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I have found Stack Overflow a lively place for answering questions, but severely limited in helping guide new programmers.

People writing their first few programs need help with programming how-to questions. These issues are generally so basic that experienced programmers will agree on the answers, possibly with different emphasis. Things like telling someone who is overwhelmed by a multi-part assignment to pick a minimal testable subset, get that written and tested, and then add features to complete the assignment.

It must be discouraging to programmers in need of that sort of help to just have their question closed, even though there are people able and willing to help them, with no alternative location. Comments about rewording are meaningless because there is no way to say "Help! I'm lost!" in a permitted way.

I like helping with that sort of question. I've even written about the subject.

Is there any chance of setting aside a tag where open ended questions from beginners would be permitted? Perhaps set a time limit on each question, to avoid long running discussions and flame wars.

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I think you're really looking for a new site, so you should probably suggest it at Area 51, not that I think it would succeed given the Q&A requirement. –  Mark Hurd Nov 13 '12 at 3:53
Wouldn't these be questions for Programmers Stack Exchange with discussion via chat? –  Jason Sturges Nov 13 '12 at 4:06
The 'permitted' way really just boils down to how well you articulate your question and demonstrate effort on your part, provided it fits into the objective nature of the engine. –  Tim Post Nov 13 '12 at 4:11
@JasonSturges Hm? Care to elaborate on why you think Programmers would be a suitable site for beginners? Nothing in the site's FAQ seem to suggest it would, quite the opposite in fact ("Programmers — Stack Exchange is a site for professional programmers.."). –  Yannis Nov 13 '12 at 4:12
@YannisRizos Not focusing on beginner questions, but rather conceptual questions about software development. Topics quickly closed at SO as not constructive may yield expert insight from Programmers - would you not agree? –  Jason Sturges Nov 13 '12 at 4:20
@JasonSturges Well, no, not really. Programmers welcomes some subjective questions, true, but at the same time conceptual != open ended/vague. Some questions that would typically be closed as NC on SO (for example: product/book recommendations, broad technology comparisons, "what should I learn next"), would also be closed on Programmers. There are exceptions, but in general what would be considered NC on SO, is most probably NC on ProgSE as well. –  Yannis Nov 13 '12 at 4:40
Programmers is labeled as being "for professional programmers". I am now retired, so I would not now call myself a professional programmer. Most of the people I want to help have never earned a cent programming in their lives. –  Patricia Shanahan Nov 13 '12 at 8:27
@PatriciaShanahan If you revise your proposal and give us a sampling of 'typical' questions, we could be more helpful. As for being retired, 'Professional' or 'Enthusiast' denotes skill level, not what you're actively doing. –  Tim Post Nov 14 '12 at 0:35
The -14 rating on this question so far seems to me to be quite a strong hint that it would be a waste of my time to go on trying to get any progress in this area on stack exchange sites. –  Patricia Shanahan Nov 14 '12 at 1:19
Hm, Programmers gets a lot of questions from 13 year olds that are not of the "Help! I'm lost!" variety. We don't check credentials at the door, "professionals" isn't really meant to be taken literally, but we are a bit stricter than SO when it comes to researching your questions prior to asking. You might be interested in supporting the Stack Overflow - Homework Area 51 proposal, don't really know if it will become a full site, but it seems a lot closer to what you are looking for. –  Yannis Nov 14 '12 at 8:18
That Area 51 proposal has now been deleted. –  Peter Mortensen Apr 27 at 19:59

1 Answer 1

Right on the front page for all new users to see is this:

This is a collaboratively edited question and answer site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

Stack Overflow is a tool not unlike any other somewhat advanced tool that you use to get your job done. In order to continue to attract a community of experts that are willing to answer questions, we have to be sure that college professors don't see a bunch of questions on how to read and add, as that's not (typically) the type of question they would be interested in spending their time answering.

However, fundamentally basic questions aren't actively discouraged provided that they are reasonably well articulated and demonstrate research and effort. Given that, the only difference between a basic question and an advanced question should be the level of skill required to answer it (provided that the question fits well with an objective Q&A format).

I don't think we need a tag to indicate that :)

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"we have to be sure that college professors don't see a bunch of questions on how to read and add" Why? Most CS college professors I know seem to care about teaching and helping new programmers. –  Patricia Shanahan Nov 13 '12 at 4:13
@PatriciaShanahan we aren't without members that don't mind, and sometimes enjoy helping new programmers, which makes programmers the operative word. We have to be able to expect some level of basic competency before we can begin to help. Questions such as you describe are often in the form of someone hoping to avoid the few days or weeks of trial, error and learning which are required to meet that baseline. –  Tim Post Nov 13 '12 at 4:42
@PatriciaShanahan What I strongly recommend you do is go to Area 51, make a proposal and then write some sample of questions that you'd hope to see a place for. If nothing else, it would provide quite a bit of context for this discussion. Right now, I'm going by my idea of what these questions would be, you of course are working from your own, and everyone else getting involved will have their own idea of what we're actually talking about. If you don't want to make a proposal there, perhaps consider adding 3 - 5 example questions in your question? –  Tim Post Nov 13 '12 at 4:45
If I can spend five minutes writing something that will save one or more would-be programmers days or weeks of trial and error I consider it time very well spent. I know several CS professors who are concerned, to the extent of doing research projects on the subject, about the barriers to entry and degree completion for undergraduate computer science students. –  Patricia Shanahan Nov 14 '12 at 1:56

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