This Week in Modern Software logoWelcome back to This Week in Modern Software, or TWiMS, our weekly breakdown and analysis of the need-to-know news, stories, and events of interest surrounding the software and analytics industries. This week, we begin with a look at the people pulling the technology strings behind this year’s presidential election campaigns.

 

TWiMS Top Story:
Meet the 20 Tech Insiders Defining the 2016 Campaign—Wired

What it’s about: Against a backdrop of an unpredictable 2016 presidential campaign, Wired examines the outsized role Silicon Valley now plays in the political process, with the November election likely to set a new bar for that influence. Since Barack Obama tapped the power of data and social media to turbocharge his campaign in 2008, just about everyone else in American politics has followed suit. “Since then, every politician has learned what every startup knows in its bones: You live and die by software,” writes Michael Hainey. Because of that and other factors, tech companies and their executives have become major forces in the political system. The Wired staff has ranked the 20 most powerful political players in the tech universe, with themes underpinning them all: data, software, communications reach, and more.

Why you should care: If you think it’s just a list of Silicon Valley’s richest and most famous, think again: Yes, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg made the list (#2), as did Google’s Eric Schmidt (#1). But most of the power players here are far from household names, especially outside of the political arena. Rather, they’re techies who connected the dots between technology innovation and the political machine. Take 29-year-old Justin McConney, who comes in at #3. McConney didn’t found a unicorn startup. His modest claim to fame? He introduced Donald Trump to social media. Today, Trump counts more than 5 million Twitter followers alone (more than Hillary Clinton) and receives massive online attention for his, uh, colorful thoughts. Aidan King and David Frederick? Not exactly venture-backed software entrepreneurs, either. King works at a winery in Vermont, and Frederick works at Crate & Barrel. But they’re on the list at #6 because they’re “two dudes who started a Reddit forum for [Bernie] Sanders in 2013” that helped the candidate nearly erase Hillary Clinton’s lead in the New Hampshire polls as well as raise significant donations and mobilize volunteers. The latter includes a group of Reddit readers who built Sanders a website promoting his positions, free of charge. The whole list is worth checking out, and underscores the literally democratic power of software and the Web.

 

What the Interview Process Is Like at Google, Apple, Amazon, and Other Tech CompaniesFast Company

job interview: this week in modern softwareWhat it’s about: This time of year the Web abounds with advice and lists on nabbing the best jobs in tech, from data scientist to software engineer to mobile developer. But what does it take to land one of these positions? Quite a lot, it turns out, in spite of the notorious war for top technical talent. Top tech employers, in particular, are not in a hurry to send out offer letters, according to a Fast Company piece based on data from Glassdoor, GetVoIP, and others. “Unfortunately, even that level of demand isn’t making the time to hire a qualified candidate any shorter. For those about to embark on a search, expect it to take a long time,” writes Lydia Dishman. “In fact, the average interview process now takes 23 days, up from 13 days four years ago.” And that’s just the average: Software engineers have it the worst, with an average interview duration of 35 days in spite of their highly sought-after skills.

Why you should care: If you’re on the market, expect to be there a little while. The hiring picture is still rosy, but Fast Company’s story reminds us that even modern software pros don’t necessarily have carte blanche with potential employers. To make it in, you need to navigate phone screens, coding tests, online assessments, and of course on-site interviews—if you get that far. All of these things take timeweeks in the case of many tech employers. Interestingly, there’s not necessarily a relationship between the length of the interview process and the candidate’s satisfaction with that process. While Uber and Yahoo had among the shortest interview duration (two weeks), according to a GetVoIP analysis of the software engineer hiring process at 13 major tech companies, they ranked relatively low in terms of their candidates’ perceived interview experience. Among other findings: Twitter ranked lowest in interview experience, with just 35% reporting a positive experience. Google’s well-publicized interview hurdles bore out in a measure of perceived interview difficulty: The company topped that list, followed by Uber, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook. 

Further reading:

 

Tech’s ‘Frightful 5’ Will Dominate Digital Life for Foreseeable FutureThe New York Times

What it’s about: Farhad Manjoo examines just how powerful technology’s Powers That Be—namely, Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and a resurgent Microsoft—have been during the last decade and counting, and why no one’s likely to unseat any member of this “Frightful 5” in the near future. Identifying tech’s oligarchy doesn’t exactly require deep investigative reporting, but the concentration of power in these five companies is something many consumers probably don’t give much thought to, even as they fuel that very power. As Manjoo notes, these five companies have built their businesses in such a way that even other massively successful tech firms depend heavily on them—Netflix’s well-publicized use of Amazon’s cloud platform is a prime example. Even the tin-foil hat crowd is hard-pressed to unplug itself from the reach of all five companies. “These platforms are inescapable; you may opt out of one or two of them, but together, they form a gilded mesh blanketing the entire economy,” Manjoo writes.

Why you should care: The real issue is that there doesn’t appear to be any looming threat to this group’s dominance. That’s noteworthy in an industry that treats the word “disruption” with religious reverence, and one with a long history of supposed superpowers (think IBM or HP) losing out to newer upstarts. So while Silicon Valley denizens might like to play the “Who’s losing” game —Manjoo describes the cocktail party game of picking which of the five will drop off the Mount Rushmore of tech first—it’s a silly exercise. The answer is: None of the above. Will that always be true? Not necessarily, as Manjoo and others point out. In a recent op-ed piece for Re/code, Accenture’s Managing Director for Digital Strategy Bruno Berthon lists his three myths of the digital economy, one of which is that “the online giants will continue to dominate the digital economy.” At the moment, though, that statement would appear equally safe on a list of “Facts About the Digital Economy”—or simply, “Facts About the Economy.”

Further reading:

 

App Annie 2015: Google Play Saw 100% More Downloads Than the iOS App Store, but Apple Generated 75% More RevenueVentureBeat

What it’s about: Who’s king of the app economy, Google or Apple? It depends on how you keep score. By total downloads, Google Play is, frankly, kicking the Apple App Store’s you-know-what. Google delivered twice as many app downloads in 2015 as Apple, according to App Annie’s latest annual report, and the gap between the two appears to be growing. But iOS developers aren’t necessarily licking their wounds: VentureBeat notes that, in spite of Google Play beating out Apple in terms of app downloads, the latter—and developers in turn—earns far more revenue from its store, a whopping 75% more in 2015. As with total downloads, the dollar gap also appears to be growing, up 5% from the previous year. “Once again we have proof that Google Play is bigger than Apple’s App Store. And once again we’re learning that iOS developers, and thus Apple with its cut, tend to make more than Android developers and Google,” writes VentureBeat’s Emil Protalinksi.

app downloads: this week in modern softwareWhy you should care: In a sense, this is just a reaffirmation of what mobile developers already knew: Google’s Android offers the greatest global reach, thanks in large part to its much greater device market share. Apple’s iOS, on the other hand, is where the deeper pockets live: iPhone and iPad users have always been more inclined to spend money on their apps than Android users. Their geographies also differ. Android’s download growth is a global story, with emerging markets like Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey, and Mexico driving Google Play. Apple’s revenue growth was strongest in the United States, Japan, and China. (App Annie’s report expects China to overtake the U.S. and Japan in terms of iOS revenue during 2016.) While the reality is that, except in some very specific use cases, your apps need to be on both platforms, the business models on the two platforms could be very different. If global eyeballs—and advertising—are your goal, you might want to think Android first. But for direct app sales, iOS still rules.

Further reading: 

 

Businesses Look at New Analytics Methods for 2016TechTarget

What it’s about: If it seems like your business has only scratched the surface of what’s possible with data analytics, you’re not alone. TechTarget’s Ed Burns looks at the 2016 goals of various organizations looking to harness more value from their data. The general theme: Companies that have established a good handle on basic analytics are now, in effect, getting greedy; they want more advanced methods for mining, analyzing, and acting on their information troves. At marketing and PR firm M Booth Associates, for example, Chief Analytics Officer Jeff Bodzewski says he’s already leveraged audience analytics to get the right message to the right customer. This year, Bodzewski wants to ensure that message is delivered at precisely the right time and place, too, relying more heavily on geolocation and other mobile data.

Why you should care: While terms like “analytics” might already seem established by tech industry standards, we’re still just getting started. The limits of what’s possible are continuously being tested and redrawn, and data-driven organizations have plenty of opportunities to get an edge on the competition. Natural-language processing and machine learning may still be in their relative infancy, for example, but that’s not stopping Nationwide Insurance Chief Data Officer Wes Hunt. Burns reports that Hunt’s team will invest more heavily in the cognitive computing methods for data analytics for automating and streamlining certain internal processes as well as elements of the customer experience. Hunt’s not giving up the details on how they’re doing that, of course, but suffice it to say your competition is already cooking up new ways to maximize their data in 2016 and beyond. Are you?

 

Microsoft Is Donating $1B in Cloud Services for ‘Public Good’eWeek

cloud ladder: this week in modern softwareWhat it’s about: Last week, CEO Satya Nadella snagged a personal invite from the First Lady to the State of the Union in recognition of Microsoft’s efforts in technology education. This week, Redmond makes news with a $1 billion commitment of cloud computing resources to 70,000 nonprofits and NGOs as well as 900 university research facilities globally over the next three years. The initiative is part of Microsoft’s recently launched philanthropic division, Microsoft Philanthropies, which intends to expand technology and information access in communities and regions where it is most lacking. This first major commitment under the Microsoft Philanthropies banner underlines the “public” in public cloud. As both Nadella and Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith noted in separate blog posts, unlocking the full power of modern technology depends upon empowering widespread access and education, not just in tech centers, but in communities of all shapes and sizes around the world.

Why you should care: The enormous potential of cloud computing—and especially public cloud resources—should not be limited to the financial and technical elite. Microsoft’s commitment is a welcome recognition of that, and one that will hopefully inspire similar initiatives among the big names in tech. Smith notes in his blog post that in spite of the public cloud’s massive growth in recent years, “it is not yet benefitting everyone.” And everyone is indeed Microsoft’s goal: “Cloud computing has emerged as a vital resource for addressing the world’s problems,” Smith writes. “Cloud services can unlock the secrets held by data in ways that create new insights and lead to breakthroughs, not just for science and technology, but for addressing the full range of economic and social challenges and the delivery of better human services.” Hear, hear!

Further reading:

 

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Job interview, apps, and cloud ladder images courtesy of Shutterstock.com.

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a wide variety of publications and companies. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his InformationWeek story, “Are You Too Old for IT?” He’s also a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards. View posts by .

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