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This is somewhat similar to the homework question, but I'm not asking about people who have homework to do but problems to solve (which may or may not be homework).

If you decide that the way to find out how to solve a problem is to ask a question on Stack Overflow, are you expecting someone to "pls show u teh codes" or to help you enough that you can learn about the problem and try to solve it?

My own response to Stack Overflow questions (being a mentor of other developers and, in a past job, a teacher of undergraduates) is to give hints, like "you can do this with X API" or "this document shows you how to do it", because that's what I'd like to see; I would want someone to give me enough of a push that I could still believe I've solved my own problem.

But I've seen a number of questions with answers like this which then have comments like "but what code do I write to answer this question?", including occasional threats/carrots-on-sticks involving the award of reputation points.

So, which type of answer are you looking for? Which type of programmer would you want to work with?


migrated from Aug 25 '09 at 17:56

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

locked by Lasse V. Karlsen Aug 17 '11 at 13:36

31 Answers 31

I am here to exchange knowledge.

Me too. I'm kind of hoping I could answer all kinds of questions and teach other about stuff but usually I just end up reading about things I didn't know earlier. – Esko Jan 21 '09 at 19:26
Like tradings pogs on the playground baby, I'll trade you mine if you trade me yours. – mmcdole Jan 21 '09 at 19:40
Gamecat, if you mean "both" then I agree. – TravisO Jan 21 '09 at 19:41
@Simucal - In my hood the bigger kids would create arbitrary rules to take your pogs without a fair trade. "Gold-Slammer Takes Pog, dirt-bag!" – Sampson Jan 21 '09 at 19:45
I mean both. On stackoverflow, I even learn when I'm teaching. – Gamecat Feb 14 '09 at 23:02
Definitely agree: I've learned so much here. – Joel Coehoorn Jul 9 '09 at 19:11
With whom? Experts? – Pops Mar 23 '10 at 19:26

The best way to learn is to teach. When I explain a concept to someone else, I realize how little I know about it.

+1, more if I could. I learned this when I tutored an introductory CS course in university. A useful corollary I learned there: "It's not what you know. It's what you can show." – Brian Laframboise Jan 22 '09 at 2:06
It rhymes too! That's even better than mine. – David Thomas Garcia Jan 22 '09 at 7:37
+1. And now, to make several sock puppets so I can upvote this one again.... – Pops Mar 23 '10 at 19:28

Since I view StackOverflow as a wiki-style educator, I don't want the quick "Here's the code"-style solution. I want as much detail as possible, without making the reading too exhaustive.

StackOverflow is one of the few tabs that remains opened during my entire day. I refer back to it when I need help - it is often times faster at providing solutions than Google, and I know the solutions it provides will have undergone "peer-review" in a sense.

I come here to Help, to Learn, and to Relax.

Never found a better explanation of my way of participating to stackoverflow and, mre in general, to stachexchange network! – Daniele B Jan 14 '13 at 14:46

I'm only here for the shiny badges!


I'm here to impress the ladies. To quote Napoleon Dynamite: "girls want boyfriends with skills".

I'd be curious to know the male/female ratio on the site... – Laura Jan 21 '09 at 21:27
Pretty low, but I guess it's higher than the assumption people make of infinite... er, x to 0. Why can't I express myself without math? – Andrei Krotkov Jan 22 '09 at 2:46
@Laura: I'm guessing it's similar to the ratio in the profession at large (10:1 at least). It's a damn shame, since women are generally smarter, harder working, more cooperative and more fun to be around. – MusiGenesis Jan 22 '09 at 3:52
I'm always pleasantly surprised when I see a female name or avatar on this site, or any computer-related site. I really hope equality in technology will occur some day soon. The other day I saw a question about "What will our grandsons be programming?" I thought "Really? Grandsons?" Makes me sad. – David Thomas Garcia Jan 22 '09 at 4:16
Totally off topic, but my nine year old daughter is programming in Python. – Mark James Jan 22 '09 at 5:57
@Mark: not off topic at all, and very cool. – MusiGenesis Jan 22 '09 at 14:07
@Mark: but please don't ever let her watch Napoleon Dynamite. – MusiGenesis Jan 22 '09 at 14:08

I would prefer an answer that gives me the full solution. It is not that I am lazy, but the process of deciphering the solution is a learning process just as productive to me as discovering it on my own.

It is easy for an experienced programmer to assume that what is basic for them is basic for everyone.

I probably derive more enjoyment visiting SO to give advice in areas that gave me problems in the past. I think, "if I can save them the headache I went through..."

However, the times when I had a problem I could not solve without help, I found the vague answers to be the least useful or exciting, e.g. "you may want to try PHP for that."

I would not necessarily classify programmers into the "give me the answer" or "let me find the answer" categories. What I would want probably leans more towards the "let me find the answer" programmer type, but it is the resourcefulness that is more important to me.

Edit: A couple of years later, this is such an excellent example of what I meant: Why doesn't SSIS recognize line feed {LF} row delimiter while importing UTF-8 flat file?

wooord I totally agree with you! – DFectuoso Jan 22 '09 at 2:06

I'm looking for an answer of the "you can do this with X API" form. Although, finding a complete code answer doesn't mean the person who answers is doing the job for me. By applying this code into my own implementation I'm also learning. Most of the time when I ask questions, I simplify them enough so that the code other users present doesn't really apply to my real problem, but it gives me a great idea of what I need to do to solve it.


It depends on the situation and how pressed I am as to the function that SO takes for me. If I've got a pressing problem that comes up amidst a sh*tstorm of other problems, I might ask for "Plz give me the codez".

That situation doesn't often occur however, the joy of programming for me is figuring out the puzzle, so I'd much rather present the situation and the problem and ask for pointers on which direction I'd best follow to help solve it... and if anyone comes up with references that will help me gain a more in depth understanding, then all the better.

While I'm on here though, I frequently come across other questions I can answer with little work, but may help someone else out in a big way, in which case I answer them. Then there may be other questions that may not immediately useful for me, but I could see them being useful in the future, in which case they're added to my favourites list so I can come back and check up on them at a later point...

The joy of SO for me I think is that everything is bite size - other people's questions might turn into a small side project for me. Maybe an intriguing scenario, or an area of programming I've not come across before. I can spend an hour tinkering with something that I wouldn't otherwise find the opportunity or reason to work with... and because it's all bite size, it's easy to retain focus and remember it later...

...also posting and answering questions is a great way to create and maintain a connection with the global programming community. If you're a student, it's a great way to start finding a way to transition into a commercial environment and find out what "real world" programmers are doing, the problems they face and how they're really applying the theory you're learning in school. While you're in school it's very easy to learn the theory and produce code for theoretical situations, but it can be extremely intimidating as you approach that time when you've finally gotta take what you've learned and use it for real. Forums and communities like StackOverflow are a fantastic way to get your feet wet and make that connection.


I'm here to learn or to help others to learn. I enjoy the process of learning something new from someone else's issue and incorporating it into my knowledge base. However, there are times where my brain just isn't getting it and an example code is extremely helpful!



Personally, I am a member of most of these types of forums to learn, but not simply by reading the posts. Encountering real-world scenarios and trying to find the solutions is one of the best, fastest ways to learn anything, especially if you are not certain what you are trying to learn.

I almost never ask questions, I prefer to find the answer myself, even if it is through brute force trial and error (The most wonderful thing about programming is that if you bang your head against a wall long enough, the wall will move.). More often, I will read a problem and, if there isn't a good solution posted already, try to find the answer myself. But learning through observation and doing things the wrong way can often lead to big discoveries which will help in the long run.

Case in point: when I was first learning MySQL (and was brand-new to programming), I could not find the operators. I assumed it would use &&, but those were nowhere to be found. Since I could not manage this, I learned that I could call CREATE TEMPORARY TABLE, populate it with the results from one query, and then search that table independently. It would have been more efficient to ask questions, but I learned syntax I would not have otherwise known.

"The most wonderful thing about programming is that if you bang your head against a wall long enough, the wall will move." is such a sweet statement :-) – user23743 Jan 21 '09 at 19:30
I'm totally making that my slashdot signature. – Christopher W. Allen-Poole Jan 21 '09 at 20:12

I want to see how other programmers think. It's very rare that I read code pasted/written here. Reading a piece of code is seldom very useful. Pretty much the same as the old one fish vs learn to fish imo.


This is a tremendous educational tool for me as well as an opportunity to share knowledge that I've already gained. And it isn't just specific technical issues: I think that we all learn by seeing our peers' perspectives on more abstract problems like the role of TDD, the utility of new technologies like Linq, etc. I particularly like the way that a consensus position sometimes coalesces as various answers "fight it out" for votes.


I like when I'm given a short answer and then given more references. I'm not a professional coder and have learned all my programming knowledge from asking and reading on my own so a lot of times I'm really not sure what the proper name of something is so being able to describe my problem and then have someone give me an answer/reference is a tremendous help.

If I'm also able to give input on a problem then it gives me a little more confidence in my ability. It lets me know that I haven't struggled for no reason.


I want the push so I can learn myselv. Since I already know how to copy and paste code, an answer with working code will not help me more then answer the spessific problem I have. But what if I encounter a similar problem later, which actualy have an almost identical solution. I would have to ask again, since all I did was copy and paste some code. But if I took the time to learn it myselv, I could have solved it myselv, since I knew how it worked. So please, when I ask questions, give me a hint to how I can learn, not give me the full code to solve it.


I come here to see what problems affect other programmers, every problem is related to a topic so it's a way to learn something, from a new site (like coding horror I've just learnt about), to, for example, how many files i can put in a directory on my *nix production server.

In regard to the answers: i prefer hints over "here's the job done for you" posts, one learns by doing not by CTRL + C, CTRL + V :] So I would definitely like to work with a "hint developer".


As most others, I find that communicating with others that share my interests is stimulating. Not being able to talk about coding impedes my progress. Since I don't have any fleshy friends that share my desire to code, I can turn to SO for that, plus knowing that there are legendary programmers present is inspiring. It's the next best thing to actually having a mentor. Love the fact that everyone stays so on topic!

Primary reason: learn. (Which is different than copy and paste!)

Secondary reason: great community.


I code a lot. On occasion I get stuck and want a few more bright minds to help me out. I come to learn the answers.

Once you get the answer, you can find the reason, and be ab better coder next time.


I'm simply here to hang out, learn as much as I can, and hopefully help out some other people as well.


When I'm busy at work...I come here to ask questions.

When I'm not busy at work...I come here to learn.


I am here first and foremost to see how "out there" my personal ideas on development are or may be.

Secondly, I never got enough attention as a child.. so I troll.

I know what you mean. I find that I don't think like many other people, and that can be an edge. – Laura Jan 21 '09 at 21:39
@Laura: That's because you're a girl and girls don't think like boys... and it's true, that is your edge in an industry that's made up of mostly boys (sadly). – BenAlabaster Jan 22 '09 at 15:45

I'm here for two reasons:

When I ask a question, I want the answer, as directly and completely as possible. I'm a capable engineer, and (mostly) know how to do my own research before asking a question on SO. If I'm stumped, and the documentation, my faulty brain, and experimentation have failed me, I'm probably running on a deadline, frustrated. I come here because it's a community of experienced domain experts who can probably just tell me the answer to whatever I can't figure out. Sometimes a one-liner piece of code is the complete answer to a question; if I need extensive context, I usually ask for it. Great answers also include context so that others who have similar questions but different competency levels can come along later and be served equally well.

I answer questions because I love teaching-- and learn myself through teaching-- and SO scratches that itch for me. It's also a great way to practice clear, engaging technical writing.


I come here for answers to questions I would never think of. Sometimes you become so accustom to doing things a certain way you forget to question them.


I go to find answers and stay for the achievements! I mean badges... really though, I like the community. SO has by far the best community of devs of any forum I've found so far, so I stay to learn


I come to Stack Overflow to see what are the answers to various questions and how valid are my contributions to the original poster and community at large. I haven't really had a question for the community yet, but someday I might and would like to have some answers on similar questions to be able to show that I'm not a noob to this altogether.


:) I was excited when I found this site at first, because this is one of the things that I missed on my current job - having enough of experienced people around to learn from. Therefore, there's no definitive answer type that I expect - I just prefer to be respected and not be laughed at, if my questions are simplistic (that was one of the first things i read in the FAQ here - that it doesn't matter how simple question it is..) I don't expect to find a ready solution - yes, definitely, I'd like to exchange experiences and find some friendly advice..


Cry and laugh. This place seems to becoming an newbie magnet - with too many people just wanting answers without bothering to try and learn for themselves.

  • What percentage of questions here could be answered by just reading the language or API docs ?
  • How many questions are obvious if one just tries to read the definite source of truth ? - eg the Javadoc for that Class.

Sure they can get an answer but many times they dont know the queston they should be asking. This lack of experience and knowledge means they are probably doing the wrong thing and producing crap :(

yea.. i see a lot of people trying to be buzzword-compliant here. and trying to "refactor" their code using "design patterns". – theman_on_vista Feb 5 '09 at 22:07

Stack Overflow is a grocery store for my brain. Any and all knowledge is yummy.


The answers to nearly all of my questions are already there! So most of the time I'm there to learn.


I'm here to answer, and by answering learn.

In looking for questions I think I can answer I'll read many questions I can't. In the process I'll learn something new.

When I do find a question I can answer I read any existing answers to see if I can add anything new. In doing this there's a very good chance I'll learn something new.

In the process of answering I'll double check facts via Google or the MSDN (or whatever) and of course I'll refresh and expand what I already know.

Once I've answered I will revisit the question and my answer to respond to comments etc. These comments often point out something I've forgotten or overlooked, so once again I'm learning something.

Answering questions also keeps my skills current during periods (like now) when I'm not working.

I also post the odd question from time to time - when I need an answer!


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