The Stack Overflow Podcast

A Very Crypto Christmas

Episode Summary

It's Christmas Day, so we left a podcast under the tree for you. We finished up our conversation with Li Ouyang, a software engineer at Coinbase, about what its like to code for the world of crypto. We also give a shoutout to our annual Winter Bash, where you can win some great digital swag by answering questions on Stack Overflow, and tease a very special guest coming up for episode 300.

Episode Notes

With Bitcoin hitting all time highs, there has been a lot of speculation about what will happen next in the market crypto market.

Meanwhile, regulators are targeting Ripple with a lawsuit and arguing that crypto isn't really a currency after all. 

You have until Jan, 4, 2021 to participate in our annual Winter Bash. By answering questions on Stack Overflow and across Stack Exchange, you can unlock some unique digital flair for your avatar.

Don't forget to tune in the first day of the new year for episode 300 of the podcast, we booked a very special guest. Check out this episode to learn more..


Episode Transcription

Li Ouyang So what Bitcoin is, it's a trustless money system. It's an immutable append only public database.


BP Do you want to hear the stories from tech experts and developers behind some of the leading apps and game businesses? The Apps, Games & Insights podcast from Google is here with its second series available on all the main podcast audio platforms. You can also find it on the Android developers website. Subscribe today and discover the latest knowledge from industry and Google experts. 

BP Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Stack Overflow podcast. This is the last new recording that I'm going to be doing this year. And just wanted to say thanks to everybody for listening. It's been an incredible year of growth for the podcast, we've had so many fantastic guests. So many people have written in with great suggestions for topics and share the show on social media and wanted to say, we really appreciate all of it. Today's episode is a continuation of our discussion with Li Ouyang from Coinbase. She started out her career as a derivatives trader on Wall Street, working in finance, heard about Bitcoin early on, but wasn't really interested in it then, eventually found a way to Flat Iron school and became a software engineer went through that sort of boot camp world, which is an interesting new entry path for a lot of coders, and now finds herself as a software engineer at Coinbase working on trading algorithms around crypto. Obviously, there's been a lot of discussion of the subject of the last few weeks, with Bitcoin hitting all time highs and folks like Elon Musk speculating about moving some of their assets into the crypto class. So we're going to pick up where we left off, Paul is discussing with Li how she approaches the coding and what's the pros and cons are between Node JS and Go when it comes to working on these kinds of algorithms. So without further delay, here's the rest of the episode. And if you want to catch up, you can always hop back to Episode 297, which we published earlier, and get the first half. Enjoy!

PF Okay, so you say you like Go right? And then but what we've been told us as baby engineers, our whole lives is like, you should use a strongly typed language for anything like this. Like, why would--it feels like you're--

LO Oh god, it's so necessary. It's so necessary. Because I used to write when I was working at Coinbase. On the exchange side of things, we were writing things in Node. And that was a that was a nightmare. 

SC That's so interesting. Yeah. Was it like more security? Was it more like the financial aspect of it was tough? Yeah.

LO No, it was the type checking stuff. Like I don't even know how I wrote code and node for like, over a year. And so basically, what would happen well, so number one, Go compiles, right? So like, you know, something's wrong right away and is strongly typed, so in node, let's say like, the object that's being thrown around all the time is like the order, but maybe this order is like a JSON type object that has slightly different fields because you know, someone is going to name something slightly different, you know, and then maybe it's the database object, or maybe it's the I don't know, whatever object and it's something not all the fields map to each other, and you're just looking at is like, Oh, it's called order. So I assume it has this field and it doesn't. There's some sort of mismatch. So that that definitely happens a lot. I just feel like even though I was writing node for over a year, I still don't even feel that confident in it versus Go lang. I've been writing it, I don't know, I guess, less than a year. And I feel so much more comfortable and confident in it.

PF Let me say something controversial on on this particular program, JavaScript is unlearnable, right? There's always a little more JavaScript, and then somebody changes the standard. 

SC Some people might see that as a positive. [Ben laughs]

PF No, you know, some people might, but like, when I look at Go, Python, I had this moment with Python years ago, where I realized I had sat down, I wrote a function, I wrote a class, I got done, and I didn't look at any documentation. And I kind of knew what was happening the whole time. And I was like, I've never had this experience in programming before, where myself--

SC Where you're like "I'm a real boy, now!"

PF Yeah! Myself and the computer are interacting beautifully. And the things that I'm expecting to have happen happen, that is amazing, as opposed to JavaScript, where it's like, well, it's asynchronous, ha ha ha! And until I totally get this, right, like, how could you program a finance app, when you know, you can change the paradigm mid function?

BP We've been talking a little bit about the software engineering side of things. There's I don't think like a bigger picture that's kind of unique to crypto, which is that people attach a lot of ideologies to it. Can you tell us again, the story you were telling before we started the mics. It's interesting, you said your dad was sort of making fun of you getting into software, but now he's getting into crypto and you're the one talking him off the ledge? Can we--[Ben laughs] Can we hear a little bit about that?

LO I mean, I used to trade like in a macro group, essentially. So I really, and all we did was follow what the US Fed was doing and what they were doing with interest rates. So and some people will, like criticize what Ben Bernanke did they call them "helicopter bank" because they were essentially throwing money into the system to save the system. And a lot of people that were into bitcoin at the time, or maybe still are right now, do not like the fact that there's a centralized authority that can print as much money as they want, right? And so crypto, what's unique about crypto is written into the code, there can only be 21 million crypto in circulation, there's 18 million right now. And by I can't remember what year it is, it's like 21. Basically, maybe in 100 years, there won't be any more Bitcoin minable anymore. So people like that if there's a fixed supply. But like, I feel very strongly that like, number one, the reason why people don't like this idea of being able to print a bunch of money is because is it could lead to hyperinflation, we've not yet seen that happen. And of course, when it's used at a time during a financial crisis, or or a pandemic, or some sort of economic crisis, it is necessary. And that's very much a Keynesian economics point of view is like, free markets do not work perfectly. They do, in my view, they do need some sort of help. But back to what my dad said, the reason why the US is the world reserve currency is not because of I don't know, our economic power is because of our military power. Let's just be clear on that. And so unless there's an alternative to the US dollar, it's still, and it's always going in--it has the military power that it has is always going to be that, the US dollar that being. So I told my dad, I was like, "Listen, I work at Coinbase I'm very pro crypto, this is not investment advice, but I only have 5% of my net worth in it. So just take that as a grain of salt."

BP Right. Good, 'cause your dad was telling you he was ready to move his retirement savings.

PF Let's do it. Let's go.

LO Yeah. Like, a very significant amount of money. My dad's super conservative, he doesn't, he like doesn't even buy stocks. He does like rental units. 

SC Yeah, I always tell people, yeah, people are always asking me about it. Like, should I do it? Should I not do it? I'm always like, don't listen to me. I mean, you're like you've at least worked in finance. I have not. 

LO Well that being said, you know, I do think Bitcoin and crypto is revolutionary, right? Like, and I'll tell you like, very specifically, in 2008. I remember like anybody remember there's there used to be an investment being called Bear Stearns that ended up not completely going under, JP Morgan ended up buying it for $2. They had to like revise the price later. But they basically like it was literally a run on the bank. Well, whether or not you want to believe it. But there are basically rumors that nobody wants to take counterparty risk from Bear Stearns. And they denied it. They're like, "Look, I have we have, I don't know, 18 billions of cash in our reserves. This is not true. That's not true." But within a couple of days, everyone believed this rumor. And it became, it became truth because everybody started taking their money out. Nobody wanted, you know, everybody was unwinding trades against them. And so they did go under. So anyways, the point is, is that it's very clear to me that the current financial system, the underpinning of it is trust. If you don't trust the bank, if you don't trust that this bank has money, then like it will go under whether or not is a rumor or not. And so what Bitcoin is, it's a trustless money system, it's an immutable append only public database. And that is very appealing because everyone knows exactly how much money everyone has, well, what addresses maybe not which address belongs to who.

SC Would you say is more about trust in the currency rather than trusting individuals because we see the price goes up and down and and it's because of either people buying people selling. Would you say that more comes about the stability of the currency? Rather than here's a group of people, do I buy that they can make me money? 

LO Do you mean currency in general or do you mean Bitcoin currency?

SC I mean, Bitcoin currency. Or like in crypto in general, do you think you see people, do you think prices go up because people trust the currency?

LO I mean, I think there's a lot of speculative people out there. So I think like, when you see people using Bitcoin as payment, like everyday, like buying sushi or whatever, then I would say it's trust. Well, I mean, but then there's people that, okay, I take that back, there are a group of people that are buying Bitcoin right now, because of the all the fiscal stimulus because of their response to COVID. And so basically, there is a large group of people that have a lot of money that believe that they're not sure what's gonna happen to the US dollar. So they are buying a lot of Bitcoin as a hedge.

BP Right. That's the thing that's so interesting about Bitcoin is that, as you said, it's sort of finite. And we know it's public. And we know and it's built, you know, in this decentralized way, but right now, its overall value is so small that it's still moved by speculation. And that's kind of been the thing since I can remember since 2011, is that it's kind of this this almost, you know, juxtaposition of two things. It's like a little bit of a, you know, oxymoron or something right, like Bitcoin and crypto in general is supposed to be more or less fungible, like the Fiat government can't just come in and print it. But on the other hand, it's super spiky like it's always jumping up and down, driven by pandemic events and things like that.

PF Well, I always crack up because everybody talks about, you know, crypto going up and down in price because it's, you know, people peg it to the dollar in their head, right? And it's just like no, how can it doesn't change value? It's still crypto, like it's still the same blockchain. But I guess it you know, it has the purchasing power is always expressed in dollars when that threshold gets crossed. When you see cryptocurrencies just purely compared to other cryptocurrencies without that reference point to it being 21k, then I think I will stand up and be like, "Okay, you got it. You won." But until then, man, those dollars are good. I mean, so that military isn't going anywhere, it is what it is. And you know, they're still like people nominally aren't our least favorite trading partners still like to have a lot of dollars in the bank, right? 

LO Exactly! They're the largest holders of US Treasuries.

PF Yeah, I'm talking about China. Yeah. It's just like, I love it as a fantasy about the economic system, I actually get it as a store of value. And I'm fascinated by it as a as a platform for building. It's just like, cool. Like, it's roughly this. I mean, how, what's the total market cap of Bitcoin right now? I'm gonna look it up.

LO Well, I will say this, like, there's the dream of what Bitcoin was supposed to be in 2008. And then there's the like reality of what it will actually be. Like the fact that all of the monetary banks in the world are talking about creating their own digital currency means something like, let's take the US for example during this pandemic, they were sending us stimulus checks, like let's say everybody had their own crypto address this, they could easily send money and put people in everybody's wallets. And it would be like trackable and auditable. And that could have been something. Our voting system that could have been something based on crypto as well or blockchain rather, there were so many like use cases for it, which, which is why I'm very confident that this technology is here to stay. Now, how is going to be used? I'm not sure but for sure, it's, there's so many use cases already that it has shown to me.


BP Alright, everybody. It's that time of the week where we shout out a lifeboat badge winner. Somebody took a question with a score of negative three and brought it all the way up to 20 or more with their answer. Today, it was awarded to Advice-Dog. This is one heck of an avatar. I will share it in the show notes. Awarded December 17 to Advice-Dog. How can I display formatted text in a text view? Thanks, Advice-Dog. Alright, everybody. Thanks so much for listening. Please tune in again soon. I'm Ben Popper, Director of content here at Stack Overflow. If you want to find me on the internet, I'm @BenPopper on Twitter. And you can always email us

SC And I'm Sara Chipps, Director of Community here at Stack Overflow. And you can find me at @SaraJo on GitHub.

PF I'm Paul Ford, friend of Stack Overflow, check out my company Postlight!

SC And Li, where can we find you online?

LO I'm Li Ouyang. You guys can find me on Twitter as well. I'm at @styliii.

BP Alright everyone. Well, thanks for listening this week. Just wanted to make sure we shouted this out hat season is upon us. As we do every year across Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange. We're having our annual Winter Bash, ends on January 4th, so still plenty of time to take part, ends January 4th, 2021. And yeah, you have to be active on Stack Exchange sites to unlock digital hats and accessories. There's some easter eggs hidden in there for folks to try to discover themselves. It's a great way to get to know people in the Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange community to contribute some knowledge and get a little bit of swag in return. A little bit of flair, I should say, digital flair. So hop on over to the Stack Overflow blog and you can learn more about Winter Bash. Hope everybody has a safe and happy holidays.