I really enjoy browsing Stack Overflow. I've learned quite a few things just from perusing the questions. But, I have to admit, it's really bruising my confidence when I realize how much I don't know. I feel like I can't answer 99% of the questions which get asked.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? Does anyone else feel the same?

  • 6
    There will ALWAYS be someone who knows more than you do. Don't let it bother you too much. Just keep reading and learning.
    – Mark Biek
    Commented Sep 24, 2008 at 20:13
  • 3
    no you are not alone, but once you do answer some quesions you will feel much better.
    – mattlant
    Commented Sep 24, 2008 at 20:13
  • 2
    Yes, of course. We're all little fish once we hit the big pond. But in large numbers, even little fish can have a big impact, one tiny bite at a time...
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 24, 2008 at 20:14
  • Thanks for the kind remarks. Yes, I agree wholeheartedly that it's an opportunity to learn more about the trade.
    – awhite
    Commented Sep 24, 2008 at 20:16
  • 2
    Re-opened out of protest to people constantly closing acceptable questions. Commented Sep 24, 2008 at 21:59
  • Just as Mark Biek said, I remember the high school times when some of us boys measured... er... ourselves and one might be ... larger than another. Don't sweat it.. Commented Sep 24, 2008 at 23:44
  • 3
    there will always be someone who knows more than you or anyone else, and his name is Jon Skeet ;-) Commented Dec 15, 2008 at 1:03
  • 1
    Most genius rep play EVER.
    – TM.
    Commented Dec 20, 2008 at 23:19
  • I'll bet that I know more about Perl5 Perl6, and Regex than Jon Skeet will ever know. Commented Dec 21, 2008 at 2:05
  • We should go out to lunch sometime and chat about it. :-)
    – Eric King
    Commented Feb 13, 2009 at 1:11

18 Answers 18


Of course not. Stack Overflow is exactly a place that conforms to the Long Tail Theory, therefore most of the questions will be out of the league for most people. But there will allways be someone who can answer them in the long run..

  • 14
    hopefully before the project is cancelled Commented Nov 12, 2009 at 16:04
  • 1
    +1 @Espenhh: makes me feel better.
    – IAbstract
    Commented Mar 9, 2010 at 13:15

Only someone with five cerebral hemispheres could possibly be expert at .NET, Python, enterprise-scale databases and networking, and 2D and 3D graphics, and Java something, and web design and this and that and...and...and....

So work hard, earn good money, and invest in genetic engineering companies! It may be too late for you, but your children will have hope! 8P


Half the questions on Stack Overflow don't even make sense to me. But I am having a good time, picking out the questions about subjects I am an expert at - geometry, graphics, science and engineering, and anything that happens to coincide with anything I did the last few years.

  • Only 1/2? I am more around 95% ;) Commented Oct 10, 2008 at 9:25
  • 5
    to be more explicit: 0.50000 i do not understand the question, and 0.49998 i understand the question fine, but have no clue about any answer. The tiny few leftover, that's where i i can be of help. 8P
    – DarenW
    Commented Dec 13, 2008 at 1:29
  • Nowadays, 19/20ths of the questions on S.O. don't even make sense to me! I don't mind though. Such diversity, breadth of topics is good.
    – DarenW
    Commented Nov 13, 2010 at 22:49

The field is quite large. Many questions are relatively esoteric, because that is kind of the point of the site. Don't feel bad, I feel the same and I take it as an oportunity to learn more about the trade :D


Most of the people asking questions online are actually quite good programmers. For some reason this seems to be doubly so for Stack Overflow. I don't know why. Note that I'm not talking about the people that answers those questions. My thought is that people that ask questions online are sort of admitting that there are things they don't know when they ask questions online, and I think that only programmers that know that they know what they can do, and no matter what they ask they won't be put down, will be able to do that.

As such, this also means that there aren't that many "How do I calculate the sum of two numbers" type of questions here, without implying that that's the kind of question you could answer. But, simply because the people asking questions would have bested those types of questions themselves, they bring harder problems to the table.

Many of the questions here are really oddball questions, needing thinking-outside-the-box type of approaches, or just need expertise in one area or another.

Basically, questions fall into one of many categories, here's a few:

  • Obvious questions that most will know the answer to (how do I calculate the sum of two integers?)
  • Had-to-be-there type of questions (Why is Visual Studio failing to load my solution file after I've switched from SourceSafe to TFS?)
  • Oddball questions (Why does the Oracle OLEDB driver take down my application if my application has been installed to a directory with a space in its name?)
  • One-in-a-million questions (How do I solve NP-Complete problems in constant time?)

And I postulate that the obvious kind is not that prevalent on Stack Overflow.

As such, most people won't be able to answer most of the questions here, only a few, for whatever reasons that might be.

There are plenty of opportunities to learn here though, and frequently when I see questions about things I feel that I really should know the answer to, then I take that as an opportunity to put things on my todo-list, or just start looking into right away. I have recently learned a new term, dynamic programming, which I apparently have both been doing, and knowing about, for some time, without actually knowing the term for it.

A day when I learn something is never wasted.


Despite the awe that we have for most of the high rep folks, I imagine that a lot of us "normal" folks are here because we are desperate to learn more than is required of us. We all know those people that don't have to be better at what they are required to do. However, based on what I've seen here, we are the ones that want to be better. So much so, we risk coming here and looking like a complete fool because we don't know 5 languages inside and out.

As for myself, I am not challenged at my current job, and I won't be for some time, so I have needed something like SO and Project Euler to be encouraged to learn new material and concepts that are most times way over my current skill level. Being told just how clueless I am is great encouragement to learn more.

I think the best thing about feeling like you know nothing, is that you're not to proud to admit that you have more to learn, that you can be taught.

Only once you know it all is when you become a truly bad developer.


"Education: that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge." -- Mark Twain


I wouldn't worry about it.

Though I am a relatively experienced developer, only a small portions of the questions actually deal with domains I am very familiar with (OOD, Java, and C++). The vast majority deal with other languages/paradigms and with a lot of specific libraries.

I don't think that any developer can get to know everything. I do find that reading unrelated questions gives me a chance to learn what is out there.


It will only make you better to experience.


Yes, it conforms very well to the Pareto principle, 80% of the questions are answered by 20% of the people. He-he, so as long as the answers get answered, and people are learning. Then Stack Overflow is working fine for all of us:)

  • here, 99% of the questions are answered by Jon Skeet Commented Dec 15, 2008 at 1:04
  • hahaha, hence we shall dub that rule the Skeet principle.
    – melaos
    Commented Dec 19, 2008 at 5:42
  • As far as I know Jon Skeet hasn't answered a single Perl or Regex question. Commented Dec 21, 2008 at 2:02
  • @Brad, sounds like you should ask a meta question about this. Commented Nov 12, 2009 at 16:06
  • Hence the 99%, 1% = perl questions? :)
    – melaos
    Commented Nov 13, 2009 at 14:12

If this realization of how much you don't know helps kick start your self-learning efforts, does it matter? But to answer your question, I too feel the same way and it gives me more motivation to continue my self-learning efforts.


This is an old question, but it reminds me of an excellent answer to another semi-old question by @JohnFx. The heart of the matters is that you're comparing your individual intelligence to the intelligence of everyone here on SO. As @JohnFX more eloquently put it:

I've realized over time that I'm effectively comparing my knowledge to the collective knowledge of many people, not a single individual and that is a pretty high bar for anyone. Most programmers in the real world have a cache of knowledge that is required to do their jobs and have more than a few areas that they are either weak or completely ignorant of.

From : Long-held, incorrect programming assumptions


Yup, it will. And it's sad really - I don't agree with the rationale.

Anyway, yes, I also feel a little under-confident in my abilities now. LOL. But, I get the feeling we have the best-of-the-best here, so take it with stride ;)


It's like asking if you're a bad science professor because you can't answer 90% of university students' questions about astronomy, genetics, physics, socioeconomics, psychology, archeology, etc. Like science, development has many different fields of thought; this site has people from all those fields, and no one of them answers 90% of the questions.


Everyone is "Dumb As A Stump" in some areas. There will always be people around who will be smart in those areas.


Actually, I think just the fact that you're asking this question shows you've got one of the valuable traits of a good developer. In my opinion, a good developer is someone who always questions his knowledge, doesn't think he's at the top of their game and constantly aims to improve.
That being said, I don't have a clue on a lot of the questions on here. And most of the time, the area I pretend to be experienced with (C#/.NET), the question is sniped by some Jon S. (surname hidden to avoid identification :P)

I'd say keep reading, keep learning and don't feel bad for not knowing the answer. If you don't know the answer, someone else will answer and presto! You know the answer too now!


I first learned to enjoy the knowledge that others possess that I don't in computer science when a 14 year old was in my computational biology class and blew everyone away in terms of his extensive, nearly encyclopedic knowledge.

Collectively, Stack Overflow is kinda like that to me.


He-he-he. Not at all!! A common a bit of self-esteem helps too.

When you have had more experience and debugging hours you'll find your self answering more questions.

Never think you're bad (nor let other tell you you're). But be realistic and try to measure how much you know, identify what things are of your interest and explore them further.

A lot of developers I know don't even get into a developer forum. That gives you tremendous advantage over those guys.

Be patient, it will come.

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