Stack Overflow is a sham

Let’s face it, if you’ve ever written a line of code in the past 3 years, you’ve more than likely landed on stackoverflow.com. It’s absolutely an indispensable weapon in a developer’s arsenal. But it’s all a guise. This no-nonsense, information-packed, almost fun site is only a ruse created by Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky. The real intent of the site is has nothing to do with technology, let alone programming.

But let me start from the beginning and how I stumbled upon my discovery. For work, I’m developing a discussion site that implements gamification, not unlike the sites in the Stack Exchange network. As a matter of fact we are closely following their model and implementation. Today I was working on the user profile page and wanted to see how Stack Overflow did theirs. A co-worker pointed out that their user IDs are incremental and we were curious who user ID 1 is. Lo and behold, it was Jeff Atwood. No big surprise I guess.

As I expected, the profile page is clean and concise like the rest of the site. I saw a link to his Coding Horror blog and clicked it. I’ve been there before but I don’t remember reading any of his entries. It just so happens his last blog was on parenthood and I’m at the age where my fiance and I are contemplating whether we should have children or not. So I read Jeff’s blog on parenthood and to my surprise, it was VERY entertaining. His writing style mixes in anecdotes, unexpected analogies, and a sense of humor that somehow easily comes through in the words.

I somehow found myself scrolling down the page to see what else he wrote about? Multiple video cards for Battlefield 3? OK! I have a love for both. What else is there? Being an iPhone/iPad developer is like serving the king? Hmmm, sound interesting. Gamification? Directly applies to me.

Those next 3 articles were equally well written in the same personable style. But his gamification blog is what let me to the purpose of this blog. In the gamification blog, there’s a link to another of his blog titled “How to Write Without Writing”. In it Jeff points out that developers are not the best communicators. That “communication with other human beings is not exactly what we signed up for”. No argument there. It turns out Jeff and Joel have always intended to use Stack Overflow to trick developers into writing more. The smoking barrel: “Joel and I have always positioned Stack Overflow, and all the other Stack Exchange Q&A sites, as lightweight, focused, ‘fun size’ units of writing…Yes, by God, we will trick you into becoming a better writer if that’s what it takes …”

WE’VE BEEN BAMBOOZLED! This entire time I thought I was using that wonderfully pragmatic site for my own gains. But those two were playing us all.

But seriously, going through Jeff’s blog inspired me. He’s absolutely right. We should all strive to be better writers and communicators. And most of us desperately need to start practicing more. I can personally attest to this. Just writing this blog is taking longer than I expected and I had to visit Google several times to search for the right word to convey my thoughts. I’m obviously having a hard to time gathering my thoughts and clarifying them. I can’t even do it at the pace I’m typing. How is there any hope I’m going to do it while conversing (Or is it conversating? I’m going to need a lot practice.)?

Up till now, I’ve only been writing in this blog as a way to remind myself of resolutions to technical issues. But I should strive for more. I realize I won’t always be writing content that eventually translates to 1’s and 0’s. Someday, I’ll need to actually interact with other people. *gasp*. So now is a good time as any. But now that I put my plan out there, I might have invited the curse of social reality. Only time will tell.

On a final note, I want to convey my new found respect for Jeff, Joel, and other people that carry on with their work-life balance but at the same time still care about society as a whole and take steps to try to make it better. Something we should all strive for.

Oh yeah, congratulations to Jeff on the twin girls. I’m sure you’ll really have your work cut out for you now.

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