40/365 - Tech Talks London

15 minutes read

TL;DR;

This funny thing happened, on Tuesday Vitor sent me a brief message inviting me to be on the Tech Talks London (@techtalkslondon) show, which I accepted.

The format is simple enough, it’s a casual conversation on topics that touch science, technology, communication, business, etc. Vitor pulled up a list of recent news and we talked for a bit about them, easy peasy, the show is linked bellow, it’s in Portuguese, I hope you enjoy it.

The long version

Well, since we’re here, I might as well talk a little bit about how the overall experience went on a personal level and run over the notes I took for the show.

Hi, I’m David Ramalho and I play a Regular Human Person on TV

This might come as a surprise, but I’m what I think can be described as an Functional Introvert - which means that while I rather not, I can do a passable impression of a person capable of muttering words in front of other people - so of course, when Vitor invited me, I proceeded to delay any decisions for as long as it was respectfully possible. Once I’ve made peace with myself and successfully ran the “What’s the Worse that Can Happen” I ended up accepting the invitation, but it’s funny how everything works from that point on, it’s like a weight I carry around, I prepared as much as I could, took notes, read the news, I then spent quite a bit arranging the stu…kitchen , I got lights from the bedroom and arranged the background … and then we started talking.

Now, in retrospect as I watched the video a few things are very clear - and I guess these are extremely common and easily(ish) trainable:

Thank you for inviting me - I took it as a challenge.

Notes

So in preparation for the show I took a few notes, since they’re lying there, I might as well share them.

Airbnb to lay off 25% of it’s work force

This particular topic is very close to me, as it’s public knowledge I’m CTO for Homestay.com and although vast dimensions apart, we’re on the same space as Airbnb and of course we know exactly what the industry is going through, because we’re going through the exact same, except with less access to resources.

The signs were there, Airbnb raised / borrowed $2 billion in capital, considering they had $1.1 billion in revenue (at a loss of $276.4 M - which means very roughly speaking they spent $1.3 Billion) in Q4 2019 - so that money was only going to take them maybe 4 months at that spend rate. On top of that, the way the market is and how they operate, two things are happening at any given rate:

  1. A percentage of the money they made in 2020 (and 2019 as well) came from Booking Fees for bookings in the future, some of those bookings never happened because of lockdowns and people initiated refunds - directly with Airbnb or payment providers. So that drained a percentage of that revenue
  2. As the news intensified and lockdowns were enacted across the globe booking certainly dropped , which means the previously lost revenue is not being replaced with new one

This is very likely the picture for most of the industry and you can understand how much of a strain this puts on companies, so cost cutting measures are guaranteed and salaries are usually a very big chunk of the operating costs. To add to this, the future in this space completely uncertain, it really depends on whether or not a proper cure / vaccine comes along and how the world looks like when it does, so nobody, NOBODY, knows what’s going to happen, they can model and they can wishful think, but it’s a big unknown and companies need to prepare for that special “worst case scenario that’s not so bad that it means there’s a slight chance we can survive” - no matter how confident experts and CEO’s seem, absolutely no one knows how this is going to play out.

In the open message from Brian to the company / world he said as much

  1. We don’t know exactly when travel will return
  2. When travel does return, it will look different

While we know Airbnb’s business will fully recover, the changes it will undergo are not temporary or short-lived. Because of this, we need to make more fundamental changes to Airbnb by reducing the size of our workforce around a more focused business strategy. 

Out of our 7,500 Airbnb employees, nearly 1,900 teammates will have to leave Airbnb, comprising around 25% of our company. Since we cannot afford to do everything that we used to, these cuts had to be mapped to a more focused business. 

This means that we will need to reduce our investment in activities that do not directly support the core of our host community. We are pausing our efforts in Transportation and Airbnb Studios, and we have to scale back our investments in Hotels and Lux. 

And then what I think is a hint at where the majority of the layoffs are going to happen

While our process may differ by country, we have tried to be thoughtful in planning for every employee.  In the US and Canada, I can provide immediate clarity. Within the next few hours, those of you leaving Airbnb will receive a calendar invite to a departure meeting with a senior leader in your department. It was important to us that wherever we legally could, people were informed in a personal, 1:1 conversation. The final working day for departing employees based in the US and Canada will be Monday, May 11. We felt Monday would give people time to begin taking next steps and say goodbye — we understand and respect how important this is.

Brian also explain what specific business units are affected, some I didn’t even know about:

FlexDev Predicts a Shift in Offshoring to Nearshoring Due to COVID-19

It’s a story in three acts really, starts with a bold claim that offers no reasoning

Polish-based award-winning outsourcing firm FlexDev predicts a shift in outsourcing IT and Finance functions, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing business leaders to rethink their outsourcing destinations. The change could see jobs being brought back in-house locally or see companies leveraging a nearshore delivery function to gain more control and reduce risk. During this downtime for businesses, created by the world COVID-19 pandemic, business execs are starting to re-evaluate and are rethinking their outsourcing strategy including models, and destinations, according to FlexDev’s Executive Vice President, Graham Fell.

Then someone points this out

Elias van Herwaarden, Founder of “Locationperspectives” and visiting professor at the Faculty of Business and Economics, commented: “Nearshoring will gain a bit of momentum, indeed. But given the wage cost differences with far-shoring and the nature of the work sent to e.g. India or the Philippines, I do not expect a one-on-one transfer-back. Nearshore wage costs and employee aspirations simply are prohibitive to re-shoring the very transactional work that was sent to low cost countries across the globe AI and RPA as the more likely response. GBS and SSCs will very likely bring the processes back home - on-shore and nearshore. They will increasingly opt for distributed, networked service delivery models. Locations with mature shared services/delivery ecosystems could benefit from this. At least if they can adequately respond to an accelerated need for digitally educated and STEM talent.”

And then they drop all pretention and follow through with the Advert

“Culturally there is very little difference between Poland, the US and other European countries. This contrasts with the top outsourcing software destinations – China and India. Poland also boasts excellent language skills ranking ninth in the world in the EF English Proficiency index 2015 and 10th in the 2016 edition, getting ahead of most Eastern European countries. Poland offers a stable and healthy economy, a highly skilled workforce, a dynamically growing IT market and US and EU standards in IP protection and data security,” confirmed Mr Fell.

(shrug)

Health Passports / Contact Tracing

Coronavirus UK: Health passports possible in months

I love the opening bit, it adjusts the lenses you should wear when reading these news

Tech firms are in talks with ministers about creating health passports to help Britons return safely to work using coronavirus testing and facial recognition. Facial biometrics could be used to help provide a digital certificate – sometimes known as an immunity passport – proving which workers have had Covid-19, as a possible way of easing the impact on the economy and businesses from ongoing physical distancing even after current lockdown measures are eased.

I particularly like this bit

The government is understood to be moving away from the phrase “immunity passport” as evidence continues to emerge on exactly how immunity develops after someone has had Covid-19. The World Health Organization has also issued a stark warning over attempts to give people false assurance through a passport scheme.

My thoughts on this are:

  1. Science needs to unequivocally say that you are indeed protected from further infection for this to mean anything, until they do, having a “I Got Covid and all I got was my face in a biometric database” just means you’re probably capable of transmitting the disease and maybe you’re immune to it.
  2. The economy is a mess, you’ll see a lot of companies that are struggling with business or that had products that they’ve struggled to market before attempt to find new business opportunities , so some pressure will come from entrepreneurism to adopt (anything they sell) as a (solution to something related to COVID-19)

Contact-tracing apps are not a solution to the COVID-19 crisis

A few highlights, but please, read the whole article

We are concerned by this rising enthusiasm for automated technology as a centerpiece of infection control. Between us, we hold extensive expertise in technology, law and policy, and epidemiology. We have serious doubts that voluntary, anonymous contact tracing through smartphone apps—as Apple, Google, and faculty at a number of academic institutions all propose—can free Americans of the terrible choice between staying home or risking exposure. We worry that contact-tracing apps will serve as vehicles for abuse and disinformation, while providing a false sense of security to justify reopening local and national economies well before it is safe to do so. Our recommendations are aimed at reducing the harm of a technological intervention that seems increasingly inevitable.

Contact tracing can be an important component of an epidemic response especially when the prevalence of infection is low. Such efforts are most effective where testing is rapid and widely available and when infections are relatively rare—conditions that are currently unusual in the United States. Ideally, manual contact tracing by trained professionals can help identify candidates for testing and quarantine to help contain the spread of coronavirus.

The lure of automating the painstaking process of contact tracing is apparent. But to date, no one has demonstrated that it’s possible to do so reliably despite numerous concurrent attempts. Apps that notify participants of disclosure could, on the margins and in the right conditions, help direct testing resources to those at higher risk. Anything else strikes us as implausible at best, and dangerous at worst.

The Apple-Google API supports the specific functionality of warning participants if their phone has been near the phone of a person who reported being COVID-19 positive. To be clear, the companies are not planning to develop an app themselves, which would require addressing some of the more challenging issues around how to verify that a user has been infected and what policies to suggest when individuals are alerted to being “in contact” with an infected individual. Ultimately, they have left it up to public health officials, or whoever else develops the apps, to determine their functionality and uses—subject, of course, to the constraints of the platform.

And finally, the issue of malicious use is paramount—particularly given this current climate of disinformation, astroturfing, and political manipulation. Imagine an unscrupulous political operative who wanted to dampen voting participation in a given district, or a desperate business owner who wanted to stifle competition. Either could falsely report incidences of coronavirus without much fear of repercussion. Trolls could sow chaos for the malicious pleasure of it. Protesters could trigger panic as a form of civil disobedience. A foreign intelligence operation could shut down an entire city by falsely reporting COVID-19 infections in every neighborhood. There are a great many vulnerabilities underlying this platform that have still yet to be explored.

No special comment needed

Netflix and ICA launch a contest to support the writing of series and documentaries in Portugal

I guess because I’ve had some proximity to the entertainment industry this isn’t exactly surprising. Netflix - as all the new streaming giants that need original content to show some value in a world where Disney decided to enter that market - is hungry for original content and on the back of hits like Dark and [La Casa De Papel][https://www.netflix.com/title/80192098] they are probably looking at all countries with content production capabilities.

The contest itself is relatively low budgeted - at least for someone with Netflix’s pockets - with a total of €155k in prize money for the top 10 entries. Netflix will then decide which ones are potentially good matches and they’ll engage in private negotiation with any ones - if any - they deem fit. This just came out of the Marketing Department Budget really.

As for Netflix, getting in content irrespective of the location has been an intentional strategy for Netflix so this is part of that

“Talent has no boundaries,” explained Avalos, who will move to Spain in coming weeks. “IP has no boundaries, and the way IP gets adapted and talent can travel throughout our territories is something we constantly speak to each other about.”

One producer asked Finke why Netflix was a better choice as a funding partner than a string of international distributors combined. “When I began in the industry 15 years ago we took projects to MIP for international sales,” he commented. “If we sold four or five territories that felt like a win at the time. If you bring a show to us today we can find a global audience in one go. That’s a very exciting thing for filmmakers.”

It’s good though, the next few years might bring new players to the financing side of content creation in Portugal - in this case - I hope everyone takes advantage of this opportunity. Can’t wait for the first Portuguese show to debut in Netflix.