Above all, we need to remember to Be Nice.1
- 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:
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.