Prashanth Chandrasekar on writing the script of the long run

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Within the newest Inside Intercom episode we chat to Stack Overflow’s CEO about how their communities are shaping the world.


At this level, it’s clear that Marc Andreessen was solely correct together with his now well-known quote. However that kind of transformation doesn’t simply occur by itself – it’s the fruits of the tireless work and energy of tens of millions of engineers and builders, constructing new issues and overwriting outdated instruments.

If there may be one place the place these numerous makers collect as a contemporary group, it’s Stack Overflow. Created in 2008 as a query and reply website by Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky, it has grown to change into one of many main expertise communities on the net, and by far the biggest nook of the Stack Change Community of web sites, which collectively has greater than 120 million month-to-month customers.

Our Director of Engineering Jordan Neill spoke with CEO Prashanth Chandrasekar , who took the reins at Stack Overflow in October 2019, about his imaginative and prescient for the group of builders he says are serving to to put in writing the script of the long run.

Our dialog with Prashanth covers some nice subjects together with why group is on the very coronary heart of what Stack Overflow is doing and the way they stability the wants of the product and the group that use it. If you happen to’re brief on time, right here’s some fast takeaways:

  1. Prashanth talks us by his early years in Silicon Valley and the way he has transitioned to straddle the product and enterprise sides of the tech business.
  2. With over 120 million month-to-month customers throughout their suite of web sites it’s no shock that group is on the core of what Stack Overflow do.
  3. With such a giant group it’s essential to stability the wants of the product with those that use it.
  4. Prashanth believes that by their work connecting technologists, builders and programmers they’re serving to write the script of the long run.
  5. As an organization like Stack Overflow grows it’s essential to be sure you proceed to construct with your group and never for it.

If you happen to benefit from the dialog, take a look at extra episodes of our podcast. You’ll be able to subscribe on iTunes, stream on Spotify or seize the RSS feed in your participant of alternative. What follows is a evenly edited transcript of the episode.


Rising up in India’s Silicon Metropolis

Jordan: We’re so delighted to have you ever on the present, Prashanth. Let’s begin at first: You wrote your first line of code whenever you have been an adolescent, and also you’ve mentioned that expertise has been a part of your DNA for the longest time. Are you able to give us a short overview of your background?

Prashanth: Thanks, Jordan. I recognize you having me on this podcast, and I’m actually a giant fan of Intercom. It’s an awesome firm and an awesome product. I used to be born and introduced up in Bangalore, India, which known as the Silicon Metropolis of the world, or at the very least to India-servicing the world, possibly. And in some ways, that has been a part of my thought course of and upbringing and my schooling. It was a part of the early part the place India grew to become a software program powerhouse, serving to the world throughout speed up their expertise roadmaps. 

Plenty of my schooling early on was both by casual strategies, from one thing so simple as my Dad getting me my first pc after I was very younger to studying to code in Emblem and Fundamental and C++ and so forth. Then finally after I got here to the US for faculty, I studied pc engineering. It was principally a mix of pc science and electrical engineering, which is sort of fascinating within the context of right now’s IoT dialog. I continued that journey with extra software program programming languages like Pearl and Java and so forth. I additionally labored at a few firms the place I used to be a software program developer. So, that’s all the time been the inspiration by which I realized. And I’m very grateful for the problem-solving orientation of that schooling, each formal and casual. 

Through the years after that, I’ve transitioned to be someone who straddles the product aspect and the enterprise aspect and expertise aspect. I’ve all the time had expertise because the underlying theme, whether or not that’s studying about expertise firms within the context of consulting or monetary companies. Or working in a single like Rackspace, the place I used to be proper earlier than Stack Overflow. I might say expertise has been an enormous affect normally to me, however in a broader sense it’s clearly an enormous, enormous driver of progress on this subsequent large period of ours.

Jordan: That’s nice. And also you’ve been the CEO of Stack Overflow since October of final 12 months. How have you ever approached the position?

Prashanth: Stack Overflow is simply an iconic SaaS model with such a incredible mission that has such a broad impression around the globe, proper?

Jordan: Completely.

“We prefer to say that we’re the life drive of the web behind the scenes”

Prashanth: One thing like 120 million individuals present as much as our web sites each month, and that’s definitely not an insignificant quantity. The impression that we create around the globe is simply completely fascinating – and it’s one I couldn’t go up after I was approached about this position after I was at Rackspace. And all my groups at Rackspace have been all the time enormous followers of Stack Overflow, due to all of the engineering groups and the product groups and so forth. And all people advantages so massively when it comes to acceleration of their initiatives and their code writing.

The position has been actually phenomenal. The impression that we drive is a giant a part of why I’ve joined right here. It’s nice to have the ability to remodel this firm now to this subsequent period of its evolution because it creates the following era of merchandise and options for our core prospects, who’re successfully builders and technologists. The whole lot we do is in service of them, and all of the merchandise that we’re constructing are in service of them. So it was actually about easy methods to construct a sustainable firm and a product that’s centered on these issues and to make it possible for the way forward for this firm is even higher than it’s right now.

Jordan: It looks as if Stack Overflow is ingrained into the engineering tradition internationally. Being a fan and being conversant in the product and the group, how did that affect your resolution in taking over the CEO place?

Prashanth: Yeah, there are only some firms, if you concentrate on it, which have that a lot of an impression. Marc Andreessen is an investor of ours, and he talks about how software program is consuming the world. He’s been saying that for some time, and that’s completely true, proper? There’s not an business that you can imagine the place that isn’t the case. The whole lot has a component of digitization. You hear this within the buzzword of digital transformation, and that’s very true. And on account of that, if you concentrate on who’s really doing the work to make that occur, they’re successfully software program builders and technologists who’re within the trenches writing code, influencing what applied sciences to select – whether or not that’s cloud applied sciences like Amazon Internet Providers or Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud – after which constructing the assorted piece components to go construct out very customer-centric purposes.

I can’t consider any firm past Stack and possibly a pair extra that function as core components of the ecosystem that drive the assertion that “software program is consuming the world” in a really productive manner. We prefer to say that we’re the life drive of the web behind the scenes. , we don’t get the credit score as a lot publicly. However we’re closely used every day by builders and engineers and so forth. So, that’s actually why, being a fan of the impression of the corporate, it simply felt too compelling of a chance for me to not go up.

Group on the core

Jordan: You talked about Stack Overflow having 51 million month-to-month guests. 

Prashanth: Yeah. It’s 50 million customers month-to-month customers on Stack Overflow and 120 million customers each month throughout all our different Stack Change web sites and Stack Overflow. That features our technical websites like Server Fault and DevOps and so forth. So, it’s actually 120 million. After which the core Stack Overflow web site is 50 million.

Jordan: Wow, that’s much more than I had in my head. How is it main an organization the place the group is presumably as essential to you because the product itself?

“For us to have the ability to take into consideration the way forward for this firm, it’s crucial to consider the group on the coronary heart of the corporate”

Prashanth: This is a vital query you’re asking. After quite a lot of discussions, after I joined the corporate I spent a bunch of time speaking to each single Stacker, as we name them, or an worker in our firm. I talked to an entire bunch of group members, talked to an entire bunch of paying prospects of ours. And finally the conclusion that I got here to was that, for us to have the ability to take into consideration the way forward for this firm, it’s crucial to consider the group on the coronary heart of the corporate. It’s actually the guts of the corporate. We wouldn’t be the corporate we’re or the group we’re with out the group. That’s a core a part of who we’re, after which there may be an ecosystem of communities plus merchandise.

So we really very a lot take into consideration the group as a part of the product value-proposition of the corporate. If you concentrate on it, the group is the primary product that the corporate launched, proper? Which means the infrastructure or the group platform the place the group can really work together and rule and all of these issues. It is rather a lot a product.

And we’ve actually considered that very deeply to say, “How do we actually deal with it as the place you deal with every other SaaS firm?” You’ve gotten a roadmap, you hearken to prospects, you iterate on that roadmap and you are taking suggestions from a number of totally different dimensions – and then you definately maintain constructing in response to suggestions. You do this very quickly, and also you do this with very extremely iterative cycles. And in order that’s actually the strategy we’ve taken to the group as properly. We consider ourselves as a product-led firm and the group is certainly a element of that notion of the corporate. And once more, we’re creating an ecosystem of varied communities, whether or not they’re particular to any of the technical websites that we’ve.

“Firms profit on the flip aspect as a result of they’ve blissful staff, and they can entice nice expertise”

Then after all, there are different merchandise we’re constructing within the service of builders and technologists, whether or not they’re expertise merchandise to assist them get jobs. Firms profit by with the ability to entice nice expertise, after which adverts assist builders get uncovered to developer-centric merchandise, which permits them to collaborate very quickly inside firms utilizing the identical format and methodology as a public Q&An internet site. And once more, firms profit on the flip aspect as a result of they’ve blissful staff, and they can entice nice expertise.

Jordan: And the way is the Stacker model of group totally different from different communities – and possibly even totally different from the opposite SaaS business insights – you will have?

Prashanth: The primary a part of that query is the logic and the brilliance of the algorithm and the precise [product] the unique founders, Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood, created. That has endured for 12 years. It’s not excellent, however on the identical time, it’s fairly good in that it has sustained an awesome system of creating positive that you’ve nice and all the time right solutions up prime, the place persons are capable of reply questions, in a really high-impact manner. The methodology of utilizing upvotes and downvotes and badges – and making an ecosystem of these capabilities – may be very, very distinctive.

Different communities have boards, they usually share content material and all these kinds of issues – and there are such a lot of totally different examples of each success tales and failure tales. However for us, we’ve been very lucky that the system that was put into place by the founders has been eternal. It’s proving to be very, very helpful. And that’s actually what drives the ecosystem.

And Stack Change may be very a lot an extension of the identical factor in some ways. It’s a bit of bit extra conversational versus Stack Overflow, which may be very binary in nature, if you’ll. Zero, one. However that ethos is carried right through to the opposite web sites. And even for those who take nontechnical web sites just like the Office for instance – which is one among our communities about how we assist new individuals enter the office and the way they will navigate numerous careers challenges or issues they encounter at work – there may be nonetheless the essential ethos of what I described across the voting system and what they imagine is the appropriate reply. However after all there’s a degree of discretion and judgment related to that. However the rule set makes positive it’s goal and that the appropriate questions are requested and that particular solutions are supplied to persist throughout these web sites.

Product-led vs. community-led

Jordan: And the way a lot of that is the merchandise guiding this versus the group guiding this? I’m pondering of your crew’s merchandise and the way you make sure that that works even in a non-public group.

Prashanth: It goes again to my earlier level about how we very a lot take into consideration the group platform. You’re creating the Q&A platform plus the phrases of how we need to govern the group or how the group governs itself. The moderator councils and all the opposite parts that we’ve obtained in place are an enormous half about constructing what the group appears to be like like. We’re not constructing for the group, we’re constructing it with the group. So it’s a really core precept for us that the group has to have the power to outline in some ways what this appears to be like like, in order that they construct it together with our assist and the place we’re very a lot hand-in-hand with them as a part of that.

“We’re not constructing for the group, we’re constructing it with the group”

Clearly there’s a core thesis and core brilliance related to the system that I described earlier from the founders. However that’s been knowledgeable through the years by group members by what we name meta customers. And the meta group was an enormous half in initially serving to outline this and through the years has been an enormous affect on driving the creation of this. After which extra just lately since I’ve come on board, we’ve actually tried to reignite our dialog in a constructive manner with the meta group to actually embrace them again into the suggestions loops, to make it possible for we proceed to progress the logic locally and the way we construct this sooner or later.

That extends to non-public groups, as a result of quite a lot of the customers of personal groups are going to be the members of the group which can be sitting inside firms which have cherished the exterior public group mannequin. And there are numerous nuances of the personal expertise that they assist outline by the identical suggestions loops we’ve established now on the personal aspect. On the general public aspect, it’s the meta group and different broader suggestions loops. Particularly, it’s what we name really “The Loop”, which is a large-scale survey that we run. However internally, we additionally do issues like customer-value boards and different issues together with the individuals which can be utilizing on the personal aspect.

Serving to write the script of the long run

Jordan: You discuss governance. Do you see the group and product as distinct entities that require several types of administration or as complementary halves of the identical coin?

Prashanth: The methods through which we work with the group and the methods we need to ship on commitments are similar to how we take into consideration bordering on commitments to prospects on our merchandise. That’s why we’ve thought very a lot concerning the group platform, the Q&A platform that we constructed through the years as very a lot a core product. By taking a product orientation to the group, we’re capable of actually maintain true to commitments. I publicly publish a roadmap for instance, and I make it possible for individuals know what the commitments are, after which we maintain ourselves accountable to that roadmap.

And that roadmap is knowledgeable based mostly on energetic conversations with a core group of group members – on this case, the meta group. Since I’ve come on board, we’ve achieved an enormous push to make it possible for we reengage the meta group, which in transparency over the previous couple of years has not been as engaged. We have now not been as engaged in that group as we’d like to have been. So now we’ve reignited that in a constructive manner, and we hope that that continues. And that enables us to have an awesome suggestions mechanism and actually assist construct the group with the group. And it’s by no means disconnected with the precise necessities.

“By taking a product orientation to the group, we’re capable of actually maintain true to commitments”

Jordan:That’s nice. You talked about publishing a roadmap. How do you concentrate on the evolution of software program circulation sooner or later? It’s so ingrained in our tradition that I don’t see it going anyplace, however how do you make it possible for it doesn’t change into like MySpace or Bebo and run out of steam as a group?

Prashanth: It pertains to our mission and our long-term imaginative and prescient for this firm. In the end, the mission for us is, “Serving to write the script of the long run by serving builders and technologists.” And that’s very a lot my earlier level round us being the life drive of the web behind the scenes. All people is writing code for his or her firms and their specific industries which can be disrupting the incumbents of their areas or attempting to be extra related within the context of the long run.

That’s an especially compelling mission that will get us all up and charged up each morning. So we’re very a lot a mission-driven firm from that standpoint. Now, your query across the sustainability of what we’re doing – and the way can we make it possible for Stack Overflow is an eternal entity – pertains to a long-term imaginative and prescient of the corporate. The imaginative and prescient for the corporate may be very a lot to be essentially the most trusted and main ecosystem of communities and merchandise that assist each builders and technologists to resolve the actually, actually advanced issues they’ve – and to be the very best place to do this on the planet. 

That actually fuels us as properly within the context of constructing issues every single day within the spirit of that assertion, and to make it possible for the merchandise we construct are very related and really helpful to speed up builders and technologists. Clearly effectivity is the secret there, and other people hate being distracted and context switching and never getting access to info in actual time.

We additionally need to make firms extra aggressive on account of that by permitting them to rent nice individuals, promote their merchandise and finally retain their individuals. As a result of these – which means builders, technologists – discover their work surroundings by a product like Groups. It’s extremely environment friendly to collaborate inside their firm in live performance with all the things else that they’re doing. In order that’s actually in my thoughts, Jordan, how we’re desirous about a really long-term sustainable path for Stack Overflow.

Constructing with – not for – group

Jordan: Cool. At a community-oriented firm like Stack Overflow, there is usually a pressure between the corporate management and the group. In some senses, each can lay declare to an possession. What’s your pondering on that pressure?

Prashanth: That is my earlier level that we by no means need to construct for the group. We’re all the time constructing with the group. Over the previous couple of years, I believe we’d admit that the corporate hasn’t stayed as near our authentic energy consumer base or particularly the meta group. So what we’ve achieved over the previous six months is de facto attempt to reestablish a excessive degree of belief after which a basis for suggestions and a basis for dialog.

We’ve achieved quite a lot of various things on this subject. We introduced on a brand new Chief Product Officer on my crew who’s a direct chief and a direct report of mine. Her title’s Teresa Dietrich, and she or he is chargeable for the group. She sits on the senior management crew, immediately reporting into me. So the group may be very a lot a day-to-day dialog in our hallways, and now I suppose, in our Zoom rooms. However normally, it’s very a lot a core a part of how we function.

As we ingrain the dialog, and as we work with the group, we’ve had so many conversations with the assorted group members and teams or particular person settings to verify they very a lot are constructing this with us, versus being disconnected. I’m optimistic that the progress we’ve made simply in a really brief time frame will proceed, and we is not going to discover that bifurcation. It’ll very a lot be a joint effort.

Normally, I believe group is an underestimated aspect of how individuals take into consideration their firms”

Jordan: Enthusiastic about this super and constructive impression that Stack Overflow has had on the developer group, what modifications can different leaders implement to begin to foster a robust group round their very own merchandise?

Prashanth: It’s an awesome query. I used to be going to discuss this on the SaaStr convention this 12 months, however clearly it obtained pushed out due to COVID-19. Normally, I believe group is an underestimated aspect of how individuals take into consideration their firms. Lots of people deal with model, they usually deal with merchandise and so forth, however the group is such a fantastic aspect of creating positive which you could create one thing that’s so highly effective. 

We comply with a number of totally different ideas: having a shared id, ensuring that folks can really gravitate in direction of a sure subject, ensuring that we’ve nice product suggestions loops with the group, ensuring there’s a bi-directional framework, ensuring that there’s sufficient of an incentive system so persons are capable of contribute and get rewarded for these issues – and so forth.

By establishing a number of of these core ideas after which finally constructing with the group versus for the group, all these issues will enable leaders to determine pretty highly effective communities inside their very own ecosystem merchandise. Most tech firms are constructing their communities on Stack Overflow, in our public group. Now they’re doing that with inner communities, with our personal Stack Overflow Q&A product. 

So different leaders and different firms ought to actually take into consideration group as a core a part of their ideas and the way they consider what’s most essential to deal with past model and product and so forth.

Jordan: Thanks a lot, Prashanth, for becoming a member of us on the Inside Intercom and sharing your insights. We’re heavy customers of Stack Overflow ourselves, so we’re excited to see how you retain constructing it. The place can our listeners comply with you and sustain along with your work?

Prashanth: For Stack Overflow broadly, we’ve clearly our Twitter handle and we’ve our LinkedIn deal with. Each are @StackOverflow. After which yow will discover me totally on LinkedIn below simply my title, Prashanth Chandrasekar. I’ve not been a giant Twitter consumer through the years however I do keep that as properly @pchandrasekar. However I might say LinkedIn has been my main place to speak on all issues.

Jordan: Good. Thanks, Prashanth.

Prashanth: Thanks, Jordan. We recognize all the things you’re doing at Intercom.


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