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Henrique Ramos
Henrique Ramos

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How's your relationship with StackOverflow?

Every time I discover a new technology, I like to make a silly small project with it. This time, I created Discovr or, how I described it: "Just an excuse to learn SolidJS". The Tech Stack was TypeScript, SolidJS, Vite, Vitest and Testing Library. To sum up: I wanted to learn new things.

While dropping characters into VSCode, I, of course, ran into issues. My gut feeling was google it and open the first SO or Doc entry, and so I did and... No answers. In the end I got over the problem the hard way: reading source code and muddling through, something I don't do too often.

Everything went well. But at some point I considered leaving the project aside and coming back once there was a tutorial, answer or doc entry for my problem (which goes against the initial purpose of exploring new technologies). At the end, I got myself thinking if I was too used to having answers handed on a silver platter instead of digging for answers.

What do you guys think? Is StackOverflow-dependency a thing? Does using it too much affect learning? What's your opinion about tutorials and "ready-to-use" answers? Personally, I feel like they surely help a lot in the beginning, but as you start digging deeper into something, it won't suffice anymore

Top comments (20)

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citizen428 profile image
Michael Kohl • Edited on

It's a tool like any other, if you use it right, it's gonna be useful. For SO this means narrow and specific questions. For the bigger picture/architecture questions you generally will be better off with books, blogs, courses, etc.

However, I think one underrated aspect of StackOverflow is how much you can benefit from answering questions. When I learn a new language I often tend to randomly browse the SO tag and if a question seems interesting I'll see if I know/can figure out the answer. You don't need to be an expert to help somebody, i.e. I have some old answers in Swift and Solidity that still get some upvotes today even though I'm only mildly competent in either.

Over the years this lead to 894 answers (and 4 questions, all for side-projects in languages I was less familiar with) and being in the top 0.29% of SO users. While I personally don't care about magic Internet points recruiters obviously do, as a fair few of the ones who reach out to me reference my SO profile.

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nikfp profile image
Nik F P

This is true, and another aspect to this is that by answering the questions other people come up with, it forces you to have a deeper understanding of the topic you are answering for.

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hnrq profile image
Henrique Ramos Author

That's a great tip. I'm a guy who learns from teaching others as well, so answering questions will probably help me too

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gass profile image
Gass

it will.... I've grown a lot as a developer by been active in that platform. From my perspective one of the best tools/communities for developers.

My profile --> stackoverflow.com/users/14895985/g...

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cicirello profile image
Vincent A. Cicirello

SO can be very useful. I've never actually asked a question on SO, but I've found answers to questions I had that someone already asked several times.

While looking for something once, I discovered someone asked a question about a tool I wrote. So I answered it. That is when I actually created my account to do so. I also decided that in the future whenever I found myself on SO looking for an answer to a question that I would also look for a question in need of an answer ( e.g., to contribute something back). I have not actually followed through with that though.

Anyway, if you didn't find the answer to the question you posted, then perhaps answer it yourself once you figure it out.

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gass profile image
Gass • Edited on

You have the SO mindset. When I started I didn't... honestly. I just wanted to code and make points haha! .. By been active on the platform other users and the SO protocol has forge me more and more into this mindset, which is one I really like.

Just a few month ago, I changed my way of reacting to critics or suggestions to my answers. At the beginning it cracked my ego and I didn't like it. Now I'm completely the opposite, I want people to suggest and critic my codes, so that I can improve.

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hnrq profile image
Henrique Ramos Author

I didn't know that was an option, to be honest, haha. Will do it!

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cicirello profile image
Vincent A. Cicirello

I'm not sure if you can actually post it as an answer to your own question. But you can definitely edit your question to update it with additional info. I think I've seen questions where the person asking added such info later.

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hnrq profile image
Henrique Ramos Author

I just checked it and there's an option to post the question already answered. Awesome!

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miguelmj profile image
MiguelMJ

It all depends on what's the nature of your questions.

It is completely normal to look up specific steps of a program, technical details, or bugs you aren't able to trace yourself. Even if you do it every 2 minutes, it's OK, because the 10th time you will not need to google it (or, as i prefer, duckduckgo it).

But if your questions are broad, unspecific and the answer you look for is a tutorial that explains how to do the 75% of your project or more... Maybe you should go to simpler projects to practice algorithms and data structures until you are able to come up with more complex solutions on your own. Believe me, a good basis in data structures can improve the way you think and program a lot. Much more than knowing a lot of different technologies (which isn't bad, of course).

And when it comes to learn new technologies... unfortunatelly that depends a lot on existing documentation. I tried to learn some technologies that have very short and poor documentation and I usually end up giving up. But that's not your fault; if you are forced to learn by trial and error, the process is going to be slow, hard and frustrating, so it's only natural to leave it.

However, if the documentation is up to date and high quality, then read it while you practice. Go page by page testing everything you read. When you are done, you will have learnt enough to use it in any project you want, no matter if you have to re-read something again, the knowledge will be there, you will know what you need and where to search it.

I have a friendly rant on StackOverflow usage by unexperienced users in this post, I'll leave it here in case someone finds it interesting.

Good luck and keep it up Henrique.

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hnrq profile image
Henrique Ramos Author

Good point and nice text! The docs should be my best friend while practicing. However I agree with you that some new technologies (mainly when it comes to OSS, which relies a lot on voluntary work) have short documentation. Fortunately I feel like this problem is mitigated as the community, and the software itself, grows.

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harounhajem profile image
Haroun Hajem

One tricky thing to take into account is that StackOverflow answers might become stale and incorrect after some time. Something wasn't possible when the question was answered but might now be solvable. That has to be taken into account. Somethings might look correct but aren't

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astorrer profile image
Aaron Storrer

I found it really, really useful at the beginning. And it's really helpful whenever picking up a new tool/platform/library. That said, after working in Rails for a long time I've found that it isn't useful anymore. I generally prefer to read documentation and find answers that way.

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mellen profile image
Matt Ellen

Am I dependent on SO? If it went away I would panic then be sad, but I would still be able to get on with my job.

I expect the first result to a query I might have to be a good answer on a Stack Exchange site, usually Stack Overflow. But I also use other resources relevant to whatever my query is. I was a professional developer before SO, so I know how to find what I need.

I think I might have a search engine dependency, though. I would be lost without the ability to put my problem into a search engine and be shown a list of possible solutions.

I started to learn programming before there were web based search engines, but all reference material is online now, and I don't have space for the myriad books I would need. So if Stack Overflow went away I'd cope, but if an easily searchable web went away, I'd be ruined!

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gulshanaggarwal profile image
Gulshan Aggarwal

When you are just starting it's obvious you can't solve errors easily & you need someone who can solve your problem immediately but I don't think it affects our learning because with time, and experience you automatically solve small or even moderate errors yourself.
When I started I used stackoverflow a lot but now I use it sometimes but mostly use it to answer problems.

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mistval profile image
Randall

I answer questions on it sometimes. I ask questions extremely rarely, but it has helped me on occasion.

It's rare for me to run into a problem/question that I can't figure out via looking at documentation and/or experimentation. And I'm not special, I think that's true for everyone.

But it does seem like there are a lot of people who become dependent on StackOverflow and I think they're doing a disservice to themselves. 95% of questions on StackOverflow are just horrible. Unclear, no effort, just people wanting to be spoonfed code. I fear most people asking questions on StackOverflow will never become good programmers, because they run to StackOverflow the second they run into any problem, and just copy paste the code that they get spoonfed.

Struggling with something yourself for 10 hours will teach you more than StackOverflow ever will. I think programmers should consider StackOverflow a last resort.

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hnrq profile image
Henrique Ramos Author • Edited on

It's like watching a game stage walkthrough instead of trying to pass by yourself, haha

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

If you found questions about the problems you faced on SO, but no answers, you could always answer them yourself now you've completed your pet project?

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malzeri83 profile image
malzeri83
  1. It is impressive great source to find some answers and I found there a lot of good things I searched. So it is effective and useful source.
  2. For people like me with small knowledge it is hard to grow. I made a question - it could be minuses because community doesn't like a lot of questions from newbies. And it is not the reason that it is something that was already 100% asked but just because of question structure. Newbies can ask questions that are stupid for people with high skills.
  3. I made a question, received the answer but I cannot even regard for the answer because my score not enough to do it. The problem with a lot of sources today that because of spam you should somehow get some karma/pluses/score etc. I understand the nature of it but in practice not so convenient.
  4. SO is not limited but parts of bigger StackExchange community. It is very huge and cool. Just my thoughts...
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casield profile image
Casiel Didriksson Muriedas

I using stack overflow for small or really common questions. But I do enjoy more coding and asking questions on the project's social networks, like slack or discord.

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