Tech Giants Plant Flags in Established and Emerging Talent Hubs

Tech Giants Plant Flags in Established and Emerging Talent Hubs

After a yearlong search that saw cities compete for its favor, Amazon announced in November that it had picked two locations rather than one for its second headquarters (“HQ2”) project: the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, New York, and the Crystal City area in Arlington, Virginia, a major suburb of Washington, DC. The choices proved controversial, as the tech giant had made a spectacle of courting many bidders that may never have had a chance, while both New York and Virginia are giving Amazon generous subsidies to set up shop in their states, despite the fact that these locales are strategically desirable locations for tech companies anyway.

While some observers had speculated that Amazon would pick an up-and-coming city in the US heartland, where the introduction of such a huge employer would transform the local economy, in the end, the choice came down to talent, and the New York and DC areas simply offered better access to talent than any other city Amazon was considering. (It’s also setting up a smaller operations center in Nashville, Tennessee — more on that later.) It’s no coincidence, Recode’s Jason Del Rey observed at the time, that the winning bidders were among the country’s leading tech talent hubs:

[W]hat do you see when you look at rankings of the top technology talent pools in the U.S.? Only two metro areas rank above the Washington, D.C., metro area: The San Francisco Bay Area, which Amazon never considered, and Seattle, the home of Amazon’s original headquarters. At No. 3, Washington, D.C., makes a lot of sense. Fourth is Toronto — but despite its booming tech scene, Amazon never gave any hints that it would seriously consider a big move across the border. Which brings us to No. 5 on the tech talent list: New York City.

Ultimately, Amazon decided it needed two cities — whether it always knew this or not is up for debate — to meet its hiring demands and to reduce some of the potential downsides that Seattle has experienced as a result of Amazon’s 45,000-employee footprint there.

Establishing these new headquarters will take years, the Wall Street Journal added this month, perhaps as much as a decade, because Amazon plans to do most of its hiring for them locally rather than relocate workers from its home base in Seattle. By the end of next year, the company plans to add 400 employees in Crystal City and 700 in Queens — out of an expected total of 25,000 in each city by 2028, assuming the e-commerce giant continues its trajectory of rapid growth.

Amazon’s decision underscores the importance of talent communities for major companies making strategic planning decisions with regard to location. While many workers in tech and other digitally-enabled professions can work remotely today, most organizations still prefer to recruit and base the bulk of their workforce in centrally located offices, so it pays to set up shop in a place where the talent you need already lives or would be willing to move.

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Hires for Apple’s Health Initiative Highlight Its Focus on Wellness

Hires for Apple’s Health Initiative Highlight Its Focus on Wellness

Earlier this year, Apple announced that it was establishing a network of clinics near its headquarters in Cupertino, California to provide primary health care services to its employees in Santa Clara County. The AC Wellness program has been on a hiring spree since then, bringing more than 40 health professionals on board, CNBC reports, citing a LinkedIn search. The hires include a number of former employees of Crossover Health, which used to operate Apple’s onsite clinics in the Bay Area and still runs them elsewhere, and which Apple had considered acquiring before deciding to design its own clinics instead. In keeping with the name of the initiative, these early hires indicate that AC Wellness is going to be more than just a medical clinic, suggesting a more holistic focus on wellbeing and helping employees maintain healthy lifestyles:

Most of the team hired so far aren’t doctors. In fact, the hires skew toward wellness professionals like nutritionists, exercise specialists and nurse practitioners. A lot of the hires have a background in alternative or functional medicine and there’s even a “wellness lead” — Jennifer Gibson, a former head of coaching at Vida Health, a health-tech start-up. Gibson, according to her profile, is passionate about things like nutrition, stress management and smoking cessation, which aren’t always offered at primary care practices.

The company has also brought on at least a half dozen “care navigators,” who don’t have medical degrees but do have a background in directing patients to the most appropriate care. In some cases, that might involve a followup conversation with a specialist or a lifestyle change that might alleviate the problem on its own. That could reduce costs as these navigators can better ensure that Apple employees and their dependents aren’t getting unnecessary care.

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Apple Partners with Nonprofit to Teach Coding to Blind Learners

Apple Partners with Nonprofit to Teach Coding to Blind Learners

Apple has formed a partnership with the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired to teach people with visual impairments how to code, the Chicago Tribune’s Ally Marotti reported last week:

Hadley plans to start by developing a series of free instructional videos that teach the audience how to use Apple’s Swift Playground app. The app was developed as part of Apple’s Everyone Can Code campaign, which teaches the Cupertino, Calif.-based company’s programming language, Swift. …

“For a person that’s blind, (a device) is just a piece of glass,” said [Douglas Walker, Hadley’s director of assistive technology], who has only peripheral vision. “You have to learn a gesture-based system to move through it.”

Walker swiped right on his iPhone to trigger a feature that read aloud the apps he dragged his finger over — Clock, Maps, NOAA Weather. That’s where Hadley’s videos come in: They teach viewers those gestures, allowing them access to their iPhones or other Apple devices.

The institute has been teaching Braille and other skills to visually impaired people through distance learning since it was founded nearly 100 years ago. Today, Hadley’s free tutorials on how to use the accessibility features on Apple devices are more popular than its Braille offerings. A new series of videos to be released this fall will walk users through navigating the Swift Playground app, which teaches the language through coding games.

In the US, fewer than 44 percent of people with visual impairments are employed, Marotti notes, citing data from Cornell University, while bureau of Labor Statistics data show that only 2 percent of employed Americans with disabilities are working in mathematical or computer-related professions. Teaching coding skills to people who are blind or visually impaired could therefore expand opportunities for good jobs among a severely underserved segment of US adults. This initiative also stands to benefit Apple and other employers of coders by expanding the talent pool.

Last month, Fast Company‘s Lydia Dishman interviewed blind software engineer Michael Forzano, who has been working for Amazon since 2013 after getting hired through one of the company’s campus recruiting programs (he used his laptop instead of a whiteboard to write his code during the interview). Amazon also profiled Forzano in a post on its blog earlier this year, and here is a segment from an accompanying video the company produced in which he demonstrated how he writes code:

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Apple Expands Seattle Footprint in Bid to Compete for City’s Tech Talent

Apple Expands Seattle Footprint in Bid to Compete for City’s Tech Talent

Apple is adding a floor to its offices in downtown Seattle, giving the company enough room to seat nearly 500 employees there, Nat Levy reports at GeekWire:

Apple is preparing to move into another floor at Two Union Square, a 56-story office tower in downtown Seattle, giving it all or part of five floors of the building, GeekWire has learned through permitting documents and visits to the building. The latest move brings Apple to more than 70,000 square feet, which equates to room for somewhere between 350 and 475 people, based on standard corporate leasing ratios for tech companies.

The iPhone maker announced big plans to expand its presence on Puget Sound last year, as Levy’s colleague Todd Bishop reported at the time, after buying up the Seattle-based machine learning startup Turi and establishing a $1 million endowed professorship in artificial intelligence and machine learning at the University of Washington. Competing for AI talent is decidedly the name of the game here, Levy explains, as the northwestern city is emerging as a hub for this new technology. Amazon and Microsoft are based in or near Seattle, while Facebook and Google both have significant footprints there.

All these tech giants are racing toward potentially transformative innovations in AI and machine learning; to this end, they have been grabbing all the experts they can get their hands on for the past few years, often by acqui-hiring startup founders and talent.

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Apple Hires AI Chief Away from Google

Apple Hires AI Chief Away from Google

Apple made a big move in the battle for top AI talent this week, hiring John Giannandrea away from Google, where he had until Monday been chief of search and artificial intelligence. Apple announced on Tuesday that Giannandrea would lead its machine learning and AI strategy, reporting directly to CEO Tim Cook, the New York Times reported:

Apple has made other high-profile hires in the field, including the Carnegie Mellon professor Russ Salakhutdinov. Mr. Salakhutdinov studied at the University of Toronto under Geoffrey Hinton, who helps oversee the Google Brain lab.

Apple has taken a strong stance on protecting the privacy of people who use its devices and online services, which could put it at a disadvantage when building services using neural networks. Researchers train these systems by pooling enormous amounts of digital data, sometimes from customer services. Apple, however, has said it is developing methods that would allow it to train these algorithms without compromising privacy.

Cook stressed Apple’s commitment to charting a privacy-conscious course on AI development in his statement on Tuesday, saying Giannandrea “shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal.” While safeguarding users’ privacy may pose a significant technical challenge in AI and machine learning, that commitment could have an upside from a marketing perspective at a time when tech companies are facing heightened scrutiny and criticism of their data privacy practices.

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Apple Launching Clinics to Provide Employees Medical Care, Test Health Tech Products

Apple Launching Clinics to Provide Employees Medical Care, Test Health Tech Products

Apple is in the process of establishing a network of clinics near its California headquarters to provide primary health care services to its employees, CNBC reports:

This new primary care group — a group of clinical staff that is run independently from Apple but is dedicated to Apple employees — will initially only serve Apple’s employees in Santa Clara County, where its headquarters are located. Initially, it has two clinics in the county. Development appears to be well underway.

The initiative, called AC Wellness, will “offer a unique concierge-like healthcare experience for employees and their dependents,” according to its website. In addition to health care professionals, AC Wellness is hiring designers and analysts to help build and implement a preventive and behavioral health program, according to CNBC.

Part of the rationale for this project is undoubtedly to better manage health care costs at Apple, which has thousands of employees in California and 123,000 worldwide. The clinics appear to have a secondary purpose, however, as proving grounds for Apple’s consumer-facing health products:

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Facebook, Apple Expand Digital Training Initiatives in Europe

Facebook, Apple Expand Digital Training Initiatives in Europe

Apple announced late last week that it was bringing its “Everyone Can Code” program to 70 more colleges and universities throughout Europe, Sarah Perez reported at TechCrunch:

The program, which Apple designed to help students learn how to build apps, launched in May 2017 but was initially limited to the U.S. before expanding to other markets, including Australia, and select institutions in Europe last November. The expansion brings the full-year curriculum to institutions in the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Luxembourg, Poland and Portugal. …

The course is designed to teach students how to build apps using Swift, Apple’s programming language for writing iOS and OS X apps, launched back in 2014 as the replacement for Objective-C. Since Swift’s arrival, Apple has been heavily pushing various “learn to code” educational initiatives, including an entry-level app for teaching kids to code, called Swift Playgrounds.

Facebook, too, is growing its digital skill-building initiatives in Europe, Reuters reported on Sunday, opening three “community skills hubs” in Spain, Poland and Italy and investing 10 million euros in France through its AI research facility:

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