The Stack Overflow Podcast

What counts as art, anyway?

Episode Summary

The home team talks about Elon Musk’s big purchase, what counts as art, and why engineers become managers for the wrong reasons.

Episode Notes

Stack Overflow’s 2019 Developer Survey found that respondents overwhelmingly considered Elon Musk to be the person with the greatest influence on technology. Now that Musk is taking over Twitter, it’s safe to say that influence will increase.

James Stanier, engineering director at Shopify, has some thoughts on one of our perennial topics: transitioning from IC to manager. He’s proposed a 90-day trial period for IC engineers moving into management roles. Listen to Stanier on the Dev Interrupted podcast.

Ben talks up Samsung’s The Frame, which lets you display your favorite NFT or old-fashioned art when you’re not using it as a TV. Because who wants to look at a blank screen?

Cassidy recommends Adam Grant’s book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know and Matt recommends an LG C1 TV for folks in the market for a stunning gaming experience.

Today’s Lifeboat badge goes to user Drew Reese for their answer to Deprecation notice: ReactDOM.render is no longer supported in React 18.

Episode Transcription

Ceora Ford I was just thinking to myself, I feel like if a person's sole motivation for becoming a manager is that they feel like that's the only way they can progress in their career, maybe a manager position is not the best for them.

Cassidy Williams You'd think so and yet there's so many of them in this industry. 

CF I know, I know. And they mess people up along the way, don't they.

[intro music plays]

Ben Popper Gatsby is the fastest frontend for the headless web. If your goal is building highly performant, content-rich websites, you need to build with Gatsby. Go to to launch your first Gatsby site in minutes and experience the speed. That's 

Matt Kiernander Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Stack Overflow Podcast. My name is Matt, I'm a Technical Advocate here at Stack Overflow. And I'm joined by three other lovely co-hosts today. We have a full house. Ben, Cassidy, and Ceora. 

CF Hi, everyone!

BP Apologies for my poor audio quality today. I'm on the road.

MK Today we've got quite a few topics to talk about. The first one, which is relevant to the Twittersphere. We've got two Twitter related topics today. Elon Musk and the whole Twitterverse has been going quite crazy. I'm going to pawn this off to Ben and Cassidy to introduce because it's something they're much more familiar with. 

BP So just for context, when we asked developers in our 2019 developer survey who their favorite person in the world was, the answer by a wide margin was Elon Musk. 

CF No! 

CW Really?

BP Oh yes. Or, who is the most important tech person or whatever. So I think it's undeniable that he is one of the most well-known, and in some corners most hated and in some corners most popular, people in the world. Tech or non-tech. One of the biggest on Twitter, and also he is the wealthiest person in the world. So he sort of stands in a unique position. Why is he doing this? I have strong opinions, but let me step back for a second and let Cassidy weigh in. Give your perspective and then I'll put on my old business reporter hat. 

CW For those who haven't been following along, there was a point where they said that Elon was going to join the Twitter board and then like a week later or sooner they were just like, "Hey, he's not joining the board. And also drama might come up." Like they specifically said that in the statement. 

CF How did that work? 

CW They announced that he was going to be in the board and then, when you're a member of the board you can only own up to a certain number of shares. And so there were actually quite a few people predicting that he would leave the board, either because he didn't like how it was run, or because he wouldn't be allowed to buy more shares of Twitter. I don't know which one is true, but that is what the rumor mill said. And he ended up leaving the board and then he said, "Hey everybody. I'm going to buy Twitter now."

BP Just to give a few business contexts on this, he's fabulously wealthy because of the success of SpaceX and Tesla. 

CW And PayPal.

BP To the point where he can buy a very controlling interest, meaning the board has to listen to him because he owns a certain percentage of the company's shares, without really putting a dent in his pocketbook. Part of his personal wealth, let's say 25, 30, 40, 50% might end up, somebody look it up, what is the market cap of Twitter? But he's worth $200 billion easily and you can leverage that up. So he can buy a controlling stake in Twitter and that is why they invited him to the board, because it became public that he already owned like 9 or 10% of the company, at which point he gets a set, a big set, at a shareholder's meeting. And he can become what's known as an activist investor and start to make trouble for the board and say, "I want the company to go in this direction. I want you to put me on the board or add board seats." He can influence the direction of the company in an antagonistic, combative way when you get to that size stake. And he obviously has the resources to take a bigger stake as he's now claiming he'll take the entire stake. The board is bound by their fiduciary duty to the other shareholders. If he makes them an offer that's well above the market price, they have to sell it to him. They can't say no because their job is to make sure that the shareholders make the most money. That's their guiding principle. 

CF What I don't understand is why he would want to sacrifice like a quarter of his net worth to buy Twitter. I don't get it. There are very few things I would sacrifice a quarter of my net worth for, which is nothing compared to him. Do you know what I mean? I don't get what he gets out of this. 

CW This isn't going to change any element of his extravagant lifestyle with a quarter of his net worth because it will still be in the billions. If it were one of us plebs doing something like this for a quarter of our net worth, it would probably actually impact us. So I think it's honestly because he can and he doesn't like their element of free speech. But the thing is, he says they don't encourage free speech the way they should, but he also can't necessarily take criticism. There's very popular articles where someone wrote a negative review of a Tesla car and so he personally canceled their order of a Tesla car. So I don't necessarily see this going well. 

BP Are you telling me this extremely wealthy egocentric individual is not always consistent and is occasionally hypocritical in their belief system? I find that a bit too much, Cassidy. I will not speak about Elon Musk directly, except to say that people who tend to gravitate towards the position of CEO, and he is the CEO of two companies– this is statistically speaking as a cohort of people– tend to be a bit more egotistical and less empathetic and more attention seeking than your average human being, and he is obviously not even your average CEO. So I think that goes a long way to explain why he wants to own this big megaphone and nobody can tell him what he can and can't say on the world's biggest megaphone. 

CF Well that sounds fun. 

MK I know the origins of Twitter and the public perception that it's had so far, but in shifting to someone like Elon Musk owning it, what do you think would be the shift inside of the platform as a result of that? Do you think that would actually change anything? 

CF Oh yeah. 

MK Yeah? What do you think would happen? 

CF I think it could potentially change a lot of things. I don't know, because it hasn't happened and I don't think anything like this has happened anywhere before, but I can't imagine it being the same after this. When he says that he wants it to be more on the side of free speech, what does he really mean by that? Like who gets more freedom of speech if you know what I mean? Who gets less censorship, that kind of thing. 

CW You know the answers to those questions. 

CF We all know the answer, you know what I mean? So that's definitely going to change the way things go on Twitter. I don't know if you guys were around during the 2020 elections, but that was a terrible time because there were so many bot accounts and troll accounts and things like that going on, and Twitter at the time, still people consider, wasn't in favor of freedom of speech. And if that was not the standard of freedom of speech, what is? So that's all I'm going to say. 

MK Speaking of other rich people though, we have a story about Jack Dorsey's first tweet. This was an NFT that went on sale for $48 million at its origin. Which was a big deal, like when people are trying to justify the validity of NFTs and this whole wonderful world, we've covered this many, many times before. There was the initial hump where a lot of these NFTs were going for millions and millions of dollars, but now we're starting to see a couple of them resurface and come up for sale again, which I think is a telling sign as to potentially the future of what is happening on the platform. And at current, the top bid was $280, down from $48 million, which is a bit of a delta. 

CW A bit! 

BP Wait, wait, wait. Let's be fair. This guy paid $2.9 million for it. He listed it for $48 million. So he's only going from 2.9 million to 280, so it's only a 100000% loss from his perspective. 

CW Only. You're right. Thank you, Ben.

MK I apologize. Yeah, that makes it a lot more palatable. 

CF Does it!?

BP 2.9 million to 280 bucks.

MK There was dripping sarcasm, by the way, from my end.

CW It's a sign. I know a lot of people said that NFTs were just a fad but signs are pointing that way. I actually shared an article in the Stack Overflow newsletter. There was a group called Bike Club. I think it's just Bike Club, maybe there's a descriptor to it. They initially were going to be like a bike club where anybody who wanted to be a biker in this club, you got an NFT and that was your membership. And they actually very publicly pivoted away from that. And they ended up having explosive growth on Discord and had all these members and stuff. And they've said, "Yeah, we still like the idea of NFTs because then no matter where you live, no matter what your address is, no matter if you want to be public or not, you are a member of this club because you have an NFT. We believe in that. But at the same time, because we've made it freely available with all of these other opportunities, so many people have been able to join our club." And I think this auction and that example are some really interesting cases of maybe there are useful cases of NFTs, and we've discussed those on this podcast, but there's also a lot of useless ones where you're like, "Do you need this? Was this necessary?" 

BP Let me screenshot this tweet for you. 

MK I am hopeful because I do think there are some really cool things that come out of this, [like Ceora has said,] in the K-pop thing. There are some cool applications for this in terms of like membership and I'm really on board with artists actually making some money out of what they're doing because that's historically been a tricky thing for them to do. I'm hopeful for the future. But then there are cases like this where screenshotting NFTs or .GIFs or other kinds of less sensical things, I think maybe doesn't make as much sense.

CF It reminds me of a bit of the blow up of machine learning and AI, and how when that was cool, everyone was trying to use that and apply that to everything, even when it really didn't make sense. And then eventually later on down the line, we start to see the repercussions of that in many different ways, and some have been very harmful for people in general. And I think it's a similar thing we're seeing happen with NFTs where they're being applied to things that just doesn't really make sense. And instead of the impact being on people, I think we're seeing a bigger impact on the environment and stuff like that when it's like, does this really make sense in the first place? Was this a problem that needed to be fixed with NFTs? And sometimes the answer is no. 

BP I do think, and Cassidy you've spoken eloquently on this in the past, that there is a problem of, "I want to be a digital artist, but I also want scarcity." That's a problem worth solving, because digital art is great and digital artists should be able to be recompensed. And for better or worse, the way the art market works is something has to be scarce for collectors to want to own it. And like, Andy Warhol printing out screenprints of a Campbell's soup can is no better or worse, artistically, I think, than screenshotting a tweet. Like you can have your perspective on what is fine art or not, but people have put a urinal in a museum and called it art and now it's famous. Artist is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. But it definitely does seem like the bottom has fallen out of the speculative NFT market. Which is to say, if there's not actually a cool artist attached to it whose work is progressing, whereas as you folks have all mentioned, a social club where that's their center of gravity, like belonging to the club, being in the Discord, what is there really holding up a JPEG of Jack Dorsey's Twitter besides the idea that it might sell for more in the future?

CF I just thought to myself there's probably going to be a chapter or a couple chapters in art history books about NFTs. That's pretty interesting. Like 50 years from now, kids in AP Art History are going to have to read up about NFTs and apes and stuff. 

CW We’ll have to find out. The question is, will it be just history? Or will it be like, "Oh, this is the origin of what came to be." 

MK I just got a very terrifying idea. With NFTs being digital and trying to bring that into the physical realm, one of those like Samsung TV frames that you put on the wall that basically only rotates or displays the NFTs that you own, and that's the only way for you to see it. 

BP Cool story, bro. Samsung I'm pretty sure just came out with a TV, this is really cool. When you turn it off, it goes matte, so it actually looks like canvas, and then you display art on it. So you hang it in a room where you're like, "I don't want a TV in here," and then it looks like a picture frame. And then when you want it to be a TV, it's a TV. 

MK I like that. It's not called The Frame, is it? 

BP I think it's called The Frame. 

MK Yeah. Cool. I think I've seen that. Yeah, it looks fantastic. 

CF So show your NFTs on The Frame? 

BP Yeah, exactly. Well, NFTs are digital. This one, you put up the Mona Lisa and it kind of almost looks stippled. It looks authentic. 

MK Do the eyes follow you as you move around the room?

CF No, that's scary. I don't like that. I've seen too many horror movies to be okay with that. No. 

CW Have any of you seen the Looking Glass Factory frames? They're frames that basically, they call them hologram frames. And they're experimenting with this kind of technology of being able to display 3D things where as you move your head, the model can actually move in there. It's fascinating technology. I really want to see one in person because when I see people sharing it on Twitter and stuff it looks really interesting. 

MK No way! Holy moly. 

CW It's cool, right? So I think they have apps and stuff where you can take 3D images so you can take pictures of yourself and do that. And then you can also put in 3D models or 3D scenes and it'll do it. 

MK For anyone looking at buying this, they're retailing for $399 US. 

BP On a less advanced tip, I bought for my father and we bought for my wife's, so two sets of grandparents, this really cool frame where it's got an app and I just upload photos that I take and it automatically populates to the picture frame. And for grandparents it's like the best thing ever. 

CW We just got that for my grandpa this week, actually. 

BP They love it. 

CF That’s so cute.

MK That's so cute. I could see just having moved to Canada, giving that to my family back home and then I can upload pictures of the mountains and all the other fun stuff that I'm getting up to. That's such a great idea. 

CW That's actually what my cousins did for my aunt when they went off to college. Because the photos are just like a drive folder, and so they upload photos to this folder and she just gets regular updates of photos of them with their friends, and some can do videos too. It's really cool.

BP It's like an offline Instagram because you don't have a big old feed. You just have this nice, slowly cycling thing that lives on your mantle. 

CF And that's great for people who are not very social media savvy. Also by the way, Matt, it just clicked for me that you're in Canada. I know that I knew this already, but when you said that just now, I'm like, "Whoa, you're away from your family. You're all the way across the ocean and stuff. That's crazy." 

MK Yeah, I have moved. I'm looking at snow-capped mountains from my living room which is stunning. 

BP Wow, look at this B.C. bro.

MK Yeah. The next topic we have to cover is a quote from James Steiner, who is the Director of Engineering at Shopify. He has some interesting ideas around how to transition from an individual contributor to a manager. This is a discussion that we've had many times, with Mitchell Hashimoto, with many other guests on the podcast. And essentially what he was proposing is a 90 day trial limit on engineers moving from that IC position to a manager position. I'm very curious for others, especially Cassidy as well who’s made that transition from an IC to a manager, what people's thoughts and opinions are around having a 90 day, see how you do, see how you feel about moving from a drastic change like IC to management. 

CW I think it's so smart and it's something that I don't think is a fully novel idea. I think it's something that has been tried in different ways at various companies. Something that I've seen for example at Microsoft is, at Microsoft if you want to transition from being a software engineer to being a PM, a program manager of any kind, you can do like a 'trial period' or sometimes they call it a shadowing period, apprenticeship, whatever, where you still have your duties as a software engineer, but that's like 80% of your time, and 20% of your time you're shadowing and doing program management stuff with another PM to see if you want to do it. And if so, then they can bring you onto their team as a PM. I've seen people actually do that and it seems to be successful. I think it's a good idea because there are so many people in the world who have transitioned to a new role, new management, new promotion or something, and they're just like, "Oh, I miss my old role,” but it feels like going backwards to do that. And so if you have the type of culture where you can trial it with less pressure and stick to what you want to do, whether it's IC work, management work, whatever, as an option, I think that's great just for people not making rash decisions just because it might look good on a resume. 

CF I would be curious how this would be executed. Because my concern at first when I initially heard this is what about the people who you would be managing? How would they adjust to having a manager for 30 days and then they're like, "Oh, you know what? I actually don't like this." Unless it's a situation, Cassidy, like you mentioned, like you shadow someone. So in a transition period, say the current manager is moving on to their next opportunity and they have someone who's shadowing them in the 30 days in between to see if they could take that job. But I just wonder if at one point the person at day 20 is like, "Oh, I actually hate being a manager," and then they transition out of that, what does that look like for the team that they're supposed to be managing? Where does that leave them? 

BP The counter to that would be better for them to do it for 30 days, they hate it, than to be like, "Well, I got this promotion and now I'm a manager and I'm just going to stick with it," and it's miserable for them and the team for the next six months.

CW Your team knows if you don't want to be a manager. 

MK I feel like the key issue here is support and training, because going from an engineer to a manager, that's a completely different wheelhouse of skillset. You have been on the consumer side of that as someone who's been managed, but I haven't managed any engineers myself but I'm assuming the skills to do that, the degree of empathy that you need to develop, and understanding where people are at in terms of maybe their headspace and managing their personal life, and trying to help grow people's careers. Very, very, very different. 

CW It reminds me of something that Netflix does. It's kind of nerve wracking and I've known a few people who've talked about it in the industry. Netflix basically does this thing every quarter where they ask managers, "Would you still fight for everybody on your team to stay at the company?" And you have a meeting with your manager where you basically are asking them, "Would you still fight for me?" And at that quarter, if the answer is no, you either switch teams or leave and that's just what it is. And it sounds very stressful, and in a way it kind of builds comradery with teams and stuff because they have to have a lot of trust in each other. But then on the other end, I've known multiple people who were let go because of this type of practice. And this trial period thing reminds me of that. 

MK They've been watching Hunger Games

BP That was my thought, too. Do they mean ‘fight for me’ like if there's a brawl at a bar, would you step in? Or do they mean fight to keep them on the team? Or what do you mean by that?

CW Yeah. It's like if someone said, "Hey, we need to fire someone," would you fight for me to stay at the company? 

CF That's pretty intense. I was just thinking to myself, I feel like if a person's sole motivation for becoming a manager is that they feel like that's the only way they can progress in their career, maybe a manager position is not the best. 

CW You'd think so and yet there's so many of them in this industry. 

CF I know, I know. And they mess people up along the way, don't they. So I kind of feel like instead of thinking about progressing your career, you should really think about is this the kind of work that I want to do? I think anybody should think about that if you're trying to move ahead. Do I still want to do development? Do I still want to do developer advocacy? Do I still want to do management? Think about those things because it doesn't help anyone if you're miserable and bad at your job. That's not the way to go.

MK I think a lot of people get stuck where they hit the senior engineer level, and you have a family, you have expenses, you might need to get a new house, new mortgage, whatever that might be. And the pay incentive to go from an engineer to a manager is I think what pushes over a lot of people. Especially in New Zealand where there's a huge, huge, huge jump between being a senior front end engineer and a technical lead or some kind of people manager. That gap is at least one and a half to two times your current salary. It's very significant. So we get a lot of people who are in management who don't really want to be there, but they're there because they're incentivized by a paycheck. Which is problematic and leads to all of the issues that we just discussed. 

CW There's this book that I read and I think I've mentioned it on the podcast before, but I'm saying it again. I read this book called Think Again by Adam Grant, and it's all about trying not to get stuck in your ways and rethinking certain ideas and how it's good to be curious and question yourself regularly, because especially in the world today, people tend to dig their heels in when they're questioned on the internet, on social media, on anything. One of the chapters was talking about specifically in your life, like career, place where you are, place where you live, anything like that, you should do a self assessment around every six months and just say like, "Am I going in the direction where I want to be? Am I living in the place where I want to be? Am I moving and learning what I want to be learning and moving what I want to be moving?" And if you are on the right track, great. But if you're really honest with yourself and something is wrong, make those adjustments every six months because you advance so much more in the direction where you want to be when you keep questioning that, rather than just being like, "It's always been this way."

MK I feel like people who are listening to the podcast have probably just gained a whole therapy session over the last 30 seconds, so Cassidy, thank you very much. The book that you recommended, what was that called again? 

CW Think Again by Adam Grant. 

MK Think Again by Adam Grant, which is a recommendation, which is moving on to our tech recommendations of the day.

BP Oh, segue city. 

[music plays]

MK Would anybody like to go first? Benjamin? 

BP Yes, I will go first. Cassidy, I won't steal yours. I'll set you up. My recommendation, which I saw mentioned in my old publication, The Verge, which I think is very cool is Samsung's The Frame TV. I think this is really cool if you want to have a TV in your bedroom, but you don't want to be looking at a blank screen or feel like there's always a TV there. It kind of can transition between, "Hey, I want to watch a movie in bed," and "Hey, I want to look at some great art." This is V2 which people are very excited about because they make it really look like canvas which is cool. 

CW I would like to recommend the Looking Glass Factory. You should check it out. They have this frame that has like a holographic 3D experience that honestly is kind of hard to describe, but the technology that they're doing to make a picture frame look 3D is really, really impressive. And they have a lot of educational resources for it and so you can play a lot with it.

CF My tech rec is not going to be surprising to anyone. This week it's going to be Notion, because that's the only way I've been able to hold everything together over the past couple of weeks. It's a lifesaver for me. And everyone knows this already, but it's especially true now. So that's my tech rec for this week.

MK My tech rec is going to echo what Ben said. March-April is the time for new televisions worldwide. My recommendation is going to be the LG C1. For anyone who's looking for a gaming viewing experience TV, it's an OLED panel, it's 4k. It's got the lowest latency amongst pretty much I think any television on the market at the moment. It looks absolutely stunning. They're releasing the C2 next month, which means now is a very good time to get a very good deal on a previous-gen TV. So that is my recommendation, the LG C1. And that brings us on to our lifeboat. A lifeboat is an answer score of 20 or more to a question score of -3 or less that goes on to receive a score of 3 or more. Today's lifeboat is awarded to Drew Reese who answered the question, "Deprecation notice: ReactDOM.render is no longer supported in React 18." Cassidy, I feel like you should've picked that one up! 

CW Oh, heck, I should've. That's okay. 

MK That's all right. Thank you everyone for listening. It has been an absolute treat. My name is Matt Kiernander. I'm a Technical Advocate here at Stack Overflow. You can find me online in all the places, and now in Canada, @MattKander. 

CF My name is Ceora Ford. I'm a Developer Advocate. I don't work anywhere right now, but you can still find me on Twitter. My username there is @Ceeoreo_.

BP I am Ben Popper. I'm the Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. Thanks for listening. You can always find me @BenPopper on Twitter. Email us with questions or suggestions, And if you like the show, leave us a rating and a review. It really helps. 

CW And I'm Cassidy Williams. You can find me @Cassidoo on most things. 

MK And that's the podcast for today. Thank you so much, everyone. And we will see you in the next episode.

All Bye! 

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