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I've asked this myself sometimes already. A lot of knowledgeable developers are using Stackoverflow to give advice and help solving other peoples problems - for free. Giving back your own knowledge and helping students, newcomers or just less experienced developers can be a really good thing. It's a great feeling to know that you've helped someone. I wonder if people would also be up for voluntary (donations at maximum) mentoring other people - face to face via video chat (assuming the person mentored is actually intending to learn and not just trying get help on a project for free from an expert).

I know there are sites like codementor, but they are all based on a fixed hourly rate - you can basically only hire a mentor/expert.

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  • $\begingroup$ Just to point out a difference, if I walked away from SO answers I am writing (without submitting) as much as I did for mentoring, I wouldn't be in a mentoring job for long. That makes a significant difference in reliability and thus value. $\endgroup$ – Flater Dec 13 '19 at 12:00
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I is hard to give a sufficiently nuanced answer to this question. There are many factors. I will try to give my own perspective.

First, I give away a lot for free in this forum and in others, both within the SE framework and to the SIGCSE and APCS communities. So, my basic instinct is to be generous with my skills and experience.

Second, not everyone is as economically advantaged as everyone else. Some people would like an education but various factors, both economic and political, make that very difficult. In the US, the tax system used for support of schools is incredibly unfair to many people. If you live in a rich area, you have good schools. If you live in a poor area your schools will find a very difficult time providing you the education you deserve.

Third, an educated populace is a good thing. The education available to an individual shouldn't depend on where they live (locally or otherwise), or their particular economic circumstances. To insist that everyone must pay their own way for an education leads to a sub-optimally educated general population, which is a poor path to progress for a nation or the world.

However, fourth, if something is given to you, you may not appreciate it sufficiently, or work to optimize the potential of the gift. I've retired from academia (several years ago), but still teach Tai Chi. It has always been the practice of Tai Chi masters that students must pay something to obtain instruction. Even if it is just a few eggs or a kilo of grain. And the purpose of payment isn't for the support of the masters, but so that the students will be more likely to apply themselves and take advantage of the instruction. It is, in many ways, a mutual gift system.

There is a common flaw in free online courses, that students tend to drop out at too-high rates. If they commit nothing, they probably don't feel obligated to commit to the work required to learn. People paying for higher education, often work hard because they are already "investing" a lot of money and want a good return and will therefore "invest" a lot of effort.

So, if you want to know whether I would, personally, teach for nothing, you'd have to tell me who the students are and what it is that they are willing to "invest" of themselves. If you can find a way to somehow assure that they will do the work necessary so that my efforts aren't just wasted, then I'm willing to listen. But, yes, I'm willing to contribute, provided that I think I can make a difference, somehow. But that is easier in small face-to-face groups than in broadcasting to the web.

Finally, providing the conditions for true learning online are very difficult. If you read other things I've written here and on academia.se you will understand that I have definite ideas about learning and what it takes (primarily reinforcement and feedback) and both of those are hard to arrange faithfully on the web.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your very detailed answer, I appreciate it! $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kaufmann Dec 7 '19 at 21:14
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A key difference with stackoverflow vs. private mentoring is that one doesn't need to be invested in any particular person's understanding. If the OP doesn't get it, marks my answer down, upvotes or checkmarks an answer I consider incorrect, no problem for me. Maybe some other random person(s) will find my answer useful. Or useless.

With individual mentoring, there is a more personal feedback loop: one must try to actually figure out what's wrong with the students brain that keeps them from understanding (or my own brain that makes my explanation incomprehensible). Those may or may not be possible.

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