Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Using StackOverflow Like A Boss

By now, I'm sure you've stumbled upon StackOverflow, SuperUser, or any of the other various StackExchange network sites. If you haven't, take a couple minutes and check all 3 links out if you already haven't. The Q&A format is very effective, and the StackExchange network takes it to an entirely different level.

Approaching these sites as simple Q&A sites is a great way to get value right now. Questions are answered pretty quickly, and the audience is gigantic. Some of the more obscure questions are posted that can really add to your own knowledge base, and there are lots of more general questions that can really shed light on getting started with a particular topic.

However, I find the most value is derived from digging into what makes these sites unique, and leveraging those features. In this post, I want to go over some of the features you may not have seen before, and I want to show you the approach I feel has given me the most bang for my buck (even though it's free, I'm spending time, which means as I get more value from my time, the value of my time increases).

When StackOverflow (SO) was newer, it was a great site to go to, since you has a pretty good chance of answering a tough question and getting some of that almightly reputation. However, as the site's traffic increased, it's become a race to answer questions quickly in order to secure the first answer the asker will typically see. Honestly, though, the race isn't what you should be focused on. If reputation solely determined your worth as a developer, then yeah, I'd go for it. However, it's never that simple. You're out for the knowledge, not the rep. Ironically, though, it's once you start chasing the knowledge and helping others do so that you'll find yourself rep rollin'. A look at the habits of the top members shows clear, concise answers that others will upvote above the first post. If your answer is crap, then SO will let you know by downvoting you to oblivion. But at this point, you've just been shown a blind spot in your own learning, and now you have something to learn! Win-win, baby!

Probably the greatest thing I have come to embrace about SO is that you can just throw answers out. You can post as many comments as you want! Stumble upon a question that's not totally clear? Ask! Have a quick comment to make? Make it! If you're right, people will probably tell you, and if you're wrong, people will go out of their way to make sure you know it ;). But that's really what being a developer is all about, right? It's not necessarily about being 100% correct, it's about learning what tools are out there and the best situations to use them.

So bring the downvotes! Bring the criticisms! Tell me where I'm wrong, and through the haze of being called a n00b and the -1's, I know there's a better me-as-a-developer waiting to be unleashed, and someday I will be able to return the favor, and that, my friends, sounds like an IT future that I can get excited about being a part of.

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