16

*This might best be answered by someone who fits this description.

Usually when I am impressed by a certain user's answer, I will look at their profile to see what kinds of questions they are asking and to my surprise many times even high-ranked users have never asked any questions. How can this be? Certainly, they didn't get so far without asking questions. Are they relying on other sources to answer their questions?

The other thoughts I had: Do questions no longer affect their reputation after they reach a certain rep? or Could it strictly be because a question upvote only gives you 5 points whereas an answer upvote gives you 10. Hopefully reputation wouldn't be the ulterior motive.

  • hm either my "rank" is low, or I am an exception: 27 questions here, and even more at MSO (47:) – gnat Jul 23 '13 at 15:29
  • @gnat why do you have 0 questions asked on P.SE? – Korey Hinton Jul 23 '13 at 15:52
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    By the same reasoning, by which I ask less questions here than at MSO. You see, I don't try to have some sort of "balance" between questions and answers - I just ask question when I can't find an answer and I post an answer when I see a question I know the answer to. Simple as that. – gnat Jul 23 '13 at 16:04
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    @gnat, I understand what you mean. I guess I just personally find it surprising when someone can answer so many questions on one particular SE site without ever asking a question. – Korey Hinton Jul 23 '13 at 16:14
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    Research. Research. Research. And then some, just for the fun of it. – yannis Jul 23 '13 at 17:14
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    One of the great things about SO, is that it teaches you how to answer your own questions after a while - especially when you go through that (rep farming) phase where you pick all the hard questions, research them and provide an answer. – Steven Evers Jul 25 '13 at 0:41
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    If a person has enough knowledge to be able to answer a lot of questions, doesn't that also make the person less inclined to ask questions, because there is a higher likelihood that they already know the answer to the questions that they might ask? – Robert Harvey Jul 25 '13 at 4:54
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    I think part of the reason on P.SE is deleted questions. This site started out with a different scope, and many users gathered a lot of rep on questions that were later determined unsuitable for the site, and deleted. I know some of my highest scoring questions have been deleted. They were OK when first asked, but now that the scope's been changed, they're no longer considered "good" questions for SE. – Rachel Jul 25 '13 at 11:34
  • @Rachel Deleted questions/answers remove the rep changes accumulated from those questions/answers (AFAIK) – Izkata Jul 27 '13 at 4:56
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    @Izkata If a post was older than two months and had a score >= 3 when it was deleted, the poster gets to keep all the earned rep. – yannis Jul 27 '13 at 13:10
  • This is something worth asking Eric Lippert about. – l46kok Jul 31 '13 at 5:14
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    Related question from Meta.StackOverflow - Why don't high rep users ask questions? – user40980 Sep 12 '13 at 21:45

13 Answers 13

35

Speaking personally I'm at the stage in my career/life where I don't have many questions left to ask.

What I do have is many years of experience in encountering the problems that other people ask about so I can offer my solutions, knowledge and experience to hopefully help them.

  • 6
    I envy you :) a lot! – null Jul 31 '13 at 14:05
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    How can this be possible unless you've stopped learning new things? – MetaGuru Aug 6 '13 at 13:28
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    @ioSamurai - I still learn things, but I don't have to ask questions to do so. – ChrisF Aug 6 '13 at 13:40
46

I'm not a particularly high-ranked user (Programmers: 4892, SO: 16,584), but I don't ask many questions. That doesn't mean I don't have questions about the software I build. I have questions every single day. It just means my questions don't work well on StackExchange. My questions:

  1. Require too much context - It isn't feasible to share all of the business details and technical constraints required to ask a sensible question.
  2. Don't have concrete answers - Many interesting technical decisions are compromises between imperfect solutions with their own costs and benefits.
  3. Involve opinions - I learn the most by working through strong positions. Sometimes it's the person who completely disagrees with me that illuminates what I really believe. If a question has a definite correct answer, it's not that interesting to me.

In the spirit of the game, I tried to ask questions in my first months on SO. I'm not embarrassed by them, but I also don't think they add much value. I haven't asked a question since.

  • 5
    This is pretty much my answer with one small addition - I tend to learn more from conversations, not questions. This site does not lend itself to the sort of lengthy, nuanced conversations that are rewarding to me at this point in my learning. – Telastyn Jul 25 '13 at 1:36
  • Not super high rank either, but most of the questions that aren't "I cannot figure out how to do x in y like I can in z" would specifically be considered off topic after the rule change on programmers for your #2 &3 reasons. Almost all the x-y-z ones are a Google away somewhere and there isn't currently any decent place for the latter. – Bill Aug 5 '13 at 20:34
17

Most people who get a high rank in this fashion do so partially because they understand how to work with SE sites in general to get information, and in their understanding is one little key factoid:

Before asking on SE, you should do some of your own leg work to show you've tried to solve it yourself, as questions that show no effort on the part of the asker really don't work well.

Unfortunately for many of the higher ranked and for SE in general, these people tend to be sharp with software and their initial leg work to show effort results in them solving their problem or finding the answer they were looking for. This has happened to me a hand full of times and likely is a common occurrence for experienced engineers.

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    +1 Rubber Duck problem solving has helped prevent many questions from me. Doesn't mean there haven't been more that I have needed to ask, but I try to be thorough. – Bobson Jul 23 '13 at 18:58
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    Still, StackExchange sites encourage users to ask and reply themselves these kinds of questions to help other users. blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/07/… – sergut Jul 24 '13 at 9:03
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    @sergut yeah, but many of us who are trying to solve a problem, are just doing so because it's blocking other work; after solving it we just move on to the work it was blocking because we need to get it done, and by the time that's finished we've forgotten to come here and post the info. Granted that assumes we're not utterly addicted to SE posting our Q with the answer as the immediate result of finding any piece of information. No, we're not addicts, no, I'll hear no more of it. I said good day! – Jimmy Hoffa Jul 25 '13 at 14:58
8

For me, Stack Exchange is the last resort for questions (I have a few floating on Stack Overflow) - after I have researched everything I can on the subject. Many times I find the answer to the question before I get to Stack Exchange - not always, but many times.

I believe that finding and making mistakes is an essential part of learning and so I try to make as many as I can before I get to Stack Exchange. Going to Stack Exchange first circumvents all the possible mistakes/learning experiences that I could have.

When I do find myself with a P.SE question, many times it requires context or is about opinions. These questions aren't always appropriate for P.SE, however, being active in chat, the questions are asked there. Sure, I don't get any rep (I get stars instead!) but that doesn't matter too much in the end. The questions in chat would have gotten closed as posted questions - too localized, or off topic (a polling question).

Realize that reputation often comes from popular questions and their answers. For these, it is about learning how to write well (an often neglected skill for programmers) and knowing how and where to research (independent of the knowledge) knowing where to look rather than knowing the answer right off the top of one's head. Having the question and answer show up on the social networks (my highest rep answer found its way to reddit and got a significant amount of rep that I'm still rather embarrassed about) can substantially boost rep. Lastly, as questions age they still produce rep - something that is a year old still pays dividends on reputation, and over time this leads to being a high rep user.

As an aside, you may also find Why always answers of users who have the maximum reputation in a question accepted and voted up? to shed some additional light on the question from another perspective.

7

I think that one topic is missing here: Many experienced users are searching for answers before asking one.

I, for myself, have found useful answers on the different stack exchange sites. So before I only think about asking a question I try to find an answer and have not to ask my question because my question was already asked by other people so I can use the answers given there without creating a duplicate of a question.

So I think experienced users simple use all available sources of informations before asking a question and then already have an answer to their problem...

  • 3
    I've found that SO often has a better version of my question than I have yet figured out how to write, as well as decent answers already. No need to write another duplicate. – pcurry Aug 3 '13 at 3:15
6

I think one of the reasons is that people who answer questions a lot are willing to put much more effort into it.

If you look at me, I read blogs, I read books, I watch presentations of conferences. If a question is interesting, I am willing to search through the documentation to find a type or method that fits or to look at the source code of the library in question (possibly using decompiler) or to look at the generated code.

I think that people who ask questions can't or don't want to put that effort in. They don't know which blogs to read. They don't know how to decompile code or how to read it. They don't have the time to learn all that, or they don't want to. They just want to solve their single problem, they are not interested in what lies beneath.

4

I think it has to do with the nature of http://programmers.stackexchange.com. The questions on this particular site tend to be more conceptual by nature. Programming concepts are something you tend to learn earlier on in your career. That's not to say that you don't learn more concepts as your career goes on, but you generally have a good foundation and can pick up on new conceptual issues fairly easily.

Contrast this to StackOverflow. StackOverflow focuses on particular technologies. There are new technologies (languages, runtimes, libraries, etc.) all the time, and brand new problems will arise with all of them, even if they're really just rehashes of the same kinds of problems that come up with similar, though somewhat different, tools.

A high reputation user can easily have trouble solving a problem with a new technology, but a high reputation user is bound to have a certain level of experience. This means that they're familiar with most of the concepts and are unlikely to have many questions appropriate for http://programmers.stackexchange.com.

2

Just saying, but I'm sure a lot of people have multiple accounts - one for asking questions and one for posting especially good answers. They can then use their 'answering' account on their resumé/CV, keeping any newbie questions they may have asked concealed. :)

  • 3
    I do have a secondary account on The Workplace, for workplace related questions that... I don't want anyone on my workplace to know I've asked ;) So, newbie questions isn't the only reason to have a secondary account, there are other - perhaps more serious - reasons. Also, just for completeness sake, having a secondary account is perfectly fine as long as it doesn't interact in any way with your main account. – yannis Jul 24 '13 at 11:26
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    @YannisRizos - Of course, there are lots of reasons for having multiple accounts - anonymity is right up there. – Anonymous Jul 24 '13 at 12:31
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    I see what you did there. – Michael Brown Jul 26 '13 at 17:48
2

I know a few high-ranked users who have asked little to no questions. I think there is a certain element of confidence and bravado whereby they don't feel that they have many questions left or much to ask. This may be true. My experience over 30 years tells me that is unlikely to be true. That's why I feel it's important to keep finding and asking questions. Especially in technology that's still changing rapidly from year to year.

That why I've answered 763 questions... and also asked 271 question on Stack Overflow and answered 99 questions... while asking 11 questions on Programmers.

  • +1: For I think there is a certain element of confidence and bravado whereby they don't feel that they have many questions left or much to ask. – Jim G. Jul 29 '13 at 2:30
2

In a perfect world, a high score here correlates with expertise/experience. I think that correlation is confirmed with your observation (not proven just strengthened). I've asked one question here and it was closed because I was explicitly asking for opinions.

2

Most people are just better at giving advice and solving other people's problems than being able to do any type of introspection to identify their own problems. Programmers with a high reputation may work at places with a lot of resources: training, mentors, larger teams etc. I work alone, so I have to rely on SO more now than I use to.

For those who don't ask any questions at all, I don't know what to tell you. Even if they knew the answer, it would be a great benefit to the community to ask and possibly answer themselves. Maybe they feel others would think doing that is conceited?

  • regarding "ask and possibly answer themselves" part, I for one have megazillion self-answered-questions in my head, and wouldn't mind sharing them that way. The problem is, how do I pick these worth it? You see, when you have question already answered in your head, it is really difficult to figure if it's important or not. It's answered, it's over, it's inherently of low importance to me, just due to the fact of being answered – gnat Aug 27 '13 at 6:53
  • @gnat - I don't know all of them have merit, but I know a lot of technical presentations I've gone to center around a solution the speaker found and decided to share it. I say ask the question, hold off on answering it yourself and see how it rates. Maybe this will help you evaluate the other potential questions. – JeffO Aug 28 '13 at 11:50
  • yeah I was thinking about this. It just turned out so much easier to answer others questions that I dropped the idea – gnat Aug 28 '13 at 12:23
1

I find this an odd question, rep is - or at least was - accumulated substantially by providing answers that are deemed by the assembled participants to have merit.

I don't quite see how my asking questions provides an insight into the quality of answers based on knowledge accumulated over decades - I came here substantially in an attempt to give back by taking what I think I've learnt and applying it to the questions asked.

Oh... and to learn from the questions - I find good questions make you think and, at least once upon a time, good questions on programmers helped challenge one's assumptions.


Of course I also accumulated rep from being early into the game (-:

1

Short answer: Low-ranked users ask, and high-ranked users answer.

High ranked users, almost by definition, are people who are knowledgeable about the topic. As such, they have many answers and few questions.

Most (not all) of the questioners have limited knowledge of the topic, and have low ranks because of this. They ask questions to fill gaps in their knowledge. A few of them get a high reputation by asking many, and reasonably good questions, but that's rare.

I'm something of an exception to the rule insofar as I both ask and answer on most sites where I have high rep. I do find the SE rules for asking questions intimidating, and as a "knowledgeable" person, find it easier to answer than to ask.

It's the people that don't "know better" that ask (and dare to) the majority of questions on the site.

  • yeah "askers yield to answerers" is sort of official SE policy. If this helps, answerers aren't on top of SE "food chain" either; they in turn yield to web search (ie if the answer doesn't provide useful content, it is at risk of removal no matter if it's correct or not)... – gnat Aug 30 '13 at 8:27

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