Beginners Not Yet Welcome

Joel Spolsky recently tweeted a message about some phrasing in a question that was a strong indicator that the question was inappropriate for Stack Overflow.

to my surprise, this elicited some strong reactions from other developers chastising him for turning away beginners from the site.

Here's the thing about Stack Overflow:

Beginners are not welcome…yet.

See, I'd hate to turn new developers away with them feeling resentment toward the community, but it's also important that they understand that Stack Overflow was not designed for the problem they're currently facing, which is typically:

How do I become programming literate?

Joel's tweet spoke to me as the standard "Sorry, wrong number" response.

Others found it rude…

…or commented on how elitist it was…

…but I think they're missing the point.

When it comes to asking on Stack Overflow, we don't want to tell beginners "Go away, and don't come back!", instead the message is:

"Go away and come back after you've mastered the basics."

I attempted to make the point with a terse analogy of "Librarians don't teach literacy".

…but in my haste to make the point I overlooked the ambiguity (and, let's face it, librarians do teach literacy for many topics so there's my foot in my mouth and me wishing for the millionth time that twitter had editing functionality). What I should have probably said was something along the lines of "Libraries are not useful to the illiterate". In any event, consulting a librarian is not what I would consider the right choice for someone who is illiterate and can't read at all.

Libraries are largely useless if you don't have the necessary baseline knowledge of how to read and write the alphabet.

Stack Overflow is largely useless if you don't have the necessary baseline knowledge of how to read and write code.

With that all said, please do learn to program if it's something you find interesting.

There are so many better resources online for getting started as a programmer it would be a massive disservice to point beginners at Stack Overflow.

And once you've learned the basics: if you have any specific answerable questions that you've thoroughly researched, please ask them on Stack Overflow.