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In connection with the moderator elections, we are holding a Q&A thread for the candidates. Questions collected from an earlier thread have been compiled into this one, which shall now serve as the space for the candidates to provide their answers. Not every question was compiled - as noted, we only selected the top 8 questions as submitted by the community, plus 2 pre-set questions from us.

As a candidate, your job is simple - post an answer to this question, citing each of the questions and then post your answer to each question given in that same answer. For your convenience, I will include all of the questions in quote format with a break in between each, suitable for you to insert your answers. Just copy the whole thing after the first set of three dashes. Oh, and please consider putting your name at the top of your post so that readers will know who you are before they finish reading everything you have written.

Once all the answers have been compiled, this will serve as a transcript for voters to view the thoughts of their candidates, and will be appropriately linked in the Election page.

Good luck to all of the candidates!


  1. What is your take on "problem dumps", "check my work" and "hint-only answers", respectively?

  2. Comments are starting to build up on a question. A commenter asserts that the question makes no sense and should be closed. The asker maintains that the question is perfectly clear. You have no idea as it's about a domain of CS that you know nothing about. What do you do?

  3. Assume the community acts differently than you would have, or directly rescinds one of your actions, e.g. closing or reopening. What do you do?

  4. What do you think this site's biggest challenge is? (E.g. post quality or quantity, too many/few closures, bad tools/guidance, etc.) What do you think should be done about it (by anybody: moderators, users in general, Stack Exchange staff, ...)?

  5. If you have not been a moderator on CS.SE, have you been helping in moderating the site (edits, close/reopen votes, flags, setting site policies through meta discussions, etc.)? What are your three most important contributions to moderation on the site as a member of the site's community?

  6. What do you see as the mission of cs.SE? Should we be a Q&A repository, a (self-)teaching tool, a homework service, ...?

  7. What are your plans to engage the community in moderation?

  8. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

  9. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

  10. What are your areas of expertise in computer science? In which areas of the scope do you easily understand typical questions? In which areas of the scope do you have difficulty in understanding typical questions? Do you hold a university degree in computer science? Do you have any teaching experience in computer science?

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a request to candidates: Could you please list your time zone and/or the times of day (in GMT) when you are typically around for moderation duties? This isn't a request for a guarantee, merely an indication. While there aren't usually very many (if any) moderation emergencies on CS, I would find it helpful when voting. Oh, and thanks to all the candidates who have nominated. It looks like a high-quality field to choose from. $\endgroup$ – Pseudonym Aug 11 '15 at 0:35
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This is Raphael. I'm in CE(S)T.

  1. What is your take on "problem dumps", "check my work" and "hint-only answers", respectively?

    • Problem dumps are not questions but requests for work. Downvote, close as duplicate of a reference question if possible ("unclear" otherwise) and comment what the issue is. If the user responds by adding an actual question, i.e. what they think, what they've tried and what specifically they need to know, reopen and answer.

      Note that his is not current policy; we only downvote. My opinion is that we should close.

    • Check-my-work is on the other side of the spectrum: the user has already done a lot. But they still post only a request for work, not a question. Close as unclear and comment what the issue is.

    My hard stance on these is partly influenced by my impression that most such questions come from homework; either the user wants us to do them or check them to ensure good grades. That's not what this site is for, in my opinion.

    • Hint-only answers are a compromise: give an answer to a question you don't think deserves a full answer. As such, they are not answers: just post your hint as a comment if you want to help the user, and act on the question as described above (which are the common cases).
  2. Comments are starting to build up on a question. A commenter asserts that the question makes no sense and should be closed. The asker maintains that the question is perfectly clear. You have no idea as it's about a domain of CS that you know nothing about. What do you do?

    If the commenter is a user whom I know to be competent in the area, I might follow their position. I have seen enough posters argue their meaningless questions make sense in my areas of expertise that I have little "in doubt for the accused" left.

    In any case, a chat or, if that leads nowhere, meta discussion is in order. If that leads to enough community votes in either direction, fine with me. If no community decision can be made, I'll follow my judgement on a case-by-case basis. I'll trust in my competence to spot bad arguments on either side, even if I don't know much about the subject of discussion.

  3. Assume the community acts differently than you would have, or directly rescinds one of your actions, e.g. closing or reopening. What do you do?

    If I feel strongly about the case, I'll ping those users in chat, or open a meta discussion. Otherwise, I'll let it go; I want the community to moderate, after all.

  4. What do you think this site's biggest challenge is? (E.g. post quality or quantity, too many/few closures, bad tools/guidance, etc.) What do you think should be done about it (by anybody: moderators, users in general, Stack Exchange staff, ...)?

    The biggest day-to-day challenge is maintaining quality. That means editing, commenting, and closing or deleting posts beyond hope. We need a vigilant core community that is on the watch basically 24/7. We can not expect drive-by posters to care about site quality, so we have to care.

    Thinking long-term, we need to attract more experts and traffic outside of undergrad TCS. I think some of that ends up on other SE sites now, but much doesn't make it to the network at all. I think we should mount an advertisement campaign once we have a distinctive branding, i.e. our own design. Baby steps were made, and any input is welcome.

  5. If you have not been a moderator on CS.SE, have you been helping in moderating the site (edits, close/reopen votes, flags, setting site policies through meta discussions, etc.)? What are your three most important contributions to moderation on the site as a member of the site's community?

    I have done all of these, which I'll mention because they don't need mod powers. I consider

    my biggest contributions to date.

    Also, I'm the chief officer of the Ω-police, a mandate I take very seriously.

  6. What do you see as the mission of cs.SE? Should we be a Q&A repository, a (self-)teaching tool, a homework service, ...?

    Definitely a platform to help with learning. Conceptual expertise -- imho what CS is about -- can not be gained by perusing fact databases. Googling your exercise problem and reading the solution in an answer here won't help you understand most of the time.

    Therefore, I think the best use of the site is to tackle your problem yourself, narrow down the issue (create a conceptual MWE, if you will) and then get help with that one. Or ask an abstract, conceptual question in the first place.

    My stands on policy reflect this view, of course. I think we should encourage this use, and discourage others.

  7. What are your plans to engage the community in moderation?

    Keep prompting folks to act in comments and chat. And flag dismissals, from time to time.

  8. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

    Try to talk to them (in chat or comments) and find out what the issue is. If they are abusive, give them a time-out. In the end, I'd rather have a peaceful site than that user's answers.

    However, my experience is that good answerers are usually good communicators.

  9. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

    Talk to them in mod chat. If we disagree and I feel strongly about the case, involve the larger community via chat or meta (together).

    That said, if I'm pretty sure they made a mistake I might simply counteract them and leave them an explanatory note in mod chat.

    In any case, no arguing in front of the children. ;)

  10. What are your areas of expertise in computer science? In which areas of the scope do you easily understand typical questions? In which areas of the scope do you have difficulty in understanding typical questions? Do you hold a university degree in computer science? Do you have any teaching experience in computer science?

    I'm rather solid in typical undergrad material. Beyond that, my focus area is definitely TCS, and in there mostly algorithmics. Just have a look at my tags.

    I have little to no expertise in cryptography, type theory and functional programming theory, machine learning, AI and computer graphics, so these questions I pass over regularly. Questions from other fields I get most of the time, as long as they are not too advanced.

    I hold a master's degree in CS. I have assisted teaching at undergrad level for the last eight, and at graduate level for the last four years. Most of that was TAing, but I have also managed courses (which includes creating exercise/exam problems and solutions) and filled in as docent for a couple of lecture sessions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sorry I've been late. I have had a busy and stressful week. I hope this reaches all of you in time to help you make your decision. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Aug 16 '15 at 13:29
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Candidate: Luke Mathieson

  1. What is your take on "problem dumps", "check my work" and "hint-only answers", respectively?

In reverse order, "hint-only" answers are not arbitrarily unreasonable, the site aim to build up a reusable collection of high quality questions and answers, and in some cases it is more productive from a pedagogical perspective to provide only the next step (or similar) rather than the entire answer. This is especially true of basic questions - most people will have access to a large number of worked examples already (even on this site) - hint-only answers are a way of allowing the site to address the more subtle issues around developing skills and intuition. That said, some consideration should be put into the decision to only give a hint, rather than a full answer (excepting the case where the questioner is explicitly looking for hints only).

"Check-my-work" questions are essentially useless to the site. At most they provide a cheap answer to anyone who doesn't want to do any work. They don't offer insight, or solve any precise problem.

"Problem dumps" are potentially salvageable. The questioner is likely simply unfamiliar with the format of the site, and also likely unfamiliar with how to form and ask useful questions. In this regard "problem dumps" can easily become a good starting place for build a good question, but this does take some work in the form of coaxing and coaching the questioner.

  1. Comments are starting to build up on a question. A commenter asserts that the question makes no sense and should be closed. The asker maintains that the question is perfectly clear. You have no idea as it's about a domain of CS that you know nothing about. What do you do?

Very little. The site is community moderated and the close voting system is intended (in part) to deal with this situation. A gentle comment pointing this out is enough. If either or both (or all) parties are engaged in pathological behaviour, then that's a separate matter.

  1. Assume the community acts differently than you would have, or directly rescinds one of your actions, e.g. closing or reopening. What do you do?

Nothing. Again, the site is meant to be community moderated, with the formal moderators acting as (to quote) "exception handlers". It is not the mods' jobs to champion viewpoints, or control the site. The role is to deal with the edge cases that will occur and ensure the smooth functioning of the site as seamlessly as possible.

  1. What do you think this site's biggest challenge is? (E.g. post quality or quantity, too many/few closures, bad tools/guidance, etc.) What do you think should be done about it (by anybody: moderators, users in general, Stack Exchange staff, ...)?

I think CS's largest problem is retention of users. We see a lot of new users at very predictable times, often with exactly the same questions as the same time last year. The real trick is that very few people progress further with the parts of computer science that can be answered within scope for CS, so each cohort of "potential recruits" diminishes in size quite rapidly after a year. One possibility would be to encourage the more active, higher level users to post questions that would be interesting to other high level users, however cstheory is often already a more fruitful route for this.

  1. If you have not been a moderator on CS.SE, have you been helping in moderating the site (edits, close/reopen votes, flags, setting site policies through meta discussions, etc.)? What are your three most important contributions to moderation on the site as a member of the site's community?

I think my most important contribution to community moderation is working through the edit queue routinely. While I am not the most avid with regards to answering questions (I prefer to wait for questions on which I can contribute something useful that perhaps others may not), I clear my review queue as often as possible (essentially daily, sometimes twice a day). I involve myself in the meta discussion about the site; in particular I like to keep abreast of the community discussions on policy issues. I try to intelligently contribute edits to questions and answers, but sparingly - editing for editing's sake is a poor strategy (and may have repercussions).

  1. What do you see as the mission of cs.SE? Should we be a Q&A repository, a (self-)teaching tool, a homework service, ...?

A first flush, the site is a Q&A archive, but the real use of this is in teaching (formal and informal). The questions that people ask on this site are (hopefully) questions that lots of people are asking, but may not have the support to answer on their own. CS can then provide this support. Simply providing rote answers however is of little value, the readers do not gain insight, and will get stuck at the next question, which the site may not answer, so aiming to teach not just answer is possibly the most useful and lasting contribution we can make.

  1. What are your plans to engage the community in moderation?

On the face of it, it seems to me that the active part of the community is already steadily engaged in moderation. The of who's been reviewing recently tick over - it's not the same five people all the time. It would be useful to get more people involved in the meta discussion, however this probably depends upon a larger active community.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

It depends on exactly what the flags/arguments are. Flags suggest abusive behaviour, in which case the user needs to be explicitly dealt with. Depending on the nature of the behaviour, a "quiet word" might be a good start here. Often people are simply not aware of what is wrong with their behaviour, or that there are better ways to express themselves (particularly online). If their behaviour is egregious, then they should be banned. In any case, the quality of the answers doesn't enter into the decision.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

First, I would find out why the mod took that action. They may have a good reason that I simply haven't seen. If I disagree with the reason, then I would present my case to them. They may have missed something, or they may have answers that assuage my doubts. If I still disagree, then there are two main avenues open: raising a meta discussion to allow the community to set policy (which in theory should take the decision out of a mod's hands) and acting as a normal user and voting to reverse the decision (in the cases where that's possible). Simply reversing the mod's decision would be a tactic of last resort as this achieves no lasting resolution, and in a case like this it seems like it would be my word against theirs, so neither of us has particular claim correctness. If the mod acted outside their remit (maliciously for example), then the community should decide whether to retain the mod.

  1. What are your areas of expertise in computer science? In which areas of the scope do you easily understand typical questions? In which areas of the scope do you have difficulty in understanding typical questions? Do you hold a university degree in computer science? Do you have any teaching experience in computer science?

I hold a PhD in computer science (and a bachelor's with first class honours). My main area of research is computational complexity theory, particularly parameterized complexity (google knows who I am). I am also involved in research involving other areas of computational complexity, graph theory, discrete mathematics/combinatorics, algorithmics, compiler design, data mining, bioinformatics and computer assisted theorem proving.

My weakest areas of CS are database theory and remembering all the AI search algorithms.

I have taught a variety of CS courses for the past 15 years, from first year programming through to masters level algorithms and complexity courses. I have taught on both the theory and practical sides of the fence, but with a definite lean towards theoretical subjects (and their offshoots in compiler design etc.) I have also been involved in teaching at all levels, from tutor up to course co-ordinator and course designer. I also have a masters degree in Higher Education.

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  • $\begingroup$ "google knows who I am" -- the homepage in your Google Scholar profile is a 404. :P $\endgroup$ – Raphael Aug 16 '15 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Raphael :D There's always something you forget to change when you change jobs... ;) $\endgroup$ – Luke Mathieson Aug 17 '15 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ Hehe, indeed. ^^ $\endgroup$ – Raphael Aug 17 '15 at 8:55
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Candidate: Juho (timezone: UTC+2)

  1. What is your take on "problem dumps", "check my work" and "hint-only answers", respectively?

For problem dumps and "check my work" questions, we have a good, working policy. The policy is closing such questions, and I am happy with this. As for hint-only answers, our stance is perhaps not so clear. However, I am against hint-only answers, for the reasons detailed in this meta post. I have upvoted the answer and stand behind it.

  1. Comments are starting to build up on a question. A commenter asserts that the question makes no sense and should be closed. The asker maintains that the question is perfectly clear. You have no idea as it's about a domain of CS that you know nothing about. What do you do?

The community should be self-moderating, but sometimes this doesn't happen, or the process is very slow. To resolve the issue faster, I would bring it up in our chat to get more thoughts on it. This has been very effective in the past, as it brings it quickly to the attention of other knowledgeable people. In a way, it's a good way of speeding up or directing the community effort.

  1. Assume the community acts differently than you would have, or directly rescinds one of your actions, e.g. closing or reopening. What do you do?

I don't overrule the community decision. I can cast my vote, but that vote should be equally valuable to anyone's vote. If I have a strong opinion on the case though, I will again bring this up in our chat. This has several good synergies: I will learn more (maybe I'm wrong or missing something), and more attention is drawn to the question.

  1. What do you think this site's biggest challenge is? (E.g. post quality or quantity, too many/few closures, bad tools/guidance, etc.) What do you think should be done about it (by anybody: moderators, users in general, Stack Exchange staff, ...)?

Currently, I don't see specific large challenges or major problems. In general, I think we have done a good job, and have effective policies in place. Of course, it would be nice to have an even larger community and more users involved in community moderation. But the best way to attract more experts and enthusiastic users is to continue to keep up the quality of the site.

  1. If you have not been a moderator on CS.SE, have you been helping in moderating the site (edits, close/reopen votes, flags, setting site policies through meta discussions, etc.)? What are your three most important contributions to moderation on the site as a member of the site's community?

I have done almost 800 edits and have more than 700 helpful flags raised. I go through the review queues (almost) daily, typically even a few times a day. My emphasis has been on improving question/answer quality, see e.g. here or here.

  1. What do you see as the mission of cs.SE? Should we be a Q&A repository, a (self-)teaching tool, a homework service, ...?

We should be a high-quality place for clear-cut questions and answers. At the same time, we provide an excellent learning platform for anyone asking good questions and providing good answers!

  1. What are your plans to engage the community in moderation?

When we keep up the quality of the site, we are at the same time trying to instill a feeling of "hey, this is a great site, and I want to do my part to keep it as excellent as it is" to users. Obviously, one can't force anyone to click through links to enter the world of meta or our chat, but an interested user will do so on his/her own.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

If it's frequent, I would bring up the issue in meta. (An example of when this has happened and I have acted is here). This depends on the situation too, it should be noted flags themselves are not personal. For instance, it could happen the answers generate a lot of discussion (i.e. more questions from the OP). Once the valuable extra information from the answer has been edited into the answer, the comments can be flagged as obsolete, and this is only a good thing.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

Very likely they had a good reason to do so. I would bring it up in our chat, and discuss to see why we felt different.

  1. What are your areas of expertise in computer science? In which areas of the scope do you easily understand typical questions? In which areas of the scope do you have difficulty in understanding typical questions? Do you hold a university degree in computer science? Do you have any teaching experience in computer science?

My expertise includes graph theory, algorithms for (NP-)hard problems, artificial intelligence (e.g. search methods), constraint satisfaction solving (CSP), and satisfiability (SAT). I also have a strong applied background in e.g. C and C++ programming languages. In these areas, I usually understand the questions. Usually the questions where I have no clue are programming language theory questions, e.g. type theory. I hold an M.Sc. in computer science, and I'm currently pursuing a PhD in computer science (and discrete math). I have been actively involved in teaching (at a university level) for over 5 years, on both sides of the Atlantic.

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I'm D.W.

  1. What is your take on "problem dumps", "check my work" and "hint-only answers", respectively?

I'm happy with the rough consensus that seems to have emerged on Meta.

Problem dumps: no. Do not want. They won't make the world a better place. But sometimes they can be turned into a far better question by generalizing them appropriately (e.g., how do I prove a language is regular?, rather than: give me a regexp for the following specific language).

Check my work: no. They don't work well on this kind of site, as our policy on Meta explains.

Hint-only answers: I don't have strong opinions. It seems that we haven't quite reached a very strong consensus on Meta. Best to handle this by community moderation, letting people vote on a case-by-case basis.

Last comment: my personal take on these matters are secondary. If I'm elected, I'd view my role as trying to follow the community's preferences. So, if there's a conflict between the community consensus and my personal views, I'll try to follow the community's preferences.

  1. Comments are starting to build up on a question. A commenter asserts that the question makes no sense and should be closed. The asker maintains that the question is perfectly clear. You have no idea as it's about a domain of CS that you know nothing about. What do you do?

I leave it to community voting. We believe in community moderation, and that means ♦-moderators don't need to wade in for every case. I might leave a comment encouraging community votes, or suggesting ways that the asker could improve the question (if applicable). I watch the comment thread to make sure it stays constructive and civil. Beyond that, I do nothing: I leave it to other moderators and community voting.

  1. Assume the community acts differently than you would have, or directly rescinds one of your actions, e.g. closing or reopening. What do you do?

I'd take that as a learning opportunity: a chance to refine my mental model of community preferences. I view ♦-moderators as akin to butlers: their job is to serve the community, try to anticipate their needs/preferences, and act on their behalf. If I see signs that I have misunderstood community preferences, then that's an opportunity for me to re-assess my own understanding.

  1. What do you think this site's biggest challenge is? (E.g. post quality or quantity, too many/few closures, bad tools/guidance, etc.) What do you think should be done about it (by anybody: moderators, users in general, Stack Exchange staff, ...)?

I think our biggest challenge is to grow the number of experts and active users on the site. Compared to other Stack Exchange sites, we have a relatively small core group of answerers, and it'd be great to expand that. To be clear, things are already working well, and it's not like we're in trouble, but growing the number and diversity of those experts will be good for the site in the long run and will make us even stronger.

I think one of the best things we can do to address this challenge is stay the course and maintain our quality standards. High-quality questions attract high-quality answers, and they both attract experts to stay. When an expert wanders by, I tend to think they're more likely to be motivated to continue participating if they see just what great questions and answers we have here.

  1. If you have not been a moderator on CS.SE, have you been helping in moderating the site (edits, close/reopen votes, flags, setting site policies through meta discussions, etc.)? What are your three most important contributions to moderation on the site as a member of the site's community?

I'm not currently a moderator, but I've been active in all aspects open to me.

As I wrote in my self-nomination, I've raised over 600 helpful flags, edited over 300 posts, I'm a frequent reviewer, and I try to help improve the quality of questions here by posting comments to guide posters on how to improve their questions (I've posted over 2000 comments so far).

Over the past year I've read just about every question posted here, and I try to help improve questions by editing and posting comments. I'm active on Meta; you can see my Meta activity on my profile.

  1. What do you see as the mission of cs.SE? Should we be a Q&A repository, a (self-)teaching tool, a homework service, ...?

Yes. We have multiple missions. We want to help people. We want to build an archive of high-quality questions and answers that will be useful to others in the future. We want to help people learn concepts. We want to share knowledge and make knowledge more widely accessible. We want to help disseminate some of the deep ideas and techniques form the research literature to people who need those techniques, and help people with problems find solutions.

I don't think we want to be a homework service. The problem is that the resulting questions tend to be low-quality. Instead, we should focus on helping people learn computer science. Usually, the best way to help people learn is not to solve their homework exercise for them, but to help them learn new material. You can't learn to ride a bicycle by watching a video of someone else riding one, and you can't learn computer science by watching someone else solve homework exercises. So, a homework-solving service probably isn't the best possible use of this community.

  1. What are your plans to engage the community in moderation?

One thing ♦-moderators can do is give the rest of the community a chance to be involved in moderation. It's a delicate balance, because on the one hand, ♦-moderators can save everyone else some time by taking action when it is clearcut, but on the other hand, I think it's healthy to build up a norm that a lot of the moderation is done by the community.

Put in concrete terms, if elected as a ♦-moderator, I'll probably close-vote just a bit less. In clearcut cases where I suspect pretty much everyone would agree, sure, I'll still close-vote. But in less-obvious cases, I might wait and give the community a chance to vote. I am inspired by something I've seen @Raphael do from time to time, where he posts a comment encouraging the community to vote by saying "This feels like it might possibly be (too broad/unclear/off-topic/whatever); community votes, please."

There are also some actions that only ♦-moderator can take, and that can't be handled by the rest of the community: e.g., handling many flags. That's one that can't be delegated to the community, but ♦-moderator can still engage the community by encouraging people to flag (e.g., by reminders on Meta).

Finally, one of the biggest ways that ♦-moderators can engage the community is by keeping an eye out for any common patterns or problems, and then posting on Meta to solicit community opinion for new cases.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

I'd look at a sample of flagged interactions, determine whether that user's contributions have stepped over the line, and take appropriate action.

It depends on the kinds of arguments or flags. If others are arguing about the technical merits, that's not a problem: there's no reason that should require any action at all. If it triggers flags and those flags are unwarranted, no action is needed.

But if (for example) that user has a pattern of rude or offensive comments, then action is needed. I would start by acting on the specific flags. If it's a single instance, sometimes it's enough to just delete the entire lot of comments and let people cool done. If it's starting to become a pattern, I'd reach out to the user through a private chat, and see if the user's behavior improves. (These situations are usually best handled privately; calling someone out publicly can backfire.) If that doesn't work, suspensions or other actions might be warranted -- but I'd consult with the other ♦-moderator first, as they might have better ideas about how to handle the situation.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

I'd reach out to the other moderator privately. But generally I figure anyone elected as a moderator is likely to be a level-headed sort with a good reason for whatever action they took, so if it's a one-off, I'm likely to defer to them. If I notice a broader pattern, I'd start with a private conversation with that moderator, and if it brings out differences in perspectives, I might ask a question on Meta about what our policy should be.

  1. What are your areas of expertise in computer science? In which areas of the scope do you easily understand typical questions? In which areas of the scope do you have difficulty in understanding typical questions? Do you hold a university degree in computer science? Do you have any teaching experience in computer science?

Over the past year I've read just about every question posted to CS.SE, and I feel comfortable with my knowledge: I'm by no means expert in every area of CS.SE, but I have enough knowledge that I feel comfortable acting as a moderator on the overwhelming majority of questions I've seen.

In more detail: Probably the most common topic for questions is theory, e.g., algorithms, data structures, complexity theory. I have a solid understanding of those topics: I'm not as expert as some of the other active users here, but solid enough to understand everything I've seen in that area, and often to answer. I also have a decent understanding of formal methods, HCI, computer vision, machine learning -- I'm not an expert, but enough to understand most questions. I'm also expert in computer security and cryptography, but we have separate sites for those. If I had to pick the one area where I'm weakest, it is undergraduate-level operating systems and AI. I've actually studied systems at the graduate level and follow some systems research, but I've never taken an undergraduate OS course, so I have some gaps in my knowledge there. Fortunately, we have others on this site who can handle those cases.

I have a Ph.D. in computer science. I have taught computer science at the university level.

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Gilles's answers.

  1. What is your take on "problem dumps", "check my work" and "hint-only answers", respectively?

Problem dumps: I feel we still haven't found the boundary between what should be answered and what should be closed. We all too often close questions based on the effort of the asker, which is just wrong. Stack Exchange is not a question answering service, it's a repository of questions and answers. Ultimately the asker is irrelevant; what matters is the question.

Now, some problem dumps are problematic, and should be closed, the problem is which ones. Some are just too big, and can and should be closed as too broad. But there's another category of questions that doesn't fit any close reason, but whose presence doesn't make the world better: straightforward applications of well-known theorems. I'd like to have a policy to close those, either as duplicates of a generic question (like the ones listed here), or with a custom “rote exercise” close reason. But finding the right boundary is difficult. I've seen too many questions which could be usefully answered closed as unclear just because the asker hadn't shown effort to throw in yet another close reason lightly.

Hint-only answers: A hint is at most a bad answer and at worst not an answer. Hints only help the person asking now, they are useless to the next person who'll be stuck at a slightly different place. Hints are fine for a homework help site, but that's not what we do here. Stack Exchange is a repository of questions and answers; the answers are supposed to be helpful to future visitors, otherwise we wouldn't go through pains to make them findable.

Check my work: Stack Overflow rejects questions of the form “here's my code, how can it be improved?”. It has a companion site Code Review which is dedicated to such questions. The feel of the two sites is very different, which makes me feel that check-my-proof doesn't belong on a general Q&A site either. This doesn't mean that anything that smells of check-my-proof should be rejected. “Here's my proof [3 self-contained paragraphs], am I applying the mistress theorem correctly?” is perfectly fine. “Review my proof of the independence of P=NP” isn't.

  1. Comments are starting to build up on a question. A commenter asserts that the question makes no sense and should be closed. The asker maintains that the question is perfectly clear. You have no idea as it's about a domain of CS that you know nothing about. What do you do?

These come in all kinds, ranging from a simple misunderstanding to characterized bad faith. As a moderator, you don't have to step in every time; sometimes it's enough to let the conversation run its course. Often a gentle prod can help, such as gently asking the asker to edit their question to provide a few definitions or link to some background explanation, even if they feel the question is perfectly clear. If the commenter has identified a fundamental misconception, then usually the right course of action is to debunk that misconception in an answer. If there's a dispute that can't be resolved, try to find a topic expert in chat or on meta.

  1. Assume the community acts differently than you would have, or directly rescinds one of your actions, e.g. closing or reopening. What do you do?

Depending on how repeatable and how important the issue is: either move on (but remember the issue in case it turns out to be part of a trend), or open a debate on meta. If the closers/reopeners (taking this example) haven't explained their action, request an explanation in a comment or in chat — not just for my benefit but also for the benefit of the asker.

  1. What do you think this site's biggest challenge is? (E.g. post quality or quantity, too many/few closures, bad tools/guidance, etc.) What do you think should be done about it (by anybody: moderators, users in general, Stack Exchange staff, ...)?

Not enough questions that aren't homework-type. Being neither a professor nor a student, these questions naturally tend to fail to catch my interest. But beyond that, computer science is not just a topic to teach and learn (and research, but a lot of that is nicely covered by Theoretical Computer Science). It's also a science that gets applied by millions of engineers.

I'm at a bit of a loss how to improve on that, beyond improving our treatment of problem dumps and hint-only answers. Being the representative of industry among the current moderators, I feel somewhat responsible. I'm afraid I don't have a promotional channel for programmers (unless my tumultuous relationship with Meta Stack Overflow counts). I do try to defend applied science against a strict theoretical view (yes, it's come up sometimes) and to provide a broad perspective when I answer questions (but then by now you've noticed I write too much anyway).

  1. If you have not been a moderator on CS.SE, have you been helping in moderating the site (edits, close/reopen votes, flags, setting site policies through meta discussions, etc.)? What are your three most important contributions to moderation on the site as a member of the site's community?

Logician's answer:

Common sense answer: besides being a moderator, I do edit posts (if only a fraction of Raphael), I participate on meta. I sometimes review though as a moderator with a binding vote I prefer to let the community have their voice. I sometimes go through the “10k” close heap to put questions with four close votes out of their misery (or not, if they've been edited into shape midstream).

  1. What do you see as the mission of cs.SE? Should we be a Q&A repository, a (self-)teaching tool, a homework service, ...?

CS.SE is a Stack Exchange site. (A normal one, not an outlier like Code Review or Code Golf.) It's a “question and answer site”, aiming to be a “library of detailed answers to every question about computer science” (source). I'm close to Joel Spolsky's vision for Stack Exchange, with Wikipedia as a strong inspiration.

CS.SE can be used as a teaching tool. But that's not saying much: so can a piece of chalk.

While CS.SE can be used as a homework service, it shouldn't. Using it this way doesn't help the student (it might help you get a passing grade if your education system is so screwed up you can get a passing grade from homework, but it's not going to land you a job). Using it this way doesn't help other participants. And it doesn't help visitors unless they have the exact same exercise — except that, like the original asker, it doesn't actually help them.

  1. What are your plans to engage the community in moderation?

Well, that's a tough one. I've been trying to unobtrusively let the community handle closing and reopening, but after three years we still don't have a critical mass. Still, the situation may be improving: the close review queue is at an all-time low — I hope it isn't just the summer lull in close-worthy homework questions. I prod encourage people to participate on meta. I hope after this election we'll see a few new heads here.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

The first step is to kindly ask them to moderate themselves. If it's limited to comments, suggest chat instead. If it rises to the level of flags, and it isn't just someone having a bad day, this may warrant a more serious talking to. Ultimately, in egregious cases, ask them — or tell them if needs be — to take step away from the keyboard. This is a collaborative site; if someone can't stand collaboration, no matter how much of a genius they are, it's best for them and us if they keep their distance. (Fortunately we haven't had such a bad case here so far, but I've seen it on other SE sites where I'm not a moderator.)

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

See 3.

  1. What are your areas of expertise in computer science? In which areas of the scope do you easily understand typical questions? In which areas of the scope do you have difficulty in understanding typical questions? Do you hold a university degree in computer science? Do you have any teaching experience in computer science?

My main areas of expertise are around models of computation and program correctness analysis. Given our traffic, my main weaknesses are complexity theory, graphics and stats.

I have a PhD in programming language theory. My teaching experience is limited to being a TA (doing exercises on paper or computers in groups of 20–50 people) for programming classes.

Bonus. Could you please list your time zone and/or the times of day (in GMT) when you are typically around for moderation duties? This isn't a request for a guarantee, merely an indication. While there aren't usually very many (if any) moderation emergencies on CS, I would find it helpful when voting.

From experience, there's rarely anything that requires urgent intervention. The only time that's happened on CS is spam waves, and the community can deal with those: 6 spam flags (which only requires 15 reputation to cast) and a spam is gone. And there hasn't been a spam wave on CS since Stack Exchange put in place an adaptative spam filter on their servers. The one reason to spread timezones is that occasionally (maybe a once-a-year thing on CS), we want to have a chat with a user, and that requires compatible times. But it's usually possible to find some overlap even from disparate timezones.

Anyway I live in UTC+1/2. I'm usually sporadically present during the day and more active in the evening. When I travel (a few weeks per year) all bets are off.


Final note: there are more good candidates than seats in this election. Whoever wins or doesn't win, I hope everyone will stay and do that larger part of moderation (editing, commenting, voting, closing, etc.) for which diamond-free blood suffices.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ad your bonus note: I usuall check in in the CEST morning. There is something posted during CEST night (US afternoon/evening) that requires moderating every day. Community gets better at doing certain things on their own, but I regularly find blatantly offtopic things sitting there open. This is an issue that will go away when the core community grows, but today it's still an issue. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Aug 16 '15 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ ad 5: I want to add that Gilles' broad experience with/on SE as a whole, and his envolvement in and knowledge about stuff on Meta Stack Exchange have been invaluable. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Aug 16 '15 at 13:45

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