I'm looking at the following question:

Am I a dinosaur programmer?

It has 4 close votes (at the time of writing), and I've been waffling over whether or not to put in a 5th.

By convention, at least, closing is essentially flagging for deletion, and I think this is an important consideration with respect to the proliferation of deletion-related questions/issues that have popped up on Meta just recently (here, here, here, here... you get the idea).

Career advice questions are the epitome of subjective, bike-shed type questions. Anybody can answer, and any answer is correct for somebody. As opposed to a typical subjective or open-ended question, which may still be objectively answerable or at least have answers that can be evaluated objectively (any "list" question fits the bill here), there is virtually never any truly objective criteria on which to answer a career advice question or evaluate an answer.

These questions always pick up extreme numbers of answers and upvotes. In addition to the question up top, I refer you to the following, some of which are very recent:

These aren't only the highest-voted questions under the career-development tag (currently at 922 questions and counting); they're some of the highest-voted and most-answered questions on the entire site. Suffice it to say that career advice questions get pretty favourable treatment, even though they are ipso facto extended-discussion questions.

I'm holding off on my close vote for now. I'm not going to touch any more career advice questions until there's an official answer. So I put it to the moderators, and Jeff, and the rest of the Stack Overflow team:

Are Career Advice/Career Development questions welcome on Stack Overflow?

If they are, then what should the guidelines be for posting them? Without guidelines, it becomes a lottery, as it's been framed before; people just fire away without thinking and hope they get lucky (their question remains open / gets upvotes). Surely we can do better than this.

And if they aren't considered to be in-keeping with the overall theme of Stack Overflow, then what should be done about them? They are so popular, and there is such a huge precedent, that it is basically a losing battle for a closer/deleter to explain why they should remain closed/deleted. And perhaps this is status-bydesign - that's why I'm bringing it up.

Given all of the accusations and general mistrust recently directed at closers/deleters, I think we deserve an official response to one of the most egregious examples of subjective vote/answer swarming. Do these questions belong, or not?

Of course I welcome everyone's input, so feel free to respond with your thoughts; although I am especially interested in what the brass have to say. At the end of the day, this really ought to be a simple yes-or-no policy, like code golf on SO (yes, with specific guidelines) or 3rd-party web sites on Super User (no). So please - let's decide, once and for all.


I'm aware of the incredibly brief mention given to this issue on the SO blog. I don't think that really answers the question, and certainly doesn't set out any guidelines. In addition, I think that career building is actually a very specific incarnation of the more generic career advice. For example, questions about how to deal with a clueless manager aren't really related to career building.

Let's think of this specifically in the context of close reasons. Which reasons would apply to which career advice questions, and when/why? So far I only have:

  • Off-Topic - applies if the question could be reasonably answered by somebody totally unfamiliar with the software development field (a counselor). Alternative view: applies if the question would still make sense if all software-specific reference were to be stripped away.

That's fine for OT; what about NARQ, S&A, Dupe, and TL? Can they ever apply to career questions? Where is the bar?

  • There is already an official statement. Jeff Atwood has stated in the past that career questions are OK on StackOverflow. See also: blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/04/…
    – user102937
    May 26, 2010 at 21:28
  • 1
    @Robert: Yes, I'm aware of that passing mention. I think that the number of questions is large enough to warrant some more clarity on the issue: What career-development questions are valid? Anything goes? If you read each of the linked questions above, you'll see that all except the last are fundamentally the exact same question once you strip away the fluff.
    – Aarobot
    May 26, 2010 at 21:34
  • Career building is also subtly different from career advice - the former sounds like it would take the form of "What are good SD conferences to attend?" or "What programming skills are in high demand right now?" A question that essentially reads "I'm not a very good programmer. What should I do?" doesn't quite seem to fit the bill - but, maybe it does. Again, clarity.
    – Aarobot
    May 26, 2010 at 21:38
  • 1
    What kind of bike-sheds did you hang around in that found people talking about careers advice as opposed to exchanging factually inaccurate 'relationship' stories?
    – amelvin
    May 26, 2010 at 21:54
  • 1
    @amelvin: See Parkinson's Law of Triviality.
    – Aarobot
    May 26, 2010 at 21:56
  • @Aarobot ... THAT kind of bike shed.
    – amelvin
    May 26, 2010 at 22:38
  • @Robert: With my proposed adjustment to the rules it would take 14 delete votes, which is still very likely to keep the question alive but at least somewhat sane. Anyway, let's stick to the topic. :-)
    – Aarobot
    May 26, 2010 at 23:26
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    With respect to your unease about adding a fifth close vote, I wouldn't worry too much about closure sending the question on its way to the big delete farm in the sky. Even if it doesn't get reopened (which it probably will), the new delete rules would require a whopping 19 delete votes to actually delete it (3 + one tenth of the total score on the question and its answers). May 27, 2010 at 2:26
  • @gnovice: Call it a neurosis - when I vote to close a question, it annoys me to see it getting reopened (and bumped). If I just leave it alone, it's slightly less bothersome. I'm not worried about hurting anyone's feelings, I just don't want to incur the mental overhead, however minimal, of swimming against the current, especially if such questions are actually part of the long-term vision of the Nouveau Overflow. Also, as Pekka pointed out, this question wasn't actually that bad as far as CA questions go, but I felt compelled to bring up the more general issue of CA.
    – Aarobot
    May 27, 2010 at 13:47

4 Answers 4


I'm going to say there are career questions that deserve to remain open, and the "dinosaur programmer" one is one of them. The question is related to programming, in that the tools and knowledge discussed is specific to the programming world.

Other questions that have no programming specific focus at all ("my boss is a dick", "my co-worker won't take my advice", "colleague senior to me is incompetent and I have to carry the water") do belong closed IMO.

My suggestion for a guideline on career related questions would be "could a career advisor answer it?" if the answer is yes, close it. If it's no, leave it open or at least be very lenient in your judgement.

Just my 2 cents.

  • That is an interesting idea. How would you apply it, for example, to the "senior programming guru" question? I read that and think that the question and most of the answers are on the fringe of being totally generic. The dinosaur one, you're right, seems to be a little more specific to actual programming.
    – Aarobot
    May 26, 2010 at 21:45
  • @Aarobot interesting, hadn't read that one! I'd say that would have to stay open as well under that guideline, because only a programmer can really competently answer the question. A career advisor can't, not without consulting with a programmer first.
    – Pekka
    May 26, 2010 at 21:48
  • I'm not so sure that you need programming expertise to answer that. It seems like a run-of-the-mill "performance anxiety question", no? The top answer is practically generic to all professions, the next answer is a joke (I think), and the majority of the rest don't really answer the question, they just recite war stories or appear to give generic programming-related (but off-topic) advice. By your metric, do the answers matter?
    – Aarobot
    May 26, 2010 at 21:53
  • @Aarobot I'd say no, they don't matter. The heart of the question is programming related IMO: Do I need to have this and that programming ability to fulfill this and that post? I agree though that this kind of question is an invitation to dozens of "war stories" as you say, and performance anxiety is probably the root of the issue.
    – Pekka
    May 26, 2010 at 21:58
  • In any case, I do like your criteria and I'm giving +1 for that. I also think that the "programming-specific" factor is just one of many that need to be considered.
    – Aarobot
    May 26, 2010 at 22:09

Close, close and close again. I simply cannot see how questions about careers are about writing code, which is what I take to be the activity of programming, the focus of StackOverflow.

I'm also a bit worried that you care about what "the brass" have to say. The value of this site is the moderation by the users. From your posts here, I thought that we agreed on that.

  • 5
    You can try to close them, but they usually won't stay closed for long. I care what the brass have to say because an official policy is the only thing that I think would carry any weight at this point, whether it's to discourage the questions entirely or simply set some boundaries. It's plain to see that the system is currently heavily biased in favour of CA/CD questions, so if that's going to continue, then let's just come out and say it so that we don't waste our energy fighting about it on Stack Overflow.
    – Aarobot
    May 26, 2010 at 21:31

I think that career advice type questions are artificially 'popular' simply because there is a lower barrier to entry to posting an answer to that kind of question. If you are asking a programming question on say, C#, there can be several reasonable answers - but you would have to be confident of your stuff because even a slight edge of doubt in an answer can cause downvotes (e.g. I seem to remember that ...). So there is a lot less of the kind of random guesses at the right answer that blight certain forums and a lot more high quality, quickly researched, answers.

On the other hand if you are on SO you are likely to have some kind of career or at least know someone who does - so you can make reasonable stabs at careers advice without any real expertise (e.g. Don't threaten the interviewer with physical violence BEFORE he offers you the job).

In essence if the tech questions are the 'A' Level in Pure and Applied Maths that I'm sure we all passed; the career development questions are 'A' Levels in Media Studies or possibly even General Studies. People go for Media Studies etc because they are an easy way to get reputation/qualifications - not always for a deep seated desire to be the next Melvin Bragg.

Should SO mix such questions?


  • Mr Bragg! Just finished listening to you on In Our Time and here you are again under a rather obvious pseudonym - you are a true polymath!
    – nb69307
    May 27, 2010 at 9:03
  • Did I miss something? @Neil, who is Mr Bragg?
    – Aarobot
    May 27, 2010 at 13:46
  • @Aarobot en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melvin_Bragg
    – nb69307
    May 27, 2010 at 13:59
  • @Neil Had to add picture to quell Bragg hopes/fears.
    – amelvin
    May 28, 2010 at 11:58

It doesn't matter what you do, or what the "official" statement is.

As you note, these questions are very popular - almost everyone reading has a career, many face the same problems as the OP, and so there's an immediate interest.

It's the sort of question that comes up frequently on message boards, and generally collects the same sort of answers (make a portfolio / stick with what you know / join a class/user group/cult). Of course, the top-voted/accepted answer applies equally well to the many "I just graduated, how can I prove I know stuff" questions which are also rather popular and for the same reasons.

Vote to close if you think it should be closed. I did. It's clearly off-topic. But it doesn't matter.

That question had 7 answers before it was closed the first time around. Both the question and its answers have plenty of up-votes. If it gets closed, it'll probably be re-opened. If it doesn't get re-opened, it probably won't get deleted. And if it does get deleted, it'll likely be re-opened and locked, because regardless of what the "official" position is, popular questions get special treatment.

So it doesn't matter. If you feel you need to vote to fulfill some personal obligation to the site, then go ahead... but don't expect it to make one bit of difference.

  • Although it seems to be a losing battle, people shouldn't give up altogether trying to keep it to a minimum. That will just cause this stuff to balloon out of control. We just have to accept that no matter what the level of effort, there will always be some of this off-topic junk that sticks around. I liken it to the levels of rodent feces that the FDA allows in food (fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/…). I guess sometimes you just have to tolerate the taste of crap. ;) May 27, 2010 at 18:32
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    @gnovices: I think it's important to jump on this stuff; if that question had been closed 5 minutes in, it may have died quietly. By allowing it to grow, the beast becomes unstoppable.
    – Shog9
    May 27, 2010 at 18:36

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