This question is considered on-topic on Programmers.SE, and I don't understand why.

It is a question about computer science, not a question about programming or programmers. It's something a good programmer should know, but it's not programming (in the same way, using a computer is definitely required of a programmer, yet computer usage isn't programming). It's a subject where an expert would be a computer scientist, not a programmer.

Furthermore, it's an objective question. The run time of a function is a perfectly well-defined notion (at least in a given context, and the choice of context isn't relevant here). There may be more than one way to compute it, it would still be the same thing being computed — this isn't about making a design choice.

So, going by the site FAQ as well as the overall tone and audience of the site, this question doesn't belong here. I don't think there's currently a site in the Stack Exchange network that's really appropriate for it¹, but the closest, and officially-sanctioned, is Stack Overflow.

Why, then, is this question not migrated to Stack Overflow?

¹ Reminder: CSTheory is about research-level computer science only.

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    Pedantic beyond all reason; consequently unworkable. Commented Jul 5, 2011 at 21:41
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    @RobertHarvey Why would sticking to questions about programmers not be workable? Let programmers answer questions about programming (SO) and programmers (here). Let computer scientist answer questions about computer science. Let gardeners answer questions about gardening. That works for other topics, why would it not be workable for computer science? Commented Jul 5, 2011 at 21:44
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    @Gilles Because "questions about programmers" isn't what this site is about. It would be nice if CS Theory was more open about the kinds of questions they accept, but there's not much we can do about that here.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Jul 5, 2011 at 21:59
  • @Anna Lear Why, because they have "CS" in their name? This sort of question is really only likely to be asked by a student; regardless of if its actually homework its an undergrad compsci question. I'm fine with it being on Programmers but it would be nice if it were less confusing to people why it is on Programmers versus SO.
    – Jeremy
    Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 21:26
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    @Jeremy Because I think it'd be nice if a "CS Theory" site would accept a wider range of theoretical CS questions. They don't, for various reasons, so my wishes on the matter are unrelated to this discussion. :) The way things stand right now, Programmers is a good enough place for undergrad-level TCS questions. I hope my answer to this question helps clarify why.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 21:36
  • @AnnaLear 1. CSTheory is irrelevant here; accepting all CS questions isn't in their mandate. 2. No, your answer doesn't tell me why Programmers is good for undergrad-level TCS questions. It tells me they're welcome; it doesn't tell me they get good answers. Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 21:49
  • @Gilles 1) I only brought up CSTheory because you mentioned it in the post. Ideally, theoretical CS questions would go there. 2) Nobody can guarantee that any question on Programmers will get a good answer. On some level it's a chicken and egg problem: we need people who are able to answer those, sure, but we also need TCS questions to attract people who can answer them. It looks like at least the question you linked to got good answers, so... so far so good?
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 22:03

1 Answer 1


I think Mark summed it up in the comments:

Programmers.SE is for conceptual, whiteboard-y questions; Stack Overflow is for implementation, issue-while-I'm-coding questions.

Not all programmers are computer scientists, but I'd say a good number are and it is certainly a matter unique to programming whereas general computer usage is not.

We want questions that address concepts programming concepts. And honestly, not to put anybody on the spot, but a computer science question about function run times is infinitely more on topic on Programmers than something along the lines of "how do I stop being shy".

To me, this question is a bit in a grey area. If it were asked on SO, it could'be happily stayed there. But it was asked here and it's on topic enough to not migrate it.

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    But... If I wasn't so shy, I could answer more CS questions!
    – Shog9
    Commented Jul 5, 2011 at 22:08
  • The problem is that CS questions do not get good answers on Programmers. So accepting them is a disservice to askers. In my experience (both real life and online), programmers are much more likely to be good at computer usage than at computer science. Commented Jul 5, 2011 at 22:14
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    @Gilles A gamer or a superuser might be more likely to be good at computer usage than at computer science. You must not hang a lot in programmers.se, because there are a lot of good programmers who can easily answer CS questions here.
    – Marcelo
    Commented Jul 5, 2011 at 23:12
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    @gilles related problem is that cstheory.stackexchange.com will not accept CS questions, except insofar as they are "professor to professior" questions. I vehemently disagree with this policy of theirs, but that's what they've stuck with, despite our urgings to become a bit more tolerant of, say, "undergraduate" CS questions. Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 2:23
  • @JeffAtwood That's unrelated, and not a problem. Non-research-level CS questions are outside CSTheory's mandate. Where general CS questions go isn't their problem. If you want a site for CS questions, create a site on Area 51 (or in your case, stop arguing against it). Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 7:13
  • @Jeff - I totally agree. I'm a supporter of the idea that a Stack Exchange should be about a topic, not for a group of people. CS Theory is about something, but it's for academics/researchers. There's absolutely no place for undergraduates studying the theoretical side of computer science, nor software developers who have a passing interest in theoretical computer science. And it would be hard to make a new exchange for account for this and get enough support to get it going. I say TPTB should put their feet down and say all exchanges must be open to all non-trival questions from their domain.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 18:36
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    @thomas that's tough because of the mathoverflow.net and math.se divide, which is proven to work -- one site is for "research / graduate level" questions and the other is for, well, everything else. The part that makes me unhappy in this specific case is that these theory questions don't do well on SO, which implies they DO belong on the other site. Commented Jul 30, 2011 at 6:34
  • @Jeff It's tough for the reason you mentioned, and it's probably too late because the communities are already fairly well established (especially mathoverflow/math.se). Although those sites could probably be grandfathered in, a "no education/experience" requirement for new sites would be nice.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Commented Jul 30, 2011 at 11:22

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