Got a (programming) question for me?

Many people in the developer community know me as a moderator on Stack Overflow. So it’s only natural that a certain portion of my site’s traffic will comprise those who use SO. Now, as I’m sure some of you know, the site has grown large enough that one of our biggest problems is the constant influx of just plain bad questions (and answers). And, frankly, that’s perfectly normal. SO has very strict standards when it comes to asking questions, and contrary to popular belief, not every kind of programming question is on-topic for the site. For the average developer, it takes a concerted amount of attention and effort to figure out how the site works and how to contribute effectively. Not everybody is willing or able to expend such effort. And that is why some get turned away. For the rest of us who take the time to learn the ropes and are able to ask constructively, great! Thanks for helping make the Internet a better place.

But some may have questions that either don’t quite fit the scope of the site (as mentioned above), or that they’d rather ask in private. And it is for this reason I’m happy to take such questions through my contact form (as in the “just want to talk shop” part of the introductory text). Having said that, however, motive is everything; I will only answer questions that were asked in good faith. If you honestly just have a question that you want me to answer personally, that’s fine! In fact, just several weeks ago I had the pleasure of clarifying a number of doubts someone had about the CSS box model after they’d seen some of my answers on Stack Overflow.

On the other hand, if you’re using my contact form as simply a substitute for when you have been blocked from asking questions on Stack Overflow, I will delete your message on sight. And I will know just by looking at the message that’s sent to my inbox based on numerous telltale signs. (One such telltale sign, in fact, is which inbox you even try to send to — over the weekend I had someone send a message to my support inbox, probably because it says “support requests take priority over general stuff” in the form. Well, it certainly went to the trash pretty expediently.)

The reason for this is simple: if Stack Overflow doesn’t accept your questions because they are of low quality, then chances are neither will I. Furthermore, if you’re just using my contact form as a way to try and get your desperate plea for help answered with no regard for who I am as a human being, you’re not going to earn any respect from me. Remember that my contact form is a way for you to get in touch with me. It is not just another form in which you can paste the same question as you probably have on at least one other site if not more, in hopes of getting a response from just “anybody” (as in “anybody please help me”). On the flip side, if you’re contacting me specifically because I’m a moderator… then I don’t know what you expect me to do other than ignore you.

If you haven’t seen it yet, my contact form has a number of instructions and guidelines listed, along with some specific rules on the kind of stuff I don’t accept:

You’ll notice that I mention not taking job offers, as well as not taking inquiries about my actions of moderation on Stack Overflow. These are things that need to be stated explicitly, and that’s fine. You’ll also notice that I don’t mention anything that I’ve discussed here, and in fact that’s completely on purpose. You generally expect good faith from interactions with others; it doesn’t really need to be said. I’m not going to update the form to link to this blog post either; I’m blogging about this simply for the information and enlightenment of those inclined to read my blog (most of whom, let’s face it, aren’t going to be the same people who just want a solution to their problem ASAP — they’re going to be disappointed either way).

If you have any questions about this particular post, feel free to leave a comment right here (or, well, use my contact form if you’re so inclined!). Again, if you’re going to waste my time with nonconstructive comments, don’t bother. I’ll just delete them. I like to keep things nice and happy around here.

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