I am Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Stack Overflow and Discourse. Ask me anything!

Hey Hashnode community, 👋

I am Jeff Atwood. I created Stack Overflow in 2008 which ultimately became the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. After leaving SO in 2012, I started working on Discourse, an open source forum software.

I will be answering your questions live on Friday, March 1st, 2 PM EST / 19:00 GMT.

Ask me anything.

Comments (90)

Syed Fazle Rahman's photo

What advice do you have for developers who are trying to start a business? 🙂

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

Read marketing books! They're actually quite good

blog.codinghorror.com/the-one-thing-every-s..

Alongside that, cultivate the skill of asking for money, because your product is great, and worth it.

Jeff Atwood's photo

OK Thanks everyone for their questions, and also thanks to hashnode for hosting this Q&A!

See you on Stack Overflow.. or any Discourse instance ;)

discourse.org

Syed Fazle Rahman's photo

Hi Jeff, Thanks for hosting the AMA. Joel and you have been an inspiration in my career. Thanks for building Stack Overflow and changing the global developers' community.

What are your few takeaways from building Stack Overflow and Discourse?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

Primarily, complaint driven development and building alongside/with your community!

blog.codinghorror.com/listen-to-your-commun..

blog.codinghorror.com/complaint-driven-deve..

Mike Albert's photo

Hi Jeff, I am so happy to see you on Hashnode.

What do you have to say about the controversies around Stack Overflow not being a friendly place anymore? Do you think SO did a few things wrong or incorrectly? Where should they improve in 2019.

Thanks for the AMA. 🍺

Show all replies
Todd's photo

Software Security TechLead

This was a great explanation and article. When I was new, I ran into the typical newbie sentiment of "F StackOverflow" for a couple months til I realized that the PURPOSE and INTENTION of SO is more of a wiki or encyclopedia-style reference, it's not really about end-user questions and answers.... This forever changed my view and in fact I believe I wrote about it in a post here at Hashnode a year or two ago.

It makes me cringe when people slam SO super hard because I know that it is just a simple misunderstanding. The site has worked itself into a situation where it attracts newbies by default (due to google) but it's a misalignment in intended audience which then brews frustration. Jeff I'm very happy you addressed this question so thoroughly.

Adam Findlay's photo

Of all the predictions you've made over the years, which do you think you've been the most wrong about and what lead you to make that prediction?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

I used to think netbooks were gonna be big :(

Turns out, it was phablets instead!

Xingheng Wang's photo

When hiring for startups which element is more important?

  • Raw smarts (who seems have raw smart, core problem solving skills)
  • Experience (already worked on large/scalable production system, or tech stack that the project uses).

To elaborate, I see a lot of startups (even FB, or snapchat) where their first set of employees are recent college grads from top schools (but very little experience), but then I heard VCs say founder should try to hire people who already have a lot of experience. I wonder from your perspective, is it more important that someone is raw smart and are moldable, or already have tons of experience?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

Neither, really. In a startup mindset, you want to optimize for people who are a little bit crazy and obsessive enough to get things done at (almost) any cost.

blog.codinghorror.com/we-hire-the-best-just..

Now this can go quite badly in the moral sense (Theranos, Uber) so when I say this, I DO NOT mean do things in an unethical way, or to take unethical shortcuts!

Just work hard and be obsessed with the problem you're working on.

Sandeep Panda's photo

What are some of the overrated tools/ideas/tech according to you?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

The new shiny is always overrated. Be skeptical! Think UNIX! Old and dumb, but it works, that's the ticket! ;)

Cory Shaw's photo

Hey Jeff! Thanks for hosting this AMA, and for all of your blog posts over the years.

What sorts of habits, products, tools, etc do you use to stay productive as a remote employee? It seems hard to separate your work from your home life once you start working from home. How do you keep your house chores and family life from getting in the way of work?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

Well, the honest answer is that.. I don't 🤣

However, I did not fully understand this until I had children.

blog.codinghorror.com/on-parenthood

I guess my main recommendation is to create a workspace, as much as you can, that can be physically closed off from your typical home stuff. This is easy for me because we have a small building outside the house that I use as an office. The idea is that the physical walling off helps you and people around you understand when you are in "work space" versus "home space".

Some people on the Discourse team (we're all remote!) also rent rooms or desks at co-working spaces and go there to work.

Sandeep Panda's photo

Hey Jeff! Thanks for the AMA. What are a few things in Software Engineering that have changed for good since you started coding?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

Well, when I started in 1994 virtually nobody used source control, continuous integration, or unit testing.. heck even by 2000 very few people did that .. so I'd say software engineering is a very young field!

Daniel Vassallo's photo

Do you think negativity is always undesirable in online communities? If yes, what's the best way to prevent it?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

I think Just In Time reminders are the best way to deal with this

blog.codinghorror.com/the-just-in-time-theory

The key thing to consider is when to intervene, e.g. when are there points of negative action? Some examples could be ...

  • first time you press a key in your first reply (if you are replying because Someone Is Wrong On The Internet xkcd.com/386 )

  • replying over and over to the same person

  • replying very rapidly to the same topic

etc

I also feel that downvoting is a very dangerous thing to add to any community, so be careful with that. It's OK on Stack Overflow because those are systems of data, facts, and science -- things that can usually be verified. But in Discourse we're dealing with opinions, so downvoting isn't appropriate.

It is interesting how the conspicuous absence of upvotes can sometimes feel like a slap, though ;)

Ben Buchanan (200ok)'s photo

If you had a "do over" for Stack Overflow, what would you do differently?

Do you think the Q&A format is more or less relevant in the dev world now than it was at the start of SO?

You famously stepped back from SO to spend more time with family, do you think the tech industry has got any better at that kind of balance in the years since then? Do you think it's possible for startup culture to evolve to embrace balance, or is it too deeply tied to the idea that burnout is normal... or even virtuous?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

I don't think I could have done anything much differently for SO. I can only think of two things

  1. was not starting meta.stackoverflow.com sooner, but that still came relatively soon.

  2. splitting into two projects, careers and stack overflow proper, so early on with so few people working

#2 was painful, and I can technically blame Joel for that, but we felt it was key to get the income part of the project going as soon as possible so we could figure out how to make it a sustainable business.

I think the Q&A format was less relevant to programmers back in 2007.. though it was in fact was ASTOUNDINGLY common on the web! It blew my mind how many random Q&A sites there were on the web when I began researching it in 2008! People may laugh (and justifiably so) at Yahoo Answers but it had crazy levels of real world usage by real people. Q&A was a latent market, I think, and we tapped into that for the programming use case.

As far as work/life balance, I think integrating more women into the field will help. It's awfully easy to work 12 hours a day when you don't have any children in the picture, and this goes for fathers as well as mothers.

David Ravinkat's photo

Just dropped to say a BIG THANKS for creating Stackoverflow!

But let me share one of concerns I'm wondering about these days:

Do you really use frameworks such as Cinefyn for deciding which PM method to go with? Or just follow the BPs, like: Picking Scrum for fresh development ones, or Stick with Kanban for those up & running?[FYI This is what I use for my team]

Show all replies
David Ravinkat's photo

Software Engineer

Thank you for the comprehensive response Jeff. Just reviewed both links & appreciate your agile PM methodology. Keep up making great things! ;-)

Ali Lorenz's photo

What was it like at the beginning of starting Discourse when you were a solo developer? What advice would you give fellow solo developers?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

My primary advice is never to be a solo developer ;)

blog.codinghorror.com/whos-your-coding-buddy

Ryan Gonzalez's photo

If you could completely change one thing in the client-side web ecosystem, what would it be?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

I desperately wish Qualcomm would have produced faster SoCs. This hurts us every day on Android JS performance, and will continue to hurt us for another 5 years as old devices slowly cycle out of use. Other than that everything is great!

Vijay Thirugnanam's photo

StackOverflow is a great place and it always shows up high when I search on Google. Any takeaways on SEO?

  1. Is it speed which makes SO rank high?
  2. Is it the policies around moderation where questions and answers are detailed enough?
  3. Do you provide a Sitemap to Google?

Thanks.

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

Keep quality high and everything else follows. Speed helps too!

Many of the complaints about Stack Overflow you'll hear (why is it so strict!) are about the strictness required to keep quality high...

blog.codinghorror.com/what-does-stack-overf..

Also note that the voting is key here, so the best solutions rise to the top, and we discourage random discussion in favor of wiki style editing so there's less to read. The end result is a very concise, up to date, useful bit of information for the world!

Daniel Vassallo's photo

What do you think about Ruby on Rails now that you've been using it for many years in Discourse? Any regrets?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

No regrets! Ruby has performed well for us and we've almost never had issues due to Ruby or Rails itself in many years of hosting and building, so that's great!

I do have two things I wish were better though:

  • Ruby should be further along than it is now in terms of low-level maturity with things like memory allocation and garbage collection and JIT compilation type features. It feels like Java and .NET are a decade ahead in the fundamentals.

  • There's a general lack of emphasis in the Ruby community on overall "performance as a feature". We've tried to help with rubybench.org

Kevin Woblick's photo

Hi Jeff, thanks for hosting this AMA. I am a huge fan and following you and your work for many years now.

After all the years reading your blog it seems that you like writing. Did you ever thought about writing a whole book about your experiences with programming; packed with interesting advice and funny anecdotes?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

No, however, HyperInk did bundle together blog posts as a book in

amazon.com/dp/B008HUMTO0 amazon.com/dp/B00BU3KPQU

and they did a great job with it.

Milica Maksimović's photo

What does your average day at work look like? Do you even have them?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

My schedule is so bizarre because I've worked from home for a decade now! I do have a home office which is a separate small building from our main house, which is nice.

I've never been great at pure work/life balance but kids sure do help you tweak that in the life direction ;) With Discourse I try to have a more traditional 9-5 M-F work week, though I am a bit of a night owl so that ends up being more like 11-7

Working remotely from home is a skill you have to actively cultivate though, it has its own set of pros and cons. Great article here

medium.com/@beccadownes/remote-teams-450383..

Shubham Rath's photo

What is your advice for fresh graduates from college stepping into the software world?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

Strive to work with people who you admire, that are smarter than you, so you can learn from them. Take pride in your work and be persistent and thorough in solving the problems you face each day.

David Nahodil's photo

In 2012 you were on a jury for a trial about a horrible tragedy, and it was obvious from your blog post (posts?) at the time that it affected you deeply. 6 years have passed since the trial, how have your thoughts from that experience progressed? are there any other lessons or insights from that which you'd like to share or reiterate?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

Thanks for mentioning this one. That was a difficult time.

blog.codinghorror.com/somebody-is-to-blame-..

I still think about that from time to time, what any of us can learn from the tragedies of others, people who are beyond our help.

Perhaps it is the concept of privilege, that we should periodically remind ourselves to be grateful for what we have, who we are and where we live. Many people have it far, far worse than us.

Girish Patil's photo

Hey, Love coding horror and the posts you put up on hardware setups ❤ . Can you let us know what was your situation when you were about launch StackOverflow. The initial stages/pre-launch stages.

I ask this because I love to build stuff, but many things along the way matters. The costs/PR/getting it to the public. What was the tech stack, server costs/setup, was it financially hectic?, It would really help many if you could let us know the whole situation when this thing came out.

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

Even in 2008 it wasn't very expensive to rent colocated hardware, which is what we did to start. And now the public clouds (AWS, Azure, GCE, etc) are so mature and relatively cheap as well.

I think you can also get startup credits from many cloud services.

The barriers to building things are now even lower than they were when we started 11 years ago!

Alessio Chiffi's photo

Just a huge thanks for creating Stack Overflow

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

Thanks! But bear in mind Stack Overflow is built by everyone in small "fun size" pieces of work, so we should be regularly thanking our fellow software developers!

Stephen Huh (ish2f4f)'s photo

As of recently, it seems the flexibility of choice is paralyzing, particularly in the JS ecosystem, and I kind of miss having someone else choose the tools instead and having myself on just focusing on getting stuff done back when tooling was simpler. I'm rediscovering problems that I didn't realize were problems until I had this flexibility of choice.

The Rails doctrine seems incredibly attractive to me at this point of time.

What are your thoughts on more opinionated software that follows these sorts of principles. Particularly, the following:

  • The menu is omakase
  • Convention over configuration.
Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

ah the magpie software developer. I am familar ;)

blog.codinghorror.com/the-magpie-developer

I'd say focus on the problem more than the tooling. If you HATE the tooling, then change it, but keep the focus on the problem.

Victor's photo

Talking about scale. What things you have to consider from the beginning? What are the most challenging things? Tell us one thing you got right and one that you got wrong while building SO

shaiju's photo

Which is the first programming language do you recommend to learn to know the fundamentals of computer programming ?

Is C# or Python Or Java a good start ?

shaiju's photo

How would you test a Software Engineer or Programmer to find whether he really knows to code ?

Will you ask him to write c or c++ programs or ask some questions on technology ?

shaiju's photo

Do we need to be good in math like algebra , probability , statistics to be a Good Software Engineer ?

Arihant's photo

Hey Jeff!

CodingHorror stickers haven't reached, it's been over 4 months. What to do ? 😅.

Keshav Kishore's photo

Hey Jett,

Q1 What are your view on reddit recent funds raise?

Q2. What you think about the quora latest feature spaces?

Q4. What is the story about your profile pic avatar?

Q5. Are you ( discourse.org ) planning to gain users from Google+ ?

Ankur Kaushal's photo

As someone who kind of struggles to build something useful whether it is a side project for showing off skills or something that I imagine would generate some passive income, what advice would you give for getting useful ideas?

Christer Engstroem's photo

Hi Jeff,

How do I keep motivated to keep on programming at my age, 61? I have been doing it almost since Bowie wrote life on mars.

Henrique Polido's photo

I often develop user interfaces for my company, and I always ask myself "Is this useful and intuative enough?". I always try to boil down a few patterns in a particular product as possible.

What are your general guidelines to develop interfaces?

Show all replies
Francisco Quintero's photo

Software Engineer

I love how you've written about many topics.

Milica Maksimović's photo

Hi Jeff, thanks for the AMA!

What does your setup look like? Which hardware and tools do you use?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

My setup is basically

  • three 4k monitors (easy to do today)
  • CODE mechanical keyboard codekeyboards.com
  • fast Desktop with lots of RAM and PCI M.2 SSD

It's so easy to build fast great computers these days it's almost boring!

Brian Lyttle's photo

You've always emphasised performance as a feature when building products. It feels like many other developers and product managers pay lip service to this. Has your thinking changed over the years, and does this remain an opportunity for almost any product?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

Thanks for citing that one! Performance is indeed a feature, even today.

I think the way to deal with it is to keep performance top of mind for developers as they build so it isn't forgotten -- we do this in Discourse by having mini-profiler show page timings on every load. So if you get bad numbers, they are angry and red in the upper right corner of the page, and any developer can cite that with a link to drill into problem areas, either in the database or in the server-side code.

We actually use an evolution of our original .NET mini-profiler in Discourse:

miniprofiler.com

I highly recommend integrating performance tools into the daily work of your team. It delivers results!

Justin Sandberg's photo

What's one tech/service that exists today that you wish existed when you started SO?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

Online payroll and bookkeeping services! I can highly recommend bench.co and gusto.com

I am still recovering from that time Joel made me install Quickbooks..

Chamroeun Phearum's photo

Could you kindly help to explain how the bank can integrate with blockchain?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

I cannot, sadly.

Aravind's photo

Hey Jeff Atwood, Thanks for the AMA, I was just curious about your thoughts on the blockchain technology. Do you think It has a future?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

I'm still very skeptical, and waiting for a practical use to pan out in the real world. No, cryptokitties.co does not count ;)

shaiju's photo

I am a .Net Software Engineer with 4 years of experience.

Recently I saw that Data Science and AI is booming and provides lot of opportunities with high paying Jobs.

Today it’s Data Science, but in future it will be some other X technology which may boom and create opportunities.

Related to this I have 2 Questions:

  1. Is It good time to leave Software Engineer career and became a Data Scientist instead ? Or Should I be focused as a Software Engineer with mix of Data Science and AI skills like Python, R Programming etc. ?

  2. How to decide to have best tech career on fast changing technology trends?

:)

Show all replies
shaiju's photo

Hi Jeff, thanks. But Is It good time to leave Software Engineer career and became a Data Scientist instead ? Or Should I be focused as a Software Engineer with mix of Data Science and AI skills like Python, R Programming etc. ?

James Gardner's photo

What do you think about communication skills for software developers as a developer and employer?

How important is it for you?

Show all replies
Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

use Discourse and Stack Overflow. ;)

Great communicators are rewarded on both of those platforms, by design.

Dunja Radulov's photo

How did Stack Overflow evolve over the years to serve the needs of your users better?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

The complete evolution of Stack Overflow over the first 3 years (2008 - 2011) is documented in blog.stackoverflow.com and meta.stackoverflow.com posts from those years -- not to mention the podcasts that Joel and I held weekly itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-stack-overf..

Lots of great little and big features came from community feedback.

Dunja Radulov's photo

Hi Jeff, thanks for hosting an AMA on Hashnode!

You've created amazing places for people to share their knowledge and learn from each other. What are some of the key business decisions you've made that made SO and Discourse successful?

Show all replies
Dunja Radulov's photo

Marketing and growth consultant. Previously Growth Manager at Hashnode

Thank you for the thoughtful responses Jeff. I love your approach to really listening to your users and building your product based on their feedback. I'll dig deeper into the links you've shared 🙌

Daniel Vassallo's photo

Do you think it made sense for Stack Overflow to take venture capital?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

Joel was always very against it, and even he became convinced that SO was the kind of "grow big" business that could use VC.

joelonsoftware.com/2010/02/14/raising-money..

I trust Joel's judgment in these matters, so we went for it. The terms were extremely favorable.

Fergal Moran's photo

Why did you really leave Stack Overflow?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

There's no secret reason, everything I covered at blog.codinghorror.com/farewell-stack-exchange

I was really quite burned out at that point though. When I started Discourse I made a vow to take an easier pace. It's a marathon, not a sprint!

jalpesh vadgama's photo

HI Jeff. Thanks for hosting the AMA. My question is if you are starting to create a site like Stack Overflow today? What are the features you like to implement and why?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

I think it would be even easier to build Stack Overflow today because the tools are much better and the field of webapps even more well understood. When we started, the ASP.NET MVC framework was brand new!

I suggest that you might build more real time tooling today, so Stack Overflow would feel a bit more like a chat or screen sharing system.

Chiko Mukwenha's photo

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for offering us the chance to engage with you here. My question is what's an opinion/view that you have held on to that may be politically-incorrect?

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

Politically incorrect? I don't think I have too many views that would be politically incorrect. I do feel that programming is not as essential as other people would have you believe!

blog.codinghorror.com/please-dont-learn-to-..

Aniketh Saha's photo

Hi Jeff , My question is What is your view on the rudeness or the strictness of pro or high reputed developers on the platform. We are always thankful for their suggestions and answers but still many new developers faces negative marks on the questions and many more. Like it really take sometime to get into a communities and it takes time even to understand the platform and its structure so for me it is genuine or OK to make mistakes at starting . Thanks

BTW huge fan of STACKOVERFLOW . Really like it a lot .

Jeff Atwood's photo

co-founder Discourse, Stack Overflow

I tried to elaborate on this in blog.codinghorror.com/what-does-stack-overf.. but the short version is, you have to put in the work to make your question great.