The Stack Overflow Podcast

Professional ethics and phantom braking

Episode Summary

Today’s episode is bookended by two questions about professional or academic ethics. Ben, Ryan, and Cassidy start by discussing a question on the Workplace Stack Exchange about whether to use open-source projects as dependencies for work projects. TL;DR: If you want to own the code you write outside work, get that in writing when you take the job. Our second query is a question on Academia Stack Exchange from a student who’s wondering if they cheated because they found the solution to an exam question in the course of studying. In between: Jack Dorsey resigns, the problem with phantom braking, and the time Cassidy almost won a car.

Episode Notes

Hear why Ben thinks the Workplace Stack Exchange and the Academia Stack Exchange have the richest questions in the Stack Exchange network (or maybe just the most sitcom-worthy).

ICYMI: Jack Dorsey stepped down from Twitter. Will he be back?

At Twitter, Tess Rinearson is leading a new team focused on crypto, blockchains, and decentralized tech. Follow her on Twitter here.

The team winces over a review of a Tesla Model Y hatchback that describes phantom braking so frequent and so dangerous that it’s “a complete deal-breaker.”

If you’re a fan of our show, consider leaving us a rating and a review on Apple Podcasts.

Episode Transcription

Ben Popper In the world of software, it's usually almost thought of as a best practice to be like, hey, release in beta and iterate, you know, move fast and break things. But when the software is driving the car, it feels like maybe not as appropriate.

Cassidy Williams It could be 'move fast and break other humans.' I'm worried about that. [Ben laughs]

[intro music]

BP Tired of egregious egress? Vultr is ready to save us all time, money and hassle by providing powerful cloud compute at a fraction of the cost of big tech. Visit to redeem $100 in credit today. 

BP Hello, everybody. Welcome to the Stack Overflow Podcast, a place to talk all things software and technology. I am Ben Popper, Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. And I'm joined today, as I opt in by my wonderful co-hosts, Ryan Donovan, and Cassidy Williams. Hi y'all.

CW Hello!

Ryan Donovan Hey!

BP So we have a great question today to discuss from our Workplace Stack Exchange, which as Cassidy pointed out earlier, is really the place to go when you're unable or afraid to talk to your boss or your coworkers in person. Like these are usually questions, you could just say something to somebody. But if you prefer to ask the internet, there is a place a Stack Exchange for it. 

RD It's a real problem. Not for everybody. 

BP Yeah, maybe you don't like face to face, or you did and it didn't work out. So the question is, 'Is it okay to use my open source projects as dependencies at work?' And a little bit of context here, I work at a startup company where the phase of creating some pipelines for GitHub actions, making our programs foundation stronger. In my spare time, I create a lot of tools. And so I guess, you know, the company sort of could benefit from I installed my personal open source projects as dependencies and use them since they fit our needs perfectly. So Cassidy, what is sort of the risk and reward here? Like if they fit perfectly, why is this even a question that has to come up?

CW So this all really depends on, I guess, your scope of employment with the company, whenever I go into a job, whenever I'm about to sign a contract, or looking at an offer or anything like that, I asked about side projects, because some companies are incredibly strict about it, where they might say, if you work on a side project, we own it. If you work on any open source stuff, this is now the company's open source contributions, not your own. If it's code related, we own it, even if it's outside of work. And so this is a very real question that is a valid one to have.

RD In the question, they posted part of their contract, and 'shall not accept any other paid or unpaid employment or occupation, or engage in any other business activity, except with the prior written consent to the company, open source code, unrelated companies domains.' And I think that's where the person makes a mistake, where they're like, I'm in the company's in education. And all my stuff is infrastructure. And it's like, well, you're writing software. So it's all infrastructure.

BP So they're worried that the work that they're doing as it becomes part of the company's code base will become owned and patented by them and something they'll have less ability to use in the future? That's their main concern?

RD Yeah. And actually, if you scroll down, there's somebody who is like, I actually was sued for this, the company I work for was acquired. And they thought they were buying all code. And they're like, no, they're these open source dependencies. And here, she actually had to pay a fine.

CW Yeah. And it's something that is that a lot of companies. And so that's something that I had to start looking at just with my, I think my second job I had after college was I realized I had open source projects, I had side projects, but my company had somewhere in my contract that they own all the work that I did. And so there is a way around this. And this person, unfortunately, is figuring this out during their employment rather than before their employment. But one thing that I personally do is I have a list of all side projects, and activities and things that I do outside of work. And then whenever I'm about to sign some kind of work contract, I just give it to the company. And I say, by the way, this is the stuff I do outside of work, I want to make sure that this is excluded from my contract, that you don't own it. It's important to me that that kind of stuff, and then it ends up being just like a appendix of the work contract. And so anybody out there, if you start running into this issue, have it written down. This person should talk to their manager.

BP Yeah, I totally misinterpreted this. When I read the question before reading the explanation and comments, I thought what the person was worried about was, I'm creating tools that fit our needs. They're becoming dependencies, therefore the company is relying on them. If they fail, or if we decide to go, you know, a different direction or if I decide to stop updating this open source project, you know, well, I have created problems for the company? Essentially, I'm bringing in the kind of stuff I work on from outside of work. It's helpful to us now, but if in the future It breaks or ice decide to stop working on it have I created an issue, but it's something completely different. It's about, you know, a fear that this open source work you're doing might be taken away from you. Now, open source often comes with like specific licenses and things that could be commented in the code. Could that protect you? Like if you say, If you mark the dependency and say this is part of this open source project that I'm working on here, it's licensed this way. Would that in the future, that seems like it might help you? If you were to get sued? Or they were to try to take it away? Or no?

CW It depends on when you've worked on it. 

RD There it is. 

CW It depends!

BP It depends. Not a lawyer, but it depends. 

CW Yeah, the license and when you worked on it. 

RD Yeah, one of the comments said, you know, the license may actually affect the software upstream. If you use a GPT license, any software that uses it may also have to be under that license.

BP Wow. But am I wrong to assume that a lot of places now, increasingly to hire great developers or to hire people who are well thought of within certain open source platforms and ecosystems have to make concessions to folks about what they can work on, or, you know, their ability to both maintain a relationship and a working contribution to open source while working inside of a company? It feels like that's something that increasingly is true as people will be hired off a big open source project because of their status and contribution there, and then come in house to sort of help maintain that company's attachment point to an open source infrastructure?

RD Sure. And I think that consideration probably depends on how big and how exposed open source that company is. If it's a small company, they're gonna either be outsourcing as much as they can to dependencies, or they want to own everything. And I think this contract specifically has a phrase, you know, line in there that both protects and doesn't protect this person.

CW It's a very, very common issue. This was actually way back when I worked at Amazon. This was a few years ago. I remember going through the contract and seeing Okay, which things can I work on which things can't I work on, I probably need to get things in writing, that sort of thing. And companies have been doing this since the beginning of time. But in particular, with Amazon, they were really strict about game development. Where even if your job had nothing to do with game development, if you wanted to make a game, you had to use Amazon infrastructure. And you were only allowed to work on said game with other Amazon employees. It was a whole thing. And I'm saying this was a few years ago, because that was only changed within the past few months, actually, this year, where a lot of people ended up stopping doing game development, because they worked at Amazon, because Amazon was like, no matter what, we will own whatever game that you make. There's a lot of little variations of this at various tech companies. And so the only way to completely verify that you'll be able to work on it and and be okay with it and stuff is to bring it upfront, have it in writing and have you and the company sign it.

BP But you're saying that at Amazon based on employee pushback, they did change that policy recently?

CW It took years, but it worked.

RD I think the ultimate lessons here, talk to your manager and get it in writing.

BP Those are good lessons for anything in the workplace, which is why they're on Workplace, the greatest Stack Exchange. Always an episode of The Office. Love Workplace. 

RD You just love office drama, don't you?

BP Workplace in academia have some of the best questions, I think. Because usually, like inherent in the question is something like, this is pissing me off. But I'm like, I can't express my frustration, or I feel like some malfeasance has happened, but I don't know how to report it. Or I feel guilty about this. It's often a very, like sort of confessional space. It feels like.

RD It also feels like some sort of sitcom mix up where it's like, you could solve this by talking to someone. [Ben laughs] Don't plan two dates.

BP Right. It's a Seinfeld episode. There's like some huge, elaborate thing that they're doing instead of just talking to somebody about it. Alright, I have another link for us to discuss here. And then Cassidy, then we'll jump into the big news. Well, we can jump to the big news first. Not sure everybody heard, but Jack Dorsey has resigned from Twitter, the co-founder, Founder, CEO, not CEO again, Chairman, has now stepped away once more. Maybe he shall return in the future of Twitter need saving once again. Now he's gone. Okay. Jack's gone for good this time. But yeah, I mean, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts. I do think Jack has a reputation within the software developer community, as someone who managed to be good at business or maintain a CEO role at two companies at once, but also was at heart in a lot of ways, a developer and a technologist and more interested in the inner workings of stuff than in being the CEO, quote unquote.

CW Yeah, I'll be very curious to see what he ends up doing next, and how Twitter might change in business model and leadership structure, anything like that, because I could see that happening.

RD I think there's a benefit to being founder led. Sometimes you talk about it, and I've been at a lot of founder led companies, but there is a point where the company scales up to where the founder becomes more of a liability. They have too much ownership over the company. And they often can't let things grow without them. They just want their hands in all the action going on.

CW I'm also going to be curious to see if he just leans more into his position at Square, because Square seems to be doing a lot of movement in the space where I admit, I thought Square was kind of quiet for a while because it was just kind of doing its thing with payments, but I think it's getting into the crypto space more. So I could see him wanting to focus on Square for that reason.

BP It seems based on his tweets and public appearances, like he's most interested these days in meditation, blockchain and crypto. And Square obviously can do some really interesting stuff there. Since it's already in the payments and fintech space, although there is a decentralized Twitter being built by somebody, maybe that could be the future of Twitter. 

RD There's several of them. 

CW There's a handful. 

BP No, but I mean, not just like versions outside. But inside of Twitter isn't there, I thought there was like a project where they were sort of like, we want to create a decentralized version of this too. And you can experiment with us and help us like, see if there's a different way for us to exist, essentially, that was sort of driven by Jack, that was my impression.

CW Yeah, they have started that. And actually, if anybody wants to follow someone who's really good about being transparent about this stuff, Tess Rynearson recently joined their team. And she's awesome and knows a ton about the crypto space and stuff and is good at educating people about it. And we can link her Twitter in the show notes.

BP Alright, another link here that I felt was worth discussing, there was a big review of the Tesla Model Y hatchback, which is like the model Y, but it's kind of world experts to be family friendly. So it's got a big trunk and rows of seats, and whatever, whatever. The reviewer really loved the car, except for the part where it randomly slams on the brakes really hard, at least once an hour, including when you're on the highway. And this is the sort of self driving, assisted driving kind of cruise control system, thinking that there's like a big obstacle in your way when there's nothing there. It's called phantom braking. And this seems to me like the kind of thing where I can't even believe that these cars are still on the road, it seems really dangerous for everyone involved. But then the sort of review itself was really interesting in that it was saying, unlike a lot of other places, this will probably change in a few months, because Tesla cars are basically software that is constantly being updated, and will get back to you in two months, and maybe this problem will be fixed. And in another version of the car, they rolled out an update, this started happening, they rolled the update back. And people who contacted Tesla to sort of say like, this feels really wrong. We're told, like, it's an evolving piece of software, like we're working on it. So just curious to get your thoughts. You know, I don't know how often you think about software in this context. But like, in the world of software, it's usually almost thought of as a best practice to be like, hey, release in beta and iterate, you know, move fast and break things. But when the software is driving the car feels like maybe not as appropriate.

CW It could be move fast and break other humans, I'm worried about that. I did watch a video review of this as well. And I could tell the reviewer was trying to be like, actively informative, while also actively paying attention to the road because they were afraid, where like, the car was fully self driving and they were they were going around in the streets and stuff and they're just like, Okay, this isn't so bad. Oh, no, no, no, no, no, they would have like, grabbed the steering wheel and move away from semi trucks and stuff.

BP The other thing about it is with Tesla I always feel like the people are trying to be positive because being pumped about Tesla and being like, man, this car's amazing I just got is like the way to get the most views. That's really good. People are kind of like trying to gloss over the problems in those like YouTube reviews. They're trying to like stay pumped about Tesla, while also keeping it on the road.

RD There's too much internet fame around Tesla? Is that what you're saying?

BP I guess I'm just surprised that people would put up with this, like, this seems completely unacceptable. I wouldn't get in or put my family in this car. But a lot of people are like, you know, the car is great. I mean, minor phantom braking issues. But you know, it's a Tesla man.

RD And I think you can avoid it by turning off cruise control. So it doesn't phantom brake all the time unless you have cruise control on.

BP But it's especially galling because you pay $10,000 Extra for the full self driving package. And then nothing.

CW Right, oh my gosh.

RD It's getting sort of hard to avoid these sorts of features. Like I was looking at getting a new TV yesterday and they're all smart TVs, they all have voice integration. And me being a cranky old man. I don't want that. I don't want possibility of ads. I don't want a listening device in my house basically. I want a dumb TV. I want the TV just show me stuff that they tell it to.

BP I've got to vacuum tubes I can sell you.

CW I have a story about the self driving car stuff. Way back when I lived in New York City. My sister and I we both lived there and we were walking around you know just just kind of hanging out and we saw that there is a giant Escape Room event. She and I love doing escape rooms where you try to break out of a room and a certain amount of time. And it was being run by Ford Escape, the car.

BP Good brand activation. Solid.

CW Yeah. And so they said, if you can get through our escape room, the fastest people who get out will win a car. And we're like, well, of course, we're going to do this. And so we got in line and stuff. And we're just going to do with the two of us. And there is a straggler behind us where he was going all by himself, and they're just like, hey, do you mind if you team up with him, and we're just like, okay, we'll be nice. And so we all sign up, we get ready for our time in the escape room. And when it's time to go, we go. And my sister and I, again, we love escape rooms, we had a strategy, we went in and we went like room by room. It was like a series of rooms, a whole Ford Escape thing. And so we had to like open up cereal boxes, find different things here and there. And we're doing well, except this random person just kept trying to get to know us in the escape room. And we're just like, you got to stop, we can talk as much as you want afterwards, we're trying to escape here. And the last part of the escape room was escaping a car and it had like a self driving aspect of it. I promise this is all relevant. And so like, the car had to like self Park and your to activate it. And we were kind of just like, oh, screaming as we were trying to park the car. And the very, very sad part of the story is this guy would not do his puzzles. Like, again, he kept just trying to talk to us. And so we would finish our puzzles, and we will go and just do his puzzles. We ended up getting second place by 14 seconds. Just 14 seconds! And we could have won. And instead of winning a car, we got headphones! And we were so mad at this person. 

BP A car, oh man.

CW He was like, saying, yeah, we should go grab a drink! And we were just like absolutely not. We took our headphones and left.

BP Is this guy like just at the escape room to try to pick people up like what is he doing? 

CW I have no idea.

RD Or just s awkward. Where he's like, I can't be in a room and not talk to people.

CW The rage I still feel to this day at this stranger. I don't know what his name is. I couldn't even tell you what it looks like I erased him from my mind.

BP Yeah, the difference between a car and a pair of headphones, that guy cost you 30 grand! Come on. Not cool. 

CW Yeah! We would have won. The rage. What can you do?

BP Lesson of the day. If you're an escape room with somebody, escape first, get to know them later. Because if you had escaped, she probably would have been like, we'll go hang out with you now and celebrate. Like pumped to know you, thanks for helping us win. Alright, everybody, I'm gonna read you one more question. Just because I think it's great. And we're gonna have it on social media this week. And then we'll jump to the lifeboat. 'Did I cheat on an exam by knowing a solution in advance? Mathematics student had done a lot of had done a lot of studying been going through practice problems this and that got to the test. And the final question was tend to be a challenge. You know, students just sort of solve it completely and show their work. They just nailed it. They knew they had done this problem, remembered it, knocked it out of the park, obviously scored the best. Is this cheating? Should I tell my professor?' So think about it. And maybe next week, we'll go over the some of the answers, which I thought were very good.

CW I feel like it isn't. But yeah, I'll be curious to see what people say.

RD Yeah, it's not cheating to know stuff.

BP But my first reaction was the idea that you get the problem in advance and then can just do it sounds like cheating, like somebody is giving you the exam. But that's not what happened here. It was just in some open public materials. And so not cheating.

RD Just got lucky. 

BP The best response here was, it's actually your professor is cheating by not coming up with a new question. 

CW Oh, good point. 


BP Alright, everybody, it is that time of the show. I'm going to shout out a lifeboat badge winner for coming on Stack Overflow and answering your question, helping to save some knowledge from the dustbin of history. Awarded yesterday to Glenn B. How to access single elements in a table in R? So if you've ever been curious, we've got an answer for you. And you can find it in the show notes. Already, everybody. Thanks so much for listening. I am Ben Popper, the Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. You can always email us If you like the show, leave a rating and review. Actually a very sad thing happened sometime back in the summer. I think I unpublished an episode or something happened. Anyway, our feed got all messed up on Apple, it stopped updating. And we lost all our ratings and reviews. So if you liked the show, please do go leave a rating and review because we have a new feed now that's been working but it is not the one that existed for many years. So we're sort of like starting from scratch there. So yeah, if you like the show, especially on Apple, go leave us a rating and review, really helps.

RD I'm Ryan Donovan. I edit the blog and the newsletter here at Stack Overflow. You can find me on Twitter @RThorDonovan. And if you have a great idea for a blog post, please email me at

CW My name is Cassidy Williams. You can find me @cassidoo on most things.

BP Alright everybody, thanks for listening. We'll talk to you soon.

CW Bye!

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