The Exchange
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The Exchange

Exchanging in Stack Overflow

The significance of Stack Overflow in developer culture and its effectiveness for answering technical questions cannot be understated — so much so that it’s continually reflected in internet culture. You can find many memes and gifs speaking to its cultural weight, because it’s not only an essential knowledge base for many technical questions with workable answers — it’s one with an international reach.

The BCDevExchange was founded upon enabling and empowering the software developer as the primary persona to create exceptional velocity in time to market for digital products, and in doing so improve the return on investment in the approach for these technology choices. This was partly done by simplifying the software developer journey working within the BC Public Service ecosystem by modernizing the tools used, altering practices and processes surrounding them, and literally going where the software developer goes in their journey maps. If Stack Overflow is such a pop culture phenomenon, how much of a part has it already played in the BC Public Service? More than that, what will its role look like in the future?

This is the foundational reason the BC Public Service is exploring a partnership with Stack Exchange, the creators of Stack Overflow. We are looking to complete a proof of value assessment, to validate that Stack Overflow is a key missing component of the Province’s continued digital journey.

Will it further connect our knowledge bases across the organization? Can it create a greater cross-organizational online community through gamification and engagement? We need to confirm this is where the developer goes in their daily routines as well as tackle the toil that comes from government employees asking and answering the same questions, over and over on the chat tool of choice (specifically Rocket.Chat or Microsoft Teams).

Photo by Vadim Bogulov on Unsplash

We already have some insight to justify the pilot.

How much time do you think BC Public Servants spend on Stack Overflow, following a search on Google for a technical problem statement directly tied to a digital product? Well, working with Stack Exchange, we partnered to find out.

The data only included a fraction of the amount of usage as it was based upon sharing a small footprint of the British Columbia Government’s network traffic during the COVID pandemic and was not inclusive of remote working scenarios that were not on a government network.

Turns out in 2020, BC Public Servants in total spent 5228 hours per month on Stack Overflow, which equals approximately 217 days per month.

That’s 7 months within a month.

Of that, there are 8,119 unique visitors per year. Usage obviously varies, and there are a lot more assumptions that can be made. We believe we can say this much: the BC Public Service definitely uses Stack Overflow.

Why?

With quantitative data already firmly established, we needed to collect qualitative information too to further justify the pilot. We asked two personas, the developer and the product owner, what tools would improve their experience in their daily efforts creating digital products. And this is what they said:

They were plain in their responses: multiple years of working within chat operational tools has identified a need for a community-based question and answer tool. In particular, Stack Overflow.

With the value case plainly proven, we spent the next year in procurement, legal review, cloud security, and privacy compliance, and we’re excited to now say that all items have been followed, signed-off and completed for this pilot. It’s taken a significant amount of work to get this far. The integration of a Public Cloud based Software as a Service product compliant with all of the aforementioned, took much effort, and a big thank you to those that took part.

Now we turn to the potential expansion into an enterprise service, and that’s where you come in.

The Stack Overflow pilot has kicked off as of Thursday, June 16th, 2022, and ends on Monday, August 1, 2022.

Participants can join today at stackoverflow.developer.gov.bc.ca.

Important to note: Contractors and internal employees can use either an IDIR (via Azure AD) or the GitHub ID they use in Rocket.Chat. However, don’t use both; they are NOT linked. Each account creates their own account, so please choose one, and use one moving forwards. GitHub IDs must be members of the BCGov GitHub organization.

What do participants need to do? Login, create an account, ask questions, get answers, and engage. Earn badges, build reputation, learn from others and share what they know. Some key performance indicators are directly tied to the quantitative metric associated with participants’ engagement. How many new questions, new answers, answer ratios of accepted, unaccepted and no answers, mediate time to answer, interaction rate, votes, searches and reputation.

A qualitative engagement will happen as well, and we’ll be asking for feedback from participants on their experience surrounding the core question: is this a valuable tool?

Source

Thank you for your interest, participation, and collaboration as a member of the Exchange online community. An online community is nothing without engagement within it. It’s our hope together we will all prove Stack Overflow is as useful as it is perceived to be in the creation of the digital products with the Province of British Columbia.

Justin Hewitt has been the Senior Director of DevOps Platform Services with the DevOps and Cloud Services Branch, Citizens’ Services, for almost 3 years. Beyond that, he’s worked in the BC Public Service for a total of 15 years in over 8 ministries and counting. He was assigned to his current position right when COVID-19 hit and was tasked with operationalizing the Province of British Columbia’s Private Cloud Containerized Platform as a Solution (aka OpenShift) plus security tooling and more. He counts himself fortunate to have joined such a highly functional team in a leadership position and to have seen it grow to the service it is today. It was a true team of teams effort, which has reached an enterprise-grade service as of early January 2022.

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