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When using ServerFault, I approach it from the perspective of a professional resource. I use it to to provide solutions and see solutions provided to professionals. Specifically from the FAQ:

Server Fault is for system administrators and IT professionals, people who manage or maintain computers in a professional capacity

If it were not a professional resource, I would not be here.

A recent post had several comments encouraging catering to beginners regarding a question that would be posed by an average end-user and could arguably belong on Superuser.

My question is: Are we going to pander to people who are asking general questions and are not knowledgeable about technology or the industry?

11 Answers 11

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I am going to try to summarize what I am reading here...

From what I can tell the way most people are evaluating questions is by categorizing the person based on the question. Some of the common categories of people (not including stuff that just has to be moved to super user):

  • Professional System Administrators
  • Beginner System Administrators and Students
  • Developers who are also System Administrators in a Professional Capacity
  • Developers who need support getting their development environment Up
  • Developers who need support getting their LAMP environment Up ASAP.

Here is what I gather we think about these categories:

Professional System Administrators:
Awesome, we want more of you. We are very welcome to basic level questions from you because of you ability to contribute in other areas. You also speak the "language" and will be easy to help. Your basic questions will likely become canonical answers useful to others.

Beginner System Administrators and Students:
We all started out at some point and you are welcome. You must be willing to try to ask questions well (to the best of your ability within your English language ability). It should seem your goal is to learn and not for us to do your homework for you.

Developers who are also System Administrators in a Professional Capacity:
These people are trying to do the job right and are also trying to learn to some extent. We expect that you have put in effort to learn and solve the problem. Essentially you are the same as Beginner system administrators except your long term goals are different and you probably have more fundamental computer knowledge. In general these sort of people are welcome.

Developers who need support getting their development environment up:
Their goal is to get a basic environment up that they can develop on and are not concerned about things like security. In generally we really are just are not interested although if the problem is interesting and not super basic it is possible we might be.

Developers who need support getting their LAMP environment up ASAP:
Again no concern for learning or doing it right. Not willing to do their own homework. Please, please, just go away. These people are the same as "Please kindly give me the codes".

Conclusion:
The summary of all this is that we are community of professional system administrators for other system administrators. We want to improve ourselves and our field as a whole through this community. We are not just free labor. So as a community we should work together to make sure the perception we give is in line with the purpose of this community.



Although that question is basic -- it is conceivable to me that many professionals might not know this. They might be trying to administer a unix box for the first time and are just confused by not having any numbers in there. I can see someone new typing man crontab, not knowing that the man pages have sections, see no asterisks and giving up. Therefore I make the personal decision not to move it.

The question also isn't terrible since the person bothered to use punctuation, the shift key, code tags etc...

The idea is that questions that are relevant to system administration and have a straight forward answer to someone will likely be useful to others in the future even if they are basic. It hopefully will only ever be asked once and it becomes the canonical answer.

The famous question on stackoverflow relating to this for programmers is Joel's "How do I move the turtle in Logo?" and it is talked about in this stackoverflow meta post. In podcast 58, if I remember correctly, Joel is more for basic fundamental questions being okay to be asked once than Jeff was.

Ultimately the decision must be made by the community itself. Now that I am a moderator, I only cast a vote to move a question if I am very confidant that everyone will agree (hopefully get that right -- yell at me in meta if I don't). It takes five close votes to move the question and this is how the community can direct where the line is drawn. This system also makes the community flexible over time. As the question base grows more questions should get closed as duplicates. However, I think discussion of this on meta is a great idea as well.


Here is how I look at citing manual pages in particular:

Worst thing to do -- Server Fault Aims to stop this:
RTFM YOU IDIOT!

Better:
Insert Direct Answer Here.

This can be found in man blah

Best I can come up with:
A description of how to use the manual page system in *nix so they will be better equipped to professional solve problems. This is how I addressed your particular sample question.

Am I still missing your point?:
I still feel I might be missing your bigger point about pandering and/or spoon feeding. If you or anyone else has a chance to get some links to questions on this topic it might help define the concern a little bit more. I think I see your concern about the site not satisfying more professional and advanced users and that it certainly something we can use our new meta site to try figure out.

  • I totally agree in regards to relocating the post, which as you can see has 0 votes to relocate. I did not vote to relocate either. I am more concerned about the perception in regards to catering to beginners, as that is not something the site is for in my mind. Referencing the appropriate documentation in part of the answer is something any professional should be able to comprehend. – Warner Jul 23 '10 at 17:25
  • @Warner: I think I see what you are talking about now. I edited the top answer to what I think is ideal. – Kyle Brandt Jul 23 '10 at 17:37
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    @Warner: Despite the mumblety-something years I've been doing this, every day I'm a rank beginner at some new thing. Otherwise, it's no fun. Regarding documentation: Man pages are like child's-play for me (except for rsync ;-) ). For others they are a wall of disorganized gibberish. I find Python documentation to be very well done, but a bit overly formal. Now I'm dabbling a bit in Ruby. Its documentation is organized in an entirely different manner. I'm struggling a bit to find what I'm looking for, but I'm good at parsing docs. Not everyone is. – Dennis Williamson Jul 23 '10 at 17:50
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    Perhaps we should have a series of questions regarding comprehending documentation (not "understanding" it, rather "using it comprehensively" if that makes any sense). More generally, regarding the role of SF, I certainly see it as a site for professional problem solving, but I very strongly think that it can serve as a source of education as well. – Dennis Williamson Jul 23 '10 at 17:57
  • @Dennis try man mdadm some time ;) – Andrew Jul 24 '10 at 14:11
  • @Andrew: It's definitely a thick one, but rsync is twice as long and with fewer "signposts". man find is about the same length as man mdadm. – Dennis Williamson Jul 24 '10 at 17:23
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    Becoming contentious about reference to documentation is alienating the fundamentals of our very profession. Reading comprehension is absolutely essential to being successful as an IT professional. With that in mind, I agree with your point, Kyle, as reference to documentation without in answer is in direct conflict of the purpose of the SE platform. I try to maintain a healthy balance, as I am unwilling to help those who will not help themselves in the process. – Warner Jul 24 '10 at 17:37
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    My point is essentially focused around the perception of the major contributors to SF as well as the specific wording of the FAQ. As I see it perception, behavior, and policy (the FAQ) do not appear to be well aligned. This is fundamentally not a beginner site yet we appear to be encouraging beginner behavior. – Warner Jul 24 '10 at 17:39
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    On a releated note, maybe someone should ask a CW question about how man pages work, what the various sections are, how they are organized and so on. A good question about man pages would be useful to link to. – Zoredache Jul 26 '10 at 16:51
  • @Zoredache - great idea, and done! serverfault.com/questions/tagged?sort=info&tagnames=man however, I'm not a very good candidate to actually supply the content... ;) – Kara Marfia Jul 27 '10 at 14:43
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    I agree with Warner on this one. It seems questions phrased something akin to "spoon feed me on this topic now!" get answers that do just that, step by step direction for people who have no technical skills at all. I think you side-stepped his point when you pulled out the "best possible answer" which is exactly how we should be answering well worded newbie questions. – Chris S Jul 27 '10 at 18:01
  • @Zoredache - CW question about how to grok man pages - go fill it in. – Hamish Downer Aug 12 '10 at 13:35
  • @KyleBrandt I strongly agree with you 100%, I also believe that the question of Warner, is somewhat valid. But I think a professional in any field need to know to answer questions of any level. if the questions are related to the topic of this network, there not are questions of series A or of series B , but yes! there are bad answers. – RTOSkit Jan 19 '13 at 10:14
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Kyle already nailed 90% of what I wanted to say. As for the rest... Every professional was a beginner at some point. I like the [beginner] tag for this purpose, because it lets the poster (or editor) acknowledge that it's a beginner-level question in that area.

There are networking masters who need to ask a basic Windows server question from time to time - and vice versa. I think SF is the perfect arena for those situations. It also allows the tag to be ignored wholesale if an individual finds it aggrivating.

The self-serving side of this issue is also that the more broad and basic the question, the more traffic it brings to the site. The larger the community, the more collective knowledge we have, and the better chance my obscure question has of being answered (that last bit relies on effective architecture & community moderation of the site, but that's getting kinda meta-meta).

I'm a HUGE fan of well-phrased & researched beginner questions. I upvote them, and the well-thought answers they sometimes receive, whenever I see them.

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    I also think although the question is basic sometimes it is also fundamental. Re-articulating something fundamental in a deep way (going into it implications) can result in better answers than maybe the first google hits already out there. It also can help the person who answers the question to always review and revisit the fundamentals. – Kyle Brandt Jul 24 '10 at 14:19
  • I wholeheartedly agree and often find value with questions relating the fundamentals that a professional or entry level person is otherwise ignorant about. I found the question regarding twisted pairs particularly interesting. My exception comes with the use of beginner, which I find in conflict with the concept of a professional. Certainly experts and professionals can have less knowledge in a subject matter outside of their professional focus. I maintain that beginner questions have little value for Server Fault, as they easily fall under the Superuser umbrella. Again, I cite the FAQ. – Warner Jul 24 '10 at 17:48
  • One of the defining differences I find between an entry level IT person and someone who is seeking for information in the wrong place is the language. Is what they're doing within the scope of what we do? Helpdesk != SF. Fixing Outlook without it being related to Exchange's operation is simply unrelated, IMO. – Warner Jul 24 '10 at 17:50
  • I have two problems with the [beginner] tag. First, it adds no meaning to the question - there is no standard definition of what makes something a beginner question (although some are obvious). Second, how do you define other levels of difficulty (there's more than just beginner and non-beginner) and where do you draw the lines? – Thomas Owens Jul 26 '10 at 1:55
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    I disagree that beginner and professional are mutually exclusive. I've met extremely professional beginners and outrageously unprofessional IT veterans. The motivated and curious beginner gets a lot of respect from me - as do the people who take the time to mentor them. – Kara Marfia Jul 26 '10 at 21:09
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I have mixed feelings on this. There are some beginner level questions being asked by professionals who are working in an area outside their comfort zone. I don't downvote such questions unless they are just plain poorly written. I believe this question to be an example, although whether that is really a system administration issue or not is a whole other matter.

Where I do readily downvote and/or vote to either move or close, is where it is clear that the poster is NOT an IT professional. Certainly not as per the FAQ description. Moreover, I believe that any upvotes given to questions that are later moved or closed should be removed and the rep adjusted accordingly.

A case in point is this question. What sort of IT professional, in any area whatsoever, would think that question is so good as to warrant an upvote? Yet when I first saw it there were already four upvotes. I realise the question originated on SO but even a hobby level programmer should know better than to upvote such a question.

In my opinion the value of Server Fault as a tool for professionals is seriously restricted by having to sift through the dross of inappropriate questions, which for some strange reason tend to come in batches. More than once I've considered abandoning the site for this very reason. Unlike the sister sites SF supposedly is NOT for hobbyists, so why are they being encouraged to stay?

Karla is correct - at some point we were all beginners - but I can't see what that matters. Had SF existed back before I started working as an IT professional I would not have considered it the appropriate place to post my newbie questions. There's a whole Internet full of more appropriate sites.

  • Regarding the 80 vs 8080 question ... what editing the question to be something like "What are the common use cases of using port 8080 instead of 80?". I have been thinking the editing of bad questions to something better that would still likely have the answer the person wants might vastly help this problem. What you all think of trying this out for a while? (those of us with enough rep and patience/time :-) ) – Kyle Brandt Jul 24 '10 at 13:14
  • "There's a whole Internet full of more appropriate sites." - like the Wikipedia reference desk! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Reference_desk – Andrew Jul 24 '10 at 14:05
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    While I disagree with your trigger finger on the down-votes, I often agree with your behavior on SF. =) I agree with everything you say here. The weekend is especially bad as well as outside of business hours, where these batches of questions seem to come in mass. If we do not keep the moderation to point, I seriously believe that the noise will outweigh the signal more quickly on this site than others. The perceptions of end-users and even developers regarding IT professionals are not well aligned with what we do, which is exampled well in migrations and postings. – Warner Jul 24 '10 at 17:43
  • @Kyle, your idea has merit, in the case of the 80/8080 question, of the several possible interpretations of the question I don't know which one the OP might have been intending, so an edit might not have the results you are looking for. @Warner, I tend to be harsh on poor questions even more so than poor answers, as the questions sets the framework. I believe that a downvote should be given as readily as an upvote if it is deserved. That's my view and I'm not asking anyone else to agree with it. On the plus side, I don't think I've ever used more than 5 or 6 votes in total on a single day. – John Gardeniers Jul 25 '10 at 18:37
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    @kyle I'm leery of rewriting questions markedly away from the original intent of the asker. Copy-editing? I do that all the time. I just have a hard time using my awesome editorial powers to redo someone's question. But you're right, some questions would be made less wince-worthy by some judicious editing for concept. – sysadmin1138 Jul 26 '10 at 17:57
  • I've also been reluctant to drastically edit questions, but it might be worth a try to see how much time it takes and if they get answers. OTOH, I'm not sure exactly how to make this a reasonable question: serverfault.com/questions/164199/… – Ward Jul 26 '10 at 19:07
  • @sysadmin1138: Yes I think maybe we can ask ourselves: "Can this be salvaged?". I think the one Ward just linked to is "No, not in my mind". I understand you don't want to destroy the intent of a question which was what I used to be thinking. But now I think "If the question is mostly junk and is going to get closed anyways, what is the harm?". The person can always edit it back if they feel it has lost the intent. They might even just edit it back partly and in the end we get good questions people want to answer.. I am going to start a new "thread" on this I think. – Kyle Brandt Jul 26 '10 at 21:09
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I think that as long as the question is from a system admin perspective, then it should be fine for Server Fault. Server Fault is a great resource for the new System Administrator, and it would be a shame to run those people off just because they aren't yet knowledgeable in the field. We should be setting an example of how to answer basic questions without being jerks, in the hopes that they will follow our example.

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    And by system administrator, I do hope you mean people who perform system administration tasks outside of work. I'm not trained or educated as a system administrator, but I run my own development servers and network for personal development and I feel I should be able to leverage and learn from this community of people. I'll never be any more than an novice or an intermediate in this field, but that doesn't mean I can't ask good questions and learn from people who are advanced or experts. – Thomas Owens Jul 26 '10 at 1:32
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    Running MySQL on a Windows 7 workstation is not a system administration task, Thomas. – Warner Jul 26 '10 at 4:37
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    @Thomas - Server Fault is for "people who manage or maintain computers in a professional capacity" (my italics). If you have a question about administering your home system it should go on Server Fault. There shouldn't be anything stopping you posting answers here, but questions should be from people doing systems administration as their job. – ChrisF Jul 26 '10 at 13:53
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    Of course by "Server Fault" - I meant "Super User". Too many web sites beginning with "S". – ChrisF Jul 26 '10 at 14:15
  • e.g. Questions about networking have and will be migrated to SF from SU regardless of whether it's personal or business hardware. If the poster can't determine where that line is, it's ok - that's why they implemented cross-site migration in the first place. – Kara Marfia Jul 26 '10 at 21:02
  • @Thomas, the trick to making a site like SF useful to people in your situation is to phrase questions in a manner that doesn't expose the fact that you're not a professional admin. Word the question to at least imply it's about your business network and people will answer and treat it accordingly. Make it obvious that it's a home network and you can expect to to get migrated. – John Gardeniers Jul 28 '10 at 1:13
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On the one hand, I mostly agree with Warner and John that it would be better for SF to be questions from professionals about managing computers.

On the other hand, apparently my instinct is to consider networking questions, even if they're badly phrased and from someone who's lost or clearly pertaining to a home network as "professional." Maybe I should quit answering things late at night...

Thinking about it now, both of those questions are probably bad, but you could have beginner questions that cover the same material, e.g. someone from a small company that used to outsource email and now wants to bring it in. That sort of beginner question should stay, but I think I'll go and cast the final close vote on that goofy private address space question.

EDIT: The message that shows up now that that question's been migrated sort-of confirms my feeling that SU isn't the right place for networking questions:

This question is related to computer hardware or computer software in general, and is a better fit for Super User

  • @Ward: See my comment above regarding the first question you posted... An edit of the question might have improved it a lot... – Kyle Brandt Jul 24 '10 at 13:16
  • There's a few of those sort of questions going around at the moment. Is "have you tried reading a book on <topic>" an acceptable answer for some of the "basic" stuff? – Andrew Jul 24 '10 at 14:06
  • @Andrew: I don't think it really is an acceptable answer -- it feels like RTF(antastic)M to me. I however do think answering their question followed by a specific book recommendation or recommendations is. Struggling to articulate what makes those two approaches so fundamentally different at this moment ... but does that make sense? – Kyle Brandt Jul 24 '10 at 14:15
  • @Kyle I think so - as John Gardeniers said meta.serverfault.com/questions/465/perception-of-purpose/…, "where it is clear that the poster is NOT an IT professional" gives a perception of "person was too lazy to use a search engine and wants to be spoon fed". (Still can't get markup to work in comments.) Ok, so difference between "read a book" and "here's the answer, btw. good books are XYZ" is that you'll give the second in answer to a question "I've been trying to work out X", the first in answer to "what is an X and how does it work". – Andrew Jul 24 '10 at 14:44
  • Maybe you just like networking, Ward. =) – Warner Jul 24 '10 at 17:47
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    @Ward, network certainly is an appropriate subject for SF. The IT professionals for who Server Fault exists would not ask a question such as the one you linked to because it is required knowledge for any of us working in any part of the industry. Little Freddy wanting to network his Xbox and his sister's Mac is not the same thing as a professional trying to work out some tricky VLAN configuration, yet both are networking questions. One is SF material, one is not. – John Gardeniers Jul 25 '10 at 18:53
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I addressed this on the old meta in reply to Jeff Atwood, but I believe Server Fault got off to a bad start because of its association with Stack Overflow. It essentially became the place where programmers ask sysadmin questions.

Sure we were all beginners once, and everyone has to start somewhere. But it is obvious by the voting on the site that difficult or specialized questions & answers are not rewarded. Why, because a huge population of the site doesn't understand them. On the hand, ask an extremely basic crontab question and it gets all sorts of traffic.

The problem is, I don't know how you break out of the mold of being a LAMP support site.

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    Good point. My own voting pattern is affected by not necessarily being able to recognise a good answer because of my own limited knowledge in a particular part of the field. Bad questions and answers tend to be much easier to spot. My own questions have each received very few answers and votes, even when they've carried bounties, which tells me that at least they are not newbie questions. ;) – John Gardeniers Jul 25 '10 at 19:00
  • I have absolutely zero experience with PHP or supporting PHP applications, which is why I ignore that tag. This means a good chunk of questions are invisible to me. I've also experienced the same, 'specialist answers get 1-2 upvotes, but generalist answers get 10s of them,' phenomena myself. People read the tags they understand. In the public beta phase of SF, it was clear people were reading everything. As traffic increased, people started reading (and upvoting) much lower percentages of posts. – sysadmin1138 Jul 26 '10 at 17:40
  • I don't ignore anything. – Warner Jul 26 '10 at 17:45
  • Back in Oct/Nov 2009 when there were a few threads about "how to grow, improve SF," (including yours, when you were DLux) one of the things I commented on was that meta.SO didn't work as a place for SFers to discuss meta since it was dominated by SOers. Maybe now that meta.SF exists, it will be possible for SF to define itself in a way that isn't dominated by programmers. – Ward Jul 26 '10 at 19:02
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I think the crontab question is fine. As Kara says, everyone is new to something. I'm a somewhat experienced Linux admin, but if I suddenly had to admin a Windows box I'd be on ServerFault asking some pretty basic questions (once I'd tried google of course).

Maybe we should use the beginner tag a lot more aggressively (ie add that tag to lots of basic questions) and then those who aren't interested can ignore that tag. Defining the scope of the beginner tag would be an interesting exercise of course ... Or maybe there should be a new tag like "basic" or something.

Overall I would be sad to see beginner questions go. I started getting involved in sys admin as a volunteer helping other projects, and Server Fault would have been a wonderful resource at that time, and the things I was doing don't really seem a good fit with my understanding of what Super User is for. Unless there is to a re-alignment of the purpose of Super User to cover basic Sys Admin I think the questions should stay.

  • I don't like the concept of a beginner tag. Like you said, I could have 10 years of administrating Linux systems and then move to a Windows system. Also, "beginner" isn't a well-defined word (where do you draw the line between beginner, intermediate, and advanced?). It also has no semantic meaning - it doesn't doesn't describe the content of the question at all. – Thomas Owens Jul 26 '10 at 1:35
  • @Thomas: maybe we could have a series of "basic-xyz" tags then. [basic-windows-server] [basic-lamp] ... Then you could ignore basic-lamp, or even basic-* But that is getting a bit harder to decide the appropriate tags. – Hamish Downer Aug 12 '10 at 13:15
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I'm starting to think that "purpose" does not necessarily mean "what level of knowledge do we expect", or Server Fault would be useless as a comprehensive resource - there should be room for everything in the field of system administration.

What people do object to are poorly asked questions; advising people on how to ask questions the smart way seems to be less and less common. The most basic of questions will get good answers if asked correctly; any question will get bad answers (or no answers at all) if asked poorly.

2

Are we going to pander to people who are asking general questions and are not knowledgeable about technology or the industry?

One thing to remember about these types of questions is some cases simple questions are easier to find in Google search results. If we want to grow the community we need as much Google juice as we can getting new users onto the serverfault site.

If you remember back from the stackoverflow podcasts this was discussed during the episode that spawned the question How do I move the turtle in LOGO? The vast majority of develoeprs could figure out how to move the turtle, and the language is considered more of a toy then professional language, but it is also a pretty popular question.

In another podcast Joel encouraged (ref) users to add lots of basic programming questions because they may bring in more users.

Having basic questions is not a bad thing in my opinion. At least as long as they are related to field of system/network administration.

"No Question Too Newbie" - Are You Sure?

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I'd just like to expand on a comment I just left:

Server Fault is for "people who manage or maintain computers in a professional capacity" (my italics). If you have a question about administering your home system it should go on Super User. There shouldn't be anything stopping you posting answers here, but questions should be from people doing systems administration as their job.

  1. I would hope that answers from an informed user (such as myself) would be acceptable, after all we have to work with the systems and procedures that the sys admins come up with and have an understanding of how the systems work. For example if I saw a question about limiting users access I'd want to feel I could answer that developers need more access to machines than office workers and give reasons.

  2. In a lot of startups and small companies a developer is the systems administrator. It's not ideal, but it's the way the world works. It's not their main area of responsibility but it is their job and they will ask the "stupid"/beginner/fundamentals question because they have no one else to turn to.

  • In regards to 1, assuming the question was articulate, I see no issue with a person who is subject to IT policies asking for clarification from SF. I have seen those come up a couple times but I forget how they were handled-- I may have answered one myself. – Warner Jul 26 '10 at 14:12
  • In regards to 2, if system administration is their job and the question they have is in scope of system administration, there usually is not much contention. – Warner Jul 26 '10 at 14:15
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I would like to throw my two cents in on a few things.

Let's start with the matter of ServerFault being a "developer support" site. At work, I am a software engineer. There, system administrators and IT staff are available if I have problems with the servers or even with my development environment (such as a local development server environment). Their job is to make sure that I can get my job done and help me maintain my local environment as well as the development servers and production servers. At home, however, I am not only a software engineer, but also the system administrator, IT staff, and end user. There are times when I am at home, working on a project, and have an IT or system administration problem - when such a problem arises, I should be able to turn to the experts in the field, who should be found at ServerFault.

I think the second, and potentially bigger, problem is defining what ServerFault and SuperUser are and what their relationship is. For StackOverflow, it's pretty easy to define what is a programming question - if it's related to code or the tools I use to write code, it's an on-topic question. But when it comes to ServerFault and SuperUser, it's harder. My personal rule-of-thumb is to ask myself what types of technology are at play. I define ServerFault as being the "professional" and "enterprise" site - if I'm doing work and have a problem or question that relates to my ability to get work done when using a professional or enterprise capable application or piece of hardware, it's a ServerFault question. Tools that I use that I would go to ServerFault to ask about include Apache HTTP Server, MySQL Server, Postgres installations, my Subversion server (potentially also on StackOverflow, depending on where the problem lies - administration of the server or actually using SVN), Microsoft SQL Server (although questions about writing applications using it would go to Stack Overflow), IIS Server, and Virtual Machines. I would go to SuperUser to ask about other "office-style" applications - 7Zip, uTorrent, Dia, GIMP, my web browser, Microsoft Office, and OpenOffice.org. A few topics, however, overlap - an enterprise network and a home network are very similar, but have very different administrative and technical backbones so should be split up across both sites depending on how the network is being deployed.

My concern is that I should be able to ask questions on the appropriate site, regardless of how complicated they are. If it's an IT or system administration question that comes up when I'm wearing my "system administrator" hat (even if I'm at home working on one of my two development computers), I want to be able to ask everyone else who is wearing that hat - which means coming here to ServerFault. If I have a problem when wearing my "power user" or even just taking care of paperwork, I want to ask the super users on SuperUser. And if I have problems when serving in the capacity of a software engineer or programmer, I want to ask on StackOverflow. It's really that simple.

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    When you say "There are times when I am at home, working on a project, and have an IT or system administration problem - when such a problem arises, I should be able to turn to the experts in the field, who should be found at Server Fault." Is really not the point of these sites (not just Server Fault). These sites exist for the experts in the field to support other experts in their respective fields. Joel is more eloquent than I by far so I recommend his answer regarding a Stack Overflow like site for lawyers: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5533/proposal-for-a-law-se/… – Kyle Brandt Jul 25 '10 at 23:56
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    Also the role of system administrators has been different in my experience than what you suggest. Our job is generally to support the technology infrastructure of the company's mission. Often that does involve supporting the developers but the primary goal is to support the goal of the company. – Kyle Brandt Jul 25 '10 at 23:59
  • I disagree - I think that a Stack Exchange should be accessible to everyone with an interest in a particular area. Yes, you are going to have those questions that are of the expert level, but you also are going to have novice and intermediate questions. How else do you move up from a novice to an expert unless you can ask those questions? You don't. Joel's posting on that suggestion for lawyers is just wrong - sure, support the experts, but allow for well written, well thought out novice questions. – Thomas Owens Jul 26 '10 at 1:17
  • I just want to clarify that more: There are four groups of people that I've seen. The experts - the high-rep, core users (the "Jon Skeet"s of each exchange). The intermediates/advanceds - the middle rep users who make up the bulk of the regular users of an exchange. The novices - people who are in the process of learning the field, who typically answer more questions than provide answers but want to move up. The drive-bys - people who ask a few questions and move on. An Exchange should cater to the novices through experts - allowing people to collaborate regardless of skill level. – Thomas Owens Jul 26 '10 at 1:25
  • The way I see it, experts don't need the exchange. They already know most of what they need to know. The people who want to learn are the ones who need the exchange - the students, novices, and intermediates who want to become advanced or experts in a given field by interacting with and learning from those who are currently experts. – Thomas Owens Jul 26 '10 at 1:26
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    @Thomas Who is going to answer the novice questions if the site does not attract experts? My concern is that much of the activity on the site is not from professional sysadmins, but more people in your role. The result is that the activity on more technical/difficult questions is quite low and answers only come from the same dozen or so people. – Doug Luxem Jul 26 '10 at 1:39
  • You need to accept both groups of people. Apparently, more needs to be done to attract the more experienced system administrators (the advanced and expert groups), and that's not my concern - that's the job of the person Jeff and Joel appointed to oversee ServerFault and do what Jeff and Joel managed to do for StackOverflow. My concern is being able to ask my novice and intermediate system administration questions, getting answers, and learning. Right now, that's not happening. If StackOverflow can address everything from the students to the Jon Skeets, ServerFault can, and must, do so as well – Thomas Owens Jul 26 '10 at 2:03
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    @Thomas:"The way I see it, experts don't need the exchange. They already know most of what they need to know" - That is a pretty naive point of view. The more of an expert I become, the more I realize i don't know half of what I thought i knew. Also as I gain responsibilities, or move to new positions, I now need to learn new skills. You are never truly done learning. Now what SF strives to do to differentiate its self from say Yahoo!Answers is to cater to the experts specifically. Not to say we want to shun novices, but create a place where the hard questions can be asked and answered. – Zypher Jul 26 '10 at 2:36
  • My phrase "don't need" was a little extreme, yes. But really, the questions and answers should focus on the beginner, notice, intermediate, and advanced realms - the top experts in a given field probably aren't the ones browsing a Stack Exchange (asking questions or giving answers), but instead writing papers and books that the people here will read. You can't cater to the experts (and I mean the true experts - I'm not going to lie, you aren't an expert, at least in the sense that I'm using the word) because they aren't here. – Thomas Owens Jul 26 '10 at 2:48
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    You epitomize exactly what would drive me away from SF, Thomas. – Warner Jul 26 '10 at 4:41
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    "...because they aren't here." Yes, they are. Offhand, looking through the first page of users, I've seen answers from at least half of them that are unarguably expert. Well-written and demonstrating a thorough understanding of the topic. As I recall, Evan isn't interested in writing books, but if he were he could take some of his answers and make a chapter of a best-seller out of them. – Ward Jul 26 '10 at 6:20
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    @Thomas, on a site intended only for professional programmers, how welcome would a question about writing a "Hello world" program in BASIC be? SF should not be rendered useless by similar level questions in our field. If you have an IT problem at home either ask about it on an APPROPRIATE site or perhaps pay one of us to fix it for you. – John Gardeniers Jul 28 '10 at 1:24
  • John, I would welcome such a question because I don't differentiate between someone who is sitting at home doing their own thing and someone working in a corporate environment. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that it is my responsibility to help everyone that I can. My reaching out and helping everyone who needs it, I am helping that one person better understand how to design, build, deploy, and maintain software and therefore making my life easier. – Thomas Owens Jul 28 '10 at 10:24
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    Personally, I don't care whether a question is coming from someone "sitting at home" or from "a corporate environment". I make the call on answering (or voting to migrate) based on whether or not the question and my answer will, later on, be helpful to someone who is a professional sysadmin. If the question is something that likely would occur for someone in a professional capacity (with a basic professional skill-level) I'll happily answer. If the question is so basic as not to occur to someone who is a professional then I'm going to abstain from answering or vote to migrate. – Evan Anderson Jul 28 '10 at 21:03

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