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StackOverflow and "Show your work"

From: andrew cooke <andrew@...>

Date: Sat, 10 Mar 2012 17:01:32 -0300

Sometimes (I am not sure exactly why, and I am not sure I want to know, since
I suspect it is related to needs I would rather not admit to) I spend time on
StackOverflow.

StackOverflow is a strange place and I find some users frustrating.

Including:

 a people who ask questions that are not very interesting;
 b people who phrase questions so poorly that you need to expend considerable 
   effort to understand what is needed;
 c people who argue for their own confused view of the world, rather than
   tring to understand what is important in the answer given;
 d people who ask questions so simple that is hard to imagine how anyone 
   could have difficulty with them (homework questions, particularly);
 e people who confuse their opinion with fact (particularly bad with smart 
   people whose facts are correct, as they then assume that their opinions 
   are equally solid);
 f people who react to (d) by requesting that "effort is shown".

The last is worst of all.  I do understand the annoyance with (d) - it seems
somehow unfair that stupid or lazy people should have their homework done by
others.  But really, it's not so bad - at some point these people become
irrelevant: they are learning (I do not claim to understand how every person
learns - maybe asking dumb questions is useful for them), or going to leave
the industry, or will fail miserably at some later point.  So simply answer
the question if it looks like fun; there's no moral responsibility to
castigate them and there's certainly no compunction to somehow force them to
learn (quite the reverse - it seems much more just, to me, to feed them easy
answers now, because future failure will be all the harder).

And, worse still, (f) seems to be spreading to all answers.  When an
established member of the site asks a question some people will demand to "see
what you have tried".  Maybe I am projecting terribly here, but it's hard not
to see these people trapped in the classroom, fighting desperately for
validation, believing the questioners rivals who will somehow get praise that
was justly theirs.  Eww.

Andrew

Re: StackOverflow and "Show your work"

From: Michiel Buddingh' <michiel@...>

Date: Sun, 11 Mar 2012 08:28:58 +0100

Haven't been on StackOverflow for ages, but your description of its
issues is spot on.  Another annoyance of mine (that I'm guilty of
myself at times) is "good advice".  "You don't want to implement a
checksum algorithm by yourself."  "Never use goto like this."
  Since this kind of advice is mostly sensible, it gets upvoted, but
it tends to completely ignore the possibility that the person who
asked the question is doing something for fun, or wants to learn
something by doing.  I also think these 'answers' are of poorer
quality, since they substitute reflexive community groupthink for
actual thought about the question.

-- Michiel

Re: StackOverflow and "Show your work"

From: andrew cooke <andrew@...>

Date: Mon, 12 Mar 2012 08:58:58 -0300

True; comp.lang.python is terrible for that.  It used to be a great group, but
the developers moved to python-dev, python became more popular, and it ended
up being a place to tell newbies how to do things "the python way".  Whichis
fine until you are curious about some obscure part of the language...

Andrew

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