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We are working in a software company in India, and in our team, we have a lead and he simply doesn't like the developers who try to contribute Stack Overflow in a regular basis (meaning try to hit the rep cap daily). Though we finish out the work in a given period of time, he doesn't want us to contribute to Stack Overflow in our downtime at the office. Rather, he's poking us to provide support for mediocre developers who struggle to complete their task on time.

Yesterday he got very angry, and scolded me. "Don't force me say this once again, it will not be good. Do office work in the office. Take care of your other jobs (Stack Overflow contribution) at home."

See, we are not spending the downtime (unproductive hours in the office) in Facebook or other useless things as our office's other team members do. We are improving our knowledge. Keeping working by looking at the project all the time is impossible.

What should I do in order to continue contributing to Stack Overflow at this context? Should I switch my job to some other company? In Stack Overflow all the high rep users are employed. How is this (contributing to Stack Overflow from office) possible for them?

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See "Is it ethical to write answers to work-relevant SE questions on the clock?" workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/18362/… –  yochannah Jul 18 at 11:47
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It seems your teamleader uses this site too (workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/27555/…). –  Cthulhu Jul 18 at 12:51
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Tell the junior developers to ask their problems on SO :) –  dyesdyes Jul 18 at 12:55
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As an SE employee, I may be slightly biased, but I think it's fair to say that this is the worst manager, and probably the worst person, IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. (It's possible I don't know what "slightly" means.) –  Jaydles Jul 18 at 15:37
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Looking at your SO profile, you average about 4 actions (answers and comments) per hour on a daily basis, continuously throughout the day. Learning or not I would not want an employee who is that constantly distracted. At least limit it to lunch hours or something, perhaps your boss could accept that as a compromise. –  Jason C Jul 18 at 18:17

17 Answers 17

up vote 154 down vote accepted

He doesn't want us to contribute for Stack Overflow in the leisure time, rather he's poking us to provide support for mediocre developers who struggle to complete their task on time.

Yesterday he got very angry and scolded me "Don't let me to say this once again, it will not be good. Do office works in office. Take care of your other jobs (Stack Overflow contribution) at your home." ...

What should i do in order to continue contributing for Stack Overflow at this context.?

Your team leader already told you exactly what you should do. You should listen to him.

Do work at work. If you have free time on your hands, assist the other developers. (Perhaps you can even help some of them to become more than just mediocre. As several commenters have pointed out - that's good for them and for you.) Contribute to Stack Overflow on your own time, at home.

If you are looking for a job that lets you do whatever you want (contribute to Stack Overflow, play games, post to Facebook, etc) whenever you choose, it sounds like you are in the wrong company.

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Helping the mediocre devs is not taking over their tasks! You can give help and still leave on time. –  HLGEM Jul 18 at 13:32
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@RajaprabhuAravindasamy I don't see anywhere your boss is saying "Stay until 9pm". Help the other developers until the time you are supposed to go home. Then go home. Then contribute to SO. –  DJClayworth Jul 18 at 13:47
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I don't think we have the same appreciation of what 'leisure time' is. Your boss doesn't hate SO contributing developers - he hates developers contributing SO when they should be working –  ero Jul 18 at 14:26
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A thing to think about (kind of an addendum to @Joe Strazzere's answer) is that helping the other developers can be an opportunity for you to be a mentor - to teach the other developers shortcuts, tricks, and benefits of your expertise. Being a mentor makes you more valuable to companies. (That's just something else to think about.) –  Leigh Jul 18 at 14:37
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Also, Being a mentor also strengthens your skills (much like wasting time on SO, presumably) and has every bit as much "fluff" as SO rep. In fact, I would count one on one mentoring as better on a resume than unicor points on a popular website. Lastly: Mentoring doesn't mean doing someone elses work, so why would you have to stay late? –  WernerCD Jul 18 at 16:35

he doesn't want us to contribute to SO in our leisure time

But if you're in the office, being paid and it's within your contracted hours of work then it's not your leisure time is it? I'd consider these hours to be non-utilized hours and whilst there may be an argument to be had in terms of people accessing non-related sites while at work I'm not sure it's a productive one to have.

If you're regularly contributing to the extent that you're hitting the rep cap each day then clearly you've plenty to offer. I don't think it's unreasonable for your manager to ask you to channel that internally in the first instance. After all, the company who you work for pay your wages, not SO.

I like Yochannah's suggestion that for every answer gained from SO you contribute one. This may be a reasonable middle ground to agree upon for the moment. In addition concentrate on complying with the direction from your manager by supporting those you deem 'mediocre' until they reach the standards you'd expect them to be working at. This does not mean doing the work for them, or working over and beyond the hours you're contracted and paid to do. It means offering support and advice, acting as a mentor, peer review of code etc. You'll likely find a lot of it will be similar to the contributions you're making on SO.

Once you've achieved that then it might be reasonable to re-raise the issue as part of a discussion into your professional development plans.

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+1 : then it's not your leisure time is it? –  Vector Jul 20 at 8:57

If I had team members who were struggling and other team members who were not and who were finished their own work, I too would expect those developers to help. The deadline and the work comes first, period.

You don't have time to be on Stack Overflow as much as you are because the work is not getting done. It is as simple as that. If the work was getting done, he wouldn't be upset. The work is not my tasks and their tasks, it is our tasks. You rearrange workload to get the work done and that is what he is doing. It appears to me that you are not committed to your job since your reputation on Stack Overflow is apparently more important to you than what you are being paid to do. That is a problem and one I would not be happy about as a team lead.

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I really like the answers that say "hey, we're a freaking team, and team members help each other!" a lot better than the ones that say "because your authoritarian boss told you to". –  jmort253 Jul 19 at 19:16

Unfortunately for the Stack Overflow community your lead obviously wants your time spent training internally rather than the larger community on the Stack Exchange.

This is their prerogative, they employ you for X-hours a day/week/whatever. Many employers support Stack Overflow and see the benefits they gain from it, others don't.

At the end of the day you've been asked not to contribute to a website but to train internally instead. It's a reasonable (if unfortunate) request, denying it could easily lead to disciplinary action. In my opinion it's not worth the risk.

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I don't know if it's necessarily fair to say that the sole reason is for internal training. I think the boss probably wants some moderation. If you look at the OP's activity profile on SO you will see constant activity at all hours of every day. Learning or not, I would not want an employee who is that distracted on a regular basis. The boss asking for "no SO, period" might just be struggling for ways to keep a constant issue under control. If the OP was only active during, e.g., lunch hours or a specific time, it might be a different story. –  Jason C Jul 18 at 18:19
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Why is that unfortunate? It's completely reasonable for an employer to want their employees to work when they're working. Helping random strangers on the internet doesn't contribute to the goal of the company to make money. There should be no rancor about this request, any more than there should be complaining about not posting on Facebook or not playing WoW. –  ErikE Jul 19 at 1:04

I mostly agree with Joe Strazzere's answer here - you're being paid to do what you're being paid to do, not just to do things you enjoy, unfortunately.

The one point that I think is worth trying to raise is that it's unfair to take (e.g. to use Stack Overflow guidance) without giving back as well. That said, if you're managing to hit the rep cap every day, it sounds like you may be hitting it a little heavy.

Why not offer to reduce your usage to something fairer, e.g. promise to limit it to an answer used for an answer given? If you use a Stack Overflow answer to help you do something, you can write one yourself. Save everything else for home time.

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> The one point that I think is worth trying to raise is that it's unfair to take (e.g. to use SO guidance) without giving back as well. There is nothing wrong with this. Joel and Jeff covered this in a podcast, infact 90% of SO users are takers with no contributions. It's perfectly fine with no ethical problems at all according to the founders. –  chollida Jul 18 at 15:48

Your question seems a bit childish to me.

If your boss doesn't want you to go on SO on your work time, don't go. I don't see why it is so much of a problem, you even seem to say that your work environment is bad because of that. You seem to believe you work in a place you don't belong because you can't go to SO when you are in your office ? I don't think it really a big problem, it's good to contribuate on SO and can be good for your work (i.e. improve your skills) but your boss doesn't want that so maybe try to do something else during your leisure time.

He doesn't want you to simply answer the questions of the "bad" developpers in your company but wants you to do the tasks with them, maybe tell him that answering their question is better than going on facebook as other people do at your workplace, and tell him it's better for them if you help them without getting involved too far in their work, because it allows them to sort it out by themselves

Edit : tried to be more polite

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But, when little brother is playing other video games, just not Mortal Kombat, how is that considered okay? –  BigHomie Jul 18 at 14:34
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Hi Florian, thanks for your answer. Any chance you could rephrase it so it's a bit politer? Thanks. –  yochannah Jul 18 at 14:57

You really need to take a step back and look at your priorities and try and see where they are messed up. What does hitting the rep cap daily at Stack Overflow daily really do for you in the long run? Opens up some more privileges on the site? Are Stack Overflow privileges going to help you perform better at work? Will they help your company do better overall now that you have them then before you did?

Doesn't it make more sense that what your boss is doing will benefit both yourself and the company more? First off if there are "Mediocre" developers on the team who are struggling to complete tasks on time wouldn't it also follow that their code is not up to the level it should be? Which would mean helping them improve their coding skills would also improve the overall quality of code on the project which would make everyone's life easier and help the team as a whole complete projects early. If this where to happen where productivity was increased and everyone was able to make deadlines with no issue it would also lead to a less stress boss who would be more willing to let people post on external help sites.

Also something to consider it would help you out in the fact that it would give you experience mentoring programmers who are struggling which is an important skill for a manager to have.

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Here's what your lead is thinking: "You're on a team and you're not helping your team when you're done with your tasks. Instead, you're gaming on SO trying to max out your score. You might as well be on Eve Online blowing stuff up or playing WoW."

To your lead it doesn't matter that you're on SO. He sees team members struggling and a clearly talented developer preferring to screw around on the web instead of helping to grow the struggling folks.

You didn't wake up one day with magical unicorn-bending programming powers. Someone taught you, or wrote books and blogs you read. I doubt your genius mind was able to grasp every concept you now know on your own. Now that you are so good that you are maxing out your contribution score daily, its time to give back. Instead of trying to improve your score on SO, help your team. To not do so is professionally unethical and that's why your lead is on your case.

Helping out your team will benefit you in a number of ways: 1) your lead will stop yelling at you for screwing around, 2) the mediocre developers will learn how to code and produce more for the team, 3) you will gain the respect of those folks you mentor, and 4) you may develop social skills useful in developing relationships with other bipedal carbon-based humanoid lifeforms.

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Though we finish out the work in a given period of time, he doesn't want us to contribute to SO in our downtime at the office. Rather, he's poking us to provide support for mediocre developers who struggle to complete their task on time.

If providing support for the other developers is part of your work, then you haven't [ever] finished it, and that's what you should be doing.

If providing support for the other developers is not part of your work, then you're done and your supervisor is out of order, and you should probably just be somewhere else so he's not looking over your shoulder when you're done with work.

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+1 : If providing support for the other developers is part of your work, then you haven't [ever] finished it –  Vector Jul 20 at 8:55

Should I switch my job to some other company?

I can't imagine any employers being particularly pleased you spend work time during answering questions on a website. Your team leader appears pretty sensible.

You think someone should pay you to surf the internet and answer random questions ?

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"Its a community thing, you take and give." The site, yes. Not his job. He can use SO on his commute to/from work, or in the evenings, or at the weekends. There's no moral compunction for anyone to have to spend time on the site during company hours, and I doubt it's in anyone's contract that they have to do so, either. –  Poldie Jul 19 at 16:48

You're answering questions there. Why not there? I think there's multiple issues here, most of which solve each other.

  1. Your junior devs need help
  2. They have no idea how to help themselves (which is a great reason to go to SO I may add).
  3. You're helping random strangers help themselves, which is fun, on company time

So... why not just have an in house version of SO? Make it clear that junior devs have no assurance of an answer. Make them use it when they have issues (which in turn is great rubber duck debugging). Only do one on one coaching when they need it.

In short, turn one problem (people being on SO too much) and another problem (juniors who have no idea what they're doing) into a solution (Same great gamification, a chance to create a useful internal knowledge base and improve the learning and knowledge culture of the organisation). If something keeps being asked, just tell them to check the Q&A site.

Take the chance to discourage help vampires (I'd suggest deleting any question with the word URGENT for example), and encourage people to ask questions the right way.

Probably add a few benefits to it (maybe a reward for the top answerer for the month), and You'll likely solve many of the real issues here at one fell swoop.

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Go and talk to your team lead. I see two issues here (and I have been there):

  1. You are obviously bored from your job or/and position.
  2. Your team lead is under pressure, because the juniors are producing low-quality work, and you are not productive (see 1).

    • So stop slacking and go fix your real problems (AKA your team lead problems).
    • Ask what the major issues are, and how you can help. Discuss it.
    • Sure, it is not an option for you to stay until 9, but if both of you sit together and talk about it, you can figure out a way to help the juniors and lower the stress for all.

If your boss is happy with you, spending reasonable time on Stack Overflow will not be a problem.

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If you are completing all your work properly and in time, then you can answer questions on SO without hesitation. Your boss can't blame you for not delivering. But if you have too much free time for SO, then the boss might reduce your hours, get a contractor or part time employee instead. However, if its just 10-20% of your time, then go ahead and do some good and possibly enrich your knowledge in the process. You can give some of this time to SO and the rest to colleagues.

Chances are that your mediocre colleagues are already posting lame questions on SO (without putting in any effort) which will be likely down voted and shut down. Then again, not every person on S.O. is smart or has the aptitude for programming. So, its likely that you are helping other mediocre folks anyway. So, consider helping the folks at office a bit and then doing some SO work. You need to keep the bosses off your tail. Don't hand hold people who are lazy or know nothing. Just give them a clue or two and tell them to use google. If they get stuck somewhere, help them.

Also, try to keep your boss informed that you are making an attempt to help the beginner or mediocre developers. Eg. If their task needs a lot of your time, request them to send you their request for help in an e-mail, sometimes cc-ed to your boss. You gotta get credit for your work.

PS: Your boss does not realize that its people like you who enable beginners and mediocre folks to get, say 10-20% of their tasks done. I know one bozo who does not even know that SO can be used to ask questions, despite really having a bachelor's in CS from a reputed college from the US. I was shocked when that person sent me a mail for some help which could be easily googled and solved with some learning and effort. I directed the person to SO and they never mailed me again...ever. Seriously ridiculous. There are more examples, but we'll leave that for another day.

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Again, someone pointed out that the op performs on average 4 actions per hour. That's a lot of activity, which means something else must be suffering, like the actual team cohesion and work that must be done. –  jmort253 Jul 20 at 23:53

If I understand correctly, you're being paid to work at a designated task, and you want to do something else? I think that your supervisor is being more than reasonable just talking to you about it. You do work for him, you know.

If I warned you once, and found you doing it again, that would be of considerable interest when I did your next performance review/salary adjustment.

My personal reaction to a similar situation? I had my network guy block the IP. If you have a problem with doing your job, perhaps you're a bad fit in your current position. There are lots of openings for contract programmers. If you were doing that, you could SO all day; of course, you wouldn't be able to bill any of that time...

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NOTE :- I love Stackoverflow so i might be biased

He is an uninformed manager.

Does he saw you typing? does he think SO is waste?.

A simple test could be to block SO in office for a week and see the Input vs output effect.Startups usually give poor training and leave new developers to drift.They even give newbies big projects beyond their capacities. Small companies pick project based upon technologies they do not know. Stackoverflow is the Savior a grand platform to be associated with.

Identify the real problem

Does he has problem with SO or you?

Is he jealous of your reputation?

I am not that convinced that SO is real problem becoz no one works 8 hours on clock every day you take breaks (indian context frequent smoke/cofee/chat breaks). If you Do SO at that time its should be ok.

Solutions You can stop using your system for SO and use your smart phone.

And at times you have to stand against being micro managed. talk to him in terms of deliveries and dead line,how you achieve them is your problem.

Be polite and tell him SO is not a illegal site and its not blocked by our internet usage policy (i hope your management is more then you TL) it is not effecting your output. IF you are not comfortable training people tell him you cannot train others you can just guide them.strong text

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Does he really hate you using Stack Overflow? Or does he not really understand what Stack Overflow is and how it benefits his teams and company.

Its a community thing, you give and take.

The real question is: How do you convince your boss that Stack Overflow makes your team more productive? I mean every developer uses Google and ends up at Stack Overflow to find solutions to most development problems. Now he could say, lets just take and I don't want you to give back. You either accept that or make him understand what his long and short-term benefits are.

You need slack, Stack Overflow is great way to slack. It takes your brain of the current problem and in the same time it might learn you something new. See "Science Explains Why Slacking Online Really Makes You More Productive".

The one thing that will make you successful is being happy at what you do. If your boss does not understand this and does want to participate in a good work environment do you really want to work for him? In my book good managers should motivate and facilitate self-learning.

I bet you can come up with more solid reasons why giving and taking on Stack Overflow is good for you, your colleagues, your boss and your company.

If you cannot convince him, start working on your communication/convincing skills or like you said you could start looking around for another job where sharing is accepted.

Balance: Do understand I am not saying you should not assist your co-workers and monitor only Stack Overflow in your downtime, but I do think both you and your boss need to find a good balance between giving and taking. Both on the work-floor as on the Internet.

Work-life balance is differently viewed upon around the world. Some "work to live", while others "live to work". Be sure to read this paper from Harvard about it. Think about what is acceptable in your local culture and act accordingly.

Self-discipline and preventing Stack Overflow addiction: Keep in mind, sites like Stack Overflow can be very addictive. In order to self-discipline, I record my Internet usage with a free tool called Rescue time. If for some reason I spend excessive time on Stack Exchange sites I just make sure I work a hour longer to compensate. This feels like a great argument to spar with my boss if I come in a similar situation.

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Nice catch. I think your "how to convince the team lead"-version is much more germane. Asking what the arguments are to allow this activity would forgo simply saying "just don't do it" or "get another job" — which seem... unsatisfying. –  Robert Cartaino Jul 18 at 20:56
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Also, it's one thing to contribute back and answer or a question here and there, but to be focusing on hitting the rep cap everyday suggests that those developers are possibly not keeping their company's mission statement in mind as they go about their daily activities. –  jmort253 Jul 19 at 19:20
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-1 The real question is: How do you convince your boss that Stack Overflow makes your team more productive? No. The real question is: How do we convince the OP that he should do what his boss tells him to do, since it's completely reasonable and within the bounds of his job as boss. –  Vector Jul 20 at 8:39
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The Pomodoro technique and other goofy Agile gimmicks are fine if that is your team's process. You don't get to just choose your own and take a coffee break or Stack Overflow break every half hour. If you want to implement something like that, the correct answer is to speak to your manager ahead of time and see if they are interested in adopting that process on a larger scale. They may at that point say something to the effect of "I'm not interested but it's fine if you do it as long as you're still getting your work done" - but don't count on that. –  Aaronaught Jul 20 at 14:15
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On an unrelated note, as both a developer and team lead I think it's completely irrational to expect that any truly productive work can be done in less than a half-hour interval. That's barely enough time to get in the zone; when faced with such a small interval I usually just stick to the more menial tasks like answering email. People who do these things and think they "work well for them" often don't realize how much their productivity is suffering as a result. I'm a firm advocate of work-life balance and a casual work environment, but this is taking unreasonable advantage. –  Aaronaught Jul 20 at 14:17

I think that you need to get your team leader to see why contributing here is important.

It is important because when you ask questions you are more likely to get an answer if you're a community contributor. This will in turn help you solve problems faster which will help your employer ultimately.

You should at least try this. If it doesn't work, then just stay off. Or find another job.

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I had to downvote this answer: I think that you need to get your team leader to see why contributing here is important . NO. You've got it completely backwards - just the wrong train of thought. As many other have said, @RajaprabhuAravindasa is the one who needs to see why doing your job is more important than having fun on SO. He is an employees, not the boss. –  Vector Jul 20 at 8:35
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Contributing to Stack Overflow, every now and then, is one thing, spending all day on Stack Overflow is another. The op needs to seriously reconsider his priorities. –  jmort253 Jul 20 at 23:51
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I've been a development leader for a few years so I am speaking from experience. If the team leader doesn't understand WHY it's important to contribute to a development community then that person should not be a development leader. –  Alan Delimon Jul 21 at 17:30
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@AlanDelimon If the OP considers it ok to surf the web all day because he's completed his assigned tasks, then as team lead you should be more concerned why you've assigned so little work for him to do. –  gbjbaanb Jul 21 at 21:30
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Yeah..but this is contributing to a development community that can give your developers information to make them work faster and smarter. That's different than your developers surfing eBay or Facebook. It's the difference between have developers that are continually learning vs button pushers. I have no use for button pushers. –  Alan Delimon Jul 22 at 15:08

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