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I like to post quite a lot of questions online, on Stack Exchange and other locations such as GitHub. Despite my best efforts to research before asking and to ask good questions, sometimes I feel that I have asked quite foolish ones. I also have a few questions in the past that seem fairly poor in retrospect.

As I tend to use my real identity to post these questions, could this reflect badly on me were a potential or existing employer to find them?

My hope is that as time passes, it would become clear that I have most likely learnt more and more since asking a question. How reasonable is it to expect an employer to make this assumption?

Secondly, I would hope that an employer would prefer someone who is willing to put themselves out there and learn from their mistakes, rather than pretend that they knew it all along. Again, is this a reasonable expectation?

Finally, if you are a potential employer, I hope that this question does not reflect badly on me!

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I think I should add a little more detail: one issue is that at the time you can feel you have put effort into researching a question before asking, but due to lack of knowledge you didn't actually do a good job of researching it. Later, the question seems trivial and you would know how to research it properly, but by then the question is already on your record. –  Hugh Mar 22 at 2:24
    
As a personal anecdote, I've asked relatively mundane basic C questions on stack overflow, and have answered a few as well. Not terribly many, but a good amount. I landed interviews with both google and amazon as a result of recruiters finding my stack overflow profile. –  kludgeypi May 29 at 19:14

10 Answers 10

up vote 75 down vote accepted

Personally, I think it shows career growth. You say you have done good research, shown your efforts (as sites like StackOverflow require), and learned from your mistakes. This is more valuable than being someone who doesn't know how to ask questions - which is an important skill in itself.

Firstly, everyone started somewhere, and showing that you are putting the effort in and learning on the way is very important.

Secondly, you should only want to work somewhere that values growth and the ability to ask the right questions. Have a little more confidence - the ability to search for what you need is a skill in itself - and start looking for employers that are worth your time and your effort, rather than being worried about those few who judge you based on your great ability to ask questions and learn.

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" you should only want to work somewhere..." Right. If people at a company you are applying for would make negative remarks about your questions, I would think twice about working there. –  Jan Doggen Mar 24 at 13:25
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I am a firm believer that any intelligent person would never consider any question to be stupid or damaging to the asker, hence, if an existing or potential employer uses your questions as a method of negative reflection upon you I would consider a move. There are however caveats such as confidentiality which you may have to consider. –  GMasucci Mar 24 at 14:08
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1. You can ask questions using a pseudonym, so it can't be traced back you. 2. If by not asking questions, you will learn more slowly, that will damage you professionally far more in the long run, especially in an IT field where speed of learning is key. –  pilavdzice Mar 24 at 16:30
    
@GMasucci: To highlight one caveat, if the OP posts an IP address, username and password to a site like SO when asking for help on database connections then I'd likely not hire them. This has nothing at all to do with the subject of the question and everything to do with whether they know what "confidential" means. –  Chris Lively Mar 24 at 16:44
    
Chris, I think I have missed your point here: what I was illustrating is that one can and should ask questions without penalty: as that is the mark of an inquisitive & growing mind; however, that some restraint would be required to ensure integrity in the manner of presentation, and security in preserving confidential details(these need not be passwords/usernames/ips, but could even be the mere mention of the project/problem at hand: a modicum of judgement would have to be applied to all posts in a public arena). The 2nd sentence in your post is the one that throws me a bit, seems superfluous? –  GMasucci Mar 24 at 17:02

The most important thing is the attitude displayed in asking the question. No reasonable employer is going to think less of you if you put in the effort to research an issue, then ask a well thought-out question based on your findings while treating other people with respect, even if the information you needed seems trivial in retrospect.

On the other hand, people who ask questions like this are likely to end up on a lot of employers' blacklists.

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Wow. I couldn't even bear to read all of that letter. –  Hugh Mar 21 at 11:40
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@JoeStrazzere Entry level questions are fine... Depends on context. I could be the best DBA in the world and need help with hello world in JavaScript. Professional demeanor and progress are what matters. –  WernerCD Mar 21 at 13:47
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Also, if you're the best DBA in the world a potential employer who cares enough to track down your questions might wonder why you're asking online for help with JavaScript "hello world" rather than being able to figure out the answers for yourself from a JavaScript book or tutorial. They won't necessarily come to a negative conclusion, but I reckon when the dreaded "what are your weaknesses" question comes up at interview, there's some risk in saying "I really struggle learning anything new from static resources, I need interactive coaching for the simplest tasks" ;-) –  Steve Jessop Mar 24 at 16:56

For the vast majority of people the answer is no. Asking questions, even those that seem obvious once you know the answer is not a bad thing. I know of no one who does this but if you were to ask 50 questions a day a prospective employer might want to know how you find time to ask so many, but I rarely see anyone ask more than one or two in any given day so that is not really an issue.

Occasionally we see a user that basically asks the same question over and over, trying to get an answer that is different, that they like. If I were to notice this type of activity on a prospective candidate I would probably ask them about it in the interview, and potentially if there are equally strong candidates besides them it would reduce their chances of getting to the interview or getting my recommendation to hire.

Of greater concern than questions, would be answers. If you are giving answers with advice that runs contrary to the culture that we strive to achieve at my company then I am definitely less likely to consider you. If your answers to my interview questions are not consistent with the answers you post here that is going to be a big red flag.

However most employers are not going to be looking here, most employers are not going to go to any significant effort to find out if your have an account here. If you have a concern that your questions or answers here could be a problem for you, simply do not provide your SE information to prospective employers. Unless they have the information provided it is very unlikely that they will make the connection between you and your SE Account.

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+1 for mentioning answers. –  Stephan Kolassa Mar 24 at 8:04
    
+1 for mentioning 'account here'. I feel that smart employers can still find out someone by his name or email, if at least one of them is provided in his account summary. –  shasi Mar 24 at 12:51

One way to look at this situation is to imagine ourselves in a real world seminar. We might want to impress others, may want to show off a bit in front of the speaker, so we think it certainly pay off to act smart, and it probably pay off if we're using the occasion to increase our network or want to fit in the seminar group.

5 observations:

  • Rating a question is a subjective task. The same question in a community of newcomers won't be seen as interesting as in a group of power users. Electing the appropriate community in the StackExchange archipelago might benefit your questions.
  • Let's put ourselves in a recruter's shoes and dilemma. Sometimes an always learning profile is better than an expert who always does what he knows. Having a great reputation might generate more leads but hiring someone isn't just a game of picking profiles with the better online reputation.
  • A common pattern to pass your knowledge on others is to ask and answer your question. This de facto improves your reputation.
  • If the objective is to gain reputation and not asking the brightest questions, there are many ways to do it, e.g. commenting, answering etc.
  • As a preemptive measure, as on Twitter, Facebook, creating a separate profile to test out some goofy questions to check how this type of questions will be peceived by other members.

We usually fear asking questions when we have something to lose, but when we have very few to lose and everything to gain, we get more disinhibited. After all, the road to success is paved with failures. If you just focus about learning new stuff and passing your knowledge to other members, you shouldn't be too worried about your reputation. This attitude will be noticed in many ways.

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I want to raise a point I've not seen yet.

Asking questions here could go awry.

What if you post about how bad your workplace is, your boss sucks and you want to leave ASAP and your boss reads it and connects you to it?

That, among other reasons, is why you have to be careful when you use your full IRL name on the internet.

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That is a good point. I wonder if those would be considered good questions at all, though? It could be possible to phrase the issues without focusing on criticism or complaint. –  Hugh Mar 22 at 2:16

It depends on the forum and the question being asked.

Stack Overflow is a safe site to ask questions. Asking questions on a troll-infested or questionable forum site, may be a cause of concern.

It would be how the questions are asked and how they were answered. Asking questions in an inappropriate way, or trolling with your full name, would cause you to lose reputation.

If you are concerned about your reputation:

  • Check the forum for moderation, if a moderation team exists or not. Avoid forums which do not have any moderation. You may be extensively trolled upon instead.

  • Check their posts and thread cancellation policy. Some forums lock dispute threads, some do not. In cases where there is no moderation, threads or disputes would last for weeks, months or years on end, where you would be victim of trolling or harassment.

  • Check if the vendor has a direct email or direct ticket system where you can ask the vendor direct questions, instead of community forums.

  • Check the manual if there is one

  • Use Google search to search for the answer, if another person has posted a similar question previously.

In doubt, where asking questions would ruin your reputation, you could choose to avoid that forum or that vendor and community.

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I believe it depends on the following:

  • The kind of questions you ask and how frequently you ask - If you ask a "really silly" question many times, then it gives the impression that you are not very intelligent or alert. This way, you hurt your chances of getting more responsibilities.

  • What level you are at in your career - Also, if you have a 2-3 years experience and cannot write simple 3-4 line code correctly, then you look bad. You risk losing the respect of other employees. It does not matter that you are absent minded, were asleep that day or you skipped C programming classes in college. Many people will judge you based on that.

  • How you ask - If you write a concise and clear question with all the necessary information and attempts to solve the problem, then it makes a good impression. Otherwise, it makes you come across as an ineffective communicator or lazy.

Unless you are very smart, I suggest that you do not use real names in forums. A super smart guy's idea of lame errors is different from that of average people. They make smart mistakes, others not so smart.

If you are average, like most people, then remain nameless, at least until you gain more knowledge. Why brandish mediocrity? However, if you make a mistake at work, then admit it, correct it and improve. Once you get "good enough", then make a real account, add your LinkedIn profile, etc.

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Not sure I agree... if I didn't create a "real" account until I gained experience, I wouldn't have all the reputation I have on the Internet. I'm not just talking the "points" next to my name but the fact that people know and recognize who I am because I put out who I was from the very beginning. In other words, I didn't build my online identity overnight... BTW Welcome to The Workplace! Great post! –  jmort253 Mar 22 at 22:24
    
@jmort253 - Yakshemash American friend ! In response to your comment, I suggest that one can get to 3-5K points. After that, make real account and get a many points with the expertise you have gain. Chenqui. –  Borat Sagdiyev Mar 22 at 22:46

Well, after reading this, I will never again hire anyone named "Hugh". :-)

Seriously ...

(a) The easiest solution is to post questions with a fake name. Then the issue should go away.

(b) I suppose that if you ask really lame beginner questions and you're claiming to be highly experienced, it could look bad. Like if you're applying for a job as an auto mechanic and you claim to have 30 years experience, and then they see you posted a question asking, "What is the engine in a car for? Would it hurt if I just took that out?" that could be a problem.

But besides that, even if a question is simple and something that most people with experience should know, I don't think an occasional such question would be an issue to any rational employer. We all have things that we just don't know, or get stuck on problems that seem simple. I'm a software developer and I've had plenty of times that I've wrestled with some problem for hours and repeatedly said to myself, "Oh come on, this shouldn't be this hard ..."

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This does not really answer the question of do the questions reflect poorly. It says how you can get around it if they do. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Mar 21 at 14:53
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Hello Jay. Our Q&A site put in place some back it up guidelines to help get the best answers. Can you edit your post to include references or relate this to a personal experience. Also, be sure to answer the full question and make sure you're not repeating what others already said. Good luck! :) –  jmort253 Mar 22 at 22:25

Don't punish yourself. In retrospect there could be any number of reasons for asking a question. I can think of one...You are tired. And another, you had other nagging concerns and had to multitask... At least you asked instead letting the time tick by.

FWIW - We all do this. Some will admit it more than others. ;)

Last point. If you are still concerned then we can put some punishments in place...Like answering other people's trivial questions (who are also lazy researchers). You know...Like prison, and work of the 'trivial time'. I will check back in you and make sure you are nice and numb from trivialization tit for tat. :D

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Oh and I just upvoted your CSS footer position fixed bottom 0 answer on SO...Kudos for keeping it simple and straightforward! –  Frank Tudor Mar 23 at 22:56

For me, asking questions is not a bad thing. What really matters is your zeal to get the things done.

Suppose you asked a question on stackoverflow and got a good number of answers. But if you are unable to understand how to apply the solution to your problem, then it is of no use. I came across many questions on stackoverflow where users don't accept an answer (probably they could not apply the solution provided, or their question has insufficient information so the answer was not useful for them). So asking good questions that earn votes creates a positive impression on employers.

And as we all know, stackoverflow awards a user with 'scholar' badge initially when he can ask a question and accept an answer for it.

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