I’m curious as to why Stack Exchange laid off 20% of its staff, and crucially why there is a discrepancy between the PR statement “we cut sales and marketing” and the apparent reality of lots of developers announcing on Twitter they’d been laid off.

Given the amount of time people invest in creating and curating content for nothing here, trust is a big deal. Thus the question comes from a general worry I’ve observed that now SE is relatively mature, it’ll become more of a haven for PR, sales, marketing, “engagement”, and other “fluffy, cash-draining” (not my words, but I’m not unsympathetic to what they’re driving at) jobs, at the expense of developer staff, and that switching from muscle to fat is often either a symptom or a cause of a cool tech company losing its real talent and relevance.

So. What really happened?

  • 3
    You can have developers assigned to different departments. It really depends on how they decide to manage their staff.
    – user1228
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 18:39
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    Hey now, I’m in sales, but also a hardcore nerd, and I fundamentally disagree with the premise that engineering is “muscle” but sales is “fat”. They’re both critical and mostly orthogonal but complementary components to a functioning machine.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 19:43
  • @DanBron yeah, completely fair point re: sales. That wasn't my opinion as much as my trying to represent a sentiment I'd picked up on (although my curiosity over why SE announced it was removing sales and marketing when various devs were let go is my own). I'll remove it if you like.
    – Rob Grant
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 20:04
  • 3
    @RobertGrant You don’t have to remove it. It’s probably better if you left it in, as you say you picked it up from others, so the sentiment might be held by a meaningful population (even more likely on an engineering-focused site like SO), and having it in your Q gives answerers a chance to respond to the concept.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 20:06
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    "If your management doesn't know how to manage a successful engineering project, or your marketing department doesn't know how to access the customers, or doesn't tell you what the customer wants, or if your lawyers don't handle your intellectual property correctly, or if the chief architect doesn't have the ability to create a consistent and simple architecture, then your work can be for naught, and you can spend years building things that never see the light of day." (Rick Cattell)
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 21:56
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    Its probably worth remembering there's lots more than we're aware of than our level - I think from the leaked list, it was heavily on the marketing/data science marketing side, but jobs were cut across the board. Its entirely possible that there's some internal politics, icky as it may be, that had marketing go "ok, we just lost an office, and X employees - can someone else take a bit of a hit too please?" and someone had to make the hard decisions. Layoffs are never easy. Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 23:45
  • 2
    For a report from Nov. 2, see techcrunch.com/2017/11/02/stack-overflow-lays-off-staff. Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 18:47
  • supply vs demand! re market pressure: SE functions somewhat like a social network for geeks so to speak and the social network space is now dominated by the 800lb gorilla facebook with high engagement. even google+ is not very competitive in comparison. reddit is another almost-competitor. also note that wikipedia, created/ curated by volunteers, went thru a maturing phase. maybe SE which is quite similar in many ways is going thru such a phase. my suggestion to SE is to continue to innovate in the site functionality, experiment with new features etc instead of being so conservative...
    – vzn
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 20:09

1 Answer 1


Because our users do so much to make SO what it is, "Default public" has been one of our core philosophies at SO since the early days. And that hasn't changed, so I'm happy to share thoughts on how the difficult changes we made last week fit into our current outlook, and what our current focus is.

That said, in situations like this, our top priority is respect for our affected teammates and their privacy, so we won't talk about specifics related to staff changes, or try to compare and explain exact ratios in one department vs. another, etc.

We've made a deliberate decision to focus more of our product development on our core Q&A offerings. From a monetization perspective, this means more focus on Stack Overflow Enterprise, and our upcoming Stack Overflow Channels product (Currently known as Teams). Enterprise has been an incredible success so far, and we literally have companies waiting in line to be the first to help us test early versions of Channels.

While last week's changes were incredibly sad, we believe in the underlying strategic shift for two reasons:

  1. It provides us with new, high-growth opportunities to monetize, to augment our existing Jobs and Ads businesses, which remain incredibly important to the company
  2. It puts more of our focus on Q&A, which has always been our flagship product, and near and dear to many of our <3's

The shift in focus also changes what specific roles we need where, in ways that span almost all teams at the company. As a result, individuals were impacted in almost every department. That said, the public statement you referenced was accurate: the restructuring had the biggest impact on the sales and marketing departments, particularly in our Denver office.

I hope this helps address the big picture questions about strategy; we owe you transparency on where we're headed.

A few last thoughts:

  • Our recently departed colleagues are genuinely incredible talent. This was about restructuring, not performance. If your company is hiring, email me, and we'll try to introduce you to some amazing people.
  • If you're replying in the comments, lets be extra careful to respect folks' privacy, even those that shared some of their info in public forums. No one wants to read about their story or their team's reductions in the third person more than is truly needed.
  • While I don't think it's deliberate, I think the verbiage in the original post describing PR, sales, marketing, etc. as "fluffy, cash-draining" work is unfair and disrespectful. I don't think that was your intent, but I'd ask you to consider removing that language. While I may happen to geek out more on the product side of things myself, I can tell you for a fact that those areas are all mission critical to building strong, successful businesses.

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