podcast October 16, 2020

Podcast 278: The downside of going viral with your programming joke

You post a skit, and make the whole world laugh. Then the trolls come out to make you miserable. Can we break this cycle?
Avatar for Ben Popper
Director of Content

Emily Kager is an Android developer for open source Firefox browsers and self-described wannabe internet comedienne. She recently posted a skit on Tik Tok about what it would be like if other industries conducted job interviews the way they are done in the software industry. The joke went viral, but shortly after she was dealing with a wave of cruel and violent comments.

Episode Notes

That skit made it to the front page of Reddit, and was soon seen across the internet. It’s nice to make people laugh, but following the surge of interest, Emily also had to deal with severe harassment and cyber stalking. She wrote a piece about the experience which you can find here.

In this episode, we discuss how moderation could be improved and the work that remains to be done to make the software industry feel safe and inclusive for everyone.

TRANSCRIPT

Emily Kager I think you can’t pretend like you don’t know there’s a problem anymore, right? Like, I think these platforms as they’re in their creation stages, like if you’re not thinking about moderation and how you’re going to keep people safe on your community so that you know, more than half of the human race, like feel safe on your platform, like then you’re doing something wrong. Like you need to be thinking about these things like from the get go.

[INTRO MUSIC]

Ben Popper Nothing’s more important than great customer experiences. But sometimes services get disrupted. Resolve issues faster and spend more time innovating. Automate, collaborate and improve with Adaptive Incident Management. Learn why millions trust xMatters to keep their digital services running at xmatters.com/resolve.

BP Hello everybody, and welcome back to the Stack Overflow podcast. I’m Ben Popper, Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. And I’m here with my wonderful co-host, Sara Chipps. Hey, Sara!

Sara Chipps Hey, Ben! How’s it going? 

BP Oh, it’s pretty good. We have a guest today, you want to introduce? 

SC Yeah, I’m excited to say that we’re here with Emily Kager, who is an Android developer, based in Oakland, and also an avid TikToker. Hey, Emily.

EK Hey, Sara. Hey, Ben. Thank you so much for having me this morning.

BP Oh, it’s great to have you. So tell us a little bit about how you got into software development? Was that something you have always done? What’s your path to that world like?

EK Sure. So yeah, I actually have a pretty non-traditional background, I went to school for neuroscience, which is unrelated to software in almost every way. But after school kind of was looking for what I wanted my, you know, career to look like and kind of fell into software after visiting a friend in San Francisco and really seeing the culture and office space out here. And decided that you know, had to make a change. So ended up going back to school and getting a master’s in computer science. And yeah, I’ve been here ever since. And I love it.

02:00 

SC That’s funny. I saw that in the responses to a TikTok, you mentioned that everyone in your family is a doctor. Is that, you have lots of doctors in your family?

EK Yeah, so both of my parents and most of my friends, actually, because, you know, when you study neuroscience, most people end up going to med school. So yeah, basically, like, I’m surrounded by doctors all the time. [Emily chuckles]

SC Were they initially kind of bum by the software thing? Were they like, ”really?”

EK Um, I think they were confused. [Emily laughs] Yeah, I did a ton of time in hospitals, and, you know, working in clinical research, and I think it’s super admirable, it just really was not for me. [Emily laughs] And I was kind of looking for, I was really excited to find something else that I was excited about.

BP So before we jump into your TikTok, I just want to ask, I have this argument with Paul a lot. Isn’t the brain though, just a computer, [Sara laughs] there’s some electrical signals. Elon Musk has got neuro link, or moving towards the brain computer interface. I mean, maybe neuroscience in 5 or 10 years will be very applicable to software engineering. I don’t know. I just want to stick that out there. Test the waters.

EK Yeah, a lot of people actually said this. They’re like, ”Oh, we could go you know, into neuro link and that kind of–” and I was like, ”No, no, I actually, I’m ready to move away from right from that, you know.”

BP So you’re sort of, yeah, family history and your time working in the medical area and then going into software led you to this wonderful TikTok, which Sara had shared with me about what it would be like if doctors were interviewed by software developers. I thought the joke was very funny. And I was comparing it to my previous life. But maybe tell us what was the inspiration, did something specific happen a job interview or a friend’s interview? Or what was like the, what made you decide to do this, this routine?

03:46 

EK Yeah, I don’t know. I was just sitting at home last week and just had like, strike of creative inspiration, I guess. And I mean, I think people criticize tech interviews quite often. And I’ve had friends going through it in the, you know, during stay at home, and it’s been like a interesting experience doing it all remotely. And so I’ve had, I think, just a lot of people changing jobs recently in my life and complaining about the interview process. And yeah, I mean, I think it’s just like classic criticism of the industry. And for me, like we were talking about, like a doctor’s just the default job in my head. Because, you know, my entire family doctors, so yeah, I just thought about it and decided that that was going to be the the skit. But really, I didn’t do much planning behind it. Like I didn’t really think it out much. 

BP Are you a TikTok fan? Were you taking off of another? Is this a meme that other people do like, or is this a fresh thing? Like I know that time TikTok, somebody comes up with a good joke. And then everybody has like their version of that.

EK Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like remix type things. No, I really just, yeah, I think for like the skip versions you kind of just do your own thing. And it wasn’t like riffing off of something else. But yeah, I don’t know. I just thought about it. I was like, yeah, I’ll do this skit, and I’m glad that you know I’m exploring that medium and I really think videos a fun medium and you know, get to share with so many different people on TikTok versus like on Twitter where it’s, you know, more tech space. And I have actually like five younger siblings and a couple of them are still in like middle school/high school age, and I find it like a really fun way to connect with them. They might not like that I’m trying to connect with them with TikTok. [Ben & Sara laugh]

SC I live on TikTok. I love TikTok.

BP Were they thrilled when their older sister went viral? Or was that super embarrassing?

EK Yeah, it was probably more embarrassing for them. And you know, I was texting them questions like, ”how do I you know, edit videos so it looks better?” And my like, 15 year old sister is like, ”Oh, my gosh.” [Emily laughs]

BP So Sara, when and I talked about this last week, you said that this really hit home for you. Certainly, I think it’s interesting, like as a former journalist or something, when people would be like, what do you do outside of work? I’d say I have a family. I do jujitsu. I’m into flying drones, wasn’t like, well, most of the time I do investigative journalism in my spare time. I contribute to nonprofit, you know, Sunlight Foundation, like nobody expects you to say that, you know, like, you might say, ”Oh, I work on my novel” or something like that, you know, like I do writing or something. But I guess the gag here is that in the world of software, you’re expected in your spare time to be a hobbyist coder, open source contributor, you know, like, just, this is what you wake up wanting to do every day? Can we talk a little bit about like waving maybe where that culture comes from and some of the sort of unhealthy aspects of it?

06:21 

SC I don’t know. So this could be a lot of things. And what I’ve observed is that people tend to want you to have contributed to open source but not want to pay you to do it, right. [Ben laughs] Like if you have a job interview, they’ll be like, how much open source have you done? And then you can say, ”Okay, how much of my job am I allowed to use to like, how much of my time am I allowed to use to contribute to open source?” So like, ”Oh, no, that’s not something that we do.” [Ben laughs] So it’s kind of like a catch 22 of like, we want you to have done open source. And part of the reason for that, I think, too, is because coding interviews are very hard. We’ve talked about this a lot like the Jeopardy style interviews doesn’t really work for lots of people. And so one way to see how people, what type of coding people do or some of their experience to look at their open source work, because the work they’ve done at companies are proprietary. But if you don’t have all that spare time, then desire to focus on those things. You don’t really have that open portfolio. So that’s another part of it that’s pretty tough. So I think one thing I really like is there’s a lot of companies now that will, that both hire people to work on open source full time, right, like, I know, LinkedIn, I have a friend that works at LinkedIn on the Ember JS project. And they have folks that they’ve hired just to work on Ember JS, so their full time job is to contribute to open source, which is really nice. And so there’s a lot of companies doing things like that. But that’s relatively new for like the past five years or so. Before that, it was like, we want you to be Linus, who’s like, constantly emailing at 3am, but has nothing else going. Emily is up in your experience as well?

07:58 

EK Oh, yeah. So I actually am one of those people who’s paid to work full time on open source.

SC Oh, that’s so great. 

EK Yeah, I think it’s definitely a weird expectation that, you know, you need to be spending all of your free time continuing to basically do your job or do your job for free elsewhere. I just think there’s so much more to like the world than sitting in front of your computer for the entire day and tonight and till three in the morning. And yeah, I mean, I think a healthier balance is good for everyone. And there’s so much burnout in our industry, too, that I can’t even imagine, like expecting everyone to constantly be working.

BP I mean, for you, that’s especially true, right? Because it’s like open source is what is your job. So like, normally there’s like, oh, well, I do the the company stuff, you know, the private stuff, but then I do the benevolent thing, the open source thing, but it’s like, well, if open source is your job, then during your free time, what, you’re gonna work on your startup? You know, like, just take a break!

EK Well, yeah, I think that is the expectation, right? Like they, everyone wants to be, you know, hustling, especially like around, you know, Silicon Valley, right, like hustling and making the next startup and working on your side project. And, you know, I think it’s kind of unreasonable expectations. 

BP And so I guess that tweet really hit home obviously, with a lot of people. You know, the best jokes have a grain of truth behind them, right? Like, wasn’t absurdist in any way. What was the initial response? Like and how big did it get on TikTok?

EK Um, yeah, so I guess the initial reaction, I kind of just posted it on my like, TikTok and Twitter, which, you know, my TikTok doesn’t have that many followers, but like, yeah, I didn’t really expect much, you know, a couple of my friends were liking it. I was like, yeah, it’s kind of I thought it was funny. And then I wake up in the morning and I get messages from you know, my acquaintances like not even my like close friends who are like, ”Hey, is this you? Like, I think this is like you on the front page of Reddit.” And I was like, ”what?!” It was people who you know, don’t even understand the joke because they’re not, you know, working in tech, like my random second cousin in Pennsylvania was like sending me on Instagram, which is the only like, contact form we have to each other right. And he’s like ”IS this you?!” I was like, ”yeah, that’s me.”

10:02 

BP So you made it to the front of r/all, like front front. Not just the front of like a subreddit. 

EK Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Number one actually. 

SC Woowww!

BP Oh my god! Wow, you were the lead story on the internet’s newspaper!

EK But I didn’t post it there. So it was kind of like this jarring, like, ”Oh, no.”

SC That’s jarring. 

EK What now?

SC Yeah, when you don’t do it, too. That’s a lot. 

EK Yeah. So I didn’t have control. Like, I wasn’t getting the updates. I didn’t know how long it had been up. And you know, it was worrisome, you know, for sure. So I opened it. And really, most of the comments were positive, right? Like, I would say, like, 80% were just like, ”yeah, this is a funny joke.” And then, you know, 10% are trying to like dissect the joke to the point where, you know, it’s like, ”Okay, do you understand what jokes are?” Right? Like, you don’t need to, you don’t need to dissect every point of this skit that I made in like two minutes, right. But a lot of people were offended that I use doctors as the analogy, which, you know.

SC Why?

EK Uh, they were just like, you know, doctors work so hard. You know, they work a lot of time. And they’re off time, too. And I was like, Yes, I understand. It was never really supposed to be about doctors. It was just supposed to be, you know, funny analogy. Use Pizza delivery men, or garbage men, whatever. Yeah, it doesn’t matter, you know, but yeah, you know, then you start to see negative comments beyond that roll in. And I think that’s where, like, you know, it gets problematic. And that’s when I decided to try to, you know, reach out to the mods of the subreddit, kind of like an appeal to them that, like, you’re not doing your job, basically. Right.

SC Yeah wasn’t it r/programming, you were on r/programming, is that what it was?

EK It was programmer humor. 

SC Programmer humor. 

EK So basically, you know, you get to see a bunch of fun, just pretty sexist, objectifying comments on something that was just supposed to be like, a joke content about programming.

SC Yeah, you’re just saying, and just making jokes, and people are just, yeah coming at you. 

EK Yeah! And so, you know, I started to get notifications that people are trying to log into, like my accounts. And you know, I think this is just the dark side of going viral for anyone, but especially a woman in tech. And it’s just troublesome that it happens, you know, in our communities, like in our subreddits. And I think when you ended up being on r/all like, you don’t know, where all these people are coming from, but, you know, you have to assume that some of them are working in the industry and seeing this and decide that’s like an inappropriate thing to comment. So.

12:16 

SC How did that feel? So like, you’re like having a day you’re like, ”Wow, look at this content taking off,” and then all of a sudden, you’re seeing stuff that is very personal. What was that like?

EK Yeah, I think, you know, the excitement fades quickly, of being viral when you’re like, oh, shoot that, like, I realized that I have to be, you know, in front of all these people. Honestly, like, it doesn’t impact me as much. You know, when I see someone say, like, ”Oh, you know, this girl’s ugly.” I’m like, okay, like, I, you know, I’m a 26 year old woman, I’m very, like, secure in myself. Like, that’s not gonna, like impact me. But it’s when it starts to, like, go beyond that and get like, a bit scary. And, you know, honestly, just like constantly objectifying comments, just like gets really old really fast to like, you’re just like, okay, like, Can I just be a like a professional in this industry? You know, obviously, like, I asked that as I’m making TikTok jokes.

SC Yeah, is there a comment that like, takes up the most space in your head? Or is it just, there’s just like, a lot of them?

EK Yeah, there were a few that, you know, got pretty violent, you know, talking about, you know, she must have, you know, slept with everyone to get this job. And, you know, you know, beyond that, like, I don’t think it’s appropriate for her to talk about on a podcast, but yeah, like, just, you know, pretty violent stuff, like sexual imagery. And I dealt with this before, like, it’s gotten worse to the point, you know, where it’s been threads about me on 4chan, and like, they discovered, quote, unquote, that I was Jewish by going through like my entire Twitter feed to find one Jewish holiday had went to and disgusting, like, anti semitic content. And, I mean, the punchline is I’m not even Jewish. But it doesn’t really matter, right? Like, still disgusting. And so like, I think the dark side of the internet can be like, very dark. And the consequence of being a woman who’s you know, fairly out there and posting content is you’re going to like deal with this quite often. So this is like the second time in probably six weeks if this has happened.

14:06 

BP What was the other incident?

EK Yeah. So you know, I posted kind of a joke tweet about like, my work in open source and, you know, a couple people who had been following the project decided that they didn’t like how the project direction was going. And I was just, you know, a fun scapegoat. So you know, they took my tweets they put them all over the 4chan and 8chan on the internet and threads roasting me about I mean, roasting sounds you know, nicer than it was. So yeah, I’d like dealt with this recently. They actually like posed as journalists tried to like call my work to get me fired, etc. 

BP Oh my god.

EK So for a while, I had locked on my accounts for like, you know, two or three weeks but I just I don’t think that that’s like, you know, it’s not fair. You know, that women should have to do that. So, you know, after the the initial fire had kind of died down, I opened my accounts back up and just, you know, took out some identifying information. Just trying to be like more careful about the things that I post, you know, trying to keep it not personal and it sucks that you know, you have to like think through all these things, you know, as you’re just trying to like, literally like just like make jokes on the internet.

SC Yeah, what’s that like going to work the next day. Is it hard to focus on your work? Because you’re like, kind of thinking about, I imagine you’re sitting there thinking about like, okay, is this account safe? Is this account safe? What’s gonna happen next, you know, like they’ve called, like, they’ve called my work. They’ve, you know, like, what? What surprise is next?

EK Oh, yeah. Like, don’t worry, when I also logged on to GitHub, the next day, there was some fun, like, very violent PR that someone had opened in our open source repo, you know, so it just like it doesn’t end, right. Like, when you’re the target of this kind of targeted hate or harassment, or whatever you want to call it, I think there’s quite a difference between hate and harassment, but, you know, like, it just it bleeds into all aspects of your like online life, right? And they’re not going to stop. So until they get bored.

15:58 

BP I mean, like, I’m sure this is a double standard. But I wonder, have either of you ever had a conversation, you know, with somebody like a man who posts a viral r/programmer, tweet, I would assume doesn’t get the same kind of thing. Like, maybe some people come out of the woodwork like you were saying to say like, this jokes dumb, or I don’t get this joke. But like, it doesn’t devolve into personal attacks, or, you know, it seems to me like this is, unfortunately, areas like 4chan and 8chan we know. And then Reddit, which has some threads that are kind of, you know, at that same level, where people feel like they are anonymous, and they want to take out their their worst impulses. And when you rise to, you know, the front page, suddenly you become the target for the day, right?

EK Yeah, and I think a lot of, I think a lot of men don’t understand the difference, because they’re like, ”Oh, well, I’ve posted photos of myself on Reddit. And, you know, I’ve gotten terrible responses, saying that I’m, like, you know, out of shape, or ugly, and they didn’t like my job, or they didn’t like my content.” And I just find it baffling that, you know, I think like, No one likes to receive hate on the internet. And of course, you know, I think it’s terrible that the internet is so full of hate and towards everybody. But again, like, I think there’s a very stark difference between someone calling you you know, out of shape, or ugly versus someone like stalking you down on all of your internet accounts, trying to find your personal information, like bleeding into your work, and then like, you know, the constant objectifying when like, you’re just trying to, like, be a professional online, right? Like, I think there is a stark difference. And it’s clearly like targeted at women, I have, you know, friends who work in, you know, Dev rel, or they’re dead at Dev advocates, you know, where their job is to post content. And I just, I feel for them so hard, because, you know, one of my friends had to literally like go through the bureaucratic process of her, you know, massive company, to even be able to take control of the comments on her own videos, because they had never thought about, you know, what happens when there’s abusive comments on her, like, you know, tutorial videos, like, they just never thought about it until she showed up. And, you know, suddenly, her comments are being flooded with terrible content, and none of her you know, male coworkers ever had to deal with that. So.

18:06 

BP So Reddit did eventually respond to you. Did you feel like they they at least made some effort, or were able to, you know, say to you things that you felt like, they understood the situation, maybe they didn’t respond to it too quickly enough where they could improve in the future, but what was their eventual response?

EK Yeah, so the, he subreddit, mods replied, after, you know, like, 24 hours. And, you know, I was a bit irked that while this was going on, and the comments were still flooding in, like, there was just really no response. Like, they weren’t deleting things. Myself and some my friends had been like, reporting all the worst ones, and they kind of just like, still were there a day later, but they were very apologetic. When they finally did reply and say, you know, this was totally our bad. And we’re going to make it a clear rule that you can’t, you know, comment, sexualized, aggressive comments, and we’re going to try to get more mods so that we can deal with this faster. And so I really do feel like that was the best response that they could have given me. And I do appreciate the response. I just, you know, I wish they’d done it a little faster. And then I have to kind of question you know, I guarantee you this is not the first time this has happened, and it’s not going to be the last time it happens. So I really just hope that they take it to heart and like, realize that this, you know, is a problem that exists on their subreddit, which has over a million subscribers, like that’s a lot of people.

SC Wow, that’s a lot! I didn’t know programming humour was so big.

EK Yeah, yeah, I didn’t either. I’m not really on Reddit very much. So, yeah. 

BP It’s 50% Stack Overflow jokes, Sara. You don’t spend time there? [Sara laughs] That’s where I get all my material. 

EK Sara, it’s an opportunity for you, you can start making some content there.

BP I have a question which is like what is activity like this like on TikTok? TikTok, you know, is unique in that it came out of China. It seems to have like a very playful vibe, like unlike other places that are devolved into a lot of anger and politics right now. It’s still about sharing dance moves and making jokes and skateboarding with some cranberry juice while you listen to Fleetwood Mac. But on TikTok, yeah, are there comments? Are they moderated? Is the tone just generally different because, like a lot like when you look at communities often if you establish the culture from the beginning that kind of, you know, builds on itself. So, you know, we know 8chan and 4chan, unfortunately built terrible cultures. Reddit has a mix. What’s the, what’s the culture like on TikTok? Do you get feedback there? And what’s it like?

20:17 

EK Yeah, I mean, I like to say, you know, it’s just more fun and less hate. But to be honest, like, I’ve gotten, you know, as much negative comments there, as I have on, you know, Reddit or whatever, I think it really just depends on, so TikTok, interestingly, like, doesn’t have, you know, specific subs that you like, subscribe to, right, but the algorithm knows who you are. So the algorithm is putting you into, you know, programming TikTok, or, you know, there’s like gay TikTok, or there’s whatever. And they just kind of put you in these buckets. And I think it really depends on which of these buckets you get put into for the types of comments that you get. And unfortunately, on programming TikTok, I think it is quite negative. And I don’t I don’t know why our industry has to be this way. But yeah, so I think it’s pretty similar. But the difference to me is that when you post on TikTok, you own your content. And you can, you know, delete comments that you get. So different than Twitter as well. So you can really just be like, this is a super aggressive reply, and I can delete it myself. 

SC So you don’t have to go like blocking it. You’re just like, this doesn’t exist anymore.

EK Yeah, I can report it if it’s like, you know, terrible, but usually–

SC Wow, imagine if Twitter was like that.

EK I know, it’d be amazing, right? Well, now you can have it so people can’t reply. But I also think that limits conversation, and I’ve met so many like strangers on Twitter that I really appreciate being able to meet, right?

BP Yeah, that’s kind of cool. It’s like having your own blog back in the day where you could be like, this comment isn’t gonna get approved. And this one is and like, you know, yeah, you might want to leave a little space for somebody to give a critique, but not something that’s way out of balance, right?  Maybe we can transition just a little bit to talking about what it’s like, you know, working on on the projects that you work on, what are you doing day to day? What’s interesting about it, you know, what are you excited for over the next year or two, in the world of open source and web browsers?

22:02 

EK Uh, yeah, I work on Firefox for Android, which is open source web browser. And we did a complete rewrite in the last like, two years. So it’s been a time. [Emily chuckles] But yeah, I’m really excited just to continue to work on it and make it better. And I don’t know, if there’s like a specific thing about the web I’m super excited for. I think I’m more interested in like the policy work that’s been going on and trying to think about how these like, anonymous communities can, you know, a little bit be held accountable, or like, you know, not anonymous communities be held responsible for the kind of content that’s there, but we have really strong policy team, and a lot of smart people are working on these types of policy concerns. So I think that’s what I’m most interested in right now actually, and excited for.

BP Yeah, it’s gonna be really interesting, what if, and when some of these big social networks start to follow through with, for example, banning all political advertising, like that’s gonna be a huge change from the last, you know, six to six to eight years, and what we’ve seen sort of build, build to ahead. So it does seem like a lot of stuff is happening. And then another thing that I noticed is, you know, big companies like Apple, making certain moves around privacy, that in some ways, you know, block off a lot of what Facebook and Google do. And so I definitely think that there is a lot of turbulence in that world. And a lot of jockeying for position to see, you know, what people will accept or not accept when it comes to privacy, or moderation, I think is the right is the right word.

EK Yeah, I think we’ve also seen a lot of, you know, new social networks pop up over the, you know, last year, whether it’s, you know, TikTok becoming more popular, I think there’s like Clubhouse or whatever, right, like all these new social networks that people are trying to get people to join. And I think at this point, one more thing I’ll say about like harassment and abuse is just, I think you can’t pretend like you don’t know, there’s a problem anymore, right? Like, I think these platforms as they’re in their creation stages, like if you’re not thinking about moderation, and how you’re gonna keep people safe on your community, so that you know, more than half of the human race, like feel safe on your platform, like, then you’re doing something wrong, like you need to be thinking about these things, like from the get go. 

24:04 

SC I think one thing that has been really interesting talking to the people that were that built the social networks that drive us every day, like the big ones like Twitter, Facebook, all those things, is they’re built by one kind of person, right? And that type of person isn’t used to walking down the street and having people yell things at them, right, or like, isn’t used to like having in the middle of their day, someone just shock them with a comment about that as something that has nothing to do with either their professional life or their work. And I think because those people don’t experience those things, when they were designing these platforms, they didn’t even think about something like that happening. I talk to those folks often. And they, they always say like, we’re just so surprised. We just never even thought like this would be used as a weapon. And I asked them like, Well, okay, how many people were you working with that maybe like, look differently from you, or like, you know, might have had those experiences and they’re always like, you know, we really didn’t have anyone. And so I just I always think, whenever we talk about these things, because it’s really hard to, as we can see all these platforms trying to build these things in later, when you don’t think about this during the design process, building later, it’s just like, not intuitive. The system isn’t built that way. And it’s just you’re just trying to shoehorn functionality into something that is so firmly established that it ends up just being a cleanup.

EK It never works. 

SC No one has fixed this. No, there’s no platform out there that you can say, ”this is a very huge platform, millions of people use it, and they’ve really gotten that part figured out.”

EK Yeah, no. I just think we can do so much better. Like, I think everyone has a responsibility to kind of think of the worst case scenario when they’re building technology, right? Or even, like, not the worst case, but the middle worst case, right? Like, how could someone be, you know, targeted on this platform, harassing this platform, and, you know, even recently, in my own life, you know, I’ve someone was pitching an idea recently that I was just having to be around for and it was like, ”Oh, I’m creating this really cool tool on the internet to help people create anonymous profiles, and really linked to like, a real email address that they can, you know, have a fake Facebook profile, that’s totally for their, like, niche interest that they don’t want their, you know, family to know about or something, you know, for safety and privacy reasons.” And my immediate thought was, that sounds terrible! I was like, I don’t want it to be easier for people to make, you know, fake Facebook accounts or fake whatever. So.

26:27 

SC Everyone’s gonna be using that to–

EK Yeah, but as someone you know, and the example they use was pretty silly to is like, ”Oh, if you’re like, really into anime, and you don’t want like, your close friends to know.” And I was like, I like I hear you. But the downside is, like, so much greater than the upside of you, like your friends not finding out that you’re into anime, you know, like, it was just, I don’t know, I think you really just have to, all of us, you know, have to be vocal when you hear these types of ideas to kind of question like, okay, but what about, you know, the worst case scenario of that, right? So.

SC That’s a real ethical thing as a programmer, there’s so much that I feel like this industry, it’s so bright eyed and excited about the future. And there are just these gaping holes. You know, you’ve a master’s in computer science. Do you feel like any of those things were touched on in your studies?

EK No. I mean, I think the I think the ethics of computer science is like a fairly new field. And, you know, I think a lot of, you know, universities are starting to offer it as part of their computer science curriculum as just maybe an optional course. Or if it’s not optional, they probably talk about like political hacking, right. Like, I think they really, it’s a very limited scope. I don’t know how much they’re discussing in those courses yet. But I mean, I think people are really working on it and pushing for more education. But you know, I don’t think that solves the problem of the people who are currently sitting in the room where these decisions are being made. I don’t think those people are thinking about these things. Right. So, you know, I hope in the future, that the people who are coming up into tech are going to, you know, change the world for the better and really be working on ethical technology.

28:01 

SC Yeah, there’s a tweet this weekend I saw or a discussion this weekend, I think, probably on Twitter, about you know, how software engineers should have a review board similar to the Medical Review Board. Well, I’d be interested to hear what you thought about something like that.

EK A review board as in like you can get your you know, license revoked or something?

SC Yeah, that was my reaction too, there’s no license.

EK Yeah, there’s no license, which is, I think, the beautiful thing and the disturbing thing about our industry, right? There’s no regulation, which I think is cool. You know, anyone can build something. And, you know, it’s very scrappy, right? Like, you could just teach yourself and I think everyone likes to build product, if they’re, you know, a software engineer, right. Like, why else do we do this? Like, I think building product is the fun part, right? Yeah, I guess if there was some sort of licensure, then maybe it would make more sense. I’m bringing the medical analogy full circle right.

BP Now we need to come up with what is the Hippocratic Oath for software developers, right, move fast and break things? That’s… [Sara laughs]

EK No, I don’t think that’s a good one. Let’s rethink it. Let’s go back to the drawing board.

BP Sorry. Sorry. It was just the first thing that popped in my head. Sorry about that. 

[MUSIC]

BP So I was listening to a podcast, it’s called CoRecursive. It’s like a software podcast. And I was listening to it. And they had a interview with a guy named Matt Godbolt. Have you ever heard of this and like to Godbolt something is now apparently a verb. Anyway, he’s a British guy. And he got started on computers in the 80s. And he told this really interesting story, you could go to the local newsstand. And sometimes you could get like a diskette or something like that. You could take it home and load up a game. But if you didn’t, if you couldn’t afford that, or if the game was too big to fit on a single diskette what they would do is they would print out the source code in assembly in the back and you would buy the magazine, take it home and then you would you would input the source code yourself. Like type it all in by hand and then you could play the game. Have you ever heard heard of that? It blew my mind.

30:01 

EK That sounds terrible! 

SC Yeah. Yeah, this is an older concept, right? It was like the 80s, early 90s. You couldn’t do that now, it would be the worst game. But also back then it was the worst game. But it was the best technology that we had. 

EK I heard a rumour that RollerCoaster Tycoon was written all in assembly, which was not a super–

SC Fascinating! 

EK A super old game, actually, yeah.

BP I just loved the idea that it was once like relatively small enough, and at this low level, where like, it was, like, instead of downloading it, you regurgitated it, you know, I thought that was kind of a cool idea to take it from the analog piece of paper, input it yourself. And of course, you said yes, every time, you know, he would have missed six characters, and you’d have to painstakingly go through the whole thing to get it to work again. But he now he can read and write assembly fluently. So there’s that. 

SC That’s great. 

BP Alright, everybody, it’s that time of the week. Again, the lifeboat of the week goes to Quant Daddy, he answered the question, or she answered the question, ”Highlight JavaScript inside HTML and an atom editor.” ”So I’m new to Atom and I noticed that when I use script in HTML won’t highlight anything. I’d like to know if this is normal. And if it is how to make Atom highlight JavaScript” And the answer is go to Settings core tab and uncheck use tree sitter parsers option should work without restarting Atom. Thanks, Quant Daddy. There you go.

EK Saved a restart.

BP Saved a restart. Exactly. Alright, well, again, Emily, thanks so much for coming on and for sharing your story. Don’t give up. Keep making people laugh on TikTok. Keep demanding good moderation. I’m Ben Popper. I’m the director of content here at Stack Overflow. And you can find me on Twitter @BenPopper.

SC I’m Sara Chipps. I’m the director of community here at Stack Overflow. And you can find me at @SaraJo on GitHub.

EK And I’m Emily Kager and you can find me on Twitter @EmilyKager.

[OUTRO MUSIC]

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