company May 7, 2020

A message from our CEO: The Way Forward

This is a key moment in our company’s history, as the whole world is dealing with significant uncertainty. Know that you are not alone. We are facing this situation together. Our goal is to stay focused on living our core values and actively connect with teammates, our community, and our customers.

Three months ago, I wrote a message to our Stack Overflow customers and community, the first of what will be regular, quarterly posts. At the time, I reflected on the fact that we were entering a new decade, a period where tremendous technological forces are reshaping the world. Since then, we have entered a new era, and societies in every corner of the globe face a historic challenge. We are reminded that for all of our advances as a civilization, nature can be a powerful force which we must adapt and innovate around.

Every Friday, since I started in October 2019, I’ve sent the company an email and brief “Fireside Chat” video with my observations on the week and our progress as we transform into a leading SaaS company. Since we went fully remote in early March, these company-wide communications have provided updates on how we are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are some of the thoughts I shared:

This is a key moment in our company’s history, as the whole world is dealing with significant uncertainty. Know that you are not alone. We are facing this situation together. 

Reflect on other challenging times as it relates to your life and how it ultimately passed and made you into who you are as a person today. I’m confident that with your help and daily leadership, we will figure it out, solve the various problems in front of us with an agile and growth mindset, and WE WILL come out of this crisis as a stronger company.

My ask is that you stay focused on living our core values and actively connect with your team, our community, and customers.

I want to share the same sentiment with our community, our customers, and the millions of developers and technologists who visit our network from around the world: Let’s all continue to take care of each other.

Since late February, our newly formed leadership team has met three times a week in COVID-19 related standups. In these meetings, we ensure that we are evaluating all available data, problem solving with an agile approach, and making timely decisions on a variety of topics. We cover everything from the health and safety of our employees to how we can best support our community given our remote DNA, to how to best serve our customers with our SaaS collaboration products. 

This has been a tough week at Stack Overflow, and taking care of each other is more important than ever right now. Like companies large and small, we have had to make difficult choices in order to reflect the market conditions. This week, we reduced our global workforce by approximately 15%. Most of the affected employees were furloughed, except for employees and contractors in regions where furloughs were unfortunately not an option. These actions primarily affected sales and customer success teams within our Talent business, which is dependent on the hiring environment.

We made these decisions with great care and only after assessing and leveraging all other options. We’ve paused all non-critical hiring, suspended our travel budget for all of Q2 and Q3, and cut marketing and software costs significantly.

Reducing our headcount was a painful but necessary decision, of no fault of the employees affected, and one that I take full accountability for as the CEO. We did this in order to ensure that we can serve our customers and community in the long-run.

Despite the impact to our Talent business, we are seeing significant growth in our core SaaS business, Stack Overflow for Teams, and our Advertising business. Our Stack Overflow for Teams collaboration SaaS business is seeing strong interest from enterprises and mid-market companies to raise their remote and distributed team preparedness via collaboration and knowledge sharing software. Our Advertising business continues to show strength. As the 41st most visited website in the word, we attract over 120 million unique visitors every month, and companies want to showcase developer and technologist-centric products in an era when technology is top of mind. So our priority moving forward is to rapidly accelerate the growth of these businesses in order to welcome our colleagues back as soon as possible, and in order to help developers, technologists and teams around the world achieve new levels of collaboration and knowledge sharing. 

I heard some wise words recently: with a crisis like this, you can’t go around the problem, you have to go through it. As a new leadership team and rapidly transforming organization, it’s been inspiring to see us come together in a very challenging time and be highly transparent in our approach to move the organization forward. Given that, I want to focus a bit on what we are doing, as a company and community, to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Core Values, Mission, and Vision 

With COVID-19 now a world-wide pandemic, it’s a moment in our history where humanity will step up yet again and come out stronger. Our newly defined core values have allowed our company to stay grounded as we navigate these challenging times. 

  • Adopt a customer first mindset
  • Be flexible and inclusive
  • Be transparent
  • Empower people to deliver outstanding results
  • Keep community at our center 
  • Learn, share, and grow

Our mission of helping write the script of the future—by serving developers and all technologists—guides all our initiatives across the company and is so critical during this pivotal time in history. The community of users across the entire network of Stack Exchange sites, and the content that they author and curate, serve as the foundation for all of our products and highlight the importance of having active and engaged users on a platform that encourages easier and more comprehensive knowledge sharing and collaboration. 

Companies and organizations around the world are rapidly accelerating their own digital transformation journeys and Stack Overflow is at the heart of that transformation. We’re humbled to play a meaningful part in that transformation as we help solve the most difficult technology problems through our ecosystem of technical communities and SaaS collaboration and knowledge sharing products. 

Community 

While commuting and socializing has dipped in recent months, traffic to a number of our Stack Exchange sites has surged during this period, a reflection of people’s need for great answers to pressing questions. Beyond Stack Overflow and our technical Stack Exchange websites like DevOps, ServerFault (for SysAdmin and Cloud-related topics), Software Engineering, some of our other Stack Exchange websites are growing for obvious reasons. Our Biology and Medical Science sites have seen a wave of interest as people seek to understand the nature of viruses and what we can do to stop them. And there has been a massive jump in traffic on Meta Academia, up 245%, as students and teachers work to navigate this new world of remote learning 

It’s also a testament to the Academia community, which responded by putting together an amazing list of resources for people whose academic workflow has been disrupted by COVID-19.  

We are seeing similar efforts across numerous Stack Exchanges, as digital communities that have existed for years—or in some cases, over a decade—come together in this moment of crisis. As these groups discussed how to tackle the new challenges facing employees, families, individuals, and organizations, they created a new chat room where users from across the Stack Exchange Network can come to to discuss issues or emotions related to the ongoing crisis.

In addition, we have worked on initial experiments aimed at adding potential content sharing and integration between Stack Overflow and other technical sites on the network, to reflect the converging technology environment as it relates to full-stack engineering, Cloud, and DevOps. 

Along with the surge in traffic to our sites, we have also seen an encouraging lift in new users signing up for accounts. You can see the spike and continued lift that has been happening in 2020.

Product 

Despite our focus on navigating COVID-19, I do want to use this quarterly letter to highlight a number of positive, notable product releases we made during the first quarter of 2020. These are the building blocks that will help our company, community, and customers to weather this storm and to rebuild when it passes.

As many regions around the globe have asked citizens to shelter at home and companies focus on business continuity, there has been a huge spike in demand for collaboration and remote work tools—both synchronous and asynchronous. We have seen this change reflected in a spike in demand for Stack Overflow for Teams, our leading asynchronous collaboration and knowledge sharing SaaS product. As a highly-remote company, we have been using Stack Overflow for Teams at Stack Overflow for many years—to rapidly launch new products and features by breaking down silos across Product, Engineering, Sales, and Marketing. 

March was our best month ever for Stack Overflow for Teams deal volume in the history of the four year old product, with growth hitting 188% of our goal and with major enterprises joining the fold. This week, we signed a landmark multi-year Stack Overflow for Teams customer agreement, the largest commercial agreement in the history of our 12 year old company, with one of the world’s largest financial institutions to enable collaboration and knowledge sharing across 30,000 users in their global enterprise.

We have heard from many customers that Stack Overflow for Teams has become a critical asynchronous collaboration tool for their companies as they shifted their workforce entirely remote during this pandemic. “Having a well-run online community where Unqork no-code software creators can share knowledge and seek out expert advice is critical to our growth and success. We’re finding the Stack Overflow for Teams platform particularly valuable with the current remote work environment,” said Olga Gomonova, Unqork’s Head of Client Enablement. “Stack Overflow has helped make it even easier to create applications without code, and our Stack Overflow community has become an important part of our enablement and employee onboarding processes, as well as our overall knowledge management strategy.”

We also made the basic tier of Stack Overflow for Teams free until at least the middle of this summer. It was the right thing to do for big and mid-sized companies that are struggling to go remote and for companies of every size facing business continuity challenges. Within the hundreds of companies that are leveraging extended trials of Stack Overflow for Teams, we were especially excited and encouraged by the hospitals and healthcare and telemedicine companies that signed-up.

With so many new customers of all kinds, one of the key things we want to do is make sure that the products we are building integrate seamlessly with developers’ and technologists’ existing workflow to ensure high levels of productivity. In the first quarter, we announced new integrations with Github, Jira, and Microsoft Teams

On the public platform side, we have made a number of important updates. We released a beta version of a feature that will give users more control of what they experience on our network by allowing them to report ads they don’t like, and we launched version 2.0 of our Unfriendly Robot which automatically flags unwelcoming comments. We made it possible for users to follow questions and answers that they did not author, giving folks an easy way to stay up to date with changes to posts that they are interested in. We are excited to share plans for a long-awaited overhaul to review queues. And we shipped the first in a series of changes to the “close question” experience that we hope will make life easier for moderators and more pleasant for users.

Teresa Dietrich, our Chief Product Officer, published the Q2 edition of our public community roadmap. A few highlights: 

  1. We have finished the process of creating the first Pro Tempore Moderator Council
  2. We plan to update the Moderator Reinstatement policy in May to potentially include the Moderator Council’s proposed involvement in the process. 
  3. Our Community Managers have been hard at work creating content for moderator training which we have shared for feedback on the Mods Teams instance. The plan is to incorporate the feedback and then select and implement a platform for delivery of the training, which should launch in May. 
  4. In June, we plan on running a Community@thon event that will encourage and provide guidance for all Stack Overflow employees (of all experience levels on the network) to spend time using our sites, posting content, and interacting with the Community. 

And of course, when it comes to changes to our Stack Overflow public site, we introduced a feature that has long been among our most requested, the ability to view Stack Overflow in dark mode. This feature has proved incredibly popular, delivering our best month of blog traffic ever, and led to a significant boost in the number of people signing up for new Stack Overflow accounts.

Along with our roadmap, we have had in-person meetings with several veteran moderators and learned a lot. We recently had a pair of moderators on the podcast to share what they are seeing in their community. We hope to continue this kind of positive dialogue with our community. During this trying time, we have seen record traffic to our blog and podcast, and we have doubled the number of podcasts and newsletters released each week to try and share important information and stay in touch with current events as the crisis continues.

Later this month we will launch the results of our 2020 Stack Overflow Developer Survey. Thank you to over 65,000 people who took this year’s survey; I know you’re anxious to dig into the findings.

COVID-19 Partnerships

We recently announced that Stack Overflow is forging new partnerships to help tackle the COVID-19 crisis. We are supporting IBM by helping to promote and judge their annual Call For Code, a hackathon which will work to build tools for citizens, companies, and government agencies. We have also featured IBM staffers on our podcast and in our newsletter who are working to help educate coders in COBOL, a 60-year-old programming language that is now in high demand from government agencies trying to meet unprecedented demand for unemployment insurance. 

We are partnering with the World Health Organization (WHO) to highlight some of their soon-to-launch COVID-19 technologies and platforms within our blog, newsletter, and podcast.

We are also continuing to create content that is useful for anyone looking for work right now. Whether it’s a guide for learning to work asynchronously, handling remote interviews, or a list of companies that offer free online training and certification. We’re sharing that content with individuals and organizations who are going through tough times, and partnering with organizations like Pursuit to share best practices for new and recent coders on finding work during this difficult time.

Moving Forward

It has been nearly two months since New York City, where Stack Overflow is headquartered, mandated shelter-in-place. Since then, so much has changed, so many have suffered, and so many have shown incredible courage and selflessness in battling COVID-19 and to save the lives of those infected.

We are beginning to see glimmers of hope. Countries and cities that were badly impacted have started to flatten the curve. Scientists and researchers are pushing vaccines into early trials, tests that can be done rapidly and at scale are going into production, and companies large and small are finding ways to adapt to this new way of working. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder that we are all connected as inhabitants of this planet and that human nature is to persevere in the face of even the most extreme adversity. I want to thank our employees who have demonstrated tremendous initiative, collaborated, and worked tirelessly to support and serve our customers and community through this difficult time.

I know that the road ahead will continue to be hard for many, but I feel confident that humanity will recover. We will use technology to break down barriers, come closer together, and find better days ahead. I’m optimistic because I’ve seen every day that we are stronger as a global community than we are as individuals, and that we all have the capacity to adapt and move forward. I believe this moment will ultimately teach us that we are resilient, together. 

We appreciate hearing your thoughts and feedback in the comments below. 

Update 5/12: A mention of Academia was changed to Meta Academia, where the surge in traffic occurred, and a Y-axis was added to daily signup chart for further clarity.

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