Searching for code on Stack Overflow makes you a bad developer?

Tam H. Doan
5 min readFeb 1, 2020

Recently, I often get questions from university students like:

  • “My coding skill is not too bad, but I often have to search on Google for code references — even with basic functions of programming language, don’t know if it’s terrible?”
  • “I usually go to Stack Overflow to find solutions for my problems, so will I become a bad developer? Should I look for a new career path?”
Me too!

I don’t understand why there are questions like this, but, in my opinion, the answer depends on the field you are studying: Software Engineering, Computer Science, Networking or Database,…

In some paths (like Computer Science), it may require you to have good thinking, brainstorming before using the last resort: do a Google search. Here I will only talk about Software Engineering — also the field I am studying — focused on productivity and project quality.

The answer is: NO. Of course not.

No one has the right to judge you as a bad developer when searching on Google for code.

For web developers, for example, there are hundreds of HTML tags out there, tons of CSS properties, and Javascript is a “non-strict language” that can mess things up, so how can you easily remember them all?

No developer can confidently say that they can complete a project without having to search Google a few times.

There will be times when we need help, and in most of the cases there will always be someone on this planet who has encountered the same problem and solved. Developers are always willing to grow the community, of course, they will post their solution on the Internet to help someone else to continue with their work without wasting their time, in vain.

Don’t re-invent the wheel!

This reminds me of a story about Albert Einstein:

A colleague asked Einstein for his phone number. He picked up the phone directory to look up his phone number, then wrote it on a slip of paper for the student. Dumbfounded, the student said, “You are considered to be the smartest man in the world and you can’t remember your own phone number?”

He replied: “Why should I memorize something when I know where to find it?”

Stack Overflow

Stack Overflow (SO) — the question and answer (Q&A) page which you see every time search for code on Google — is really the best steroids for programmers. I’m serious!

SO operates in the form of example-based — solving problems through example code — it is an extremely powerful way to learn. Even when you need to do some extra things after copy & paste the code to completely solve the problem, it still reduces the time you need to spend to learn new things. Because it’s easy to understand small example code snippets, rather than struggling in the endless bunch of code from official documents.

Probably everyone wants one copy of this book ^^

I’m a full-StackOverflow developer

Want to know how to do A with X and Y? Just search and this is how X, Y works, these are input data,… Encountered problem B? Just search and… bingo, it is caused by C. Now you only need to think about how to solve C.

Furthermore, Google search for code reference or other solutions also help you write better code, avoid using temporary workaround solution.

It helps you understand and solve the problem thoroughly and completely. It’s obvious that developers often use try-catch or nulls check without knowing why the Exception was thrown or the root cause.

It also helps you avoid spending tons of time reading documents along with endless code examples, which lead to failing to catch up with deadlines.

How to avoid missing the deadline ???

As a Software Engineer, I often spend most of my time brainstorming on how the system works and which problem needs to be solved. Focusing on the bigger picture is better for your work than trying to remember small syntax like to_upper(), upper()or toUpper(). With such a problem, I can easily search to find it almost immediately.

There is no reason to reinventing the wheel once it has been resolved and applied successfully.

Some of you may ask: So when it comes to more difficult and more complex problems, how can you just do Google search to solve it?

For more complex problems, we… still apply the same principle, but only after split this big problem into smaller parts. The important thing is to take the time (which you’ve just saved by searching) to understand this solution or to solve unique problems that only your project encounters.

But…

You should not abuse Google search (copy/paste anything you found). At least you need to understand the “some parts” of the copied code before implementing it into your project.

Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

The best thing to do is to always understand what you are doing:

  • WHAT is the problem.
  • HOW this solution works, HOW it solved your problem.
  • WHY you choose this solution (out of other solutions from the search).

Follow that and you will learn new things as quickly as possible and those problems will not bother you in the future.

Learning is about finding and understanding. But if you just skip the “understanding” part and only focus on “finding”, then it’s your failure.

Other resources

There are also other communities like Stack Overflow:

Happy coding~

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