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Opinion Editorials

The secret reason Austin tech wants Uber/Lyft back in town (it has nothing to do with ridesharing)

(EDITORIAL) Last week, Texas passed a bill to override the City of Austin and most people expressed enthusiasm. But the upper echelon were relieved for an unspoken reason.

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Sorry Austin, Texas wants Uber back

Anyone in Austin with a pulse and the internet has heard by now that the Texas Legislature passed a state bill overruling the Austin ordinance requiring ridesharing companies to screen drivers through the city directly. The proposed law would still require criminal background checks on drivers, but rolls back the fingerprinting requirements that drove Uber and Lyft out of town.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill into law, after which, Uber and Lyft have stated they will immediately resume operations.

City Mayors have argued this is an example of the state attempting to override local control so corporations can profit while public safety is at risk.

Uber and Lyft spent millions to fight and then overturn the 2015 Austin fingerprinting ordinance, but a sloppy campaign left locals confused (most of whom still can’t cite the facts). Add on top of that debacle that the outlying cities surrounding Austin proper, inserted themselves and wanted their cut – if Austin gets paid $X for every driver to get fingerprinted, they too should get $X.

Since then, local non-profit Ride Austin filled the void and when this bill passed in the Texas Legislature, they announced aggressive plans to challenge the 1099 model for ridesharing drivers, potentially moving to a bold W2 plan.

The pendulum of sentiment

Local sentiment has widely been enthusiastic about the potential return of the ridesharing giants, but nowhere more than in the tech community.

And the enthusiasm isn’t because Uber and Lyft are fellow tech companies, no, this has everything to do with a quiet pulse in the upper echelon of the tech community, and it’s all about the money.

You see, two major Austin City Council moves were made in recent years that gave the city an anti-tech reputation – Proposition 1 (that ended with Uber/Lyft evacuating the city) and Ordinance No. 20160223-A.1 which placed burdensome regulations on short-term rentals (STRs) by limiting occupancy to six unrelated adults, prohibiting indoor assemblies of over ten people, and requiring operators to give access to all buildings/rooms to the city without notice or warrant.

The STR Ordinance was particularly painful given that HomeAway is headquartered in Austin, one of the largest STR sites on the planet.

And locals were quite embarrassed when it came time for South by Southwest (one of the tech industry’s premier pilgrimages every year) and Uber wasn’t an option for visitors.

These regulations led to the tech industry ending an era of individuals caring about politics and the sector armed itself politically overnight as a whole, organizing in a meaningful way for the first time in Austin’s history.

Earning a bad rap

Despite the seeds of organization being planted, the regulations led to the perception that Austin politicians are anti-tech, which rippled throughout the tech and venture capital (VC) world.

Because investors, both of the angel or VC variety, see the city as not friendly to tech, they’ve quietly expressed an unwillingness to invest in Austin companies.

And who can blame them? If they invest funds in Austin companies and the city cuts them off at the knees, they believe they’ll be better served playing it safe in the Valley or in their own backyard.

Thus, the upper echelon in Austin tech is extremely excited about the expected return of Uber and Lyft. While there is a deep care and concern about mobility, the real reason being whispered in town, is that the kink in the financial hose will be straightened out and the flow will return, if not strengthen.

#DollaDollaBillsYall

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Paul O'Brien

    May 22, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    It’s really not more complicated than this….. some of Austin thinks we’re all downtown and can/will bike to meetings. Most of Austin is everywhere but downtown and well beyond the city limits. If we can’t get around, we can’t do business. Making it burdensome to get around, just because, is stupid.

    I don’t need to get an Uber. Austin being difficult about enabling any form of transportation makes it burdensome to get around and makes everyone in the world wonder why we’d bother to get in the middle of things that ease business.

  2. Judah Ross

    May 22, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    Good, it’s about time the tech industry started throwing their weight around. We have enough special interest groups driving the conversation, at least tech is generally progressive and pro growth. Next lets put some energy into highways and density.

  3. Pingback: Act II: Uber and Lyft are *almost* back in Austin - The American Genius

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Opinion Editorials

How to deal with an abusive boss and keep your job, too

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Sometimes bosses can be the absolute worst, but also, you depend on them. Here’s how to deal with an abusive boss and, hopefully, not get fired.

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Nothing can ruin your work life like an abusive boss or supervisor. But when you’re dependent on your boss for assignments, promotions – heck, your paycheck – how can you respond to supervisor abuse in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job or invite retaliation?

A new published in the Academy of Management Journal suggests an intriguing approach to responding to an abusive boss. As you might expect, their study shows that avoiding the abuser does little to change the dynamic.

But the study also found that confronting the abuser was equally ineffective.

Instead, the study suggests that workers in an abusive situation “flip the script” on their bosses, “shifting the balance of power.” But how?

The researchers tracked the relationship between “leader-follower dyads” at a real estate agency and a commercial bank. They found that, without any intervention, abuse tended to persist over time.

However, they also discovered two worker-initiated strategies that “can strategically influence supervisors to stop abuse and even motivate them to mend strained relationships.”

The first strategy is to make your boss more dependent on you. For example, one worker in the study found out that his boss wanted to develop a new analytic procedure.

The worker became an expert on the subject and also educated his fellow co-workers. When the boss realized how important the worker was to the new project, the abuse subsided.

In other words, find out what your boss’s goals are, and then make yourself indispensable.

In the second strategy, workers who were being abused formed coalitions with one another, or with other workers that had better relationships with the boss. The study found that “abusive behavior against isolated targets tends to stop once the supervisor realizes it can trigger opposition from an entire coalition.”

Workplace abuse is not cool, and it shouldn’t really be up to the worker to correct it. At times, the company will need to intervene to curb bad supervisor behavior. However, this study does suggest a few strategies that abused workers can use to try to the tip the balance in their favor.

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Opinion Editorials

DNA ancestry tests are cool, but are they worth giving up your rights?

(EDITORIAL) DNA tests are all the rage currently but are they worth potentially having your genetic makeup sold and distributed?

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By now you’ve heard – the Golden State Killer’s 40+ year reign of terror is potentially over as the FBI agents used an ancestry website DNA sample to arrest their suspect, James DeAngelo, Jr.

Over the last few years, DNA testing has gone mainstream for novelty reasons. Companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have offered easy access to the insights of your genetics, including potential health risks and family heritage, and even reconnect family members, through simple genetic tests.

However, as a famously ageless actor once suggested in a dinosaur movie, don’t focus too much on if you can do this, without asking if you should do this.

When you look closely, you can find several reasons to wonder if sending your DNA to these companies is a wise choice.

These reasons mostly come down to privacy protection, and while most companies do have privacy policies in place, you will find some surprising loopholes in the fine print. For one, most of the big players don’t give you the option to not have your data sold.

These companies, like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, can always sell your data so long as your data is “anonymized,” thanks to the HIPAA Act of 1996. Anonymization involves separating key identifying features about a person from their medical or biological data.

These companies know that loophole well; Ancestry.com, for example, won’t even give customers an opt-out of having their DNA data sold.

Aside from how disconcerting it is that these companies will exploit this loophole for their gain at your expense, it’s also worth noting that standards for anonymizing data don’t work all that well.

In one incident, reportedly, “one MIT scientists was able to ID the people behind five supposedly anonymous genetic samples randomly selected from a public research database. It took him less than a day.”

There’s also the issue of the places where that data goes when it goes out. That report the MIT story comes from noted that 23andMe has sold data to at least 14 outside pharmaceutical firms.

Additionally, Ancestry.com has a formal data-sharing agreement with a biotech firm. That’s not good for you as the consumer, because you may not know how that firm will handle the data.

Some companies give data away to the public databases for free, but as we saw from the earlier example, those can be easy targets if you wanted to reverse engineer the data back to the person.

It would appear the only safe course of action is to have this data destroyed once your results are in. However, according to US federal regulation for laboratory compliance stipulates that US labs hold raw information for a minimum of 10 years before destruction.

Now, consider all that privacy concern in the context of what happens when your DNA data is compromised. For one, this kind of privacy breach is irreversible.

It’s not as simple as resetting all your passwords or freezing your credit.

If hackers don’t get it, the government certainly can; there’s even an instance of authorities successfully obtaining a warrant for DNA evidence from Ancestry.com in a murder trial.

Even if you’re not the criminal type who would worry about such a thing, the precedent is concerning.

Finally, if these companies are already selling data to entities in the biomedical field, how long until medical and life insurance providers get their hands on it?

I’ll be the first to admit that the slippery slope fallacy is strong here, but there are a few troubling patterns of behavior and incorrect assumptions already in play regarding the handling of your DNA evidence.

The best course of action is to take extra precaution.

Read the fine print carefully, especially what’s in between the lines. As less scrupulous companies look to cash in on the trend, be aware of entities who skimp on privacy details; DNA Explained chronicles a lot of questionable experiences with other testing companies.

Above all, really think about what you’re comfortable with before you send in those cheek swabs or tubes of spit. While the commercials make this look fun, it is a serious choice and should be treated like one.

This story was first published, October 2017.

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Opinion Editorials

Do women that downplay their gender get ahead faster?

(OPINION) A new study about gender in the workplace is being perceived differently than we are viewing it – let’s discuss.

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The Harvard Business Review reports that women benefit professionally when they downplay their gender, as opposed to trying to focus on their “differences” as professional strength.

The article includes a lot of interesting concepts underneath its click-bait-y title. According to the study by Professors Ashley Martin and Katherine Phillips, women felt increasingly confident when they pivoted from focusing on highlighting potential differences in their perceived abilities based on their gender and instead gave their attention to cultivating qualities that are traditionally coded as male*.

Does this really mean that women need to “downplay” their gender? Does it really mean women who attempt this get ahead in this world faster?

I don’t think so.

The article seems to imply that “celebrating diversity” in workers is akin to giving femme-identified employees a hot pink briefcase – it actually calls attention to stereotyped behaviors. I would argue that this is not the case (and, for the record, rock a hot pink briefcase if you want to, that sounds pretty badass).

I believe that we should instead highlight the fact that this study shows the benefits that come when everyone expands preconceived notions of gender.

Dr. Martin and her interviewer touch on this when they discuss the difference between gender “awareness” and “blindness.” As Dr. Martin explains, “Gender blindness doesn’t mean that women should act more like men; it diminishes the idea that certain qualities are associated with men and women.”

It is the paradox of studies like this one that, in order to interrogate how noxious gendered beliefs are, researchers must create categories to place otherwise gender-neutral qualities and actions in, thus emphasizing the sort of stereotypes being investigated. Regardless, there is a silver lining here as said by Dr. Martin herself:

“[People] are not naturally better suited to different roles, and [people] aren’t better or worse at certain things.”

Regardless of a worker’s gender identity, they are capable of excelling at whatever their skills and talent help them to.

*Though the HBR article and study perpetuate a binary gender structure, for the purposes of our discussion in this article, I expand its “diversity” to include femme-identified individuals, nonbinary and trans workers, and anybody else that does not benefit from traditional notions of power that place cisgendered men at the top of the social totem pole.

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