What I can't understand is why the Stack Overflow senior community is hostile to newbies.

As much as I try to research my questions before asking and editing them well I always seem to get condescending comments or, worse, get my questions closed.

I think this kind of mentality has to stop as it doesn't foster a great learning environment.

Yes, I know some of us might not be as bright as some of you, but still it shouldn't allow you to put our questions down.

  • 2
    I mainly see down votes due to improperly described questions. Things such as "Show me how to do X". Those type of questions will get closed. If however you ask things like "<Given what I have already tried> how can I do x", and describe as succinctly as possible the issues you are having people are very willing to help. At least in my experience. People are committing their free time to help answer questions. They do not want to have to do research for you as well.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 19:51
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    I've been downvotes a couple of times. I didn't take it personally, instead, I take some extra time to try and formulate my question and making sure I have all the relative information. It makes me a better member of the community. If everyone were nice, we'd have a board of "hey doodz... I haz homework n I need to rite this program. Can 1 uv u do it for me pl0x?? thx!!"
    – Scottie
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 19:53
  • 1
    I think all of make sense, but sometimes closing someone work without a simple feedback could look unprofessional and by the way, sometimes I work on things that no one worked on before and because the seniors don't understand it, they will close it.
    – Khanquered Pro
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 20:00
  • I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with down-votes. Now, down-votes with no comments is another story. Or people piling on with the down-votes.
    – Andrew
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 20:02
  • 7
    In my eyes, this is a legitimate complaint though. The OP's questions aren't bottom quality.
    – Pekka
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 20:15
  • 1
    @probablyPekka Are you seeing evidence that I'm missing? I don't really see any upsetting or hostile events (unless they have been moderated away)
    – Bart
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 20:20
  • 2
    @Bart oh, nothing upsetting as such - but I'm thinking the -4 on this question wasn't super necessary. (Although yeah, "does not work" does not work.)
    – Pekka
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 20:25
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    A lot of people don't understand the concept of being in someone else's shoes. It's sad, but prevalent and in increasing amounts in all areas of life. Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 22:08
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    Nice discussion you sparked here, Khanquered, it's like a Crash Course on community feedback. Quite valuable input, hope you enjoy as much as I did :)
    – brasofilo
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 22:11
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    A point I haven't seen here which I would like to add, if you have trouble with being downvoted/asked to improve your question/answer etc on a programming forum on the internet, you may struggle in a professional setting when told, face to face that you have made a mistake or that your solution isn't what has been asked for etc. Just saying!
    – JMK
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 22:12
  • There seems to be a lot of schadenfreude, joy of the down-vote ;) Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 22:12
  • @brasofilo, AGREEED! Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 22:17
  • 17
    Allow me to quote from the comments below: have you addressed any of the reactions to the original issue that challenge your viewpoint? to which you reply: I seen the reaction, but I didn't bother with them as I don't really find them constructive. Why ask if you're going to ignore anyone who disagrees?
    – Leeor
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 22:52

5 Answers 5


I know this will invite downvote:

because I see AND feel plenty of hostility.

Going through new answers on StackOverflow, I see many anonymous down-votes or negative messages without purpose. I've experienced them myself on Meta.

On SO, I have voted to close 100's of questions. Whenever I felt a question could be salvaged, I left a message... being willing to reverse.

Similarly with down-votes, I leave a message with (I hope) constructive advice. Whenever the OP has revised their Q or A, I've been willing to reverse the down-vote and even up-vote when deserved.

I don't see that as often. What I see a lot of is schadenfreude, manifesting as "joie de down-vote". And I have found it to be rep-based. For example, I don't face similar treatment on StackOverflow.

But I often see decent questions that need a little work nuked into oblivion without seeming care.

We junior contributors can be so much more helpful if given guidance. It's no one's duty to do so, But I feel it would make for a better community.

  • 11
    -1 and not because I'm somehow "Senior" or trying to be hostile. But in this exchange you had with a user you feel the need to call a "know-it-all", you went from constructive to "I'm glad you trolled me" within minutes. If there is any hostility there at all, it's coming from you.
    – Bart
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 21:12
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    so it's hostile to tell others (those who might come and read the question later) that an answer isn't very good? We all owe our time and effort to making answers better, and are not allowed to vote that an answer isn't good? Look, some people try to help, that's great, but it's not an obligation. We have an obligation to identify bad answers as such, to help those who read the question later. Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 21:15
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    @DaveA A confrontation you sparked. If you would have left it at your initial comment, not much would have evolved but constructive debate, even if it would have ended in disagreement.
    – Bart
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 21:17
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    @DaveA this isn't about whether you were willing to change your answer. It's about you complaining "one showing no interest in helping me correct my answer. Just an interest in down-voting" and describing that as being hostile. It is not. I think you're wearing your belt around your neck. Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 21:20
  • 9
    Then accompany that positive attitude with equally positive comments. Because calling others trolls or know-it-alls almost ensures that where you might be willing to learn, others are no longer willing to teach. And that's a shame.
    – Bart
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 21:24
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    @DaveA of course I'm not saying they shouldn't help. Many of us do all the time. I am saving they don't have to. They have an obligation to tell the truth when they see a question or answer that is not useful, and vote that question down. They do not have an obligation to help anyone if they don't want to, though many do all the time. Not feeling like helping this time is not the same as being hostile. Not phrasing your help ultra-gently and with praise included is not the same as being hostile. Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 21:28
  • 7
    Why are people always so obsessed with reputation? It's meaningless. And I very strongly doubt that reputation is actually statistically connected to hostility and arrogance. My observation is that hostile and arrogant comments come from all rep brackets, and the same applies to friendly and helpful comments.
    – Pekka
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 21:30
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    @KhanqueredPro What makes you think this is the best answer? Because it agrees with you? It asserts that the site is hostile to new members entirely off of the basis of one single example in which a user acted inappropriately and goaded another user into responding in a less than ideal manor, but that which has since been dealt with by a moderator by removing the inappropriate content. If anything the example shown disproves the point it is trying to make, and this answer doesn't really have anything to it beyond this one example.
    – Servy
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 21:45
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    @Servy it's my question, I can vote who ever I want as the best answer and at the moment you are proving to be hostile .
    – Ahmad Khan
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 21:47
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    @KhanqueredPro What about my comment was hostile? I was asking you to explain why you felt this is a good answer, and explained, in specific actionable points why I feel it's not a good answer. You choose to respond by saying that you don't need to justify your position at all and that you can do whatever you want. Are you not actually interested in discussing the issue?
    – Servy
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 21:49
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    @Khanquered well, have you addressed any of the reactions to the original issue that challenge your viewpoint? I don't think your SO questions necessarily deserved as many downvotes as they received, but many people here struggle to see how you've been unduly harassed by other users.
    – Pekka
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 21:56
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    @DaveA Okay, I see no real mention of any of those points in your answer. So you feel that closing questions is appropriate, great, you choose to comment when downvoting; that's up to you; go ahead if that's what you want to do. The fact remains that currently this answer just provides one example in which you, and not the other user, are the one at a fault, and use that to make the point that we're being hostile to new users. That doesn't follow at all.
    – Servy
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 22:02
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    @KhanqueredPro I asked you why you think this is a good answer. What's not constructive about that? It's not a rhetorical question. I'm asking you why you think this is a good answer. I'm still asking it? What makes this answer so good? I'm not saying you can't mark it as the answer, I know full well that you can, but seeing as you're here for a constructive discussion on the topic, I thought you'd take the time to explain your decision when prompted, rather than refusing to respond.
    – Servy
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 22:04
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    @DaveA What makes you think that I don't understand your point of view? I'm asserting that you haven't provided evidence to support the assertions that you're making; a single example wouldn't prove anything even if it did demonstrate something wrong, but what's more the example you (as well as the OP) showed doesn't seem to show the problem you're describing.
    – Servy
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 22:13
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    @DaveA The problem I still have with your answer, and even more so now it's accepted (which the OP is free to do) is that you are seemingly illustrating how the premise of the OP is correct. When you have more or less admitted that the whole situation is in fact not single-sided hostility, but a discussion that diverged into something it shouldn't have, in no small part due to your own actions. The content of your example thereby is no longer an example of what you set out to illustrate. If you still have the same point of view, perhaps at least come up with a different example, or revise.
    – Bart
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 22:21

Let me turn that around. Why do newcomers feel that closing their question is hostile? Worse even than commenting to say the question has a problem? Why do newcomers feel that their question, whether it meets the quality standards of the site or not, deserves to not only be answered, but welcomed and praised?

Senior SO people, to answer your question, downvote, leave comments that are not praise, and vote to close questions because those are the actions that make a great site full of useful questions and answers. You probably like that part of it. Well, this is how it comes to be.

Further, if you haven't explained your problem in a way that makes it answerable, people cannot answer you. So if you ask "why am I getting ABC error" but you don't show the error or any code, who can answer? Nobody. A comment telling you "show the error message, show your code" isn't condescending or hostile. It's trying to lead you through the process of writing a question that can actually be answered.

See also:

Those are just the ones on this topic I remember answering. People come and ask this a lot. We know the system causes some people some pain, partly because they misunderstand the motivations of the community and partly because doing the wrong thing is supposed to hurt: as humans, that's how we improve. Stack Exchange as a system continues as it does not because it has no idea that some people don't like downvotes and closures, but because downvotes, comments, and closures help to ensure the high quality that all of us (including the newcomers who don't yet know how to write a good question) value so highly.


This is not a 'learning environment'. This is not a school. This is not a school where you are paying tuition in return for instruction. This is a question-and-answer site, with a goal of collecting illuminating questions and informative answers.

Furthermore, this is a crowd-sourced environment, with thousands of participants and not thousands of moderators. If you want to get an education for free here, you have to be prepared for the wide variety of styles you will find here. You have to have a thick skin.

You are getting something for free. The community here doesn't ask for money -- instead it asks for you to be respectful of its time by researching your problem and writing up your question carefully. If you don't do that, you aren't playing by the rules.

  • 4
    +1 for thick skin! Programming is still relatively new compared to the likes of medicine etc, and I think in a lot of smaller communities people competent at it are treated like genius', and criticism is rare. I think this aspect of StackOverflow is good for all of us.
    – JMK
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 22:29
  • @rosinante everywhere is a learning environment, maybe if we thought this was a learning environment , we might be humble when answering other questions. thanks
    – Ahmad Khan
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 14:27
  • 1
    Ah, 'thick-skin' - the Linus Torvalds approach to social interaction :S. And the 'free' goes both ways, SO makes its money from the freely-provided content. Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 10:26

IMHO, I think the idea behind Stack Overflow is to build a free worldwide database of questions/answers in order to let people work better. The idea is: I have a question -> I search for it on Stack Overflow/Google -> I find the answer, because somebody already asked that question before me and someone answered.

It gets clear that, if you ask questions like "teach me PHP" or "make this exercise for me" or questions where nobody understands the question itself:

  1. The question is too generalized to be helpful to the community or it's simply trash.
  2. You will never learn and you'll never be able to find yourself a solution.

Moreover, you have to ask a PRECISE QUESTION. You have to be clear, synthetic in order to let everybody clearly understand your problem.

In my experience, all questions that I saw moderated or closed had the following problems:

  • Wrong tags
  • Impossible to understand
  • "Questions" without a clear question
  • Too generic
  • Duplicated (already asked and answered by someone else)
  • Hundreds of line of code without even a try of debugging and more like "find the error for me"

I know this kind of moderation can be very annoying at first, but it's a great lesson to newbies: to learn how to be precise. Being clear and precise: it will also help in your job.

Imagine yourself searching for a solution to your problem... you finally find an old question on Stack Overflow and you can't understand anything. It would be frustrating!


I don't see any hostile activities on your questions, having looked through half a dozen of them.

Having people tell you the problems with your question in a polite, professional, and clear manor is important so that you can fix those problems and improve your question. This can seem condescending, but they are telling you what they need from you in order to answer your question. Largely these comments tend to be terse; you shouldn't treat terseness as rudeness, as that is generally not the intention. In the rare instances where the comments are overtly insulting or otherwise inappropriate you can flag the comments for moderator attention and they will handle the situation; having said that, it's rather common for users to perceive a professional indication of a problem with your question as rude, when in fact the person is taking time to be helpful and teach you how to improve your question. (Constructive) feedback is a gift; treat it as such.

Closing questions that don't meet the site's guidelines is a very important tool to maintaining the quality standards that the site holds. It is giving you the opportunity to improve your question, using the guidance given to you, so that you can get quality answers. There is nothing inherently hostile about this; in fact great pains are taken to avoid this perception. The idea here is that questions that are closed are questions that are unlikely to generate answers up to the quality standards the site holds. If/when you can improve your question to meet the site's standards, it can be reopened.

  • your answer should be consumed as a painkiller :) +1
    – user221081
    Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 14:59

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