I have been a StackOverflow member for over 6 years now and as most developers nowadays, visit it a few times a day looking for possible answers to hard problems. Using SO like that is just priceless, you find answers with a lot of information that are already curated by a demanding community.
Lately I have found myself not directly visiting StackOverflow to try to answer questions that are in my area of expertise as I did in the past. I mostly visit the site to find answers to specific problems, or answer an unanswered question that I stumbled upon and later found the solution myself. I think today I realised why this is. It is not that I do not care to give back to the community anymore, being selfish trying to solve my particular problem and then going on with my day, neither it is that I do not feel I have a lot to give back.
I have been working a lot on Angular2 for the past 8 months and have got a great understanding of how things work by now. So I thought why not go help out a few people for 20 minutes tonight before going to bed? So I opened SO, clicked on the Angular2 tag and looked at the latest questions. First thing I noticed is that there was a new question every few seconds… I know ng2 is hot, but still!
After looking through a few of them, I got depressed.
The people looking for help
The people looking for help put very little effort into forming the question into something that made sense and would make anyone reading it, interested in answering it, but even worse put even less effort looking for the solution in the first place. I am not talking about, something similar has been answered before situations, I am talking about it is in the 10 first lines in the docs kind of stuff. Also I saw a lot of ”I pressed these buttons in random order and it didn’t make the greatest app in the world”. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not an elitist. I respect people trying to learn, but I expect a certain level of effort, in order to qualify as some trying to learn. So for those people SO is just a place where they can get a solution to their it’s not compiling in the first attempt issues, rather than a place they can use to learn what they heck they are doing and how to not be in that same situation in a few hours. SO reputation for giving fast, good answers to any kind of programming problem might be its greatest downfall.
The people giving “help”
But why are these people keep coming and coming back for the same kind of trivial, non interesting to any other person on the planet question? It’s easy, because they get answers… and they get them fast. You see SO has such a good reputation for what it does, that a developer’s score on SO is on many people’s CVs and even asked in interview sessions. Many developers, I do not really care if they are good or bad at their job, find these kind of questions a great way to build up their score really fast. They answer on a question with title Why is my code don’t work with a line or two writing You missed a semicolon there or you forgot to declare the variable and they get a few precious points. Probably get their buddy (or maybe a second account) to up-vote this answer a couple of times and on to the next mankind threatening issue.
I know that SO will not run out of space on its great infrastructure any time soon and that eventually those questions and answers will be lost from the face of the internet as no-one will see them again, but it really makes me sad that such a great platform, for collaboration, knowledge sharing, even documentation of processes and thought is used in such an ill way.