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I'm interested in your answer to this question: Why do you post to Stack Overflow?

In other words, what drives you to contribute here? Is it an aspiration for recognition of expertise? Is it a need to bring a social aspect to your personal programming endeavors?

Just as important, what underlies your choice to answer questions on Stack Overflow instead of doing another activity, particularly, instead of programming?

It's worth taking a moment to marvel at the existence of the Stack Overflow community, a community that exists because of the decisions of many individuals to participate. I'm interested in your decision to participate.

I look forward to reading your answer!

[Note: The motivation behind this question sits on my blog.]

[Edit note: Thanks to Kent Fredric for his helpful suggestions on rephrasing the original question.]

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Aug 30 '09 at 12:20

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

    
If you'd make this community wiki, you might not get as many downvotes. –  tvanfosson Dec 11 '08 at 5:07
    
If you re-word this to arguing beneficial reasons that exist in the system of asking and answering questions, you might get a better question, and better answers. –  Kent Fredric Dec 11 '08 at 5:40
    
Why do we post here you ask? Why do you ask stupid questions? –  Tim Matthews Dec 11 '08 at 5:48
    
@tvanfosson: (s)he started out with 1 point, have 43 after 41 minutes... 5 up and 6 down if I calculated correctly. –  some Dec 11 '08 at 5:48
    
@Kent I didn't foresee members reading the question as having a negative tone, since I ask it sincerely. If you feel it can be rephrased in a more more positive or neutral light, I find that a very helpful suggestion. Let me work on that. Thanks! –  gotgenes Dec 11 '08 at 6:19
    
@Ctrl Alt D-1337 Based on the answers we're starting to see here, I hope you'll understand this is not a stupid question, but a really interesting one. It's a worthwhile endeavor to ask oneself, "What makes me tick?" :-) –  gotgenes Dec 11 '08 at 6:23
    
@gotgenes Yes a worthwhile to ask ONESELF. Questions like this and how old are are not programming related by just trolling to the greatest possible audience for rep. –  Tim Matthews Dec 11 '08 at 8:10
    
@Ctrl Alt D, yes, but there can be quantitative benefits for ones long or short term programming career from participating, the only human issues is choosing which of them are the reason for you being here. –  Kent Fredric Dec 11 '08 at 8:38

29 Answers 29

Honestly? It's an ego boost.

When I really think about it, writing great answers is also a way to keep the brain exercised and thinking robustly, especially during periods in which you can't necessarily get the same exercise at work.

It has a much lower barrier of entry in terms of effort than maintaining a hobby project in the evenings, which would have similar benefits but also the detriment of taking away my pub time.

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I answer questions I am knowledgeable on to offer higher bounties on my own questions.

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I'm in it for the fame and glory.

But seriously because it's a decent community. It hasn't devolved into gratuitous fanboy-ism or how dare you ask such a question. When you aren't likely to be flamed/spanked for your post it makes it easier to contribute.

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The main reason I post questions is because Stack Overflow has a large community and it's much easier to post something here then look for the email list or forum that is specific to the technology I have a question on, sign up for the list or forum, ask the question, hope someone answers it, and never contribute to the forum or email list since it was a one time question I had. Reasons I answer questions are

  • It's always fun to watch my reputation points change hopefully in the up direction

  • I'm a student and am on break right now so I have lots of free time to spend on this site.

  • I don't have a programming job with peers to compare my self against so seeing whether my questions get up votes is a way of judging my knowledge.

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It's a developer's interactive Google. The sister domain should be codegle.

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In short John Sheehan's answer says it all.

I came to SO seeking answers. I began to understand that this wasn't just another place to get answers. Far more than that - this community thrives on the willingness of those who came before me to share their knowledge and experience.

To show my respect for their knowledge and willingness to share, I follow in their footsteps. It is an honor to have both my questions & answers recognized. Even more, I enjoy having the opportunity to give back to this community.

I read somewhere in a post a few days ago (regarding someone getting 3k rep and unsure what to do next) that it was time to give back. I didn't want to be that person. Also, a comment was made that you can learn even more by answering questions. I didn't fully believe that at the time. But I believe it now.

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Because I do not know better ways to slack off.

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I post questions to get answers. I post answers because I had questions once and no one to answer them.

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4  
Pithy, and beautiful. –  gotgenes Dec 12 '08 at 21:54
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I do it for the 1337 rep just like Jon Skeet –  mugafuga Dec 31 '08 at 20:45

I post here because it feels good to have people reaffirm my worth.

Most of my posts are meant to be helpful. Some I post to be funny. Others I post for recognition.

When you get an upvote, it is like having people tell you that you are worth something.

Helping people is always good. Even if you get something out of it.

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Affirmation of worth does feel good. As a follow up question, do you feel that programming is also rewarding and helpful to others (e.g. bug fixes, feature additions), and if so, why do you choose to spend time with SO, instead of programming? –  gotgenes Dec 12 '08 at 22:08
    
With SO it is almost instantaneous gratification. That is why it is better than programming. –  jjnguy Dec 14 '08 at 21:16

I find I learn most from answering questions. Finding out where you are wrong can be as useful as finding out where you are right.

Also, if there is already a barrage of good answers, it is a good challenge to rack your brain, and find out

  1. Reasons why existing answers are wrong
  2. Possible Scenarios where existing answers are only conditionally wrong
  3. Information that will challenge existing posts to reaffirm their answer with more solid evidence.
  4. What you can add to the existing answers that cover bases not already covered.

Criticism and getting down voted is one thing, but when you get a decent comment, or an entire answer categorically and analytically stating why your answer is wrong, that is an ideal opportunity to learn from your mistakes.

Programming Related, Honest

Consider:

  • I go here because it gives me rep
    • Rep and growing rep is a believed representation of ability
      • Rep looks good to me on paper.
        • Rep to me, makes me look good on paper
          • Me looking good on paper is good for my programming career.
    • People On SO could potentially value me due to REP
      • One such valuation could score me a programming job.

You people would do well to read his actual journal, because it explains the motivation behind the question more clearly than the question itself conveys.

If you believe Asking questions or answering questions could have long ranging or short ranging benefits to your programming career, or even your programming hobby, whether they be negative or positive, the point of this question is to unearth the technical merits that are possibly associated, and then gauge and Idea of which concepts are predominant.

Understanding others opinions on this matter is the Important part of this question, because re: employment, the situation is often in somebody elses hands, and you want to be as forearmed as to the possible viewpoints of people whom do the employment.

As such, this question is no-lesser programming related than people asking about how to survive interviews, and there are many of those.

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Kent, thanks for taking the time to give a really thorough answer. –  gotgenes Dec 12 '08 at 21:58

I do it for the points. :-)

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Why do this for the points instead of program for points (in the form of GitHub/Launchpad points, or cash? –  gotgenes Dec 12 '08 at 21:55
    
The points thing is a joke (even though it is motivating). The real reason is I enjoy working with people. I spent a lot of time in college working as a teaching assistant and I miss the interaction with people learning to program. That and the points :) Haven't been to github or launchpad yet –  JaredPar Dec 12 '08 at 22:32

Ironically, my job doesn't give me many opportunities to talk about programming with my peers. Also, I don't get to do as much programming as I would like. So stackoverflow has become a sort of nighttime place where I can hang out and talk about programming.

And the partial reinforcement effect makes it hard to stop :-)

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That's interesting, and something I had overlooked, I think: SO provides a chance to communicate with other programmers when you're the sole one in your organization. But as a follow up question, why not instead work on an open source project with a team, rather than post to SO? –  gotgenes Dec 12 '08 at 22:01
    
It's not that I'm the sole programmer in my organization, but there are very few of us with more than 30 years of experience, and there are a lot of demands on our time. SO provides a short-term fix :-) –  Norman Ramsey Dec 13 '08 at 1:07

Posting to SO means I don't do the things I really should be doing instead.

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Really honest. So as a follow up question, would you rather post here than program a small side project? –  gotgenes Dec 12 '08 at 21:59
    
It varies - at the moment, most of my side-projects are stalled for lack of enthusiasm about the next step. –  Jonathan Leffler Dec 12 '08 at 23:08

I like the badges :)

No really, it's just that whole giving back thing.

Plus I feel like I'm contributing to a decent reference, like wikipedia, not just some random forum.

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I post, therefore I am.

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1  
Descartes hopes you think while you're posting. –  J.F. Sebastian Dec 11 '08 at 7:36
    
But by the same reasoning, if you write code, you are, too. So why post to SO rather than code? –  gotgenes Dec 12 '08 at 22:02
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I code with one hand and post to SO with the other, much like Jon Skeet –  Steven A. Lowe Dec 13 '08 at 1:31

I've always worked as a software developer for small businesses. I'm usually the only software developer there.

It's helpful to bounce ideas off of other programmers and to read other people's experiences and compare them to my own. StackOverflow helps a lot in that regard.

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Helping people is good, and if it stops just one face-palm, it's worth it.

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Because everyone here shares a common interest, and I enjoy learning what other people have to say. You learn a lot of neat little programming tricks by conversing with others. Another benefit is that I get to feed my curiosity while helping others with theirs.

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Good point! You can also learn a lot of tricks in the practice of programming, too, particularly when working with others, bug fixing, adding features, etc. As a follow up question, why do you choose to spend the time with SO rather than with programming? –  gotgenes Dec 12 '08 at 22:05

Several reasons:

  • To learn
  • To share my knowledge
  • To evaluate my knowledge against the opinion of peers
  • To be part of a community of peers
  • To help build and improve this source of knowledge
  • And of course for the eternal rep competition
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Great points. Would you agree that you could get these same rewards, though, by, say, participating in an active open source project? If so, what's behind your choice to post to Stack Overflow rather than program in these projects? –  gotgenes Dec 12 '08 at 22:13
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@gotgenes, I agree. And I have thought about joining a open source project. But I can't afford to spend the time right now. The advantage of SO is that you can do it in the time gaps. –  Gamecat Dec 30 '08 at 10:54

I post answers when I think I know something in hopes that it will help someone, either immediately or in the future as a persistent reference.

I post questions to get answers, or to solicit opinions on something subjective from the SO community as a whole. Some questions, like this one, I post because the answers directly affect what I'm doing at a high level.

I'm posting here because it was interesting, and I hope my feedback is helpful. :)

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Because I get the answers very quickly.

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Over the years I've seen too many sites with too many unanswered questions which now clog up the Google results. (Worse are that many just republish Usenet or scrape each other so if you're asking a particularly obscure question there's one answer out there but Google hits it on dozens of sites, all covered with intrusive advertising.)

StackOverflow has, in my mind, built up several layers of trust. It has its own reputation points system, but at a meta-level I've had good experiences here and know that if there are answers to be had, they will be found here.

Not all of my questions have been resolved, but just in the act of responding people are giving me things to think about and confirming that my fears and suspicions were on the right lines.

I trust the people here. Rep points are a gauge (although as more and more people have higher and higher totals, that is becoming less true).

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Absolutely right on the sites with questions but no answers. Completely useless, except perhaps to give you hope that if someone had the same problem in 2001, somewhere, someone has scribbled an answer. –  Christopher Mahan Dec 11 '08 at 8:57

Dilbert 2008-12-28

Because the coffee machine is broken.

From here:

http://www.dilbert.com/2008-12-28/

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haha. this is funny but true. –  mad.geek May 10 '12 at 14:08

The main reason I post to SO (at least right now), is so I can get enough reputation to fully participate. I think this is the case with a lot of people. At first its to get reputation to be able to upvote/downvote/comment, etc. Then it turns into a desire to actually help others.

Of course, I read SO a lot more often than I post to it, and the reason for reading SO is so I can learn. Hopefully I'll be able to answer and help out some day.

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I started out this way to! :- ) –  rlb.usa Feb 12 '10 at 19:30

Because this is where all the cool kids hang out!

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I post here because I suffer from a terminal case of procrastinitis. It's a great way to help, learn and otherwise pass the time with peers.

My mom always taught me that you cannot learn anything from someone who has nothing to teach - a community such as Stack Overflow has so many that have so much to teach, you cannot help but learn by spending time on it.

It's also a great way to pass on my knowledge to others. Giving back to the community doesn't only give me a sense of satisfaction and well-being because I am attempting to do my part for others, but if something I can assist with helps any part of the community move forward, then (according to Buffalo Theory*) I'm helping the community move forward as a whole.

*http://oldpunks.blogspot.com/2005/04/cliff-clavin-explains-buffalo-theory.html

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How the heck did you come across that? –  John MacIntyre Dec 30 '08 at 0:03
    
@John: Hehe - old quote it circulated a long time ago, I just thought it could be applied here :P –  BenAlabaster Dec 30 '08 at 0:41
    
I wonder how ethically correct it is to kill off the slowest and weakest programmers though, :o$ –  BenAlabaster Dec 30 '08 at 0:42

I just get sucked into the bite size information. ... just one more, then another, then another, ... then I've been goofing off for 45 minutes ! ... oh crap ... back to work! ;-)

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I like helping people. One day they might help me.

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