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Recruiting

How to source candidates on Stack Overflow in 2022

How to source candidates on stackoverflow
Lauren Dixon
Written By Lauren Dixon
On Jun, 16 2022
11 minute read

With top startups like Fast shutting down and major recently IPOed companies like Coinbase announcing layoffs, software developers are becoming more and more risk-averse about actively looking for new jobs. It’s more crucial than ever to find and connect with passive candidates, or candidates who are currently employed but potentially open to a new opportunity.

Enticing candidates who possess a solid performance history and job security isn’t always easy, but delving into Stack Overflow can be an effective strategy for identifying great fits and drafting more personal outreach messaging to drive conversion.

 

We’ll also break down the most important changes Stack Overflow has made in 2022 that affect recruiters, such as ending user profile searching and offering premium Stack Overflow Talent services.

What to brush up on your technical terms for sourcing developers? Check out our guide that covers everything you need to find, evaluate, and contact in-demand software engineers.


sourcing candidates on stackoverflow

What is Stack Overflow?

Stack Overflow is a Q&A board for technical information and theoretical discussions about coding.

 

Operating since 2008 with 14 million registered users who have asked 21 million questions, it serves as an encyclopedic repository of knowledge for programmers. Common issues related to a wide variety of technical topics and complex problems have been addressed on the site.

 

What is StackOverflow

Developers post programming questions from concept to implementation to troubleshooting, and engineering professionals in the community contribute information about technologies they are experts in. 

 

These answers are ranked and rated by members of the community, with top responses awarding their user reputation points and badges.

What is the culture at Stack Overflow?

It's worth understanding that, as one of the leading online resources for developers to speak to each other candidly and technically, Stack Overflow very much has its own culture.

 

It's not quite like LinkedIn where everybody puts on their best professional face, but it's not like GitHub where users mostly silently fork code from each other.

 

To put it another way, Stack Overflow is where a talented developer goes when they want to nerd out on technical questions with other developers.

 

Culture StackOverflow 1

Culture StackOverflow 2

Culture StackOverflow 3

 

Reading through comment chains of replies to the initial question, you'll see respondents on Stack Overflow continually try to one-up each other by offering better and better code for the same problem.

 

Not a form of social media, but not necessarily un-social either, you can also expect a developer to tell it plainly on Stack Overflow. If someone offers an explanation with code that's bad, they'll be told it's bad and why it's bad.

 

StackOverflow comment chains

 

It can be a bit odd navigating this kind of professional and personal, kind of unprofessional and impersonal network at first, but it's in a sense precisely what you're screening for in recruiting for tech companies: potential employees who can walk someone else through programming challenges intelligently.

How do I Analyze a User Profile?

StackOverflow user profile

 

Here are some data points to consider while you search for and evaluate user profiles to find candidates.

 

First, the ranking gives you an idea of how active the user has been.

 

Reputation is awarded for upvoted questions and answers (or lost by downvoted ones), serving as a metric of how trusted a member is by the Stack Overflow community. As a user gains a reputation, they are awarded privileges such as access to moderator tools and site analytics.

 

Users are also encouraged to use the Stack Overflow by being awarded badges for being helpful (or for meeting sometimes obscure combinations of various criteria).

 

StackOverflow profile badges

 

Top tags reveal what a user most frequently discusses on the site. To the right of each tag is a score (number of upvotes minus number of downvotes in the user’s tagged answers), total number of tagged posts, and the percentage of the users’ posts that relate to the tag.

 

StackOverflow user profile top tags

 

Tags can help you infer what kind of engineering role the user has.

 

A user who extensively discusses Scikit-learn and Tensorflow is likely a Machine Learning Engineer, for example, whereas a Ruby-on-Rails enthusiast may be involved in web application development.

 

This gets more and more important if you're not only sourcing developers for general roles like Machine Learning or web development, but for specific skills within those roles like data visualization or API integrations. In the next section we'll show you how you can find candidates with specialized interests and skills on Stack Overflow via Google as well.

 

Caveat: Stack Overflow users are judged for their ability to communicate theoretical knowledge and expertise of a certain technology rather than the strength of their coding. While these skills are correlated and ideally the candidate would have both, the distinction may be important when sourcing for a hands-on programming role.

How do I find technical candidates through Stack Overflow?

There are multiple ways to search for candidates on Stack Overflow and not all of them require you to have a paid membership.

 

Free Option

Unfortunately, Stack Overflow’s free option for searching through users has been extremely limited in recent years, with neither Boolean search nor X-ray searching currently permitted.

 

One option to search Stack Overflow for free involves tags. First, click on “Tags” on the left-hand sidebar. Then click on the desired language, skill, or domain, such as “python”.

 

StackOverflow search tags free option

 

Then, click on “Top users” to show user profiles.

 

StackOverflow tag top users

 

The results are limited to the 20 top users all-time and from the past 30 days, so the initial search might seem pretty limited.

 

But you can iteratively jump from the profiles of developers who were recently very active in Python to current questions that other Python developers are engaging with, and thereby locate many others.

 

Paid Option

If you would like to target your search more narrowly, another option is to subscribe to the new premium Stack Overflow Talent service for access to additional recruiting and employer branding tools.

 

Candidate Search allows recruiters to search developers by location, education, programming language, and other criteria as you would on LinkedIn.

 

With Stack Overflow Talent, you can also post a job listing on the website, which can be viewed by any of the site’s users by clicking “Jobs” in the left-hand sidebar.

 

StackOverflow Talent

 

Stack Overflow’s technically-minded community of developers can be intolerant of recruiters who send vague, non-targeted, or irrelevant job opportunities. The site, therefore, provides guidelines for sending internal messages.

 

Searching for candidates on Stack Overflow with Google

Oddly, what might be the best way to source candidates on Stack Overflow doesn't begin on Stack Overflow at all. In fact, it's how professional engineers search for answers on Stack Overflow in the first place: they Google it.

 

If you look at older guides on this subject, you can see how involved it used to be to source tech talent on Stack Overflow before the advent of remote work. You needed to enter a complicated Boolean search query (or, an X Ray search) into Google to find candidates specifically in San Francisco working with the technology you need.

 

But if you're location agnostic, you can pretty easily find engineers just by running a Google search for the kinds of problems the people you're recruiting need to be able to solve.

 

For example, let's say you're hiring a Data Scientist whose day-to-day will involve producing data visualizations in Python with the Seaborn library.

 

  1. You ask the hiring manager for the role what kinds of things an experienced professional should be able to do in Seaborn on the job with no issue. Among them, you learn that anyone reasonably familiar with the tech should know how to display multiple plots in one figure.

  2. So you search "Seaborn display multiple plots" on Google and get this:

StackOverflow Google search

  1. Didn't even have to include "Stack Overflow" in the search! And indeed, you see that somebody has asked this question annually on Stack Overflow since 2017. If you check out the reply from 2021, you'll find a user who not only codes out the solution for the asker but provides a deep dive into the technical documentation of Seaborn.

  2. Clicking on that user's profile, you can see that he's pretty involved in data visualization questions, with silver badges awarded for answers on seaborn and gold ones for the closely-related matplotlib.

     

    StackOverflow Google search profile

This user's profile includes a GitHub profile as well, which would be a great next data point to consider in putting together a profile to determine whether he's right for your job.

 

Check out our guide on sourcing on GitHub in 2022 if you want to learn more about how to add GitHub to your technical recruiting toolbox, as well as how to use it to find candidate contact information.

 

And if you're still more generally trying to wrap your head around how to find and hire full stack developers, we've got you covered there too.

Why recruit technical candidates on Stack Overflow?

Stack Overflow is visited 11 million times per day by programmers at all stages of their careers.

 

It's highly community-focused and emphasizes quality, with contributions that are deemed repetitive or uninsightful frequently downvoted and deleted. 

 

For this reason, the site is a valuable resource for developers, attracted by the availability and ease of access to technical expertise online.

 

Stack Overflow is also a valuable resource for tech recruiters looking for niche candidates. An engineer’s answer can give you insight into where they are in their career. It also indicates what skills an engineer is strong in at this very moment (unlike LinkedIn, which might be updated every year or two, if an engineer visits it at all).

 

sourcing on stack overflow

 

Crucially, Stack Overflow provides invaluable information about an engineer’s communication skills and style. The ability to communicate is critical for many development roles and is much more readily gauged here than on GitHub or LinkedIn.

 

Since many engineers are passionate about and invested in the site, you can immediately stand out to candidates and break the ice as a recruiter by referencing a recent answer in your outreach message.

 

The transparent meritocracy of the site, in which users and answers are rated by others, can help a recruiter quickly judge top contributors and well-crafted answers.

 

Sourcing through Stack Overflow can also help you to reduce bias in the software recruiting process. The content is at the forefront, and a candidate’s background, gender, and ethnicity are not usually as obvious as on LinkedIn.

 

StackOverflow Candidate Communication Commandments

 

If your company and/or your technical employees regularly contribute to conversations in the community, you’re likely to see increased response rates from candidates and — eventually — positive brand recognition, something invaluable to any company that wants to be sourcing from these communities.


One thing to take into consideration is that you're unlikely to be able consistently to use just Stack Overflow to search for software engineer candidates with a high degree of precision. It's only one of many online resources that can be pulled together to establish a comprehensive profile for developers.

 

With that in mind, we'd like to recommend Celential.ai's AI recruiting solution for its ability to pull together hundreds of data points on developers and compose personal outreach at scale for your sourcing efforts.

 

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