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What Makes Geeks Tick? A Study of Stack Overflow Careers


  • Lei Xu

    (TSE-R - Toulouse School of Economics - UT Capitole - Université Toulouse Capitole - UT - Université de Toulouse - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - INRAE - Institut National de Recherche pour l’Agriculture, l’Alimentation et l’Environnement)

  • Tingting Nian

    (UC Irvine - University of California [Irvine] - UC - University of California)

  • Luis Cabral

    (NYU - New York University [New York] - NYU - NYU System)


Many online platforms rely on users to voluntarily provide content. What motivates users to contribute content for free however is not well understood. In this paper, we use a revealed preference approach to show that career concerns play an important role in user contributions to Stack Overflow, the largest online Q&A community. We investigate how activities that can enhance a user's reputation vary before and after the user finds a new job. We contrast this with activities that do not improve a user's reputation. After finding a new job, users contribute 23.7% less in reputation-generating activity. By contrast, they reduce their non-reputation-generating activity by only 7.4% after finding a new job. These findings suggest that users contribute to Stack Overflow in part because they perceive this as a way to improve future employment prospects. We provide direct evidence against alternative explanations such as integer constraints, skills mismatch, and dynamic selection effects.

Suggested Citation

  • Lei Xu & Tingting Nian & Luis Cabral, 2020. "What Makes Geeks Tick? A Study of Stack Overflow Careers," Post-Print hal-03052632, HAL.
  • Handle: RePEc:hal:journl:hal-03052632
    DOI: 10.1287/mnsc.2018.3264
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jeanine Miklós-Thal & Hannes Ullrich, 2016. "Career Prospects and Effort Incentives: Evidence from Professional Soccer," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 62(6), pages 1645-1667, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ayoubi, Charles & Thurm, Boris, 2020. "Knowledge Diffusion and Morality: Why do we Freely Share Valuable Information with Strangers?," OSF Preprints 78mua, Center for Open Science.

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