Stack Overflow Wants to Change

This week Stack Overflow shared a blog post titled Stack Overflow Isn’t Very Welcoming. It’s Time for That to Change. I admire the courage and the transparency a great deal. It takes guts to admit mistakes and serious guts to publicly air the dirty laundry.

Kudos to Stack Overflow.

Why I Stopped Contributing to the Stack Overflow Conversation

I use Stack Overflow to find answers to coding questions. I searched for me (site:stackoverflow.com “Andy Leonard”) and found some hits though I’m sure not all of them refer to me personally.

I posted a few answers to SSIS questions early on. I write conversationally on message boards, answering the author as much as addressing their question. On forums of all kinds (including this blog), I typically start an answer with “Hi <author name>.”

My answers were edited to remove my greeting to the author of the original post. Although I cannot locate an example, I seem to recall one editor explaining to me something like “replying to individuals is not permitted.”

Me

I understand we come from all different walks of life; that some of us, for example, were raised in New York City while others were brought up on farms in rural Virginia. Having traveled to New York City for the first time about 10 years ago, I understand the culture shock that accompanies such a transition. One example: I learned to not speak to people I do not personally – already – know. Not even to say “Good morning.”

Where I was raised (and still in my corner of Prince Edward County outside of Farmville Virginia), it’s rude to not speak to people. If you can’t speak because you’e driving by, you wave at people. It’s an affront to not speak to people.  Not speaking is akin to denying they’re even people. Telling me I cannot say “Hi” to people in writing, on a site that exists to help people just didn’t seem right.

I tried again later to answer questions at Stack Overflow. I typed “Hi <author name>” every time and then deleted it before I hit the Reply button. This sufficed for a while, but I still felt like I was being rude.

I Have a Problem

You may have read all that (in between eye-rolls of epic proportion), thinking the whole time: “Andy, you have a problem.”

You are correct and I hereby agree with you.

I, in fact, have several problems. This is merely one of them. People, though, are package deals. You don’t get to converse with, or learn from, or teach pieces of people. You interact – all the time every time – with the full person.

There’s an interesting link at the bottom of the Stack Overflow blog post. The link is to a site that contains a list of implicit bias tests. Jay Hanlon, Stack Overflow’s EVP of Culture and Experience, encourages readers of the post in footnote #2:

² If you’re shaking your head thinking, “not me,” I’d encourage you to take these implicit bias tests, specifically the Race IAT and the Gender-Career IAT. If you’re like me, they’re going to hurt.

I support the effort to reduce implicit bias – at Stack Overflow and everywhere. I believe Jay when he writes earlier that it bothered him personally when some complained that they felt left out.

Jay, I felt left out.

Eventually, typing and then deleting my greeting to the person asking the question proved… well, just too awkward for me to continue.

So I stopped answering questions at Stack Overflow.

Did Stack Overflow go under without my answers to SSIS and Biml questions? Goodness, no! They’ve managed just fine without me and will continue to do so.

You

I encourage you to disagree – and even share your disagreement in the comments. I think you’re awesome. I don’t agree with you about everything and I don’t expect you to agree with me about everything.

We’re different. And that’s ok.

People editing your greetings from an answer on a help forum may not bother you at all.

I don’t mind catching black snakes with my bare hands – though I usually wear work gloves because reptiles stink – and taking them out of my house when they come inside, but it may totally bother you. (Cogent because I think I hear one wriggling in the attic as I type this post…)

I’m ok with you being you. I’m actually more than ok with it. I’m even ok with you disagreeing with me on this and anything else.

Regarding matters on which we disagree, I believe you have reasons for believing what you believe. I may disagree with what you believe or even why you believe it, but I don’t think you’re dumb for believing it; I believe you believe it for a reason.

Conclusion

I wrote this because I like the Stack Overflow website. I like the help I receive from the answers I find there. Stack Overflow seems genuinely concerned with ways to improve the site. Maybe (probably) my discomfort with editing my greeting doesn’t rise higher than #3 on the list of things to change at Stack Overflow. I’m not sure and I’m ok if my little post is ignored, not seen, or if nothing changes in the Stack Overflow editing processes and practices. Promise.

As I stated previously, Stack Overflow will not go under without my answers to SSIS and Biml questions and I’ll keep getting answers from Stack Overflow.

I just wish I felt comfortable giving back.

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