How I learned to stop worrying and actually use StackOverflow

So apparently almost all of the developers in the world are using stackoverflow. However many developers just use StackOverflow to lookup answers, and rarely to ask their own questions. Answering other people’s questions is of course rarer still.

Up until recently I was the same: I wrote a few questions in StackOverflow, and even answered a few, but by and large I was using it to find existing answers.

This week something changed, something broke. In a way, I stopped caring. I had a problem, I didn’t find a solution fast enough, and decided, “what the heck, the solution is not obvious, I’ll just write a question”. Also, if the solution is obvious to someone else – that’s even better, I’ll learn something.

And so I asked my most recent questions, about distances between 2D segments, projections, etc. I’ll cover this subject in depth in a future blog post, as this one is about StackOverflow.

Writing a question on StackOverflow has a few advantages over not writing it. The most obvious one: you might actually get an answer! Here is a good example, my most recent question. The less obvious is that you get to put down your question in writing which just like in rubber duck debugging and that would help you with solving this problem, and practice the skill of asking the right questions.

Also important to mention – you have nothing to lose but a little bit of time. As long as your question is real and you are not clueless, asking a question will not reflect badly on you in any way, quite the opposite.

What actually surprised me is the gamification of StackOverflow – you get points for participating. I already knew about it, but I was surprised at how effective it is. Here is where I am at the time of writing this post:

My StackOverflow reputation as of 2020-03-12

Participating on SO is surprisingly addictive, and as a close friend told me there are additional advantages: once your reputation is high enough – you start getting job offers, and you can actually use that on your resume/CV (if using them is a thing you do :)

My advice to any developer reading this: you are already looking up answers on StackOverflow. If you don’t find an answer, don’t just move on. Before you do – write a question. Even if you do move on, you’ll get something valuable from it.