The Stack Overflow Podcast

Turns out the Great Resignation goes both ways

Episode Summary

The home team covers the hiring freezes and layoffs hitting the tech sector, burnout among freelancers and applicants for tech jobs, the dubious ethics of unpaid internships, and how to make Twitter safer by preemptively blocking people.

Episode Notes

Companies like Meta, Twitter, and Netflix are enacting hiring freezes and layoffs, a situation that’s not great for anybody but is likely to have outsize effects on people of color in tech.

Gen Z may not understand file structures, but they sure understand Twitter toxicity. MegaBlock from Gen Z Mafia allows users to block bad tweets, their authors, and every single account that liked the offending tweet. There, doesn’t that feel better?

Apple’s WWDC 2022 is just around the corner. What are you most excited about?

Machine-learning start-up Inflection AI raises $225 million in equity financing to use AI to improve human-computer communication. Another reminder that building sophisticated AI systems isn’t cheap: who could forget that Open AI paid its top researcher just shy of $2 million in 2016?

Today’s Lifeboat badge goes to user Patricia Shanahan for their answer to Difference between int and double.

Episode Transcription

Ceora Ford Most of the time I do think it pays off in the long run. I do think working hard, putting in the effort to skill up, to get those jobs, to make a name for yourself in the industry pays off, but it does come at a cost and you have to think about how much you're willing to sacrifice. That's what I mean when I say, before you start the job search, before you get into the thick of it, think about what your nonnegotiables are. For some people, they don't care about the industry that they work in or the product that they're working on. They might care more about the pay. They might care more about the language that they're working with. Decide what those things are instead of just shooting into the air and just hoping for the best because you'll get burnt out like that.

[intro music plays]

Ben Popper MongoDB is the conference for developers, by developers. Join MongoDB from June 7th to 9th in New York for three days of sessions, workshops and more. For tickets, visit You can use the discount code WORLDPOD25 to save 25%. 

BP Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Stack Overflow Podcast. I'm your host, Ben Popper, joined as I often am by my wonderful co-hosts Matt and Ceora. Hey, y'all. 

CF Hi! 

Matt Kiernander Hello! 

BP So Ceora, you brought us some news this week. No way around it, we've got to discuss it. A lot of layoffs happening in the tech world. And the headline also implies that this is impacting everybody, but maybe especially folks of color and people who maybe recently were hired in an effort to make companies more diverse and inclusive. So let me give you my perspective just super quick and then throw it back to me and we'll chat around the horn. I was graduating from my master's program in journalism in 2008. I think I got my degree in like September 2008 or something. I had an internship at The Daily Beast, and then it was like, "Oh, the world's blowing up. All the banks are collapsing." My internship was gone and then I lived in my parents' house for a year and a half, which felt pretty bad because I was like three or four years out of college at that point. And then I got a job at the New York Observer covering the New York City tech scene, and between 2010 and now it just boomed. I mean, I'm sure during the pandemic some things happened but for that 10, 12 years it went pretty much straight up. So this is maybe going to be a correction at that level, and for me it was a pretty formative experience. I think a lot of the way I approach work and hiring and looking for jobs comes out of my year and a half as a freelancer living in my parents' basement. But let me stop there and ask for your take and what you're hearing from your friends and what you're seeing on social media. 

CF Yeah. So I looked at a couple news articles before jumping onto the podcast, just so I could have an actual journalistic perspective on what's happening. And it is a real thing, it's not just something that people are observing here and there. There have been several layoffs at different tech companies across the industry, and just different companies period across different industries, honestly. And there have been a slew of layoffs. So we went through a tech hiring boom for a few months after the pandemic first kicked off and everything slowed down. Then people were hiring a ton and now things are slowing down again. I do think that it could be concerning if you're a person who has been laid off or if you are a person who has been recently hired, especially if you are in a fintech company, especially if it's a crypto company. I think you should be kind of nervous. I think that's a valid feeling to have. But I also will say, I don't think that this is going to be something that's super, super long-term or that totally derails the industry for good. I think it's just a part of the cycle where things slow down and then pick back up and then slow down again. I could be wrong, I'm not a financial advisor or analyst or anything like that. 

MK This is not financial advice. 

BP This is not financial advice. Anybody listening, do not invest based on our blabbering. 

CF Disclaimer. But yeah, I have noticed a few people mentioning here and there that either they're nervous about losing their job or they started job searching before the slow down happened, or they did lose their job. I'm in the category where I started job searching before the slowdown happened and I'm not really actually concerned. Should I be? Probably, but I'm just not. That's just usually how I approach life. I don't get stressed out until the crisis is right there in front of me.

BP I want to let Matt chime in, but one thing I'll say that I think is really interesting about this time, is that it's kind of the best of times, the worst of times. I think there are simultaneously companies who are struggling for various reasons and laying off employees, even large batches of employees, but there's enough demand elsewhere within the tech industry and other industries that hire software developers that there's more open roles than unemployed developers. So that is not like it was in the dot-com boom. When it went bust, there was way fewer jobs on offer than there were people who had previously been employed as web developers and software engineers and things of that nature. But Matt, let's get your take.

MK I actually had this conversation with somebody the other day who was looking to get into software development and they've been doing their research and talking to people and saying like, "Oh, well I'm not sure. The job market apparently is really slow at the moment and I'm not sure if there's going to be an oversupply of developers." And to that, I didn't laugh, but it's something that we've heard over and over again that there's a huge shortage in the talent pool for good software developers. I don't know statistics, I don't know anything else, but it seems like there are a lot of jobs going and there are a lot of companies really desperate for people to apply. I know here at Stack we've got a lot of open roles at the moment. 

BP Yeah, quick plug. We're hiring for a lot of them. So Matt and I will get the referral bonus, say the podcast sent you. 

MK We can run our own little affiliate employment system here. No problem with that. But yeah, it's interesting seeing news articles like this where there are a lot of layoffs, but then conversely, we're also being told there aren't enough people to fill all of these roles. And I think that points back to Ben's point where there are probably some areas of technology that are dipping but there are other areas that are booming to compensate and level out. 

CF I was just going to say, I think something kind of similar happened at the beginning of the pandemic to be honest. I think it was more severe then, but anyone who's listening who is thinking about learning how to code or currently trying to become a software engineer, I would say right now is the perfect time. Because that's what I did. I started learning how to code during the dip when things were really slow, and by the time I was ready to look for a job things sped up again, and there was literally so much demand that I didn't have such a struggle. I will say, that doesn't mean that I didn't work hard to get jobs and stuff, but there was things available, you know what I mean? So I think if you're thinking about learning how to code, still do it. It's slower now in some places but don't panic outright. Because even during the pandemic there were a ton of industries, a ton of companies that slowed down. They either laid people off or they had hiring freezes, but there were some different sectors of tech that were booming. For instance, like Instacart and things like that, those kinds of companies were huge during the pandemic. Even Zoom blew up during the pandemic. So there's always going to be certain ones, it's not like an overall fall-off with the whole industry. There's still hope. 

BP A couple of points to what you said which I think are interesting. One is, the best time to get in is when nobody else wants to be there. All the people who made all the money in crypto, like Coinbase, they started in 2012 when everyone was like, "Bitcoin is dead." And they were like, "Nope, we're believers," and a hundred billion dollars later IPO, look who's laughing. So to really get in and start your own thing, if that's what you want to be, aside from a software developer, like an entrepreneur or somebody who's at a company that's going to change the world, you usually have to be a bit of a contrarian. Also to your point, when things are not going well, that's a great time to invest in education, for example, like you did Ceora. People may not have heard your story on the podcast before but you were working at an events company. So obviously that shut down during the pandemic, and that was a good chance to take these online courses, go from AWS to cloud, to developer advocacy and everything you're doing now. Getting back to what we said earlier, I think one of the things that might be scary for people in our networks especially is, probably some of the people who are going to get let go are some of the more junior people. Maybe that's not true, maybe they let go of the same people, but that, I think, typically would be a more diverse group because most companies are trying to hire and increase diversity and so you would assume that at the lower end it's more diverse than at the upper end. I don't know if that's true, but maybe that's what the article is implying with that headline. 

CF That tends to be the reality at most companies from what I've seen. You'll see the higher up you get, the less diversity you see. And also we all know that when layoffs happen, they usually tend to lay off the people who have less experience first. So I haven't seen any numbers as far as the demographics of the people who have been laid off, but it is a huge possibility that most of them are diverse candidates, which is definitely something to think about. I'm not sure if I really have a ton of insights. I'm still pretty junior to be honest, but I started out in tech when there was a lot of hiring going on and I still had to fight for my life a little bit. And I don't think it's fair. I don't think that's how it should be, but that's the reality of what it's like in the industry. So I would say that if you are on the junior side of things, you just have to prepare yourself to really, really work hard for it, which again, I don't think that's fair. I think everyone has a right to have a fair chance at a career. You shouldn't have to do all that work, but you do in a lot of instances. I would say the thing that you should worry about if you are on the junior side of things and if you feel like you're at risk, or if you have been laid off, you need to worry about burnout. That's the thing that you should really be concerned with because it's going to take so much work and so much hustling. You have to take a moment to plan. I wish this is what I would have done. I wish I would have been a little bit more intentional about what I decided was worth my time and what wasn't, because I did everything. I applied for everything. I took every opportunity that came my way because I was just like, "I don't know what's going to happen." Even now to this day I'm still recovering from that burnout from all that. So I would say that's your biggest thing. Be intentional about what you do and don't do so that you don't have to eventually possibly derail your whole career because of burnout and stuff like that. That's not what happened to me, but it can happen, you know what I mean? So I would just say be aware of that.

MK That's such a hard tightrope to walk though because I've been in that position before. If you're not currently working, you start off being intentional. I think this is kind of how I've found it. You start off being intentional, like, "Great. I want to work at that company, and that company, that company, and this industry," and you apply and then a month later nothing happens and you're like, "Okay, maybe I need to broaden my search a little bit," and so you start getting a little bit broader and broader and broader. And then you just start getting fed up and you just start applying to anything that looks somewhat reasonable. And then you end up doing a bunch of tech tests and take home tests and going through spending hours and putting all of your emotional energy and investment into companies that really aren't worth your time. And if you've got other pressures around financial pressures or parents or family who are like, "Why don't you have a job yet? I thought this is what you were doing." You can end up signing with a company out of desperation. It's a really, really tricky thing to manage when you're in the thick of it. I guess I don't really have much advice on how to get around that.

BP Just to interject one thing, we were talking about the mismatch in jobs and how can there be so many people laid off, so many people looking but so many things open? Some of the things that are open are probably things that don't appeal to the majority of people. There are jobs open for COBOL developers, or jobs open where you're working on the backend of a water filtration system software. Those are real jobs and need real developers, but they probably don't appeal to young people who were just laid off from a hot crypto startup. So I think some of it is that, and that goes to what Matt was saying, which is like, do I really want to take this job just because I'm unemployed now? That goes to your personal financial situation and how much you're trying to support yourself and others. But Ceora to your point, I do think that there's a degree to which people should not be overworked to the point of burnout, just because they're young. Interns in the journalism industry where I used to work were expected to work for free, and that was crazy because they were basically just unpaid staff and then people had to pass laws to prevent that. But I guess there is also a degree to which 20-something year old me spent a lot more time hustling, out nights working, because I didn't have kids and a family. And not that you coast on that later, but the more you've invested in your career over the years the easier it is to fall back on that. You have to build the foundation first and then the second and the third and the fourth storey. And then it's true, you probably don't have to work quite as hard. Although some people who get to the top like to work 60, 80 hours a week. Some people who are in leadership positions, they're just those kinds of people.

CF I think the problem with that is that it assumes that people who are on the 'junior side’ of things are young and childless, fresh out of college, fresh out of high school, whatever the case may be. That's not actually what the candidate pool reflects because a lot of people who are coming out of boot camps, who are even coming out of university, who are self-taught, have kids, have homes and things to take care of. They're grown adults with debt to pay off and things like that, like real financial responsibilities, and there are even some young people who have real financial responsibilities. So that's one of the things I think about when I'm going through a job process that requires a lot of effort, a lot of preparation. I'm like, "If I had kids, if I had this, if I had that, if I had all these obligations,” which I don't because I'm fairly young, I don't know if I would be able to pull that off. So I think about those candidates who get closed off or who have to make sacrifices like that just to get a job. And in my mind, that's not fair because you shouldn't have to sacrifice your kids or your husband or your wife or whatever. So that's what I mean when I say most of the time I do think it pays off in the long run. I do think working hard, putting in the effort to skill up, to get those jobs, to make a name for yourself in the industry pays off, but it does come at a cost and you have to think about how much you're willing to sacrifice. That's what I mean when I say, before you start the job search, before you get into the thick of it, think about what your nonnegotiables are. For some people, they don't care about the industry that they work in or the product that they're working on. They might care more about the pay, they might care more about the language that they're working with. Decide what those things are instead of just shooting into the air and just hoping for the best because you'll get burnt out like that.

BP Like both of you are saying, sometimes when you get desperate you start grabbing at everything. Going back to that time when I was freelancing, I was just trying to get my name out there. I wanted to be in as many publications as possible so I would pitch big name publications. First of all, I'd have to create the pitch so I'd probably work on that for a few weeks to send the pitch. Then if that got accepted, then they'd be like, "All right, well can you write the piece?" That could take a few weeks. Then it would wait to get published, and then after it'd get published I could wait 90 days to get paid. And I'd get paid like 150 bucks for an article which I probably worked on, all told, for like a month and a half of time. There's no way it made any financial sense, it made zero financial sense. But it was just career building, get my name out there, make connections in the industry. There's no way I could've supported myself. Zero possibility like that. 

CF Similar things do happen in the tech industry. I don't think it's as extreme. 

BP No, tech pays better than journalism for sure. 

CF That to me is a symptom of the system, right? Like that's a problem that the higher-ups at companies need to work on. Because there still are unpaid internships. There still are people who are asking these rookies to do free work which they shouldn't be doing, or very low paid work. That's what I mean when I say I don't want to make it seem like all the responsibility to avoid overworking, to avoid the hustle that you have to go through to get into tech, is on the person, on the individual who's looking for a job. Because you just want a job like everybody else. That's a normal human thing to want. The problem is that a lot of companies take advantage of that. Or they don't consider the fact that people have lives and kids and stuff going on and just stuff in general. Like, should you really be going through an eight stage job interview process for an internship? Should you really be doing a free internship? Should you be doing talks for free? Should you be writing articles for companies for free? That's the kind of stuff that I think about where structurally, we just need to change how we approach this in the first place. I don't know who we need to talk to to get that to happen or how we can get it to happen. But until then, unfortunately a lot of the responsibility to protect yourself and your time and your mental health and your personal health and your personal life, falls on you as an individual, and I don't think that's fair. But that's unfortunately how it is, so you just have to kind of deal with it. 

MK So in New Zealand, internships are all paid for the most part. I think it's illegal for you to have an unpaid internship. And it was really interesting because during university there are a lot of companies that come in from overseas. You get the big names and they offer programs to participate with them. And one of the companies had this accelerator program where you had to work 8 to 16 hours a week for a whole year as part of their ambassador program. And they had a really good brand attached to the name but they were basically asking these university kids who were doing university, had part-time jobs, all that kind of stuff, to contribute 8 to 16 hours of their week into this company just to get their name on a CV. And the thing is, people still did it. They would go through the program, they would swear by it. And for me, I was just like, "No, I would rather dedicate eight hours of my week to a part-time job so I can feed myself." 

BP Yeah. It's always a struggle. I remember we did this reporting about the IRS backend which crashed when everybody at the beginning of the pandemic was applying for government aid all of the sudden. And they were desperate to hire COBOL programmers to work on the IRS backend, and nobody wants that job. I'm sure it pays a nice six figure salary but it doesn't sound like any fun and it's not going to be any fun. So the critique of capitalism is valid, I think, and guardrails should be in place to protect us. On the other hand, there will always be competition to get good, interesting jobs that people can feel passionate about. I mean, if you have to compete with other people, then you're going to work extra hard.

CF I would say, based off of the conversations I've had with people, I don't even think people are really so much concerned about, maybe this isn't the case, but I know when I was looking, like my first, first job search, I didn't care at all what the product was, what the language was. It's funny to think about now. I just wanted a job. I wasn't concerned about all that kind of stuff. 

MK You need that experience. 

CF Yeah! You just want to get that experience. I really didn't even care about the pay so much. I just wanted to have enough to be able to scrape by, but I just wanted that first job. And like you were mentioning Matt, I think some companies know how almost desperate people are, especially in the beginning, and they take advantage of that. And of course that's how the system works, and I can't say that I agree with it, but it's just the way things are. 

BP Matt, I think your case is interesting because you've said a few times on the show, you chose this job because you felt like there was sort of a limit to what you could do career-wise in New Zealand, and you wanted to move beyond that geographic region. So one of the things that has really changed over the last two years –it was true before, but it's changed even more– is that more and more people are willing to hire remote. And so there are headwinds and tailwinds here kind of. It's tough out there sometimes, and there are companies that seem really hot and then six months later they're doing layoffs. That is a horrible position to be in. I feel for anybody who's in that position. I started at Stack Overflow in April of 2019, and then March of 2020, you can go look it up, there were furloughs along with the pandemic. It didn't have anything to do with anybody here who was working their butts off, it was just the big events around the globe. But from your perspective, Matt, to what degree do you think the remote stuff has opened more doors and given more people the chance to land their first big job, their first dream job, their first whatever it may be? 

MK So to give you an understanding of the journey that I went through, the category that Ceora and my work falls under is developer relations for the most part, or developer advocacy. And within New Zealand and within Australia as well, I had saved searches to look up anything related to developer advocacy or developer relations for about six months. Over that time period, there were three companies with three roles, which is just absurd. There was Slack, with an office in Melbourne. There was a blockchain startup in Auckland which is where I was located at the time. And then there was also Canva who are based in Sydney, who had some technical writing position. And so for me, in order for me to do anything within my career path that I wanted to go through, there just wasn't an option for me to stay in New Zealand or Australia, or to work with a company within those geographical boundaries. And so for that, I had to look in North America and Europe, and when I started to make that shift then I started getting interviews immediately. It was great and that wouldn't have been possible I don't think. I don't want to say that the pandemic has benefited me in this way, but I think that there has been a silver lining with the remote work movement that people are now more comfortable to hire. And it's made a huge difference in my life because I could join Stack Overflow and that was something that they were willing to accommodate– hiring someone from New Zealand with a different time zone, everything else, and it worked out. It was fine. So I think that you do get stories like this which are success stories, and I'm sure there are many other people out there who've probably got similar. So to your point, yeah, I think there has been a lot of opportunities open up as a result of this. 

BP All right, I want to take us out. Like Matt said, we literally are hiring, so if you're listening and your company's going through layoffs, we're hiring. And then to Ceora's point, I can honestly say this is the best place I've ever worked in terms of work-life balance. Very respectful of that, very built into the culture, very built into even changes that they're making every quarter from the HR perspective. So take a look at the website and see if anything jumps out, and if it does you can always email us and we can talk about it.

[music plays]

BP All right. Let's jump to the tech recs. I see one in here. I have one that's related. 

MK That is me. WWDC. So my tech rec for this week is to check out WWDC in the next couple of weeks. There are hopefully going to be a few interesting little bits. One that I know Ben will enjoy, I'm not sure about anyone else. But the roundup for expected things coming out of WWDC are going to be iOS 16. There are no major updates, it's just a new version for iOS. iPadOS is apparently getting some productivity features which might include a more Mac-like docked Pro mode. Ben, does that sound appealing to you? 

BP Yeah. I'm currently on my new work Mac which is plugged into the Logitech and not acting like it's going to pass out. And then over here, I've got the old work laptop that I bought now that it's been retired –I had to wipe it and everything– running on a different camera angle, so I'm kind of feeling myself right now. But I'm always up for new tech. 

MK I think it will be quite useful so I'm excited to see what the iPadOS updates are. They're going to be releasing maybe a new Mac Pro, which will be relevant for some developers, but not most, and an augmented reality headset. Might have some news about that. These are all rumors by the way. These are what I've picked out from the various corners of the internet, but that is what we are expecting. It's happening early June and I'll definitely be talking about whatever happens on the podcast after that. So keep that in mind. 

BP Ceora, do you have one? 

CF Yes. This is going to sound so funny and I promise I don't mean to be like a negative person. But this is a web app called MegaBlock XYZ. And it's cool because it mass-blocks people for you on Twitter. And like I said, I'm not trying to be negative, but I first discovered it when I came across a very misogynistic tweet from somebody in the tech industry. And what it does is you paste a link of a tweet into the web app and it blocks everyone who likes the tweet. So if you see something that you disagree with, that you find personally terrible, you can just paste the tweet in there and it blocks every single account so you can stay safer on Twitter and those people can stay away from you. I like it. It helps to keep Twitter safe and that's a positive thing. 

BP That's a positive. We had the folks from Block Party on here. We're all about protecting yourself and not burning out and all that stuff. So definitely check it out if that's an issue for you. I mean, everybody blocks somebody on Twitter. 

MK That's a 10 out of 10 recommendation. 

BP 10 out of 10. 

CF I have more along those lines but I'll just leave it there. 

BP All right. My recommendation would be, if you missed it, I know this is just a hype video, it probably will never come to be. But based on a conversation we had earlier and WWDC made me think of this, Google IO happened and the coolest thing that they showed if you didn't catch it was the AR glasses that do realtime translation. So you're talking to somebody. They're speaking in another language and you basically see subtitles superimposed on the world. Super cool as an idea. Will it ever come to be? Who knows, but I thought it was really neat. I have used Google translate in the wild just with a phone and it's very powerful and I had some great experiences when I was in China with that. So the idea of doing it through glasses was kind of cool.

MK They released something similar for I think Pixel Buds, where they would auto-translate as you were going through. 

BP Exactly. And that's why people are suspicious, because that one kind of was a flop. It would seem cool but then when people would try in the wild. There was a Verge article about it and it was like, when you're talking to somebody, you sound like a five-year-old, basically. It didn't translate you at your own level, but so be it. All right, y'all. We are going to shout out the winner of a lifeboat badge, somebody who came on Stack Overflow and saved some knowledge from the dustbin of history, helped spread it to the community. Today, it goes to Patricia Shanahan, "What is the difference between int and double?" Awarded 13 hours ago, but this question has been around for eight years and helped over 125,000 people. So thank you, Patricia. 

MK I have definitely looked at that question. 

BP That's one of those things like, do I use their or there here? All right, everybody. Thanks for listening. I am Ben Popper, the Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. You can always find me @BenPopper on Twitter. Email us, with questions or suggestions, we'll shout you out. And if you liked the show, leave us a rating and a review. It really does help. 

CF I'm Ceora Ford. I'm a developer advocate. You can find me on Twitter. If you want to hear more from me there, my username there is @Ceeoreo_. 

MK And I'm Matt Kiernander. I'm a Developer Advocate here at Stack Overflow. If you have any questions about working at Stack, you can hit me up on Twitter or wherever else @MattKander. All I can say is this is the best place I've ever worked, and I can say that honestly without anyone paying me to. So, pretty good. 

BP I'll say it for free. All right, everybody. Thanks for listening and we'll talk to you soon.

[outro music plays]