Scripting the Future of Stack Overflow

A note from our new CEO, Prashanth Chandrasekar, reflecting on his first 90 days and laying out his vision for 2020.

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As we enter a new decade, there are tremendous forces converging—cloud computing, big data, AI, ML, and an increasingly diverse group of young coders from around the world. Every day, millions of developers visit Stack Overflow to find information they need as they push these exciting new technologies forward. There has been a massive shift since my days as a computer engineering graduate. I was fascinated by the power of languages like Perl, but had only my teachers, classmates, and a few small web forums and mailing lists as a community to support my learning. The numbers below really put into perspective the impact that our community generates and the opportunities that lie ahead:

  • Across Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange network, we saw around 10 billion page views from 100+ million unique visitors over the course of 2019.
  • In 2019, Stack Overflow added over 2.8 million answers and 2.6 million new questions, with over 1.7 million new users joining the community. There are now over 18 million questions and 27 million answers on Stack Overflow, and over 150,000 people sign up for a Stack Overflow account each month, 12 years after we started.
  • Every day, users answer thousands of questions on topics like cloud technology, container orchestration, and machine learning. There is an ever growing trove of knowledge on Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure.
  • Our community members and volunteer moderators handled almost two million flags to keep inaccurate, abusive, unwelcoming, or inappropriate content off the site and in line with our updated Code of Conduct.
  • Hundreds of thousands of engineers leveraged the power of Stack Overflow for Teams to better collaborate and ship products faster.
  • Over 40,000 jobs were posted on Stack Overflow Jobs in 2019. We now have over 1,000,000 searchable profiles of developers who are interested in being contacted about a job on Stack Overflow Talent.
  • Almost a million developers found new and useful tools after seeing a company advertise on one of our sites.

There are a handful of companies that are indispensable to the world of software and to our evolution to a digital society. Stack Overflow is privileged to be in this group of disruptive companies. Thanks to our founders Joel and Jeff, our employees all over the world, and the millions of community members who have contributed so meaningfully to our mission and laid the foundation for our future.

The work we do would not be possible without the contributions of our incredible community. Across Stack Overflow, hundreds of thousands of users, supported by hundreds of moderators, helped to review questions, triage answers, propose new tags, and keep the discourse respectful and on topic. The little actions taken on a daily basis add up to millions of important contributions. Alongside this tremendous activity, nuanced discussions about topics like cybersecurity, cloud server architecture, and data science are happening across our network of Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange sites.

Learning from the company and community — and evolving the organization

During my first three months at the company between October and December of 2019, I connected with all our employees around the world and spent a significant amount of time outside the office speaking with customers and community members. What became apparent in my conversations is that software development has evolved rapidly, and successful companies are evolving their own cultures and practices to keep pace.

For the modern developer, the lines between programming languages, software frameworks, cloud infrastructure, and DevOps are blurring. Developers and organizations are trying to keep up and compete (as the incumbent) or disrupt and take market share (from the incumbent) in an as-a-service digital economy. Every significant developer technology relies on coders finding answers by asking questions on Stack Overflow. But while Stack Overflow has played a massive role in empowering and enabling developers around the world to learn, write code, and build products faster, we as an organization have not kept up with the evolution of the industry.

It is critically important that we evolve our platform, community infrastructure, and culture to be more useful to our community so we continue to be a core part of a developer’s workflow. Of the ~90,000 respondents to our 2019 Stack Overflow Developer survey, 80% tagged themselves as hobbyist programmers, 60% wrote their first line of code before the age of 17, and only 10% were women. Statistics like these have significant implications on how we think about making our community more welcoming, engaging, and inclusive. The key to Stack Overflow’s future and growth are the millions of developers from around the world who find the site useful, but who haven’t yet been welcomed into the community. We need to expand our reach and engagement to ensure these developers join the conversation and push their own learning to new heights.

A key part of great product development is to stay close to customers, listen, and take a thoughtful, data-driven, and research-oriented approach to building products. In our case, it is critical that we work closely with our community to listen, change, and evolve rapidly. As an example, over the past several months, we had a lot of dialog with our community about how best to enforce and evolve our code of conduct. We learned that we needed much better channels to listen to our moderators and community members. We have not evolved the existing channels of engagement for power users in our community, like Meta, or articulated how we intended to make improvements going forward. This has caused friction as our user base and business have rapidly grown. We acknowledge these issues, apologize for our mistakes, and have plans for improving in the future.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, we created a large task force made up of passionate community advocates from across the company to propose solutions to this core problem. The team’s mission is to improve our feedback loop and working relationship with our community. We added a member of our Community team to our leadership team and restructured the organization to invest in Product leadership to build Community-centric features. We are also forming a moderator council, which will include a group of users with diverse experience levels and backgrounds who can help guide our processes. We’re making hard choices and treating no assumptions as sacred in considering ways to evolve the community.

Most importantly, we kicked off a key large scale community survey named Through The Loop and invited our entire community to share their suggestions, product feature requests, and ideas for how Stack Overflow should evolve more broadly. We’ve heard consistent feedback from you regarding key topics like question and answer quality, welcomingness and inclusion, and discovery for relevant questions and answers. All of this is in pursuit of new and more productive ways to work with and listen to our community in the next era of the company. We want to serve all of the millions of people who use Stack Overflow, not just those who know the most about how the site has worked in the past. To be clear, this does not mean channels like Meta will go away, but they need to grow to ensure that users are heard and responded to in a timely fashion.

We’ve completed the process of defining how our moderator council will be structured, shared an internal framework for asking coworkers tough community questions, defined the important functions that would be best served by more scalable solutions than Meta, and built outlines of our new moderator training modules. By the end of this quarter, all of these initiatives will be shared publicly with you, our users.

Community engagement and inclusion is a top priority for Stack Overflow in 2020. Already, the team has established and released a plan for improving communication and empowering our users internally. We are experimenting to improve in areas we know need work: encouraging more question asking, reduce user to user friction, expanding inclusion, and creating a more integrated experience between Stack Overflow and other technical sites on Stack Exchange. The results of all of this work is being shared publicly through our new Loop series on the Stack Overflow blog and by subscribing to our Stack Overflow newsletter and podcast. We have seen some encouraging results: more people are asking questions, we cut the number of negative comments nearly in half, and December was our best month ever for new user signups!

Our latest podcast is a conversation with Prashanth on our plans for 2020. Give it a listen.

Building a business and serving every team

At the same time, Stack Overflow continues to grow and evolve as a business. We began with our Advertising product and then expanded to our Talent product. My first quarter helping to manage these businesses has convinced me that Stack Overflow is an underestimated and perhaps even under recognized platform for helping developers connect with companies directly either to understand their developer-centric products or to find their next role at those companies. There’s a lot we can do to raise the awareness of these capabilities.

Our third line of business, Stack Overflow for Teams, is our flagship SaaS product and lets development and technical teams use the power of Stack Overflow internally to answer questions about their own code and technology. It’s becoming an invaluable part of the toolset for developers and technical workers at tech giants like Microsoft, which has over 70,000 users. It’s also used by small startups like Osso VR, which has a few dozen developers using the platform. The Enterprise version launched only two years ago and our mid-level Business tier just six months ago. Within this short period of time, Teams became the fastest growing product in our portfolio. We’re also expanding partnerships within the product. Stack Overflow for Teams integrates with lots of your favorite tools—Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Okta. Key developer workflow tools like GitHub Enterprise and Jira are coming shortly.

The way companies use Stack Overflow for Teams is fascinating, including one that hits close to home: development teams looking to ship product faster and be more responsive to their customers. This requires Engineering, Product Management, Product Marketing, and other teams to collaborate closely to not only build and ship products but also enable Sales and Customer Success teams to present accurate and up-to-date feature updates and roadmaps to prospects or customers. We recently made Stack Overflow for Teams available for free for the first 30 days, so everyone can experience the power that comes with this collaboration and knowledge sharing tool.

What I hear time and again in conversations with our customers and community members is that the tools we built to discuss writing code can be extremely useful across many areas of an organization—in Engineering, Product Development, Product Marketing, and even People, Business Operations, Legal, Customer Success, and Sales organizations. I know developers love data so I wanted to share highlights from a study we commissioned from Forrester Consulting to assess Teams’ TEI (Total Economic Impact). They sat down with four of our enterprise-sized customers and dug deep. After weeks of interviews and number crunching, the findings prove an incredible 179% return on investment. The full study also revealed some other surprisingly huge impact for companies that use Stack Overflow Teams:

  • $224,000 in question-asking time savings in the first year
  • $1.1M in question-answering time savings in the first year
  • Decreased time to market
  • More efficient onboarding for new team members

These numbers are exciting and give everyone at the company a lot of confidence that we can continue to help developers and technical workers all around the world do their daily jobs better and more efficiently.

Growing Stack Overflow

In 2020, in order to continue to fuel our growth, we’re expanding and diversifying company leadership. Just last week we announced the addition of Teresa Dietrich, who joined as our Chief Product Officer and brings great technical leadership experience from companies like McKinsey New Ventures, Namely, and WebMD. We’ve also added Adrianna Burrows to our Board. In addition to being a Stack Overflow alum, Adrianna has been a marketing leader at great companies like Microsoft, Cornerstone on Demand and is currently CMO of Payscale. I’m grateful to have their expertise to help drive the company forward.

Stack Overflow is already an indispensable part of the developer workflow from the perspective of our public community, but there is so much more to do for developers as they ship code. Many of the product innovations we’re excited to explore under Teresa’s leadership are the opportunities at the intersection of private and public Stack Overflow. Developers want us to be a more active part of their daily workflow. Coders already leverage public Q&A several times a day to answer their most pressing development questions, but want a more integrated and more enriching experience, especially when combined with our private Teams product.

We are already seeing many companies leverage our community infrastructure to better support their own developer communities. Sencha, Snowflake, and Mapbox have all announced efforts to use Stack Overflow as a platform for helping programmers to use their products. “We want to make it easier and faster for anyone to find answers to their questions, especially questions that others have raised without needing to wait for a reply from our team,” wrote Yaniv Markovski, head of support at Mapbox. “As a bonus, joining in on this community conversation creates a feedback loop that allows us to create better documentation and learn how we can improve our product.” We are currently exploring how we can create an exceptional experience for developers and companies to interact more directly on Stack Overflow— i.e., by creating more curated channels and spaces on Stack Overflow to interact more directly with specific communities. Stay tuned for more ideas here!

As we look forward to 2020, we plan to invest in public Q&A, expand our community, and continue to cement our place as a pillar of the software industry and broader knowledge economy. We also know that we have work to do on improving how we engage with our community, as well as continuing to strive for more diversity, inclusion, and approachability.

This is a big mandate. So as we embark on the journey this coming year, I’ve asked everyone at Stack Overflow to maintain a growth mindset (through hard work, openness to feedback, and resilience), to always operate with our “why” at the center, and to conduct every meeting as if there is a community member and customer in the room. What I ask of you—anyone reading this post—is to continue to grow with us, to give us feedback through our new feedback loops, and to continue to rely on Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange network as the essential resource for exchanging ideas and information on technical topics.

Visionary companies are guided by a mission, not just a sustainable business model, and seek out challenges that can help move humanity forward. We have the opportunity to do that at Stack Overflow, to realize our profound mission of helping write the script of the future by serving developers and technical workers. Let’s answer the most important questions in this great new era of technology, together.

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