If you want to help, donate.
In this episode, we talk about Elon Musk buying the largest share of Twitter and then flip flopping on being on the board. Then we speak with Alex Lebedev, software engineer at HotJar, about his experience living in Ukraine under the horrific conditions of its war with Russia, and about his blog post titled, “Coding Under Bombing.”
Saron Yitbarek is the founder of Disco, host of the CodeNewbie podcast, and co-host of the base.cs podcast.
Josh Puetz is Principal Software Engineer at Forem.
Alexander Lebedev is a backend developer from Ukraine. He loves data and analytics systems and making blog posts and videos about how to improve quality of life.
[00:00:10] SY: Welcome to DevNews, the news show for developers by developers, where we cover the latest in the world of tech. I’m Saron Yitbarek, Founder of Disco.
[00:00:19] JP: And I’m Josh Puetz, Principal Engineer at Forem.
[00:00:21] SY: This week, we’re talking about Elon Musk, buying the largest share of Twitter, and then flip-flopping on being on the board.
[00:00:28] JP: Then we speak with Alex Lebedev, Software Engineer at Hotjar, about his experience living his life in Ukraine under the horrific conditions of its war with Russia and his blog post entitled “Coding Under Bombing”.
[00:00:39] AL: There were some explosions here and there. Like last time, we’ve got a huge explosion when President Biden visited Poland and they destroyed the oil base near my place, like four minutes from me.
[00:00:56] SY: So a lot of you have probably followed a lot of this already, and it happened recently enough that we couldn’t not talk about it.
[00:01:03] JP: We tried.
[00:01:04] SY: We tried. We really did. It, of course, refers to Elon Musk buying a 9.2% stake in Twitter, becoming the company’s largest shareholder, and then flip-flopping on his decision to join Twitter’s 11-person board of directors. In a New York Times’ article posted after Musk had disclosed his purchase to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission on April 9th, there’s a quote by Jason Goldman, who was one of Twitter’s founding team members, saying, “Twitter has always suffered more than its fair share of dysfunction, but at least we weren’t being actively trolled by prospective board members using the product we created.” Criticisms aside, the disclosure shot shares up by 27%. Now the rise in the price of shares is particularly important when it comes to the timeline of Musk’s disclosure. The New York Federal Court is now suing Musk for delaying the disclosure of his purchase of Twitter shares claiming that he delayed the disclosure so that he could buy more shares at a less expensive price. So if an individual has 5% or more of a stake in a company, they are required to disclose this to the government. However, the complaint alleges that Musk can reach that 5% threshold by March 14th, which would require him to disclose his stake by March 24th. But he didn’t end up disclosing his holdings until April 4th. And of course over the weekend, right after Musk became the largest shareholder, Musk did what Musk does and went on a Twitter spree, which included such gems, some of which he later deleted such as, “Everyone who signs up for Twitter Blue. i.e. pays $3 a month, should get an authentication checkmark and no ads. The power of corporations to dictate policy is greatly enhanced if Twitter depends on advertising money to survive.” And speaking to a list of the top 10 most followed Twitter accounts, he says, “Most of these top accounts tweet rarely and post very little content. Is Twitter dying?” Oh my goodness! If I was the CEO of Twitter and Elon Musk, if I was the CEO of any product, period, and Elon Musk used my product to then ask the question if my product is dying, I would just have a heart attack. I don’t know what I would do. Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! And then there was a Twitter poll that he did asking, “Delete the W in Twitter.”
[00:03:32] JP: No.
[00:03:33] SY: Put that together, then you can decide what that would leave us with. Later that weekend, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal then tweeted that Elon Musk had decided not to join the board of directors with a note saying, “There will be distractions ahead, but our goals and priorities remain unchanged.” Poor guy. Poor guy.
[00:03:54] JP: His first one on one did not go well.
[00:03:56] SY: Yeah. Yeah. And indeed, distractions had already been felt within the company. In a Bloomberg report published after the weekend’s whirlwind of events, Twitter employees shared their discontent with the new state of affairs. Some say that they were “super stressed” from all the chaos and several describe the situation as a “shit-show”. Musk had reportedly agreed not to purchase 14.9% of shares or take it over if he were to become a part of the board of directors. But since he’s not going to be a part of the board of directors, that is no longer a limitation.
[00:04:33] JP: Wow! Just wow! Say what you will about Twitter. Twitter’s really been trying to make strides over the past couple of years.
[00:04:45] SY: I really think they have. I really think they have.
[00:04:49] JP: To curb their moderation issues to try to be a, I won’t say fully respectable social media operator, but like a better citizen.
[00:04:59] SY: Yes. Yes.
[00:05:00] JP: They’re trying to innovate on their product. They’re trying to hold disruptive users to accountability. There’s varying levels that they’re actually accomplishing these things for, but you get the sense.
[00:05:09] SY: But they try.
[00:05:10] JP: They tried versus like, I don’t know, Facebook.
[00:05:13] SY: Who’s constantly in denial.
[00:05:13] JP: You get the sense they really don’t want to try. Yeah, constantly in denial. So I feel really bad for Twitter.
[00:05:18] SY: I do.
[00:05:18] JP: Because this is not really what they need.
[00:05:22] SY: No.
[00:05:23] JP: As someone that works at a startup, you and I both worked at startups. I think for most developers, the mechanics of options and shares and ownership of a company can be kind of opaque. We’re not finance people. That’s not really what we went into the space to do. And so the idea that someone can come in with a lot of money, and of course this could happen to any company, but someone can come in and on a whim, just decide, “Hey, I’m just going to buy all a whole bunch of stock at your company and then I get an oversize say in what’s going to happen.” That’s really scary.
[00:05:58] SY: Yeah. I mean, it’s the kind of thing where I don’t know what the right solution or protection is because the other extreme is Mark Zuckerberg. Right? No matter what happens, he is the king of Facebook. He is in charge kind of forever, and it doesn’t really matter how people feel about what he does or what direction he takes the company. Or if people feel he’s being unethical, ultimately he owns the voting rights and what he says goes.
[00:06:24] JP: That’s fair.
[00:06:24] SY: And so it’s like who do we protect the company from? Right? The founder who doesn’t want any outsiders to come in or is there a time when outsiders maybe should come in? Anybody can be bad for a company, right? Anybody can potentially be a problem, can potentially take a company down a bad path. And this is especially crucial for social media companies, because especially with Twitter, it feels like so much more of a new source than just purely social media, right? I don’t remember when this happened, it’s years ago at this point, but the moment when reputable journalistic sources are quoting tweets as reliable sources of information.
[00:07:09] JP: Oh, absolutely.
[00:07:10] SY: That’s a whole other level of responsibility and accountability that needs to happen. And so when you’re talking about this type of entity that has such a huge role in society, I don’t know how to protect it from just potential problematic people.
[00:07:28] JP: That’s a really fair point. Because I’ve forgotten, I think I am definitely guilty of taking for granted the oversize role that Twitter has, just the news and entertainment now. I mean, conventional advice, people always used to say, “Don’t get your news off of Facebook. That’s crazy.” But on Twitter, you literally have journalists breaking stories.
[00:07:48] SY: Yeah, literally.
[00:07:49] JP: You have citizen reporters breaking stories. Twitter is actually news.
[00:07:53] SY: Yeah.
[00:07:54] JP: And so what happens when one of the newsmakers becomes the owner of the platform? Stepping back a second, Twitter is no stranger to what we could call activist investors. There’s been a lot of press that the current CEO, Agrawal, it’s suspected that he’s there because activist investors wanted to push out Jack Dorsey. So this is kind of like that, but now instead of a group of activist investors, you have one activist investor.
[00:08:24] SY: Yeah.
[00:08:24] JP: I’ve read a lot of reporting about why Musk decided not to join the board. And I think it tracks. One of the things that you have to do when you’re the board member of a company is that you have a legal obligation, a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of the shareholders. And tweeting things like, “Is this product dying?” Just the first weekend out, he did not pass the test.
[00:08:49] SY: Yeah.
[00:08:50] JP: Right?
[00:08:51] SY: That was the test and he failed.
[00:08:53] JP: He failed it. There was also some reporting that said he never intended to join the board. So I guess it’s best that he’s not on the board. But on the other hand, if he was on the board, there would be a real obligation for him to basically stop with the trolling tweets and he doesn’t have that constraint now.
[00:09:10] SY: I mean, there’s the obligation, but then the question is, “But what’s the consequence?” Because, frankly, Elon Musk has been sued and fined for breaking many obligations over the years. And as the richest person in the world, these are just speed tickets. He pays them and he does when he wants. So I don’t know what the consequences are. If he were to have joined the board and then did something that would have broken his fiduciary responsibility, is that the SEC fining him a couple million dollars, which to him means nothing? You know what I mean? What would the consequences actually have been? I guess maybe just a step down in which case he’s got plenty of other jobs. It’s kind of one of those situations where I’m wondering, “How do you punish Elon Musk?” If you want to get him to behave properly, what does that mean? I don’t think it’s fining. I don’t really know what powers, what options I guess the government has. But yeah, I don’t think Elon really cares about rules very much.
[00:10:11] JP: So what they’ve done in the past, I think the SEC has his number. They know what to do to until they got at him. Remember there was a while ago, a couple of years ago he tweeted that he was going to be selling Tesla or it was something like that. Yeah. Oh, all of a sudden, the shares started going up. That is market manipulation and the SEC slapped him basically with a consent decree that said some of his tweets had to be vetted by lawyers. So they put restrictions on what he could tweet without being more legally responsible. Other things that have been talked about are limits on his ability to trade stock, limits on his ability to invest, and that hits him in the pocket book.
[00:10:53] SY: Right. Right.
[00:10:53] JP: And I think when you start talking about his money and his voice, that’s where he will feel pain. So I think that’s a particular reason. He didn’t take a seat on the board. It would limit his ability to tweet.
[00:11:08] SY: Yeah, to just say what he wants. Yeah.
[00:11:10] JP: Right. One other thing I was thinking about this, there have been some notable users of Twitter that have been suspended from the platform for politically inflaming speech. What is to stop them other than money? You have to have the funds, but what is to stop someone that has been sanctioned by Twitter, been blocked by Twitter from acquiring shares and telling Twitter, “Lift my block”?
[00:11:37] SY: That is a very good point.
[00:11:39] JP: Is that an option?
[00:11:40] SY: I really hope that’s not the new playbook. How to get around Twitter’s block? Just become a majority stakeholder.
[00:11:48] JP: I mean, not all the ideas are crazy. I mean if you got an authentication checkmark and no ads with Twitter Blue, there you go. He solved that one.
[00:11:55] SY: Yeah. Yeah. Nailed it. Coming up next, we speak with a Ukrainian programmer about living under the conditions of the war with Russia and his blog post titled “Coding Under Bombing” after this.
[00:12:28] SY: Here with us is Alexander Lebedev, Software Engineer at Hotjar. Thank you so much for joining us.
[00:12:34] AL: Thank you for inviting me.
[00:12:35] JP: So normally, we would start talking about your work life and what you’re doing, but since you're in Ukraine right now, and because of the war that’s going on, I imagine your work life and your personal family life are very intertwined. So I would like you to tell us about your personal and your family background in Ukraine.
[00:12:57] AL: Right now, we’re living with five people in my place, because we are moving our location. A lot of my relatives are from Northern parts of Ukraine. Here is like safe enough by Ukrainian standards. Me and my wife are working remote for the last seven years or something. She’s a psychologist. I’m a programmer. So also, I’m initially from the Northern region. So my hometown is 60 kilometers from Russian border, but then we decided a couple of years ago, maybe like five or four years ago, decided to move as far from the Russian borders, so technically within Ukraine. And it was a pretty nice decision. Yeah. We’re still working. My wife is still working. I’m trying to do my everyday job at home. So yeah, it’s doing pretty well, I assume, in this situation.
[00:13:45] SY: Can you tell us where you were and what was on your mind the night of February 24th when Russia invaded your country?
[00:13:53] AL: I mean, I was at home. Yeah. Our situation was a bit more complicated because a lot of people here, especially like we are even 64 kilometers from the border. So it takes you like less than half an hour basically to volunteer or maybe to Hungary, to Romania. And here, we wanted to relocate my mother as fast as possible. The evening of 21st was the day of her surgery. So she had some really complicated dental surgery and basically we decided, “Okay, either we leave now or we just stick here until the end.” And we decided that, yeah, my mother’s health is much more important than that. So we decided to stay. And then the next morning, basically like in five in the morning, my wife just woke me up, Russia attacked. It was pretty surprising, yeah. But for us, because we only invest in Ukraine, I mean, it was scary, but psychologically it was scary. We were not bombed in that specific day, while people at the border, they were all like just devastated. So I can’t even imagine how hard it was for them.
[00:14:58] JP: Can you talk about what your life and your family’s life has been this past month as the war has progressed?
[00:15:05] AL: On the physical level, it’s like COVID on maximum, right? But also you need to run to bomb shelters like 3, 5, 7 times a day. Your sleep is destroyed because, I mean, just waking for some random amount of time, and then you’re working for random amount of time, which is not that great. Plus, of course, the whole war economy is not doing such great. There were some explosions here and there. Like last time, we’ve got a huge explosion when President Biden visited Poland and they destroyed the oil base near my place, like four minutes from me. And President Biden wants to visit Poland on April 2, so I'm a little bit scared for those next two days. But other than that, it’s okay. Again, it’s more psychological level because, I mean, I’m safe enough, but there are like tens of thousands of people, which were dying just right now, when you’re recording this stuff. So like tens of thousands of Ukrainian children moved to Russia and potentially like in 10, 20 years, they would be 100% sure that it’s we who attacked them. Yeah, they won’t even remember their family at that moment, and all this psychological operation because when I’m trying to rest, people, they don’t have this opportunity, I’m feeling an incredible shame. I mean, if we are not working, we’re trying to collect some stuff. For northern regions, we collect medicines, some oncological drugs. We donate tons of money. I write in this LinkedIn post to get money from other people. Again, if ever we’re near the border and we see all this glorious field with like warm clothes that you people are sending here, all of the medicines, all of the food, and it helps a lot. It’s one of the lifelines for our economy right now.
[00:16:45] JP: How far away is the bomb shelter? How much time do you have to get there? How do you know you have to go? And when you get there, do you know how long you are going to be there? Are there a lot of people there? I wonder if you could just talk me through that.
[00:17:02] AL: Most of the Soviet buildings have little bomb shelters underground, but they’re pretty old, but still usable because Soviet buildings assumed that America will bomb us with nuclear weapons. So it’s a good thing. In my building, there is no such thing, but there is a good and deep enough underground parking. The problem with that, that when the war started, the temperature here, like it was pretty snowy here and it was pretty cold in a bomb shelter, especially if you’re sitting there for prolonged hours. So we spend quite some time trying to build a wall from basically just a transparent food film, something that your bread is covered with. And if you get enough of which, yeah, you could just put a lot of it around the columns in the underground parking and create some way of anti-wind walls. We also get to know a lot of people from nearby buildings who don't have underground parking. So we bought a table. We bought a couple of chairs. We both just like films. My wife and I, we also buy some water or some coffee and a lot of people are doing all this stuff too. And usually, how it happens, first, you are getting some notifications, one of the government applications. Also, you get a notification into Telegram, into WhatsApp in messages for your choice. After like 10 seconds, I assume you also hear the real loud siren outside. But usually, the time you’re already getting yourself up to it. From the time perspective, I would suggest that you have from 5 to 15 minutes to run down. So again, for me, it’s like eight floors, plus a ground floor. Basically it takes me maybe like four, seven minutes to get there. Yeah. So I have like three minutes to get close. And of course like when I'm not working, when the siren goes, so you need to run all this way down. If we’re talking about the amount of people, I would say it depends from the like region where you’re living. Yes, there are some bomb shelters in Kiev, in our capital, where there like hundreds of people are just sleeping there because some of the sirens could be still there for days. If you’re close enough to ground troops of Russia, they could bomb you, launch rockets. It could take an incredible amount of time, like multiple days. Here, we are mostly bombed by air or land or like sea-land rockets, like long-range rockets and we are not getting most of them. The most amount we got was like 20 in a single day or something and the large amount of it was hit by our anti-air missiles protection. And you sit there for you don’t know how long. The longest we got here was eight hours or something.
[00:19:57] JP: Wow!
[00:19:57] AL: The problem is that we could get like three such sirens in a day. You know? So you’re just going back home after sitting six hours in the underground parking when it’s snowing and it’s incredibly cold and then you need to get back like in a half an hour because that’s how it is. Again, in our situation, it’s not that bad because it’s warm enough here and people are already, you know, like meeting each other. I met tons of my neighbors I never met before because of COVID. But in other regions, because of the intensity of bombings is so high, you will just leave there. There are tons of people sleeping there, just trying to cook some food and something. In some bomb shelters, there is no electricity. So people are just sitting in the dire cold with their cellphones on until there is like no charge. One of my colleagues in Chernihiv, one of the nearby towns, he was offline for like five days and they couldn’t get any news from him because the nearby electricity station was literally destroyed and he had no electricity even to charge his phone just to say something.
[00:21:05] SY: In the beginning before this started, had you thought about leaving Ukraine altogether, especially in the buildup of the Russian advance and just going somewhere else?
[00:21:17] AL: Yeah. I mean, in December, I changed my job. And it was pretty easy to move to US or Canada, especially to Canada. And it was like the moment of truth because we just finished paying our mortgage in one of the nearby cities. It was hit by the rockets the first day. Not our building, but pretty close to our building in the first day. But we decided that Ukraine seems like a much better place to live in the current situation. Because even if Russia attacks, it won’t be a full scale war, so you’ll deal with it, and all our relatives here and I want my kid to speak Ukrainian and all this stuff. Yeah. I don’t have a kid. We planned it pretty intensively. So we have these ideas here and it’s incredibly easy to move, again, from my place because it’s just so close, one hour, and it’s easier for Ukrainian to get Canadian visas because there are many of Ukrainians there. But yeah, we decided to stay at that moment and decided to stay once more. And yeah, I’m not sure it was a bad decision. It’s just that I want to do more than just I’m staying here. It doesn’t matter if I stay or not if I'm just playing games all day or something. So I assume the difference is, again, non-psychological fears and feelings of danger.
[00:22:41] JP: You mentioned, as the buildup was happening before the war started, that nobody really expected it to be a large-scale war or a full invasion or anything like that. Have you been surprised how the war has gone? And have you been surprised at Ukraine’s reaction to the invasion?
[00:23:00] AL: I mean, I will not say I was really surprised by the Ukrainian reaction. I assume I were, I mean, they did a pretty good job, like an excellent job and they still continue doing the stuff. It’s the main reason why I could stay so calm because I believe in them like 100%. I think I was surprised by the level of aggression and just hate. Russian people are the closest that we have, I mean, on genetical level or cultural level and everything. And it was pretty devastating that people who are close to you so much would just change their phase. I can’t even describe in words. Imagine like some song you are dancing, your first solo dance with some Russian you like and right now you remembered the person who’s singing in this song wants you dead. Fairytales that I was listening when I was a kid, yeah, is the person who recorded this fairytale now wants you dead. Russian culture was a large part of Ukrainian culture, especially like in the 2000s, 2010s maybe a little bit. And it’s pretty scary that all of these people really want us dead just because we are Ukrainians.
[00:24:15] SY: When the war began, you wrote in a LinkedIn post. You said, “Check the map. It’s much, much closer from my place in Lviv to Berlin, Prague, Vienna, or Zargeb than to Eastern Ukraine. The war is massive, and Russian surely can’t hold it within our territory.” Can you expand a little bit more on this thought and just kind of the geography and about your neighboring countries?
[00:24:41] AL: As I said, it’s like 64, like 55 or something like that, kilometers to Poland from my place. And one of the targets was International Center, like 20 kilometers from Poland. And so it was like incredibly close. You could hear all the stuff in Poland. Again, there was a lot of different relation stuff in Sweden, in Finland to one of the Russian drones firing at a Slovak city, I assume. One of my concerns was that the accuracy of Russian missiles are not that great, especially when they’re using some older ones. So if you’re sending a missile to a target with 20 kilometers from the Polish border, it’s incredibly easy to hit Poland city instead or Romanian city or Slovak city or any nearby countries. Everything is really, really close within an hour distance. Maybe like two hours’ distance you can get to like some closer countries. But yeah, as I said, it’s much closer to Berlin from my place to my hometown in Ukraine because Ukraine is so huge. So that’s why I’m concerned that if Russia gets even more aggressive, and this is technically possible, a lot of nearby countries could be covered too.
[00:26:01] JP: What is your opinion of the Western world response to the war in terms of sanctions?
[00:26:09] AL: Everything that hits Russian economy and regular Russian lives right now is that help them to understand what’s really happening because I still hope that there is some light I have, if I can say so. It went on much larger scales that I ever expected because like initially we all saw that Germany won’t do anything about it, for example, or Hungary or some other like Russian-loving countries. So sanctions did a lot of work. Do we think that it’s enough? Of course, it’s not. I mean, it’s a pretty complicated topic because embargoing like gas or something similar would hit Europeans pretty hard, yeah, just in their daily lives. Of course, it would help us. It would help us on cosmic scale because the blow is so huge, it would just destroy the Russian economy much, much faster. Yeah. Because if they’re getting 100 billion euros every year from selling gas to Europe, of course, they won’t stop right now. Even if you embargo everything right now, they still won’t stop. But maybe with embargoes, they will stop faster. So it’s a pretty delicate situation from the European Union’s perspective. But from my perspective, of course, I want all of the sanctions that are technical and possible. So people will just stop dying into my hometown, the eastern regions, because I mean, yeah, it’s scary, and I want just my people to stay safe.
[00:28:04] JP: Two weeks ago, you posted some incredible pictures of buildings on fire and you mentioned that one of the pictures was right outside of your window. You mentioned that you’re juggling “tons” of air alerts, multiple bombings, massive fires nearby, and a lot of coding in between to stay sane. I’m wondering if you could just talk us through what is your day-to-day work life looks like right now and how do you do it.
[00:28:34] AL: I mean, yesterday, I woke up at six in the morning. We got an alert. We went to a bomb shelter for half an hour. Then we got back and we got another alert, which I assume it was 11 or 12 or something. Then, again, we got back. We’ve tried to sleep, then we woke up, and it was a period of concentration or focus time, I assume at six, eight hours until even in bombing alerts here. So if it’s happening like regularly, yeah, like the photo I posted from my window, it was an oil base. Like, again, as I said, four minutes from my place. The explosion was pretty huge. And when you sit in bomb shelters and you hear, it’s not a one explosion. Yeah, usually that sounded like up to 8, 12 rockets and you hear a lot of explosions. And at that day, they also hit a factory 10 kilometers from my place or something. And you hear everything, right? Because the explosion is pretty loud and the bomb shelter, you feel all the vibration and everything. Yeah, of course, it’s scary. But because you’re in the bomb shelter, you’re not scared that much. But when you’re sitting in a bomb shelter and there was no explosion, we got an alert every time we see a rocket because rocket would everything within 5,000 kilometers radius. So we don’t know where it goes. And every time it’s not hitting your place, you’re just sitting there and checking the news, where did it hit, are people still alive, what city is burning right now and everything. Yeah, it’s pretty devastating. Because I was creating a lot of how to be productive videos for the last year, a lot of this knowledge will help.
[00:30:19] SY: Can you go through these five ways of staying productive that have helped you even living through a war?
[00:30:26] AL: So the first point was to stop drinking coffee. Because when you’re nervous, you’re drinking a lot of coffee and you could drink like multiple cups and then you're nervous and then you can’t do anything. I didn’t stop taking caffeine. I just reached for pills basically. And I could get half a pill and I’m okay for the day, even if I have a bad sleep. Half a pill of caffeine is like less than one cup. It’s all right for me. I could work. But drinking tons of coffee because you’re nervous just devastates my day and it doesn’t help. Also, as I said, because of all the bad stuff happening like every hour, I’m updating the local news because, “Okay, I'm still alive here. All my relatives are still alive. Where’s the next rocket will go? How are our armies doing?” And there are tons of bad things happening every hour. And if you think about it constantly, it won’t help you to concentrate at all. I started listening to tons of music, most of it to just digest, picking a single track and putting it into repeat for multiple hours, just to stop thinking about all the stuff that happens around. Because if I can’t work, I won’t get the money. I can’t donate them. So yeah. I need to focus on the stuff I can do. So listening to some music on repeat is my second advice. Third advice would be to play. There are games like Candy Crush. It sounds pretty stupid. But scrolling for Reddit or memes or something like that doesn’t help at all because the brain is constantly working. But playing Candy Crush or just some similar games that don’t require more than two brain cells. I mean, games usually help because you could just switch off your brain for maybe half an hour, especially when you’re in a bomb shelter. And when you get back, you still have enough resources to do some work, to make something happen. Then again, the whole stuff changed my sleep behavior because I can’t control it right now. And previously, sleeping 12 hours a day was like, “Wow! Well, why would I do that?” But right now, if I could sleep one more hour in the middle of the day or in the evening, it surely helps. Because I remember myself, when I'm getting back from the office to my place, I still have seven hours left in the day, but I am too tired. So I’m like, “Okay, I won’t do anything. No, I can’t do this.” And so it’s just like, “Let’s wait until the day ends.” And right now, if I’m in a similar situation, I’m just, “Okay, then I need to sleep.” So if it’s eight in the evening, sure. I still need to sleep,” because if I won’t, yeah, the day is just destroyed. I didn’t do any work and it doesn’t matter. So yes, sleeping in random times, random amount of time is still much, much better than just sleeping for four hours. Also, there is tons of scientific research that like sleeping at least for six hours, even like if an integral would do just one, just two of cognitive abilities. The fifth step for me is just everything, like literally everything that helps you to do your work, even if it sounds stupid, like drinking decaffeinated coffee and then eating caffeine afterwards just to keep the ritual, if it helps, even if it sounds stupid, yeah, you should follow it.
[00:33:43] SY: What’s really interesting about the blog post that you wrote and the five steps you just outlined is that it’s focusing on productivity and how you can stay productive in such a traumatic time, but I wouldn’t have a guess that productivity would frankly be a priority in your situation. That’s not like the thing that I would expect to read a blog post about. So tell me why is staying productive so important to you when your lives are in danger, you don’t know what’s going to happen next, there’s so much chaos, so much trauma happening? Why is being productive so important to you?
[00:34:22] AL: I mean, I am here. I will be here until the Ukrainian victory because we don’t have any other choice and I have literally like four other people to care about, to buy food for them, to buy some furniture for our bomb shelter, to get some supplies, to get some medicines, to find a bed and so on. Because every couple of days, some new relative comes and go to European Union through us or stays with us for maybe two, three weeks. My sister from my hometown, my cousin technically, will get to us in three days. And again, I need to find a bed for her, find some place where she could sleep, where she could roll. But other than that, it would feel better potentially if instead of donating money, I would just go to a shop, buy auto supplies and spend tons of time just delivering these supplies to volunteer centers and so on. It will feel great. I would feel like I’m doing something. And we would be doing something, thousands of people are doing this stuff every day. But instead of just like buying stuff for like $200, because I can’t fit more stuff in a car basically, I could donate like $5,000. And a thousand people could buy much more stuff with this money that I donated. So another way I could be helping Ukraine right now is by increasing awareness and by donating money. And to donate money, I need to earn this money. So it would be nice if I could do some meaningful job. And if I need to do some meaningful job, I need to be able to concentrate on it. So that’s my initial focus right now.
[00:36:03] SY: Got it.
[00:36:03] AL: Because one other bases of care like ours, they have a place to live, we have a bomb shelter to run through, we have all clothes and everything, then I can focus on other concerns, like helping Ukraine to stay alive at least economical. I paid my taxes for three months upfront already, potentially I would pay it longer, but there is no possibility. For us, for example, you could pay much lower taxes right now because there’s a war, but you could also stay on the full scale and pay for taxes. And I’m paying full taxes because I am able to and there are hundreds of thousands of people that are not. So yeah. That’s why the productivity is the main focus because it’s the one of those things that matters right now while people are, again, in the near borderline regions and it’s much, much, much, much harder than me. I can’t even imagine how bad it is when you are being hit by land rockets. There are some regions that are able to stay in for the last 200 hours. It’s basically like eight days already as they’re being bombed every hour. And the only thing I could do to help them is just to collect some money so everyone could get more supplies, more warm clothes. They could be evacuated from there. They have enough gasoline to continue the war and all this stuff.
[00:37:28] SY: How do your employers feel about the situation? How are they handling? I imagine that if you’re doing all these bomb shelter runs and things are so in flux, you could be in a situation where you’re just totally offline for a long period of time. And I’m just wondering, how was your company supported you? How have they been dealing with this issue?
[00:37:53] AL: They did an incredible job. First was they implemented the stuff exceptionally. So technically, you could take unlimited leave days like a vacation and just stop working. So I took like two weeks of leaves initially because the first week I wasn’t able to do anything. I would just focus on my family and locating our relatives. And the second, I was just getting back into code, like taking part in some government IT projects. And then when I got registration, I said, “Okay, I’m already coding quite a lot in a day, then it should work.” So they were pretty persuasive for me to not work because for them it’s pretty scary like when they’re talking with me and then I just said, “Sorry guys, I need to run. A rocket is coming this way.” So it was pretty scary the first couple of days, maybe first like two weeks or so. But now, I mean, they’re getting used to this stuff and I try to visit most of the evening meetings, most of the refinement sessions. I changed my schedule most to start my day at roughly 2:00 PM Central European Time. So it’s like six hours and I usually started my day because all the bombings are happening most at night or early morning because psychological welfare. When people are asleep and they want to wake them up. So they will be scared.
[00:39:22] SY: I see.
[00:39:22] AL: And if you are like not sleeping until like six in the morning, you could like technically try to catch most of those hours. But again, next week they will change the schedule to like eight in the morning and you slept for two hours and then you need to try to get sleep again or you’re just sitting there for like six hours and then you need to skip a day. It’s impossible to work in some days. Also, Hotjar, they have like four employees in Ukraine. They sent us all our salaries for three months up front.
[00:39:54] SY: Oh, nice!
[00:39:55] AL: So yeah, I’m incredibly grateful for Hotjar for covering our situation. Also, they double much of those donations to Ukraine. So if you send like $100, they will also send $200 to the same resource you sent. They are doing an incredible job.
[00:40:11] JP: Early on in the war, the Ukrainian Vice-Prime Minister called for volunteers to join an IT army of sorts to fend against hacker attacks. It has over 400,000 volunteers. I’m curious what you think about this call and this group and if it’s something you’ve thought about volunteering for.
[00:40:31] AL: I mean, I joined the first day they announced it. And most with this stuff you could potentially separate it into two parts. The first part is defensive part, trying to consult people about like using anti-DDoS software, trying to update some websites so they are not like easily hackable and also spreading as much information to Western world and to Russia about everything that is happening. So yeah, I took a pretty large part in that because it’s a good cause and I’m still checking this channel and trying to follow the task when I have time. So mostly I spent maybe three days out of five, I’m working on such tasks. The second part is like doing some nice stuff from technical perspective.
[00:41:23] SY: What are the things that you feel people need to understand that maybe they don’t get, they don’t see, they don’t hear from the media?
[00:41:34] AL: In such case, I would suggest the situation is a bit opposite. Most of the stuff that Western media is showing like all the rapes, all the killings, all the devastated lives, the destroyed homes, it’s not an exaggeration. It’s really happening. The reality already is so incredibly scary. You can’t make fake news out of it because you don’t need to.
[00:42:02] JP: How do you feel people in the West can best help the people of Ukraine?
[00:42:08] AL: Of course, I mean, the most obvious way would be just sending money to come in for the cause. It will be the most effective way possible right now. Because like I’m doing the same stuff. I won’t recommend donating to some public organizations that focus on stuff like Red Cross. Quite a lot of the organizations have a bad reputation here. You won’t see Red Cross volunteers near the warzones. Yeah, you may see them in some safer cities, but the amount of money, once they’re getting them, 100% sure they could do much more with that. So that’s why I'm supporting and using the accounts of literally our government, our National Bank of Ukraine, and I hope the links would be in the description. It is the best way to support Ukraine, acknowledge us because there is no middleman, no high enough executives who need to get a salary or something like that. Everything goes to the frontier end and to the people who needs help right now.
[00:43:07] SY: Well, thank you again so much for sharing your story with us and wish you and your family well and hopefully this ends very, very quickly. So thank you so much for your time and your bravery. We really appreciate it.
[00:43:20] AL: Thank you for listening and I hope some people will donate and every donation is really meaningful in such times.
[00:43:36] SY: Thank you for listening to DevNews. This show is produced and mixed by Levi Sharpe. Editorial oversight is provided by Peter Frank, Ben Halpern, and Jess Lee. Our theme music is by Dan Powell. If you have any questions or comments, dial into our Google Voice at +1 (929) 500-1513 or email us at [email protected] Please rate and subscribe to this show wherever you get your podcasts.