Stack Overflow for Teams, an InnerSource Powerhouse

Succeed together or fail alone—sharing knowledge, seeking answers, and understanding the benefits of an InnerSource experience.

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In Part 3 of this 3-part  series, we continue exploring the pathways to greater collaboration and documentation innovation through the InnerSource lens … and the unique partnership with Stack Overflow for Teams.  

Rocio Montes, Staff Software Engineer at Intuit, has seen the direct benefits of collaborative development. “We want to communicate through the work that we’re doing and not create more meetings, more time spent figuring out where to look, or who to ask,” he said. “Stack Overflow for Teams plays a big role in InnerSource because it helps us document all these answers that are needed for engineers to move quicker.”

Collaboration allows knowledge and code reuse; think of it as avoiding boilerplate code on a large scale. In other words, if you’ve already solved a problem, share it so everyone can gain a better understanding of the unsolved mysteries of the business. 

It’s undeniable that this is the pathway to innovating new ways of working, solving new or existing problems, and letting your engineers do the interesting work that they were hired to do. Danese Cooper, Founder and Chairperson at InnerSource Commons, and longtime open source advocate, discusses an interesting situation  at HP with InnerSource. “HP used to have a separate printer driver for every single device they made, sometimes more than one, if they were addressing more than one operating system. Using InnerSource, they were able to get down to under 50 from several hundred.”

Engineers are happiest when they are engaged with interesting problems. The duplicated effort that comes from trudging through hundreds of similar printer drivers—or whatever it may be in your organization—depletes morale. “The current system often will leave some of those people down in the salt mines because they don’t have any way to make themselves known,” said Cooper. “They’re under the control of a manager who has other ideas about where they should be. InnerSource allows people to take agency and actually do things that influence their career inside a company without going out to open source projects.”

So how do you get your engineers to actually give up control and share the hard won knowledge they’ve collected? We like to point to the public Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange sites. People give thousands of answers every day for free on a wide range of topics. “People do Stack Overflow in the public spaces because they like knowing the answer at the end of the day,” said Cooper. “That’s why Jeopardy works. You always have to find that carrot, and you have to do it for every party at every level of engagement to make it actually work.”

As open source becomes the de facto standard, companies looking to keep up with it need to adopt its methodologies. Most engineering processes have gotten fully onboard with making code readable and easier to maintain; it’s a short leap to allowing anyone with code access to push suggested changes and work towards the privilege of maintaining.

InnerSource doesn’t need to disrupt how companies prioritize new features and fixes; the philosophy behind InnerSource assumes that teams already have ways to organize their time and priorities. It provides a way to allow guest contributions from others familiar with the inner workings of another part of the codebase. 

Good things come from cross-pollination. With so much ink spilled to discuss how to measure developer productivity, InnerSource lets your processes get out of the engineers way so they can produce code. 

Want to learn more? Listen to Intuit’s Journey to InnerSource.

Join Stack Overflow’s Director of Product Vasudha Swaminathan, as she sits down with the members of Intuit’s engineering team to discuss all things InnerSource. You’ll learn:

  • What is InnerSource?

  • The benefits of InnerSourcing

  • How to gain support and adoption

  • How to enable collaboration across decentralized teams

  • What tools support InnerSourcing

If you missed part 2 of our 3-part series, click here. You can also read part 1 of our 3-part series here.

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