It’s Not Just You: Stack Overflow Is Still Full of Jerks

The annual Stack Overflow developer survey has a lot of good fodder and insight. This year, it also has one of the best self-owns we’ve seen in quite a while.

Stack Overflow admits it’s a toxic hell-stew.

Deep down in Stack Overflow’s 2019 Developer Survey is the ‘community’ section, which is a look at who uses Stack Overflow. It also gauges how often they use the platform, why they visit, and whether it’s useful to them. From the study, we have the following takeaways:

  • Most use Stack Overflow daily, or multiple times per day.
  • A majority have been using Stack Overflow for several years.
  • Almost all users go to find answers to their questions.
  • Comparing frequency of use and how often they find answers to their questions, most are successful.
  • Many think Stack Overflow saves them time compared to other resources

Late last year, Stack Overflow instituted new community guidelines, mandating that developers ‘be nice’ to one another. It offered up such gems as “If you Google it, you’ll find tutorials that can explain it much better than we can in an answer here,” as opposed to responding with, “You could Google this in 5 seconds.” It was an effort to clean up the site, which the company knew was just terrible.

Did it work? Nah.

Some 73 percent of respondents say Stack Overflow is just as welcoming to users as it was last year. When it asked respondents what they’d change about Stack Overflow, one of the more popular requests was to fix the “community culture.”

Women and men see Stack Overflow differently, too. When asked what they’d like changed, men most often responded with words like “bounty” and “force.” The words women used most were “condescending,” “replies,” “nicer,” “rude,” and “dumb.”

It’s not all terrible news; Stack Overflow reports “respondents who are people of color, especially black or of African descent, South Asian, and Hispanic or Latino/Latina, are especially likely to say they feel more welcome this year, both in the United States and worldwide,” which is awesome. And people are finding solutions to their problems, which is what the site is about anyway.

But when you’ve got to wade through a river of ego and spite before being told to “Google it,” we start to wonder how long people will tolerate a Stack Overflow where a “cultural shift” hasn’t yet taken hold.

19 Responses to “It’s Not Just You: Stack Overflow Is Still Full of Jerks”

  1. I remember back in the days when I was quite eager to learn coding for my studies, I asked questions on Stack Overflow and I always get unfriendly and sometimes rude replies (or they simply just downvoted you without explaining anything – I never posted any question without extensive search). There’s of course nice people who helped me out, but the rest of them were a bunch of ego people. That community’s attitudes was one of the reasons why my interests in programming reduced drastically.

    • Someone who loves his profession

      Honestly, if some rude answers to a question makes you interest in programming reduce drastically, then you don’t want to become a programmer. This business is about passion and suffering and endless joy. Not about getting your answer quickly from others.
      If you got rude answers to your question, you probably could have solved if you tired hard enough, and by hard enough I mean sleepless night, or you could have written exactly what did you try to solve it, or you could have shown that you at least know how to ask a good question.
      I want to take an opposite stance. This “not welcoming culture” was maybe a good thing. It would filter out all those who thought “well, there is money in Python, let me become a Python programmer” from those who “really wanted” to become a programmer.
      Just look at majority of Python questions nowadays in SO: stupid questions, that could have been answered by simply looking at documentation, tens of even more stupid answers.
      I love this profession, and it makes me sad to see how crowds of uninterested people are turning it into a senseless useless “copy-paste business”.
      If you want to learn something you have bring the necessary sacrifice for it. This includes, enduring some harsh comments from people who know more that you, and you should take these harsh comments as an opportunity to learn.

  2. What an unproductive article…What is the end goal here? At least Stack has been a productive tool for our community. Dice is filled with recruiters who do not know how to write a decent email. I wouldn’t in a million years visit dice.com. Instead of slamming another website, how about you update us on what Dice is doing to improve themselves? Not a good look

  3. Gamified human communication is a mistake.

    SO may have been a business success, but in helping developers, it has been a massive failure because of what it costs: millions of hours of developer talent wasted in meaninglessly deleted/closed questions, and countless opportunities for experts to share their own questions and information in the formats that best suit the needs of the problem. And let’s not forget the social damages of a toxic Internet.

    A world without SO/SE would likely have been one where people are still able to give longform questions and answers on their blogs or elsewhere without fear of having their well-crafted and even pertinent questions closed or deleted, and where competent people may not be incentivized by a cheap Skinner’s Box-style upvote fix, but won’t be actively discouraged from spending time thinking of ways to help people for the sake of helping other people.

  4. SO simply sucks. It is full of entitled incels. Programmers don’t tend to be geniuses, most of them are just regular guys, they are not rocket scientists, but they think they are the elite of all the elites on planet earth, they are the mean cousins of dunning kruger.

    I am a programmer myself, but I am not an incel, after attending to a lot of conferences, I can clearly state that, if you see a mean guy on SO, read his profile – he’ll have a cat picture, he will stress how geeky he is and how many languages he can speak, or in how many languages he can “code”, he is probably an incel.

    SO is full of Supreme Gentlemans. They should change their name to Supreme Gentleman Incel Club.

  5. Crect Answr

    SO should have, in addition to normal reputation, an asshole reputation score for each user.
    Next to a given comment or answer provided by a user, there should be an “This guy’s an asshole” button that a reader can press. This increases that users asshole rep.

    Users who accumulate a noticably-higher-than-average asshole rep should have everything they write prepended with some bright colorful message to the effect of “I’m an asshole, so read on with caution.” The asshole rep could be gradually reduced if the user makes comments or answers that *don’t* incur very many asshole button presses.

  6. Clare Smith

    Thanks so much for writing this and for sharing your experiences. I had very bad experiences in 2015 with Stack Overflow and had not been back since. A month ago I posted a question for the first time in 5 years and got a very helpful answer. I had a small error in my python code that the contributor caught quickly. No one complained about my question. Today, I posted another question asking if an error in my code might be due to deprecation (a common problem with the merry-go-round of python versions, but one that is not always easily detected). I was then told that I have “asked two questions recently, some of which have not been received very well by the community… and that the reception [my] questions have received might ultimately block [my] account from asking questions entirely.” If that were not enough, the message suggested “I take a break…and a breather”. Is Stack Overflow seriously telling me to take a deep breath!!!?? That is so unbelievably patronizing that my face actually burned with anger when I read it. I am a college professor and would never treat my students this way (or any other human being). Please know that I don’t mind at all if a question goes unanswered. I recognize people might not want to take the time or might even see a question as not important, but scolding people for asking a question sickens me. I have a great job, am an expert SAS programmer and am quite proficient at R. I learn quickly and will sort out the issue I have having with python. My anger is not about me, It is about the age old lack of equity and inclusion in the analytics workforce and the proud role in this moral failure that Stack Overflow and communities like it continue to play.

    • Welcome to the modern internet. There’s topics about it and pieces of it has been sold to the UN and China back in 2010 thru 2015. It’s been slowly building up and the dam is ready to burst! If we get the wrong President in 2021 we will have Stack Overflow on steroids IRL. China already has it which is called social credit system.

  7. Clare Smith

    Hilariously sad. I decided to see if there might be a forum to provide constructive feedback to Stack Overflow about the experience that I just shared. Turns out an SO community blog post was written to detail the problems in hopes of finding solutions. https://stackoverflow.blog/2018/04/26/stack-overflow-isnt-very-welcoming-its-time-for-that-to-change/. When you click on the feedback link at the end of the piece, you are taken to a page that says “Stack Overflow Inclusion Project – Thanks for your interest, but we’re not accepting responses.” That says it all!

  8. Kyle Hill

    Programmers in general are jerks thinking because they can string a bunch of C++ stuff they are better then users and look down on you. It’s mostly the children of the 60s hippies and dope smokers that wrecked their brains and now it isn’t a matter of what they know but what they know isn’t so!

    • I have yet to have a pleasant response from posting a question on stackoverflow. I have had very nice experiences on Quora. I think the people who have enough credits to moderate on stackoverflow, need to spend all their time on stackoverflow – which self selects for a bunch of unbalanced people.

      One of the biggest problem I see with stackoverflow is the inability to provide feedback or petition problematic moderators – there is no recourse for people who don’t answer _lots_ of questions on the platform. This not only makes the platform frustrating to use but deprives stackoverflow management from metrics that might help them make the platform better.

      Stackoverflow management is very slow to improve their platform which, admittedly, they don’t have a lot of need to since so many people use it. I’d love to see a competitor scrape their site usability and features and build something more humane.

  9. It only takes 30 seconds for your question to get downvoted. SO has saved me many times but I have never experienced a good answer before some snob has either downvoted it or said some dumb shit. I have been a programmer for like 6 years and I have a great job but even I don’t know how to articulate the questions for the answers I need sometimes. SO basically assumes you are a professional, will post professional code, and will have a precise question to be answered. However, 80% of the times it just is not that simple. They actively try to squander people who have lives outside of coding.