A little update from Stack Overflow

Since its inception, over 20 million questions have been asked on the site. Find out where their head is at during the pandemic.
50 readers like this.
Brick wall between two people, a developer and an operations manager

When I saw Stack Overflow Chief Product Officer (CPO) Teresa Dietrich on the list of speakers at the All Things Open conference this year, I jumped at the chance to get an update.

We all know the value of Stack Overflow: the information that's been created there over the past twelve years is nothing short of vital for programmers, developers, and other technologists. Just the other day one of our contributors shared how critical it was to his process for starting to learn a new programming language quickly.

Teresa and her team are laser-focused on what Stack Overflow can do for teams of developers and operations folks these days, so I asked questions around her understanding of where Stack Overflow has been and where they are now during a global pandemic in order to maintain and grow a healthy Q&A platform.

What does Stack Overflow mean to developers today? What was it like 10 years ago?

I think developers have always seen and continue to see Stack Overflow as a trusted platform and community where they can find help and get answers for them to solve problems as quickly as possible with minimal disruption to their workflow. 

One of the most significant changes over the last 10 years is how much knowledge Stack Overflow has today. Since our inception, over 20 million questions have been asked on the site and developers and technologists have visited Stack Overflow for help over 47 billion times.

As with much internet usage, we have seen an increase in expectations of immediate satisfaction, especially since so many answers already exist on our platform. Sometimes a lack of patience or desire to get the answer to a very narrow question can lead to poorly written or too specific questions that are difficult to answer or don’t provide value to others. This sometimes leads to tensions between the seasoned and new users on the platform and a balancing act for us.

Stack Overflow's workforce was 40% remote prior to COVID-19. What is it today? 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Product, Engineering, Design and Community team was over 80% remote and the entire organization was 40% remote. Today, the entire company is working remotely through at least July 2021, until it’s safe to bring our employees back into offices.

Why is it important to give your employees flexibility and does it really work? Why do some companies refuse to do so?

In order to create a workplace culture that allows employees to have the most impact and satisfaction, you need to enable as much autonomy as possible. Autonomy is the power to shape your work environment in ways that allow you to perform at your best. 

First, the company has to invest in the necessary frameworks and processes that allow employees to work with autonomy. You need clear goals and success criteria, roles and responsibilities, and policies around remote and flexible work. This is an investment from the company to create and maintain, and it can’t happen overnight. Second, the company leadership needs to trust that the employees will work within these frameworks and policies while holding themselves and each other accountable. Building this trust may require a leap of faith and/or a leadership culture change that can make leadership uncomfortable or feel like they are losing control. Committing to these two steps and the investment to follow through are likely barriers for many companies to create truly flexible workplaces.

What's it like to onboard new engineers in this environment?

Our engineering team has been mostly remote since the beginning, so remote onboarding is our normal.

We’ve found that a prescriptive onboarding process is key in making sure each new team member is exposed to the right people, information, processes, and tools to enable their success. One tool we all use to onboard (including Sales, Marketing, Product, and Customer Success) is Stack Overflow for Teams, an asynchronous collaboration platform that makes the Q&A format of our public platform private for a company and supplements with long-form content in order to replace wikis. It’s a great place to store technical documentation for new hires. What’s more, for engineers joining a new team or company, their own measure of success is how quickly they can start to deliver impact through shipping a small feature or fix to production.

We wrap up our 6-8 week onboarding with our Graduation project. A graduation project is a smallish product feature that is relevant to the new hire’s product team. A typical graduation project is about 1.5 to 2 weeks of work and is chosen with the assistance of other team members. When completed, the new hire presents their project and progress to all of Product and Engineering.

We'd like to know: What does Stack Overflow mean to you? Share in the comments.

What to read next
User profile image.
Jen leads a team of community managers for the Digital Communities team at Red Hat. She lives in Raleigh with her husband and daughters, June and Jewel.

1 Comment

I've been relying on the Stack Exchange sites for a few years now. I can always find answers to most issues run across in the course of a technician's day; I appreciate them.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.