The Next CEO of Stack Overflow

Big news! We’re looking for a new CEO for Stack Overflow. I’m stepping out of the day-to-day and up to the role of Chairman of the Board.

Stack Overflow has been around for more than a decade. As I look back, it’s really amazing how far it has come.  

Only six months after we had launched Stack Overflow, my co-founder Jeff Atwood and I were invited to speak at a Microsoft conference for developers in Las Vegas. We were there, I think, to demonstrate that you could use their latest ASP.NET MVC technology on a real website without too much of a disaster. (In fact .NET has been a huge, unmitigated success for us, but you kids go ahead and have fun with whatever platform you want mkay? They’re all great, or, at least, above-average).

It was a giant conference, held at the Venetian Hotel. This hotel was so big that other hotels stay there when they go on vacation. The main ballroom was the size of, approximately, Ireland. I later learned there were 5,000 developers in that room.

I thought it would be a fun thing to ask the developers in the room how many of them had visited Stack Overflow. As I remember, Jeff was very much against this idea. “Joel,” he said, “That is going to be embarrassing and humiliating. Nobody is going to raise their hand.”

Well, I asked it anyway. And we were both surprised to see about one-third of the hands go up. We were really making an impact! That felt really good.

Anyway, I tried that trick again whenever I spoke to a large audience. It doesn’t work anymore. Today, audiences just laugh. It’s like asking, “Does anyone use gravity? Raise your hand if you use gravity.”

Where are we at after 11 years? Practically every developer in the world uses Stack Overflow. Including the Stack Exchange network of 174 sites, we have over 100 million monthly visitors. Every month, over 125,000 wonderful people write answers. According to Alexa, stackoverflow.com is one of the top 50 websites in the world. (That’s without even counting the Stack Exchange network, which is almost as big.) And every time I see a developer write code, they’ve got Stack Overflow open in one of their browser windows. Oh and—hey!—we do not make you sign up or pay to see the answers.

The company has been growing, too. Today we are profitable. We have almost 300 amazing employees worldwide and booked $70m in revenue last year. We have talent, advertising, and software products. The SaaS products (Stack Overflow for Teams and Enterprise) are growing at 200% a year. That speaks to the fact that we’ve recruited an incredibly talented team that has produced such fantastic results.

But, we have a lot of work ahead of us, and it’s going to take a different type of leader to get us through that work.

The type of people Stack Overflow serves has changed, and now, as a part of the developer ecosystem, we have a responsibility to create an online community that is far more diverse, inclusive, and welcoming of newcomers. In the decade or so since Stack Overflow started, the number of people employed as software developers grew by 64% in the US alone. The field is going to keep growing everywhere in the world, and the demand for great software developers far outstrips supply. So a big challenge for Stack Overflow is welcoming those new developers into the fold. As I’ve written:

One thing I’m very concerned about, as we try to educate the next generation of developers, and, importantly, get more diversity and inclusiveness in that new generation, is what obstacles we’re putting up for people as they try to learn programming. In many ways Stack Overflow’s specific rules for what is permitted and what is not are obstacles, but an even bigger problem is rudeness, snark, or condescension that newcomers often see.

I care a lot about this. Being a developer gives you an unparalleled opportunity to write the script for the future. All the flak that Stack Overflow throws in the face of newbies trying to become developers is actively harmful to people, to society, and to Stack Overflow itself, by driving away potential future contributors. And programming is hard enough; we should see our mission as making it easier.


The world has started taking a closer look at tech, and understanding that software and the internet are not just tools; they are shaping the future of society. Big tech companies are struggling with their place in the world. Stack Overflow is situated at the right place to be influential in how that future develops, and that is going to take a new type of leader.

It will not be easy to find a CEO who is the right person to lead that mission. We will, no doubt, hire one of those fancy executive headhunters to help us in the search. But, hey, this is Stack Overflow. If there’s one thing I have learned by now, it’s that there’s always someone in the community who can answer the questions I can’t.

So we decided to put this announcement out there in hopes of finding great candidates that might have been under the radar. We’re especially focused on identifying candidates from under-represented groups, and making sure that every candidate we consider is deeply committed to making our company and community more welcoming, diverse, and inclusive.

Over the years, Fog Creek Software created several incredible hits and many wonderful memories along the way. It is great to watch Trello (under Michael Pryor) and Glitch (under Anil Dash) growing into enormously valuable, successful, and influential products with dedicated leaders who took these products much further than I ever could have, and personally I’m excited to see where Stack Overflow can go and turn my attention to the next thing.

Author

Joel Spolsky
Co-founder & CEO

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Comments

  1. Well I gotta say you did a great job. I cannot think of anyone who can lead it any better than you have. Well good luck on your future Joel, sure you will do well.

  2. Robert Harvey says:

    It’s interesting that inclusiveness has been brought up, once again.

    Frankly, I don’t see the problem. Stack Overflow is not an obstacle to anyone’s career aspirations; quite the opposite, in fact. If it seems that we’re a bit particular about what we expect from newcomers, that’s because it’s our little way of helping them become a bit more precise in their thinking. They’re going to need that if they expect to pursue a career in Software Development, regardless of what cultural group they belong to or what planet they live on.

    There is no place for bigotry or incivility of any kind on Stack Overflow. But that doesn’t mean we need to single out a particular group for special treatment, nor do I think Stack Overflow has any special mandate to do that. Stack Overflow’s primary mandate is, and always has been, to provide a resource for software developers that is useful to everyone, not just the person asking the question.

    I don’t need to know any personal characteristics of anyone on Stack Overflow to help them with a programming problem. I just need a good question to answer.

  3. Are the SO podcasts gone forever?

  4. Couldn’t find the application link, so asked on meta: https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/325874/how-to-apply-to-be-ceo-of-stack-overflow 😉

    So long Joel. Thanks for everything you’ve done for the site and (by extension) the community.

  5. Peter Flanagan says:

    really great, well written thoughtful article. Best of luck with the search and thanks for an amazing platform. How I would have been a dev before SO this I have no idea 😁

    1. Your remark actually perfectly depicts a huge problem – before StackOverflow developers actually knew how to code. S.O. is highly probably the reason why today’s Windows update deletes user documents.

  6. Axel León says:

    It is amazing!
    Sounds like some of these motivational stories you can find in a book. Stack Overflow is very important to me as programmer, and I’m sure you will take the correct decision.
    Regards.

  7. Robert Grant says:

    It’s deeply depressing that zero words were devoted to the ridiculously impressive job that is done to maintain quality while still trying to be welcoming, and an equal number given to the idea that the future CEO should give any thought to quality as well.

    That’s why SO works. Even if you charged for it. It’s the quality. It’s not perfect, but it’s THE selling point.

  8. Kristian Gerardsson says:

    Obviously, hire Jon Skeet 😀

  9. Hello Joel,
    I’m an developer/entrepreneur from Tokyo, working for one of the giants. My dream is to stop working ‘for’ the giant and to ‘lead’ the giant. I know that it sounds obvious that everyone wants to lead a company, be a CEO and do all the stuff a man in control would do. Not me.
    I don’t want it. I need it and I worked for it and I will be there, someday. I’m 21, already been working in a foreign land for one of the giants in one of the futuristic projects with 2 years of experience and a peculiar interest and knowledge in business administration and management.
    As I have gone through your post on the blog, I did realize that I can be what you want me to be for your creation because that is me. If you’d want to go for a different option than the stereotypical way to choose your next leader, you know my details. Have an interview and you’ll know.
    Thank you for your time if you are reading this, or maybe not if one of your assistants is and may not be notifying about this to you.
    Thanks for the amazing service of Stack entities.

    1. thank you for the fun !

  10. I was totally at that event (it was Mix08, I’m pretty sure). A few years later I would be at Microsoft working on the MSDN forums, where we had serious discussions about directing our customers to StackOverflow. These days I run engineering for a growing SaaS company. It’s been fun to “grow up” with you. It’s hard to remember the world before SO.

  11. This is exciting news. The CEOs have taken this product far. I love this community. I believe Stack Overflow is more than a Q/A company, it is a software company, and will likely benefit going public and hiring the best talent to compete with world-class performers. The company has a lot of potential and the brand has significant goodwill — a mix between humble Wikipedia and revered Google. Best of luck.

  12. A (female) user says:

    Stack Overflow is not just a place where you go to solve a programming problem. It is a FEELING that you belong to the world. To the smart world. To that part of the world that has the curiosity to solve problems and the pleasure to help without being applauded for it. For me Stack Overflow is a place where I feel happy every time I go there.

  13. You’ll be missed Joel but it must be awesome to know that you and Jeff have made something that has had such a huge impact on the success of programmers all around the world. Good luck with your next venture!

  14. What a cool blog post, and way to pass the torch! I couldn’t agree more about the need to welcome and educate newbies by being a more supportive community.

    The first time I posted on Stack Overflow, wondering what it was a stack of, and why it might be overflowing, my question (can’t remember what it was now) was met with so much negativity that I didn’t post again for another 3 years. It was only after chancing upon a much more fun and welcoming site on the Stack Exchange Network that I came to understand the culture here and the dos and don’ts. I’ve seen it happen to a lot of other newcomers too, and I’m sure many would-be regulars have remained one-time contributors as a result.

    I have no idea how one finds a great CEO candidate, but by stating that priority as you cast your net, it shows your compass needle is pointed in the right direction. Good luck finding your CEO of destiny!

    P.S. Your logo still reminds me of pancakes, and makes me hungry at work.

    1. Matt Irish says:

      Omg it DOES look like a stack of pancakes! I’ve been feeling that way for so long without ever having the thought materialize. Thank you S.L., thank you Joel, thank you SE

  15. Kapil Patel says:

    Hats off, thanks
    and I appreciate that you think so much about us
    “In many ways Stack Overflow’s specific rules for what is permitted and what is not are obstacles, but an even bigger problem is rudeness, snark, or condescension that newcomers often see.”

  16. John Mickey says:

    “The first time I posted on Stack Overflow…my question … was met with so much negativity that I didn’t post again for another 3 years…. I’m sure many would-be regulars have remained one-time contributors as a result.”

    I’ve seen this over and over on rpg.stackexchange. High-rep users with voting privileges will dogpile a question, demand it meet community standards without providing assistance, close/re-open or edit it without any care about how the poster might feel — and all the user wanted was an answer.

    The user’s question then becomes a battlefield, and yes the mods resolve it… after 12+ hours.

    I get the posting standards, but there is a way to do this that doesn’t treat new users like dirt.

    Until this culture is changed, SE has a limited audience. It’s not healthy, inclusive, or good. I use SE, but would never send a new friend here.

    For example, a simple fix: Instead of being able to lock a question and demand revisions according to rules on some page, users should propose a resolved and acceptable question with an explanation why it’s better.

  17. Thomas Ryan says:

    You guys have done amazing work. The stack exchange paradigm really stands alone for its high-quality and concise solutions, and for the respectful tenor of the communities. I never read official documentation unless I have to: SO answers are always more comprehensible and compact than any first-party docs.

  18. Chuck Meineke says:

    Yes. I’ve been using stackoverflow.com for like 7 years now. I’ve encountered this problem so many times, and it’s getting worse. So many of these moderators have a “nazi attitude” against questions. They just look for any excuse to flush a question down the toilet. It’s unbelievable. And yes, the lower the asker’s reputation, the more abusive their attitude is. I mean, this is crazy. It’s just a question. What harm is it doing? Is it taking up too much space on the stackoverflow servers?

    I mean, all your stack sites are really really suffering because of this attitude. I’d say 80% of good questions are flushed down the toilet. Questions like – “What’s the best way to do this…” Those are excellent questions, and the answers would be SO, SO, useful. What does it hurt to keep those questions up there? Does it hurt someone’s pride? Unbelievable. The stack sites could be so much better if this attitude stopped. Even questions that are very targeted get rejected.

    The only rational reason that I can see for cancelling a question is when it’s totally off topic – like if you are asking about server systems on stackoverflow.com – or if it’s like something offensive.

  19. A faithful user says:

    Been almost two years a contributor, + a decade a consumer and still on, this website has granted me a new perspective of the IT world and served me in a minute of what is equal or longer than 4 weeks of constant personal research in my earlier ages as a learner, can’t even dare to imagine how would end to be the cloud without the infinite beauty to which this virtual wonderland offers, I can personally foretell a new prosperous area, rising from evaded blunders that caused once few lame trips in its trajectory, and route the train in its rails again, with even higher pace and further aim.
    Full trey points for sake of welcoming juniors, they are a potential hope to fuel this site again, best luckz.

  20. even bigger problem is rudeness, snark, or condescension that newcomers often see –

    I don’t think the need to be rude is a problem for a person being rude more that it’s for a person they are being rude to.

    I think that everyone should take responsibility for his own emotional state and whether he/she lets her emotional state be disturbed by what other people write on the internet.

    Both the need to write rude comments and an emotional reaction to the rude comments are a sign of emotional weakness and lack of skill of dealing with negative emotions, which is valuable skill no matter how inviting and pampering your environment is.

    I think we should encourage more emotional maturity in the people and provide them tools to deal with negative emotions rather then shielding them from anything that could arise such emotions.

  21. I hope who is next CEO will help us bring more fun things daily. For example, I’d love to see how users come back after seeing questions with no response. Also, adding widgets from some topics to WordPress or any kind of platform is a great idea and should have someone to do.

    Anyway, many of our developers can’t work without Google and StackOverFlow. And it makes us stronger!!!

  22. Bob Jarvis says:

    Thanks to you and everyone for creating SO. For the past nine (NINE?!?!?) years I’ve spent way too much time on this. And I intend to keep doing so. 🙂

    Best of luck and have fun with whatever comes next.

  23. Johan Boulé says:

    “Does anyone use gravity?”
    I honestly just don’t know what that is.
    Now I feel humiliated by your mainstream point of view.

  24. captivatedCoder says:

    In the last 8 years I have found numerous answers on the Stack Overflow site. It is by far one of the best resources out there. However, there is no way I will ever post a question, too many toxic responses. It is like certain users just sit around waiting to ridicule questions they feel are beneath the community.
    What about a Noob Overflow? Or maybe just less condescension in general.

    Regardless, you have created a great resource and are a huge inspiration to me personally.

  25. LBYPatrick says:

    Is this an early April Fool’s Joke?

  26. Noman Shakoor says:

    Stack Overflow is like my best friend. When I am stuck, I come here to see how others have solved the same problems. The best thing I don’t even have so many programmers in my city, and when I am stuck no one knows how to fix the error but the stack overflows knows the past and future, professional solve my issues, I have learned so a lot just from stack overflow. That cannot be described in the words, I guess.

  27. Interested

  28. Pythonisto says:

    Will you at least stay active in the Python forum?

  29. I hope the new CEO will allow for more wiggle room for new programmers. When I first started coding and asking questions, this site was like playing Dark Souls with a broken dagger.

  30. So…assuming this isn’t April Fools…

    I want to personally thank you and whomever participated in its creation, for creating a website by devs for devs where quality precedes quantity. Too many are the sites which have answers beginning with “My grandmother heard that this should work. I think”.

    As opposed to [insert answer with 3000+ upvotes here].

    Thank you

    Dani

  31. Muhammad Ali says:

    excellent april fools’ joke. better than google.

  32. Abhishek Agarwal says:

    Haha. Is this an April fool post.

  33. Hi Joel,

    What do you think would be important direction for the new CEO ? E.g. are you looking for someone who would simply scale the idea of QA from tech to non tech to make is popular in all fields or something else ?

    All the best,

  34. Hire Me!

  35. Good luck, I hope that the next CEO will continue the amazing work you have been doing!

  36. Nick Strezynski says:

    Choose a leader in education. You said it yourself, the demand outstrips the supply. Stack Overflow has an incredibly valuable well of intellectual property – a curriculum exists somewhere within it. Framing an education around a series of Stack Overflow questions and answers could be an amazing applied software dev education. Or perhaps some type of grad-level training certificate program. The point is the curriculum exists within the existing intellectual property.

    Start a Stack Overflow University. There is nothing at all wrong with a for-profit education when done correctly. Charge some future percentage of a student’s first ~two years salary upon graduation. Waiting on that cash flow may be too painful to the bottom line, so come up with some creative payment structure.

    I know the above isn’t a novel thought, and likely has already been developed to some degree already, but I hope your successor pushes and sees it through.

    I do not want to short change the wonderful Colleges and Unis across the country. I learned a tremendous amount with my mathematics BS at a liberal arts school. I just believe that educational competition/alternatives inevitably fosters a healthier educational environment in the country. Good luck. I appreciate the tremendous resource that is the Stack Exchange network.

  37. It seems an april 1st joke ..

  38. Great work!!! you people helped us lot.

  39. Does stackoverflow my little pony looking theme has anything to do with this?

  40. Stack Overflow had always helped in time of need and I wish best of luck for the new CEO of the Stack Overflow wishing the same great and easiest feature set of StackOverflow over the years.

  41. Not a single comment about April’s fool? Are they being moderated until this post is visible?

  42. I know its April fool.You are trying to fool us.. anyway nyc try

  43. How to start use a session before starting one?

    (this comment section would not be complete without an off topic php question)

  44. Gert Cuykens says:

    Who ever you choose make sure the person actually develop in their free time, and answers or asks a question sometimes on stackoverflow. PS fancy executive headhunters, are you kidding me… that just being lazy man. You have access to the biggest ICT crowd in the universe and your telling me you need headhunters? Think back when you started stackoverflow, pretty sure it was based on the responsibility and doing the right thing. What you should be doing is hire a kickass developer who proves herself / himself over time. Yes she / he probably doesn’t want to be a CEO in the first place but just tell everybody else she / he is 😀

  45. This is NOT April’s Food prank, righttttt?? LOL

  46. wow! too many changes in stackoverflow. Thanks for everything you’re doing for the coders and developers.

  47. Eric Chambers says:

    Joel, I am not a software developer, I don’t have the special neural pathways required to write code. But I do work at a software company, and starting way back I began reading joelonsoftware.com and then various things on SO. Your writing and your influence helped me understand these wonderful people I work with, these strange, creative people called software developers. Thanks so much for letting us into the world as you see it, it’s a challenging, kind, and thoughtful place for hackers and painters. Good luck on your next act, and no one would complain if you started writing again.

  48. Rod Falanga says:

    First, Joel, I would like to wish you all the best as you step out of your current role into that of CEO for Stack Overflow (Exchange Stack maybe?). Congratulations! What you and others have built is wonderful and fits a needed place!

    Stack Overflow is one of my favorite places to get answers to the technical questions I come up with. SO has helped me tremendously in the years I’ve used it. However, I’d like to respond to something you said, “… but an even bigger problem is rudeness, snark, or condescension that newcomers often see.” Although I’ve been on SO for several years, I’ve witnessed the “…rudeness, snark and condescension…” you referred to. I’ve also experienced it at the hands of some who apparently don’t think I’m smart enough or am too ignorant to have done “a proper search”. In many of the cases where I’ve been the brunt of someone else’s wrath, it is because I was trying to learn something I have very little knowledge of, so therefore had no way of knowing how to ask my question or what to say. Specifically, what to search for in a search engine. It isn’t my fault that I’m ignorant, but boy that’s not the impression I got from a few people. I will say that it hasn’t happened often. But it has happened over the last few years, a few times to me. Therefore, I’m not using SO as much as I used to even 5 years ago. I’ve become fearful that I’ll get roasted for asking a question. It’s funny, I’ve actually been on the look out for a SO substitute, sort of a “SO for beginners”, where you’re not likely to get condescending remarks to your questions.

    So, to the new CEO, I wish you all the best in bringing back civility to postings and replies.

  49. Pavan Chandaka says:

    You have such a wonderful presence all over the world. Why can not you guys step in to software services. Many services companies are easily making big bucks with poor quality software delivery.

    Being having so many best software developers/think tanks under your umbrella, you can easily come up with a different model of software delivery and services for less price.

    1. Software and delivey and service

  50. João Pedro Raldi says:

    He made the best work. Love de marquee tag.

  51. > .NET has been a huge, unmitigated success for us, but you kids go ahead and have fun with whatever platform you want mkay? They’re all great, or, at least, above-average

    How can all the platforms be “above average”?

  52. I hope this news of Stepping Down is a Prank “April Fool” 2019 😉
    anyways.. your tenure was more impactful than productive. This is something we should thrive for.. “making a difference”

    anyways… good read and thanks for sharing!
    Cheers and Good Day.

  53. Jart23244 says:

    April Fools?

  54. A big thank you for all the years of great service! And what an elegant way to step out.

  55. I truly believe SO will become even better, after reading this.

  56. Fahad Bilal says:

    i see the dates coming off as earlier than april 1st! for a moment i thought this is an april fool’s joke!
    best of luck though and thank you for providing us with this wonderful community!

  57. Good luck Joel. You created an awesome place for programmers to share and help others with their programming problems.

  58. stackoverflow is really greate application, we get lot of help from this site.

  59. wow! too many changes in stackoverflow. Thanks for everything you’re doing for the coders and developers.

  60. I have learned a lot just from SO in past 3 to 4 years. I cannot describe my love and respect for SO in the words.
    Just Thank you for making this great great great community!!!

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