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You are interviewing other people for a developer job in your own organization. You find out that the person has been a contributor on Stack Overflow, submitting both questions and answers. You think it might be helpful to review their posts.

What would you look for, in what order of importance?

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migrated from Nov 22 '09 at 10:42

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11 Answers 11

I'd just use it as a talking point in the interview.

Find out why they're involved (to gauge if that's likely to translate to being more or less productive in the role you have in mind).

You could also look at what questions they have asked and answered on subjects that are relevant to the position. But don't write them off if they got things wrong, or ask stupid questions. This is a learning forum. Chances are they know better now. Perhaps test that hypothesis.

I don't think it's worth getting into too many specifics, though. And what is relevant depends on the role and environment.

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I would only look at their actual writings on technical matters. The reputation score is more of an indicator of time spent on the site than anything else (and thus a potential negative, actually, since it might indicate a predilection for wasting time on the Internet instead of working).

If I were interviewing a candidate who had posted here, I would definitely review their posts.

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I am relatively a new user of SO and it was disheartening to read your answer. Do you really think that The reputation score is more of an indicator of time spent on the site than anything else (and thus a potential negative, actually, since it might indicate a predilection for wasting time on the Internet instead of working).? You yourself have high reputation score on SO. – Kuldeep Jain Apr 19 '12 at 12:44

First I would make certain that the person I'm looking at on SO is actually the person I'm interviewing.

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@doofledorfer: asking them, probably. – tloach Nov 10 '08 at 19:11
Why yes, my StackOverflow username is Jon Skeet! :) – CraigTP Feb 24 '10 at 13:12

I would argue that the three most important factors--in order--are:

  1. Attitude. Some people become jerks on the internet. I think this is very, very similar to the old adage about how people treat their social inferiors is the best measure of their character. If most of your posts are sarcastic or bombastic, then you're probably going to be difficult to work with--no matter how well you schmooze in the interview. Your ability to disagree with a position while still respecting the person on the other end of the disagreement speaks volumes about how you'll interact with co-workers.

  2. Communication skill. Every job requires this, and the ability to explain something clearly or to present an effective argument are critical skills for virtually any job in technology.

  3. Knowledge, both areas of expertise and actual expertise within those areas.

One nice thing is that, within reason, none of these criteria would necessarily count against a non-native speaker. Spelling and grammar has to get really, really bad before it makes your argument unintelligible.

[This is a re-purposed answer, but if my main point doesn't change why retype it?]

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In order of preference, I would look for:

  • Quality of answers. Did this person write concise and friendly answers to other people's questions?
  • Correctness of answers. Do the person's answers get a lot of votes? Are they accepted as the final answer for many questions? Or, were they mostly wrong?
  • Quality of questions. Did this person ask insightful questions that demonstrate that the person already did their homework by looking online for answers?
  • Overuse of StackOverflow. Is this person sitting on StackOverflow all day, building up reputation, but presumably not doing his or her day job?
  • Reputation. Does this person demonstrate skill in persistently asking questions or helping other people out?
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I would include as part of "quality of answers" the average number of votes received and how many of the answers were selected as the best answer. A lot of answers with no votes at all indicates a lot of activity (vote-seeking?) but not much quality. – DOK Nov 10 '08 at 22:08

We have found value in reading through job candidates' StackOverflow answers and comments — not for knowledge, but for personality. We can learn a lot about whether someone has the right temperament for our team from their answers.

Reputation doesn't measure much other than time spent, and there are few questions on SO relevant to the work we do. But someone's social nature will show through in everything they post regardless of content.

Are they polite, rude, articulate, or indecipherable? Do they treat others with respect? When someone disagrees with them, do they respond collaboratively, aggressively, or sarcastically? Do they acknowledge when they're on the wrong side of a debate, or fall back to arguing semantics and ad hominem? Are they pragmatic or pedantic? Do they show signs of immaturity or poor anger management?

An employee with the wrong personality fit is more toxic to the team than a simply inexperienced one, and it's hard to get a real sense of that from just an interview and some references. Looking at someone's postings here, in their natural habitat as it were, is an opportunity to see what the "real them" is like.

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Good questions with solid detail outlining real problems (not just reputation fodder subjective polls) means they are confident to question their own ability, able to describe their situation and to react to feedback.

Good answers obviously show knowledge. Are they active and able in the tags that are relevant to the role?

But, ultimately, it's a tricky one - too much stack overflow rep could mean boredom in their current job or maybe you'll have someone using hours per day on non-work topics!

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Or inadvertently revealing details of your new neural-net-powered AI engine. – MusiGenesis Nov 10 '08 at 17:06
Does that question interest you? – Unsliced Nov 10 '08 at 17:38
Does it not interest you? – MusiGenesis Nov 10 '08 at 19:38
I think this was the best answer. – logicbird Mar 31 '11 at 22:50

Another thing that I might look for in the negative would be a tendency towards buzzwordism as a substitute for real answers (e.g. "Oracle Lite is throwing exception POL-5332 on an Android phone? You should use Scrum.").

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Of questions asked, do they reflect an inquisitive person trying to advance their career knowledge and/or solve a burning issue for a customer, or are they give-us-teh-codez desperate pleas for help by someone in over his/her head?

Of answers given, do they reflect a level of knowledge consistent with the experience claimed on the resume?

Of answers given, do they reflect the kind of team spirit and customer-serving philosophy that you want your people to have?

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Any input that I will take from Stack Overflow will be after reading myself what the person has asked or answered and not purely on his/her reputation number.

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I think a person who is actively contributing to Stack Overflow meaning he/she is very interested in technical stuff. Lots of people just come here ask question, other than provide answer. Definitely a plus to me. But I will check his question/answer's quality for sure.

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