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.
The “fiduciary rule,” which the US Department of Labor announced this week will go into effect on June 9 as scheduled, will require financial advisors to act in their clients’ best interests when advising them about retirement—or in other words, it will forbid them from steering clients toward products that would maximize the advisor’s own commission or fee. Financial firms and business groups like the US Chamber of Commerce oppose the rule, which they say will hurt growth, lead to a deluge of frivolous lawsuits, and limit the options of employee investors.
Another reason financial institutions may dislike the impending rule, Bloomberg’s Hugh Son explains, is that it is forcing them to change their recruiting practices. Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, and UBS have all said they are cutting back on the use of signing bonuses based on the revenue brokers generated in their previous jobs, which the government had warned them might go against the rule:
Last year, the Department of Labor briefed banks that the industry’s typical signing bonuses could run afoul of the agency’s incoming fiduciary rule. Upon joining a new firm, star brokers were often granted awards of more than three times the revenue they generated in the past year, with the bonus structured as a loan that’s forgiven as the employee stayed with the company and hit targets.
The briefing prodded firms including Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch to restructure their enticements, and now brokerages are moving to make more permanent changes.
Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election set off a round of speculation that the US might suffer brain drain in the Trump administration as young, left-leaning workers acted on their threats to move to Canada for good, or at least for the next four years. For Canadian employers, of course, such an exodus would be welcome. So how likely is the Trump presidency to drive skilled American workers north into the arms of Canada’s tech sector? Steven Melendez investigates at Fast Company:
[S]ince the election, Canadian tech firms say far more U.S. coders are showing a serious interest in migrating north just as the Canadian government has put the welcome mat out. In fact, days before Trump’s election, Ottawa issued new regulations making it easier for foreign skilled workers to come to the country. The net effect could give a boost to the Canadian tech industry, which has long lamented a “brain drain” to Silicon Valley.
“The most significant thing is not the election,” [Sortable cofounder and CEO Christopher] Reid says. “It’s that the Canadian government is going to make it easy to recruit in the U.S.” …
At the same time, Trump’s election does seem to be motivating some U.S. workers to take a more-than-joking look at relocating north. Reid says that in the days immediately following the election, U.S. traffic to Sortable’s career site jumped from four or five hits per week to more than 200 per day, and the company even received a handful of job applications mentioning the political climate in the United States.
At the same time, the Trump administration is expected to crack down on H-1B skilled worker visas as part of a general anti-immigration agenda, which will likely make it more difficult for US employers, particularly high-tech companies, to hire talent from abroad. And as Nevin Thompson points out at Quartz, the US isn’t the only country whose immigration policies are likely to become more restrictive in the coming year:
Perhaps the main reason why the market for digital talent is so competitive is that today, nearly every organization needs employees with digital skills. Some employers, however, may have an edge when it comes to recruiting the digital
At Fast Company, Maureen Mullen, chief strategy officer and cofounder of the business intelligence firm L2, reviews her firm’s research, which shows that companies “that have always lived and breathed digital technology”—she calls them “digital natives”—”are sucking up top-notch tech talent, leaving everyone else to pick over the scraps”:
Take Nike for instance. It’s regularly ranked as one of the best companies to work for, and it’s consistently more popular than other top consumer brands like L’Oréal, P&G, and LVMH. But Nike’s popularity still pales in comparison to digitally native technology companies. Searches for Amazon, Facebook, or Google “jobs” outpace searches for “Nike jobs” by an order of magnitude.
In fact, it appears there’s already been an exodus of digital talent from agencies to digital-native companies. WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, and Interpublic Group bleed talent to Facebook and Google. Based on L2’s analysis of LinkedIn data, the two tech giants employ 2,227 people who have worked at WPP, while WPP has only attracted around 124 former Facebook or Google employees—a net loss of over 2,100 people.
How can everyone else compete with the natural-born tech innovators? She points to some strategies “traditional” employers have used to poach employees from the Googles and Facebooks of the world, such as opening locations near existing tech hubs, or targeting recruitment toward employees of specific firms, but overall, she concludes, it’s getting harder to lure tech talent away from from the digital natives.
Within the past week, the Obama administration has taken steps to discourage employers from engaging in two forms of anti-competitive activity, one of which is illegal and the other, the administration argues, ought to be. Last Thursday, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission jointly issued a set of guidelines for HR professionals explaining that collusion between businesses to fix wages or agree not to poach employees from each other violates federal antitrust laws. Furthermore, whereas the DOJ has brought civil enforcement actions against several employers over such agreements, including some major technology companies, it plans to begin addressing these violations with criminal charges instead:
Going forward, the DOJ intends to proceed criminally against naked wage-fixing or no-poaching agreements. These types of agreements eliminate competition in the same irredeemable way as agreements to fix product prices or allocate customers, which have traditionally been criminally investigated and prosecuted as hardcore cartel conduct. Accordingly, the DOJ will criminally investigate allegations that employers have agreed among themselves on employee compensation or not to solicit or hire each others’ employees. And if that investigation uncovers a naked wage-fixing or nopoaching agreement, the DOJ may, in the exercise of its prosecutorial discretion, bring criminal, felony charges against the culpable participants in the agreement, including both individuals and companies.
One expert tells SHRM’s Roy Maurer that now would be a very good time for employers to double-check their policies for compliance:
A recent survey of around 400 HR professionals conducted by Marlin Hawk and Hunt Scanlon Media warns that a quarter of US businesses are seeing a rise in C-suite poaching but have no plans to combat it:
Of responding HR experts, 54 percent indicated that their company either has no plan to ward off poachers or, if it does, they’re unaware of it. And of those whose companies have a strategy in place, only 39 percent were satisfied with it. …
This talent retention survey – which collected information from companies in sectors including financial services, technology, retail/consumer goods, healthcare, government, and manufacturing – indicates that while only 4 percent of respondents believe talent raids have been declining during the past two years, just 47 percent of respondents said their companies have a definitive plan to identify vulnerable talent.
This presumes that companies control people, but in today’s labor market, that’s outmoded thinking. If you really care about employees, you make them employable. And if you do it right, they thank you for it and stay. Or if they don’t stay, they’re more willing to come back.
That’s why employer alumni networks are growing. Not only that, given how many CEOs want to reposition their companies in the broader ecosystem in which they operate (according to IBM’s latest global C-suite study), and that CXOs increasingly need to partner with more organizations, having your talent go elsewhere can enable these objectives. That’s because you really know the people on the other side.
In short, thinking of talent as a zero-sum game is, at best, a distraction for a company. Focus on building your reputation as a talent magnet, not forcing people to reluctantly stay at your company so you “control” the best resources.
In an effort to retain the best and brightest of its talent and capitalize on their creativity, Google is launching an internal startup incubator. According to The Information, the incubator, dubbed “Area 120,” will enable Googlers who present compelling business plans to work full-time on innovative new ventures with the goal of turning them into independent companies with Google as a major investor. The move appears to be an expansion of Google’s longstanding policy of letting employees devote 20 percent of their time to side projects, with the company’s approval: Signature products like Gmail, Google News, and AdSense began as such projects.
If the labor market is increasingly talent-driven these days, nowhere is that more true than in Silicon Valley, where a shortage of skilled tech workers means that top talent commands top dollar. The retention concerns motivating Area 120 were thrown into relief earlier this month when Regina Dugan, the former DARPA chief who led Google’s Advanced Technology And Products team since 2012, left the company to lead Facebook’s competing skunkworks division, with the equally sci-fi name “Building 8.”
If Google is hoping to retain creative geniuses by giving them more independence to develop and market their own ideas, Elon Musk’s billion-dollar nonprofit OpenAI is luring them in with the chance to give them away for free. In a new, in-depth feature about the project, Wired writer Cade Metz notes that OpenAI has managed to grab some of the best minds in the AI field despite aggressive efforts by competitors to poach them—and not by outbidding, either: