This is a story of how I went from being the poster child for bad posting etiquette on to becoming their poster child for fast learner! A poignant tale of hubris, struggle, fear, benevolent mentorship, and redemption.

Prequel: The Lure

Some colleagues of mine at Rally Software (Karl Scotland, Ken Clyne, Eric Willeke, Ben Carey, and Ryan Martens) have been telling me about how much they were enjoying their experiences in StackExchange. My CTO colleagues Zach Nies and Mark Gammon have also been enthusiastic about the value of being engaged in the StackExchange community. But I was intimidated. I feared I wouldn’t know how to appropriately engage in either asking a question or answering a question. It turns out my fears were well-founded.


Scene 1: The Leap

I finally decided to jump in. I set-up an account, fairly easy to do. I perused some of the questions already posted by others. I saw the tags and the replies. I saw the voting. Somewhat intimidating. But, I had a topic I was really excited about. I thought it would make a great question. And so I made the leap; I took the plunge. And this is what was wrought:

Scene 2: The Faux Pas

Not a bad question. The problem was that in the text area below the question title, I gave further detail on the question. A lot of detail. I pulled a major faux pas: I waxed poetic on what I thought the answer was. (I’m not going to go into the topic here. Trust me. It was lengthy and unyielding. :-(

Fortunately for me, however, very timely and gentle advice appeared from Mark Phillips and jmort253:

Could they have been any nicer? What a great community!

Scene 3: Meeting with the masters

The good news is that help was on its way. Back in March, we’d spoken with Joel Spolsky (co-founder and CEO of StackExchange.) Ryan’s goal in talking with Joel was to look at how we at Rally could incorporate StackExchange into our upcoming RallyOn conference in May. How could we work together to create community in StackExchange as we were creating community in the conference?

The result? We brought in the great StackExchange masters Anna Lear and Mark Phillips to the RallyOn conference. In his opening remarks at the conference, Ryan introduced our two Zen StackExchange masters and Ryan’s hope for how we could all engage with them to kick start a powerful presence of the Agile community within StackExchange.

Yea! I was going to actually be able to work with Mark and Anna to become more comfortable and more productive in StackExchange!

Scene 4 : Lessons Learned

After Mark held a small session on getting started in StackExchange, I saw him in the hallway. I’d missed the session, but he quickly filled me in. It turned out, he’d used MY question/answer fumble as an example of how NOT to engage in StackExchange. I had become the poster child for bad StackExchange etiquette :-(

But both Anna and Mark quickly took my under their wing. We edited my original question. We commented on one of the answers. We created a new question. And we answered another question. The result was a new exchange of comments:

Close: A Happy Ending

Today, good news abounds. Mark recently wrote a phenomenal blog post: Why StackExchange is Hotter than Twitter

I continue to stay engaged asking and answering questions. I’ve learned to keep my questions short, my comments short, and my answers short. And, I’m gaining reputation points and earning badges, still with gentle guidance from Anna, Mark and “jmort253″.

My Rally colleagues continue to post as well. It is exciting to see the Agile community begin to expand in Provocative questions with great answers. And through the tags, we can watch the expansion into other topic areas.

For the happiest ending of all, I’m saving the best for last: my email yesterday from StackExchange!

“Congratulations — you are one of the top new Project Management – Stack Exchange users for the month of May 2011! ” There was also the caveat that my name would not appear in the list of users because I still need to earn more reputation points. Okay, June, you are going down!

Help keep the story alive!

To wrap things up: I not only survived jumping into StackExchange; I love it. I’m hooked. So, my story is not over.

Now, I’d love your reply to this post to tell me how you are getting involved in StackExchange.

Jean Tabaka is an intrepid intercontinental traveller, a 6-badge holder in,  author and Agile Fellow at Rally Software Development. You can follow Jean on Twitter at @jeantabaka



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