Obviously, Stack Overflow is a great tool whether you are just striving to increase your programming skills, or working on a home pet project that's going to turn into the next Twitter, or get free help on your freelance project, or even to find the best solutions to your development problems at your IT job in Corporate America.

However, the downside to S.O. is that you might end up spending countless hours on S.O. during work hours (without even realizing it until it's too late!) trying to boost your "Reputation," and that could mean lost productivity.

I think Chacha102's saying sums this up the best.

Nevertheless, one could still justify trolling S.O. for hours if doing so also helps you solve a problem at work in hours instead of days or minutes instead of hours.

So my question is, do your companies realize that you are spending time on S.O. or ask/answer questions, and if so, how do they feel about it? Of the companies that are aware of the issue, do they impose a daily limit? Encourage/discourage using it during work hours? Does anyone's company go so far as to block the domain on their proxy?

And for extra credit, do you think there is a net increase or decrease in productivity from getting great answers quickly or due to spending too much time on it (respectively) from using S.O? If anyone has any data on this issue, that would be wonderful, but I'm interested in your opinions on this matter too.


9 Answers 9


No. They aren't aware of it.

No. I don't plan on telling them.

If they do ask, I'll give them the same answer I give you:

Practice, Practice, Practice. Stack Overflow lets me practice my craft while I'm waiting for this virus-scanner-ridden, websense-enabled, and LANDesk Management-filled computer to catch up with me and my Work.

  • 21
    STOCKER! To my office! Right now!
    – balpha StaffMod
    Commented Jul 1, 2010 at 15:11
  • 2
    Ditto for me. And I find it quite depressing that not only is no one else aware of the site, I spend far more time helping total strangers with programming problems than I do my own peers, because no one ever asks for help. :(
    – Ether
    Commented Jul 1, 2010 at 19:51
  • @Ether Lucky, I'm happy if I can manage 30 minutes without a phone call from someone else in the office about problems, and I'm not even in charge of IT anymore! All I want to do is code in peace...
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Commented Jul 1, 2010 at 21:05
  • @Ether I know the feeling. The narcissist in me always wanted to know if people at work have found help in the questions I've answered. Commented Jul 1, 2010 at 22:18

Quite frankly, I get most of my time on Stack Overlow and Meta while waiting for my code to compile. It would be time wasted fiddling around on a text editor or doing nothing, so I may as well be productive.

The IT head knows I used Stack Overflow (he saw it with remote desktop, and his assistant said he loves the place), but I've heard no complaints. Besides, I've gotten much better answers and fixed more problems with SO in two weeks of usage than I had for 4 years of using Experts-Exchange.

So I don't think they have a real problem with it. I'm still ahead of the production schedule even with the time spent here.

  • Oh geez, you actually appeased the paywall and got something useful?
    – user50049
    Commented Jul 1, 2010 at 14:59
  • 1
    Probably more useful than xkcd.com/303
    – Gnoupi
    Commented Jul 1, 2010 at 15:06

Encouraged 200%. I'm well known for saying "I think I saw that on SO, did you search there?" Counting myself, there are three SO users above 5k rep working at my company. Several more search it, but aren't comfortable participating due to a bit of a language barrier.

Too much of a good thing can be toxic though. I don't mind people answering a few questions to break up the monotony of the day, as long as they remain productive and focused on the task at hand.

We basically trust that people naturally want to do their job and don't really restrict their browsing, beyond visiting sites that might offend people that may glance at their monitor, hogging all the bandwidth, etc.

I found that trying to place restrictions on resources just ends up in people finding creative ways around those restrictions, which means more time spent not working.

I should also add, almost 99% of what we work on is open source to begin with. People are educated to not share proprietary code, and in two years with this policy, its never been a problem.

  • +1 for working on open source software :) Commented Jul 1, 2010 at 19:07

My company knows about SO. I know, because I can look around on everyone's pc and see them looking up information on it all the time.

The way I diffused any situation about me being on it was simple. When Telerik was giving away free controls to uses with over 10k, I sent it to the VP and said, "Hey didn't know if you were aware of this, but Telerik is giving away free stuff to people who qualify. Thought I would pass it along in case we could get stuff." This immediately registered to him as, "If I participate in the community, I get stuff back." No one has said anything to me since.

If it ever comes up again, my response will be: "You know all those answers you get from that site....well someone has to put them there. It's in your best interests to support the community, because it takes me 2 minutes to answer a question, and it potentially saves the company hours by having a dev quickly find one there."


I'm a statistician working for a hospital, so my perspective might be bit different than most. I don't think my supervisor knows that I use SO, but I'm certain it's monitored by IT. But... I just take it on good faith that my IT geeks will see my usage and say, "Rock on, old boy. I have no freaking idea what this R thing you're always posting about is, but rock on."

There's also an organization-wide emphasis on continuing training, so it would be hard for them to get on my case about spending time on SO when they would happily excuse me from work to go to a SAS Users Group meeting (bleargh).

The 'amount of time spent vs. return' issue is a little different for me, however. I can't sink hours and hours into the site - I mainly follow the R, SAS and statistics tags, which together probably get about 5-6 questions per day, and where every question is likely to be reviewed by an expert user (the R questions, anyway). It takes me about five minutes to read every question, and most of them are answered very well by the time I get to them.

I'm learning Python, which could be a dangerous development.


It's required. :-)


When SO was in beta, I probably did a bit more than "healthy" amounts of involvement to help get things off the ground. Since then my participation has died down, but I've been letting all the developers around here know about it since it is such a great resource.

What is particularly fun is when they have questions and I can point them to an answer I had marked as right. 8^D

We don't have any official policy, but if for some reason websense comes through and blocks it, I'll be talking to the director. 8^D

As is with most things: everything in moderations does the soul good.

  • 1
    Who was it who said "including moderation?"
    – orbfish
    Commented Jul 1, 2010 at 15:22
  • something about the Aristotle golden mean 8^D
    – Dillie-O
    Commented Jul 1, 2010 at 15:42

If you're a programmer, be a little careful if your company doesn't know what you're doing and you say you work for them in the profile. I got in a little hot water for a different forum where our client saw our company next to my name saying that we knew about a bug in our software which someone else in the company was clueless about.

Disregard this if you work for Microsoft.


I can see that it could be a problem (like falling in the C2 Wikihole) - but I don't think I'd stay at a job that wouldn't let me use SO, it's just too useful.

  • What's the "C2 Wikihole?"
    – JohnB
    Commented Jul 1, 2010 at 22:07

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