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I'm sorry to create a semi-philosophical post, but I just joined and found myself reading a lot of posts, and I realized it wasn't the most efficient way to go about learning from and contributing to the site.

For work I use a combination of Python, R, MySQL and sometimes Excel's internal functions, but just reading different posts in those areas isn't the most helpful. Clearly learning actively with as many senses as possible is optimal, and I would love to hear any personal experiences and tips you guys have to get the most out of our experience here.

To be clear, I'm not as interested here in how to ask a good question to solve a specific programming problem, but more generally, the most effective strategies to learn the most and contribute the most productively here.

My questions are these:

  1. In your own experience, what is the best way to get the most out of using this site? (for example, I posted a question and after seeing a good explanation and the code, I tried to re-write it from scratch a few times until I felt that I understood why everything was there. I found that useful, and I imagine that others with more experience have many other useful lessons such as these).

  2. And secondly, what sorts of questions should I ask myself when reading other posts?

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closed as not constructive by Pops, Toon Krijthe, Brad Mace, jonsca, yhw42 Aug 13 '12 at 3:07

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I suppose it depends on what you want to get out of it. – Juhana Aug 11 '12 at 15:02
I have been thinking for 5 minutes now how to reply to this, but I have to agree with @juhana. Unfortunately the question seems to be so broad that I can't think of a good answer without resorting to overly general statements of little substance. Perhaps you can make your question more specific? – Bart Aug 11 '12 at 15:46

I can't really do much more than tell you how I use SO. I've learnt quite a lot from my time on the site, however, so perhaps it will be beneficial for you as well.

There are three types of questions that I focus on:

  1. Those I can definitely answer
  2. Those I might be able to answer
  3. Those I definitely can't answer

Why am I interested in questions I know I can definitely answer?

I'm not here just to learn, but to share what I've learnt as well - people ask questions because there's something they'd like to learn, and if I can teach them then I should do so. If nobody looked at questions they can answer then no questions would be answered, and nobody is going to learn anything new.

There's also times where other answers to a question I know I can answer show me a better, more efficient method of solving the problem, so there's still potential for me to learn even though I could have solved that problem on my own if I'd been faced with it myself.

Why am I interested in questions I might be able to answer?

Because it provides me with an opportunity to find out if I've fully understood how something works by applying it to a wide range of situations. If my answer is correct, then I can move questions of that type into the "I can definitely answer that" category in the future. If my answer is incorrect, then I know there are still things I need to learn; and, hopefully, there will be comments pointing out my mistakes that will teach me some of those things.

Why am I interested in questions that I definitely can't answer?

Because if I can't answer it, it's something that's definitely not in my current skill set and therefore full of potential for me to learn new things. I use the 'Favorite tags' to scope these questions, however, so I'm only focusing on things that are going to be beneficial to me. I work as a web developer using Java, Struts and JSP server-side and JavaScript/jQuery client-side, so I focus on the questions that have those tags.

It gives me additional knowledge that, while not useful to me right this moment, may be useful in the future. It could be a problem that I haven't come across yet but may encounter in the future or it could provide me with a better way of doing things I'm currently doing.

That's going to make my job easier, because I have a wider range of skills to apply to solving problems, and improve the quality of the work I produce.

Anything else?

Actively participate. Don't just come here when you have a question, ask it, get your answer and leave again. If you have downtime at work or school that you normally spend doing absolutely nothing productive, consider spending that time here instead.

Look at what other people are doing and learn from that. If you see people asking bad questions, ask yourself why it's a bad question, what they need to do to improve it, etc. If you don't know the answers to that straight away, don't worry - if you thought it was a bad question, chances are somebody else did too and they'll probably comment on the question to point out what needs improving. Conversely, if you see people asking particularly good questions, identify exactly what it is that makes it such a good question - then, when you come to ask your own questions, hopefully they'll also be good ones.

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Thanks Anthony! I hadn't thought of thinking about why a bad question isn't good, and why a good one is good. That's an interesting idea that I'm going to try. @Bart, my specific goals are to become as proficient for what I need at work as possible (mostly in Python and MySQL and various excel functions) and to learn how to develop an iPhone app. My post here was mostly about general strategy, to hear things like Anthony's post so that I can have a sense of how others best use the site in order to hear any tips, see what works for others, try it myself, see if it works for me, etc. – user1590499 Aug 11 '12 at 18:19

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