I first came across Jeff Atwood when he posted about “separating programming sheep from non-programming goats” on his Coding Horror blog site. This post mused on the academic problem of whether programming is something that can be taught to anyone or if there genuinely is some characteristic – a gene, perhaps – that separates those with programming ability and those without. If so, can educational institutions detect this even before students have even touched a programming language?
Another time he said most of the people who would benefit from reading blogs, books and articles on “good” software development are the type of people who don’t actually read blogs, books or articles, and I’ve seen the truth of this – not just in programming, but in other fields like accounting and management.
Atwood hit at the concepts of passion for your craft and life-long learning but expressed in his own vernacular.
I wasn’t the only one reading Atwood’s blog. He achieved so much financial success from advertising that he was able to quit his regular full-time programming job to focus purely on blogging and other pursuits.
One such pursuit was the creation of StackOverflow.com along with another well-known programming blogger, Joel Spolsky of “Joel on Software” and FogBugz fame.
The goal of Stack Overflow was to provide a Web 2.0 question-and-answer community for programmers which self-managed the promotion of good answers and rejection of bad ones.
StackOverflow directly competed with the older and more established Experts Exchange - at least as far as software development matters, but strove to provide a more usable interface.
The site achieved popularity quickly and receives a significant amount of traffic via Google. Since its launch Spolsky and Atwood have launched spin-offs ServerFault.com for system administration issues, SuperUser.com for home and small business power users as well as others.
Yet, something somewhere went wrong in the seemingly Midas Touch Atwood possessed.