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By the fifth day of our private beta, we have publicly lost our first user.1

The summary of their reasoning was that they felt the answers to a question they had asked mocked the premise of what the person was trying to understand or discover. Their feelings of upset were magnified by the response received to a similar question on a related SE site.

Users (site members) will come and go as the vagaries of Life intervene with the best of our intentions. So I'm not overly concerned about losing "just one" of our community members. But I am concerned that someone who knows StackExchange well enough to participate in Area51; commit to the Engineering proposal; and participate during the private beta was sufficiently put off by our nascent community that they felt they needed to leave.

Engineers have a (sometimes undesirable) reputation for:

And I won't argue that those characteristics are always wrong2. But I believe as a budding community we need to discuss what our norms are going to be and what we can expect of each other as community members.

So this.question is to help define what we as a community want to become.

1Out of politeness to that community member, I'm not directly linking to their question(s) or their "I'm done." statement. Suffice it to say that both items can be found with a modest amount of digging.
2Disclaimer: I love snark.

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  • $\begingroup$ I put the featured tag on this question to provide it some additional attention. Our site continues to grow, and I think it's important to keep our mannerisms polite. $\endgroup$ – user16 Mar 2 '15 at 14:23
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Above all, we need to remember to Be Nice.1

Corollaries:

  • Lay off the pedantry.
  • Lay off the snark.

Yes, they can be (extraordinarily) funny when applied well. But they’re exceptionally off-putting to the person on the receiving end. Your short term moment of humor is the exit cue for someone who could have otherwise been a valuable and contributing member of our community.

To be fair, I haven’t seen much of either pedantry or snark (yet). But Engineers’ reputation for those is well deserved and we need to be mindful of that as we build our community. Even the best, well intentioned humor can fall flat through a text interface going across cultural lines.

Next, we need to remember that Engineering as a field is ridiculously broad. Even well renowned experts have but a thimble full of knowledge in comparison to the ocean of Engineer knowledge that surrounds us.

That breadth behind the field has a number of implications:

  • If a question is outside of your area of expertise and / or you don’t understand the question, then either move on to the next question or leave a comment asking the OP to clarify.

  • If something is “obviously wrong!”TM, then make sure you can back the assertion with an external reference or common component of Engineering knowledge to demonstrate why the question is wrong. By definition, Beginners and Hobbyists within the realm of Engineering don’t always have that base of common knowledge. Be patient and explain why.

Give community members the benefit of the doubt. Remember that they very well may not come from the same cultural or geographic background as you. English is the lingua franca of StackExchange, but it is not everyone’s first language. If you don’t understand what someone is asking, leave a comment asking for clarification. Then go back and edit the clarification into the post.

Engineering and construction norms do vary across the globe, and an obvious solution for one territory may be prohibitively expensive or simply non-existent for another. Remind yourself of those differences before you blast out an answer of “just use this frobnobicator and be done with it already!” The OP very well may not know of the frobnobicator or they don’t have them available where there are.

Finally, Engineering is the act of applying Science to solve problems. Engineers unapologetically beg, borrow, or steal from other fields in order to resolve the problem at hand. Likewise, Engineers have helped advance various scientific fields as a result of exercising the available data against an array of problems.

Worrying about whether or not a question is perfectly on-topic for our site is counter-productive for us at this point in time. Instead, we should be editing to make the question more constructive and highlight the Engineering principles in question. Likewise, worrying about a question being Engineering or Science or overlapping with other SE sites is counter-productive.

It's okay to be a bit jealous of your own site; it's okay to want to keep those high quality questions for your site. Other SE sites, such as StackOverflow, Programmers, Computer Science, and Theoretical Computer Science, have overlap with each other. While that can be somewhat confusing to new visitors, it provides a richer experience as each community develops their own perspective in answering questions. It can also lead to interesting social experiments that explore site differences.

Our focus should be:

  • High signal:noise, looking to build lasting value through the StackEchange Q&A format.
  • Welcoming to others, regardless of their working in our engineering field, another engineering field, a hobbyist, or just inquisitive about Engineering.

I think we have the ability to build a very large and welcoming community that can tackle some difficult questions. I'll grant my Engineering bias, but I believe that if we come together as a community then we can generate some amazing designs as part of the answers we provide.

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    $\begingroup$ "Be Nice" might be one of the most cited policies on SE, and I'm glad of it. I actually wasn't aware of the "snarky engineer" stereotype, but I agree that we should definitely avoid it. You're definitely right about engineering being really broad; I hadn't considered that before. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jan 25 '15 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for this. I'd also add that there are many different dialects of English, equally valid. Just because I understand British English, doesn't mean I understand everything in Indian English, Nigerian English, Australian English or American English.So when someone's English looks wrong to me, I try to bear in mind that they may just be writing in a different dialect to me. We need to be tolerant not just to those who don't have English as a first language, but those who speak different dialects of English too. $\endgroup$ – 410 gone Jan 25 '15 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ @EnergyNumbers I dont agree on the language part. Im not a native speaker, and my english is far from perfect. And I get corrected in my questions - and I welcome that. Native speakers and those who think they know the language very well should correct bad grammar/errors. When schools in germany, india, nigeria, japan and so on teach english, they don't teach a dialect. Nobody should be offended when they are grammatical corrected at an SE-Site. $\endgroup$ – John H. K. Jan 26 '15 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnH.K. - EnergyNumbers is referring to something a little different. Some will judge a question based upon how it is written as opposed to what has been asked. Energy's point is that we shouldn't worry so much about "behavior" being written correctly (ie. without a 'u' in 'ior') and focus on the question itself. Beyond "unnecessary" u's, there are other regional / dialect differences, such as common sayings, but we should look past those too. So his broader point was to look for the meaning behind the question. ... $\endgroup$ – user16 Jan 26 '15 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnH.K. ... Common grammatical elements should still be corrected, yes. And those editing should feel free to edit in their particular dialect of English. Everyone learns and grows that way. But we don't need edit wars over words like grey vs. gray and behaviour vs. behavior. $\endgroup$ – user16 Jan 26 '15 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ @GlenH7 I completely agree with you. We do not need edit-wars about those word you mentioned. There shouldnt be donwvotes if the question asked is understandable. $\endgroup$ – John H. K. Jan 26 '15 at 17:48
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In lieu of an answer, I thought I might as well write up an actual manifesto - a sort of unofficial policy that we can agree upon to help guide our site. I'll make it community wiki, so anyone can edit it and add or remove their username at the bottom if they so desire.

$$\mathcal{The}\text{ }\mathcal{Engineering.SE}\text{ }\mathcal{Manifesto}$$

We, the members of the Engineering.SE community, hereby pledge to do the following, to make the world a better place:

We agree to, above all, Be Nice:

  • To be cordial and courteous to all members
  • To respect the personal decisions of others
  • To not enter into disputes, and to do our best to resolve those that spring up
  • To not use rude language except in extenuating circumstances
  • To never, under any circumstances, be offensive to anyone

We agree to be welcoming to newcomers:

  • To be courteous to those who are not familiar with our site's policies
  • To assist them in writing questions and answers at the quality level we expect
  • To show appreciation, when possible, for their interest in participating

We agree to do our part to make the content on the site top-quality:

  • To give good information
  • To always write truthful posts
  • To cite our sources, and give credit where credit is due
  • To support good questions and answers

We agree to help the site grow through participation on meta:

  • To ask questions about problems that need solutions
  • To listen to others share their opinions on discussion matters
  • To stay civil if disputes arise
  • To give our own "two cents," and to weigh in on important issues

We want the site to thrive:

  • To become a community of professionals and students of engineering
  • To become a high-quality resource for engineers everywhere
  • To become a reference for engineers across the globe
  • To become a catalyst for new ideas that can change the world

If we take it upon ourselves to do these things, we can live up to Robert Cartaino's words and make Engineering.SE The Next Big Thing.

By putting our usernames here, we agree to these unofficial policies, and pledge that we will work towards making Engineering.SE - and the world - a better place.

$$\mathcal{Signed}\text{ }\mathcal{by}$$

$\mathcal{HDE}\text{ }\mathcal{226868}$, $\mathcal{Chris\ Mueller}$

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    $\begingroup$ This isn't too engineering-specific - yet. That's why I made it community wiki - so we can all give our input and our thoughts. The site will grow, and I hope this manifesto will, too. We can shape it and it can shape us. You can sign it if you want, though you don't have to. It's more of a list of suggestions than a rigid set of rules and policies. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jan 25 '15 at 18:11
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    $\begingroup$ This is great! I would like to edit it to make an entire section out of 'To be welcoming to newcomers.' This issue is very important to building a strong, vibrant community, and is one issue that most SE's handle very poorly in my experience. Objections? $\endgroup$ – Chris Mueller Jan 30 '15 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisMueller None! Go right ahead. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jan 30 '15 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ Really glad to see 'be nice' at the top... the only way to make sure that there are useful discussions in my opinion. +1 $\endgroup$ – pandita Feb 7 '15 at 4:52

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