Mar 02 2012

Q: Joel Spolsky?

A: Fog Creek? Stack Exchange? Stack Overflow!

Wednesday February 29th 2012 @01:05 @My residence in Cambridge

Me: Can I take a photo? Spolsky: It's your phone 🙂

Q: What is the purpose of this post?

A: Joel Spolsky was in Cambridge on Monday 20th February to give a talk about the ‘Cultural Anthropology’ of Stack Overflow. Stack Overflow is a popular, free programming Q&A website created by Spolsky and Jeff Atwood with the intention of getting ‘expert answers to expert questions’. Spolsky has other ventures too – check out his blog for more information about Fog Creek Software (CEO) or Stack Exchange, sister Q&A sites to Stack Overflow.

Q: Again, what is the purpose of this post?

A:  This was supposed to be my first published article on Cabume but a guest blog covering the talk was posted on the site. You can read all about the event here, it has all the main points covered. Spolsky and his chief of staff Alex Miller were kind enough to spend time answering my questions at the end so I think it is worthwhile to do some value-added blogging.

Q: Blogging? This looks more like an FAQ page.

A: Yes, in keeping with the spirit of the company. They even have it on their business cards! See below for the souvenirs I picked up that evening. Wouldn’t you say that’s cute?

Sovenirs from Spolsky talk. I wasn't sure if I am allowed to publicise contact details so I'm afraid they have been censored.

Q: What ‘value’ can you add?

A: Continue reading if you would like more information about some company statistics, company culture and other interesting points noted from the event.

Q: What company statistics?

A: If you are curious about web statistics such as traffic or demographics checkout its Quantcast page at s.tk/traffic. For a private company starting up only four years ago in 2008 the numbers are very impressive. Below is a snapshot of its USA traffic:

Stack Overflow USA web traffic statistics

 

Almost 2 million unique global users per day as taken on 28/02/2012. Here is another showing a breakdown between the top five countries and the rest of the world:

Stack Overflow global web traffic statistics

 

A significant proportion is from the USA (45% of all traffic according to Miller) with India ranking second and the UK showing the least proportion of visits. All the troughs you see in the graph are weekends, which probably highlight all the working people using the site.

In the first month of trading it received about 2.5K new registered users. This figure currently stands at about 80K a month. How had it been able to garner so much interest from such an early stage? Apparently this was down to the popularity of the founders – a little blogging was enough to get the word out.

Q: What can you tell us about the company?

A:  Created in 2008, it is a modest sized company with 50 employees, of whom 35 are based in the New York office and 15 globally in countries including Australia, Germany and the UK. It is privately held and received its first round of venture capital funding in 2010 – its wiki page can tell you more about the history and offerings of the company. Lookout for Careers 2.0 if you need a new job, Stackapps provides you with an API to any of the Stack Exchange site data, and be sure to check out Area 51 if you have an idea or would like to participate in building a new Q&A site.

Q: How does the Stack Exchange family make money?

Careers 2.0, its job portal, is the primary monetising tool with additional income coming from advertising. It has several teams, each pushing an agenda to promote the brand and it continuously works towards ensuring an impeccable reputation for quality answers. As well as the core team, it employs a large sales team, a community team that moderates the moderators. It created the ‘Chaos’ team of seven people who pick on the less popular stack sites and encourage users/experts to participate. As an aside, it employs standard search engine optimization techniques and was consistently faster than 85% of all other websites which considerably increased its Google ranking.

At the end of the talk I asked Spolsky and Miller if there were any plans to float or sell the company. The general vibe I got is it is not even on the radar. The primary objective is to build a great family of products. I will leave a question mark here.

Q: I want to work there. What benefits do they have and what chance have I got?

A: They are currently hiring! Spolsky intentionally created a culture where developers are treated as first class citizens; it is therefore not surprising people want to work there. I have extracted the employee benefits for a software developer position in New York (I would enquire about other locations) below:

Benefits:

  • 20 days vacation
  • ridiculous health insurance (no copay)
  • free catered lunch
  • insanely great workstations, chairs, and desks
  • free monthly metrocards
  • gym membership reimbursement
  • flexible hours
  • employees will never be poked with a sharp stick

I have to make note of the free monthly metrocards, adjustable height workstations, and not listed but apparently massages too, according to an audience member at the event. Although free catered lunches would probably top my list as benefits packages go (yes I enjoy my food), this seems to be a recurring theme in the more successful companies so I will hope that other employers (UK especially) will follow suite! I don’t understand the last item so if anyone reading this happens to know what it means I would be very grateful for an explanation. It would be awesome if the person who lands this job stumbles upon this blog!

What isn’t clear is that if you want any real chance of getting in you should be active in the community and build yourself a Stack Overflow profile – answer questions and earn reputation points, collect badges (see here for a variety of things you can do), get yourself a dropshadow where you’ll be given your own business-ecard, use meta-overflow for its live chatting system and teachers lounge, and if you can stomach all of that be sure to put yourself up for election. You will not go wrong if you follow in the footsteps of Jon Skeet, the current No.1 community user, with a whopping 409K reputation points. I recall Miller mentioning that potential employees are by invitation only, but perhaps this has changed – I would imagine that only a fraction of ‘real’ programmers have the time and dedication to consistently answer questions on the site (Spolsky alluded to this stating that no one from Silicon Valley is currently part of the community). In a nutshell they have high standards.

Q: Finally, is there anything you’d like to add?

This post is already a little too long but I have to mention his dishwasher analogy. It goes something like, if you tell a group of friends you’d like to buy a dishwasher, one will tell you about his/her dishwasher, another will ask you which one and another would probably tell you not to buy one because they are environmentally unfriendly. This is the nature of a conversation. In creating Q&A sites they had to create a mechanism for filtering out noise and promoting useful content.

I couldn’t help but notice Spolsky referring to the Occupy Wall Street movement on a couple of occasions, but that is another topic altogether.

Nothing more for now, except for corrections perhaps.

Thanks for visiting!