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What I learned from the co-founder of StackOverflow and founder of Discourse, Jeff Atwood

bengineer profile image Ben James ・2 min read

For the latest episode of the Distinguished Devs podcast, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Atwood.

Jeff Atwood is the co-founder of Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange, the founder of Discourse, and the author of one of the most popular software blogs, CodingHorror.

Without Jeff, Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange simply would not exist. In addition to being an experienced programmer, Jeff has a lot of insight about the software community, how programmers interact, and how we learn.

In this interview we talk about how StackOverflow started, his experiences with blogging, his observations of online communities and motivation & learning.

You can listen to the Distinguished Devs podcast here, as well as on iTunes, Soundcloud (embedded at the bottom) or the podcast platform of your choice, but I'll summarise/paraphrase some of my favourite parts below.

Some of my favourite parts of the interview:

On blogging

Jeff believes in converting yourself to the philosophy of "public by default". Every time you learn or observe something, why not share it? The act of writing and blogging is like exercise, and if you do it regularly (more than once a week), over time you will accumulate a following. Jeff's blog, one of the most popular software blogs on the internet, receives millions of views, and was the starting point for his idea of Stack Overflow.

On Stack Overflow

Stack Overflow was originally launched to help experienced programmers find answers to targeted questions efficiently. As it grew, it came under pressure to serve beginner programmers better and to teach people how to code. In the interview Jeff discusses the tradeoffs and design decisions to appeal to the largest user base possible, whilst keeping its high quality content - even if perhaps at the expense of "friendliness".

On progressing through your career

Jeff says that sometimes, to progress with your software career, you have to stop writing code. It's hard for many programmers - as soon as you get really good at something you have to stop doing it. But Jeff explains it by simply saying: the next level of abstraction is natural language - communicating with other humans.

I personally enjoyed chatting to Jeff tremendously and would genuinely recommend listening to the full episode.

The Distinguished Devs podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify etc.
I hope you enjoy this episode, please let me know what you think!

Don't forget to hit follow if you're interested in more of the series!

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Ben James

@bengineer

Maker, Hacker, Writer, Musician.

Discussion

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I love the idea of being public by default. It goes well with the “learn in public” philosophy. It’s nerve racking being open about learning new things because sometimes ppl will try to place you in a box. But in actuality everyone is an eternal student, we’re all learning something new every day and there’s nothing bad about that at all. Sounds like a good podcast Ben!

 

Being roped into becoming a fan of these small post thingies, keep'em going!

 

IMO I thought the "On Blogging" part missed its biggest benefit - blogging (or reflecting on what you’ve done) teaches you to do it better next time, and helps you boost your own performance. The "accumulate a following" is a nice bonus :)

This idea is captured here: hbswk.hbs.edu/item/reflecting-on-w...