Coding help forum Stack Overflow is laying off 28 percent of its staff as it struggles toward profitability. CEO Prashanth Chandrasekar announced today that the company is “significantly reducing the size of our go-to-market organization,” as well as “supporting teams” and other groups, The Verge reported.
According to The Verge, word of the layoffs comes over a year after the company made a big hiring push, doubling its size to over 500 people. Stack Overflow did not elaborate on the reasons for the layoff, but its hiring push began near the start of a generative AI boom that has stuffed chatbots into every corner of the tech industry, including coding. That presents clear challenges for a personal coding help forum, as developers get comfortable with AI coding assistance and the very tools that do that are blended into products they use.
ArsTechnica reported that Stack Overflow used to be every developer’s favorite site for coding help, but with the rest of generative AI like ChatGPT, chatbots can offer more specific help than a 5-year-old forum post ever could.
According to ArsTechnica, you can get corrections to your exact code, optimization suggestions, and explanations of what each line of code is doing. While no chatbot is 100 percent reliable, code has the unique ability to be instantly verified by just testing in in your IDE (integrated development environment), which makes it an ideal use case for chatbots.
Where exactly does that leave sites like Stack Overflow? Apparently not in a great situation. Today, CEO Prashnath Chandrasekar announced Stack Overflow is laying off 28 percent of its staff.
Of course, the great irony of ChatGPT hurting Stack Overflow is that a great deal of the chatbot’s development prowess comes from scraping sites like Stack Overflow. Chatbots have many questions to answer about the sustainability of the web. They vacuum up all this data and give nothing back, so what is supposed to happen when you drive all your data sources out of business?
VentureBeat reported that the company did not specify exactly how much of its headcount would be impacted, but its LinkedIn page indicates it has between 501-1,000 employees, and 769 on LinkedIn, so presumably around 215 persons.
While Chandrasekar, nor a spokesperson reached by VentureBeat elaborated on what other pressures might be facing the company, observers on X (formerly Twitter) were quick to point the finger at OpenAI’s ChatGPT, the chatbot based on its large language model (LLM) GPT-3.5 and GPT 4/V.
OpenAI also makes Codex, VentureBeat reported, a programming specific LLM based on GPT but trained on code snippets and designed to help software developers generate and complete code.
Laura Wendel, a startup founder between London and Germany, posted that “This may be the first large layoff directly due to AI,” and cited “people asking ChatGPT instead of Stack Overflow” for answers to their questions, posting a graph showing a precipitous decline in Stack Overflow page views beginning in April 2023, when the chatbot was gaining public momentum.
Gizmodo reported that the push couldn’t have come at a worse time, as coders find themselves tuning to emerging AI options over human call-and-response forums like Stack Overflow. The platform reportedly saw a drop in traffic every month in 2022 with the average drop being 6%.
In March 2022, Stack Overflow saw a 13.9% drop in traffic from February and in April the website saw 17.7% drop in traffic from March.
In short, we have three different companies: Bandcamp, LinkedIn, and Stack Overflow all laying off a whole lot of employees at what appears to be at the same time. That cannot be good for any of the people who lost their jobs.