A friend of mine pointed this question out to me as an example of why they dislike SO, and I have to say, folks, my friend has a good point.

The poster is a secondary-school student (about 16 years old.) They asked what is admittedly an off-topic question about programmer certifications, but they asked it in a way which shows a lot of self-awareness for a young kid. On some other web sites, the kid could get some guidance. I'd like to think that here, although the question is off topic and should be closed, people would be civil, and perhaps somebody would point him towards better resources for his question.

But here's what actually happens: their question gets closed, of course. They get no answers, and at least three downright cruel comments (although I flagged one, we'll see if it gets pulled.) Nobody points him to any other resources, or pats him on the back, or does anything other than smack him down for having the audacity to ask his first question.

This person is 16 years old and interested in pursuing a career in your field, and this is how he gets treated? He is now hurt and bewildered and unlikely to come back. In fact, he may fashion himself a supervillian costume and start building a lair, vowing revenge on us someday.

This is why we can't have nice things.

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    Nobody points him to any other resources - What resources are we supposed to point him too? – animuson Aug 15 '12 at 2:58
  • Other web sites catering to his sort of question that we, as adult programmer types, know about? Personally I would have pointed him to www.coderanch.com . – Ernest Friedman-Hill Aug 15 '12 at 2:59
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    This wasn't their first question. In general though part of me definitely agrees that this is not at all how up and coming developers should be treated. The "problem" (if it is a problem, sometimes I feel that it is, others not.) is that the site is strictly for Q/A within a somewhat narrow range of questions. Anything outside of this makes it harder to find the actual content (so goes the theory anyway). I wish this person had gotten treated better, but I don't think this particular question had much chance from the get go. – FoamyGuy Aug 15 '12 at 3:02
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    @Tim, ouch, you are right -- it was his sixth question. I just assumed with 6 rep, he was brand new, but that's not the case; he's been asking crap questions for a while. Well, that makes me feel a little better, I guess; at least we didn't punch his lights out on his first day. Still, people were awfully mean to this young kid. – Ernest Friedman-Hill Aug 15 '12 at 3:05
  • @ErnestFriedman-Hill I completely agree that he was treated poorly. However I don't feel any of his prior questions for crap. The only other one with downvotes he could've clarified what exactly he was looking for a bit better, but the actual content of the question is fine (once you infer the question from the content) and the other 3 seem fine to me as well to me. – FoamyGuy Aug 15 '12 at 3:08
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    I don't see anything particularly mean in those comments. They are just to the point. – Joe Aug 15 '12 at 3:08
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    Super villain? You mean a sysadmin? – random Aug 15 '12 at 3:09
  • @Joe IMO comments #1 and #3 are more rude than they needed to be. – FoamyGuy Aug 15 '12 at 3:11
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    ...and of course someone thought it was a good idea to upvote the kid's question. This isn't a request for sympathy upvotes people, you are sending the wrong message to the kid, if you want to help post a comment pointing him to the right direction. – yannis Aug 15 '12 at 3:17
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    @YannisRizos is absolutely right; upvoting or vote-to-reopen isn't what I was looking for here. – Ernest Friedman-Hill Aug 15 '12 at 3:18
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    This I agree with, @Yannis and Ernest: upvote the user's good and on-topic questions if you want to provide encouragement (especially as this one is likely to be deleted in the future). – jscs Aug 15 '12 at 3:22
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    Unfortunately, he was asking the wrong question - however I feel sorry for him, closure and downvoting was just here (and not an angry first reaction's result, as he kept asking low-quality questions here, as Tim and @ErnestFriedman-Hill have already pointed out. See, I'm also a highschool student, I have also been around on SO since I was 16, and I managed not to ask questions inappropriate for SO (as far as I know). – H2CO3 Aug 15 '12 at 4:57
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    While I agree no one should be rude, it's not our responsibility to give resources to people when we can't answer their question. In fact doing that can encourage people to keep asking off topic questions since they get their "answer" anyway. – Ben Brocka Aug 15 '12 at 12:00
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    How are we supposed to know he/she is 16 years old? And why should it matter? – Brian Aug 15 '12 at 15:54
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    @ColeJohnson: And that is accurate how? – Brian Aug 17 '12 at 12:07

I'm with you on the comments: I don't know why people feel the need to tersely or snarkily paraphase what the close reason already says: it's like rubbing salt in the wound. If you're going to comment at all, provide some value-add to the close reason: help them find a way to ask the question in a way that can get it reopened, point them to resources (like you suggested), or whatever.

But I don't agree it's our responsibility to solve the problems found in closed questions. We close questions for a reason. As written, a question that's closed isn't something we want on Stack Exchange, and answering the question (or doing the legwork to answer the question) anyway defeats the point of closing in the first place. That is, if we're expected to answer closed questions in the comments anyway, why bother closing the question at all?

That's not to say we should be admonishing or discouraging people who find it in their hearts to go the extra mile to help someone get on the right track, but it certainly shouldn't be expected, and it's not exactly what I consider the "Summer of Love" project to be about.

Rather, I think we do people a bigger service, especially in the long run, to help them figure out how to ask on-topic questions than to answer their off-topic questions in the comments, as it only incentivizes action that'll just set them up for continued disappointment when their questions keep getting closed.

  • Fair enough. When I'm in a good mood, though, I'm an "extra mile" kind of guy. When I'm in a bad mood, I can snark as well as the next guy, I'm afraid. – Ernest Friedman-Hill Aug 15 '12 at 3:15
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    @ErnestFriedman-Hill I think there's a line, admittedly hazy, between helping someone get back on the right track who's either confused or just in the wrong place, and incentivizing action that'll just set up the wrong expectation that you can ask the types questions that are off-topic here (and worse, that it doesn't matter if the question's closed, because you'll get your answer here anyway). We don't want off-topic questions here, and we don't want to answer off-topic questions here: we just need to be nice about it. – user149432 Aug 15 '12 at 3:27

Given that my comment* still featured prominently at the top before the question was removed (and reading through the comments here) I fear that mine must not have been the worst offender. Does that make my comment any better? Nope, not at all.

What obviously tripped me off is the line "First of all, i know this isnt a Programming question". Quickly checking the profile of this user I noticed this was not the first question asked. And the line in itself does acknowledge that the user has at least some idea of what is on or off-topic. My thought therefor was, "if you know that you really shouldn't ask it, then why ask it?". Why didn't he figure out first where such a question would be appropriate?

Ah, ah! See that last sentence there? In hindsight I should have at least added a comment on where he might get such information. Don't get me wrong, I still don't feel all that bad for this particular user (though it wasn't the nicest way to treat him). What bothers me more is the overall picture this paints for other (potentially new) users. Not a pretty one.

Moral of the story. Don't leave quick and annoyed comments at the end of a long day. Let even your most obvious comments be constructive, or simply don't comment at all.

*Because it's removed now, my comment was something along the lines of:
"i know this isnt a Programming question"...why then?

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    I don't think it's particularly wrong to point out if you clearly understand your question is off topic you shouldn't be posting it. You could have worded it a bit more clearly, but it doesn't seem wrong to me. – Ben Brocka Aug 15 '12 at 12:03
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    My point exactly. My comment should have been more informing, or just have been left out. It could have been better. And since it wasn't deleted the others must have been worse. – Bart Aug 15 '12 at 12:05

What's your point here? This isn't an "enormous" anything. There were snarky comments. These are now removed.

Plenty of other off-topic or not-suitable-for assorted reasons do get helpful guidance in the comments. I notice that you yourself still haven't provided any. (Someone else has.) Instead you're posting a diatribe on Meta.

Flag the rude comments, leave a helpful one if you want, and move on.

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    (1) There were a bunch of snarky comments, now removed, and (2) this is a kid, and (3) this isn't a diatribe, it's a dialog. I wanted to open a bit of a discussion about cases like this. Thanks for your contribution. – Ernest Friedman-Hill Aug 15 '12 at 3:24
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    Where's the dialog? I see hyperbole «He is now hurt and bewildered and unlikely to come back.» «This is why we can't have nice things.» «Nobody [...] does anything other than smack him down for having the audacity to ask his first question.» and no attempt to solicit discussion. – jscs Aug 15 '12 at 3:28
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    I completely agree that rude comments are bad for other users, bad for the site. They should be removed; they have been. What's your point? – jscs Aug 15 '12 at 3:28
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    Generally, my point was that people shouldn't make rude comments, and that if someone explains in an off-topic question that they're a teenager, that we might take to opportunity to mentor him a bit as we show him the door. That's it. Thanks again. – Ernest Friedman-Hill Aug 15 '12 at 3:45
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    @ErnestFriedman-Hill frankly I'm tired of users trying to use "hey, I'm young" as an excuse for not following the rules or not bothering to learn them (in this case it appears to blatantly be the former). I recently suspended a user who had "be patient, I'm in high school" in their profile who had been posting zero effort or off topic questions all over the network. We have teenage moderators and they do damn fine work. Age is not an excuse here. – Ben Brocka Aug 15 '12 at 12:05

I agree that he was handled a bit gruffly. But I don't think that the handling was out of line.

The main reason this happened I think is because of skepticism about certification. (See linked posts for more comments about certs).

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