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Education begins at home: Improving developer training in NYC

posted under by on 02-12-15 26

The core goal of Stack Exchange is education. Everything we build is geared toward helping people learn from one another — not just the nuts and bolts of their profession or passion, but the universal skills of how to better communicate and learn. As we’ve grown as a company, we’ve benefited from many resources to assist in educating developers out of our office space, including hosting local meetups and partnering with the Flatiron School and Fog Creek for a mentorship program.

Today, we’re excited to announce our partnership with the New York City Tech Talent Pipeline, Mayor de Blasio’s new initiative designed to increase the number of qualified candidates for open tech positions in New York City.

That’s nice. But how?

The city has brought together a number of major companies that hire developers in NYC and asked us to do two things:

  1. Join a committee designed to help the city identify ways it can use its resources to attack the problem more broadly (through the education system, etc.), and
  2. Implement programs we can run, possibly with the help and support of other awesome like-minded tech companies in the city.

On the first point, we’re excited that our VP of Engineering, David Fullerton, will be sitting in on quarterly meetings with other tech industry leaders convened by Mayor de Blasio, where we hope we can help to represent the developer voice and to share what skills and technologies we know are most in-demand.

For the second, we’ve already brought in a bunch of (awesome) NYC companies — including Trello, Kickstarter, Foursquare, Tumblr, and Control Group — who will build and teach a new curriculum of programmer “soft skills” to graduates of public computer science programs in New York (starting with the CUNY system) that will better equip them as professional developers.

The goal is to make sure that anyone in this city with a passion for technology, no matter who they are or what neighborhood they grew up in, can get the mentoring, training, and support they need to succeed as a developer.

Why are we doing this?

As you probably know, there’s a vast disparity between open tech jobs and qualified developers in today’s market. At last count, there are nearly 5 job openings for every one job-seeking developer. With New York City’s current tech job count teetering at around 300,000 job openings, we need to increase the number of good candidates or a lot of  websites aren’t going to get built. The city needs developers. And this happens to be an area that we know a thing or two about. Our goal is to support and empower developers, no matter where they may be in their programming careers. Despite our well-known belief in remote work, our founder has always been a particular proponent of building great places in New  York for those developers who do want to work in a more communal space. Like many tech companies, we’ve been giving a lot of thought to how we can promote inclusion, both internally and in the tech community as a whole. We don’t pretend to have figured it all out, but this is just one thing we’re excited to share. As always, we welcome any ideas you may have.

26 comments

Podcast #62 – Delete This Whole Episode

posted under by on 02-04-15 18

Welcome to Stack Exchange Podcast #62, recorded live on January 20th–with a live studio audience (kinda)!. Today’s podcast was brought to you by the American Venture Capital Association. With you today are our hosts Jay Hanlon, David Fullerton, and Joel Spolsky.

Let’s jump right in: we made a big announcement! Andreessen Horowitz has invested a pile of money in our little company so we can improve our ‘programmer forums’. Precisely none of the pile of money is going into Jay’s raise, but one of those dollars is going to SomeKittens.

So, the (forty) million dollar question: how are we going to use this money?

(not on supporting ancient browsers.)

We intend to (continue) spending money on Stack Overflow Careers. Our goal is to get every programmer a better job, and we want to do that without selling crazy-takeover-animated-bonzaibuddy-ads that feel like reading a newspaper on the subway (according to Joel), so we’re getting money from investors instead.

How are we going to make this happen? We plan to revisit the developer side of the Careers equation and figure out how to make that better. More features to let programmers search and filter for interesting jobs, update the way profiles work, etc. – more of the stuff we were going to work on anyway. Careers is already a very developer-focused product: we limit the things our employers can do heavily based on what drives programmers nuts. For example, we only let employers contact a limited number of candidates unless those candidates actually respond, and we disallow contingency recruiters. (A pox on all of their houses.)

You can get a Careers profile here. We filter the applications to make sure only real programmers end up with profiles on Careers.

Time to take some questions from the peanut gallery!

And we’re out of questions. So what else is going on these days? Hats! And some new sites. How about new features? We’re experimenting with a new triage queue to help sort questions into “hopeless and needs to be burninated” and “could be passable with some editing” buckets. Things in the triage queue won’t show up on the homepage until they’ve been approved. Here are the details.

Joel wants to sign off, but first make sure you check out Expression Engine SE’s new design. (Since this podcast was recorded, Movies SE has also graduated with a slick new theme.)

Thanks for wasting an hour on the Stack Exchange Podcast Episode #62, brought to you by the American Venture Capital Association.

18 comments

Targeted Jobs for Stack Overflow

posted under by on 01-27-15 33

Stack Overflow Careers was announced five years ago with a simple mission statement:

We believe that every professional programmer should have a job they love

To help you find a job you love, we need to match you with the right job at the right time. We do that by helping you create a profile that brings the right employers to you, and by showing you relevant job ads from our job board on Stack Overflow. With over 6,000 companies that advertise on Stack Overflow Careers, we’re getting closer to our goal of having a great job for every developer.

Until today, the job ads that we show on Stack Overflow were pretty stupid: they targeted solely based on location, and ignored all the other information about what you’re looking for and what kind of job it is. They didn’t even care about whether the job was in a technology that you were interested in. So today* we’re launching the first step in showing you jobs that we think are an actual match for you.

*If you just ran to a question to see how targeted the jobs were and left disappointed, don’t worry. This feature is just launching today and most employers haven’t had a chance to target their jobs yet. You’ll see the difference over the coming months.

Developer Types, Tech Ecosystems, and Tech Tags

Many of you will start noticing that the jobs you see aren’t just in your area, but are related to the question you’re viewing, a question you’ve answered, or something you’ve asked about. We’re using this little bit of data, along with the location data we were already using, to predict what type of job you’re more likely to want to apply to. We then do some predictive modeling based on this information to target mobile jobs at mobile devs, front-end web development jobs at front-end devs, and even more complex stuff based on technology stack and specific tags.

It’s difficult to show you an example of a targeted ad. We haven’t changed much about the ad design or even how the job is displayed in the ads. However, we can show you the other side, how the employer is targeting their jobs.

Targeting-Overview

This is all organized into three tiers of targeting criteria:

  1. Developer Types: The broadest description of a developer.
  2. Technology Ecosystems: A narrower description, best described as tag clusters.  Python includes frameworks like Django and Flask. Cloud (back end) implies knowledge of AWS, Microsoft Azure, Rackspace, etc.
  3. Stack Overflow Tags: The most finely-grained descriptor. These draw straight from the top 1,000 most popular tags on Stack Overflow.

It’s really that simple. Once employers fill out a targeting profile for a job, we’ll try and predict which of those jobs you’ll be interested in.

Fine, but these are just ads. Why should I care?

Hopefully this doesn’t change much about how you use Stack Overflow in your daily life. Job ads are only a small part of our page content, but we hope this launch will improve your odds of seeing the right job opportunity at the right time. So far it appears to be working. Initial testing of targeted jobs over the past few months have demonstrated significant progress toward our goal of showing relevant job ads to each developer, as clickthrough rates increased 21-30%. Not bad for a V1!

We also want to let you know exactly how we’re targeting jobs, so our newly created data team will be talking about building out the infrastructure for this project, and all the details of what went into it. You can follow these posts on Kevin Montrose’s blog starting today. Jason Punyon will also be adding to this series later this week and next.

Additionally, if you want to see your personal prediction data, or if you want to disable predictions, you can do that from the user preferences page.

This sounds cool; I want to use it to hire a developer!

If you want more details on how this works for employers, go visit our Stack Overflow Careers blog. If you want to dive right in, you can post a job now and fill out a targeting profile. And if you already have a job running, you can edit it to add targeting for the rest of its run.

That’s it! As always, if you have questions or comments feel free to post on Meta Stack Exchange in the ‘Careers’ tag.

33 comments

Andreessen Horowitz Invests in Stack Exchange

posted under by on 01-20-15 84

(Note: This is a cross post from Joel on Software).

Stack Exchange Raises $40m

Today Stack Exchange is pleased to announce that we have raised $40 million, mostly from Andreessen Horowitz.

Everybody wants to know what we’re going to do with all that money. First of all, of course we’re going to gold-plate the Aeron chairs in the office. Then we’re going to upgrade the game room, and we’re already sending lox platters to our highest-rep users.

But I’ll get into that in a minute. First, let me catch everyone up on what’s happening at Stack Exchange.

In 2008, Jeff Atwood and I set out to fix a problem for programmers. At the time, getting answers to programming questions online was super annoying. The answers that we needed were hidden behind paywalls, or buried in thousands of pages of stale forums.

So we set out to build Stack Overflow with a single-minded, compulsive, fanatical obsession with serving programmers by building a better Q&A site.

Everything about how Stack Overflow works today was designed to make programmers’ jobs easier. We let members vote up answers, so we can show you the best answer first. We don’t allow opinionated questions, because they descend into flame wars that don’t help people who need an answer right now. We have scrupulously avoided any commercialization of our editorial content, because we want to have a site that programmers can trust.

Heck, we don’t even allow animated ads, even though they are totally standard on every other site on the Internet, because it would be disrespectful to programmers to strain their delicate eyes with a dancing monkey, and we can’t serve them 100% if we are distracting them with a monkey. That would only be serving them 98%. And we’re OBSESSED, so 98% is like, we might as well close this all down and go drive taxis in Las Vegas.

Anyway, it worked! Entirely thanks to you. An insane number of developers stepped up to pass on their knowledge and help others. Stack Overflow quickly grew into the largest, most trusted repository of programming knowledge in the world.

Quickly, Jeff and I discovered that serving programmers required more than just code-related questions, so we built Server Fault and Super User. And when that still didn’t satisfy your needs, we set up Stack Exchange so the community could create sites on new topics. Now when a programmer has to set up a server, or a PC, or a database, or Ubuntu, or an iPhone, they have a place to go to ask those questions that are full of the people who can actually help them do it.

But you know how programmers are. They “have babies.”  Or “take pictures of babies.” So our users started building Stack Exchange sites on unrelated topics, like parenting and photography, because the programmers we were serving expected—nay, demanded!—a place as awesome as Stack Overflow to ask about baby feeding schedules and f-stops and whatnot.

And we did such a good job of serving programmers that a few smart non-programmers looked at us and said, “Behold! I want that!” and we thought, hey!  What works for developers should work for a lot of other people, too, as long as they’re willing to think like developers, which is the best way to think. So, we decided that anybody who wants to get with the program is welcome to join in our plan. And these sites serve their own communities of, you know, bicycle mechanics, or what have you, and make the world safer for the Programmer Way Of Thinking and thus serve programmers by serving bicycle mechanics.

In the five years since then, our users have built 133 communities. Stack Overflow is still the biggest. It reminds me of those medieval maps of the ancient world. The kind that shows a big bustling city (Jerusalem) smack dab in the middle, with a few smaller settlements around the periphery. (Please imagine Gregorian chamber music).

View of Jerusalem

View of Jerusalem

Stack Overflow is the big city in the middle. Because the programmer-city worked so well, people wanted to ask questions about other subjects, so we let them build other Q&A villages in the catchment area of the programmer-city. Some of these Q&A villages became cities of their own. The math cities barely even have any programmers and they speak their own weird language. They are math-Jerusalem. They make us very proud. Even though they don’t directly serve programmers, we love them and they bring a little tear to our eyes, like the other little villages, and they’re certainly making the Internet—and the world—better, so we’re devoted to them.

One of these days some of those villages will be big cities, so we’re committed to keeping them clean, and pulling the weeds, and helping them grow.

But let’s go back to programmer Jerusalem, which—as you might expect—is full of devs milling about, building the ENTIRE FUTURE of the HUMAN RACE, because, after all, software is eating the world and writing software is just writing a script for how the future will play out.

So given the importance of software and programmers, you might think they all had wonderful, satisfying jobs that they love.

But sadly, we saw that was not universal. Programmers often have crappy jobs, and their bosses often poke them with sharp sticks. They are underpaid, and they aren’t learning things, and they are sometimes overqualified, and sometimes underqualified. So we decided we could actually make all the programmers happier if we could move them into better jobs.

That’s why we built Stack Overflow Careers. This was the first site that was built for developers, not recruiters. We banned the scourge of contingency recruiters (even if they have big bank accounts and are just LINING UP at the Zion Gate trying to get into our city to feed on programmer meat, but, to hell with them). We are SERVING PROGRAMMERS, not spammers. Bye Felicia.

Which brings us to 2015.

The sites are still growing like crazy. By our measurements, the Stack Exchange network is already in the top 50 of all US websites, ranked by number of unique visitors, with traffic still growing at 25% annually. The company itself has passed 200 employees worldwide, with big plush offices in Denver, New York, and London, and dozens of amazing people who work from the comfort of their own homes. (By the way, if 200 people seems like a lot, keep in mind that more than half of them are working on Stack Overflow Careers).

We could just slow down our insane hiring pace and get profitable right now, but it would mean foregoing some of the investments that let us help more developers. To be honest, we literally can’t keep up with the features we want to build for our users. The code is not done yet—we’re dedicating a lot of resources to the core Q&A engine. This year we’ll work on improving the experience for both new users and highly experienced users.

And let’s not forget Stack Overflow Careers. I believe it is, bar-none, the single best job board for developer candidates, which should  automatically make it the best place for employers to find developer talent. There’s a LOT more to be done to serve developers here and we’re just getting warmed up.

Scent

So that’s why we took this new investment of $40m.

We’re ecstatic to have Andreessen Horowitz on board. The partners there believe in our idea of programmers taking over (it was Marc Andreessen who coined the phrase “Software is eating the world”). Chris Dixon has been a personal investor in the company since the beginning and has always known we’d be the obvious winner in the Q&A category, and will be joining our board of directors as an observer.

This is not the first time we’ve raised money; we’re proud to have previously taken investments from Union Square Ventures, Index Ventures, Spark Capital, and Bezos Expeditions. We only take outside money when we are 100% confident that the investors share our philosophy completely and after our lawyers have done a ruthless (sorry, investors) job of maintaining control so that it is literally impossible for anyone to mess up our vision of fanatically serving the people who use our site, and continuing to make the Internet a better place to get expert answers to your questions.

For those of you who have been with us since the early days of Our Incredible Journey, thank you. For those of you who are new, welcome. And if you want to learn more, check out our hott new “about” page. Or ask!

 

84 comments

Why We (Still) Believe in Private Offices

posted under by on 01-16-15 115

There was a time where it seemed like we barely even needed to talk about this: Joel had won the argument, the Internet agreed that private offices were the future, and only incompetent management (or a tight budget) was still putting developers in cubicle farms. A glorious future lay before us.


The original Fog Creek Bionic Office, way back in ye olde 2003. We
didn’t have iPhones, but at least the offices had doors.

Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it turned out. Open plans have been surprisingly hard to kill, despite research showing that they’re unpopular, decrease employee satisfaction, and hurt productivity. The response so far seems to have been to double down and make it, if anything, worse: cubicles are now decidedly un-cool so no-wall open offices are all the rage, and Facebook brags that its new building will be the largest open floor plan in the world, consisting of a single, ten acre open room.

The result is that today Stack Exchange is decidedly lonely if not quite alone in offering private offices to our developers (at least the half who work in the office; the other half work remotely). Suddenly we’re the ones who look a bit old-fashioned: isn’t that the old-school Microsoft approach? Doesn’t it make us less creative? How can we stay fast and agile if people keep disappearing into offices to do work?

We’re pretty sure it doesn’t do any of these things, and in fact we believe it has a lot to do with how we think about work and our developers.

Find your own rhythm

Joel’s management philosophy is deceptively simple: hire smart people who get things done, and get the hell out of their way. The role of management is to give the people who actually do the work — the developers, designers, sysadmins, etc. — all the tools they need to get their jobs done, and then trust them to do the job!

This means we give you the space and expect you to find your own rhythm of work. With a private office, you’re in control of your space and attention: you can choose when to close the door and avoid interruptions, and when to go play ping-pong, talk with coworkers or work out of the coffee bar. In an open office you’re at the mercy of the people around you: if they’re talking, the best you can do is crank up your headphones and hope to drown them out, and if they’re playing foosball then good luck.

Everybody has their own rhythm. People come in at different times, take breaks at different times, need to socialize at different times, and have their most productive hours at different times. Management’s job is to accommodate that and create a space where all those conflicting needs don’t congeal into a persistent hum of distraction — not to enforce some top-down ideal of openness and creativity. Private offices put the people who do the actual work in control.


Motorized standing/sitting desks come standard, including for remote employees.

Keep the nexus of activity online

We are an online company: we’ve been remote from day one and still to this day over half of the team (aside from sales) works from home. The only way to make that work is to keep the nexus of activity online: in chat rooms, Google Hangouts, Trello boards, etc. This keeps everyone on equal footing, whether you’re in the office or working from home. Want to know what’s going on? Just check Trello and chat. Don’t go hang out around the watercooler.

This creates a magnificent culture of non-distraction. Whenever we get a new hire in the office, I make it a point to sit down with them in their first week and explain that they should not go to someone’s office when they have a question. Instead, ping them in chat and then jump on a hangout. The result is exactly the sort of culture that open offices are supposed to promote but better:

  • If someone else sees the message, they can chime in with the answer
  • If someone else is interested in the discussion, they can jump onto the hangout
  • And, crucially, if someone is working heads-down and doesn’t want to be distracted, all they have to do is close the chat window.

This really is the best of both worlds, and one of the reasons that I’m a big advocate of remote work culture even if nobody works remote. And a big part of what makes it possible if you’re working out of an office is having a door you can close so you’re not distracting your coworkers.


Glass walls let in tons of natural light. It’s not as creepy as you think.

Schedule time for cross-pollination

The result is that we get a lot of work done and individuals are fantastically productive. The only thing missing is to make sure that we’re facilitating those cross-team connections that open offices pretend to get you for free. We solve that in a few simple ways: daily lunch together in the office, weekly “Beer Bashes”, and an annual company meetup.

Joel has written a lot about the benefits of eating lunch together and we’re still big believers in it. Some people get a little weirded out by this so I’ll clarify: lunch together is not required, but anyone who skipped it completely would be missing out on some great food. At Stack Exchange HQ in New York we’re lucky enough to have a full kitchen and our own professional chefs and the results are pretty amazing. Eating lunch together every day is a great way to connect with coworkers you wouldn’t otherwise have talked to, though it doesn’t quite tie in the remote employees which is what makes the other approaches so important.

Friday “Beer Bashes” have long been another in-office tradition: grab a tasty beverage (alcoholic or not, nobody really cares) and hang out with some of your esteemed colleagues on Friday afternoon before taking off for the weekend. Recently we’ve been experimenting with Remote Beer Bashes via Google Hangouts, with some pretty fantastic results. Now even the remote people can join in and have some fun, even if it’s closer to midnight or freakishly early in their time zones.

Finally we have an annual engineering + community team meetup. We could write a whole post on this, but one of the points we make every year is that the primary goal of the meetup is to meet people and hang out — any work done is merely a side benefit. This last year we had a pretty great mix of presentations, meetings, and a strange obsession with hangman (oh, and an impromptu war room when we were hit with a novel DDoS attack). The whole thing was a huge success (even the war room) and really got a lot of different teams talking to each other and solving problems together.


Lunch served every day at Stack Exchange.

That’s how we work

Now, of course, the caveat: this is what works for us, and we understand it’s not for everyone. Maybe some places really are more creative because they have open plans. We don’t actually even give everyone private offices: some people are doubled up in offices, and the sales and marketing teams sit in larger open spaces because they feel that’s an important part of how they work. But it’s continually astonishing to me that more companies aren’t talking about private offices for developers, and that open plans have become the expected norm in the industry. At the very least we should be considering all the benefits that private offices provide.

Oh, and did I mention we’re hiring? If this sounds like the kind of place you’d like to work — whether out of the office or from home — we’re hiring for a lot of positions in 2015 across all three offices and remote.

In closing, I’ll leave you with a few choice pictures of our office. If you’d like to explore more, check out the Google street view tour of the NYC office. We also have sales offices in Denver and London which you can check out.


Serious work being done.


Obligatory ping-pong table.


Meeting space and cluster of offices. Would also qualify for Random Cups at Stack Exchange


Can’t beat that view.

Oh, and if you’re worried about our remote developers, we make sure to set them up with some pretty sweet equipment too:


A remote developer‘s home setup.


Obviously a designer. And yes, he has a sketch of himself on his wall.


Obviously less of a designer. But look at all dem monitors!

115 comments