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My answer is:

I only use SO for asking work-related questions, and I believe it has improved my productivity considerably.

Maybe I am wrong, and maybe if I spent the same time reading technical books/blogs/docs I would produce better code faster.

What do you think? And what if you were an asker like me? (because I think that the answerers waste time for themselves helping others, which is great for me, and I thank them)

What would happen to your productivity if SO disappeared forever?

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If SO disappeared I'd go back to wasting my time on or At least this way I learn stuff – ChrisF Jan 9 '10 at 18:35
Wow, best answer on Meta. This is a first for me, I'll have to.. avoid meta at all costs. If you had asked, "What would happen to your productivity if Meta disappeared" the answer would've been different :) THANKS! – Dan Rosenstark Jan 15 '10 at 13:49
up vote 4 down vote accepted

As a questioner (mostly): I do a lot of work before I post a question to SO to avoid being ridiculed (or being ridiculous, at least). I spend a lot of time reducing my example code, especially removing extraneous dependencies and irrelevant stuff. In doing this I learn a lot, and about 40% of the time I answer my own question before I even post it to StackOverflow (or within 5 minutes of posting, too :). So that definitely helps.

Beyond that, since I work alone (mostly), I really need the community to fall back on if I cannot figure out a question on my own.

If SO disappeared forever I'd be figuring out "creative" ways to work around any roadblocks I have (mostly inelegant and just plain wrong). With SO, I boil the question down, post it, and take a nap. Then I return and carefully work with the answerers to get a best answer. It's not cheap, timewise, but it does give good results.

I'm particularly proud of my round from yesterday.

Edit: Just wanted to mention that one also does SO not for oneself nor for the rep, but instead out of a Wikipedia-style largess. Recently, I've been focusing on classic questions that I personally looked for in Google and didn't find the answers. So the gain in productivity is not just for onself, but also for the entire world :) It's happened to me -- and therefore surely happened to these rep-monsters with 10K+ in rep (yes, 140K is in that range) -- that I look for something in Google and actually get led back to my own question on SO. So the gain in productivity is for everybody...

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I also measured a similar 40-50 % in the same process. – bortzmeyer Jan 10 '10 at 11:57

Short term, my productivity would possibly increase if I didn't use Stack Overflow.

Long term, I believe it would decrease - because I learn from answering. I become a better communicator through the answers I write and the feedback I receive. I learn different techniques and approaches through the answers of other people. I learn about potential traps that I might fall into some time in the future from the questions other people ask.

In short, I believe that SO (and similar community participation) makes me a more valuable developer.

I have nothing against reading blogs and books of course - as a blogger and a book author I'd be pretty mad to discourage people from reading either of them - but you do tend to get more realistic experiences from SO. In particular, you come across the problems that other people are genuinely facing. This is especially valuable to me as an author - it means I have a reasonable idea of which issues confuse developers, so I can address those in books and articles.

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Yeah, let's say we're optimistic ;) – xmm0 Jan 9 '10 at 19:55

Not as badly as wave.

Seriously though, go upvote Jon, he is definitely right. Using SO you get a lot of excellent things out of it, far more than the apparent decrease in immediate productivity.

The only thing I don't agree with him, is that, at least for some range of developers, reading books (always underestimated by many)/blogs/magazines (not so much on this day and age) is an important thing to d too.

Of course, when you write the book on C#, you might be wanting to learn things that books can't teach you :)

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Just to clarify - I believe that reading books/blogs/magazines is important too. I just think community involvement gives you something different and complementary :) – Jon Skeet Jan 9 '10 at 19:14
(Edited my answer to make that clearer...) – Jon Skeet Jan 9 '10 at 19:19

I may have more time to do other things but there are a lot less tangible benefits to Stack Overflow that I would find irreplaceable.

For one thing, I am exposed to a much larger community than through any collection of blogs or books I read. With blogs and books, I tend to pick material which is within my specific areas of interest or comfort zone. With Stack Overflow, I am almost forced to be exposed to a much larger body of ideas, alternative approaches, and even languages I would never have looked at otherwise. That is by design.

I have significantly honed my writing, teaching, and critical thinking skills. Normally, you learn something and you think you pretty much grok it. But try and explain simple concepts to someone else and you really learn something. Add to that, the answer-fast-accurate-and-complete element of Stack Overflow and... that is a priceless skill. It has been invaluable as a developer, a mentor, and many other areas of my career.

I continue to learn a lot about the way people work, think, and work together. "Community building" has long been a focus and sweet-spot in my career. Watching a new communication paradigm (Stack Overflow) emerge, develop, and evolve from day-one has been an invaluable experience. That translates into my development skill set as well; learning a whole new dimension of user experience, usability, and interface design. The social aspect of watching how people work, think, and solve problems on Stack Overflow has been like attending a 24-hour/365-day virtual technology conferences and trade show.

So my free time may go up in the short term, just doing the same-old, same-old. But my experience here has added significantly to my domain knowledge; in both "how many" things I can do and how well I can do them. All a net benefit.

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My productivity becomes a random chainsaw graph with a lot of broken teeth (indicating heavy SO activity) when I open it up.

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Some nice articles on procrastination:

I think the way to "solve" the problem of procrastination is to let delight pull you instead of making a to-do list push you. Work on an ambitious project you really enjoy, and sail as close to the wind as you can, and you'll leave the right things undone.

After years of carefully avoiding classic time sinks like TV, games, and Usenet, I still managed to fall prey to distraction, because I didn't realize that it evolves. Something that used to be safe, using the Internet, gradually became more and more dangerous. Some days I'd wake up, get a cup of tea and check the news, then check email, then check the news again, then answer a few emails, then suddenly notice it was almost lunchtime and I hadn't gotten any real work done. And this started to happen more and more often.

What is procrastination? To the outside observer, it looks like you’re just doing something “fun” (like playing a game or reading the news) instead of doing your actual work. (This usually causes the outside observer to think you’re lazy and bad.) But the real question is: what’s going on inside your head?

How many of these observations apply to Stack Overflow, and why?

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Those are no solutions to the problem. They are just the diagnosis :) – perbert Jan 10 '10 at 3:56
Sir, since I know you are new to SO, I won't downvote you. You shouldn't use the answer space to ask new questions. There is a button on the top right corner of the page called "Ask Question". see? ;) – xmm0 Jan 10 '10 at 6:48
@Fearless Hilarious – Jader Dias Jan 10 '10 at 18:03
@Fearless +1 for use of satire and balls. – nbolton Jan 12 '10 at 8:23

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