Why do some people hate Stack Overflow?

Stackundertow is an interesting dichotomy.

I should explain a bit. I am a very experienced developer, and a pretty solid researcher in the code quality space. Published, cited, patents, etc etc. Without seeming immodest, I’ve worked on some pretty leading edge stuff for a long time. But I also tackle new things all the time, as do many of you. I’ve had to learn about 12 languages well, some of which have no use anymore. ( unless you need some Forth and APL, in which case, call me ) I’ve also managed large commercial organizations, up to about 3B in sales ( not a typo). I’m 65 and damn happy abo

Stackundertow is an interesting dichotomy.

I should explain a bit. I am a very experienced developer, and a pretty solid researcher in the code quality space. Published, cited, patents, etc etc. Without seeming immodest, I’ve worked on some pretty leading edge stuff for a long time. But I also tackle new things all the time, as do many of you. I’ve had to learn about 12 languages well, some of which have no use anymore. ( unless you need some Forth and APL, in which case, call me ) I’ve also managed large commercial organizations, up to about 3B in sales ( not a typo). I’m 65 and damn happy about it.

But lets say I want to learn a new language, say Python. Like everyone, things don’t work. But I am a pretty good judge of when I’m stuck because of something conceptually tough or something just nitty that i am missing. So I post my first question on SO. The fun begins.

SO seems to reward trolls by improving their reputation based on a bunch of things that don’t matter.

Someone nicely rewrites my request and cleans up some extra words. Thats nice. No value, since the english was good enough but hey, whatever.

Then someone gets on and downvotes the question as being “too vague”. No suggestions on whats vague ( we will come back to this guy later)

Someone else gets on and answers the question (thank you !) - Apparently the question was not too vague for him. (Should the other guy remove the downvote ? )

Someone else gets on and tells my hero that his answer was not “pythonic” enough. Not much of an explanation but apparently obfuscation is a reputation builder. If your answer is more complex, you look better. Not my style though.

Then I get 6 more answers (btw: I accepted the original answer) all adding opinions on whats faster/better/cheaper. None of which made the question or answer easier.

To recap, one question, one real answer, 9 posts which could best be described as a catfight. No accountability for stupid, no slack for a beginner. Would you join this mess ?

A few months later, I post another question, considerably more difficult and requires some work to get it to the point where I can post it. It includes the code.

Too vague weighs in again. Then adds “code is not sufficient”, 3 people ask for clarifications, but never say anything else. 2 people answer (Yeah) with good comments, 18 people argue about it after (isn’t that like bayoneting the wounded ?) without adding any benefits, and then to cap it off. But my reputation is now down again because I won’t participate in the catfight.

Third post went the same way, but this time, I was in a bad mood. Very bad mood. And I was tired, so my better judgement went off to get coffee for a bit. Low and behold my old friend, downvotes me for Vague.

Ok - Now I decide I have had enough and I wade into the fray. I pull up every post this guy has and start actually critiquing his code. He has about as much chance as an average unarmed person against the average lion. Theoretically correct but very poor practice. Then his git profile, etc. My collegues stopped me from sending comments to professors on his thesis which was modestly incorrect. His statistics were incorrect.

Then I realize there is no honor in a 65 year old beating up a 29 year old PhD student just because he thinks he is the next Alan Kay. So I dumped my profile and started again.

So when do I use it ? I create a new ID for each question, post it, get my answer, get off. Ignore the trolls. Would like a alternative. After I get done finding repetitive patterns maybe I will invent one. Who knows, but I do know that I never get on without a bad taste in my mouth ( possibly a piece of PhD student)

Just read some answers here, common grouse I see is that Stack Overflow is too hostile and rude to newbies. Having been a regular user of Stack Overflow just couple of points from my side.

Stack Overflow is a hard core programming site, it is meant for people who are fully into development. And when I say, hands on, working on an actual real time project. And the issues you get in a real time project are way different than what you get on a study project or sample project. I have nothing against study or sample projects, but working in a real time project is totally different. You are up agains

Just read some answers here, common grouse I see is that Stack Overflow is too hostile and rude to newbies. Having been a regular user of Stack Overflow just couple of points from my side.

Stack Overflow is a hard core programming site, it is meant for people who are fully into development. And when I say, hands on, working on an actual real time project. And the issues you get in a real time project are way different than what you get on a study project or sample project. I have nothing against study or sample projects, but working in a real time project is totally different. You are up against deadlines, people breathing down your neck, and then you have all kind of crazy issues popping up. And that is where Stack Overflow helps, most of the users who come there are either in the line of fire, or those who have been in the line of fire. And trust me atmosphere in such a scenario is not going to be very friendly or pleasant. Just learn to deal with it.

To give a real life scenario, imagine walking straight into a war room, during the course of action. You have people at their wits end, working on dealing with crisis, brainstorming going on. That atmosphere can be quite intimidating, and it’s not for everyone. In a way Stackoverflow is somewhat similiar.

So before you begin hating StackOverflow, ask yourself what you need it for. If it is to get information on basic information, or stuff that can be googled, it is not the forum for it. When you walk into a war room, people expect you to have a basic idea of what the conflict is all about. On the other hand, if you are stuck with some issue in a project, or a particularly hard to decipher technical problem, I can’t think of a better forum than Stack Overflow. That is because the users at Stack Overflow, are hard core programming pros, who have actually been hands on, and faced those issues. So you get the solution as is, instead of some random pop philosophy tripe.

It is because the system is flawed.

I have over 15000 points on SO.

People hate it because some users there are NUTS, and when you'll start asking questions, you'll inevitably run into those users.

Large portion of moderators don't care about knowledge, learning, programming, they care only about rules, and proving themselves to be right.

Current reputation system does not reward quality of questions, but their quantity. Newbie question will grant you more upvotes than something that require 5 years of experience and arcane knowledge.

As a result, if you grab book for beginners and type very fast,

It is because the system is flawed.

I have over 15000 points on SO.

People hate it because some users there are NUTS, and when you'll start asking questions, you'll inevitably run into those users.

Large portion of moderators don't care about knowledge, learning, programming, they care only about rules, and proving themselves to be right.

Current reputation system does not reward quality of questions, but their quantity. Newbie question will grant you more upvotes than something that require 5 years of experience and arcane knowledge.

As a result, if you grab book for beginners and type very fast, you can farm reputiton on simple questions. Over time you can rise to the godhood, err, moderatorhood and then you'll be able to reign supreme over people that ask questions. Another consequence of that is that when you get DIFFICULT question, you won't be getting answer on SO. Instead you'll run in some clueless "know-it-all" that 'll argue with you to death about unrelated issue.

There are quite a lot of non-knowledgeable and toxic people with over 50k reputation because they had too much free time. Some of the knowledgeable people are still around, but they're pretty much a minority.

Community is not professional by any means. Asking questions would result in your question being closed in under 5 minutes, then there's high probabilty that someone will mock or argue with you in the comments, answers that you'll get are likely to overlook important parts of your question or address unrelated, but similar problem, because they didn't bother to read your entire questions. In case your questions resembles anything else, you'll waste half of a day arguing in comments and trying to explain why it is not a duplicate (although you already explained that in questions text which nobody bothered to read).

It wasn't always like that, though.

5 years ago or so you could quickly get decent and professional response, people were friendly, and could joke around a bit, discuss stuff with you or direct you into the right direction. Right now it is programmer's version of certain infamous imageboard.

You can still experience remnants of the past glory, if you ask questions about obscure or unusual languages. Because number of users of, say, common lisp is comparatively small, people don't attempt to murder each other because of small things.

For anything else the site is completely unusable, though and I'd recommend to avoid it completely. Sure, if you hit an answer to your question via search engine, use it, but participating is not recommended - the level of hostility in SO community is incredibly high.

Since this question is set up in such a way that it can easily stir hatred, let me try to salvage reasoning before it’s too late.

Just a year ago, I was once a noob on SO. With few reps, I was mistreated and abused. It seemed like every question I posted was down voted or marked for deletion without proper causes. I swore I wouldn’t post on SO again.

But something interesting happened. I swallowed my pride try to look at it objectively. Instead of coiling up in fear of rejections and down votes (what are they to matter anyway?), I continued to post.

Only this time, I did it more carefully and aft

Since this question is set up in such a way that it can easily stir hatred, let me try to salvage reasoning before it’s too late.

Just a year ago, I was once a noob on SO. With few reps, I was mistreated and abused. It seemed like every question I posted was down voted or marked for deletion without proper causes. I swore I wouldn’t post on SO again.

But something interesting happened. I swallowed my pride try to look at it objectively. Instead of coiling up in fear of rejections and down votes (what are they to matter anyway?), I continued to post.

Only this time, I did it more carefully and after thorough research and hours of desperation. I made sure I did everything I could. Most importantly, I spent an average of an hour on crafting the question.

One thing I realized was that only 2–3 out of 10 initial questions made it to my SO posts. Often when I thought I hit a wall, spending time crafting my question forced me to rethink my problem to communicate and ended up solving them on my own.

Then I began to see the change. SO became less hostile. Those seasoned SO’ers who once felt to me like zombie piranhas ambushing to gnaw on me alive became just normal, helpful and intelligent people. As my questions got more acceptance, my reputations increased, and I earned more respect. It works this way not just on SO but in the real world too.

Most people can tell how much work you put into a question. If you post a question like you do your update on a social network, you can’t expect SO’ers to not feel against you. Keep in mind that many of them get paid hundreds of dollars an hour solving problems as part of their day job. On SO they get nothing but sheer pleasure of helping fellow programmers and maybe a sense of fulfillment (who doesn’t). Respect, while may be taken too seriously, is thus the very backbone of SO. That can only be done through sign of pre-post research, thoughtful selection of snippets that frame the problem clearly, and thoughtful crafting of the question’s text.

I strongly encourage every SO’ers to take part in editing questions, not just posting questions and comments. This way you will see how bad and irresponsible some questions can be. There are so many common ones that turns me off and often make others go mad, but I won’t go through them and edited them out but you can learn from How do I ask a good question? - Help Center.

If I could only give one advice to a new SO’er, it would be to spend a lot of time on writing your question. Rewrite it, go brew a cup of coffee, come back to tackle your problem, and rewrite again in a new light. Keep doing this for at least an hour. Sometime it may even be a good idea to just sleep over it.

Keep in mind that as you grow to become a better programmer, so does your ability to ask questions. You become better at framing the problem you’re facing and narrow it down to a few lines of code. As long as you keep improving, you will find that SO is still the best place to ask questions and find answers and a pleasant place to be.

I finally deleted all my profiles on Stack Exchange sites, including Stack Overflow. My parting “answer” to my own question is posted below.

Here’s a graphic I made to describe the quality of advice and feedback Stack Overflow users have provided over the years:

Had Enough Stack Overflow (answering my own question):

Nevermind, Coming back hours later, seeing a question downvoted 4 times with only 2 comments criticizing my question and one attempt at an answer (that's really just semantic criticism instead of suggesting solutions to the substance) reminds me how Stack Exchange sites are not set up

I finally deleted all my profiles on Stack Exchange sites, including Stack Overflow. My parting “answer” to my own question is posted below.

Here’s a graphic I made to describe the quality of advice and feedback Stack Overflow users have provided over the years:

Had Enough Stack Overflow (answering my own question):

Nevermind, Coming back hours later, seeing a question downvoted 4 times with only 2 comments criticizing my question and one attempt at an answer (that's really just semantic criticism instead of suggesting solutions to the substance) reminds me how Stack Exchange sites are not set up to answer questions or help anyone. 4 downvotes, but only 3 responses. People will downvote and not even explain why they sought to punish a questioner, let alone provide useful direction (like "this question answered already at this link").

It's a sad system of Unhelpfuls who downvote all questions first (because they don't understand the simple fact that they only have a platform if people ask questions). And they further expend their energies looking for semantics to nit-pick instead of trying to help people by parsing their question with some modicum of emotional intelligence and intuition.

And honestly, this is probably the best experience I've had on stack exchange, ever. That's how pathetic this system is. It's actually showing a sign of improvement--in tone, not in usefulness (probably because people have learned their lesson about how this is not a place to ask questions or get help, and have been staying away, so platform stakeholders realized they can't be quite as horrible all the time).

But there's still too much room for improvement after all these years (I've had this profile for almost 8 yrs). The people who run this sick bureaucracy could've done so many things to force haters to have skin in the game--force them to have to provide helpful, positive direction if they're going to downvote. But instead, these losers can still one-click-snipe without making a contribution to technical knowledge. It's shameful.

When will I learn my lesson? Now. Scheduling deletion of this profile after posting this. I will avoid stack exchange/stack overflow sites from now on, lesson learned.

The haters are not an homogeneous group.

Some haters hate SO because they feel they were not exactly welcomed by the community, and some of them have all the right to feel that way. There a small but active group of SO users that are harsh on people sometimes to no apparent reason.

The majority of haters though are of another kind. Those haters are people who seems to not bother to google before ask something, let alone do the basic work of format the question’s text in a readable manner or provide information about the specific problem they’re dealing with.

Active SO users have to deal with a to

The haters are not an homogeneous group.

Some haters hate SO because they feel they were not exactly welcomed by the community, and some of them have all the right to feel that way. There a small but active group of SO users that are harsh on people sometimes to no apparent reason.

The majority of haters though are of another kind. Those haters are people who seems to not bother to google before ask something, let alone do the basic work of format the question’s text in a readable manner or provide information about the specific problem they’re dealing with.

Active SO users have to deal with a ton of questions that are duplicated, or malformed, or with only a link in the details, etc. Eventually people get sick of reading questions of lazy programmers asking other programmers to do their job for them.

The majority of SO users are professionals, they themselves have work to get done. Many users there are living encyclopedias on particular technologies and they rightly value their time.

The majority of people who hates SO are clearly lazy programmers show didn’t bother of reading the help center or even the basic rules of the site. Had they done that they probably would spare other professionals’ time and they probably would have had a more warm welcome from the other users.

Many answers posted here are clear examples of what not to do in SO.

If you start your question with

“I’m using X feature at [this link] …”

then you are asking to not get an answer. Why? Because you’re forcing other professionals to click on a link to see what the hell you are doing. SO users expects more than that. You have to show some willingness to help yourself.

Something like

“I using X feature (link here) and want to do Y with it. I inspected the files and the file Z.css contains the classes of the [particular feature]. However I don’t understand how to make Y in the file. Seems to me that the relevant lines are [paste line of the file here with proper format and indentation]. I tried [this], [that] and [that], but I’m stuck with this [specific problem].

And then you can be sure that someone with more experience will stop their work for 5 minutes to help you.

I could go on with other answers posted here.

The message is: You have to try by yourself, you have to show that you tried, you have to provide information about the specific problem you’re stuck with. Then other people will stop their job to help you to do yours.

SO is not a forum and is not a fraternity. It’s a place where professionals go to get help from other professionals.

New programmers can feel intimidated by the standards and some of them will have the bad luck of get his/her question read by a programmer having a bad day. Other than that that’s no question why people don’t get a warm welcome. It’s because they seem to imply that “whatever I ask is a good question”. Well, it’s not.

For new programmers going there I would suggest you to insist a little, to read the help center and to get used to the higher standards of SO compared to forums or reddit.

If you don’t even know how to formulate a question with a specific problem, them you will be better going to other places where the standards are not strict as the SO standards are.

Recently I came across this article which I think is a must read before I can say anything.

The decline of Stack Overflow

There are two side of the story before we can come to conclusion.

Hate Side Story: Now it is very useful to find an answer to your question when you are stuck in middle of a problem. You google your problem and bang! there are others who have the same problem and someone has solved it for you any many others to come. Now as you become more interested in a language/framework/software, you come across many more interesting problems that are not encountered by others or may ha

Recently I came across this article which I think is a must read before I can say anything.

The decline of Stack Overflow

There are two side of the story before we can come to conclusion.

Hate Side Story: Now it is very useful to find an answer to your question when you are stuck in middle of a problem. You google your problem and bang! there are others who have the same problem and someone has solved it for you any many others to come. Now as you become more interested in a language/framework/software, you come across many more interesting problems that are not encountered by others or may have been encountered by others but in a pretty different way but leads to the same problem but you don't know how. So now you go to Stack Overflow (now Stack Exchange) and you ask a question. Within a few seconds some moderator will come and mark your answer DUPLICATE.

If it's not a duplicate, he/she will not leave a second to troll you out (which is the most embarrassing thing nowadays). There are endless other things if I start counting (instead you must read the article mentioned; you will find many programmers talking about it.)

Lover Side Story: Now these are the group of people who are either moderator, have decent amount of reputation (though not a necessary condition) and of course the people who created the website and surely other kinds, I can't think of right now. They think that it is good to be strict.

*So in the end I will leave it to the reader to conclude whether you should like it or not.

It is far to strict without being logical, but it has no problem with people posting snarky and offensive comments to those asking legitimate questions. Many times the trolls on there post, basically asking questions to the OP why they are doing this or that and it just puts people on the defensive. If it is to be a useful tool, they should just answer the questions and if they can't be helpful to someone they should ignore the posting and move along.

The system is also flawed with this concept of giving people points and badges for things. This is entirely unnecessary and creates this foolish

It is far to strict without being logical, but it has no problem with people posting snarky and offensive comments to those asking legitimate questions. Many times the trolls on there post, basically asking questions to the OP why they are doing this or that and it just puts people on the defensive. If it is to be a useful tool, they should just answer the questions and if they can't be helpful to someone they should ignore the posting and move along.

The system is also flawed with this concept of giving people points and badges for things. This is entirely unnecessary and creates this foolish competitive atmosphere which distracts from seeking a truthful and helpful answer.

Being an IT professional with many years of experience, I can tell you that the people with those kind of troll attitudes isn't new. But I've seen them time and time again get fired in the work place for demonstrating this kind of poor attitude. To be a professional, and I mean a true professional you has to have more than simply technical ability. No one is right 100% of the time and they can't know everything, and the ability to work with others is the most important otherwise you aren't of any use to an organization. In spite of what people see on TV and the movies. ;-)

I hate it because of a strange competition it has initiated via its so called “Reputation” method. The higher the reputation the bigger they feel about them-self and start becoming rude, more rules and regulations driven and start believing in the “downvote” more often than “upvote” (discouragement over encouragement);

Adding fuel to the fire comes the “Moderators” and as per their standards they have an election process to choose the them. They have more power, and are considered more knowledgeable and accountable, and in turn they show further Rudeness, they are the lawmakers and now believes

I hate it because of a strange competition it has initiated via its so called “Reputation” method. The higher the reputation the bigger they feel about them-self and start becoming rude, more rules and regulations driven and start believing in the “downvote” more often than “upvote” (discouragement over encouragement);

Adding fuel to the fire comes the “Moderators” and as per their standards they have an election process to choose the them. They have more power, and are considered more knowledgeable and accountable, and in turn they show further Rudeness, they are the lawmakers and now believes in Downvote plus deleting some questions basis their judgement, along side posting some rude comments

On top of all this there is another bullshit called “Meta” who creates rules and regulations and dictates people of ask, reply and comment as per their standards.

“So if you look in totality it is noting more than a Political Party whose punchline is to help people, but in the process of doing so, now have created bureaucrats who dictates the entire process.”

Here are my tips to effectively use it

  • Don’t create any profile in StackExchange if your desire is not to earn reputation, you will be able to search for everything without an ID
  • Search for questions and answers but don’t go there with an expectation of getting ready made answers, but since the forum is so large, I am sure you will find a way
  • There are other forums where I find less bureaucracy (Ozgrid for Excel and VBA, MSDN for Microsoft related are few of them)

Now they have more than 100+ questions and answer sub sites and not all of them follow the same degree of discipline and bureaucracy . My best experience are so far with their “Travel”and “Motor Vehicle” sites and worse experience is with Stackoverflow, Ask Different, Server Fault and Superuser

Always remember

  • Reputation alone (or moderator profile) doesn't mean that you are a subject matter experts. Few of the organisations I know are very particular (rather negative) about those who showcase “Reputation” or “Moderator”ship as their achievements (in technical hiring this was very common few years back). I have even come across profiles in mid management which got rejected as we felt that moderator-ship on these forums (and earning reputation) requires quite an investment of time on a day on day basis, which may effect the productivity (or work life balance). Reputation is the not the measurement of your technical skill, you can earn points through your editing skills as well in these sites

So don’t get disheartened if some of them have down voted you or given a rude comments, they are just a victim of the bureaucracy. Set your expectation correct, I am sure you will be able to get your work done in a better way without interfering with their bureaucracy

During its inception, the idea was noble. But not new. Like almost every other online forum it would succumb to silencing certain voices more frequently than others.

For e.g. take hacker news. You post something you feel is worth two cents…no one gives a fuck. But when someone with a good rep does it - yeah you do end up feeling a bit off…

The same problem is prevalent in SO. But this is met with bitter policing. And for new comers it is hell. The community today, wants people to post unique questions. They don’t want to find people asking the same questions over and over again.

But this is what

During its inception, the idea was noble. But not new. Like almost every other online forum it would succumb to silencing certain voices more frequently than others.

For e.g. take hacker news. You post something you feel is worth two cents…no one gives a fuck. But when someone with a good rep does it - yeah you do end up feeling a bit off…

The same problem is prevalent in SO. But this is met with bitter policing. And for new comers it is hell. The community today, wants people to post unique questions. They don’t want to find people asking the same questions over and over again.

But this is what happens because of a certain noob culture that is out there. All developers are relatively noob with some area of technology. For e.g. an expert C# developer is relatively inexperienced when it comes to web technologies like html/js/css. Its a trend. This noob culture is more prevalent with our young developers - three/four years of experience.

Their first instinct when stumbling with an issue they face, is to post it online, hope someone answers, or guides them. But on SO, many mean moderators will scathe them away.

However, the community doesn’t understand this is a perennial problem. Its never going to go away soon. However, I do believe there can be a version of SO that can be inclusive of this particular culture. But its going to be a very mammoth task.

Hence, I would simply say…just follow some commandments for now…There may or may not be a reason behind why you have to follow them. Just think its is an attempt to dissolve the situation.

https://codeblog.jonskeet.uk/2018/03/17/stack-overflow-culture/ (Jon Skeet’s SO Covenant).

Hope its for the best…

Ps: The term “noob culture” isn’t meant to be racist in anyway. You and I are noobs in some way. Its good to accept it; rather than object it.

Stack Overflow is one big place where you can learn a lot about how programming works. It connects passionate engineers, developers and programmers all over the world. It's the go to source for almost every programmer of this world.

Well, that's how it was supposed to be like, I suppose, during its inception.

Now, it's been 6+ years and it has crossed around 4.7 million users with 10 million questions within it. And with that, it has reared some various ugly heads:

When a new user with beginner skill posts a question, it is blocked immediately saying,

  1. Can't you do a simple Google search?
  2. It's a

Stack Overflow is one big place where you can learn a lot about how programming works. It connects passionate engineers, developers and programmers all over the world. It's the go to source for almost every programmer of this world.

Well, that's how it was supposed to be like, I suppose, during its inception.

Now, it's been 6+ years and it has crossed around 4.7 million users with 10 million questions within it. And with that, it has reared some various ugly heads:

When a new user with beginner skill posts a question, it is blocked immediately saying,

  1. Can't you do a simple Google search?
  2. It's a duplicate question, here is the link for that...
  3. Others adding negative votes to the question
  4. Refer to the documentation.
  5. Show what have you done so far.


This leaves a bad impression to the new users about the entire community. Similarly, when a new user tries to answer a question he/she gets another hit saying,
"it already there or it is not a real answer".

You can't blame them also since existing users think "that your question is answered already, why are you asking it again and again?". Within this 10 M entries consider all sort of possible solutions is hiding somewhere in it. This aggressiveness is making them to hate the system. They want to show their visibility to the fellow community and this is kind of annoying the new users. Unless it is a new language or framework or problem this will continue. Other than that haters are going to hate it always.

I have been using Stack Overflow for reference for the past three years, and I used to see a huge improvement/change in policy in each quarter of every year. Believe me this Stack Overflow architecture and community management system is now evolving from intermediate to advanced. I too faced this, but I don't hate it.