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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All in the Family

postedby on January2nd,2011 tagged personal

For about five years now, a favorite pastime for me and my cousins is to play Mafia:

Mafia ([…] also known as Werewolf, Assassin or Witch Hunt) is a party game created in USSR modeling a battle between an informed minority and an uninformed majority. Players are secretly assigned roles: either “mafia”, who know each other; or “townspeople”, who know only the number of mafia amongst them. In the game’s “night” phase the mafia covertly ‘murder’ a townsperson. During the day phase, all of the surviving players debate the identities of the mafia and vote to eliminate a suspect. Play continues until all of the mafia have been eliminated, or until the mafia outnumber the townspeople. A typical game starts with seven townspeople and two mafioso.

It’s essentially a game of logic and deception, and as my little cousins have gotten older (and wickedly smart), the game has gotten more and more fun. I think we logged about eight hours of it over the last few days.

Relatedly, I took a 360-degree panorama of us playing in my grandmother’s living room. I used an app for my Android device called Photoaf. It does a serviceable job of creating panoramas on the go. To put this up online, though, I re-stitched the photos using Photoshop and output the panorama using Pano2VR:

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Sparring Redux

Mark’s out of town, so he has a friend subbing in on instruction. We sparred for a few rounds at the end of today’s session. She says I’m way snappier than I was than a year ago when she last did a few rounds with me. My progress feels really slow and my gradual improvements are hard to notice. So it was really nice to hear.

I took a video of one round just to see, and I agree. You can click through to previous posts to see videos of me from early 2010. I was even slower and more off-balance, then.

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What is Google.org?

A lot of people ask me what Google.org is, given it’s hybrid for-profit/not-for-profit structure. My personal take on it is that while Google has adopted the motto “Don’t be evil,” then the mission of Google.org is to actively do good.

The reality, however, is much more complicated. I highly recommend this piece from the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “Do No Evil”. The article is a detailed look at the six-year trajectory of Google.org, highlighting its transition from a grant-making institution to a engineering-driven, distributed organization within Google. The article also highlights the incredible difficulty that faces the young organization as it attempts to tackle global problems that others have wrestled with for decades, with questionable results.

I’m proud to be a part of Google.org, in large part due to the scope of its ambitions. However, this piece is a healthy reminder for everyone attempting to do social good to approach their work with humility.

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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



postedby on April15th,2010 tagged personal

For those interested in my very common Vietnamese last name, Jess pointed out that Wikipedia has an awesome article on the subject. It includes audio of both Northern and Southern pronunciations of the name, as well as some explanations as to why it’s so common. E.g.:

In Vietnamese history, many events contributed to the name’s prominence. In 1232, after usurping the Lý DynastyTran Thu Do forced the descendants of the Lý to change their surname to Nguyen. When Ho Quý Ly overturned the Tran Dynasty, he killed many of their descendants so when the Ho Dynasty collapsed in 1407, many of his descendants changed their surname to Nguyen in fear of retribution. In 1592, on the collapse of the Mac Dynasty, their descendants changed their surname to Nguyen and L?u. When the Nguyen Dynasty (the descendants of the Nguyen Lords) took power in 1802, some of the descendants of the Trinh Lords fearing retribution changed their surname to Nguyen, while others fled north into China. The Nguyen Dynasty awarded many people the surname Nguyen during their rule, and many criminals also changed their surname to Nguyen to avoid prosecution. As with all other common surnames, most people having this surname are not necessarily related.
That little bit about the Tran Dynasty (1225 to 1400 A.D) is of particular interest to me; I’m directly descended from them, on my mother’s side.

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Haiti Interview, Raw Footage

Samasource just got a bunch of HD footage that Ushahidi took for us in Mirebalais while we were over there. It will be a while before we edit it down into something presentable to the public, but here’s a short segment of me, talking about our work there and my own motivations for joining Samasource.

We also recently put up interviews with a couple workers in Mirebalais. Here’s a small excerpt from Richard’s powerful account:

Frednel: How do you feel about doing SMS translations to help survivors of the earthquake?

Richard Pierre: Sometimes, I feel very sad when I translate a tragic message; for example, there was a message that said that there was a person who was still alive under rubble. Sometimes, it’s a baby who is under the rubble, or sometimes it’s a 6 year old child. My heart tears up when I hear these sorts of messages, but I oblige myself to stay strong and make the translations because life is not really easy. Life is difficult, know that anything can happen in life. Life has its ups and downs; this means that a person should be strong and have a lot of courage to resist difficulties in life. Life puts up great fights. In order to live, you have to be a good soldier; when you fall, you have to get up.

I translate the survivors’ messages at the best of my ability in order to understand what they desire to say. This is nearly all I can offer them in assistant. After that, I couldn’t do anything else because I don’t have other opportunities to help them.

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Things I’ve Made

I’m going to begin a little exercise, which is to occasionally post things that I’ve created. They may be images from my archives, designs I’ve done, or little objects I’ve hacked together, but the hope is to slowly build a little portfolio that I look back on. I’d like to remind myself every so often that I know how to push things across the border from the dreamt to the real.

Let’s start off lightweight with an image I quickly Photoshopped. Below is my new-dad friend Amos with his little one, Emerson, Photoshopped as a submission to the blog Babies With Laser Eyes.

Emerson and Amos, on babieswithlasereyes.com

Okay, complete change of direction. Strangely enough, while looking at the above image, I realized it echoes a pencil drawing I made in high school:

"Reaper", Pencil drawing by Eric Nguyen

This was made back in my comic-book-drawing days. I know this is a bit of a creepy juxtaposition with the laser eyes thing, but just so you know, the drawing was not meant to be morbid. The idea rattling around in my young mind at the time was that death is something that we learn to fear, and that there might be something joyful in unlearning that fear.

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