by Artem Stepanenko
How to become a better Stack Overflow user in five simple steps
Software developers cannot imagine their lives without Stack Overflow.
We use it almost every day! We love it. It saves us so much time which may be dedicated to something better than swearing at a computer and inventing a wheel.
What makes Stack Overflow so valuable is its content. Almost everything you can think of is already there. You have a problem you can’t solve alone, you Google it. And there it is, the first link is a Stack Overflow question with the code you were looking for. Very simple. This flow works like a charm.
We’re not given this for free. Every bit of useful information there is a result of somebody’s work. Somebody spent their private time investigating a problem and writing down findings so more people can benefit from it. There was a real person behind it, just like you and me.
There are psychological studies about people being part of a big group. Facing a problem, we tend to unconsciously expect that there must be somebody else “who will manage this.” We actively work on personal tasks. But if the issue doesn’t affect us directly, we’ll likely delegate it to “somebody else.”
In the real world, we heavily rely on transportation, the police, and a healthcare system. There’s no government on Stack Overflow. Perhaps there are a few Batmen and Supermen, but they can’t do everything. We all should be active for the good of all.
Let’s be a community which cares about its members, those who add value, and not passive consumers.
There’re plenty of ways to become a better Stack Overflow user. Start by following these five practices:
1. Don’t forget to upvote
If you’re sure that an answer is correct, upvote it. Even if it wasn’t your question or you don’t need it. It shows the whole world that the answer is likely to be true and draws more attention to it.
Never (up- or down-) vote if you have doubts!
Let’s look at it from a different standpoint. You’re the person who posted an answer. You’ve invested quite some time into it, you were helpful, generous, and proud…and nobody reacts. You would be embarrassed.
That’s not how it’s supposed to be. We must acknowledge each other’s contributions which means upvoting.
2. Write comments
It happens that people post wrong answers or stupid questions. But they never do this on purpose. That’s why people don’t understand why they’ve been downvoted. They want to ask but there’s nobody to ask because votes are anonymous. This feels unfair and makes them unsatisfied.
This is not how we should feel on Stack Overflow. It’s a place filled with love and support.
But we can’t ignore misinformation! Instead we should write a comment explaining our opinion. Most likely they will fix the answer or delete it.
3. Read top questions regularly
It’s like the feed on Facebook, but for nerds. Go through top questions and open those which contain tags you’re interested in. Even if you don’t plan to answer them.
As a professional, you’ll improve dramatically. Learn how your peers struggle, how they overcome obstacles, and how they reason.
Sometimes even mediocre questions are answered in a brilliant way. You definitely don’t want to miss them!
4. There’s no shame in asking
Even if you ask a completely stupid question, the worst thing that could happen is you’ll get downvotes or receive unpleasant comments. No reputation points will be lost if you delete the question.
It’s also possible that the question will get no attention because it’s too broad or too specific. This doesn’t harm you at all. Delete it after few days if it bothers you.
The amount of programming languages and tools are limited. There’s a good chance you’re not the only person who’s encountered your problem.
By crafting a question, you start to understand the issue better. They all look overwhelming in the beginning and fade away when we break them down into pieces. You might have an answer before you publish a question.
At the same time, you should keep in mind that other users appreciate your questions even more if you do research before asking. We like unique, challenging questions and get annoyed by repetitive ones.
Unlike the rest, answering usually takes time. This is what the best citizens do, because it benefits the community as well as themselves.
Let me put it this way: no answers — no Stack Overflow. Nobody would open this website if there were no answers. No doubt, the community needs answers, especially that poor guy who’s asking, but why do people answer at all?
First of all, it’s pleasant to play the role of an expert and help others. Also, you get upvotes which result in reputation growth. This huge number next to your name and avatar talks for itself. Everybody sees that you’re a pro.
And last but not least — It’s a great reason to learn something new. You rarely know the answer right away. You dive into the question, create a playground project, read documentation, and, finally, write an answer. When it’s posted everybody thinks you’ve known the answer forever. You train your brain muscle and prove to yourself and everybody else you’re an expert. Isn’t it cool?
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