The week@work: “The Education of Silicon Valley”, Gen Z@work, mid-career sabbatical, & a new era of human spaceflight

This week@work a NY Times Op-Ed contributor wonders if Mark Zuckerberg should have taken more humanities courses, Gen Z begins to enter the workplace, while millennials take sabbaticals, and NASA introduces the next crew for commercial human spaceflight.

In her first Op-Ed for The New York Times, tech journalist Kara Swisher applied her expertise to explore ‘The Education of Silicon Valley’.

large_GettyImages-141672000.jpg

“All these companies began with a gauzy credo to change the world. But they have done that in ways they did not imagine — by weaponizing pretty much everything that could be weaponized. They have mutated human communication, so that connecting people has too often become about pitting them against one another, and turbocharged that discord to an unprecedented and damaging volume.

They have weaponized social media. They have weaponized the First Amendment. They have weaponized civic discourse. And they have weaponized, most of all, politics.”

What’s it like to be a member of the Facebook corporate family today? You signed up to follow the Pied Piper of Menlo Park into the new world of global connectivity and you find yourself in the midst of global propaganda wars.

“At a recent employee Q. and A. I did at YouTube, for example, one staffer told me that their jobs used to be about wrangling cat videos and now they had degenerated into a daily hell of ethics debates about the fate of humanity.”

All companies evolve over time. Founders adapt or abdicate. Mr. Zuckerberg has done neither.

“Mr. Zuckerberg stuck with this mix of extreme earnestness and willful naïveté for far too long.

Because what he never managed to grok then was that the company he created was destined to become a template for all of humanity, the digital reflection of masses of people across the globe. Including — and especially — the bad ones.

Was it because he was a computer major who left college early and did not attend enough humanities courses that might have alerted him to the uglier aspects of human nature? Maybe. Or was it because he has since been steeped in the relentless positivity of Silicon Valley, where it is verboten to imagine a bad outcome? Likely. Could it be that while the goal was to “connect people,” he never anticipated that the platform also had to be responsible for those people when they misbehaved? Oh, yes. And, finally, was it that the all-numbers-go-up-and-to-the-right mentality of Facebook blinded him to the shortcuts that get taken in the service of growth? Most definitely.”

Corporate impact on society is not benign. Leadership is about understanding impact and nimbly responding to lights blinking red. There’s a Harvard Business School case here with implications far beyond the impact on share owner revenue. And for those who work@Facebook, it may be time to evaluate the ‘values fit’.

On the subject of ‘values fit’, journalist Ryan Jenkins identified the ‘Top 25 Employers Preferred by Generation Z’.

1513265754669.jpg

“More than 60 percent of Generation Z’s top employers are global entities which is consistent with the 74 percent of Generation Z stating international experience (e.g., travel and working with global clients/colleagues) is an important aspect of potential employers. 

The presence of technology companies on the list isn’t a surprise especially since three-quarters of recent college graduates report having majored in a STEM-related field. Generation Z is the first generation to shift the tide toward STEM-related fields of study and seem poised to close the STEM gap.”

The top five in the survey: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Google, Local Hospital, Amazon and Walt Disney Company.

While Generation Z plans their workplace entry, millennials are contemplating mid-career sabbaticals. Ben Steverman shares ‘Why It’s Time to Quit Your Job, Travel the World’.

IMG_1557.jpg

“Millions of Americans obsess over their careers and fret about saving, terrified they won’t have enough to ever retire. The advice not being offered by some experts may surprise these worried souls: Take months or years off from work, travel the world, and enjoy yourself.

There’s prudent logic behind a relaxing mid career break. With longer lives come longer careers and longer retirements – the first so that you can afford the second. But a 40-year career, ending at age 60 or 65, is a very different prospect from a 50-year career ending at 70 or 75.

Taking a break to travel isn’t a crazy move, especially for millennials, because it can help give workers the stamina for longer, more sustainable careers, says Jamie Hopkins, a professor and director of the retirement income program at the American College of Financial Services. The prospect of a future trip also give young workers an extra reason to save, live within their means, and pay down debt – an incentive that’s far stronger than the dream of retiring in several decades’ time.”

Where to travel on your mid-career sabbatical? Perhaps the galaxy and beyond…

Space_Station_over_Earth.jpg

This past week NASA introduced the next generation of astronauts, ‘NASA Assigns Crews to First Test Flights, Missions on Commercial Spacecraft’. (Which has got to be good news for those who go to work in space, where the commute today begins and ends in Kazakhstan.)

“Today, our country’s dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight. Today’s announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation’s leadership in space.”

The agency assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. NASA has worked closely with the companies throughout design, development and testing to ensure the systems meet NASA’s safety and performance requirements. 

“The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight,” said Mark Geyer, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can’t wait to see them aboard the International Space Station.” 

With this ‘week@work’, the workthoughts blog returns after a two month hiatus. Stay tuned for new categories and join the conversation on work & workplace.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits: NASA Commercial Flight Crew courtesy NASA, St. Jude Marathon Weekend courtesy of Biomedical Communications

The week@work – end of summer, Wells Fargo issues an apology to artists, start-ups adapt, cycling is the new networking, and the August jobs report

In news this week@work: Wells Fargo placed advertising in advance of ‘Teen Financial Education Day’ implying the worth of career aspirations in the sciences rank above those in the arts, Silicon Valley start-ups are adapting  to anticipate a market downturn, networking has moved from the bar to the bike (that’s a good thing), and the U.S. unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.9%.

Late Saturday morning I checked my Twitter feed and found this from novelist Caroline Leavitt. Forget post-tropical cyclone Hermine, this was the Labor Day weekend’s perfect storm.

According to Forbes contributing writer, Emily Willingham,“Wells Fargo rolled out an ad campaign this week that it almost immediately withdrew following on Internet outrage from a lot of angry artists and humanities professors. That may not sound that scary, but these folks know how to use words and emote.

The ads, using images depicting teens engaging in sciencey things, urge us to “get them ready for tomorrow” by ensuring that the aspiring ballerinas and actors of today become engineers and botanists of the future…

The message here is, of course, that the future is science. That becoming a ballerina or an actor is a dreamscape fairytale that has no place in a real world of cold hard cash and sciencey-sounding things like botany. Imagine if some parents buy into that ad’s message and try to push their budding ballerina into botany instead. The world loses an artist and gains a mediocre, uninterested botanist who’s given up her life’s dream? Lose–lose.”

This was not just a ‘business section’ story. Olivia Clement reported on Broadway’s reaction on Playbill.com.

“A new advertising campaign from Wells Fargo, an American banking and financial services company, has prompted outrage from the theatre community. The ads imply that it is more valuable for young people to pursue a career in the sciences rather than the arts.

A Wells Fargo brochure depicts a young man in a science lab. “An actor yesterday. A botanist today. Let’s get them ready for tomorrow,” reads the accompanying text. Another, depicting a young woman in a lab, reads: “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today.”

Among those to express their disappointment and frustration at the campaign on September 3 were Alex Brightman, Ann Harada, Cynthia Erivo, Heather Headley and Benj Pasek—who took to Twitter to call out the company directly. “Apparently @WellsFargo doesn’t think that an actor or ballerina require any work at all. Shame!” read Erivo’s tweet.”

Wells Fargo apologized via Twitter late Saturday.

Anticipating the end of the boom, Katie Benner delivered a tech industry status report, ‘Warned of a Crash, Start-Ups in Silicon Valley Narrow Their Focus’.

“Last year, many tech executives, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs were convinced that a multiyear boom that had propelled young companies to great heights could no longer sustain itself.

The worst fallout may yet come, but many of the start-ups have hung on. Across Silicon Valley, engineers are still commanding annual salaries that average $136,000, according to Hired, a recruiting firm. Demand is brisk for $4 buttered toast, and office space rents remain near record highs. The biggest start-ups, like Uber and Airbnb, continue to land billions of dollars in funding. And investors are shoveling money into venture capital funds, which raised so much cash in the first half of this year that it rivaled the amount raised in all of 2015.

For all of the hand-wringing, “there just hasn’t been much of a downturn,” said Paul Buchheit, a managing partner at Y Combinator, a prominent start-up incubator that nurtured companies including Dropbox and Airbnb. “I don’t even see many companies going out of business.”

Wondering where you might meet one of those tech execs or VCs? This past week Sarah Max covered a story that has been growing globally over the past year, ‘Cycling Matches the Pace and Pitches of Tech’. In other words, cycling is the new networking.

20160511__12DCBBIKw~1.jpg

“Thinking he needed to take up a “California sport,” Greg Gretsch started cycling in 1988, when he moved to the Bay Area to work in marketing at Apple after graduating from the University of Georgia. He bought a 10-speed road bike and joined a group of other Apple employees for a standing noon ride.

Today, Mr. Gretsch, 49, is a founding partner with San Francisco-based Jackson Square Ventures, which makes early-stage investments in fledgling companies, including a social network and performance-tracking app for athletes call Strava. He rides an average of five days a week on paved roads in the Bay Area and on trails near his second home near Lake Tahoe. Cycling is primarily for exercise and escape, he said, but it has also been good for his career.

“Connecting with people is important to what I do, and you can learn a lot about a person, and from a person, on the bike,” said Mr. Gretsch, who founded three companies before going into venture capital in 2000 at a firm called Sigma Partners.”

On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department released the August jobs report. Camila Domonoske summarized the data for NPR.

“The U.S. added 151,000 new jobs in August and the unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 percent, according to the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Both those metrics fell short of expectations: Economists were expecting about 180,000 new jobs, and a slight dip in the unemployment rate, to 4.8 percent…”

Finally, this week@work, we celebrated the last weekend of summer.

IMG_5468.jpg

 

Photo credit: Boulder cyclists, Cliff Grassmick, Daily Camera

 

The Saturday Read ‘The Portable Veblen’ by Elizabeth McKenzie

The Saturday Read this week,‘The Portable Veblen’ by Elizabeth McKenzie is about the life choices we make, via a different kind of Silicon Valley story.

The heroine of the novel is Veblen Amundsen-Hovda, a not so typical,’gig’ economy participant, making a living by combining assignments as an office assistant in Neurology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, translating for the Norwegian Diaspora Project in Oslo, and writing about her namesake Thorstein Veblen. (Yes, that witty critic of capitalism who invented the term ‘conspicuous consumption’.)

Or as the author describes her “independent behaviorist, experienced cheerer-upper, and freelance self, who was having a delayed love affair with the world due to an isolated childhood and various interferences since.”

When we meet Veblen she has just accepted a marriage proposal from Paul Vreeland scientist, and inventor of the Pneumatic Turbo Skull Punch.

Did I mention the squirrels?  One in particular, who appears at her window just after her engagement, seeming to ask: “How well do you know yourself, and all the choices you could make?” 

In her review of the novel, NPR’s Heller McAlpin captured the theme that continues to resonate long after the reader arrives at Appendix G (in Norwegian), “this is ultimately a morality tale about the values by which we choose to live.”

If you have spent time in academia you will appreciate the absurdity of naming your child for the subject of your unfinished doctoral dissertation. You will also recognize the financial pressures of ‘technology transfer’, and ‘monetizing research’ that drive Paul’s decision to work for Big Pharma.

What if you invented something that could save lives? Wouldn’t you choose a firm that promised unlimited resources to expedite the process to market?

It’s easy to understand Paul’s choice. But in the world of bright shiny incentives he misses the point of who he will become as part of an unscrupulous conglomerate.

Fortunately for our couple and squirrel(s), good triumphs over evil in a series of memorable scenes that prove ‘what goes around, comes around’.

In ‘The Portable Veblen’, author McKenzie utilizes humor to narrate this story of choices, change, and consequences. If you’re looking for the perfect read for the recent grad, or are working through conflicting values at work, spend a few hours with Veblen, Paul and a supporting cast of frisky, philosophical squirrels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ping pong tables & bean bag chairs

In a volatile job market, do the sales of office furnishings signify a shift in the career aspirations of workers?

An article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal suggested that a decline in the sales of ping pong tables is a harbinger of a downturn in Silicon Valley. A New York Times article in April described advertising agencies casting aside a stodgy image with the installation of bean bag chairs and other furnishings emblematic of a start-up culture.

Recruiting and retention is about the work. Ping pong tables and bean bag chairs don’t create a culture, people do. When a competitor offers a better fit between an individual and an assignment, the bright shiny things become insignificant.

As Silicon Valley firms are selling off their inventory, New York Ad Agencies are stocking up, trying to emulate a culture that may be in decline and missing the point – the work is no longer attractive.

“People no longer have that innate desire and that instinctive desire to be in our business,” said Jay Haines, a founder of Grace Blue, a search firm that works with the advertising industry.”

That’s the story. Folks are moving on to the next new thing – meaningful work. Ping pong tables and bean bag chairs are relics of the establishment.