For a while I believed that just maybe StackOverflow was a crutch for many programmers. That maybe it was causing us to forgot how to code in a sense. How to think. But that didn't stop me from using it. For some, this may be true. But I think for many many more, it is anything but. And that's a new realization for me. It was just too simple to code with it. You Google any problem that you may have (in the tech world) and the very first link presented to you is exactly what you are looking for. What is this sorcery? Well, it's just what it looks like. Your problem isn't unique and it isn't special. 3 years ago, Steve asked it on StackOverflow, and before you even began working on your project, there were 100 answers to that problem.
Once the ego gets thrown out the door, then StackOverflow is an amazing technology. One that will save you hours upon hours and will help you earn your paycheck in a timely manner. It is now speeding up software development on a massive scale that no one ever thought possible. Most Fortune 500 companies would probably not exist, or at least not in the same manner, without StackOverflow. At any company that I've ever worked for, it's the only website that you will see most of the time at any developers terminal.
The questions aren't easy
The one thing that's noticeable when you first pay a visit to StackOverflow, is that the questions are complex. You won't find much in the realm of "How do you 'bolden' text in HTML'. But more along the lines of 'Why won't my SMTP server work during winter solstice?'. And that's an amazing thing. Because 1 person may not have the answer. But 20-100 people might. And they will do their best to follow each other in a sequential manner. Steve will read Bob's response and answer accordingly, and Karen will read both of those responses and follow along.
I pay a visit to StackOverflow on occasion on the hopes that I can help answer a question or two. And most of the time, I cannot. Because many questions that I encounter, will require me to use StackOverflow for the most part. But when you do manage to answer something, it is an amazing feeling. To contribute to this creative pool, without any type of reward, as helping someone should be the reward itself, is
And of course, there is the community. This shared knowledge pool of technology that's alive and doing well and growing and growing without any end in sight. Somehow, there are no trolls on the site and members are probably some of the most polite individuals found anywhere online. So StackOverflow is much more than just a few answers here or there. It's..an experience. It's a live process that you can participate in at any time. It's self regulating and it's getting smarter and better by the day.
There are no real problems
Technically speaking, there are probably no real problems left. Anything that you program, somebody else can either do it better, or do it just as well. And more than likely, someone else has coded what you coded in some shape way or form. And that's an important realization. Our code isn't as special as we think. Our combination of for loops and if elses are a tool. A tool that we use to build an Idea. And that idea is the bread and butter.
Millions of hours saved
If you've ever worked with a programming language that has zero documentation, then congratulations. You've managed to survive and come out clean on the other end. I spent a year working with the X++ programming language during a time when it was being purchased by Microsoft. With absolutely zero documentation as MSDN had no began the process of writing it yet. Hundreds of pages littered with Page coming soon was all that you could find.
Simply binding a dropdown box would take about a week for even the senior developer. Thousands of methods and controls had to tested in order to determine which one would meet the criteria the best. And there is no pride to be had by figuring this out, believe me.
Thank you StackOverflow
And with that, I'd like to give StackOverflow, and every kind hearted soul that spent their time writing, editing and posting answers, a huge thank you. A massive one. I can't estimate how much time it has saved me, and continues to save me, and I won't attempt to. The only thing that I can do to show my gratitude is to pay it a visit and to attempt to answer something. Two to three questions per week is a quota that I'd like to meet. And I'd recommend every other programmer out there do the same. It doesn't matter if you know the answer 100% or even 50%. If you know it 30%, then share that fragment. That fragment is someone's missing piece sometime in the future.
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Walter Guevara is a Computer Scientist, software engineer, startup founder and currently mentors for a coding bootcamp. He has been creating software for the past 15 years.