Facebook has 113 open data positions

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If you’re interested in data you should subscribe to the Data Elixir newsletter, curated by Lon Riesberg (@lonriesberg). He recently highlighted Facebook’s career page for Data and Analytics folks.

Facebook have a whopping 113 open positions for ads, finance, IT, Instagram analytics, monetization, product analytics and growth, to name a few. It’s just one of the indicators of how important data analysis is for every aspect of running a major company.

Women in tech: It’s not just a pipeline problem

Rachel Thomas, math PhD, software developer and instructor at the Hackbright Academy recently wrote an article about women in tech titled “If you think women in tech is just a pipeline problem, you haven’t been paying attention“.

According to the Harvard Business Review, 41% of women working in tech eventually leave the field, compared to just 17% of men. In the post, Dr Thomas tries to identify why:

I’d rather wake up early than stay up late, and I was already thinking ahead to when my husband and I would need to coordinate our schedules with daycare drop-offs and pick-ups. Kegerators and ping pong tables don’t appeal to me. I’m not aggressive enough to thrive in a combative work environment. Talking to other female friends working in tech, I know that I’m not alone in my frustrations.

So, it’s not only a matter of encouraging women to go into tech and creating role models (Ada Lovelace Lego figure anyone?) but also a matter of retaining those who actually do join.

If you would have asked me yesterday I probably would have talked about women in tech being more of a pipeline problem. I didn’t realise the retention statistics were so poor. Last time we hired a developer in Iceland, only one (very promising) application we received was from a woman. When we asked her to come in for an interview someone else had already snapped her up. But even if there is a pipeline problem, the post highlights that there’s also a culture problem that those of us in tech should be aware of when we do manage to snap up the female talent in the field.

Pitch deck collection

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I came across this via the private Seedcamp Slack channel and it’s been very useful recently. It’s a collection of pitch decks various different companies have used when they have been fundraising.

Alexander Jarvis’ Super Awesome Pitch Deck Collection

It includes pitch decks from LinkedIn, AirBnb and Foursquare. One of my favourites is from MixPanel, who raised $65M from Andreessen Horowitz recently. MixPanel state their problem more succinctly than most:

Most of the world will make decisions by either guessing or using their gut. They will be either lucky or wrong.

The collection also features lots of less well known companies, some who have been successful and some who have closed shop. If you’re looking for inspiration for your deck, the Certified Super Awesome Pitch Deck Collection is not a bad place to start.

The Software Paradox – book review

The software paradox

Over the weekend I came across a great book (via Hacker News – where else) being given away for free from O’Reilly media called The Software Paradox.

I always used to recommend Eric Raymond’s excellent, but slightly geek oriented, The Cathedral and the Bazaar to people who asked me about why companies would ever invest in open source software when they would get no direct monetary benefit from said software via licensing fees.

Now I can recommend a new book, The Software Paradox. It gives an excellent historical overview of how people have perceived the value of software and how this perception has changed over time. Why were IBM so relaxed about letting a new company, Microsoft, own the intellectual property of the operating system that powered the IBM PCs allowing Microsoft to eclipse IBM in value in less than 10 years? And after making so much money from selling Windows, why is Microsoft now giving it away for free?

The Software Paradox also discusses case studies from various different companies from well known names such as Microsoft and IBM to lesser known (but sexier) players like Atlassian.

I’m personally not so sure the software market has decreased as much in value as the book contends. Software as a service is still a big and growing business. But the book is a very enjoyable read nonetheless.

The human spreadsheet

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Ben Evans paints a vivid picture of technology replacing humans in a recent blog post describing the 60s film The Apartment:

In effect, every person on that floor is a cell in a spreadsheet. The floor is a worksheet and the building is an Excel file, with thousands of cells each containing a single person. CC Baxter is on the 19th floor, section W, desk 861. The links between cells are made up of a typewriter, carbon copies (‘CC’) and an internal mail system, and it takes days to refresh whenever someone on the top floor presses F9. (Shirley MacLaine plays an elevator attendant, so this is actually a romance between a button and a spreadsheet cell.)

One spreadsheet instead of an entire building. I wonder if they unionized?

The post is interesting (and long) and discusses topics like the my pet hate, the innovator’s dilemma (see earlier post) and how new technologies, tools and workflows replace old ones.

For decades, [MS Office’s breadth of features and market] has prompted the idea that if most people don’t need most of the features, a competitor, with fewer features but cheaper or with different routes to market, can peel away more and more of the users, leaving behind only the very core power users. This never really happened, and it seems to me that this may be the wrong way to think about the issue.

Excel replaced entire buildings of people sitting at desks, but who is going to replace Excel?

If you’re interested in Slack, disruptive innovation and technology, it’s well worth a read: Office, Messaging and Verbs.

From the ashes of Nokia rises Realm, a database that runs on 500 million phones

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My first mobile phone was a Nokia 3210 which, according to Wikipedia, was one of the most successful mobile phones in history. Nowadays, anyone who is typing “Nokia” into a search engine is probably looking for a Wikipedia entry. Nokia is history.

What happens when a company, that dominated a global high tech industry for a decade, all of the sudden loses its footing? You end up with a lot of very clever people, with intimate inside knowledge of the industry, that have to look elsewhere to fulfill their ambitions.

One year ago two ex Nokia employees launched a new database specifically made for mobile phones, called Realm. According to Business Insider their software is now used on more than 500 million devices.

We witnessed a similar effect in Iceland after the first internet bubble early in this century. The most prominent tech company, called Oz, collapsed when the bubble burst after having raised and spent tons of capital. Analysis done since on the ecosystem that sprung out of all the knowledge that had been accumulated revealed that ex Oz employees were powering a large part of the Icelandic digital ecosystem a decade later.

What happened to Oz? It was resurrected and eventually acquired by Nokia. Note the date on that news item, 30 September 2008. The first Icelandic bank to collapse did so on the 29th of September, one day before that post was published.

I’m betting that out of the ashes of Nokia will rise a multitude of interesting companies both in the mobile space and in other industries. I look forward to reading more stories like the one about Realm.

 

Dropbox resurrects Clippy

Clippy

Were you a fan of Clippy, the anthropomorphised paperclip that followed you around with cutesy advice when you were trying to use Microsoft’s Word? If so, you’re in for a treat. Dropbox are so happy with their new collaboration feature, which lets multiple users collaborate on Word documents, they’ve decided to resurrect the little guy. As a Dropbox logo.

searchI was not a fan of Clippy, in case you were wondering. If ever there was a feature that belongs in the toolbar and not hovering over my document, breaking my concentration, it is this. So does Dropbox deserve a nomination for the tech Darwin award? Is Dropbox Clippy a mistake? Probably not.

Storage is being commoditized. Google offers Drive and free photo storage and competing with Amazon on margins is like competing with a fish in holding your breath under water. Dropbox need to create value-add services so that current customers, like myself, stay with them. We already collaborate on documents on Dropbox at Datasmoothie, so this is a useful addition if it works. And Dropbox are right to have it hover over the document, Clippy-style, so that we notice it. Sure there should be a button to relegate Clippy to the toolbar but this is an interesting attempt to differentiate from the competition.

As a user I was annoyed. But in general, I am impressed.

Drifting to the anti-GMO team

Frankenstein and me

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, mathematician, philosopher and occasional troller, has been tweeting a lot about how worried everyone should be about Genetically Modified Organisms or G.M.O.s. At first I found this surprising. Surely some super-plant funded by the Bill Gates foundation that solves world hunger is a good thing?

Taleb has now co-written an opinion piece in the New York Times, titled Another ‘Too Big To Fail’ System in G.M.O.s. Taleb draws parallels between how the financial system is structured and what a genetically modified ecosystem looks like:

by leading to monoculture — which is the same in finance, where all risks became systemic — G.M.O.s threaten more than they can potentially help. Ireland’s population was decimated by the effect of monoculture during the potato famine. Just consider that the same can happen at a planetary scale.

Think of the genetically homogenous Aztecs being defenseless against a common disease from Europe. Monoculture, i.e. the lack of variety, can increase systemic risk. If a gene sequence is so useful it ends up in all of the worlds rice for example, and 20 years later we find out it exposes the rice to some previously obscure disease, we’ll have a global rice shortage. And a lot of people depend on rice.

But it’s not just the monoculture that is worrying. It’s also the scale of the experiments. Nature itself does experiments with mutations on a local isolated scale. GMO experiments are genetic modifications that are introduced into a whole crop at once.

we are told that a modified tomato is not different from a naturally occurring tomato. That is wrong: The statistical mechanism by which a tomato was built by nature is bottom-up, by tinkering in small steps (as with the restaurant business, distinct from contagion-prone banks). In nature, errors stay confined and, critically, isolated.

Genetically modified organisms are starting to sound like a bad idea, if only from a risk management perspective.

Before the financial crash in Iceland I always used to think that the bankers knew what they were doing. That they knew how to manage the risks they were taking. It worries me slightly that until now my feeling towards the pro GMO camp has been the same. Surely they know what they’re doing? But nature is much more complicated than finance. How can they possibly know what they are doing? How could anyone?

I’m not an expert and I bring zero knowledge to the table when it comes to a discussion about GMOs. But I’m drifting towards the anti GMO camp. Maybe we should err on the side of caution when it comes to tinkering with our ecosystem.

He’s not even wrong: Business studies as a (pseudo) science

The trial of Galileo

When a colleague of the nobel award winning physicist Wolfgang Pauli showed him a research paper by one of his students, asking for his opinion, Pauli is said to have given his legendary remark:

Not only is he not right. He’s not even wrong.

What Pauli was saying is that the student’s hypotheses wasn’t falsifiable. There was no way to set up an experiment that would produce an observation that could conflict with the hypotheses’ predictions, thus proving it to be false. The hypotheses could therefore not be meaningfully tested, which meant that it didn’t adhere to the scientific method.

Luckily for Pauli, he was no longer of this world when the Harvard Business Review published an article titled “Tesla’s not as disruptive as you might think“. The article reports on research being done on Tesla by Clayton Christenssen and his colleagues on whether the car maker fits into Christensen’s theory of Disruptive Innovation, one of the most popular ways of thinking about the effects of new technology on business. The article quotes the research excitedly:

If Tesla is following a disruptive innovation strategy, theory predicts that it will continue to see no strong competitive response … However, because it’s a sustaining innovation, theory predicts that competitors will emerge [when they expand their market] …

Wow, a business theory that can be used for prediction, how exciting! So exciting in fact that the book originally introduced it, the Innovator’s Dilemma, was followed by an even more ambitious book, Seeing What’s Next. In it the author and his associates

present a groundbreaking framework for predicting outcomes in the evolution of any industry … Through in-depth case studies of industries from aviation to health care, the authors illustrate the predictive power of innovation theory in action.

There are two problems with all this. The first one is that they’re not even wrong. The theory of disruptive innovation cannot be falsified. Even when someone points out examples from the books where the theory eventually failed, as the New Yorker did quite colourfully a while back, this is always explained away by a company having been wrongly identified as being disruptive or by some minor niggle in the theory which has now been corrected.

The second problem is that business studies don’t lend themselves well to the scientific method to begin with. That’s what makes the “case study” method so good. It embraces the fact that business studies are more like a collection of good advice you get from your mother before flying the nest than a framework of theories that predict the future behaviour of natural phenomena. In business, there’s no way to make enough observations of a particular business in a particular situation in order for any results to be statistically significant. It’s therefore impossible to conduct any meaningful experiments on business theories.

The theory of disruptive innovation isn’t all bad. There are some case studies in there that show how companies that have dominated their industry are eventually destroyed by competitors they didn’t see coming. But the it is not a scientific theory with the power to predict. And its authors should stop pretending otherwise.

The future of food and the 1080 cheeses I can get home delivered with my groceries

Cheese!

Friends who visit us from Iceland are always amazed when our door bell buzzes and we explain: “It’s the guy who delivers our groceries.” Milk, bread, cereal, fresh fish, meat, fruit and veggies and home utensils. And the list goes on. The image above shows the search results for “cheese” with 1080 results including 26 goats and sheep cheeses, 22 blue cheeses and 22 Parmesan & Pecorino. All of these are available at our online grocer. In this household, visits to the supermarket are a thing of the past.

According to research by IGD retail analysis, three out of ten britons bought groceries online last month and the UK is the second most valuable online grocery market after China. But this is just the beginning: The online grocery market only represents ca. 5% of the total market.

Martin Mignot from Index Ventures, one of the most respected tech investor funds in London, wrote an interesting post on this on TechCrunch called The Billion Dollar Food Delivery Wars. In short: This is the future but it has only just staretd to arrive.

When people ask me whether I’ll ever move back to Reykjavík my answer is always the same: I won’t consider it until home delivered groceries take off. And when the state run monopoly on dairy products is dismantled and I can choose between 1080 cheeses from all over the world, instead of being stuck with local produce only. So the only things standing between me and a life in Reykjavík is e-commerce, cheese and politics.