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I was a pro tem moderator for the Quantitative Finance SE during the beta. We had to make a decision upfront that the site would be exclusively for people who work in quantitative finance. As moderator, I had to eject non-quants on a daily basis because the site would quickly have become overrun with "how do I become a quant?" and "what programming language should I use?"

The result is that anyone who goes to the front page will instantly see that this is a community for people who work in the industry. For the opposite, see Quora; nobody on that site works in the industry.

I see that PLDI SE will need to make the same decision soon.

This site should be attractive to the people who design and implement the languages that you use (or at least are interested in). Those experts are going to want to discuss things like VM performance, advancements in type systems, compiler optimizations, provable transformations, etc. And those same experts are going to leave if the site debates goto statements and while loops!

So, yeah, I'm pretty turned-off by the pros-cons, syntax, and other weak questions.

I propose setting a higher bar: the people who post on this site need to work on languages in serious capacity, preferably in either industry or academia.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think there's much of a problem with having professionals/academics and hobbyists on the same site. While right now the site is full of simpler questions, that's just because it's only had 48 hours for them to be asked; there hasn't been much time for people to run into serious questions about serious projects, but everyone wants to ask about the hot button topics in syntax design since it's easy rep to get moderation privs. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2023 at 21:42
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    $\begingroup$ Additionally, the people who made this site a thing aren't professionals. I proposed it, lyxal introduced it to a wider audience, and most of the early supporters were from CGCC. This was never from the start going to be just for academics and pros, because that would exclude the very people who got us here. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2023 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ To be clear, I do think our question quality is a legitimate thing to be mindful of. I do think some of these early questions are only being received well since our quality standards haven't had time to solidify. But I don't think exclusing hobbyists is the right approach here. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2023 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly the bar shouldn't be too high as to set the bar of entry to be too high, but I do agree that we are pumping out too many low-effort 'What are the pros and cons of <x>?' questions. $\endgroup$
    – CPlus
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ Is still consider if burninating pros-cons would be a good idea. $\endgroup$
    – CPlus
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ related on the topic of quality bar: Let's please do better at objectivity when doing Q&A about design choices $\endgroup$
    – starball
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 21:52

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I don't believe this would be a suitable limitation for this site. I am an academic researcher in programming languages, so I'm going to meet this bar, but many people who are nonetheless serious PL developers will not, and many people who may not be "serious" developers nonetheless have serious contributions to make.

Industrial programming-language development is in any case also not so clear-cut as quantitative finance seems to be: it's quite common for developers whose primary focus is elsewhere to be building domain-specific languages — both internal and external — and quite reasonably to have design questions about these, yet it's not clear that they "work on languages in serious capacity". I would not want to exclude these people.

For a non-industry example, let's take the Emily language: it's a hobby project from I believe a professional game developer, but it's an exploration of language model that I take very seriously. Another I have referenced previously is Om, another spare-time exploration of a non-commercial space. There are numerous others in a similar capacity that I have cited in my academic work. I wouldn't want to exclude those either.

There are even academic programming-language communities that are not interested in "VM performance, advancements in type systems, compiler optimizations, provable transformations": all sorts of work on visual or block-based languages doesn't overlap with those, for example. They ask and answer, and publish, ergonomic questions that are in many ways parallel to syntax in a textual language. On the other hand, anyone who is interested in those topics should be welcomed here, and ideally not put off.

A lot of my work is in the area of novel programming interfaces, and a large amount of novel development and exploration in that area also comes from non-professionals, including those presenting at academic venues. I don't think that this system is more meaningful than this one because it's from me and the other (appearing in the same venue!) is from, I think, a non-academic. It isn't about who's doing it, but what they're doing.

Focusing on the people is looking in the wrong place.


On the other hand, there have been a lot of what amount to engagement-bait questions. Many of these fundamentally come down to:

  • "make a list of languages you've heard of and show a syntax example"
  • "jot down anything you can think of about this and label each 'pro' or 'con'"
  • "tell me why this controversial thing is bad"

These do not lead to constructive answers, and should not continue. That is a property of the question, not the people involved, and in many cases it seems to be out of a reflexive avoidance of the superficial appearance of an "opinion-based" question. It's also been reinforced systemically because so many people have an easy answer to give, and they upvote the question when they do so.

So far, these questions have outnumbered and out-engaged others, and I do agree that drowning out other topics is undesirable.

Good answers should provide synthesis of information and analysis of trade-offs made in concrete choices, and good questions should facilitate those answers. Those questions could come from anyone, whether making a hobby project or not, and many fundamental questions arise equally across the spectrum. Different people will be able to give good answers to different questions, and that's fine too.

Setting the scope of questions and answers is good, and still in the process of refinement (I hope), but setting the scope of participants is not the right way to go about that.

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Language design is a much more niche topic than quantitative finance or math. It's reasonable to have a separate Math Overflow site for professional mathematicians because there's so many of them and because a separate Mathematics Stack Exchange also exists for those of us who aren't professionals. I don't believe there are as many people working on practical languages out there. Compiler engineers and the like also usually work with whole teams that they can discuss important issues with, and researchers (either those in the industry or in academia) have peers that they can talk to.

Besides, even if there is a huge demand for a site tailored towards professionals who are actually working in the industry or in academia, that is not this site. This site was made for all sorts of people who are working on programming languages, whether they be personal projects or serious. This was decided when the site was being proposed, and restricting it would be a huge departure from its original goals, especially this late in the process.

Did you look at people's statuses when this site was in Area 51? There were very few people who said they were experts, and that's reflected in the questions here (and yes, do have a quality problem, but cutting out our main group of users is not how we solve that). The vast majority of users who committed are hobbyists who need a place to ask questions about their niche interest. If you take that away from us, we have no other place to ask our questions. Furthermore, if hobbyists are left out of PLDI, this site will die.

I don't want to be rude, but if you want a site for only programming language professionals, propose it yourself. This isn't it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Much better put in words than my answer ever could. $\endgroup$
    – Seggan
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 22:15
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    $\begingroup$ An "only" would be important to add to that last sentence! We want experts here, they've been hiding all sorts of cool stuff from us (algebraic effects!) and we need it to trickle down :p $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2023 at 22:17
  • $\begingroup$ @RydwolfPrograms Good catch, edited $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 22:19
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I totally agree with Rydwolf in the comments. The reason we are getting weaker questions is because they are the easiest to grab right now and the rep market is hot, making quick-and-easy questions and answers lucrative (I am guilty of this too). We have had some "serious" questions already (example and example). Additionally, what about all those of us (myself and Rydwolf included) who are working on languages in a hobbyist capacity? The site itself got its start from a subcommunity of PL designers over on Code Golf, which includes at least one professional.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd like to hope that people come here - especially why it is in private beta - to discuss and learn about programming language design rather than earn rep. $\endgroup$ Commented May 26, 2023 at 8:36
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As moderator, I had to eject non-quants on a daily basis because the site would quickly have become overrun with "how do I become a quant?" and "what programming language should I use?"

"how do I become a quant" is broad (that's a close-reason), and may need further details (Ex. where do you want to do it?) (that's a close-reason).

"what programming language should I use?" by itself is too broad (close-reason), and likely to attract opinion-based answers / not "good-subjective"

The right thing to do in those cases would not have been to "eject" people. The right thing to do would have been to close-vote. And you don't need to be a mod in private beta to close-vote. Honestly, it sounds like you were misusing your privilges.

Your concern about quality and on-topicality of questions is valid, but gatekeeping-out non-"professionals" (how do you even verify that?) is not the only solution, and I don't think it's a good solution.

All we really need to care about is whether something is on-topic, and that's part of what our job is to establish more firmly right now during this private beta. To do that, use your close-votes and use (search, read, and ask on) meta.

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The other answers have made the case perfectly well. To this I would add that the person who made the original proposal to create this Stack Exchange site ─ Rydwolf Programs ─ is currently a high school student, according to their profile. I don't think ejecting them from the site is something that even needs to be considered; obviously we shouldn't.

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