Study Shows Tech Workers are Still Willing to Work For Big Companies Despite Scandals

Lack of diversity, discrimination, and pay gaps have been ongoing topics in the tech industry, and major spotlights have been put on big companies like Facebook and Google.

Despite data and privacy scandals, being called out for its dismal diversity by a former manager, Facebook’s time in the news has not stopped people from wanting to work with there.

According to a report by Indeed, 59 percent of tech workers aren’t discouraged by the scandals in the tech industry and are still willing to work for companies embroiled in scandals, Forbes reported.

In fact, 34 percent of Indeed’s 1000 respondents said that scandals make the industry more interesting. This can possibly be attributed to workers who want to solve big tech issues from the inside. It could also mean that the time, money and training it takes to enter the field are more important to some workers than staying away from a company experiencing controversy.

According to the study, men don’t mind working for scandal ridden companies, because they believe they can solve issues from the inside. But 33 percent of people surveyed were less interested in working for companies mired in controversy.

So, tech workers aren’t turning a blind eye to scandals within Facebook, Amazon, and Google — they are just choosing their battles. For respondents who worked at companies that have been impacted by scandals, 74 percent of people said that they did not consider leaving their jobs because of the negative press.

On the plus side, recent tech scandals have made workers more open to reporting misconduct in the workplace. According to the report, nearly 50 percent of workers are more willing to report issues and 79 percent are willing to stay at their jobs if their companies are more transparent about mistakes.

Indeed’s report comes as The House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Consumer Protection Subcommittee holds a hearing on the tech industry’s diversity and inclusion problem. It is unclear if the report looked at responses from underrepresented groups. AfroTech has reached out to Indeed for the full report.

Microsoft Says Hackers Have Been Targeting Think Tanks Ahead of European Elections

Microsoft announced it is increasing its cybersecurity for think tanks in the U.S. and abroad, ahead of the European Parliament elections.

The company said that it has detected attacks against employees of the German Council on Foreign Relations, The Aspen Institutes in Europe, and The German Marshall Fund through its Threat Intelligence Center and Digital Crimes Unit.

“We believe the work of organizations like The German Marshall Fund and its Alliance for Securing Democracy are an essential part of efforts to secure democracies against those who seek to undermine it,” Microsoft Customer Security & Trust Vice President Tom Burt said in a blog post. “Many organizations essential to democracy do not have the resources or expertise to defend themselves against cyberattacks.”

The cyber attack targeted more than 100 accounts across Europe between September and December 2018. Microsoft said its ongoing investigation leads it to believe that Strontium, a Russian-linked hacker group, carried out the attack.

As a response to the hacks, Microsoft is expanding its cybersecurity service AccountGuard, which is part of its Defending Democracy Program, to 12 more European countries. France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovakia, and Spain will now have access to Microsoft AccountGuard.

Tech companies across industries are preparing for more election interference efforts as poll dates near. Earlier this month, YouTube announced that it would no longer suggest conspiracy theory videos in an effort to curb the spread of misinformation.

Microsoft said tech companies “have a responsibility to help” to protect governments against cyber attacks and election interference. As more companies work to combat this worldwide issue, companies like Facebook are trying to clean up messes caused in previous elections.

 

Visually Impaired Children are Learning to Code with This New Tool From Microsoft

Microsoft wants to help blind and visually impaired students break down barriers to coding with its physical programming language.

Code Jumper was developed out of Project Torina, a system that helps visually impaired and blind kids ages 7 to 11 develop coding skills. The physical programming language consists of large, bright colored blocks that allow students to create music, tell stories and more.

Microsoft is partnering with American Printing House for the Blind (APH), a nonprofit based in Louisville, Kentucky. APH creates and distributes products and services for people who are blind or with low vision. According to Microsoft,  APH will provide the Code Jumper technology to students across the world over the next several years.

“It became really clear that, for a 7- or 8-year-old, it was going to be really hard to use assistive technology to code,” Cecily Morrison, a Microsoft researcher and computer scientist, said in a blog post. “We realized we really need something physical, something that would excite the hands.”

APH is planning to launch the technologies in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and India later this year. The technology is expected to expand worldwide within the next five years.

Microsoft Commits $500 Million For Affordable Housing In Seattle

In an effort to offset the impact the company has had on Seattle’s housing market, Microsoft has pledged $500 million to help build middle and low-income housing in the area, according to the New York Times. 

Host cities for big tech companies have seen their housing markets shift, with many residents being pushed out when they can no longer afford rent and other expenses. Amazon, which is also headquartered in Seattle, recently received backlash from Washington, D.C. and New York City residents after announcing that it is building its joint headquarters in the cities.

According to a report by Zillow, although incomes in some of America’s more expensive housing markets are typically higher than other cities, they have not been able to keep up with housing costs — this puts renters in a bind and increases the risk of homelessness.

New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle are some of the priciest housing markets in the country. People in these areas who typically spend 32 percent of their income on rent can expect a more rapid increase in their chances of homelessness.

Tech companies like Amazon and Salesforce have created initiatives to address the rising homelessness rates in their respective cities, while other companies have gone as far as to build homes for their employees. In November, Airbnb announced its donation of $5 million to help San Francisco’s homeless population after residents voted to implement a “homelessness tax” on big businesses housed in the city.

Microsoft’s $500 million pledge will be split into grants, loans and building projects for Seattle. The company is lending $225 million at subsidized rates to build and repair existing middle-income housing and $250 million to low-income housing. The rest of the money will be used as grants for organizations targeting homelessness in the area.

 

Civil Rights Groups Want To Stop Big Tech From Selling Facial Recognition Software To the Government

Facial recognition technology is the latest tool that big tech is racing to perfect and a coalition of 85 civil rights organizations are trying to stop the country’s largest tech companies from selling it to the government.

The groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, Muslim Justice League, Color of Change and the National Immigration Law Center, sent letters today to Google, Microsoft and Amazon urging the companies to not sell their facial recognition technologies to the government.

“History has clearly taught us that the government will exploit technologies like face surveillance to target communities of color, religious minorities, and immigrants,” said Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties director for the ACLU of California, in a press release. “We are at a crossroads with face surveillance, and the choices made by these companies now will determine whether the next generation will have to fear being tracked by the government for attending a protest, going to their place of worship, or simply living their lives.”

In January of last year, Google said it “fixed” a flaw in its facial recognition algorithm that misidentified black people as gorillas by blocking the terms “gorilla,” “chimp,” “chimpanzee,” and “monkey.”

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai outlined the tech giant’s AI principles in a blog,  saying the company wanted to avoid creating and reinforcing unfair biases, aimed to be socially beneficial,  and wanted to avoid injury to people.

In a December interview with the Washington Post, Pichai called fears about artificial intelligence legitimate. Google received backlash from its employees last year after the company worked with the Department of Defense to provide AI that could identify buildings and car tags. The company said that it would not sell its facial recognition technology until its dangers were addressed.

“Google has a responsibility to follow its AI principles,” the coalition said in its letter to the company. “Selling a face surveillance product that could be used by the government will never be consistent with these Principles.”

In a December blog post, Microsoft President Brad Smith highlighted some of the opportunities and issues that come with facial recognition technologies.

“Especially in its current state of development, certain uses of facial recognition technology increase the risk of decisions and, more generally, outcomes that are biased and, in some cases, in violation of laws prohibiting discrimination,” Smith said.

Smith also noted that facial recognition technologies bring new intrusions to people’s privacy and the use of AI by governments “can encroach on democratic freedoms.”

In June, more than 100 Microsoft employees protested the company’s working with ICE after the agency was separating children from their parents at the Southwest border. Microsoft’s employees wrote a letter calling for the end of a $19.4 million contract with the agency.

“As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from,
we refuse to be complicit,” the employees said. “We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognize the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm.”

The coalition commended Microsoft for addressing the issues with facial recognition technology and its work with ICE, but called for more action.

“The dangers of face surveillance can only be fully addressed by stopping its use by governments,” the coalition said in its letter to Microsoft. “This technology provides the government with an unprecedented ability to track who we are, where we go, what we do, and who we know.”

Amazon currently sells its Rekognition product to the American government and has worked law enforcement agencies in the past. The ACLU, along with various other civil rights organizations, sent another letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in May highlighting their concerns over the use of Rekognition on vulnerable communities, protestors and immigrants.

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government. Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom,” the coalition said in its May letter. “In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it.”

Amazon has also pushed for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to use Rekognition, a move that the coalition called “a threat to the safety of community members.”

In September, seven members of Congress sent letters to the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after the ACLU tested Amazon’s face surveillance technology on members of Congress against 25,000 mugshots, which resulted in 28 false matches.  Of those lawmakers mistakenly identified, 39 percent were people of color, including Representatives John Lewis (D-GA), Lacy Clay (D-MO) and Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL).

In Amazon blog post, the company explains that the ACLU’s test was conducted on an 80 percent confidence level, which has a 5 percent misidentification rate. When the test was replicated with a confidence level of 99 percent, the false positive results dropped to zero.

“In real-world public safety and law enforcement scenarios, Amazon Rekognition is almost exclusively used to help narrow the field and allow humans to expeditiously review and consider options using their judgment (and not to make fully autonomous decisions),” said Dr. Matt Wood in the post.

Large tech companies have come under fire throughout 2018 for their roles in endangering people of color and other minority groups using facial recognition and 2019 is looking to be the same as civil rights groups continue to highlight issues and technologies that could negatively impact minorities.

UPDATE:

Days after the coalition sent its letter to Amazon, the company’s shareholders filed a resolution prohibiting the sale of facial recognition products to governments and law enforcement unless it is determined that “the technology does not cause or contribute to actual or potential violations of civil and human rights” under an independent evaluation.

This version also notes that the ACLU’s settings during the facial recognition test of congress members negatively impacted results.

Microsoft Calls for New AI Laws to Prevent Bias

Microsoft announced it’s adopting a set of facial recognition principles and is calling for new laws that regulate artificial intelligence software to prevent bias.

In a company blog post, Microsoft’s president Brad Smith outlined risks and potential for abuse associated with facial recognition technology. This included citing issues relating to privacy, democratic freedoms, and discrimination.

“Governments and the tech sector both play a vital role in ensuring that facial recognition technology creates broad societal benefits while curbing the risk of abuse,” said Smith.

As the issues with young technology become clearer, “we need to tackle the initial questions now and learn as we go,” he added.

Microsoft believes legislation can better influence the outcomes of facial recognition testing for accuracy and unfair bias. The company calls for laws requiring testing services to provide documentation clearly explaining the limitations of the software and for companies to start third-party testing.

“We readily recognize that we don’t yet have all the answers. Given the early stage of facial recognition technology, we don’t even know all the questions,” said Smith. “But we believe that taking a principled approach will provide valuable experience that will enable us to learn faster.”

Microsoft Releases Latest Diversity Figures, Shows Modest Improvements

Microsoft’s latest diversity numbers show modest gains in the representation of Black and Latinx employees in technical roles in the last year.

The representation of the groups has significantly improved since the company started releasing employee data four years ago. Black employees increased from 3.8 percent to 4 percent of Microsoft’s workforce while Latinx employees increased from 5.5 percent to 5.7 percent between 2017 and 2018. In the last four years, Black and Latinx employees have increased by 33 percent.

Women make up 28 percent of employees at Microsoft overall, up from 27 percent last year. There are also more women in technical roles at the company at 19.9 percent up from 18.5 percent a year ago. Women overall are also improving in leadership positions, at 19.7 percent up from 18.8 percent in 2017.

“We are starting to see the seeds of the fruit that have been laid over the course of the last four years,” said Microsoft’s chief diversity officer Lindsay-Rae McIntyre to Fortune. “We are encouraged by our progress, but we’re super clear that we’re closer to the beginning of this journey than the end.”

The tech giant is reportedly testing several new strategies to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace, with a focus on hiring and retaining women and people of color. McIntyre told Bloomberg that Microsoft has made inclusion a “core priority” for employees with a new initiative that ties inclusion efforts into their compensation package.

“That means employees and managers will have ongoing conversations throughout the year on how every individual at Microsoft can contribute to making us more diverse and more inclusive,” McIntyre explained.

To take advantage of the financial benefit, employees may participate in an employee resource group, attend an inclusion training, or teach at one of the pipeline organizations Microsoft supports, according to Bloomberg.

We are closer to the beginning of this journey than the end,” McIntyre said to GeekWire.

How Microsoft Is Tackling The Diversity Issues In Tech

Photo: Courtesy of Microsoft

Diversity and inclusion can be buzzwords in the tech world. That’s why it’s so important when brands invest in underrepresented communities and remain committed to centering diverse perspectives through every level of their business. One company that has been dedicated to diversity is Microsoft.

Founded in 1975 and publicly traded since 1986, Microsoft has long demonstrated an interest in increasing diversity in the industry it arguably transformed. For example, it established its first black employee resource group in 1989 making it the first and longest lasting diversity constituency at Microsoft. Beyond nurturing diverse talent among its ranks, Microsoft continues to cultivate new talent in the pipeline as well as in business.

Through partnerships with organizations such as Black Girls Code and Technology Access Foundation Microsoft is tackling intractable pipeline issues through education strategies and early exposure to tech. It helped Black Girls Code bring its 14th chapter to the U.S. with a program in Seattle, introducing technology and computer science to young black girls. Microsoft has partnered with TAF for a while now (the organization was founded by a former Microsoft leader) but this time it is investing in STEMbyTAF, which brings successful interdisciplinary STEM education strategies to schools to help equip students of color for success in college and in life.

“Last year, only five percent of AP Computer Science test takers were African-American and only one-quarter were young women,” Microsoft shared in the statement announcing their partnerships. Regardless of age, race or class, providing access to computer science and tech is incredibly important. Corporate investments and initiatives like the one listed above bring our community one step closer to improving the pipeline diversity issues in tech.

At the business side of the tech spectrum, we here at Blavity know and love Backstage Capital — founded by the remarkable Arlan Hamilton. If you don’t know the VC fund, it invests in new companies that are led by underrepresented founders in the U.S. (and now London). Microsoft for Startups joined forces with Backstage as well as Black & Brown Founders, which provides community, education and access to black and Latinx entrepreneurs. Together the three are working to provide opportunities for diverse startups identified by Backstage Capital and Black & Brown Founders.

In a statement announcing the partnership, Microsoft for Startups notes that less than 10 percent of all VC deals go to women, people of color and LGBT founders. It went on to announce that through the partnership, Microsoft would become a premier tech and business partner of Backstage Capital’s new accelerator program, that it would sponsor Black & Brown Founders’ Project NorthStar conference in Philly, and that it would offer the benefits Microsoft for Startups offers to eligible startup members of the organization. This includes thousands in free Azure credits, tech support and more resources that matter (and add up quickly).

But perhaps more importantly, Microsoft offers ongoing training and mentorship to underrepresented entrepreneurs as they figure out how to conquer the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur. There are even 1:1 office hours for entrepreneurs to chat with Microsoft experts in order to get the mentorship and troubleshooting advice they would need.

Companies like Microsoft clearly understand the business case for diversity – that diversity fuels innovation and that diverse founding teams regularly outperform the market average. Which is why these impactful investments in diversity mean so much. Through investments that reach students of color and empower diverse startups, Microsoft is helping to make tech more diverse and more impactful.

Will you be joining us in SF for AfroTech this year? You can find out more about these initiatives and other Microsoft opportunities by stopping by the Microsoft booth at AfroTech 2018. Can’t make AfroTech? Learn more about Microsoft opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs here.

 

This post is sponsored by Microsoft.

Damian Lillard Honors Paul Allen With Custom Sneaker

Portland Trailblazers guard Damian Lillard wore a pair of custom Adidas in honor of Paul Allen, the late Microsoft co-founder and owner of the Trailblazers, during the team’s home opener against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.

The Trailblazers also honored Allen with an empty courtside seat during Thursday’s season opener. Roses were also placed outside of the Moda Center as another tribute to the tech icon.

Allen died on Monday at 65 from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was known for his love of sports and his investments in technology companies. Allen also had ownership in the Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Sounders FC, a Major League Soccer team.  Allen leaves behind a $26 billion estate.

 

Cloud Developer Advocate Jasmine Greenaway On Career Advancement and Making .NET the Best Dev Platform

It didn’t take long for Jasmine Greenaway to realize she wanted to reach developers who used Microsoft’s technical stack.  

At the time, she was working as a software engineer at web-based hosting service GitHub, focused on its extension for Microsoft Visual Studio. Greenaway found herself constantly discussing her now employer’s tech stack, a combination of software products and programming languages used in the development and deployment of a digital product.

“What I ended up realizing is there was a need,” says Greenaway, who began attending conferences and explaining VS at length. “It made me want to speak more to those folks, at least at booths, and it started to make me realize I had a voice in general, so I started doing more talks. Most of my skills or responsibilities lie within fixing bugs, doing features; being a software developer, I started to realize that I should go out more and speak more. That led me to Microsoft.”

As a Cloud Developer Advocate at Microsoft, Greenaway is focused on the .NET software framework. “I show the .NET devs the interesting ways that they can use the cloud, specifically Azure, and am a voice for them,” she shares. “Be a fly on the wall for them for feedback; for product teams who are working on Azure and, just community, to be someone who can be there to answer questions.”

She began her tenure at the popular tech company in August 2017 and hit the ground running, speaking at conferences, hosting workshops, writing and editing tutorial content, meeting with the product team to develop a continuous feedback loop and collaborating with team members, to name a few things. Greenaway has also made herself accessible to the masses, providing insight on all-things web development. In addition to teaching beginner web development at  LaGuardia Community College and co-organizing popular Brooklyn-based meetup, BrooklynJS, she carves out time to talk open source, Azure and .NET on Twitter. You’ll find her creating Twitter lists and reading through articles that come across her timeline in-between her daily to-dos.

Social media essentially sparked her nearly 10-year career in the space.

“My first exposure to tech was at a very young age when AOL was still around,” she shares. “I remember getting my first computer, and I would play around on a site called Geocities to make my own sites, and then that eventually evolved into making custom templates on LiveJournal and Myspace. I was like a mad scientist, taking things out, putting things in and seeing what happens.”

Part Myspace tinkering, part meteorology (yes, she had plans of becoming a meteorologist), it all led Greenaway to her current career choice.

“When I started taking more CS [computer science] classes, I realized that I didn’t know what I wanted to do, specifically, I had like a bunch of ideas. Thankfully, my first internship really solidified my career in working with the web.”

Now at Microsoft, she’s invested in furthering her skills.

“Microsoft has a lot of learning resources. They have an internal site you can go to. You say, I want to do machine learning and they have all these resources, all these things set up for you to do that,” says Greenaway. “They also provide boot camps for us, and they provide speaker training, which is really nice. I also know I can reach out to another Cloud Developer Advocate for information because we all love to help each other out. We all are always talking to each other.”

She values greatly the support of her colleagues and upper management.  

“It’s really comforting to know there are people here that want to help you invest in your career, and are invested in your career.”