Stackoverflow: Road to 5K

I recently reached 5K reputation on stackoverflow. It’s nothing mind blowing reputation-wise for sure, but it feels like a nice milestone that took some time and effort to reach. Thought I’d write a quick post summarizing my experiences on the site and share some tips & tricks I’ve found helpful along the way.

Teaching is the best way to learn

While you’re learning something new, look to answer questions on SO. Teaching helps you learn. This can work really well if you’re reading an in-depth book, for example. Various specific and esoteric knowledge will be fresh in your mind and you can help out other fellow newbs, not to mention further disseminate that knowledge online.

Be a good citizen

There are plenty of examples of bad or unproductive behaviour on stackoverflow. Don’t follow this example. Be nice. If someone asks what seems like a silly question to you, or posts an incorrect or misguided answer, be reasonable. Use your down-votes in a productive way.

Comment on people’s questions to point out helpful tips, even if you don’t know the answer. Help flush out a question that’s poorly articulated. I’ve added useful elaborations on correct but sparse answers in the comments for the answer. This helps fill them out and make them more complete. If you have something new to add, add an answer (or comment on an answer) in the original question. Help be a part of what makes stackoverflow a great and valuable community, not a toxic one.

Haters gonna hate

Trolling on stackoverflow is well documented. In a few instances, I’ve had some bad experiences. If I whipped up an answer too quickly, misinterpreted a question I was answering, had a small oversight, or well – just had a plain brain fart – I’ve been victim to trolls. Some people are just jerks. A down-vote just isn’t enough for them, a snarky or rude remark is required too.

While I don’t think I’ll ever really understand these people, I accept it is a sad reality of online communities. Don’t let the trolls get to you. If they do strike – be graceful, lick your wounds, and move on. The goal is to help people, help yourself, and demonstrate your knowledge and experience.

Gamification is fun!

I like to set little achievable goals for myself. If i’m at 136 answers, I’ll set a goal to get to 150. Then 175. Then 200. If I’m close to a badge, I work on getting that one badge. If I’m close to a round number reputation, I’ll work on that. Then there’s even more lofty goals: rising in the all-time ranks in my city, being the top all-time leeor (that’s right, i’m looking at you leeor from Haifa!).

It’s fun. Getting the green up-vote or new badge notifications just feels surprisingly, satisfying. I’ve never been a gamer (mainly because I suck at computer games), so this is as close as I will ever get to a playing computer game 😛

I find I get into rhythms on the site. You gather momentum. Sometimes I check for questions and can’t find anything to answer for days on end. Don’t get discouraged. Keep at it. You will eventually hit your stride and go on some rep streaks.

Tips on upping your rep and overall profile

To wrap up, here’s some tips I’ve found helpful:

  • Setup email notifications on tags, as explained here. Keep in mind the default subscription is once per day, but you can make it as often as 15 minutes. It eliminates the need to constantly check the site for new questions. One little gotcha here is that whenever you update the settings you seem to have to re-confirm them by email (which is easy to miss). They are a bit fiddly, but once you get them working, they are really useful.
  • Look to answer questions on more specific tags if you can. For example, most general java questions are a race to the answer. It can get a bit crazy. Focus on more specific areas, like some library or framework in java, for example. Those questions will generally be tagged with java anyway so you’ll be working your way towards both tags in one shot. By all means you can go general on tags, but you’ll get much more mileage from more specific focus.
  • Consider adding a new answer to an existing question. Some accepted answers only provide the guidance to the solution, or are incomplete or lack sufficient detail. Or there are alternatives. If there are still a few gaps to fill in getting to the solution and you find it, it’s totally valid to add another one. Sometimes existing answers get dated over time and there are more recent developments that make it easier or offer even better alternatives. This definitely adds value. These answers also get up-votes even if another answer is already accepted as people often read multiple answers.

    Happy Stackoverflowing!

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