Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of StackExchange and Discourse

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON November 19, 2015


Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
Hi - I'm Jeff Atwood, programmer and long time blogger at Coding Horror, cofounder of Stack Overflow and Discourse. Happy to be here, ask me anything about running a startup or online community!
Ayrton De Craene@ayrton · Code @ Product Hunt
@codinghorror you have written about gamification in the past, how would you think StackOverflow would have turned out without any of it? How important do you think gamification is for a site like Product Hunt and how far would you go?
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@ayrtonbe it depends on the community, but if you design in a smart way, I think gamification can work almost everywhere. For example, I think we can learn a LOT from how someone signs up and gets started with your product from video games. Nobody reads the manual for Halo 5, do they? ;)
Brent Summers@brentsum · Founder, Code-Free Startup
Hey Jeff, thanks for stopping by. Back in 2012 you wrote "Software developers tend to be software addicts who think their job is to write code. But it's not. Their job is to solve problems." With non-coding solutions like starting to emerge, what shift do you see happening with tech jobs in the next decade?
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@brentsum Marc Andreessen was right -- everyone goes around staring into the supercomputer in their pocket these days. We geeks won. I think what's happening is that the world is getting much geekier, because everyone owns a computer and uses it regularly. I view the future of programming as things like Minecraft, and learning to string together 10 different WordPress plugins and get them to do what you want. The lego bricks we use to build things are getting much bigger than a for loop in JavaScript.
JJ@outdreamer · Web Developer/Writer/Idea-generator
@codinghorror @brentsum You mentioned that the components we're using are getting bigger - do you see any disadvantage to this trend? It's possible this trend will result in us losing our understanding of the lower-level processes happening, & once you commit to using these bigger components (& many other people do as well, compounding their staying power), re-examining the assumptions that led to the development of those tools becomes more and more arduous, which I think means there is an increasing cost to re-design, the more we rely on bigger components. I think the fact that there is an increasing cost to re-examining assumptions means that the system & environment of design could be improved. The struggle for cooperation between open-source & proprietary tools creates a competitive environment for tool design that results in good tools, but it also results in fast-paced design, which means crucial insights that could help us avoid future limits aren't spotted in time.
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
@codinghorror thanks so much for joining us today. I would love to hear what you find to be the most effective methods are in creating an engaged and friendly community and fans online? What are your biggest tips also for content marketing?
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@harrystebbings Building a community can be tough. I have some tips here my main piece of advice is that you and your team need to dogfood the community before anyone else. Your team should be avid users and participants in your own community, and exemplars of good community use, long before anyone else shows up. Or even if nobody else shows up. Do your thing in public and let other people watch or participate. That includes a company blog too!
Shrikrishna Holla@srikrishnaholla · Product Developer
@codinghorror @harrystebbings Product Hunt is a great example for that!
Mike Coutermarsh@mscccc · Code @ GitHub
@codinghorror Hey Jeff! 🙌. So amazing that you're here. I started reading coding horror in college & it's a lot of the reason why I do what I do today. 💜. I'd love to know what you do to optimize for productivity? What do you consider to be a "good" day & what things to you do to have one?
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@mscccc Hey that's great! I hope Stack + Discourse are useful to you as well. My productivity tip is simple: three things. also I have a few tidbits here: in particular always use a clipboard manager so you can have a giant history of copy/paste, and write out shared common replies (or code, etc) quickly on any computer with a text expansion.
Joshua Pinter@joshuapinter · Product at CNTRAL. Maker of ntwrk.
@codinghorror @mscccc On the clipboard management front, I couldn't agree more. I started using Paste and it's so good it should be built into OS X. Link is
Andreas Klinger@andreasklinger · Tech at Product Hunt 💃
What (people or technical) management patterns/principles of yours adapted to (scale, community, product, complexity) changes within SO?
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@andreasklinger Gosh, hard to say. I'd go back to first principles -- everything is peopleware ;) And of course
daniellevine@daniellevine · Fireside
Hey Jeff! Thank's for doing this AMA. I'm wondering, what's the best thing you've come across in the last 30 days and why? Could be anything, a product, an article, a tea, a quote. Anything! Thanks for answering.
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@daniellevine Wow this is surprisingly tough. I'm going to stretch the boundaries of this and say this parody video is one of my favorite things in a long time
the buzzfeedification of the world is kind of fascinating to me, when we get so good at isolating what causes people to click on stuff with endless, real time, worldwide aggressive A/B testing. What's the end result of that? It's like darwinism of attention, far beyond what old media could do with advertising.
@codinghorror Thanks so much! From your experience, what type of coding interview questions do you ask senior engineering candidates versus junior? Any type of challenges that are exclusively better to gauge the skill of a senior candidate?
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@hackerrank I am a big fan of the audition project. This is excellent on open source projects in particular, and even if your product is closed source, you should structure the work to make it happen: I acknowledge this can be very challenging for, say, a sysadmin candidate since your infrastructure is never public. But for programmers and other roles, I think it's achievable.
Annemarie Dooling@travelinganna
Hi Jeff. I'm a fan of Discourse but I'd love to know your thoughts on how the idea of "comments" have evolved in media and news. Discourse is obviously a departure from commenting, with responses off of article pages. Do you think forum-like responses will be more of a trend while everyone turns their comments off? And do you feel that this format has a bigger impact in increasing endemic visitors even though they are taken off article pages? Thanks.
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@travelinganna yes, this is a great point -- I do believe community, when defined as "a bunch of comments slapped on a webpage", has serious limitations. For one thing, what if the community wants to discuss something, _anything_ else? They can't create their own topics to discuss! I also feel it's good to have a relatively large barrier in front of new, drive by commenters. The Disqus model of carrying a cookie around globally (which is already a little funky in terms of privacy) and letting a drive-by user comment on an article on first visit, with no signup, no read time check, and no barrier to typing words in a box and publishing them on your site is .. not great for community. Consider the Ars Banana experiment: The goal of Discourse is to encourage the creation of that "third place" where communities have actual power (e.g. creating topics, flagging, voting) and the ability to self direct and self organize.
Annemarie Dooling@travelinganna
@codinghorror Thanks Jeff. I agree. As a community manager, though, the Disqus formula works really well for establishing key community members, since its used across so many sites and you can gauge how interested a user is in that theme. I have both closed down and created commenting platforms, and worked with so many out-of-the-box options that I'm exhausted of it, frankly, but I also wonder where Q&A fits into this equation. it's a linear conversation, sure, but more focused than the "typing words into a box" method most typically used now.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
What's something you used to fervently believe that you now see as misguided?
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@bentossell I am no longer willing to pursue topics that I view as overly ... contentious. Sometimes the hassle of being edgy and talking about opinions that may be unusual or radical or unconventional isn't worth it. Particularly as your audience grows. For example, "radical honesty" :
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
Hey Jeff! What are the 3 resources that have most improved your life? (blogs, books, movies, advisors, etc)
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@jacqvon 1) Code Complete 2) writing a blog as a learning exercise 3) Online web forums are now 15+ years old!
Mike Coutermarsh@mscccc · Code @ GitHub
@codinghorror Hi Jeff, 1 more 😃. What would you tell your 25 year old self?
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@mscccc I know the idea is to prevent your 25 year old self from doing all the stupid stuff that 25 year olds do -- but the reality is that doing stupid stuff is how you learn. Or at least it's how I learn, anyway ;) I would say starting my blog earlier would have helped me. The general advice is, whatever you want to do, start yesterday. Start earlier. Start NOW. The sooner you start, the sooner you can reap the benefits, or figure out that it isn't going to work. And you won't need to wonder "what if.." because you did it already. There is nothing more painful than the "what if"s you carry around inside your head. So act on them! Now! DO IT! JUST DO IT!
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
Hi Jeff! What do you envision for the future of Stack Overflow over the next 10 years? What do you think, currently, is the biggest opportunity to overcome? What are you most looking forward to?
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@alexcartaz I left Stack in 2012 and it is fascinating to think what it will look like in 2022. My hope is that the pillars of self-governance we established early on will create a sustainable community that survives and thrives over time and avoids imploding in various ways as it grows. One manifestation of that is the reputation system, of course. As other programmers upvote you, you gain credibility and reputation because your peers vouched for you. We try to walk the walk. Everything in stack has been creative commons from day one. We committed to that because it belongs to everyone, it is a collaborative work. Download the full SO dataset any time For example, there's a Stack moderator election going on right now at -- can you name even one other large site that has public, open elections for moderators? I can't! And moderators on SO have tremendous power. There's nothing more real than giving your community _actual_ power, the kind that is dangerous. It says we trust you. Because we trust each other.. right?
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
Stack Overflow is such a great resource for developers of all backgrounds across the world. What do you think is most missing from the broader coding instruction and education experience? What would make it even easier for anyone from all socio-economic backgrounds and environments, to be have the resources and encouragement to become great developers (even if it's outside the domain of SO). eg adding coding to the core curriculum and teaching it as early as elementary school, revamping college programs, improving resources like Codecademy, etc.
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@alexcartaz I am a huge fan of coding as gaming, e.g. Minecraft is not programming in the traditional sense, but a giant stealth exercise in teaching people to build things on a computer. And I love ideas like
Russ Frushtick@russfrushtick
What's your hidden talent?
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@russfrushtick honestly, reading. Very few people are willing to, say, follow the Wikipedia citations on that wikipedia page to original sources, or even READ THE DAMN ARTICLE before commenting on it! But not you. You should be that person. You read the article. You did the research. You found sources and took the time to process and synthesize those sources into an actual reasoned opinion. Go you!
Zoe Landon@hupfen · Web Developer & Rabbit
This whole thing made me realize I didn't actually know what you looked like. To me you were always that head emerging from a hole seeing unspoken horrors. It may as well have been your corporeal form. Which leads to my question: given your focus on "text-based MMOs", what have you found interesting, important, or just plain curious when it comes to personal online identities? Do you find people's actions and presentations correlate at all? Are there things about online identities you like or dislike relative to in-person ones? Just vaguely riffing on the concept. :)
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@hupfen I often find the online identities are more real to me than the actual person ;) I don't see a big disconnect between how people behave online and how they behave in the real world in terms of personality. You can get a great sense of someone's true personality through online interactions. That said, I do believe that people are way more aggressive and confrontational online than they ever would be in person. It's because they forget an actual person is on the other side, not a cartoon avatar, and we try to emphasize that as much as we can in Discourse because empathy. People aren't evil. They just forget. It's our job to remind them.
Paul Hoza@paulhoza · Owner/Developer @
@codinghorror On the issue of user privacy and encryption-ish things: Do you have an opinion about encouraging more usage of Tor (or similar) by more people, more regularly, partly as a means to raise the noise floor a bit for a more general desire for privacy? It's annoying that I feel "dirty" when I try to be truly private/anon online, since it seems like I'm instantly boosted on the radar of The Man. I've wondered a lot lately about how maybe I/others should just be using Tor-like options very regularly to make user privacy a more "normal" thing and not just something to be monitored more closely. (I sure wonder if all that makes sense as a question-thing.)
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
OK! Thanks for everyone's questions! I hope the answers were helpful. Follow me on Twitter at @codinghorror for more crazy. If that's what you're into ;)
Jourdan Bul-lalayao@jourdanb21 · Co-Founder & CTO, Jobox
Hey Jeff! Thanks so much for your AMA on Product Hunt!! My question is intentionally vague as I'd love for you to answer it based on your interpretation of the question :). If you had only one tip to share with entrepreneurs on how to build a successful startup, what is your absolute #1 tip?
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@jourdanb21 well the cliche is you only hire the best people, which is true insofar as it goes, but *everyone* is trying to hire the best people. I think running a startup requires incredible levels of determination and conviction. My advice is, you need to be on a mission from God. ;) Not to the point that you become dogmatic and humorless about it, of course, but you have to REALLY REALLY believe in what you're doing, even if people on the outside ... don't. Even if people are saying your company or idea sucks or isn't going to work.
Lejla Bajgoric@lejlahunts · Intern, Product Hunt
Hi Jeff! What's the one thing about yourself you can share that people would be most surprised to learn?
Jeff Atwood@codinghorror · Indoor Enthusiast,
@lejlahunts I don't own a single pair of jeans. ;) Also, I kind of prefer old school paper checks when paying bills, and I have no idea why.