What a very bad day at work taught me about building Stack Overflow’s community

A post about the SO community got me thinking very much about how technical differences can be seen as attacks, even though none is meant.
I do strive to be a good member of the Python community, but I hadn’t thought enough about how a lot of articulated contrary views can be percieved like an attack even though those articulating them did not have that in mind.

I would like to take the opportunity to apologies to GvR, I am an old walrus who was anti-walrus operator, in what I thought was a respectful manner.

  • Donald “Paddy3118” McCarthy.

I completely agree with the post you linked. I had many co-workers that only lurks from SO. They are scared to make a question. One of them said the community is toxic. And even I, that I have years of programming and SO experience, sometimes I had trouble with some questions:

  1. one was downvoted because I simply confused ECMA6 with Node.js language. I deleted the question and abandoned the framework.
  2. once I asked about how to use a free version of a library, a fork of a project when it already had a license free also for commercial use, and I was attacked by coworkers of the company that ships the commercial version, and by the author of the library
  3. Once I simply wrote “stupid icon”, and “stupid” was deleted. In Meta I asked if this was not a little excessive, and someone said to me it’s offensive for XP designers. At a certain point, the entire discussion on Meta was deleted!
    PS: an XP designer, one of my ex coworkers, laughed when I told her the story… :smiley:
  4. my most upvoted question (and answer… I answered myself, because who answered only wrote a comment), was closed because off-topic :smiley:

I mean, I really like SO, and I use it a lot. I learned from it a lot, I contributed to it a little with some answers, and I continue to post questions. But I’m really more anxious than before when I post them. The poster is right, the community has changed from the community of 5-6 years ago.

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I linked to the article for other reasons and do not share your opinion of the article. I read a thoughtful post from someone feeling got-at by a number of co workers but she took the time to reassess her correspondence and found only technical differences of opinion. I hope people will read that technical differences of opinion, even when respectfully articulated, can stress the recipient.


The gist of the article starts at “I decided I wanted to look back at our Slack conversations and see which one of my coworkers was being the rudest and the most unreasonable.” and the pith emerges with “As I went back through that Friday afternoon chat log, I was shocked to see that no one had been hurling insults. There was no one saying mean things about me or attacking my efficacy directly. In fact, what I found was that people had some well put together arguments about why they felt this policy was a bad idea.” and “The monster in this case is not one person, it was created when lots of people, even with great intentions, publicly disagreed with you at the same time. Even kind feedback can come off as caustic and mean when there is a mob of people behind it.”

What’s not said explicitly is that this dynamic happens from the other direction too. After visiting a mass of inarticulate questions respondants are prone to seeing phantasms of laziness and ineptitude in the next thing in front of them, present or not.

In both cases the cure is the same: teaching ourselves to be conscious of our feelings, and the portions of them that are grown from things not present in this moment from these stimuli (words, interactions). I don’t think it’s a practice we can ever finish or be done with, just refine more and more over time and experience.