This is the flip side of Questions that only arise in an open source context

Consider this question: Do you need a degree to become an open source developer? (which I am using simply as an example)

I voted to close this as "not specific to open source development (software, hardware, or anything else)". I stand by that.

Remove the words "open source" from the title and you are simply left with:

Do you need a degree to become a developer?

This is a perfectly valid, but very generic, question. It is not specific to open source, but applies to all software development.

Does adding the words "open source" in the title or body make it suddenly "specifically" relevant to open source?

What is our litmus test for relevance in this type of question?

It might be hard to define. Consider "Is Git a good VCS?" versus "Is Git a good VCS for open source development?". The second question has the magic words added, but I think it's still primarily opinion based and answers will be fairly generic.

But what about "Is Git particularly well suited for open source development?"

That's getting closer to the mark.

(P.S. I suggested that I thought there might be a more relevant way to phrase this particular question, but editing it to do that would effectively orphan the existing answers).

(P.P.S. I eventually asked the question I thought more relevant here)

  • I agree with your stance. I'm voting to close that question with your reasoning now.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 14:31
  • Maybe ask the rephrased question as a new one. Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 14:33
  • I'm waiting to see where we go with that one .. it's close enough to be considered a dupe otherwise. But this meta question is more about the general point in the title
    – kdopen
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 14:34
  • 1
    i'm assuming my response was the "bitter" one. i could have been nicer. i just wanted to make it clear how ludicrous i felt the closing decision was. clearly it motivated you enough to run here and ask. i applaud your enthusiasm,.
    – albert
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 1:45
  • VTC at this stage is about defining the scope of the site, and nothing personal, so yes I was a little surprised. It was the nature of the question itself, not the comment, which brought me here to meta to ask this one.
    – kdopen
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 1:51
  • Also, is it on-topic to ask about what you need to do open-source development on a boat?
    – cpast
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 1:58
  • Definitely off-topic here as well as at SO
    – kdopen
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 2:45

3 Answers 3


I don't see the example question as off topic. It is relevant to people with very little knowledge of open source, but it is still on topic.

I agree that in general the phrase "open source" being included in a question has no bearing on whether it is on topic:

  • A question containing "open source" can be off topic.
  • A question not containing "open source" can be on topic.

There are a wide variety of reasons for being on or off topic, and it is important to judge the full wording of the question rather than deciding based on key words.

And if in doubt, do as has happened here - take it to Meta.


I think the question should make clear why open source in this case makes a difference. In case of the specific question I agree with your close.


I initially voted to close as

I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's a generic question into which the word “open source” has been inserted even though it is irrelevant.

But on second thoughts this is not a good close reason. Questions that are directly relevant to contributors in open source/knowledge projects, in their role as contributors in open source/knowledge projects, should be on-topic, even if the question could also apply to non-open projects.

However this is a bad question for other reasons. Programming is not a regulated activity. I don't think there is any jurisdiction where you need to have any ki nd of formal qualification to be a developer, open source or not. This is genera l knowledge, obvious and doesn't need asking.

The question even contains its own answer: “I know that people don't need degrees to create closed source software.” And a really strange statement that “open source programming is different to closed source” — er, what? A program works the same regardless of its license.

It's hard to see what this question is really asking. The asker is evidently not seeking an answer since they already know the answer. It seems to be a discussion starter disguising itself as a question. I should have voted to close as unclear what you're asking.

Obviousness is not a close reason, but inane questions like this one are a distraction. It is especially unwelcome on a private beta where we seek to establish a base level for expertise. Please, especially during a private beta, ask the most expert questions you can think of, not the most basic questions you can think of.

  • Programming is not currently a regulated activity but it could become one some day. Typically a degree isn't required, but rather insurance is required and insurance usually requires a degree. In more regulation heavy jurisdictions the attempt to waive liability in open source licenses is already illegal, and I can easily see them some day adding "and you must have insurance to cover liability" to that list. For example if a bug causes some kind of loss, the developer's insurance company could pay for it. Legislation along these lines does exist for other fields of engineering Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 10:11
  • @AbhiBeckert In what jurisdiction is it illegal to waive liability? I don't think I've ever seen a license that didn't waive liability, whether the software was open source or not. The provision may be void in some jurisdictions, of course, but I'm not aware of any such jurisprudence in France or in the US. Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 12:55
  • I meant "illegal" is broad terms. It is common (even lawyers do it) to refer to waivers being illegal when what they really mean is that the waiver is void. Some versions of the BSD license don't waive liability. Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 20:23
  • @AbhiBeckert Yes, I understood that. In what jurisdictions are warranty waivers known to be void? Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 22:16

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