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Sometimes I'll see a question I'd like to try and answer, but then I notice that the poster's Rep is much higher than my own. Seeing as I'm just a Comp. Sci student, I'm reluctant to answer these questions as I feel it's disrespectful that I should challenge a professional's knowledge/tread on anyone's toes.

How should I handle these situations?

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If you believe that your answer is correct, go for it. Don't worry: someone will point it out if it's wrong or missing the point. Besides, the higher rep user could also be a compsci student. –  trutheality Jun 12 '11 at 21:31
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If you ever have the correct answer for one of my questions, don't you DARE answer! –  Won't Jun 13 '11 at 13:16
    
@Won't I'll keep that in mind! –  aligray Jun 13 '11 at 19:27

4 Answers 4

up vote 43 down vote accepted

Go for it! Even Jon Skeet has twenty-three questions. If questions were only replied to by people with higher rep than the asker, he'd never get answers!

Rep doesn't mean everything; it's only a proxy measure for competency and knowledge. I've personally got almost as much rep on SO as John C. Randolph. Does that mean I know almost as much as he does? Not a chance! He's been programming in my chosen framework/language for a hell of a lot longer than I have. Another example: Brad Cox invented a language, and he's got 544 rep on SO from one answer. All that means is that he doesn't waste his time on SO!

As Wesley pointed out in a comment, it's more than possible to accrue quite a good amount of rep just by hanging around a lot. You can't take rep as a guaranteed mark of a quality answerer; someone who just keeps posting will pick up votes here and there, and maybe even hit 10k from posting questions alone.*

Furthermore, you can't know what a person's background is based on that stupid little number. You're a CompSci student with 700-some-odd rep, and I'm self-taught with 6k. If I've got a question about the intricacies of algorithm analysis, I sure as hell want someone like you to help me, no matter if you have 1 rep point!

Aside from formal training there's also the fact that, as Bo pointed out, many people have a lot of rep in a narrow focus. Most of my rep is from answers on, essentially, a single technology. When I have a question about another language or tool, I'd hope that anyone who knows the answer will help me, rather than assuming that my rep means that I'm some kind of master geek.

Don't pay too much attention to the number. (It's really just a psychological trick to keep you hooked on SO.) Judge whether you should respond to a question only by the question itself. If you think you know the answer, type it out and post it.

You've got nothing to lose; even if you end up being wrong, you'll probably learn something from others' responses to your post. As you yourself proved after asking this question, many times you will have better information than someone of higher rep. You'll also be helping make SO more interesting and useful, and in no time flat, you'll be intimidating the newbs yourself.


*This is partly by design -- rep is also meant to measure is your level of familiarity and engagement with the site.

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Besides competency and knowledge, rep is really much more of a measure of time spent on Stack Overflow. There are many users of questionable competence with over 10k rep, many users whose rep is only from questions, and many knowledgeable low-rep users who are just simply too busy to spend all day on SO. In addition, the downvote doesn't offset rep very much at all, so it's almost impossible to lose rep if you spend a lot of time here - it just goes up and up. –  Wesley Murch Jun 12 '11 at 22:08
    
@Wesley: Indeed; not to bring up a new can of worms, but there are some users who have gained enormous amounts of rep on questions alone: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1326/… –  Josh Caswell Jun 12 '11 at 22:12
    
"If questions were only replied to by people with higher rep than the asker, he'd never get answers!" - Lol! –  Chris Laplante Jun 12 '11 at 22:56
    
Thanks for your answer. Consequently, the question I answered was marked as the answer: stackoverflow.com/questions/6324601/…! –  aligray Jun 12 '11 at 23:28
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@aligray: Well done! Keep it up! –  Josh Caswell Jun 12 '11 at 23:29

No one is expert in everything. Even my children know things I don't know.

If you know the answer, or a clue to finding the answer, post it.

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Please! Anyone! Help a brother out here! –  Adam Davis Jun 13 '11 at 17:31
    
Wow, a Meta answer that's really just an advertisement for your question. A clever technique. :) –  Josh Caswell Jun 13 '11 at 17:56
    
@Josh The squeaky wheel gets the grease (not that anyone around these parts are likely to be able to answer this one anyway, it's something I should bug Apple about, but I don't care quite that much...) –  Adam Davis Jun 13 '11 at 20:07

Some people can get a lot of rep from a very narrow field. That doesn't mean they are experts on everything else!

Outside of that speciality you might know the answer. If you do, please tell us so we can learn!

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Answer the question if you feel you can.

Nothing else should enter into it.

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