I have been writing about tech since AOL was a startup. My interview with Mark Zuckerberg and his comments on Holocaust deniers made the news. I recently started writing for the New York Times Opinion section, and my topics have included why I would interview Steve Bannon, Elon Musk, Kevin Systrom's departure from Instagram, Twitter and Alex Jones, and drug use in Silicon Valley. Ask me anything.

Update: Thanks for your questions! If you have more for me, please join me during my weekly Twitter chats (@karaswisher).

Proof: https://twitter.com/karaswisher/status/1049376457389166592

Comments: 429 • Responses: 60  • Date: 

fwota273 karma

Are we going to see a backlash against the tech industry at the federal/national level? If so, when, and in what form?

thenewyorktimes270 karma

Yes, and it will come with regulation.

fwota74 karma

Do you think California's new privacy laws will become a "least common denominator" forcing a change nationally? (i.e. companies will re-engineer for the most stringent states' laws)

thenewyorktimes139 karma

Yes. I think that there needs to be a comprehensive national privacy law.

hellorinis17 karma

YAY.

thenewyorktimes47 karma

we'll see

ExistentialRam108 karma

What's your take on what's become of the word 'culture' in tech? It seems like in many cases 'culture' is used as a catch-all for all kinds of work-speak.

thenewyorktimes133 karma

I hate that word. So I am glad if it is gone.

joyzmaa98 karma

Hi Kara! Podcasts are increasingly becoming like a circuit, like the late night tv, on which creators do the rounds when new stuff comes out. Listening to multiple hour long conversations with the likes of Rebecca Traister and Anand Giridharadas is a joy for fans of the medium like me but do you think it is a good idea for podcasts to mimic tv?

thenewyorktimes96 karma

No, but I think the interview matters. I think we do great interviews and they are different than others. We'll see!

But I get your point.

LeighBenz96 karma

You seem to be one step ahead of most of the news coming out of Silicon Valley, but can you share an instance when something genuinely surprised you (good or bad)?

thenewyorktimes146 karma

Hmm, very little. Maybe recently that Google was going back into China. I did not think they would do it. BTW I am less focused on scoops these days.

meanysmurf92 karma

Welcome (back) to DC. How can the government attract and retain technologically literate people to help modernize the Federal Government, and address future regulatory issues related to "big tech?" The US Digital Service is a great idea, but it too small, in my opinion. Clearly more needs to be done to bring Congress up to speed on technology issues.

Related, the "self-regulatory" model in finance is plagued by potential conflicts of interest because the platform owners are also the regulators---therefore, is it even realistic to expect for-profit tech companies to be able to police themselves?

thenewyorktimes184 karma

The short answer is they can't. It is small despite the efforts of Matt Cutts (listen to my podcast with him). And do not get me started on the lack of tech knowledge by politicians. Alexander Hamilton was a bigger geek than all of them combined.

And no on policing. Ever.

hhrlisa54 karma

What advice would you give women in this age of technology? General advice? Advice about working in technology?

thenewyorktimes107 karma

Well, I am afraid I am disheartened mostly. I would say you have to grow a tough skin, which you should not have to do. And I would say you have to realize you are often at a disadvantage FOR NO GOOD REASON and try to figure out ways to find good mentors to help you around those obstacles.

hhrlisa28 karma

What is the biggest obstacle you've encountered?

thenewyorktimes196 karma

So many. Mostly people telling me I could not do stuff, like starting All Things Digital or leaving WSJ to create Recode. Luckily, I ran out of fucks a long time ago. I think it was 1963.

hhrlisa23 karma

Thank you so much for sharing your experience and time.

thenewyorktimes64 karma

Oh I am just old!

realjoeydood52 karma

Do companies like google/google news pay to aggregate news? If not, can anyone aggregate news stories so long as the original content is given full credit?

thenewyorktimes49 karma

They do not.

realjoeydood15 karma

Thank you for your reply! Could you suggest further reading/info on the subject of legally aggregating news? Apologies if this is off-topic.

TIA!

thenewyorktimes22 karma

Hmm, I do not know any. But will look.

clite3150 karma

Do social media apps need to be regulated? What can indie app developers do to create responsible technology?

thenewyorktimes101 karma

Yes. They can think about the consequences of what they create before they create them.

fwota39 karma

Is it even possible to consider all the consequences ahead of time? Feels like so many social apps are dealing with fallout that was unanticipated at the beginning (but then was ignored too long once it became apparent).

thenewyorktimes63 karma

Yes. We do it daily. How could you NOT anticipate that, say, Facebook Live might be used by bad people. It goes on.

CaptainShanks45 karma

Hi Kara! I’ve been following you on Recode Decode and Too Embarrassed to Ask for a few years now, and I absolutely love your snark and intelligence on tech issues. Your interviews are the best, and I cringe at most other journalists’ attempts at catering to those CEOs instead of asking real questions.

What’s a characteristic of bad interviewers that drives you crazy? You always do an amazing job, and I have to wonder if you ever spot other people in your position doing something you tend to dislike that you do differently.

Hope you and your family are doing amazing!

thenewyorktimes95 karma

Oh pull up a chair!

  1. Being obsequious.
  2. Sticking to prepared questions (I NEVER prep)
  3. Not having a conversation and spending all your time on gotchas.
  4. Not being genuine.
  5. Being stupid.
  6. Not wanting to illuminate for the audience.
  7. Taking yes for an answer.
  8. Lack of sense of humor.

FebGreySkyDay37 karma

Can you offer the Pod Save guys interview lessons? They haven't figured out how to listen and then ask questions

thenewyorktimes34 karma

Ha. I think questions are not the point on that show. It's boys talk, right? I really like them tho.

FebGreySkyDay15 karma

Lovett thinks fast enough to be really good at it with help

thenewyorktimes48 karma

I love Lovett. And I hate him. We are a modern day gay love story.

Soopsmojo37 karma

Who is the most misunderstood tech leader?

thenewyorktimes100 karma

Good one. Hmm. Elon Musk.

Grandpas_Spells20 karma

How so?

thenewyorktimes136 karma

I think people like to compare him to Trump. He reminds me more of Howard Hughes.

hellorinis35 karma

Re: SoftBank, WeWork and Saudi Arabia

Do you think the recent apparent kidnapping and killing of a Saudi journalist will affect how SoftBank is perceived? Saudi Arabia provided about 45B in their 100B fund. When Trump leaves, it's obvious that the Saudi's connection and possible payments to Jared Kushner will be investigated (if Kushner isn't indicted prior to that) and there will be an awkward situation with the State Department.

Also, news today re: WeWork possibly getting a majority investment from SoftBank. WeWork's business model is essentially untenable, no matter how much money is funneled into it. This is a classic "putting money to work" situation and it can't possibly end well for both SoftBank and WeWork. Why is this still touted as a winning strategy?

The public markets are not going to absorb this. Morgan Stanley issued a note today with an underperform for tech stocks in 2019, citing very similar circumstances to the dot com bubble. Just curious what you see coming next.

thenewyorktimes45 karma

Re Saudis. Yes it is disturbing and worse that no one in SV has spoken up as yet, given the $ that has poured in.

WeWork is sure a risky investment to many. But SB has so much $ it needs to go somewhere.

rosa_sparkz35 karma

What steps need to be made to improve government understanding of tech to make any theoretical regulation effective?

thenewyorktimes49 karma

To be fair, there are some smart legislators. Most of them live in Europe! Ok, here: John Warner, Ron Wyden, Richard Burr, Amy Klobuchar. Also Gavin Newsom in Ca.

PawneeCityCouncil33 karma

Do you think there is a significant gap between the tech world and everyday people not in the industry? Do you think that gap is widening as newer tech gets introduced, or do you think everyday people are getting more and more connected and tech-y?

thenewyorktimes63 karma

Yes, they are obscenely weathly. So there is that.

That said, there is widespread comfort with using tech for sure.

dzcon29 karma

Have you noticed any change in how tech journalists and investors treat new startup founders - even those with impressive connections and supporters - after the Theranos ordeal? Many in academia and biotech were highly skeptical of their blood tests long before the extent of the fraud was known, because the company hadn't even published a shred of data demonstrating efficacy while claiming to have leaped ahead of far more experienced scientists and microfluidics researchers with their tech. It was exasperating that so few journalists took the doubts seriously or even cared to look for them in the midst of hype about Elizabeth Holmes.

thenewyorktimes34 karma

Don't get me started on that. Luckily we never covered Theranos since we do not cover biotech. But I was floored that no health reporter save John C really dove in. Instead, it was pitched as a tech story and it just was not.

ajafarzadeh28 karma

Do you think we've turned a corner when it comes to moral and ethical issues in the Valley, i.e. issues of discrimination?

thenewyorktimes117 karma

Not at all. It's as bad as ever but everyone now feels badly about it. Ugh.

roland0027 karma

Is their an interview that you regret doing? If so will you tell us who it was? Why do you regret this interview?

thenewyorktimes77 karma

There is not! I would tell you. Only caveat is that I did feel badly for Mark Zuckerberg when he sweated so much onstage a few years ago. I felt less badly about his latest misspeaks in the recent podcast. Which is to say, not at all.

jorsiem25 karma

How did your cameo in Silicon Valley come about? Was it discussed way before or was ot a spur of the moment thing?

thenewyorktimes38 karma

Well, Mike Judge and Alex Berg called me when they were planning the show and asked for my insight and to put them in touch with various Silicon Valley types. I must have impressed them with my acting chops.

ogou25 karma

Are there any idea people left in SV? Do you encounter folks you feel are genuinely inspired and creative? There seems to be an inevitability to the focus on monetization and base motivators in the industry. It wasn’t always like that. Do you get a chance to engage thinkers and experimenters or is mostly money and power brokers?

thenewyorktimes61 karma

Hmm, yes. Nicole Wong. Brian Chesky of Airbnb. Jaron Lanier. Aaron Levie (also funny). I do think Marc Andreessen is a big thinker even when he annoys me. Marc Cuban. Rose Marcario of Patagonia. Jessica Powell.

redct24 karma

Thanks so much for all your great work as a journalist.

I recently went to a book talk by John Carreyrou where he discussed his latest book on the Theranos scandal. He brought up an interesting point about the (stereotypical) Silicon Valley mindset: institutions are not to be trusted and are, instead, to be swept away or disrupted. At the same time, though, institutions are valuable. Some might argue that they're foundational to society.

What do you think has led to this mindset in SV? Why do they have such a distaste for institutions?

Also, did you ever work with John when you were at the WSJ?

thenewyorktimes73 karma

Because they are giant man babies here. Maybe one lady baby. But just one. Essentially, they do not want to be told what to do when they don't know what to do.

I love John and we did an EPIC podcast about the book and his work.

sonofabutch22 karma

It's hard to believe that it was just 10 years ago (OK, 11) that they came out with iPhones; now it's hard to imagine life without a smartphone, and rare to meet someone without one.

What about-to-be-released gadget will become a routine part of our lives in 2028?

thenewyorktimes42 karma

Hmm, these in home devices. Also VR! I am going out on a limb here. I love VR.

sonofabutch21 karma

VR has been the next big thing for about 25 years now...

thenewyorktimes47 karma

I am sticking with my VR love. Used some recently and the penny finally dropped.

hillo53821 karma

Your Wikipedia page says you're running for mayor of San Fransisco in 2023, if you win can you declare a municipal holiday in my honor?

(Also how do you feel about universal basic income?)

thenewyorktimes19 karma

Yes! Every day is a holiday.

I am torn on UBI. It feels like communism to me! But did several great podcasts on it with Chris Hughes and Annie Lowrey.

hamzaKhanMudd20 karma

Thoughts on a liberal arts STEM education ( like Harvey Mudd, Olin) as opposed to the classic tech only model which results in tech wizards not having any understanding of the impact of their work. Do you think it's a viable solution for the future of STEM education? Or is the competitive nature of startups inherently going to give success to people who don't think through the consequences of their products and land first to market?

thenewyorktimes58 karma

STEM is great but it needs to have a big old dose of humanities. I mean who reads 1984 or Sartre or the history of Rome and does not get the patterns?

lonelyperson7489305820 karma

What was your major?

thenewyorktimes51 karma

Comparative and regional studies at School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Whatever that means.

lonelyperson7489305825 karma

Oh, I only ask because a journalist is something that I might be interested in doing

thenewyorktimes112 karma

Take history.

mlstotts20 karma

What odds do you give the populist backlash on Big Tech becoming THE bi-partisan issue of national politics?

thenewyorktimes23 karma

Hmm, there are so many other issues, but it is up there and Trump is definitely good at exploiting it.

doughacker19 karma

Talk about the difference between "Tech" interviews and "Political" interviews. You seem prepared to engage and hold your interview subjects accountable in a way that doesn't happen in the political world. Why? Is it fear of losing access? Something else?

thenewyorktimes41 karma

I have been living part time in DC and have been to a number of events with political reporters. I do find them more docile than I would like, mostly because I seemed unusual to be so publicly challenging the politicians and clearly not being okay with pat answers. It is a lot like that in tech too, so not sure what to say.

doughacker19 karma

It's rare to see a political interviewer even "push back." The norm seems to be a question like "Tell me what you think about topic X." After that, "tell my more about it" or "Tell me about something else."

Almost never do you hear "Wait a minute, you said "y" - I'm going to challenge you on that. In public."

Guess we can't get what we want.

thenewyorktimes74 karma

Yes, I did that a Business Roundtable dinner when a well known exec was saying absolutely incorrect things about China. After a minute of it while others dutifully wrote it all down, I piped up and said: Every word you said is just wrong. Complete silence from the other reporters as if i had puked on the table.

angouri17 karma

Hi, Thanks for doing this AMA! I was wondering what your thoughts are regarding the push from major tech companies (e.g, Google and Apple) to enter the biotech/health world? Alphabet's Verily started with some highly publicized hype surrounding their desire to "disrupt" the biotech industry, but with the Theranos scandal now public, are these initiatives less appealing for the companies? Biotech is notoriously highly regulated in the US; is that feeding into the slow-down of interest, or is it too early to know if/when these initiatives will provide real products?

thenewyorktimes34 karma

Too early to tell. By coincidence I have been spending a ton of time talking to people in the arena. There will be movement but it will be slow. Think about the challenge: Why do we have to die at 85 or so? And can we live until the end in a better way? The end of death part is silly but not life extension.

matthewde_silva13 karma

If you weren't a journalist/writer, what would you be?

What books are you reading right now?

thenewyorktimes22 karma

Hmm, in the CIA. Or military.

The Andrew Jackson bio by Jon Meacham. I tend to stick to history.

thenewyorktimes17 karma

Also Michael Lewis' newest.

Chtorrr13 karma

What is the very best dessert?

thenewyorktimes38 karma

Coconut cake. Also Trader Joe's chocolate covered strawberries.

tcohn0111 karma

Why did FTC study the Internet of Things, but then do nothing about it, no proposed regulation?

thenewyorktimes41 karma

Because it is the feckless FTC

hellorinis11 karma

Love U Kara you give me so much hope. Q: do you feel attitudes in tech have changed in terms of how it's increasingly at odds with the Zeitgeist? How does tech reconcile their self-image as "future-driven" when they seem to be married an Establishment that is about preserving the past? It's almost as if the future imagined by tech is about solving machine (system) problems and the future humans imagine is about solving human problems. This will eventually affect valuations. Because tech has never been as out of touch as it is now.

thenewyorktimes49 karma

I think tech is finally beginning to grok that perhaps people do not think they are as benign and good as they think they are. I think they love their money and power and try to pretend they do not. They then act like victims, when in reality they are sore winners.

shiruken10 karma

We're seeing big tech become an increasingly political issue between election interference, monopolistic practices, and accusations of censorship. How do you see things playing out over the next 5-10 years as we grapple with the impact of these problems?

thenewyorktimes24 karma

They have to respond now. Tech is embedded into everything. Their creations have real impact.

recklessmaterialism10 karma

Do any recent events, developments, people or organizations give you optimism that Tech's mirror-tocracy will soon become a thing of the past?

thenewyorktimes27 karma

No. They are as non reflective as ever. It's a wonder they can see themselves in the mirror.

Like_Eakins10 karma

Would you say Tim Cook as a leader in Silicon Valley is over-rated, under-rated, flies under the radar?

thenewyorktimes30 karma

rated just right.

xtineBru9 karma

Do you use Uber again now that they've "cleaned house"?

thenewyorktimes40 karma

Yes. I use both. But I walk more and also use those dang scooters. I LOVE THOSE SCOOTERS GOD HELP ME!

Speaking of which, I have to go scoot now to pick up my kid at school. But will be back to answer any more later!

swingerofbirch9 karma

You got to interview Steve Jobs several times, IIRC. Did you know him outside of those interviews? Do you think the tech landscape would be different if he were alive today? And in any particular ways?

thenewyorktimes37 karma

I did and I am not sure. I liked Steve because he also ran out of fucks a long time ago.

CaputHumerus8 karma

Hey Kara! One of my proudest Twitter moments was when you liked one of my tweets a million years ago, so I'm super happy to get to ask a question, especially since I'm such a devotee of Recode/Decode.

What do you make of Google's attempt to work with the Chinese government to develop a search engine? You (and many others) have reported that there are strong headwinds internally at Google--mostly from employees who loathe the idea of having to work on a search engine that is designed to censor democratic ideas.

You've been pretty darn on-point with your predictions regarding Google. So... what do you think is going to happen here? Think it'll get released? What kinds of stakeholders are actually influential over a decision to make a product like this? Is it just the C-suite, or are there internal voices we don't know about that are really influential on this issue? Do you think Google has sufficient manpower willing to work on it?

thenewyorktimes14 karma

Well I wrote an entire column on the topic. I think they will do it and reenter China. I think it is very problematic and also has been done with too little transparency. This is a push by the CEO, Sundar Pichai. So far, I can glean no push back from the others there, including Sergey Brin, who was so opposed to China back when. Silent now.

CaputHumerus7 karma

Yep. Sounds right. That column was actually the reason I asked the part of my question about other stakeholders. Normally in business, shareholder uproar is a common reason companies reverse course, but the biggest Silicon Valley companies are so mindbogglingly liquid that they can safely ignore their investors for the most part--but they DON'T when it comes to ethical stuff. There seems to be such a strong resistance to being seen as evil in the Valley (which I assume is because evil is incompatible with recruiting in a field of hopey-changey companies that pay about the same).

It'll be really interesting to see what happens when Google builds this thing should ethical investing firms respond by publicly exiting the company. Such a product would so clearly support an anti-democratic regime that it seems safe to assume it would happen. Google may not HAVE to bow to their pressure, but I sincerely doubt they'll be insulated from the blowback. Here's hoping it's enough, because, I totally agree: this isn't something Google should participate in.

thenewyorktimes13 karma

Oh if they want to be there, they MUST bow. But I think the pushback will come from the employees.

stephenconroy_7 karma

Huge fan of yours Kara and also a fellow tech journalist (though very young!). On that note, what's the best advice you would give to a tech/business journalist who's just starting out?

thenewyorktimes17 karma

Ask good questions. Don't take yes for an answer. Be curious. Don't be lazy.

TheNaughtyMonkey6 karma

Is this about technology, or the social actions of technology companies?

thenewyorktimes10 karma

Both. The impact and consequences of tech.

fatwhiteman6 karma

I see stories about low and mid-level employees complaining/quitting when their employer builds a product for the NSA, for example, but that seems like more of a feel-good story than a true signal of change, since there's a line of disposable employees willing to build whatever they're told to. I see these stories of employees quitting in protest to be a (loud) drop in the bucket. Do you see this affecting major change in SV?

If not: What, if anything, gives you hope that significant change will take place in Silicon Valley?

thenewyorktimes12 karma

Sadly I agree with you. But I like that they do protest at least.

Hope? I have faith more than hope that the world always spins forward.

axisanna6 karma

Who do you believe are the most ethical leaders in SV? Least?

thenewyorktimes26 karma

Hmm, not all perfect, but Benioff, Chesky, Cook. Least, so so many.

matthewde_silva4 karma

Is journalism school worth it for somebody who's already a reporter? If you want to get into the business side of media, is an MBA sensible?

thenewyorktimes29 karma

Leave the j-school degree (gun), take the MBA (cannoli)

mcs_reddit4 karma

Questions for your interview w/Dean Baquet. What is the ethnic breakdown of his newsroom? What percentage graduated from Ivy/private or other elite colleges. What is the paper doing to get a more diverse workforce (ethnic/sex/income, schools...)? Watching the Showtime documentary and any Times' event the majority of the reporters/editors/panelists are white, including the moderators. Often the same moderator interviews the same guests (NYT/non-NYT) . You are the gold standard. Yet. You're interviewing Hillary Clinton for the third time. Nick Kristof and Melinda Gates have interviewed each other several times. You're all awesome but it's not widening the opportunity set for more voices.

thenewyorktimes7 karma

I am not interviewing Dean. I have in the past.

Arthur Sulzberg Jr.?

I really have cast a wide net (look at the podcast list and you will see there are tons of voices), though I also hit the big names. But point taken! Send ideas.

mcs_reddit1 karma

My mistake. Yes, for Arthur, Jr. Thank you for being so thoughtful in your replies (here and Twitter)!

thenewyorktimes3 karma

Of course. I will ask Arthur. In that I was asked to do the interview for the Knight program at Columbia. I went to graduate school there.

stich06023 karma

Big fan of the pod!

Where does Casey rank amongst the Swisher boys?

What's your all time favorite Red Chair interview and why is that?

thenewyorktimes12 karma

Oh, hmm, so many. Steve Jobs obvi. Jaron Lanier, Nicole Wong, Chamath (new one taping this week!), Boots Riley.

johnericm1 karma

Are you investing in Cryptocurrencies? If so, which ones.

Big fan of you and what you do.

thenewyorktimes15 karma

Nope! But I did buy 10 bitcoin many years ago when I was writing a story and I LOST the drive the info was on. I am an idiot.