The Stack Overflow Podcast

Forget view-source, young coders are learning by making Discord bots and hacking Roblox

Episode Summary

We chat with Jenn Schiffer, director of community at Glitch, who brings over 70 years of Javascript experience to her work, at least according to her Twitter bio. She hips us to the ways in which young kids are touching code for the first time, often without realizing that they are learning to be programmers. We also dig into the burgeoning community around WebXR, which brings together developers interested in offering virtual and augmented reality experiences through the web.

Episode Notes

You can find Jenn on Twitter here. She is the creator of the wonderful website,

You can check out Glitch here and dig into some of its WebXR projects.

Our lifeboat badge of the week goes to Ruberandinda Patience, who explained why you got a 404 Not Found, even though the route exist in Laravel.

Episode Transcription


Jen Schiffer  Like I get to see what all like the actual kids are really getting into. And it's making Discord bots and like hacking Roblox. And I think a lot of developers that think they have their finger on the pulse of like, what's new and coming up next is like, we're not, like kids are not learning how to build sites by viewing the source of their favorite like Weezer fan site on GeoCities, which is how I got started. 

[intro music]

Ben Popper Check out MongoDB Live the flagship conference of the database most desired by developers. Hone existing skills, build new ones and see what the hype is all about. Sign up today before it's too late! To register visit

BP Hello, everybody! Welcome back to Stack Overflow Podcast, no fuzz edition. I am Ben Popper, Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. And I've got three wonderful co-hosts with me today. I've got Paul Ford, Cassie Williams and Jen Schiffer on the line. Hello, everybody!

Cassidy Williams Hello!

JS Hello!

PF Oh hello. Ben, 

BP Let's chat about what's going on the world. Jen. We don't get to have you on the show too often.

PF Woooo!

JS Yeah it's been a while!

BP Tell us about you. Yeah, what are you working on these days? At work or side projects? What are you reading? What's been happening?

PF Oh, no, we gotta let people, who is Jenn Schiffer? She's a JavaScript impresario coding superstar working at Glitch! Like what? Tell us a little bit about yourself?

JS Sure. So I am a Director Community at Glitch. I am a former three time I think Stack Overflow guest, one time co host with Joel when he had the soundboard.

PF Oh you go way deeper than I do.

JS Yeah, I am possibly, I don't know how long have you been Stack Overflow? But I'm probably the deepest in the Joel Spolsky cinematic universe.

BP Oh, yeah. No, I've only been around for two years. I guess I interviewed him when I was at the New York Observer back in like 2008 or 2010. 

JS I had lots of people congratulating me on the sale. And I was like, I don't, I'm not at Stack Overflow. [Jenn laughs] 

CW I don't work there... but thank you!

BP You were at Fog Creek, right? Weren't you saying that earlier before we came on?

JS I joined Fog Creek in 2017. Long after Stack Overflow was its own thing. So I don't really—

BP But pre-Glitch you joined Fog Creek?

JS Yeah, I joined Glitch before the the relaunch. I joined February 2017. And then Glitch launched a month and a half later. And then we became a startup like, like fall of 2018. 

But yeah, so I've been at glitch for a while I'm still there. And I'm just leaving the community. In fact, actually, this week, I'm I've taken on the support lead role, because my support engineer, her daughter is graduating college, which is very exciting. 

CW Wow that's so exciting! 

JS So I'm doing her job in mine. And I'm happy to be here. And yeah, that's, you know, what have I been reading? Nothing. [Jenn laughs] Email!

BP Glitch is kind of in the same space in that it's trying to make it easy for anybody to get started coding, but also like, there's like an educational aspect to it, right? Like, I feel like lots of tutorials and like apps that are introduced, kind of with the idea that somebody would use it as a starter build or do a remix. I mean, tell people a little bit about like, what the, you know, the strategy and like the big ideas at Glitch cuz I think it fits kind of into the same mold.

JS Yeah, well, I mean, I think my interpretation of Joel and Michael's ethos early on was like, we want to build the best tool so developers can build their own best tools. And you know, like fogbugz was the start of that, like a big part of building good tools is like properly attracting bugs and issues coming through and and managing that as a team and collaborative level, then Trello, Stack Overflow, and then like with Glitch, and so glitch, for anyone who doesn't know, was formerly called Gomix and hyperdub. It's pretty, I mean, the project maybe like, five or six years old, but Glitch itself, four years. It's a very friendly community of coders building in a powerful in browser ID. We primarily support JavaScript. And so we have people building static pages, like their, you know, full Linktree pages is we're seeing a lot of now, full stack apps, we have generated static sites now, and they're building with their coworkers are building with their friends. And when people ask me what kind of apps people are making on Glitch, it's really hard to pinpoint because there's such a wide variety. And so on my end, you know, we're still we're small company, you maybe need three or four hands to count how many of us are working on it. And so I wear many, many hats. And so I've been doing a lot of stuff on the the marketing and communication side and so on. We have a blog, where we've been kind of telling stories about Glitch through our creators. And so rounding up the best stuff that we've seen the month before talking to creators about the things that they're building, because it's always like really super fascinating. And when you build a platform that empowers users to create so easily, I think like Stack Overflow you find these really awesome micro communities that are created and Stack Overflow has like, different you know, Stack Exchange sites and stuff like that, that run the gamut not just tech, but you know, I know there's like religion and like math and other sciences. And with Glitch we have people that are teachers helping their students learn to code or advanced in coding we have the WebXR community, especially through the a friend Community heavy adopters of Glitch from the moment that we launched even. Yeah, there's a lot of WebXR. There's a really cool community I read Reddit the subreddit called incremental games, and they just make these cool Cookie Clicker games. There's ton of those on Glitch. And then we have Google Chrome Developer team, building all of their demos of cutting edge API's to showcase on web dev. All on Glitch, has a lot of Glitch embeds that are showing off node API's and stuff like that. So it's really like a wide range of folks. Someone call it chaotic, and I thrive in chaos. So that's why I've been here as long as I've been because it's just such a really awesome, creative, chaotic community.

CW It's also just so accessible to like I talked to a few years ago when I was teaching kids how to code and stuff at a community centers and they're able to get up and running so fast, like kids as young as six years old, were able to make a web page on Glitch that was so cool to see. 

JS The really cool part about Glitch on a technical level is that you don't have to set up your own dev environment, we give that to you. And not only that, but we Auto Deploy your code as you're editing it. And so when you have an idea, you can really start coding but not just that, but you immediately see it live and shareable. And I think that's something that kids really like seeing like, Oh, I typed a change. And then something happened like, oh, wow, I made that, that happened. And I think that grownups including myself love that as well, both from like, oh, my aha moment is live and ready to share. But also like a, does this work, I don't have to like wait a while to see if I broke something or whatever. And every project is powered is like backed by Git. So you can make a mistake, you could break a thing. And it's not the end of the world, or even the end of your hour, I guess.

BP I was gonna say yeah, like, you know, it's gone from what I sort of remember at the beginning, which is like a website, you know, or maybe like, you know, sort of like a web app to now you can do a React project, a node app, there are ones that offer you like a little bit of sort of like instruction and grounding and having some kind of database running in the background, right, like over time, you've given sort of introduced new modules.

JS Yeah, and it's just, it's a container that you can install NPM packages. So if you need testing, you can install test suites databases, you can solve that kind of stuff. The magic that's involved is the speed and the feeling that like you created something, and it's are ready, ready. But we don't have any like special language that you have to type and stuff like that. But I think going back to like, we do have starters freedom to start from. But I think the really, really cool thing is that you can start from projects other users have created and remix those because you might not want to start from a mostly blank app, you might see an app that you think is cool, but you want to customize it for your own needs. And so that's another really cool aspect to it.

PF Here's what you see that very few of us can see. All the weird parts of the web platform. Like you're like, Oh yeah, there's a little WebXR or there's like a real WebXR community. And I'm like, what, huh? Talk through some of those corners. So like what, XR is like the, the virtual reality 3d components, like the web has ways to plug into USB, and it hooks up to MIDI now and it does all those things. So I'm guessing you see more of that than I might using, you know, Google on my, on my Firefox.

JS Yeah, I think um, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, everything that's under this like umbrella of WebXR, which is, which WebXR was not what they were calling it when I had started out at Glitch that kind of is like how the community evolved as it started enveloping augmented reality and virtual reality together. You know, one of the problems with virtual reality since people started trying to create virtual reality is the portability of the devices. And the tools are used to create these experiences. And people are hungry for virtual reality experiences. And, of course, that like escalated.

PF Are they really? Because like I just I'm walking down the street, I don't see hunger for XR experiences. But people went and bought the glasses, they're out there doing it, it's real?

JS It doesn't have to happen on a device on your head, the lipstick I'm wearing, I tried it on online through augmented reality. I just like turned my webcam on. And the website I bought from put it over my face and was like, this is probably what you look like with this color. And they were right. 

CW That's so cool. 

JS And so the experience is not just like, Oh, I want to like see like a cool thing, because that is cool. It's not just about art. But the way that these technologies really evolve and are invested in is if they play well into the capitalist machine. [Jenn laughs] In order to you know, you want to be efficient, and also you want accessibility and the open web is like hey, we're here for that. And so the fact that we have these API's that let you connect to USB now and MIDI and stuff like that, they're all building of it.

PF You didn't download the lipstick app is what you're saying?

JS I did not, no. Well, I mean, we want to talk about like what happens when you go to a webpage? You know, no, I didn't, I didn't have like download, like the Java SDK on this new computer.

PF No, no, you open up a web browser. Yeah, of course.

BP Yeah, I mean, I think those like the like very high touch hardware driven virtual reality experiences don't seem to have taken off, but slowly, slowly, they're becoming cheaper and more accessible. Cassidy, I know you've had some great VR experiences, like more and more people I know do have one set, at least lying around that they use for stuff. But then the augmented reality is happening all day every day on your you know, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, like, that's, you don't even notice it anymore. But like using the filter to throw something in the background or change your face or do any of that stuff. You know, that's a constant thing for shopping certainly for yeah, trying on clothes and lipstick. 

PF What else are we sleeping on? Right? So turns out, there's a whole lot of VR excitement happening around the world. Turns out there's a lot of AR excitement happening in the world. I don't know, I'm like checking my bank account, what else is going on? Is there any other stuff that like, everyone dismissed and we should actually be paying more attention to?

JS This kind of ties into WebXR but something a trend I'm seeing is people are? Well, during during the pandemic, the art world couldn't really have in person galleries and stuff. So they'd been kind of, you would have like a static web page that maybe showed some of the pieces that people can look through. And then folks started discovering A-Frame and Three.js. And we're like, oh, we could actually make an experience that you can walk through. And you don't need a device on your head to walk through a VR experience in the browser, you can just use your keyboard or whatever your preferable input devices are. And so now that things are opening up a bit more, at least in the United States, we're seeing exhibitions that are launching, and they're co-launching with that the virtual experience so that people all over the worlds can see what's going on. And I think that that's really cool. And they're building a lot of that stuff on Glitch. And we have a lot of people I've been asked a few times in the past couple of weeks about, just like collaborative apps that people can join during, like events. So that, you know, like, whether it's chat apps or anything like that, you know, I remember with Netlify's product launch, like, you know, there are way more people in those product launch applications. And I can tell that they're from all over the world. And that wasn't something that we were seeing at these kind of events, years previous.

PF I've noticed that. If you do a webinar, people show up from everywhere. They're just like yeah, okay, cool, whatever.

CW It's really exciting. 

JS It's cool it's been normalized by—

PF It's not cool the webinars have been normalized, but it's cool that they're global.

CW It comes down to the accessibility thing again, and I think what's cool is that the browser has gotten to this point where it can basically be an operating system, which which I guess that's like, what Chromebooks and stuff are for, but you can build anything in it. And the power that that holds to be able to see these VR, AR things without needing special software for it. And being able to build some of these powerful applications with in the browser and for the browser is really exciting.

BP I was gonna say I love the idea that maybe we didn't see these things gaining traction, in part because they're being done from the comfort of one's own home. But I think yeah, like conferences obviously have changed, art galleries another great example. And one of the things I hear people talking about more and more when it comes to like, why did I bother with a VR headset is exercise like, you know, I'm not going to the gym anymore. I don't feel comfortable being in a big, you know, Zumba class with everybody. So but like, you know, put on the headset and do some beat Sabre for an hour. And like, you know, you've really gotten a serious work out.

CW You break a sweat.

PF You know, it's one of the things I really like about Glitch and about, you can also Stack too, right, which is, there really is in your brain in on, let's say, Twitter, there's room for like three conversations to happen at once around technology. And it tends to be what's Google up to? How is Facebook wrecking things? And, you know, is what's Apple going to do next? Right. Like, it's like, those are the conversations that people can have, like a really large mass level. And so the conversation always ends up going back to like, well, they ruin the web. And into Cassidy's point, we've got what Java always wanted to be, which is like the true virtual machine that abstracts everything away kind of runs everywhere, right. And now it has 3d built in and you know, and it can display documents, and it can be an app delivery platform, and on and on, and it's clunky around the edges, but boy does it, it actually works, right. And so these cultures pop up, I like I hear about the incremental clicker game culture in Glitch and I'm like, of course, and there'll be 1000s of people and it's like finding that one subreddit that redeems all of Reddit. It's that moment where you go like, oh, this is happening out there and it's happening times 1000s and 1000s. And it doesn't get a lot of attention because it just doesn't really fit in the whatever the prevailing narrative is and the prevailing narrative is either tech will save us all or tech will doom us all and in the meantime, people are like I'm gonna make a cookie game! Anyway. So that's I feel these communities are really important because he just like let people interact with this stuff without having to have a big opinion about Mark Zuckerberg. 

BP Yeah I think that's true. One of the top 15 Stack Exchanges for the last through the whole time I've been here is the blender one. And you know, most people probably outside of that world aren't aware. But yeah, they're doing 3d graphics and animations and games and lots of stuff on the browser. And it's as active as you know, some of the huge sites for things like Unix, you know?

CW One of my favorite stock exchanges is actually the code golf one. And it's just people doing really ridiculous programming languages to be just like, I was able to write this program and eight bytes. [Paul & Ben laugh] Very, very fun to see.

PF You know, back to Blender, right, Blender is one of those things. YouTube is also the great reveal on how big a community is because I got interested in Blender just kind of from like, wow, it's really come a long way. And it's really big. And then you go, and it's like, oh, the fun Blender tutorial guy. Oh, here he is. Oh, and he'll have like, 700,000 subscribers, like, he'll be as big as cable TV. And you're like, ohhh that happened. Alright. Okay. 

BP Yeah, several people have built entire careers or small services companies, right? Teaching other people Blender. Which gets us back to the original thesis of like, how much value there is in the world of sort of coding education and content, because you can pick it up from so many different places. You know?

CW I'm so jealous of people learning how to code today.

PF Oh my god! Can you imagine?

CW Because there's just so many resources compared to what we had back in the day where I would just view source of the website and be like, Okay, so that's how that works. And then play with it in Notepad.

JS My support engineer lead, I've been pairing with her every week for an hour. And it's like the highlight of my week. Like she was like, we have a new React starter. She's like, I want to learn how to like how react works, so that I can best support our users. Because she's fantastic. And and she doesn't have a background in coding, but she's a coder now she's been here for a couple of years at Glitch, but I was show I was on the Firebug Wikipedia page the other day telling her like "in my day, this is like, when Firebug came out." I was like if Firebug had not come out, I probably would have stayed a professor teaching Java because Java is tooling is so good. And JavaScript was not existent. And so it's so interesting how things have changed.

PF Firebug when it came out and for people that don't know it was the old the whole world of inspecting the element and going into a magical underground world of, you know, told scoop toads tools to talk to you and flame graphs. Starts with Firebug. Like the web, it was terrible. You could barely even console log your way to figure out what it was. You just reloaded a web page into your fingers hurt and hope that it worked. But no, I think that's right, there is an argument. It's a complicated, bigger stack, now than it used to be. So there was less to learn. But what I remember is that you'd learn, you'd learn stuff. And then the world of like real programming, which was Microsoft SDKs, and Apple and so on, was really out of reach, like, there was never a path and it feels like you actually, even though it's really complicated, and there's more to learn than there used to be your actual power and access to things that really matter is much greater than it used to be. Because I'm web programming used to just, you know, people would just chuckle behind their hands.

JS A big problem with coding education are where people get started, is they're asking, you know, what do I need to learn? And it really depends on who they're asking. And they're, you know, whether it's asking a group of people online, or they're asking somebody that they look up to, and that person's just been deep in that stack. It's just really super interesting to see. And I think another thing about the Glitch community, like I get to see what all like the actual kids are really getting into. And it's making Discord bots and like hacking Roblox. And I think a lot of developers that think they have their finger on the pulse of like, what's new and coming up next is like, we're not, like kids are not learning how to build sites by viewing the source of their favorite like Weezer fan site on GeoCities, which is how I got started. They are in a Discord server. And they're in another one, they see a cool bot and the person and that server is like, no, I'm not showing you my bot, you have to build it yourself. And then they come on Glitch and find it and then remix it and then build the bot. And then they move forward through the other communities that they're in, which is like Roblox and various quizzing sites. And also oh my gosh, my favorite is like with remote learning, they're using all these like kind of newly made remote learning tools. And there's so much more savvy than their teachers are. And so like, we will get like reports from teachers that are like, my students are using this app to like bypass this other app that we're using. And so it's really like, it's interesting to see how kids are using code to solve their problem and their problem is remote learning out of nowhere and we have kids in our community who started when they were 14, maybe they're like 16 now. And like, they're just so much more, I would say they're better developer, they're a better developer than I am. Because they're more in tune of like what's in the entire ecosystem outside of the bubble of what I've been in, which is just like JavaScript consulting for enterprise. And the cool thing about the Glitch community is, you know, sometimes kids come in pretty hot, if something's broken, it's like it's the end of the world. And I think even like we did what everyone else did, is we come to them at the same level that they're at. And so the way that they interact in the forum today is like, they're helping everyone else out, because that's how they learn. It's such a young age. And it's just really, it's really cool and heartwarming to see. And it's like, how do we do that at scale? And like, the closest would be like, how the community works at like Stack Overflow? And like, how do we teach people to ask questions and answer them and think of like altruistic helping, versus like, I'm gonna help you if you pay or whatever.

PF Interesting. The Jenn Schiffer thesis is that, even though things are way, way more social, and everybody like Discord is extraordinary, like it's such a huge world, and everybody's kind of yelling all the time, and it can get kind of intense. The flip side of that is that it community ethos emerges wherever people are doing things together, and people are often motivated and feel rewarded when they're helpful to newcomers. 

JS Yep. 

PF Well, that's cool. I like that future.

CW It's fun to see the arrows of kids learning to code with different games like there's the Neopets era. There's the Minecraft era. Now it's the Roblox era. I'm sure I'm missing plenty in between. 

PF There's the old crabby dudes on a mailing list era that sucked. Like "well if you need to ask that question you shouldn't even be using a computer!" And this is like, "Dad, why do you hate me?!" And so I'm glad that era is over cuz that was horrible!

BP Yeah, I mean, one thing that I got there, Jenn, from listening to you, I think it's interesting is right, going to a website where you may connect with the people on the Weezer fan site and the comments there but inspecting element and doing it sort of by yourself, whereas the Discord bot and the Roblox game are sort of very inherently social, like that's where my kids hang out after school, they're like, we made a deal with our buddies, we're gonna meet in this game and Roblox at this time. So it is kind of like interesting to think that. And the things that inspire them to do it, I think is what you said is like they, you know, that they're gonna be talking about in the offline world, or like, you know, like leads them to more offline engagement, almost.

PF You know, one of the great merits of truly conversational interaction is that you don't have to get all your documentation in order. You just kind of started talking and even like Stack has this problem, mailing lists have this problem where it's like, you've asked the wrong question again, and you actually don't know what the right question even looks like, because you're you so early in the journey, and you just kind of retreat sometimes for months, sometimes forever. And so like, when it's chatty, it's like, wait, what do you mean? You're just not making any sense? But are you talking about the color yellow? No, no, I'm not, I'm talking about you know, and it just kind of expands from there. So maybe the future is conversational chatbots, forever.

JS Something that I think a lot about is how people approach like getting health. And so I'll get a support ticket coming in, where someone's like, "my app is broken" and there's no other info there. And when I was starting out, I would go to IRC. So the freedos CSS channel, and the front end, and I was looking, I would see like the some would be like, I have a question. I mean, he was like, well, what's your question? Ask the question. Don't have to tell us a lot. And they would end up like, expelling more breaths in response than the original person did. I used to, I used to run a used bookstore, and people come in being like, I'm looking for a book and in my head, I'd be like, you're in a bookstore, it's the right place, what book are you looking for? But when you come to a community blindly, you have no idea of like, what people know. And I think that younger folks are kind of, I don't know, like, they might have this perception that like anything that they're doing is already like, known and seen. And that could be because like, ads follow us everywhere. Like, I wonder if like, their perception is like, the internet is all knowing of all of my behaviors and like has all the answers. And so when I respond like, Hey, can you tell me the name of your project and the issue that you're having? Like, they respond like, Oh, yeah, like, this is the project and they've like elongated the time from like, panic to like solution by not giving that info. And I see patterns of those folks coming back. And like giving me all this info. And I'm like, this is like, fantastic. Like, they like learned that like, the more info I give, the better. Like and I'm on Stac kOverflow like everyday looking at people that are using Glitch apps to show their problems or to get answers and stuff like that. And I still see that. And that's the same behavior that we've had about asking questions, years and years ago, and I'm like, how do we educate people to give the info that's needed. And I think a big part of that is like celebrating people asking questions. Like we used to have a hand raised feature on Glitch so that if you had issues you can like, raise your hand and people could come in and help you with the app in real time. And if you didn't need help in real time, or like, you're like, I have an issue, but I gotta step away, then it's like, Stack Overflow is the place to do that. And, you know, we talked a lot about how it was kind of hard to get people to initially ask questions, because a lot of us have been raised to not be allowed to ask questions. Like when I was young, as like a girl, if I like raise my hand, because I had the answer. I was like a tryhard and teacher's pet. And if I didn't raise my hand, ask the question, then like, I was dumb, like, there was like, no way that like, I can win. And I continue to see that kind of culture pervading, and it's like, how do we stop that?


BP Alright, so it's that time of the episode, we are going to shout out the winner of a lifeboat badge. Somebody who came on Stack Overflow and found a question with a score of negative three or less. They gave it an answer, and it got up to a score of 20 or more. Today's lifeboat goes to Ruberandinda Patience: "404 Not Found, but route exist in Laravel 5.4" awarded 16 hours ago. 

PF Laravel! That's a classic.

BP Yeah. So we'll throw it on the show notes if you have a similar question or if you have that 404 not found. I am Ben Popper, Director of content here at Stack Overflow. You can always find me on Twitter @BenPopper. You can always reach us at If you enjoyed the show, please do leave a rating and review on your podcast platform of choice. It really helps us out.

CW I'm Cassidy Williams. I'm a principal Developer Experience Engineer at Netlify. You can find me @cassidoo on various places on the internet. And I'll throw it over to Jenn, thank you so much for being with us today!

JS Oh yeah. Thank you for having me. I love joining y'all. And it's great to see your homes too, including Ben's very blurry filter home. I know he's got a ceiling fan folks. He's got a ceiling fan. So I'm Jenn Schiffer, Director of Community at Glitch, you can go to I am Jenn Schiffer, in various places, Glitch, Twitter, Twitch and all my other projects are at the very professional sounding website and

PF I'm Paul Ford. I am a friend of Stack Overflow, co-founder of Postight, check that company out online. We are a digital strategy and software development firm and we are hiring!

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