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Here's a little background. I'm a computer science major that knows just enough C++ to keep passing 200-level quizzes and exams. I've been writing Ruby for about a month, and while I love it, I still feel as if I barely know it. I'm brand-new to the world of *nix/OSX, but I find myself using these technologies every day at work. I was lucky enough to get a job as the systems administrator at a small business, but I only have the job because I know the owner and I'm good at "fixing computers" (i.e., taking care of everyday troubleshooting issues that arise in an office populated by computer-illiterate middle-aged women using Windows XP). I'm a fast learner, so I've been picking up on things quite rapidly, but there's still a vast universe of things that I don't know.

I'm also a moderator on a larger forum that deals with electronic music production. I'm fairly knowledgable about how Internet etiquette works, and I know firsthand how annoying it can sometimes be if you feel as if a member of a community is just taking and taking and taking, but not giving anything back. This isn't so bad on a music production forum - it's not hard to contribute to the community, even if you're completely new - an easy way to get 'cred' is to review other people's music and leave feedback, and that requires basically no skill. However, here, well... there's not much I can do. I try to post on Audio when I can, but 95% of my posts on SE are work-related, and you all have saved my butt more times than I can count.

I just guess I feel bad, because I'm not giving anything back to the community. I'd answer questions and such, but every time I check the front page, everything is way over my head. I've become what I hate - some random guy who takes and takes from the community but doesn't give back - but not out of laziness.

How, then, is the attitude towards such people on SE? How does that social aspect work? Is it okay for me to ask a lot of questions here, even though I can't really be of much help to anyone yet?

Thanks for your time.

EDIT: Thank you all so much for such an overwhelmingly helpful and positive reaction to this question. I'd mark all of your answers as the 'correct' answer if SO would let me. You all are good people.

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Just say fifteen Hail Jon Skeets and four Atwood's Prayers a day. –  Won't Mar 21 '11 at 15:22
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For what it's worth, I also come from big forum of programming. In there I used to be what Jon Skeet is here. In here I suddenly feel small and almost useless..... most of the times I answer just to find there is better answer that I missed or just didn't know about. –  Shadow Wizard Mar 21 '11 at 16:09
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5 Answers 5

up vote 40 down vote accepted

You've only asked a dozen questions on SO in five months. Unless you have accounts that are unassociated that I can't see, you're fine. Quantity isn't really a problem anyway. It would only be an issue if you were asking lots of low-quality questions. Asking real questions that you encounter on the job should be fine, as long as they're on topic for the SE site you pick.

One thing that I would urge you (and everyone) to do to participate more is please vote. You might not be able to answer the questions on the front page yet, but if you see a good question, or an existing answer that answers a question that you also had, please vote on it.

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+1 for voting... –  studiohack Mar 21 '11 at 15:21
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@studiohack: +1 for irony... –  Onion-Knight Mar 21 '11 at 18:07
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Your thinly-veiled plot to sucker us into upvoting this post by including the phrase "please vote" is working. –  user27414 Mar 21 '11 at 18:29
    
@status-declined: I can't believe that worked! I'm going to work that in to all of my answers on SO from now on. :) –  Bill the Lizard Mar 21 '11 at 18:35
    
Quick way to get a Pundit, that is. –  squillman Mar 21 '11 at 18:43
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@studiohack: I thought that you voting (and commenting that you voted because the answer referred to voting) on an answer who's author bold-ed their reference to voting, was deliciously ironic. –  Onion-Knight Mar 22 '11 at 13:42
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I had no idea about how voting worked, to be honest... that's really cool though, and I'll be sure to do that. Thanks so much. –  kivetros Mar 22 '11 at 14:13
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I know how you feel, I have been there myself...I'm primarily active on Super User, and like you said, most of everything on the front page seems over my head. The community at SU is extremely smart and knowledgeable, and sometimes their expertise can feel intimidating...I currently have about 5K rep, and it took me a long time to achieve this much reputation.

However, as soon as I received privileges for something, I would take that and put it into use - when I hit 500 rep, I started editing tags. When I hit 2K, I started editing posts and improving them for clarity and conciseness. When I hit 3K, I started voting to close, helping to keep Super User a focused site. And of course, I've been voting every day, giving back to the community (even on other's questions and answers), thanking them for their time contributing to the site by rewarding them with some rep which eventually amasses to privileges.

I did so much of this, that the SU community elected me to become a ♦ moderator. So even though I don't know a whole lot and do not answer many questions, the community still trusts me and wants me to keep up the good work...

My point is, you can give back in other ways, besides asking and answering questions. Voting, closing, and editing are all very useful and help to keep the site up and running smoothly.

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+1 for Editing. –  Won't Mar 21 '11 at 15:25
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Excellent example indeed, the good/active use of tools is indeed extremely important! –  Trufa Mar 21 '11 at 16:05
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Though I think your intentions are very good, you are deeply wrong (in a good way)!

This is not a site for people who already know it all! This is a site for people who want to learn.

I'll make it short, questions contribute, this site would not be possible without the question askers and their questions. Believe me, you wouldn't imagine how many people can benefit from your questions.

I myself am barely a programmer, but Stack Overflow has helped me so much in improving my skills, and eventually I started little by little to answer questions.

The questions you make as a newbie will help newbies, and sometimes even without knowing a lot more people. For example this question, I was a little ashamed to ask it, I though it would be too obvious/ not interesting.

Another misconception you might have is that the only way you can help in this site is by answering, this is blunt wrong, you can:

  • Edit and improve questions/answers (you even get points for that now!)
  • Actively participate on meta (you don't even have to be a programmer for that)
  • Flag for moderation attention

The above help the community dearly!

I say, take advantage of the site and ask great questions! See this too

After all, this is a Q&A site and if your questions are good, they will be welcome here, they will help you (part of the community), other in the same situation and even the one that answers the question (answering questions is learning too + rep points). And, whenever you feel you can, answer questions.

Good luck!

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+1 for a well-written post - good points! –  studiohack Mar 21 '11 at 15:45
    
Great post, and very encouraging... thank you so much. –  kivetros Mar 22 '11 at 14:14
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If the questions are useful to others, asking several questions is not a bad thing at all. I would encourage to continue to ask questions and keep learning. Others will learn from your questions and at some point you will have the knowledge to answer others questions.

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Presumably there will be a tipping point where your knowledge is enough to start answering questions. I can't see it being a problem as nobody minds providing you mark the questions as answered.

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