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Looking at the profiles of the users with the most reputation I started to wonder: are those people working besides asking and answering on Stack Overflow? Or are they the superstars Steve Yegge writes about in "Done, and Gets Things Smart"?

So, this is a question that can be answered from several viewpoints:

  • if you are a user with reputation over 5000 or so: how do you find the time?
  • if you are a potential employer: would you prefer someone with higher reputation?
  • if you are a user with low/no reputation: how do you think, they are doing it?

Call it envy, but reaching the reputation gain limit each day seems like a great accomplishment to me.

If I would be an employer, I would be ambivalent about the question in the title.
As a mere user of this site (who is wasting too much time here already), I stand in awe and most of the time ask myself: why couldn't I come up with those brilliant anwers (sometimes I even find the question brilliant).


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26 Answers 26

at first, it was the shiny badges you got just for trying things out

then it was the power-ups when you hit certain levels... voting on posts, adding comments, that sort of thing

nothing major, it just starts with a trickle...and the first one is always free...

...and soon you're checking SO when you compile. and when you're at lunch. and when you're supposed to be paying attention to a conference call

they hook you when you're young, when you don't know any better, when your resistance is low...

...they dangle shiny things in front of you: badges! privileges! powers! respect of your peers!

by the time you hit 500, you're completely hooked. You start each day thinking "how much did i gain overnight?". You end each day refreshing the unanswered-questions page over and over, hoping for Just. One. More. Easy. Answer. before bedtime.

then you think, hey, if i hit 3000, i can reopen questions that certain can't-take-the-stick-out SO-and-SOs like to close before they even have a chance to garner a sarcastic comment.

then you think, whoa, 500 more points and i'll pass by that jackass who ticked me off when i was just a noob - take that!

then you think, hey, 1000 more points and i'll show up on page two of the users list

then you think, another 2000 points and i'll show up on page one of the users list

and then one day you think: i've finally hit page one! and i'm halfway to Jon Skeet's rep! woo-hoo! superslackerstardom!

but then ugly reality sets in: you will never reach, much less pass, Jon Skeet's rep rating, for numerous reasons - so you might as well get back to work

the good news is that after a few weeks, it is possible to wean yourself back to a healthy level of participation - an hour a day or less - and still find the occasional juicy question that gives you the overnight boost that you still seem to crave.

i just live in fear that one day the freebies will stop and then i'll have to pay for my SO fix...

+1 for a very entertaining read! Thanks for telling your story. – HS. Dec 1 '08 at 14:55
Not just entertaining. From one angle, not funny at all actually. Addiction to power is the real underlying engine of SO. Well put Steven! – purpledog Jun 11 '09 at 9:54
That was absolutely fantastic, and completely true. That is how it starts... they lure you in, and before you know it you're all strung out, selling your possessions and turning [coding] tricks for more rep. The rep doesn't even give you that fuzzy, good-all-over feeling that it used too - it just helps you to feel normal. They've got their hooks into you. You're like that dude from Requiem For A Dream whose arm got amptutated. You're like that dude from Basketball Diaries... – James Johnson Nov 17 '11 at 20:53
You need to update this frighteningly realistic description. Getting "halfway to Jon Skeet's rep rating" isn't possible any longer. – LarsTech Nov 18 '11 at 14:53
Thanks HS for thanking him for his wonderful story! Very true but sad indeed – Pierre Jan 20 '14 at 11:06
That's my problem! I run scripts... no compile down time. – Jeff Lowery Mar 11 '15 at 22:37
I can totally relate few points to myself – r7v Jun 4 '15 at 14:33
  • if you are a user with reputation over 5000 or so: how do you find the time?

I'm 16 and don't have a job. :P

Stay in school kids. – Ross Nov 16 '08 at 12:38
Especially during the summer. – new123456 Jul 15 '11 at 0:26
Kids don't do drugs – onelovelxg Jul 9 '13 at 22:13
you don't have a rep of over 5000 – Pierre Jan 20 '14 at 11:03
@Pierre, Not for Meta but for Stack overflow – Wessel May 21 '14 at 9:40

I have a long-ish commute both ways each day: a 3G data dongle lets me answer questions during that time.

I spend a fair amount of time in the evening on my computer for whatever reason (coding, writing talks or articles, etc) - I pop onto SO every so often.

While at work, I tend to check SO while I have tests running, a deploy, or a build. I hope my colleagues wouldn't regard me as a slacker though.

To respond to the suggestion that people with a lot of rep tend to get it from "fluffy" questions which get lots of votes: that doesn't actually help very much. You'll get a lot of votes within a short time, which can only add up to 200 rep per day. Getting 200 rep per day from "real" questions isn't particularly hard. The difficult bit of getting rep is going beyond 200 a day, which requires getting answers accepted. That's easier with narrow questions where there will be few answers. At only 15 points per accepted answer though, it takes a lot of work to make up for missing a single day's 200 "easy" points. (Of course, you could still get plenty of rep while not actually posting during a day, due to older answers still getting votes.)

Thank you for this insight in your life. – HS. Nov 16 '08 at 13:52
I think you've shown time and again that your answers provide real value. I don't need to see a number on your name to prove that. – Robert S. Nov 17 '08 at 15:36
If the newsgroups had rep I think you'd have overflowed the rep counter LONG ago. :) – Quibblesome Nov 17 '08 at 16:27
Chances are one of your colleagues has gained something from one of your answers, so I don't think that's a problem. – timss Apr 20 '13 at 16:32
how many times have you googled for the answer to something, only to find the answer on SO that you wrote? – Steven A. Lowe Mar 11 '15 at 23:36
@StevenA.Lowe: It definitely happens. Possibly not that often, but it happens... – Jon Skeet Mar 12 '15 at 6:42
@JonSkeet: SO has become an external memory backup ;) – Steven A. Lowe Mar 12 '15 at 18:04
mandatory XKCD compiling: – Ciro Santilli 巴拿馬文件 六四事件 法轮功 May 5 at 15:40

High reputation doesn't necessary mean that these users spend on website more time than anyone else. It usually means that these users are active in general (usually non-technical) questions that attract lots of eyes and therefore are more rewarding.

Most of my reputation (but not that I really care about it) is coming from easy answers which is actually quite sad.

Well that's the point with StackOverflow isnt it? The more easy questions you ask the more useful it will get when googling for answers (and not get stuck with expertsexchange). That should be rewarded if nothing else. – Spoike Nov 16 '08 at 10:56
I also agree with you, lubos - that the amoun of "points" shouldn't be the main factor, but the quality of thoose points... – Israr Khan Nov 16 '08 at 14:35
Regarding "high rep == non-technical" - i wonder if this isn't just a myth. You'd have to look at the Reputation page in each top user's profile to get a solid idea of where their rep comes from, since most of the top-rated questions have been CW for ages. – Shog9 Nov 16 '08 at 16:06
Questions become CW, but the rep remains. – Cade Roux Nov 16 '08 at 16:51
It's amazing what camel-case can do for you - ExpertSexChange :) – Mitch Wheat Nov 17 '08 at 9:40

They know how to ask broad, open-ended questions that everyone else (and their respective dogs) feel the need to answer. ;)

Do I detect a bit of jealousy form below? :) – kenny Nov 16 '08 at 11:20
Where can I get some of these respective dogs? – MusiGenesis Nov 16 '08 at 12:57
I'd just like some respect from a Dog... – Mitch Wheat Nov 17 '08 at 9:41
As long as that respect comes in the form of upvotes – Jimmy Dec 11 '08 at 0:22

Stack Overflow has replaced the time I used to spend doing crosswords, playing solitaire on my phone and bathing, so it's a break-even situation for me.

please go back to bathing, your neighbors are starting to complain ;-) – Steven A. Lowe Nov 29 '08 at 4:31

Difficult to give a categorical answer to that... although I'd say yes the slackers will outnumber the superstars. I've yet to post my review of SO :) (today..3 months old on SO).

  • if you are a user with reputation over 5000 or so: how do you find the time?

I'm just under 5K... I have a job and its difficult to keep up with the head of the pack. I've kind of loosened up after reaching 4K..

  • if you are a potential employer: would you prefer someone with higher reputation?

I'd say that's a good subset to start with. Look at the first 15 or so of their top-voted answers.. It gives you a fair picture. If you find a low number of subjective/poll/religion-war type posts that are not wikified.. chances are he's a superstar (or Jon Skeet most probably :)

  • if you are a user with low/no reputation: how do you think, they are doing it?

Right way: Getting rep for me has been easy in that, a good answer just spikes up your rep and then keeps raking in small amounts in the future. Also getting the 1 and 2 up-votes via regular participation also helps. Easy way: Earlier polls earned lots of ppl lots of rep. Also witty OT threads like cartoons, quotes, jokes, worked. Now with the community wiki norm, the easy way is to pop a question that everyone may have an opinion on. Tough technical questions in a narrow niche (though the problem that SO set out to solve) doesn't get you that many brownie points.

Brownie points! :) Great way to look at it. – HS. Nov 16 '08 at 8:58
I'd say that if you know the answers, the tough technical questions are the easiest - because they're the way to get accepted answers. Crucial to get more than 200 rep per day. – Jon Skeet Nov 16 '08 at 14:21
My point was that the niche tough questions do not get as many upvotes.. not even as many as… – Gishu Nov 17 '08 at 17:50

The rep system is inherently broken- so that difficult and pointed questions don't get as much attention as others-


  • You read 'questions' that you can relate with- if it is a real question or not doesn't matter.
  • You can only really upvote answers you agree with. If you dont' know the answer, you can't agree.
  • You only feel compelled to upvote questiosn you find entertaining or helpful. If it is something that you can't answer, why would you upvote it?

check for several discussions on this and proposed fixes.

""The rep system is inherently broken- so that difficult and pointed questions don't get as much attention as others-"" -- this is by design. Answers to simple and generic questions are more useful to the great masses than difficult and pointed ones, and thus make S.O a better reference. – foljs May 3 '09 at 12:19
I think your comment misses the point that I had made at the time of this post- which was when there were far fewer questions. People were asking open ended questions that were intentionally subjective and answering these themselves to earn rep. – Klathzazt May 3 '09 at 16:05
  • if you are a potential employer: would you prefer someone with higher reputation?

I'd be very concerned if this rep was earned over a short time while in full time employment. Reason being, I know when I started using SO, I got the bug and wasted a lot of time myself. Given that so much rep is now based on soft fluffy subjects (like this), IMO it means nothing positive in itself. You have to look at the individual answers given in your companies domain / area of interest.

TBH, if I was an SO regular looking for a job, and I planned on citing my SO posts in my resume or at interview, I would trim out all the fluffy answers first. Even if it did decimate my rep. A smaller set of really good technical answers would look better from an employers perspective than a mountain of fluff. I posted an idea on user voice here on my ideas for making rep a bit more meaningful.


I don't spend much time on SO (about 30-40 minutes 3 or 4 days a week), and do try to answer "real" questions as well as I can. I don't have time to play the reputation game, and quickly saw it as the game it was. My personal stats,

400 points from

3 Questions (each with 0 votes) + 18 Answers, including

4 Correct answers

2 Answers to "Fluffy" questions (not including this)

42.5% of my Rep comes for from the 2 fluffy answers.

Implies the Hard Work gone into 16 answers just tops the rep from 2 bits of Fluff. I'm not complaining, just highlighting the fact that that the Fluff gets a disproportionate amount of attention.

And yeah, if my answers were better I'd get better rep, I know, I'm only an ould ejit blah blah blah :)

P.S. To prove I'm not intrested in Rep, this answer is CW

@JPLemme: I assume when you say "Googler" you mean "Google user" rather than "Google employee"? – Jon Skeet Nov 28 '08 at 12:37
@[Jon Skeet]: that would be a "googledroid", or possibly a "googlite" – Steven A. Lowe Dec 21 '08 at 20:03
  • Some of them are independent consultants, I suppose. I saw one has contributed to a book... That doesn't mean they have necessarily lot of free time, but refreshing from time to time the list of questions can help relaxing the mind by answering some simple questions (change of activity is relaxing, at least for me!). Some are students, like Jeremy, others are out of job, you can have lot of cases.
  • You can answer a lot on your free time, if you are addicted enough... Having no life (family, etc.) can help! ;-)
  • As lubos points out, some high scores are given by answering broad (like your!), popular questions, particularly humorous ones. Now, I don't think one can get high reputation only by this mean: being competent and helpful helps too...
  • Personally, I managed to answer lot of questions, a number of them elected, but without up vote. Answering obscure questions doesn't help much in increasing reputation (not that I mind, actually, I do that mostly for fun and self-education). Lot of people forget to elect an answer, too.

Overall, I don't take too highly the goal of having high reputation, although it is still a nice thing to have.

To answer one of your question, I think employers can still be interested by the high reputation. Personally, I don't see this as a sign of being a slacker! It shows at least interest for programming, which is important in my eye.
And to answer your title, high reputation members are neither slackers nor superstars, just competent people dedicating lot of time on SO, perhaps from the alpha stage of the site.


No system built on what is fundamentally a popularity rating will ever be without leaks. But that doesn't mean there isn't something to be said for the system working that way on purpose, however. The fluff attracts attention, and attention widens the diversity of people available on hand. More diversity == larger pool of knowledge overall.

However, if the fluff were to start getting in the way of actual non-fluff Q&A activity, then it might be time to reevaluate the system. I think SO works pretty well as is, though.


I just think this reputation stuff is just bad. I mean look around you.

-1: No explanation of why, and doesn't even answer the original question. This is a complete non-answer. – Graeme Perrow Nov 17 '08 at 12:01
I don't.… – Daddy Warbox Nov 17 '08 at 16:21
Why do u have to downvote..this is what i HATE about this site.. its just a popularity contest...nothing else.. well i m going to zero..and i hate joel for creating this stupid rep system.. – zamfir Nov 18 '08 at 6:34
Finally, someone sensible in these forums..@JPLemme. – zamfir Nov 19 '08 at 8:35
Reputation works for objective questions and answers. When its used on subjective questions and answers like this question and this answer, it doesn't work well. – Joseph Nov 29 '08 at 4:56

I do the majority of my SO browsing in the early morning and evening in between work.

While at work, I'll keep it open in a tab, and usually answer a question when I need a mental break, or I've got a long running task going that needs to finish. The trick is to know your priorities...It would be wrong to be SO'ing at work when we have a release the next day.

I'm incredibly productive, and I work for a very flexible company that isn't totalitarian about internet usage.

The interesting thing about reputation is that I continue to gain 200 a day almost without effort, as people read older answers by me and continue to vote them up.

Like Skeet mentioned, it becomes more of a challenge of not only writing a good answer, but writing the answer that is ultimately accepted. This is difficult, because that form of answer takes a lot of time, and usually by the time I'm done, the fastest gun in the west has already been accepted.


Well, they know how to answer quickly and effectively.


Anyone with a rep of over 1850 is definitely a slacker! ;-)

I am tempted to get you back on this side of that line! – Ali A Nov 16 '08 at 13:26
Well, I had 1865 when I made the comment! :) – Ned Batchelder Nov 19 '08 at 14:44

I just wanted 2000 pts. to be able to edit all the grammatical and syntax errors on the site. Now I just pop in now and then and answer a random question. From time to time I also search for unanswered questions in my field of expertise and that's it.


I'll answer from two sides at once:

  • If you are a potential employer: would you prefer someone with higher reputation?
  • If you are a user with low/no reputation: how do you think, they are doing it?

I'm not a potential employer, but if I was I would not assume a high reputation means you are a good developer, or that a low reputation means you are a bad developer. Getting high reputation definitely requires some knowledge, but it also requires you to be a good writer and have some time to devote. It also requires you to have a "teacher" mind set. If you are looking for an evangelist or dev lead type, high rep might be a good indicator, but you should not use it as a deciding factor between two developers, or to get an initial selection of candidates.

I'm a pretty lousy writer and I have very little patience, so I never write long answers and I expect to be a low rep guy basically forever. I'm a great developer though, and I'd be a great hire for most employers. =)


I have a reputation over 5000 and I personally find that I don't spend all that much time here. I just stick to answering questions that I know the answers to, sticking to technologies that I know.

I also find that compared to some, I have grown my reputation slowly, averaging about 100 pts per day.

Also, I don't really care that much about my rep score. yes, its nice that I have all of the "power" to contribute, but I personally take more joy in knowing that i might have helped someone.


I do SO in my free time. (i am embedded linux programmer at work)

Seldom, i wouldn't answer the question which i knew, but something interesting problem.

Because, it less waste my free time. :-)


Actually making a question gives you enough good reputation, more than answering. Doing the RIGHT question gives you MOAR ( more .P ) reputation .. so, key is popularity ;)


A reputation OVER NINE THOUSAND only means that your mind is about to match a Jon Skeet bot

This Skeet meme is getting old – Kyle Cronin Dec 11 '08 at 0:55

I don't think it would be that hard, I'm a non-programmer that uses SO to improve my knowledge and understanding of topics by explaining things to others.

Specifically I'm active in a number of tags (WiX, windowsinstaller, vmware and the like) and I keep track of these via RSS feeds rather than by visiting the site. Keeping track of topics you're interested in via RSS makes monitoring SO a very, very easy task :)


if you are a user with reputation over 5000 or so: how do you find the time?

First of all, it also depends of how much time you are subscribed to Stack Overflow. A person answering questions for over a year will naturally have a much higher reputation that someone asking the same average number of questions/week for only a month.

But the true answer is this: the super stars programmers that can answer any random question quickly work in nice, laid-back jobs where they are respected. They are not coding monkeys and they don't have to work overtime and weekends. So they can answer your puny questions in their (ample) spare time.


if you are a user with reputation over 5000 or so: how do you find the time?

During the evening, for many persons it's a pleasure to help other people. While other persons are members of NGOs, we post on Stack Overflow. After some months (or days/weeks if you are very good) you'll achieve that score.

if you are a potential employer: would you prefer someone with higher reputation?

The higher reputation is like a higher grade. It's better than a lower reputation, it shows some qualities, but it's not enough.

if you are a user with low/no reputation: how do you think, they are doing it?

One important aspect is the time when the question was asked. If the question was asked some years ago, it was appreciated even if it doesn't satisfy the actual rules. There are a lot of questions about simple concepts that can be found in a lot of books and in the official documentation - with more than 50 up votes (e.g., about encapsulation, inheritance). If you want to ask a similar question now, you'll receive 5 down votes + 3 flags before you can say "Jack Robinson".


The mobile apps for iPhone and android has boosted up the participation. Now even other sites (in which the users need not be near a computer (say like biology.SE) get answers from users. People can check updates, post new answers questions from their phones. As people tend to have their mobile everywhere and internet in mobile is almost universal it had definitely increased the interest.


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