Dickheads in Tech

The latest dickeads-in-tech news comes from Google this week:

Alphabet Inc.’s Google has fired an employee who wrote an internal memo blasting the web company’s diversity policies, creating a firestorm across Silicon Valley.

James Damore, the Google engineer who wrote the note, confirmed his dismissal in an email, saying that he had been fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.” He said he’s “currently exploring all possible legal remedies.”

The imbroglio at Google is the latest in a long string of incidents concerning gender bias and diversity in the tech enclave. Uber Technologies Inc. Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick lost his job in June amid scandals over sexual harassment, discrimination and an aggressive culture. Ellen Pao’s gender-discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in 2015 also brought the issue to light, and more women are speaking up to say they’ve been sidelined in the male-dominated industry, especially in engineering roles.

It’s good Sundar Pichai fired Damore. Too often we see tech companies remain quiet (at least publically) on these issues and when you remain quiet or don’t take action, it sends a message to the rest of the company that sexual harassment and discrimination is okay. It establishes entitlement. It’s not unlike a parent establishing behavior patterns for their children.

We need not look any further than the President of the United States. We’ve heard him on tape brag about his celebrity status allowing him to grab women by the pussy.

It’s no surprise then to find out Fox News is a close ally of Trump. It also shouldn’t be a surprise to find out the former CEO of Fox News, Roger Ailes, sexually harassment women at the company. This week Fox News suspended Eric Bolling for sending dick pics to female coworkers and of course we can’t forget Bill O’Reilly’s sexual harassment charges and the women to whom he gave millions to so they would remain quiet.

I’ve heard people talk about wanting to “empower” their employees to do great things and establish a great culture at their company, but these things have to be implemented through actions at the top of the company.

It’s only through actions at the top that culture and behavior patterns can cascade down throughout the rest of the company, it can never happen the other way around.

Uber’s Chief Douchebag is Out

Uber Founder Travis Kalanick Resigns as C.E.O.

Travis Kalanick stepped down Tuesday as chief executive of Uber, the ride-hailing service that he helped found in 2009 and built into a transportation colossus, after a shareholder revolt made it untenable for him to stay on at the company.

Mr. Kalanick’s exit came under pressure after hours of drama involving Uber’s investors, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, who asked to remain anonymous because the details were confidential.

Shareholder revolt. Sheesh. So dramatic.

Now that the Chief Douchebag is out, I’m curious if they’ll be replacing him with a less douchey one.

Categories:

Business

Uber, Context Is Everything

David Bonderman Resigns From Uber Board After Sexist Remark:

David Bonderman, an Uber board member and partner at private equity firm TPG, resigned from the board of the ride-hailing company after he made a disparaging remark about women at an Uber meeting on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day at an Uber staff meeting to discuss the company’s culture, Arianna Huffington, another board member, talked about how one woman on a board often leads to more women joining a board.

“Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking,” Mr. Bonderman responded.

The bullshit coming out of Uber doesn’t stop.

That being said, what Bonderman said wasn’t that bad. I’ve been out at a bar with other guy friends and said way worse, and all in good humor. On the other side, I’ve heard women say equally sexist — and equally funny — comments when they’re out having a good time.

The main point to take from this is context matters. The context is everything.

I’ve listened to Howard Stern play ‘Anal Ring Toss’ on his satellite radio show one day, and the next day see him talk to little kids on America’s Got Talent.

There’s a time and a place for everything. Uber executives don’t seem to understand this.

Or care.

Categories:

Business

From the Top, Down

As if there weren’t enough scandals at Uber already, here are just a few headlines from the past week:

A Top Uber Executive Departs, Fraying the Company’s ‘A-Team’

Uber’s CEO Searches for Enlightenment in Company Lactation Room

Uber Weighs Leave of Absence for Chief Executive

Uber’s Travis Kalanick offered sex rules for 2013 party

Regardless of where something bad is happening in a company or who is involved, you have to look at the leadership for clues on what the fuck is going on. Company culture is established at the top and cascades down to the rest of the company. It’s never the other way around.

These are a few bullet points from an email Uber CEO Travis Kalanick sent out to his staff on rules for a company party:

  • Do not throw large kegs off of tall buildings. Please talk to Ryan McKillen and Amos Barreto for specific insights on this topic.

  • Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic “YES! I will have sex with you” AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command. Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML

What a classy guy, that Travis Kalanick.

If you see your CEO conducting himself or herself in a particular way, you’re more inclined to pick up on their behavior in the things you do inside (and many times outside) the company. This idea applies to anyone in a position of power, be it a CEO, a parent, or the President of the United States: they set the tone for how things are conducted, how people are expected to interact with each other, and what is valued.

When Donald Trump calls well-respected news organizations “fake news”, whines on Twitter in the wee hours of the morning like a spoiled 13-year-old girl, and is constantly caught contradicting himself, it gives people permission (incentive?) to act the same way.

That old superhero saying, “with great power comes great responsibility” might feel tired, but it’s true.

The important thing to understand is the values, or lack of values, in the leadership of your country or company might not reflect your own values.

As citizens of a country like the U.S. you have the power to vote for who you think has values that align with your own (this ain’t always easy). When you work for company you potentially have the option to take actions to have a leader removed, or find employment with another company.

Categories:

Business

Tags:

Apple’s $1 Billion US Manufacturing Boost

Apple just promised to give US manufacturing a $1 billion boost:

Apple CEO Tim Cook said that his company will start a $1 billion fund to promote advanced manufacturing jobs in the United States.

“We’re announcing it today. So you’re the first person I’m telling,” Cook told “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer on Wednesday. “Well, not the first person because we’ve talked to a company that we’re going to invest in already,” he said, adding that Apple will announce the first investment later in May.

The fund comes as President Donald Trump has made bringing back manufacturing jobs a big part of his agenda, and it fits into Apple’s larger effort to create jobs across its spectrum, from its own employees to app developers to its suppliers.

This is potentially good news.

I know very little about business and manufacturing, but I do know there’s a difference between starting a fund and paying directly for the creation of manufacturing plants which employ people.

I believe Tim Cook to be genuine in his intentions so let’s just see what happens.

Categories:

Business, Career

Rather Than Innovate, Sue Them

Inside the Hotel Industry’s Plan to Combat Airbnb:

Last year, Airbnb underwent a rough regulatory patch.

The short-term rental company became a Federal Trade Commission target last summer after three senators asked for an investigation into how companies like Airbnb affect soaring housing costs. In October, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York signed a bill imposing steep fines on Airbnb hosts who break local housing rules.

The two actions appeared unrelated. But one group quietly took credit for both: the hotel industry.

In a presentation in November, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a trade group that counts Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide and Hyatt Hotels as members, said the federal investigation and the New York bill were “notable accomplishments.”

Rather than innovate and make booking a hotel room as easy as booking an Airbnb, the hotel industry would rather snitch on Airbnb, form alliances with politicians, and sue them out of existence.

It’s the American way!

I’m not suggesting Airbnb isn’t capable of, or hasn’t engaged in shady business practices like Uber, I’m just saying fighting upstart rivals can’t be the only tool in your box.

Categories:

Business, Law

Tags:

 / 

Uber’s Psychological Tricks

The New York Times has a fascinating look into all the psychological tricks Uber (and Lyft) uses to get drivers to to keep driving:

Uber even published a study last year, using its vast pile of data on drivers’ rides and hours, finding that a “substantial, although not most, fraction of partners” practice an extreme form of income targeting when they start on the platform, though they abandon it as they gain more experience. Strict income targeting is highly inefficient because it leads drivers to work long hours on days when business is slow and their hourly take is low, and to knock off early on days when business is brisk.

The beauty of the messages that Uber sent Mr. Streeter and his fellow drivers is that the drivers need not have even had a specific income goal in mind in order for the messages to work. Some of the most addictive games ever made, like the 1980s and ’90s hit Tetris, rely on a feeling of progress toward a goal that is always just beyond the player’s grasp. As the psychologist Adam Alter writes in his book “Irresistible,” video game designers even have a name for this mental state: the “ludic loop.”

Uber, for its part, appears to be aware of the ludic loop. In its messages to drivers, it included a graphic of an engine gauge with a needle that came tantalizingly close to, but was still short of, a dollar sign.

And the ludic loop is far from the only video game feature that Uber has adapted as a way of keeping drivers on the road.

If taken in isolation, this article isn’t all that crazy, but it’s part of a bigger picture revealing a company whose executives visit karaoke-escort bars in Korea, evades law enforcement with their technology, has a hostile, sexist work environment filed with sexual harassment cases, and give the actual drivers rather shitty compensation considering they’re valued at over 60 billion dollars.

The ultimate goal of a corporation is 100% efficiency and after reading this piece, it’s clear humans are but a stopgap solution until robots start driving (and doing everything else).

Snap’s Valuation

How a Money-Losing Snap Could Be Worth So Much:

By the end of 2016, Snapchat had 158 million daily active users. By comparison, Instagram, probably the closest comparison and a formidable competitor to Snapchat, had about 30 million users when Facebook bought it in 2012 for what was then considered an eye-popping price of $1 billion.

(Facebook had earlier tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion, which its founders rejected — wisely, it now appears.)

And $1 billion now looks like a bargain compared to what investors are paying for Snap. At $34 billion, each of Snap’s daily active users is worth $215, six and a half times per user what Facebook paid for Instagram.

As of January, Instagram reported 300 million daily active users. At $215 each, the Instagram app alone would be valued today at $64.5 billion.

These are static numbers, and what Snap is selling investors is growth. According to Snap’s prospectus, Snapchat user growth was 48 percent in 2016, about the same as the year before. If it can pull that off again next year, it would reach an impressive 234 million users, though still short of Instagram.

The Snapchat story “is all about growth,” Mr. Nathanson said. “It’s not about economics.”

I installed Snapchat maybe 2 years ago and tried using it. It didn’t work out and that’s ok. I’m not in the target demographic. I’m almost 40 and few of my friends use it.

Instagram grew because of the simplicity and broad of appeal of photography. I know people 10-20 years older than me on Instagram and I know people 10-20 years younger than me on Instagram. I post photos on it every day.

Can Snap grow? Who knows.

Tags:

 / 

Greyball

How Uber Deceives the Authorities Worldwide:

At the time, Uber had just started its ride-hailing service in Portland without seeking permission from the city, which later declared the service illegal. To build a case against the company, officers like Mr. England posed as riders, opening the Uber app to hail a car and watching as miniature vehicles on the screen made their way toward the potential fares.

But unknown to Mr. England and other authorities, some of the digital cars they saw in the app did not represent actual vehicles. And the Uber drivers they were able to hail also quickly canceled. That was because Uber had tagged Mr. England and his colleagues — essentially Greyballing them as city officials — based on data collected from the app and in other ways. The company then served up a fake version of the app, populated with ghost cars, to evade capture.

It seems every aspect of Uber is shady as hell. From Greyball, to their toxic work culture filled with cases of sexual harassment, to not wanting to pay drivers as employees with benefits.

In 2015, I linked up to an interesting story of a journalist who went undercover as an Uber driver to find out if it was possible, as Uber claimed, to earn $90K a year driving for them. Spoiler: it is not possible.

Categories:

Business, Law

Tags:

 / 

Figure Out the Money, Twitter

Twitter Struggles to Capitalize on Influence and Posts Lackluster Earnings:

Sports fans were glued to it during the Super Bowl. Millions used it to track American election night results. In the morning, the president of the United States sends a daily missive in the form of a tweetstorm.

“You don’t go a day without hearing about Twitter,” Jack Dorsey, the company’s chief executive, said on a conference call with investors Thursday morning.

There is just one problem: For all of its influence, Twitter cannot seem to capitalize on its wide reach.

The company reported disappointing earnings on Thursday, with sales totaling $717 million in the fourth quarter, up only about 1 percent compared with a year ago. That fell far short of analysts’ expectations of $740 million. Twitter lost roughly $167 million over that period, or 23 cents per share, from a loss of about $90 million in the quarter last year.

I don’t understand this.

I value Twitter as communications tool. Twitter has been my go-to app to check on breaking news for years now. In the rare times I turn on network news, I’m guaranteed to see them quoting something someone said on Twitter (these days it’s usually something our Shithead in Chief is whining about).

Jimmy Fallon uses it all time in bits on his show and I think he’s the only person still using hashtags. Jimmy Kimmel has also been using it for years in his hilarious Mean Tweets segment.

Twitter is firmly planted in popular culture.

Figure it out, Twitter. Businesses in much worse positions than you have.

Categories:

Business, Community

“expanding” as a euphemism for “outsourcing”

Zenefits Is Laying Off Almost Half Its Employees:

Zenefits will lay off 45% of its employees in an effort to slash costs, according to an internal memo this morning that was obtained by BuzzFeed News, a stark acknowledgment by the embattled human resources startup that its onetime expectations for growth were vastly inflated.

Roughly 430 workers will be cut, including 250 in Zenefits’ San Francisco headquarters and 150 in its office in Tempe, Arizona, leaving the company with about 500 employees, according to the memo and a person briefed on the matter. That’s about a third of the size it was a year ago, when it ousted its founding CEO, Parker Conrad, over revelations that it flouted state regulations for selling health insurance.

Ouch.

Towards the end we get more specifics:

Fulcher said in the memo that Zenefits would consolidate its operations group in its Arizona office, while expanding its product and engineering groups in Vancouver and Bangalore to supplement its San Francisco team.

Outsourcing has become commonplace in many U.S. industries, particularly in technology where countries like India have a much larger, better trained, and most importantly, cheaper workforce.

It will be interesting to see how Trump responds after he praised Intel for their plans to build factory in Arizona. He convinced the company Carrier to keep 1,000 jobs in the U.S. by giving them $7 million in tax breaks, but this sort of approach addresses the symptoms of the outsourcing problem, not the causes.

A few of the causes include valuing profit over people, and having an education system that doesn’t always properly equip kids with the skills they’ll need to be relevant in the workforce.

I’m sure Betsy DeVos has insightful solutions to these problems.

Categories:

Business, Technology

Tags:

 /  / 

Millenials be loving vinyl.

The Economist’s Prospero blog explains it’s millenials, not baby boomers, who are driving the boom in vinyl sales:

Many consider nostalgia the driving force behind this uptick. Turntables are cheap and easy to get hold of (a Crosley costs less than $100 on Amazon) and so furnish baby boomers with a good excuse to dust off what remains of their collection, and expand it further. But data show that this isn’t a sufficient explanation: nearly 50% of vinyl customers are 35 or younger, according to ICM. Indeed, it is 25-35 year-olds who are the most voracious demographic, taking home 33% (by comparison, 45-54 year-olds are responsible for only 18% of sales). Millennials might like to carry their favourite songs around with them and discover new artists via streaming apps, but they also want to collect that music in album form.

The key word to understand when it comes to records is experience.

We’re physical animals and we enjoy physical activities, particularly in a world getting more and more digital and virtual.

Tags:

 / 

Your Stuff, Your Responsibility

Apple will replace a lost AirPod for $69:

Following a slightly delay, Apple’s wireless AirPods are ready to order. They’re small and sleek, but the lack of cords has put a nagging thought in the back of my mind: I am guaranteed to lose one, if not both within a few weeks. If you’re equally forgetful, or happen to commute in jam-packed subway carriages, you’ll be happy to hear that Apple will replace a single AirPod for $69 (£65). Given a fresh pair costs $159 (£159), that seems like a reasonable fee. Similarly, a new AirPod charging case will set you back $69 (£65), for the inevitable “I threw it out thinking it was floss” stories.

I’m so confused by this story.

Why is Apple responsible for replacing something you lost?

Life has become way to easy for humans when this is the stuff we get frustrated about.

Categories:

Business

Tags:

 /  /