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What’s the Best Company to Work for in Silicon Valley?

What’s the best company to work for in Silicon Valley? This year that’s Facebook according to ratings and reviews collected by job site Indeed.com between May 2016 and May 2018. Ranked number seven in 2017, Facebook this year surpassed Salesforce, Apple, and Google to take the top spot. That 2017 ranking covered May 2015 through May 2017.

Tech companies took seven spots in 2018’s Indeed top ten, compared with five reaching those ranks in Indeed’s 2017 list. Airbnb made the top 20 for the first time, debuting as number five.

Facebook’s “great people” came in for a lot of praise in the reviews. Indeed quoted employees as saying:

  • “[I] thoroughly enjoyed working at Facebook, amazing environment, extremely open culture and great people.”
  • “Facebook's work culture is something every company should strive to become,” another employee said. “Though the job position itself can be stressful, working among people who support and want to see everyone succeed motivated and encouraged me to shoot for the best.”

Meanwhile, according to Indeed, Airbnb’s employees liked the company’s “work hard, play hard” motto—and the travel credits.

Indeed’s lists of best places to work in the Bay Area, for 2018 and 2017, below. (The job search firm released a top 20 in 2018, a top 25 in 2017.)

Rank

2018

2017

1

Facebook

Salesforce

2

Salesforce

Apple

3

Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente

4

Johnson & Johnson

See’s Candies

5

Airbnb

Google

6

SAP

Chevron

7

Adobe

Facebook

8

Apple

Intuit

9

Microsoft

Stanford Health Care

10

Bristol-Myers Squibb

Adobe

11

Genentech

Genentech

12

eBay

Good Samaritan Hospital

13

Cisco

Electronic Arts

14

Capital One

Upwork

15

AvalonBay Communities

Allergan

16

Roche

Charles Schwab

17

Amgen

Cisco

18

AbbVie

AstraZeneca

19

Charles Schwab

LinkedIn

20

Stryker

Juniper Networks

21

Banana Republic

22

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E)

23

The Clorox Company

24

Intel

25

Contemporary Services Corp

Reliefband

Reliefband’s Motion Sickness Wearable, Take 2

The motion sickness wearable Reliefband changed my life back in 2016, making me able to comfortably ride in cars, planes, and boats without sleep-inducing motion sickness drugs. There’s no arguing that the wearable works amazingly well for me, someone who is severely susceptible to motion sickness.

There was also no arguing that generation one is not the most attractive design. It resembles something my kid got as part of a secret agent spy kit when he was six. Or like a toy compass from a cereal box.

And indeed, after just over a year of use, the plastic case started cracking. A replacement unit had a battery door that just wouldn’t close. I solved both problems with duct tape; it wasn’t pretty, but I wasn’t giving up this gadget I’d come to rely on. Instead, I tucked my sleeve over it to hide it as much as possible, and wore it only as long as I had to.

Back in 2016, the company promised that it was in the midst of a redesign, and would be shipping a much sleeker and more functional band by the end of that year. It took a little longer than that, but now Reliefband has finally rolled out generation 2.0.

But while Reliefband 2.0 is now my band of choice, it’s not superior in every respect to the original version.  

Before we get into why, here’s a quick refresher on the basic operating principle of both the old and new bands. They work by emitting electric pulses; carefully positioned contact plates on the device send those pulses tingling up the middle couple of fingers. These intermittent pulses work to block the neurological signals that trigger motion sickness. The electric jolts have to be spaced carefully, company reps told me. Not frequent enough, and they won’t do the job. Too frequent, and they’ll make the nerves insensitive to them.

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Photographer of Reviver Auto's customizable license plate.

California Tests Kindle-ized License Plates

That license plate frame sporting a dealership name, sports team logo, or your favorite superhero? That’s so last year.

This year, auto dealers in California will be able to go beyond personalized license plate frames to sell “Kindle-ized” license plates, in which the entire plate can display custom text and graphics using e-paper technology. These displays can be updated remotely, with such updates replacing the little date stickers that must be reapplied each year when registration is renewed.

And, when the car is stopped, drivers will also be able to reduce the license number to a small window and use the rest of the screen for a different graphic. (Though I’m not sure the people stopped behind a custom-plate-bearing car will notice; so many people take that opportunity to surreptitiously check their mobile phones.)

Reviver Auto is making the so-called Rplates, and they aren’t cheap—the plates are listed at US $700, plus an $8 a month subscription fee. The company is initially focused on marketing them to fleet managers, who are expected to use the displays for advertising messages, but expects early adopters to quickly jump on the technology, and other consumers to come on board as the company proves out the plates’ usefulness.

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Illustration of the Boring Company's rapid transit vehicle.

Elon Musk's Boring Company Wins Chicago High-Speed Transit Contract

On Thursday, the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, on behalf of the City of Chicago, announced that it was awarding Elon Musk’s Boring Company a contract to build a rapid-transit link between O’Hare Airport and downtown.

The trip currently takes about 40 minutes on public transportation; the Boring Company aims to cut that to 12 minutes, using electric shuttles—Musk calls them skates—to zip passengers through tunnels at 125 to 150 miles per hour, paying US $20 to $25 a ride—roughly half the price of a taxi or Uber. The Chicago Tribune reported that the entire project is expected to come in under $1 billion.

The goal of the project, according to the Boring Company’s web site, is “to alleviate soul-destroying traffic.”

Four companies had submitted competitive bids. The Boring Company was one of two finalists—the other two were eliminated because of questions regarding their “ability to deliver the critical project with no public subsidy,” according to the Sun Times.

Musk will front the construction funds in return for a share of the fees paid by passengers and advertising revenue.

It’s been a big month for the Boring Company. The company’s “Not-a-Flamethrower” flamethrowers, sold out in preorders, recently started landing in customers’ hands (just in time for California’s fire season).

More on what the Boring Company is up to here.

Illustration of industrial robotic arms.

Stealthy Startup Aims to Reinvent AI for Manufacturing

What exactly is the “future of autonomous manufacturing?” According to venture capitalist and AutoLab AI cofounder Lior Susan, stealth startup AutoLab AI is building it, but isn’t defining it yet, at least not publicly.

That kind of cryptic chatter doesn’t usually get Silicon Valley talking—more likely yawning, or at most mumbling about vaporware. But AutoLab AI, according to Axios, already has 400 employees and some serious funding. It’s not clear where those employees are hiding; the Palo Alto address for the company points to a small suite of offices at best. And the breadcrumbs the company has left to date are remarkably sparse.

But some dots are starting to connect.

SEC filings indicate that manufacturing giant Flex is a major funder, along with Eclipse Ventures; the company closed a Series A round of $163 million. Axios took that information and information from its sources to suggest that Autolab AI is actually a spinout of Flex.

SEC data lists Amar Hanspal as CEO; his most recent gig was as co-CEO at Autodesk, where, according to his LinkedIn profile, he was involved in investing “in cloud-based business opportunities in construction, additive manufacturing and VR/AR,” not a bad resume for someone who just might be building the factory of the future. Former Autodesk CEO Carl Bass is on the new company’s board—when he stepped down in 2017 he said he intended to spend his time “playing with robots.” Could this be what he meant?

The company’s trademark covers “cloud-based non-downloadable software; software as a service (SAAS); design and engineering of automation and manufacturing systems; and computer operating systems for use in the field of automated manufacturing technology” and a variety of computer control systems.

What does that add up to? Industrial robots controlled from the cloud? Large-scale additive manufacturing as a service? This story, clearly, is to be continued.

LimeBike (left) and Bird Rides shared electric scooters on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, California, U.S., on April 13, 2018.

Electric Scooter Wars Heat Up in San Francisco and Beyond

In February, I spent a weekend in Santa Monica, Calif. I couldn’t walk half a block without bumping into an electric scooter. Literally. They blocked sidewalks and doorways—they were everywhere. I wasn’t sure what they were or how they worked; I rented a bike to get around.

In March, in San Francisco for the afternoon, I again found myself dodging electric scooters, both parked and in motion. They weren’t such a mystery anymore, as stories about skirmishes between city officials and scooter companies had started to hit the press. I eyed them with interest, but saw more parked than in use.

Just last week, I finally took the leap—and used one of the electric scooters to get from the San Francisco train station to an event at the Exploratorium. It was rush hour, and considering the other transportation options—Uber, taxi, or bus—a scooter seemed like it would get me there fastest at a reasonable price. And with most of my route along the safe, flat, and wide Embarcadero bike path, conditions were optimal for learning to ride the thing.

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Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering, speaks about screen time during an announcement of new products at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference Monday, June 4, 2018, in San Jose, Calif.

Apple Announces Tools to Help You Put Your Phone Down

We’ve all been there: You’re out with friends for dinner and everyone has finished their entrees and placed orders for coffee and dessert. The conversation seems to fade along with the food and, almost simultaneously, everyone suddenly realizes they have to give their phone a quick peek—any text messages? And as long as it’s in their hands, maybe a glance at email or Facebook. The scrolling goes on until the coffee arrives.

Every time this happens, I feel like sneezing, because it reminds me of the era in which the end of a meal had at least a few people at a table reaching for a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.

It’s not that people didn’t recognize early on that phones don’t belong at the dinner table. Five or six years ago, Silicon Valley VCs and entrepreneurs were seen, on occasion, playing the so-called Phone Stacking Game. At lunches and dinners out with a group, attendees would stack their phones in the center of the table—first person to touch their phone pays the bill. It didn’t catch on widely, and eventually faded away—I’m guessing because it was just too painful for people to sit at a meal, staring at their phone without being able to touch it.

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Aerial photograph of San Antonio, Texas.

What's the Best City for Software Engineers?

If you’re a software engineer, where should you live to maximize your income?

Moving and storage company SpareFoot sliced what it says was an exclusive batch of data obtained from ZipRecruiter covering the 30 days ending 1 May 2018. SpareFoot offers online tools for booking self-storage facilities—so it keeps its eye on people who are relocating, hence it’s interest in software engineering careers.

The company narrowed the list to the 25 U.S. metropolitan areas with the most opportunities for software engineers, as determined by dividing the number of job openings listed on ZipRecruiter by the number of active job seekers in that area. It then took the median software engineering salary for each area, as determined by Payscale, and adjusted that according to cost of living data from AreaVibes. Finally, it combined the real adjusted salary data with the opportunity data, giving double weight to the opportunity data. Got that?

After churning these numbers, SpareFoot came out with San Antonio, Texas, on top, and Dallas, Houston, and Austin joining it in the top ten. A bit suspicious that so many Texas cities did so well, given that SpareFoot hails from Austin, its formula construction may be reflecting a bit of hometown bias.

So in addition to SpareFoot’s calculated rankings, I took apart the data provided to also list cities by adjusted average salaries and by software engineer demand:

The Intel logo is displayed outside of the Intel headquarters on April 26, 2018 in Santa Clara, California.

Oh, Intel, Not #YouToo? Age Discrimination Investigation Underway

In March, ProPublica and Mother Jones published a report detailing employee claims that IBM’s layoff strategy in recent years has been designed to lower the age of its workforce. Two weeks ago, word came that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has launched a nationwide investigation into IBM’s practices.

Now, Intel has joined the that ignominious group. According to The Wall Street Journal, the EEOC has, since November, been investigating Intel’s 2015 and 2016 layoffs for potential discrimination against older employees.

Again, press reports led the way. The Oregonian reported in June 2016 that the first phase of Intel’s planned 12,000-worker reduction in head count—which would cull 2300 employees from the company’s workforce—disproportionately targeted older workers. People over 40 were twice as likely to get the ax as those under 40, said the paper; workers over 60 were eight times as likely to be terminated as those under 30. The 2015 layoffs fit a similar profile, the Oregonian indicated. (Unlike IBM, Intel has been providing the legally required data about the layoffs to employees, including the total number affected and the age breakdown.) Anecdotal evidence catalogued at TheLayoff.com at the time of the cuts also pointed to concerns that older engineers were being heavily targeted.  

In a statement to the Oregonian, Intel denied using age as a criterion, and said that “Personnel decisions were based solely upon skill sets and business needs to support that evolution.” The rationale is similar to the “workforce rebalancing” criteria IBM has said it has employed in selecting jobs to cut.

Tesla Wants You to Know That It’s Good for California’s Economy, Not Just the Environment

Tesla has been getting a bit of bad press lately: Its CEO Elon Musk berated analysts; its autopilot technology was implicated in crashes; delays in production of its new Model 3 vehicle have frustrated customers; and, most recently, that car failed to earn a recommendation from Consumer Reports.

So it’s not exactly a bad time for the company to release a study touting the good Tesla has done for California’s economy. The benefits include supporting more than 51,000 jobs for the year 2017. IHS Markit conducted the study; Tesla funded it.

The study considered not only Tesla’s direct spending in 2017, but how purchasing by Tesla filtered through the supply chain within the state. The study also took into account 2017 consumer spending by Tesla employees, mostly in Alameda County (where the Tesla factory is located) and Santa Clara County (where the company is headquartered).

The main takeaways, by the numbers:

  • 51,000 jobs in California. That number includes 20,189 people directly employed by Tesla and 31,424 additional jobs generated down the supply chain or by local consumer spending.  Santa Clara County grabbed 38.7 percent of that total; Alameda County 27.9 percent.

  • $2.1 billion paid to employees as wages and equity, along with $986 million paid to employees of direct and extended suppliers and another $923 million in salaries supported by that consumer spending.

  • $328 million in state and local taxes paid by Tesla itself, with another $345 million paid by those suppliers and companies benefiting from consumer spending.

The full report, breaking down the data by county and other factors, is available from IHS Markit [pdf].

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View From the Valley

IEEE Spectrum’s blog featuring the people, places, and passions of the world of technologists in Silicon Valley and its environs.
Contact us:  t.perry@ieee.org

Editor
Tekla Perry
Palo Alto, Calif.
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