The “Talent War” Revisited

What Silicon Valley companies are doing the best job of attracting talent? This turns out to be a complicated question, not to mention great fodder for bored designers to try to answer visually.

Recently an infographic started making the rounds, showing the ratios of employees moving between six top tech companies. This was published on the blog of a social job referral service called Top Prospect, generated using two years of their data. The story they told was one of small, up-and-coming companies poaching talent from more established companies.

A designer (Gene Lu) took issue with the fact that all the flow arrows were given equal weight, masking some important relationships. He did a nice redesign adapting the original to paint a clearer picture. The flow lines scaled to volume do a much better job of visually showing who the winners and losers in the “talent war” are.

However, there’s a more fundamental problem with the data underlying both these interpretations. Here’s a hypothetical to highlight the issue: Let’s say we have two equally-awesome companies looking to hire as fast as possible. They have the same low turnover rates of 1% per year. However, one company is much larger than the other. Company A has 10,000 people and Company B has 1,000. After a year, 10 people will have moved from B to A, but 100 people will have moved from A to B. So, even with everything being equal, the natural movement of people in the workforce automatically gives the smaller company a 10x ratio of hires.

This makes some intuitive sense. Even a large company that’s doing well will have a huge number of employees leaving in any given year. Having some of those people end up at a smaller company isn’t all that surprising.

So, I decided to run the numbers again, but this time scaling all the ratios according to the number of employees at each company. You can see the calculations on this spreadsheet. The resulting graphic is below.

This is a much different picture. Microsoft, with its huge employee base (almost 90k), is actually retaining its people quite well. It may seem to a small company like LinkedIn that tens or hundreds of ex-Microsofters showing up is a big trend, but to the Microsoft leviathan that’s a drop in the bucket. Scaling the ratios by company size shows in fact that there are a disproportionate number of LinkedIn employees actually leaving for Microsoft.

Otherwise, the scaled ratios are all relatively small. Google, Facebook, and Apple are at close to parity. The only other big story here is a sad one, and that’s the hemorrhaging of talent that Yahoo is undergoing.

Now, there are a lot of potential issues with this visualization as well. Is a linear scaling the correct way to adjust for company size? What about the base data itself? This data comes from Top Prospect’s small, proprietary sample. Fast Company has noted that the data might be skewed since it’s a Facebook-seeded referral service.

For these reasons and many others that I haven’t anticipated, I actually generated the infographic you see above with a tool I cobbled together using standards-compliant HTML, CSS, and JS. It’s up now. You can it to try out a different model or assumption, and generate new infographics.

For example, it was easy to pull Microsoft out and see the results right away. Enjoy!

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postedby on July19th,2011 tagged art, coding, personal

I had in my head the idea that animated moire patterns would be beautiful, and I hadn’t messed with the Canvas element, yet, so I made this thing on a couple flights, last weekend. You’ll need a modern browser to see it, but I’ve included a screenshot below in case you’re not using one.

Click through, and refresh to see new, random permutations.

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Two weeks ago, I decided to spend fifteen minutes with nothing but a text editor, letting out a string of thoughts that had been knotted in my mind for months. I was amazed by how much crap came out onto the screen. As I wrote — no edits — the page got ever messier, but ideas began to crystallize in my head. At fifteen minutes, I stopped. Nice: I’d gained a bit of insight.

And then the text editor crashed. But you know what? All the juicy insights remained. It was the process of writing (not the writing itself) that had cleared my mind.

A couple nights later, I joked with friends that someone should create a text editor that crashed every so often as a feature. After a bit of refinement of the idea and some JQuery that night, the idea became “ephemawrite.” A little video of it is below, or you can try it yourself.

Note: The quote in the video is from James Gleick in an interview about his book, “he Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood.”

Also: You can also browse the source (all 50 lines of it) on GitHub. Thanks to Kasima for some suggestions on the interaction design.

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Samasource.org -> Google.org

Leaving Samasource.org

The Samasource.org team and I said our goodbyes Wednesday night, after a long evening of well-wishing and reminiscing (and strong drinks). We had a lot to celebrate about. I joined when Samasource was just Leila and two other insanely-devoted people working out of a conference room. Nine short months later, the organization has more potential than at any moment in its history. Every month, Samasource has brought in larger and larger contracts to bring ever-increasing numbers of people out of poverty in South Asia, East Africa, and Haiti. The young organization is proving its model.

The team has grown substantially, and fortunately I leave Samasource in very capable hands. David Yoon assumes technology leadership as the new VP of Engineering, after years of experience building sites like Donorschoose.org. Noah Bradach is the new VP of Sales, closing deals left and right. Chelsea Seale continues to wrangle order out of the chaos of their operations. That’s just a few of our amazing staff. The office is full of dedicated people like Caitlin, Luke, Rebecca, Joon-Mo, Kala, Marcia, Pamela, Tanya, and so many others before them who pour their heart and soul into the organization. And, of course, there’s Leila Janah, who continues to lead with immeasurable grit and intelligence.

The decision to leave Samasource was very difficult. The short of it is that I’ve found an opportunity to work on another problem of enormous scope. If you’re interested in this project, read on.

A prototype of Earth Engine shown almost a year ago at COP15Google Earth Engine

The world is slowly getting serious about putting a dollar value on greenhouse gas emissions reductions.* One of the mechanisms for mitigating climate change that gained substantial traction in Copenhagen last year was REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). REDD is based on a simple fact: the world’s forests represent a massive carbon sink, sequestering huge amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. How much carbon? It’s estimated that the the amount of forest the world loses every year results in more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world’s cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships combined. Clearly that the world’s forests represent an enormous value, even if we only consider the value of the carbon they sequester.

The major challenge to the REDD mechanism is verification: How can we know that our actions are actually preserving forest and reducing CO2 emissions? Monumental sums of money are at stake in answering this question properly, as the world must reduce CO2 levels at the lowest possible cost. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of uncertainty about the effectiveness of forest preservation efforts. For example, legislation that protects forests in one region may simply push logging activity somewhere else. What’s needed is a global forest monitoring solution. Until we have this, only token investments will be made in REDD. Today, we see nations pledging a few billion here or there for forest preservation, but the market should theoretically support orders of magnitude more than this.

My new employer, Google (and more specifically, Google.org), is aiming to provide exactly this with Google Earth Engine. The product will serve as a central clearinghouse for all available satellite data and earth surface monitoring algorithms. It will be a place for scientists and policy makers to answer big questions at global scale, and to prove that their methods are best. If our small team succeeds, we will enable these forest preservation markets at a scale we have all only hoped for until now.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Earth Engine team half-time for a few months, now, but next week I will transition over completely. I’ll be returning to my roots in frontend engineering. This means designing and building the web applications that people will need to access and understand the vast stores of data that Google Earth Engine will be making public.

Wish me luck!

More great articles about Google Earth Engine:

* How much are our coastal cities worth? Stability for hundreds of millions of climate refugees? The avoidance of massive water shortages and resource wars? Economists, scientiests, and policy makers are having trouble wrestling with a problem at the scale we are currently facing.

One algorithm for analyzing satellite data

One algorithm for analyzing satellite data


Wrong Forum

postedby on May5th,2010 tagged coding, humor

Some guy made the mistake of writing an email titled “Wanted: Recommendations of best Indian or Phillippines ROR consumer web app developers” to a Rails developer list I’m on.

Best response so far: “I’ve been working with some Na’vi developers. You don’t have to pay cause they don’t understand money, and they really get the whole cloud computing idea.”

A more considered email exchange followed, but this was the best part.

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How to use Basecamp for Agile Development

“Agile” software development is something I have used in limited forms for a number years. Agile has always made sense to me: it puts control in the hands of developers, reduces conflicts in an organization, and is eminently practical for small organizations.

Now that I’m at Samasource.org, I’ve had a chance to implement an Agile development process for an organization that really needs it (we’re small, growing fast, and with many competing priorities.)

Below are some brief thoughts on Agile, but the real point of this post is to explain how we’re using Basecamp to conduct an Agile development process. Enjoy!

Basecamp is an awesome project management tool that Samsource uses to implement an Agile development process

Read the rest of this entry »

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Zoomable Panoramas

A few months ago, I helped my friend Erik Walker get his company’s portfolio site up and running: Binzen&Walker Photography. Binzen&Walker create beautiful panoramic photographs that, in contrast to mechanized techniques (e.g. GigaPan) are hand-shot and hand-stitched for artistic effect.

It’s a basic and relatively clean WordPress site, based on an existing theme. Aside from a bunch of CSS changes, my contribution was mashing up a couple WordPress plugins to create a nice interface for exploring examples of their panoramic photographs. Showcasing such huge images online is difficult because of very limited resolution of computer displays. In real life, a print of one of Binzen&Walker’s prints could easily cover twelve feet of a gallery wall. Online, a zooming and panning interface was needed.

To get this working, I did a simple combination of two existing plugins: Flexible Lightbox and YD-Zoomify. I’m calling it Flexible Zoomify. You can see a screenshot below or click on the images in this portfolio gallery to try it out.

binzenwalker image


Prototype Form Extensions

postedby on September4th,2009 tagged coding

I’ve been puzzled for some time as to why Prototype doesn’t allow us to set and get values from checkboxes and radio buttons. I finally needed this functionality at work and, with none of this obvious bit of functionality in the 1.6.1 release, I wrote my own extensions.

You can find them on GitHub. I added a bit of example code that you can check out here, too.

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Processing Sketch: Colorful Boids

Here’s a little sketch I made using Processing. It’s based on a standard flocking program that Benjamin and Mary F. were playing around with; I added a second flock, some randomness in their coloring, and the concept of “weight.” Heavier boids move slower, turn slower, beat their wings slower and are more pudgy in shape. I also gave them all trails, using a simple transparent rectangle placed between frames (a very computationally cheap way to do this.)

Below is a screenshot of the Processing sketch. Click to load the applet in your browser window and see it in motion. That link also has the source code for the sketch.

Picture 1

Note: Apologies for those who got spam in their RSS readers from this entry. After some WordPress upgrades and removal of some suspicious files and users, I’m hoping that I have the spam kicked.


Wireframe as Marketing

Re: My last post on the benefits of mocking up UIs, here is a great example of a low-fi mockup actually being used as the final marketing for a product:

The major features of Google Reader are covered in about a minute, all with cute pasted paper cutouts and without once saying “RSS.” Obviously, this is a a polished video, but you could imagine that some version of these paper cutouts could have been used very early on to validate the concept of Google Reader with test users.

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