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I was recently asked for my Stack Overflow reputation score in the context of a job interview. I was first asked what blogs I read, and after mentioning Coding Horror and Stack Overflow, was asked for my user id and reputation score.

Is that a fair question?

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Nov 25 '09 at 5:16

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

3  
what if you don't have an account? –  Robert Gould Feb 2 '09 at 8:13
27  
I think it's a fair assumption that if you follow both coding horror and the stackoverflow blog, you also have a stackoverflow account. –  Nathan Fellman Feb 2 '09 at 8:15
    
True, if they know what they are its a reasonable thing to guess. –  Robert Gould Feb 2 '09 at 8:18
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Sounds reasonable if you brought it up. –  workmad3 Feb 2 '09 at 8:23
    
Yes seems good as it gives an idea as how inquisitive you are and also how your responses are especially in area you are going being interviewed for. –  Nrj Feb 2 '09 at 8:23
    
Did you mention SO participation on your CV? If so, it's a fair question. If it's out of the blue, it's kinda weird. What prompted it? –  cletus Feb 2 '09 at 8:29
    
Why close? There are enough interview related questions here already, and I think that the general question of bringing up activity in internet communities in interviews is interesting for many programmers. –  Svante Feb 2 '09 at 8:39
    
Your implication here is that it was asked as a proper interview question, which is getting people all excited but come on, it was asked as a throwaway conversational line. You were probably crap the rest of the interview, too busy thinking "oh man, I've got to ask a question about this!" –  Shaun Austin Feb 2 '09 at 9:30
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It'd be nice to have just one of the candidates I've interviewed mention SO or codinghorror, or any technical blog/site at all. –  Rob Elsner Feb 2 '09 at 9:39
    
did you ask them what their score was? a good follow up question - is there even such a thing as an unfair interview question...the whole point of an interview is so both parties get to know each other better.... –  Anonymous Feb 2 '09 at 15:44
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This is one of the worst questions I've ever seen posted here. –  Robert S. Feb 2 '09 at 15:53
    
/me checks calendar. Nope, not April Fools day.... –  Greg Feb 3 '09 at 15:06
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I got asked what level I was on World of Warcraft at my most recent interview...had to admit to the guy that I didn't play, at which point he stood up and wished me good luck. Still got the job though - said inteviewer is a funny guy :) –  endian Mar 19 '09 at 16:14
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@endian: Maybe the answer "I didn't play" was exactly the right one. It could be possible that they do not like to employ people that play WoW all of the day and this is the best way to find them and don't employ them. (If he had asked "Do you play WoW?" a WoW player would be warned: "Oh, it could be bad to tell!". But if he asks for the level an intensive WoW player would start to get proud of the level he reached and just tell..and BOOM...everything is over :-) ) –  rstevens Aug 30 '09 at 8:47
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If you had put your rep in your resume, this wouldn't have happened. ;-P –  Adam Davis Feb 7 '12 at 14:43

30 Answers 30

There have been other questions about the value/meaning of Stack Overflow reputation score outside of Stack Overflow. I think the most accurate way it has been described is that your reputation is an indication of how much Stack Overflow trusts you.

The score in and of itself doesn't mean much. If they ask for your user id and take the time to read your questions and answers, then it's more akin to reading a potential hire's technical blog, which has some merit.

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Imho No, it is not a fair question. It is ok to ask which blogs, etc do you read, but the rep score doesn't necessarly show your "real" knowledge. It should be enough for your future boss to know that you are trying to stay up-to-date.

Additionally such question automatically lets me think, that there is a lot of employee monitoring going on, in this company (but this might not be true)

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Just tell them your alias on Stack Overflow is "Jon Skeet".

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5  
... and John Skeet's alias is Kieran ?? ;-) –  Cerebrus Feb 2 '09 at 8:21
    
Nah that would bring up too many questions, and I'm sure I couldn't integrate the meaning of 42 on the spot. I'd rather say Greg Hewgill ;) –  Robert Gould Feb 2 '09 at 8:22
    
that's instant hire there :) –  lock Feb 2 '09 at 8:27
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... and just as you were about to utter the name, the real Jon Skeet jumps into the interview and takes your job =P –  Zach Scrivena Feb 2 '09 at 8:28
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Or I turn out to be the interviewer :) –  Jon Skeet Feb 2 '09 at 9:32
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Wow, Jon... it's too bad you can't upvote comments. –  Max Feb 2 '09 at 14:33
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Jon, if you were interviewing someone from SO, they'd recognise you straight away. The dressing gown would be the give away. –  Dan Dyer Feb 3 '09 at 15:06
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Can Jon Skeet interview himself? –  David Basarab Feb 5 '09 at 16:45
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Of course then you'd have to consider whether you'd want to employ someone who spends all day on SO :) –  Drew Noakes Feb 13 '09 at 8:02
    
If Jon skeet's PC hangs… its time for next windows release… –  Hardik Jul 8 '13 at 10:51

Your rep is a good reflection of the quality of the questions and answers you post here, but not of your knowledge.

For example you can be a complete newbie in a certain field, and post loads of questions here so you will end up with a lot rep also.

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You'd still have to ask at least somewhat smart questions to gain a lot of rep that way. –  Joachim Sauer Feb 2 '09 at 15:46
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You'd also presumably gain knowledge from getting those questions answered. People who ask lots of questions don't remain newbies for long. –  Bill the Lizard Feb 2 '09 at 16:09
    
Agreed. A lot of my rep was earned asking Python questions since I was in the process of learning it. However, I am primarily a .NET developer and I have far fewer of those questions. –  Ray Vega Feb 10 '09 at 0:49

It is totally up to you. If you want to 'show yourself' tell them the user id. It's public information after all. If not, you could have said: I read anonymously :)

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I don't think it is a fair question really. If you wanted to show them the technical prowess you've demonstrated on this or any other site, then you would have included it in your resume. It's akin to an employer coming to look at your bedroom to see if you're a tidy person.

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It's not a fair question. You could be:

  1. A newcomer to Stack Overflow, in which case your reputation is fairly low.
  2. Experienced in technologies that are less popular on Stack Overflow. For instance, .NET and Windows programming are very popular here, while Linux programming is a bit less. If you have experience in less mainstream languages (for instance my questions on Specman) that won't be reflected in your reputation, because fewer people will read them to begin with.
  3. Jon Skeet, in which case you're not really a data point.
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Exactly the response I intended to write! ;-) –  Cerebrus Feb 2 '09 at 8:22
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I agree with the points here, but if the interviewer followed up the answer with looking at actual questions/answers posted by the candidate, it may be a reasonable way to measure the candidate's suitability for a position. –  Chris Young Feb 2 '09 at 9:08
    
You may be in trouble either way: spending too much time on so or too little. –  innaM Feb 2 '09 at 9:31
    
If I were hiring a very high score would make me suspicious. "Do you actually work at all?" –  pi Feb 2 '09 at 11:30
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"Jon Skeet is not a data point" I sense a Jon Skeet fact –  Sam Hasler Feb 2 '09 at 12:17
    
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"Jon Skeet isn't an outlier - all the other points are outliers" –  mackenir Feb 2 '09 at 12:41
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Why does it have to be "fair"? Sometimes off-the-wall questions get asked because they help fill in a candidate's personality. Sometimes questions get asked where the answer itself doesn't matter, just the approach/attitude. –  Tom Feb 2 '09 at 13:40
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The OP only asked if it is fair, not whether or not fair questions are allowed. –  Nathan Fellman Feb 2 '09 at 13:46
    
Of course, if they are a C# / .NET shop, it may be a bit relevant. I wouldn't put too much stake in a low rep (unless you'd been on SO for months and all of your answers were consistently downvoted). But I may put some stake in a high rep. –  Mark Brittingham Feb 3 '09 at 14:52
    
You are assuming too much about the intentions of the interviewer, perhaps a low reputation is better, perhaps it will not even be taken into account. –  Null303 Feb 3 '09 at 22:28
    
In that case, no question is fair. Htere is always a good readon for doing or not doing something. –  e-satis Nov 18 '09 at 13:45
    
True, but not everything that you did or didn't do can reflect on your career. –  Nathan Fellman Nov 18 '09 at 18:30

Sure, I think it's fair. It's an interview, so they're trying to get insight into what makes you tick. So, pretty much anything's fair, provided they're not entering discrimination territory, which this question does not.

Keep in mind that just because they ask your rep doesn't mean that that's what they're trying to find out. They might just want to see your reaction to the question, or to find out if you know about SO. I think it's a good sign that they know about SO.

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Sounds like a pretty natural conversational progression. It's not like they made your Stack Overflow data a part of the application criteria.

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Here's how I would answer it:

If my score is high, I would say "I enjoy programming so much that even outside of work I participate in forums like stackoverflow to improve myself".

If my score is low, I would say that "I'm so busy with work that I can hardly find time to participate actively in forums like stackoverflow even when I really like to".

Either way, you leave a positive impression on your interviewer (hopefully).

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define "high" :) –  bananakata Feb 5 '09 at 9:28
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high > JonSkeet.rep –  Unkwntech Feb 5 '09 at 9:54
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Depends on how high your interviewer's eyebrows go. –  Zach Scrivena Feb 5 '09 at 10:37
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High = Jon Skeet Score * 5% –  David Basarab Feb 5 '09 at 16:46
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Actually I think the second one sounds like an excuse. It's kinda of like either you do or you don't. Wanting to do something doesn't mean much. Actually doing something does. –  cletus Aug 20 '09 at 9:45
    
@cletus: I see it as a reason for a low score, not so much an excuse. Just curious: what then would you accept as a reason? –  Zach Scrivena Aug 21 '09 at 20:25
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Honestly, if I heard either response, my BS meter would sound the alarm, and I'd hope the next candidate was a straight shooter. –  Don Branson Aug 28 '09 at 10:38
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"I enjoy problem solving, and SO gives me bite-size problems I can solve to 'sharpen the saw' and keep up with new concepts and technologies." –  Adam Davis Nov 26 '09 at 4:45
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Hey what would count as a low reputation? I am new user. Mainly I have questions there. Top 10 of my questions all have votes from 1 to 3. Some other questions don't have votes. I don't have negative votes. Is this considered bad reputation? Thanks. –  user2054339 Sep 11 '13 at 15:59

Maybe they are looking for someone who can delete posts for them :)

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+1 Insightful +1 Funny -1 Overrated –  Christopher Mahan Feb 2 '09 at 8:34
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JOB OPENING - We are looking for a charismatic programmer with a 10k+ rep on stackoverflow (ideally 5 or more accounts at 10k+ rep) who is interested in public relations. Please contact dewey_cheatum_and_howe@snakeoil.com to interview! –  Adam Davis Nov 26 '09 at 4:47

Reputation and other metrics (upvotes/downvotes, accepted answers etc etc) is largely meaningless.

However being able to view a candidate's questions/answers on technical topics would be extremely valuable to anyone involved in a screening/hiring decision.

Binary Worrier Editing Andrews Post.

I agree completely.

If I were in the position of looking at a candidate's SO profile, I would be far more interested in the quality of posts rather than the quantity.

However I can imagine snap judgements being made e.g.

If no of questions > number of answers, then the candidate isn't a self starter, and relies too much on others to get things done.

If Large number of answers but low rep, then the user either

  • a) doesn't know their stuff, but thinks they do
  • b) is trolling and constantly get's downvoted.

NB: I'm not saying that this is the way it is, I'm saying there's a danger the data could be viewed this way (i.e. don't shoot the messenger).

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Great points. I think the content posted by the SO user is the most important, but it can be edited by others. –  bruceatk Feb 6 '09 at 20:00

Honestly when I see question topics like "programmer baby names", "programmer license plates" and "programmer quotes" are the most popular/highest rated, it pretty much makes the whole reputation thing worthless in my opinion, especially when you see other really technical/hard questions get a few votes.

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But they are generally wiki questions, so no rep impact. –  Marc Gravell Feb 2 '09 at 8:51
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And thus the point (in my eyes) of wiki questions :) –  Ross Feb 2 '09 at 15:46
    
They are badge-getters though. Just ask Bill the Lizard. –  Robert S. Feb 3 '09 at 18:56
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They're generally only made wiki after the post has scored a few dozen reps though, at least in my experience. –  jalf Feb 5 '09 at 17:34
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So if I ask 10 funny non-technical questions a day I still get hundreds of votes... –  Trap Feb 13 '09 at 13:58
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@MarcGravell not really, the early off-topic questions got dozens of votes before they were made into wikis. Now those people who got their high rep through silly threads are the ones enforcing community wiki more stringently. –  TM. May 7 '09 at 23:22
    
Amen. the most up-votes for people with pretty much ANY rep and of pretty much any quality are silly questions and/or answers to them. The kind that these days would get closed/deleted in 5 seconds. –  DVK Oct 1 '09 at 5:00

Apart from technical knowledge, reputation depends upon how long you have been a member. Comparing two candidates' reputations is meaningless.

Access to a candidates questions and answers would provide some insight into their communication skill, ability to reason about technical problems and general community/team behaviour.

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It depends on the expectation the interviewer puts on the answer. Here are two ways to think about it that would not be proper:

  1. "If he has a high reputation, he has a lot of knowledge. I mark that as a plus."
  2. "If he has a high reputation, he is wasting a lot of time with all kinds of internet sites. I mark that as a minus."

On the other hand, if the interviewer just wants to incite the interviewee to tell about his activity, in order to get an impression, I think it's OK.

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It is fair, as long as it is viewed as a benefit. In fact, I was curious on why was that question asked. Which leads me into some insights to share:

1) I wouldn't think it could be shown as pejorative, but recruiters and HR-minded people usually doesn't follow logical conventions.

(And if you're one and you're looking my online profile, I will happily tell you: I didn't write the previous statement. The computer did by itself!)

2) Ok, back to the not-so-common-sense: A Company could leverage that as some Marketing and PR effort, specially if it offers products like components and libraries.

On the other hand, if the interviewer has some IT background, well, it might look either as a icebreaker and try to focus on which stuff were you into lately, or trying to find if you have some deep knowledge and experience, and you were willing to share - which is good when you consider teamwork.

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I think it's a fair question, but I would consider it more of a social/hobby/interest question rather than a way to assess someone's professional skills or experience.

Personally I would not ask about a candidates reputation, but I might ask about their username. That way I could check out their questions/answers and use it in my evaluation of them. Mind you that the evaluation would be based purely on what they actually wrote on the site, not what their score was. If somebody did not want to share their username (or otherwise indicated that they didn't like the question--i.e. by coming up with an excuse), I would simply move on and think nothing of it.

As for my own answer to the reputation question, I would just say something along the lines of "Sorry, but I don't remember." or "Sorry, but I don't know. I don't really keep track of those things."

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I don't think it's very appropriate. But only because my profile shows that I've wasted company resources playing on this thing and that's not the sort of thing I want potential employers to know.

Kieran: On a personal note... If I were you, I'd be wary of giving my stackoverflow ID to any potential employers because your answers may stand against you. You've a tendency towards community questions; you quote religious text; you state you wouldn't be good in areas outside programming and your answers are sometimes a bit unstructured.

(I hope you don't take this personally - I don't know you, and I don't want you think this is what I think about you or your abilities. I have no personal opinion about you any way.)

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OTOH, you could be using company time to post a question that none of your peers could answer. I don't think that's a bad use of time, as SO is definitely a valid resource for technical tidbits. –  Tom Feb 2 '09 at 13:44
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"Kieran: On a personal note..." "(I hope you don't take this personally" LOL –  WOPR Feb 2 '09 at 19:45

Whether or not such questions are "fair" isn't the question I'd ask. Whether it's blogs you read, online communities you're part of (Stack Overflow, Facebook, etc), your comments on blogs, or blogs you write--they can work for you or against you. In this day and age, it's wise to expect that today's employers will find out whatever they can about you online. So when you put anything online, do what you can to make sure it shows you in the best light possible.

In past jobs, when interviewing has been a large part of my role, I nearly always asked prospects what sort of things they read (print and/or online) that related to their job. To me, the fact that you're involved in Stack Overflow is something I'd look on as a plus. Rather than ask you your id and rep score, a more useful question from them would have been what your favorite question was. A good interviewer would be able to use that question to find out more about your interest and skills.

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I think it's a fair question, it shows you have an active interest in programming and are keen on learning. Alot of developers can just stand still and let technology and methods pass them by... These are the developers you don't want.

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From an interviewer's point of view, taking a note of the user name could be useful, more so than the actual rep score. It allows them to go and have a look at some of your answers and see if you generally know what you are talking about.

Unfortunately, if somebody looked at my top-rated answers they would see that I am an expert in Jon Skeet's abilities and getting laid off.

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I think it's a fair question, but only to a point. A high rep means that you participate in SO a lot. Thus someone with a high rep is likely to be very interested in programming. But it shouldn't be considered a measure of programming ability.

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It seems like a fair question, but because stack overflow allows some (but not all) non-programming and discussion questions, it would not really be an accurate scoring of your skill level or dedication. Though the leadership may eventually get it's act together.

This question itself, is to some degree a measure of the failure of the stack overflow system. Because while you may receive reputation for a question like this, it would not reflect any underlying programming knowledge.

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Maybe they wanted to spy on you making sure SO doesn't answer all of your programming queries? :O.

;)

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Yes, it is a fair question as how you answer it may say a lot about your communication skills.

Do you:

  • rationalize away that your reputation isn't in the same league as Jon Skeet?
  • simply state the facts of what your reputation is and why you visit this site?
  • try to explain that you can answer so many questions while still being productive where you work?

Lots of different perspectives that I think how you answer is the key here.

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To me this says 3 things about the interviewer:

  1. They know something about the coding community. This is a positive
  2. They want to quickly establish their superiority over you with intimidation. Negative.
  3. They want to uncover your 'Programmer' persona. Positive for them, possible devastating for you.

Bottom line is - you put it out there so don't be surprised where you pop up. Own your web presence.

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Yes, it's a fair question.

However, what they see is really up to you.
This is web privacy 101.

If you are doing something online that you don't want an employer (current or future) or anybody else to be able to find then don't use your real name.

But if you are doing something online that your are proud of and are happy for anybody to see then sign that baby with your real name.

Any employer worth their salt should be googling you anyway to scope you out before they even ask you in for an interview.

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It's totally non-sensical to ask this question in a job interview IMHO. Rep points on SO correlate with length of membership and number of questions and answers more than anything else like quality, knowledge, etc.

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I'm not sure whether or not it's a fair question, as in fair to you to have to answer it. But I do think it's a stupid question to ask in an interview, since in fact it gives very little information about your actual programming ability.

Asking what your Stack Overflow user account is and looking at your questions and answers would be a much better way to actually evaluate your abilities. It's also just as fair as asking if you have any published work relating to the job.

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They probably just wanted to downvote all your answers, the scum!

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