Tech companies lose their glamour

I have been reading with interest an article by Enrique Dans about ‘The Rise and Fall of Technology Companies’, and his analysis of the latest company rankings from Glassdoor, the site that allows employees of companies in the United States to anonymously provide information about their companies. It is the go-to place for job candidates, because they can discover a lot of good info here. From a company’s perspective, what Glassdoor has to say, can potentially attract or put off new talent.

Glassdoor’s 2020 league table is out, and while some people may complain about the way it collects data, one thing is clear this year, technology companies are losing their glamour. You might be surprised to find that both Apple and Google have dropped their positions: indeed, Google isn’t even in the Top 10 companies to work for. Facebook has dropped 16 places and Amazon isn’t even in the Top 100.

The popular perception is that these companies offer such amazing perks in-house that every young person would want to work there. Having said that, Amazon is fast becoming seen as something of a rogue employer that treats its staff, especially those who make sure we all get our orders, as slave labour.

The magic has gone

Dans says that the Glassdoor league table reflects what the media has been saying for some time. That the big tech companies are losing their mythical status. Indeed, when I use the word ‘glamour’ in this context, it is quite appropriate, as the word originally comes from the Scots in the 17th century and meant “a magic spell.” So, you can see why I say they are losing it, and with the consumer as well as the employee.

What happened?

In 2008 after the collapse of the banking sector, new graduates flocked to the tech guys instead of heading to Wall St. Dans, who teaches, states: “everybody wanted to work for the technology companies: I remember all too well the interest my students showed when I invited a senior figure from one of them to a class. Now, my students are often highly critical of the tech companies. Interestingly, it’s the younger students who are most concerned.”

And the concern is about regulating the big tech companies. Facebook has made this a concern, as we have seen over the last few years. But, who or what is replacing the tech companies as the place most people want to work?

According to the Glassdoor data, it’s a very mixed bag, ranging from software companies like Hubspot, to “consultancies, airlines or hamburger chains.” There is no real trend that is discernible as yet, and we may have to wait a couple of years for one to emerge. But right now the tech companies have lost their glamour — perhaps they should look for a fairy to cast a new spell.

2019: The year Boeing crashed

This year hasn’t been a wonderful one for the airline industry. There have been pilot strikes, drone sightings delaying passengers for numerous days, as well as the end of one of the biggest travel companies in the world –Thomas Cook. But, perhaps one of the most significant stories of 2019 is that of Boeing, the aircraft manufacturer, and one of the biggest names in the business.

Boeing has a long legacy in airline manufacturing and that means most people expect the company to be fairly flawless, especially its products. However, some cracks have been exposed in 2019, starting with the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March 2019, which involved the new Boeing 737 Max 8, the latest model in the famous 737 line.

This was not an isolated incident. In late 2018, a Lion Air flight crashed off the Indonesian coast, again shortly after take-off, and the aircraft was again the 737 Max 8. Clearly there was a problem with the Max 8 model. These were significant crashes, as all passengers and crew were lost in both cases.

As it turned out the problem lay in Boeing’s Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. This system is intended to prevent the aircraft from stalling and uses a single sensor at the front of the plane. It was a tool designed to avert disaster that instead caused it.

What happened at Boeing that this faulty system managed to find its way into the aircraft? The simple answer is that it was there to entice airlines to buy the Max 8. According to Colin Horgan, “Boeing set out to ensure the design of the 737 Max allowed it to share a common Federal Aviation Authority ‘type certificate’ with its predecessors.” The thinking behind this was that current 737 pilots would easily qualify to fly the Max 8, and that would enable airlines to save on pilot training in addition to the fuel savings that the Max 8 promised.

However, the engineers ran into a problem with the Max 8 engine size, because they were much bigger than in the original 737, so they had to be placed in a more forward position. However, this meant that “in a steep climb, the engines would create lift — and that it would handle differently than its predecessors.” The MCAS system was supposed to compensate for this.

The FAA didn’t review the MCAS, which it should have done, instead it handed the responsibility to Boeing based on the fact that the two had for many decades a great relationship. But then Boeing changed the MCAS late on in the plane’s development, and in such as way that the final version was missing a critical safeguard.

Boeing did this to fight off the challenge from Airbus and its A320Neo. Darryl Campbell wrote at The Verge, “Boeing focused on speed instead of rigour, cost-control instead of innovation, and efficiency instead of transparency.”

The ultimate cost of this attempt to win the market was several hundred lives. It also shows us that whilst we have witnessed the big tech companies like Amazon and Facebook come under fire for flouting, or playing with, the regulatory system, this is something that has spread into other sectors, and in this case one where people’s lives are at risk. I’d think twice before getting on a Boeing 737 Max 8 flight, and I’m sure that I am not alone.

Keep big tech out of finance? Seriously!

As Off the Chain writes, this week is a big one for crypto. It may even become a defining week, when at some point we look back at its events.

The Facebook hearings in Congress play a major role in this. David Marcus has faced two different committees, neither of them over-informed about cryptocurrency in general. He sat like one man alone holding back the tide of ill-informed views held by America’s lawmakers. For example, they (and the President) are still convinced that crypto is primarily used for criminal activity, when by now we all know that cash is king in the drug world for starters.

However, while Elizabeth Warren probed the issues of privacy and trust, ever implying that it would be almost impossible to trust Facebook after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the hearing that most concerned crypto’s supporters was that with the Banking Committee.

Old men backed by banks

As numerous journalists have noted, the average age of a US Senator is 61.8 years old, and most of them are not open-minded enough to grasp the innovations that blockchain and crypto can bring to the United States. Most of them have benefitted financially from the old system, so why change it. Who cares about the future when ‘I’m alright Jack’.

Keep Big Tech Out

These hearings were significant, but even more noteworthy was information leaked over the weekend regarding a bill that has been drafted by Congressional representatives aimed at preventing large technology companies from becoming financial institutions. It is literally titled “Keep Big Tech Out of Finance Act” and contains a number of extremely worrying statements, with potentially dangerous ramifications.

The Act targets companies like Facebook, Amazon and Uber, but totally ignores the fact that Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan are engaged in the same blockchain-related projects as the Silicon Valley boys.

And consider this: the same lawmakers who are participating in the Senate Banking Committee hearing, are some of the lawmakers who have received significant donations from the banking industry. These guys are hardly going to make changes that have a negative effect on banking.

The cost of prohibition — America loses

They are also proposing to prohibit digital currencies and this would put the United States and US-based technology companies at a significant disadvantage. There was some irony in Marcus being asked as to why Calibra had registered in Switzerland rather than the USA. There’s your answer, although Marcus simply said they were already an American company.

Several journalists have also noted that this Act proposes a daily penalty of $1 million for any tech company flouting its rules. Significantly, most observers agree that Facebook can afford to pay that fine with ease, and that they will probably just see it as the cost of doing business.

If the United States cannot get behind digital currencies it will lose out to Southeast Asia where there is widespread adoption: instead of Facebook’s Libra becoming a leader, AliPay and WeChat Pay will be the platforms used internationally.

It looks like the Big Tech companies in the US are going to have to play ball with Wall Street, something they have managed to avoid in the past. Will they abandon their attachment to liberal principles and embrace those of the less principled occupants of the Street? Let’s see. But I doubt it will be possible to keep them out of finance in the long term.

Apple’s iPhone 11 gets the thumbs down

The new iPhone isn’t even available yet, but leaks have revealed that Apple fans aren’t happy with the “new, ugly iPhone,” but they are trying to talk it up by claiming that once you use the phone, you’ll forget the aesthetics.

Who would ever have thoguth that Apple could produce a product that anyone would describe as ‘ugly’. The company has built its reputation on being ‘beautiful’.

Gordon Kelly writing for Forbes gets to the crux of the story. He revealed that Ben Gaskin, a popular tech designer, was able to build physical models of Apple’s iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Max based on leaked details of the schematics and the renders.

When Gaskin revealed what they looked like, he asked, “Did you get used to this design already?” The response was quite remarkable, with almost 900 comments and the vast majority of them were overwhelmingly negative with the highest ranked responses including: “Horrible design… it looks soo awkward” and “Steve Jobs would’ve fired everyone.”

What is the problem?

It’s the camera! It is like a carbuncle on the back of the phone, yet as Kelley says, “the irony is this most hated feature is likely to be the iPhone 11’s headline upgrade.” Basically, Apple is sidelining style for substance with both new iPhones, which have the potential to shoot both models back to the top of the smartphone camera charts. This is a position that Apple lost a while back.

The new phones will also have better batteries, which is a plus for many users. But, it is abandoning its leading 3D Touch technology, which means the iPhone 11 and 11 Max will deliver an inferior experience to that of every iPhone since the iPhone 6S. That is a strange state of affairs for the trailblazers in smartphone tech. Furthermore, the front of Apple’s new iPhones will remain unchanged for the third generation in a row.

Kelly suggests you wait until 2020 for the more exciting iPhone and forget this year’s iPhone and XR2 — it sounds like sensible advice.