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Brier Dudley's Blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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December 11, 2012 10:27 AM

Microsoft vet Blake Irving named Go Daddy's big daddy

Posted by Brier Dudley

It was only a matter of time before Blake Irving was snapped up by another tech company.

Today Irving was named chief executive of Go Daddy, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based web hosting and domain registrar that leads the market but is known particularly for its tawdry advertising.

Irving (pictured) starts Jan. 7, succeeding interim Chief Executive Scott Wagner. Wagner represented buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, which led a $2.25 billion leveraged buyout of Go Daddy in 2011.

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"Blake Irving's deep technology experience and his history of developing new cutting-edge products and leading large global teams make him an enormously compelling choice to drive Go Daddy to the next level of its domestic and global growth," founder and Chairman Bob Parsons said in a release.

Irving spent 15 years at Microsoft, rising to vice president of Microsoft's Windows Live platform. He left in 2007 and ended up as chief product officer at Yahoo.

At Yahoo, Irving seemed like a potential successor to then-Chief Executive Carol Bartz but Yahoo instead replaced her with former PayPal executive Scott Thompson in January. He left in May, amid a flap over incorrect information on his resume.

Irving left Yahoo in April and put his energy into being a dad, surfing and restoring his family's historic home in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Irving's familiar with the Southwest. Between Microsoft and Yahoo, he invested in real estate in Santa Fe and he serves on the board of Scottsdale-based GolfLogix.

He also spent time teaching at Pepperdine University, where he earlier received an MBA after graduating from San Diego State.

Comments | Category: Digital media , Entrepreneurs , Microsoft , Tech work , Yahoo! |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 5, 2012 10:03 AM

Study: Washington No. 1 for broadband, tech economy

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sorry California.

Washington topped a new national ranking of tech savvy states benefiting from broadband.

The report was produced by TechNet, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group formed by tech executives who have pushed to make broadband a top priority for lawmakers. Among the founders is John Chambers, chief executive of network technology provider Cisco, which sponsored the study released today.

"Simply put, broadband is the foundation for our nation's continued technology and economic leadership," TechNet Chief Executive Rey Ramsey said in the release. "Broadband is shown to help create economic growth, job creation and many other benefits."

Criteria included broadband adoption, network quality and economic structure.

Washington led largely because of its "economic structure" rating. That includes the percentage of jobs in "information and communication technology" industries and "ICT-centric" workers such as computing programmers or network administrators.

That reflects the presence of major software companies and companies such as network technology provider F5 and telecoms like T-Mobile USA.

Another factor was an estimate of the percentage of jobs in app development. The study noted that Washington has a number of companies developing mobile apps. It's also home to the world's largest app developer - Microsoft.

Right behind Washington in the ranking were Massachusetts and Delaware, followed by Maryland and California. Oregon ranked 13th.

"TechNet's Broadband study confirms the importance of high speed Internet access for our state," Washington Governor Chris Gregoire said in TechNet's release. "Our companies and residents are innovators, and they make the most of the high-speed networks in our communities. Washington's broadband environment has grown through years of planning and commitment, and we welcome the findings released today."

The study said Massachusetts' benefited from its "cluster of universities and tech companies" and Delaware did well because it has a "high network quality and concentration of corporate headquarters reliant on broadband connectivity."

Here's the report: TechNet_StateBroadband3a (1).pdf

Here's TechNet's infographic issued with the press release:

StateBroadband_Infographic2b.jpg

Comments | Category: Broadband , Enterprise , Public policy , Tech work , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 3, 2012 9:57 AM

Seattle tech forecast: Cloudy with showers of cash

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's revenge-of-the-nerds time in Seattle.

The cool kids in Silicon Valley usually get all the attention. But the tables are turning, now that it's getting harder to make a killing with a clever app or website.

Lately, the Valley's been fretting about a slowdown in venture funding for consumer Web companies.

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Venture capitalist Fred Wilson opined last week that the consumer Web has finally matured and the big players like Google, Facebook, Amazon.com, Microsoft and others are "starting to suck up a lot of the oxygen.'

In a blog post, Wilson wrote that "consumer behaviors are starting to ossify on the Web, and it is harder than ever to build a large audience from a standing start."

Meanwhile, Seattle has been steadily growing a promising crop of business-oriented startups with half the glamour and perhaps twice the promise.

These companies don't get the buzz of the Valley's groovy consumer startups. But those that survived the recession and steadily built strong businesses are moving into position for big breakouts over the next year or two.

The backdrop for this is the emergence of Seattle as the world leader in cloud computing. Tech ventures small and large are building the infrastructure, tools and services that are modernizing the business world and managing the massive amounts of data that's being generated.

That environment is drawing talent and investors now that enterprise software is back in favor. Evidence of this came in a surge of financing deals over the past month as a handful of tech startups in the area raised collectively more than $100 million.

"We're going to look back 10 years from now, and we're not going to believe how successful the Pacific Northwest has been in terms of growing great businesses," Matt McIlwain, managing director at Madrona Venture Partners in Seattle, told me last week.

Here's a look at some of the area companies moving into pole positions:

Big Fish Games: The steady Seattle casual-games giant is hunkering down and investing heavily in new businesses, which could position the company to go public or be acquired within two years.

Big Fish just named Dave Stephenson (below right, in a photo by Times photographer Ken Lambert) its president, freeing up founder and Chief Executive Paul Thelen (left) to focus on its new initiatives.

Stephenson formerly led finance operations for the biggest group at Amazon.com, its North American retail business. He joined Big Fish as chief financial officer last year.

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Big Fish produces and publishes hundreds of games a year and distributes them on multiple platforms. Its games may not be household names, but they're good enough to draw a huge, paying audience. That provides more consistent growth than chasing big hits.

Sales grew 30 percent last year and this year will exceed $200 million. Its global head count is about 700, including 550 in Seattle, where it added nearly 100 employees over the past year.

Big Fish considered going public last year but held off because it was planning big investments in its new cloud gaming platform. Thelen said the investments will lead to "hypergrowth" but wouldn't have gone over well on Wall Street.

"We saw a lot of opportunity to emerge as a much bigger company through this forward investing in these new businesses we're pursuing now," he said.

Big Fish plans to spend perhaps 18 to 24 months getting the new ventures up to speed. They include the expansion of its cloud gaming platform, new "free to play" games supported by microtransactions and expansion in Asia.

"When we emerge is the time we'd consider an acquisition or an IPO, but right now we're in a build phase," Thelen said.

Smartsheet: Bellevue-based Smartsheet is announcing Monday that it has raised $26 million to accelerate its business providing online spreadsheets. The funding came from Madrona and Insight Venture Partners.

More than 20,000 organizations are now using Smartsheet's online service to collaborate and share information.

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Chief Executive Mark Mader expects his team will grow from 40 to 140 over the next 18 months. Smartsheet is cash-flow positive and saw triple-digit sales growth over the last three years.

"The opportunity we see here, it's substantial," he said.

Mader wouldn't say much about plans to go public or be sold. But he acknowledged that large software vendors are interested in adding new products that are used by workers at every level of a company.

Those companies have to innovate "or find technologies that have huge reach and touch users within business."

Qumulo: Seattle data-storage startup Qumulo surfaced last week with $24.5 million in initial funding.

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The amount of data that companies need to store will grow 50 times by 2020, yet corporate IT budgets and staffing are expected to grow only about 50 percent over that period, Qumulo Chief Executive Peter Godman said.

"That situation -- this massive increase in data and a fairly modest increase in resources -- requires fundamentally better and more efficient technologies," he said.

Qumulo is a fourth-generation Seattle tech company. Godman came from Isilon, a data-storage company started by veterans of RealNetworks, which was started by a Microsoft alum.

Isilon was sold to EMC for $2.25 billion in 2010.

At last week's state Innovation Summit, the president of EMC's Isilon group said the business has expanded from 500 to 1,300, and sales have more than tripled since the acquisition.

Qumulo is keeping its product plans under wraps until next year, but in the meantime it's using its newfound capital to hire like mad. Godman expects head count to grow from 18 to 68 over the next 18 months.

Comments | Category: Enterprise , Entrepreneurs , Games & entertainment , Isilon , Startups , Tech work , VC , Video games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 29, 2012 8:39 AM

Innovation Summit: How to fuel the state's growth?

Posted by Brier Dudley

People - and Washington's ability to attract them - are why the state has become a world leader in information-technology over the last 30 years.

"For the most part our success story is in many ways a story that has been built on being a magnet for attracting people to come to Washington state from across the country and around the world," Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said at the Washington Innovation Summit in Seattle today.

Continuing to compete for talent "will dictate whether our region can prosper on a long term basis," Smith said.


During his opening keynote speech at summit, Smith argued for a greater emphasis on computer science education, including new standards requiring the subject for high school graduation.

Smith also said the country needs to do a better job ensuring that students entering college complete their degrees and expand visa programs for skilled workers from overseas under a plan Microsoft is pitching in Washington, D.C.

"The number one thing we need to think about is the competition for talent," Smith said.

Smith set the tone for the summit, at which government, business and education leaders are gathering at the Bell Harbor conference center to discuss ways to nurture innovative industries in the state. It's sponsored by the Technology Alliance.

Incoming Gov. Jay Inslee is scheduled to address the group later in the day. He may echo some of the themes discussed by Smith, who is advising Inslee on his transition.

Smith said the state has a great foundation to build upon, including institutions such as the University of Washington.

"Now is the time for us to raise our sights and aim higher," he said.

Smith was followed by Ed Lazowska, Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the UW.

Lazowska provided an overview of "big data" and opportunities around the rapidly advancing ability to manage and quickly analyze massive amounts of data being generated nowadays. This flood of data and computing challenges are transforming businesses and spawning new software companies.

A related trend is the rise of cloud computing. With Microsoft, Amazon.com and Google developing their cloud services here, "the Seattle area is really kind of the owner of the cloud," Lazowska said.

"It's a good time to be in Seattle and a good time to be doing big data," he added.

Lazowska moderated a panel of local people involved in the big data industry including Christian Chabot, chief executive of data-visualization company Tableau Software; Mike Fridgen, chief executive of consumer shopping service Decide.com; Cameron Myhrvold, a venture capitalist backing machine-data software company Splunk, and Ruben Ortega, Google engineering director.

Myhrvold, a founding partner of Bellevue's Ignition Partners, said big data opportunities have just started.

"I think big data is going to give us a 15-year investment horizon ... and we're in year three today," he said.

Meanwhile companies in the field are growing like crazy.

Chabot said Tableau has grown from 350 to 720 employees this year. The company is in the "sweet spot of high-tech company growth."

Splunk is based in San Francisco but opened a Seattle engineering office with around 30 people, Myhrvold said. Fridgen said Decide has about 30 employees.

Google is continuing to expand in the area. It employs around 1,000 in the Seattle area including 600 in Kirkland and 400 in Seattle, Ortega said.

Ortega said the majority of Google's cloud efforts are coming from engineers in the Seattle area, which is developing into a "critical cluster" of cloud computing expertise.

Chabot said it's a tragedy that so many of the world's smartest engineers have spent the last decade working on how to get people to click ads or put more things in digital shopping carts. Now the technologies that they advanced are being applied in other areas.

"Every single industry you can name is doing really pioneering things with big data collections to improve the world," he said, adding that:

"I think getting out of this click on an ad/shopping cart rut we've been in for the last 10 years ... it's going to create a huge wave of job creation."

Comments | Category: Education , Enterprise , Entrepreneurs , Microsoft , Public policy , Startups , Tech work |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 12, 2012 6:10 PM

Sinofsky's out of Microsoft, but why?

Posted by Brier Dudley

The abrupt announcement that Windows boss Steven Sinofsky is leaving Microsoft raises big questions about what's going on behind the concrete and glass facades in Redmond.

Sinofsky just launched the boldest overhaul of Windows in a generation, the cornerstone of Microsoft's epic year that Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has been cheering about lately.

Some say that Sinofsky and Ballmer have been battling lately, and the sudden announcement suggests a fallout between the two most powerful men at the company.

Don't be surprised if we hear fairly soon about additional organizational changes taking place at Microsoft as Ballmer sorts through his lineup.

Here's my speculation about what may be going on:

1. Sinofsky was passed over for the opportunity to succeed Ballmer as chief executive. Perhaps Kevin Turner or someone else internally was given the nod, despite Sinofsky's huge achievements building the company's flagship Office and Windows products.

2. Ballmer was going to divvy up Sinofsky's kingdom in a way that didn't go over well. Perhaps it was time to split Windows Live services from big Windows and give Chris Jones, VP of Live services, more responsibility?

3. Could Microsoft be hiring Scott Forstall, the ousted head of mobile software development at Apple? Forstall is a local guy who interned at Microsoft and has family in this area. If he was hired by Microsoft, he'd take a top spot and carve out some of Sinofsky's turf.

4. Sinofsky may have another offer, although he's already running the biggest group at the biggest software company in the world.

5. Sinofsky may have simply decided enough is enough, and opted to leave at a high point in his career.

6. Perhaps Ballmer's recent comment about Surface tablet sales "starting modestly" signaled a problem with uptake of the company's first computer hardware, or displeasure with the initial response to Windows 8 overall. If there's a problem with Windows 8 uptake, it's odd to replace Sinofsky with a lieutenant who championed the software's radical new interface and the Surface.

7. Maybe Ballmer wanted to appease enterprise customers and PC makers who wanted the option of pre-configuring Windows 8 with a traditional desktop interface instead of the default "tiles," and Sinofsky refused to back down on the software's signature design element.

8. Sinofsky may be prickly at times but he doesn't seem like the type to pull a Petraeus.

Regardless of the reason, it's momentous that a woman is now in charge of Windows, the group that produces the software that most people around the world use to do their computing.

It's also a score for the hometown schools that are overshadowed by the bigger research universities. Sinofsky's successor, Julie Larson-Green, is a product of Western Washington University and Seattle University.

Comments | Category: Billionaire techies , Microsoft , Steve Ballmer , Tech work , Windows 8 |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 12, 2012 11:23 AM

Doubling down on casino games in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle's becoming the new Barbary Coast.

First it legalizes marijuana. Next it's likely to become the hub for online gambling.

The city's already on the forefront of online casinos, with Seattle companies building some of the leading virtual-gambling operations on Facebook and mobile devices such as Apple's iPad and iPhones.

DoubleDown Casino Da Vinci Diamonds mobile2 (2).jpg
For now they're using virtual chips -- not real money. But the federal government may legalize online gambling within the next year or two as a way to boost tax revenue.

An early sign of this gold rush came in January, when Las Vegas gambling giant International Game Technology (IGT) bought Seattle video-game company DoubleDown Interactive in a deal worth up to $500 million.

IGT paid $250 million in cash and promised another $250 million if revenue and retention goals were met.

IGT's primary business is making actual slot machines and other gaming systems used in casinos. Last week IGT finally revealed in its quarterly earnings report what a good bet it placed.

DoubleDown helped IGT grow its revenue from interactive games by 302 percent in the quarter and 293 percent in its fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, to $144 million.

DoubleDown operates one of the largest digital casinos. It had 5 million players per month on average during the quarter. On a daily basis, about 1.4 million played.

Players may pay DoubleDown $2.99 to receive virtual chips "worth" $150,000 in the casino. It's like buying digital Monopoly money.

"They were leading when we got them and together we're moving even faster," IGT's chief financial officer, John Vandemore, said last week.

DoubleDown's growth suggests there's still good money to be made in the social-gaming business. It helped IGT blow past analyst expectations and its stock rose 5 percent the day after its earnings report. That's in contrast to social bellwethers Zynga and Facebook, which are struggling to gain investors' favor.

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IGT's giving DoubleDown everything it needs to keep growing the operation in Seattle, according to DoubleDown Chief Executive Greg Enell, a veteran of Microsoft, Wild Tangent and Big Fish Games.

When I interviewed Enell last month in his office a few floors below Paul Allen's penthouse near CenturyLink Field, Enell employed 128 people. Now it's up to 147 and the company's moving this week into adjacent offices that will double its space.

"There really are no restrictions, any kind of hiring cap for us," he said. "We're building out as fast as we reasonably can, without sacrificing the quality of the people we hire."

DoubleDown started in 2010 with a handful of people in a little office on North Lake Union. Back then it was just another one of the dozens of small startups in Seattle trying to make a go building games.

The venture was more deliberate than a roll of the dice. Enell had previously sold another game company to Big Fish, then started a profitable online trivia-game company that provided funds to start DoubleDown.

"The idea was let's go build the biggest gambling-oriented audience online in the world. If we do that and online gambling legalizes, we're going to be really valuable," he recalled. "We saw a clear exit, and our exit happened a little sooner than I thought it would, but it did happen."

The team had expected legalization of online gambling to come between 2013 and 2015. Enell still thinks it could happen in the next year or two. But he's leaving that issue to the experts at IGT and staying focused on building virtual gambling games for Facebook and mobile devices.

IGT has a big library of slot-machine games that DoubleDown draws from to expand its online lineup. It adds about two games a month.

DoubleDown's also working to extend its global presence by localizing its games in different markets. It's also been building its own suite of tools to build browser-based games using HTML5 technology.

Meanwhile Enell's former employer, Big Fish, in August launched an online casino that's now making more money on Apple devices than DoubleDown.

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But DoubleDown still has the lead on Facebook, where it's the fifth-highest grossing app, behind Zynga's Texas HoldEm Poker, FarmVille, ChefVille and FarmVille2.

Since this is all virtual currency, I'll make a bet of my own: The success that IGT's having with DoubleDown is going to draw other big gambling companies to Seattle, looking for expertise building online audiences and virtual games. Maybe a gambling company will finally put enough money on the table to buy Big Fish.

It's hard to predict the future, though. Just ask Enell's parents, who weren't enthused about his love of video games when he was growing up in Bellingham.

"My dad always thought it was such a waste of time," he said.

Games image for site (2).jpg

Comments | Category: Casual games , Entrepreneurs , Facebook , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Seattle , Startups , Tech work , Video games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 6, 2012 3:43 PM

Bravo's geek week: Seattle "LOLwork" trounces "Silicon Valley"

Posted by Brier Dudley

If there were a vote this week on which place has a better startup scene, Silicon Valley or Seattle, the Emerald City would win by a mile.

At least among voters who watch the new "reality" shows set in the West Coast tech hubs, which are debuting during the Bravo network's geek week.

On Monday, Bravo aired the first episode of "Start-Ups: Silicon Valley," which follows a handful of improbably attractive young startup wannabes.

Several come across as vapid, self-centered and repellent. Overall, what I saw of the show felt like a lame attempt to generate "buzz" and pander to a mid-20s demographic that's appealing to advertisers. It was produced by Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg.

Things should improve Wednesday night with the 11 p.m. debut of "LOLwork," a Bravo series that follows life inside Cheezburger, the Seattle-based online humor network known mostly for putting funny captions on cute cat pictures.

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The LOLworkers (pictured) are quirky, charming and engaging, which is good since they could come to be seen as the new face of Seattle's tech community.

Perhaps the show is more enjoyable and authentic-feeling because they're actually working for a living, at a real and profitable company that reaches 20 million people a month. Or because I watched the previews in Seattle.

"LOLwork" is so polished and funny at times that you wonder if the workers are flexing their humor muscles for the film crew, helping them produce a Seattle tech version of "The Office."

Maybe it's just smart editing. The Bravo crew didn't coach or prep Cheezburger employees much, said Chief Executive Ben Huh (pictured with cat).

"They had a big meeting in the beginning and they're like, 'Be yourself, don't ham it up. You're funny because of who you are and what you do.' "

Cheezburger employs about 90 people on Lower Queen Anne, but the show focuses on a handful of characters who volunteered for the scrutiny.

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Bravo said the "30-minute doc-com" presents the world of Huh "and his eccentric staff as they attempt to make the world laugh five minutes a day by putting nimble yet grammatically incorrect captions on cute photos of domesticated pets and animals. The series begin as the staff at Cheezburger competes to create a new comedic web series for the site."

Huh said the show was "an amazing experience of a lifetime," but it's not exactly the reality he sees at work.

"It's a show -- it's a TV show. It's been edited," he said. "It's not what I see in the company, but it does capture the essence of what we do."

Huh said some of the things filmed that were really funny to him didn't make it onto the show, because the show was edited to tell a story and some things didn't quite fit.

Bravo paid Cheezburger for the opportunity. Huh wouldn't say how much, but said it was negligible.

"We didn't do it for the compensation," he said. "It wasn't actually very much. Basically we have a half an hour infomercial on Bravo."

Wasn't there a risk in letting people see how the sausage is made?

"I think we're much more attractive than sausages," Huh said. "I didn't really have that concern. ... We talked about what does it mean for our brand. What does it mean for our companies? What if we look like idiots?"

Cheezburger concluded that it would have to trust the producers to tell the company's story.

Huh said the company insisted on one rule, requiring Bravo to respect the consumers of Cheezburger's content. The rule was that "you can make fun of us. You can laugh at us. But you cannot make fun of users," he said.

Still, by drawing out humor in the daily grind of producing funny websites, Bravo may have missed what's really happening at Cheezburger.

The company has been steadily repositioning itself and changing its focus. It's transforming from a media company to a platform company, building tools that other companies can use to manage and distribute content.

There's a ceiling for growth for media, which isn't as scalable as a platform, Huh said. A platform can be used around the world, in places that might not get the humor that works so well for Cheezburger in the U.S.

Cheezburger also has had management changes that aren't reflected in the show. One of the business foils on the show, Chief Revenue Officer Todd Sawicki, left the company last month after filming was done.

"From top to bottom," Huh said, "this company's been going through a huge transformation."

Meanwhile, Bravo's team in Silicon Valley is trying to get funding for an app.

Here's a Seattle Times video of Huh offering tips on how to write good captions:


Comments | Category: Cheezburger , Digital media , Entrepreneurs , Facebook , Startups , Tech work , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 29, 2012 2:11 PM

Apple iOS chief Forstall leaving in shakeup

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apparently there has also been a storm in Cupertino, Calif.

Apple today abruptly announced a reorganization of its executive ranks that includes the departure of Scott Forstall, head of its iOS mobile software group.

Forstall will be an adviser to Chief Executive Tim Cook until he leaves the company next year.

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Forstall -- who grew up in the Silverdale area, interned at Microsoft and still has family in the area -- was a close protege of and possible successor to Steve Jobs before Cook's ascendancy.

A BusinessWeek profile in 2011 called Forstall "the sorceror's apprentice" and said he "may be the best remaining proxy for the voice of Steve Jobs, the person most likely to channel the departed co-founder's exacting vision for how technology should work."

The story noted that Forstall is named on about 50 Apple patents, including a key one in 2009 that named him, Jobs and other employees as co-inventors of a touchscreen device controlled by finger commands.

More recently Forstall's group has come under fire for glitches with the launch of iOS 6, including a faulty mapping program that led to a rare apology by Apple.

Apple chose to release the news on a day it would have the least effect on its stock, which has lost some of its momentum since September and following the launch of the iPad mini last week. It announced Forstall's departure and the executive shakeup during the storm-related closure of Wall Street.

Also leaving in the shakeup is John Browett, head of Apple's retail business, after less than a year in the position. Cook will directly lead the group while a replacement is sought. Browett was hired in January from British consumer-electronics retailer Dixons.

Executives Jony Ive, Bob Mansfield, Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi are being given additional responsibilities.

Ive, head of industrial design, will now also lead human interface design, a position giving him more authority over software as well as hardware.

Federighi will lead iOS in addition to OS X software development. Cue will add Siri and Maps to his online services group. Hardware engineering chief Mansfield will lead a new "technologies" group that will work on wireless products and semiconductors.

"We are in one of the most prolific periods of innovation and new products in Apple's history," Cook said in a release. "The amazing products that we've introduced in September and October, iPhone 5, iOS 6, iPad mini, iPad, iMac, MacBook Pro, iPod touch, iPod nano and many of our applications, could only have been created at Apple and are the direct result of our relentless focus on tightly integrating world-class hardware, software and services."

The release didn't provide any information about Forstall's next career move and the company has not yet responded to a request for more details.

Forstall, a Stanford graduate, joined Apple in 1997 through the acquisition of NeXT, a computer company that Jobs founded after he resigned from Apple in 1985. Forstall was one of the original architects of the OS X operating system and its Aqua user interface.

Forstall rose to become senior vice president of iOS software and part of the small circle of executives that guides the company. Last year he was paid a salary of $700,000 plus a 100 percent bonus of $700,000, plus stock awards, and received a raise to $800,000 for 2012.

Here are a few images I took of Forstall at the side of Jobs during the iPad 2 launch in March 2011:

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Comments | Category: Apple , Tablets , Tech work , iPad , iPhone |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 18, 2012 1:26 PM

Gates, Ballmer cheer employees' $1 billion charity mark

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's been awhile since Bill Gates headlined a Microsoft press conference, but he surfaced for an unusual event today at the company's Redmond headquarters.

Gates joined Chief Executive Steve Ballmer and other dignitaries to announce a milestone in the Microsoft employee giving program, which began 30 years ago after a nudge from Gates' parents.

The giving program -- in which Microsoft matches employee contributions to nonprofit organizations and provides direct corporate gifts -- has had a remarkable effect on the Puget Sound region in particular, where most of the employees are located.

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Microsoft announced that giving through the program has reached $1 billion in cumulative donations to more than 31,000 non-profit groups. Earlier this month, when the company issued its annual citizenship report, the company said it expected to reach that level by the end of 2012.

Ballmer called it a "mind numbing" milestone and thanked the nonprofit "partners" who leveraged the donations and provided an outlet for "our folks' incredible desire to change the world."

Ballmer said that the effects of the giving are seen around the world, and employees "have really stood up in times of crisis" and helped people in more than 200 disasters.

Microsoft matches employee contributions dollar for dollar up to $12,000 per year. For the last five years it has also donated $17 per hour to non-profit groups where its employees have donated at least 10 hours of their time volunteering.

The company's philanthropy helps attract new employees and introduces newcomers to non-profit organizations in the communities where they're hired, executives said.

In addition to Gates, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire attended the event, along with a number of former Microsoft executives who have become prominent philanthropists.

"Well, I come back for historical perspective whenever that's needed," Gates joked, before recounting how the program began.

Gates said it began with Sunday dinners with his mother and father, who were longtime supporters of United Way and encouraged him to start a giving program.

"In the early days I was a little bit reluctant to distract people from writing code day and night," he joked.

Eventually, he agreed and decided it was an area where Microsoft could apply "our analytical excellence to that field as well."

That first year, in 1983, about 200 employees raised $17,000 for non-profit groups. This year the company expects more than 35,000 employees will raise more than $100 million for non-profits around the world.

The $1 billion figure is just for employee donations and matching gifts from the company through its giving program. Total donations since 1983 - including donations of cash, software and services by the company and employees - are more than $6.5 billion.

Additionally, many former employees have gone on to start their own charitable programs and support efforts such as the Microsoft Alumni Foundation.

Over the last three decades, Microsoft and its employees have contributed $460 million to United Way, said Jon Fine, chief executive of United Way of King County.

"The impact of all that giving is almost incalculable," Fine said.

Fine said the company's "culture of generosity" has radiated beyond the campus and raised the bar for what it means to be a responsible corporation.

"This is an area where I feel Microsoft continues to set the pace for the entire technology sector," said Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith, who oversees the company's philanthropic programs.

Gregoire noted that contributions to Washington nonprofits were more than $50 million last year and more than $520 million over the life of the program, an apt number considering the roadway that connects Microsoft's campus to Seattle.

The giving reflects "something that I think is about the values of Washington state," she said.

Gregoire said she found evidence of Microsoft employees' largesse on a recent trip to Hyderabad, India. She visited with employees there whose giving program this year supported the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, a nonprofit that provides eye care and rehabilitation. She also met a 1-year-old girl who was blind until she received corneal transplants from the institute.

"It was one of the most heartwarming experiences of my life," she said. "That's what you have done, that's what it means on the ground to the people who have benefited from your generosity."

Gates and Ballmer praised the milestone as the company was simultaneously delivering a particularly tough earnings report that pulled Microsoft stock down more than 2 percent in after-hours trading.

The earnings weren't mentioned, but Ballmer cast things in a positive light, saying the charitable milestone will be remembered along with the company's other big accomplishments this year, including the launch of Windows 8 next week.

Among the attendees was Jeff Raikes, a former Microsoft president who is now chief executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has so far granted more than $23 billion.

"Cleary this is an incredible milestone ... but it really symbolizes the spirit of the company," Raikes said.

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October 15, 2012 9:44 AM

Review: Starbucks Verismo espresso machine

Posted by Brier Dudley

Get ready for another Seattle-born, high-tech gadget that may be used by millions of people around the world.

Along with the Kindle, the Xbox and the carbon-fiber jetliner we now have the Verismo, a new automated espresso machine from Starbucks.

The Verismo -- which starts at $200 and appears in Starbucks stores beginning Tuesday -- uses plastic capsules filled with pre-ground coffee or powdered milk.

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You drop a "pod" into the machine, press a button and out comes an espresso beverage made with one of Starbucks' signature blends.

To make a latte you use two pods and press two buttons. One gives you a shot of steamed milk and the second adds a shot of espresso.

This isn't the first coffee maker to come out of Seattle, which has become the Little Italy of the espresso-machine industry. In addition to the commercial machines developed in the area, Starbucks has offered traditional, manual espresso machines in the past.

Nor is it a new concept. Other companies have been making "single serve" espresso machines for years, using their own capsule designs.

But it's all about timing, and Starbucks believes the single-serve business is finally taking off. A spokeswoman said the market has grown 147 percent year over year in the U.S. and is now an $8 billion market globally.

I've been using the entry-level Verismo 580 for several weeks now at home and at work.

I should confess that I'm a big fan of the competing Nespresso system from Nestle, which pioneered the pod coffee business. Almost every column I've written has been fueled by Nespresso shots.

I've also used a Starbucks manual espresso machine -- which the company no longer sells in stores -- for more than a decade.

I've tried other single-serve systems but haven't found one that makes straight shots of espresso as well as the Nespresso. The Verismo is the first one that has come close.

Shots of Starbucks Espresso Blend from the Verismo taste just about like a solo shot you'd get at a Starbucks store and it's quicker. It's also slightly cheaper; the pods cost $1 apiece, while a solo shot is $1.75 at the store.

Nespresso machines start at $129, pods cost 60 cents and more varieties of espresso are available. But you have to order the coffee online, unless you're in a city like New York or Paris that has a Nespresso boutique.

Where Verismo has an edge over the Nespresso is in the variety of beverages that can be produced with the Verismo machine. Like Starbucks stores, the Verismo produces a range of drinks that appeal particularly to Americans.

In addition to espresso, the Verismo produces a 10-ounce drip coffee, a 10-ounce Americano and an 8 ounce latte. The first two cost $1; the latte is $2 since it takes both a coffee pod and milk pod. (If you buy combo packs with eight coffee and eight milk pods the latte price comes down to $1.62, a spokeswoman noted.)

Figuring out how to make an acceptable latte from a pod is perhaps the biggest innovation in the Verismo. Starbucks worked with the manufacturer in Germany to tune the system so it would "brew" the milk at a lower temperature than the coffee. Lots of work also went into the milk, which is powdered and produces a "standard" 2 percent latte.

Starbucks really had to get the latte right, said Paul Camera, director of research and development at the Seattle headquarters.

"Our signature beverage is a latte, right?" he told me. "This is really a feature that the consumer is going to say, 'Ah, finally, here is a machine that does all of this stuff.'"

The Verismo latte is pretty good. It has a distinct taste of powdered milk, which some may dislike, but the drink is rich and fresh-tasting, with some caramel flavors of the coffee coming through.

Verismo drip coffee tastes comparable to drip coffee in its stores. My only gripe with this -- besides the cost -- is that on the entry-level Verismo you have to remove the standard cup platform to fit a 4-inch-tall mug under the spout.

It's not a huge deal but you shouldn't have to do this, especially on a relatively tall machine. The Verismo 580 is about 11 inches tall, 11 inches deep and 5.5 inches wide.

The machine also "ate" about one in 10 pods, dropping them into its internal discard pile before I pulled the shot. I could fish out the unused capsules but it's a little messy and infuriating when you're paying $1 per pod.

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Pods are available with different roasts, including House Blend, Pike Place Roast, Veranda Blend and Caffe Verona. More pod varieties are planned; the pod coffees are roasted by Starbucks in Amsterdam and packaged in Europe, where there's more single-serve production expertise.

Americanos are made with an espresso pod followed by a shot of hot water from the Verismo. But I found an alternative method that I preferred.

On the drip coffee pods there's a foil tab that you're supposed to remove before use. I didn't read the instructions at first and left the tabs on, which forced the machine to use more pressure. The result was a richer 10-ounce beverage with a nice crema. Camera said I was making a sort of lungo shot and my trick shouldn't damage the machine.

With the taste of a Verismo cup approaching that of drinks from a Starbucks store, cost and convenience are the factors to consider.

Asked about the pod price, Camera said Starbucks pays a premium to get the world's best coffee.

"You're getting the same high-quality coffee that you get in our stores. It's identical to that," he said, adding that "everything we do is about quality and not about lowest cost."

Some attribute the rise of single-serve coffee machines to frugality among post-recession consumers who want a cheaper alternative to the coffee shop but don't want to give up their favorite beverages. Yet $2 for a small latte isn't a huge savings and the per-pound cost of the actual coffee is astronomical with pods.

We'll see if consumers agree that the Verismo's convenience is worth the cost. The pod price seems too high to me.

The coffee snob in me also objects to the idea of coffee pods. Making a great espresso requires more than just a high-pressure machine. It takes practice and good coffee. Every cup's a little different and another chance to attempt the perfect shot.

Really, though, I don't have time to fire up the manual machine every morning. It's a little messy and takes fussing to prime and clean.

It's even less convenient to manually make espresso at work. I've seen primo espresso machines at a number of Seattle software companies, but they usually look almost untouched compared with dispenser-type machines.

The Verismo may be a more convenient option for small offices that want in-house espresso.

Even Starbucks is using automated machines now in its stores, to produce espresso drinks fast and with consistent quality.

But it wouldn't be cost effective for Starbucks to use pods, which is something to keep in mind if you're a big coffee drinker.

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October 3, 2012 7:23 AM

With T-Mobile / MetroPCS deal, Puget Sound lands another giant

Posted by Brier Dudley

T-Mobile USA finally found a dance partner.

The Bellevue-based company today confirmed that it's merging with Dallas-based MetroPCS in a deal that will speed T-Mobile's rollout of a 4G LTE network and strengthen the bargain section of the wireless market.

It will take a few years to see whether the merged company overtakes Sprint and poses a major challenge to AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

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T-Mobile customers won't be affected much, other than quicker access to a wider LTE network after the deal closes sometime next year. MetroPCS customers will be encouraged to migrate to T-Mobile's network by the end of 2015, which will enable the merged company to use common network technology.

But in the meantime a tremendous change will take place in the Puget Sound region, where there's suddenly another giant public company. The merged company will be headquartered in Bellevue and have $24.8 billion in annual sales.

To put that in perspective, by sales the company is more than twice the size of Starbucks or Nordstrom. It will be the state's fourth largest public company behind Costco, Microsoft and Amazon.com. (It would be the fifth if you count Boeing, which is now based in Chicago.)

This won't replace the loss of Washington Mutual or Safeco but it will help, especially since the deal solidifies the concentration of wireless employment in the region at a time when the industry's surging and -- with LTE technology -- building a new foundation for the technology industry.

The deal makes T-Mobile a more autonomous, U.S.-based company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. That's a long-term enterprise and ends the uncertainty that hung over T-Mobile as a subsidiary of Germany's Deutsche Telekom, especially since DT began shopping it around.

From this angle, the MetroPCS merger is a far better deal than last year's attempt to sell T-Mobile to AT&T, which would have shifted the corporate headquarters to Texas.

That's not to say there won't be some pain. T-Mobile is saying it expects to find $6 billion to $7 billion in cost savings through the merger with MetroPCS, which means there will be job cuts across the companies.

At the same time, the new T-Mobile believes it's positioned to grow and win a larger share of the U.S. wireless market, which would lead to continued expansion in Bellevue.

"This combination of T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS means we are here to compete," Deutsche Telekom Chief Executive Rene Obermann said on a conference call this morning. "We are here to unlock value and we are here to win. This deal has the potential to be a game changer."

The deal was announced today after it was approved by the boards of DT and MetroPCS. It still needs regulatory approval, but the companies believe it could be finalized in the first half of 2013. It's not likely to raise the same competition concerns as AT&T's attempt to merge with T-Mobile, which was scuttled after drawing antitrust scrutiny.

T-Mobile is the fourth largest wireless carrier and MetroPCS is the fifth. Together they'll still trail third-place Sprint, but it's a much closer race.

Today's deal is structured as a recapitalization of Dallas-based MetroPCS. MetroPCS is splitting its stock and paying shareholders a one-time dividend of $1.5 billion, or about $4.09 per share. DT is getting 74 percent of MetroPCS common stock, rolling in $15 billion in debt and providing $500 million in revolving credit to the combined company. It's also providing a $5.5 billion backstop for previous deals made by MetroPCS.

Combined, the companies are expected to have 42.5 million subscribers this year and $6.3 billion of earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation. It's expecting to spend $4.2 billion on capital expenditures -- mainly building out its network -- and have $2.1 billion in free cash flow.

DT will end up with 74 percent of the combined company and MetroPCS shareholders will hold 26 percent.

Employees of T-Mobile - including nearly 5,000 in the Puget Sound region - may benefit from stock grant programs.

T-Mobile's new chief executive, John Legere, said being public will enable the company to offer more competitive compensation programs to attract and retain employees. A plan for stock awards hasn't yet been formulated but he favors the approach.

"We can use ownership in our company to motivate employees," he said in an interview.

Legere will lead the combined company that will be called T-Mobile. J. Braxton Carter, vice chairman and chief financial officer of MetroPCS, will become CFO of T-Mobile.

T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers will continue to be served separately, at least until MetroPCS customers are upgraded to T-Mobile's network by the end of 2015. Jim Alling, a Starbucks veteran and current chief operating officer of T-Mobile, will lead T-Mobile's customer unit while Thomas Keys, MetroPCS president, will lead MetroPCS's customer unit.

Although it will be headquartered in Bellevue, the combined company will "retain a significant presence" in Dallas, its release said.

In a conference call, Legere said the merger will provide T-Mobile with a 40 percent increase in contiguous spectrum for LTE and provide particularly dense coverage in major metro areas such as New York and Los Angeles.

Addressing concerns about the different network technologies used by MetroPCS and T-Mobile, Legere said they will not attempt to mash the older, legacy networks together. Instead, they'll move MetroPCS customers using its older CDMA network onto T-Mobile's network as they renew and upgrade. T-Mobile's current, HSPA Plus network has capacity to accomodate MetroPCS subscribers, he noted.

The networks' incompatibility will soon be a moot question. Both companies were in the process of shifting their networks and eventually customers to the same LTE technology that's becoming the new industry standard.

Legere said they expect "a rapid migration" to LTE "as part of the normal upgrade cycle."

As for its pricing strategy, the new T-Mobile will continue to emphasize value, with unlimited 4G plans. It's also going to be the largest provider of non-contract wireless phone services.

"We'll be able to deliver the best value across the board and that means in both contract and no-contract offerings," he said.

It's natural for this to happen here. The modern wireless industry was born in the area, with McCaw Cellular establishing the first national, roaming network in 1990. Two years later McCaw began selling the company to AT&T, beginning decades of mega mergers of the region's wireless companies.

That generated wealth and insight that led to the founding of Western Wireless in 1994. It became VoiceStream, which was sold to Deutsche Telekom in 2001.

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October 1, 2012 9:56 AM

Microsoft's visa plan: More needed

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

That's the gist of Microsoft's ambitious proposal to revamp U.S. immigration policies regulating the flow of foreign tech workers into the country.

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Microsoft wants the government to let companies bring in more skilled workers from overseas with special visas. It also wants the government to release more green cards that were allocated but unused.

To make this more palatable to a country suffering from widespread unemployment, Microsoft proposed fees of $10,000 to $15,000 that companies would pay for extra visas and green cards issued through the program.

Microsoft estimates this would raise $500 million a year, which could be earmarked for science and math education to better prepare students for tech industry jobs. That's tomorrow's payout for the fresh meat Microsoft wants today.

You have to give the company credit for floating a creative solution to one of the thornier political issues facing the country. But more has to be done to get Americans to accept the deal proposed by the crafty software giant.

Really, how many politicians will agree to fill jobs with more foreigners, when millions of Americans are struggling to find work?

A generation is entering the workforce with little hope of ever receiving the wages, job security and stable pensions that enabled their parents and grandparents to buy homes and send them to college.

At the same time, the country's future depends on its ability to continue being a font of creativity and innovation and a beacon of hope and opportunity for the rest of the world.

Building higher walls along the border isn't the solution. This is a nation of immigrants, and the recent waves built and lead some of its largest employers. The tech industry is full of examples.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin was born in Russia. Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer's father immigrated from Switzerland.

Then there's Steve Jobs - the late Apple co-founder and icon of American ingenuity, prosperity and business prowess. He was the son of a Syrian Muslim immigrant, put up for adoption and taken in by an Armenian family in California.

None of that is any solace to American workers who can't find work today. Especially those with technical skills or training that don't sync precisely with the thousands of job openings advertised by companies like Microsoft.

Also outraged by talk of a "talent shortage" that underlies Microsoft's visa proposal are smart, capable people whose careers were derailed by imperfect management systems or office politics.

Microsoft's "stack ranking" system, which evaluates employees on a curve, regularly empties seats, raising questions about just how critical the talent shortage is in Redmond.

It's hard to keep it in perspective.

While employees are gritting out their annual job evaluations and the unemployed are sending off their hundredth job application, a new crop of software developers is emerging from schools around the world.

We want it all. We want to help our neighbors. We also want Microsoft and other American tech companies to lure as many of the best and brightest as they can, so they work hard, build careers and invent the future here.

This is a tricky puzzle that has stymied Congress for years. It's not getting easier with both presidential candidates talking tough about foreign economic competition while pledging to create more jobs.

President Obama went so far as to block a Chinese company's purchase of four Oregon wind farms last week. Is he going to sign a bill allowing Chinese to take more American software jobs, just not our windmills?

To make its proposal fly, Microsoft and the tech industry need to offer more than just $500 million worth of math and science funding. Here are few ways they could make progress:

1. Create an online portal giving more details about what jobs can't be filled domestically. Tech companies need to be more transparent about this to prove m

ore visas are needed. They also need to show special visas aren't being used to fill jobs with lower-cost labor.

2. Use this reporting to create a system that helps government employment agencies and colleges better place job candidates. The data could also be used to focus education and retraining programs.

3. Use the $500 million in visa fees to invest in job retraining and placement services that address the current unemployment. Earmark a portion to retrain and place veterans, who could connect with programs such as Microsoft's Military Outreach to transition to private-sector jobs. This may not produce top-tier software developers -- some people have the gift, many don't. But it would be a faster way to offset the job importation and make extra visas more palatable.

4. Before tinkering with visas, boost K-12 and college funding by eliminating offshore tax havens the tech industry uses. Microsoft alone used these to trim its federal contribution by $7 billion since 2009, a Senate panel disclosed Sept. 20.

Microsoft is correct in saying tax law is too complex, enables these schemes and needs to be revised. But then the company turns around and suggests an elaborate new visa program.

(Don't get me started on Microsoft's tax breaks in Washington state, which is boosting computer -science programs but too broke for just about everything else.)

5. Link the call for additional visas with an equally bold call for broad tax reform, and a pledge to pay more taxes. That would provide more stable, continuous funding for education than unpredictable visa fees that will rise and fall with demand for foreign labor. It would also send the message that U.S. tech companies are doing everything they can to help their country.

As for the jobs at stake, the 40,000 new visas and green cards per year that Microsoft calls for won't make a dent in unemployment. But they could actually help improve the situation.

In August, there were 12.5 million people without jobs in the U.S. The 40,000 positions are equal to 0.32 percent of that population.

The 40,000 new jobs are more likely to reduce unemployment as the imported workers buy food, cars, clothes and housing during their stay. This is obvious to everyone in the bustling area around Microsoft's Overlake campus.

Even so, Microsoft's proposal is a hard sell, especially when you have 12.5 million jobless voters.

No matter what happens, Microsoft gets points for using its megaphone to put an important and sensitive issue on the table during the election season.

It may want to pay us Tuesday for extra visas today, but it's not being wimpy.

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September 24, 2012 12:54 PM

More PopCap layoffs - Dublin office closes

Posted by Brier Dudley

PopCap took another step in its layoff plan today, closing its Dublin office and reducing 96 more positions.

Last month the Seattle-based game company began cuts to re-balance its costs as the video game market contracts and moves away from boxed software.

PopCap on Aug. 21 laid off 50 people, mostly in Seattle, and said it was going through a "consultation period" to decide whether to also close the Dublin office.

Today the company released a statement saying that the consultation period in Ireland "has been completed, and after having consulted fully with the employee representatives the PopCap leadership team has decided to close our Dublin office."

The company now employs about 450 people globally, down from around 600 earlier this summer. About 300 are based at PopCap headquarters in Belltown.

The statement noted that PopCap is still growing and hiring for other positions and parent company EA is increasing the size of its customer service center in Galway, Ireland. It's adding 300 positions at the center which now employs 400.

Earlier today Dublin employees disclosed the move, which was noted by UK trade publication MCV.

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September 19, 2012 9:06 AM

T-Mobile USA names new CEO, an AT&T veteran

Posted by Brier Dudley

T-Mobile USA announced today that it has a new chief executive - John Legere, the former chief executive of Global Crossing, a network provider that was sold last year.

Legere, 54, starts his new job Sept. 22, taking over from interim CEO Jim Alling, who is returning to his position as T-Mobile's chief operating officer. They replaced Philip Humm, who resigned in June after two years in Bellevue to take a job at Vodafone.

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Bellevue-based T-Mobile is the nation's fourth largest wireless company and employs around 36,000 people, including around 4,800 in the Puget Sound region.

Legere arrives as T-Mobile is in the midst of a massive network upgrade to 4G LTE technology and simultaneously overhauling its business operations, following a failed merger attempt with AT&T last year.

Legere began his career at New England Telephone in 1980 then spent much of his career at AT&T, including stints as president of its Asia operations and its outsourcing business. Later he worked at Dell, where he was president of the company's operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

"John is a talented and proven executive who brings a successful track record of leading and operating consumer- and business-focused telecommunications and technology companies," Rene Obermann, chief executive of T-Mobile's parent company Deutsche Telekom said in a release.

"As T-Mobile moves forward with its strategic initiatives to improve its market position, including expanding its network coverage and initiating LTE service, John has obviously the right skillset to lead the business into the future."

Legere is a competitive runner -- like Humm -- and a Massachusetts native who received degrees from the University of Massachusetts and MIT.

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September 17, 2012 9:40 AM

Google filling Kirkland campus, more growth planned

Posted by Brier Dudley

Fishing's still pretty good in Seattle, if you're trying to catch a software engineer.

Every month, it seems, another out-of-state tech company arrives on the shores of Lake Washington or Lake Union and throws out a line.

There's concern about whether there's enough fish in the pond, especially with demand for software engineers outpacing the output of college computer-science programs.

Both candidates for governor are pledging to improve the situation, and there are national efforts to boost science and technology education.

Yet the crisis hasn't slowed Google's double-digit growth in Kirkland, where I spent time last week with the new site director, Chee Chew. (shown here on the stairs in his building, in a photo by Steve Ringman of the Times)

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"We've been growing very, very aggressively so there's no question that we are finding talent," he said. "We've had pretty good success hiring here."

Google's presence in Kirkland has tripled since Chew arrived there in 2007, after a 14-year run at Microsoft that began with his work on the Windows 95 taskbar.

In 2009, Google moved into a three-building complex on Kirkland's Sixth Street that's now almost full. Among the site's projects are Google+ Hangouts, Google Talk and elements of the Chrome browser, including the Chrome Web Store.

Combined with a sister office next to Seattle's Fremont Bridge, Google now has about 1,000 employees in the area. It has Google's highest concentration of engineers - higher even than the headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Last year Google hired about 70 people here and so far this year it's hired more than 120, with more to come.

Chew works in an office space shared -- by choice -- with 14 people. Don't fret about the Googlers' working conditions, though.

They may be getting crowded but they're not giving up Googley touches, like expansive living rooms amid the office clusters, with pool tables and funky chairs hanging from the ceiling.

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Last year Google built out the third Kirkland building with a transportation theme. The lobby has an espresso bar designed to look like a cruise ship, and its cafeteria has bench seats like those on a ferryboat and a green and white wall with portholes.

Upstairs are two motorboats, moored at wooden docks built onto the floor. The boats are used as meeting rooms and equipped with power outlets for laptops. They were installed as a memorial to Steve Lacey, a Google engineer killed by a drunken driver last year in Kirkland.

Google now is remodeling the last unused spaces in another building on the campus, which won't be empty for long.

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"I don't think we have all that much time left before we're at capacity at our current growth rate. I'd give us a couple of years," Chew said.

The 42-year-old MIT graduate and user-interface expert became site director two months ago. Chew's predecessor, Scott Silver, who came to Google from Amazon.com, transferred to Mountain View, Calif., the company headquarters.

Google already is looking around for the next place to expand in the area. Chew said the general plan is to continue straddling the lake, providing offices close to where engineers live "and have as few people cross the bridge as possible."

"There aren't a whole lot of available spaces for us to grow and so we're looking all over the place," he said. "We don't have a specific plan of where we're going to go at this point, but we're casting our net pretty wide."

Google has lost some engineers to Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies that have set up Seattle engineering offices in recent years. Just as Google did in 2004, when Microsoft was the best fishing hole.

But Chew isn't too concerned about poaching by newcomers. He said the Valley is a good example of how innovation thrives in a place where people move around and have choices of companies with different cultures.

"A little attrition is OK," he said. "Another way I'd look at it is this way: I think it's actually healthy and a great thing for our community."

If you're recruiting someone from another state, "he's not only looking at a company like Google, he's also looking at what's the environment like?" Chew explained.

"The more opportunities that we have here the more enticing it is to draw talent to the region," he said. "That actually helps all of us."

While Washington frets about whether its hatching enough engineers to replenish the pond, word of Chew's success is spreading in areas where the fishing's tougher.

"Engineering recruiting is by far the hardest problem startups (or large companies) face today, and it is easier in Seattle than in the Bay Area, since the number of relevant startups competing for the talent is much smaller," said Hadi Partovi, a former Microsoft manager and startup veteran who helped Facebook establish its Seattle engineering office in 2010.

Yet there are still not enough fish to go around, Partovi said, especially when you look broadly at the projected growth in U.S. software jobs over the next decade. If the education system can't produce enough programmers to fill the jobs, they'll be filled by immigrants or shipped overseas, he said.

That outcome may not be as bad as it sounds. This is a better place with more jobs and opportunity because of the contributions made by people like Chew, who immigrated as a child from Malaysia, and Partovi, who is of Iranian descent.

I'm more concerned about the new immigrants from California.

All the hiring and investment by companies setting up satellite engineering offices in Seattle is fantastic. We're the envy of cities around the world. I just hope we keep spawning locally based tech companies as well.

(Here's a gallery of images taken inside the transportation-themed building at Google's Kirkland campus and a newly remodeled floor with a Seattle music theme. Below is a picture I took of the campus that made me wonder why more Googlers don't move here from Mountain View ...)

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September 12, 2012 2:35 PM

New signs map Amazon's sprawling campus, restaurants

Posted by Brier Dudley

Among the finishing touches on Amazon's latest headquarters campus building is new signage that's striking if you remember what its neighborhood was like a few years ago.

The signs -- posted at the 207 Boren building, which is almost complete -- have maps listing dozens of restaurants now open around the cluster of Amazon buildings in South Lake Union. Not included is the fleet of food trucks and carts that appear at lunch.

Maybe the signage will help landlord Paul Allen sell the property to someone.

The map doesn't identify Amazon buildings, but they're the dark blocks in the upper right. It doesn't include all the offices the tech giant is occupying in the area. Nor does it mention other restaurants in the area that aren't leasing property from Allen, such as the 13 Coins across the street from this sign.

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Also new at the 207 Boren building is a vertical garden that looks neat, though I didn't see any paperwhites in the mix of plants:

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Here are a few pictures I took earlier of the 207 Boren building, which used to be a Seattle Times parking lot and the site of the Seattle bureau of the Associated Press:

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I'd been wondering what was going on that blank wall:

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August 28, 2012 2:19 PM

RealNetworks cutting up to 160 jobs in overhaul

Posted by Brier Dudley

Another big layoff is happening at RealNetworks as the struggling digital media company tries to reorganize and regain its foothold.

Up to 160 jobs are being cut, reducing Real's employment by up to 14 percent. Up to 70 of the job cuts will happen at Real's Seattle headquarters.

Founder Rob Glaser, who returned to the chief executive position on July 3, informed employees today that that cuts are part of a new strategy and plan "to stop burning cash and to return the company to profitability."

"Unfortunately, a major part of this streamlining entails reducing our workforce from approximately 1,140 people to about 980 people," he wrote in a memo to employees today.

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Glaser (left) said the company is 80 percent of the way to having a plan to revive itself, but there are painful steps to be taken along the way.

"When I came back into Real after having been away from day-to-day operations for 2 1/2 years, I thought there was a pretty high likelihood that there would be a day like today," he told employees. "I knew it would suck for everyone, and indeed it does."

Real is cutting 80 jobs today. About 80 more employees were told their jobs will be cut over the next seven months, unless other positions aren't found for them within the company, although Glaser's memo suggests the plan is to reduce headcount.

If all 160 are cut that would be about 14 percent of the company's employees. That includes 40 immediate layoffs in Seattle and 30 that may happen later. Other layoffs are happening at Real offices around the world.

"The cuts were across the board. All organizations within Real were impacted," spokeswoman Barbara Krause said via email.

The company expects it will see $2 million to $2.5 million in charges related to the restructuring.

Real still is adjusting to the loss of its former stature as a leading digital media company. In recent years it shed assets and made commercial media services -- provided to customers like phone companies -- its major focus.

The ongoing reorganizations led to a series of significant layoffs over the past few years. More recently, the company has gone through a series of chief executives, culminating with Glaser's return in July.

Real's latest downsizing was telegraphed in an Aug. 8 earnings call when the company disclosed a plan to reduce costs by $45 million.

Here's Glaser's full memo, which the company released:

Dear RealNetworks Team,

I'm writing to provide an update on the progress we've made over the past 8 weeks and to provide some context and information regarding the layoffs that are taking place today.

When I came back in as Interim CEO on July 3rd, I said we would focus on 3 things:
Reviewing and assessing all of our businesses and new initiatives,
Coming up with a go-forward Strategy for RealNetworks that would set us up to grow and thrive, and
Putting together a plan to stop burning cash and to return the company to profitability.

I also said we would move fast, have a bias towards action, and would work hard to complete all 3 of these efforts within 2 months.

After a lot of hard work by many people across the company and around the world, today I report to you that we have indeed achieved the 3 objectives we set out to work on beginning 8 weeks ago.

Very soon I will have a lot more to say about our collective assessment of our businesses & new initiatives, and about our go forward strategy. Specifically, we have scheduled a series of company meetings - both in Seattle and at our main offices around the world - for on or around September 6th. After these meetings I believe that each of you in attendance will walk away with a clear understanding of our strategies and excitement regarding where we're going.

Today I will discuss our plans to return the company to profitability -- in a way that will set us up for future growth & success.

As we mentioned on our financial results call on August 8th, our senior team has put together a plan to cut at least $45 Million of annualized costs. This plan has several aspects to it; one of the main ones is to streamline our operations and to do things more efficiently.

Unfortunately, a major part of this streamlining entails reducing our workforce from approximately 1140 people to about 980 people. We are doing this in two phases. The first phase, which begins today, involves laying off approximately 80 people, who are being given notice today.

The second phase, which will take place over the next 3 to 7 months, involves approximately 80 more people, who are being notified today that there is a specific future date when their current assignment will be ending. We hope to redeploy a number of these people when their current assignments end, but as of today don't know how many we will find positions for. These people are working on projects that will merge duplicate systems or otherwise make us more efficient.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to the approximately 160 people affected by today's announcement, and also my remorse that we have had to take these steps. You have all made major contributions to RealNetworks. We are grateful for everything you have done for our company and our customers.

I also want to express my appreciation to the approximately 980 people who are not directly impacted by today's actions, and to acknowledge that many of you are indirectly affected, because of the impact on your colleagues and friends.

Permit me to close on a personal note. When I came back into Real after having been away from day-to-day operations for 2 ½ years, I thought there was a pretty high likelihood that there would be a day like today. I knew it would suck for everyone, and indeed it does.

But I promised myself that if we did have to do a significant layoff, I would do everything in my power to make sure that when we did it we also knew where we were going. I wanted to be able to look everyone in the eye and tell them that we have a plan to succeed that I believed in from the bottom of my heart.

I feel like we are almost there. While we still have a few areas to work out, we have made great progress. I can honestly tell you today that we are at least 80% of the way to having such a plan for every major part of our company, and have line-of-sight on the final 20%.

This clarity on strategy, as you would expect, has significantly influenced how and where we are cutting costs, and where we are investing for the future. I look forward to discussing this further when we meet next week.

Rob

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August 21, 2012 1:23 PM

PopCap lays off 50, mostly in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

PopCap Games is laying off 50 employees, mostly at its Seattle headquarters.

That's nearly 10 percent of the company, which was acquired a year ago by game giant Electronic Arts.

After the layoffs - which happened today - PopCap employs about 550, including about 300 in Belltown.

The majority of the layoffs were in Seattle but jobs were also cut at PopCap's Vancouver, B.C., studio. There may be additional layoffs later at its office in Dublin, Ireland.

It's a jarring move for a flagship of Seattle's cluster of video game companies but the industry as a whole has struggled with declining sales, particularly the plunge in sales of packaged games.

In March the 86-person Redmond studio Zipper Interactive - creator of the hit "SOCOM" action games - was abruptly closed by Sony, which bought the studio in 2006.

Yet other studios are simultaneously expanding. Seattle's Double Down Interactive, an online casino games studio that sold in January for $250 million, pounced on the PopCap news with a spokesman noting that it has more than 50 open positions.

PopCap co-founder John Vechey explained the move on the PopCap blog, saying the company is responding to the broad shift toward free-to-play and social games. PopCap is adjusting its business "to stay healthy and viable," he wrote.

There's also an economic component to the reorganization. To stay in business, we need to manage costs, improve efficiency and maintain a profit. We've been able to invest in creative new games like Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies because we had a high profit business. That business is challenged, and if we don't adapt, we won't be able to invest in new IP. That sounds harsh -- but if we don't stay in business, no more plants, zombies, jewels, frogs or worms.

Vechey said the company has also begun an "exploratory consultation" to decide whether to close its office in Dublin.

"'Exploratory consultation' means we're talking to our Dublin team about the future of that office and whether we can find a path to improve our profitability in Europe without having to close the operation," he wrote.

The announcement comes a day after the company announced that it's preparing a sequel to its hit "Plants vs. Zombies" that will go on sale next spring.

Vechey said the company is simultaneously hiring in different areas, and "we expect to end the year with roughly the same number of people we started with."

EA and PopCap executives last year said that the merger would lead to additional investment and growth at PopCap.

Today Vechey said that being part of EA lessened the blow:

"We're glad to have those resources supporting us when a lot of other independent studios are struggling. In addition, some of the people affected by the reorganization may be retrained and reassigned to other jobs in the EA studios. If we didn't have EA behind us, the cuts would have been worse."

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August 15, 2012 1:13 PM

Salesforce lures Amazon techs with lumpia

Posted by Brier Dudley

Another tech company is trying to recruit Amazon.com engineers with the promise of free food in South Lake Union.

Salesforce.com today was giving away free lunches at the Lumpia World truck parked in the shadow of Amazon's current headquarters.

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The free lunches - or maybe the chicken adobo special - gave the truck one of the longest lines among the neighborhood's food truck armada.

A Salesforce rep said they were providing a limited number of free lunches today but will probably try again next week sometime.

The lumpia slingers are following in the steps of Microsoft's Kinect bacon cart - and occupying the same Harrison Street parking lot that the Redmond company used for its recruiting stunt last fall.

San Francisco-based Salesforce opened a satellite office in Seattle two years ago to tap into the local talent pool.

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August 14, 2012 9:24 AM

NEW: Street views of Amazon's skyscrapers

Posted by Brier Dudley

New renderings of the massive new Amazon.com headquarters complex provide the clearest view yet of how the company's proposed skyscrapers will change downtown Seattle.

The latest renderings include photorealistic views of the towers that may be under construction next year.

Altogether the project - the largest ever in downtown Seattle, and the largest metro campus of any tech company - may take four to eight years to complete.

Amazon's architect, NBBJ, provided the new renderings for a city design commission meeting tonight.

Less detailed images first surfaced in March, ahead of the first design review.

As the review progresses, NBBJ releases increasingly detailed images that provide a better sense of how the buildings will look from the outside.

The complex includes three skyscrapers and a cluster of smaller buildings connected by walkways and skybridges. Although the towers are all roughly similar box shapes, they'll use different types of glass and window patterns.

Here are new images from the filing, starting with the tower that's expected to be built first, along Westlake Avenue next to the McDonald's restaurant:

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A view from the other direction, looking north, along Westlake:

Amzn-NBviewWestlake.jpg

The towers viewed from above:

AMZN-aerial.jpg

There are multiple decks planned for the first tower, with distinctive landscaping that will provide a visual treat to passing helicopters:

Amzn-Roofdecks.jpg

Views of the second tower, at Lenora Street:

Amzn-Lenora, phase2.jpg

A future view along Sixth Avenue:

Amzn-NWalongSixth.jpg

A future view along Seventh Avenue:

Amzn-NWviewalong7th.jpg

The tower above will sit on what's now a Toyota dealership:

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July 3, 2012 10:54 AM

Indian tech group broadens, starting angel fund

Posted by Brier Dudley

As we prepare to celebrate America's independence and all the things that make this a great country, I have a suggestion that could calm anxieties about immigration that may color the big day.

I think people should have a cold beer or two and take in the scene in Bellevue.

Start with the big picture of a sleepy Seattle suburb that has morphed into a thriving, cosmopolitan hub of the tech industry.

Then zoom in to a smaller setting, like the monthly Startup on Tap events held by The Indus Entrepreneurs organization.

The group, known as TiE, began in Silicon Valley in 1993 as a networking and support group for South Asian immigrants starting tech companies.

A Seattle chapter was established in 2000, backed by early Microsoft employees wanting to mentor the next generation of Indian entrepreneurs.

Early on, these would-be entrepreneurs faced challenges. For instance, when it came time to raise venture capital, "the VCs may not have been too comfortable with their accent or whatever," recalls Vijay Vashee, a Microsoft veteran who founded the Seattle group.

"That's going back 20-plus years," he said. "Today if you go to Silicon Valley you'll find people of Indian origin are general partners in all these (VC) firms."

TiE helped things along by nurturing startups and getting them ready for funding deals. As those companies prospered, their founders became gurus to the next generation.

It worked almost too well. Entrepreneurs of Indian descent became so woven into the business community, the need for a group organized around race and ethnicity diminished. So the Seattle chapter reorganized and broadened its mission. It's moving beyond supporting a particular ethnic group to provide help to anyone starting a company.

Anyone looking for advice on their business plan is welcome to join, or just have a beer or a glass of wine at Startup on Tap and other events TiE holds around the region.

"The whole ecosystem has moved to a point here where it's not necessary to have the Indian focus now," Vashee said. "We can now take it to the next step."

Vashee -- one of the first Indians hired at Microsoft, back in 1982 -- said he became involved with TiE for several reasons. He wanted to mentor others of Indian origin, provide capital to their companies and integrate with mainstream America.

As these goals were realized, Vashee and other early TiE members cut back on their involvement in the group.

The last recession also took a toll, and membership fell below 100 as entrepreneurs turned to the profusion of startup networking and support groups that sprouted in the Seattle area as the economy picked up.

About a year and a half ago, TiE decided to reinvent itself. It diversified its board and more than doubled the number of "charter" members who underwrite the operations with $1,000 annual fees. Of the 45 charter members, five are now non-Indians and more are being sought. General membership is up around 50 percent to more than 160.

The group is also starting a formal angel investing program to back startups directly and involve people with non-tech companies.

"It's not that we're disowning our past or heritage. We're expanding and building on that," said chapter President Srivats Srinivasan, a Microsoft veteran who started digital-marketing company Nayamode in Redmond in 2005.

"We don't want this to just be an Indian thing," he added. "It's about fostering entrepreneurship in the community we live in."

Among the new charter members is Ivan Braiker, president of Hipcricket, a Kirkland mobile marketing and advertising company.

Braiker said he's struck by how many people of different ethnicities are starting companies. It makes him wonder if there's something wrong with our educational system that more nonimmigrants aren't showing the same entrepreneurial drive.

"A lot of young folks aren't focused in that direction. It's more entitlement than work," he said.

That's disappointing, he said.

"At least from my perspective of being the average white American sitting in there and saying yes, there's a lot of ethnicity here but there are not enough Caucasians in it," he said, asking, "Where are they, where are those young entrepreneurs?"

Perhaps they don't realize that at Startup on Tap, the first beer for members is on the house. The next round of mentoring and networking is at 5:30 p.m. July 10 at ViaVita Café in Bellevue.

Attracting the next generation is a familiar challenge for established groups, from TiE to Rotary to churches. Srinivasan said a recent focus has been to recruit younger charter members, such as American-born Kabir Shahani, 29, who co-founded Appature, a Seattle marketing software company.

"I'm really excited about what's possible and the organization evolving and the tremendous resources they have both here in Seattle and the Valley," Shahani said.

Moving beyond the ethnic focus isn't just a Seattle phenomenon for TiE. It's now a huge, international organization with a broader mission, and new chapters in places like Japan and Belgium are being started and led mostly by non-Indians, Vashee said.

It sounds like they're following the melting-pot formula that's been so successful in Seattle and Silicon Valley, and America at large.

"Here what we found is that whenever a startup is created, eventually the integration with the mainstream efforts is critical for the startup to succeed," Vashee said. "The sooner you get into that mood, the better off you're going to be."

Vashee has a unique perspective on these things.

He grew up in Zimbabwe and experienced resentment of Indians living and doing business on the African continent. This reached a crescendo when Idi Amin expelled them from Uganda in 1972. Some 15 years later, Vashee recalled, a new president of Uganda came to Seattle and met with people of Indian origin, asking them to return and help build up the country.

Vashee stayed on Mercer Island. Lately, he's been investing in medical-technology and energy companies along the West Coast and participating in local startup groups like the Alliance of Angels.

"I really think America needs more startups," he said. "The future jobs are not going to come from these big companies. They're driven by earnings per share and things like that; when it's time to fire they fire."

Vashee noted that 40 or 50 years ago there was no Microsoft, Apple, Intel, Google, Oracle or Facebook and those companies "today generate a huge part of the American economy. We need that."

Now there's something to toast on the Fourth of July.

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May 22, 2012 11:39 AM

Washington tech jobs pass 400k, average pay $95k

Posted by Brier Dudley

More than 400,000 people now work in the state tech industry, according to a new study released by the Technology Alliance at its annual luncheon in Seattle.

The trade group found 396,818 people are directly employed in tech jobs, up 15,272 from its 2010 study.

This year it began tallying self-employed tech workers, which brings the total to 434,343 jobs or 13.6 percent of jobs in the state. The industry's combined payroll is $41 billion, it said in a news release.

Employment counts were based on data from the first half of 2011.

state jobs.jpg
Applying a multiplier to gauge the industry's broader economic effect, the group's study concluded that the state's tech industries support 1.4 million jobs and nearly $86 billion in payroll, or about 45 percent of the state's employment.

Wages averaged $94,531, compared to $49,829 for other industries, the release said.

The average pay is down significantly from the group's 2010 report, when tech jobs averaged $110,145 versus the stage average of $57,654.

Companies in the industry had $231 billion in sales last year, 76 percent of which were outside of the state.

Alliance chairman, Jeremy Jaech, said the job growth underscores the need for the state to invest more in educating future tech workers. Through 2018 the industry will add 6,900 jobs per year on average but state schools' output will lag that demand by 4,400 positions a year, he said.

"We're not cultivating a sufficiently large home-grown talent pool and this is a bad thing," said Jaech, a UW alum.

Jaech is stepping down as chairman of the group and being replaced by Cheryl Vedoe, chief executive of Apex Learning. During the group's luncheon,

Vedoe introduced the group's annual "Innovation Showcase" company of the year, MobiSante. The manufacturer of cell phone-based medical imaging gear presented its business to a tech alliance showcase in 2010 and received FDA approval for its products in 2011.

The luncheon's main event is an on-stage conversation between F5 Chief Executive John McAdam and UW professor Ed Lazowska.

They discussed how F5 has evolved beyond its first products for balancing network traffic loads. Its technology was initially developed by UW students, and the name was inspired by the move "Twister" and refers to a "force 5" tornado.

Most people don't realize how widely F5 equipment is used to manage networks but if you book an airline tickete online, send a text or do social networking, "there's a high likelihood you've been through an F5 product," McAdam said.

F5 employed 2,800 last quarter and plans to add at least 125 this quarter, he said.

A turning point for the company came in 2002 when it began developing a traffic-management operating system. At the time F5's revenue of $27 million made it appear to be chasing a small market but sales started to "rocket" after the operating system was released in 2005, McAdam said.

Last October, F5 reported that its annual sales had crossed $1 billion.

The company's high market capitalization now gives the company the "luxury" of becoming a bigger independent company, though it also raises expectations for the company's quarterly performance.

"Frankly it's our biggest defense against an acquisition," McAdam said.

McAdam agreed with Jaech's concerns about education and said F5 has to import about 40 percent of its employees into the state.

Here's a chart that Jaech presented, showing the distribution of tech jobs in the state:

TA2.jpg


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May 21, 2012 10:24 AM

Q&A: T-Mobile CEO on layoffs, iPhone, mergers and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

After a detour through Dallas, Philipp Humm is finally getting to reshape T-Mobile USA.

Humm reinvigorated T-Mobile's German business before parent company Deutsche Telekom sent him to Bellevue in 2010, to rev up America's fourth largest wireless company. But before Humm could make his mark here, Dallas-based AT&T moved to buy his company for $39 billion.

That left T-Mobile in limbo and hemorrhaging subscribers through much of 2011, until the merger collapsed under regulatory scrutiny in December.

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Before it was over, T-Mobile took another hit from the new Apple iPhone, which launched in October -- on the networks of T-Mobile's three large competitors.

Once the dust settled, the athletic German sprung into action.

In February he announced a $4 billion upgrade to LTE network technology going online in 2013. In March he consolidated call centers, closing seven of 24 In April, the company began re-branding itself as more aggressive and tech-oriented.

May's initiative -- announced last week -- is a broad restructuring that includes flattening management and cutting slower-growth areas of the businesses. About 900 layoffs resulted, but Humm said 550 positions will be added through the year.

Combined with an effort to build up T-Mobile's business sales, the company should end up with a much larger presence in the Seattle area, Humm said in an interview last week.

Here's an edited version of the conversation.

Q: It has to be tough leading a company through the roller coaster of a failed merger, followed by restructuring. How is morale?

A: I'm very proud about the way, in particular, our management and our employees have taken the news, taken the information and also the feedback we've received, the way we handled it and the way we supported our employees.

Q: What exactly is happening?

A: What we are really doing right now is we are trying to restructure T-Mobile to be ready to invest in different growth areas.

Q: Can you clarify the layoff numbers?

A: There will be about 900 positions which will be eliminated on one side, but at the same time we're creating 550 new positions, which means that we have a net reduction of 350 positions, which I think was often misunderstood.

Q: There are also "business to business" jobs being added?

A: We are creating on top of it another 1,000 jobs, but they will all be in B2B. They will be nationwide and that's a program which will probably take between two and three years to be completed. If you add that into it, we will, at the end of the day be net positive, but we will look very differently.

Q: What areas have less growth potential now?

A: We have looked at different areas where we can improve, for example, our expense or controls or reduce numbers of layers between the chief and the customer so we are more agile as an organization. I don't want to go into specific functions.

Q: Where do you see growth?

A: The business area. We're also investing in different paths of marketing. We simply need new employees with new skills.

Q: What's changed?

A: We have not in the past really focused on the B2B segment per se. That's why we have only a market share of 5 percent in B2B. Obviously, we have different ambitions and want to significantly grow our market share.

Q: For residential customers, will T-Mobile seem different?

A: If you contrast our advertising a year ago with the current advertising, we're really evolving the brand by making our spokeswoman also evolve. We're trying to evolve from "more affordability" to being known for cutting-edge 4G and affordability.

So we want really to make sure that customers start to understand T-Mobile is a very serious tech brand, which has a very strong 4G network, which has a very strong 4G device lineup.

Q: Will affordability continue to be a hallmark of the brand?

A: Yes.

Q: Will there be less affordability -- or price increases?

A: I don't think there is a need for less affordability or changing our price positioning. We have good price positioning now. It's really adding the tech aspect to our brand and really restarting the brand.

Q: Was the restructuring planned before the AT&T deal?

A: Yes and no. Being a challenger in the market, strategically you need to have an organization that is aligned with our strategy. We would have done the restructuring independent of the AT&T merger. Probably the same as we did or a little bit more.

Q: Do you need to sell the iPhone?

A: At the end of the day the iPhone is a good and important smartphone. The question is, do we need to carry it and subsidize it or do we simply open up the network to let people bring the iPhone with them?

We have been quite successful very quietly in really offering unsubsidized rate plans. If you look at our growth ... 45 percent of our growth adds are unsubsidized rate plans. We already shifted the model at T-Mobile quite significantly.

Q: Will you add shared data plans for families, like Verizon is planning?

A: We have a little bit different belief. We have family plans out today which are where, when you add a line, you get a discount or you get tethering included in your main rate plans.

We think that the industry -- that's our opinion -- is probably doing a mistake by trying to copy a very old fashioned voice model for data and now trying to pool data.

Imagine the situation: three people in the house, one of them is a teenager. You have a family rate plan -- say, a rich plan of 5 gigabytes -- and the teenager, girl or boy, watches an HD movie. Your family rate plan is gone. You are at work trying to download data and it suddenly says sorry, game over. You can get for another 10 bucks another half a gigabit or whatever.

I don't think that is a model that really applies to the modern world, and I wouldn't want that to be a rate plan we are putting forward because it will create negative customer perception.

Q: T-Mobile made a commitment to push Windows Phone this year. How is that working out?

A: I think we have a very good relationship with Microsoft, and we discovered that, in particular, for customers who are new to smartphones, they really enjoy the simplicity of the Microsoft [user interface], so they like the design and the ease of it.

Q: Are Windows phones selling as well as you hoped?

A: We are so far quite pleased and I think Microsoft, if you talk to them, [is] quite pleased with T-Mobile.

Q: There have been reports that T-Mobile may merge with a smaller carrier or go public. Will something big happen to your company?

A: We are pretty sizable company; we are profitable and we are on the right path to growth. ... That's really our main point of view, to strengthen our own business and come back to growth.

Beyond that we will always look at opportunities to gain additional scale or additional spectrum or strengthen capital structure in the U.S. market. Those are always things we will be looking into.

Q: Are there too many wireless carriers in the U.S.?

A: Overall we are in the infrastructure business. Infrastructure business always leads to a certain consolidation as a matter of principle. Based on today's model you would expect some sort of consolidation in the years to come.

That being said, if the government throws lots and lots of spectrum into the market, the barriers of entry for new people to come into the market would be lowered and you would have new competition.

Q: Isn't the market saturated, with subscription growth cresting last quarter?

A: We will continue to move customers from nonsmartphone rate plans to rate plans, which is accretive. So data is really the big driver. That's something everybody is doing.

Q: Will T-Mobile's local stature change?

A: The region is a very dynamic region for our industry and associated industries. Just look at Amazon, Microsoft, T-Mobile, all very big and important companies in their respective sectors and working all different forms together. The region itself will continue to be a very vibrant and important region.

Also if you look at our restructuring, the net effect of the restructuring will not lead to a decrease of positions in the Puget Sound area, but actually lead to an increase of positions in the Puget Sound area.

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May 15, 2012 10:53 AM

Broad new layoffs at T-Mobile USA, 900 jobs cut

Posted by Brier Dudley

T-Mobile USA Chief Executive Philipp Humm warned employees a few months ago that more layoffs would happen by the end of May. It's happening right on schedule.

Today, the company is informing employees of "a series of organizational changes," a spokeswoman said.

A net loss of about 900 jobs will result. But even more jobs are likely affected by the changes, which include layoffs and shifts to outsource more work.

(Update: The day after the layoff announcement, the company said hiring planned through the rest of the year will offset some of the cuts.)

These layoffs are a major blow to the largest remaining wireless company in the Seattle area after a series of mergers over the last two decades.

The industry took off after McCaw Cellular established the first national cell network in the 1980s. It was sold to AT&T in 1994, and the cluster spawned other carriers that became T-Mobile.

Even if the layoffs restore T-Mobile's footing, its future remains unclear, especially given the likelihood of further consolidation in the wireless industry.

T-Mobile's parent company, Deutsche Telekom, is looking at combining T-Mobile with MetroPCS or perhaps spinning it off as a public company, according to a Bloomberg report last week. T-Mobile is the nation's fourth-largest carrier and MetroPCS is the fifth.

Reducing costs through layoffs and outsourcing could better position T-Mobile for another merger attempt or improve its balance sheet for presentation to potential investors.

Industry consultant Chetan Sharma expects industry shuffling in the next 18 to 24 months as the carriers adjust to slowing growth of pre-paid subscriptions in a saturated market and challenged economy.

"My theory is the market is desperately asking for consolidation," he said.

If T-Mobile is able to cut its costs and keep its network upgrades on track, "they still have a fairly good shot at being competitive," said Issaquah-based Sharma, who is not consulting for T-Mobile.

It's unclear how many of the affected jobs are at the company's Bellevue headquarters. It employs around 4,800 people in the area. Nationwide the company employs around 36,000.

The state Employment Security Department had not yet received notification of a mass layoff at T-Mobile on Tuesday afternoon. Such notifications are required before 50 or more employees are laid off in a single location.

The layoffs are in addition to the 3,300 call center layoffs announced in March as part of the company's effort to improve profitability after customer declines while the company was in the limbo of AT&T's attempted merger last year.

The new layoffs are affecting "all departments," spokeswoman Michelle Taylerson said via e-mail.

"The restructuring was based on a thorough review of our entire organization, at all levels. The degree and nature of impact varies - but every function was reviewed," she said.

The cuts won't affect technicians in engineering, customer-service representatives in remaining call centers or "front-line" retail employees in T-Mobile-owned stores.

Details of which jobs are being outsourced isn't being provided.

"In developing the new structure, we evaluated every aspect of our business - including which activities would be best reassigned to outside business partners that are experts in their given fields," Taylerson said.

T-Mobile's business picked up last quarter, when it added 187,000 subscribers. That was a sharp reversal from the holiday season when it lost 526,000 customers.

Simultaneously, T-Mobile has been hiring about 1,000 people to pursue more business customers while spending $4 billion on its upgrade to 4G LTE network technology.

But there will still be the net reduction in employees.

"It's not going to be easy," Sharma said, "but they can survive."

The company issued the following statement:

"T-Mobile previously announced its intent to restructure and optimize operations throughout the company in order to best reposition the company, given today's demanding and rapidly evolving marketplace. This week we are communicating to our employees a series of additional organizational changes to best position T-Mobile to powerfully compete and return to growth. We are restructuring the organization and optimizing operations so that we can make critical decisions better and faster in response to market and customer demands. Further, by reducing our cost structure and streamlining operations, T-Mobile will be able to invest in areas where we anticipate the strongest return: modernizing our 4G network; aggressively pursuing the B2B segment; and re-launching our brand. These changes resulted in a restructuring of key functions and departments across the company including the elimination of some positions and the outsourcing of others. While difficult choices had to be made, restructuring our organization will help us better respond to market and customer demands and bring opportunity for continued career development and growth for many of our employees. We appreciate the contributions of our affected colleagues and will provide them with assistance and support during this transition."

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May 15, 2012 9:54 AM

A flock of startups in South Lake Union, with traffic issues

Posted by Brier Dudley

There's now a flock of startups in South Lake Union:

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The bigger ones are affecting traffic in the area:

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Technology veterans are advising them to pivot before it's too late:

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May 14, 2012 9:50 AM

Startups at Microsoft: Inside story of Xbox wins, Zune losses

Posted by Brier Dudley

The truly inside story of starting the Xbox and Zune businesses at Microsoft was shared in a remarkable lecture Friday by Robbie Bach, the retired president of the company's entertainment and devices business.

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Bach shared his unique perspective on why the Xbox was a success and the Zune was not during a presentation on intrapreneurship, or how to operate like a startup and launch new ventures within a large, existing business.

The lecture included advice for companies looking to foster entrepreneurial culture, and for all sorts of entrepreneurs entering competitive new markets. It was a breakfast event held by the Northwest Entrepreneur Network in South Lake Union.

Bach described the corporate retreats where the Xbox business was hatched and how Sony fumbled its lead and gave Microsoft the opportunity to get ahead in the console business.

"When the luck happens, you take advantage of it and run with it," he said.

It also helped that Bach's startup had $5 billion to $7 billion in funding available, he joked.

That wasn't enough to help the Zune, though. Bach admitted that Microsoft quickly realized it was too late to prevail in the portable media player business and in hindsight he would have built a music service rather than devices. Apple executed well and didn't give Microsoft the sort of breaks it had in the console business, he noted.

Bach's now focused on philanthropic organizations, serving on the board of audio gear company Sonos and looking to buy a mid-size family business like the food-service supplies distributor that his father operated in retirement.

Here's a raw video of the event. Apologies for the quality; it was taken with a new smartphone that was supposed to capture high-def video ...:

Comments | Category: Apple , Digital media , Entrepreneurs , Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Sonos , Startups , Steve Ballmer , Tech work , Xbox , Zune |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 10, 2012 12:31 PM

The pinstripe hoodie, for your next IPO roadshow

Posted by Brier Dudley

Finally, something acceptable for the upwardly mobile social networking executive to wear on Wall Street.

Executive Hoodies are now being offered by San Francisco-based Betabrand, which makes them in the city.

Their May 23 debut will be too late to help Mark Zuckerberg.

But what a gift this would be for college grads, gearing up to look for work in the urban jungle.

From Betabrand's site:

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April 30, 2012 9:29 AM

Rich Barton on startup frothiness, pivots and pitches

Posted by Brier Dudley

Inspired by our local space explorers, I donned my high-tech prospecting gear and set out to mine precious nuggets of wisdom from a nearby star.

That would be Rich Barton, the startup wunderkind who founded Expedia as a twenty-something Microsoft manager, spun it into the world's largest travel business and became a serial entrepreneur.

Barton went on to co-found Zillow in 2005 and became a venture partner at Benchmark Capital, the Silicon Valley venture-capital firm that owned 20 percent of Instagram before it was sold earlier this month to Facebook for $1 billion.

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From Barton's perch, at least, it looks like another tech boom is under way and money's flowing like the old days, back before 2008.

Barton shared this view -- and tips on how to start and build big companies -- last week with the local chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs. Here's my edited trove from the event.

On today's climate for startups: "It's pretty frothy. It's a great funding environment, great for the entrepreneurs. There is a ton of money chasing good people with big ideas. It's as snap, crackle and poppy as I've seen in more than a decade. There are lots of exits happening, there are lots of companies going public right now, there is a reasonable amount of [merger and acquisition] activity that's going on. If the market holds up, we're about to enter a phase of serious IPO activity.

On demand for new tech stocks: "The public market, buy-side guys -- the guys who run the mutual funds, the technology-oriented mutual funds -- are starving. They've been starving for a decade for product to buy. It's kind of been fashionable, if not convenient, for companies to not go public, and all of a sudden everything's coming public. I think we're going to see a ton of activity."

On making mistakes: "I think the great skill of the entrepreneurial mindset is the ability to forget mistakes. Learn the lessons from the mistakes, but forget them and not obsess on them and not let your mistakes undermine the confidence you have around the dreams you have. I think that's a big thing."

On spreadsheets: "I tell you, the spreadsheets never work out the way the entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists think they're going to work out. We all know that. ... Rarely does the company end up being what the original idea was anyway. So you've got to have people on the boat who can figure out how to change the fly, put something new on there and be creative and figure it out."

Pitching stories, not numbers: "I'm a PowerPoint guy, not an Excel guy, put it that way. I think people that come in with lots of projections and Excel spreadsheets at very early stages doesn't necessarily bode well. ... It's very difficult to plan the unplannable, so I look more for passion around a story and idea than I do around a spreadsheet."

Mobile, mobile, mobile: "If an entrepreneur comes to me these days and gives me a demo of a website and doesn't demo something on a smartphone, I almost out of hand am not even interested in it, because that shows an unbelievable lack of understanding of how people are actually interacting with the Internet now."

Traffic before revenue: "All of my businesses -- I look for getting a mass-engaged audience first and worrying about a business model second. Expedia was that way, Zillow was certainly that way. ... Get the masses in first, then figure out how to monetize."

On changing course: "Pretty much everything I've been involved with had some kind of pivot. Zillow had a really big one. We had raised money -- my guess is, we had raised $20 million -- before we even figured out what the product was going to be. ... We actually thought the way for perfect price discovery in real estate was going to be auctions."

On raising money: "The whole venture-capital business is one that operates a lot on personal networks that have been established. For people who are trying to get plans in front of me, the best way ... is to have somebody who I know really well and think is smart tell me to take a look at something."

Capital in Seattle vs. Silicon Valley: "There's plenty of money up here. There's a lot more down in the Valley. ... I find that the Seattle startup ecosystem is a few steps behind but on the same path as the Silicon Valley ecosystem."

On Gates and Ballmer: "Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer were my venture capitalists at Expedia. I kind of thought of them that way. When I pitched the idea of Expedia to Bill and Steve, I tried to get them to fund me on the outside. Honestly, I said I want to start my own business and said look, this is a travel business, not a Microsoft software business. They kind of laughed at me and said, 'Who are you going to hire?' But what they did say is look, you may be right, let's get this going internally and if it makes sense to spin it out, we'll think about it."

On spinning off Expedia: "You know, huge credit to those guys: When it came time ... I came to them and said, 'Look, Expedia is on the brink of becoming something huge and interesting and important. If we stay at Microsoft, it will not be. If we spin it out, it might be.' And along with that I asked for $100 million to spend in marketing. Steve Ballmer was my boss at the time [early 1999]. ... He said, you're not getting $1 million from me to market. I said, 'Well, you know what, the public markets will give me $100 million, and they'll give it to me really cheaply, so let's go do that -- let's take the public market's money and turn this thing into something real.' And he said OK and we did it. It was a grand experiment for Microsoft.

"Microsoft has not done anything like that since but it obviously worked out -- it worked out quite well. Expedia was half the size of the largest player in the space when we spun out. Within 18 months, it was twice as big as the No. 2 player."

What's needed to take the startup plunge: "Courage. Think of 'The Wizard of Oz.' We've got the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man. My kind of view of great entrepreneurial leaders is courage for the Cowardly Lion, you've got to have brains for the Scarecrow and probably most important is, you've got to have a heart because you cannot attract people or capital without a heart. People respond to passion; people respond to real feelings, real emotion, things that really matter."

His busy schedule: "When you have eight jobs, it turns out nobody knows when you don't show up to work."

Comments | Category: Digital media , Entrepreneurs , Microsoft , Startups , Tech work , VC , Zillow |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 10, 2012 9:52 AM

Help desk weirdness: Elvis, cat hair and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you think dealing with tech support is a challenge, imagine what it's like for the help desk dealing with callers.

A survey of information technology bosses found some goofy requests. The survey of more than 1,400 chief information officers was done by hiring firm Robert Half Technology.

A sample of the "strangest or most unusual" requests the CIOs or their tech support teams had received:

How do I clean cat hair out of my computer fan?
How do I remove a sesame seed from the keyboard?
I need help drilling holes in the wall.
Can you come over and plug in this cord for me?
I need you to install a video monitoring system.
Can I turn on the coffee pot with my computer?
I dropped my phone in the toilet. What should I do?
I want to download software to change an audio file to video.
How do I pirate software?

Some special requests for the help desk:

We need you to fix the microwave in the lunchroom.
Can you recommend a good dry cleaner?
Can you help me fix my chair?
Can you help us get money out of the vending machine?
I can't find my packages online! Can you help me?
Can you help me fix my toilet?
My car's cup holder is broken. Can you fix it?
Can you help me repair a washing machine?
Where can I find a video of Elvis Presley online?

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March 26, 2012 10:17 AM

Clearwire, layoffs and the future of 4G wireless service

Posted by Brier Dudley

Garet Martin is ahead of the curve.

The Portland resident experienced the future of 4G wireless service last week, and it wasn't pretty.

Martin gets wireless home broadband and phone service from Bellevue-based Clearwire.

She's generally pleased with the $63-a-month package, even though she has to move her modem when a particular tree gets leafy in the summer and interferes with the signal coming across the Willamette River.

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It was all fine until earlier this month, when she lost access to her voice-mail box. She called me after she had been stuck for nearly two weeks, only getting a recorded message saying her voice mail "is temporarily unavailable."

A series of calls to Clearwire's customer-service numbers went nowhere. Visits to a Clearwire outlet in Portland led to more dead-ends, but she did learn others were having the same problem with their voice mail.

Martin's situation was a little unusual, but I'll bet customer service will be a growing challenge over the next year or two for wireless companies.

A storm is brewing: Phone companies are rushing to build-out fourth-generation wireless networks better able to handle the crush of data from smartphones, tablets and other mobile-computing devices.

Consumers have become dependent on wireless devices, and most are upgrading to smartphones that are more complex.

To cover the cost of their network upgrades, phone companies are making some changes. They're moving toward more complicated pricing plans that meter data service.

At the same time, phone companies are diverting resources away from customer service and toward network upgrades. As we've seen over the past month, this has led to huge layoffs at call centers.

T-Mobile USA last week said it's closing seven centers, cutting 1,900 jobs so it can afford a $4 billion upgrade to 4G LTE technology. Verizon earlier said it's closing three centers, including one with 850 employees in Bellevue.

These follow a string of layoffs at other companies, including Clearwire.

In some ways Clearwire is a bellwether. It was the first company to offer true 4G wireless broadband, but the expensive network project led to sweeping layoffs and restructuring in 2010.

Clearwire's shifting strategy led to the problems Martin encountered this month. But she didn't learn that from the company she's been supporting for several years.

Customer-service reps were stumped with her problem, and her extended waits on the phone ended in frustration.

"Frankly, all the people I reach in the Philippines and India ... they all say how sorry they are, but they can't really do anything -- they can't or won't give me a supervisor or tell me where I can call in the United States," she said.

The reps told Martin "they know there's a problem and they told me there are a lot of people who are calling, but they just can't help me."

Martin isn't your ordinary frustrated customer. She said she used to head the Better Business Bureau's complaint department in San Francisco. After moving to Portland, she became a community activist.

"I love handling disputes," she said.

It makes you wonder what a less-motivated customer would have done. I'd have thrown my Clearwire modem out the window after those calls.

Instead, Martin drove to a Clearwire retailer in Portland. A person there gave her a number for a corporate office, which was always busy when she called, and for a regional office in Portland that turned out to have been vacated.

The sales outlet had a Clearwire sign but stopped selling Clearwire service and now sells other plans. Still, an employee told her other Clearwire customers had come to complain about the voice-mail problem.

Finally Martin began calling reporters.

I contacted Clearwire last Tuesday and asked if there were any service problems in Portland or Seattle. The initial response was that there were no network problems, outages or service disruptions.

Martin was still stuck, so I tried again with Clearwire, explaining that some customers were apparently unable to access voice mail.

A spokesman then replied that Clearwire is shifting the operation of its home-phone service to a third-party vendor. Customers who try their voice-mail password repeatedly during this process could get locked out.

Clearwire no longer sells this phone service to new customers. It's now mostly focused on providing wholesale service that larger companies use to supplement their networks.

Still, it continues to support 1.3 million retail customers, including perhaps 100,000 using the home-phone service.

"The service didn't really make sense as a long-term product for us," spokesman Mike DiGioia said.

Most customers didn't notice the back-end provider changed, he said. But some were caught in the migration and had their mailbox PIN codes locked up.

I guess that's understandable, but Clearwire dropped the ball by not informing its call centers of the issue. After our exchange, it set up a process for call centers to resolve it, DiGioia said.

But after I passed this on to Martin and she tried again with customer service Thursday, it still didn't work. DiGioia noted the fix could take 24 to 36 hours to take effect, but offered to intervene.

"We're sorry it happened, but we're working to make it right for them," he said.

Martin opted to have me share her name with the company, rather than wait another day. That afternoon she was on the phone with Geoff Levy, Clearwire head of customer care, and a product manager, who immediately fixed the problem.

"I'm getting two months of free service, but I still gave him hell," Martin said. "I told him I can't believe you treat your customers this way and you weren't more proactive."

Even so, Martin will keep using the wireless service she's grown to depend upon.

"I'll probably stick with them for quite a while, unless I have more problems," she said. "There really isn't anything competitive now."

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March 22, 2012 2:59 PM

T-Mobile layoffs - more to come, CEO says

Posted by Brier Dudley

It turns out the end of the AT&T merger didn't mean all the jobs would be spared at T-Mobile USA.

The Bellevue-based company today announced that it's laying off 3,300 workers at seven of its 24 call centers, including one in Redmond, Ore.

Those workers are being offered the option to transfer to 17 remaining call centers, including centers in Bellingham; Salem, Ore., and Meridian, Idaho. The 17 centers will add 1,400 positions, for a net loss nationally of 1,900 positions.

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Chief Executive Philipp Humm (left) warned employees that additional cuts are coming elsewhere in the company. In a memo, he said most of the changes will be announced by the end of May.

The next reorganizations won't hit the remaining call centers, engineering technicians or front-line employees in corporate-owned retail stores, he said.

At the same time, the company's gearing up for a $4 billion update of its network, including the launch of 4G LTE service in 2013. Also planned is a brand overhaul and the addition of 1,000 business sales positions.

Here's Humm's memo:

T-Mobile CEO on Call Center Consolidation


March 22, 2012

Dear colleagues,

I have difficult news to share today: we are consolidating our call center operations and closing seven of our 24 facilities. This decision was not easily reached, but it is a necessary measure. The reality is our cost structure must be better optimized to match our customer base and call volumes.

The affected Customer Service facilities are Allentown, Pennsylvania; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Frisco, Texas; Brownsville, Texas; Lenexa, Kansas; Thornton, Colorado; and Redmond, Oregon. The consolidations will result in 1,900 net job reductions. Approximately 3,300 employees at the seven impacted facilities will be affected, and we will begin hiring immediately at the remaining 17 call centers to fill as many as 1,400 positions.

Impacted call centers will remain open for three months following this announcement. Affected customer service representatives will have the option to transfer to any of the remaining 17 call centers. Employees who choose not to transfer and are employed on the date the center closes, will be offered transition packages with severance pay and outplacement support. T-Mobile is partnering with an outplacement firm to provide on-site career centers at all seven facilities. Every employee will have access to a personal career coach and be offered job search training and tools. In addition, T-Mobile will pay for two months of continued health care coverage under COBRA (which is available for up to 18 months for eligible employees who elect this option).

Looking ahead, we will also be restructuring other parts of the company. It is important to note this will not include our customer service representatives in the remaining 17 call centers, technicians in engineering or front line employees in our T-Mobile corporate-owned stores. In other parts of the organization, the majority of changes will be announced by the end of May 2012. Senior leaders are intently focused on making the best possible choices standing on the foundation of our shared T-Mobile Values. The outcome will be an organization that is structured efficiently and closer to the customer. Leaders will share more information as plans evolve.

These are not easy steps to take - or, I know, to read. We must address our business realities so we can focus on getting T-Mobile back to growth.

Our commitment, as we go through this process, is to provide clear perspective and understandable rationale, be forthright in our communications regarding our decisions, and be respectful and compassionate in our treatment of affected individuals.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment and support.

With sincere appreciation,

Philipp Humm
CEO & President
T-Mobile USA

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March 19, 2012 10:16 AM

Boggling success of Microsoft's Wordament app

Posted by Brier Dudley

If Microsoft is ever going to have its Alec Baldwin moment, it will happen because of a home-brew game called "Wordament."

Baldwin was famously thrown off a plane in December because he wouldn't stop playing an addictive word game on his iPhone.

The actor was playing "Words With Friends," Zynga's Facebook version of Scrabble played by more than 8 million people a day.

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So far the closest thing on the Windows Phone platform is "Wordament," an extracurricular project of two Microsoft employees that became a surprise hit after its debut last year.

The free, ad-supported app is a twist on the word-hunt board game "Boggle." You compete with players around the world in two-minute matches and work your way up leader boards.

It's still a pipsqueak in the broader world of mobile games, with hundreds of thousands of downloads since it appeared on Windows Phone in April 2011 and on Windows 8 last month. It has tens of thousands of unique visitors a day, with up to about 650 playing together at once.

But as one of the highest-rated, exclusive games on those platforms, it's positioned to lift off. It may even draw people to Microsoft's fledgling mobile devices, at least if they're "Boggle" fans.

The game was created as a side project by John Thornton, 37, and Jason Cahill, 38, who worked on the Windows Live photo team and had offices next to each other. They built the game after Microsoft began a "moonlighting" program in 2010, encouraging employees to build Windows Phone apps in their free time.

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Thornton (left) began tinkering with word games and made a New Year's resolution in January 2011 to build an app a month. One was a prototype puzzle game he showed to Cahill and asked if he wanted to help. The answer was no, initially.

Cahill (right) and his wife were "Boggle" fans who played against each other wirelessly on Nintendo DS handhelds. The more he thought about the possibilities of a computer-generated game board connected via Internet services, the more excited he became about the project.

"I went home after telling him this whole lecture on how the way you get ahead at work is by doing work and not by doing moonlighting ... and ground all weekend,"Cahill said. "I came in Monday with a basic implementation of a service and a set of puzzles and I was like, 'OK, can I help on this half' ?"

This still cracks up Thornton.

"He must have coded the whole weekend after telling me no," he said. "It was kind of funny."

Thornton said the game's popularity sank in for him a few months later, at the Kirkland Fourth of July parade. Looking over the shoulders of a row of people in front of him, he noticed they were all playing the game.

Later that month, the Xbox Live group asked them to distribute "Wordament" through the game service. The Xbox group then hired them, where they're now the principals of a new studio expanding "Wordament" and developing new titles.

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I heard about "Wordament" last year from a friend and fellow "Boggle" fan at Microsoft and was planning to write about the game after the Windows 8 preview version (left) was released in February. But I waited, partly because the game froze on a Samsung Windows 8 tablet I've been using. I wondered if the newsroom installed some kind of filter, because I'd spent so much time testing "Wordament" on the tablet.

Finally I got in touch with Cahill last week, and he explained that the Windows 8 version is a prototype and they're preparing a fix for the "suspend/resume" issue I encountered. Meanwhile, the trick to unfreezing it is the "downward swipe" gesture that closes and exits Metro-style apps.

The game can be played with a mouse but it works best with touch-screens, on which you mark words by sliding your finger across the letters. Speed and responsiveness are critical, so the game's a good way to sample the performance of a phone or tablet.

"Wordament" seems to be a game that Xbox Live could use to expand on platforms such as Apple's iPhone and iPad.

I wonder if "Wordament" will end up preloaded, alongside "Solitaire," on Windows Phones or Windows 8 tablets when they appear later this year.

The original goal with "Solitaire" on Windows was to teach people to use a computer mouse, so perhaps "Wordament" will help familiarize people with the new Windows 8 touch gestures.

That would propel the game into the "Words With Friends" league.

It could also offset productivity gains promised by the new software, though, and potentially cause problems for Alec Baldwin types.

Comments | Category: Apps , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Tech work , Video games , Windows 8 , Windows Phone , Xbox , Zynga |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 14, 2012 4:13 PM

Games for kids and budding computer scientists

Posted by Brier Dudley

Lots of feedback was generated by Monday's column on Facebook's Jocelyn Goldfein and encouraging women to study computer science.

Goldfein mentioned that when she was a young girl, her grandmother introduced her to logic games.

One reader asked what sort of games Goldfein would recommend for kids, because he'd like to encourage his daughter and nieces to consider computer science.

I passed the question along to Goldfein, who said a childhood education expert is probably the best person to ask. But she provided an "anecdotal" answer and listed a few games that her daughters play.

The logic puzzles my grandma did were very old-fashioned, kind of like this: http://www.logic-puzzles.org/

The modern-day equivalent is undoubtedly Sudoku (and in fact I'm an avid Sudoku'er and my daughter at age 6 started enjoying Sudoku herself).

But my broader answer is that it's not the puzzles themselves that matter. You can't toss a book of kids Sudoku puzzles at a 6-year-old and expect her to be interested. My daughter was interested *because* she saw me with my nose in a Sudoku book all the time. So the best games and puzzles to encourage are either ones you do yourself, or better yet, ones you will do with her. That can start with card games like Go Fish and Uno. Anything with sorting and matching and counting is great foundations for logical reasoning.

There are lots of great counting and sorting oriented board games, and then you know, we live in a golden age of casual video games for kids. There are so many wonderful smartphone apps and Web apps. My kids play a ton of them, from overtly education oriented ones (like Zoodles) to simple strategy games like Glitch or Pocket Frogs or Gaia -- which actually require a lot of counting and logical reasoning skills, and have cute graphics and addictive game mechanics. Even more importantly, they are games the adults in their lives are interested in playing with them!

My bottom line is the best game is one that you're going to do with her, and not its raw educational content. I do think parental investment and modeling is the biggest factor of all. (Plus, and you may have seen this covered elsewhere, but all the good research findings we're getting now about how we need to praise our kids for effort and not traits.)

I also posed the question to Douglas Clements, a distinguished professor at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, who has written 18 books and hundreds of publications on early childhood education, math education and related topics.

Clements said that it's a huge question. Lots of games have a variety of math and logic skills, and a myriad of factors pique people's interest.

"Still, games are very good ... from board games that build intuitions about number and probability (see our Building Blocks software) to logic games such as Dienes' attribute games... which are excellent, to the old Learning Co. computer games (see the Logical Journey of the Zoombinis computer challenges too) to Logo.

And there is perhaps nothing better for computer programming... than ... computer programming!"

Any other suggestions?

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March 12, 2012 9:59 AM

Facebook director on women, computing and careers

Posted by Brier Dudley

If video games can inspire boys to study computer science, perhaps Facebook can have the same effect on girls.

Something has to change because the number of female computer-science students has mysteriously fallen since the mid-1980s, when nearly 40 percent of the majors were women. Lately it's been less than 20 percent, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

That's despite concerted efforts by Microsoft and other software companies to draw more women into the talent pipeline.

Now Facebook is taking a crack at this puzzle, flexing its newfound stature and influence.

"I am quite hopeful that Facebook can do something to turn the tide -- that we have enough cultural influence at this point that we can influence the next generation of teenage girls to consider computer science," engineering director Jocelyn Goldfein told me last week.

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Goldfein, 36, leads the product team working on features such as news feeds and photo and video services. She's among about a dozen directors, including two women, who collectively manage Facebook's engineering.

A Stanford graduate who grew up in Northern California, Goldfein previously was vice president of the desktop business group at VMware in Palo Alto, Calif.

Goldfein is a great example of what women can achieve in the tech industry today, but I was curious to know how she ended up on that path. It sounds like computing was probably her destiny.

With a father who managed computer scientists and a mother who worked in finance, "computers were always around the house," she said in an interview at Facebook's Seattle office. "We read science fiction, had geeky friends, geeky pursuits."

Goldfein recently found a copy of her birth announcement, which humorously reflected the '70s mainframe era. She recalled that it said "a new programming unit has been added to our family. Dad's in charge of programming and Mom's in charge of production control."

Goldfein and her mother played video games together, but a greater influence may have been her late grandmother, a mother of five who worked as a bank teller to support the family after her husband left.

"This woman did logic puzzles for fun; she would solve Rubik's cubes as a hobby," Goldfein said. "The logic puzzles you get in crossword-puzzle magazines -- with the dots and the X's -- she taught me to do those when I was a kid. It was sort of an epiphany when I got to programming. It's sort of the same thing."

So Goldfein's mind worked like her grandmother's?

"Exactly," she said. "I think we would find there are a bunch of people working in accounting and finance who, in another life in an alternate universe, could have been software engineers. I think that there's a lot of similarities in what your brains do."

(Here are some game suggestions from Goldfein and others)

Despite the stature of Goldfein and other women at Facebook, I wondered if the company has trouble recruiting more after the depiction of founder Mark Zuckerberg in the movie "The Social Network." Goldfein sharpened her tone when I brought that up.

"The funny thing is there's lots of things that are just sort of factually inaccurate about that movie, but I think the fact that it portrays Mark as a misogynist is one of the greatest pieces of slander in it," she said. "There's actually proof of this, which is Mark has been monogamously in a relationship with one woman for the entire time, including today."

Goldfein is the mother of two young girls, so I asked what she's doing to be sure they feel computing is open to them. "I think the biggest thing you need to do for all girls -- and not just mine -- is have role models out there," she said. "That's why I think Facebook can make a difference. Teenage girls are using Facebook, and so I think it's meaningful for them to hear about women engineers working at Facebook."

That helps address "stereotype threat" -- the effect of women avoiding things they perceive are for men. "You look in the room, you see all men, you assume that's for men, not me," Goldfein said.

Still, Zuckerberg remains the face of Facebook, just as other major tech companies are all identified with their male founders.

"Mark's face is on it, but actually the news feed that you use was built by a woman, the photo viewer that opens up when you click on a photo, that was built by a woman," Goldfein said. "An enormous percentage of teenage girls, I would posit, are on Facebook and using those features passionately and devotedly, and probably take a more personal interest in the idea that they could mold those things, they could shape those things."

It will take generations for women to account for 50 percent of computer-science majors, Goldfein said, but she believes it's possible.

"Considering that women are 60 percent of undergrad degrees these days," she said, "I'm really looking for a 60-40 representation to be proportional."

Could it happen in her lifetime? "It could," she said. "Another generation or two, and it could tip. Law and medicine tipped so fast. The majority of law grads and medical-school grads now are women."

Goldfein's grandmother would be part of the shift if she were growing up today.

"Absolutely, she'd be a computer scientist. There's no doubt in my mind," Goldfein said. "She would have had so much more opportunity today, but I think it's rather impressive what she did. She's definitely an inspiration."

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November 21, 2011 11:25 AM

Microsoft Kinect bacon cart debuts in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

The bacon man cometh, to South Lake Union and Fremont.

Seriously, he's giving out free bacon to anyone who asks, courtesy of Microsoft.

To grease the skids for Kinect recruiting, Microsoft's operating a quirky bacon cart -- complete with a riddling bacon hawker -- in Seattle tech hubs.

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Microsoft is trying to double the size of its Kinect for Windows engineering team in Redmond, from 35 to 70, and it hired ad agency Wexley School for Girls to add some sizzle. Wexley dreamed up the campaign, with the tagline "Wake up and Smell the Future."

The promo made its debut today in the shadow of Amazon.com headquarters in South Lake Union, where a stream of bacon lovers braved the downpour for free strips of Swinery pepper bacon.

Also free were toppings, including spray cheese, Sriracha, peanut butter, maple syrup and chocolate sauce.

Serious candidates may even get a bacon air freshener.

"We thought it was a fun and cool idea to be around here," said Teddy Black, a producer at Wexley.

As of 11:15, about 15 to 20 people had stopped by, including a South Lake Union trolley driver on his lunch break. A few had picked up materials but there weren't any serious bites yet.

To drum up business, there's a hawker in a white suit decorated with bacon strips. He's called The Sizzler -- a play on The Riddler in Batman.

The bacon wagon -- a very slightly pimped out version of Dante's hot dog cart -- will be serving up slices at 1124 Harrison, across from Moka's Cafe on Fairview Avenue, until 1 p.m. today.

It will be in Fremont's tech gulch, near the canal, on Tuesday. Organizers haven't yet decided whether it will be on the Adobe or Google side of the bridge.

The cart will also be back in South Lake Union next Monday, same time and place, according to Black.

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October 25, 2011 1:24 PM

F5 breaks $1 billion, shares jump, jobs added

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle's F5 today reported that its sales crossed the $1 billion a year mark, the highlight of a strong earnings report that boosted the stock on what was otherwise a rough day for tech stocks.

Although overall tech spending is suffering from the uncertain economic conditions, F5 and a few other companies found a niche providing software, hardware and services that big corporations are using to modernize their networks and datacenters.

F5's traffic management and security products have been selling especially well
to phone companies upgrading their networks to handle the flood of data traffic from
mobile devices and video services.

"If you're using social networking, if you're doing online banking or booking an airline ticket or sending a text or trading a stock, there's a real high chance you're using us," John McAdam, company president and chief executive officer, said in an interview.

The company also disclosed that it has been hiring like crazy and plans to continue adding jobs.

It hired about 480 people in its fiscal year ending in September - bringing its headcount to 2,490 - and plans to hire at least 100 more by the end of this year. That includes 155 jobs added over the last year in Washington, where it employs 850 in Seattle and 150 in Spokane.

Shares of the networking hardware maker jumped about 8 percent in after-hours trading to around $96 after the earnings were disclosed. Earlier they'd fallen 5 percent to close during regular trading at $88.76.

(UPDATE: The stock's really moving today - Wednesday morning: it's up 13 percent to $100.30 at last check)

Sales were up 24 percent during its last quarter and 31 percent - to $1.15 billion - during its fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Earnings per share were 84 cents during the quarter and $2.96 for the year, up from 77 cents and $1.86 the previous year.

McAdam said there was strong demand for its new Viprion 2400 and Viprion
4400 chassis. The company also released a major update to its operating system during the quarter.

F5 was incorporated in 1996 and went public in 1999.

Although F5 is expecting seasonal slowdowns in the current quarter, the broad upgrade cycle taking place in corporate computing - with companies using virtualization to consolidate servers and shifting applications to internal and external "cloud" networks -is nowhere near over, McAdam said.

"I think there's at least a five-year run rate on this type of architecture and it could easily be longer," he said.

Meanwhile finding enough of the right people to continue expanding the company will be a challenge for F5, McAdam said, but he expects the company will be able to continuing growing in Seattle and its other locations around the world.

There's also enough room at its headquarters along Elliott Way to accommodate
the growth for a few more years, after which it will probably need to find another location in the city, he said.

To celebrate the $1 billion milestone, there's a company meeting Wednesday at which employees will get cake and t-shirts with a rocketship logo.

Reaching $2 billion in annual sales will take a little longer, but McAdam said next year's growth will be a big step in that direction.

"We reckon we can do at least 20 percent," he said.

The company prepared a graphic timeline of its history to mark the occasion:

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September 1, 2011 4:00 PM

Mass layoff at Bremerton call center, hello AT&T?

Posted by Brier Dudley

If AT&T wants to start hiring more U.S. call center workers to win support for its proposed acquisition of T-Mobile USA, it should try the 360 area code.

A call center in Bremerton today informed the state that it's laying off 240 employees by Oct. 31. Last year the center's biggest client was Sprint.

The state disclosed the layoff today. If I'd known about it sooner, I would have mentioned it in today's column on the AT&T deal, which looks at AT&T's job creation pitch.

Englewood, Colo.-based TeleTech is doing the layoff in Bremerton. For a call center company, it's surprisingly hard to find someone to answer the phone there -- the media contact didn't respond to phone or email requests for comment.

TeleTech received a warm welcome in Bremerton, especially after it disclosed plans last year to hire 250 people.

That was supposed to bring its total workforce to around 675, according to an article in the Kitsap Sun last summer. The article said employees started at $9.75 an hour. That's nearly $2 lower than the median pay such workers receive across the country and close to the state's minimum wage of $8.67.

Before the layoff, about 1,100 people in the Bremerton area worked as customer service representatives, according to the state Employment Security Department.

Statewide there are about 30,000 people employed in that job category, which includes call centers and other customer service jobs.

UPDATE: Apparently another company at the Bremerton call center may hire the laid off workers.

TeleTech lost its contract to operate at the center, which is run by IBM, and the new contractor -- Manpower -- is offering jobs to those laid off, according to Peggy Barnett, Employment Security's business services manager for the area.

"That's my understanding -- that everybody has an offer to move over if they'd like, to their same positions," she said.

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August 29, 2011 9:48 AM

HP follows Wall Street to nowhere

Posted by Brier Dudley

Steve Jobs did his old employer one last favor.

By resigning from Apple last week, Jobs made everyone briefly forget that Hewlett-Packard, where he had one of his first jobs, had just hobbled itself.

It may seem like ancient history, but HP's debacle isn't over yet, and the outcome will reshape the tech industry and the lives of tens of thousands of employees across the West.

The world's largest PC maker and cornerstone of Silicon Valley announced Aug. 18 that it was killing its new flagship Web tablet and may jettison its PC business.

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Simultaneously, Chief Executive Leo Apotheker (left) doubled down on its higher-margin corporate-technology business, bidding more than $10 billion for a relatively low-profile British enterprise software company.

HP's stock was in the $40s in the spring, the mid-$30s in early summer and then plunged below $25 on the news (see chart). HP lost more than $10 billion in value, and the fabled company may be a takeover target, ready to be sliced and diced.

There's no doubt the PC industry is in a slump, and HP's TouchPad tablet was a dud.

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But the PC industry is cyclical, and in past years its growth lifted other parts of HP's business. In the fiscal year that ended last October, HP's personal-systems group -- the unit that sells PCs -- accounted for half the company's net revenue growth.

The group's sales were up 15 percent in fiscal 2010, to $40.7 billion, and its profit grew 5 percent to $2 billion.

Yet, in 2009 and 2010, HP cut the percentage of the group's revenue spent on researching and developing new products.

That's a far cry from the legendary invention factory that gave Jobs a summer job in his teens and served as an early role model for Apple.

What's most striking is that HP has been acting just the way Wall Street encourages tech companies to behave. It's been ruthless on costs, and unsentimental in deciding to slash core businesses and chase products that, for now, have higher margins.

But instead of applauding these bold moves, investors have savaged HP. Ratings agencies raised red flags and several research firms downgraded its stock after the announcement.

Some Wall Street sirens still praised the approach, if not the execution. Credit Suisse's Kulbinder Garcha told The Wall Street Journal that HP had the "correct strategy" in buying the British company, and Gleacher & Co.'s Brian Marshall told the paper, "HP is undergoing a sound strategy transformation by focusing on high-growth, high-margin opportunities."

We may hear more of this in a few weeks when Microsoft holds its annual meeting with financial analysts. They've perennially asked the company to slash costs. In recent years, as Microsoft stock lagged despite the company's steady growth, some began calling on Chief Executive Steve Ballmer to break the company apart.

This would enable investors to choose only the most profitable groups, instead of having to bet broadly on the whole company.

It's a cynical and greedy approach.

Global tech companies that take the long view use proceeds of their hits to develop new products that may take years to crystallize and become profitable. Eventually this broadens their reach into new markets, grows profit and stabilizes companies that employ tens of thousands of people and provide tools the world depends upon.

Multiple businesses balance each other through cycles. Strong Xbox sales made up for slowing Windows sales during Microsoft's last fiscal year.

Instead of laying people off when its core product slowed, Ballmer announced across-the-board compensation increases that take effect in September, because "success comes from the people who work here," he said in an April memo.

Microsoft hasn't charmed Wall Street in years, and Ballmer doesn't seem to bother.

That's one way to deal with Wall Street. Another is Apple's approach, which is to play the Street like a Garageband guitar.

For instance, the day before Jobs resigned, someone told The Wall Street Journal that the iPhone 5 will debut in October on Sprint as well as AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Who would sell Apple stock right before an iPhone launch, Jobs or no Jobs?

Then we have HP's approach. Apotheker is still trying to make his mark, in the footsteps of past HP bosses who cut thousands of jobs and spent heavily on acquisitions to boost growth and woo investors. I'll bet he takes the fall for clumsily attempting to give the queen of the PC industry a quick and dirty makeover.

When it comes to tech companies of a certain age, Wall Street is like a rude old man who presses his wife to get a radical face-lift and boob job because he can't see her beauty and lusts for a young filly.

HP is the latest reminder that you'll never be happy in a relationship like that: It went under the knife and still ended up forlorn, dumped on the curb.

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June 29, 2011 11:00 AM

Facebook's Zuckerberg hiring in Seattle (updated w/Zuck quotes)

Posted by Brier Dudley

There may be some additional westbound traffic on Highway 520 this evening.

Facebook's hosting a special recruiting event at its Seattle office, which has bulked up with former Microsoft and Google engineers since it opened near Pike Place Market last year.
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The company had scheduled a tech talk for tonight with its vice president of engineering, Mike Schroepfer, but that's changed.

Now the event has morphed into a recruiting event and the featured guest is Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who will meet with potential recruits starting at 7. A spokesman said Zuckerberg visits the office periodically.

Xconomy noted that all of the free tickets for tonight's event were gone in 20 minutes.

Facebook's Seattle office currently has six engineering positions open and a spot for a technical recruiter, but the listings aren't definitive.

I wonder if Zuckerberg will also visit his pal Bill Gates while he's in town.

Facebook's among a series of California tech companies that opened Seattle offices over the last year to tap the area's talent pool. That contributed to Microsoft's decision in April to increase its pay in what Chief Executive Steve Ballmer called "the most significant investment in overall compensation we have ever made."

UPDATE: Facebook will webcast Zuckerberg's Seattle session here, at Facebook Live.

UPDATE 2: Facebook decided at the last minute not to webcast the event after all.

Mark Zuckerberg spent a bit of time with reporters before the event began, describing progress at the Seattle office.

"The office is going really well," he said.

Rather than focus on a particular project, it's integrated with the broader development work at the Palo Alto headquarters.

"Now we're starting to get to the scale where we're attracting a lot of really good people and we're starting to lead a bunch of projects from out here," he said. "Most notably there's a lot of mobile development."

Zuckerberg declined to project how much the Seattle office will grow. Currently it has about 40 employees in an office tower at First Avenue and Stewart Street.


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June 22, 2011 10:51 AM

McCaw, Clearwire vet Nick Kauser lauded

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nick Kauser, a pioneer of the wireless industry spawned in the Seattle area, today was named to the Wireless Hall of Fame organized by the non-profit Wireless History Foundation.

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Kauser was chief technology officer of McCaw Cellular Communications, Rogers Cantel, AT&T Wireless and Clearwire. At AT&T Wireless, he led the "Project Angel" venture that was the foundation of Clearwire, which he co-founded and served as CTO until he retired in 2007.

In its announcement, the foundation noted that Kauser "built the first nationwide network across both Canada and the United States. He led U.S. standards processes, aggressively explored new technologies, and laid the basis for nationwide automatic roaming."

Kauser will be feted at an Oct. 10 dinner in San Diego. Other honorees include Robert Marino, the first employee of Sprint predecessor United TeleSpectrum; Clayton Niles, former chairman of Communications Industries; and the late Arnold Pohs, former chairman of CommNet Celluar and the CTIA trade group.

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May 25, 2011 2:53 PM

Interview: Why and how Google bought Sparkbuy

Posted by Brier Dudley

Networking really is worthwhile for startup entrepreneurs, or at least the ones who want to sell their companies to Google.

Dan Shapiro said friendships and chance encounters helped him start comparison shopping site Sparkbuy last year and sell it to Google in a deal announced on Monday.

Shapiro and Scott Silver, site director of Google's Kirkland campus, explained in an interview how the deal went down and a few more details of what's next for the Sparkbuy team.

They also left the strong impression that Google is still hunting for startups to acquire in the Seattle area and beyond.

Google may have to pick up the pace if it wants to meet the aggressive growth projections it laid out at the start of the year. It bought 48 companies last year, but only 10 so far this year, as it approaches the mid-year point.

Maybe that's why it moved so fast on Sparkbuy.

Silver kept an eye on the company since it was just an idea Shapiro was batting around with friends. Shapiro had had trouble shopping for a new laptop and thought there was a need for a new comparison shopping site. He floated this idea while having dinner with Silver in early 2010, and heard the magic words.

"He said that's really interesting from a Google perspective," Shapiro recalled.

Later, Shapiro received more encouragement when he happened to sit next to another Google employee on an airplane and talked about the startup. Sparkbuy launched a beta version in November and formally launched March 29.

Shapiro is a veteran of Microsoft and RealNetworks who started mobile photo business Ontela in 2005. It merged with News Corp.'s Photobucket in 2009 and Shapiro left his management position there in February 2010.

While starting Sparkbuy, Shapiro also stayed in contact with Jonathan Sposato, another Seattle entrepreneur who sold his company, Picnik, to Google.

"One of the things that was really encouraging was that going to Google wasn't something totally unfamiliar -- there were a whole bunch of people I knew and respected," Shapiro said.

It wasn't confirmed during the interview, but I wonder if Sposato's a model for what may happen to Shapiro at Google.

Sposato was chief executive of Picnik, a photo editing service, when it was acquired in March 2010. He's since been promoted to lead not just Picnik but all of Google's photo business, including a team in Santa Monica, Calif.

Shapiro downplayed the chance he'll play a larger role. "I'm still learning how the conference phones work," he joked.

(Although Sposato had a similarly awkward entrance -- on his first visit to the Kirkland office, he smashed a Segway scooter into a drink fridge, throwing him off and marking his arrival with a big dent in the appliance.)

Silver said the acquisition is one of the benefits of having a big engineering presence in the Seattle area. The company employs more than 800 in Kirkland, where it occupies about 150,000 square feet, and in Fremont, where it's expanding to 78,000 square feet.

"I wish Dan had agreed to join Google six months earlier from my perspective," Silver said.

Silver, a former Amazon.com manager, said Sparkbuy fits with Google's broad mission of taking information that's available online and making it useful for customers.

"Dan had a novel take on that and we realy liked what we saw," he said.

Although Sparkbuy's shopping site was shut down when the deal was announced, Silver said Google was acquiring more than just three talented developers.

"From my perspective I wanted Dan to build his business at Google and not outside Google ... this isn't about talent, this is about the ideas and executing them," Silver said.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Shapiro would only say "this was an unexpected but delightful outcome."

Shapiro said it usually takes about six years for a startup to have some sort of exit. Being able "to proceed directly to the 'build a business at Google scale' while skipping a whole bunch of those intermediate years of financing and fundraising and everything else, that was just too great an opportunity."

The Sparkbuy team is going to work with a group in Kirkland that last week released Advisor, a site where consumers can comparison shop for loans and credit offers.

"This problem is not an easy problem," Silver said. "It's very hard to figure out how you get enough information about services so you can help consumers make decisions about complex financial products."

Sorting through the options available on different laptops is similarly complex, they said. Shapiro said the "next great frontier" is using online information to directly answer consumers' questions and help them solve problems.

Google hopes to continue tapping the local cluster of expertise in online shopping, which includes companies such as Amazon.com, Expedia, REI and Nordstrom.

"Seattle's just a gold mine for expertise in these areas," Shapiro said.

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May 18, 2011 9:29 AM

Major pruning at Clearwire - engineering, 700 jobs handed off

Posted by Brier Dudley

Clearwire's restructuring took a radical turn this morning when the Kirkland wireless company announced that it's handing off engineering and support of its 4G network to Ericsson.

About 700 Clearwire employees will shift to Ericsson, which is taking over network engineering, operations and maintenance for at least the next seven years.

Clearwire still owns the network and will continue to handle relationships with consumers and business customers. The 700 employees are expected to start work at Ericsson soon, before "mid-year 2011."

"We're positioning this company to be able to be profitable and generate cash flow we're going to be able to reinvest back into the network," said Erik Prusch, Clearwire's chief operating officer.

Clearwire stock jumped about 5 percent on the news, to around $4.50 as of 10 a.m.

It's the second major reduction in employment at Clearwire in the last six months. Facing a cash crunch, the company in November laid off 630 and halted expansion of its retail network and growth into some new markets.

At the time it had 4,200 employees nationally and about 700 locally. As of April 1, it had 3,300 nationally and about 550 locally, of which about 100 will transfer to Ericsson.

With the Ericsson deal, the company's following the path of its corporate parent Sprint, which also offloaded network engineering and support to the Swedish telecommunications company.

Ericsson now works for Sprint in Redmond and has an office in Bellevue, but for the time being the Clearwire employees will continue working at its Bellevue office.

Prusch said the employees should receive benefits comparable to what they received at Clearwire.

"They're permanent employees, it is a long-term contract with Ericsson," he said. "One of our chief concerns was being able to continue to have the relationship with these employees."

Prusch continued:

"We really view this thing as a win-win which allows them continuity of employment, good or better benefits, or the same or better benefits than they've got, and most importantly retention of their institutional knowledge (and) the their ability to make an impact on our network."

Ericsson spokeswoman Kathy Egan said all 700 employees will be hired and will receive "comparable" benefits. They are spread across the country with the largest pockets in the Seattle area and Las Vegas, which also has about 100.

"I can tell you that everyone is coming over," she said. "We greatly value their WiMax expertise and we are very much looking forward to welcoming them to Ericsson."

Seniority will also transfer, she said: "Seniority will all be honored so the time that they had at Clearwire will transfer over with them to Ericsson."

As for employment beyond the seven-year contract with Clearwire, she said "I don't know that, I can't speculate beyond seven years."

Asked if the pruning positions Clearwire for a sale or merger, Prusch said he sees it doing the opposite, setting the company up to run profitably and fund its expansion with revenue.

"This is the next step in that evolutionary process, which is to make certain we're doing best practices across the business," he said.

Clearwire's expecting to be profitable within the next year to 18 months. Prusch wouldn't say how much the Ericsson deal changes that target but more details should be disclosed with the company's next earnings.

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May 4, 2011 4:39 PM

AT&T deal to buy T-Mobile brings flood of public comment

Posted by Brier Dudley

If the FCC gives much weight to public comments, AT&T is going to have a tough time getting approval for its $39 billion acquisition of Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA.

Poking around the 4,227 public comments submitted so far, it was hard to find people supportive of the deal.

The opponents aren't all T-Mobile employees. Only 190 of the comments as of Wednesday afternoon were submitted by people in Washington state, which has a huge concentration of wireless industry employees.

Texas -- home of Dallas-based AT&T -- generated 352 comments, but that includes filings by AT&T.

Comments can be submitted through a form on the FCC's website, at FCC.gov/ecfs. You'll need to enter the proceeding number, which is 11-65.

Here's a sample of comments by Washingtonians.

"As a T-Mobile customer of approximately eight years, I am vehemently opposed to the AT&T acquisition of T-Mobile from Deutsche Telekom," wrote Aaron Burke of Everett. "If the deal is approved, it will sponsor massive anti-competitive behaviors, increased prices, and lower quality of service."

Trent Gillespie of Seattle identifies himself as the chief information officer of a midsize company who has worked with different phone companies.

"In my experience, AT&T has the worst customer service of any of the wireless providers I have worked with. I believe they also use their predominant position in the market place to keep rates artificially high (especially texting and data rates), limit devices that come to market, and essentially act as an obstacle to competitiveness that would be had in a more competitive environment. On the other hand, T-Mobile is the largest U.S. cellular provider who is pursuing new ways of conducting business, a focus on customer service, and quickly bringing new technologies and devices to the market."

Seattle's Deepak Sukumaran cited the Clayton Antitrust Act and wrote: "In any other environment and time, this type of acquisition would not even be attempted because it is
clearly illegal and violates antitrust law. It is my opinion that given no effective regulations, these companies have and will keep consolidating and strive to re-form Ma Bell, and in so doing overturn over 100 years of progressive antitrust, anti-competitive legislation and the progress we have made."

Triet Nguyen in Bellevue was a T-Mobile customer "until I got jealous of my iPhone friends telling me how great the iPhone is. I switched to AT&T and it was the worst mistake of my life. I regret and am counting down the days when I can switch back. AT&T has horrible phone service. I have dropped calls DAILY. I hate it when I'm talking and then find out my phone is ringing me from the person I was talking to. Their data coverage has a lot of dead spots. I never had these issues with T-Mobile. I think the merger will degrade phone service and worse, get rid of competition."

But T-Mobile's not perfect.

Separately, I received a copy this week of an internal memo sent to employees, after the company miscalculated severance benefits and significantly overestimated what some will receive. The memo was an apology from Larry Myers, chief people officer at T-Mobile, who said the severance estimates are being corrected.

It sounds like an awkward accounting error that's being fixed. What's surprising is how far along the discussion of severance has come, since the merger still needs regulatory approval and isn't expected to close until early 2012.

A T-Mobile spokeswoman wouldn't say much about the memo but provided a statement confirming that a mistake had been made.

"T-Mobile USA has a long history of open communication with our employees, which is why when we discovered a data error, we promptly advised our employees of the situation and provided them with updated information."

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May 2, 2011 10:55 AM

Review of Paul Allen's revealing "Idea Man"

Posted by Brier Dudley

There's something for almost everyone in Paul Allen's new memoir, "Idea Man."

There are chapters on the Seahawks, the Trail Blazers, space travel, billionaire vacations, brain research and Jimi Hendrix.

Woven throughout are anecdotes and sometimes catty asides about the amazing parade of people Allen met as he worked his way up and partly back down the list of the world's richest people.

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This makes it the most revealing book yet about lifestyles of the software tycoons living along the east shore of Lake Washington.

But "Idea Man" provides only a partial view of the rise of Microsoft and the modern tech industry. Allen played an important role in the early days and clearly feels his contributions are underappreciated. That's fine, but the book's insistent portrayal of Allen as a visionary compromises its documentary value and pushes it toward the category of public relations.

The first third of the book describes how a geeky Wedgwood kid discovered computers, fell in with Bill Gates and eventually suggested they start a company making software for the first microcomputers.

Allen drops names left and right -- teachers at Lakeside, woolly programmers from the early days and celebrities he schmoozed with after joining the billionaire club.

As in a movie, some of the best lines were revealed in the previews. Excerpts published in March included most of the juicy bits, where Allen describes Gates' abrasive style and how Allen overheard Gates and Steve Ballmer "scheming to rip me off" by diluting Allen's Microsoft stake.

It turns out the book is less a vendetta than an effort to shape and polish the legacy of an unusual man whose technical skills and vision launched Microsoft at the dawn of personal computing. I'd put it on the same shelf as the $625, 2,400-page cookbook that former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold published last year and the authorized Steve Jobs biography that's being released in early 2012.

Allen's biggest business lately seems to be real-estate development. But he's put renewed effort into defining himself as a tech visionary after brushes with death in 2009, when he received a pacemaker and fought a recurrence of the cancer that precipitated his resignation from Microsoft in 1983.

While writing the book, Allen simultaneously sued Apple, Google, Facebook and other major tech companies. He alleged they were infringing on patents from a research lab he funded before the dot-com crash. The suits describe the lab as "one of the preeminent technology firms" and Allen as "one of the earliest pioneers of personal computer software."

Allen never says so directly, but the book leaves the impression he's resentful or jealous of Gates' fame, accolades and reputation. Several "told you so" passages drive this home.

When antitrust investigations of Microsoft were peaking in 1997, "I advised Bill to temper his stance," but Gates insisted he could bundle a browser or other features to his products, Allen wrote.

He also claims to have foreseen the importance of Google: "Years before Google became the goliath it is today, I repeatedly asked Bill how Microsoft was going to catch up in search, or whether the company might consider buying Google instead. Bill was unimpressed by his then much smaller rival. 'In six months we'll catch them,' he kept saying."

Allen also takes a few jabs at Jobs. He recalls being appalled by Jobs' berating an employee in a meeting, and another incident where Jobs rejected Allen's suggestion that a computer mouse would be better with two buttons, rather than the single mouse button Jobs planned for the Macintosh.

"In time I'd be vindicated," Allen wrote, noting Windows became the dominant PC platform, the second button helps millions of users and Apple began offering its multi-button Mighty Mouse in 2005.

Tech leaders aren't the only ones skewered. Allen gets in several digs at his former investment manager, executives at the cable company where Allen lost $8 billion, and Bob Whitsitt, the former Sonics manager Allen hired to lead the Blazers and the Seahawks.

The gentlest rebuke is given to his beloved mother, for selling Allen's childhood collection of science-fiction books 25 years after he had moved out of the family house. She proudly told him a man paid $75 for the lot.

"It was hard to forgive her for that, but an old photograph saved the day," Allen wrote. "After enlarging the picture, I was able to make out the titles on my old collection's spines. I had copies tracked down and retrieved almost all of them."

"Idea Man" is the recollection of one person and not a transcript of history, of course. It's not journalism, and some controversies are skipped over.

Prurient readers will be disappointed the book isn't as candid as promised on its front flap. There are no juicy stories from the $10 million parties the guitar-playing bachelor hosted on yachts and in exotic locales for friends and celebrities.

There's no mention of Allen's relationship in the late 1990s with tennis champion Monica Seles, who is half his age. Allen talks about his ill-fated investment in the DreamWorks movie studio, but he doesn't mention an earlier production company he bankrolled until the co-founder accused him of sexual harassment.

Also missing are details of Allen's reincarnation as a real-estate mogul.

It's still fun and enlightening to peek behind the curtain that Seattle's most colorful billionaire has pulled around his life. Even if you're only seeing a stage carefully filled with Allen's favorite things.

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March 31, 2011 10:17 AM

Cheezburger luring Amazonians with Dick's burgers

Posted by Brier Dudley

There is such a thing as a free lunch today for Amazon.com employees.

Seattle humor network Cheezburger is going to give Amazonians cheeseburgers from Dick's as they leave the Amazon company meeting at Key Arena today, in a blatant recruiting stunt.

Dick's is close to Cheezburger's Queen Anne office.

But it's an uphill battle against the array of restaurants opening alongside Amazon's new campus down in South Lake Union.

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March 31, 2011 9:35 AM

Paul Allen's book: Shaping legacy with a chainsaw?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Paul Allen's trying awfully hard to be sure he's remembered as a technology visionary and not just a quirky billionaire.

But perhaps Allen's trying too hard to shape his legacy.

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Building edifices such as the Experimental Music Project was just the start -- though it's now looking like an apt symbol of Allen's melting relationship with Bill Gates, whose new foundation headquarters has risen across the street.

Allen's aggressive new approach began last year, after he fought back a recurrence of cancer. In July he publicly pledged to give most of his fortune to charity. Then in August he sued Apple, Google, Facebook and other tech companies, arguing that they copied ideas hatched long ago by his research ventures.

Now Allen's releasing an autobiography -- "Idea Man" -- to tell his remarkable story.

But the reception to excerpts of the tell-all suggests his re-branding effort may backfire.

The excerpts reiterate that Allen made key contributions to Microsoft's genesis and ended up with a smaller share of the company than Gates, a story that's been told before.

What's newly revealed is the depth of Allen's resentment over his dealings with Gates.

It's so catty, Allen risks going down in history as the world's richest disgruntled employee -- the guy who stomped out of the building with $20 billion, thinking he deserved $25 billion.

I've followed Allen for more than a decade and talked to him a number of times. He's always been polite, except for the time his security guard shoved me aside, the night Washington voters agreed to fund a stadium for his Seahawks.

Whenever I asked about Gates, Allen talked up their friendship. Here's what he told me in June 2008:

"We have dinners regularly. We love to see movies together. The thing I always tell people about Bill that they may not know is, he's really a lot of fun to hang out with."

Allen continued:

"We used to go to movies a lot together. We would predict what's going to happen in the movie. If something funny happened, then we would just crack up. We still to this day have a lot of fun just hanging out and talking and brainstorming about future things."

Something must have changed. Maybe he was frustrated at being overshadowed by Gates all these years, or just had to get things off his chest. Still, nobody expected Allen to vent so publicly.

Gates was a brutal boss and a crafty negotiator. He's a ruthless businessman who once aspired to be a lawyer like his wealthy father, who helped set things up. Allen's an eclectic, music-loving son of a University of Washington librarian. Given these backgrounds, it's impressive that Allen ended up with 36 percent of their startup.

Another sore point is the cut Gates gave to Steve Ballmer, to convince his Harvard pal to join the company in 1980.

Allen, who attended Washington State University, writes that he and Gates decided to give Ballmer 5 percent of Microsoft. But when he left on a business trip, Gates gave Ballmer 8.75 percent, "considerably more than what I'd agreed to."

Allen wasn't the only one miffed by Ballmer's hiring package. It caused a "personnel disaster," according to "Gates," a 1993 biography by Paul Andrews and Stephen Manes. They didn't say much about Allen's feelings at the time, but said there was widespread resentment after Ballmer's offer was tacked onto the office bulletin board.

The ones to feel sorry for are Microsoft's early clerical workers, with whom "Gates had been tightfisted beyond the bounds of the law," Andrews and Manes wrote.

While Allen was grousing about dilution, the clerks had to file a complaint with the state to extract back pay for overtime that Gates owed them.

We'll have to see what the rest of Allen's book says, and whether people are as interested in his life before and after Microsoft. There's some irony in the book getting its initial burst of attention because of its candid view of Gates.

Hopefully "Idea Man" is more than a vendetta. That would be a shame because Allen's otherwise providing fascinating new details from his front-row perspective on the birth of the PC industry and a company that dramatically changed the Seattle area and the world.

For better or worse, Microsoft is like a natural element. Much of the world runs on its software, and it may be the most profitable business ever created anywhere.

Allen left Microsoft when it was really just getting started, more than a decade before Windows 95.

Early employees who thought they knew the man don't know what to make of his book.

"I'm taken aback," said Jon Shirley, who became Microsoft's president the year Allen left and served with him on its board.

Shirley said he's been getting calls from very early employees, talking about the excerpts.

"I think everybody's sort of in the same situation I am -- it's very hard to understand," he said.

Shirley said the book probably won't alter the general perception of Microsoft, which was more affected by antitrust cases.

"Microsoft is no longer Bill and Paul," he noted.

Gates and Allen have also changed, presumably.

"How the world wants to view the interchange of these two very young men -- when they were young men -- I don't know," he said. "You'll have to decide whether you accept this story or not. It's shocking to me -- it doesn't sound like Paul."

Or maybe there's a lot more to Allen than everybody realized.

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March 24, 2011 12:26 PM

Microsoft partners made $580 billion last year, IDC says

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft must be getting tired of all those stories about Apple app developers striking it rich.

The company today posted details of a study it commissioned from IDC saying that Microsoft partners -- companies offering Microsoft-based technology products and services -- generated $580 billion in sales last year, up from $537 billion the year before.

This comes as worldwide IT spending grew less than half a percent, Microsoft noted in its release.

IDC estimated that for every dollar of Microsoft sales in 2009, "local members of the Microsoft ecosystem" generated revenues of $8.70.

This is like a global version of the multiplier effect cited in Microsoft's local economic impact reports. Last year's report on Microsoft's effect on Washington's economy said every job at Microsoft supported 5.8 other jobs in the state.

Here's the Microsoft graphic accompanying the IDC report:

03-24mpn_lg.jpg

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March 14, 2011 1:49 PM

Could Seattle become the Detroit of wireless?

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's looking more likely that T-Mobile USA and Clearwire could get swallowed up by Sprint.

Which raises the question, will Seattle become the Detroit of the wireless industry?

Not too long ago this was Wireless City, the heart of the industry. It started when McCaw Cellular assembled the first nationwide cell network in the 1980s.

McCaw sold to AT&T in 1994, but AT&T Wireless kept a presence here and more huge companies were formed.

The McCaw network spawned Western Wireless and VoiceStream, which became T-Mobile.

It also controlled Nextel, before it was sold to Sprint. Then Craig McCaw started Clearwire in 2003, pursuing his vision of wireless broadband.

Now what's left is in play.

T-Mobile has to decide whether to stay independent or join forces with Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint, to better compete with AT&T and Verizon Wireless, said Chetan Sharma, an Issaquah-based industry consultant. Major markets around the world eventually end up with three large players, he said.

Sprint and T-Mobile would have 83 million subscribers -- heft comparable to AT&T's 95 million subscribers and Verizon's 103 million, he said.

There's been speculation that Clearwire could be rolled in, but its chairman and acting chief executive, John Stanton, doesn't foresee a sale.

"I expect that Clearwire will continue to be here and continue to be independent and continue be an important employer," he said.

Stanton, a McCaw veteran who led VoiceStream through its sale, doesn't see a wireless Detroit here.

"It still is the capital of wireless," he said.

The region still has the largest percentage of population working in the industry, he said, including 4,500 AT&T employees still here and 3,000 to 4,000 more at T-Mobile.

The wireless industry contributed to hundreds of smaller companies, several venture firms and mobile efforts at Microsoft and other tech companies, he said.

But from a software perspective, the epicenter has shifted to Silicon Valley, Sharma said.

"If Seattle's going to stay relevant, it's going to have to do more on the software side of things," he said.

That could happen, if Microsoft gets traction with its phone platform. Nokia is also likely to expand its presence in the area as its Microsoft partnership gets rolling.

Amazon.com could increase its mobile business. Sharma said it's likely the company is exploring the potential of new mobile devices based on Android or other operating systems.

Even if T-Mobile and Clearwire are sold, they'd likely remain big employers for perhaps five years, Sharma said.

In the meantime, Seattle needs to see more development in wireless applications, operating systems and services to stay relevant, he said.

"It does need to reinvent itself if it still wants to be considered a wireless hub," he said.

It's probably too soon for an inspirational Super Bowl ad, like Chrysler's spot talking up Detroit's history and skill.

If it gets to that point, call Stanton for the voice-over:

"This is Wireless City, and this is what we do."

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February 24, 2011 7:45 PM

State tech awards announced: Isilon, DocuSign, Swype and ...

Posted by Brier Dudley

Judges couldn't decide on the top commercial tech product or service in the Washington Technology Industry Association awards program tonight and declared a tie.

Sharing the award are DocuSign, a leading electronic signature platform, and Isilon, the enterprise storage vendor that was acquired last November by EMC for $2.25 billion.

The tech trade group announced the winners of its 16th annual Industry Achievement Awards at a dinner event at the Showbox Sodo.

"This impressive group of companies shows that Washington state continues to be a place where passionate technologists can leverage the talent and resources here to achieve great success," WTIA Chief Executive Susan Sigl said in a release.

Here are the other winners:

Consumer product or service of the year: Swype, which offers a text-input system for touchscreen devices

Service provider of the year: HasOffers Affiliate Tracking Program, a cloud-based platform for retailers and brands to manage affiliate programs.

Best early-stage company of the year: Ground Truth, a mobile analytics company

Best seed-stage company of the year: SPARQcode, which provides marketing tools using QR barcodes scanned by customers with mobile phones.

Innovative manufactured product of the year: XKL and its "DarkStar" fiber optic transport products for enterprises to link campuses and datacenters and create regional networks

Best use of technology in government, nonprofit or education: OpenDataKit.org, a collection of free data collection tools

Technology leader of tomorrow: Gizan Gando, a sixth grader at Asa Mercer Middle School in Seattle.

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February 24, 2011 3:11 PM

On hiring spree, Google expands in Seattle and Kirkland

Posted by Brier Dudley

To accommodate new employees that it expects to hire this year, Google is expanding its offices in Seattle and Kirkland.

The company's been talking up its growth plan over the past month, saying it expects to add more than 6,000 employees this year globally.

After that news came out, Google received a record 75,000 resumes in a single week. Locally, applications to the Seattle and Kirkland offices jumped 62 percent above the weekly average.

Google's hiring talk comes as tech companies large and small ramp up their hiring after running lean through the downturn. The situation is exacerbated in Seattle by Silicon Valley companies such as Facebook, Zynga and Salesforce.com setting up new engineering offices here.

Competition for top talent is leading to dot-commish hiring gimmicks, including referral bounties of $10,000 to $12,000 being offered by Seattle startups SEOmoz and EnergySavvy.

Seattle and Kirkland Google managers wouldn't talk about competing for talent with any particular company, but in a meeting today they emphasized the thoroughness and responsiveness of Google's hiring practices.

Google is expanding its Fremont campus by leasing 30,000 square feet formerly occuped by Getty Images, adjacent to Google's building just north of the Fremont Bridge.

In Kirkland, Google began moving employees into the third building on the campus it opened in 2009.

Combined employment at the two sites grew 50 percent last year, to about 800 people, according to site managers Brian Bershad and Scott Silver.

Google's likely to hire more than 100 this year,but the managers wouldn't provide specific forecasts. However, they offered plenty of clues and hints to inform speculation about what to expect.

"I do expect, given what we're seeing in terms of resumes and the amount of resources we're putting into the hiring process, that we will grow substantially in 2011," Bershad said.

Google is expecting 2011 to be the biggest hiring year in its history, and the "Sea-Kirk" facilities should get their share.

"In this area we've always grown faster than the rest of Google, always, every year," said Silver. "It's mostly a testament to the talent that are here."

Google is working on a number of projects in the local offices, including search, messaging, maps, ad systems and the Chrome browser and operating system. Bershad said a particular emphasis in recruting this year will be for user-experience experts, to improve the design of Google products.

Unlike most of Google's regional offices, the Seattle and Kirkland facilities are almost entirely filled with engineers, with more than 90 percent of the staff involved in research and development, as opposed to sales and administration.

Google's engineering presence in Seattle began in 2004 with three employees in Kirkland.

The company leased the three-building Kirkland campus while it was under construction in 2007 and moved into two of the buildings in 2009. Silver said Google will eventually fill the third building, which has about 75,000 square feet of space.

Among the occupants may be former employees of Widevine, a Seattle digital-rights management software company that Google acquired in December. At the time, plans were to move the 60 Widevine employees to the Kirkland campus.

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February 14, 2011 2:44 PM

Geeky Valentine's Day goodies

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are a few geeky Valentine's Day gift ideas that I've received over the last few days.

Perhaps your valentine is interested in a customized DAT tape drive, as suggested by HP?

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Newegg has a few ideas for those whose true love is a PC:

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Best of all is Valve's gift advisory, accompanying its "Portal 2" pre-order announcement:

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January 31, 2011 11:19 AM

Geek grub alert: Biscuits in Amazonville

Posted by Brier Dudley

Enough about tech tax breaks. It's time for a tech biscuit break.

That's my opinion after checking out the new biscuit and espresso bar that Tom Douglas opened this morning on Westlake Avenue, in the shadow of Amazon.com's new headquarters and just down the street from the Tesla dealer and Microsoft's "touchdown space."

It's a little bar on the first floor below Serious Pie and next to the Soul Wine store. There are only a few small tables, but there's a row of hooks below the bar proper for hanging laptop bags.

The place sells coffee, baked goods and biscuits -- big, buttery square ones with jam, eggs or gravy. Or filled with fried green tomatoes, fried chicken or fennel sausage and pepper relish.

In other words, Douglas is putting the south in South Lake Union.

It's a refreshing break from cupcake mania, although you may need to work at Amazon.com to start each day with a $7 biscuit filled with a truffled frittata, tomato, caper and arugula.

I may have to spend more time there, hanging out watching for Jeff Bezos, who grew up in Texas and probably knows a thing or two about biscuits.

Here's the business end of the menu. I didn't take a picture of my biscuit because there will be thousands posted soon by smartphone-toting foodies, on Facebook, Flickr and everywhere else.

biscuits.jpg.

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January 13, 2011 2:14 PM

Cubeduel launches, a "hot or not" for LinkedIn

Posted by Brier Dudley

Two Seattle startup veterans today launched a venture that adds a little competition to LinkedIn, letting the business network users rank colleagues.

Cubeduel.com uses the LinkedIn API to call up a poll when you sign in to the site. It pulls up contacts with experience at the same company and lets users vote on which one they'd rather work with, then builds lists of "top" employees at particular companies.

The site adds a little spice to LinkedIn, which is relatively dry compared with other social networks. But I wonder how well anonymously submitted personality rankings will go over on a site where contacts and resumes are shared for business networking.

The company was started by UrbanSpoon co-founder Adam Doppelt and Tony Wright, co-founder of RescueTime. They're so far the only employees at the boot-strapped company, which is being advised by Microsoft veteran and iLike co-founder Hadi Partovi.

Monetization plans are still being developed. Options include job ads, selling lists of top-rated employees and selling ranking information to recruiters doing background checks.

Here's a screenshot of a duel drawn from my meager LinkedIn contact list:

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Here's the site's current list of the top-rated current and former Microsoft employees, topped by Nat Brown, who worked with Partovi at iLike and then MySpace's Seattle office.

cube1.jpg

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January 10, 2011 11:34 AM

WTIA tech award finalists named

Posted by Brier Dudley

Finalists for the Industry Achievement Awards given annually by the WTIA were announced today. Winners will be revealed at a Feb. 24 event at the Showbox Sodo.

"These finalists represent the most creative and innovative companies and individuals in our industry and deserve the highest congratulations," Susan Sigl, WTIA president and chief executive, said in the release.

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Here are the finalists in different categories, chosen by a group of 31 judges from the tech, government and education sectors:

Commercial Product or Service of the Year: DocuSign; Isilon Systems; thePlatform for Media, Inc.

Consumer Product or Service of the Year: Bonanza; Logos Bible Software; Swype

Service Provider of the Year: Concur; HasOffers; Hubspan

Best Early Stage Company of the Year: Ground Truth; Lockerz; Off & Away

Best Seed Stage Company of the Year: Sparkbuy; SparqCode.com; WhoCanHelp.com

Innovative Manufactured Product of the Year: Intermec Technologies; Precor; XKL

Best use of Technology in the Government, Non-profit or Educational Sector: CityClub - Living Voters Guide; OpenDataKit.org (part of University of Washington's computer science school); Washington State Ferries

Technology Leader of Tomorrow: Gizan Gando of Asa Mercer Middle School (sixth grade), Tyler Wong of Asa Mercer Middle School (sixth grade), Mariah Fernandez of South Shore K-8 (seventh grade)

Award for Excellence in Teaching: Barbara Franz, Moses Lake School District (math); Nancy Pfaff, Lake Washington School District (math); Debra Strong, Everett School District (science); Dawn Sparks, Thorp School District (science)

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November 16, 2010 9:46 AM

Today's puzzle: Seattle traffic in tech hub

Posted by Brier Dudley

The city of Seattle is having fun with Amazon.com and other new occupants of the South Lake Union biotech-software-condo zone.

McGinn's merry transportation troupe is giving them puzzles, like this one on Mercer. Deciphering the detours is almost as fun as the Canlis menu hunt.

Today's round: Which way do you turn?

Detour2.jpg

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November 11, 2010 5:15 PM

Forget the 10 percent raise, Google offers $3.5M to engineer

Posted by Brier Dudley

According to TechCrunch, Google is upping its offers to keep engineers from jumping ship for Facebook.

Mike Arrington "confirmed" this evening that one Google engineer "being heavily romanced by Facebook" was offered $3.5 million worth of stock to stick around.

It makes Googlers' 10 percent raises and $1,000 bonuses look puny. The search giant reportedly fired the person who leaked details of the upcoming raise and compensation changes. I wonder if it will also go after Arrington's source.

Is Microsoft making any outrageous retention offers nowadays?

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November 4, 2010 4:24 PM

Serious Pie 2.0 comes to Amazon.com-ville

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Neapolitan pizza oven in Amazon.com's new cafeteria is going to get some serious competition.

Seattle Met's reporting that Tom Douglas is putting a second Serious Pie just around the corner, on the second floor of a spot at Westlake and Harrison, where he's also setting up a second location for the Dahlia Bakery.

There's a pizza multiplier effect going on in South Lake Union. Every five new office buildings, roughly, spawns a new pizza joint -- Tutta Bella, Mad Pizza, Zaw.

I wonder if Douglas will offer a special SLUT pie, maybe a puttanesca?

amazapie.jpg

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October 19, 2010 10:29 AM

Intel to spend billions on NW factories and jobs

Posted by Brier Dudley

Talk about an economic stimulus package. Intel today announced plans to spend $6 billion to $8 billion to expand its U.S. manufacturing, including Oregon's first new chip factory since 2003.

The company's building a new research and development facility in Hillsboro and upgrading others to start manufacturing 22-nanometer chips next year, according to Mike Rogoway's report in The Oregonian.

Intel's expansion in Oregon and Chandler, Ariz., will create at least 800 new manufacturing jobs, support 6,000 others and provide a boost to construction employment. It's already Oregon's largest private employer with 15,000 employees in the state.

Time to get going on a new bridge over the Columbia.

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September 22, 2010 12:26 PM

Microsoft IE vet heads to Google Fremont

Posted by Brier Dudley

After 15 years learning the software business at Microsoft, Chris Wilson was ready for a new school.

The principal program manager on Microsoft's Internet Explorer team left Microsoft yesterday for a new job as a developer advocate for Google, based at its Fremont office.

"I've learned a tremendous amount at Microsoft, learned tons from all the people I worked with," he said in a phone interview. "I think that it's time for some different lessons now."

Wilson's move comes amid a growing browser war between the companies, but his non-compete agreement with Microsoft prevents him from working on Google's Chrome browser for a year.

Google will find something for Wilson to do, after he takes a six-week break between jobs.

"What I'm really super passionate about is using the Web platform and building out the Web platform as a whole," he said. "There's so much opportunity in what services get offered and how people can tie these things together - that really is not what I've been doing."

Wilson's going to work with developers all over the place, but he'll also be part of the company's effort to step up its work with developers in the Seattle region as well.

The Illinois native came to Seattle more than 15 years ago when his wife went to graduate school at the University of Washington. Wilson, 40, found work on the software team at Spry, working on its "Internet in a Box" product, and joined Microsoft in 1995.

Wilson said the timing was right for his move, now that Internet Explorer 9 is released.

"They're in a pretty good place, they've got a pretty good product with IE9," he said. "What I really want to focus on in the long-term is how people use the Web platform, both developers and consumers, and I think Google is a really good place to do that."

(I first learned of Wilson's move from Mary-Jo Foley, who also noted that Brian Arbogast, Microsoft vice president for mobile services and a 24-year veteran, left the company Aug. 16 after a sabbatical.)

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September 16, 2010 10:28 AM

Hulu opening Seattle office, homecoming for team

Posted by Brier Dudley

Web video site Hulu announced today that it's opening a development office in Seattle by the end of the year to tap the city's engineering talent.

Hulu's based in the Los Angeles area but its management team is largely made up of former Seattle residents, including Chief Executive Jason Kilar, a former Amazon.com manager who still has a home in the city.

In a blog post announcing the new office, Hulu Vice President of Platform Technology Richard Tom - a former Microsoft lead - said nearly 50 of the company's developers in L.A. "were once Seattleites building enterprise database servers, operating systems and web frameworks."

You can really tell how much Tom misses the city. From his post:

Perhaps when you think of Seattle your taste buds prepare themselves for a freshly brewed espresso or a not-so-simple soy-decaf-single-shot-one-pump-vanilla-iced-latte. Or perhaps Seattle conjures images of the halls of Seattle Grace Hospital, where lives are saved and relationships flatline. Or maybe, if you're like me, your thoughts rush to Cuban sandwiches at Paseo, the inspiring view at Gasworks Park, and the incredible engineering and startup communities that thrive in this rainy Emerald City.

A spokesman declined to say how big the Seattle team will be but he noted that Hulu generally runs a lean operation, with just 230 employees now, at offices in Los Angeles, New York, Beijing and Chicago.

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September 8, 2010 10:11 AM

Simonyi hires space pal to run Intentional Software

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a new way to get a plum job in the software business: Fly a company founder to space and back, twice.

That's how Eric Anderson, co-founder and chairman of Virginia-based space tourism company Space Adventures, got to know software pioneer and Microsoft veteran Charles Simonyi.

Anderson's venture flew Simonyi to the International Space Station in 2007 and 2009.

Today Simonyi announced that he's hired Anderson (pictured) as president of Intentional Software, a Bellevue company that Simonyi started in 2002. Intentional is developing a new approach to developing software that presents the designer's intent in the code.

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Intentional's release said Anderson, "who pioneered and was the first to monetize the business of human spaceflight, has responsibility for bringing Intentional's transformative technology to the worldwide marketplace."

Simonyi said in the release that Anderson is "one of very few who can take futuristic ideas and make them real." The rest of his quote:

"I founded Intentional Software with the idea of transforming the way software is built and knowledge is used, by allowing the true intentions of today's knowledge workers and business experts to be precisely expressed in the software they need. This remains an audacious goal, and the magnitude of its difficulty is exceeded only by its importance to the future. Software as we know it is the bottleneck in the digital horn of plenty. With Eric joining me in our business, I am confident that Intentional will unstop the bottleneck and change the world."

Anderson, 36, graduated magna cum laude from the University of Virginia with degrees in aerospace engineering and computer science. He was named a 2010 Ernst & Young "entrepreneur of the year."

He's moving from Virginia to the Seattle area, where he'll be leading about 20 employees at Intentional.

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August 23, 2010 3:07 PM

Social media strategies on tap

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you want to sound hip to the social media thing, and don't mind a little profanity, check out my favorite new Web site - What The **** Is My Social Media "Strategy"?

The site automatically generates social media strategies, chock full of buzzwords, with a click. I came to it via Boing Boing.

It's a snarky promotion for a marketer, who is poking fun at social media strategies larded with jargon. The site's "making it up so you don't have to."

But the buzzword generator is probably just fine for your next mission-statement planning session, when you need to fill out those huge sticky notes.

Or you can use it on your phone, under the table, if you want to shine during that next meeting with the boss.

A few sample strategies to clip 'n save:

"Target influencers with engaging assets to act as platforms for conversation"

"Encourage positive conversations to drive advocacy"

"Utilise social currency to amplify experiences and drive conversations"

"Increase organic growth by exposing audiences to the brand through breakthrough viral communications"

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August 16, 2010 10:26 AM

What's next for HP, Microsoft and NW tech?

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's hard to focus when the sun's finally shining in Seattle, but we have to pay attention to the Mark Hurd story.

Hurd's the guy who grabbed a Perrier and leapt from Hewlett-Packard's cockpit, riding a golden parachute into history.

(The top of today's column on HP and the Mark Hurd debacle.)

Comments | Category: Android , Billionaire techies , Enterprise , Google , HP , Microsoft , Tech work |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 10, 2010 11:29 AM

Another techie treks from Redmond to Mount Rainier ...

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's another Microsoftie who made it to the top of Mount Rainier. John Kelly, general manager in the law and corporate affairs group, made it last August.

Kelly joined the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer benefiting Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Here he is by Little Tahoma, before the ascent.
KellyRainier2.jpg

Any more photos of techies on top of Mount Rainier?

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August 10, 2010 9:28 AM

Microsoft manager tops Mount Rainier on second try

Posted by Brier Dudley

It took two tries this summer, but Sarov Chandran, a manager in Microsoft's IT group, made it to the top of Mount Rainier on July 18 via the Emmons Glacier.

Chandran tried a month before via Disappointment Cleaver, which lived up to its name.

"It has been my 'dream come true' moment since I came to this country and set my eyes on this beautiful mountain," he said via email. "The experience gave me a who new perspective on life and nature. It also helped me gain new respect for the people that has reached greater heights like Denali and Everest!"

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He also brought his family along:

Summit_day39.jpg

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August 6, 2010 3:03 PM

Another tech trekker on Mount Rainier

Posted by Brier Dudley

The latest picture of a techie on top of Mount Rainier comes from John Sharps, co-founder and chief operating officer of Vioguard, a Kirkland company that makes self-sanitizing keyboards.

This picture was taken approaching the summit last August:

Rainier14000ft.jpg

Any more?

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August 6, 2010 10:15 AM

Microsoftie on Mount Rainier, glacier geek?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Taking me up on the offer to post photos of techies on top of Mount Rainier, Bryce Milton, a manager on Microsoft's MSN.com homepage engineering team, sent this great shot from his July 14 ascent.

Milton said he could see from Canada to California, and he still had energy left for the Seattle To Portland bike race a few days later.

BryceMilton.jpg

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August 5, 2010 1:17 PM

Google buys Oregon tool vendor, builds up Portland shop

Posted by Brier Dudley

To build up its software toolkit for Web developers, Google today bought Instantiations, a Tualatin, Ore., company that makes tools for open-source developers.

Google hasn't yet announced the deal but Instantiations disclosed the deal on its Web site. The deal was also confirmed by Bellevue's Corum Group, which represented Instantiations.

Terms weren't disclosed.

A report in the Portland Business Journal said the 30-person company spun out of Textronix in the late 1980s and will relocate to a new Google office in downtown Portland.

UPDATE: A Google spokeswoman confirmed the deal but said it just closed and the company doesn't yet have details to share about its plans for Portland.

"We're pleased to welcome Instantiations' very talented team to Google, and we're excited to have them begin working as part of our developer tools team," she said.

Mike Rogoway at the Oregonian has a few more details about Google's new Portland office and how Instantiations will continue as a separate company in Vancouver, Wash.

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August 4, 2010 5:13 PM

POP on top of Mount Rainier

Posted by Brier Dudley

After I posted the item about a Big Fish developer ascending Mount Rainier, I heard from a digital marketing agency where a couple of execs also made the climb.

Maybe I should start a regular feature on the blog - tech trekkers? Techies on top? - and post pictures of people in the industry on top of Rainier.

Let me know if you make it - I won't be reporting from the scene.

The latest: Tony Hoskins, principal, and Kaci Clot, VP of corporate development at POP, a digital agency in Seattle and New York that works with companies like Target, Amazon.com, Microsoft and Electronic Arts.

Tony Kaci Mt Rainier.jpg

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June 11, 2010 6:05 PM

Vertafore update: There were layoffs this week

Posted by Brier Dudley

An update on Vertafore: In yesterday's item about the Bothell company selling for $1.4 billion, I quoted a spokeswoman saying that the sale won't result in any layoffs.

It turns out there were layoffs at the company this week - on Wednesday, the day before the sale.

The company let go 30 people in its software development group, including one who was understandably peeved by the "no layoffs" comment in my story.

Christy Marble, Vertafore's vice president of marketing, confirmed the 30 layoffs but said they were not the result of the company's sale to TPG Capital.

"There are no layoffs as a result of yesterday's announcement. However we did recently restructure our development team," she said.

Marble said the company's simultaneously recruiting 50 more people this year.

"We're actively recruiting developers with different skill sets than those and we're continuing to grow our development area," she said.

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June 8, 2010 12:11 PM

Facebook chooses Seattle site, by Pike Place Market

Posted by Brier Dudley

Facebook just announced that it selected a site for its Seattle engineering office. It's going to open in mid to late July in a building at the southeast corner of First Avenue and Stewart Street, near Pike Place Market.

The location is midway between the startup warren of Pioneer Square and Amazonville in South Lake Union.

Around 30 or so Facebook developers may eventually work at the office, which was announced May 5.

Facebook's expecting the office to open with five to 10 employees, according to spokeswoman Kathleen Loughlin.

Bing's street view of the building:

Facebook site.jpg

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May 4, 2010 10:24 AM

Free hot dogs at Fremont, Ballard tech fair today

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle's funkiest tech conference may be the Fremont/Ballard Tech Fair hosted by NautilusNet today.

About 150 people are expected at the shindig that starts at 11:30 with "shameless self promotions and introductions."

Presentations follow on topics such as LeftHand iSCSI Solutions, "greening your datacenter" and SAN storage virtualization.

But the big draw may be the free hot dogs provided by Dante. Details are here.

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April 13, 2010 10:32 AM

Study: Game developer salaries fall, to $76K

Posted by Brier Dudley

Average salaries of video game developers fell with the industry's downturn last year, according to a new survey that estimates their average pay declined 4 percent in 2009 to $75,573.

That follows a record high of $79,000 that U.S. developers made on average in 2008.

The stats come from the ninth annual salary survey by Game Developer Research, which is affiliated with Game Developer magazine and Gamasutra.com. It's based on 4,050 responses and has a 3.1 percent margin of error.

For perspective, the Seattle area's game industry employs more than 15,000 people, according to a regional study done in 2007. It said wages are higher than average in the Seattle area and averaged $77,700 at the time.

Here are more 2009 salary averages from today's Game Developer release:

Programmers: $80,320 (although those with six years' experience made 36 percent more).

Artists and animators: $71,071, up 2 percent.

Game designers: $69,266, up 3 percent.

Writers: $61,786.

Game design, excluding leads and creative directors: $61,859.

Production: $75,082. (Survey also found 18 percent of workers in this category are women, double the industry average.)

Testers/QA: $37,905 (although average salary more than doubles for those with more than six years of experience).

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March 22, 2010 6:00 AM

Video: World record text messager shows his stuff

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a video of Franklin Page, the Swype employee who broke the Guiness World Record for text messaging on a touchscreen phone on March 5, showing his technique on a Samsung Omnia II.

A Norwegian holds the record for typing the same prescribed 160-character text message without a touchscreen phone. Sonja Kristiansen texted the message in 37.28 seconds at Oslo City Shopping Centre on Nov. 14, 2009.

The record for fastest typing on a smartphone is held by Pedro Matias of Portugal, who typed a prescribed 264-character text on a QWERTY mobile phone in 1 minute and 59.8 seconds during the LG Worldcup World Championship at Gotham Hall in New York on Jan. 14, according to Guiness.

Here's the Samsung ad featuring Page that's appearing this week:

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March 4, 2010 2:56 PM

Microsoft's Ballmer to UW students: E-mail me for a job

Posted by Brier Dudley

Cloud computing was the focus of Steve Ballmer's talk at the University of Washington today, but the Microsoft chief executive was also doing a little recruiting.

Ballmer told the packed house at the computer science department's Paul G. Allen Center that Microsoft is the area's biggest local employer and "we'd love to have you."

"Send me a resume if you want to test that proposition,'' he said.

Microsoft hires more than 100 UW graduates a hear, said Mark Emmert, the school's president. But it's not clear how many found work by e-mailing steveb@microsoft.com.

A few pictures I took at the event with my phone, including autographs:

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And a fuel truck next to one of Ballmer's show-and-tells: a "cloud in a box" portable data center parked outside Allen Center. The fuel was going into a portable generator:

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January 20, 2010 4:42 PM

WTIA should find new director in 60 days, Myer says

Posted by Brier Dudley

Ken Myer, the outgoing director of the Washington Technology Industry Association, said the tech trade group should find a replacement within 60 days.

Myer, 52, announced Monday that he's resigning after three years as WTIA president and chief executive so he can return to the tech industry. He previously worked at startups, IBM and ActiveVoice, where he was an executive vice president handling marketing, sales, customer service and technical support.

He's staying with WTIA through March, to help with the executive search and transition. Meanwhile, he hasn't even started looking for a new job, though he said he's especially interested in cleantech and cloud computing.

"Right now I want to make sure there's a good transition, that I help the board after they've found a new leader to help them transition them on and then I'll return to industry," he said.

Myer oversaw WTIA's expansion beyond software companies to include tech companies in general. It grew again in September by merging with the regional TechAmerica electronics industry trade group.

"I've gotten a lot of really nice messages of support and I feel really fortunate I made so many great relationships in this job," he said.

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January 13, 2010 10:30 AM

Gartner predicts: Mobile Web overtakes PCs, Facebook wins, more outsourcing

Posted by Brier Dudley

Research giant Gartner is sharing its predictions that "herald long-term changes in approach" for information technology in 2010 and beyond.

Some excerpts from the release:

-- By 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide. According to Gartner's PC installed-base forecast, the total number of PCs in use will reach 1.78 billion units in 2013. By 2013, the combined installed base of smartphones and browser-equipped enhanced phones will exceed 1.82 billion units and will be greater than the installed base for PCs thereafter.

-- By 2012, 20 percent of businesses will own no IT assets. Virtualization, cloud services and employees running their own PCs on corporate networks will contribute to this trend:


Continue reading this post ...


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November 19, 2009 10:55 AM

Startup fever returns? Seattle adds 17 new companies

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle 2.0's monthly list of Web startups has one significant change this month - 17 new companies appeared in October, compiler Marcelo Calbucci reports.

The list gets an average of six new companies a month but startup activity has picked up in the last four months, he said.

New startups on the list include: HasOffers, BigStartups, Team Apart, Boxoh.com, EnergySavvy.com, Couchsoft (Mentby), Osnapz, Social Kind (TweetToCall, Escape My Date), Fotozio (PicTranslator), Adometry (Veracity), Qbiki Networks (iPhoneSeattle), HotelsOutlook, BuzzMinder (2Reminders), Splitts.com, Data Applied, Baldy Beanbag (The Big Magoo) and Megosi.

The top ranked sites, traffic-wise, remain the same:

1. Cheezburger Network

2. Zillow

3. Picnik

4. BuddyTV

5. Wetpaint

6. Robot Co-Op

7. Survey Analytics

8. ActiveRain

9. PayScale

10. SEOmoz


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September 28, 2009 9:30 AM

State tech trade groups merge: WTIA + TechAmerica

Posted by Brier Dudley

The regional chapter of TechAmerica, an electronics industry group formerly known as AeA, has merged with the WTIA, the state trade group that was initially formed by software companies.

As a result, WTIA is gaining about 100 new members including electronics companies such as Esterline and Fluke, said Ken Myer, president and CEO of WTIA.

Myer characterized the groups' new relationship as a partnership. WTIA members have the option of joining TecAmerica's national oranization, which lobbies the federal government and has a presence in state capitals across the country.

Two of TechAmerica's three Washington employees are transferring to WTIA.

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July 9, 2009 2:33 PM

Seattle 2.0 launches video channel, in time to get "Naked"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle online tech site Seattle 2.0 today added a new video channel that's going to include original content such as interviews and event coverage and shared clips gathered from the Web.

"Seattle 2.0 TV" is more than just a bunch of embedded Flash clips, according to Seattle 2.0 founder Marcelo Calbucci.

Continue reading this post ...


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April 22, 2009 11:59 PM

Zango goes bango, CEO bankrupt

Posted by Brier Dudley

After a tumultuous decade in business that included a federal judgment against obnoxious Web ad practices, Bellevue Web company Zango was sold last week after a bank foreclosure.

But that's just part of the story.

While fending off banks to which it owed $44 million, Zango was also fighting a lawsuit by a former employee who sued to recover compensation he contended he was owed.

Michael Lockhart won a $4.6 million judgment in January against the company and co-founders Keith Smith and Daniel Todd. Smith and Todd then declared bankruptcy, complicating payment while they appealed the Lockhart case.

Bankruptcy filings by Smith, Zango's chief executive, reveal how much trouble the Web advertising company was in even before Lockhart sued.

Continue reading this post ...


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April 17, 2009 1:42 PM

Study: H-1B visa usage cuts tech wages 6 percent

Posted by Brier Dudley

Talk about fanning the flames: A report by New York University and Wharton profs estimates that usage of H-1B visas does indeed result in a significant drop in wages paid to U.S. programmers and system analysts.

From the summary:

"Our estimates indicate that H-1B admissions at the current levels are associated with a 5-6% drop in wages for computer programmers and systems analysts. Offshoring appears to lower the wages of a slightly broader class of IT workers, including IT managers, by about 3%.

Computerworld has a writeup here.

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April 10, 2009 2:28 PM

New directory of Northwest tech companies

Posted by Brier Dudley

Northwest Washington, that is: The directory was assembled by the Technology Assliance Group for Northwest Washington and includes about 600 companies in Whatcom County.

Love to see a statewide version. WTIA has a tech company directory but it's just members.

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March 25, 2009 9:00 PM

Visible, Wetpaint, Ontela and AdReady win WTIA awards

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Washington Technology Industry Association shook things up this year for its annual awards event.

Instead of using a committee of executives, investors and academics to choose the state's top tech companies, the trade group instead held an online poll.

The winners, announced at a gala event at the Paramount Theatre, also marked the group's 25th anniversary:

Commercial Product or Service of the Year: Visible Technologies for its TruCast social media analysis platform.

Consumer Product or Service of the Year: Wetpaint and its platform for creating "socially published" Web sites.

Breakthrough Startup of the Year: Ontela for Ontela PicDeck, a one-click system for distributing camera phone pictures.

Service Provider of the Year: AdReady, which offers a service that simplifies the creation and management of online display ad campaigns.

Best Use of Technology in Government, Non-Profit or Education: Snohomish County Planning & Development Services for its "inspection improvement project."

Technology Innovator of the Year: Darrin Massena, co-founder and chief technology officer of Picnik, which provides free online photo editing tools.

Technology Leader of Tomorrow: Israel Zemeadim, an 8th grader at Washington Middle School.

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March 25, 2009 7:33 PM

Pics of WTIA's big bash: Corndogs and Atari, yum yum

Posted by Brier Dudley

The WTIA is about to announce its annual award winners at its 25th anniversary celebration at the Paramount Theatre, but I've got a few picks of my own.

I nominate the mini corndogs and the bags of fresh caramel corn that Tom Douglas catered for the unusual event.

Instead of a sleepy dinner at a downtown hotel, the WTIA is holding what feels like a business casual frat party, with bright lights and video game stations - including Wiis and a set of ancient Ataris - around the room.

"This is dude food," a woman next to me said as she turned away from the buffet's tater tot station.

A few snapshots:

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DSCN0389.JPG

The governor's supposed to be here soon.

(Ooops - posted too soon. Just heard from the state's new commerce secretary, ex Microsoft VP Rogers Weed, that the governor won't make it because she's too busy in Olympia.)

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March 11, 2009 2:31 PM

Marchex bio target of San Diego stock sleuth

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle's Marchex is the latest target of Barry Minkow, a reformed stock scammer who now trolls corporate biographies, looking for false information to expose after he's shorted the stock.

This, according to the latest piece by Al Lewis, a Dow Jones columnist who raised Minkow's profile last month.

In a followup piece today, Lewis shares a new tip from Minkow: the Marchex official biography of Peter Christothoulou, co-founder and chief operating officer, said he received a bachelor's in economics from the University of Washington but he never graduated.

From the column:

Christothoulou responded to my questions in an e-mail and promised to fix his corporate bio.

"I attended the University of Washington from 1991 to 1995 with Economics as my declared major," he wrote. "Because of my father's battle with cancer and subsequent death, I was forced to take a leave ... and despite returning and doubling up on my classes, I ended up one quarter shy of the degree. ... I have always intended to complete the remaining classes, but with work and family obligations, I have not yet been able to do so."

Christothoulou's bio has indeed been edited - the UW reference in the last line, visible in the Google cache, is now gone. He's not alone: All the education references for the executive team are gone today.

Christothoulou wouldn't discuss the situation when I called this afternoon. He referred me to a spokeswoman, Leigh McMillan.

"We frankly think there's not that much to say,'' she said. "We're aware of the situation. We made the appropriate corrections to his bio and now we're getting back to business. He's a co-founder of the company and he has everyone here's full support."

If Minkow was trying to make a few bucks shorting Marchex, he should have bought before its Feb. 19 earnings report.

The company said it lost $128 million in the fourth quarter, when it wrote down $176.7 million worth of goodwill and assets. It also declined to provide guidance on 2009 earnings.

After the report, the stock fell from $5.03 to $3.95 the next day, going as low as $3 on Monday.

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February 26, 2009 3:16 PM

WTIA's video voting site for industry awards

Posted by Brier Dudley

For its 25th anniversary, the WTIA is getting flashy with its industry achievement awards.

It created a special Web site where people can view videos of finalists and vote on their favorites.

The winners will be announced at a March 25 gala at The Paramount Theatre.

A screenshot of the voting page:

wtia.JPG

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February 10, 2009 2:43 PM

Downturn hits Seattle Startup list, 25 companies gone (UPDATED)

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle Web entrepreneur Marcelo Calbucci, who produces a monthly rank of local startups, added a new tool that gauges whether companies are defunct.

The result: 25 companies disappeared from this month's list, which he released today.

The ventures shut down, failed to launch, restructured or were sold. Some of the closures were publicized earlier and some date to last year, but it's still a striking list.

Calbucci also noted that fewer new Web startups are appearing. The list used to be growing by six to 10 companies a month, but this month added just four.

Zillow continues to top the list, followed by Pet Holdings, iLike, Picnik and BuddyTV.

Here's Calbucci's tally of startups that faded from the list:

Continue reading this post ...


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February 3, 2009 9:37 AM

RealNetworks announces big write-down, freezes games IPO, cuts staff

Posted by Brier Dudley

RealNetworks is preannouncing big charges it's going take against its Q4 earnings and a few changes:

Continue reading this post ...


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February 2, 2009 11:01 AM

Brazilian wireless company hires ex-Microsofties for new HQ in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

Spring Wireless, a Brazlian company that manages wireless services for companies, today announced that it has hired several former Microsoft executives who are opening Spring's U.S. headquarters in Seattle.

Continue reading this post ...


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January 29, 2009 11:39 AM

Hiring firm: Tech layoffs to "remain heavy well into 2009"

Posted by Brier Dudley

More doom and gloom today, in a report from Chicago-based recruiting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

With demand for new technology deteriorating along with economic conditions, the pace of job cutting by tech-sector firms spiked 167 percent in the second half of 2008 and, if January is any indication, can be expected to remain heavy well into 2009.

Employers in the tech-sector industries of telecommunications, computer and electronics announced 186,955 job cuts in 2008, 74.2 percent more than the 107,295 job cuts recorded in 2007. The 2008 total is the highest since 2003, when 228,325 tech cuts were announced.

The firm also broke it down by sector:

The biggest surge in job cuts occurred among electronics firms, which experienced an 89.7 percent increase from 38,716 job-cut announcements in 2007 to 73,447 cuts last year. Job cuts by telecommunications companies increased 72.5 percent to 48,648 from 28,206 the previous year. Computer-industry job cuts were 61.3 percent higher in 2008.

The firm predicted there's more to come in 2009, but it still won't be as bad as the 2001 crash, when 695,581 tech layoffs accounted for 36 percent of all job cuts that year, the firm predicted.

"After the dot.com bust, technology companies in all disciplines were a lot more cautious and avoided the pitfalls of over-hiring that contributed to record downsizing in 2001 and 2002. Another reason that a repeat of 2001-style downsizing remains unlikely is that while demand for technology is falling, it still exists. Many companies are seeking new green technologies and computer and electronics firms are ramping up those areas of business," Chief Executive John Challenger said in the release. "What technology workers are most likely to find in this job market is an increased number of contract or contingent opportunities, which are not ideal, by any means, but at least provide a chance to prove themselves and possibly turn the position into a permanent, full-time arrangement."

Challenger continued with advice:

"Tech workers who remain in demand right now are those who have cross-discipline knowledge and experience. For example, an IT professional with accounting and finance skills will be better positioned than someone with only programming skills. The other key to surviving a downturn, and this is true in any industry or occupation, is having the ability to adapt to rapidly changing situations."

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January 26, 2009 11:22 AM

Bellevue startup Topaz Bridge lands huge Merck contract

Posted by Brier Dudley

Year-old Bellevue enterprise startup Topaz Bridge announced its first major customer today, and it's a biggie:

Continue reading this post ...


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January 22, 2009 3:55 PM

The Pink Slip Special: Startup deals for laid-off Microsoft workers (updated)

Posted by Brier Dudley

As Seattle's startup community came to terms with the big cuts at Microsoft today, several vendors emerged with special deals to help laid-off 'softies start their own software companies.

Deals that surfaced today on the Seattle Tech Startups mailing list include:

-- StartPad.org's "Pink Slip Special," which offers laid-off workers 30 days' free use of its downtown Seattle offices, a pay-as-you-go space aimed at software startups.

"If there is one silver lining to the Microsoft layoffs, it may be the kick-in-the-pants that some employees needed to become entrepreneurs in their own right. We'd like to do our part to help with the transition,'' StartPad's Mike Koss wrote. "If you're one of the employees that have been laid off, or you see the writing on the wall and feel it's time to make the jump, we have a special deal for you."

-- Tacoma hosting company Blue Box Group, which offered 60 days' free use of a 512MB Linux-based virtual server to help laid-off Microsoft workers start a software project.

"Our Virtual Servers aren't a MS platform, but it provides a good opportunity to use your skills in a new arena and build something great," Blue Box's Jesse Proudman wrote.

Both extended the offer to Microsoft workers who have been salaried within the last four months and are thinking about building their own software product or service.

Any other offers out there to help "the 1,400" start something new?

UPDATE: Some helpful comments, plus Seattle entrepreneur Roy Leban suggests attending a "Startup Brainstorming Session" from 2-5 p.m. Feb. 5, also at StartPad.

From his invite announcement:

"The goal of the session is for entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs to have an opportunity to discuss their ideas with others in a supportive environment. If you come with an idea, I hope you walk away with an improved idea or an improved understanding of how you can make it real. If you come without an idea, I hope you walk away inspired."

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January 22, 2009 12:06 AM

FriendlyFavor launches free online service to ask for help, advice and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a way to start leveraging your social network.

FriendlyFavor, a Seattle "social media utility" launching today, offers a system for tapping into your network of friends, family and acquaintances. It's designed to complement social networking services such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn.

Started by local tech veterans Scott Larson and John Patton, FriendlyFavor calls itself an "all-purpose request tool" designed to help people "more efficiently leverage their trusted networks of friends, family, and colleagues for help with referrals, recommendations, advice and other favors or requests."

The service delivers, archives and manages requests for registered users. It can also be used to build tailored contact lists, including lists where sensitive favors -- such as requests for a babysitter -- can be handled and narrowly targeted.

FriendlyFavor can also be used to broadcast "favors" being offered by users, such as extra tickets to an event or services that can be provided.

In addition to handling "favors" directly for users, the company is offering a white-label version of its platform that other companies can incorporate into their sites.

The five-person company was started in 2007 and raised $500,000 from angel investors affiliated with companies including Microsoft, Google and Amazon.com.

It's expecting to make money from targeted ads, licensing its platform and commissions on "thank you gifts" purchased at Amazon.com and other sites.

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January 15, 2009 10:34 AM

While economists fret, Qwest announces big layoff in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

Adding to the economic malaise being outlined during this morning's Enterprise Seattle Economic Forecast Conference at the Seattle Sheraton, Qwest just announced a major layoff in Seattle.

Continue reading this post ...


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November 24, 2008 4:10 PM

Google thinning its ranks of 10,000 (!!!) temps

Posted by Brier Dudley

The latest on Google cutting costs: It's letting go a bunch of the 10,000 contract employees. Maybe that's another reason it needs less room in Kirkland.

Continue reading this post ...


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December 14, 2007 11:37 AM

Bill Gates on "skills you need to succeed"

Posted by Brier Dudley

In a guest column provided to the BBC, the Microsoft chairman shared tips on how to succeed now that technology has turned most everyone into an "information worker."

Math and science are important, but so are communication skills. Gates also said he also values "a passion for ongoing learning."

An excerpt:

A lot of people assume that creating software is purely a solitary activity where you sit in an office with the door closed all day and write lots of code.

This isn't true at all.

Software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people, and to sit down and talk with customers and get their feedback and understand their needs.

I also place a high value on having a passion for ongoing learning. When I was pretty young, I picked up the habit of reading lots of books.

It's great to read widely about a broad range of subjects. Of course today, it's far easier to go online and find information about any topic that interests you.

The timing's interesting -- the feel-good piece appears the day after Norwegian browser-maker Opera asked the European Commission to open a new front in its antitrust case against Microsoft -- but so far the piece is drawing lots of praise in the comment section.

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October 29, 2007 10:58 AM

WSA board broadens with gamer, device maker

Posted by Brier Dudley

The tech association named three board members today: casual gaming exec Paul Thelen, founder of Seattle's Big Fish Games; Physio-Control President Brian Webster; and Susannah Malarkey, executive director of the Technology Alliance.

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September 10, 2007 4:10 PM

Hanselman in town for Seattle Geek Dinner

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'm still catching up on blogs and came across Microsoft's Charlie Owen talking up a Seattle Geek Dinner on Wednesday evening.

It was apparently organized as a sort of welcome to Computerzen.com blogger Scott Hanselman, formerly chief architect at Corillian in Portland.

Hanselman left to become a senior program manager at Microsoft on Sept. 4, "aiming to spread good information about developing software, usually on the Microsoft stack,'' according to his blog bio.

The dinner is from 6 to 9 p.m. in the "public eateries" area of Crossroads mall.

It's a busy day for networking geeks. The next Seattle Lunch 2.0 event is also Wednesday, at Cardomain.com.

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June 1, 2007 4:55 PM

More tech gatherings on tap

Posted by Brier Dudley

Local events next week include the sold-out Search Marketing Expo Monday and Tuesday at Bell Harbor and a new event geared toward nonprofits, called NetSquared, or Net2, that's debuting Tuesday night.

Organized by TechSoup, a venture providing tech assistance to nonprofits. Net2 is intended to "create an ongoing peer-driven community event for the development of social software and real world applications in Seattle,'' according to a note I received from co-organizer Jeff Reifman.

Net2 starts at 6:30 at The McLeod Residence and is intended to be held the first Tuesday of each month.

Farther afield, Microsoft is holding an encore presentation of its sold-out Mix07 conference on June 22 at its Silicon Valley offices. It's called ReMix07, of course.

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May 23, 2007 11:22 AM

Google can't Google: An Amazonian's hiring story

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon.com evangelist (and former Microsoft manager) Jeff Barr posted an amusing story about being recruited by Google. It fell through when he failed a crucial test -- he couldn't remember his college grade point average:

Given that I earned my degree in 1985 and have been earning a living by writing code since I was 15 or 16, this didn't seem all that essential.

The story keeps going, though:

Funny thing is, I now have several more e-mails in my inbox from other Google recruiters. After reading these e-mails it appears that they don't know that I interviewed there last year! Perhaps they don't have this data in searchable form. Could that be?

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March 20, 2007 3:32 PM

The $38 billion backup error

Posted by Brier Dudley

This story's all over the Web today: An Alaska state technician accidently reformatted a backup drive containing information on the $38 billion oil sales account that pays state residents an annual dividend.

Backup tapes turned out to be unreadable, even after Microsoft and Dell pitched in to help recover the data.

In the end the state had to rescan the original paperwork, which fortunately was still there, stored in 300 cardboard boxes. That cost $200,000 and the snafu will reduce Alaskans' oil dividend checks by 37 cents apiece.

I wonder if Alaska hired the techician from the King County elections office.

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March 7, 2007 11:38 AM

Union fires back at Gates on H-1B

Posted by Brier Dudley

Practically before Bill Gates finished his Senate testimony in support of the H1 visa program this morning, Seattle-based WashTech gave its supporters a "click to send" form letter countering his statements.

Gates told a Senate committee it would be "fantastic" if the government would increase the H-1B visa limit from 65,000 a year to, say, 300,000.

According to a Bloomberg report, Gates said:

"Even though it may not be realistic, I do not believe there should be any limit. These employees are vital to U.S. competitiveness, and we should encourage them to become permanent U.S. residents so that they can drive innovation and economic growth alongside America's native-born talent.''

He said the U.S. should simultaneously invest more in research and education and double the output of math and science graduates.

WashTech's form letter didn't mince words. It also made the assumption that tech workers have friends who are highly skilled and unemployed because of the visa program:

As a high-tech worker in this country, I oppose further expansion of the H-1B visa program that is riddled with fraud, abuse and undermines the economic rights of citizens and immigrants alike. Increasing the visa program is actually detrimental for U.S. citizens from seeking out technical professions because they believe that their will be too many workers seeking to few job openings.

I know of my friends that are highly educated and skilled but have faced long periods of unemployment. The only thing tech workers are guaranteed today is economic uncertainty caused by the winds of globalization and relentless corporate downsizing.

If you'd like to draw your own conclusions, here's a link to a video of today's hearing (the committee used RealNetworks' player ...) and Bill Gates' prepared comments. Here's a story about Microsoft making the same pitch last year.

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January 29, 2007 2:13 PM

Naked telecommuting tips

Posted by Brier Dudley

Some technically savvy folks are taking "anytime, anyplace" computing a bit far.

At a nudist resort in Palm Springs, 80 percent of visitors bring laptops and do work in the buff using the poolside Wi-Fi, according to a ComputerWorld interview with the owner.

Among the tips for naked telecommuters:

Get a laptop with good screen resolution. Since Palm Springs is very sunny, we have seen guests with a towel over their head and laptop to cut down glare. Otherwise, you will be forced to work in the shade. Also don't use a laptop at the edge of the pool while you are in the water. Laptops, a few cocktails and pool water do not mix, as we have seen a few times.

My suggestion for the undressed and unplugged: Make absolutely sure you've replaced any potentially explosive laptop batteries.

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September 26, 2006 10:03 AM

Tech employment bounces back, sort of

Posted by Brier Dudley

As of June, high- tech employment in the U.S. reached its highest level since 2002, according to a new report from the AeA.

But tech job growth from January to June -- 2.5 percent -- was less than the average in private sector employment of 3.5 percent, the report said.

Engineering and tech services and software were the fastest growing sectors of the industry. Altogether the industry employed 5.81 million as of June, up about 150,000 jobs since June 2005.

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July 20, 2006 11:14 AM

UW taps local assets

Posted by Brier Dudley

Going through my mail at home yesterday, I was amazed by the talent the University of Washington's Extension program has lined up to teach technical courses this autumn. Only in Seattle can you take an evening programming class from managers at the world's largest software, aerospace and e-commerce companies.

Here's a sample:

SQL Server Administration: Taught by Euan Garden, group program manager, Microsoft SQL Server Strategy and Architecture Team.

Introduction to Visual Basic: Shamez Rajan, Microsoft program manager, and Lou Tylee, Boeing associate technical fellow.

Basic Perl Programming: Joel Grow, Amazon.com software development engineer.

Perl, the Web and Databases: Doug Treder, Amazon.com senior software development engineer.

Network Architectures, Protocols and Standards: James Farricker, Boeing technical fellow and chief engineer.

Establishing Project Management Leadership in the Organization: Phyllis Sweeney, Microsoft director of product life cycle, with consultant Clive Schuelein.

That's just a few of the engineers and managers contributing to the program. Other companies represented include Siemens, InfoSpace, Group Health and Washington Mutual.

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July 5, 2006 2:30 PM

Recruiting shenanigans column

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wish I had more space in Monday's column on recruiting shenanigans to explain how I came across Nancy Corbett, the woman whose experiences with tech recruiters inspired the piece.

I'm a fan of old school e-mail lists, including one that provides advice and support to women in the Seattle area tech industry. That's where I came across Corbett offering advice to others who were asking about questionable recruiting practices.

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June 21, 2006 2:58 PM

Any good IT shops in the Northwest?

Posted by Brier Dudley

What gives with Computerworld's ranking of the "Best Places to Work in IT" -- not a single company in Washington, Oregon or Idaho made the list.

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June 7, 2006 11:37 AM

Blue chip marketers join Seattle techs

Posted by Brier Dudley

Is it a trend? Two Seattle tech companies separately announced that they've hired marketing executives from old-line, non-tech companies.

Trumba today announced that Bruce Allenbaugh, former senior marketing VP at Safeco, was hired as SVP of marketing and business development. He's actually been in tech before, at Avenue A and Nextlink Communications, and before that was at Pepsi.

Yesterday Microsoft announced that it hired Jeff Bell, vice president of Chrysler product strategy at DaimlerChrysler, to lead global marketing for its interactive entertainment business. Bell led the Hemi campaign and Dodge's "grab life by the horns" tagline launch.

So watch for Xbox Live ads to go macho, and Trumba's name to appear on a stadium.

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April 20, 2006 3:23 PM

Tech hiring up, but not at Safeco

Posted by Brier Dudley

As our Tech Tracks blog noted Wednesday, high-tech employment began increasing again last year, according to the AeA's annual Cyberstates report.

But the news was little consolation to the roughly 100 people laid off from Safeco's IT department, as part of the Seattle insurer's new cost-cutting regime.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.