Going through my 297 tags, from most participated in until I hit one in the top 40:

  1. latex x81
  2. tex x18
  3. pdf x11
  4. logic x8
  5. algorithm x8
  6. html x7 (13th most popular tag)

Then, in the rest of my top 50 tags, I have, among the tags that count:

  1. c x4
  2. linux x4
  3. java x4
  4. python x3
  5. c++ x3
  6. best-practices x2
  7. c# x2
  8. xml x2

Estimated time until I get the generalist badge: 993.28 years...

How obscure are you?

Postscript — I don't suppose I am helping myself by having as ignored tags: django plone delphi silverlight sql* ie7 iphone* flash*; I used to have *.net and windows* in there too, until I realised I was missing some questions I cared about that way.

So, how Top-40-tag averse are you?

  • 1
    Why did you think the generalist badge was supposed to be about users labouring away in obscurity? May 23, 2010 at 12:57
  • 1
    @Bill: I thought I recalled something Jeff said about the idea of the generalist badge being a kind of anti-specific-tag badge. If it just rewards those who are well on the way to earning some of the Big 40 tag badges, then I don't think it really does that. May 23, 2010 at 15:20
  • 1
    while I think it's certainly possible to be a generalist without being a specialist and vice versa, I think you'll find that becoming a high-rep user basically involves being a bit of both. I'm not a very good hand with php - simply don't use it - but when a php question touches on XSS or SQL injection I know enough about the problem that I'm often able to contribute something helpful.
    – tvanfosson
    May 23, 2010 at 15:40
  • 1
    I think it is anti-specific. Someone who gains a lot of points in c#, python, xml, and android does have a pretty wide range of knowledge. That knowledge doesn't have to be obscure in order to be general. (It was really only your use of the word "obscurity" that I was questioning.) I do wonder why only the top 40 tags qualify though. May 23, 2010 at 23:45
  • 1
    @Bill: Suppose I'm a Java-centric web-site builder/designer, using ODBC, PHP, Python, Javascript, Flash, and Apache every day. I don't do anything else, not even Ruby-on-Rails, and although my recollection of things I did in my BSc is hardly existant, I'm sorted. And I'm anything but a generalist. May 24, 2010 at 9:48

4 Answers 4


I've read all the past discussions on the generalist badge and I'm a little surprised by the complaints that have been leveled. It seems as though people were expecting it to be some sort of "affirmative action" badge, literally a reward for participating in "minority tags". But I honestly don't see anything in the previous discussions implying that. There may have been some people who asked for it to work that way, but it was certainly never agreed upon.

You need upvotes on many tags, yes, which means you can't get it by being active in only the most popular tags, but if you're not active in somewhat popular tags then your knowledge isn't really general, it's just a combination of specialized and obscure.

Consider the General Practitioner. The family doctor. Textbook definition of a generalist. Doesn't really have any in-depth knowledge of any specific medical field, but has to know something about all of the following:

  • Anatomy
  • Preventative care
  • Clinical medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Geriatrics
  • Emergency care
  • Obstetrics
  • ENT

Again, the GP doesn't know that much about these things. He can't perform surgery. He can't prescribe any drug he wants. He's not qualified to deal with conditions like autism or Alzheimer's. He's like first-level support for the specialists, you go to him with colds and flu and strep throat and broken legs and all that other banal stuff that specialists don't typically deal with directly.

But the things that a GP is trained in are the most common ailments and treatments. You don't see a GP with a cursory knowledge of genetics, brain surgery, oncology, radiology and dermatology. That would be - no offense - not very useful. The likelihood that this "generalist" would actually be able to help a random patient that walks in is vanishingly small, because he doesn't know enough about the specialized fields to help the specialized patients and doesn't even know how to deal with the simple "my leg hurts" crap that comprises 90% of what actually comes in.

If we're going to talk about a technology generalist, to actually label it and give a special badge for it, then it ought to mean something, it ought to be along the same lines. A generalist is someone who is very likely to have an answer for the most common problems, but may have to refer you to a specialist if your particular problem is unusual.

It's really great that you know a little bit about Modula-3, GW BASIC, COBOL, SNOBOL, MooTools, MUMPS, FORTRAN, 68000 Assembler and Verilog. Seriously, sincerely, I respect you a great deal for that. But it still qualifies you to deal with about 0.1% of your potential patients, and for that reason, I really wouldn't call you a generalist. A dabbler, maybe; a tinkerer or even an academic, but not a generalist. You aren't out there solving general problems, just a high number of obscure ones.

Please, just let it go. Every time a new badge comes out, there's an avalanche of complaints that it's too hard to get. That's the point. If a badge were easy enough to achieve such that 5000 users would receive it immediately after its introduction, then it wouldn't have much meaning.

If you want it, now's your chance to start expanding your horizons. Try putting together a quick little iPhone or Android app. Try throwing together a really basic PHP forum. If you've never done web development, then start; it's important, and you must want to know what all the fuss is about with jQuery. Or you might even, God forbid, download a copy of Visual Studio Express and learn enough about it to answer a tiny handful of questions. It won't take over your computer and start assimilating all your other software, I promise.

But don't say that the rules aren't fair. You need 300 total upvotes. It's not that difficult a badge to get, if you work at it.

  • +n. Awesome answer.
    – balpha StaffMod
    May 23, 2010 at 18:37
  • 1
    An analogy to the medical profession fails horribly because MDs all work on the same platform. You'd do slightly better talking about vets. May 24, 2010 at 8:32
  • @dmckee: What "platform" is that? Do you mean product? Because I was relating medical fields to development products (which are essentially fields on a Q&A forum). Even if you disagree with that, I reject your notion that MDs work on the "same platform" unless you can identify, in a meaningful sense, what that platform is.
    – Aarobot
    May 24, 2010 at 13:55
  • Nice rhetoric, even really good rhetoric, but as a defence of the proposition that anyone who scores 15 in 20 of the top 40 tags is pretty general, it's riddled with holes. Who says what GPs have in common would cover 20 of the top 40 tags? If we had a health SOFU*, then I doubt that [anatomy] and [geriatrics] would be included. And who says GPs are really all that general? They'll have a solid ground in what they learnt in their degree, and they learnt good stuff as a hospital junior, but after that, aren't they a bit like a website builder? May 25, 2010 at 13:44
  • @Charles: Apparently a lot of people say that GPs are general, otherwise they wouldn't be General Practitioners. What kind of a question is that? They are general because they deal with a variety of generally-applicable conditions and treatments as opposed to a small number of specialized ones. Quibble all you like over the semantics, the fact is that the generally accepted definition of general is synonymous with common.
    – Aarobot
    May 25, 2010 at 14:09
  • Fallacious argument: "Apparently a lot of people say that milkmen are made of milk, otherwise they wouldn't be milkmen"; likewise, in the USA GPs are called "internalists": clearly internalists are less general than GPs, otherwise they would have the word "general" in their job title. You can get by as a GP knowing how to treat relatively few conditions, and referring anything outside that to a specialist. The true generalists in medicine are the people who work in intensive care units. I can send you a bunch of health-policy material if you really want to argue this. May 26, 2010 at 7:19
  • @Charles: You've effectively just reinforced my point. Most of the world equates internal medicine (or more accurately, clinical medicine) with general medicine. And you're exactly right, a GP/physician/"internalist" (I've never heard the latter term used and I have two family members working in medicine in the U.S.) doesn't have to be able to treat many conditions at all; just the most basic conditions from a smattering of the most common medical fields. Hence, general. If you want to quibble over "internalist" semantics then contrast General Surgery - same idea.
    – Aarobot
    May 26, 2010 at 13:27
  • @Aerobot: "You've effectively just reinforced my point" - at this point, I think we should just agree to strenuously disagree. May 27, 2010 at 6:54

I'm pretty obscure. It looks like the top 40 list is heavily biased towards windows and .net:

  1. c#
  2. .net
  3. asp.net
  4. asp.net-mvc
  5. windows
  6. vb.net
  7. visual-studio
  8. visual-studio-2008

So at least 8 of the top 40 are about windows and .net development, while the last two have a pretty high overlap.

Then you have:

  1. sql
  2. mysql
  3. sql-server


  1. iphone
  2. objective-c
  3. iphone-sdk

And I begin to wonder how much the Generalist badge represents (to quote the blog) "a variety of questions across multiple skill sets"?

  • 1
    I guess that's why you need 20, not 8.
    – balpha StaffMod
    May 23, 2010 at 13:12
  • This presumes that SO retains the same skewed characteristics over time. I would expect, given @Jeff's explicit mention on the blog, that he believes this will eventually shake itself out.
    – tvanfosson
    May 23, 2010 at 15:23
  • 2
    @balpha: So Nathan's listed 14 of the top 40 being to do with just three topics. If you're a bit non mainstream, and aren't ever likely to qualify for any of these, then you've got to cover 20 topics from 26. I'd say the generalist badge as currently conceived doesn't really promote diversity. May 23, 2010 at 15:23
  • 1
    windows is definitely not a .NET tag (not any more so than linux is a PHP tag). And visual-studio is questionable; yes, it's Microsoft, but so what? It's just an IDE, it could be used for C++ applications too. Also, many Ruby On Rails programmers could probably answer certain ASP.NET MVC questions, and I fail to see how it makes any sense to lump mysql and sql-server in the same group.
    – Aarobot
    May 23, 2010 at 16:40

Generalist is, and should be, about contributing significantly in a variety of topics. We can quibble about the exact implementation, but I think it's reasonable and I'm glad all of the original badges are finally achievable.

  • 7
    Also glad to see it implemented, and not really unhappy, but this selection rewards participation in the same topics that have high representation (and are at least perceived as easier to get [[specialist]] in). Frankly, if you're active in windows-development- and sql-related you're more than halfway home. Pointedly, it doesn't look like stackoverflow.com/users/41661/norman-ramsey is like to get [genralist] anytime soon, and by any reasonable measure he is one. May 23, 2010 at 13:51
  • @dmckee: Nicely put! May 23, 2010 at 15:24
  • @dmckee -- there are, perhaps, lots of different ways to do it - using meta-tags to group tags into categories then measuring rep over the categories, basing it on getting specialist in some number of different tags (or categories of tags). The current system seems to do a good job of measuring contributions in areas that people care about the most. It does seem to leave out people who are generalists in niche technologies, though: [status-bydesign]?
    – tvanfosson
    May 23, 2010 at 15:32
  • Exactly, I think this is by design. Being fluent in 20 different totally obscure technologies does not make you a generalist, it makes you a specialist in 20 obscure technologies. If I know 20 different world languages but not English, French or Spanish, can I really, honestly call myself a spoken-language generalist?
    – Aarobot
    May 23, 2010 at 17:16
  • @tvanfosson: I'd have preferred something closer to meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4916/…: as I think that does a better job of measuring real diversity of skill. On the other had, I won't be passing out torches and pitchforks. May 24, 2010 at 8:18
  • @dmckee -- it's missing the one thing that all of the other badge qualifications have: simplicity. I like @cletus answer on that page, but it suffers from bias even more than the current implementation. If anything I'd keep the current implementation and expand the base set of tags -- maybe 20 of out 100?
    – tvanfosson
    May 24, 2010 at 12:00

Yuck. This badge is an unattainable slap in the face to anyone who works outside of Windows, SQL or mobile phones. Without one of those skillsets, the badge is effectively impossible to get.

Mainstream or Commoner would be more accurate names. Or why not just call the badge Windows programmer, and be done with it?

  • Linux PHP programmer here. And I got it. May 23, 2010 at 16:41
  • 1
    @Ólafur Waage: You have significant activity in C#, .net, asp.net... and a smattering of sql tags. Looks like a textbook example to me. May 23, 2010 at 17:02
  • 1
    I'd argue that without at least one of those skillsets, you're not really much of a generalist. If we talk about a GP (General Practitioner) for example, his job is primarily to know about the most common medical problems. Obscure problems are referred to specialists.
    – Aarobot
    May 23, 2010 at 17:06
  • @Aarobot: Did you look at this fellow's profile? If he's not a generalist, who is? May 23, 2010 at 17:09
  • @ire_and_curses close to 900 items and 28 c# 14 .net and 12 asp.net. 54 in total. So 6% is significant? (oh and most of these answers are general programming answers, back then I've never programmed in c# or any of those languages) May 23, 2010 at 17:16
  • @ire: Yes, I looked at his profile. First of all, he's close to the generalist badge. Second, as I've pointed out in so many other comments, being fluent in 20 different obscure technologies does not make you a generalist, it makes you a specialist in 20 different obscure technologies. Generalist implies that you have skills that are generally applicable to a wide variety of problems. I've no doubt that the man is absolutely brilliant, but how can you be a technology generalist without experience in the most common/popular technologies?
    – Aarobot
    May 23, 2010 at 17:19
  • 2
    @Aarobot: Generalist: "A person with a broad general knowledge, especially one with more than superficial knowledge in several areas and the ability to combine ideas from diverse fields." The definition has absolutely nothing to do with popularity. May 23, 2010 at 17:27
  • @ire: Did you look up the definitions of "broad" and "general"? Sorry, but citing a single paragraph from Wiktionary really doesn't help your case much. From your tags, you work almost exclusively with python and perl on linux. That's not a generalist. Deal with it.
    – Aarobot
    May 23, 2010 at 17:39

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