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Good morning! This Wednesday, tech companies are slowly figuring out remote hiring, a merger moratorium proposal, and a financial scandal … in Animal Crossing.
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People Are Talking
Other tech companies should leap to integrate Apple and Google's exposure-notification tech, Lemonade CEO Daniel Schreiber said:
- "Imagine, for example, if Starbucks' 30,000 global locations required patrons to tap their phone on a reader before entering the store, confirming they have contact tracing enabled, and are unlikely to have been in close quarters with a COVID-19 patient in the past two weeks. How much sooner might you get that white chocolate mocha frappuccino with an extra shot of espresso?"
Sundar Pichai told Alphabet employees that the company's back-to-work plan is … well, there is no one plan:
- "First, just as we were one of the first companies to move to WFH, we will be equally careful about our transition back to the office. There will be no one-size-fits-all approach, and the specific guidance will vary from location to location. Not everyone at a site will go back all at once – expect the return to be staggered and incremental."
After learning more about how the company handles its private-label brands, Josh Hawley is ready to pick a big antitrust fight with Amazon:
- "Abusing one's position as a marketplace platform to create copycat products always is bad, but it is especially concerning now. Thousands of small businesses have been forced to suspend in-store retail and instead rely on Amazon because of shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic."
The Big Story
Employees are ready for remote work. Companies need to catch up.
Layoffs are still coming in droves and companies are still figuring out how to weather the economic storm — but many of them are also starting to think about how to move forward.
- "It feels like we're entering the end of the beginning stage," Hired CEO Mehul Patel told me. "People are starting to think about when life gets back to normal."
- But normal might be a little different: Hired surveyed 2,200 tech workers and 300 companies, and found 57% of companies are planning to make remote work a bigger part of their strategy going forward.
- "What seemed like a really big hurdle to get over — remote work, remote interviewing — turns out in reality to be actually not even a speed bump," Patel said. "People just adjusted to it."
Patel told me that most workers have been comfortable with the idea of remote work for a long time. Companies are the ones that held up the process:
- "This is a massive redesign of workflows and processes," he said. "And everyone's undergoing that, because they've had no choice. That was probably part of the inertia when you didn't have to do it."
From a hiring perspective, he said, remote interviews are actually the easy part. "How do you onboard? How do you do professional development? All the post-hire stuff, which does require interaction — I think that stuff has not been figured out yet."
- Obviously, it's early in this transition, and it's silly to draw big-picture conclusions about anything that's happening right now. But Patel said he's seeing a few companies start to figure out what good remote hiring looks like.
- "I think the companies that are leading … are spending a lot more time working on employer branding, if you will," he said. They're sharing pictures of their offices, setting up group chats for interviewees with their potential teams, and finding other ways to give remote prospects a sense of office and work culture even from far away.
Once the pandemic ends, the work world will tilt back toward the way it was — but maybe not all the way back. "I've not heard anyone say that this is a net negative," Patel said. Everyone's talking about the new normal, he added, not the old one.
A layoffs tracker becomes a hiring tool
Roger Lee has always tracked layoffs. He's an entrepreneur, currently the co-founder of Human Interest, and has found layoff lists to be a good source of talent.
- "You've got these otherwise very qualified individuals, who through no fault of their own lost their job," he said. "Sometimes, companies or employees will make a list of all those laid off, and circulate them to hiring managers. "They're a great source of candidates."
So when coronavirus hit, and it became obvious that layoffs were going to be everywhere, Lee registered the domain Layoffs.fyi and spent a weekend building a way to track them all.
- "If I could give more visibility and exposure to the increasing number of layoffs and laid off employees that was about to happen," he said, "then perhaps the companies who were still hiring could use it."
- Layoffs.fyi has tracked more than 30,000 layoffs in recent weeks, at more than 300 companies. Lee finds information in news articles, and more recently companies are reaching out to tell him directly.
- "There's a lot more transparency," he said. "A lot more companies coming forward on it."
Layoffs.fyi also has a section for companies still hiring, and Lee hopes his site can quickly become more than just a catalog of horrible news.
- Lee said his next task is to compile all the data into a single, searchable system, so hiring managers can "sift through and search through just the product managers in Toronto with three years of experience without having to go through 50 spreadsheets to find it."
- So many good people are without jobs, thanks to coronavirus. Lee wants to help them get back at it.
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A merger moratorium, maybe?
No more concerts. No more date nights. No more mergers? The coronavirus has a lot of rules, and they just keep coming. The latest: Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed a ban on corporate mergers during the pandemic.
Their proposal warns that "private equity is planning to jump at the cheap opportunities," and that "big tech has moved to snatch up struggling start-ups."
- According to Protocol's Emily Birnbaum, the tech world has responded with a resounding: Please don't. Carl Szabo, VP of tech grade group Netchoice, told Emily that, for many startups, mergers and acquisitions are a matter of survival. Especially right now.
- M&A lawyer Alessandra Simons, a partner at Goodwin Procter who is helping Verizon acquire video-conferencing service BlueJeans, agreed. "At least as applied to the tech industry, the concerns that are being raised are not applicable," she told Emily.
The new proposal joins a similar call for a merger moratorium from House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee chair David Cicilline earlier this week.
These sorts of progressive proposals have effectively shaped the policy debate around tech for the past two years, Emily notes.
- But both are unlikely to gain any serious traction in Congress as they stand.
- "We are deeply skeptical of what Cicilline's proposing here," one GOP aide close to the House Judiciary Committee's thinking told Protocol, calling Cicilline's proposal an "antitrust power grab in the middle of a crisis."
TripAdvisor laid off more than 900 employees — about 25% of its staff — and closed its offices in Boston and San Francisco. CEO Steve Kaufer told his staff: "Sometimes, the most valiant of efforts aren't enough to counter outside circumstances and, as a public company, it is our responsibility to adjust, adapt and evolve to the environment that surrounds us."
Amazon hired ad exec Maggie Zhang to run its OTT measurement and research. Amazon's extremely interested in taking a bite out of the TV ad business, and figuring out how to better measure streaming is a big part of that.
Thuan Pham, Uber's longtime CTO, is leaving the company. Uber's also reportedly planning cuts of up to 20% of its staff, as it tries to cope with the massive dropoff in ride-sharing.
Okta hired David Bradbury as its new CSO. He comes from Symantec, where he held the same job.
Bitly CEO Mark Josephson has left the company. For now, he said, he's "focused on advising, mentoring and decompressing a bit."
In Other News
- Today in coronavirus: New York's AG said Amazon may have violated labor laws, by providing inadequate protections to workers and firing one of them after a strike. Here's an interesting concept for what a contact-tracing app might look like. Oprah's hosting graduation, for everyone, on May 15th, via Facebook and Instagram. You can find a testing site in Apple Maps. And there's surprisingly compelling evidence that says looking at nature is almost as good as being in nature.
- Google made Meet available to everyone. After seeing 30x growth in the last three months, it's leaving the G Suite portfolio and becoming free for anyone with a Google account. It puts video on the same level as email and calendars, and takes on Facebook Messenger pretty directly.
- Mozilla dug into the privacy and security risks associated with 15 popular video chat apps. Zoom fared better than you might think! And only three failed to meet Mozilla's standards: Houseparty, Discord, and Doxy.me.
- Speaking of Zoom: It signed a big cloud deal with Oracle to help scale its video calling infrastructure. It's a big win for Oracle, which is losing ground to Microsoft, Amazon and Google in the cloud wars. Zoom said about 7 million gigabytes are already moving through Oracle's servers every day.
- Elon Musk is personally insuring the members of Tesla's board for the rest of the year, "due to disproportionately high premiums quoted by insurance companies." Tesla said that won't compromise the board's objectivity.
- Don't miss this story from CNBC about the small group of Apple and Google employees who took only a few weeks to put together a cooperative plan for contact tracing. You've never seen Apple work this fast.
- Shopify launched Shop, a new mobile app that brings together lots of Shopify merchants into one consumer app. First Google makes Shopping free, now this? Everybody's coming for Amazon.
- Mark Zuckerberg has been operating like a wartime CEO at Facebook since well before coronavirus — and is making big changes, as he sees an opportunity for the company to win back some good will and reshape public opinion.
One More Thing
"The Bank of Nook isn't a charity"
Some big economic news: The Bank of Nook, which funds the world of Animal Crossing, slashed interest rates after players were taking advantage of a loophole in the system. (And you thought we were only going to talk about surprising markets inside games once this week!) Anyway, chaos ensued. The Financial Times has the rundown, featuring users worried about recession and quantitative easing inside the game. There's really a lot to learn about real-world economics from Animal Crossing, including one key point: If you can time travel, you can pretty much always get really, really rich.
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