I'm a bit discouraged by the bad reputation that I've gained recently. Whenever I ask a question about a programming language that I'm relatively unfamiliar with, it often brings me a lot of ridicule from the rest of the community (which may be well-deserved, since the amount of ignorance that I have shown may in fact be unacceptable).

Should I stop asking questions about programming languages that I am unfamiliar with, and focus on just one programming language instead? I feel quite discouraged by all of the downvotes that I've gotten as a result of my lack of expertise in certain subjects.

One recurring pattern that I've noticed is that questions are often downvoted if they demonstrate relative unfamiliarity with a particular subject. I'm reasonably familiar with the JavaScript and Java programming languages, but I'm relatively unfamiliar with Bash, Lua, Python, Haxe, and C# - therefore, my relative unfamiliarity with these subjects will tarnish my reputation, since everyone expects me to be well-informed about every subject that I have ever discussed here. If one of my questions is downvoted, I usually take it as an indication that the rest of the community is appalled by my apparent ignorance of a particular subject, and deems me to be worthy of ridicule. Perhaps I'm being overly-sensitive, but I find all of these negative reviews to be quite upsetting.

Now I'm faced with a dilemma: Should I stop asking questions about subjects that I'm relatively unfamilar with (in order to avoid being downvoted), and only discuss topics that I am familiar with, or should I leave Stack Overflow entirely, assuming that my contributions have been mostly unconstructive and harmful?

  • I'm aware that the tone of my question may seem excessively pessimistic - but that's mainly because I'm beginning to doubt my overall usefulness as a contributor to Stack Overflow (and therefore, my apparent lack of usefulness to the rest of society in general). Jul 16, 2013 at 4:18
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    Which technologies are you currently using to develop an active software project? Those are the technologies that you should be attempting to answer questions for. Ignore the rest; you need your finger on the pulse of a technology to effectively answer questions on Stack Overflow.
    – user102937
    Jul 16, 2013 at 4:23
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    I suggest avoiding all discussion, regardless of the subject. Stack Overflow doesn't really do discussion. I know you're going to quibble over the fact that "it is just a word" and "I really meant 'asking questions'", but words are important because they have meaning. Lots of people ask discussion-based questions, or prompts for discussion masquerading as questions. These are the questions that get downvoted and/or closed.
    – Cody Gray
    Jul 16, 2013 at 7:54
  • @CodyGray I wasn't referring to opinion-based discussions. I know that these types of discussions don't usually lead to objective answers, so they aren't usually useful here. Jul 17, 2013 at 17:04

2 Answers 2


One recurring pattern that I've noticed is that questions are often downvoted if they demonstrate relative unfamiliarity with a particular subject.

That's really not why you're being downvoted. People are commenting on your questions to explain downvotes.

  1. How can I find all indices of a value in a multidimensional array? is a reasonable question to ask, but you don't show any attempt of your own.

  2. How can I keep track of equivalent functions in different programming languages? has the same problem, but as you pointed out, you were posting an answer yourself at the time you asked the question. I think it's just a really impractical problem, and probably would have gotten downvotes even if you had tried to solve it in Java or JavaScript.

  • I was really taken by surprise when I realized that "How can I keep track of equivalent functions in different programming languages" was considered a "bad" question. This is a problem that I often face when designing source-to-source compilers (and therefore it seemed like a reasonable question to me). But source-to-source compiler design is a relatively obscure subject, so I can understand why the question was unfavorably received. Jul 16, 2013 at 4:11
  • A simple piece of paper would suffice. Or a spreadsheet.
    – user102937
    Jul 16, 2013 at 4:12
  • @RobertHarvey It would certainly suffice, if I were working with just a few different programming languages. If I needed to keep track of dozens equivalent functions in dozens of different programming languages, then I might need to use a database of some kind. Jul 16, 2013 at 4:15
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    For comparison, look at the big yawn this self-answered question got: meta.stackexchange.com/q/188903/102937. In my experience, crowdsourcing a question gets much better answers; that's partly why self-answered questions have such a hard time of it. The only way a self-answered question gets any respect is if it's good enough to post on your blog, but then, y'now, you'd post it on your blog.
    – user102937
    Jul 16, 2013 at 4:16
  • @AndersonGreen It might help if you explain why you're storing equivalent functions. Are you writing some super generic program that can be converted to any language? That sounds like a monumental task Jul 16, 2013 at 6:34
  • @RichardTingle Yes, that's exactly why I asked the question. Jul 16, 2013 at 13:53
  • @AndersonGreen I admit i'm relatively new to programming but why are you doing that Jul 16, 2013 at 13:58
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    @RichardTingle I'm actually working on a domain-specific programming language that is intended to be compiled into as many different programming languages as possible. It's a very interesting concept, since it allows me to automatically generate entire software libraries in Ruby, Java, JavaScript, Python, and Lua. Jul 16, 2013 at 14:02
  • @AndersonGreen I can see the advantage of that (I was imagining whole programs rather than libraries); good luck with it, I imagine getting the syntax right is going to be the hardest part (the if its got {} in java it needs indentation in python etc etc) Jul 16, 2013 at 14:05

I found a nice advice in your most DV Question: Don't denigrate yourself. Do more research.

Please, quit the most hated members of the entire community self-appointed role, unless you can provide some statistics that prove that.

BilltheLizard already shown where you're having problems. And to solve them, read the guide How to Ask and especially the Related articles that you find in that page.

With that "technology" (I mean, knowledge) at hand, I think you'll be able to write even the most n00b Question and increase by numbers the chances of receiving a very good Answer.

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    @notify doesn't work in answers. :)
    – user102937
    Jul 16, 2013 at 4:25
  • @RobertHarvey, how do you say? Reflexive action? :o)
    – brasofilo
    Jul 16, 2013 at 4:26
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    I'm only calling myself one of the "most-hated" members because Stack Overflow has been draining away my self-esteem - mainly because of my over-sensitivity to criticism. I take Stack Overflow quite seriously, and I'm trying to do as much as I can to be a constructive user. Jul 16, 2013 at 4:28
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    @AndersonGreen The net is not a good place if you are over-sensitive to criticism. Downvotes can be very hard for the selfesteem, but you have to not take them for more than what they are. I know exactly how you feel about it, because I feel exactly the same. There is a lot of perceived unfairness - why do they upvote the guy with the more rep, when his answer is the same as mine, why do they downvote a reasonable question, etc. You have to let it go, don't take it personal and try to notice when the scale tips the other way and you get the upvotes where a newbie feels (s)he should have 'em.
    – user213634
    Jul 16, 2013 at 11:00
  • @AndersonGreen And remember, the personal (serial) downvotes are removed by the scripts. ;-)
    – user213634
    Jul 16, 2013 at 11:01

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