Code or Be Coded

‘Do Not Learn to Code,’ Declares Professional Coder

Mr. Atwood, probably yelling at you for wanting to learn a new hobby. (

The “learn to code” meme probably reached its pinnacle around the time Mayor Bloomberg announced his dedication to the initiative, but it has now begun the inevitable slide into backlash territory. Who would have thought that a fluffy gesture of commitment to a burgeoning New York industry would tip over into controversy? This is why we can’t have nice things, Internet.

In a post published today on his popular blog Coding Horror, Stack Exchange founder Jeff Atwood publicly decried programming newbies’ hilarious attempts to learn the art of code. As if you pathetic wannabes could ever know as much as he does about coding. Read More


The Great Erection: Standing Desks Are On the Rise

5 Photos

Famous and lesser-known members of the standing desk club.

When I decided to write about using a standing desk, I expected to join the ranks of exhilarated converts. I’m not tall, don’t weigh much, and have never had back trouble, so I figured I was a prime candidate. But it’s the fourth day of the experiment, and my computer screen is angled down, and my neck is craned up, like a fourth grader.

I am sitting at my standing desk.

Using a standing desk seemed like a great idea a few weeks ago, when I took a tour of the Internet startup Stack Exchange, where islands of tall desks make it look like the office was preparing for a storm surge. “I love it,” said one community manager who was loitering after hours at one of the spindly worksurfaces. He looked so relaxed there, leaning on one elbow, his legs crossed jauntily at the ankle, smiling like a life-size Wellbutrin commercial. “I can never work at a normal company after this.”

Ten percent of the employees at Facebook and AOL reportedly use a standing desk; Google offers them under its “wellness program.” San Francisco startup Asana, which actually means “sitting down” in Sanskrit, gives new employees $10,000 to customize their workstations. In 1999 the ultimate symbol of employee appreciation was the $900 Herman Miller Aeron chair; now it’s the $1,500 Steelcase Airtouch Height-Adjustable Desk by Details, which has an electric motor in the base.

The current Internet boom is fueled not only by recent news reports on the health hazards incurred by simply sitting on one’s ass but by a pathological need to optimize. Book a doctor’s appointment from your iPhone. Connect your Google and Facebook to get personalized recommendations. Rent out that extra bedroom on Airbnb, the extra car on Getaround, and the extra parking space on ParkatmyHouse. Recently, two dueling startups launched in Manhattan for scheduling laundry pickup and delivery online.

The standing desk mashes up two of our current compulsions—exercising and working—which makes it perhaps the ultimate emblem of our efficiency-crazed moment. Read More


How to Feed and Care for Your Developer

The view from the Fog Creek office. (

Fog Creek Software has a fish tank embedded in one wall. The fish are pretty and colorful, but not neon; it looked like there might have been an eel in there too. They wandered around their dark blue and green environs, their movements accompanied by the soft white noise of the pump, imparting a sense of calm.

The offices of the developers of Fog Creek look sort of like fish tanks, because they have sliding glass doors to make them more soundproof. The compartments look airtight, as if you could fill the whole thing up with water. Founder Joel Spolsky has been preaching for years that developers should have private offices. It’s better for their temperament, and it reduces distractions and makes them more productive, he argues. Mr. Spolsky himself has a closed-door corner office, with a view of the Financial District in one direction and Fog Creek’s airy lunch room in the other.

Fog Creek has a motto: “What if programmers were treated like rock stars?” Betabeat had a chance to glimpse the office of the esteemed New York company last night during a class, “How to Hire Developers in a Competitive Market,” taught by two employees of Fog Creek’s uppity younger cousin, Stack Exchange. The message at the end of the night: developers are choosy, peculiar, brilliant and needy. But their needs are actually pretty simple. Read More

Work-Life Shmalence

Stack Exchange CTO Jeff Atwood Chooses Life Over Work, Internet Applauds


Yesterday, Stack Exchange CTO Jeff Atwood did the unthinkable, at least in Startupland where work is your life and companies are talked about and tended to with the same care as young children. On his blog Coding Horror, Mr. Atwood announced that effective March 1st, he would leave day-to-day operations of Stack Exchange, the beloved New York-based community-driven Q&A site for programmers, behind.

But not for all the usual reasons like starting his own company, starting a VC fund, or untold riches in preferred Facebook stock. No, Mr. Atwood did for actual human young children. Earlier this month, his wife gave birth to twin girls whose Twitter handle (@theladybabies) is probably better than yours.

“Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange have been wildly successful,” Mr. Atwood wrote, “But I finally realized that success at the cost of my children is not success. It is failure.” Read More


Stack Exchange Growing 40 Percent a Month, Gaming Vertical Up 250 Percent

stack exchange growth

Betabeat stopped by Stack Exchange the other day to interview the CHAOS team. We snapped some pictures of the big monitor array they have set up, including some eye popping stats on the way traffic is growing. But we didn’t want to make those public just yet, since we were invited in to visit to report another story.

But today Stack Exchange COO did an interview with founder Joel Spolsky about the big board and tipped their hat about some of these numbers. Over the last 30 days Stack Exchange has grown 40 percent, hitting more than 17 million page views on 6.3 million unique visitors. led the way, with 245 percent growth in the last month.  Read More


Conquering the CHAOS of Online Community at Stack Exchange

The CHAOS team in action

When Stack Overflow was created in 2008 as a forum for questions about computer programming, there was no need to worry about understanding the community. Co-founders Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood had long and storied histories working in the software industry. But as the Stack Overflow blossomed into Stack Exchange, a group of more than 70 sites covering topics from photography to parenting to cooking, they found that groups of humans do not respond well to being managed by an algorithm.

Everyone knows the drill. A community springs up online, leaders naturally emerge, and their commitment earns them the right to become moderators. But over time whatever small biases these folks bring with them are amplified in the minds of new users, until the inevitable charges of fascism begin to fly and a full-on flame war breaks out.

Is it possible to find a formula for combating this decline? In a row of two desks at the far end of the Stack Exchange office, just off the ping pong table, sits the CHAOS team (Cheerful Helpful Advocates of Stack), a group of community managers who spend their days experimenting in the laboratory of human interaction. “We’re trying to derive some universal principles about how to grow a community on the internet that can govern itself and regenerate after a conflict,” said CHAOS member Abby Miller. “So far we’ve learned that there are no universal principles.” Read More

Wheelings and Dealings

Stack Overflow: Facebook Approached Us About Partnership in Late June

facebook stack overflow

Stack Exchange and Facebook announced a partnership, a Facebook-centric forum embedded within Stack Overflow’s programming-focused, question-and-answer wiki–and there was much rejoicing.

“It came about very quickly,” said Alex Miller, director of strategy at Stack Exchange, the network of wiki-esque forums that includes Stack Overflow. (Mr. Miller is also chief of staff and “sidekick to the CEO,” Joel Spolsky, who is on vacation this week and was unavailable. He also holds more than a dozen other titles for which he has corresponding business cards, according to his various duties. Betabeat can empathize.)

“One of the joys of us being a small agile start-up is, we can do things very quickly,” Mr. Miller explained. “In late June, early July they approached us and basically initiated a discussion about ways for us to partner on it. They were looking for a new solution and recognized the value of the platform … we were obviously thrilled to work with them.” Read More


Joel Spolsky Writes Most Generic Start-Up Description Possible, Starts Snarkfest on Google+


It’s tough to say what’s a tech start-up anymore as the web becomes so integrated in every sector. Perhaps inspired by recent attention on the problem of patent trolling, Stack Exchange founder Joel Spolsky took to Google+ late last night to write up a grand theory to get at the essence of the phrase “internet start-up.”

“Let me see if I can explain how ‘Internet Startups’ work,” he writes. “They make these apparati that draw a box on somebody’s computer screen. That person then types words into that box on their screen. Then, the Internet Startup uses some computer codes to copy those words onto somebody else’s computer screen, so that other person can then read them.” Read More


IAmA Day With Fog Creek’s Joel Spolsky

reddit bobblehead

It’s awesome that the folks at Reddit keep doing our job for us. Today they put one of our favorite New York entrepreneurs, Joel Spolsky, in the internet hot seat. He quickly got the commenters fired up by noting in his bio that Fog Creek distributes all it’s profits among employees.

Reddit user Samdumb got the trolling started. “I think that’s misleading. You and your co-owner are both employees and are presumably receiving the vast majority of that money.” Read More

Taylor Tees Off

Here’s a Question: Why Does Quora Exist?


If there’s one thing I hate more than Alex Trebek acting like he knows the answers to the questions on Jeopardy, it’s Quora, the place where narcissistic technology hangers-on go to dress up dumb ideas in big words and start-up jargon.

To show you how easy it is to be Quora–or Ask Jeeves, or Facebook Questions, or Google Questions, or–I’m starting my own question and answer site right here in this very column. If I’m half as lucky as Quora, I should get $150 million. Read More