Reputation Is No Substitute For Knowledge

Last week, I regrettably ventured back to answering questions on StackOverflow. The question that lured me back was this one:

Due to the general confusion over this operator, my answer, though correct, was down-voted and derided as entirely wrong. Worst of all, one of the main detractors had over 300k in reputation and, rather than try what I had suggested, spent their time telling me I was wrong as their own incorrect answer received all the up-votes. In the spirit of StackOverflow as I once knew it, I edited my answer and answered the comments, trying to clear up the confusion and get the question answered adequately. As my answer got down-voted, more incorrect answers got up-voted. However, eventually, I was able to convince my main detractor that my answer was correct. So they promptly deleted all evidence that they ever thought otherwise and, without attribution, edited their once incorrect, top-voted answer to be correct.

Though it stings a little1, I do not mind that my answer did not get accepted nor that it did not get the most votes; the question was answered correctly and that's the point of the site. What I find most disagreeable is the unsporting behavior that undermined the sense of community that once pervaded StackOverflow. I left the whole experience feeling like an outsider. In the past, those with wrong answers would delete theirs in favor of the right one, or they would edit theirs, but give credit to the right one. People would (in the most part) treat each other with respect and see reputation as a sign of being a good citizen, not necessarily a knowledgeable one. Not anymore.

I wish I could show the comments I received when answering this question, but they were deleted2. However, the general pattern of this and other experiences appears to be that someone with a high reputation score down-votes and derides other answers, then once the correct answer is clear, takes everything from the correct answers posted to edit into their own, which then earns all the reputation. It is an embittering experience that I know others have shared.

In the beginning, earning reputation and badges encouraged people to get things right and to help each other out. Now the site has matured, the easy questions are answered, and the gap between the newcomers and those with the highest reputation is huge. Newcomers languish in poverty with little opportunity, if any, to reach the top, while those at the top benefit from a bias toward answers and opinions that come from those with large reputation scores. What once incentivised good behavior and engagement, seems to have led to bullying and dishonesty. I am not saying that all people with high reputation engage in unscrupulous practices on StackOverflow —there are many generous and humble members of the community —unfortunately, bad experiences outweigh good experiences 5-1 (or as high as 12-1), so the actions of a few can poison the well.

The root of the problem as I see it3 is that reputation has become (or perhaps always was) over-valued, and in its pursuit, some have lost sight of what StackOverflow was trying to achieve; community. The community that made it special, that made me feel like I belonged, is gone, and reputation is no substitute for knowledge. What was once an all-for-one, one-for-all environment has, in the competition for reputation, turned toxic4.

I have no doubt that many reading this will think I am misrepresenting the situation, overreacting, or just plain wrong, and that is OK; I hope that those people are right, that this is not a trend, and that the overall community remains friendly and constructive. Personally, I will think twice before involving myself in answering (or even asking) a question on StackOverflow again.

Ultimately, StackOverflow works as long as the right answers get provided; but if those with the knowledge to answer get disillusioned and leave, from where will those right answers come?

Today's featured image is "Façade of the Celsus library, in Ephesus, near Selçuk, west Turkey" by Benh LIEU SONG. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. Other than being resized, the image has not been modified.


  1. we all like recognition for being right 

  2. I also deleted mine, since they were without context 

  3. if it is agreed that there is one 

  4. The fact that I even felt wronged may well be an indicator of that toxicity and my own part in its creation 

LINQ: Clarity, complexity, and understanding

This is part of a short series on the basics of LINQ:

At CareEvolution, we tend to develop using JavaScript on the front end, and C# on the back end (with some Python, PowerShell, CoffeeScript, R, SQL, and other languages thrown in when appropriate or technical debt dictates). We have hackathons every eight weeks where we get to be creative without the constraints of day-to-day work. We have a brown bag lunch talk every Wednesday. We work hard at embracing change, exploring new ways of doing things, and sharing what we have learned with each other. Quite often, leading figures in a particular technology emerge within our organisation: Brian knows JavaScript, Chris knows CSS, Brad knows SQL. While I doubt I know even half of the things about LINQ and its various implementations for database, Web API, or file interaction, I know enough to make it useful in my day to day work and I seem to be the one that employs it most in their code. I know LINQ.

I am certain this is going to sound familiar to many, but while my colleagues and I embrace all things as a collective, quite often a specific technology or its use will be avoided, derided, and hated by some. Whether driven by ignorance, a particular terrible experience, or prejudice1, these deep-seated feelings can create conflict and occasionally hinder progress. For me, my use of LINQ has been a cause for contention during code reviews. I have faced comments like "LINQ is too hard to understand", "loops are clearer", "it's too easy to get burned using LINQ", and "I don't know how to use it so I'd prefer not to see it". And that's all true; LINQ can be confusing, it can be complicated, it can be a debugging nightmare. LINQ can suck. Whether you use the C# language keywords or the dot notation (a debate almost as passionate as tabs versus spaces), LINQ can tie you up in knots and leave you wondering what you did to deserve this fresh hell. Yet any technology could be described the same way when one doesn't know anything about it or when early mistakes have left a bitter aftertaste.

Tabs vs Spaces

In response to these dissenting voices, I usually indicate the years of academic learning and professional experience it takes us to learn how to code at all. None of it is particularly easy and straightforward without some education. Don't believe me? Go stick your mum or dad in front of Visual Studio and, assuming they have never learned anything about C# or programming, see how far they get on writing Hello World without your help. Without educational instruction, we would not know any of it and LINQ is no different. When review comments inevitably request that I change my code to use less LINQ, none at all, or more understood language features like foreach and while loops, it frustrates me. It frustrates me because I usually feel that LINQ was the right choice for the job. I feel like I am being told, "use something I already know so I don't have to learn."

Of course, this interpretation is hyperbole. In actuality, when presented with opposing views to our own, it is easy to commit the black or white fallacy and assume one must be right and the other wrong, when really we should accept that we both may have a point (or neither) and learn more about the opposing view. Since I find, when used appropriately, LINQ can provide the best, most sublime, most elegant solution to problems that require the manipulation of collections in C#, I desperately want others to see that. It is as much on me as anyone else to try and correct for the disparity between what I see and what others see when I write LINQ. So, with my next post we will begin a journey into the basics of LINQ, when to use it2, when to use dot notation over language keywords (or vice versa), and how to avoid some of the more common traps. We will begin with the cause of many confusing experiences; deferred execution.


  1. we all know someone in the "That's new, I hate it" crowd 

  2. even I recognize LINQ is not a golden hammer; it's more of a chainsaw that kicks a little