The home team is joined by friend of the show Adam Lear, a staff software engineer on the public platform at Stack Overflow, to discuss AR glasses that help the blind navigate IRL and how we might reimagine cities for remote work.
The crew has complicated feelings about products like Apple’s augmented reality glasses and Google Glass. Ceora put it best: “I'm very cautious about any big tech company having any more access to my perception of reality.”
On the other hand, products like Envision smart glasses that help visually-impaired people navigate their environments exemplify how AR technology can enable accessibility and empower users.
Speaking of different perceptions of reality, New York mayor Eric Adams dusts off that old chestnut about how remote workers “can’t stay home in your pajamas all day.” (Watch us.)
Matt recommends Oh My Git!, an open-source game that teaches Git. Ceora recommends Popsy, which allows you to turn your Notion pages into a website for free.
And some recommended reading: How to make the most out of a mentoring relationship from the GitHub blog and How to use the STAR method to ace your job interview from The Muse.
Find Adam on LinkedIn here.
Ben Popper The glass-half-full version, which would be my initial response, would be, "Amazing! This is helping people navigate the world and feel more empowered." You're walking around and the glasses are navigating you by narrating the world to you. That is also an instance, Ceora, where it seems like whatever the bias of the AI is is so important because it's telling you what you're seeing. Are you seeing a person? A chair? A tall person? A short person? Whatever the AI is telling you, you're then internalizing that, so it's like this really powerful thing of a computer telling you what's real around you and then you're going to act on that.
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BP Some failures may feel like the end of the world, but at the end you find yourself walking away with a vital lesson. CircleCI CTO, Rob Zuber, is on a mission to find stories of software industry leaders who survived some epic mishaps. Subscribe today to The Confident Commit Podcast. Check it out at circle.ci/podcast-so.
BP Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Stack Overflow Podcast, a place to talk all things software and technology. I am your host, Ben Popper, Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. I'm joined today by three wonderful co-hosts. I will let them introduce themselves. Adam, Matt, Ceora, hello. Welcome to the show.
Ceora Ford Hi!
Matt Kiernander Hello!
Adam Lear Hello, hello.
BP Adam, you're not on as frequently, so why don't you go first. Tell folks who you are and why are you on this podcast? What are you doing here?
AL That is an excellent question. I'm Adam. I'm a Staff Software Engineer here at Stack Overflow. I work on stackoverflow.com itself, hopefully making it better over time. And I'm here basically to hang out and vibe and have a nice conversation with the rest of you fine folks.
BP Ceora, who are you and how would you describe yourself to a listening audience?
CF Yes! I'm Ceora Ford. I'm a Developer Advocate that belongs at no company as of right now. And I guess that's it. I guess that's all that's important for this podcast. I don't want to take over and tell my whole life story or anything like that.
MK But you will on an episode soon when we do our origin series?
CF Yeah! Maybe so!
BP Matt, who are you? What are you doing on this podcast?
MK I am Matt Kiernander. I am a Developer Advocate here at Stack Overflow. I help out on a bunch of different things, the podcast being one of them, the YouTube channel being secondary.
BP All right, everybody. We are here to talk all things software developer. If anybody has a specific news item they want to kick off, feel free. Otherwise I will take my first swing.
MK I'm very keen to talk about these Envision glasses which I found, if that's okay with the group.
BP Go for it.
MK Okay, cool. So the reason I find these so interesting is because I worked with a software developer, a friend of mine, who is legally blind. And watching him work was a completely mind altering shift in how to work with software because he's not able to see a screen so he has to rely on screen readers. It was very bizarre walking past him and seeing his screen completely blank, but he was so concentrated and was tapping away on the keyboard doing all these things. And getting to know how he worked and kind of the challenges that he faced as a software developer who was blind was really quite eye-opening. So whenever I see tech that kind of helps with that accessibility and makes the lives of people who aren't able to see better, I really love that. So these are the Envision glasses and they use AI to help people who are blind or visually impaired to better understand their surroundings. And they do a couple of different things. They have a small camera on the side which can scan objects, people, and text. And it also has a little speaker to relay information back to whoever's wearing them, so it can tell if somebody is approaching. They can basically inform you of your environment. One of the use cases that they explained was, say for example, this person was in a restaurant and he was able to call somebody, use his glasses to show them their environment, and they were able to guide him through a series of obstacles in order for him to reach his table, which I thought was really cool. And because it's all hands-free, he could use his cane or use his guide dog, all that kind of stuff. That's basically it. I think they’re incredibly cool, AI as a way to kind of help people.
BP Yeah. So this is an independent company that creates these?
MK So these are actually based upon the old Google glass that was I think announced in 2013 or so that never hit shelves.
BP So they took that as the baseline and that never caught on with consumers, but they upgraded and really sort of honed in on using this as an augmented glasses to help folks who are visually impaired?
MK Yes, exactly. They are expensive, they retail at $3,500, but one of the things I'm really excited to see with these specifically is the shift to glasses, and we know Apple's coming out with their augmented reality glasses at some stage in the near future and I'm very excited.
CF Really? I didn't know that.
BP You could say that but I've been working as a journalist, and the Apple Car has been coming out for at least 10 years. So we'll see. They do have an R&D team that works on it, whether that means it will ever come out, I think is kind of an open question.
MK I'm very curious as to what's going to happen with the world of wearable augmented reality tech, and developing programs and what weird and wonderful things people are going to come up with, whether that's entertainment for children, or it's going to be more like helping people in a more vocational aspect. I'm interested to see here if anyone's got any ideas on what they'd love to see with augmented reality technology.
BP I know Ceora's opinions on AI so I want to chime in here because I think this is so interesting. The glass-half-full version, which would be my initial response, would be, "Amazing! This is helping people navigate the world and feel more empowered." You're walking around and the glasses are navigating you by narrating the world to you. That is also an instance, Ceora, where it seems like whatever the bias of the AI is is so important because it's telling you what you're seeing. Are you seeing a person? A chair? A tall person? A short person? Whatever the AI is telling you, you're then internalizing that so it's this really powerful thing of like a computer is telling you what's real around you and then you're going to act on that.
CF Yeah, that's the thing for me that I think very deeply about, and I think it's important to have these conversations, especially since this application of AI and VR and AR is pretty new it seems like. When I first heard about the Google Glasses, my initial reaction was that I'm very cautious about any big tech company having any more access to my perception of reality. So it's really an example to me of how as developers, we do have a big role in how the whole world could turn out in the future. Because the code that you write could be super, super impactful, especially in the case where we're talking about machine learning and AI and applications it can have in the future on accessibility, on all kinds of stuff. I want to be hopeful. That's what I'll say. I want to be hopeful and I think there are some really great use cases for it, but will they turn out great? I don't know.
BP Adam, let's have you weigh in here. Would you be wearing these? What are the pros and cons?
AL I'm actually pretty excited to see these, or something that's maybe less of an impact on your body. I'm thinking of those eye implants. I think it was in the news a few months ago, where the company was on the verge of going out of business and the tech that they use was obsolete, so the people who actually got those are kind of stuck not knowing what was going to happen with that. So seeing a shift to wearables, where if it stops working that obviously is not ideal, but at least you're not stuck with something physically embedded in your body that now is just going to break down.
BP Yeah. You don't want your cyborg self to no longer receive updates and security patches. I don't know if y'all know this, but one of the first stories I ever did for The Verge was about getting a magnet implant in my finger. This was like 2012 or whatever. And it was people who were like into having a sixth sense and they were like biohackers and they built little gadgets that they implanted in themselves. And at the time, cyborg stuff seemed pretty far away. But I would say glasses that can see the world around you and describe it as what you're seeing, and then obviously in the future, they could see this person's body temperature, they can see things you can't see, they can see in heat or UV or whatever, that is some straight up cyborg stuff. And to Adam's point, it's nice to be able to put that on it and take that off. For the decision not to have to be as permanent as homebrew surgery which is what we were doing.
AL It kind of makes me think, I think it's in Sweden, where there was a trend or maybe still is a trend of people getting chips implanted in their arms and they can unlock their apartment with it. You can pay with it. You can do all of that. And it's fascinating, but also kind of terrifying. I feel like maybe in Sweden I would do that. I don't know if I would do that here.
MK There was a case where somebody was going into their building and he was a delivery person and so he always had his hands full. And he had his wallet basically have the chip in it so he would just kind of rub his butt up against the door code. And so he put an RFID chip in his right buttock so he could just kind of swipe it and walk through the building.
AL So what happens if you stop working that job? Do you have to get the chip extracted?
BP That's company property. They've got to take that back.
AL That's a level of offboarding I'm not ready for.
CF I'm much more okay with wearable stuff as opposed to like in your body stuff. What!?
BP Well, think about it like this though. My grandfather who lived to be 98, had a pacemaker from '80-something on. That is a piece of machinery that was acting as his heart. And folks do have these eye implants which are better or worse than as they were. And people with Parkinson's now often get these electrical implants in their brains, which based on an algorithm that decides when, they give them electrical stimulation to kind of ease their tremors. So in the medical world, if you talk about it as a medical device it no longer seems weird.
CF Medical devices scare me too.
AL But also they go through so much more vetting and approvals and testing. I will trust a medical implant way before I trust a tech company of any kind.
CF If I need something to help me live, that's different from me needing something to unlock my front door.
MK Yes. That is very different. But I think the key here is the perception of it. People are more than happy getting artificial hips or screws put into bones once they're broken, and that's out of necessity and it's in a medical context, whereas this is going over and above to improve your life. But I think what will be interesting is that we have this perception that getting screws or an artificial hip or whatever, that's okay. But where is the line and how is that going to change as they become more and more commonplace?
BP One thing that I notice here, Matt, which you brought up which I think is really interesting. Google Glass, the Snapchat Spectacles, Facebook has them, to my knowledge they've never really caught on in the mainstream the way smartphones or video games caught on, where everybody has one, it's just so common. And it is in part because they lack a certain utility, whereas here it's obvious what the utility is to someone who's visually impaired, and then it's really cool because then there's a market and the developers can improve it and build on it, and maybe someday that comes back. And it's the same, actually, with driverless cars. The thing that really spoke to me the most with that test that Waymo is doing in Phoenix was, people who are visually impaired or people who are elderly and can no longer drive. And so they are sometimes housebound, but when you can summon a car and it just picks you up and takes you to where you want to go, that's so liberating and that's so empowering for people. So it's nice to see technology work that way sometimes.
MK I have a use case for Ceora which might sell her a little bit on the wearables. Say for instance there was this particular K-pop show. You wanted to see it live but you are on your way home somewhere. And so as you're walking home, in the top little right-hand corner of your wearable device was playing the K-pop show and you were able to go for a walk in the park and enjoy that at the same time.
CF See? I'm glad you brought up K-pop because this is one of the things that I have an issue with sometimes with technology. It becomes a little too immersive and too separate from what reality is. Because I see this happen a lot in K-pop, although it's different because it's not necessarily because of technology. But with K-pop, because of the K-pop labels’ marketing and things like that, they create a very immersive experience for listeners and fans of whatever group. And because of that, it distorts a lot of people's view of reality. Sometimes if you talk to certain fans, you can tell that they don't do much outside of watching their favorite group's videos, songs, whatever. And I think that's extremely unhealthy so I kind of think, could it be the same with technology if it comes to a point where like, "I'm just going to spend my whole day in this virtual reality world," and now you're totally decoupled from what reality actually is. Think about how you feel when you spend your whole day on social media.
AL I was just about to say, isn't this just being on Twitter? Just chronically on Twitter.
CF Yeah! It's like when you're chronically online, it's not very healthy for your brain. I don't think so, anyway. So I just think about that kind of stuff about the future long-term impacts of possibly spending your whole day in some virtual reality world.
BP This brings me to a topic I wanted to discuss today. So, I was a born and bred resident of New York City for a long time. Now I moved to the country post-pandemic and I'm sort of feeling out what that life is like. And one of the things that makes me the happiest is that I can go to the office once a month, twice a month, if I want to. I feel pretty connected to people because it's so easy to have a video chat like this. And we're going to have an all-hands meetup. So you can kind of have both worlds. You can be in person with your colleagues sometimes, but mostly be living and working remotely. So the new mayor of New York is very worried because Midtown Manhattan, which is full of office complexes, and the financial district, which is full of office complexes, are empty compared to what they used to be. And this is 25% of the city's tax base. So without these things functioning at a high level, New York City cannot pay its bills the way it used to. It would be disastrous. And so he made a comment which was to the effect of, "Get up off the couch and out of your pajamas, lazy people, and get back to the office."
MK Yeah, that'll work.
BP Yeah. And it just struck me how out of touch that feels. It would have felt out of touch before, but now, in a period where I know lots of folks who are working long days and getting a lot done and getting promoted all completely remotely. And I guess one thing that kind of stuck out to me was that this is the way software developers have already been working by and large for the last five or ten years. And open source, which has been such a powerful movement within software and now within the business world, kind of puts the lie to that. Like if open source, with not just you can live anywhere, but literally anybody who has a good idea can come and contribute and can build up something like Linux, what value is there really to being, "We have to be in the office if we're going to get creative and productive." I just don't see it anymore. But let me throw that to all of you, because I do think some people rightly feel a little bit mixed. That there are things that they like and miss about the office, I think that's true. But to what degree do y'all feel ready to completely embrace remote and hybrid? And to what degree do you like to have the optionality to be in-person?
CF Well, I'll say that I think a lot of people, especially political figures or financial figures who are pushing for in-person, I think their motives are completely monetary. I don't think they really truly believe or even know whether or not it's more effective to be in person or not. If you've never worked remotely, how could you know what's more effective? But aside from that, I do see people's argument when they say that they prefer working with people in person for collaboration reasons. I've also heard some people who are breaking into tech who have these junior positions say that they struggle to be mentored properly and to problem-solve and collaborate when they're in a remote environment, which I think are all very plausible issues and concerns. But then I also think that remote work has been life-changing for a lot of people, especially if you're a parent, or especially if you're disabled, things like that. So I think that we're at a point now where we've seen how powerful remote work should be. I don't think we should get rid of it. I also don't think we should completely write off working in person. I think companies should really consider hybrid work models where people have the option to do either/or or do both. That's my opinion on that.
AL Well at Stack Overflow we've been kind of remote-first, remote focused, whichever way you want to put it, pretty much since the inception of the company. I used to work out of the office in the pre-COVID days and I haven't really been back yet even though I'm still in New York. But I was still remote in relation to the majority of the people I worked with directly. So the benefits of the office for me were really about meeting people in the areas I would otherwise never have a reason to talk to. So, getting to know Ben here, for example. We spent many lunch hours talking about various things, playing Magic after work and all of that kind of stuff.
BP The weirdos from marketing, yeah.
AL So I think there's benefits that aren't directly related to the specific job that you're doing. Having said that, I absolutely do not miss spending an hour and a half combined every day traveling to and from the office. So I don't think I'm ever really going back to full in-person all the time.
BP Matt, how about you?
MK Yeah, honestly, I think Adam and Ceora summed this up in a very good manner. I think Ceora's comment where we shouldn't rely on one or the other, a hybrid approach tends to work because you get the best of both worlds. I've been working remote from New Zealand, which incorporates a time zone difference. If I wasn't able to work remote, I wouldn't have been able to get this job. And I think one of the things I've noticed as well going from a software developer to now sitting within the marketing team as a developer advocate, is that I think software development and software engineers are in a very privileged position in this case, where a lot of their work can be done asynchronously where you don't need to be in constant contact with somebody. You know your tickets, you can get your jobs done. You cannot talk to anyone for five to six hours at a time and then sync up later on and that's okay, that workflow works really well. But for other people, for instance, which does require more collaboration, more in-person things, it's definitely a little bit trickier. So I know personally, I struggle a little bit with remote work and I really enjoy– I'm in the New York office at the moment and I am like pissing everybody off by how egregiously happy I am at the moment. So I think, as you mentioned, a hybrid approach works best. I also met a real estate agent the other day and when she found out that I worked for tech, she immediately soured on my disposition. Because basically exactly what had happened was all the tech workers, they're like, "No, I'm going to stay at home and I don't need that fancy office in Midtown that generates $10,000 in revenue a month."
BP Yeah. So here's my dream. Y'all are welcome to pick this apart or pick it up and run with it. But what if we just sort of rethought the city. Which is to say, there were things about San Francisco that were wonderful and people went there to found great companies, but also miserable because the number of software people in tech there and the rents and the inaccessibility of the city to others because of that concentration. Same thing in New York with finance. Everybody has to get together in the office and that pulls in these great concentrations of people which can lead to productivity, but also ends up with a lot of wealth inequality often. So it's more interesting to say, what if you wanted to live in Manhattan or San Francisco because it's a great place with parks and schools and neighbors, and all the other amenities, let's take out work, because you could work for a company anywhere. Obviously that means we're only talking about knowledge workers. But what if that means that there's actually more room in your average city for the people who have to be hands-on? Your teachers, your construction, and your hospitals, because the people who are in the IT knowledge world can now– I live in a rural town in upstate New York. I don't have to be in New York City taking up that space because I want to have this kind of job. So to me, that was like, it would be fun, it would be interesting. It might be productive to even reimagine what the purpose of a city is as it relates to work.
CF I think that would be ideal as to making these cities actually more livable, because one thing I'm sure you realize as well Ben, and maybe you too, Adam, since you're in New York as well. One thing I realize living in a big city during a pandemic is that there are so many people everywhere and there's no space. And I live in Philadelphia which is smaller than New York. So ideally since so many people are remote now, that gives you the freedom to work anywhere, maybe move somewhere else. And because of this mass exodus out of these big cities, it would be great if we could reimagine the whole architecture of a city and give people more space. That would be much more livable and nice and appealing, but I don't know if that's going to happen. I feel like that would take a lot of work. And also people have to let go of the fact that we're not going to have the same real estate profits that we did before with these big offices downtown and all that kind of stuff. That's just not going to be a thing anymore and we have to let it go and move on.
BP Yeah. That is a powerful industry. Totally. I don't know if you know this, but the new mayor of New York also is a former real estate developer, so that may influence his views on whether or not people should be going back to the office. But go ahead, Adam.
AL I don't know if I have too much to add, but I think I broadly agree. I think reimagining how the cities work, and it doesn't even have to be big cities. It could still have a similar impact even on smaller areas and smaller places. I don't know, I haven't been to the financial district here in probably a year and a half at this point. I don't remember what it looks like. No, that's a lie, I do remember.
BP You don't remember our office neighborhood? Remember William Street?
AL I saw it on the, oh geez, what was I watching? Mr. Robot. Because it was filmed right on the block where the office is, I think in season three or something. I remember seeing that on TV and being like, "Hey, wait! I know this spot."
BP But I think you're right about smaller communities, it could go both ways. I live in a town now of 2000, and people have moved up here. Myself, I work in software. I know somebody who works in an online design firm consultancy. I know somebody who works in the podcasting space, who previously would have been in a studio. And now we live here. Our kids go to school here. We go to the dog park here. And so we invest in this community instead of New York City, Brooklyn, Manhattan, whatever the usual.
AL And there's the usual small town to big city pipeline kind of a thing. You always hear about people wanting to move out of their tiny town where they grew up in, but maybe now they won't have to and they can just live close to family and close to friends and we can kind of all live together in harmony.
MK I am going to be very curious as to how with remote work becoming a thing now, our real estate needs have changed. Trying to live and work out of your bedroom is quite taxing mentally because you can't separate that space. And so I'm wondering whether or not in the future if remote work sticks, and I hope it does, that we're going to start seeing more developments that have separate office spaces or even a coworking space at the bottom of their building. So they don't have to move, they have private offices, they have spaces. It's really quite interesting to think how fundamentally this might change a lot of different aspects of our lives.
AL A luxury building instead of putting in a gym now puts in a coworking space.
CF Yeah. Or even just making the actual apartments big enough where people could have a separate office. That would be nice.
AL You shouldn't have to buy a house to have a livable space.
CF Yeah. So many apartments in these big cities are super small and they just want to fit as many people as possible. But if people are leaving that gives you more space to make the apartments there bigger. I don't know the logistics of making all this stuff possible, but it sounds like a nice fantasy, at least.
MK We should build a Stack Overflow town, which is just a utopia for large apartments with multiple rooms and the ability to work from home.
BP I mean, you joke, but there are company towns from big tech companies that are just like a company town. But like WeWork had its problems because of some of the eccentricities of its founders, but they kind of got it right. They're not wrong that what people want now is a flex space where it's like, "Well, this week we want an office in Toronto." Okay, your team this week has an office in Toronto. Or, "I want a place I can go three days a week," or, "I want a conference room for four hours." That, to me, is quickly becoming the ideal model. It raises a lot of interesting questions around proprietary stuff and security for people to be sharing those spaces which would be an interesting challenge. But I kind of feel like that is where we're headed and so I'm excited to see what develops.
MK For me as well, just the remote working before we move on to a different topic. It's enabled me to do a lot of really cool stuff. I've been working from New Zealand for a while. I've been working in Toronto and Vancouver for the last couple of weeks. I'm working in New York now, going back to Vancouver. I could spend three months working in Toronto, I could do 90 days in New York if I wanted to. That ability to move around has offered me a lot of freedom that wouldn't have been available to me 5-10 years ago.
MK Tech recs for today. I have one which I saw this week. I'm not sure how pro you all are at Git. I know I still make mistakes, and I say something that rhymes with Git quite often when I make a mistake. So this is basically an open-source game about learning Git. It's quite fun. It's very enjoyable. The art style isn't AAA quality, but it's enough to help you learn Git and understand it. And I found this really quite cute and fun and it covers a lot of situations where you might find yourself in a little bit of strife. So the website for that is going to be linked in the show notes below. It's ohmygit.org.
CF Cool. My tech rec for this week is a little website or service called Popsy.co, and it allows you to turn your Notion pages into a free website. Someone introduced this to me when I was talking about how my personal website hasn't been updated in literal years, and as a person who's a Notion power user, this is the perfect thing for me. There's always this battle between do I build projects or do I update my personal website? Instead of having to choose between the two, I'm just going to update my personal website as a Notion page and turn that into a website using Popsy, and then spend all my time working on personal projects. So I wanted to shout that out. I thought that would be a useful thing for some listeners here, too. So yeah, I'm excited to use it and give it a try.
BP Shout out to the Notion power users. It's always good when the tool you use every day can be used to do that thing you've been procrastinating on.
MK I had a quick look and they have a ton of free templates that you can get started with as well which look very high quality. It's designed well so you can just focus on getting your stuff out there. You don't have to worry about the formatting for those of you who aren't designing clients and you can just get up and running.
CF Yeah, so I'm excited to give it a try. I'll probably do that later on today as I've been asked for my personal stuff, like personal projects and information and all that kind of stuff, and I don't even have it on my website anymore. So that's something I need to get done probably sooner than later. So I'll be doing that.
BP Beautiful. All right, everybody. Thanks again for listening. I am Ben Popper. I'm the Director of Content here at Stack Overflow, a wildlife enthusiast, a birdwatcher. You can always find me on Twitter @BenPopper. You can always email us with questions or suggestions about the show. We'll shout you out if you send us an email. Hit us up, email@example.com. And if you like the show, leave us a rating and a review on whatever your podcast platform of choice is. It really helps.
CF My name is Ceora Ford. I'm a Developer Advocate. I'm currently looking for my next role. That is not a shout out for new leads because I don't need any right now. But hopefully soon you'll hear me saying that I belong somewhere. But anyway, if you want to keep up with me and my gruesome job search, you can follow me on Twitter. My Twitter username is @Ceeoreo_.
AL I'm Adam Lear, Staff Software Engineer at Stack Overflow. You can find me on Twitter if you really want @AALear. And I'll hopefully talk to you all before too long.
MK And I'm Matt Kiernander, Developer Advocate here at Stack Overflow. If you want to find me online, talk about anything, Vancouver, New York, where I happen to be at any one stage, my Twitter is @MattKander. You can also find me on YouTube with the same name.
BP Terrific. Thanks for listening, y'all. And we will talk to you soon.
MK Thanks, everyone. Bye!
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