Stack Overflow just sold for $1.8 billion—but its value to job seekers is incalculable

Practice makes perfect.
Practice makes perfect.
Image: Reuters/Gabrielle Lurie
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Stack Overflow, a free online community for software developers, will be acquired for $1.8 billion by Prosus, a European investment company which announced the deal yesterday. Prosus, which is best known for being the largest shareholder in Chinese tech giant Tencent, invests in areas including online classifieds, food delivery, and financial technology.

Founded in 2008, Stack Overflow is a question-and-answer website, primarily used by those learning how to code, or who want to share knowledge or collaborate with others. To date, the platform, which is available in English, Spanish, Russian, and Japanese, has over 15 million registered users and has received over 21 million questions.

But the site is more than just about sharing coding snippets.

The site provides a jobs section to help developers find their next opportunity; for employers, it provides tools for them to brand their business, advertise on the site, and source candidates from Stack Overflow’s database of developers.

The New York-based company generates revenue via advertising revenue and companies posting job opportunities. It also has a product called Stack Overflow for Teams, which gives businesses access to a private version of the platform where their employees can collaborate.

With the acquisition, Prosus said it plans to increasingly focus on “workplace learning” as well as to help grow Stack Overflow’s community and company’s Teams product globally. The career-focused component may also help explain the success of this 13-year-old tech community.

The success of Stack Overflow

Many companies offer question-and-answer platforms, from Apple’s technical help Q&A boards to Yelp’s restaurant reviews. But what motivates people to contribute to a free question-and-answer platform?

A 2019 study found contributions to the Stack Overflow site are motivated by career concerns. Using a sample of 1,301 users who switched jobs 1,520 times between November 2008 and November 2014, the researchers—Lei Xu from Toulouse School of Economics, Tingting Nian from the University of California at Irvine, and Luís Cabral from New York University—constructed histories of each individual’s online trajectory including contributions to Stack Overflow and employment history.

The study found that before a job change, a contributor provides more and better answers. But once a job change took place, there was “significant drop” in both the quantity and quality of answers activity.  Switching to a new job leads users to decrease their contributions to Slack Overflow about 24% right after a job change, and that about 12.5% to 16.5% of that number can be assigned to a drop in career concerns, according to the research.

The researchers’ results suggest that career motivations provide a strong incentive for users to contribute and can have a wider application for other platforms to encourage active user engagement. It also points to the importance of reputation—users on Stack Overflow build up reputation via votes on answers—which ensures high-quality answers and adds value to the platform.