Last week, Joel Spolsky announced that he is stepping down as the CEO of Stack Overflow and taking up a new role as Chairman of the site’s Board. That means that one of the most popular question and answer sites on the planet – and one of the most important for software developers – is now looking for its new CEO.
We’re looking for a new CEO for Stack Overflow. I’m stepping out of the day-to-day and up to the role of Chairman of the Board. https://t.co/xCDxoj9DhY
— Joel Spolsky (@spolsky) March 28, 2019
Back in 2008, Spolsky, along with with Jeff Atwood, co-founded Stack Overflow with the idea of bringing voting and editing to a Q&A site. The idea was to make it easier for programmers to find the right answer, instead of scrolling endlessly in a discussion forum.
Explaining what makes Stack Overflow different from other Q&A sites on his blog, Joel on Software, Spolsky said, “already, it’s better than other Q&A sites, because you don’t have to read through a lot of discussion to find the right answer if it’s in there somewhere.”
At a Microsoft conference, just six months after the site’s launch, Spolsky asked how many developers were using the site. He and Atwood were pleasantly surprised when one-third of the crowd rose their hands.
Today, however, practically every developer visits Stack Overflow to learn from other developers. In addition to the huge user base, the company has now grown to almost 300 employees and has achieved $70m in revenue last year.
For the future of Stack Overflow, Spolsky hopes to make the platform more inclusive and welcoming for new users. “The type of people Stack Overflow serves has changed, and now, as a part of the developer ecosystem, we have a responsibility to create an online community that is far more diverse, inclusive, and welcoming of newcomers,” he adds.
Many Stack Overflow users have a love/hate relationship with the platform. Some developers find the site intimidating and unwelcoming – a fact that Stack Overflow itself has acknowledged in the past.
For example, threads can sometimes become filled with condescending, sarcastic, and dismissive comments, particularly when newcomers fail to follow site rules. They are simply expected to know things right from the start. A Stack Overflow user shares a solution to this, “I think if new users were given a walkthrough of the site, how it works, and what’s expected, it would be MUCH more welcoming, and the comments (while still sometimes unnecessarily sarcastic) would be more warranted, since the requirements have been clearly laid out.”
Saying things like “thank you” and “please” are considered noise and a distraction from the actual point. There are endless examples of such behavior, but they are not really limited to newbies. When a woman seeking help on a Flexbox margins issue posted on Stack Overflow, she got a message saying, “if you don’t get this…you have no business making a portfolio as a web developer”.
April Wensel, the founder of Compassionate Coding, has been writing consistently about the problems users sometimes face on Stack Overflow, sharing numerous examples of people being rude and demeaning.
She hopes that the next CEO will take the right measures to make the site inclusive and “more human”:
Here's hoping that the next Stack Overflow CEO is an "angsty emo girl."
— April Wensel (@aprilwensel) March 28, 2019
Read Spolsky’s announcement at the Stack Overflow blog.