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This question might not be a directly related to programming but more the culture around it, specifically Stack Overflow.

I recently stumbled onto Stack Overflow Careers, and read how you could create an online CV that links to your Stack Overflow reputation, thus allowing future employers to review your answers and questions. Since Stack Overflow has become such a phenomenal success for developers, I realised that Stack Overflow Careers was going to be crucial when applying for software development jobs in the future. This would imply that a high reputation is needed to reflect well on your CV.

Now, I love Stack Overflow and think it’s a great resource for finding solutions to problems regarding software development. However, I cannot possibly sit on the site 24/7 and hope to be one of the first replies to a question to try and increase my reputation. Developers need to work, you know.

So my question is: How do you increase your reputation score on Stack Overflow in a realistic manner? There are users out there boasting reputations of 25,000 and higher. How do you do this? Suggestions, comments, tricks, etc. would be helpful.

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Nov 25 '09 at 15:48

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

4  
Sure, every employer wants to hire someone who slacks off on stackoverflow at work all day. If this person is so good at what they do, then why are they looking for work? –  eleven81 Nov 25 '09 at 16:31
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@eleven81 -- I answer SO questions at home before work, after work, and during work breaks. I'm consistently productive at work and my employer has no complaints. @Jon Skeet has written about his SO schedule (meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/555/…) and it sounds very similar, but you'll have to ask his employer about their perspective. All I'm saying is that the conception that you have to waste time on SO to get rep is not accurate. Right now, for instance, I'm monitoring an app doing some memory profiling and can both work and check in with SO. –  tvanfosson Nov 25 '09 at 17:16
    
@tvanfosson the skeet schedule link is broken –  UpAndAdam Sep 10 '13 at 14:57
    
@UpAndAdam deleted by the overzealous broken window fixers. Get 10K of rep and you can still see it. :) I can't edit the comment any more and the comment still seems to apply so it will have to stay broken. –  tvanfosson Sep 10 '13 at 18:20
    
@tvanfosson fair enough :-) i was just curious myself. agreed don't delete the comment. –  UpAndAdam Sep 10 '13 at 18:45

12 Answers 12

up vote 40 down vote accepted

There are lots of ways, and to some extent it depends on whether you view StackOverflow as a game (to get points), a way of demonstrating your competence in specific areas, or just a place where you help people out. From a purely point-accumulation standpoint, here are some basic techniques.

  • Quality answers. If you take the time to answer something well, chances are high you'll be accepted. This includes basic things like answering the question that was asked, and linking to relevant online docs for evidence to back up your answer.
  • Quantity answers. Someone else here said 'quality not quantity'. But quantity is a perfectly viable strategy. You can get a lot of points for short, pithy answers over many questions (if they're vaguely correct, you'll get 1 or 2 votes per answer). Personally, I don't like doing this, but there are many users (including some on the front page of SO) who do.
  • Answer straightforward stuff, even if you're not 100% sure. Most people have an aversion to answering questions they're not sure about. But what's the worst that can happen? Normally, you lose 2-6 points. On the other hand, if you're right, you're the first answerer - 50 points+. If it's really awful, you can always delete it. If in doubt, answer the question first, then go look it up.
  • Consider niche questions. From a points perspective, niche questions are rather expensive for the amount of work you have to put in (I know, I answer lots of them). You won't get a lot of points for them, because they're low traffic, and the answers are often esoteric enough that the reader isn't normally sure what you're on about (so won't vote). On the other hand, if you have some unusual expertise, they can be easy to answer, and are much less competitive than mainstream questions.
  • Fold up large threads into single, comprehensive answers. Combining many small existing answers into one cohesive answer is an explicitly encouraged behaviour on SO. If you do it well, it helps the site. It's usually time-consuming, but in my experience a good summary answer continues to gain points over time.
  • Learn regex. If you're just looking for points, learn regular expressions and leap in there whenever you see a 'how do I match X?' question. They're easy, unambiguous, and so provide a depressing number of points for very little effort. On the other hand, you have to be fast.
  • Answer subjective stuff, before it goes CW. A favourite trick of some of the high-rollers seems to be answering subjective questions quickly, before the OP is forced to make the question community wiki. This can garner huge numbers of points, merely for expressing your opinion. The trick here is to pick a position that some fraction of the audience is going to agree with. From a points perspective, the more contentious the answer the better. You want downvotes as well to generate more upvotes.
  • Answer something really well when there's already an accepted answer. The psychology of voting means you'll get more points if you're 'better' answer is not the accepted one, because it doesn't seem fair.
  • Ask interesting questions. Or just ask lots. This is a simple way to get a lot of points. No competition, no research required. The community in general seems to get uneasy about this sort of technique, if used to excess, but it's explicitly rewarded by the system, so there's nothing stopping you.

Note that some of these approaches are not in the best interests of the community. Reputation generators are my favourite example. But from a pure game-playing point of view, they will be effective.

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3  
Agreed that not all of these are in the best interests of the community, but many will gain rep. Personally, I stopped caring too much about it, but still take pride when I get upvoted. On general principle, I won't do "answer subjective stuff before it goes CW;" if I think something should be CW, and decide to answer, I'll usually make my answer CW manually to "set an example." –  John Rudy Nov 25 '09 at 17:46
    
Definitely agree about the niche questions. Make use of your "interesting tags" to track them down. –  keithjgrant Nov 25 '09 at 21:11
    
Watch out for obvious cheap answers/questions. Employers will take a look at your posts if they're interested in hiring you. It wouldn't speak for you if all posts are of low quality. –  Georg Schölly Nov 27 '09 at 14:12

Quality not quantity.

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4  
Or, if you're Jon Skeet: quality and quantity. –  mmyers Nov 25 '09 at 16:07

Here is an interesting article on how to gain rep.

Edit: Some of the points in the article are frowned upon, but content in the article is nonetheless interesting because it shows how people can use the site.

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The first three points will actually harm you and you can't do #2 any more. –  ChrisF Nov 25 '09 at 15:59
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Why was this upvoted? –  Zoidberg Nov 25 '09 at 16:03
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Wow. That is pure evil. –  user27414 Nov 25 '09 at 16:18
    
Absolutely! Especially number 2. But the guy does explain that he used these tactics only because others used them against him. But writing about how exactly to do it, so even MORE people can do it just seems to be counter-productive. Instead of that being a blog, it should have been an e-mail to Jeff so he could put in some safe guards against those tactics (which he has already for the most part). –  Zoidberg Nov 25 '09 at 16:33
    
It's true.. better formatted questions do get upvoted higher. –  staticx Nov 25 '09 at 16:36
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Better-written posts get up-voted more as well... But the linked article says nothing about well-written or well-formatted posts: he suggests obnoxious formatting as an attention-getter. –  Shogging through the snow Nov 25 '09 at 16:41
    
I find it hard to believe that most people using the site wouldn't have noticed these trends / tactics within a few weeks of use. (well, #2 is a bit extreme, but aside from that..) It's probably a good thing that he spelled it out explicitly and generated discussion around it. –  splicer Nov 25 '09 at 16:44
    
@Shog9: It may be obnoxious, but it works. –  staticx Nov 25 '09 at 16:46
    
@surfrbum: it gets attention. Same as flashing neon signs and wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men. Whether or not that "works" for you depends more on what you do with the attention once you've grabbed it... –  Shogging through the snow Nov 25 '09 at 16:52
    
@splicer: so which is it? Tactics so obvious that only rank newbies are ignorant of them, or oft-ignored and in desperate need of discussion? I vote for the former, considering most of them had been discussed repeatedly, going all the way back to the SO beta and UserVoice. Heck, #1 was so well known it had its own pet name and abbreviation: FGITW. That the author lumped them all together, good and bad, and offered them up as "tips" was more than a little distasteful though. –  Shogging through the snow Nov 25 '09 at 16:58
    
hmm.. as I fairly recent user of SO, I wasn't aware of the discussion stretching so far back. I thought they were implicitly known but somewhat ignored. (Yeah, I just searched for FGITW and read those threads.) –  splicer Nov 25 '09 at 18:23
    
404 not available. And no info from writer what was in, pure links are evil. –  РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ May 29 '12 at 8:59

Reputation at SO have a 200/day cap, so you can't make 25k points in one day.

I personally answer some questions early morning, some more at lunch time and a few more at night, when I have time.

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Overall reputation score on SO is not indicative of technical ability. It can be a helpful indicator, but nothing more. An employer needs to dig into the specific answers and tags a user is active in. A user may have 5000 points, 4500 of which are from brilliant answers in c#, whereas a user with 20,000 points might be from 2-3 sympathy votes on 600 mediocre answers across a wide range of topics, indicating no strong abilities in any area.

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31  
Or a user might have 120 points and brilliantly answered 10 questions that were too specific for people to understand or bother upvoting –  Ben S Nov 25 '09 at 15:57
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The problem is that unless that is spelled out in bright, flashing lights all over the careers site, employers are going to take rep at face value and assume that someone with a higher rep is somehow "better" than someone else. –  womble Nov 25 '09 at 16:25
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Or a user is well-rounded with 20,000 points. Anyways, SO should not be an indicator of developer performance per se. I definitely is an indicator of how well your write, respond to questions, and research. –  staticx Nov 25 '09 at 16:26
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There are also users who just ask hundreds and hundreds of questions without answering any question or voting any answers (even answers on their own questions!). With an upvote or two on each question, they soon gain 3,000+ rep. –  DisgruntledGoat Nov 25 '09 at 17:31
    
womble: Don't you think employers will look at the rep of their own programmers and take a view? –  Tom Hawtin - tackline Dec 1 '09 at 20:00

It's really based on the time you have to put into looking for questions you know the answers to or could figure out the answer to. Even though there is a 200 day max you could still go above that max with accepted answers, which are harder to get than votes, so basically you just need to make sure every answer you post can compete to be selected as the accepted answer.

Time is rep. not money

For example when I first got interested in Stack Overflow, I used to check constantly to answer questions all day, even when I got home, but since then I don't check as often, so my reputation earning rate has decreased to reflect that.

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I'm not sure I'd want to hire somebody who amassed a huge reputation in a short time -- especially if that guy was supposed to work instead of browsing stackoverflow.

I'd say, be yourself. Answer what you want, when you want, and the right job will come looking for you eventually. Stretching things too much is like faking a resume to look better.

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"Realistic"? Well, I'm not exactly a "rep superstar", but I am real, and here's what works for me:

  • Post good answers to good questions. Ignore (or edit!) bad questions, and questions you don't have a good answer for.

  • Stick to questions that don't already have good, comprehensive answers. You need not limit yourself to unanswered questions, but avoiding those that have already been adequately answered will save you a lot of time and reduce noise on the site.

  • Take the time to improve your best, most popular answers. They'll keep generating reputation for you over time...

...Please note that these aren't "tricks". This is how the site is meant to be used! I've tried the tricks, and frankly they require a lot of effort for relatively little payoff. If you're gonna put extra effort in, why not put it toward improving your writing, formatting, or the actual information you're presenting rather than trying to trick other users into up-voting your stuff... Remember, a big number beside your name isn't everything.

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Jeff, you bastard - I deleted this for a reason! –  Shogging through the snow Nov 27 '09 at 17:48

Honestly?

Rep is only an indication of your effort and skill in helping other people solve their problems.

It's not an indication of your desire to help people, nor of your skill at any given programming topic. It's most closely related to your ability to quickly

  1. Understand the problem
  2. Research the issue
  3. Apply problem solving skills
  4. Clearly, completely, concisely, and quickly address the problem in text

Yes, there are 'tricks' and 'techniques' to enhance one's questions in this community, but they will only help in the low single digit percentages - they will not gain you significant rep, and will generally only give you a slight edge against your peers - not bring to on par with the high rep users.

So, to 'enhance' your reputation practice answering questions. Being first helps if you already know the answer, but if you come 2-5 minutes late with an obviously superior answer, you will almost always come out ahead.

You need only spend one hour a day, perhaps 3-5 six to twenty minute periods (more is better - bigger question pool) scanning the 20 most recent questions, and answering those that are within your skillset.

Just do that to the best of your ability daily, and you'll surpass 10k before long.

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...and this is why I'm not in any hurry to upgrade my computer. :-) xkcd.com/303 –  tvanfosson Nov 25 '09 at 17:21
    
lol - so true. My recompile/link times are 20 minutes, and a clean build is obscene. –  Adam Davis Nov 25 '09 at 18:43

Firstly when asking questions, try and make them as interesting and enticing as possible. Not only will you generally gain more answers but you'll get some votes for a good question.

For answers, it's useful to set up some favourite tags so you can pick them out of the list. Whenever I'm in a question-answering mood, here is what I look for:

  • Niche questions. I often look at the joomla tag, since I know a lot about Joomla but those questions don't get as many answers normally.
  • Newest questions, with 0 or 1 answers. If there are a few answers, it's more than likely been answered well.

Generally I don't bother looking at simple questions with many answers unless it sounds really intriguing to me, or I would like to know the answer myself.

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I was reluctant to link to this post at first because I was uncertain about the community's stance on being the FGITW. (I didn't even know the acronym!) Now that I've read a few threads and seen that there are people on both sides of the fence, I'll risk it. It's basically a script I wrote to monitor SO for new questions; I've been using it for the past week and it's been very effective -- I get to answer questions early without wasting time on manually browsing and refreshing. My script does one page-scrape per minute, and (thus far, at least) I haven't been banned or warned for consuming too much bandwidth.

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You may consider adding your tool to "What Third Party Tools Exist To Use With Stackoverflow?", meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5188 –  Peter Mortensen Nov 25 '09 at 21:36

You ask a project-related question expressing a worry of some sort, where everyone and their grandpa has a chance to give his or her opinion as an answer, and put a bounty on it for greater visibility. Not only is it going to pay back the 50 rep bounty, but it will bring you far more than that if it's a situation that many people would likely confront at their jobs while working on their projects. Even more so, it'll get insanely bookmarked if someone actually gives a satisfying answer. Some answers might even give personal examples, that you may draw other potential equally subjective questions from, so the circle never ends. If the question is about software development practices, asking it on SO it's like asking a bunch of supporters about football - everyone will have an opinion, and many will up-vote you for asking.

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