I noticed recently that my dependence on Stack Overflow and similar platforms has wained as I have progressed in my career. The challenges I face and the questions arising from them have changed, becoming more abstract, handy-wavy, or super-specific to my company’s business logic. The likelihood that someone has already answered these sorts of questions becomes unlikely. Maybe, I could try to ask these questions myself (I’m more of a reader of Stack Overflow rather than a contributing member), but where would I even begin. These questions aren’t asked because of the amount of context and background knowledge required to comprehend the question.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not bashing Stack Overflow at all here. There are plenty of questions that can be asked or are already answered, primarily revolving around using language features, libraries and frameworks. This is where it shines, which is why “rarely” instead of “do not” is included in the title. When I’m working on my own code outside of work, it is invaluable to me. But, that’s because my questions shift into insight about language features, libraries and frameworks like I mentioned a second ago.
At this point, you are probably wondering what point I’m trying to make, and believe me, I am also trying to figure that out right now. So here I go…
If, like me, you are trying to find answers to challenges you face at work, varying from writing better code, to solving architectural issues, to even the most abstract questions of “are we solving the correct problems”; point yourself in the direction of your colleagues. They (most of the time) have the context and foundational knowledge to correctly answer questions in a way that no one else can. I can’t even begin to quantify the amount I’ve learnt from turning to my teammates for help. They may have solved similar problems in the past and can share that experience with you, all based on their ability to actually understand the nuance in what you’re asking.
For more senior engineers reading this, do not underestimate the impact sharing your knowledge has on your teammates. Every time I hear the phrase, “At my old place”, I know we’re about to for a trip through their experiences, and I also know that without these conversations, I would not have progressed at the rate I have in my own career. You cannot rely on Stack Overflow and similar platforms to level up your team, it may help, but it will not produce well-rounded engineers.
For everyone else, you cannot rely on Stack Overflow and similar platforms for everything. Read longer-form content, such as blogs, books or podcasts, focusing more on the why than the how. However, having a back and forth between other engineers will be one of the most efficient ways to improve. If you fail to do this, you will never progress to the point where you rarely need Stack Overflow anymore.