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I'm not sure about other tags, but on [Perl] tag there's a fairly frequent pattern of someone asking "How do I do X given that my work imposes a technical limitation Y", and the answer - or more often a comment - is a dismissive "Get another job", sometimes worded more and sometimes less politely; sometimes accompanied by actual technical answer to X from the same person but more often not.

As an example, on Perl tag this frequently occurs when "limitation Y" is due to some change control policy of the company, usually involving addition of new CPAN modules.

I personally find this to be an *anti-*pattern, because such comments/answers:

  • Don't contribute to the useful information on Stack Overflow and increase clutter/noise.
  • Provide major negative reinforcement to the asker, who more often than not is someone genuinely trying their best to do their job. This at best makes them unhappy and at worst drives them away from Stack Overflow.
  • To top the last point off, the asker most likely gets driven away at least somewhat from using Perl.
  • Are not helping the asker even a little bit.
  • Usually factually wrong, since whether the company has a specific change control or other policy is rarely a decisive factor in someone working for a specific company. Heck, it's not even on Joel test :) . And more often than not such policy makes a lot more sense in context than the commenter assumes about it.

Interestingly enough, a large volume (if not most) of such behavior I personally observed was done by high-rank users whose on-topic opinion I generally find extremely qualified and highly worthy of respect.

As such:

  • Q1. Do you agree that this is an anti-pattern?

    E.g. a pattern of behavior that is a net negative for Stack Overflow as a community that should be at best frowned upon and at worst somehow discouraged/disincentivized?

  • Q2. If so, what'd be a good way to combat it?

    • Respond to such a comment rebutting it? This has two downsides: first, it adds even more noise to the question; second it creates a brawly acrimonious atomsphere - and as I noted, I personally feel bad about this since the people doing it have otherwise earned a lot of professional respect from me.
    • Flag the comment for moderator? This doesn't add to the noise, but I'm not sure it's offense enough to merit moderators' attention, and again the type of persons doing it makes me a bit uncomfortable to treat them like a common troll.
    • Ignore it? Then the problem will never go away and may grow.
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Counting down to the first "Get another job" comment... 3... 2... 1... :) –  DVK Jun 26 '10 at 1:37
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Without a few links/examples, it's hard to make a judgment about the context; whether there is a really a problem to address, whether people are just engaging in friendly ribbing, or whether you are simply reading too much into it. –  Robert Cartaino Jun 26 '10 at 1:48
    
A couple examples to see this in context would be nice. But of course, an answer with only "get another job" in its contents and no actual helpful information should be downvoted and discouraged. –  Justin L. Jun 26 '10 at 1:55
    
@Robert - here's one that got me thinking about asking: stackoverflow.com/questions/3121097/… - I tried the first approach there. –  DVK Jun 26 '10 at 1:58
    
@Justin - you're right but it's more often the comment and not the asnwer. –  DVK Jun 26 '10 at 1:59
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I thought this was going to be about a slew of people writing "you suck at programming, find another career" comments. I'm honestly a little disappointed. –  Aarobot Jun 26 '10 at 14:43
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No matter what the outcome here is, these are some very good points against making "get another job" comments. It sometimes, in very extreme cases, is the only correct answer, but should always be put at least with some respect to the OP's situation which is unknown to us really. –  Pëkka Jun 26 '10 at 20:12
    
@Down It is never the correct answer. If someone becomes frustrated with the technical limitations and decides to leave their job, it is their own decision. You have no idea what their life is like, and the fact that anyone here thinks that I could just pick up and quit my job because my employer said "No open source on this project" is quite frankly ridiculous. –  devinb Jun 29 '10 at 16:56
    
@DVK In the example that you linked to, rather than get into an argument about ideology, the correct response probably should have been to say "Your comments are unhelpful to solving the technical issue." But, all-in-all it was a remarkably civil fist-fight. –  devinb Jun 29 '10 at 16:59
    
@devinb correct almost always, but not always. I have too often seen people looking for help in desperate situations because their clueless boss coerced them into doing x using y which everybody knows is plain impossible or extremely, extremely stupid and error-prone - sometimes under the threat of firing. I find it totally justified to react to that with "your boss is an idiot, get another job.". I give a lot of follow-up support to people in comments and whatnot, and I don't like to do that when the real issue is to use duct tape to work around a superior's stupidity for yet another day. –  Pëkka Jun 29 '10 at 17:22
    
@Down the point is that you don't know their situation. "Get another job" is not technical advice. Regardless of whether or not it is a good call, it is something that would fundamentally change their life (at the moment) and therefore you have no business in it. Encourage them to question their assumptions, and they will draw their own conclusions about whether or not it is a productive work environment. Saying "Get another job" is still glib and insulting, and therefore inappropriate. –  devinb Jun 30 '10 at 9:07
    
@devinb I've been answering questions in Forums for eight years now, and it's been two or three very extreme instances that I have told people that I think they are in the wrong job, and I totally stand behind every one of those. As a general rule, you are certainly, certainly right. Usually or if in doubt or if emotional, the right thing is to shut up or give entirely technical advice as you point out. –  Pëkka Jun 30 '10 at 19:10
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8 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Seems simple enough. If it's a comment, either ignore it or refute it. Don't get drawn into a long discussion as to why you're refuting it, that will lead to too much noise in the comments.

Just state clearly that you think "get another job" is a fatuous comment that doesn't take reality into account (it is, after all, exactly that, IMNSHO). Note the phrasing: "you think it's fatuous", not "it is fatuous".

If it's an answer, downvote it since you think it's unhelpful. That's why ${DEITY} gave you rep in the first place, though I'm not sure Jeff et al want to be thought of as Gods :-)


Damn, I only came across here to ask a question and now I find myself answering as well. Must! Stop! Forcing! My! Opinions! On! Others!

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Welcome to the Hotel California –  Tim Post Jun 26 '10 at 14:41
    
Your answer is forcing your narrow opinions about religion on others. What if my deity doesn't fit in a string? What if I'm pantheistic and need an array? What if my deity actually is the real one and is a constant? –  Pëkka Jun 26 '10 at 20:10
    
@Pekka - that's why serialization concept was invented. Any deity can be serialized into a long enough string. And no, your deity can not create a condition whereby that deity would not be serializable to any string. Unless your deity is irrational. –  DVK Jul 12 '10 at 16:42
    
@DVK good point! And if the deity contains characters that can't be serialized (I'm okay with your exclusion, but you have to give them at least that!) it can still be base64 encoded. –  Pëkka Jul 13 '10 at 5:27
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Q1. Do you agree that this is an anti-pattern?

No. For one, I haven't personally seen it often enough to allow it that distinction; SO isn't Meta and one instance doesn't make a pattern.

But more importantly, sometimes it's not bad advice... Not necessarily because the OP should actually abandon his task and start polishing his resume though; more a way to prompt the questioner to question his assumptions: are you positive that the solution you've geared your question toward is the question you should be asking, and does the path you're starting down really make sense?

Wanting to re-implement a simple algorithm rather than bringing in an external library isn't necessarily a bad idea. But if your employer's restrictions have put you in the position of spending weeks or months re-creating logic that's already been written and tested... or even hacking around arbitrary restrictions in order to respect the letter of the law while violating its spirit... you may well save yourself and everyone else a good deal of grief by working to get change the rules.

And finally, a question that asks for a bad solution while blaming it on the employer could be somewhat of a cry for help: the employee knows its bad, the reader knows its bad, and any solution other than "refuse or quit" is just damning the poor guy by denying him a plausible "can't be done" excuse.

See also:

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@Shog9 - the first linked question has a (probably semi-official) term - "XY problem" :) –  DVK Jun 26 '10 at 4:13
    
(+1) for the thoughtful commentary, except (-1) for saying "sometimes it's not bad advice... [more words]" You are correct in the part about questioning your assumptions, however, saying "get a new job" is not the way to indicate that someone should question their assumptions. Glib and pointed can easily be misunderstood. If you want someoen to question their assumptions, you should encourage them to do so. Being oblique has already been declared inappropriate (re: LMGTFY) –  devinb Jun 29 '10 at 16:23
    
@devinb: if the question is oblique, then what else can you say? This comes back to my favorite use for comments: teasing more relevant details out of the asker. Let's look at the example DVK posted: user says, "can't use non-core modules" but doesn't explain why. Ether asks why. User says, "because I can't get employer approval in a reasonable timeframe", to which Ether responds, "I know where you can find employers that'll let you..." Finally, we get a solid rationale from the asker: "if a bug is introduced by use of untested code, I'm screwed." –  Shog9 Jun 29 '10 at 17:53
    
Notice how the requirement changed from, "I can't use 3rd-party code" to "I must be able to thoroughly review and understand any code I add": this is a much saner restriction, and one that has a direct bearing on the potential answers... –  Shog9 Jun 29 '10 at 17:55
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@Shog9 The point is that the OP shouldn't have to justify his restrictions to you. That is all about framing of the question, and I've gone off at length about the fact that users can frame any question in a positive or negative light, so we shouldn't care. –  devinb Jun 30 '10 at 9:02
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@Shog Your quote "finally we get a solid rationale", means that you had to be convinced to answer his question. His question was just as valid before you knew why, as it was after. His limitations hadn't changed, his understanding of his own situtation hadn't changed. But you made him jump through hoops to pass your "acceptability test" before you would answer him. That's not what SO is about. –  devinb Jun 30 '10 at 9:04
    
@devinb: let's be clear here: I neither asked him questions nor answered his question. And whether Ether had a potential answer in mind would have been unsuitable given his responses, I cannot say. But I disagree with you that the nature of the question was not changed by the author's comments: The first link Ether posts provides responses to four specific potential reasons for why someone might be unable to use a CPAN module... None of which are applicable given this asker's final comment! Whether this makes any real difference, I cannot say - never touch Perl myself. –  Shog9 Jun 30 '10 at 16:07
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@Shog, me neither, but I HAVE had "get another job" responses, and "don't do it responses". I'm a bright guy, so when I say "I have a restriction" it is because I have a restriction, not because I have no idea where I am or what I'm doing there. Not everyone is perfect, not everyone has considered everything from every angle (certainly I haven't) but, the assumption that they don't know what they are asking is offensive to me. If you say "I'm curious about that restriction" it is completely different than saying "You're dumb, that restriction doesn't/shouldn't exist" –  devinb Jun 30 '10 at 16:25
    
@devinb: ...and you know as well as I do that users don't have to do jack squat - and many don't, regardless of how ambiguous their question is, or how many comments they get pleading for clarification. That doesn't mean we should stop asking for it, merely that we must be prepared to be ignored: if it's possible to post a plausible answer without further clarification, then sometimes that's the best that can be done, even if it means going back later and deleting it later. But when it is possible to avoid guessing at what the user wants/doesn't want, I don't see the harm... –  Shog9 Jun 30 '10 at 16:26
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@Shog I see the harm as being unwelcoming/rude. However, yours is the most reasonable and pragmatic response yet. You're quite a strong Articulator. The unfortunate fact is that the majority of the users aren't excersizing due dilligence and most of the commenters aren't excersizing any sort of generosity. If everyone thought the way you did, then it would be find, but I doubt you'd be quite so blunt as to say "Just Don't do it!" without a follow-up. It's not the sentiment I hate, it's the unwelcoming attitude that tends to be behind it (but not always). Thanks for a great discussion. –  devinb Jun 30 '10 at 16:32
    
@devinb: sure. And when you say, "I want to do X" you say it because X is really and truly what you need to do. And I don't need to know why you want to do X without using library Y or algorithm Z in order to post an answer to your question... But past experience has taught me that users who ask for specific solutions without explaining them are often wrong, and on SO that means tedious back-and-forth while the question changes and invalidates all the original answers anyway. Posting your rationale tells me that, at very least, you've thought about what you're doing... –  Shog9 Jun 30 '10 at 16:37
    
@devinb: people are rude. I understand your reluctance to encourage such responses, as they can and sometimes do lead to pointless arguments... But, that's unavoidable; you can't make people nice by censoring them. Indeed, some of the smartest people on SO are often the most curt and blunt in their communications - it's a shame that they come off as assholes to new users, but it would be a bigger shame if they stopped talking to new users entirely! (incidentally, sorry for the disjointed replies here - i tend to read backwards through these comments, and sorely miss threading...) –  Shog9 Jun 30 '10 at 16:42
    
True, not nearly enough users bother to think about their stuff. So, StackOverflow experience tends to bear out your side of the discussion and not mine. –  devinb Jun 30 '10 at 16:43
    
I agree, there are many blunt and wicked-smart users out there. And not being smart enough to create better/nicer answers means that the only thing I can do is try my best to encourage them to be nice. I do that by putting in my two pence on meta, whenever these topics come up. However, if you look at some of the top guys on SO, you find that most of them manage to be brilliant and polite. But, that's why they're the best. –  devinb Jun 30 '10 at 16:46
    
@devinb: Indeed... A little patience and understanding goes a long way. –  Shog9 Jun 30 '10 at 16:51
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In some cases, it is valid to politely explain why the constraints in question are extraordinarily bad ideas. This makes for an answer that says, "there is no good way to solve your problem within these constraints." 'Get a new job' is a snarky shorthand for that, and not a very helpful one.

Just tossing off 'get a new job' without a comprehensive justification just deserves downvotes as an answer.

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DVK, we've discussed this before. The "get another job" responses (not mine, but in general) come when the "technical limitation" isn't actually a technical limitation at all, but merely a procedural/bureaucratic one (that is usually unjustified and ill-founded).

If someone says "But I can't use CPAN" and insist on asking a question limited to core libraries, and they can use CPAN and just don't know the other ways they can do so (that meet their technical limitations), then they're just wasting the answerers' time. Other people have answered this technical problem already, using a library that is made publicly available. A SO questioner to ask that this library be reimplemented for them, right here right now, without the years of testing and bug fixing, is quite presumptuous and arrogant.

This section from the article is equally relevant to Stack Overflow:

I'm writing this because every single day, somebody says "hey I want to do X" and we say "well, to do X, you use module Y" and then they say "but it isn't in core, I can't use CPAN!".

What follows is usually a depressingly repeatable discussion of us trying to figure out why the hell they think they can't use CPAN and correcting that mistaken assumption. Except half the time they get upset half way through so we don't actually manage to help them. Which is exceedingly irritating.

And what pushed me over the edge today was hearing "Basically it seems if you cant use CPAN, you may as well not ask in here". Which is insane - in the few cases where somebody genuinely can't use the modules we'd suggest, we're happy to find them another way of doing the job (although often it turns out the answer is "open the source of the module you should have used and steal some bits", which is kind of meh, but never mind ...).

Now, it turns out that this specific example was a particularly extreme one, and the OP did explain his bureaucratic restrictions extremely well. But at the time I left the original comment, the specifics were not there, and it did appear to be just another example of "my employer won't let me use third-party libraries because they're not trusted", which frankly is retarded and should not be pandered to. That's exactly why that blog post was written in the first place, to counter some of the common (invalid) beliefs.

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I'd like to remind you of part of the SO FAQ: Be nice. Treat others with the same respect you'd want them to treat you. We're all here to learn together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know. Bring your sense of humor. The second to last sentence is most important there. N00bs are not to be mocked, they're to be helped. That is the purpose of Stack Overflow. Telling them to get a new job runs contrary to that purpose. Help people out rather than disparaging them. –  Randolpho Jun 28 '10 at 19:23
    
@Randolpho: I agree. But to clarify, I did not tell the OP "get another job" -- my response was much softer than that. –  Ether Jun 28 '10 at 19:50
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Sorry, you recommended that the OP submit their resume to careers.stackoverflow.com. Apologies. –  Randolpho Jun 28 '10 at 19:52
    
(-1) If you feel it necessary to ignore the basic premise of the question, you should not be answering it. If you have a very strong reason to believe that they are incorrect in the information they provided in their own question, then you should answer both: the question they asked, and the amended question you believe they should be asking. Suggesting that they should get a new job, or that you know better about their situation is never ever helpful. –  devinb Jun 29 '10 at 16:35
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Further, your first sentence indicates that you are referring to a specific situation, even though this question is actually about the phenomenon as a whole. Regardless of one user being wrong in their assumptions, the concept of "Get another job" is an unhelpful response –  devinb Jun 29 '10 at 16:43
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@devinb: What if I do know better about their situation? The OP doubtless knows more detail about his or her situation, but I sometimes have the benefit of experience in knowing how situations like that turn out. –  David Thornley Jun 29 '10 at 21:07
    
@David: It is okay to engage the user and ask about their situation, but we must always always defer to their descriptions. It is always inappropriate to assume that you "know how their situation will turn out". You should focus on the technical question, and add a side-note about questioning their situation if you feel it absolutely necessary. –  devinb Jun 30 '10 at 8:51
    
@devinb: I'm not convinced of that. If I answer a question, I'm trying to say something useful to the questioner, first and foremost. In most cases, this is technical assistance. In some cases, what the questioner wants to do is illegal, immoral, self-contradictory, based on invalid premises, or just plain a bad idea. In these cases, I may not be able to help technically, and what you call a "side-note" may be all I can do to help. Further, while it may be inappropriate to assume I know how the situation will turn out, I may know how it's likely to turn out. –  David Thornley Jun 30 '10 at 14:03
    
@David I suppose we just have different assumptions, you and I. I'm willing to be generous, and assume (possibly falsely) that the asker is a self-aware person with a technical issue. Your assumption relies on the fact that the asker is not only ignorant of the technical answer, but also of the world around them. –  devinb Jun 30 '10 at 14:16
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@David, @devinb: I agree with both of you here :) Quite often, the person in question is unaware of technical workarounds which would make the preferred solution possible, but also quite often one is powerless (or unwilling) to change the bureaucratic hurdles to make that technical solution possible. We've all encountered some retardedness in our work; our limit falls at different places. That said, there is no obligation for anyone to answer a question constrainted to these restrictions... sometimes the best way of changing a policy is the discovery that getting help with it is hard to find. –  Ether Jun 30 '10 at 16:27
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Q1. Do you agree that this is an anti-pattern?

If, by anti-pattern, you simply mean "a negative behaviour", then yes. It is a net-negative for the site, because it provides an inhospitable environment, and as Donal says, it is simply someone misunderstanding the purpose of the site.

Q2. If so, what'd be a good way to combat it?

There are two ways.

Ignore it, which is probably the most prudent.

The second (expaning on Rosinante's answer) would be to very very politely respond that that you find their comment unhelpful. Something along the lines of

@Person Do you have any insight as to how to solve the problem as stated? I'm finding it very difficult.

Obviously, it's not perfect, and would have to be adapted to each individual user. However, it indicates that you aren't concerned with their snarky comment, but you are concerned with your technical question. If you want to be more pointed, you can start with "I'm quite happy with the job I have", but that sounds more combatative (passive-aggressive) and therefore isn't actually all that appropriate.

You should not flag for moderator attention because people being snarky and rude isn't new or abnormal on the internet. The only way to combat this is to raise the level of discourse. Indicate to the commenter that you are interested in their technical opinion. If they refuse to take the high road, ignore their attempts to drag you down.

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A worthwhile answer for the last paragraph alone - well said. –  Shog9 Jun 30 '10 at 17:10
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Do you agree that this is an anti-pattern?

No.

It is, however, entirely anti-climatic unless such a statement is supported by the question or details in the answer. Every language has its limits and constraints. If someone told me to write a calculator in C that did not use dynamic memory allocation, I'd be happy to do it. If someone told me to write a spreadsheet program under the same constraints, I'd wonder if they knew anything about the language they were asking me to use.

There are cases where a task at hand is impossible, or can't conceivably be completed in any reasonable amount of time given a set of constraints. I'd appreciate that kind of input from my peers.

Following up from comments left to this, yes - if a pattern emerged that someone was consistently unhappy at work due to these kinds of tasks - its probably time to move on. However, I do agree, SO is not the place to suggest that. You simply can't understand the entirety of the circumstances based on one, or several questions.

Don't do that is probably better worded as that approach seems really questionable, but the concept is entirely appropriate. I'd want my peers to tell me if I was taking the "Mr. Bean" approach to a problem, solving the wrong problem, or ignoring simpler solutions.

If so, what'd be a good way to combat it?

I've already argued that it isn't an anti-pattern. However, if it were to become one, try declaring war on a noun. That always works. Make 'apathy' the next 'drug' and 'stay the course'.

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(-1) StackOverflow is a technical Question and Answer site. If implementing some feature with XYZ technical limitations is a difficult and tricky situation, then it belongs on StackOverflow. Saying "Quit your job" or in any way saying "Don't do it" are not appropriate. The user is explicitly asking for help and you are explicitly not providing them with help. –  devinb Jun 29 '10 at 16:13
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@devinb: Saying "Don't do that!" is sometimes an excellent answer. Why should I try to help somebody do the near-impossible in a stupid way? And, if I'm not going to help, is it better for the questioner if I just ignore their question or quickly explain the problem? –  David Thornley Jun 29 '10 at 20:53
    
@David When you say "Don't do that!" you are saying "You're too stupid to understand your own situation correctly." If you WANT to tell the user not to do what they are doing, you should explain correctly HOW to do what they want to do, then why not to do it. That way they have all the information to make their own decicion, rather than you claiming that they aren't smart enough to make that call. –  devinb Jun 30 '10 at 8:56
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@devinb: Alternately, I'm saying the questioner is too inexperienced to understand the situation correctly. I've been in plenty of situations in my life that I didn't understand well enough, due to lack of experience. In at least some of those cases, I would have benefited from more experienced advice. (Note that I'm not suggesting "Don't do that!" as the complete answer, but also providing reasons why not to.) –  David Thornley Jun 30 '10 at 14:10
    
@David, "I'm daying the questioner is too inexperienced to understand the situation correctly." EXACTLY. It almost unbelievable how maniacally arrogant that statement is. You know nothing about this person except for the technical question they have asked, and the limitations that they specified. Yet you presume to know not only their level of experience, but their own situation better than they. I'm sure your glib and penetrating insights enriched their lives. –  devinb Jun 30 '10 at 14:13
    
@David, Please note, I'm not saying that you don't know better, I'm saying that until you know more about them, you can't make any of those judgements. –  devinb Jun 30 '10 at 14:13
    
@devinb - case in point, parsing html with regex. The answer to that is almost always going to be 'don't do that, try this ...'. I'm sorry, but I don't see much distinction between 'don't do that' and 'bad idea' in the context of answering a programming question. However, I usually phrase it as 'that approach seems questionable'. –  Tim Post Jun 30 '10 at 15:36
    
@devinb - edited my answer. Your argument on point 1 was convincing. –  Tim Post Jun 30 '10 at 15:46
    
@Tim, Excellent edit. "That approach is very questionable" is a much better way of saying it, because it leads very naturally into a discussion rather than a (possibly) patronizing answer. You get a +1 from me. –  devinb Jun 30 '10 at 15:53
    
@Tim, my vote is locked. I've removed the (-1) and I'm upvoting in spirit. –  devinb Jun 30 '10 at 15:54
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Q1. Do you agree that this is an anti-pattern?

It's just someone not getting the whole point of SO. No point in getting worked up about it unless the answer is attracting a lot of up-votes. To call it an anti-pattern is to grant it far too much power over your thoughts.

Q2. If so, what'd be a good way to combat it?

Vote it down. Vote up other answers which are useful. Accept a useful answer (assuming you're the questioner, of course). Don't worry about people who aren't contributing usefully; they'll just not pick up reputation.

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A1. I do agree that such behavior is not beneficial and should generally be discouraged.

A2. I think a flamewar on the subject, such as the one you and Ether had, is also not beneficial, and should also generally be discouraged. I think the best course of action is to update the FAQ if necessary (possibly add some stronger wording in the "Be Nice" section of the main FAQ) and flag particularly egregious comments/answers.

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I'm more cynical than that - I don't believe that problem people are going to read the FAQ. Downvoting and flagging do have their uses, though. –  David Thornley Jun 28 '10 at 20:08
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@David: that's not a flame war; there's barely any heat! Maybe a "glowing embers war", or a "hot-water-bottle-pillow fight"... –  Shog9 Jun 28 '10 at 20:53
    
@Shog9: I didn't look at the so-called flame war, but you're not going to get me to believe that changing the FAQ is going to stop flame wars, or for that matter the use of water pistols with hot water. –  David Thornley Jun 29 '10 at 20:55
    
@David: ack, sorry - meant that as a reply to Randolpho, not sure why I put your name in there. FWIW, I agree completely - FAQs are only useful for answering questions people are actually looking for answers to... when they're useful at all that is. Whacking people over the head with them doesn't do anything. –  Shog9 Jun 29 '10 at 21:50
    
@Shog9, @David: I doubt it'll do anything, frankly. But at least it'll be written down so nobody can bitch (well, legitimately) if they get the banhammer. –  Randolpho Jun 30 '10 at 2:13
    
@Randolpho: see: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/23366/suspension-reasons –  Shog9 Jun 30 '10 at 17:07
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