Building Tech Jobs

Hattery engineer Clare Bayley has a great post up on her blog discussing how she built the Engine Advocacy Tech Jobs data visualization, including the source code, which she has made available via GitHub on a CC license. It’s a great read for any coder, but also provides insight into some of the easiest big data tools around, particularly Fusion Tables.

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Engine’s Letter re: STEM Immigration Reform

Today has been a busy day for Engine Advocacy. The team circulated a letter urging Congress to push through high-skilled, STEM-focused immigration reform urgently. The full text is below.

TO THE MEMBERS OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

As a voice of the growing startup community across the United States, Engine Advocacy strongly supports legislation that would keep more highly-educated, skilled, and entrepreneurial immigrants here in the United States to create jobs.  We support H.R. 6429, the STEM Jobs Act introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith; H.R. 6412, the Attracting the Best and Brightest Act introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren; and S. 3553, the BRAINS Act introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, and would urge Congress to pass bipartisan legislation as soon as possible.  This issue is urgent to an industry that relies on cutting-edge ideas and individual creativity.

Students from across the globe attend and graduate from U.S. universities, which are some of the best public and private institutions in the world, particularly for intensive training and research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Every year, highly skilled students are forced to return to their country of origin, robbing the U.S. of skilled labor, a vital resource for economic growth.

These graduates aren’t only taking their own jobs overseas; More than 25 percent of engineering and tech startups launched between 1995 and 2005 were founded or cofounded by an immigrant, according to 2007 survey data collected by the Duke University and the University of California. Without STEM visas similar to those proposed in the above bills, we run the risk of the next Google or Intel or Yahoo launching outside the U.S., creating jobs and economic growth elsewhere.

Our organization is analyzing data which demonstrates that startups are growing in communities across America. The U.S. risks losing its competitive advantage over the next decade if we do not take steps to keep and grow the highly skilled labor force within our borders. This workforce is critical to job growth across the board. As University of California-Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti found in 2010, one high tech manufacturing job generates approximately five jobs in other sectors. At a time when job creation is critical to maintaining our economic strength, Congress must implement policies that maximize this beneficial cycle.

The way to ensure the strength of the economy is to support our startups. Highly skilled entrepreneurs and workers are essential to young, innovative firms. Many are educated in our public institutions and would prefer to start or work for a business here in America than overseas. We urge the Congress to work in a bipartisan, bicameral manner to maintain and increase American competitiveness in the global marketplace. Support the economy by passing legislation that empowers immigrant entrepreneurs to start businesses in the U.S. and strives to retain top technology graduates in our country.

Engine Advocacy

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Let’s remember Assange is no hero

A quick post derived from frustration.

Today, Holmes Wilson of Fight for the Future, curated TechDirt's weekly highlights. He leads by noting the resisted extradition orders by New Zealand for Kim Dotcom and Ecuador for Julian Assange as victories. But let’s be clear: Assange is not being called to Stockholm to answer for his role in Wikileaks, his extradition is being requested by Sweden so Assange can answer charges of sexual assault. This is not a crime of ideology. This extradition request is not about the free and open spread of information through the web or good governance. This is about determining whether a man attacked two women. That should never be condoned.

Holmes is a friend and frequent collaborator. He has done spectacular work helping ensure the internet remains robust and free. Unfortunately, however, his views here, as shared by many activists, forget that this extradition is NOT about Wikileaks.

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Uber Update — Good news

As an update to my post yesterday, from our policy guru Ed Goodman on the ground in DC:

Early this morning, Council members Wells and Evans sponsored a counter amendment to the Uber Amendment. https://twitter.com/Uber_DC/status/222696603964813312

According to DCist, Council Woman Cheh dropped her initial amendment. http://dcist.com/2012/07/cheh_shelves_uber_amendment_after_b.php

A score for the good guys. Congrats, Uber.

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DC Council going after Uber

Travis just sent out a quick call-to-action discussing the DC City Council amendment targeting UberX. The gist: the council is setting a price floor of 5 times a taxi’s minimum fare, which would make it illegal for Uber to have prices lower than that.

This is absurd and another case of DC targeting Uber on behalf of entrenched taxi interests. By the way, have we discussed how absolutely terrible taxis are in DC? No wonder they want to keep Uber out.

I’ve pasted the text of Travis’ email below, including what you can do to help.

Disclaimer: Uber is an Engine member. And, yes, I tweeted this weekend asking for an UberX invite. I didn’t get one.

——-

Un-Independence
On Independence Day, Uber announced a roll out of a lower cost service that we call UberX. A less expensive Uber option on an all-hybrid fleet. We’re pretty excited about it and think it’s a great idea for cities across the country. What some of you probably noticed is that there was no roll out of this service in the District. That is because, only days earlier, the DC City Council informed us that they intended to pass an amendment to the taxi modernization bill that would make it illegal for Uber to lower its prices or to offer a low cost service in any form.

The Council’s intention is to prevent Uber from being a viable alternative to taxis by enacting a price floor to set Uber’s minimum fare at today’s rates and no less than 5 times a taxi’s minimum fare. Consequently they are handicapping a reliable, high quality transportation alternative so that Uber cannot offer a high quality service at the best possible price. It was hard for us to believe that an elected body would choose to keep prices of a transportation service artificially high - but the goal is essentially to protect a taxi industry that has significant experience in influencing local politicians. They want to make sure there is no viable alternative to a taxi in Washington DC, and so on Tuesday (tomorrow!), the DC City Council is going to formalize that principle into law.

For obvious reasons, Uber is seriously concerned about punitive government intervention in a well functioning marketplace. Because of this we felt it was our responsibility to let our riders know about the issues at hand.

Take Action

THE COUNCIL VOTES ON THE UBER AMENDMENT TOMORROW!

If each of us writes or calls our DC Council people, we could make an impact on this law. What are we asking for?

Strike down the MINIMUM FARE language from the Uber Amendment.

Here are the City Council members’ contact info. Call/write as many of them as possible!

Keep the #UberDCLove alive. See full blog post here.

Sincerely,
Travis Kalanick, Uber Co-Founder and CEO

To join the #UberDCLove activism team, click here.

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Brogramming’s externalities: one personal tale

Just read Clare's latest blog post on her experience last week at the jQuery Conference. A well-done, cautionary tale of the harmful consequences of the brogrammer culture: http://clarebayley.com/2012/07/no-line-at-the-womens-room-jquery-con-12/ It’s incumbent upon leaders in the tech community to really take a stand against this damaging and pervasive attitude. Though should they choose to ignore the problem, they do so at their own peril.

Joshua To: Hattery Welcomes General Assembly

joshto:

We’re excited to announce that Hattery will be the home of General Assembly’s San Francisco based classes, the first of which begins tonight in our SOMA office and collaborative space.

GA is a natural partner for Hattery, and we’re excited to be participating in as well as teaching UX,…

BSA proves they are out of touch

Today the Business Software Alliance (Wikipedia) released their 2011 ‘Piracy Report’. What a doozy. Their methodology alone really speaks to why they are less and less legit.

The industry association’s annual report — supported by large software companies including Microsoft, Symantec, and Intuit — focuses on global anti-piracy efforts. As many media outlets explain today, this report is used by the organization as a piece to encourage policymakers to take dramatic steps to reign in software piracy. There’s no question software piracy is widespread, but the BSA’s approach does far more harm than good. Over correcting the piracy problem stifles innovation and competition by raising barriers to entry for startups.

The report today uses almost entirely self-reported data. Obtaining a statistically reliable sample from a self-selected group of participants across the developing world seems unlikely and raises questions about BSA’s method. Further, in their definition of piracy they included software that is not fully licensed. How is an average user going to have any idea whether or not an application they downloaded is fully licensed or not?

The numbers seem rigged to overstate the BSA’s point; this is clearly not an academic report, but something far closer to political propaganda. Nevertheless, we should be able to expect a level of intelligent data analysis that is completely missing here. Almost every year BSA’s total “commercial value” estimate grows, generating headlines about piracy and fostering wrongheaded policies like those we saw in SOPA and PIPA. What’s missing from this conversation is unbiased, statistically sound research that shows the true nature of online piracy. My suspicion is that this kind of data would be much less useful tool to wield in a fight for drastic policy legislation

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Patent Pop

Bubbles and their subsequent bursts are part of the landscape of our economy, our culture; our lives. Silicon Valley is no stranger to this cycle — first the dot com, now the much-talked-of second tech bubble. But the bubble we’re in right now is undeniably focussed around patents.

Let me start off by stating baldly that I believe patent litigation — like the “patent wars” that have been exploding over the tech news recently — is absolutely horrible for innovation. Perversely, the standard counter-argument of those accused of trollery is that patents, and protecting them with litigation, are good for innovation.

That may have been the original aim of patents, but it seems pretty clear that the spirit of the law has been severely compromised when companies exist exclusively to license patents and on taking a cut of the damages awarded in patent lawsuits. The patent wars have been in the news a lot recently (Yahoo’s litigation against Facebook, Facebook licensing AOL patents from Microsoft who bought from AOL, Google buying Motorola as a defensive bulwark), and I recently sat on an entreprenuership panel at Stanford with a representative from Intellectual Ventures and a partner at Morrison Forrester’s patent litigation group, in which they stated that startups would need to spend $300 thousand in legal expenses in their first two years in order to protect their intellectual property. If that video is ever made public, you’ll see two things: what my poorly contained (for the sake of decorum) frustration looks like, and an example of the insidious scare tactics used by patent trolls.

Startups don’t need to be worrying about spending $300K on lawyers in their first two years; they need to worry about building a great product. That money would be much better spent on hiring 3 or 4 developers. Unfortunately, the current system — which Intellectual Ventures profits from — leaves startups (and potential entrepreneurs) in fear of legal battles and thus deterred from building great products and services. That’s not to say legal counsel isn’t important for startups. I believe firmly that good attorneys can be one of a startups greatest assets — but I would be extremely hesitant to trust counsel that advocated for spending that much money on what amounts to patent warfare at such an early stage in a company’s growth.

Intellectual Ventures is happy enough to accept the status quo, but it doesn’t make sense for the vast majority of companies to follow their lead. The (justified) anger that has been mounting from the startup community toward patent trolls indicates that the system is unsustainable — this bubble is set to burst. The cracks are already beginning to appear — Twitter’s commitment to use patents only for defensive purposes may well turn out to be practically meaningless, unless other large patent holders follow suit. But the stand was taken nonetheless, and a step taken in the process of getting real, useful patent reform.

We need to explore better ways to protect intellectual property reasonably, but not so much that we can’t improve on and innovate basic frameworks. Patent reform should end the current system in which patents are assets. One way to do this is to revoke patents from owners who do not actively use it after a period of time, to ensure that patents are actually available for use and to cut down on patents granted that are not useful. We need to have a clear system of transferability of patents. We need to build an international framework for filing patents, so that patent holders don’t have to file for a patent in every country. We need a system that encourages innovation, not stagnation and cumbersome litigation.

The best way for tech companies to innovate is to continue to build great products and remain ahead of any competition by continuing to innovate. There’s a famous Samuel Sass quote — actually a misquote — that says “everything that can be invented has been invented”. I don’t believe this is true. But it might be if we don’t change the framework for patents.

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Patent Bubble

I’ve been working on a longer-form piece on what I believe is the new bubble in the tech community: patents. Hopefully I’ll find time to finish and post that this week. But in the interim, the news of Facebook licensing AOL patents from Microsoft is just so ironic and dismaying at the same time, it can’t be ignored. A smart move by Facebook, but demonstrates how far down a bad path we are getting. Those of us that are actively building companies know this is a dangerous and sad road.

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