May 1, 2010

I work on the Internet. This means both that I help to construct a small (but rapidly growing!) portion of the Internet through the sale of dedicated servers, and also that the Internet is, literally, my office. As amazing as our Chicago office is, I don’t actually spend a whole lot of time there.

The Internet is an amazing place to work. Some people (like, say, your plumber) have almost no resources to help them with their job — if they have no idea how to stop that leak, they just have to figure it out themselves. This is why you may sometimes end up with a badly-flooded kitchen. Others have a small pool of officemates or coworkers who can help them out when they get stuck. But working online is like having a billion buddies whom I can ask for help whenever I’m unsure about something. And, since SingleHop has only two developers (me and Luke) I end up working on such a broad range of fields that I’m frequently stuck.

Of course, asking for help on the Internet can be a dicey proposition. Sure, back in the glory days of the internet, your question might be getting answered by someone who knows what he’s talking about. But these days, googling for help might land you on a poorly-formatted, pop-up-opening, long-dead spam ring where you’ll be tricked into clicking on ads and won’t come any closer to getting your question answered.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. I’d like to tell you about an amazing tool I’ve recently become a fan of for resolving my technical questions. This tool is StackOverflow. You post a question and, within minutes, someone responds trying to help you out. The best part about SO is it’s reputation system. You can tell at a glance whether the person answering your question has been judged qualified by other users, and thus how much faith to put in their answer. And the reputation system is addictive! Because you get badges and additional moderation powers the higher your reputation, I’ve frequently found myself answering questions and then compulsively reloading my profile to see if my peers have judged my answer worthy of an upvote.

If you’re not a developer, there’s hope for you, too. A sister site called ServerFault will help you with your system administration questions. You’ll miss out on talking to our excellent admin staff, but it’s a great way to learn more about maintaining your own systems. There’s even a site specifically for your desktop-support-type questions — SuperUser.

I think these sites will greatly improve your quality of life, your code, and maybe even your business, marriage, or dog’s behavior. But, I’m not just telling you about them for your own good. The network effect dictates that the more people ask questions and post answers on these services, the better they become. So, go check it out. That way, we’ll both benefit.

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