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I am spending more and more time on Stack Overflow recently and I started to think: it's very addictive, getting reputation points is cool, I have some long term goals (getting the Python and Django badges), and it seems as a great way to spend time and increase programming knowledge. But on the other hand, is it really better than getting your hands dirty and coding something more instead of answering questions, especially that there are some questions that could be solved by a few minutes of googling or even just one google hit?

I guess I spend more or less two hours a day, trying to solve other people problems - wouldn't it be better to take some open source project and try to add some code there? It would be a lot harder, but wouldn't it be more beneficial to one's programming skills?


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Most of us are actually coding something... – JasonTrue Feb 10 '10 at 19:57

You can sharpen the saw, or you can cut the wood.

If you do only one or the other you will ultimately end up with less cut wood than if you balanced sharpening and cutting.

Does that metaphor work? The act of cutting wood (programming) doesn't actually dull the saw (programming skills). – jjnguy Feb 10 '10 at 20:29
You're into metaphors today, aren't you? – balpha Feb 10 '10 at 20:30
@Justin -- I would say that it does, in fact, "dull the saw" in the sense that if you aren't keeping up with new technologies, you will eventually miss out on things that could significantly enhance your productivity (LINQ, jQuery, ORMs) or improve your work (TDD, mocking). Are you coding slower, maybe not, but definitely slower than you could be if you'd improve your knowledgebase. – tvanfosson Feb 10 '10 at 20:35
@tvanfo I see where you are coming from. I would change the metaphor to: "You can shop for a new/better saw, or you can cut the wood." – jjnguy Feb 10 '10 at 20:38
@Justin - I think in the metaphor your brain is the "saw" that's being sharpened. I'd prefer to keep the one I have. – tvanfosson Feb 10 '10 at 20:45
For those that may not be familiar with the reference, Whether SO is a good place to sharpen your programming saw is something that only you can know. SO is likely only a portion of a good "saw sharpening" habit, and probably shouldn't be the only way a programmer sharpens their saw. – Adam Davis Feb 10 '10 at 20:53

I have learned more answering questions on SO than I could have otherwise. A significant fraction of what I've learned makes it back into my daily coding. Since joining SO I've picked up jQuery and Rhino.Mocks as two daily use tools and I owe much of my mastery of both to SO. I probably would have eventually picked them up anyway, but I think I've progressed much faster by digging in deeper to answer questions about problems I've never had personally. In many cases, I've solved a problem before I had it, then used my answer in some way to address an issue of my own later.


Don't you find that you are writing code when answering questions? I certainly do - probably half the answers I provide (or possibly more) include code. Sometimes I don't need to test it, but other times I do... and I find I'm getting better at writing code without mistakes first time. Admittedly the snippets on SO are usually fairly simple, but it's still definitely a good thing.

None of this detracts from a sense of balance, however. I've found I haven't had nearly as much time for coding various Open Source projects as I'd like to recently - but that's more to do with writing than with Stack Overflow, which I tend to do in odd little bits of free time, rather than when I've got a large chunk which I could give over to coding something significant.

On the other hand, all three of my most recent open source projects - MoreLINQ, Unconstrained Melody and Noda Time - probably owe their existence to SO. They came about due to answering questions on LINQ, generic constraints, and date/time handling.

You and your "odd little bits of free time" - 7200 answers in 16 months!!! ;) – Dominic Rodger Feb 10 '10 at 21:28

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