Tag Archives: United States

Welcome to the NFL, Fwd.Us

Having spent a long time now in the software industry, I find politics and Washington, DC a curious, mystifying place.  Avoid lobbying, and you’re playing with fire.  Engage in lobbying and expressing a view, and you’ll take the standard slings and arrows that come with engaging with this pit of vipers.

Today’s New York Times Tech Section calls out the outcry from the left that tech-backed lobbying group Fwd.Us has the temerity to use traditional political advertising tactics to promote its pro-immigration reform agenda.  Welcome to the NFL.

The current themes on immigration and what to do with ‘illegal immigrants‘ has been going on in my recollection since at least the early 80s.  Its a stupid, dysfunctional political debate.  The right views illegal immigration as a shibboleth to rally up its base, so no leadership will come from this side.  Unions own the left on this issue, so door #2 doesn’t help at all.  Serious political minds on both sides will state flat out that our lack of an approach on H1B visas etc is brain dead.  But we’re stalemated, so we just have to deal with it.  In the meantime, our crumby education system is failing to turn out enough qualified graduates for the US to remain a long-term leader in a high growth knowledge and information centric economy.

In this environment, Fwd.Us is stepping in, and good on them in my view.  The fact that there’s flack from the left that the NYT points out is, if anything, a sign that Fwd.Us is probably doing something right.



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University of Ritz Carlton

New York University sophomore Josh Hoffman takes a limousine to class on Sept. 1, a ride courtesy of the moving company that shipped his belongings to college.

New York University sophomore Josh Hoffman takes a limousine to class on Sept. 1, a ride courtesy of the moving company that shipped his belongings to college.

I recently wrote here about thoughts I had on the value of the MBA education, in light of the recent Hack Your Education / Un-College movement forwarded by Dale Stephens.  I have some thoughts about college education.

There’s no question in my mind that college, as defined as a four-year residential institutional experience, is ripe for change and disruption.  Press often talks about the burgeoning student debt load and how this has mushroomed in recent years.  The reason for this is simple–college costs are growing sharply, well above the rate of inflation.  For students pursuing STEM degrees, no worries, the present value of lifetime earnings for those degrees is going to  surpass the costs associated with getting the degree. For degrees less in demand, the payback is more suspect and is indeed questionable.

Posing the question to rising college students and their families of whether one is really getting value for the money spent is a useful one.  So too is the question of whether there are ways to gain substantial value through alternative means–for example, learning how to program a computer.

A question that I think needs asked more, particularly of the four-year residential colleges with ever rising costs, is what can be done to slow or reverse the inexorable rise of a college education.

The thing that sticks out to me is reading about college dorms these days, as they make undergrad seem like living at a Ritz-Carlton.

“When students get to campus, they already have an expectation of having their own room, a bathroom in the room, a whole lot of privacy, and a whole lot of technology and connectivity,” says Ann Bailey, housing director at Mississippi State University. “They want, they expect a hotel, or a condominium, or a resort-type experience.”


This is widespread.  I was chatting recently with a Stanford University alum.  He’d taken a call from his alma mater for a fund-raising campaign seeking money in order to guarantee that ever undergrad could have his or her own private room.  His response: thanks but no thanks, roommates are fine.  When you drive by the University of Washington in Seattle, you can see right next to the stadium a recreational athletic complex that could house an Olympic program.

Much is written about the impact that technology and distance learning is going to have on the undergraduate college experience.  This is certainly true.  And I believe there is healthy discussion to be had around investing wisely in an undergraduate degree, in order that the benefits justify the investment.  http://www.nbcnews.com/id/14836425/#.UTeDcNFASBgBut with these shifts — technological, demographic, etc. — it would seem wise and necessary for universities to start really drilling in on slowing or reversing what is an unsustainable growth in costs.


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I’ve had a difficult time really gearing up today to scour the tech industry landscape for a perspective to share or anything interesting to write about.  Newtown is too top of mind.  Too sad.  Too awful.  I’ve been reading a lot of perspective on the tragedy, and here are some thoughts.

Of all the opinion I’ve read, I thought Buzz Bissinger‘s piece in the Daily Beast was the most stark, the one that I’m going to save and keep nearby.  It’s classic Bissinger: pulling no punches, Bissinger isn’t for someone who wants a pat on the head and told there will be a silver lining.  No, he takes the culture to the woodshed in the article that he condlues:  His concludes the piece, titled, “Sorry But Don’t Expect Any CHange After Newtown,” this way:

We cannot let go of the violence.  And as long as we cannot, these tragedies will continue, seemingly inexplicable—but not really, given our history. There is an answer. We could ban handguns as the United Kingdom did after a mass murder at a school in 1997. We could weigh the societal priorities of gun ownership, and psychotic killers getting access to semiautomatic rifles with the most potent ammunition available, versus not ever allowing an innocent child to die again for the sin of going to school and getting ready for the holidays.


But we won’t…  Guns in this country still pump people up.People still like the concept of taking the law into their own hands because the law is a toothless pussy, the giddy thrill of an intruder coming into their house, assuming he is an intruder because he may not be, and blowing his head off with the bonus extra of brain-matter spattering on the wall.

I fear that he could be right, and that would be too bad.

There have been other, more productive, threads of thought that I’ve been following.  Raising more awareness on the issues of mental health in children and young people.  Discussing gun control and the need to do more, much more, here.

And these are both vitally important discussions.  I will watch and listen to these debates closely and try to be useful in whatever way I can.  And I will keep Bissinger’s piece nearby  hopefully as a prod to lean forward to try and push more and demand more of our government and all of us, to not let our violent past dull us into the continuing sameness of accepting the unacceptable.


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Hope from Mars

SCIENCE delivered an epic win this week with NASA landing the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars.

A jaw-dropping feat of engineering at so many levels, captured brilliantly in this Hollywood style description that is really must watch:

I’ve been a lifelong space geek, and I remain giddy that I’ve shaken the hand of Neil Armstrong.  :)  And so I was amazed to watch and see these photos coming back from Mars, like everyone else.

But as I’ve reflected on this week’s landing, my amazement has been starting to turn into something different.  And the word I’m coming up with for this feeling is hope.

The last several years — basically the past decade — have been a raw deal for most Americans, and little seems to be changing.  More and more of our older generation of Americans are having to cut back massively on their retirement plans, as their funds have been decimated.  More and more recent college grads are graduating with huge student loans and no job prospects.  And if you look at data on how poorly we’re doing educating our youth, you can’t come away feeling good about the broad job prospects of our next generation.

In the face of these challenges, our government at the federal and state levels are both stalemated and broke.  Reasonable compromised approaches to a path forward, the Simpson-Bowles proposals for example, were dead on arrival.  And my sense, purely anecdotal, is that efforts in communities–with community organizations like charities, youth organizations or churches–are not having enough of an impact to make up the difference.   Books like Coming Apart by Charles Murray support this breakdown in community with data.

In the face of all this negativity, this week we got Curiosity, a towering achievement of what can happen when people come together, aim big, and bring their best.  It is an achievement the entire country can take pride in.  And I would hope that in some small way it might help catalyze an effort, on behalf of all of us, to come together, bring our best, and make the country a better place for all of us.

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Virgin America #350 : Contagion Edition

<Writing from 39K feet on Virgin America flight 350 from SFO-BOS>

I’d be interested in others’ perspectives here–what would you do?

We were slightly delayed at the gate due to what the flight attendant on the PA system described as “a medical issue.”  After a few minutes, things were apparently squared away, and off we went.

The “Medical Issue” has become apparent to my family and me.  Two rows in front of us is an infant, vomiting violently and feverish.  (She’s now wearing only a diaper and sweating profusely.)

Yikes.  Having watched the movie Contagion, I’ve gotten a bit more touchy about people just spewing their germs all over the place.  And this scenario is about as uncomfortable a thing to watch as possible.  From two rows behind the child.  On a flight for 6 hours across country.  Makes me nauseous just thinking about.

The captain apparently delayed the flight in order to speak with a doctor to confirm the virulence and appropriateness of having this child on board.  Having watched the child’s illness on this flight from our perspective two rows back, I’d say I appreciate him reaching out to the doc, but I wish he’d stepped up and gotten the family onto a later flight, or that at a minimum there’d been some transparency that from the crew and/or family that we weren’t on a cross-country flight to flu-landia.

What do you think of this?  What’s the responsible path for the family, the flight crew, the captain?  Today its a sick kid.  In future could well be something more serious.

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Duke University Trip

English: Duke Chapel at Duke University in Dur...

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Last week, I visited Duke University, my alma mater. I had a lot of fun, and there was a lot more going on in the startup and entreprenerial space there than I had anticipated. I want to extend my gratitude to Jamal Modir, who runs the Law & Entrepreneurship Society, and to Kirsten Shaw, the Assistant Director for Industy Outreach in Duke’s Engineering School, for helping have such a useful visit.

First off, some house keeping, I gave a number of presentations at Duke, and I’ve received several requests for the slides.   They are below.

Venture financing class at duke 01 26 2012

View more presentations from Jay Jamison

With housekeeping out of the way, here are my key observations.

First, I was excited to learn about InCube, an on campus incubator where around 15 students chose to basically live together and work on startups. I got to spend an evening visiting their digs and hearing their pitches. I really admired the fact that the students had taken their own initiative with the administration and so on to setup their own living space. Their web site points out that 5 of the companies working out of this incubator are cash flow positive, which are magical words. (“There aren’t any parentheses around the net income line—imagine that!” Smile) It was great to see this kind of initiative at Duke from the students—and I’ll look forward to going back and tracking InCube over time.

Second, TechConnect was a great opportunity to meet a lot of students. This was a well put together event for engineering students, graduate and undergrad, to meet with and network with a variety of companies seeking engineers. Strong traffic, great students, and very time efficient—I thought this was really quite good. I was happy too that other than Yahoo, BlueRun seemed to be the only other Silicon Valley centered tech firm I saw there.

Third, Duke’s southern charm and engagement was in full force. Jamal, mentioned above, was kind enough to have me speak to a variety of groups and classes, which I enjoyed. I also got to visit a Durham-based incubator, 8 Rivers, which I thought had some very cool stuff going on.  All in all a great visit. I’ll look forward to coming back.

Go Blue Devils!


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Quick take: GOAP Beijing Part 2

Just got back to the US from a few days in Beijing, participating in the Geeks on a Plane tour there.  Other than a little case of sicknessthat felled me on Monday, it was a great trip.

A few very quick impressions.

Hiring and scaling startups is a totally different game in China v US.  In Silicon Valley, startups are struggling mightily to hire talent.  Google is paying to retain talent; Facebook, Zynga, Twitter and others are paying up to acquire talent.At the same time, with the rise in angel money and incubators, talented engineers with risk tolerance are tending to find the allure of founding a company very attractive.  The result: an extreme shortage of technical engineering talent going to earlier stage startups.  This makes it very difficult for Sereis A and Sereis B companies to scale technical talent here.

In China, what I saw was pretty different.  One startup I visited had grown from roughly 10 employees to nearly 100 in about 11 months, with more than half those employees talented engineers.

Its often talked about the stark cost differences between hiring engineering talent in the US versus China, and this is certainly true.  Beyond that, however, what really impacted me was the sheer numbers of engineers available.

It underscores big challenges to the US economic model–lack of focus on technical skills and degrees in US education system, a reticence on immigration letting more technical talent leave our country, etc. The US continues to avoid these issues at its long-term peril.

Armchair Blackberry analysis. On Bloomberg TV in the hotel room, I saw a brief report on Blackberry, in which one of the Co-CEOs was pitching the RIM/Blackberry development platform.  What development platform you ask?  (Good question.)  Anyway, the sound bite that got covered was that he said something along the lines of Blackberry developers make more money and have better discoverability on the RIM platform than on other platforms.  I don’t really buy the make more money point, and nothing was used to support this.  And the better discoverability point only really means that there aren’t any apps on Blackberry’s store, meaning its easier to find the few that are.  In other words, at best: meh.

Always drink bottled water.   Nuff said.

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