Why you should contribute to Q&A sites

Why you should contribute to Q&A sites

Friday, October 13, 2017

As a developer, the standard approach when you get stuck on something is to open up your browser and Google the error code or problem. Typically you're going to end up with results from sites like StackOverflow. These are great resources, but do you contribute?

Article Why you should contribute to Q&A sites

Generalist Q&A sites like StackOverflow and specialist sites such as Kentico's DevNet provide a forum for development communities to share problems and solutions.  As I work for a Ridgeway (a Kentico Gold Partner), the two above are my go-to sources of information when I hit a snag.

What I've noticed recently is that, while everyone seems to use Q&A sites to find answers, they don't always contribute.  By that, I mean both answering and asking questions.  It's fair to say that quite a lot of questions have already been asked, so you can search for results though tremendous stores of knowledge.

It's what happens when people don't find an answer that is interesting.  Let's look at an example where we're stuck on an issue on a Kentico project. My first port of call is always to google the issue.  if nothing useful turns up, I'd probably result to searching on DevNet, and finally, StackOverflow (I'd do it in that order as DevNet aggregates StackOverflow for well-tagged questions).

If I still have not found an answer, I have three options:

  • Contact support (chances are it's not truly a support issue)
  • Contact the wider community such as the MVPs or a Kentico User Group
  • Reach out to everyone and ask a question on StackOverflow

Quite often that last part doesn't happen.  As a developer, it's worth considering that if you're having an issue, then someone else is either likely to come across the same issue at some point.  Perhaps after you, and perhaps before you.

If they've had the problem before, then they may have already asked the question or may be able to very quickly provide an answer.  Some contributors will even go out of their way to replicate your issue and help to find a solution.

If they've not had the issue yet, then by adding the question to a Q&A site, you give the opportunity of a solution being found.

It's just as important to answer questions of course.  I've known people who don't contribute to Q&A as they either feel that they are not knowledgeable enough to be helpful or that that don't need to because they know all the answers.  To the first point the simple answer is, you won't know until you try, to the latter - well that's quite frustrating - if you know everything, how about sharing a little?

There are some great contributors on most Q&A platforms some of whom do much more answering than they do asking.  You can see who they are by looking at the leaderboards:

It doesn't take much effort to keep an eye on questions in your field of expertise.  Providing answers not only gives a leg-up to those developers who do not have your experience but also helps to build your reputation within the community, establishing yourself as a subject expert.

Q&A sites can be addictive if you jump in too fast.  I'm fortunate that Ridgeway provides me time to contribute, but even then I do find myself contributing in my own time when I can.

Summary

Q&A sites are a key resource for the modern developer.  By contributing to them you can establish yourself as a subject expert, increase your own reputation, and help build a stronger community.  I recommend to any developer to actively contribute to help further not only your own knowledge but also that of the wider community.

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Web development Kentico