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My favourite thing about SF is the 'professional' requirement. I think it's unique in that respect, in that I can't think of another technical Q&A site that has both critical mass and such a strict rule as to the types of questions that can be asked.

It seems to me that we should demand the same behaviour of ourselves when answering questions as when asking them; in other words, we should treat professionals in a professional manner. Without pointing the finger, I've seen too many instances (mainly in comments to questions) where the questioner is berated in rude and disrespectful terms, where all they've done is missed out a bit of information, very possibly by accident. Questioners shouldn't need a thick skin to participate here.

My question is: should SF go further than the 'be nice' requirement and, if so, what should the rule look like? I would argue that the answer is 'yes'. SF is different from other SO sites in requiring its questioners to be practitioners. In my opinion SF's community standards should reflect this.

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    Taking what you say literally, first people need to demonstrate that they are professionals within the scope of SF. The vast majority of OPs (I would argue) are not so are therefore fair game ;) – user9517 Sep 5 '13 at 11:50
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    From the Mod point of view, to be clear: We don't see everything that happens on the site. If you see someone acting "out of line" please flag it! We can't be omniscient, we need your help. – Chris S Sep 5 '13 at 13:17
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    I'd say you need a thick skin to interact with the internet in general. – Tom O'Connor Sep 5 '13 at 13:43
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    @TomO'Connor There's certainly a lot of thick people asking questions. – Dan Sep 5 '13 at 14:16
  • Is there a particular incident or set of incidents you would especially like to call attention to? – voretaq7 Sep 5 '13 at 15:21
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    Do you have any concrete examples you can link to which outline what you're speaking about? I don't doubt you, but it's very difficult to address this sort of thing in the abstract. – MDMarra Sep 5 '13 at 15:43
  • HopelessN00b hasn't been posting comments in quite some time...why bring this up now? ;) – TheCleaner Sep 6 '13 at 18:11
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I don't think there is any particular need to address that beyond the general requirement to be nice. In this field, as with many others, beneath the professional tone used at work, there are often a lot of sharp edges anyway, and being frank is a lot less passive-aggressive.

In many of the cases that someone has been berated, especially the higher-profile ones seen lately, it's been because the questioner is claiming to be a professional and yet shows more than a couple of these things:

  • Unwillingness to learn, or to accept nontrivial solutions or change approach
  • Demand for handholding and step by step, to the point where we are doing their job for them for free
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Clear evidence that they are not even remotely qualified to do what they are doing, far beyond what might be reasonable for a professional approaching a new problem or technology; a total lack of basic prerequisite knowledge

If someone demonstrates just one of these, they are likely to get some gentle prodding, from "I don't think you quite understand; read this" to "you should really think about hiring someone to take care of this". That's quite professional.

If someone demonstrates a couple or all of these, it's abundantly clear that this is not the place for them. Not only that, but a knowledgeable professional whose job is constantly made difficult by such people and who is often obliged to pretend to be nice to them has every right to be irritated at their attitude and say something.

While we should all certainly endeavour to be nice, charlatans are annoying, and it isn't clear what benefit accrues either to the community or us individually from humouring them.

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  • I agree to a point, but I do think that we should give the benefit of the doubt wherever possible. Sometimes a questioner is clearly doing something very strange (e.g. with a really old/unsupported version of software), and with no evidence to the contrary we should assume that they have good reasons for doing it. – Flup Sep 5 '13 at 13:44
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    Sorry to say, but having an expectation that people will help you figure out how to develop and deploy a new application on a 12 year old version of Linux is just ridiculous. – Magellan Sep 5 '13 at 15:18
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    @Flup If we have no evidence to the contrary we should assume they want to follow something resembling best current practices. If someone has a real, valid reason for doing something terrible it's their obligation to tell us why they feel they're stuck in that situation (e.g. "We have to use Windows 3.1 because our crappy SCADA system only runs on that.") -- maybe we can offer them decent alternatives they haven't thought of. – voretaq7 Sep 6 '13 at 15:41
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I can be horrible to lazy idiots, just nasty, I know this and I know I'm wrong - but I can spot a pro from a mile away and will always respect them, in fact I quite often comment to them how good their questions or answers are.

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    Just a thought - maybe nobody should be horrible to anybody. – platforms Sep 14 '13 at 15:45
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    @platforms - you say that like I have a choice... – Chopper3 Sep 14 '13 at 18:22
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    @platforms - No-- I'd argue that being horrible to be people who deserve it is a good thing. A little less "tolerance" of charlatans, in general, would be a good thing to me. – Evan Anderson Sep 17 '13 at 15:21
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    Just so I understand, by "charlatans" you mean non-pros asking questions in a pro forum? – platforms Sep 17 '13 at 16:36
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I agree that people should not need an (especially) thick skin to participate on Server Fault -- We should strive to be a welcoming place for all competent professionals that fit our target audience (obligatory reference to pretty chart).


In regard to comportment, the general rule for the main site (http://serverfault.com) is that it's the site's "office". You are expected to conduct yourself with a level of professionalism appropriate to a corporate/office environment with customers walking around, and we expect that participants on the site will treat each other with the same respect as they would a colleague.

Basically that means you can't swear, insult people's parentage, or call people names, and we expect that if you're going to answer the question your answer have the intent to help constructively resolve the problem being described (e.g. we have an absolute zero-tolerance policy for "destructive pranks" like posting rm -rf /* as an answer - that's a bannin').

It does not mean that we are obligated to be obsequious buffoons and try to help everyone no matter how poorly constructed their question, nor does it mean telling someone "You're doing it Wrong!", "Don't do that!", or "This is a stupid idea!" is verboten - telling people when we think they're wrong is important, otherwise they keep doing bad things.

We shouldn't be deliberately mean when telling someone they're Doing It Wrong, but neither should we pull punches to spare their feelings at the expense of their professional competence (or worse, their production environment's stability) -- As professionals we have an obligation to point out when someone is doing something bad, and to advise them not to do so.

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  • All agreed, but I'd like to emphasize one thing, which is the word "colleague" rather than "client". Generally, colleagues are allowed to demand a lot less and get humoured a lot less than clients. Our goal is to build useful reference information, more than to make the asker happy. – Falcon Momot Sep 5 '13 at 16:00
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    @FalconMomot absolutely. Treat people on the site like they're your co-workers, but as if a client is in earshot. (I might tell my colleagues "How the hell did you do this? Were you DRUNK?!?" when there are no clients in the building, but it wouldn't do for the folks who pay the bills to hear us talking like that...) – voretaq7 Sep 5 '13 at 16:03
  • Agreed. A level of tact is never a bad thing - "Maybe this isn't the best way to go, may I suggest blah blah blah" vs "You're doing it wrong!" – Aaron Mason Sep 6 '13 at 5:59
  • @AaronMason Tact is often overrated and overvalued. Sometimes a "maybe" is appropriate, but frequently it's not: I'm not going to mince words and pretend that 15 year old Unix, using telnet for management, configured so root can log in remotely without a password, plugged into the public internet is ever acceptable - there's no "maybe", it's simply Bad And Wrong. Like I said above, I'm not one to spare feelings at the cost of allowing bad things to be done to good computers - you'll find people on both sides of that personality divide on Server Fault though. – voretaq7 Sep 6 '13 at 15:46
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    +1 - not for your answer, but for using comportment and obsequious. – TheCleaner Sep 6 '13 at 18:14
  • @TheCleaner I have to break out the five-dollar words occasionally or people forget the time the CS department staged a hostile takeover of the English department's Chaucer class... – voretaq7 Sep 6 '13 at 19:03
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    @voretaq7 I see what you're saying, but one can apply tact when explaining that what they are doing is bad and wrong. In that situation, I would very calmly point out what a bad idea it is from a security standpoint and point them in the direction of the Right Way(tm). I wouldn't tell them outright because that would rob them of a valuable learning opportunity - but then so would just flatly saying "YOU ARE WRONG!" in my view. – Aaron Mason Sep 9 '13 at 0:11

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