The Stack Overflow Podcast

Java goes to outer space

Episode Summary

This week we talk through the nitty gritty of our day jobs and review the Java apps that had a big impact on our world, and beyond.

Episode Notes

From Mars rovers to Minecraft to the makeup of our DNA - these are some of the Java apps that may leave a mark on  the world of software for decades to come.

Thanks to Hizbul25, our winner of the week, for answering a question and earning a lifeboat badge: query to order by the last three characters of a column. 

Episode Transcription

Sara Chipps I know that there is JavaScript in space.

Cassidy Williams SpaceX used a React app or whatever. 

SC Yeah!

Ben Popper Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford I mean, when you think about it, Star Trek was all about enterprise programming. 

CW Oooooh! Heyo!

SC Nice!

BP Ouch. Ouch. I might have to lie down after that one.


BP Nothing's more important than a great customer experience but sometimes services get disrupted. xMatters helps teams resolve issues fast before they impact customers. Learn why millions trust xMatters to keep their digital services up and running at

SC Hello, and welcome to the Stack Overflow podcast. I am Sara Chipps here with my amazing hosts, Paul, Cassidy and Ben. We're here to talk a little bit about things happening in software.

BP Hoooray!

SC Hoooray!

CW Yaaay!

PF Oh no... [Cassidy laughs]

SC Yeah... we got a request from an audience member to talk a little bit about what we do and I bet we could all kind of do that and what our day to day is like. I'm happy to kick it off. 

BP Go for it.

SC So I'm the director of community here at Stack Overflow. And what that basically means is I help the folks like the community managers and the folks interfacing directly with our community to get the tools that they need to be successful and help brainstorm and launch projects to help support community members from our moderators to new users and everyone in between.

BP Yeah. And there's been quite a number of both sort of product feature and what do you want to call it? Rule updates on the community side. Tell us about a few of the things I know we've had in the last six months to a year.


SC Yeah. Good, good question. So the most recent thing that we've rolled out is exciting. It's happening within the company. It's called the Community-othon. So we have a friendly competition going on within Stack Overflow for participation in the community and what that's been doing. Um, it's been both helping folks that have been a big part of the community or, you know, have added a lot of answers to get started again, and also introduce some of our coworkers that have, haven't contributed or aren't super familiar. They might be in another department to the different communities on Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow. That's been something that's really neat. Another thing that's rolled out in the last week is we had our first moderator FaceTime meeting and that is going to be a series of meetings between the company, that doesn't make it sound super fun, the company and our moderators, so they can kind of, uh, so we can get their thoughts and opinions on things in a face to face way, as well as hear from them, the different tools and things that they need to support their communities. It's a good way to get to know each other better. And to just have that time to spend getting to know the people who put in a ton of work to make sure that our community stay healthy. 

BP Yeah. And I have the unfair advantage that I sometimes post to meta, like to say, ''we've got dark mode'' and then I get tons of upvotes. So I'm way ahead on this Community-othon [Paul, Cassidy, Sara laugh], but I have done nothing, I've contributed no knowledge or interesting questions.

SC That's a good segue. Ben, do you want to talk about what you do here and what, what you're up to? 

CW His job is to get upvotes. That's what it sounds like.

SC Upvotes, duh!

BP You guys, wait, just before I start telling what I do, I'm planning to start a new blog, maybe, slash, gadget review site. Cause I'm moving out of the city to the country and I'm going to be using a lot of power tools. Are you ready for this? Click Farm.

Everyone: Ooooohhhhh!

SC So good!

BP It's going to be a good one. Gonna be a good one. Very excited for that. I don't know if I could get .com but maybe

PF .guru is available.

CW .biz?

BP .ninja? Yeah. 

PF Yeah. 


BP I'm Ben Popper, director of community here at Stack Overflow. I've been doing it for just a little over a year. So I started in April of 2019. And before that I was a journalist and I did a bunch of content creation for the DGI, the world's biggest consumer drone company. So my job is running the blog. It is producing the newsletter in a partnership with Cassidy. I'm producing this podcast with Paul and Sara and all of our great guests. And then yeah, I do a lot of work with my boss Khalid on the external facing communications. So that can be everything from like crisis communications to product releases, to the dev survey, to announcements about what's happening at the company. So I helped to edit and write a lot of the blog posts. And uh, yeah, sometimes I do some of the work interacting with meta, which is fun. And I've, I've played around with answering questions on the English language Stack Exchange where I put my English degree to good use.

SC Paul & Cassidy. Could you tell us about your jobs?

CW Sure. So my fancy title is I'm a principal developer experience engineer at Netlify. Long story short. I help people write react better. At Netlify we have just this platform for hosting websites and, and making your websites better, adding different features to them. Like we have Netlify identity so you can integrate it. So that way you don't have to deal was writing up your own authentication service or something like that. And so I have been trying to kind of get my feet wet. I've only been at the job for a couple months, but I help people write, react, build react apps for Netlify, build next JS apps for Netlify and kind of just figure out how I can improve the developer experience internally at Netlify for react developers. 

SC That's great. What do you find is the, is there a common type of app that gets built for Netlify? Do you feel like people are building personal things, stuff for their companies? A little bit of both?

CW It's definitely a little bit of both. I'd say that there's because there's a free tier. There's tons of people who just host their personal websites on it and stuff. And, and there's lots of personal things, but there's quite a few larger corporations who use us too, because it lets people not use a much more complex service. Uh, and so people can, can host more, more complex things without having to deal with user interfaces that they don't want to mess with. 


SC That's great.

PF Netlify is sort of, to me it feels like the spiritual descendant of FTPing your stuff to the server. Like it just sort of makes it that easy. We use it all the time at work I get, cause I get the credit card updates, letting us know that we've gone over our number of developer [Cassidy laughs] minutes and we're, we're going to be paying for more. It is a very good service. Like if people don't use it, it actually is really it's worth taking like the day to just deploy a project onto it. Because the key thing for us man, is you just, it gets, it gets into your GitHub deploy cycle. [mhm] So all the branches, you can kind of go see how they work on the web. And it's pretty magical. It's really that, that part is so good. Anyway, I just wanted to sell Netlify for a little bit.

CW I'll take it, thanks!

PF Because boy is it good! Boy, when my job is a tricky one. So I love software and I like being a friend to Stack and I like to write and talk about the software, but my day to day job is as cofounder and CEO of a 60 and probably soon to be 70 person software development firm called Postlight. So in a couple sentences, what I do all day and I'm glad we're talking about it. My real job is to put one of my jobs is to sell services and talk to clients and explain the kind of work we would do. That's sort of how, and also kind of to market the company and its reason I'm here is because talking about software in public is good. My day to day job is to listen to everyone which I sometimes do well. And sometimes I do poorly and to then take individual needs, desires, and goals and transform them in my brain, including my own, to the question, what does Poslight need right now? And then to figure out plans and operations that will help us get there. And I do that with my cofounder, a guy named Rich, who's a very, very good and much more experienced operator than I am. And we kind of worked together on that all day. And the three things I think about are really simple. They are quality and they are growth and they are trust. How do I, how do we build a really, really good quality software for our clients, for ourselves, kind of for the world? How do I grow the business? How do I build relationships that will grow the business? There's lots of different ways to do that. Not just sales, all kinds of partnerships and things you can do. And then how do you build a culture of trust inside of the organization, which then you've got, you know, HR and the structure. And really like as time has gone on more and more CEOish, I just think those two things over and over again. And then I have a motto which is, I don't have a job, we have a company. And so I just sort of say, I say the thing about being a boss is you just repeat really lame mantras over and over again until other people say them. [Ben & Paul chuckle]


SC That's great.

CW I guess that's the key to getting promoted.

PF Yeah, that's right. No, you know, I'll tell you, you want, and you actually want to know the key to getting promoted? I figured it out. It's this phrase: ''we can figure it out.'' If you say that over and over again, you will get a promotion.

CW I feel like that and ''it depends.'' Those ones are really key ones.

PF Yes, it depends. But we can figure it out. That's all I want to hear ever.

SC Paul, you make it sound a little more fun than it might be. Actually you make it sound a little more boring than it might be. Do you think, do you think that were the things that you described, they all seem like things that would take a long time. Do you feel like you want things to go faster? Do you feel like you want them to go faster or are you used to like long projects?

PF No. Uh, so projects, always, projects in, you always want things to go faster in terms of actual delivery, right? Like that's cause you make more, you can make more money, you can make more software, you can do more things. Doing more things is always good for the firm. Growth, actual human growth is unbelievably difficult. Adding people to a team. Somebody once said that it's sort of like an immutable variable. Like you it's, you don't actually just add people to the team. It's a whole new team. 


BP Yeah. I feel like Sara's job. And my job are interesting and maybe a little difficult in the sense that you have to work on a daily basis with a lot of people who you didn't choose to hire. They come from the public, but they, in some ways they're helping to grow or create some of the same stuff you are. And then you have to find ways to work with those people. I mean, it's similar to open source software and in some cases that's literally what it is. But for the community side of Stack Overflow, it's a little bit different. It's like when you're working with a public community or, you know, open editorial on meta, how do you create a productive relationship with those people? Sara, where did you start doing any community stuff before you came here? Or was this your first community facing job?

SC Yeah. Great question. So, you know, I like to make the joke that I became a programmer at a time where everyone got into programming because they didn't have friends. And so since the beginning of my career, I really spent a lot of time in different communities, whether it's starting new communities or participating in existing communities, uh, everything from movies I love to coding in general and even in the beginning of the Stack Overflow community. So it's really neat to be a part of figuring out next steps for a community that I've been part of for such a long time.

BP Yeah, you came to the job kind of as you know, a long serving member of the Stack Overflow committee, right. User four thousand and something something.

SC Yeah. So that was the most interesting part is to seeing how things are made around here and how we decide what gets built and what gets prioritized has been really interesting.

BP Yeah. I mean, I feel like there's always the interesting push and pull of like, were you at a company in the early days? And then it gets really big and corporate or goes public. And then there's like a push and pull of like, what are the company's values and what are, what do we want to stay true to? And with Stack Overflow, one of the interesting things that I've learned working with folks like Sara and other people on the engineering team is that a lot of people were community members for years or even decades before they were employees. [mhm] And so their perception of what the company should do, how it should interact with the community, what it should prioritize is really grounded more in the community than it is in the company, the corporate entity or their status as an employee. 


PF Look, I mean, all of you are in the kind of in the trust business. And it sort of turns out that as a boss, especially with the pandemic, I'm realizing I am too right. Like how do you build trust between individuals so that we can all work together? And it's very hard. I feel that engineering, interestingly, as a culture, you know, engineers were ready to go remote [Ben laughs] and they had good tools and they had frameworks. And really in retrospect, as I'm sort of playing back the last couple of months, they have the best tools for building trust and collaborating remotely. Right. And nobody else does. Like you, can't, it's hard to build relationships easily and flexibly this way. You don't see everybody's work. You don't know what they're doing. You don't see them heads down at their desk. When I listened to, um, you folks talk, what I hear is like just this enormous amount of work and energy, that's going into building more trusting relationships across the Stack community. And it's very sincere, right? Like it's not like, Oh my God, we need to make them trust us so we can get more money.


BP I dropped a link into the chat. It's like 25 things to write history created with Java. I feel like if you're a software developer, right? The biggest win is when your code goes into outer space. So obviously the Mars Rover, it's got to feel pretty good, deep space, yada, yada, yada.

PF I can hear so many programmers just to, you know, whatever space, [Ben laughs] whatever. It's all, it's all about. It's all about the hardware in space. Honestly, you just, you have to radiation harden it and then whatever. It's just more code running. Who cares on Mars? Beh.

SC I feel like if I'm in space, I kind of want Java.

CW That's true.

SC Like I want to type safety.

CW Yeah, I would not want JavaScript in space. You make a very good point.

SC Yeaaah!

PF No, you're right. 

BP Some other big ones here, Wikipedia Search, which obviously is a pretty heavy lift. And then my favorite...

PF No bu that's cause it's leucine, leucine. Leucine is like something that we should just stop and observe one day leucine powers, everything. 

BP Yeah.

SC Minecraft!


BP Minecraft! That was the one that was really blowing me away.

SC What a good one!

BP They sat down and thought I'd like to make this in Java. But why?

SC I can't believe that Microsoft hasn't switched over to C-sharp. [Ben laughs] Suggestion.

PF They probably have. Right? Like it's probably just like this awful. Like there's some weird ecosystem dependency.

SC There's a team for this. [yeah] They're slowly converting things over.

BP There's a lot of precious farm land that you can't destroy it even for a day, can't be down even for a day without riots breaking out.

PF They've done it. They've done it. But for some reason, the cows don't work like this just terrible. They can't, they can't get it right. Ooh, NetBeans is on here. This is a lot.

BP Oh God Paul, that name, that, NetBeans. Just really, I don't know what to say about that. 

PF NetBeans is a lot.

SC NetBeans is a good one! And Eclipse.

BP What is NetBeans, y'all? I'm sorry. I'm too. I'm too young. I wasn' know.

BP It's an ID. It's a big, it's a big messy ID. 

SC Yeah. 

PF Yeah. Look, I mean, this is a mix this 25 greatest Java apps that really listen. I mean, there, there is a mix of truly, truly great apps on here. And then wheeeww. 


BP Well they're also taking credit for being the originator of Applet and App, right? Pretty much like they're sort of saying that nomenclature?

SC Well, Java applets were huge. Are they saying that they are the originator of the term app?

BP No, they say Applet at first appeared in 1998 PC magazine, but it didn't take off until Java came along. [ohhhhh] So they kind of got it to become, you know, the common, the common name.

SC Yeah remember Java Swing?

CW Heck yeah.

PF Oh God, do I. [yeah] That's where the history lesson, when I say Java comes out and it's got a little windowing toolkit that runs on everything it's called, AWT the abstract windowing toolkit. And they're like, and that was really not good. Like nobody liked that. [Ben laughs] And then they, then they came up with Swing. Right. And that was going to be a lot better. But that was also like, not that great. And now, now what does anyone know how you do nice windowing interfaces and Java these days?

SC Oh man.

CW I kind of learned, I learned how to do utilize and stuff on Java swing. And so this was ages ago and I just haven't touched it ever since. 


SC Did you like it at the time? 

CW Oh yeah. I thought, I mean, it was like in high school and so I was just like, look, I can make a book move across the screen. Haha! [Ben laughs] And so it wasn't exactly...

BP That's what scratches for now. Yeah.

CW Yeah. It wasn't anything that I could like put in the space. It was, it was truely just me messing around with it.

PF Oh, you know what it is now? Cause I just looked on Stack Overflow. 

SC What a good place!

PF So first of all, Java, Java GUI frameworks, what to choose six years ago was the last time it was active, but bad news, everybody, this question and it's answers are locked. Oh that's the question is on topic. But has historical significance. The one that pops up is Java FX. That is, I think kind of the way you do things now it's, it's all the way up to Java FX 14, [wow] which was released like an hour ago. [Ben & Sara laugh] So I think that is the way you do rich interactive interfaces in Java these days. 

BP Nice.

SC That's great. Did you see the section about mapping the genomes? So apparently there's a genome browser in Java and also bio Java, which is an open source library for processing biological. [mmmmm!]

BP Right? That's like Psi Pi or something, that seems cool. 

PF Oh wow. Java FX. The very first piece of code, the library they promote is called Flex Gantt for building Gantt charts. So it tells you.

SC Yeaahh! Who's their market?

PF Uh huh! And then it gets deep. It gets wild. I encourage everyone to go check out to the Java FX.

SC That's for you Paul, all CEOs are the ones browsing Java FX. [Cassidy & Sara laugh]

PF Somebody has got to make this decision!


BP Alright y'all, it's that time of the episode where we give a shout out to someone who earned the lifeboat badge, that means they answered a question that had a negative score, probably wasn't going to get answered. They came in and gave an answer and it got 20 or more. So, asked four years ago: query to order by the last three characters of a column. And they're trying to order a table of student names here with IDs and their marks, meaning their grades. And then two years ago, [inaudible] came in and said, try this for my SQL. And then, uh, gave a little code snippet and it was, uh, effective, uh, upvoted, answered. And now if you, if you want to learn how to query to order by last year, names, have a column and, and help your students get their grades in a row and not give the wrong mark to Ashley or Samantha. There's some code in here to help you. We'll put the question in the show notes and thanks again to hisball25 for winning a lifeboat badge.


SC Awesome. 

BP Thanks everybody for joining, I'm Ben Popper, director of content here at Stack Overflow. And if you don't know what that means, go back to the beginning of the episode and I'll tell you all about it. If you want to find me on Twitter, I'm just @Ben Popper.

SC I'm Sara Chipps, director of community or Stack Overflow, and you can find me on GitHub @SaraJo.

PF I'm Paul Ford. I'm the cofounder of Postlight. We bring strategy design to engineering, to deliver platforms and experiences that drive digital transformation. Uh, check us out at

CW And I'm Cassidy Williams. I'm a principal developer experience engineer at Netlify. And I also make memes on the internet. You can find me @cassidoo on most platforms. 

BP Mhm they are quality. 

PF Yeah. You're kind of, you're underplaying it.

BP Underplaying that. Makes some of the, uh, most delightful and viral program or memes to have our day.

CW Oh, thank you.

BP Alright y'all, thank you so much for listening.