The Stack Overflow Podcast

Satellite internet: More useful than sending a car into space

Episode Summary

The home team talks about the coding error that forced ten million Canadians offline, advice for coders trying to get out of a rut, and how low-earth orbit satellites are reshaping the internet. Plus: a Netflix documentary for getting out of a rut and reshaping your mind all in one.

Episode Notes

A coding error reportedly caused the massive outage at Canadian telecom company Rogers that affected more than 10 million customers—a quarter of Canada’s population.

In a rut? Hacker News has some advice for climbing out. (Hint: More screen time won’t help.)

The Verge reports on how Starlink and other companies that provide internet connectivity through low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites are shaping an “orbital internet.”

Michael Pollan’s 2019 book How to Change Your Mind—an exploration of psychedelic therapy’s history, current status, and future potential—is now a four-part Netflix documentary. We at Stack Overflow DO NOT recommend illegal drug use, but we can recommend the documentary.

Today’s Lifeboat badge goes to user Satpal for their answer to the question 'setinterval' with random time in JavaScript.

Episode Transcription

[intro music plays]

Ben Popper Compiler is an original podcast from Red Hat, discussing tech topics big, small, and strange alike. What are tech hiring managers actually looking for? And do you have to know how to code to get started in open source? Listen to Compiler anywhere you find your podcasts or visit 

BP Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Stack Overflow Podcast. As you may have noticed, there is no cold intro. If you are a cold intro fan, you’ve got to write in because the cold intro haters, their voices have been heard and you know the squeaky wheel gets the grease. So no cold intro for now unless I hear from other folks. I am Ben Popper. I'm the Director of Content here at Stack Overflow, joined as I often am by my wonderful colleagues and collaborators, Matt Kiernander and Ceora Ford. How's it going, y’all? 

Ceora Ford Hi! 

Matt Kiernander Hello, everyone. Good!

BP So for those of you who don't know, Matt works with me here at Stack Overflow as a Technical Advocate/Evangelist, and Ceora, you are at Auth0 in the developer relations world, right?

CF Yep. 

BP How's that been going? That's a new gig. Tell us a little bit about it. What are you working on? 

CF Yeah! It's so crazy because while I started this new role I've simultaneously had a ton of crazy stuff going on with family and everything. So it's terrible timing, but the good thing is that I'm on a really supportive team so far so I'm getting into the part where it's like, “All right, you're going to have to actually start doing stuff with the team instead of just onboarding,” which is interesting. We have a couple events going on in the states and internationally which hopefully I'll be able to make it to a couple of those, so I'm excited about that. This is going to be my first time actually traveling as a developer advocate since I got into tech during the pandemic.

BP Thems the perks. All right, getting back to that lifestyle. 

CF Yeah! So I'm hyped that I get to actually take advantage. 

BP Yeah. I'm glad they let you look after your family issues. That speaks well to them as an employer. Are there certain areas that you're going to study up on or they want you to learn that are different from ApolloGraphQL? 

CF Yeah, Auth0's whole thing is identity and security and things like that. It's so funny because I feel like every other episode I'm talking about how little I know about that kind of stuff. 

BP Nowhere to go but up from here, okay.

MK You got the job now, it’s okay!

CF Yeah. So that's what I'll be studying up on in the next couple months. 

BP Okay, cool. Well if you find something interesting during the curriculum, let us know, we'll bring it on the show. 

MK I'm very curious, if I can hop in here really quick. Developer advocate roles are very varied in terms of what they expect, whether you're more of a video focus or technical documentation writing focus or a community focus. So what area of developer advocacy are you going to be working on at Auth? 

CF I'm going to mostly be focused on community events, meaning speaking engagements and things like that, workshops, stuff like that. So I'm really, really hype about that because like I was saying earlier, I've always wanted to travel a ton and you usually get to do that in developer advocacy, but you know, the pandemic and everything. I'm a little nervous because it seems like we're going to be going through another potential added struggle to the pandemic with the monkeypox thing or whatever, but even so I'll probably be focused on virtual events. We also internally hold a lot of events. Like I said, we'll be having some internationally, we'll have one in Australia, one in Berlin, one in London, and one in Seattle. So aside from that, it's just going to events and either doing a booth or a workshop or a talk, things like that, which is exciting, nerve-wracking a little bit, because obviously I'll have to talk about identity stuff like I know what I'm talking about, which means I have to know my thing.

BP As you're workshopping the talk or the booth, let's do it here. Let's hear about it and we'll get some feedback from the audience. It'll be a safe space. Matt, you brought a link today. Obviously now as a Canadian, a resident of the great Canada, they had a big internet outage. Catch us up on what happened here and what it has to do with software. 

MK There was a very big booboo that happened in the Canadian telco space. And I did a little bit of digging into it, they’ve finally come out with a public letter saying what happened. I didn't realize how bad it was until some of the ramifications that happened with changing up personnel and all that kind of stuff and I was like, “Oh! This actually is quite a big deal.” So basically what happened was, Rogers, which is one of the main Canadian telecommunication agencies, it went down which affected the entire cellular network as well as taking credit card transactions and debit card transactions, that kind of thing. I think it was only debit that was affected. So when I was going out about my day, I couldn't actually use my debit card. I had to go and get cash out and use my New Zealand credit card because I couldn't get stuff anywhere. And in Vancouver as well, there were a lot of festivals, and it just completely messed up everyone's day. There was an estimated around 10 million people affected, which is roughly a quarter of the population of Canada. Emergency text messages were unable to go out, so when there was fire warnings or dangerous personnel warnings, those couldn't go out. As I mentioned, banking was down. Rogers employees had to switch to backup Bell and Telus SIM cards because they couldn't communicate with anyone using their own phones. It was a big deal. By the sounds of it, what actually happened was they’re upgrading a lot of their infrastructure so they did a deployment. And they were upgrading some of their core infrastructure and what happened was, from what I can tell, it looks like there was a piece of code somewhere that updated or deleted a routing table internally, which then caused a flow on effect of DDoS-ing and overloading a lot of other infrastructure which then brought everything down and they had no idea what was going on. They thought it was a cyber attack. They warned the other telcos, like, “Hey, we think that we're being attacked. We don't know what's going on.” So it was basically like somebody messed up a deployment. They didn't test well enough and brought down the entire network. 

BP Amazing. Yeah, this says here, “In its letter, Rogers said coding from the update deleted a routing filter that allowed for all possible routes to the internet to pass through the routers, which flooded and overwhelmed the core network. As a result, the Rogers network lost connectivity, and then many Rogers employees looking to fix the problem were affected and could not connect to the company's IT network system. Only those equipped with emergency SIMs on alternate carriers could initially triage the outage.” So double whammy there.

CF This is like a nightmare, it's every software engineer’s. Oh my goodness, this is just terrible. I feel so bad for the person who deployed that code and messed everything up. Oh my God. 

MK But the thing is even if you were the person to hit the green light on that, I still don't think that is their fault because if you can bring down the entire Rogers network because of a bad deploy that wasn't tested, that is a symptom of the overall processes and everything that goes on at Rogers. 

BP There needs to be more robust checks in there. Definitely. 

MK Yeah. No one person should be able to bring it down. 

CF I always think about that every time things like this happen with anything. Like you said, it's not just one person, although I'm sure the one person who deployed whatever that was feels really bad. But it's one of those things where at least a team, if not a whole org under the company, needs to have a whole reassessment of how they run because something this major shouldn't happen over one deployment. 

BP Yeah. There should be some kind of failsafe where if it starts to flood over then there's a firewall here. Okay, we cut off this quarter of the network but the other three quarters are working and then we can fix it. As opposed to letting the whole thing just get sort of overwhelmed.

MK That's exactly what they're doing. I think they're decoupling some of their networks, like the one that processes payments from the cellular network. Even though it was a bad event and it did impact a lot of businesses and a lot of people, I think the positive flow on effects from this are like, “Oh, we actually need to get this sorted.” It also might just be damage control and PR saying “We're going to fix everything.”

BP But better to do it now when it was a booboo on your end than actually another nation state is attacking you and they start parachuting in so now you can work on it. All right, speaking of bad days, there was a question and a good thread on Hacker News about how to get out of a rut. It was from someone who's worked as a software developer and then took a job as a technical writer and just felt like they could not get motivated to work. It was dragging them down, not really sure how to break out of it, and there were a lot of interesting suggestions in the comments. It was a positive comment thread, especially by the standards of Hacker News. Exercise was in there, animals, companionship, time outdoors. There was talk about making the time for a disconnect, like really a reset, whether that's going on a big hike or going on a big surf or going to a music festival, whatever it is for you, way out of your normal routine, that's kind of a reset. So I just wanted to throw that out to you two. What do you do when you're in a rut? Do you have go-tos or what do you think about? 

CF Yeah, I was looking through these suggestions and there's a lot of good stuff here. I think probably the best way to sum up my favorite responses on here is that it's really good to do things away from the screen, like away from technology, especially because we work in tech, we work on our computers all the time. 

BP You make such a good point. A lot of people here mentioned to stop playing video games to relax. 

CF Yeah, exactly. 

BP Because it's just more screens. Yeah. 

CF Yeah. And then people were saying to hang out with actual people. And I know that sounds like, “Get friends! Don't be alone,” or whatever, but it kind of is true. Sometimes, especially now I think after the pandemic, we are so used to doing everything virtually and everything and sometimes you supplement that by spending extra time on social media and you forget that you actually have friends and family that you can see in real life and you should see them in real life and in person. That’s a really great recommendation I think. Like I said, during the pandemic I think a lot of us have gotten into the habit of doing social media and TV and video games, and those things aren't necessarily bad, but I do think they can lead you to being in a rut or staying in a rut for even longer. So yeah, I would definitely agree with the people who are saying to do the in real life stuff, go outside, spend time with family, go on a picnic, go on a walk, whatever, things like that. 

MK Every time I see a thread like this it always reminds me of the meme that went through a year and a half into the pandemic of going for a walk for my stupid mental health. And every time I'm feeling kind of somewhat this way where I notice that I'm maybe not feeling as energetic or motivated or feeling a little bit down, I do have to force myself to go outside and like be with people or go for a walk or do whatever else because I do feel good after. But at the time it's the last thing that you want to do. You're just like, “No, I'm just going to wallow in self pity for a little bit and watch some TV and get some McDonald's Uber eats,” but realizing that and taking care of yourself, it's a process and I empathize a lot with the person who started this thread as well, because it's a bad situation to be in. It sucks, especially if it's something relating to you not being satisfied in your job and your career, it's not something that you can fix overnight. There are some things you can do to improve it, like exercise and eat well and decouple your identity from work as much as you can. 

BP That one is so crucial. I'm glad you mentioned that one, because somebody said that here and it's like, maybe you don't love your job right now, but it's not always easy to just quit or just find another job. It can be a process, a journey you set out on. So they were kind of saying maybe your identity could be, “I'm exercising and I'm getting better at X or better at Y” or, “I joined a chess club and now I have friends and we do this and we're growing the club, and then when I go to work, my mission is just to crush what's in front of me, crush my to-do list and leave.” I don't have to love my job for it to serve a role in my life. This person seemed like they were kind of saying they feel really bad because they don't feel passionate about their work. Maybe you can solve that down the road, but maybe for the time being you just say, “I don't have to love work to be happy. I can find other identities.”

CF Yeah, absolutely. 

MK I got some good advice probably like midway through the pandemic. I was going through a little bit of a Matt crisis, and I was like, “Maybe software development isn't for me and I want to do something that–”

BP I missed that. I spit-laughed seltzer all over my computer. Keep going. I’m going to have to hose it down. 

MK Okay. So I was having a bit of a crisis and my manager at the time was someone that I was close to. I feel like a lot of people went through this where they realized in tech that the work they're doing, whether that's building a new software as a service platform or whatever else, it doesn't really have much of a tangible, positive human impact at the end of the day. It's not face to face, you're not interacting with customers, you don't see a lot of the benefits of the work that you do. So I was thinking about potentially going and trying to get into med school and was chatting to a manager about it. And she was pretty good actually because she was like, “My partner is a doctor and she comes home and she's like, I saved somebody's life today, or I made a tangible difference.” And I was like, “How do you rationalize that between your partner having this very meaningful output at the end of the day and you are like, I implemented a new ad system that generates 3% more monthly recurring revenue for the company?” And she basically said that the work that she does day to day is not reflective of who she is as a person, in the sense that it enables her a lifestyle that leads to much more fulfilling things. So she'll put up with the 40 hours of work, crush it, do everything she can to do a good job there, but outside she goes and actually enjoys herself and finds all of her meaning by like volunteering and filling her cup outside of work. And that's a different way that you can look at what your career is. Is it something that enables you to do the stuff that actually does fulfill you?

CF Before I got into the tech industry, like officially my first job, I participated in this program that was basically like a bootcamp for teaching people how to be good public speakers. And it was women only and at the end of the program you give a 10 minute talk, and my 10 minute talk was on passion and how we kind of think that we have to be passionate about our job and you have to do something you're passionate about. And in the talk I kind of explained how that's not necessarily the case. It's perfectly okay to do something that pays the bills so that you can fulfill what you're actually passionate about outside of work. And I think sometimes we get obsessed with feeling extra fulfilled at the end of the day and being super passionate about our job, and that's what kind of causes us to attach our own self value to our work which can be dangerous for a lot of different reasons. And then when you lose that spark, because passion isn't a constant, when you lose that spark, it makes you doubt your whole career, which again can be dangerous. So I agree with everything you're saying about how maybe you should look at it in a way like, I want a job that'll allow me to do things that I'm passionate about outside of work, or things that I care a lot about outside of work. Another comment that somebody made on this post was that another factor could very well be mental illness or depression. That's definitely something that could lead to you being in a rut because sometimes you do try to exercise, or you try to lower your screen time, and you try to fix things at work on your day to day and you still feel like you're out of it. Sometimes that's a sign that you need to take extra help and maybe even seek medical care, which is something I wanted to say to anybody who's listening and feels like they're in that spot because I've experienced that myself, and I'm happy to announce that I'm finally seeing a therapist. My first visit is this week. 

MK Hey, congratulations!

BP Good for you. 

CF Thank you! Thank you. But it's important to keep that factor in mind too. You can try to change as many things as you want in life, but sometimes it really just comes down to that. 

BP Yeah, sometimes it is neurochemical and then you’ve got to take some bigger strides, exactly. All right, one more thing I want to say and then we'll jump off to our next link. I do not advocate the use of any illegal substances, but you should check out if you're interested, this cool documentary on Netflix called How to Change Your Mind. It's Michael Pollan's book which he wrote about psychedelics and now they're doing a Netflix documentary about it. So within a laboratory setting you can sign up for a trial if you qualify for it, maybe you have PTSD, maybe you're a terminal patient who's suffering from the depression of knowing that you're near the end, or maybe you have OCD. And the really amazing thing about some of the substances that these people take is that it's a lifelong practice. You’ve got to keep exercising, you’ve got to keep going to therapy, you’ve got to keep seeing family. You’ve just got to do those things every day to sort of maintain that mental health or dig yourself out of the rut. But some of these more powerful substances, in the right setting, with the right guidance, for the right things, this one particular subject in the second episode had crippling OCD. It was ruining his life. And following a single dose was clinically cured, like no longer had OCD, it was not part of his life anymore. And they've had similarly striking results for things like PTSD and depression, and a lot of people within that talk about, I want to just bring it full circle, being able to see from afar their self image, self story, and to kind of smash that up and deconstruct it and not be so stuck in a certain concept of who they are or who they need to be to kind of lose that and that frees them up to move in a new direction. So, very cool show on Netflix if you're interested, not that I'm advocating to do any of it, but it's a documentary, check it out.

MK I've got one other quick thing to add that popped into my mind when Ceora was talking. An idea that I just had, I've been looking into investing in and trying to care for myself financially, and one of the key components of that is diversifying your portfolio. And I think when it comes to your work/life relationship and how you view satisfaction and completeness and wholeness and all that kind of stuff, if you put all of your eggs in the work basket for what fulfills you, that's pretty dangerous because when that dips or cycles it has a much bigger impact on you as opposed to like, “Oh, well I have work, but I also go and have a football league team or I do beach volleyball on Thursdays and I'm getting really good at that.” So if you start putting bits of yourself into different areas of your life so it's more balanced, I feel like that's a much better thing to do and something that I'm going to be actively working on too. 

BP Diversify the personal portfolio; I like it. Also we don't give investment advice. This is not investment advice. All right, last one I wanted to do, this came from some old colleagues at The Verge. They were talking about changing the shape of the internet and they mentioned a couple of interesting companies here. Starlink is probably the one you've heard of because that's an Elon Musk affiliated company. Another one is called OneWeb, and another one is called Project Kuiper, which I believe is backed by Amazon. And the interesting thing about this is satellite internet that is accessible in a way it was not before. So satellite internet has been around, satellite phones, but they were often only available in certain places and with quite a bit of latency. And this new approach which uses these mesh networks of satellites means you can get quite robust high speed connectivity, and you can do it even while you're traveling. And I know another colleague from The Verge who recently got a van and drove tens of thousands of miles all over the place with the Boaty McBoatface –which is actually what Starlink named it– dish on the van and was able to pick up internet in all kinds of strange places. I have never done the nomad life myself, but I know a lot of software engineers and developers are people who are interested in it so I think it's really cool that these new satellite technologies are opening up an even wider sort of birth of, “Hey, I can log into my laptop and code from anywhere and get my work done and send my email, shut it down and be wherever you are in the world.” 

MK This is a big thing that people were excited about in New Zealand because the main hubs, Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, that's a high cost of living. And a lot of people enjoy living out by the beach, New Zealand has got a huge amount of coastal region given the fact that it's a couple of islands sandwiched together, and the internet is not good out there. And a lot of people are very excited about what Starlink could actually do for them and for their families, like being able to watch Netflix by the beach, or be able to work remotely with their families and completely change their lifestyle. This has had quite a tangible impact on their lives which I think is cool. I really enjoy seeing good benefits from stuff like this. 

CF Yeah. It's so funny. I've met quite a few software engineers who live the nomadic life which is really cool. And this is one of the things I kind of think about because I'm like, “You work remotely and you're traveling all the time. How do you manage having a consistent steady internet connection that's reliable and all that kind of good stuff?” I don't know if you've ever seen this before but some job descriptions will literally list that you have to have high speed internet to work here. 

BP I've never seen that. That's interesting.

CF Yeah. I haven't seen it in a while, but I remember seeing it before. Anyway, this is definitely interesting. I hate to say it, but I feel like Elon Musk might be actually positively contributing to society. Take that out!

BP Shakes fist, shakes fist.

CF But this seems like it could actually be a good thing.

MK Yeah. Unless it does some kind of, what is that terminator net that happens? Unless something really bad and nefarious comes out of it, making the internet more accessible to rural areas, and with all the good and bad the internet does, this will provide a lot of good I think at the end of the day. It's more useful than sending a car into space, we'll put it that way.

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BP All right, everybody. Well, thanks for listening. We appreciate you and we’ll take you to the outro. Like we do at the end of every episode, we like to shout out the winner of a lifeboat badge, someone who came on Stack Overflow and helped to rescue a little knowledge from the dustbin of history. Today it was awarded to Satpal, JavaScript, how to set an interval with random time. Six years six months ago this was asked. 25,000 people have been helped by this, and you've got an accepted answer with a code where you can run the code snippet right on Stack Overflow. I always love when I see that. All right, everybody. I am Ben Popper. I'm the Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. You can always find me @BenPopper on Twitter. Email us with questions or suggestions, It matters, the cold intro is gone, I heard your voices. We're here, we're listening. And if you like the show, please leave us a rating and a review on your podcast platform of choice. It really helps. 

CF My name is Ceora Ford. I'm a Developer Advocate at Auth0. You can find me on Twitter. My username there is @Ceeoreo_. 

MK And I’m Matt Kiernander. I'm a Developer Advocate here at Stack Overflow. You can find me online @MattKander on Twitter and YouTube.

BP All right, everybody. Thanks for listening. We will talk to you soon. 

MK Bye!

CF Bye!

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