Only the great die at 11 (RIP Stack Overflow Jobs)

Stack Overflow have announced they are going to kill off sunset their popular Jobs product. In this post, I talk about what Jobs was, why it was great, and why so many (myself included) will be sad to see it go.

Stack Overflow Jobs – an obituary

On the 13th of January 2022, a post on Meta announced that Stack Overflow Jobs will soon be “sunsetted”. This is a euphemism I’d normally let slide. With Stack Overflow jobs, however, its use is a huge disservice to all the many users who have benefited from this service over the years. I mean “users” in this context to refer to those from both sides of the aisle – candidates and employers. Let me go back and recap what Stack Overflow Jobs was and it’ll be clear why…

(NB: I’ll be using the name “Jobs” throughout, but please treat this as synonymous with “Careers” and aspects of “Talent”.)

What was Stack Overflow Jobs?

The Jobs section of Stack Overflow launched in 2011 and was, at its heart, a jobs board – albeit one that was barely recognisable compared to its peers. Employers could post high-quality job ads linked to helpful company profiles. Candidates could maintain a “developer story” linked to their Stack Overflow profile, indicate their status (active or passive), and could of course browse through the job ads. As well as candidates responding to ads, hiring managers could use a powerful search to identify and message candidates that would likely be a good fit.

The genius of Stack Overflow Jobs was that it was a pure value add, which did not detract at all from the core user experience of the main Stack Overflow Q&A site. It was never forced on anyone and the service on the main site was not degraded for those who opted not to engage with it. On the other hand, Jobs benefited massively from the close integration with the main site. Linked profiles, for example, added a degree of transparency for both parties – candidates could easily demonstrate their communication and technical skills via their interactions on the main site, whilst employers could showcase their team by linking their company profiles to those of their current employees.

I used Stack Overflow Jobs as both types of user. In late 2016 I was searching for my next job and Stack Overflow was the clear place to look. I applied for a job I found on the site and by December I had started a new role. Whilst at that firm I had cause to hire more developers and got my first taste of using the site as a hiring manager. I used the platform as a hiring manager again in my next role in Australia. Each time, my experience was overwhelmingly positive. The only complaint was the costs, which were justified by the results.

What was it like to use?

As a candidate, the first thing one noticed was the refreshing lack of clutter. Anyone who has ever searched for a job will be familiar with the normal cesspool of unstructured and barely relevant content on sites like Indeed or TotalJobs. On Stack Overflow Jobs, we benefited from two big wins:

  1. Any employer posting a job ad on the site was at least aware of Stack Overflow and therefore probably not total garbage.
  2. It’s easier to add some structure to a fairly focused section of the employment market. General sites have to accommodate beauticians alongside engineers. On Stack Overflow, it is assumed you will have some programming languages you prefer, which really helps refine a search.

These factors were also very helpful to the hiring manager, who could easily find relevant candidates and screen applicants based on their skill set. The added bonus for a hiring manager was the ability to click through and see some of the written output of a candidate. If they’d ever asked or answered a question on Stack Overflow, one could review this material and gain insight into the author. Were they polite? Did they communicate well? Do they appear to be knowledgeable?

A great example of how Stack Overflow Jobs approached the market differently was the “Developer Story”. This was like a CV, but more free-flowing and with the candidate more able to highlight interesting content of varying types. At its core was a timeline of items, which could be employment history, open-source contributions, courses completed, etc. Here’s a screenshot of mine:

Cropped screenshot of the author's Developer Story on Stack Overflow Jobs, showing a couple of items of job history, plus a Pluralsight course and a GitHub repo.

And a link, whilst it still works. (Side-note: my main domain tdwright.co.uk currently acts as a redirect to my developer story – what am I going to do with that?)

Another interesting aspect of Stack Overflow Jobs was the close link with the developer survey conducted by Stack Overflow. This primarily manifested itself in the salary calculator:

Screenshot of the results from the Stack Overflow salary calculator for a backend developer with 5 years of experience, in Cambridge, UK.

The salary calculator was my go-to tool for benchmarking salaries – my own and those of my team. It’s a shame the data hasn’t been updated since 2019, but the power of objective salary estimates is invaluable. I’ve often linked to results from the calculator when discussing budgets with non-technical colleagues.

All in all, I am an unashamed fan of Stack Overflow Jobs. It added a lot of value to the developer ecosystem and I personally benefited from it a great deal.

Praise for Stack Overflow Jobs

So it was a great product? Well, don’t just take my word for it. In response to the announcement of its imminent demise, there has been an outpouring of regret and disappointment, alongside praise and fond memories. (The below are all taken from the replies to the announcement.)

  • “I don’t use a resume/CV anymore, I send people my SO Dev story!” – Chris Schaller
  • “Terrible news. SO Jobs was at the very top of my list of reputable job lists. And Dev Story landed me some of the best interviews Very sad news!” – Luis Alvarez
  • “I’m really disappointed in this. I’ve always found SO much better than other job sites for finding quality positions.” – TrueWill
  • “As someone who recently found a job through SO Jobs, it was light years ahead of many other places, although I believe it could certainly have used a few improvements it’s really sad to see it go. I loved that I could filter and find jobs that are actually relevant to me without having to sift through 35345 other job postings that just happened to contain a keyword or something like many other jobs websites do, I’m really disappointed in this.” – maxshuty

In fact, I’d encourage anyone interested to scroll through the comments. The affection for Stack Overflow Jobs is very real and plainly evident in these messages.

Commiserations to the team

Being a community for developers, it’s poignant to read some of the replies left by those who have worked on the product over the years:

  • “Bye bye /jobs, we had some fun times building ya <3” – Dean Ward
  • “Sad day. I spent four years of my life building and maintaining those things.” – rossipedia
  • “Well, Dev Story, you had a good run. I once had high hopes in you, but it looks like you weren’t meant to be forever.” – balpha

I also know one of the early employees in a personal capacity, so I understand how committed this team was. (NB: They haven’t worked there in a while and we did not discuss any details whilst I was writing this post.)

It’s always disappointing when something you’ve worked on is shut down, but it can only be worse when the product is so well-liked.

The decline

So why is such a popular product being closed down? According to the announcement, it boils down to strategic direction. As former Jobs developer Jon Erikkson points out “it’s easier to see how the new products fit into the strengths of Stack Overflow”. The official line is that this closure will allow the company “to refocus on products that build on our core strengths: knowledge reuse and building communities at scale.”

In truth, the writing appears to have been on the wall for a while now. Back in April ’21, CEO Prashanth Chandrasekar revealed in a blog post that something was going to happen with Jobs. The acquisition by Prosus in June can surely only have sped up this process.

Anecdotally, at around the same time as the acquisition, I tried unsuccessfully to once again become a customer. I was peeved to realise that my business was no longer worth getting out of bed for:

An email from Stack Overflow jobs explaining that I was too small to be a client any more.

At the time I wondered if this was a bad sign for Jobs – would good candidates continue to use it if the smaller startups weren’t there? With hindsight, however, this email feels symptomatic of a gradual retreat from the job ad market.

Better to die the hero

Long time readers will know I’ve got a lot of affection for Stack Overflow. I previously described the Q&A site as my alter alma mater. Jobs has played an equally significant role in the later stages of my career in software development.

Having had some time to digest this news, I’ve been able to think about this from multiple angles. Despite the significant loss to the sector and the disappointment of the users and SO team, it might be better that the move was at least made decisively. Once the business had decided that this ugly duckling didn’t belong, it really stood no chance. And isn’t it better to know when to hang up the gloves? The alternative would be a neglected product limping down a sad path of decreasing relevance. So, whilst I will sorely miss Stack Overflow Jobs, and whilst I am still very disappointed in this decision, I suppose it’s better this way.

I can’t help but return to the euphemism central to the announcement. Rather than being like a sunset, this is more akin to the calculated euthanasia of a racehorse.

Goodbye Stack Overflow Jobs – we had a great run.

2 Comments

    • Yeah it’s a real shame to see it go. I’m in a quandary myself about what to use from now on, so thanks for those recommendations. I notice that JSON Resume has a Stack Overflow theme, but sadly it’s not based on the Developer Story.

      Reply

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