Archive for March 30, 2012

Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco just increased the number of Ruby devs by 20

In the bay area, there are no shortage of hackathons, meetups, or coworking spaces for developers. One of the things that is lacking is a regular mentorship or teaching model that lets beginners learn the skills it takes to become a professional.

Most of the developers in Silicon Valley are self-taught and are already working at a company, so it’s hard to blame them for not being able to teach anyone and everyone who wants to achieve the same status. The folks at something called Dev Bootcamp want to change that by putting together eight week “courses” on how to become a pro at Ruby on Rails, in hopes of getting them junior positions within top tier companies.

It’s a brilliant model, which I’ll get into more later. First, I want to talk about what I saw when I visited the tiny office space on Market St. in downtown San Francisco.

The only thing I knew going in was that there was going to be twenty people there who had just gone through eight weeks — roughly 400+ hours — of intense technical training. These aren’t your everyday courses you’ll find in school though, the mentors who taught these folks have been doing this for years.

photo 27 520x388 Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco just increased the number of Ruby devs by 20

The “students” come from various backgrounds, some having never touched backend code before. The creator of the event, Shereef Bishay, built a company at age 21 and sold it to Microsoft before spending 4 years as a lead dev there. What Bishay did was build something with a sustainable, and unique, model that will fund itself for years to come.

Here’s how it works, and the cost for the program is $12,200 for students:

- Those who want to be a part of program send an application and Bishay interviews them over Skype to get a feel for how passionate, intelligent, and willing to learn they are. The first batch for Dev Bootcamp came from a pool of over 100 applications

- Bishay reached out to companies to participate in the learning sessions, as well as participate in a “speed dating” style series of interviews with all of the participants.

- If one of the companies hires a student as a junior developer, they pay Bishay a finders fee and he puts it back into the program and reimburses $5,000 of the tuition fee to the student.

It’s a pretty genius model if you ask me, and it seems to have attracted some pretty awesome companies that use Ruby on Rails as their platform of choice:

Dev Bootcamp Learn Ruby on Rails in 10 weeks. San Francisco Bay Area 1 520x231 Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco just increased the number of Ruby devs by 20

While I was at the office, I watched the fast and furious five-minute interviews happening, which the program uses as a way to see if the students are a fit for the work culture at the companies being represented. At the end of the five minutes, Bishay rings a bell and the companies move on to the next student. When all is said and done, all 20 students got to speak to 30 companies about possible openings for junior developers.

Even though the first eight week program was supposed to teach 400 hours worth of material, I was told by its four mentors that it turned out to be closer to 800 hours. Students stayed late into the night and on the weekends, soaking up as much knowledge as they could.

While listening to a member of Twitter’s engineering team speak with one of the students, he said that the hardest part about building a team is “finding people that you don’t mind spending a lot of time with”. The students got a taste of that during their “bootcamp”, so consider that another area that they were trained in.

photo 4 520x388 Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco just increased the number of Ruby devs by 20

While it’s no guarantee that all of the students will get jobs after their eight week training, they have certainly networked with some of the finest companies in the valley, which is not an easy thing to do at all.

When I asked Shereef Bishay how they chose to teach what they taught, he said:

In a CS program there’s about 10% of material that you’ll end up really using, so we decided to focus on that 10% for the entire eight weeks

Dev Bootcamp is already accepting applications for a June program that will last ten weeks, and the team tells me that it should be “200% more efficient” since they’ve learned quite a bit during the experience, themselves. For companies, this is a great way to get access to pre-screened junior talent, since some of the companies told me that they’ve gotten burned by hiring people who just weren’t ready to work at a startup yet.

I’m tempted to learn how to code, but I’m not sure if I have the intestinal fortitude that this group of twenty had. It was really impressive stuff, and nice to see a core of mentors start to expand in Silicon Valley.

VC Legend Ann Winblad Told Us This Great Bit Of Advice

Ann Winblad

Boonsri Dickinson, Business Insider

See Also

Jay Bregman

David Feinleib

Nikki Durkin


“To be a venture capitalist, you have to look at your glass half full.”

That’s good advice from Ann Winblad, partner at Hummer Winblad Venture Capital.

Winbald, is a legend in the software industry, and one of the first women entrepreneurs. She co-founded Open Systems, an accounting software that sold for $15 million.

“Being goal oriented and focused is a glass half full. You have to look at the positive and optimistic side,” Winblad said.

Sure, every VC wants to hear how the company will really build the product and how it can be a market leader. “Our job isn’t to predict the future, but it is to find the future. We have to think about what’s going to come next,” she said.

But what VCs are really investing are the people, she said. And not necessarily a big team. Some of her firm’s best investments were two person startups.

For instance, Hyperion was started by two men who never launched companies before. It sold to Oracle for $3.3 billion. Omniture was started by two guys in Salt Lake City, and was acquired by Adobe for $1.8 billion.

And when it comes to people, the most damaging thing they can do is to worry.

“Women in particular should hold this glass in front of them all the time,” she said and to focus on the positives by thinking about what is going right — not just what isn’t. “Otherwise, you’ll never march forward.”

So when you’re feeling down, remember her advice.

Will Hachette be the first big-6 publisher to drop DRM on e-books?

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DRM is just “a speedbump,” Hachette’s Maja Thomas said at a copyright conference this afternoon. However, opinion within Hachette is clearly divided.

DRM “doesn’t stop anyone from pirating,” Hachette SVP digital Thomas said in a publishing panel at Copyright Clearance Center’s OnCopyright 2012. “It just makes it more difficult, and anyone who wants a free copy of any of our books can go online now and get one.

SEE ALSO: What Book Publishers Should Learn From Harry Potter

“There’s a misconception that somehow the digital format of books has made piracy increase, or become logarithmically more serious. But piracy was always very easy to do, because scanning a physical copy of a book [takes] a matter of minutes. A physical book doesn’t have DRM on it.

“Coming from the audio business, where I started, we had DRM on our audiobooks when music had DRM on it, and as that changed, a lot of audio publishers started to drop the DRM on their audiobooks. We were one of the last ones to drop it, and I was asked to monitor the destruction of my business. The business was not destroyed. If anything, it became more robust.

“You could argue that taking the DRM off e-books would be in the benefit of consumers, and possibly even publishers, because then you wouldn’t have the device lock-in you have now.

“We saw that with Pottermore this week, [watermarking and] moving a file onto eight different platforms easily. [More about Harry Potter DRM here, here and here.] That’s certainly revolutionary.”

However, Thomas’s view does not align with that expressed by Hachette UK CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson in a letter to authors and agents this week. He wrote:

DRM (Digital Rights Management encryption, on which we insist) divides opinion. Our view is that the advantages greatly outweigh any perceived disadvantages. While DRM cannot prevent file-sharing by the most determined pirates it can and does act as a brake on the casual sharing of files and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, it works in the background without causing problems for anyone.


Mar 30, 2012 3:41 PM ET


Speed bump


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TNW interviews Internet policy visionary Susan Crawford

Susan Crawford is most often described as an “Internet policy visionary”, and you’d be hard-pressed to argue that title. Her CV includes the title of professor for Harvard’s Kennedy School, a visiting professor at Harvard Law, former professor at the University of Michigan Law School and a board member for ICANN among many other positions. But her true passion lies in trying to fix how we see the Internet.

I caught up with Susan for a brief chat in advance of her talk at TNW Conference 2012, where she gave me a bit of insight as to how she sees the Internet, and how she hopes the rest of us will see it as well. Crawford understands that the US has a “huge problem” with its Internet services; services that she describes as being “out of proportion with the rest of the world”.

“The United States is becoming a third-world nation when it comes to Internet access.”

In a point of history where US politics seems to be fighting off “big government” at every turn, Crawford says that it’s actually time for the government to play more of a role. She asserts that we absolutely must treat Internet access as we do any other utility.

“Electric services is a good parallel, it’s a basic commodity with infrastructure elements. Without government intervention, you have incredible gatekeepers that are set up. In the 1910s this happened with electricity, where it was regulated as to exactly what you could connect to the service.”

That’s almost exactly how it is for many of us in the US. Chances are, if you live in an area that isn’t considered to be strictly rural, you do have access to broadband Internet. But you probably only have one choice, and it’s likely a cable provider. By global standards, what we in the US consider to be broadband is arguable at best, and Crawford says that cable is “like selling a Toyota Corolla at Lexus prices”.

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Contrast that to Stockholm, Sweden, which boasts 4 LTE providers and dozens of options for fiber-to-the-home (FttH) providers. In many instances, according to Crawford, 1 GB fiber connections are being sold for as little as $15 per month — a stark contrast to the $70 that I pay each month for my own 30 Mbit connection.

Here in the US, we have only two examples of what can happen with municipal fiber projects. Google Fiber in Kansas City, as well as a true muni fiber option in Chattanooga, Tennessee stand out as testaments to how inexpensive the projects really can be. According to Crawford, Google’s Kansas City project is a prime scenario because we’ve all been able to see exactly what goes into making FttH a reality.

Crawford will be speaking at TNW Conference, with a focus on where we are today versus where we should be, and how education can overcome the stigma associated with government-related projects. We hope you’ll join us, as this visionary of Internet policy shares her valuable, educated insight.

Still need a ticket to TNW Conference? You can find them here

“Girls Around Me” Creeper App Just Might Get People To Pay Attention To Privacy Settings

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Cult of Mac has a great write-up of an app for iOS called Girls Around Me, which essentially displays the public check-ins and profiles of girls around you. With a little shift in context it could easily be confused for a hot new startup (discoverability meets speed dating!), but no, it really is just a way for guys to creep on nearby girls who have failed to lock down their info.

It’s sad, but maybe something like this is what people need to shock them into understanding just how much information they put online.

The app itself is pretty much straight-up stalker material, but the fact is it uses publicly available information — information that, really, is being deliberately broadcast. There is a larger debate to be had about the nature of privacy and how information like location and profiles should be handled, and many subtle points to be made. But right now it seems that things must be done in broad strokes, and it’s mainly broadly offensive things like this app that will bring attention to the issue.

It’s perfect fodder for evening news debates: “After the break, we talk with our tech experts about a new app that lets you track women in your area without their knowledge.” And that’s a good thing: the more exposure the problem gets, the better. Many of the people being tracked by this app, male and female, haven’t even considered the idea that their movements might be tracked systematically by a stranger.

For example: all these options in Foursquare default to on, which is really fine, since after all the service is about sharing your location. And linking it to your Facebook or Twitter account is a natural step for many. But at the same time it’s easy to fail to understand that one is providing a sort of path that strangers can follow from a face on the street to a name, other photos, current location, and a number of other things.

Girls Around Me is a shortcut for creeps, but it’s not like it had to do anything illegal or complicated to get this information. A handful of public APIs is all it took to put a faces on a map and link them to a trove of personal data.

Apps like this one are distasteful, sure, but they are also important ways to show how exposed many of our friends and peers are. An understanding of social media is not prerequisite to its use, and many are ignorant of the level to which their actions and data are public. With any luck, Girls Around Me and its ilk will convince these people to take their own privacy seriously.

Update: Foursquare has reached out to say that the app was in violation of their API policy, so they’ve revoked access. I feel safer already!

Why it’s wrong to call copyright infringement “theft”

By now, most of us have grown pretty used to hearing the word “theft” used to describe what happens when someone downloads a movie or a song that isn’t theirs, and certainly media and entertainment lobby groups make heavy use of such terms — as do people like News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch when talking about what Google News does with his newspaper content. But as Rutgers law professor Stuart Green describes in a New York Times opinion piece, this terminology is fundamentally flawed, since copyright infringement is a very different thing from theft of physical property.

Why does this matter? Because seeing it as theft makes it easier to accept ridiculous court decisions and/or unreasonable government legislation that vastly over-reaches what copyright is supposed to cover.

Green notes that the Justice Department is busy prosecuting a massive legal case against MegaUpload, the file-hosting and sharing site run by the colorful German hacker Kim Dotcom. But while the documents filed by the FBI and others for the indictment included enormous estimates of the amount of digital property allegedly “stolen” by the company — just as the record industry has in cases against Napster and other sites — it isn’t clear that MegaUpload has done anything different from what YouTube and others do. And whatever other things the company might be guilty of, theft isn’t among them.

Intellectual property is unlike any other kind of property

As with the Napster and Grokster and other similar cases, the argument made by the movie and music and software industries is that all of the files that are shared on such sites represent a theft of their property — their “intellectual property,” to use another term that is filled with contradictions and actually muddies the debate even further. Obviously, all of the people who downloaded movies and software from MegaUpload did so instead of buying a physical copy, and therefore it represents theft — just like walking into a movie store and taking a DVD. Except that it doesn’t represent anything of the kind, as Green notes:

If Cyber Bob illegally downloads Digital Joe’s song from the Internet, it’s crucial to recognize that, in most cases, Joe hasn’t lost anything. Yes, one might try to argue that people who use intellectual property without paying for it steal the money they would have owed had they bought it lawfully.

But there are two basic problems with this contention. First, we ordinarily can’t know whether the downloader would have paid the purchase price had he not misappropriated the property. Second, the argument assumes the conclusion that is being argued for — that it is theft.

As Green and others too numerous to mention have pointed out, downloading or copying something doesn’t represent the loss of anything tangible at all, which is what makes “intellectual property” such a misnomer. If I take your car or your coat, you no longer have them — that represents real theft. And even the argument that the content industries fall back on, which is that downloading or copying represents the loss of a potential sale, doesn’t hold water. As Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media has noted, many of those who copy his books likely would never have paid money for them in the first place.

This is about more than just legal terminology or semantics

But this is all just semantics, right? Not really. For one thing, seeing it as theft makes it easier to steamroll right over issues like “fair use,” which is an incredibly important principle and one that is unique to copyright law (there are distinctions around public use of land in property law, but that’s a topic for another day). In a nutshell, the principle of fair use allows both individuals and corporations to take copyright content and use it in various ways without being guilty of infringement — it’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card, and it was included in copyright law to make creative use of content legally defensible.

One of the problems with fair use, however, is that it is incredibly complicated and filled with grey areas: as I described in a recent GigaOM Pro report on Pinterest (sub. req.) it is a four-factor test in which judges try to assess the original intention of the work, the nature of the infringing use, the amount of the original that is used, and the effect on the market for the original. In some cases the courts have decided that Google should be allowed to use images in search, because thumbnails are seen as a “transformative use.” Exceptions are also often made for journalistic or educational purposes.

But seeing any form of copying or unauthorized use as theft makes it virtually impossible to justify any of these actions, and makes it easier to see them as a crime.

And so we have the Authors’ Guild fighting for years to prevent Google from copying books so that they can be easily found, because the group argues that the simple act of copying them — even if only small portions of those books ever see the light of day — amounts to theft. And YouTube gets a takedown notice when a user’s video happens to have a song playing faintly on a radio in the background while her son dances. And laws like SOPA and PIPA and too many others to mention are drafted to prevent the widespread “theft” that is allegedly stealing billions from intellectual property holders.

And all the while, content industries deliberately ignore the fact that the intended purpose of copyright law is to promote innovation and creativity, not to smother it. Are there real issues around how creators get compensated for their work, and how we can accomplish that most effectively in an era of unlimited copying? Sure there are. But using terms like “theft” and “piracy” doesn’t get us any closer to solving those very real issues in any meaningful sense — it pushes us further away.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr users David Goehring and Seth Anderson

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Foursquare shuts down location API access to creepy Girls Around Me app

As first covered by Cult of Mac, Girls Around Me is an incredibly creepy app that allows anyone to locate nearby girls based on public Foursquare checkins and public Facebook data. Now the app has been officially banned by Foursquare in response to its dangerous potential.

Laura Covington, a Foursquare spokeswoman, told the NY Times:

This is a violation of our API policy, so we’ve reached out to the developer and shut off their API access.

What’s particularly interesting about this app is that it isn’t doing anything but accessing data that is already given away by users. The thing is, these girls more than likely never wanted any such information to be accessible at all, but never realized how much they are putting themselves at risk.

girlsaroundme22 520x390 Foursquare shuts down location API access to creepy Girls Around Me appPrivacy buffs can say what they want, as can Facebook and Foursquare staff, but the reality is, many users don’t understand what they’re revealing and popular platforms can do more to help. The developers behind Girls Around Me should be held responsible for this app, but my real concern is the platforms that power it.

The official description, from the app’s creators:

This foursquare-based tool helps you SEE WHERE NEARBY GIRLS ARE CHECKING IN, and shows you what they look like and how to get in touch! You can also search for guys or see who’s hanging out at a particular place.

The app is so easy to use: search for girls or guys, browse the map and press scan to begin scanning the area for recent check-ins! See where people are spending this evening. Look at the photo and decide whether to seek out someone new at a nearby venue or play it cool by showing your interest via Facebook!

Screen Shot 2012 03 30 at 6.08.07 PM Foursquare shuts down location API access to creepy Girls Around Me appAs the Bits Blog notes, “the app was built by a company called SMS Services O.o.o., which is based in Russia.” So far it is still accessible via the App Store, but that likely won’t last for long. It’s noteworthy that the app does allow girls to find nearby guys, but that’s clearly not its main function.

Foursquare, Facebook and other services all add up to paint a surprisingly detailed picture of users. Could this make you reconsider all the data you share online?

Final Facebook auction values the firm at $104 billion

Folks, this is a big number. It has been reported by SharesPost that the last auction of Facebook shares on the secondary market has been completed. According to sources, the final share price of $44.10 values Facebook at roughly $104 billion. That’s quite a pile.

Facebook intends to raise $5 billion in a public offering of its shares later this year. Earlier today, Facebook’s co-founder exercised stock options worth around $4.8 billion.

According to SharesPost, this truly is the last private Facebook auction: “Barring something entirely unexpected, this will be our final auction of the shares of Facebook.” Some 1,100 ‘institutions and individuals’ took part in the various sales of Facebook stock on SharePost’s private market.

Via SharesPost’s own reporting, at today’s final share price, some $425,000,000 of Facebook stock moved through its auction process, or less than half of one percent of all stock that exists. The board is set, the pieces are moving, and it’s IPO time. Get excited.

Groupon restates earnings after finding “weakness” in accounting controls

Groupon was forced to restate earnings results for its first quarter as a public company after discovering “material weakness” in its accounting controls, it said late Friday, forcing us to wonder if they used a Groupon for accounting services.

Of course, it was actually the august accounting firm of Ernst Young that discovered the “material weakness” in Groupon’s accounting policies, and they probably don’t run half-off sales. Groupon said it understated operating expenses during its fourth quarter, turning a reported operating income of $15 million into an operating loss of $15 million. The company now says it recorded a net loss of $65.4 million instead of the $42.7 million net loss it reported in February.

The company told AllThingsD that it saw a greater-than-expected return rate on high-end Groupons involving things like Lasik eye surgery, which is probably another thing that one shouldn’t purchase at a discount. Groupon said it isn’t changing its guidance for the current quarter, which is a good thing, but investors weren’t pleased with the news: the company’s stock fell 6.7 percent in after-hours trading. It doesn’t help that this isn’t the first time Groupon’s accounting policies have been called into question, following its decision to use a head-scratching accounting metric called “adjusted consolidated segment operating income” as a primary selling point for its IPO.

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Groupon’s Profit In 2011 Was Actually $22.6 Million Less Than They Previously Said

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Daily deals site Groupon today issued a pretty significant revision of the financial results it previously reported for the fourth quarter and the full year of 2011.

According to the company, it actually made $14.3 million less in revenue during the fourth quarter of 2011 than it previously reported — $492.2 million, compared to the previously stated $506.5 million. It also spent more in operating expenses than it previously said it did — resulting in its Q4 operating income and net income being $30 million and $22.6 million less, respectively, than the company initially said it was.

How did this mixup occur? Groupon said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the revisions “are primarily related to an increase to the Company’s refund reserve accrual to reflect a shift in the Company’s fourth quarter deal mix and higher price point offers, which have higher refund rates.” (Full disclosure: I’m not sure what that means.)

Not surprisingly, Wall Street was none too happy about the news. Groupon issued the revision on Friday afternoon after trading stopped for the week, but at the moment (2:45 PM Pacific Time) the company’s stock price is down 6.4 percent in after-hours trading. The company’s stock price as of market close today was $18.38, which was already well below the $20 share price of its initial public offering back in October.

Groupon’s accounting practices have raised many eyebrows in the tech and business worlds, particularly in the run-up to its stock market debut last fall, so this is not a completely unexpected situation. Going forward, though, the company vows that it has its financial house in order. Groupon’s CFO Jason Child said in a press release today: “We remain confident in the fundamentals of our business, as our performance continues to highlight the value that we provide to customers and merchants.”


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