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I am thinking of doing a short presentation at work about using Stack Overflow as a resource for your day job.

What is your experience doing this?

Would you deem it a valid resource to tell your colleagues about it or is it similar to telling them about Google as a resource?

Is there a better way of doing it?

I was leaning toward asking questions side of Stack Overflow rather than answering them to avoid you-shouldn't-be-doing-this-on-work-time argument.


Just as a follow up.

Originally I didn't want to make the question too specific to my own case. My presentation will only be a quick four minute talk, which I will repeat over an hour to different groups.

I may ask a question before the talk on Stack Overflow and refer to it during the presentation. Hopefully I will get some activity during the hour.

I am also going to talk briefly about some of the other Stack Exchange sites that would fit the audience as they are not all developers. I think Super User, Server Fault and Programmers should work well.

I will not be doing the presentation for another couple of months as it has been rescheduled, but I will update on how I got on.

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My answer - No. I tried and failed. Google points to StackOverflow.com all the time. Any programmer who has not heard of this site by now lives under a rock. You CANNOT force passion. Just keep using it yourself and thus gain a rockstar status at work. Then leave for a better place with good recommendations and an SO profile that smart employers can check out. –  Job Jul 15 '11 at 16:15
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As the old adage goes: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink –  sunpech Jul 15 '11 at 18:25
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@Job: MSDN search also features SO.com answers prominently. –  rwong Jul 16 '11 at 22:05
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@sunpech: But you can drown it and get a new one if it doesn't drink. –  Joel Etherton Jul 20 '11 at 11:10
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When i do google search, I get MSDN pages at the bottom of search result page and SO at TOP –  Shyju Aug 27 '12 at 20:30

8 Answers 8

up vote 39 down vote accepted

Key points:

  1. Registration is easy.
  2. It's free
  3. Quality answers.

I would suggest your group create a question during the presentation (do a search first.). If you don't get a response before the presentation/meeting is over, keep everyone posted via email and follow-up if necessary. They'll be impressed with the quality and speed of the responses. Compare to a Google search. You could also prepare a question in advance.

It really will be up to them whether they'll use it or not. If you find the group in a major debate, try putting it on Stack Overflow as a follow-up to your presentation. Everyone may not see the need instantly. Keep at it.

My current company was using a paid site. I never bothered to get an account because of Stack Overflow.

Time can be perceived as wasted if you spend too much time on Stack Overflow. I'd rather have people get involved. You learn just as much by answering questions in my opinion. It just may prompt you about a issue you never considered.

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well, actually you do have to register to ask a question now. But only on Stack Overflow due to immense question volume. –  Jeff Atwood Aug 27 '12 at 20:17
    
hey! I'm rlemon! :P I "wrote" that :) –  rlemon May 2 at 0:16
    
@JeffAtwood - Changed from none to easy. –  JeffO May 9 at 15:40

You should track down each time you find a solution on SO of a problem you had. Do that for a month or so.

For each problem:

  1. estimate how much time (in hours) you would have spent solving the error yourself.
  2. estimate the time (in hours) you spent looking for a solution.

Substract the sum of point 1 with sum of point 2.

Multiplicate the amount by what you cost to the company hourly (usually the double of your net salary).

That's what you saved and goes in the pocket of shareholders.

(SUM(Est. time spent solving alone) - SUM(time spent looking browsing SO)) * Hourly cost = Value SO provide

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Caveat -- this might be orthogonal to your question but you might look into setting up a workplace specific SO clone. Although this would be more of a next step after a good majority of your coworkers know how to use SO.

Shapado is an open source clone of SO that we have setup at work. It is great for asking questions about our in house IDE, DB, and other tech. However currently it hasn't reached critical mass. There are a lot of questions with no accepted answer which I think is an effect of coworkers not knowing how q&a sites like SO work and Shapado not showing user's accept rate.

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I think it's a great idea!

I'm always surprised at how little some of my coworkers know about or use SO. It is an invaluable tool for problem solving, and the response time and quality of answers obtained is amazing.

Some things to mention in your presentation though...

  • That they should go online to look for existing answers before posting a question
  • How to write good questions. Perhaps show them some bad questions as an example
  • How to use SO correctly... the difference between Answers/Comments, how to Accept an answer, how to use the Code blocks, etc.
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Since they don't seem to know what SO is, I'd say start with that.

Simply put, StackOverflow, specifically (though its other objective sisters, such as Serverfault fall under this, too), has questions and answers that are objective, and therefore, provable. Either the proposed solution works, or it doesn't.

It's targeted. StackOverflow is specifically designed for programmers to help each other. Serverfault is specifically for server admins, and so on. Therefore, it's more likely to attract people that are well-known as experts in the field (for example, Phil Sturgeon, a big contributor in the CodeIgniter community, is an active SO member) than, say, Yahoo answers. If you ask a question on SO, there's a very high chance of it getting seen and answered by the high-profile, heavy hitters in that technology. Who better to ask for help on something than the creators of the technology?

It can be a passive way of finding answers. Generally, when I ask a question on StackOverflow, it's after I've exhausted my mental pool of Google search terms (which often lead to SO questions anyway, I'm still not sure how any programmer hasn't heard of this place anymore, but that's beside the point) and my own ideas for solutions. So, once I ask a question, I move on to other problems, so I don't get stuck in "forest for the trees" mode on that one, and wait for answers to come along. In that sense, I'm more productive, because I'm not spending more time re-searching and re-digging through Google for an answer that may or may not exist in writing yet. Once someone proposes a solution (and they're generally quick), I can do the legwork of getting it in and adapting it to my specific needs.

It helps the programmer community. If you fully participate in SO (ie - you accept answers, vote on questions and answers, and submit your own answers), then you're helping any other poor sap that might come along after stumbling over the issue you once had, yourself (after all, if you had an issue, someone else is bound to have had the same, or something close enough to apply). At the very least it gets more info out there. Even if you never hear feedback from these people, remember the "silent majority" that come across these resources, but don't make themselves known, even if you did help them.

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Not to mention, just the act of typing out a SO question gets you thinking about the problem in a different way (because you have to clearly convey the problem to others), which sometimes gives you a "light bulb" moment where you suddenly figure out an answer on your own. –  XåpplI'-I0llwlg'I - Jan 5 '13 at 8:28
    
Indeed. I've had a number of questions that I ended up abandoning, because the act of typing it out has lead me to the solution. –  Shauna Jan 7 '13 at 13:59
    
@XåpplI'-I0llwlg'I- Yes. Rubber duck debugging. –  starsplusplus Apr 29 at 9:38

I haven't done this, but I have spent some time thinking about how I'd respond if challenged on my use it during work hours.

My approach would be to use examples. Here's a really nasty problem I ran into while doing this job, here's the question I asked on StackOverflow, and here's the really useful stuff I learned as a result. (Hell, looking at my list of questions, it's like a bunch of little snapshots of my career.)

I'd think it's a totally valid resource to point people towards. Everybody knows what Google is; StackOverflow, not so much.

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I just showed one of the answers that solved an issue that I was stuck with...

Didn't need to convince managers after that. The Q&A concept of stack-overflow explains itself.

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I wanted to comment, but it became too big for it.

I always prefered to refer or recommend Stackoverflow and other stackexchange sites privately, next to a cup of coffee or something like this.

If I speak to a junior I always tell them to check it out, if they didn't already, it is useful. There are collegues who use some hungarian site with forum capabilities, I guess because of lack of general English knowlegdes. Sometimes I recommend other stackexchange parts like programmers or server fault, super user too when it comes to debate about "best practice" or hardware, server operations etc... I was surpised when I learned many of programmers know only about Stackoverflow, and not other stackexchange sites.

I would say it might have a good point to introduce Stackoverflow and for example programmers.stackexchange in a presentation, but I wouldn't do it for a hundred people. Maybe just to my group's or project's people.

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