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The weird new lives of virtual tech interns

The weird new lives of virtual tech interns

Good morning! This Tuesday, tech internships are changing, bitcoin mining is slowing, and Tesla factories are back up and running.

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People Are Talking

Maybe Quibi should have changed its launch plan after all, Jeffrey Katzenberg admitted:

  • "If we knew on March 1, which is when we had to make the call, what we know today, you would say that is not a good idea. The answer is, it's regrettable. But we are making enough gold out of hay here that I don't regret it."
  • When asked about TikTok's growth, Katzenberg also dropped this gem: "That's like comparing apples to submarines."

Office spaces aren't going away, Eric Schmidt predicts — instead, he says, they'll get even bigger:

  • "We're gonna have to reimagine how the workplace works. We're going to have to figure out how to get people into buildings that they're fearful of. My guess is we'll have more demand for office space, not less, because people will want social distancing."

As we look toward a vaccine, Bill Gates said we're only just beginning to understand how hard it'll be to create one:

  • "Every day, it's, 'OK, are we going to run out of glass vials?' You may think that's a simple part of it, but nobody's ever made 7 billion vaccines."

The Big Story

The (virtual) intern season is upon us

May is supposed to be when happy hours in cities across the U.S. swell with the fresh enthusiasm of interns. Not this year.

  • More than half of U.S. internship openings on Glassdoor have been removed since the coronavirus crisis began.
  • One tracker developed by internship-age college students, called Is My Internship Cancelled?, reports the same trend among major companies. Its answer is more often yes than no.

Rather than kill the opportunity altogether, though, some tech companies are trying to take internships remote.

  • "It was a policy of ours before COVID-19 that our interns needed to be on site," Alessandra Ginante, chief talent officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise told Protocol's Sofie Kodner. "We are learning that our belief was a bit old-fashioned."
  • Many of HPE's 400 U.S.-based summer interns started working remotely last week. Ginante said HPE typically hires around 70% to 75% of its interns to full-time jobs. "We could not compromise on having the program," she said.

Like any high-powered company in a high-powered industry, HPE's internship program previously ran like a well-oiled machine. And after navigating new logistical challenges like how to distribute laptops, Ginante believes it's developed a remote program where "the actual content of the internship for 95% of the interns is the same." HPE is taking its usual fireside chats and mentorship program to Zoom, for instance.

Still, some parts remain hard to replicate when everything is done remotely:

  • An internship is a first job for many people, Ginante said, and learning how to act in an office environment is part of the experience. This time, before internships officially started, HPE held a call to prep interns with basic professional tips like how to communicate with a manager.
  • "It's more the relationship part that becomes more symbolic," Ginante said. "We have to make the effort to replace it." Managers have been advised to connect with their interns, at least in some way, every day.

Responses have been positive so far, Ginante told Sofie. "There's so much gratitude because I hear many companies are actually not going forward with internships," she said.

  • Still, she said, "I'm not claiming victory yet." It's only week two, and HPE is keeping a close eye on its remote program through weekly surveys, both of interns and their managers.
  • But if all continues to go well, the shift to a hybrid remote/in-person internship could be permanent. "We should have already experimented a bit more," Ginante said. "I still think that the balance is where the best equilibrium situation will be."

Lockdown

Tesla turns the lights back on in Fremont

"Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules," Elon Musk tweeted Monday afternoon. "I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me."

The county said over the weekend that it was nearing an agreement with Tesla to reopen the plant next week. But with Michigan allowing its big automakers to resume production yesterday, Musk decided it was time to get back to work. So, a day after filing a lawsuit that called Alameda County's policies a "power-grab" in defiance of Gov. Gavin Newsom's order, Musk simply decided to open back up.

  • Tesla's also calling back furloughed workers, The Verge reported, and has already completed 200 cars since reopening.
  • Newsom, for his part, said in a press conference Monday that he couldn't attest to what Musk was up to. He said that he wanted to get manufacturing back up to speed, but also that he respected "the rights of [counties'] health directors to make decisions that they see best for themselves."

Alameda County's response was … about as tepid as Musk could have hoped for.

  • "We are addressing this matter using the same phased approach we use for other businesses which have violated the Order in the past," the county's office of emergency services wrote, "and we hope that Tesla will likewise comply without further enforcement measures."
  • The county is waiting for a "site-specific plan" to come from Tesla soon. Meanwhile, Tesla stays open.

A MESSAGE FROM PALO ALTO NETWORKS

Palo Alto Networks

Your growing remote workforce comes with an exponential growth of security challenges. Join this live webcast to hear from leading cybersecurity experts on how you can lower your organization's cybersecurity risk and ensure business continuity—plus a chance to have your questions answered in a live Q&A.

Join us here.

Bitcoin

The halvening happened

It's been a volatile start to the week in the bitcoin world. First a price drop forced BitMEX to sell more than $250 million in futures, hurting those who'd been betting on a big price uptick. Then Coinbase went down at a particularly bad time, as prices were falling — reminiscent of Robinhood crashing at the same time as the stock market a few months ago.

But the big event was the halving, or the halvening (I like the halvening, so we're going with that), which took place on Monday.

  • Coindesk has a good summary of what that means, but basically: Bitcoin is set up such that every time 210,000 blocks are mined, the pace at which new blocks are mined gets cut in half. That means inflation goes down and supply grows more slowly.
  • Important bitcoin blocks tend to come with a hidden message, usually dunking on the financial system. The first-ever block contained a headline from The Times of London that said, simply: "Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks." Yesterday, block #629999 was encoded with this: "NYTimes 09/Apr/2020 With $2.3T Injection, Fed's Plan Far Exceeds 2008 Rescue."

Halvenings usually cause some volatility in price — though, this is only the fourth one, so "usually" doesn't mean much yet.

  • The bigger question is how the mining industry will change: With new blocks coming more slowly, some say it'll bring some much-needed stability to the often crazed mining world, while others think the bottom could fall out of the market. As with all things bitcoin, nobody knows for sure.

Making Moves

Fei-Fei Li is the latest addition to Twitter's board of directors. Dr. Li is a longtime Stanford professor, tech researcher, and expert on all things AI — and, unlike so many Twitter board members, she's extremely good at Twitter.

Molly Graham is the new COO of Lambda School, after spending the last nine months advising the company. Before Lambda, she worked at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Quip and elsewhere.

Brad Stewart is the new CEO of Fair, the car-subscription company. Most recently he was the CEO of XOJet. He's taking over a company struggling under the weight of SoftBank's money and the ongoing pandemic.

Another exec is leaving Rent the Runway. Josh Builder, its CTO and head of product, is the latest out the door, after president and COO Maureen Sullivan left two weeks ago.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: There's a new bipartisan bill in front of Congress, called the Caring for Startup Employees Act of 2020, which aims to help VC-backed startups get small-business loans.
  • The 2020 IPO isn't dead just yet: The online car seller Vroom is reportedly planning to go public in June, hoping to emulate the recent success of competitors like Carvana.
  • The creator of the iBackPack, which was either a failed dream or a huge crowdfunding scam depending on your perspective, settled a lawsuit with the FTC by agreeing to never crowdfund again. He's still allowed to ship products to people who already backed his project — though I wouldn't hold my breath.
  • Docket, an app for improving meetings, won Zoom's App Marketplace competition. It was one of 10 finalists, all competing for funding and a whole lot of free Zoom usage. The Zoom startups, they really are everywhere.
  • On Protocol: Newton was a well-liked email app, until it went away. And then was bought and revived. And then went away again. Now it's back — and might survive this time.
  • Amazon made its AI-powered enterprise search engine available to everyone. Called Kendra, its job is to search across all the places your company keeps data — which is likely a big list — to make everything easier to find and access.

One More Thing

The junk food aisle hits the web

It's not exactly … difficult to buy Doritos on the internet. But if there can be an ecommerce way to buy glasses, custom suits and pillows, why shouldn't there be a super-specific place to get snacks delivered to your door? I imagine that's roughly the conversation that led to snacks.com, the new site from PepsiCo that brings together Doritos, Tostitos, Ruffles, Sun Chips, Rold Golds, Chesters, FunYuns and everything else like that into a single place. Build a snack pack, and it shows up at your door a few days later. Why do we need this? I don't know. But it's comforting to know Fritos are never again more than 48 hours away.

A MESSAGE FROM PALO ALTO NETWORKS

Palo Alto Networks

Your growing remote workforce comes with an exponential growth of security challenges. Join this live webcast to hear from leading cybersecurity experts on how you can lower your organization's cybersecurity risk and ensure business continuity—plus a chance to have your questions answered in a live Q&A.

Join us here.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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