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Suffering on Stack Overflow (medium.com)
21 points by dsr12 73 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments



I think that while stack overflow definitely has an attitude problem, its disingenuous to specifically call attention to this being a race- or gender-based issue as the author does. If racial minorities or women are not coming back to SE after their first experience, far more people that don't fit the category are having the same issue.


I agree with you. I think the observations in the Medium post are more apt about newcomers to the Stack Overflow platform than about minorities and women per se.


I've observed this "attitude problem" also on other "nerdy" help platforms. For instance on a site (not on Stackexchange) for advanced Mathematics.

What happens is, there are people which are really advanced, and got so far usually by quite some effort. Problem solving is painful for everyone, even more so when there are people that expect others to solve their cumbersome problem. This of course even happens outside of the Web forums. What people oftentimes mean when they expect "better questions" is: put some effort into the problem yourself. You cannot expect the problem solver spend more time on the problem than the asker.

So compassion goes both ways and both issues need to be addressed.


I say that while the issues described in the article are real and not unimportant, I got triggered by the offendedness and the virtue signalling of it all.

For one, it's a text based medium. I find it unlikely that people can express their racism and misogyny when people are primarily identified by username and an abstract icon. But OK, all answers and questions are written in a context, and generalisations might be made that might be detectable. But truly "offended"? I think not.

There is a tension between being a tool for professionals or a helping community for beginners - and yes, the balance was initially very skewed, but not so much any more.

I also find the writing style with terse questions in FAQ-style (no K TXH BYE) kind of refreshing, actually.


She has some examples that are pretty explicit examples of misogyny. May be worth rereading.


Not trying to say misogyny in tech isn’t an issue, but I saw no “blatant” examples there?

I honestly don’t understand the whole fuss over SO being (apparently) unwelcome, though I’ve had one negative experience: my answer was downvoted by another poster, only later to be accepted and voted over his. He then angrily commented on my post. Sure, it’s anecdotal, but every other experience has been positive.

I think it’s also worth mentioning how much more toxic other communities can be in comparison. GitHub issues can get pretty heated, and the Mathworks boards are notorious for being rude.

At the end of the day, I’d bet the majority of new users getting flack do so because, well, they just asked a bad question.


The stereotype joke? Objectified woman and a weird comment on top of that?

Misogyny sort of requires an actual women being treated in a way a man would not have been treated.

My best guess is that taking offence to this joke requires priming, driven by ideology, someone explicitly telling you that you should take offence out of principle.

The better jokes exposes our biased generalizations and makes you think though.


"Misogyny sort of requires an actual women being treated in a way a man would not have been treated."

This is fundamentally incorrect. One can be a misogynist (ie, exhibit misogyny) without any "actual" women being present. In much the same way as saying "i am attracted to my own gender" is to be homosexual (ie, exhibit homosexuality).


Think of the massive number of comments, finding some examples of this does not make it true


I think the main problem is that she thinks SO is for getting nurturing answer to your question in prompt and polite manner.

It sometimes can work good this way too. But it's more geared towards eventually luring out the person that will tersely and inhumanely solve the problem you got stuck on and all the other people that come after you and him and get stuck on same thing as you did will be able to find, read and use the solution quickly. All the "thank you"'s "your welcome"'s are just as harmful on SO as they would be in encyclopedia.

Main misunderstanding is that she thinks SO is communication platform while in reality it's knowledge extraction, storage and publication tool where communication occurs but it's just a mean to an end and its form follows its function.


This is deeply incorrect - SO is actually a very ineffective medium for answering very niche questions


If that was all it was it would never get popular.

You are right but it's very effective medium for answering not do niche questions.


I think this Medium post is important in light of the recent release of the Stack Overflow Code of Conduct, https://stackoverflow.com/conduct, which I whole-heartedly support.

I don't know if this Code of Conduct will have the effect that April Wensel seems to want, but it would be nice if it did.

I find that a lot of sites oriented toward professional coders, engineers, etc., have some aspects of the negativity discussed in this article. This has a deleterious effect on newcomers to the sites, not just people who are not part of the largest coding demographic.


Why do you think many tech communities move towards this style of conversation? I’m trying to hypothesize a few reasons, but it could be an emergent phenomena from individual elitism, competition, or maybe ladder kicking. But I agree, this will turn away newcomers. Maybe that’s their goal?


I'm a newcomer to Hacker News, but I have been a user of Stack Overflow and, more generally, Stack Exchange for some time. So perhaps I can still speak about the experience of a newcomer.

In my experience, neither site suffers fools gladly.

This morning I made a comment on a post on the first page of Hacker News. In it, I made reference to a project that I am working on independently.

A more senior user of Hacker News read my comment, considered it self-serving, and primarily a reference to my product. Then, he downvoted my comment (something I cannot do as a newcomer), looked at my other comments (something I didn't know how to do until later), and left a comment saying that nearly all of my comments on this site referenced my project and weren't substantively about the articles where they appeared.

As soon as I saw this comment I apologized, and said I wished that I could delete my comment about which that user was complaining.

Later in the day I learned how to see all of my comments by studying my profile. The comment I was criticized for was my second comment on Hacker News.

Whether the other user's criticism was appropriate or not, I got downvoted by at least a few other people after I apologized.

My sense of this situation, therefore, is that the progressive rights systems that give additional rights to users with previous contributions disadvantage new users.

The awarding of points to certain comments by other users and its connection to enhanced rights on Hacker News and other websites such as the Stack Exchange websites encourages certain behaviors that may not be entirely good for the culture of the sites themselves.


Hi there, and welcome to HN!

As a newcomer, you're just learning the culture of the place. This happens through interaction. Sometimes, unfortunately, that interaction is confrontational. In this case, I'll give you the ultimate lesson: HN tolerates - even encourages - comments promoting your own work, as long as it's directly relevant to the discussion (or in text posts starting with "Show HN", which are meant for "I made something, please take a look and give feedback" posting). You most likely got downvoted because your comment triggered a "looks like spam" warning light in minds of some people. If there is a connection between the product and the topic that adds something to the discussion, stating it clearly usually helps.

> the progressive rights systems that give additional rights to users with previous contributions disadvantage new users.

> The awarding of points to certain comments by other users and its connection to enhanced rights on Hacker News and other websites such as the Stack Exchange websites encourages certain behaviors that may not be entirely good for the culture of the sites themselves.

Here's the thing though - this system exists for a reason, namely spam/trolling prevention. Systems both here and on StackOverflow sort posts by points, and allow anyone to create an account. Basing user privileges on amount of site karma is a very effective way of preventing automated attacks on the voting system.

It's also pretty natural. In almost any community, you usually don't get full rights until you've had time to familiarize yourself with it and contributed something to it. Communities are made of other people. As much as a newcomer wants to feel recognized, the community wants a proof that the newcomer can be trusted.


I guess that my biggest concern is that allowing a newcomer to be repeatedly downvoted and having this effect their karma could be dispiriting to a real person who is trying to participate and learn.

I think so far I’m lucky to have only been downvoted a few times.

Is it possible for users to have negative karma, and what happens in that event?


You have a pretty good reaction to criticism.

You could have gotten the comment on your second post because that was the final one they read, and finished forming their opinion.


I am not sure about one thing. Stack Overflow is pretty well of right now. It doesn’t seem like stack overflow need those people but more like those people need stack overflow. I wonder what would be incentive for Stack Overflow to change. Imagine SO ignores all of those complains, what happens? I doubt anything would happen to it.


I would like to note that I agree with a lot of stuff in this article - I hesitate posting a question on SO and when I posted an answer I was very nervous. But I think one would have that feeling with any large enough audience.


I don't know, like 8 years ago I would frequently recommend people to use Stackoverflow. At least a dozen times I did this, not a single person followed my advice, I gave up recommending the platform. I started to think that actually only a miniscule percentage of programmers do use the platform to its full extent. Like me before I created an account, the rest just lands there through Google.

Speaking of me, I'm really nerdy and I'm able to turn this "I care that what I write accords to society's rules and about the consequences" switch off. Anyways, until today, external users cannot see my real name although I'm connected through my Google Apps Accounts. It's just some stupid pseudonym with my first name and numbers.

> I wonder what would be incentive for Stack Overflow to change. Imagine SO ignores all

> of those complains, what happens? I doubt anything would happen to it.

The platform would die eventually. Everything changes, the programming languages, the culture around tech and eventually the people. As mentioned in comments and the article, the oldschool IT as I got to know it the first time in a social setting was elite and of low social competence, up to an annoying extend even for me, being white and male.

I mean imagine applying for a job today, gettings the same benefits, working hours and salary, would you rather take the oldschool IT job in the cellar or the flashy startup job in a nice office?


I do not think Internet forums are set up well for physchological safety. Aside from forums being hostile places for quite frankly everyone, tone is difficult to perceive in a forum post. I think it would be better to newcomers to the site to have some training about the sites rules, culture, and what to expect posting there. We really need to push development communities to more human to human IRL contact.




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