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Austin Coding Academy is back in full force; what really happened?

(TECH NEWS) When Austin Coding Academy went dark, no one knew why. The lights are back on, but what does this mean for coding schools across the nation?

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Austin Coding Academy, meet regulations

In response to increasing demands from tech employers, coding schools are popping up all over the nation at an accelerated pace, especially in tech centers like Austin.

One such school is the popular Austin Coding Academy (ACA), which made headlines over the weekend for facing “increased scrutiny from Texas Workforce Commission.”

TWC requires all schools in Texas to hold a license through them, and check in on the programs annually. ACA co-founder, Luke Filipos characterizes TWC’s initial reaching out this spring as non-threatening, and the two worked together to get the school’s first draft of their license application completed, then their second, then this fall, everything changed. In September, the Department of Education sanctioned ITT Tech which closed all of their campuses. In the midst of all of that, TWC’s tone changed.

Then, the tone changed

We asked Filipos if the timing was related, he said he didn’t know. The tone changed from TWC being easy to work with to one of force, immediately requiring ACA to take down their website and social media accounts until they approved the license, despite being so close to the process being over.

Today, ACA is back in full force with the Texas Workforce Commission having granted their license on Friday.

For one of the only independent schools in town that charges less than most competitors, it was “tough,” said Filipos. The small team doesn’t have deep pockets or big legal teams like some of the chains in town, and were unaware they weren’t in compliance, but took immediate action to work with TWC to rectify the licensing once they learned of the requirement.

In short, Austin Coding Academy was missing a license from the Texas Workforce Commission, they worked together to get it resolved, but during the process, the regulatory agency forced them to shut down every public presence.

Classes continued during ACA’s blackout, and Filipos was actually quite understanding of TWC’s goals. “I get the pressure they’re under,” he noted, with so many new programs in Texas alone. Although ACA couldn’t take applicants during the period, people continued expressing interest (through our Austin Digital Jobs group, for example).

What will happen to the coding school industry?

We suspect that as a result of ACA’s quiet period then resurrection, a new look will be given at the relationship between regulatory agencies and the exploding coding school movement, as many of the laws were written decades ago.

Further, state representatives and perhaps national politicians will soon be hearing from the sector as they organize.

Lastly, we anticipate that as major universities start their own coding schools (that don’t require you to be a full time student), they’ll be threatened by independents.

The same could potentially be said for national chains like the New York Code + Design Academy, owned by Strayer Education or The Iron Yard chain, who closed a major investment from the University of Phoenix last year. Watch for independent coding programs to organize and unify in 2017 to compete with the major chains.

ACA won’t be the first or last coding school in Austin or elsewhere that gets halted by regulations. But they are the highest profile case in Austin that has shed light squarely on the burgeoning coding school industry.

#CodingSchoolRegulations

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Disclosures: New York Code + Design Academy sponsored The American Genius’ networking event, Big Ass Social Happy Hour in September. The Iron Yard is our event host for a developer event in December. And lastly, I spoke (unpaid) at an Austin Coding Academy member event in 2015.

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Airbnb has blocked 50K+ bookings for being too big during COVID-19

(NEWS) Airbnb has cancelled a huge number of reservations as a security precaution during COVID-19 in the past year or so.

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In the last year or so, Airbnb has purposefully prevented at least 50,000 people from making irresponsible reservations on their properties, in many cases blocking those people from the platform itself. This prevention, at least in theory, helped cut down on the number of COVID parties during the pandemic.

According to The Verge, Airbnb’s head of trust and safety communication, Ben Breit, acknowledged blocked reservations in several cities across the United States, including Dallas, San Diego, and New Orleans. Breit confirmed that this response was an attempt to prevent large gatherings and parties during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic during which many areas banned group activities involving more than a few people.

While some requests for reservations were simply denied or “redirected”, many users were blocked from using Airbnb entirely. Airbnb noted that the number of blocked requests outpaced the number of people who were blocked, signifying that some accounts attempted to make more than one reservation before being removed from the platform.
Airbnb reportedly stated that “Instituting a global ban on parties and events is in the best interest of public health” prior to enacting a total ban on rentals at the beginning of 2020, a decision that gave way to the blocks and redirections in the last 12 months.

The evaluation system used to flag problematic reservations is relatively simple, according to Breit: “If you are under the age of 25 and you don’t have a history of positive reviews, we will not allow you to book an entire home listing local to where you live.”

But Airbnb didn’t entirely remove multiple-body listings or large rentals. The Verge reports that flagged users with the aforementioned criteria were still able to book both small rentals in local locations and larger rentals in reasonably distant locations.

Regardless of the optics here, Airbnb’s policy efficacy can’t be ignored. Multiple cities reported comparatively “quiet” holiday seasons–something that may contribute to Airbnb’s decision to extend their policy through the end of this summer.

The hosting company is also offering increased security measures, such as noise detection and a 24-hour hotline, at a discounted rate to property owners.

As both the vaccine gap and the proliferation of the Delta variant of COVID-19 continue to contribute to outbreaks, one can reasonably expect Airbnb to hold to this policy.

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TL;DV summarizes video meetings so folks can catch up in quickly *with* context

(TECHNOLOGY) TL;DV makes catching up on video team meetings slightly more tolerable and easily digestable.

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2021 was the year of virtual meetings, and while there are some perks associated with remote collaboration (I’m looking at you, pair of work pants that I didn’t have to wear once this year), these meetings often feel exponentially more arduous than their dressed-up counterparts. TL;DV, a consolidation app for Google Meet, looks to give back a bit of your time.

TL;DV (an acronym for “Too Long; Didn’t View”) is a Google Chrome recording extension that helps users specify important sections of meetings for anyone who needs to view them asynchronously. Users can tag specific segments in Google Meet sessions, transcribe audio, and leave notes above tagged sections for timestamp purposes, and the subsequent file can be shared via a host of both Google and third-party apps.

While the extension is only available for Google Meet at the time of writing, the TL;DV team has included a link to a survey for Zoom and MS Teams users on their site, thus implying that the team is looking into expanding into those platforms in the future.

The mission behind TL;DV is, according to the website, to empower users to “control how we spend our precious time” in the interest of combatting FOMO and meeting fatigue. By dramatically shortening the amount of time one must spend perusing a meeting recording, they seem well on their way to doing so.

Of course, the issue of human oversight remains. It seems likely that meeting facilitators will drop the ball here and there while tagging sections of the recording, and employees who miss crucial information in a recorded session are sure to be frustrated in the process–just not as frustrated as they might be if they attended the entire meeting live.

The current (free) version of TL;DV is in Beta, so users will have a three-hour cap on their videos. The development team promises a professional version by the end of 2021, with the added bonus of leaving prior recordings available for free for anyone who used the Beta. This is certainly an extension to keep an eye on–whether or not you’re remaining remote in 2022, virtual conferencing is no doubt here to stay.

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Hiding from facial recognition is a booming business

(TECH NEWS) ‘Cloaking’ is the new way to hide your face. Companies are making big money designing cloaking apps that thwart your features by adding a layer of make up, clothing, blurring, and even transforming you into your favorite celebrity.

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Facial recognition companies and those who seek to thwart them are currently locked in a grand game of cat and mouse. Though it’s been relentlessly pursued by police, politicians, and technocrats alike, the increasing use of facial recognition technology in public spaces, workplaces, and housing complexes remains a widely unpopular phenomenon.

So it’s no surprise that there is big money to be made in the field of “cloaking,” or dodging facial recognition tech – particularly during COVID times while facial coverings are, literally, in fashion.

Take Fawkes, a cloaking app designed by researchers at the University of Chicago. It is named for Guy Fawkes, the 17th century English revolutionary whose likeness was popularized as a symbol of anonymity, and solidarity in V For Vendetta.

Fawkes works by subtly overlaying a celebrity’s facial information over your selfies at the pixel level. To your friends, the changes will go completely unnoticed, but to an artificial intelligence trying to identify your face, you’d theoretically look just like Beyonce.

Fawkes isn’t available to the general public yet, but if you’re looking for strategies to fly under the radar of facial recognition, don’t fret; it is just one example of the ways in which cloaking has entered the mainstream.

Other forms of cloaking have emerged in the forms of Tik Tok makeup trends, clothes that confuse recognition algorithms, tools that automatically blur identifying features on the face, and much more. Since effective facial recognition relies on having as much information about human faces as possible, cloaking enthusiasts like Ben Zhao, Professor of computer science at the University of Chicago and co-developer of Fawkes, hope to make facial recognition less effective against the rest of the population too. In an interview with The New York Times, Zhao asserts, “our [team’s] goal is to make Clearview [AI] go away.”

For the uninitiated, Clearview AI is a start-up that recently became infamous for scraping billions of public photos from the internet and privately using them to build the database for a law enforcement facial recognition tool.

The CEO of Clearview, Hoan Ton-That, claimed that the tool would only be improved by these workarounds and that in long run, cloaking is futile. If that sounds like supervillain talk, you might see why he’s earned himself a reputation similar to the likes of Martin Shkreli or Ajit Pai with his company’s uniquely aggressive approach to data harvesting.

It all feels like the beginning of a cyberpunk western: a story of man vs. machine. The deck is stacked, the rules are undecided, and the world is watching. But so far, you can rest assured that no algorithm has completely outsmarted our own eyeballs… yet.

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