The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories
Tech-industry workers outraged by President Trump aren’t just protesting and signing petitions: They are volunteering their time and skills to candidates who oppose the Trump agenda (Lauren Smiley in Backchannel). As with so much of the “resistance” movement in tech-land, this is a bottom-up phenomenon, with impassioned employees stepping forward to take action on their own and pressing their companies to live up to their values.
Protest and political action groups continue to emerge, including a plan for a one-day walkout on March 14 — Pi Day (the walkout will be on 3/14 at 1:59 p.m.). The wave of concern and activism isn’t limited to trendy startups and household-name consumer service firms; it’s spreading to “the older, stodgier, less glamorous part of the tech universe,” too, writes David Streitfeld in The New York Times. At companies like IBM, Oracle, Qualcomm, and Cisco, top executives may be working closely with the Trump administration, but workers are pushing their employers to state clearly what ethical lines they will not cross.
In the past, for all sorts of cultural and business reasons, tech firms have either kept their distance from politics or stood up for a narrow, hands-off-my-laptop kind of libertarianism. Smiley’s piece raises the possibility that Trump-era activism could tilt the political landscape of Silicon Valley away from its laissez-faire tendencies toward a more progressive or communitarian vision. Of course, that’s part of the industry’s history, too — going back to the 1970s, when the birth of the personal computer inspired dreams of utopian community that are now mostly forgotten.
Two Faces of For-Real Accountability
What does it actually mean to take responsibility for failures in your job? Two current stories provide complementary answers.
The first gives us a lesson from the engineering world. Instapaper, the popular read-it-later bookmarking service, which is now owned by Pinterest, recently experienced a disastrous outage for several days. It’s back, with no loss of user data. But in an era when we’ve grown accustomed to unbroken 24/7 service from our cloud-based providers, this was a painful episode.
Now we have a full technical post-mortem by Instapaper’s Brian Donohue (Medium). The details might be of interest to you, or not. (There was a file-size limit on Instapaper’s database that it’s engineers didn’t know about or account for.) What’s important here is the full, honest, straightforward public accounting of what happened and why. If every failure in our businesses and institutions received this kind of treatment, think of the collective benefit.
Of course, some failures require more than a let’s-not-do-this-again lesson. If they’re big enough, the company or institution needs to send a signal to stakeholders that someone has taken responsibility for what happened. Toshiba, the Japanese tech giant, has recently had to write off $6 billion worth of a major investment it made in U.S. nuclear energy. With its stock price collapsing, Toshiba announced that its chairman, Shigenori Shiga, would resign (BBC).
That may or may not make a difference to the company’s long-term performance. But at least it sends a message to customers and investors that the buck actually stops somewhere. We needed to hear that message from the U.S. financial giants in the wake of the 2007–8 economic crisis, and never did.
Apple Builds a Temple of Perfectionist Overkill
How’s it going for Apple with the construction of that enormous new headquarters in Cupertino — the one that looks like a crash-landed flying saucer? Julia Love (Reuters) talked with current and former workers on the $5 billion project to assemble a portrait, and it describes a level of attention to detail and obsession with design that may well be unmatched in the history of business.
The project, known as Apple Campus 2, is on a giant scale for Silicon Valley: The circular building will house 14,000 people and harbor 9000 parking spaces along with 7000 trees. It boasts “the world’s largest piece of curved glass.” Despite the size, Apple brought an iPhone-style level of style consciousness to every nook and cranny, from the 30-page specs of the special wood to the threshold-free doorways to the iPhone inspired elevator buttons (and even toilets).
Apple’s design-think is legendary. But is all this office-space perfectionism evidence of corporate dedication to excellence — or institutional obsessive-compulsive disorder? Will it actually help Apple get stuff done and create the next category-defining breakthrough product? From the outside, right now, it looks more like imperial overreach.
In Dubai, Your Next Taxi Will Be a Drone
They may not be jetpacks, but the pilotless airborne taxis Dubai plans to deploy this summer are from the same science-fictional realm. The egg-shaped Chinese-made EHang 184 looks like something out of Futurama and can carry a single passenger up to 30 miles (Mashable). If you weigh less than 220 pounds, you can climb into the drone, press a destination button and let it do the driving — er, flying.
The EHang represents an early entrant in what is bound to be a headline-grabbing new transportation market. (In the U.S., it’s already been tested out in Las Vegas.) Think Uber and Airbnb have pushed the limits of our traffic and regulatory infrastructure? The advent of the passenger drone will kick those conflicts up to a whole new level.