Hopes for undocumented immigrants stranded in political limbo will have to wait at least another year. In a wide-ranging interview on congress’s next session, Representative Darrell Issa, who drafted the high-skilled version of immigration reform, says there’s too much “animosity” on the issue within the government to find a meaningful compromise before the next election.
“Comprehensive immigration reform is hard to do with the best environment between the executive branch between the House and Senate. We don’t have the best opportunity,” he explains. “if we can find a compromise that is bi-partisan on the 11 million [undocumented workers], I think we begin to defuse some of the animosity. It doesn’t mean we get a bill past for the next election.”
The senate passed comprehensive immigration reform last June, but House Republicans fear fierce political backlash because the bill grants a path to citizenship for most undocumented workers.
So, to get things moving along, last fall, Issa introduced his own path-to-citizenship compromise that provides legal working status for six years. A majority of undocumented immigrants could “come out the shadows”, freeing up resources to investigate the criminal portions of the undocumented population and giving more time to figure out how to deal with the new legal population, especially of agricultural workers.
Naturally, it’s been denounced by all sides as being either too pro-amnesty or anti-immigrant. 2014 is a crucial election year, with Democrats facing a mid-term election with a (relatively) unpopular president, and Republicans facing stiff competition from the uncompromising conservative Tea Party faction.
Most polls, including our own ongoing CrunchGov Google Surveys poll, show that a slim majority (51%) of Republicans will not vote for a candidate that supports an eventual path to citizenship, compared to 71% of Democrats who would support such a candidate (we’ll have more details when our survey is complete).
Suffice to say, comprehensive reform is a political landmine and congress is–to put this diplomatically–risk averse.
Issa is optimistic, however, that the tech community could wield its considerable political power to force Congress to separately pass high skilled immigration reform, by declaring that “‘As a tech community, I refuse to be held hostage to endorsing what we need, that has nothing to do with these other problems.’”
Specifically, the ability to allow congress to vote on high-skilled immigration reform is up to the leaders in both houses. Issa says the House Leader John Boehner will allow Congress to vote this year on high-skilled reform, and that there’s a political incentive for President Obama not to oppose a separate vote in the senate.
But, as far as comprehensive reform goes, hopes that it would pass in 2014 are dwindling. We’ll have more with our interview with Rep. Issa, as well as a detailed look at the future of immigration reform in the near future.
Today at its CES keynote, Yahoo announced a new product, News Digest, to help people stay “quickly informed” on the day’s big topics by sending out twice daily updates, or digests.
The content is a curated “blend” of information, using several sources to create news stories. Yahoo calls the individual stories “atoms.” The goal of News Digest is to bring users “comprehensive, effortless, and complete” information on their world.
The product represents Yahoo’s first product built on top of Summly, a company that it purchased that had a focus on gisting information to small summaries.
Yahoo’s own stated goal is to “give users a daily source of news that they are missing today.”
The new service fits well inside Yahoo’s new rubric of building mobile applications that help users with their daily tasks. News Digest is designed to be used at least twice daily, so it could have high resonance among its user base.
Yahoo’s keynote address also included various notes on its content strategy, which is expanding. It seems logical that its own reporting will be folded into News Digest. We’ll have hands on notes in short order.
My startup recently failed. I was the CEO, and it was in a super-hot space with three other competitors. Two of the competitors were acquired and the founders in both companies became super-wealthy. I checked out their LinkedIn profiles and for most of the founders, it was their first startup.
With only two startups left, our other competitor’s growth stalled while ours went through the roof. We were way in the lead until we tried to raise our next round of funding. The VCs did not want to invest any more money. We tried laying people off, but in our frenzy to grow quickly, we ran out of money and had to shut down.
Meanwhile, the stalled competitor had scaled down operations earlier than us, which naturally gave them more runway. They ended up pivoting into a tangential space where they (accidentally?) hit on a big new hot trend. Almost a year after they scaled back, they were now raised a round of funding at a huge valuation.
Should we have done something differently? How did I screw it up when I was ahead? I can’t get over the feeling like none of it is fair. I get the feeling that other people keep winning big all around me, except for me. Do you have any advice that can help me?
Hi Almost Famous,
Your story is so common that it has been told for thousands of years and countless ways. It is straight out of Taoist mythology. Here is how I usually modernize it.
A father has a son. Everyone congratulates him and says “What great news!” The father responds: “Maybe.” The son grows up and breaks his arm in baseball. Everyone says: “What bad news the broken arm is!” The father responds: “Maybe.” A war breaks out and the military rejects his son due to the arm injuries. Everyone says: “What good news the broken arm was!” The father responds: “Maybe.” The son goes off to war anyhow. Everyone says: “What bad news your son went off to war.” The father responds: “Maybe.” The son is part of the platoon that kills the dictator. Everyone says: “What good news your son went off to war.” The father responds: “Maybe.”
I think that I will use your version of the Taoist myth instead now, because it illustrates the same structure but using terms I love.
An entrepreneur starts a company and gets millions in venture capital. Everyone congratulates him and says “What great news about starting a company!” The entrepreneur responds: “Maybe.” The company’s growth stalls. Everyone says: “What bad news about your growth!” The entrepreneur responds: “Maybe.” A bunch of companies in the same space are acquired. Everyone says: “What good news about the acquisitions!” The entrepreneur responds: “Maybe.” The company lays everyone off to extend runway. Everyone says: “What bad news about layoffs.” The entrepreneur responds: “Maybe.” The company pivots and raises a mega-round of funding. Everyone says: “What good news about the funding!” The entrepreneur responds: “Maybe.” The company runs out of money and shuts down. Everyone says: “What bad news about starting that company!” The entrepreneur responds: “Maybe.”
“What could have been” haunts us only when we forget that “what will be” alone can illustrate the full depth and measure of “what is”.
Are you going to let yourself be defined by what could have been?
Or are you going to appreciate the here and now, and create what can be?
“Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.” ― James A. Michener
I can hear your response already: “but so-and-so didn’t have to wait for their third and fourth tries.” Then so-and-so is the one you should pity, not yourself.
It is your turn to build character this time instead of hording money. Relish it. Treasure it. Learn to appreciate it and be grateful for this opportunity. Your failure is your accomplishment, wear it proudly. Your failures build character like tearing muscles builds scar tissue. It makes you fucking buff.
Nobody can build character for you. Think of your heroes. Are they people full of character? Guess how they got it. Was it by obsessing on what could have been? The experiences you are having right now are irreplaceable and precious and rare.
Fortunes come and go. Building startups is a long game. It is not long on money. You might win money in one startup, then invest it all and lose it the next startup. Startups are long on character. This is the dirty little secret nobody tells you up front: the spoils go to those left standing.
For 18 months I’d been waiting. Biding my time until life shifted weight. During those days, I cried my tears, drowned my sorrows, and forgot my worth. I burned bridges and built walls, lost control and found my failings. I wandered and I wondered, anxiously anticipating the day when the waves of self-loathing would stop crashing against the shore of my heart.
I was waiting for that one moment; the instant when things would change and the past truly becomes the past.
It’s a quiet movement, a tiny bend in time hidden in the space between yesterday and today. It’s like the kindness of a friend, the potential in a first kiss, or the longing of a last dance; something so insignificant, it has the power to change your life. It’s hidden in a glance and slipped beneath a smile. That moment when your imperfections become perfect and your battles scars become badges of honour.
Sadly, that moment isn’t meant for you or me. It’s intentionally elusive. A puff of smoke on the wind; a single drop in the ocean.
It’s what we all look forward to, lust after, and long for. But, try as we might, we can never quite catch it. Instead of holding it in our arms and celebrating its arrival, it hurries past like a stranger on the street. Unacknowledged and unappreciated; an unrequited love just out of reach.
It’s a heartbreaking thought, knowing that you’ll never find yourself in that moment. Like a love letter with no signature, or a song with an unfinished refrain; you’re left wondering what it would have felt like, what you would have felt like, the instant things were finally ok.
Moving forward is a slow process, one that’s filled with subtle victories. Lesser experiences that, when combined, soothe the sting, soften the blow, and smooth the edges. As much as you want to, need to, comprehend the healing, it’s foolish to expect that you’ll ever really understand. Your job is simply to live whatever life your mended heart can.
Because in the space before the moment, the hours before the understanding, that’s when you change.
You can’t be whole until you’ve found your holes. Until you’ve fallen from grace and lost your way, you can’t see what’s standing right in front of you. Instead, you overlook the little details, ignore the kindest words. You hurt the ones you love, and fall in love with your hurt.
We accept the love we think we deserve; only then can we mend and make peace with the past. Your bad decisions can never be undone; you can never unsay the hurtful words, or erase your worst memories. Just know that your mistakes are what make you, not what break you.
To those of you who are waiting for your moment, searching for the silence of self-acceptance, this is a gentle reminder to be kinder to yourself. Calm the voice in your head that refuses to let you heal. Your moment is coming.
The beautiful part is that you don’t know it now, and you won’t know it then.
I work in a building of 2,000 engineers. Where the most compelling language is written by programmers. Where English is as relevant as “C++,” fiction usually has “science” in front of it and a cloud that hosts is the closest existing thing to pathetic fallacy.
It took about two weeks of working at Microsoft to figure out that the English skill set is not always completely aligned with the world of engineering. As one of the only new hires that did not come from a business or STEM major, I became acutely aware of my computer science shortcomings. Wasn’t “C#” a note on the piano? Wasn’t a “syntax error” something grammatical? My ideas for new features were stymied by a limited understanding of what was even possible to code. My product suggestions were derailed by a lack of perspective on the level of effort required. If I spoke English, my engineering counterparts spoke Parsel-tongue. And if I wanted to get anything done, I would have to speak Parsel-tongue too. Which seemed to mean MOOCs in Java, /r/learnprogramming, and endless redirects on Wikipedia. Dark wizardry.
So I set about scoping the necessary steps to achieve marginal tech prowess. If one of my ideas was ever going to get built, I needed to command respect (or at least attention). An intimate knowledge of Virginia’s Woolf’s diaries did neither.
So I spoke with many engineers. I enrolled in Codecademy. I read The Dynamics of Software Development.Until one of my developer mentors (or pitiers) stopped me; at the end of the day, it wasn’t going to make that much of a difference whether I could turn a button on a screen blue. Microsoft didn’t need more coders. What it did need was a deep knowledge of market landscape, people who could instigate passion for technology and business acumen. These are things developers may not have. These are things easily tailored to an English skill set. Let me show you how.
1. Know the Market.
As rampant readers, we are well-positioned to cover serious industry ground. We read and synthesized all six Jane Austen novels (plus the two unfinished ones) in 10 weeks. We can read a TechCrunch article in 60 seconds. So, TechCrunch. Also: AllThingsD, PandoDaily, Reddit, Quora, Slashdot, Gizmodo, Ars Technica, VentureBeat, Engadget, The Verge, Mashable, Kickstarter.
Once you get your feet wet, find a VC or angel investor you like, and follow the people they follow on Twitter. Consequently, your Twitter profile will probably have enough traction to qualify for a Quibb.com account. So apply for one, using your work email. Quibb is an online community where members share what they’re reading for work. See what a software engineer at Amazon is reading, or an interaction designer at IDEO or a trends analyst at Google. And ask thoughtful questions as you go along. You may not have any idea what an API is, but a demonstrated interest and well-informed curiosity can warm the heart of a coder.
Industry landscape is valuable context for any meeting — regardless of whether you know backend workings of the feature or product in question. For example, you may not know squat about the security measures required to safety-proof tablets for students, but knowledge of the recent iPad fiasco in Los Angeles public schools is valuable context for a discussion on the topic.
2. Develop a passion for technology, and cultivate it in others.
It’s hard to do all that reading without getting invested in something. Robot baristas at Briggo taking human error out of your morning coffee. Crowd-funded travel site Trevolta, is ready to make your dream trip a reality. Or what about TacoCopter, aiming to deliver tacos via unmanned drone helicopter in the Bay Area?
Use your communications skill set to translate tech speak into people speak, and activate other enthusiasts. Do it on your blog (and make that public), do it in your tweets, do it in your conversations. You may not speak Parsel-tongue, but you can speak the hell out of the vernacular. Be ready to give that 30-second demo or 60-second elevator pitch.
3. Business Acumen.
This one might actually be a stretch. But I think (hope) it comes with experience in the corporate world. With conference calls, meetings, deck creation, feedback, talking to your manager, seeing your projects succeed and fail. God knows we can annotate. So bring a pen and paper to meetings, and keep tabs on your experiences. They’re not ones you can get from a computer.
Much has been said about the negative side-effects of San Francisco’s latest tech boom: rising housing prices, evictions, gentrification… all regularly recurring topics in local media and blogs.
And now, this war of words is reaching a boiling point: on December 9th, 2013, a group of anti-eviction protesters blocked a “Google Bus” — the of gentrification symbol-du-jour — at a MUNI stop while chanting and distributing anti-gentrification literature. It was the most tangible expression of pent-up frustration since Mission residents smashed a Google Bus piñata in May.
And then, a few days later, AngelHack CEO Greg Gopman added fuel to the fire with a lengthy, entitled, and incredibly elitist diatribe on San Francisco’s homeless population. In the fine tradition of Peter Shih, Mr. Gopman reinforced the callous and privileged techie stereotype, giving displaced locals even more reason to rage at tech.
But all this back-and-forth begs the question: if gentrified communities are losing the battle, are tech workers truly winning?
San Franciscans have long had a strained relationship with outsiders who’ve come to the City, en masse, in search of fulfillment. Whether such fulfillment is economic (be it gold in 1848 or an IPO in 2013) or emotional (such as the beatniks and hippies in the 50s and 60s), the City by the Bay has always lured outsiders by promising them a dream: something bigger and better.
Sometimes, this creates conflict with existing San Francisco residents, whether they’re natives, or recently moved there with the last wave of transplants. Some of this friction comes from cultural differences and shifts, and some from rising housing costs. Gentrification happens when boom money trumps neighborhoods and culture, and the current tech boom has turned gentrification up to 11.
Nobody likes being displaced — or change in general — which is understandable, even predictable… but we’ve been here before. Ever since the Gold Rush, the City’s lived on a gut-wrenching boom-and-bust cycle.
That being said, no two booms are exactly the same. And this new boom’s scale and seemingly permanent nature, as well as the backlash’s intensity, seems new.
Sympathy for the Devil
Like the last tech boom, the “natives vs. transplants” discussion is being framed with existing residents as natives (as long as they pre-date the current boom), and tech workers as transplants. But no matter which side of the fence you claim, there are sympathetic characters — and people at fault — on both sides.
Inside the Bubble
It’s hard to feel sorry for Silicon Valley. The tech industry exists in a bubble (both literal and figurative) that blinds it to not only problems throughout the world (for which the solution is always technology), but also to problems in its own backyard.
Indeed, as much as we may scoff at Willie Brown for wagging his finger at the tech industry, he has a point — inequality, displacement and loss of culture are real issues, affecting real people, and lead to some ugly places. Social unrest, instability, violence… if it sounds outlandish, it isn’t. In fact, it’s already happened.
The rank-and-file tech workers, derisively called “techies,” receive the brunt of residents’ animosity. And while they do have a reputation for being arrogant, crass and oblivious to the communities they’re transforming, the real problem stems from the industry’s top brass, and the local and state governments that enable them. But the low-level tech workers we all love to rag on are simply more visible.
Alas, I doubt Silicon Valley executives will personally experience as much vitriol as their foot soldiers have.
But some people, acting and speaking for everyone else, are squandering this goodwill by acting incredibly foolishly and shortsightedly. For example, this week’s Google Bus protest was, in and of itself, a fairly standard and harmless (albeit inconvenient for those on board) move. And it brought up some good points: why do Google Buses get to use MUNI stops without paying for them, when everyone else would get fined? And what is their role in creating a two-tier system here?
But then, Max Bell Alper, a vocal Oakland activist, tossed that all aside by staging— without prior notification — a confrontation between a protester and a fake, laughably stereotypical, hyper-libertarian Google employee. As soon the media outed Alper, people’s focus turned from a potentially meaningful conversation between techies and residents to condemnation of his stunt.
He’s right to catch so much flack: not only did he waste a valuable opportunity for both groups to engage on these contentious issues, he’s damaged the anti-gentrification/displacement movement’s credibility. Even those without ties to Alper will now face more scrutiny. Deception never, ever begets allies.
Ironically, once the protest wound down, the people I felt the most sympathy for were the techies, trapped on the bus as they watched it all unfold. It so existentially symbolized their position — trapped between their employers’ actions and their neighbors’ reactions — that Franz Kafka could’ve penned it had he lived in the Internet Age.
No Winners. Only Losers.
Let’s face it: the people winning this debate are safely out of its reach. While techies and their neighbors go at it on Twitter and on the streets, Silicon Valley’s elite and their loyal politicians are laughing their way to your Ellis Act’d apartment.
In fact, for all their differences, new techies and old residents have a lot in common: despite popular belief, they’re both just trying to get by, they’re both caught up in forces beyond their control, and they’re both fighting — instead of engaging — each other.
Whether it’s a young tech worker getting harassed on the street, or an elderly woman trying to keep her apartment, they’re both suffering this crisis’ detriments, while the people who actually created it reap all the benefits.
Finding a Solution
So what can frustrated residents and confused tech workers do about it?
The first thing they must do is talk constructively with each other. For techies, this means no more entitled rants. For residents, it’s no more name calling. And for Max Alper, no more deception! Honest conversations must take place about the eviction crises’ real causes, and then about viable solutions.
Once both sides realize that they’re all pawns in this big game, they can start formulating a workable solution for everyone — and then pressure City Hall to adopt it. That’s not to say that it’ll be easy: there’s a big gap to bridge, and finding a solution will take time, energy and compromise from both sides.
But people can actually affect change — and hopefully stem the displacement crisis — only after having these conversations.
The Google Bus Protest and Inequality in Silicon Valley
— Protest and awareness is a start, but problems require solutions
Blaming ‘Techies’ for Housing Crisis Misses Bigger Picture
— There are larger forces at play for Bay Area’s housing and gentrification issues.
Computer Science isn’t what most people think it is. Every day I come across job postings looking for CS people to help them develop an app, or a website, or a WordPress template, or something of that nature. There’s an assumption — perhaps an expectation — that any CS major will of course be able to create an app or a site, because it’s all just code.
But there is a difference between a “computer scientist”, and someone who can build a good version of an app or a site, the kinds we think of and use around the consumer web. To me, a computer scientist is someone exploring the frontiers of computing — discovering algorithms, new techniques to improve algorithms, and using those algorithms to solve large problems. This stands in contrast to “hackers”, people who build for (and on) the consumer web.
It’s vitally important to have both. In a nutshell, hackers build upon the great work pioneered by the scientists, and realize their potential to benefit the world. This is backed up by the job market as well — on AngelList, a site for startups to reach out and find talent (among other things), Rails developer and iOS developer positions (“hackers”) command a 6-figure starting salary. That’s on par with or higher than senior developer positions at Microsoft, IBM, and large banks.
Very few people are both scientists and hackers. A problem arises when people assume that scientists are hackers, based on an unclear distinction between the two. And the problem gets worse when we realize that the demand for hackers is actually a lot greater than the demand for scientists, as evidenced by all the job postings around college campuses and sites like AngelList.
Meanwhile, high school and university intro CS courses often teach Python, or Java, and have students complete contrived projects, before diving into the depths of algorithms, functional programming, and operating systems. These courses educate and train scientists; there is a lack of similar intro web development or mobile development courses for the hackers.
This leaves millions of students without practical experience in building the things people need and want. It also does nothing for the misconception that all scientists must be hackers.
Instead, we could make a powerful impact by adding Django to that intro Python course, or replacing Python with Ruby and Rails. Projects could include faculty-provided Rails structure and front-end templates so students can focus on the backend. In this way, the class can still teach the basics of CS, but also practical and immediately accessible skills. Or throw in the Android SDK as part of an intro Java course, and over the course of a semester students can build an actual app. Maybe the Python/Ruby students can build a JSON API, and the Android students can interact with it. Suddenly we see something immediately relevant and applicable, with very few if any trade offs to be made.
In doing so, we start to blur the line between scientists and hackers. The former gains practical expertise that satisfies market demand, while the latter learns skills that help them hone their craft. Computer science doesn’t have to be one or the other — it can easily cater to both, and create a win for scientists, hackers, and the people who seek them out to build great things.
Feifan Zhou is studying computer science at Cornell University. He is cofounder + CEO at @Tunetap and Technical Director @ArtZoco