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  • feedwordpress 00:32:03 on 2015/12/09 Permalink
    Tags: Anna-Chiara Bellini, Technology,   

    Digital Nomad. Toptal Team Lead. Female Engineer. 


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    “Let’s put it this way. I don’t judge a male engineer based on whether he wears a suit or jeans. That’s just silly. So why should girls have to ‘blend in’ with the guys in these tech jobs? I want to show people, yes, okay, I’m a girl. I wear makeup and I like shoes and bags and nice clothes, but I’m also a computer scientist and I have a brain.”

    Anna-Chiara Bellini talks with me via Skype. It’s about 10:00 pm in London, where she’ll spend a couple more weeks before she hops over to Brazil for an extended stay. Her job at Toptal, an entirely distributed tech company, allows her to work from anywhere in the world, provided she has a reliable internet connection at all times.

    As a female software engineer, Anna-Chiara says she’s constantly aware of the critical lack of women in her industry. In fact, you could call her an expert on the subject—she was a featured speaker at this year’s GirlDevWeek in San Francisco. But through her work and her passion for helping people improve their lives, she hopes to serve as an example for girls not to fear engineering jobs.

    “I actually started programming when I was eight years old. Honestly, looking back, I don’t want to brag, but it was a little impressive—I was an eight year old girl, in Italy! That was unheard of back then. And not exactly common today.”

    So begins the story of Anna-Chiara’s lifelong love affair with computers. As a female programmer with limited access to the Promised Land that is Silicon Valley, her journey has been circuitous at best. But now, as a Director of Engineering at Toptal, she says she is able to look back and relish each moment that led her to where she is now.

    “If you had told me ten years ago that I’d have the job at Toptal and the life I do now, I would have said you were crazy. But here I am. I’ve been very lucky.”

    Part of this luck, she says, comes from being raised in a household that fostered a love for math and science.

    “My mom was a math teacher and my dad knew some programming, so I learned to love mathematics and other sciences early on. They bought a Commodore 64 computerfor my brother, actuallywhen I was very young, so computers have been in my life for as long as I can remember.”

    What began as a household hobby developed into a more concrete passion thanks to computer programming courses offered in high school, and while as a teenager Anna-Chiara always preferred hard mathematics, she quickly realized it was through programming and development that her career could really go places.

    “In college, I realized that studying math couldn’t take me anywhere unless I wanted to be in academia, which I didn’t, so I studied computer engineering.”

    Compared to Silicon Valley, the career path for a computer engineer is much less clear-cut in Europe. Anna-Chiara has experienced this phenomenon firsthand, ever since she started taking tech consulting jobs while working on her college degree.

    “My university experience is a little bit unconventional, because I started working in tech jobs while studying. That drew out the process, but I worked lots of jobs, big ones, small ones, I’ve seen a little bit of everything. It had its ups and downs.”

    Upon finishing her degree, Anna-Chiara came to a crossroads, one that she knew would have a profound impact not only on her career but on her personal life as well.

    “I could have gone to the States, but that would have meant quitting everything, home, my family, et cetera. It was tough. I did interviews with big tech companies, but I just wasn’t sure I wanted to leave my life behind and take everything to America. In the meantime, I thought to myself, ‘Okay, I’ll go back and get my Ph.D.’ I’d always wanted to do that, and this was a good time.”

    So she turned her back on Silicon Valley and set out to get her Ph.D. and find more work as a tech consultant. She knew she would have to be flexible in her work demands, but there was one stipulation she had in her job hunt.

    “I really hate the corporate culture. I never liked having to punch the clock, didn’t like being told when I had to take my holidays and for how long. I am not a company girl.”

    It was this outlook that led Anna-Chiara to pursue a freelance career. She enjoyed the flexibility of the work, but the inconsistency of the freelance services she used meant unsteady income, which put her Ph.D. work at risk. Luckily for her, it was in the midst of this struggle that Toptal entered her life, by sheer happenstance.

    “I had seen on Business Insider where this company called Toptal had been banned from advertising on LinkedIn for posting ads that LinkedIn called ‘sexist’ because Toptal had a pretty girl in a picture for an advertisement about hiring freelance engineers. Toptal’s CEO [Taso Du Val] had written a blog post on their website defending the ads, saying they were not sexist, and that in fact LinkedIn was being sexist by assuming that a pretty girl can’t be a software engineer. And I thought to myself, this is me. An engineer, a woman, I want to do this! So I applied to Toptal, and a few weeks later they asked me to join their core team. I never finished my Ph.D., but since I joined Toptal, I’ve never felt the need to.”

    That Anna-Chiara felt a kinship with Toptal’s outlook on female engineers seemed serendipitous in the moment, but looking back, she believes it was fate that brought her to a company that felt as strongly about this workplace crisis as she does.

    “Toptal is still mostly men, but I know that the company is thinking properly. I’ve never experienced sexism in the workplace. Within my team, there’s been nothing but respect and consideration from day one. It’s very comforting knowing we’re all on the same page. We care for each other, and we do good work. Gender just doesn’t enter into the equation.”

    For Anna-Chiara, the crisis of sexism in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) industries and the dearth of female engineers across the globe is a long way from being solved, but she is encouraged by the progress she sees.

    “There’s a famous study concerning girls in industries involving math and sciences. Basically, a group of women were all given the same programming test. Half were told to write their own names on the test, and the other half were told to write men’s names on the tests. Generally speaking, girls performed better if they used a fake name than if they took the test in their own names. It’s like they were disconnecting themselves from the implicit expectation that girls don’t do well in those fields. So there’s clearly an implicit bias against girls, but there is also self-bias among girls, and that is obviously very harmful. But there is progress. The first female winner of the Fields Medal was recently announced, and there are other encouraging examples.”

    Anna-Chiara is quick to point out that she is lucky regarding how little sexism she personally has experienced in her working career, but she is also incredibly passionate about serving as an example that women have no reason to fear the STEM industries. And she’s done a pretty good job so far. Just to list a few accomplishments from her many years of experience in a great variety of tech companies, she has worked on and developed numerous innovative programs (a swarm intelligence-based algorithm to optimize road traffic flow, a 3D drone flight simulator and an algorithm to plan and control the flight of a drone, to name a few), spoken about issues facing female engineers at tech conferences in Silicon Valley (including as a featured speaker at DeveloperWeek 2014), and continues to regularly turn down job offers from the giants of the tech world.

    “I want to show girls that they don’t have to be afraid! I’m an example of a kid who had a shitty teenage experience. I was bullied. I was made fun of for being not cool. But I’m now a rockstar! I travel the world and am a Director of Engineering at Toptal, a great tech company. A lot of kids, especially girls, struggle with thinking, ‘I’m not cool enough, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not funny enough,’ but you can grow! I love being an example of that for girls.”

    Anna-Chiara’s role at Toptalaccording to her own playful business card, it’s “Everything Is Awesome Engineer”allows her every opportunity to help others improve themselves and their conditions. Working on the company’s core team, she hand-picks members of Toptal’s network of engineers to take on software development projects with Toptal’s clients.

    “Every day I realize how much I love my job, how proud I am. People say, ‘Why aren’t you working in hard tech anymore? You’ll get left behind.’ Well, this job is better. I am leveraging my very diverse background so I can speak on equal terms with many different kinds of peopleCEOs of large companies, very young entrepreneurs and developers, et ceteraand understand their requirements on so many levels, be it architecture, image recognition, hardware integration, standard web development, whatever. It’s a very technical job that requires very strong skills to do it right. And while I’m doing all that, I am getting more skilled at things I wouldn’t be learning if I were just developing, soft skills and people skills which make me a much better engineer every day. This is the best job I’ve ever had. I feel good doing this job. In Europe, there is a startup scene growing, but it’s still no Silicon Valley. And all the way over here, trying to get access to the States is like looking at the Earth from spaceyou only see the giants, the Facebooks and Googles. You don’t have access to that very fertile startup culture. Toptal gives amazingly smart developers from all over the world access to those luxuries.”

    Anna-Chiara got to see the quantifiable social good this newfound access was creating for Toptal employees while traveling in the Balkans with coworkers.

    “I went to Sarajevo. I have colleagues in that area of course, but being there in person, it was crazy. There are cars there that are at least 30 years old, cars you aren’t even allowed to drive in the rest of Europe anymore. The buildings that were bombed out from years of war, the shells of those buildings are still sitting there. The cost of living there, though, is such that most people, even smart, successful people, can’t afford the things we take for granted. A smart, educated person in Sarajevo would have to use two months’ pay to buy an iPhone. That’s crazy. And it made me realize that Toptal is really changing these developers’ lives. Because they get paid what they deserve. They’re incredibly smart, well-educated, speaking perfect English, and now they have the life they deserve.”

    Anna-Chiara says she loves seeing her passion for promoting social and economic growth played out every day in her job, and she considers it a gift to be able to travel the world and meet up with her coworkers, who share similar goals and outlooks on life.

    “I’ll always remember when I first started screening new applicants to Toptal, I suddenly realized, wow, I really feel like I’m part of a team! It was a weird feeling at first. But I really, really care about these people, about the company. It’s weird, because, yes, we don’t have an office, and most of the people I care about, I’ve never seen in real person in my life. But it’s still an incredibly close bunch. You have friends all over the world, it’s amazing.”

    Of course, every new phase of life comes with its growing pains and adjustments, but Anna-Chiara says it’s all a part of the experience she loves and craves.
    “Yes, it’s a different life. I’m still figuring it out a little bit. It’s a lot of new good things, but at the same time, you need to figure out a few things that aren’t evident. When I’m home for six weeks, I start itching, like, can I go? And that feels a little weird. The balance, though, is totally positive. I have best friends all over the world, doing real good for people in their communities. And I’m even a people person now! I never thought that was going to happen. But here I am.”

     
  • feedwordpress 19:13:40 on 2015/12/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , NSA, Patriot Act, , , Technology, , , USA Freedom Act   

    Abuse of Power Always Starts with Something that Sounds Reasonable 


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    One of the most common arguments made by those who promote obtuse domestic spying and reduced individual privacy for American citizens is that if we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to worry about. There are plenty of people in Washington DC who espouse these concepts, who believe that the NSA and law enforcement should be given free rein on their activities in order to keep us safe.

    At what point do the freedoms that we enjoy as Americans get pushed aside for the common good of fighting evils such as terrorism or mass shootings? How much does America have to change in order to deal with the challenges of modern society?

    Perhaps the question we should really be asking is whether the measures that have already been put into place are the result of a changing world or are they working to expand the very challenges they were intended to solve. As with most things that happen in American politics, this question does not have a black and white answer. On the surface, it would appear that the solutions are attacking the effect, but if we dig deeper we will find that they are actually part of the cause.

    In the future, we’ll discuss how gun control has the exact opposite effect from what the liberals say. For now, let’s examine domestic spying and see if Washington DC is part of the solution or part of the problem.

    Truly Fighting Terrorism

    One can look at the recent events that happened in Paris, Aden, London, Beirut, and San Bernardino and think that we need to do more to stop terrorism both in the United States and around the world. The knee-jerk reaction is that we need more military action, more domestic spying, and more law enforcement fighting the terrorists.

    This can be a dangerous line of thinking if it’s not analyzed beyond the surface. More is not always better. Do we work towards preventing terrorist attacks by expanding the powers of the NSA? Do we play towards our fears of radical Islamic terrorism by taking Donald Trump’s approach of monitoring mosques and blocking Muslims from entering the country altogether? Should we send multiple battalions of troops to Iraq and Syria to eradicate the monster of the Islamic State before it can advance its cause and radicalize people foreign and domestic?

    All of these can seem like plausible ideas. All of them have harsh repercussions that would actually contribute to the problem in the long term.

    Of the solutions, the expansion of the role of NSA spying is the least noticeable to the public and potentially the most damaging to the country. It’s easy for politicians like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio to say that the tenets of the Patriot Act were necessary evils to keep us safe, but that’s not the story from those who actually fight terrorism. The FBI, which is our first line of defense against terrorists within our borders, do not use the same techniques as the NSA. This is a distinction that must be understood for what it represents.

    The NSA has been charged with collecting the data from digital communications and sorting it in a way that can draw meaningful connections between terrorists. In theory, this makes a lot of sense. In reality, the Inspector General’s report declassified this year revealed that “the secrecy surrounding the National Security Agency’s post-9/11 warrantless surveillance and bulk data collection program hampered its effectiveness, and many members of the intelligence community later struggled to identify any specific terrorist attacks it thwarted.”

    It’s the FBI through good ol’ fashioned investigating coupled with modern legal suspect monitoring systems that prevent terrorist attacks. Those like Rubio, Christie, and Jeb Bush who claim that promoting the USA Freedom Act somehow contributed to the San Bernardino terrorist attack (or any attack for that matter) either fail to understand the complexities of national security or are pounding on a talking point for the sake of political expediency.

    Marco Rubio Jeb Bush

    Could your electronic communication records be used to thwart a terrorist attack? If not, why does the government need it? The answer is that they do not. The NSA wants the data for other reasons that have nothing to do with stopping terrorism. As conspiratorial as that sounds, it’s the truth. This data is clearly effective in other areas such as corporate espionage and demographic structuring, but it has never been demonstrated to have an impact on terrorism or terrorist-related crimes. Never.

    The natural progression is this: once the government is empowered to gather private information from its citizens, they develop a need for more information to enhance the data they collect. It sounds like circular reasoning because it is. One can speculate that had Edward Snowden not come forth, the NSA’s activities would have grown in scope and grandeur. I am not one who supports what Snowden did, but I’m also not one who believes the government must collect communication and activity data from every law abiding citizen in an effort to find the needles in the haystack. There are better ways to do this which is why the FBI has had tremendous success and the NSA spying operation has been a bust.

    Reliance on authoritarian methods to locate potential terrorist threats is a path that Americans should never allow to happen. Law enforcement agencies are equipped with the tools they need to succeed. Pushing for the dismissal of freedoms and privacy is a road that will lead to things much worse than the terrorism that can happen in their absence. It’s important to reiterate that there has never been a terrorist attack thwarted on domestic soil based upon the information gathered through the communication spying promoted by Rubio, Christie, or Bush.

    It’s the FBI who has been wildly successful at stopping terrorist attacks after 9/11. With the power of the USA Freedom Act that Rubio, Christie, and Bush opposed, they can gather information from potential terrorists without having to snoop through everyone’s digital activities. I’ve said it twice now but it must be said one more time: the NSA has not been successful with the domestic spying portion of the Patriot Act. It was a miserable failure and one that the FBI never had to rely on. They tried. It didn’t work, so they resumed their proper activities within the confines of the Constitution.

    Do not believe those who are selling you on Draconian methods of national security for the sake of their political careers. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have fought this because their ideology is the best way to keep Americans safe. Bush, Rubio, and Christie are selling national insecurity because they hope your fears will make you too blind to see the truth.

    “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” Those are the words that are literally posted on the NSA’s website. Big Brother wants to be watching. Don’t let him.

    NSA Motto

     
  • feedwordpress 18:00:06 on 2015/11/25 Permalink
    Tags: Fast Food, , McDonald's, , , , , Robots, Technology   

    Yes, I’d Eat Fast Food Made by a Job-Killing Robot 


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    As your standard technology-fearing, new-world-order-watching conservative Christian conspiracy theorist, it’s hard for me to even fathom the idea of supporting robots making my Big Mac. I shouldn’t be eating many Big Macs in the first place, but assuming I will, what does that say about the state of the fast food industry and the rise of the $15 national minimum wage rhetoric?

    It has always made financial sense for businesses to use low-wage employees to support low-skill jobs such as those in the fast food industry. If wages are going to rise as most on the left seem bent to make happen, then businesses in many industries will need to be prepared for switches to the way they do business. One of those changes will be to consider (or reconsider) the option of automation. It’s an evil word to many of us, including me, but when we really look at the pros and cons, it starts to make more sense.

    Let’s start with the cons:

    • Loss of jobs. This is obviously the part that I’ve always been most against.
    • Robot overlords. While I still believe that Skynet is a few years away, there’s always a chance of a burger-building death machine spawning from this.

    Now, let’s look at the pros:

    • Cheaper production costs. This isn’t the case when fast food employees are making what they should be making as fast food employees, but at $15 an hour it suddenly becomes potentially cheaper to automate.
    • Cleaner burgers. I use the drive-thru the vast majority of the time when I get fast food. It’s not that I’m lazy or in too big of a hurry; depending on the drive-thru line it can be quicker to go inside. I simply want to hide my eyes from the health risks that my paranoid mind sees every time I watch them making my Big Mac.
    • Consistency. As you’ll see in the video below, those nasty burgers can be consistently nasty if built by a robot.
    • Forced skills training. The old way was to use a low-level job as either a place to support yourself through school or a launching pad that one could use to get advancements. The new way is apparently going to be to start off at $15 per hour, leaving no need for improvement. If robots replace many low-level jobs, that means that people will have to improve their education and/or work skills just to be able to get a job in the first place.

    Fast Food Minimum Wage Battle

    The concern over a national $15 minimum wage is real. To me, it’s clear that the pros of burger automation greatly outweigh the risks of our robot overlords expediting their rise.

    Here’s the video that prompted this article. Enjoy, and be afraid. Be very afraid.

     
  • feedwordpress 11:04:04 on 2015/11/02 Permalink
    Tags: , Drugs, , , , Pharmaceuticals, , Science, Technology   

    Bernie Sanders is Partially Right (and very conservative) When it Comes to Pharmaceuticals 


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    No, this is not an endorsement by any stretch of the imagination. Bernie Sanders would destroy this country as President. However, his perspectives on pharmaceuticals are close to being correct and are so far to the left that they nearly swing back around to the right.

    When Obamacare was first announced, there was something in it that actually made sense to me from a conservative perspective. As a country, we’ve allowed pharmaceutical companies to hold hostage the life-changing (and often life-saving) drugs that power the health care industry by giving them protections that pretty much eliminate innovation.

    Many Republicans would counter this argument and say that the protections they are given are due to the need to keep them competitive and give them incentives to continue to innovate. More on that in a moment, but first it’s important to clarify the “conservative” classification.

    What most people don’t realize is that the far, far left and the far, far right are often closer to each other than they are to the middle. The scale is viewed as a straight line when in reality it’s a nearly complete circle with a gap between the far right and far left. There are times when the very liberal and the very conservative are inches away from having the same basic ideas.

    Bernie Sanders is as far to the left as any of the candidates get. His ideas on pharmaceutical companies are so liberal that they’re almost truly conservative. From his perspective, people should be allowed to buy drugs from Canada, Germany, and other places where the costs are considerably less for the same pills.

    Again, the defense for this has always come in the form of promoting scientific creativity and innovation. This “conservative” principle states that in capitalism, innovations can be made because the companies are incentivized to make them. They advance the science of pharmaceuticals with the hope of generating profits. On the surface, this makes sense. Digging a little deeper and we can see that real innovation can only happen when there’s a truly open market. Only with true capitalism can the real innovations happen.

    Here’s why this is the case. Today, the protections given to pharmaceutical companies allows them to charge much more than a real market value would dictate. In an open market, the companies would be competing against foreign drug suppliers and their profits would decrease. Before anyone points to profits decreasing as being a bad thing, it’s important to note two important facts:

    1. Drug companies aren’t making a little money. They making tons of it to the tune of $45 billion last year for five companies alone.
    2. The “innovation” investments are minimal compared to the sales and marketing investments. In other words, more money is spent selling old drugs than discovering new ones.

    One the surface, any conservative would balk at the idea of lifting the legislation that protects these companies from outside competition because they would lose profits. In reality, a truly conservative mindset would demand that they have minimal government interaction other than oversight for safety.

    We have to make the pharmaceutical industry a truly open market that competes on the world level. This will make it a numbers game for bulk rather than profitability quality. In other words, they would be forced to innovate and discover new treatments in order to keep their profit levels high when the costs of individual drugs drop.

    A perfect example of this is malaria. There have been cures available for decades, but it has never been as profitable to protect millions of people in Africa when there can be much higher profit margins made helping wealthier Americans quit smoking or fight depression. I’m not trying to downplay any health-oriented needs nor am I suggesting that the United States has to innovate to save the world. I’m suggesting that in an open market, treating millions in need of life-threatening ailments can be a focus that still generates profits while allowing everyone, Americans included, to receive the benefits of such an open market.

    In this scenario, it would mean that the pharmaceutical companies would still be able to make huge profits. Instead of investing into sales and marketing to cater to an American market, they would have to focus on drugs that helped the world market. This would lower drug costs for Americans, increase the need and the resources for innovations at the pharmaceutical companies, and expand our technological and scientific reach to other countries.

    Right now, the industry is focused on high-dollar drugs rather than high-importance drugs. They are playing on the needs of Americans who have to pay for the drugs rather than expanding their operations and improving their own sciences. In an open market, as both true conservatives and hardcore liberals like Bernie Sanders push for in this arena, literally everyone wins other than the pharmaceutical companies and they don’t necessarily lose. It just means they’ll have to work harder to keep their profit numbers so high.

    He might not want his supporters to know it, but Sanders is pretty close to be a capitalist conservative when it comes to pharmaceutical companies.

    Bernie Sanders Conservative

     
  • feedwordpress 22:39:57 on 2015/10/25 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Shop Local, , , Technology   

    The Shop Local Movement and Social Media 


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    As big business takes over the country, we’ve been urged to buy locally.  Most people are under the misconception that this means only frequenting businesses in your local area.  What it actually means is purchasing items from small businesses rather than huge multi-unit box stores, and buying only items that have been produced, grown, or built in the United States.  I don’t know about you, but I’m much more likely to shop from a store where I’ve seen the owner a time or two, can see their impact on my local economy, or one that gives back to the community around them.

    When it comes to shopping local, social media can be a huge help.  As many small businesses have difficulty affording huge advertising campaigns to entice customers to frequent their business, social media pages offer, somewhat, free advertising.  A tiny little mom and pop shop down the corner from where you were brought up is now able to establish an audience with the help of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and the like.  It doesn’t cost a great deal of money on social media sites to run current promotions, post photos of new merchandise, or introduce the audience to new employees.

    As a social media manager, one of my biggest recommendations for businesses is that they establish a healthy website.  Unfortunately, web design in an expensive undertaking, and many people lack the knowledge to build one themselves.  Sure, there are sites out there that offer web design at a low cost, but many of these sites are still somewhat difficult to understand.  The next best thing to a good website, is a healthy and active presence on a well-established Facebook page, and this also works as a less expensive alternative as well.

    For a local business, a web presence is going to be a massive help, as many people are found to begin their search for a product online.  Not only is a Facebook page virtually free, and I say virtually because you can choose to pay for Facebook ads, which are helpful, but not necessary.  One of the major upsides of shopping locally is that you get to see the owners, the same employees who enjoy their jobs, and some excellent product lines that are often handcrafted by local residents, and a social media presence can help put these things out in the public eye.

    Recently, I vacationed in Sunset Beach, North Carolina, a sleepy little beach town just a hop, skip, and jump from the much more commercialized Myrtle Beach.  While there are plenty of canned, typical beach style box stores advertising 10 t-shirts for $20 in Myrtle, Sunset Beach has very few of these.  On the island, there are only local shops.  In one of these shops, I grabbed a business card and was very quick to “Like” them on Facebook.  To my delight, they post at least four times a week.  Within these posts, they share charming anecdotes about customers, honor their employees, and keep people informed about the goings-on in the area.

    Ideally, every small business would take the reins for the social media campaigns in the same way the aforementioned business has, but this isn’t always the case.  What is seen as a hassle is often ignored, but most business owners don’t understand that they’re shortchanging themselves.  Social media isn’t meant to be an advertising medium, but it is.  With millions of people using social sites, worldwide, a local business doesn’t have to drop thousands of dollars with flashy ads, if they’re just willing to put in the work themselves.

    Many people, especially those who subscribe to the Shop Local Mentality, love to see small businesses succeed and progress.  One surefire way to put a face to your store is to open a Facebook Business Page.  The setup is pretty simple, and Facebook will walk you through the process.  Once a business has established a page, an email mailing list can be uploaded to search for frequent visitors to like your new page.  Once you’ve gotten 25 likes to the page, the web address can be customized.  After you’ve established the page, collected the necessary number of likes, and uploaded some pictures, now it’s time to work on your presence.  I recommend posting no less than two times a week, and sharing photos of your specialized merchandise.

    One particularly awesome thing about a Facebook Business Page is that newcomers to the area can search for local business and that business will then come up in a search.  While it isn’t the same as having a website, the page does allow local businesses to post their hours, showcase new merchandise, and inform people about changes in inventory or special sales.  In lieu of an excellent website, have an excellent social media presence.

    Frequenting local businesses isn’t practical for all shopping needs, but making an effort to buy 20% of birthday or holiday gifts locally can truly help both the local business, and your local economy as well.  No one enjoys driving through their town and seeing closed businesses, so pay attention to your Facebook news feed and see where people you know are shopping locally, and check them out.

     
  • feedwordpress 18:53:45 on 2015/10/22 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Technology, Turbo   

    To Turbo or Not To Turbo? 


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    As much as that would hope to be a Shakespearean question it really isn’t.  The reality is technology moves forward, cars have to be advanced to keep up.  Imagine a big honking V8 that coughed up so many fumes it looked like it smoked three packs a day from the 1950s versus the V8s we now have that barely emit any pollution and give us more for the money.  When I hear purists speak of saving the naturally aspirated engines I think they are nuts, mostly because the only thing they can actually turn to and say is better is the sound; really, that’s all you got, better sound, give me some tech and modern features any day.

    Yes it is really cool to hear a big engine growl and fun to wake up the neighbors with a loud engine that offers a monstrous noise, but the fact remains that adding a turbocharger to the engine puts out more power, gives better fuel mileage, and lowers the emissions of a car.  If you put the Lamborghini Huracan and the McLaren MP4-12C side by side on the track the McLaren is apt to win every time.  it has a massive amount of power, handles better, has much less understeer and will whip around the corners better than the Huracan, and that is coming from someone who loves the Lamborghini model.

    The only positive anyone can tell me about the Huracan over the McLaren is the noise it makes from the engine and exhaust.  Yes, I agree that a loud engine can be a great part of the experience, but if you are getting your doors blown off by a turbocharged model that has embraced the reality of progress how much fun are you really having.

    Lamborghini Huracan Turbo

    With nearly every exotic and sports car company putting turbos into their cars it’s going to be harder and harder to find a naturally aspirated high powered engine.  If you do find one you are most likely going to pau the gas guzzler tax on that car anyway, which makes the turbo a more economical choice as well.  As I mentioned a turbocharged engine certainly gives you better fuel efficiency which is another money saver.  Think about this as well, with the advancements made we are seeing horsepower from a four or six-cylinder engine that used to be reserved strictly for those with eight or more.  That certainly gets my attention every time and reminds me how important it is to embrace advancements and technology.

    Certainly if you are restoring and older model sports car, keeping it as close to the original as possible is important but when you have a newer model the turbocharging is becoming a requirement.  Much like the manual transmission is starting to disappear so are the loud sounds from a naturally aspirated engine, but what we have in their place is exactly what we want to be able to fully enjoy and appreciate the drive on any road or track.  Forget about the noise and enjoy the pure speed and performance the turbos give you while you pass your buddies on the track who still think louder is better.

     
  • feedwordpress 20:27:20 on 2015/10/13 Permalink
    Tags: , Autonomous Cars, , , driverless cars, , , Technology   

    When You Don’t Want to Drive 


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    After a long hard day of tugging, pulling, working and toiling the last thing you might want to do is drive home.  Whether you have worn out your mind with the challenges of being creative all day, or your body as you have worked and busted your hump to create something great driving just feels like a chore at that moment.  When this feeling sweeps over you, but you have to get home somehow, wouldn’t it be great to have a car that can drive itself home and give you a break, or at least most of a break from the thought and task that goes into driving?

    We know many car companies are working on autonomous driving cars to bring us vehicles that are able to drive themselves but right now some companies have cars that come very close to doing this for us and will make it easier for our ride home.  Right now Honda and Mercedes-Benz have systems on some of their cars using forward looking cameras, but the experience has been these systems still have flaws enough to remind you to put your hands on the wheel many times which can become a bit if a nuisance rather than a pleasure cruise.

    Tesla has also developed this technology, which should come as no surprise, and if you have it downloaded after the purchase of your Tesla Model S it will cost you $3,000 but if you order yours with it installed the cost is $500 cheaper.  On a well-marked road the Model S can easily read the lane markers and handle the driving for you.  This system is smart enough to even pass when desired if you set the feature to do so, making this the currently most advanced system on any current car with at least semi-autonomous driving ability.

    You can even follow along with what the car is looking at which is displayed on the dashboard or you can spend your time playing with the massive seventeen-inch tablet installed in the dash for your amusement.  This makes for a relaxed ride home, in a car that certainly has the ability to handle the driving duties for you, which for a great ride.  Unfortunately you can’t quite go to sleep because this system may need your help, it’s not quite able to take over 100 percent of the time, but some breaks can really benefit you on the ride home.

    In cases thus far companies have found different lighting conditions have an effect on this system in any car but the Tesla system seems to be able to handle the various lighting conditions without too much trouble.  When you want to have a break from driving this is certainly a way to do it, but when you have the Tesla Model S as your vehicle you certainly will want to enjoy the massive horsepower it provides most of the time; it’s really nice to have the option to do both when you want to.

     
  • feedwordpress 05:30:35 on 2015/10/07 Permalink
    Tags: cloud, Computers, , , Storage, Technology   

    Cloud Spotting 


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    Remember the days when computers came with virtually no hard drive space by today’s standards?  We thought there could never be a larger amount of space offered, and every year since then, computer companies have kept it pushing with what is offered as standard hard drive space.  It’s not unheard of to see laptops offered with multiple terabytes of hard drive space, where a gigabyte was unusual in the past.  However, the technological revolution has made the standard hard drive a thing of the past as well.  It’s a powerful ode to how everything moves forward in our rapidly changing world.

    Now computer storage is offered using external hard drives, jump drives, and cloud storage system.  Not so long ago, a cloud was something that hung in the sky in which we could discern different animal shapes on a sunny day.  Now, the word cloud has a whole new meaning as we’ve advanced so far that our files can be backed up without clogging space on our computers, thus slowing them down and making them behave differently depending on what we save.  No longer do we require laptops with massive hard drives, although they keep producing them, because we’ve got the cloud.

    With the incredible influx of cloud based storage systems available, each offering a different degree of free storage, most people are at a loss when it comes to choosing the best one for their needs.  It seems as though the options are endless, and each promises the same thing the others offer, so how is a person to discern the best option?  We each have needs that our storage system should be able to fulfill, but which is the most user-friendly?  Whether you’re looking to free up space on your system by uploading cumbersome files or if you’re simply looking to have a copy of your greatest worked saved elsewhere for safekeeping, the cloud storage systems available will be a useful tool in your arsenal, but how do you choose the right one?

    First, determine your needs.  If you’re looking to back up work files and share them, your needs may venture into the upgraded or business versions of popular cloud systems.  If you’re simply looking to have an app on your phone in which you can upload photos from your mobile device, your needs are simpler to satisfy.  Google Drive will offer its user 15GB of free storage space, and is perfect for users who wish to use the cloud for easy access to documents saved on other systems.  Once you’ve got a firm grasp on your intentions for the cloud system, choosing one should be easy.

    Second, you must examine how much space is offered for free, if at all.  Many cloud systems will offer a set number of gigabytes worth of free storage when you sign up for an account.  Dropbox, a great service that allows easy file sharing and other convenience options, offers 3.5 gigabytes free to new users.  Storing documents won’t take up much room so 3.5 GB is a generous offering as a free service.  For Amazon Prime members Amazon’s Cloud offers unlimited photo uploads and 5 gigs of space for other items.  Once you’ve determined your needs, choose your cloud account based on how much space you’ll actually use.

    Third, if you’re going to be using the cloud for extensive purposes, you’ll need an upgraded version so you’ll have to pay close attention to prices for upgraded services.  If you anticipate the necessity for a great deal of space, one of the business versions of popular cloud systems should suffice.  Dropbox offers a terabyte for $99, paid on a yearly basis, while Microsoft’s OneDrive offers the same amount for less than $85.  Apple’s iCloud Drive comes with a free 15 gigabytes but an upgrade will cost you.  For $240 per terabyte, even Apple enthusiasts may have to question the value of said system.

    Cloud Spotting

    Most cloud apps offer free file sharing for group projects, free apps for your smart phone, and Windows-ready application for simple access to your files from your desktop.  An Amazon Prime membership will provide generous benefits both with shipping of Amazon products, but it will also offer unlimited storage for a three-month free trial and continued membership for $60 per year.  By utilizing cloud storage, no longer will you be burdened with having to email files to yourself access them on different computers, you can share larger files with co-workers without having to break them up to send over email, and you’ll always have an extra copy of your files for safekeeping.

    Cloud storage is clearly the wave of the future, and people are hopping onto clouds as if we’re all characters in the latest Mario Brothers video game.  There is no more need to delete files to make space on your computer if it’s running slower than usual, and there’s no reason to bog down your system with old photos and documents from long ago.  Each cloud system will unburden your computer, and lift the burden from your shoulders as well, as you’ll no longer worry about losing a file through email or during a random cleaning.  Rest easy, and get onto your cloud.

     
  • feedwordpress 11:02:39 on 2015/09/29 Permalink
    Tags: , Technology,   

    The Programmer’s Cookbook: A Toptal Developer’s Experience 


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    “I love to cook. I like it because it takes my mind off my job and any problems that may be going on, because if I lose my focus, I will burn the food. It’s nice when you see your wife and your friends eating your food and they say, ‘Hey, that was good!’”

    The question was, on the surface, an innocuous one. I had asked Willian Fernandes if he had any hobbies outside of work. It was one of my final questions from our Skype call—I’d wondered if I could throw in a few interesting tidbits about his personal life to include alongside my article about his career as a freelance developer for Toptal.

    The more I thought about it, though, the more apt it seemed that Willian should have a passion for cooking up delicious meals for his friends and family. When I looked back at our conversation, it struck me how much Willian’s career to date has resembled the way one cooks a great meal, throwing in spices here, searing something delicious there, trying a new seasoning every once in a while, and finally putting all the ingredients together for the perfect job and lifestyle.

    The only difference is, when Willian cooks, he knows what’s going to come out when the meal is ready. His job at Toptal, though, is a sumptuous feast he never thought he could have dreamed up.

    “I never would have guessed that things would work out so well. But here I am, and I couldn’t be happier.”

    The first ingredient to Willian’s success as a remote freelancer? A healthy curiosity for how things, specifically electronics, work.

    “I’ve always been interested in discovering how things worked. When I was little, I would oftentimes break things in order to find out what was inside—I broke my father’s computer because I tried to break it open and see how it worked on the inside.”

    Willian laughs as he recalls his insatiable curiosity as a boy. This drive to learn more and discover never left him, and he soon began to hone his passion into a curiosity to discover everything he could about this newfangled phenomenon, the internet.

    “In 1998, a friend of mine told me that if I downloaded this certain program on the computer and used my social ID number, which is Brazil’s version of a social security number, I could get one month of free internet, and I said to him, ‘Wait, what is internet?’ It got me very curious to learn more about it. I was playing guitar at the time, and I wanted to build a website that gathered together all newsletters on guitar things. That was the first time I dabbled in HTML. It never went live, but it was what sparked my interest.”

    By the time Willian was heading into the world of higher education, he knew exactly what he wanted to study: computers, everything there is to know about computers. He got to achieve this goal at IBTA São Paulo, where he received his Master’s degree in Computer Engineering. The next ingredient in his journey? Finding work that let him utilize his passion and skills.

    “In the year 2000, I enrolled in some technical courses in computer programming, and while working on my studies I started work at an advertising agency—I wanted to put my skills to practical use. It was an informative experience, because it showed me how to work in an office environment, to have a boss, all those things I’d never done before. After a while, I got quite sick of it, so I quit to focus on my studies.”

    The next ingredient in Willian’s journey, the sauce that tied the meal together and brought out its flavor, is one that he would argue to be the most important: a love interest.

    “I was continuing along in my studies, and after a while, I found I needed a new job. You see, I was dating the woman who would become my wife, and we were using her income to go out, see movies, all that, and I said, ‘I need to chip in to our life together.’ So after a bit of searching and a bit of seeking people out, I found a job with a tech company near São Paulo. It was a good, interesting job. I got to work on big projects outside my city, all around Brazil. That said, the job wasn’t doing much to advance my own career. I was really just teaching other people how to do things.”

    Slowly but surely, Willian was beginning to piece together a picture—a recipe, to continue the metaphor—of what his ideal career was going to look like. But one key ingredient was missing: a real engineering job that would put his tech skills to work.

    “At the time I was studying Python, really getting into it, and I had found this company that was really serious about web standards and other such relevant material. I applied to work with them, got the job, and I was really excited about it. It was my first time living on my own outside my father’s house. The job was really great to me, and I learned a lot from them and from subsequent jobs. I loved the people, but a problem came up. The company wasn’t in a great place financially, and the particular client I had was not great. I wanted to quit, and so I did, but they wouldn’t pay me. That was hard, a real learning experience, but I had to walk away.”

    That Willian wouldn’t get paid for his tech services was something that had never occurred to him, nor should it occur to someone of any rational mind. Ultimately though, Willian says he’s glad he learned the lesson because it’s helped him appreciate his job at Toptal even more.

    “The remote work lifestyle is great for me. The ability to work from wherever, travel where I want, when I want, that is a great luxury. Can I do this without Toptal? Sure. But I would never want to. The pay with any other service is far too unreliable, as I learned.”

    Thus came the next ingredient in Willian’s career: find a tech job he enjoyed with a stable source of income. He was now married, living in São Paulo, and looking for a job.

    “I knew I was qualified to do good work remotely in the São Paulo area, but I just needed to talk to the right people to get a job that was reliable. I did everything. I posted on Facebook, sent emails, made phone calls. I even tweeted about it and said I was looking for work. A friend of mine, located in Canada, re-tweeted for me and it caught the eye of one of his followers. It turns out that the follower was Alvaro [Oliveira, Toptal VP of Talent Operations]. That was how I got connected. I had heard about Toptal before but wasn’t so sure about the job security. So then when I found out about Alvaro, a Brazilian working for this American company, I was curious to learn more about his thoughts on the matter. It’s funny. I had to send a tweet that went all the way to Canada before it landed in Alvaro’s hands, who lived just a few blocks away from me in São José dos Campos, which is near São Paulo.”

    Willian spoke to Alvaro, and after hearing his advice, he felt Toptal might just be the perfect mix of ingredients for the kind of career he was looking for.

    “Toptal is great about matching clients with my skills. So if a client needs a project in, say, JavaScript or in Ruby on Rails, or one of my other fields of expertise, then I might get matched with that client, but I’ll never have to do work I don’t like or am not qualified for. Oh, and the pay is always reliable. It’s a perfect situation. I can do work I love, in the city I love, and still have time to walk my dog, spend evenings with my wife, and cook for my friends. What else do I need?”

    So, after a long search for the perfect ingredients, Willian had cooked up the perfect remote work lifestyle, thanks to the quality of freelance work Toptal guaranteed them. He joined in 2013 as part of Toptal’s technical screening team for its developer screening process, and he’s since taken on full-time clients as a developer. Now, he’s ready to make his mark in the Toptal community.

    “Toptal has these really great communities all over the world, but there’s not a huge population of us here in Brazil just yet, and I think that’s a shame. I know there are many capable programmers around here. One issue is English—not enough Brazilians know English to the level of Toptal’s standards. My wife used to be an English teacher, so she and I have been kicking around this idea of doing a Toptal-sponsored English course. It would generate local interest in Toptal, and obviously help programmers sharpen up their English. It’s just an idea, but we’ve got a few like that.”

    Whether it’s cooking up a delicious dinner for his friends and family, or enjoying a walk with his dog, or competing with his flag football team (that’s right an American football team in Brazil—Willian is a huge Baltimore Ravens fan), Willian Fernandes has learned to savor every ingredient of the journey that led him to his job at Toptal, to his life in São Paulo with his wife, and his soon-to-be-growing family.
    “If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s this: just go out there, learn as much as you can, and do your job, but don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t get too down if something doesn’t work out the way you’d planned. If you don’t have the answer, that’s okay. Admit it, ask for help if you need to, and work harder to find the answer. I don’t know if I would have wound up here with Toptal if I hadn’t learned that lesson early on—and what a shame that would have been.”

     
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