Jeff Atwood: Stack Overflow and Coding Horror | Lex Fridman Podcast #7 | Summary and Q&A

November 29, 2018
Lex Fridman Podcast
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Jeff Atwood: Stack Overflow and Coding Horror | Lex Fridman Podcast #7


Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Stack Overflow and creator of discourse, discusses the motivation behind programmers, the joy of solving coding puzzles, and the need for better online community discussions.

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Key Insights

  • 🌍 Community websites like Stack Overflow and Wikipedia have had a huge impact on global knowledge and productivity.
  • 💡 What motivates most programmers is the joy and challenge of solving puzzles and problems independently.
  • 💻 Data and empirical evidence play a significant role in programming, helping to solve problems and make decisions.
  • 😃 Jeff Atwood believes that a good leader leads by example and shows passion for the problem they are trying to solve.
  • 📚 The ability to reflect on your own behavior and receive feedback is crucial for self-awareness and effective leadership.
  • 💪 A good leader must have the discipline to stick to a schedule and set an example for others.
  • 🌐 Online communities, like those created with discourse, allow groups to communicate and set their own rules and norms.
  • 📝 Starting a successful community involves having a strong idea, believing in it passionately, and finding a co-founder who shares the same vision.
  • 🔎 Researching failures as well as successes is important to learn from others' experiences and incorporate the best elements into your own project.


the following is a conversation with Jeff Atwood he is the co-founder of Stack Overflow Stack Exchange websites that are visited by millions of people every single day much like with Wikipedia it is difficult to understate the impact on global knowledge and productivity that these networks of sites have created Jeff is also the author of the famed ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What motivates programmers to solve coding puzzles independently?

For programmers, the joy of solving puzzles independently of others and the pure act of tinkering with code is what drives them. They enjoy the challenge and the satisfaction of finding a solution.

Q: How does data play a role in solving coding problems?

Data is essential in solving coding problems as it allows programmers to analyze patterns, test algorithms, and find the best solutions. By running code multiple times and brute-forcing with data, programmers can uncover potential flaws and determine the most effective approach.

Q: What are some examples of coding problems that require data-driven solutions?

Two examples Jeff Atwood mentions are the shuffling problem and the Monty Hall problem. In the shuffling problem, programmers can run the shuffle algorithm multiple times and analyze the data to ensure an equal distribution of cards. In the Monty Hall problem, running simulations with data can confirm the optimal strategy of always switching doors.

Q: What motivates Jeff Atwood in his role as a leader and manager?

While Jeff Atwood doesn't code as much anymore, he finds motivation in managing projects and teams. He believes that leading by example and working diligently on problems he's passionate about, such as improving online community discussions, are key aspects of being a good leader.

Q: How does Jeff Atwood handle self-criticism and criticism from others as a leader?

Jeff Atwood emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and feedback when it comes to being a leader. He believes that taking feedback into consideration, processing it, and being mindful of how his actions align with his leadership goals are crucial in recognizing areas for improvement and ensuring he's setting a good example for his team.

Q: What makes a good manager and leader in Jeff Atwood's opinion?

According to Jeff Atwood, a good leader leads by example, works hard, and shows passion for the problem they're trying to solve. They communicate effectively, listen to feedback, and take into account different perspectives and goals. Leading through example and having a clear vision are key traits of a successful leader.

Q: What inspired Jeff Atwood to create discourse for better online community discussions?

Jeff Atwood felt there was a need for better software to facilitate discussions among communities. He wanted communities to have the ability to own their space, set their own rules, and have control over their communication. His passion for communities and the vision of creating a space where people can communicate without the noise and negativity found on other platforms inspired him to create discourse.


In this video conversation, Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Stack Overflow and author of the blog Coding Horror, discusses various topics including what motivates programmers, the role of puzzles in programming, the joy of tinkering with code, the importance of data in solving problems, the qualities of a good manager and leader, self-awareness as a leader, the power of passion and hard work, the vision behind Discourse, the limitations of traditional forum software, the importance of the interest graph in building communities, the process of growing a community, and the process of writing.

Questions & Answers

Q: What motivates most programmers?

Most programmers are motivated by puzzles. They enjoy working on puzzles independently, solving problems on their own, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from finding a solution.

Q: What is the joy of tinkering with code?

The joy of tinkering with code comes from the process of trial and error, experimenting with different approaches, and finding creative solutions to problems. It involves hiding oneself away and relentlessly working on a problem until it is solved, often using brute force methods.

Q: How does data help in solving programming problems?

Data plays a crucial role in solving programming problems. For example, in the shuffling problem or the Monty Hall problem, running programs repeatedly with different inputs allows programmers to analyze the data and identify patterns or flaws in their algorithms. Empirical data provides evidence and insights that can help in solving problems algorithmically.

Q: What motivates Jeff Atwood personally, outside of family?

As a manager at Discourse, Jeff Atwood is motivated by the passion he has for solving the problem that the software is addressing. He believes that every community should have the right to own itself and have a space where they can set their own rules and norms. The goal is to create an alternative to centralized platforms like Facebook, where companies or platforms own human communication and have their own interests at heart.

Q: What are the qualities of a good manager and leader?

A good leader leads by example, demonstrating the behavior and qualities they want others to exhibit. They work hard and show passion for the problem at hand. They are diligent in self-reflection and self-awareness, ensuring that their actions align with their desired behavior. They are also open to feedback and have systems in place to get feedback from others.

Q: How does self-awareness play a role in leadership?

Self-awareness is an important aspect of leadership. It involves being aware of one's own behavior, thoughts, and emotions, and how they may be perceived by others. It requires introspection and a willingness to listen to feedback. Self-awareness helps leaders understand their own biases and limitations and make more informed decisions.

Q: How does Jeff Atwood deal with self-criticism and criticism from others?

Jeff Atwood acknowledges that self-criticism can be a challenge for many programmers, who tend to be self-critical and introverted. As a leader, he believes in sharing the decision-making process and reasoning with others, helping them understand the factors and considerations that led to a particular decision. By explaining the decision-making process, it becomes easier for others to understand and accept the decision, even if they may disagree with it.

Q: Why is it important for leaders to be passionate about the problem they are solving?

Passion drives leaders to work hard and put in the necessary effort to solve the problem at hand. It helps them overcome challenges and setbacks along the way. Passion is contagious and can inspire others to join the cause and contribute their ideas and efforts. It also gives leaders a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Q: What is the purpose of Discourse and how does it differ from platforms like Facebook?

Discourse is an open-source software project that aims to improve online community discussions. It provides a space for communities to have ownership and set their own rules and norms. Unlike platforms like Facebook, which focus on the relationship graph (connections between individuals), Discourse focuses on the interest graph (connections between people with similar interests). It provides a platform for communities of interest to connect and communicate in a meaningful and productive way.

Q: What is the process of growing a community?

Growing a community takes persistence, interesting content, and active participation. It starts with having something interesting to say and finding an interesting way to say it. Consistency is key, whether it's blogging or using a forum software like Discourse. Building a community involves actively engaging with the audience, listening to their feedback, and involving them in decision-making. It requires a passion for the topic and a commitment to ongoing engagement and interaction with the community members.


Creating a successful community requires persistence, interesting content, and active engagement with the audience. It is important for leaders to lead by example, working hard and demonstrating passion for the problem at hand. Self-awareness plays a crucial role in leadership, helping leaders understand how their actions are perceived by others. Discourse is a platform that aims to empower communities, allowing them to own themselves and set their own rules. The interest graph, which focuses on connections based on shared interests, is a powerful tool for building communities. Passion and hard work drive leaders and contribute to the success of communities and projects. Reading content from old books and constantly seeking out interesting things to talk and write about helps in building a knowledge base and promoting discussion.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Jeff Atwood discusses the motivation behind programmers and how the joy of solving puzzles independently drives them.

  • He highlights the importance of data in solving coding problems and how brute-forcing with data can lead to empirical answers.

  • Jeff also talks about the passion and hard work needed to be a good leader and build successful online communities.

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