As others have noted, this was an interview in a magazine that's not particularly programmer-focused, much less one aimed at the majority of folks using these sites. The quotes they chose to publish are helpful, I think, but if you want a better idea of how Prashanth views the communities here then the latest podcast is probably a better choice - there's a roughly 15-minute interview with him contained therein, starting at 10:23 and ending at 25:45.
To aid accessibility, I've taken the liberty of producing a rough transcription of this section of the podcast and including it below (corrective edits welcome!)
Prashanth Chandrasekar: This is Prashanth Chandrasekar, I am very very happy happy to be here and excited to join the Stack Overflow family. A quick introduction about myself, I grew up in Bangalore India until I was about 17 years old, I grew up in a very very I would say blessed situation with my mom who was a medical doctor and my dad who was originally an engineer and became an academic over time, and I'm very grateful that they exposed me to technology over time, not only through them by by virtue of living in Bangalore because Bangalore is known as the Silicon Valley of India, and so technology has been part of my DNA for the longest time. When I was about 17, I really felt this yearning to explore my horizons and my perspective and I decided that I wanted to go abroad and continue my learning and my education and just my life in general, and so very very fortunately I received a scholarship to study in the United States as otherwise I would not have been able to make the move, and I ended up at the University of Maine in Orono, Maine which is a very small town and very different from Bangalore to say the least.
Paul Ford: what time of the year did you land?
Prashanth Chandrasekar: I landed - luckily, I would say - in the August time-frame, so it was beautiful New England fall weather, but only a couple months away from, you know, real apocalyptic type winter scenes.
Paul Ford: Prashanth tells me he did not bring a jacket but acquired one quickly.
Prashanth Chandrasekar: Well, my parents did give me a jacket but it was clearly not sufficient for the brutal winters of Maine so my friends whisked me away to get a decent jacket.
Ben Popper: I'm going to kick things off here 'cause I know a little bit of this backstory, but let's talk about that first computer that your dad brought home, he went on a trip to Hong Kong, and he brought back a 486
Prashanth Chandrasekar: actually it was not a 486, I think it was a 286 - I clarified that with him, so it was a very very old computer but he lugged that thing all the way from Hong Kong and brought a bunch of 5.25" floppy disks with business software along with obviously what would get us going which were video games - Defender was my first exposure to a computer game, and I was completely hooked; this was before I even knew what an Atari, it was actually on this computer -
Sara Chipps: was there a big CRT monitor, did he bring that -
Prashanth Chandrasekar: yes, big big, and it took a long time to run things, but it was very eye-opening. And then very early on - the great thing about Indian education is that they expose you to fairly technical topics early on, calculus in middle school, or if it's computer science they started teaching Logo - and that's when I got exposed to, the first programming language that I ever knew, and I had fond memories of how that looked when I first started and quickly moved on to BASIC and for my 10th grade high school project so to speak, I remember my mom - obviously as a doctor she had a private practice, she had patients, etc. - and I had the opportunity to build a computer program application and I choose to go to the hospital management system -
Paul Ford: that's fun, that's a cool kid thing to do
Prashanth Chandrasekar: yeah! Well, there's something addictive about building something that actually delivers a very specific outcome with a customer that is going to benefit from it and that was very joyous to see.
Ben Popper: tell Prashanth about what you built for your dad
Sara Chipps: yeah so my dad my dad's a year away from retirement and I went to visit him at his office. He's an awesome, awesome guy, and he's been an architect for many years, and what he showed me is every day he prints out on the printer the number of days until his retirement, the number of days until he starts collecting Social Security, and the number of weeks... And every morning he goes to the printer and prints those out and puts those on his desk, which I think is fascinating, though must also be really interesting sitting next to the person doing that everyday. So, I was like "Dad this is a website". So now if you go to wacretiring.com, you can see the countdown for my dad to retire. My big question for you is what kind of product manager was your mom? Like how how was she as a client?
Prashanth Chandrasekar: she's very driven, so knows exactly what she wants, so she's not shy about sharing requirements. So back then I was very clear on exactly what the specs were, and what I needed to be build and how I needed to architect this thing, what would be useful. So no, it's great having clear direction from customers, right?
Paul Ford: no scope creep in this house!
Prashanth Chandrasekar: That was a great great introduction to computer programming, somewhat early in my life and that obviously continued heavily into college when I studied computer engineering and got up to C, C++, Perl and all the other languages.
Ben Popper: Paul loves Perl, right Paul?
Paul Ford: naw, you had to know Perl 20 years ago. So here we are talking to the Stack audience, what they're gonna want to know things. What can we tell them? What can you tell them? You've been here what, two days?
Prashanth Chandrasekar: two days! Two days! Exactly, two whole days!
Paul Ford: so lay out the plan for the next five years!
Prashanth Chandrasekar: yes no thank you for that. In all seriousness, I've had the privilege of learning about this company for almost since its exception, since it started, because all the teams that I have led, especially in my time at Rackspace have always used Stack Overflow. It's always the default place for the smartest people in fact, or any engineers on our team to get their answers very very quickly, so if they want to understand something about Kubernetes, but they expect the answer to come from Stack Overflow. So they all know it, they've always talked about it in a very positive and grateful sense, and so I've followed the company very closely by the impact that it has very broadly for a long time, the tremendous impact that it has. Additionally in the past two days I've spoken to now close to 130 Stackers either in one on one scenarios or in team settings, and it's just been a phenomenal kind of eye-opening and learning experience, to say "what makes this place tick?" - and clearly it's the team that's here, that cares about this community so much and wants to do the right thing. There are probably a handful of companies in the world, that have such a large impact around the world. With 50 million developers coming here to seek answers to their most technical questions, there is no way that you could can replicate that magic, and so we're really really blessed to have a phenomenal community of people that are willing to share so much and be open about the knowledge that there is resident in their heads, and ready to promote a truly border-less sharing of information around these topics. And then to make sure that people actually know about us holistically, in a 360 sense, because I think people identify us as a community, and I think that is the heartbeat of the company - we are community first, that's why we exist in many ways because of our community. However, I don't know if many people understand that we actually do so much more than provide what we do in our community, so there's so many products that hopefully our customer base and our community can leverage to make their lives better and to accelerate what they want to accomplish.
Ben Popper: Prashanth, let's talk about predictability and pace - so if you haven't taken 130 employee meetings in the last two days -
Sara Chipps: yeah you're falling short!
Sara Chipps: I know I do public talks a lot and people come up to me afterwards and I'm expecting like a technical question or something like that. And what they say is, oh my gosh I didn't even know we could have our own Stack Overflow! D'you know how many times I'm on a team with someone, they've asked me the same question like 50 times from the last year. I thought if only I had a place to point them, and people get really excited when they hear that that's something that we are doing.
Ben Popper: yeah, it's cool, and if you wear a Stack Overflow T-shirt with the logo out - which I started doing now that I work here - and random people will start to approach you for a hug
Paul Ford: actual hugs?
Ben Popper: actual high fives and hugs do occur; but since I'm a New Yorker I'm usually, "stranger don't touch me", but they just want to express their gratitude.
Prashanth Chandrasekar: I gotta share this. When my appointment went public last week, thousands of people reached out to me either commenting on the appointment or direct-messaging me or emailing me, and these are not only people that I've known or who've worked for me, but a bulk of them were people from the community that were so grateful for what Stack Overflow has been, and I was blown away by how much it has made a difference for them in their life and their families, and you know these are folks from all around the world, right? I remembered this chart that that made me fall in love with the company when I first saw it which is the the chart about the R community across the world. 50 million users, 50 million community members that come every month. And they're literally all around the world. That chart was so high impact. Anyway I just totally agree with you, I think we make a huge difference in people's lives and it's not to be underestimated.
Sara Chipps: when you were using Logo, what were you using it for?
Prashanth Chandrasekar: it was completely for drawing really, that's all it was. I think it was just to kind of say, how do you actually control movement of the turtle
Paul Ford: well it gives kids a reaction, you get to see the computer doing something.
Prashanth Chandrasekar: this is that addictive part, it gives you this sense of control, of creative control, to say I'm actually controlling this thing, in a very very binary 0/1 kind of way. Hey, move forward by 50 steps - OK here you go, it actually moves forward by 50 steps. Turn right - OK. And that in itself gets you going, and I see a similar look in my kids' eyes now, when they are actually learning to code. My daughter's 9 years old my son is 6 years old, and they're big code.org fans. So you can see the reaction in her face when she's able to come do that.
Paul Ford: I remember this experience very clearly, when you have control over something for the first time in your life. Kids don't have control over their own lives, we're always shuttling them somewhere, you have to get to school, wear your pants... And suddenly they're in this environment where they say, all right it might just be a turtle, but it's mine. I get to do anything I want with it. And I think for me what I remember is that screens had always been... I remember being 4 and being asked, "do the people on the screen know that you're here?" And I was like, "maybe?" And they're like, "no, under no circumstances" - they wanted to get that across to me. And then the computer shows up and you go, actually it knows I'm here. I exist for the turtle. The turtle knows that I'm in charge. And it's a good feeling when you're 6-7-8 years old.
Prashanth Chandrasekar: that reminds me a little bit about the creative control that comes wiht it, but also I think it teaches you to be somewhat of a perfectionist and to be kind of detail-oriented, and kids can also kind of like gain from, I think, by being exposed early on because, if you are frustrated by the fact that your command actually didn't result in the outcome that you hoped for, then you are going to keep pursuing until you actually get to the end zone, until you actually are perfect in the outcome. Also it's very easy to get stuff wrong in computer programming as we all know, so it's very frustrating but it also teaches you to have a inner exceptional amount of detail orientation, which I think has served me in my life very well.
Sara Chipps: researchers call the phenomena that you're talking about, they call it eustress, which is like euphoric stress, they call it that when it comes to gaming as well. It's the idea of stress where you know there's a solution and you know you can find it. So it's not distress, which is something where you easily get discouraged; it's euphoric stress that gets you more excited until you solve that problem and then you're like, "yes" and you get all this dopamine just flooding in, of like "yes, I did it!"
Prashanth Chandrasekar: Sara, you taught me something new! That's amazing, I've never heard of that but there's a scientific term for it.
Ben Popper: and yet the three of you gave up being individual contributors where you have that control and can execute... To be managers of people - which is the worst, people, come on!
Sara Chipps: turns out, you make a bigger impact as a coder... You know, by myself I'm not the best coder, but being able to enable millions of coders, what a better impact!
Paul Ford: I like seeing what people are up to too, I like the knowledge part probably even more than the execution part. You can only execute so much, you can learn a ton.
Prashanth Chandrasekar: for me I think very early I started realizing that, even though coding was very enjoyable - and frustrating at the same time as we've talked about, but - still enjoyable. At the end of the day I felt that I'm like a big impact guy and along the way I discovered that my passion was more about leading larger organizations, or leading teams toward big outcomes.
Paul Ford: how do people give you feedback now? You're the CEO of Stack; you've got lots of users, lots of employees. What is the channel?
Prashanth Chandrasekar: Let's talk internal and external. I think that from an internal at Stack Overflow, feedback shouldn't just be a very discrete kind of like, every 6 months we're going to get & talk about stuff. It should literally be on a daily basis - the world is moving way too fast. For us to say how do we react, how do we get ahead in many ways of certain things are coming down the pike, and how do we need to flex our style to be able be appropriate for the moment. So I'm constantly - you know the 130 meetings that I mentioned to you - they're all bi-directional in many ways, they're saying, what what do I need to do to make our Stackers successful? And if I'm not wired a certain way, what do I need to consider as I think about my own style so that I can actually be helpful to this organization. How do I make sure that people are aware of my own weaknesses so that they know there are blind spots, and how do I surround myself with leaders on my team that will bring that perspective so we don't just have a singular view in the room versus having the right view, ultimately having all the right discussions. Also really make sure the team is taking time out on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis, on a quarterly basis, on a daily basis to make sure that we're constantly treading towards our mission but doing it collectively and makes sure we're holding each other accountable towards that and and not taking anything personally. My approach is that we have to adopt a growth mindset, if you don't adopt a growth mindset we are not going to be able to achieve the full potential of what we are meant to do. The key feedback from the community and the community is as we said a phenomenally passionate group of individuals that have been there for the past 10 years. Like with anything else, there will be a diversity of thought and opinion, which I think is very important; you have to take all that into account. And then we want to make sure that we stay true to our mission and our core beliefs and our core principles. And make sure that we deliver on that, with spirit of taking that feedback from the community and making sure that it reflects much of what they care about.