So I guess StackOverflow was down today. It was only for an hour, but if social media tells you anything, you would believe it stopped the whole programming world cold.

Quite a few of these were probably made in jest, but it made me realize something. I had just spent my day coding. A few hours on some open projects, a few on a private one. I wrestled with things like llvm and c++, technologies I'm honestly unfamiliar with, and arguably difficult for someone who hasn't touched it before. And the whole day, I didn't refer to StackOverflow once.

In fact, I haven't visited StackOverflow for answers to any of my llvm questions, even as I've waded through it for the past couple months. Or my c++ questions. Or my questions for the playn framework, a lesser-know game framework where a majority of the questions and answers are located on StackOverflow. In fact, I found I visit it maybe once every few months, usually because it's referenced in an article or some code I was reading.

Of course, it's not like I never used StackOverflow. I remember when I started my professional programming career a couple of years ago, I was on it daily, searching for answers to questions as simple as iterating over two lists in python to something more obscure like customizing the setup.py generated by pastescript. But as some point, something changed.

Whenever a library behaved in an unexpected way, I started digging into the code to really understand what was going on.

Instead of asking StackOverflow if an API exists or a library has a particular feature, I read the docs instead.

Instead of asking if my theory will work, I figure out a way to test it, and try it on my own machine.

I found that doing things without StackOverflow and investigating on my own, I learned a lot more around what I was having trouble with. Instead of just learning the solution to the exact problem I was having, I was learning more about the technologies I use, insights that help me solve several similar problems I would have to go back to StackOverflow to ask otherwise.

Now, I'm not saying StackOverflow is bad. It's a great place to get help from experienced developers who really understand their stuff. If you have literally no idea where to go to get information, it's amazing to have a resource that provides such clear and insightful answers. But at some point, I found that I knew where to find the answers myself. And I chose to go find it myself, because I knew that the journey to finding the answer will leave me with a better understanding of the problem, the solution, the techniques used to derive the solution, and sometimes a better understanding of programming in general.

I'm one hundred percent sure I'm going to use StackOverflow again. But it's nice to know that I no longer need it, and my programming life doesn't freeze without it.

EDIT Along with the Disqus below, there's also a lively discussion on hackernews.


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About Yusuke Tsutsumi
I work at Zillow. I focus on tools and services for developer productivity, including build and testing.

My other interests include programming language design, game development, and learning languages (the non-programming ones).