The Stack Overflow Podcast

Tik Tok's Tech Troubles / Developers Flee San Francisco

Episode Summary

Sara and Ben chat about Tik Tok's regulatory issues, and whether its code is being critcized because it's malicious, sloppy, borrowed, or just broken. Later, we dip into the remote work trends reshaping Silicon Valley and potentially starting to shift the center of gravity for software in the United States.

Episode Notes

Tik Tok has been accused of spying on users and siphoning up their data, although it's important to point out the same criticism has been leveled at many American tech giant's apps and web services. In working to address security flaws, it seemed that Tik Tok programming  was just as often sloppy as malicious

All that hasn't stopped reports from surfacing that Microsoft might be wiling to pay as much as $30 billion to acquire Tik Tok, at which point it intends to "transfer all of TikTok’s code from China to the U.S. within one year." This code just needs a supportive home. 

Speaking of moving to new digs, according to a recent survey, two out of three techies in the San Francisco Bay area say they are considering moving if their employers allow it. 

Will we see the rise of a complex system of salaries that fluctuate not just by rank and performance, but by proximity to the home office? 

Will Silicon Valley's once unshakable grip on the cutting edge of startup culture and product acumen start to wane if developers flee for remote working locales in more affordable areas? Can you turn back the clock once they can acquire bigger homes or enjoy more of the great outdoors during a pandemic that doesn't yet have a firm end date. 

Episode Transcription

Sara Chipps My favorite part of the hearings last week was the congressman who asked the Google CEO why his campaign emails were going in his dad's spam folder.

Ben Popper Because your dad put them, he marked them as spam?

SC Have you asked your dad if he thinks your emails are trash?


BP Love coding and want to learn new skills? Join the weekly AWS series Developers Let's Code live on Twitch. with hands on demos and virtual sessions. You'll learn new core concepts on some of the hottest topics in cloud technology. Subscribe today at

BP Hello!

SC Hello! Hey Ben!

BP So I know you are a TikTok fan and user and it was the big tech news over the weekend.

SC Oh my goodness, what a roller coaster.

BP What a roller coaster it was. Hard to see how this does anything but alienate the youth vote, not really sure what their what their Gambit is here. But interesting that TikTok, you know, is now at a point where it represents a national security threat. I thought it was funny memes. And then I read a story or I read a little breakdown this morning on Twitter, just sort of digging into some of the code. And it was basically saying TikTok is not something I would want installed on my phone. It feels like malware. But as we've gotten to many times, it doesn't look malicious. It looks sloppy as hell. What are your thoughts on TikTok, if any?

SC Well, I thought it was really interesting. I was excited to hear about Microsoft buying it because there's a lot of concern in the US about ownership and data and how aggressive they are with your data. So I was really excited to see that right. And then I was disappointed because then I saw that they couldn't buy it. 

BP Oh, why not? 

SC Because apparently government leadership here in the US stepped in about Friday or so. And it was like No, actually sorry you can't buy it. [Ben laughs] What a nail biter. 


BP Oh, what a nail biter. I thought that's what they wanted. 

SC Yeah, same.

BP So much drama. What a flip flop. What a cliffhanger.

SC And then yeah, yesterday. They're like, actually just kidding. Let's buy it.

BP Yeah, JK JK.

SC So now they're moving forward again. So we'll see. I think Microsoft owning the world, I'm actually for it.

BP Yeah. I mean, I do think that there is this interesting division now between the really big tech players where Apple and Microsoft are the older ones. They're the veterans in the room. Yeah, they are, in some ways, trying to build a suite of products and services that don't require all your personal data don't need to vacuum it up to be valuable and can sometimes position themselves where like the value to the consumer is that there's privacy because that's not what they need from you. Obviously, that's not really true for Google and Facebook and Amazon. They're very interested in knowing what you want and when so that they can sell you products or sell ads that to target you. And so Microsoft owning TikTok is hilarious because they're the oldest stodgy US company in the room. And TikTok is for the teens.

SC They are but that you have to remember though they also have Xbox.

BP No, that's true. I actually thought there's a lot of overlap there like, Fortnite Xbox, Minecraft, Minecraft gaming, so like for them just to have people right? Like, even if they just left it alone, basically, like, let's clean it up, make it safe and leave it like leave it the heck alone for us. It doesn't have to make money. Like let's take the ads out. And it's really just a way to like get kids using something that is made by Microsoft. That's all it is, is like the gateway drug to maybe you'll like our other products and services. And you'll think of our brand as like encompassing something hip that you use every day. That in itself is invaluable for any big tech company, right?

SC Yeah. But also, there's so many users like Microsoft doesn't own any good social networks. That encompasses Microsoft Teams, sorry, Microsoft, I really just can't figure out how to use it.


BP Shout out to Microsoft Teams great integration with Stack Overflow for teams, teams, teams team square, shout it out. Yeah, no. I mean, I think it would be interesting, right? Like, if you have something that people are opening up 5, 6, 7, 8 times a day, that's really valuable. I don't know how many they...

SC Or if it's me like 20, 25 every time we have...

BP 20, 25 times, right, exactly how many of the people who are using that are going to convert to Microsoft Office 360 users? I don't know. But hey.

SC Yeah, maybe that's not their funnel. 

BP No, that's not their funnel. Exactly. 

SC The type of advertising that happens and TikTok is always really interesting. I haven't bought anything from inside TikTok. I think they're figuring out Instagram really has mastered, like what to market to me and I end up buying things through Instagram but not TikTok.

BP Right, right. That's interesting. I don't want to make this like overly broad generalization. But one thing I will say is when I was reading about TikTok, what it said was that a lot of the things that made it unsafe was the reuse of existing code and using code from areas that had been deprecated hated and like, you know, we're no longer being kept up to date so that they were safe. And this reminded me a lot of my time at DJI, we used to get these complaints a lot. And I will say that I do think that there is a different mindset about when it's appropriate to just completely borrow something like in Shenzhen, which is where they make all the hardware, they have this concept of Shanzhai, which is like, it's okay to take something and make a better version. and copyright and trademark are kind of irrelevant. Like, that's not really our thing. Yeah. And so I think a lot of that may trickle down into how the software developers work as well. And so I don't I'm not going to say you know, whether or not TikTok is intentionally malware or not, but a lot of the a lot of the examples that being pointed out, seem like somebody's reusing bits and pieces of code they found elsewhere.

SC I'm interested to understand more about that, because I don't understand. So if you have an application, and you're taking code for I mean, that happens all the time. But we want to build a new section of this application. We're going to model it after this old section of the application. Let's use this code. I don't understand why that wouldn't use vulnerabilities unless you're taking it outside of existing architecture or something like that.


BP Right? Yeah, they're taking it from out not not reusing code that they made internally. I'm talking about. Okay, yeah. That other places and bring... Yeah, that's that that's a bad practice. And it happened to us at DJI a few times. And then we would have to go in and fix it. And, you know, it was always that sort of back and forth of, you know, oh, they're actually spying on you see, here, they're using this, like, you know, this piece of the app that like, you know, follows you when it's always off, and then we would find out Oh, no, that was just some, you know, 14 lines of code that they copy pasted from this video game app they use all the time, and it was just kind of it was just being lazy. Yeah. Not like doing the due diligence, as opposed to,

SC You know, that makes me think of that whole concept of... can you say that word again?

BP I believe it's called Shanzhai. And there's like, even a little bit of like a Robin Hood component to it, where it's like, if you steal it and make something better. That's it. Innovation, you know, great artists steal or whatever, originally was like a derogatory term that meant like knockoffs, you know, like a fake, you know, high end bag or you know, knockoff DVDs or whatever. But as sort of China became the central locus for high tech manufacturing, it took on a different sort of resonance.

SC That's so interesting. I was actually having a conversation recently of someone who's working on a platform for makers. And one thing that you don't see as much in the hardware community or the maker community is the concept of open source. Like we have it in software. And I think, especially when it comes to hardware that really kind of stunts the growth of the community, just because people aren't, you know, building off of each other or fixing documentation when it's wrong or different things like that, because it's so close source. And the person I was talking to is saying that that is the constant fear. They were related to Kickstarter, and they were saying that that's the thing they hear the most from Kickstarter creators is that they'll have a successful Kickstarter, it will fund they'll be getting ready to manufacture but then someone in Shenzhen will see the successful starter and just make it because they're like, Oh, I see this is successful. I see people want this. And I know how to do this faster. So I'll just make it so there's a growing fear about letting people into this kind of stuff that you're building because they're afraid someone will do that. 


BP So there was a great Wired documentary about Shenzhen, and they called it open source on hyperspeed. Where as soon as something is out in the open, you expect that everybody's gonna start copying it and that is just part of the creative environment that's just an accepted you know, like level of competition that you go into the game knowing so Yeah, exactly. Like I made this great Kickstarter and then I worked really hard to find three or four factories and I sent them my blueprints Well, now for other people are going to be making it like that. You just need to know that and then you need to beat them on branding and execution and price and everything else.

SC Yeah, that's the thing I think about all the time that someone said to me that was very wise. And that was, that's how you do it. That's how you beat its brand. 

BP And what's really interesting is that yeah, like the people who worked in the factories in Shenzhen, it was the first open economic zone. So like, after China decided to try capitalism, again. It was the first place where people could come and do foreign investment. And so all the chip makers from Taiwan, went there so that they had all this super cheap Chinese labor. And people were working in the factories. And then after about 10 years, a lot of Chinese were like, well, now I know how to make chips. And they laughed and started their own factories. You know what I mean? Like it was that, that sort of, you know, now you've taught me now I'm ready to compete with you kind of thing. But yeah, I'm curious to see what happens with TikTok and WeChat. And the Chinese internet, like for many years, was always kind of this parallel universe where they had these huge apps like WeChat that had no foothold in the West and they had their own search engines. They had their own everything. And then TikTok was the one that broke through it was was the one that had great universal appeal!


SC Yeah, I remember going I remember going to China and at the time, because I say at the time, because since I've heard people being able to use GitHub, but having to VPN in to a US server in order to use GitHub was really fascinating. The different things that were part of the internet and word that we're very used to using here in the US.

BP Yeah, when I was working at DJI, GitHub and Stack Overflow, were both something that you typically tried to access from the office where we were in Shenzhen, but everybody online was in Hong Kong. Changing with how Hong Kong changes. But yeah, whenever you were in the office, you're you were basically on a VPN. And as if you were in Hong Kong, because they had, you know, much wider access to the broader internet. And actually, somebody from a Chinese podcast company reached out to us once about a collaboration and was just sort of saying like, there are days in China as there are here when like an AWS server goes down or whenever, when they tweak the firewall somehow and then they can't get Stack Overflow. And then those are just everybody goes crazy for six hours figuring out how to get you know around that so they can get back to answering their questions and copying their code or whatever it is

SC So interesting.

BP This is from July 31. On Wednesday, TikTok CEO Kevin Meyer said the company would be happy to share all of its code and algorithms with regulators if that would appease their, you know, concerns. I wonder if you know, like you said, okay, you think we're spying on you, you think we're malware or whatever? Go ahead. You can look at all the code, take a look. It's all yours. Is that meaningful in any way? Not really. Right? Because like the next time you push a release, it could all look different. Is that meaningful to say? Like, go ahead, look at all you. You can look at our code. We're clean.

SC Yeah, I think that's meaningful just in the way that like a snapshot of now would be meaningful. I think just like being open and transparent is meaningful. And I think you've been hearing something like that is encouraging. The fear here is a lot of is unfounded. I think a lot of people are concerned of what's being taken on their phone and sent to TikTok servers. So just having a better understanding of what that is. I think that'd be good.


BP Yeah. So the the promise from TikTok was they would let regulators look at their algorithms that regulators will not understand. But okay, okay. Yeah, no moderation policies.

SC As we know from the Senate hearing last week. That was a real tough one. 

BP Yeah, yeah. data flows. This was the interesting one that was also always the one with DJI was like we had an app. And it was occasionally sending information back to China, where the app was created and where some of the servers were located. And that always became, you know, the big sticking point. So it was like, Okay, we'll put all our servers in the US and therefore we won't send it out, you know, but that would just be, you know, constantly this circulating thing where somehow in working on the app and doing testing in beta in an update, a little bit of data that gets sent back to China and then we'd start all over again from square one of Oh, you're actually you know, stealing IP.

SC Yeah, that makes sense. I think it's tough. Like, once you have that reputation, it's tough to dial it back. But I think you're right. No one's gonna understand it by looking at it.


BP So what else have you been reading? I feel like on the tech front, you know, one of the things that stood out to me recently is that people are buying lots of new machines to use at home. So I noticed during Apple's earnings that they had like a huge quarter for laptop sales, which I assume is a lot of people being like, well, I'm stuck at home, I guess I gotta, like, you know, invest in this. A lot of my friends who aren't professional, you know, podcasters or whatever, have bought microphones because like, they're just on so many zoom calls, that they're like, what I you know, I wanna I want to be as professional as I can about this or whatever. But I'm curious, what are you seeing like, are people either for, you know, coding at home or for remote work? Are people investing in new kinds of technologies or processes?


SC I'm more hear a lot of conversations about where people live. I think that's the thing. I mean, you can relate to this cause you just moved out of the city. But I think there's a lot of conversations about, you know, how long am I going to be remote and where I'm going to live. I know last week, Google announced to their employees that they're going to be remote until June 2021, which is definitely longer than many companies have said, I know us at Stack. We have the option to be remote until June 2021. And then in general, as a company, we're fairly remote friendly. So I think that it's opened up a lot. I think one thing I've heard is also a [inaudible] out of San Francisco, which is really interesting and does a lot for this industry. I think San Francisco has for a long time been the place that you live, if you're serious about this career, right. It's like being an actor and not living in Hollywood. You know, why would you why would you think that would be successful, right? 

BP Being a banker and not living in New York.

SC In New York, exactly. And so like being approached grammar and living in New York has always kind of been a little sister city to San Francisco as the tech scene isn't quite as robust. I know I always watch product, New York doesn't really understand product in the way that you know, and building good products and focusing on growth in the way that San Francisco does time and time again. And so I think watching people move out of San Francisco in mass, I think will be you know, one thing I'd love to see is to have it be an equalizer so that good technologists can live wherever. And I think a lot of companies too are struggling with how to pay people that live don't live in the cities. Some places have created boundaries of like live X miles from a city and get paid this rate or if you don't get paid this rate it's really and other places are like will pay you the same no matter where you live. I think that's also been something people are trying to figure out.


BP Yeah, it's interesting. I feel like in the engineering world because folks like to solve problems and have sort of like spreadsheets for everything. There are salary calculators and ratios right of distance to office in a way that I'm not familiar with from a lot of other careers. Yeah, also because it was always so easy maybe to do it remote, like other places are adapting to remote work. But, you know, software developers kind of got to be ahead of the curve on that. And now there is almost this double upside for companies which is interesting, where it's like the office isn't an option, stop expecting the perks, you know, like the on site massage and volleyball court gym and you know, seven cafeterias. Yeah, if you move farther away from here, we're going to pay less so not that tech companies needed more margin, but that will definitely I feel like create a, you know, for a technology company the ability to operate in a much leaner, more efficient fashion because it was very expensive to compete for that great software talent. Not only were they expensive in terms of the salaries, but you had to really pamper them at the office. If you wanted the best people. fFr a year or two that's gonna go away. And often when things like that go away, it takes a long time for them to come back, if ever,

SC I don't know, I don't know about you, there really was never the ping pong table slash game room, slash, none of those things really appealed to me. But I think there was quite a group of folks that it did appeal to, and I wonder how those folks are feeling about it.

BP I mean, in some ways, it almost became right, like shorthand for we know the lingua franca of what you need were hip, like, there was a while where I think a lot of companies were getting a billion dollar valuation, just to say it just to be like, we're in the we're in the Big B club. If you join us, you know, you're on the right rocket ship, it didn't really mean that their business was deserving of that necessarily, or like, you know, that they could maintain that, but it was just like, to attract talent. You kind of needed that stamp of approval, you need the ping pong table, the cold brew on tap and the billion dollar valuation. So yeah, I don't know. That's one of the things I'm always I'm sort of grateful about with Stack Overflow, and one of the things that always stood out was that it just always seemed that the company was in no rush, was happy to, like be very fiscally conservative and a lot of ways. And I think that's paid dividends.


SC Yeah, I think we did go through a while where it was like the offices and the ping pong tables were the big appeal, which I still think that the office for developers is groundbreaking. No one's still no one's doing it. And I can't tell you how much focus it adds to a development team. But you know, come for the ping pong and the office stay for the lunch. It's definitely something that has been part of the culture for a long time. But I think being able to design your own environment is really nice.

SC Yeah, that's not something that gets offered at a lot of places anymore. So that was kind of the one thing that was different Even then, right like a Google or Facebook. It was like, okay, the lunch isn't as good. We don't have seven cafeterias but you get that Zen private your space. Get your flow state in you know. 

SC Yeah.


BP I've got a lifeboat for you, and then we can call it a day. 

SC Sounds great. 

BP What is the difference between resize and reshape when using arrays in NumPy? NumPy? NumPy? 

SC NumPy. 

BP Yeah, NumPy. I just started using NumPy. And I'm trying to understand the difference between resize and reshape for arrays. And the answer here is reshape doesn't change the data. As mentioned, resize changes the data and can be seen here. And then they've given you some examples with a couple of different arrays one reshaped and one resize. So shout out to Rahul Reddy [inaudible] for earning a lifeboat on that one and answering a question from [inaudible] who has 241 reps so a relatively new user, we always appreciate that.

SC So great!

Alright. Fantastic. Well, Sara, I know this is these are trying times for you. If TikTok goes down in the US. I know a few VPN services you can use.


SC Thank you. 

BP So you can pretend to be somewhere else. Continue to use TikTok 

SC That will be, that'll be a lifesaver. 

BP Good. I am Ben popper, Director of content here at Stack Overflow. You can find me on Twitter @BenPopper.

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

BP Alright everybody, thanks for listening. If you have ideas, shoot them on over a