Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Stackoverflow : How to treat newbies

Joel Spolsky is writing a series of articles on the evolution of stackoverflow.

Part of this is the treatment of newbies; in particular the arrogant treatment of people who genuinely need an answer but don't know how to ask the question.

Jon Skeet wrote an excellent post on how to ask a question.

The problem arises when they don't know enough to do that.

e.g. "My boss tells me that I need to convert my ASP.NET Membership application to SAML 2.0. I've googled SAML for a whole day and am hopelessly confused".

Now, the standard response on stackoverflow is to close this - too broad - not focused - not a programming question.

All of which is true and this question could also go on serverfault.

But that doesn't help the newbie.

My approach is to say something like:

"OK - you need a SAML stack on the client side. Here's a list of SAML clients, Find one that fits your requirements (language, cost etc.) and read the documentation and samples".

Then I ask what IDP they plan to use?

And depending on that, I may have some more suggestions or links to a good post.

The outcome is that the newbie has something concrete to go on.

(I leave the admin. to other people).

In fact, that's how this blog originally started.

I was answering the same question again and again and so I answered the question in the blog and then posted the link. Major time saving.

The other point is that I can't do their job for them. All I can do is point them in the right direction.

The comments section in stackoverflow is for further questions.



Benedict Tobias said...

Thank you for your post. It really makes me think that I am not the only one tempted to ask dumb question on Stackoverflow.

I got here from article in medium.

I really confused when my director said that, "Make this website SAML aware". He has no idea. I have no idea.

nzpcmad said...


So have you got a way forward?

Benedict Tobias said...

Well, after researching, I decided to move forward with company called ComponentSpace. I really need mentor on how to do other things.

It feels like I cant anyone in the department and it is really frustating but challenging at the se time. :D

nzpcmad said...

Yes - that's one of the choices on the list.

I've used them - they are very good - and the manual they supply gives a large number of worked examples.

Benedict Tobias said...

Will do more contact with their support since I have million question that I cant find (or understand) on the web.

Looks like your website has good material to se tips and tricks. Keep up the good work, man. Thank you for moral support!

ScottD said...


I'm a newbie at SO although I've been using it for years, but mostly to research topics and not to ask or answer. Lately, I've tried to get more involved and promptly got banned by SO from answering questions due to "poor quality" answers. I already could not comment due to not have a reputation of 50 or greater.

So, I asked a question related to your answer to this question.


I guess in a round about way I trying to both discuss my pain with using SO and get enlightened on your answer about OIDC being REST based.


nzpcmad said...

Yes - there is that chicken and egg element to SO in terms of getting enough rep. But please persevere.

Kevin said...

I myself hardly ever write questions on Stack, a lot of the time the responses come off as arrogant or condescending. These aren't from questions I've written, but from responses I see from questions already asked. It puts me off a bit.