Jeff and Joel keep hinting that people are starting to look at SO users to determine the quality of programmer they are during the interview process. This hasn't happened where I am, but I anticipate that someone applying for a job is going to use their SO id as a way of showing how good they are.

My question is: How would you validate they are who they say they are? Obviously, I couldn't go to an interview, and say I was Jon Skeet (or if I did pass that off as being correct, I don't think I would want to work there). He has his name and picture up, but what about some other high poster who doesn't use his or her real name or just part of their name? As far as I can tell, there is no real easy way to verify a person's account outside of asking them to log in to SO while they are at the interview.

Update to comment:

I'm not saying rep is an indicator, but there are several things which could be used to help determine ability. The specialist badge for one, or how about being in the top 20 posters for a tag. If someone came in and proved they were say number 14 of the top 20 posters for SQL, you wouldn't give that more weight than them not having it?

Update number two: Here's where I am going with this. If someone is going to lie, chances are they've gotten kinda good at it, unless they are an imbecile (granted this is possible). Lying about having an SO account wouldn't get you the job in most places, but it might tip the scale. By nature, most people are trusting, and won't scrutinize everything someone else says. If people did no one would get scammed. Casually mentioning it to the hiring manager, or an HR person without their knowledge of how the site worked could plant the idea in their head to check it out. Also, directly asking someone to prove what they are saying is a little infuriating to most people too. Really. If you said you went to college X and the company immediately turned around and said, "Bring your degree. We want to see the actual paper." What would you say, you may not be angry, but you may be a little surprised? Most people are not confrontational, and won't directly challenge what someone says, because they don't want an adverse reaction. Plus they have the company's image to protect and angering candidates that walk in the door to interview quickly spreads.

Last Edit: I will fully admit, this is purely selfish question on my part as I am not part of the hiring process here. I really fear that one of these days the hiring group is going to hear someone go, I'm so and so on SO. They'll check it out, and tell the rest of us that they found this really neat person without ever verifying anything. I would make them login, but something tells me, most people will not take the same approach as I would to hiring.

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    It is a pretty useless indicator IMO. High or low rep is no indicator of anything other than time spent on SO. There are much more relevant things to be concerned about both as an employer and an employee. – tim Jul 21 '09 at 17:40
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    Actually, you could go into an interview and tell them you were John Skeet, since the person you would be trying (and failing) to impersonate is actually named Jon Skeet. ;) – gnostradamus Jul 21 '09 at 17:46
  • touche. nice catch – kemiller2002 Jul 21 '09 at 18:00
  • I have been asked to show my degree certificate before now - I was surprised, but not angry. – ChrisF Jul 21 '09 at 18:01
  • really? I've never had that happen. I've been at places where the verify it, but never directly asked for it. – kemiller2002 Jul 21 '09 at 18:03
  • Only the once - 3 years ago for my last job as it happens. – ChrisF Jul 21 '09 at 18:04
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    Wow, I don't even know where mine is. I think it's packed away in some box. – kemiller2002 Jul 21 '09 at 18:22

It's not hard. The employer gives you a question id and tells you to answer the question with some specific text. You comply, the employer sees it, and you've proven you are who you say you are (or at least have good connections to that account).


Those of us who don't use our real names obviously wouldn't want SO rep to impact hiring decisions in the first place, so I don't see it as a problem.

For the record, my avatar really is a picture of me. It's just very abstract.

  • You don't see it as a problem that someone could walk into an interview and go, hey I'm weblog on SO. – kemiller2002 Jul 21 '09 at 17:43
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    Kevin: If they did that, they wouldn't get a second look. Look at his profile. – TheTXI Jul 21 '09 at 17:44
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    Why would I? People lie in interviews all the damned time. I'm not going to lie awake at night worrying about liars. – Welbog Jul 21 '09 at 17:44
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    @TheTXI: What do you have against lasers? Are you some kind of pansy? – Welbog Jul 21 '09 at 17:45
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    I don't have anything against lasers, but I imagine a lot of prospective employers would not be appreciative of your unholy lust for lasers and bumblebees. – TheTXI Jul 21 '09 at 17:46
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    I think I wouldn't want to work somewhere where the hiring managers have no sense of humour. Sounds like a really boring place to work. – Welbog Jul 21 '09 at 17:46
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    @welbog I apologize for being so dense. – jjnguy Jul 21 '09 at 17:54
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    If someone walks into an interview and says "hey I'm weblog on SO," is it not obvious that they are not Welbog? – Bill the Lizard Jul 21 '09 at 18:02
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    Hey Jeff, how do I upvote a profile? – RichieHindle Jul 21 '09 at 18:07
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    @RichieHindle: Time for a feature request, unless Jonathan Sampson has figured out a Greasemonkey script for it. – Hilarious Comedy Pesto Jul 21 '09 at 18:16
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    What's most funny about this comment thread is TheTXI accusing someone else of having an "unholy lust" for something. ;) – gnostradamus Jul 21 '09 at 18:16
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    @Pesto: A solution to a problem that doesn't exist? Sounds right up Sampson's alley. – Welbog Jul 21 '09 at 18:17

If their profile has all of their personal information and matches the information in their submitted resume, takes them back to their personal website, etc. you can be pretty sure that it is the same person.

Or during an interview you could just ask them to log in and show you.

Then there are people like me who don't use their real names and cover up their ugly scarred visage behind cute pictures of cuddly animals. I hope I never get asked about an SO account.

  • You could just say you are Rich B. – GEOCHET Jul 21 '09 at 18:16
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    @Rich B: I am flagging that comment because it directly insults a user! – Hilarious Comedy Pesto Jul 21 '09 at 18:17
  • @Pesto: Don't worry, I already reported it. – GEOCHET Jul 21 '09 at 18:20

If the candidate is serious about suggesting that you check out their responses on SO, he/she should have no problems temporarily changing his/her username to something that you suggest. You can then get on the site and search for the name and review the quality of the questions and answers submitted.


Until SO is providing explicit support for employment opportunities in this way, I would say how SO is used as proof of credentials is up to the employer and prospective employee. Certainly if the applicant is reporting that they are user x, as an employer I would want to come up with a mechanism for validation if I was going to give that any weight. Additionally, in this discussion, it is important to note that reputation is not an indicator of technical prowess. It would be the responsibility of the potential employer to properly weigh what the user has shown as far as technical abilities are concerned in relation to SO. In fact, that will always be the case, I don't think SO will ever be able to say, this person is of this level of ability. All it can do is say, this is the person's reputation and this is how they got there. Analysis will always have to fall to an actual person.

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