Hand Wringing In The IT Space Needs Company By Company Analysis

Today’s mixed report that the US labor market added more than a quarter million jobs but had unemployment rise should indicate that some sectors will maintain historical demand, while others will suffer downsizing driven by market conditions. In my view, the 18 month long stint for easy debt financing environment is the real culprit for specific types of layoffs. These layoffs involve companies that overestimated demand peaks lasting well into next year (or needed demand to extend that far into the future) and over hired to avoid an opportunity cost in a historically hot consumer market.

IT professionals should be as cautious as any other group about their respective sector and subsectors strength. But, no more nervous than other groups and, perhaps, a bit more optimistic even.

Despite the recent push for RTO, my suspicion is that everyone whose worth a decent salary still has leverage in their own way provided that they know the inner workings of their industry.

Analyzing Value Internally

Whose going to churn that data into a workable language model?

Whose going to automate those Jira tickets?

These tasks will certainly not fall on the 250k Data Scientist whose position may be more questionable than the 70 to130k professional quietly providing value in a mostly low-key way.

For instance, those individuals that work on products that involve business to business transactions, like Salesforce, could be in a better position than any product that is discretionary, like a Peloton bike or a website linked to travel. For some, it would be tempting to bucket an iPhone purchase in the discretionary category, but this purchase is on par with a house or car payment, which makes for a mutually reinforcing relationship between Apple and Samsung with all sorts of Telecom providers. In other words, those employees are fine since they basically work for a utility indirectly.

We have reason to be calm when we note where the layoffs are taking place. Remember, the IT sector, which is enormous, intersects with many industries but suffers from too much of an obsession with FAANG and FAANG-like companies. This skews our reasoning. Start-ups, like publicly traded companies, are very much subject to debt market conditions dictated by high or low fed interest rates.

How I Think About Companies? After Step 1, Add 1 For Max Risk Score Of 6 For Layoffs:

Amazon Layoffs

In a non-exhaustive way, I think we can look at the most recent high profile layoffs with a grain of salt. With regards to Amazon, both IT services and deliveries had extreme usage entirely linked to discretionary funds made available through WFH. The same holds for all FAANG entities.

Meta Hiring Freeze

Meta is currently caught up in what amounts to investor fraud over usage numbers. Metaverse offerings have flopped because the market/social conditions no longer favor remote activities which also makes for even lower tolerance for the brittle technologies underlying them. In context, whereas Meta was once aligned with corporate ambitions to know everything about consumers, now they’re not aligned with a corporate pushback on remote work. We’re regressing back to 2019, essentially. Put another way, Meta’s ambition to have everyone stuck on a home-based VR set doesn’t advance corporate interests like its invasive advertising did a decade ago.

Never Profitable Start-Ups

As for Lyft, Uber and Twitter, they were all suffering from years of debt financed growth with no real clarity on future revenue or profitability. If anything, Twitter investors were basically subsidized by the recent Elon Musk purchase. Put another way, those positions were subsidized by investors who could not cash out. Now they have and those individuals must be let go from someone whose recovering acquiring an overprized asset.

Golden Parachutes

An overvalued C-Suite presence is always a fixture in start-ups, big and small. In 2 of those 3 companies, their C-Suite was constantly sued over sociopathic behavior. Wage theft. Liability. You name it, they got sued over it.

The business case for Lyft, Uber – despite their ubiquity – is weak since neither has ever accomplished the scale of user adoption needed to justify the investor expense. Therefore, in a financing environment that is levels more expensive than just a few months ago, these two entities would logically need to cut expenses just to service existing debt. The same applies for dozens of over-leveraged publicly traded companies. Too many IT companies are financed on the promise, not evidence, of profitability. Their visibility is just function of funny money too.

My point is specifics matter. Look under the hood because no one is going to do it for you. Personally, I’m tired of companies acting broke when they’re not and rich when they’re in debt.

Wearables, Speech Recognition & Musk: How Intel’s Loss Could Be Tesla Gain

Despite the famously late arrival to mobile computing, Intel did make certain strides before many others in the space of wearables in Mid-2013 and onwards. Much of it may have to do with the company’s strategic diversification which took place in mid-2013.

Hundreds of Millions Poured Into Research & Development

Intel invested at the very least 100 million dollars alone into the capital expenditures and personnel for their now defunct ‘New Devices Group’, an experimental branch of Intel charged with creating speech and AI enabled devices.

While many high-profile people were hired, developments took place and acquisitions made, investors were either not aware or not too pleased with the slow roll to market for any of these expenditures.

These capital intensive moves into different technology spaces were possibly done as a proactive measure to not miss the ‘next big thing’ as they had with not providing the chipset for the Apple I-Phone. At the time, Brian Krzanich was newly appointed as Intel’s CEO to permit the company to transition from these failures – rightly or wrongly – attributed to the prior CEO, Paul S. Otellini.

Why Did Intel Invest In Wearables?

Once Krzanich became CEO of Intel in May 2013, he quickly moved to diversify Intel’s capabilities in non-chip related activities. Nonetheless, these efforts were still an attempts to amplify the relevance of the company’s chipsets. The company’s participation within the various places in which computing would become more ubiquitous: home automation, wearables and mobile devices with specialized, speech-enabled features. The logic was that the computing demands would naturally lead to an increased appetite for powerful chipsets.

This uncharacteristic foray into the realm of ‘cognitive computing’ led to several research groups, academics and smaller start-ups being organized under the banner of the ‘New Devices Group’ (NDG). Personally, I was employed in this organization and find that the expertise and technology from NDG may regain relevance in today’s business climate.

Elon Musk’s Tweet: Indicative Of New Trends?

Elon Musk’s tweet on wearables.

For instance, Elon Musk recently tweeted a request for engineers experienced in wearable technologies to apply for his Neuralink company. On the surface, this may mean only researchers who have worked on Brain Machine Interfaces, but as Neuralink and competitors bore down on some of the core concepts surrounding wearables, subject matter experts in other fields may be required as well.

Human/AI Symbiosis

When we consider what Musk is discussion, it would be fair to ask what constitutes ‘Human’?

Without much pedantic overviews, I would assume that linguistics has somethin to do with describing humanity – specifically, the uniqueness of the human mind.

As corporate curiosity is better able to package more variant and sophisticated chunks of the human experience, those experiences yielded primarily through text and speech are best described by Computational Linguistics and already fairly well understood from a consumer product perspective. It’s fair to say that finding the points of contact between neurons (literal ones, not the metaphors from Machine Learning) firing under some mental state and some UI is the appreciable high-level goal for any venture into ‘Human-AI’ symbiosis.

Thorough descriptions of illocutionary meaning, temporal chain of events, negation and various linguistic cues both in text and speech could have a consistent neural representations that are captured routinely in brain imaging studies. Unclear, however, is how these semantic properties of language would surface in electrodes meant for consumer applications.

Radical Thinkers Needed

The need for either linking existing technology or expanding available products so that they exploit these very intrusive wearables (a separate moral point to consider) likely calls for lots of people to be employed in this exploratory phase. Since it’s exploratory, the best individuals may not be the usual checklist based academics or industry researchers found in these corners. If the Pfizer-BioNTech development is any indication, sometimes it’s the researchers who are not standard that are most innovative.