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In connection with the moderator elections, we are holding a Q&A thread for the candidates. Questions collected from an earlier thread have been compiled into this one, which shall now serve as the space for the candidates to provide their answers.

Due to the submission count, we have selected all provided questions as well as our back up questions, most of which were among the provided, for a total of 6 questions.

As a candidate, your job is simple - post an answer to this question, citing each of the questions and then post your answer to each question given in that same answer. For your convenience, I will include all of the questions in quote format with a break in between each, suitable for you to insert your answers. Just copy the whole thing after the first set of three dashes.Please consider putting your name at the top of your post so that readers will know who you are before they finish reading everything you have written, and also including a link to your answer on your nomination post.

Once all the answers have been compiled, this will serve as a transcript for voters to view the thoughts of their candidates, and will be appropriately linked in the Election page.

Good luck to all of the candidates!

Oh, and when you've completed your answer, please provide a link to it after this blurb here, before that set of three dashes. Please leave the list of links in the order of submission.

To save scrolling here are links to the submissions from each candidate (in order of submission):

Robert Harvey
GlenH7
amon
Aaron Hall


  1. In your opinion, what is the biggest problem/challenge Software Engineering is currently facing? How would you propose to solve it?

  2. In what way do you feel that being a moderator will make you more effective as opposed to simply reaching 10k or 20k rep?

  3. A diamond will be attached to everything you say and have said in the past, including questions, answers and comments. Everything you will do will be seen under a different light. How do you feel about that?

  4. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

  5. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

  6. In your opinion, what do moderators do?

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  1. In your opinion, what is the biggest problem/challenge Software Engineering is currently facing? How would you propose to solve it?

I sense that this site has declined in activity, participation and interest since the community tightened its scope; though question quality has improved, the number of questions asked and answered here has diminished significantly.

In retrospect, I think we may have gerrymandered the scope of this site a bit too much. This site was always supposed to be about providing a home for questions that were too abstract, conceptual or broad for Stack Overflow to answer. Alas, it didn't seem to work out that way.

How do we solve it? I'm not sure.

  1. In what way do you feel that being a moderator will make you more effective as opposed to simply reaching 10k or 20k rep?

I will have a binding vote that I can use to clear questions off the front page that clearly don't belong here.

  1. A diamond will be attached to everything you say and have said in the past, including questions, answers and comments. Everything you will do will be seen under a different light. How do you feel about that?

I feel fine about that.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

Just being honest here, but someone who actively contributes valuable content is worth more consideration than a new user who is too lazy to read the site instructions or too entitled to follow them.

Of course, there are some lines that shouldn't be crossed; bigotry and incivility should never be tolerated. I'm not afraid to put someone in the penalty box if the situation is warranted, regardless of their rep.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

I discuss the situation privately with the other mod, and we arrive at a mutual consensus. I don't contradict other mods publicly on their own sites.

  1. In your opinion, what do moderators do?

For the most part, moderators are exception handlers. They handle situations that the community is either unable or unwilling to handle themselves. Moderators set the tone of the community by virtue of what they allow and disallow on the site, and also the character of their own participation on the site.

Moderators do not set policy; they enforce the policy that the community sets. I regularly close "how to" questions on Stack Overflow that don't meet the community's strict requirements, even though I personally disapprove of the practice, because that's what the community decided they wanted.

  • 2
    Bonus question: As you are also a moderator on SO, how do you see the possibility for a conflict on your valuable time that you have available for moderation? – Bart van Ingen Schenau Feb 26 at 9:40
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    @BartvanIngenSchenau: My moderation time on Stack Overflow has diminished since the newer moderators were elected. They do a fantastic job of keeping the flag queue at bay. – Robert Harvey Feb 26 at 15:40
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    I agree very much to what you wrote about the scope of this site, but IMHO it is mainly a community problem, several people here seem to interpret the scope rules extremely narrow, downvoting and close voting many questions very quickly just because they see a scope violation in some parts of a question (which often could be fixed by some editing). Any idea how moderators can help to improve that situation? IMHO deleting such questions even more quickly cannot be the solution. – Doc Brown Mar 3 at 9:36
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    @DocBrown: Part of the reason the scope rules exist is to encourage users to ask more focused questions. All too often, I often see questions that simply ask "Is this OK," "is this correct" or "am I right;" questions that are not answerable without specific criteria for determining what is "right," "correct" and "OK." I'm fine with leaving closed questions on the front page for awhile so that folks can rehab them. Anyway, you can open a meta post on this specific topic if you want more discussion. – Robert Harvey Mar 3 at 16:37
  • @RobertHarvey: yes, you are right, the discussion about the community behaviour in interpreting the rules sometimes very strictly may be better placed in a separate meta post. But I guess I have to collect some examples first. – Doc Brown Mar 3 at 16:51
  • @RobertHarvey: following your suggestion, I brought this up to meta This is what I would call the biggest problem/challenge Software Engineering is currently facing - a hostile self-moderation culture, which drives askers of abstract, conceptual and broad questions away. – Doc Brown Mar 9 at 8:16
  • ... so bonus question for the mod election: what's your opinion on my question about the (IMHO unhealthy) self-moderation style described my question – Doc Brown Mar 12 at 6:10
  • @DocBrown: Most of the posts you cited look like they're doing OK to me. The only one that is borderline is this one (evidenced by its four close votes), which I see as a people problem, not a software engineering problem, but I didn't vote to close it. – Robert Harvey Mar 12 at 15:32
  • @RobertHarvey: ok, but my question was less about those individual posts, but about the self-moderation style of the community, and its potentially negative impact on the site's participation statistics. – Doc Brown Mar 12 at 16:24
  • @DocBrown: Alright. I'll post an answer when I have a bit of free time. – Robert Harvey Mar 12 at 19:08
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amon

  1. In your opinion, what is the biggest problem/challenge Software Engineering is currently facing? How would you propose to solve it?

The Software Engineering site has had a fairly tumultuous history. As the site scope has settled down (most recently clarified by renaming it to Software Engineering), two things stand out:

  • Site activity is gradually declining when viewed across multiple years.
  • A ton of questions get closed (circa 35%).

Graph of number of weekly posts (questions + answers) per week over complete site history to date. Taken from site analytics. Y-axis does not start at zero.

This isn't necessarily a problem. At the start of the site things were tried that didn't work and things are converging to a healthy, normal level. In particular, the decline in the above graph is mostly due to the number of answers per question going down, which I see as an indication that we now have fewer big-list-of-things questions. But this could also mean that the questions are not too attractive for potential answerers.

The Stack Exchange network has also expanded, so that many questions that would have been previously have been asked here are better served on other sites. The hit during the second renaming seems to be due mainly to a reduction of questions, which I’d trace to SEO effects.

The big issue I see is that there are slightly too few people engaging in active community moderation for the amount of off-topic questions we still receive.

  • I used to do the close vote queue for a while … but my votes kept timing out after a few weeks because the question failed to reach five votes. That was super discouraging.

    My hope is that if I can shave a couple of questions from the community moderation workload, then starting and sticking with community moderation activities will be more satisfying for other people. This will also leave people free to spend their effort on engaging constructively with questions: editing, commenting, helping the asker to make their question fit the community norms. And answering questions.

  • Few active voters/flaggers also means that it can take a while (hours or days) until a question receives actionable feedback. Close votes may not be super friendly, but getting a prompt on-hold reason is much friendlier than hanging in limbo with a couple of downvotes and no idea what to fix.

    I won’t spend all my waking time like an AWACS airplane over the new questions page, but I do hope that my activity will contribute to a shorter average time to on-hold for those questions that are not OK in their current form.

    Ideally, this will also help to give more space to the many great questions we receive as well, thus making the site a more attractive place for everyone.

My views here are strongly influenced by the results of the 2015 Three Vote Experiment.

  1. In what way do you feel that being a moderator will make you more effective as opposed to simply reaching 10k or 20k rep?

Wielding binding votes is a big efficiency boost, for sure. But moderation brings with it a couple of additional tools that could come in useful. For example, I once noticed a familiar writing style in an answer and thought the user might be attempting a ban evasion. Moderator tools make it much easier to check that, without having to engage in laborious sleuthing.

  1. A diamond will be attached to everything you say and have said in the past, including questions, answers and comments. Everything you will do will be seen under a different light. How do you feel about that?

Oh dear. I am sure that I have said and done things that are not great.

But I feel comfortable with the overwhelming majority of my actions so far. As a high-rep user I already have more visibility than others, and I already try to conduct myself accordingly. Having a diamond will not change that.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

No answer is so valuable that it would excuse bad behaviour. Decent behaviour is not a nice to have, it is a prerequisite for community participation.

I would hope the user can be guided by gentle shepherding and warnings. If not I’ll talk to my fellow moderators to figure out the best approach, such as handing out a temporary suspension.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

Mods are humans, so mistakes can happen. But they usually act for a reason. Maybe I missed some important problem?

So I’d ask them why they took that moderation action. If I strongly disagree with the moderation action and no consensus can be achieved among moderators, the only good approach is to lay out the action in a meta post and ask the community for guidance.

  1. In your opinion, what do moderators do?
  • Moderators are exception handlers: handle flags and other issues which 10k users simply can’t do.
  • Mods are janitors: take out the garbage so that others can enjoy a clean, tidy place.
  • Mods are also supercharged users which can aid the community by quickly voting to close/reopen/delete/undelete posts without having to wait until enough votes pile up. I definitely plan to do that to avoid posts that sit in limbo for a day or longer.

There are many things that I believe a moderator is not. For example, a moderator is not a leadership position. As a moderator it wouldn’t be my job to decide what the site should be, but to implement existing community consensus. Any leadership would be purely by example.

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GlenH7's responses:

  1. In your opinion, what is the biggest problem/challenge Software Engineering is currently facing? How would you propose to solve it?

Keeping the site curated so that the quality questions are there to attract answers from the experts. The site has a number of core, active users who consistently push things into the review queues and I believe that they simply need some help in keeping the queues reviewed and cleared.

In the past, we (the community) have been able to build up the number of active participants through persistence in our efforts. I believe that having a binding vote with keeping the queues reviewed will help attract more participation.

Keeping the queues down keeps the signal to noise ratio up, and provides more time to expert users to provide answers to the questions.

  1. In what way do you feel that being a moderator will make you more effective as opposed to simply reaching 10k or 20k rep?

My review queue history shows that I have spent a significant amount of time as 10k+ user. One of the aspects that constantly frustrated me was running out of votes in a day even though the queues still had quite a bit more to be reviewed.

When the site ran the 3 votes-to-close experiment, I think it did a good job at enabling the high rep users to maintain the site's quality. I view part of my role as a moderator as helping re-enable those high rep users. And of the 2890 flags that I have raised, I have a 97% helpful rate which shows that my actions have been in alignment with the community.

  1. A diamond will be attached to everything you say and have said in the past, including questions, answers and comments. Everything you will do will be seen under a different light. How do you feel about that?

I'm used to that experience from my active moderation on the Engineering Beta.

I think it was a great experience for me to transition from a high-rep, very active user on Software Engineering (then known as Programmers) into a moderator pro-tempore on Engineering. It gave me an opportunity to step back and encourage other community members to help drive the shape of the community. At the same time, I wasn't afraid to step in and explain the site's decisions to newcomers.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

This can go a couple of different ways depending upon the flagged commentary. When we ran into this issue on Engineering, the moderators consulted each other and came to a consensus. In that particular case, the correct solution was to reach out to the user and ask them to tone it down. They did and they remain a solid contributor to the site.

As a moderator, you also have to be prepared to suspend a valuable user over problematic commentary. Ultimately, it's a values judgement that needs to be made in concert with the other moderators.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

Reach out to them in private and discuss the situation so I understand their perspective. Then come to a consensus on what should be done going forward.

  1. In your opinion, what do moderators do?

Moderators are the janitors of a site. They're there to take care of the actions that the community itself is unable to do.

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  1. In your opinion, what is the biggest problem/challenge Software Engineering is currently facing? How would you propose to solve it?

We need to improve questions.

To solve that problem is hard.

  • Otherwise good questions can have fatal flaws that can be solved with easy edits. Answerers should feel freer to fix these issues.
  • The Ask a Question page could certainly do more to help people be more conscientious about their questions as well.
  • More moderators that can (appropriately) one-shot close flawed questions before answerers waste time on them should improve operation and effectiveness of the close-fix-reopen model.
  1. In what way do you feel that being a moderator will make you more effective as opposed to simply reaching 10k or 20k rep?

As a moderator on Stack Overflow, I try to be a moderating influence and encourage compliance with behavioral strategy via direct conversation. I find that when I have discussions with problematic users, the diamond goes a long ways towards getting their attention.

I also find that when I work the moderator queue there are no-brainers that a single person can solve - and when I see one like that, I tend to pull the trigger, saving the time of up to four other members of the community.

Another problem is comments that clutter up the page. These sites are about questions and answers. When comments are obsolete, I can clean them up. I do tend to do this more on questions where I'm a subject matter expert, because it's lower hanging fruit.

Finally, community wiki used to be automatically triggered after so many edits. Posts where this has happened are problematic, because the users never intended this. We have stopped the automatic conversion, but we didn't automatically revert the change. I have, from time to time, found community wikis where the posts haven't been treated as community owned and the users would prefer non-wiki status. As a moderator, I'm able to switch the community wiki off, and I prefer to. As the owner of many posts, I get notified when people vote on my material, which can cause me to revisit and curate it. On the posts that are wiki, I get no such notifications. Successful community wikis seem to be the exceptions that prove the rule. So on request and passing my standards for removing wiki status, I do so.

  1. A diamond will be attached to everything you say and have said in the past, including questions, answers and comments. Everything you will do will be seen under a different light. How do you feel about that?

No problem, as a moderator on Stack Overflow, I'm used to it.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

I will have a conversation, explain that they are on a bad path that can lead to suspension, which neither of us want, and perhaps suggest that they stop participating in comments, where the majority of these kinds of flags arise.

There is a general rule that moderators shouldn't make specific threats because problematic users are used to testing boundaries, but I think fair generic warnings may lead to better relationships and a more immediate change in behavior than surprise suspensions after a conversation where the user feels they have successfully gotten away with whatever behavior was under question.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

I would bring it up to them in front of the other moderators. In very few cases has this happened, but when it does, we wind up seeing eye to eye, or at least agreeing to disagree. It's important to have some perspective.

  1. In your opinion, what do moderators do?

Moderators are human exception handlers. The theory is that they should do as little as possible - however, when it comes to low-hanging fruit, they can certainly create more value than the average user.

Moderators are also an important medium between Stack Exchange Inc. and users. We represent users to the organization, and vice-versa. We don't have a lot of influence, but we seem to have more than regular users. Where we can create value in that communication, I think we should.

I think analogies are only helpful when people agree and as such, they don't communicate much. I think moderators of question and answer sites are "moderators of question and answer sites". Their job is to "moderate", and do so with perspective. Not too much. Not too little. Just the right amount.

Also, moderators are all different, and create value in different ways. I tend to look at what isn't being done that will create value, and I try to do that.

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