Stack Overflow and personal emails

This post is partly meant to be a general announcement, and partly meant to be something I can point people at in the future (rather than writing a short version of this on each email).

These days, I get at least a few emails practically every day along the lines of:

“I saw you on Stack Overflow, and would like you to answer this development question for me…”

It’s clear that the author:

  • Is aware of Stack Overflow
  • Is aware that Stack Overflow is a site for development Q&A
  • Is aware that I answer questions on Stack Overflow

… and yet they believe that the right way of getting me to answer a question is by emailing it to me directly. Sometimes it’s a link to a Stack Overflow question, sometimes it’s the question asked directly in email.

In the early days of Stack Overflow, this wasn’t too bad. I’d get maybe one email like this a week. Nowadays, it’s simply too much.

If you have a question worthy of Stack Overflow, ask it on Stack Overflow. If you’ve been banned from asking questions due to asking too many low-quality ones before, then I’m unlikely to enjoy answering your questions by email – learn what makes a good question instead, and edit your existing questions.

If you’ve already asked the question on Stack Overflow, you should consider why you think it’s more worthy of my attention than everyone else’s questions. You should also consider what would happen if everyone who would like me to answer a question decided to email me.

Of course in some cases it’s appropriate. If you’ve already asked a question, written it as well as you can, waited a while to see if you get any answers naturally, and if it’s in an area that you know I’m particularly experienced in (read: the C# language, basically) then that’s fine. If your question is about something from C# in Depth – a snippet which doesn’t work or some text you don’t understand, for example – then it’s entirely appropriate to mail me directly.

Basically, ask yourself whether you think I will actually welcome the email. Is it about something you know I’m specifically interested in? Or are you just trying to get more attention to a question, somewhat like jumping a queue?

I’m aware that it’s possible this post makes me look either like a grumpy curmudgeon or (worse) like an egocentric pseudo-celebrity. The truth is I’m just like everyone else, with very little time on my hands – time I’d like to spend as usefully and fairly as possible.

60 thoughts on “Stack Overflow and personal emails”

  1. Hi Jon, what about if some software company wanted to consult you just for a very few hours (.Net C# related), of course paid, to use your consultancy as a future guidance for the development they need to do, where should you be contacted for this if its possible in your time.

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  2. Hi Jon, wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to post this on stack overflow or not. Your page (http://csharpindepth.com/Articles/Chapter6/IteratorBlockImplementation.aspx) on iterator blocks is great, however, I’m wondering if there might be an error in the examples listed. The access modifier for the function “bool MoveNext()” is private in all reflected compiler code. Should the access modifier not be public if it is implementing the method from an interface (and therefore be available to use outside of the class such as within a for-each loop?)

    cheers – Nish

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    1. Not a good Stack Overflow question, but not ideal as a blog comment. (This would have been fine to email me about.)

      Yes, I’d expect the methods either to be public or they should use explicit interface implementation. However, showing them as private methods is what Reflector does. I’m not sure why, and I’m afraid I don’t have the time to check right now. You can certainly think about them as public methods though.

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