150

You may soon notice one fewer diamond around the site. The amazing developer, tech lead, and community advocate Yaakov Ellis - user 51(!) - has taken an opportunity elsewhere and today, December 7th, 2023, is the end of over 10 years working for Stack Overflow. When he shared this with me, I offered to write a post here to share with you all. I invite you all to join me in appreciating Yaakov.

Despite his 10 years here, you might not have been aware of him until he requested to move from the Internal Development team to the public platform team in early 2019. Nearly all of his >60k reputation here on MSE has been earned over those last four years as he immediately dove into directly working with and communicating to the community, quickly becoming a fixture and trusted voice. You can check out his rep chart to see this directly:

Reputation over time for Yaakov on Meta Stack Exchange. It's nearly flat around 1000 reputation until it abruptly takes off at the end of 2019, reaching 60k by 2023.

But reputation alone can't speak to the work Yaakov has done over those four years. As a developer, he's worked on numerous projects to update existing UI, create new features and tools, and respond to bugs - but he's devoted himself to working with the community directly throughout it all, wanting to ensure that the community was heard and got to have some fun.

I can't overstate the efforts he's gone to, to redirect the company's thinking about the value of the Meta community by providing key data about who uses Meta, pushing for early and frequent discussions in public about upcoming work, and organizing community advocacy on development teams. His honesty and perseverance has helped bolster the Community Team as he holds a position of trust with many core community members while also having the ears of key figures within Stack Overflow.

On top of that, he led some of the most beloved opportunities for fun in recent years, most notably being the primary developer for Winter Bash for several years - where he spent much extra time coming up with fun - sometimes secret - activities for the most devoted WB fans. I can certainly say, the last few years of adventuring with Sparkles the Unicorn have made for a very exciting event.

Finally, I'll end this in the way Yaakov ended many of his posts, which I must assume is his preferred mode of communication and dates back to his first answer here on MSE:

A stressful year ends.
So too, your time at SO.
Forever a friend.

7 Answers 7

72

Thank you so much all of you for all of your kind words and thoughts.

Over the past decade, it has been my honor and a privilege to contribute what I could to the features and health of Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange networks, helping the most diverse group of users imaginable to connect with each other, share knowledge, and discover information that can help them in their lives.

I am thankful for having been given the chance to contribute in some small way to such an important resource and to such a great group of people. I am proud of what we were able to accomplish together and of having given my best effort to leave this corner of the Internet a little bit better every day.

I doubt that this is the last you'll see of me here. But in the future, it will be without a diamond. So, given that, there is only one way to properly conclude this message.


Now is a time to
Express thanks to all of you,
Vocal and passive,

Each member of our
Really diverse site network:
Gratitude abounds.

Over the years I’ve
Noted different features,
New bits and old bytes.

About things I’ve had
Great honor to contribute,
Ideas, code, love:

V2 for the mod
Elections, RQ refresh,
Your Comm-a-thon lead,

OG Int Dev team,
Urgent Comm advocacy
Undertakings (phew).

Pushing for fix on
Network content licensing,
Editor beta,

Vote (un) follow post,
Explore Overflow AI,
Rescue Sparkles please,

Gives back stack (take two),
On to new post notices,
New Ask quest Wizard,

New Teams billing work,
Alpha Staging Ground (please please!)
Long Live Winter Bash!

Each and every
Time I load Meta I see
Your words and your thoughts.

Over now. See good!
United in purpose you
Drive on together.

On this day I just
Want to be proud and give thanks,
Now, for all the fish.

8
  • 1
    Is that one long haiku or many? :D Dec 7, 2023 at 12:55
  • 12
    Yes, @JourneymanGeek
    – JNat StaffMod
    Dec 7, 2023 at 12:59
  • 7
    Yaakov, I've enjoyed working with you so much. You will be missed. Best of luck in your new endeavors and I'll see you on the interweb :D
    – Rosie StaffMod
    Dec 7, 2023 at 13:48
  • 4
    Cheers! I admire your skills and your ethics! On to the next adventure! Dec 7, 2023 at 14:58
  • Thundering silence — verdant renewal awaits fallow now the field?
    – Chindraba
    Dec 7, 2023 at 18:27
  • 1
    Yaakov, you've had a huge impact on the company, and on its relationship with the community. They're definitely losing something big as you move on to other things. I know that wherever you go and whatever you end up doing next, you'll be great at it. See you around :)
    – V2Blast
    Dec 10, 2023 at 17:33
  • 1
    @JourneymanGeek I would classify it as one long message in the form of many haikus Dec 11, 2023 at 9:53
  • Thanks everyone for your good wishes, I really appreciate it! Dec 11, 2023 at 9:55
48

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Yaakov for all that he's done in his role as a developer and as Community Advocate, and to talk a little bit about Yaakov's history with the community and with me in particular.

My first interaction with Yaakov was in July 2019. I had just written up a post, entitled "Let's take a look at the interaction between staff and the "power users" of the network", detailing a large number of frustrations and issues that the power users of the network - such as the moderators - had been having with the company.
It had been a tough little while for the network, as the post makes clear - from unpopular redesigns to neglected tooling, relations were strained.

Yaakov posted an honest, thoughtful answer, acknowledging that there were legitimate reasons for frustration and giving an honest, clear view on how the company had been and would be operating. That was the start of what would become a long history of Yaakov carefully navigating thorny community-company interactions, despite being a developer and not officially on the Community Team.

A few months later, things reached a boiling point. The network underwent an unprecedented period of tension, arguments, drama, and everything else - you name it. (Trying to read the Teachers' Lounge transcript after 25 hours offline meant catching up on over ten thousand messages... and that was just one room.) Dozens of moderators resigned.
Two open letters were composed: A mod open letter, and the lavender letter.

While everything was still in an uproar, Shog9 and Robert Cartaino were let go - both long-time Community Managers and very well-respected by the community. A short while after that, Jon Ericson (another CM) also left. This left Stack without many of the people that regularly communicated with the community.

With that loss, Yaakov stepped up to fill some of that void. A new CPO (Chief Product Officer), Teresa Dietrich, had just arrived on the scene. Yaakov worked closely with Teresa to make sure she was aware of and understood the situation.

At that time, I was also working directly with Yaakov in two different ways.

The first way was to help in resolving the issues raised in the Lavender Letter. I, along with two other moderators at the time, had a video meeting with Yaakov, Teresa, and Adam Lear, and then joined a Slack channel in Stack Overflow's internal Stack to further work on resolving those issues (with a focus on moderator spaces).
At the same time, after Shog and Robert had been let go, people had been working on coordinating action for a strike. I worked together with Yaakov to pass on updates on the strike coordination and how things were progressing to Stack internally; Yaakov was able to use this as leverage inside the company to prioritize these issues and get leadership to fast-track resolving things - particularly, publicly responding to the Open Letter - before the strike actually went into effect.
This was successful; Teresa posted The company’s commitment to rebuilding the relationship with you, our community a day or so before the strike was slated to begin. It was a sincere effort to turn things around, and for a while, things did improve, and the rebuilding process was underway.

As time went on, Yaakov became a familiar face around meta, from his poetic answers to the Defender of the Unicorn, to work on the Staging Ground, and more.
Yaakov also officially took on the additional role of "Community Advocate" - while not on the public-facing Community Team, he would advocate for and raise awareness about the community inside the company, such as educating people on the history of the community and more.

In mid-2021, I actually met up with Yaakov in person, where he treated me (and Shadow) to a drink at a restaurant. We chatted for a while, talking shop (Stack) and life, and we've since kept a little WhatsApp group named cheekily after the Tavern.

Unfortunately, relatively recently, tensions once again flared between the community and the company. Once again, the idea of a strike was floated; this time, the idea of a strike caught on much faster than in 2019, and as the company's position remained unchanged the pieces began to quickly fall into place.
Once again, before the strike started, Yaakov tried to facilitate communication. In the Discord server where strike coordination was happening, Yaakov read through the demands that were being drafted and opened discussions about how Stack could meet them. He took feedback directly to the company and to Philippe (Vice President of Community) from the community, and vice versa, giving those of us in the Discord server heads up about stuff from the company and making communication faster.
Unlike in 2019, though, the company didn't change course, and the strike went into effect. Yaakov's efforts didn't stop, though; he reached out to facilitate the strike coordinators choosing negotiation representatives, and helped set up a neutral negotiating space where conversation could happen between the company and strike representatives. I worked personally with Yaakov on making sure that the space wasn't directly controlled by either party, and to ensure that the ground rules allowed for working with the broader community to discuss any potential resolutions.

During the course of the negotiations, there were a few hiccups, but Yaakov helped to communicate and adjust expectations around what was going on. In the end, despite those hiccups along the way, the negotiations were a success. An agreement was reached, it was announced to the public, and the community voted to end the strike.

The successful resolution was due in no small part to Yaakov's efforts to facilitate and improve communication, often keeping the same insane sleeping hours that I was while everything was going on.

Yaakov's near-constant efforts to communicate and break down barriers have earned him a well-deserved reputation among the community. I'm confident that I speak for almost everyone when I say that he'll be deeply missed on many levels; for his efforts in community-facing work and communication, and also for the deep knowledge and understanding of the Stack Exchange systems. Having been a developer on the site for over ten years, it's hard to think of many others who would have as much of an understanding of the inner workings of the site as Yaakov. That loss of institutional knowledge is a blow on both the technical and community sides.

But after ten years, anyone could use a change of pace. Yaakov, your new company has gotten hold of a rare gem; hopefully they'll recognize that. Enjoy the challenge of a new working environment, and all that it entails; in the meantime, חנוכה שמח and stay safe. We'll miss you here.

43

I don't have an haiku to give.

I've a mildly heavy heart though. Yaakov's one of those people who's been a pillar of the the community-company relationship, often stepping forward when it was needed (and quite often when, well frankly it wasn't part of his job, but vitally needed). In my conversations with him, on and off the network, he's come across as one of those people who deeply cares for the community and the future of the network.

The work he's done over the years is appreciated and will be missed.

I guess one of the 'sad' things about this is a lot of the things he did behind the scenes for the community might not be known - (and I'm not sure if it's my place to talk about the ones I know of), and probably helped stabilize things with the community through quite a few crises. And he was a voice of reason that helped change a few decisions that were not well thought through.

It's always sad to lose 'one of the good ones', but every adventure has its end, and a beginning, and I wish Yaakov the best on his next adventure. Even if he's no longer an employee, I think he's always going to be 'one of us'.

40

In addition to being an amazing coworker, I’m privileged to think of Yaakov as a friend - as so many of us here at the company and throughout the network are. He was here from almost day 1, and he’s so generous with his time and historical knowledge that I can’t even begin to say thank you.

Yaakov was almost the first person that I talked to after taking my current role, and he has served as a steadfast source of good advice for me. The times that I have failed to take his advice, I have grown to regret it. I am personally offended that he has chosen to leave the company prior to our completion of the “clone Yaakov” program that we’ve been secretly running. Frankly, the world would be a better place with more Yaakov clones.

As we navigated the moderator action earlier this year, Yaakov was (I’m running out of synonyms for ‘invaluable’) absolutely irreplaceable. I know that there are those who credit him with explaining the company’s thinking to the mods, and the inverse was absolutely true as well. Few will ever know or realize what a tremendous rock Yaakov was for me during that time.

I appreciate the time (huge amounts of time) that he’s invested in counseling and training new staff in the history of the network (his presentation on network history is legend within the company and whenever he gave it, the virtual ‘room’ was full). But more than that, I appreciate the unfailing, unflappable courtesy with which he interacts with us all. Yaakov has been a model colleague for me, a mentor on this community, and a friend. I will miss him greatly.

If we were in person, I’d be the first to raise a glass in his honor. Thank you, Yaakov, friend, for everything you’ve done for the network, the company, and for me personally. I look forward to seeing what you do next!

One final thing: no post about Yaakov is complete without a Haiku….

Pixels bid farewell,
Zoom waves and laughter softens,
Chat echoes friendship.

25

This is very sad news for us, but I hope it is great and wonderful for Yaakov! He has consistently been an advocate for the community, and has managed to win our trust and respect. While I have never had the pleasure of meeting you personally, Yaakov, you have shown yourself to be a decent, kind, thoughtful and intelligent human being. One of the people in the company whom we know we can trust.

You have been here since the beginning, and you were instrumental in helping us heal the rift between community and company after many recent debacles. I have no idea how much of SE's code base has your fingerprints on it, I suspect quite a bit, but the community has most certainly benefited from your presence, your jovial nature and your wisdom.

You will be sorely missed, Yaakov, and I wish you all the best in whatever new chapter you are starting.

20

Yaakov,

Thanks for making Stack Exchange better by writing the code that makes it work.

Thanks for making Stack Exchange better by being a three-way bridge between the users, the moderators, and the management.

Thanks for making my own life better by both of the above, plus being so kind IRL, and meeting me in person back in 2021 as @Mithical already mentioned. That's a memory I'll treasure.

Third time ice cream, so for this third thanks my farewell present for you is this lovely ice cream:

very special icecream for Yaakov

Happy Hanukkah, and may your candle keep shining and lighting the hearts of all the people around you. :)

5
  • You should have put the ice cream on three lines of 5-7-5 ice cream...
    – SPArcheon
    Dec 7, 2023 at 11:18
  • 2
    @SPArcheon sadly I could never figure how this really works, but feel free to edit if you want. :) Dec 7, 2023 at 12:21
  • 1
    @SPArcheon Like this?
    – Joachim
    Dec 7, 2023 at 14:56
  • 1
    @Joachim that could work yes. Even better if the second line didn't had that space but good enough
    – SPArcheon
    Dec 7, 2023 at 15:01
  • @SPArcheon I feared it would look too static to be festive, otherwise :|
    – Joachim
    Dec 7, 2023 at 15:51
13

I would like to say I didn't expect this. But I can't. I am not the best with words either, so I will just leave here one Haiku that should express how all of this feels to me instead as we are left to watch one more key figure go.
I apologize if this will sound horrible to any native-language Japanese speaker but I tried to actually match the correct number of "ON" in each sentence and therefore it could feel very forced...

葉が落ちる
未来の鏡
不毛の地

Ha ga ochiru
Mirai no kagami
Fumōnochi

Falling leaves, mirror of the future, a barren land.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .