Joel is stepping down from Stack Overflow

ben profile image Ben Halpern ・1 min read

This marks the end of an era in a lot of ways. Joel Spolsky's influence on software development can't be understated. Stack Overflow is a huge company with lots of decision makers, so things will carry along without him.

In the post, he acknowledges that Stack will have to keep evolving

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.

It's pretty interesting to make this announcement without a successor named.

It will not be easy to find a CEO who is the right person to lead that mission. We will, no doubt, hire one of those fancy executive headhunters to help us in the search. But, hey, this is Stack Overflow. If there’s one thing I have learned by now, it’s that there’s always someone in the community who can answer the questions I can’t.


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Ben Halpern


A Canadian software developer who thinks he’s funny. He/Him.


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Shouldn't he have just posted a question on SO for who should replace him?


This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.


Why this question closed? It's completely related and on topic. (Many upvotes)


SO is quite flawed, the more rep you have, the more rep you get. I was a relatively heavy user until 2012 or so, but then gradually withdrew from the site. In 2018 I answered only ~20 questions, but still get almost daily rep for upvotes on older stuff. That plus the amount of new users signing up constantly leads to things like me being "top 0.35% overall", though that's certainly not true if you look at the last couple of years. I think it'd probably be beneficial if reputation expired after a while, but I guess this would make quite a few people unhappy.


Discourse, which is pretty much Stack's successor, already solves this problem:

  • Your level of permission is capped: there is no "karma"/"rep" number that users are motivated to grow forever. There is no automatically-granted permission level beyond TL3, and all TL3 users are equal.
  • If you dip below the activity requirements, you lose TL3 (you can't lose TL2, but TL2 is pretty easy to get).

Put a half-life on it. That would be a great idea. Maybe keep a record of your peak reputation, with a timestamp. That would better show which users used to be regular contributors vs. ones that are currently regular contributors.


Yes, some sort of gradual decay is what I had in mind. It would make for a much more realistic snapshot of current active contributors and would be more motivating for new users since it’d be easier to catch up.


Reputation is flawed on pretty much every site that tries to implement it. The more you try to smooth it out the more cracks you notice, and after it's gotten going you can't suddenly change. It's like pinball: pressing "start" generally gets you a million or so points on modern games, and you could just lop off the last few zeros with no effect apart from... everyone who has high scores resenting you forever.


Pretty much this. I'd happily give away some of my imaginary nerd gold, but I guess many others feel differently. That said, SO already has a daily max rep you can earn, maybe they could do the same for longer timeframes too, or cap the amount of time you can gain rep for a single answer.


The community could implement this on their own.

Not saying it is a good or realistic idea, but it is a fun thought.

Users (especially those with high rep) could downvote old answers, focusing on answers that have not been updated. This would, in effect, cause decay of rep over time.

Once again, not suggesting it, just a fun idea that shows how much power the community would have when working together.


I've only answered a few questions on SO, but my rep keeps on growing as people upvote them. My rep there is definitely not indicative of my actual involvement on the site.


Yeah same here, over 90% of my reputation score is from a single answer, years ago,that frankly isn't even all that insightful. It keeps getting upvoted though, so I keep adding 50 points a week or so even though I haven't really participated much in a while.


I was super into it for a while, but that time ended many years ago. Ever since then I occasionally pop by, maybe answer a question or two and do a little bit of moderation on the side (mostly in the edit queues).


But it is indicative of the value the site's users have received from you over time.
Reputation is difficult, and I can't think of a good way of doing it, but SO's way is not really any worse than any other site. And it's a lot better than counting "likes" on Facebook.


If you want to think so, be my guest.

Nah, I was kidding. '#HumbleBrag' from me is more about pointing out an alternative, unintended interpretation for comedy. More like 'That's what she said'.


This may be because I have over 20 years of experience in software development but Stack Overflow does more harm than good I think. Now you don't have to remember much of anything. Between Stack Overflow and Google you can always find what you need. Stack Overflow also hurts peoples' research skills. I post and I get answer, no research is involved with finding out anything. I myself rarely need SO because I believe it is due to the fact that I grew up during a time when if you needed to find something, you had to read a book. :)

Joel leaving is really not all that significant. There are lots of capable smart and technical people out there that can lead the company. I wish him well. I have enjoyed his insight over the years about software development. I never 100% agreed but 90% of it was spot on.


I disagree. What StackOverflow/Google offers over books is a lot of examples of code presented as solutions to real-world problems. I've tried learning programming languages and environments from books many times before and they just can't teach the subject matter as quickly or as interestingly as searching online.

Don't get me wrong, books are great, especially as reference material, but they're just too dry for a lot of people.


But Stack Overflow also has a lot of wrong, bad, or even outdated answers.
Stack Overflow answers also often lack the reasoning around the answers.

The danger is looking at stack overflow, and copy pasting the answer from it.

I definitely think learning to filter out bad/low quality answers is a valuable skill. And of course, straight copy-pasting code is an absolute no-no.

For what it's worth, most of my SO usage comes from looking up existing answers and seeing how it relates to my code. I treat asking a question as a sort of last resort.

Yeah, I think learning to use StackOverflow to move along and find ANOTHER problem to Google is a research skill in itself.

Whether it's because you found someone else who already asked the question or whether it's because you asked the question yourself, it ...

You know what it does?

It turns higher-level programming languages even higher-level.

Does writing assembly make you a programmer who's been through the ringer and can do harder things than just writing high-level languages that take care of memory management for you?

I'd say yes!

But would we have all the nice things we have in the world of computers if everyone still had to write assembly to get things to work?

I'd say no.

Just like higher-level programming languages took a lot of the "spend a day getting one line of code to work" out of programming, while still forcing people who want to write GOOD code to know what they're doing conceptually, StackOverflow takes a lot of the "write extremely un-Pythonic loops for years until you happen to master comprehensions" out of the task of writing higher-level languages ... but you still have to know WHAT you're doing to solve your problem.

As I just wrote in an article I'm about to post this week on using Python to convert XML to CSV:

Once I Googled “XML to CSV Python,” the tough parts of finding the correct search results were:

  • conceptual 💭:
    • figuring out that “Car” items were “flat” & “repetitive” enough to make a good “loop”
    • figuring out that the “attributes of each Car” were repetitive enough to make a good “loop”
  • technical 💻:
    • reading the documentation and Googling to learn that Python’s “ElementTree” plugin came with a way to list all the key-value attribute pairs for an item (“.attrib“) in a way that was compatible with the “Pandas” package’s “.from_dict()” command
    • understanding Python “lists,” “dicts,” looping, ElementTree, and Pandas well enough to play around, trial-and-error, until I got the output I was looking for

The important takeaway is that it’s the conceptual work that helped me realize that this transformation was “easy to do in my head.”

Once I knew it was “easy to do in my head,” that’s when I could formulate a game plan for “doing it in code.”

I must've used 5 different StackOverflow answers to write my 5-line-of-code example for the upcoming artice, because lordy, you're right: I don't work with Python enough to know that ElementTree comes with .attrib() or to remember that Pandas comes with .from_dict().

What I have retained over the years is a vague sense of "in Python, just get things into lists of lists and lists of dicts and dicts of dicts and dicts of lists and something will work."

Yes, I have to Google for that "something" every time.

But my 9-5 job is to MacGyver together whatever systems I'm given in whatever tools my company has bought.

Google and StackOverflow make me cheaper by saving me days/years. I'll go so far as to say that by turning programming into a just-in-time "build" process, rather than having to keep every "library" loaded in my head at all times, they make it affordable for my small company to stay in business, considering everyone now has to have the latest & greatest 3rd-party tool every year to keep up with "delivering Amazon/Netflix-like customer experiences."

I think there's as much of a need for skilled just-in-time research-based programming in the world as there is for skilled deep-knowledge-and-hard-knocks-based programming.

(Now ... are we going to run out of deep-knowledge-and-hard-knocks programmers? I suppose you could argue that. But I have always gotten the impression that even in this era, there're plenty of people out there who have that tinker-on-the-weekends drive and end up knowing a stack deeply. Many of them answer questions on StackOverflow!)


@Mia - MSDN and Java docs give you code examples also. You don't see people running to those sites, do you? You don't because MSDN and Java docs give simple code examples that are meant to demonstrate a particular thing. They are not solutions to problems. Be honest people go to SO to find code answers and modify them to fit there needs.


Hi Ben, I personally dislike stackoverflow for moreover than 3 years right now, they are killing people. Student or a friend from school cannot ask questions there anymore. Google answers and questions don't give anymore correct results. I found myself more and more on blog posts that answer my questions rather than stackoverflow explosive answers. They +1 to reputation, but -99 to minority. Therefore I'm glad that the head rotates there slightly and a little bit moves over the years. I don't like them, they're not good enough as people over the years.


I honestly can't see SO becoming particularly welcoming to newcomers while maintaining the moderation system that it currently has.


It was never meant to be. Which is where it all went wrong.


I only wish I had known about SO long before 2014, would have helped and saved me lot of time

However, these days, I'm mostly using it to find answers rather than answer questions and improve my knowledge/understanding. After being active for about two years, these days I find all the edit/close wars, keeping in mind all the rules and changing rules, etc detrimental than a place for learning.


"I find all the edit/close wars,..." exactly, just wanna say them Remember that your teachers earn less than you fat asses. They totally lost it and think they can be promoted at work by downvoting answers and other questions to raise their reputation. I will give up my computer just to get 99% programmers fired permanently. Seriously.


He's done a lot for devs over the years. Outside of SO, he also had a successful blog with a lot of gems. Such as A Field Guide to Developers. He was hilarious on the SO podcast -- I caught the tail end of his tenure there.

So I hope he enjoys his retirement. Sincerely.


This is big news. The influence of Stack Overflow on my day-to-day life is immeasurable.

I’m interested to see if S.O. goes the way of GitHub with more social/discovery features.


Well, in this case, he is remaining as chairman of the board. So his influence is not insignificant still. So as long as he can guide the new successor well I am good with it. As much as I am willing to admit that is always a challenge.

Perhaps its just an early move on his part for something big and new he is planning for. XD


In trying to remove personal bias from my thoughts, I realized that my opinion of this news is, indeed, inseparable from what I know of Joel personally.

To that end, it's probably unfair of me to share any thoughts on the matter at all.


S.O., in my opinion; has become the site of the most rude, opinionated and offensive question site anywhere.

Many years ago, I spent hours daily answering questions as a learning tool for my own interests. I achived a top 5% contributer acknowledgement.

Today, I refuse to contribute at all. Reason? Nazi moderators mostly, but negativity within the community is the norm. There's little respect for honest questions and plenty of downvotes everywhere.

I only go there for answers now.


Change is good. Perhaps either he decided to take a break, or a break was decided for him. Either way, new leadership will perhaps help shake up some of the old crystallized thinking and keep SO relevant for the future.


Ben is too cool for SO.


"there’s always someone in the community who can answer the questions I can’t." Great quote.


"that is far more diverse, inclusive, and welcoming of newcomers" yeah after they had questionar and got a lot of negative feedback probably


So, Ben - have you applied yet?


I mean, ok.

I think change may be good.

I stopped using SO a long time ago. It’s a largely untrustworthy in a lot of topics. Especially those that change fast over time, like JS.


'far more diverse, inclusive, and welcoming of newcomers.', hm?

Yikes. The skin color, ethnicity, sexual identity, etc are the least important things about anyone submitting or receiving an answer. And people don't come to stack overflow to get bad advice from newcomers either. The meritocracy system there works exceptionally well.

I'm glad he's stepping down if he thinks that's what's 'wrong' with stackoverflow.