.to links. Unfortunately such articles have extremely confident titles that drive huge click-bait traffic and get plenty of comments that try to correct the contents. This make them climb top of the suggestion engine's rankings.

What's worse on Medium is I saw development related publications with huge following welcome those false articles just for the traffic they generate to their publication. So even curated content makes use of them for really bad consequences hard to recover all around the world.

Even worser on Medium is I came across a good amount of paid content on top ranks that you cannot write a comment for correction without paying. I've seen people's comments that bought a Medium subscription just to be able to warn other users. Medium's comments are already burried behind a terrible UI and being behind a pay wall on top of it is really dangerous.

Even worsererer is the authors with false confidence get paid with such content, which rewards an already dangerous act.

Thanks for pointing out such an important problem.

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thejoezack profile image
Joe Zack

I hear what you are saying, but I also think there is a lot of value in putting yourself out there and learning in public. IMHO that is what dev.to is all about.

Yes, there are accuracy problems on dev.to...and other platforms including podcasts, youtube, wikipedia, and (like you mentioned) books.

Unlike these other platforms, however, dev.to is first and foremost a vibrant and helpful community. Helpful devs leave constructive comments, and diligent authors amend their posts with the things that they learn.

If you want the highest degree of accuracy, then rtfm. If you want to participate in a dev community then dev.to.

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ghost profile image
Ghost

The "Dunning–Kruger effect" is not necessarily restricted to non-experts; there's a lot of examples of experts affected by it, when talking about things of other field or with outdated knowledge, even their quality of expert should be questioned.

I think that "do so with a critical eye" is for everyone and even in curated books, experts also make mistakes, so we should never accept without question.

And is sad but you can't replace common sense, many "methodologies" and tools try, but if someone reads "10 techs you should know..." and doesn't apply some common sense like who's telling this?, in what country?, in what industry?, for what?, etc. There is no amount of moderation enough, specially in an open site like this, with many opinions and subjective topics (dev.to is not a technical documentation after all), and that's one of it's charms, but must be understood and seen at it is; if you come here to collect working code or base your whole understanding and research to dev.to, there is the problem.

So in the end you check "10 techs you should know..." and you tell to yourself, I didn't know NΒΊ3, sounds interesting, I'll give it a little research. That's the value of it.

In old days, people just believe, if the TV, a book or the press told it, must be truth; it was expensive to talk to the public so the information was more curated; nowadays, we don't have that luxury, we have to be more critic than generations before, many will read this thing I'm writing and I'm no expert, probably this has no value and I'm talking nonsense right now, I have been accused of talking nonsense before, and maybe someone will take what I say too seriously; I have no control over it.

Moderation is a hard thing because when something IS moderated, as a reader, you get relaxed, you drop your "critic mode" and as many dev.to topics are opinionated I don't think moderation would be effective.

That said, maybe an additional tag "approved" of "checked" or something on those lines could be useful with expert users endorsing the content, so not so much as moderating but a tool for users to better assess the trustworthiness of a post. And maybe a note to the reader, "this all may be nonsense consume with caution", sometimes a knife in the driving wheel is better to prevent accidents than an airbag (see? nonsense) (is it tho?...)

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vonheikemen profile image
Heiker

I would find it very funny if only experts are allowed to write in the beginners tag.

Could you just add a special tag or mark? Something that shows that the article has been approved by the secret council of experts?

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vonheikemen profile image
Heiker

Fair enough, you didn't say anything about experts.

those who cannot gauge their own level of competence/incompetence should probably not be writing in the tag

I get your point. Having some standard to guard the beginners tag doesn't make sense to me.

implored beginners to read content in the beginners tag with a critical eye.

That should apply to anything they read on the internet.

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gypsydave5 profile image
David Wickes

Yup, dev.to is full of trash posts by whatever the diminutive of thought leader is, all tagged for beginner. A lot of these are either long, long lists of things you have to learn to be a software developer, or confused explanations of basic concepts. Or yet another bloody linked list tutorial.

I dearly wish that someone would curate the beginners tag.

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thejoezack profile image
Joe Zack

You can read about tag moderation on dev.to, but it has more to do with maintaining tags and preventing abuse than curating.

I think the best thing you can do is participate: Write the kinds of articles you want to see, and leave constructive comments to help fix the things you don't.

If the #beginner tag is driving you nuts, then maybe it's worth finding (or creating!) some other tags that fit your interests better and leaving #beginner to the beginners.

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tfbiii profile image
Fred Buecker

Sounds like you missed the point of his post completely.

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thejoezack profile image
Joe Zack

I don't think so, but of course you are free to your own opinion on that.

The main point is summed up nicely at the end:

"My main point is, to reiterate, that beginners need to read everything critically; research what you read and/or seek out clarification from other seeming experts."

To put it in my own words:
Authors need to be careful not to spread incorrect information, especially in beginner focused material. Readers need to consume with a healthy level of skepticism, and should validate with reputable sources.

I think this is good advice for everybody, about everything.

However...

I disagree with the notion that dev.to needs gatekeepers deciding what content is appropriate for beginners. Some of the best interactions I've witnessed on dev.to arose because of an inaccuracy or difference in opinions that was hashed out in the comments.

If you're primarily interested in technical accuracy, then you should probably stick to reading source code and official documentation. If you're looking for community and constructive conversation: dev.to

The point I was trying to make with this particular comment was that dev.to already has some features for moderation that reflect the core values of the site. I think it's worth trying to understand the point of this community before trying to "fix" it.

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thejoezack profile image
Joe Zack

I am not opposed to all improvements to dev.to, but the ones you are suggesting don't jive with my understanding of dev.to's culture. I am not a stakeholder, but I do love this community and I advocate to protect it.

I think dev.to's biggest strength and differentiator is that it has a friendly and enthusiastic culture that provides (particularly beginner) developers a safe and welcoming place to celebrate what they are learning and doing in order learn from each other.

Dev.to have included/excluded features over the years that support this difference, showing a bias toward producers over consumers. Some examples off the top of my head:

  • Authors can hide individual comments
  • Authors can specify a custom canonical href
  • No downvoting
  • No reputation gating

Peer review tags seem like a step in a different direction to me. It's not a bad direction, it just doesn't seem to fit well with dev.to's ethos. It provides a way to bypass content, making it harder for new dev authors to find an audience...the kind of audience that would help them learn through their mistakes.

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cecilelebleu profile image
CΓ©cile Lebleu

I wouldn't mind moderating this. Not all by myself, of course β€” there's a lot! β€” but making a group or team of people specifically to moderate the tag could really help beginners.

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avalander profile image
Avalander

You can send an email to yo@dev.to if you're interested in moderating a tag. #beginners has a couple of moderators, but people are busy with other things and there's a lot of content to moderate, they might appreciate a bit of extra help.

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gypsydave5 profile image
David Wickes

Ahhhhh nuts it sounds like I just volunteered... that'll teach me to moan πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

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avantar profile image
Krzysztof Szala

2021 here, and sadly nothing's changed.

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zakwillis profile image
zakwillis

Your point is - posts tagged with beginner are actually by beginners, rather than for beginners?
What is wrong with that? You are assuming other beginners don't realise this? I thought the dunning-kruger effect was that people think they are better than are in practice?
Personally, I read articles on here to get different ideas - beginners or super genius.
Perhaps a new tag - 4beginners?

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olask profile image
Ola Sk • Edited on

I guess "forbeginners" and "beginners" tags should be differentiated.
Also, as from the viewpoint of finding any help on such an issue I'd have one suggestion for a feature. I think about a basic radio list that takes the information from the author of a post about a subjective level of proficiency in a given topic would help in moderation I believe. I'm curious how accurately such a system would work. πŸ‘€

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sonyarianto profile image
Sony AK

nice thought but no body perfect, no platform perfect

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