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A tale of two leaks: Samsung Galaxy S5 and the Wu-Tang Clan

(Editorial) When there are leaks from the tech or music industry in modern times, is it a stunt, or is it accidental? Let’s dissect two recent leaks.

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It was the best of leaks, it was the worst of leaks.

In the past week, two news stories that revolved around Internet leaks caught my eye. The former regarded a leak that had already happened, and the latter regarded a potentially devastating leak that could happen.

The first story was the “leak” of specifications of variants of the soon-to-be-released Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone; the second was the news that the Wu-Tang Clan, an influential rap group that’s been around for two decades, was going to be creating only a single copy of a secret album.

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In the case of the Galaxy S5, the recent leak lists technical specifications for the Galaxy S5 Zoom. So far, the leak has been deemed credible (by whoever the people are that deem unreleased information credible), and Samsung hasn’t commented on the topic. This leak, and the fact that phone-case makers have begun posting cases for S5 variants on their websites with “coming soon” tags, has led to a surge of speculation about what Samsung has up their sleeves.

So what does this mean?

First and foremost, it means that potential S5 customers might be able to choose from a more diverse generation of models for their ideal device. While that’s just peachy news for Samsung fans, what’s more important here is that this leak gave the Galaxy S5 an extra boost of publicity in the smartphone wars. This “leak” brought the Samsung Galaxy S5 to the forefront of tech news. In February, a similar bump in publicity happened when pictures of the S5 were leaked just hours before the phones official announcement at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Poor Samsung seems to be having a problem with leaks this year, but are these leaks really a problem?

When a big-name device like the S5 is officially announced, it subsequently receives a ton of press from bloggers, the media, and so on. They compare it to its previous generation counterpart and its next generation competitors, all the while speculating on how it will fare in the market. Some people will get excited about its impending release; some will dismiss the new tech and stay loyal to their current device.

In the end, the phone will get the hype and attention it deserves based on its specs, features, pricing, and of course, its official advertising campaign.

The domino effect of speculation

When information about a device is leaked, something entirely different happens. Every news organization in the world is constantly trying to be the first to report the news; Internet news is no different. When pictures of the unreleased Galaxy S5 or specifications of S5 variants are leaked, tech blogs and news sites seize this opportunity without hesitation. This leads to a domino effect of bloggers and forums speculating about the eventual release of the device, and average consumers searching Google for the device to see what all the hype is about. Eventually, the company will officially unveil the new product, and the device will retake the headlines for a second time.

When an important piece of tech is leaked, it stays in the headlines for a much longer time and receives far more publicity.

Am I saying that I think “leaks” are just clever marketing schemes?

I believe many probably are, but I don’t have hard evidence to support such a claim. Yes, I’m cynical, but let’s be honest; any publicity is good publicity – even if that publicity is unofficial and speculative.

I’m always skeptical when coverage of a “leaked” product takes over tech news. Remember in 2010 when an Apple employee accidentally left his prototype iPhone 4 at a San Francisco bar a few months before the phone was officially announced? What a crazy story!

And then remember in 2011 when an Apple employee accidentally left his prototype iPhone 5 in a San Francisco bar a month before the phone was officially announced? What a familiar-sounding and crazy story! Since Apple is known for its secrecy, one would have expected the company to make its field testers reread the “don’t-leave-your-prototype-phone-that-hasn’t-been-officially-announced-at-a-bar-you-damn-moron clause” in their contracts.

Apple reacted pretty angrily to Gizmodo’s tearing apart of the lost iPhone 4, so that incident may have actually been a drunken accident. However, beyond the news that Apple had lost an iPhone 5, no prototype device ever revealed itself, leading a number of people to say that it was just a clever publicity stunt attempting to mimic the previous year’s incident. The lost iPhone 5 never materialized online, but that didn’t stop consumers everywhere from searching Google for news about the lost prototype. I remember searching for news about the incident and watching speculative YouTube videos, and I’ve never even considered buying an iPhone.

Could Samsung’s slow leak of information be an attempt at copying Apple’s barroom success?

Even HTC had trouble with leaks of its HTC One M8 prior to its recent release. Either these companies see the benefit of building hype through leaked information, it is truly impossible to keep things secret nowadays, or some third party is taking us all for a ride with fake leaks.

Maybe I’m wrong, and next-gen devices are just more likely to be leaked as their official announcement/release date approaches. But is it really such a stretch to believe that the giants of the tech industry who thrive on innovation have found a way to build the hype of their products without spending a penny on official marketing campaigns?

So what does the Wu-Tang Clan have to do with any of this?

The Wu-Tang Clan is on the opposite end of the spectrum, as they are desperately trying to avoid a leak of their upcoming project. As I mentioned earlier, the Wu-Tang Clan is planning on releasing an album that they’ve been secretly creating for years. However, they’re only creating a single copy of the album.

The Wu-Tang Clan intends to treat the album like a work of art instead of another $12.99 iTunes purchase. To hear it, you’ll have to pay $30-50 for a museum-like experience when the album tours the country. After the album’s tour, one lucky individual will be able to purchase the lone copy of the album for a price that’s likely to be in the millions.

The lone copy of the album could be purchased by an individual, or by a company that seeks to mass-produce it for traditional sales or boost their own image (like Samsung did with Jay-Z’s last album). The fact that the album won’t be available anywhere will create an incredible hype around the group. If all goes as planned, the Wu-Tang Clan will have created a unique musical experience that will thrust them into the limelight and make them a solid profit.

But they shouldn’t start counting their money yet. Anything less than outstanding reviews from audiences and critics could very easily keep fans away from their $30-50 experience, and lower the value of the lone copy.

Still, negative critical reception isn’t the worst thing that could happen.

Their experiment will crash and burn if a single digital copy manages to escape their grasp before the lone copy has been auctioned off. If a single copy of the album leaks, then the album will explode across the Internet, and won’t disappear even if the Wu-Tang Clan hires a small army of lawyers to write subpoenas around the clock.

Despite the fact that they’re only creating a single copy, I’d bet the farm that their album exists in digital form on one, if not all, of the group members’ computers. This isn’t Johnny Cash and his band recording live in a studio in the ’50s; this is 2014, when all kinds of layering and digital production take place on computers. The music probably exists somewhere, and if it does, then it’s not safe from being leaked. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t already at least one hacker who sees himself as a present-day Robin Hood attempting to break into the Wu-Tang Clan’s personal computers. Only time will tell if the Wu-Tang Clan’s gamble against the leaky “series of tubes” that is the Internet will pay off.

The modern world is a strange place.

On one hand, we have titans of the tech industry who can’t seem to keep their products under wraps, and benefit from the publicity generated by their employees’ inability to hold onto their prototype devices at tequila bars. On the other hand, we have musicians who are deliberately rejecting the ubiquitous reach of the Internet, and experimenting with an idea that would force their fans to seek them out while paying more for less.

Remember the days when companies tried to keep their secret products secret, and musicians wanted their music to be heard by as many people as possible?

Things have changed.

Ryan Kane is a Senior at Duke University and a Brand Ambassador for Snaps, a social media startup. He's currently searching for post-graduation employment in the tech industry, and plans on working in the world of apps and social media. Check out his LinkedIn to learn more about him or follow him on Twitter to keep up with his musings on the latest news in technology.

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Opinion Editorials

Why tech talent is in the process of abandoning Austin

(AUSTIN TECH) There is no single reason Austin tech talent is packing their bags, but a handful of factors have collided to create a tenuous situation.

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“Nothing’s keeping me here” is a phrase we keep hearing around town. Being in the center of the tech space, we’ve been able to keep my finger on the pulse, and what we thought was primarily housing that is driving folks out of town turns out to be far more insurmountable than we could have ever imagined.

A perfect storm is brewing as the housing market collides with a dramatically transformed workforce that has become accustomed to working remotely and shifted priorities.

Last time Austin was bleeding talent, the year was 2011 and most investments were focused on early stage startups and there weren’t enough open roles that were senior level, so we started losing people to competitive markets. In response, we built a massive employment hub (the Austin Digital Jobs Group (ADJ)) and volunteered hundreds of hours to help make Austin a magnet for high quality employers.

This time around, we expressed to the Group of over 55K members that we were frustrated that people were confiding in us that they were leaving (or considering it). Some are even people that we all imagined to be part of the very fabric of Austin tech. We feel helpless this time.

Many of these talented people said that the soaring housing prices in Austin had them eyeballing smaller towns in Texas, or worse, their hometowns outside of the state. There are only so many times you can try to buy a house, get rejected, or get outbid on 22 homes before you start looking at other places. Only so many people will accept a billion percent rent increase at renewal time before thinking that going back home to Louisiana’s lookin’ pretty good.

This week, Austin CultureMap reported that Austin now ranks number two among the most overvalued home markets in America.

Tesla is getting ready to open their Gigafactory, Oracle is moving their headquarters to Austin, and Samsung is currently trying to get buy-in from city officials in Taylor so they can build their mega plant near Austin. Home investors and firms from all over are salivating.

It all feels both exciting, yet overwhelming when you’re going to buy a house here, only to get outbid by $150K over asking price from an investor in California. It’s been demoralizing for so many.

Because we also own a massive real estate publication, we’re firmly in touch with that sector, and brokers in Austin are telling us that the summer was out of control and overheated, but they’re already seeing that hyper-activity slow a bit.

Housing alone isn’t enough of a reason for an entire sector to be packing up or dreaming of leaving. So what gives?

At last count, a thread in ADJ on this topic is at 806 comments, and I personally received several hundred more via direct message with people in tech explaining why they’re leaving or considering leaving.

There are challenges within the city limits of Austin that have bubbled over like crime and separately, the contentious issue of houselessness – it’s an ongoing and very serious issue that has people leaving downtown, but not necessarily leaving the surrounding areas.

So if housing isn’t the exclusive driving force, how has that problem combined with the employment market shifts? How has the job market changed in such a way that talent is ready to hit the eject button on this town? It boils down to a changing talent pool, fractures in the hiring process, a shift in priorities, and a lingering brokenness in the entire process that is exacerbating all other conditions.

Let’s dig into that further.

Because of the global pandemic, remote work has become a staple in the tech industry, teams adjusted and realized the office is more of a luxury than a requirement, and many large brands swear that they’ll never require their employees to come into the office again.

For that reason, tech workers’ expectations have been forever changed. Fully remote options will drive the market for years to come, and hybrid options or flex work hours will also be how large tech firms attract and retain talent – ping pong tables and chill vibes will be less of an appealing sales pitch.

The pandemic has also shifted the talent pool to include everyone in America – if all workers are remote, employers no longer have to look just to the local workforce. This talent pool expansion is a double-edged sword – if an Austin tech company can look to Nebraska for workers, then remote workers can look outside of Austin to other budding tech hubs, potentially shifting the entire environment. That’s the main driver for Austin brands continuing to hire in Austin, lest the entire ecosystem fail.

All that said, a disconnect in the job market in Austin tech remains. Holdouts from attitudes and old systems of the past linger on.

A theme we continue to hear from high quality candidates is that employers have increasingly unrealistic expectations. You already know the stereotype of job listings that say they’re entry level but require a decade of work experience. But as budgets tightened in the face of uncertainty, Austin tech companies are becoming phenomenally great at hiring someone to do three jobs that pay less than one. One of our Group members asserted that employers are looking for turnkey employees. It used to be that employer job descriptions were a realistic wish list and that if you hit over 60% of them, you might get an interview. Now people believe that the requirements are becoming unrealistic and if you meet less than 100% of them, there is zero chance of an interview. Many have complained that hiring managers and recruiters continue to not be aligned, slowing the process repeatedly.

The timing of the acceleration of unrealistic expectations has locals feeling like the pandemic created conditions that allowed for employers to take advantage of job seekers who must be desperate since the world is upside down. I don’t personally believe this has anything to do with the pandemic, rather it is a continuation of an ongoing trend.

If you think this is an exaggeration, just this week a job seeker let me know that a recruiter sent them a job description that required the “ability to code in any language.” WTF. The recruiter was serious. Try telling me this isn’t out of control and I will laugh right in your face, friend.

Another serious point of contention in Austin is that salary levels are not increasing anywhere near the skyrocketing living expenses.

Many believe the salary levels are a decade old and simply can’t keep up with the market conditions in Austin and while we’ll leave the “you are a remote worker, you shouldn’t earn as much since you moved to a less expensive locale” debate to another day, we will firmly assert that this problem will hold back the tech innovation and the overall economy in Austin.

In that massive thread in our Group, one member asked, “So I guess a question is: do we accept the idea that Austin is now only for those making 6 figures??”

What is so disheartening about the salary conditions is that changing this couldn’t possibly be done overnight – it requires time and structural changes, and the bigger a company is, the slower it is to turn the proverbial ship.

Meanwhile, numerous people retired early during the pandemic, or began freelancing or consulting full time. Many of these people aren’t likely to return to the workforce under current conditions, and they feel like they have less roots in Austin – they can live anywhere now. See how remote work has caused a ripple effect?

Do you remember when some tech executives in Austin reluctantly sent employees home as the pandemic hit, flippantly warning that it wouldn’t be a coronacation!? Bad behaviors like this and other employee treatment during the pandemic haven’t and will not be forgotten – the memories will remain as fresh as the time you got shoved by that bully in elementary school. You may have forgiven, but you’ll never forget. Trust has been broken.

Trust was also broken during the pandemic when people lost what they believed to be stable jobs. It has created a certain trepidation in the marketplace.

The pandemic has forever altered all of our lives as individuals. Thousands died from COVID-19, and those of us left behind lost loved ones. We were all sent home with no job security. Many of us became homeschool teachers and somehow also had to keep up with our careers. We were forced to share spaces with our partners, our children, our parents, our family.

Some would think all of this is a recipe for resentment, but in the majority of cases, what has happened is a serious shift in priorities to favor the family, to appreciate quality time, to find solace in more quiet time and a less full calendar.

People tell us they don’t intend on going out for drinks after work when they’re called back into the office – it turns out we actually like our kids or partners now that we’ve gotten to know them, or that we value our newfound connection to old hobbies. The priorities aren’t fleeting – this pandemic has changed us.

Because of this fundamental change in who we are, ongoing problems in the employment market are now magnified.

“Isms” still plague the hiring process. Ageism continues to be a very serious problem in Austin tech, for example. People tell us that they’re still experiencing sexism, racism, ableism, and every other sort of discrimination. In 2021. It’s unbelievable. You can say all of that is simply perception, but in this scenario, perception truly is reality. And because our priorities have shifted, our giveashitters are pretty low when it comes to tolerating bad actors.

That same shift has also lowered tolerance levels for burnout. One member in the Group pointed out that after the market crash in 2008, resource levels were depleted – and here we are in 2021, they haven’t been restored. People were burned out before the pandemic, and now they’re moving to the country to work remotely and begin healing this burnout that is coming to a head.

It’s difficult to deal with ghosting (be it computer-aided or overworked recruiters) when you’re already burned out and thinking you’re the only one. It’s giving this sector a terrible reputation that is spreading.

Resources aren’t the only factor here that is stuck in 2008. Companies were so used to getting a flood of applications for every single job listing, their ATS (applicant tracking system) filters were implemented accordingly. The volume of applications has dropped, yet the filters remain overly restrictive. They put their ATS on auto-pilot once upon a time, and it remains that way, yet they continue to reach out to us in confusion, asking us where all the applicants are.

In the eyes of tech talent, the hiring process has deteriorated. Simultaneously, in the eyes of companies hiring, the process has been improved. Enhanced.

The disconnect here is not in the unrealistic expectations previously outlined, or the rising opacity in salaries, but in the actual mechanics of the hiring process. Even smaller companies have added additional rounds of interviews and ridiculous red tape in what is an effort in vain to compete with the Googles of the world. There’s a lot of what I would call “playing office” going on, with non-technical hiring managers hiring for technical roles, or unrelated staff being roped into panel interviews to weigh in on whether or not someone is a “culture fit.”

The process has become lengthy and demanding with endless personality tests, whiteboard tests, Zoom calls, questionnaires, more phone and video calls, aptitude tests, and so forth. Most people have come to accept these as hoops to jump through, but the practice of having job seekers do extensive unpaid projects as part of their job application is creating deep resentment and a growing resistance. No one expects to shake a hand and get a job today, but doing a 12 hour assignment that is due in 24 hours is unreasonable, especially unpaid and with no promise of their intellectual property being protected.

It started off as a way to aide candidates into demonstrating their true skills and it was simple. But over time, the practice has “evolved.” It feels to some like every Austin tech recruiter and hiring manager went to some evil underground conference a few years ago and were brainwashed into thinking that if they ALL assign abusive tasks, no one in the sector will notice because they’ll just accept that it’s “how things are done now.” But that’s not happening and the overly complicated process combined with other market factors is driving seriously qualified tech talent out of Austin.

The hiring process has continued to degrade and for no good reason. We actually built ADJ in a way that would directly connect hiring manager and job seeker, promoting the concept of simplifying the hiring process. Yet here we are.

The final nail in the coffin is that candidates and employers are blaming each other for a power imbalance, and thinking that their situation is unique. A feeling of isolation is growing due to peoples’ inability to openly discuss this process – both hiring folks and job seekers.

The bottom line is that numerous market conditions have converged to create a scenario where people are tired and simply won’t settle anymore. Expectations have changed. And we have changed as people.

We will inevitably get hate mail because of this editorial and folks will say that the very publication of this piece will push people out of town, but we would argue that if no one makes an effort to diagnose the growing illness, it will metastasize.

This editorial was first published here on September 09, 2021.

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Opinion Editorials

Why you should at least try to declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob, or an un-alphabetized bookshelf, or that we’ve put off ‘declutter’ on our to-do list for too long.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, taking time to declutter can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those 3 things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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Opinion Editorials

6 human skills that AI robots don’t… yet

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It’s not unreasonable to be concerned about the growing power and skill of AI, but here are a few skills where we have the upper hand.

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Man drawing on a roll of butcher paper, where AI cannot express themselves yet.

AI is taking over the workforce as we know it. Burgers are already being flipped by robotic arms (and being flipped better), and it’s only a matter of time before commercial trucks and cars will be driven by robots (and, probably, be driven better).

It may feel unnerving to think about the shrinking number of job possibilities for future humans – what jobs will be around for humans when AI can do almost everything better than we can?

To our relief (exhale!), there are a few select skills that humans will (hopefully) always be better at than AI. The strengths that we have over AI fall into 3 general categories: Ability to convey emotion, management over others, and creativity.

Let’s break it down: Here are 6 skills that we as humans should be focusing on right now.

Our ability to undertake non-verbal communication

What does this mean for humans? We need to develop our ability to understand and communicate body language, knowing looks, and other non-verbal cues. Additionally, we need to refine our ability to make others feel warm and heard – if you work in the hospitality industry, mastering these abilities will give you an edge over the AI technologies that might replace you.

Our ability to show deep empathy to customers

Unlike AI, we share experiences with other humans and can therefore show empathy to customers. Never underestimate how powerful your deep understanding of being human will be when you’re pitted against a robot for a job. It might just be the thing that gives you a cutting edge.

Our ability to undertake growth management

As of this moment, humans are superior to AI when it comes to managing others. We are able to support organization members in developing their skillsets and, due to our coaching ability, we are able to help others to grow professionally. Take that, AI!

Our ability to employ mind management

What this essentially means is that we can support others. Humans have counseling skills, which means we are able to help someone in distress, whether that stems from interpersonal relationships or professional problems. Can you imagine an AI therapist?

Our ability to perform collective intelligence management

Human creativity, especially as it relates to putting individual ideas together to form an innovative new one, gives us a leg up when competing against AI. Humans are able to foster group thought, to manage and channel it, to create something bigger and better than what existed before. Like, when we created AI in the first place.

Our ability to realize new ideas in an organization

Think: Elevator pitch. Humans are masters of marketing new ideas and are completely in-tune with how to propose new concepts to an organization because, you guessed it, we too are human. If the manager remains human in the future (fingers crossed!), then we know what to say to them to best sell our point of view.

Using what we know, it’s essential for almost all of us to retrain for an AI-driven economy that is most likely just a few years away. My advice for my fellow humans? Develop the parts of you that make you human. Practice eye contact and listening. Think about big pictures and the best way to manage others. Sharpen your mind with practicing creative processes. And do stay up to date with current trends in AI tech. Sooner or later, these babies are bound to be your co-workers.

This story was first published here in October of 2020.

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