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At my company we have strict limits on internet use. I often must use the poor mobile interface only for Stack Overflow. However, the site is very useful for work.

How do I convince a manager to un-block Stack Overflow? Is there a summary of benefits available online for managers to look at?

  • 83
    If your manager is so stupid as to not allow you to use resources for your job.. it's probably a good sign to change jobs and work for someone less tyrannical and more intelligent. – Wayne Molina May 25 '11 at 20:24
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    Some places such as paranoid wall street firms have to limit internet use for their employees, or else SEC will fine them. – Job May 25 '11 at 20:25
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    @job They're paranoid because they're paranoid. The SEC has nothing to do with it. – Reverend Gonzo May 25 '11 at 20:34
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    I wouldn't start that job, and wouldn't stay. I won't work for people who don't trust me. – kevin cline May 26 '11 at 3:11
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    careers.stackoverflow.com :D – pramodc84 May 27 '11 at 12:20

10 Answers 10

6

You could get them to pay for Experts Exchange instead.

I guess one thing to avoid mentioning is chat :)

  • 1
    is of interest. manager is know of expertsexchange and has offer to make available. i will pursue – PRASHANT P May 27 '11 at 19:08
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    He's not willing to allow developers to access SO, which is free. And you think he's going to pay money to allow them to access EE? That seems quite unlikely to me. – MatrixFrog May 27 '11 at 20:06
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    @MatrixFrog, you'd be surprised, judging by that green tick mark (I certainly am!). I'm guessing it's the equivalent of OpenSource vs Paid software. And, to be fair, I'm not sure that EE is anywhere near as addictive as SO! – Benjol May 28 '11 at 1:14
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    @PRASHANT P: this answer was supposed to be a joke! Benjol was kidding! – Steven A. Lowe Sep 10 '11 at 3:32
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Put it politely that it is in his best interests to let you access the crucial information concerning what you do.

Without it you would be cut off from the global knowledge and will have to research things in deep every time you're stuck with a problem. Depending on an issue the research might take from weeks up to months. Of course, if you had access to Stack Overflow the issue would be resolved in minutes/hours.

Force him to give you a formal reply (better in written) that he is informed of the consequences of having access to the vital information blocked to you and that you will not be reprimanded for bugs in your code and missed deadlines on a regular basis.

Then observe his reaction and enjoy. :)

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    its the height of insanity on the part of the manager. bet my ass hes an "MBA" – Chani May 27 '11 at 5:07
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    Better still, do nothing all day, then ask the question on stack overflow from home, bring it in and say "look, I found this in 30s on stack overflow, but I had to spend all day yesterday doing nothing" :) – Benjol May 27 '11 at 6:01
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    Does this also work the other way around when have unlimited access to the internet wil you have (far) less bugs and hardly miss any deadline? And would you be willing to commit to this when internet access is granted? – refro May 27 '11 at 6:13
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    Going into direct battle with management in a too obvious way can backfire pretty hard. They don't like to be confronted with their own stupidity if not done subtle enough. Plus, management might point out to you that you have the manuals and other sources available, so why SO will need a bit more argumentation than this. – Joris Meys May 27 '11 at 9:20
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I don't know if he ever asks you programming questions, but a quick way to convince the people who "don't believe in google coding" (not reliable, makes you a bad programmer, WWLTD (What Would Linus Torvalds Do), makes you go blind; the reasons are stupid and endless), is when they shoot you an email with a code question, put it up on SO. When there are 5 answers to it about 2 seconds later, send them the link to the answered question.

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    But they don't have internet access to SO :p – Marcelo May 25 '11 at 20:57
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    @Marcelo He has access to the mobile interface (presumably on a phone). If the question is simple enough the OP can type it out on the phone, ask, wait for answers, then send it to his boss – TheLQ May 25 '11 at 21:40
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    For non-trivial questions you estimated response time and number of answers may be a bit optimistic. – user1249 May 26 '11 at 5:14
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    @Thorbjorn - I was using a bit of hyperbole, but I think the beauty of SO is that one coder's impossible task is another coder's trivial task. So much of being able to solve today's problems comes down to whether or not you have stumbled accross it before. I've seen almost no well-worded and well-scoped questions turn into tumbleweed questions. – Morgan Herlocker May 26 '11 at 14:04
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    Wait... Google coding doesn't make you go blind!? – Michelle Tilley May 27 '11 at 5:04
8

Tell him one thing:

Its like a hundred cheap slaves that work for you and they are really really cheap and extremely qualified.

  • 4
    Cheap slaves? Aren't slaves supposed to be free? – yannis May 27 '11 at 10:19
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    @Yiannis They cost food and living quarters normally, "stackers" are free :) – Tschef May 27 '11 at 10:29
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If the company is preventing you from doing your job, then it's their problem, not yours. They're the ones who are losing money because their workers are not as productive as they could be.

In other words, don't worry about it too much. Tell your boss that you need SO access - if he doesn't give it to you, then at least you'll know that you've held up your end. And if possible, get this conversation in writing.

  • It sure is the OP’s problem, if company policy is preventing him from learning on the job as fast as folks at other companies can. – Tim Grant Dec 29 '16 at 12:15
4

A good way to make him realize how useful stack overflow may be for your work is to elaborate a list of issues you often come across at work, search for them with google, and see how many times one of the right answers is found with these sites.

That's precisely the way (and I think I'm not the only one) I knew of stack overflow some months ago. It was a page I usually visited after a google search and the place where I got some of the answers I was looking for.

3

If the manager is a reasonable person, the best tactic might be to ask them if they have been in a similar situation and to think about how hard it would've been if they had the same restrictions placed on them as they are placing on you.

Putting someone else in your shoes can sometimes make them think about the problem from your perspective and see what may not have been clear to them before.

1

Its sad to know that stackoverflow is blocked at your company. This made me wonder if you were able to google and move on to other Q&A sites (hope atleast MSDN would be open for you)

Nonetheless its not a better alternative to SO, but i think you should look upto to the Network guys as to why the site is being blocked might be something to do with Careers shown on SO at times (sick but companies wouldn't like you looking out for jobs on their own network..but thats the truth).

Maybe at your company you can raise an exception for allowing such sites. The best bet would be too update your Manager on how useful SO is and more important how reliable the solutions you find in there (Hey do you know Jon Skeet, Marc Gravell?). i bet if he has been into development the odds that he would be overwhelmed on knowing this is very high (May be he hasn't heard of StackExchange at all).

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General rule when I deal with management : They want paper and numbers. So I give them a decently put together report on the benefits, and an estimate of the win. I add some figures and tables, and keep it maximum 4 pages (more they won't read anyway) with a concise summary on the first half page. You might check the general procedures and office culture at your own work place before going on.

In this case, I'd add :

  • a concise description of the concept of SO.
  • a table with key programmers on SO, with the amount of answers they give.
  • an estimate of how often SO is among the top hits when searching in Google.
  • some estimate of the average answering time
  • a comparison between the quality of the answers on relevant! questions compared to the ones found in the sources you have available
  • if possible, an estimate of the win in time based on the figures mentioned above

A key question I ask myself is : why is it blocked? Is it because a) the decision has been made it is not suitable for work, or b) because everything gets blocked that is not completely approved for work? That's quite an important difference.

If a) it should be not too difficult to convince people that it is suitable for work, given the fact you can easily show a few questions of your own that got answered pretty fast, and show some of the FAQ questions or other more interesting ones that solve important coding problems. Add to this the amount of stackoverflow answers found by simply googling a question, and management will have a tough time defending the decision it is not suitable for work. Tough one in this case is the fact you have to go directly against a decision of management, so somebody might end up with sore toes.

If b), you could actually just check first what the procedure is to get a website approved. I can't see why in this case there should be any trouble in getting SO approved if you follow the right office procedure.

0

The problem is widely political by my experience. I had a similar issue when SO was not blocked, but forbidden by customer policy. Yes, customer. In fact we all were working by connecting our laptops to customer's VPN and opening a remote desktop to their development machines. Disconnecting and reconnecting often was not only a waste of time, but required justification.

Those didn't have (yet) a block on SO but once I got called from my company's upper management reporting that customer code was found, despite well redacted, on SO. Question has been deleted years ago for this reason despite a good answer.

All politics. When you work as a consultant the customer pays your company in order for you to solve their problems, not for Googling around. And despite Google-coding is deemed a best practice in many environments (it best matches secure coding), some customers are still old-minded and paranoid.

In my case there might also have been a privacy law violation (in my country firewall records can be accessed only by police officers under a court order for criminal investigations, not upon sysadmin request or regular scan), but more simply the customer could have crawled (as it was told me) SO to find their own code in the questions/answers.

Comments apart, let's go to the answer. This answer is meant for all the people who face the same problem as the OP.

Before trying to convince your manager you have to understand if this policy was enforced because of a practical, tangible and legitimate reason. You should first set a meeting (or write your manager an email) requesting why SO is blocked and to unlock it because you need to use it for legitimate work reasons.

That mail, depending on the size of your company and the cooperativity of your manager, could be escalated to sysops. In the best case you will get it unlocked in a few hours, because it might have been set by firewall's default policy and just nobody bothered before. This applies to companies whose core business is not IT but have internal IT staff (e.g. you are the sole developer the fashion house's storefront). But if you work in a real IT company I couldn't believe nobody noticed SO blocking before....

If you don't get a good answer you should confront your manager, politely, to discuss the issue possibly verbally, in a meeting or even in front of coffee machine. Be firm and serious about your will to discuss the issue and get a complete answer. Highlight, for example, the great productivity benefits by pointing links to questions that have been answered already. This will prove that SO saved you a certain amount of worktime (read it company money) and increased your productivity by hundreds percentile. Speak by numbers. @JorysMeys and @Nicolàs pointed this out in their answer.

In the worst-worst case you may get an answer that "we pay you, not them, to solve problems". In that case you will discover the politics behind this policy and probably want to send your resume to my company :-) which promotes Google-coding and SO-coding having an SO moderator* in their staff :-)

On the contrary, you may also get a security-related answer I heard by experience. "Who audits the code posted by anonymous community members?". The answer is: yourself. Sometimes people don't understand that SO is made to solve narrow problems. Every programmer must not copy&paste code from SO, they must read and understand it. Quality answers provide explanation, not just code. And the best answers provide less than 5 lines of code. And since we in SO redact your code both to hide references to existing people/companies, both to make it applicable to a generic case, that is another good reason to prove that no special code audit should be done to code provided by SO community members. It is developer's duty to assemble the knowledge acquired from SO or other forums into a working solution.

Happy new year!

*I am not community-elected moderator, I just have enough rep to "access moderator tools"

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