ICYMI: Deep job cuts in Silicon Valley could bring tech workers back to Canada

We will see but certainly presents an opportunity:

A northern Silicon Valley success story has placed Canada in the midst of the sudden plunge in fortune for the tech sector, and the hundreds of thousands of Canadians whose skill and ambition made them coveted engineers, programmers and leaders.

More than 150,000 tech workers have been laid off this year, according to an online tally. The cuts have been wide and deep, slicing across companies, global offices and nationalities – Canadians included.

But could their losses be Canada’s gain? It’s a potentially critical question for the entrepreneurs and visionaries who see a moment for this country to find serendipity in grim times.

The dramatic change in Silicon Valley’s fortunes has created “opportunity for Canada to reclaim some of its talent,” said Jennifer Holmstrom, a Canadian who leads talent and recruitment for GGV Capital, a global venture capital firm.

For every job lost in California – or Seattle or Austin, Tex. – there is a chance “for Canadians to come back and for global talent to move here,” said Dan Burgar, co-founder of Frontier Collective, a Vancouver tech industry promotion group. In Canada, “we’ll start to see startups being actually being able to scoop up some of this talent.”

That, at least, is the dream for tech companies north of the border.

But the rounds of layoffs also stand to reaffirm the long-standing struggles for Canada’s tech industry in luring the country’s best and brightest. While Canadian tech has become an increasingly attractive option for foreign workers – a trend that has accelerated this year as U.S. layoffs take hold – for many Canadians, Silicon Valley remains a land of possibility whose glitter has only slightly dimmed in recent months.

When Trevor Lai left Toronto for a job in Seattle with Meta Platforms Inc., his salary quadrupled. Moving to the U.S. has come with its share of troubles. His fiancée has not been able to secure a work permit there. His own status has become tenuous, too, after he was laid off in early November, when Meta shed 13 per cent of its work force. “If I don’t find a job I will get kicked out of the U.S.,” he says.

But his first priority is to remain in the U.S. “Just because of the money,” he said. Even had he been able to transfer his job at Facebook to Toronto, he calculated that his income would have fallen by 40 per cent. “I’ve worked in several companies in Toronto,” he said. “The people there are amazing. Everything is awesome – except for the pay.”

At the same time, the tech layoffs have come during a year that has already seen a surge in skilled immigrants coming to Canada, and there are signs that job losses in the U.S. may accelerate movements north.

The 4,882 applications for immigration to Canada under the Global Talent Stream program from January to October of this year are up nearly 70 per cent over the total for last year – and a more than 10-fold increase over 2017, according to statistics provided to The Globe and Mail by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The Global Talent Stream is open to people working in innovation-related companies, with a particular focus on tech workers, including computer and software engineers, information systems analysts, programmers and video-game designers.

Applications for Canadian work permits by Indian citizens in the first 10 months of this year are also up 40 per cent over last year, and more than triple the number from five years ago.

Indians hold nearly three-quarters of the H-1B visas granted by the U.S., a temporary work permit for specialized talent. They have been among the groups most seriously affected by tech layoffs, since H-1B visas are tied to employment. Those unable to find new jobs must leave the U.S. within 60 days.

Over the past decade of frenzied tech hiring and acute worker shortages, H-1B visa-holders could treat the threat of expulsion as theoretical. Tech layoffs have made that possibility unnervingly tangible.

Canada can be an appealing alternative. Major U.S. tech firms have already opened offices in Canadian cities, which have the added benefit of sharing time zones with their U.S. counterparts.

Last year, Canada counted more tech workers than California; the tech worker population in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor may soon eclipse that of the San Francisco Bay area. “If it hasn’t already happened, it will happen within the next 12 months,” said Chris Albinson, president of Communitech, the Kitchener, Ont.-based innovation hub.

“Canada is actually set up really well to be the largest innovation hub on the planet right now. What’s happening now in terms of the movement of tech workers out of the U.S. is going to do nothing but accelerate that benefit for Canada.”

In Silicon Valley, some have already prepared for this moment. The pandemic and Donald Trump’s presidency created enough fear that many Indian tech workers in Silicon Valley began filing immigration applications to Canada, said Sophie Alcorn, an immigration lawyer in the region. Today, “many have that as a backup option.” She estimates that between 5,000 and 15,000 H-1B visa holders have lost work in the last two months.

For many of those unable to find new jobs in the U.S., “if they can find a way to legally come to Canada, they would love that,” she said.

It’s not only those suddenly without work. MobSquad, which brings tech workers to Canada from the U.S. and elsewhere, has been hearing from software engineers who are “actually the ones that didn’t get laid off, that there’s interest in considering hopping to Canada,” said founder and chief executive Irfhan Rawji.

“We think it is going to create another pretty dramatic opportunity for the growth of our business, just like COVID did.”

It’s not clear how much that will address one of the biggest needs in Canada’s tech sector: a shortage of what Ray Newal, chief executive of The C100, a Canadian tech diaspora organization, calls “people who understand what ‘great’ looks like.” Those with experience working in and growing companies with $100-million and more in annual revenue are the people who can help build startups into global successes. Tech layoffs provide a new opening to recruit such people into smaller Canadian companies.

“Hopefully we’re going to see an opportunity to build more Shopify’s,” he said. To do that, however, will mean countering what he calls a “bifurcation of ambition,” where Canadians looking to do big things have traditionally looked outside the country.

“They don’t feel that their ambition can be met here,” he said. Reversing that is not “something we have figured out how to do well enough yet.”

Anyone leaving the U.S. has options that extend far beyond Canada, particularly with rise of digital nomadism. People are “going to want to work from Mexico, from Barbados, from Bermuda,” said Hongwei Liu, founder of Mappedin, a Waterloo-based company that maps indoor spaces. “If you can take your laptop and work from anywhere, why are you in Ontario?”

That question is a fundamental one not just for tech companies, but for Canada as a country. “We believe the biggest indicator of long-term success in the tech ecosystem is going to be talent,” said Jeff Larsen, the Atlantic Canada site lead for Creative Destruction Lab, which helps to develop seed-stage companies.

Mr. Larsen believes the question of how to attract talent is often approached wrongly. “It’s really creating the kind of community and city or region that people want to live in,” he said. Improving access to family doctors and transit may be more important than other measures.

Yet Canada has also seen enough tech success to make some ex-pat Canadians reconsider, especially as they weigh the political upheaval that has become part of life in places like the U.S. When Morley Ivers left Canada more than a decade ago, he found himself immediately at home as a tech entrepreneur in the U.S., where he became a citizen. “Being a founder was sort of recognized as someone who was living what people deemed was the American dream,” he said.

But, he said, “society inside of America has become so polarized that for me as a Canadian, quite frankly it became too much to bear.” He recently moved back to Toronto to create Cookin, a food delivery service for homemade meals. “I realized that the best place in the world for me to build in 2022 was Canada,” Mr. Ivers said. Toronto boasts not just cultural diversity, but “unbelievable tech talent – and it’s a fraction of the price.”

Others are leaving the U.S. in search of stability, including Indian citizens on H-1B visas who can wait decades to secure a green card. “I would call living on an H-1B in the U.S. like living on the edge,” said Syed Naqi, a software developer and project manager originally from New Delhi. He knows people who had to sell everything they owned – cars and houses included – after their status expired “and then rush back to India.”

When Mr. Naqi’s own H-1B visa was set to expire, MobSquad helped him move to Nova Scotia.

Within 18 months, he received permanent resident status in Canada. He now lives in Cole Harbour with his wife and two children. He describes his new community as warm and welcoming. He bought a house, and his family became fast friends with their next-door neighbours from Lebanon. His kids quickly adapted to a school system familiar after their time in the U.S.

“We like it here,” Mr. Naqi said. “Much better than in the U.S.”

Source: Deep job cuts in Silicon Valley could bring tech workers back to Canada

Indian tech workers in Silicon Valley protest immigration discrimination

Of note, another potential advantage for Canada;

With thousands of Central America refugees converging on the U.S. southern border, the issue of immigration is heating up this week.  It’s a fight that usually centers on a fear of Americans losing their jobs. But there are some immigrants who were invited here specifically because their skills are needed and they say even they are being let down by the system.

The thirty or so people who marched in San Jose Sunday were not immigrants demanding to enter this country. They’ve already been here — some for decades. They were recruited from India to work in the Silicon Valley tech industry using H1B visas.  Using H1Bs, employers can legally hire foreign workers who have specific skills and, once here, they usually qualify for a permanent green card within a year or two.  Unless, that is, they come from India…

“We all have applied for a green card and it has been approved.  Only thing is, we need to wait 150 years to get a green card,” said Akhilesh Malavalli.  “A hundred fifty years!  I’ll be dead.  I’ll be dead by the time we see a green card.”

There is a cap on the number of skills-based green cards that can be issued to any one country of origin and there are so many workers from India, getting one has become practically impossible.

Sunday, the workers protested in front of the San Jose home of congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, demanding that she fulfill a promise to bring a bill to the House floor for a vote.  HR 3648 would remove national origin as a consideration for getting a skilled-worker green card.

Source: Indian tech workers in Silicon Valley protest immigration discrimination

Cdn. tech sector participation and pay gaps persist and in some cases, worsen: report

Of note. More analysis on the reasons why would be helpful.:

A new report shows women, people of colour and immigrants in Canada’s tech sector saw employment and pay inequities persist — and in some cases, worsen — between 2001 and 2016.

The research from the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship at Toronto Metropolitan University was published Thursday and shows women were increasingly excluded from tech work throughout that period.

“It’s infuriating to see that we’re exactly where we started 20 years ago now,” said Viet Vu, the institute’s manager of economic research and lead author of the report called “Further and Further Away: Canada’s unrealized digital potential.”

His research showed women had a 6.29 per cent chance of being a tech worker in 2001, but by 2016, that had fallen to 4.91 per cent.

Meanwhile, men had a 20 per cent chance of being a tech worker, which remained unchanged between 2001 and 2016.

In the past 20 years, women have become even more educated, so Vu thinks it isn’t aptitude fuelling the exclusion. Instead, he puts some of the blame on workplace attitudes and phenomena that limit their participation like gender violence and sexual harassment.

His research also delved into disparities in pay. He uncovered that men made an average of $3.49 more per hour than women between 2001 and 2016. That equates to an average of $7,200 in lost income every year.

Identifying as a visible minority also lowered one’s pay by an average $3.89 per hour.

The report said an immigrant woman identifying as a visible minority and engaging in tech work without a university degree in Canada, on average, is expected to make $18.5 per hour less than a white, non-immigrant man with a university degree.

That amounts to a difference in $38,000 in annual income.

If the man in this scenario had a university degree, he would make on average $8.94 per hour more.

Researchers also observed no pay gap between immigrant and non-immigrant tech workers in 2001, but by 2016, a gap of roughly $5.70 per hour emerged.

Over the 15-year period studied, the gap amounted to roughly $4.40 per hour.

Such findings made Vu sad because they revealed “massive missed opportunities.”

“We could have invested in making tech more inclusive, we could invest in allowing more folks to get into tech work, but we see fairly little done,” he said.

He hopes the report will spark change because he sees identifying inequities as the first step in working toward parity.

He also believes the country and its next sector needs to examine why its current investments and strategies haven’t yielded results.

“Maybe we can figure out what does seem to work, how we can tweak it, how we can actually fix it… so it doesn’t stay status quo anymore.”

Source: Cdn. tech sector participation and pay gaps persist and in some cases, worsen: report

To reverse brain drain, China should be more flexible on dual citizenship

Interesting arguments but likely overstates the importance of dual citizenship as a factor in facilitating a return of former Chinese nationals to China, particularly given Chinese government general repression (not limited to Uyghurs and Hong Kong) and control (e.g., COVID lockdowns):

Citizenship has become a sensitive topic in China. Every so often, you’ll see lists in the Chinese media – of film stars who hold foreign passports, or billionaires who made money in China but now hold foreign passports. On the Chinese internet, some of these individuals get labelled as unpatriotic, or worse.

One of netizens’ latest targets is Harvard physics professor Xi Yin, a China-born prodigy who has been quoted as saying he has no plans to return to his native country at present. A US citizen now, Yin is also married to an American woman.

China does not allow dual citizenship. The line of reasoning seems to be that the authorities don’t want to create a group of people who enjoy too much privilege, or potentially allow criminals to evade punishment. Critics say it is a way of ensuring citizens’ loyalty or maintaining a monoculture.

But much of the rest of the world has moved on, with more countries embracing dual citizenship against the backdrop of globalisation. Back in the 1960s, only one-third of countries allowed dual citizenship. Today, 75 per cent do.

Perhaps China should follow suit. It would help reverse the brain drain from the country.

Around the time Deng Xiaoping launched the reform and opening up policy, students were sent abroad to study, in countries including the US, Canada and the UK. This trend did not always pay off. In 2007, China Daily reported that, between 1978 and 2006, 1.06 million Chinese went overseas for studies and more than 70 per cent chose not to return. At that time, China probably suffered the most severe brain drain in the world.

To tackle the problem, Beijing has increased investment in higher education, and research and development. It introduced programmes such as the Thousand Talents Planto lure back leading Chinese talent. Under the plan “sea turtles”, or returnees from overseas – in Chinese, the two terms are homonyms – may receive a one-time bonus of 1 million yuan (US$148,400). However, the programme has reportedly delivered mixed results. Not nearly enough sea turtles swim home.

As China grew rich, it became common practice among affluent families to send children abroad for further education. Between 2015 and 2019, 80 per cent of these students did return. Yet, China is still losing first-rate talent. In recent years, a reported 80 per cent of Chinese PhD students in the US have been reluctant to return.

Many developing countries in the world lose talent to the US, but China probably suffers more, especially in the realm of hi-tech. Those bright Chinese minds working at the cutting edge of American technology might also be hampering China’s own tech ambitions.

Indeed, China’s hope of dominating artificial intelligence may be threatened by the brain drain. According to a study conducted by MacroPolo, a think tank run by the Paulson Institute, Chinese researchers accounted for a quarter of the authors whose papers were accepted by a prestigious AI conference in 2019.

However, three-quarters of the Chinese authors were working outside China, and 85 per cent of those were working in the US, at tech giants such as Google or universities like UCLA.

Source: To reverse brain drain, China should be more flexible on dual citizenship

Tech group wants new visa for skilled workers to enter country without a job offer

Of note. Not clear why Canadian companies also cannot hire people to work remotely:

A group representing 150 of Canada’s fastest growing and most promising technology companies wants the federal government to pilot a new visa stream allowing high-skilled tech workers to enter the country without a job offer.

The visa proposed Thursday by the Council of Canadian Innovators would target in-demand professions like software developers and data scientists, allow recipients to work, switch jobs or employers and help them extend their stay and attain permanent residency without needing to switch into another visa category.

The idea is one of 13 the council included in a new report aimed at addressing the country’s critical shortage of skilled tech talent and helping startups compete against Silicon Valley giants and multinationals.

“There’s over 200,000 positions in the tech space that are not being filled in Canada,” said Benjamin Bergen, the council’s president.

“At the onset of COVID, borders basically collapsed and the problem that we were seeing in terms of lack of skilled workers in the country was only exacerbated by the fact that foreign firms can now come into Canada and hire people to work remotely, increasing the pressures … on the general labour market.”

On Tuesday, Facebook owner Meta announced it would hire 2,500 Canadians over the next five years with many working remotely.

They’re joined by Microsoft, DoorDash, Amazon, Google, Wayfair, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit and Netflix, which revealed Canadian hiring plans during the pandemic, causing homegrown startups to fret about how they’ll compete with these companies’ big names and salaries.

“If you’re an Amazon or you’re Facebook or you’re Google, you’ve already set up in Canada…you’re able to bring in technology talent through some of the immigration streams that already exist…because they’re doing it at such a massive scale,” said Arif Khimani, the president and chief operating officer at MobSquad, a Calgary company helping businesses with recruitment and visas.

Many companies he works with are looking to hire a small number of people to work from Canada, and trying to figure out immigration rules, tax policies, payroll, benefits, office space, and remittances can be difficult for them.

Khimani feels they would be helped by more policies targeting immigration and giving workers better pathways to permanent residency, which the council’s report advocates for.

The council also wants to see programs better reflect emerging talent needs. Khimani notices the most in-demand job roles right now are full-stack and software engineers and developers, and jobs related to artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“Given how quick tech innovation changes, looking for a salesperson who has experience on X, Y or Z product, that happens to only reside in a specific jurisdiction often doesn’t apply for some of those programs, so we’re really pushing for an expanding (of current policies),” Bergen said.

Immigration changes could be accompanied by a “digital nomad strategy,” which the council envisions including clarity around taxes and length of stay for Canadians working remotely and internationally and foreigners who locate to Canada for part of the year.

The council also recommended the country target talent retention with a 12-month student loan repayment grace period for new graduates who work for Canadian firms and tax-advantaged loan repayment benefits for employers who make contributions towards their employees’ outstanding student debt.

Finally, the council wants to see talent generation prioritized. It asked the government to consider funding for Canadian businesses developing up-skilling or retraining programs and incentives to encourage post-secondary institutions to offer more experiential learning opportunities like longer co-op placements.

Source: Tech group wants new visa for skilled workers to enter country without a job offer

Why Silicon Valley’s Optimization Mindset Sets Us Up for Failure

Of interest. Depends on how one views optimization and what one considers to be the objectives. Engineers and programmers tend to have a relatively narrow focus and thus blind spots to social and public goods:

In 2013 a Silicon Valley software engineer decided that food is an inconvenience—a pain point in a busy life. Buying food, preparing it, and cleaning up afterwards struck him as an inefficient way to feed himself. And so was born the idea of Soylent, Rob Rhinehart’s meal replacement powder, described on its website as an International Complete Nutrition Platform. Soylent is the logical result of an engineer’s approach to the “problem” of feeding oneself with food: there must be a more optimal solution.

It’s not hard to sense the trouble with this crushingly instrumental approach to nutrition.

Soylent may optimize meeting one’s daily nutritional needs with minimal cost and time investment. But for most people, food is not just a delivery mechanism for one’s nutritional requirements. It brings gustatory pleasure. It provides for social connection. It sustains and transmits cultural identity. A world in which Soylent spells the end of food also spells the degradation of these values.

Maybe you don’t care about Soylent; it’s just another product in the marketplace that no one is required to buy. If tech workers want to economize on time spent grocery shopping or a busy person faces the choice between grabbing an unhealthy meal at a fast-food joint or bringing along some Soylent, why should anyone complain? In fact, it’s a welcome alternative for some people.

But the story of Soylent is powerful because it reveals the optimization mindset of the technologist. And problems arise when this mindset begins to dominate—when the technologies begin to scale and become universal and unavoidable.

That mindset is inculcated early in the training of technologists. When developing an algorithm, computer science courses often define the goal as providing an optimal solution to a computationally-specified problem. And when you look at the world through this mindset, it’s not just computational inefficiencies that annoy. Eventually, it becomes a defining orientation to life as well. As one of our colleagues at Stanford tells students, everything in life is an optimization problem.

The desire to optimize can favor some values over others. And the choice of which values to favor, and which to sacrifice, are made by the optimizers who then impose those values on the rest of us when their creations reach great scale. For example, consider that Facebook’s decisions about how content gets moderated or who loses their accounts are the rules of expression for more than three billion people on the platform; Google’s choices about what web pages to index determine what information most users of the internet get in response to searches. The small and anomalous group of human beings at these companies create, tweak, and optimize technology based on their notions of how it ought to be better. Their vision and their values about technology are remaking our individual lives and societies. As a result, the problems with the optimization mindset have become our problems, too.

A focus on optimization can lead technologists to believe that increasing efficiency is inherently a good thing. There’s something tempting about this view. Given a choice between doing something efficiently or inefficiently, who would choose the slower, more wasteful, more energy-intensive path?

Yet a moment’s reflection reveals other ways of approaching problems. We put speed bumps onto roads near schools to protect children; judges encourage juries to take ample time to deliberate before rendering a verdict; the media holds off on calling an election until all the polls have closed. It’s also obvious that the efficient pursuit of a malicious goal—such as deliberately harming or misinforming people—makes the world worse, not better. The quest to make something more efficient is not an inherently good thing. Everything depends on the goal.

Technologists with a single-minded focus on efficiency frequently take for granted that the goals they pursue are worth pursuing. But, in the context of Big Tech, that would have us believe that boosting screen time, increasing click-through rates on ads, promoting purchases of an algorithmically-recommended item, and profit-maximizing are the ultimate outcomes we care about.

The problem here is that goals such as connecting people, increasing human flourishing, or promoting freedom, equality, and democracy are not goals that are computationally tractable. Technologists are always on the lookout for quantifiable metrics. Measurable inputs to a model are their lifeblood, and the need to quantify produces a bias toward measuring things that are easy to quantify. But simple metrics can take us further away from the important goals we really care about, which may require multiple or more complicated metrics or, more fundamentally, may not lend themselves to straightforward quantification. This results in technologists frequently substituting what is measurable for what is meaningful. Or as the old saying goes, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

There is no shortage of examples of the “bad proxy” phenomenon, but perhaps one of the most illustrative is an episode in Facebook’s history. Facebook Vice President Andrew Bosworth revealed in an internal memo in 2016 how the company pursued growth in the number of people on the platform as the one and only relevant metric for their larger mission of giving people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. “The natural state of the world,” he wrote, “is not connected. It is not unified. It is fragmented by borders, languages, and increasingly by different products. The best products don’t win. The ones everyone use win.” To accomplish their mission of connecting people, Facebook simplified the task to growing their ever-more connected userbase. As Bosworth noted: “The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.” But what happens when “connecting people” comes with potential violations of user privacy, greater circulation of hate speech and misinformation, or political polarization that tears at the fabric of our democracy?

The optimization mindset is also prone to the “success disaster.” The issue here is not that the technologist has failed in accomplishing something, but rather that their success in solving for one objective has wide-ranging consequences for other things we care about. The realm of worthy ends is vast, and when it comes to world-changing technologies that have implications for fairness, privacy, national security, justice, human autonomy, freedom of expression, and democracy, it’s fair to assume that values conflict in many circumstances. Solutions aren’t so clear cut and inevitably involve trade-offs among competing values. This is where the optimization mindset can fail us.

Think for example of the amazing technological advances in agriculture. Factory farming has dramatically increased agricultural productivity. Where it once took 55 days to raise a chicken before slaughter, it now takes 35, and an estimated 50 billion are killed every year–more than five million killed every hour of every day of the year. But the success of factory farming has generated terrible consequences for the environment (increases in methane gases that contribute to climate change), our individual health (greater meat consumption is correlated with heart disease), and public health (greater likelihood of transmission of viruses from animals to humans that could cause a pandemic).

Success disasters abound in Big Tech as well. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have succeeded in connecting billions of people in a social network, but now that they have created a digital civic square, they have to grapple with the conflict between freedom of expression and the reality of misinformation and hate speech.

The bottom line is that technology is an explicit amplifier. It requires us to be explicit about the values we want to promote and how we trade-off between them, because those values are encoded in some way into the objective functions that are optimized. And it is an amplifier because it can often allow for the execution of a policy far more efficiently than humans. For example, with current technology we could produce vehicles that automatically issue speeding tickets whenever the driver exceeded the speed limit—and could issue a warrant for the driver’s arrest after they had enough speeding tickets. Such a vehicle would provide extreme efficiency in upholding speed limits. However, this amplification of safety would infringe on the competing values of autonomy (to make our own choices about safe driving speeds and the urgency of a given trip) or privacy (not to have our driving constantly surveilled).

Several years ago, one of us received an invitation to a small dinner. Founders, venture capitalists, researchers at a secretive tech lab, and two professors assembled in the private dining room of a four-star hotel in Silicon Valley. The host—one of the most prominent names in technology—thanked everyone for coming and reminded us of the topic we’d been invited to discuss: “What if a new state were created to maximize science and tech progress powered by commercial models—what would that run like? Utopia? Dystopia?”

The conversation progressed, with enthusiasm around the table for the establishment of a small nation-state dedicated to optimizing the progress of science and technology. Rob raised his hand to speak. “I’m just wondering, would this state be a democracy? What’s the governance structure here?” The response was quick: “Democracy? No. To optimize for science, we need a beneficent technocrat in charge. Democracy is too slow, and it holds science back.”

Adapted from Chapter 1 of System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot published on September 7 by Harper Collins

Source: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjD2p7UmvryAhXBMd8KHXXUDmMQFnoECAgQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Ftime.com%2F6096754%2Fsilicon-valley-optimization-mindset%2F&usg=AOvVaw0CIPGWnSedYmuw2GOAzewq

How Canada is fighting the war on talent

Good analysis:

Some might look at Noubar Afeyan’s career as a frustrating example of a talented Canadian scientist who got away. The chairman and co-founder of Boston-based Moderna, one of the leading COVID-19 vaccine makers, was born in Lebanon, immigrated to Canada with his family in the 1970s and did his undergraduate studies at McGill University.

Then we lost him. Mr. Afeyan left to get his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, eventually becoming a star scientist and entrepreneur. He has founded several successful U.S. biotech startups and registered more than 100 patents.

The good news is that Canada’s technology landscape has dramatically changed in the past three-plus decades.

Yes, like Mr. Afeyan, many Canadians are still drawn south by the reputations of U.S. colleges and tech giants. But the evidence suggests Canada has largely reversed its brain drain. This country’s fast-growing technology sector is more than holding its own in the global race for talent, even after the deep economic shock of the pandemic, according to an analysis of employment data contained in a new report for the Innovation Economy Council.

Despite the terrible toll of the pandemic, Canada has become more competitive because there are more opportunities here than ever for people to learn, to build companies and to thrive. And that’s making the market for technology jobs remarkably resilient.

Indeed, there are nearly 100,000 more jobs now in so-called STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math – in this country than there were before the pandemic. There is still a gaping hole in Canada’s job market, but not for these people. For the most part, Canadian startups and technology companies absorbed the shock, moved to remote work and in some cases have expanded aggressively.

The resilience of tech employment in these uncertain times is a testament to the Canadian sector’s core strengths – an immigration system that welcomes talented foreigners, a growing crop of promising homegrown STEM graduates and a thriving ecosystem of companies.

It’s a tale of two economies, of course. While there was a net gain of 98,500 STEM jobs, Canada had 431,000 fewer non-STEM jobs in October than it had in February, in sectors such as retail, tourism and airlines.

And there is a cautionary note about the STEM jobs. The number of job postings for these workers is down roughly 50 per cent since February, according to an analysis of data from the Labour Market Information Council. This suggests that companies are still hiring, but perhaps not as enthusiastically as they were before the pandemic.

Another consequence of COVID-19 is that it has accelerated the shift to distributed work forces in the tech industry – teams of employees scattered across different cities and countries. Companies have learned that it’s no longer essential to bring people to them. They can just as easily go where the talent is.

Tech giants – including Google, Facebook and Amazon – have set up large Canadian research and development operations in recent years. A growing number of foreign startups are doing the same. They are moving here to tap our plentiful and affordable supply of programmers, engineers, artificial-intelligence experts and scientists.

Talent flows both ways. Thousands of Canadians continue to pursue careers and education in the U.S. despite four years of anti-immigration rhetoric by outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump threatened to tighten H-1B visas, but it turns out Canadian STEM workers are still successfully applying for them – more Canadians were issued H-1Bs in 2019 than in 2018.

Still, that exodus is significantly smaller than the inflow of foreign students, workers and entrepreneurs. Most of our departing STEM workers go to the United States – IEC research shows that more than 10,000 Canadians went south in 2019 with H-1B visas and green cards. But Canada gained nearly 23,000 global STEM workers through permanent residency and temporary foreign worker visas that year.

These newcomers are more likely than Canadians born here to work and study in STEM disciplines. It’s proof that Canada is a place where talented foreigners want to live, work and start companies.

There is also some evidence that the combination of U.S. political strife and China’s democracy crackdown in Hong Kong may be drawing Canadian expats home. As many as 300,000 of the roughly three million Canadian passport holders living outside the country may have returned home since COVID-19 hit, many for good.

But without opportunity, none of that would happen.

Today, it’s tempting to imagine a different a different life story for Moderna’s Noubar Afeyan. Instead of leaving, he stays in Montreal and goes on to found a biotech company that develops a Canadian-made COVID-19 vaccine that the rest of the world desperately wants. His company is worth more than $60-billion and employs thousands of Canadian scientists.

The resilience of Canada’s STEM work force through the pandemic suggests this kind of homegrown-hero story is not so far-fetched.

Canadians will always leave to find their way in the world. This week’s sale of highly touted Montreal startup Element AI to a California software company marked an unfortunate loss of both intellectual property and talent. Canada isn’t the world’s biggest pond and we’ll never retain all of our companies and people. But we’ve shown that we can win the war for talent.

The Trump presidency peddled its anti-immigration messaging, eroding the false narrative that the best and brightest were always welcome in America. Canada countered with policies and public-relations efforts aimed at attracting talent, such as the highly successful Global Talent Stream program and Communitech’s “We Want You” campaign. It has worked.

But the talent war isn’t over. The key is to continue to create – and promote – opportunities and incentives for the best and brightest here in Canada. If we’ve learned anything from the past few years, it’s that narratives matter. And Canada has a good story to tell.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/commentary/article-how-canada-is-fighting-the-war-on-talent/

The U.S. Has Embraced Immigrant Tech Entrepreneurs. Now It’s Europe’s Turn

Interesting that this article is silent on the impact of Trump administration policies with respect to H1-B visas and reducing the attractiveness of the USA for international students. Major oversight of blind spot notwithstanding his points on Europe:

The world is on the cusp of a counterattack on COVID thanks to several vaccines that are currently seeking regulatory approval and a swift rollout.For entrepreneurs and the tech industry, this is a moment when their value to society is demonstrated: business and technology is (along with medicine) leading us out of the pandemic.

But Germany’s Turkish community, and Europe’s minorities in general, are celebrating for a different reason. Turkish-Germans are an often marginalized group, similar to other minorities around the world. Like any community, they are proud of their success stories, such as Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci, the husband-and-wife co-founders of BioNTech, the firm behind the first vaccine to report a successful phase three trial, based on cutting edge mRNA technology.

These highly visible success stories are relatively rare. Germany, just like much of Europe, has boardrooms that are almost uniformly white. This even includes the tech sector, which in the United States is one of the most open and meritocratic places in the world.

In my 20 years in tech, including in Silicon Valley, I have worked with founders with roots all over the world.

This shouldn’t be surprising: many of America’s biggest tech success stories are those of immigrant backgrounds. Google co-founder Sergey Brin was born in Moscow. Tesla’s Elon Musk is South African. Steve Jobs’s biological father is from Syria, and Jeff Bezos’s stepfather, Mike Bezos, is Cuban-American.

In the past, things have been very different on the other side of the Atlantic, where the only possible equivalent would have been Paris-born eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who moved to the United States as a child, along with his Iranian-born parents.

Arguably it is Silicon Valley’s open attitude to investment and entrepreneurship that makes these American successes possible. Despite there still being no European Silicon Valley, I’m amazed at the level of innovation I’m seeing from start-ups across the continent, including places like Spain and France which are not always thought of as tech hubs. Many of those founders are from minorities, which are a natural fit for techpreneurship.

The huge expansion of tech jobs and tech-based entrepreneurship in the U.S. over the last two decades has created exponential demand for technical skills. Those are the types of skills that many immigrant kids are nudged towards, thanks to parents from developing nations who often see the value of science rather than, say, liberal arts.

A similar expansion is underway in Europe, despite a large portion of the continent’s industries still being traditional. To continue with the German example, only one of the country’s fivelargest companies, Siemens, is tech-related; its culture is very different from the “move fast and break things” attitude of Silicon Valley, with the firm being founded in 1847 (32 years before Edison filed a patent for his light bulb).

It is only in new, innovative industries that the immigrant work ethic and appetite for risk can come into their own.

To create more BioNTechs, European firms have to be ready to make way for the new wave of start-ups—whoever their founders are—without being suffocated by legacy businesses that are centuries-old and may be set in their ways.

At a more basic level, the relationship between host communities around the world and those of immigrant background needs to change. Most societies are very good at tolerating immigrants as much-needed Uber drivers and restaurant servers, less so at supporting them to develop their skills—and their children’s—to equip them for the top.

This isn’t sustainable, because each generation has grander designs than the one before. My parents moved to America in 1971, and as a second-generation immigrant my goals in life are even broader and more assertive than theirs. I have started a business, for example, when they didn’t. Just as I was given the opportunity to think bigger than my parents, my children are even more ambitious than I am.

Europe needs to move from a tactical, transactional mindset with migration towards a strategic, vision-based one. It should be more positive and aspirational: “We want to be the best, and we need to attract the world’s dreamers, innovators and disruptors if we are going to achieve that.”

As an American, I sometimes feel that Europe is stuck in the past. As a young country, America is not as set in its ways as many European nations. The U.S. still seems to act like a teenager: excited about the opportunities of the future, and perhaps sometimes being naive and getting itself into tricky situations (like a disputed election result).

Europe, on the other hand, acts more like a retiree. It prizes stability above all else—and many of its businesses are the same. Sometimes the price of stability has meant sacrificing innovation and opportunity.

The European Union is trying to create a similarly strong narrative to the American Dream to drive it forward. The post-Brexit United Kingdom is attempting the same with the image of “Global Britain.”

Whether they succeed will be demonstrated in the names and faces that shape their economies in the 21st century, and how similar they are to those that dominated the 20th.

Source: The U.S. Has Embraced Immigrant Tech Entrepreneurs. Now It’s Europe’s Turn

The Importance Of Immigrants For The Future Of Tech

As noted frequently and likely that the incoming Biden administration will reverse many of the counter-productive Trump administration policies:

The importance of migrants was underlined during the Covid-19 crisis when it was revealed that the founders of both BioNTech and Moderna, two of the companies at the forefront of the development of a vaccine against the virus, are immigrants to the United States and Germany respectively.

This should perhaps come as no surprise. After all, I wrote recentlyabout the importance of immigrants for jobs, after new researchfrom Kellogg School of Management showed that immigrants actually create a huge number of jobs by virtue of their entrepreneurial abilities.

Wharton research further elaborates on this point by pointing out that immigrant founders not only create jobs, but also bring considerable finance with them. The authors state that cross-border VC investment is now at record levels, with this in large part due to the increasingly international nature of entrepreneurship.

Driving AI

It’s perhaps no surprise, therefore, that recent research from MIT’ CSAIL lab has shown that while American continues to lead the way in the development of artificial intelligence, much of the actual breakthroughs are driven by foreign-born scientists.

The researchers assessed improvements made to the key sections of AI over the past 70 years, and found that around two-thirds of the gains in that time were delivered by researchers at North American universities. What is important, however, is that in the last 30 years, over 75% of these breakthroughs have come from foreign-born scientists.

“If we want the United States to continue to be ground zero for computer science, we need to make sure that our policies make it easy to continue to bring host international researchers to join our institutions,” the researchers say.

A broken pipeline

Research from Cornell suggests, however, that this is a pipeline that is increasingly dysfunctional. The paper highlights how despite many foreign-born Ph.D. graduates applying for jobs at tech startups, and indeed receiving offers to work for them, a large number of them fail to actually take up those jobs due to visa issues.

Instead, those people were much more likely to work at larger tech companies who have the resources and expertise to help them navigate the Kafka like H-1B and permanent residency process.

It’s a situation that has also been chronicled by researchers from Georgetown University, who found that restrictive immigration policies are hampering the ability of American firms to recruit and retain the kind of AI talent they need.

“Historically, immigrants have helped America lead the world in technological innovation,” the authors say. “Artificial intelligence is no exception. Foreign-born talent fuels the U.S. AI sector at every level, from student researchers in academic labs to foreign and naturalized workers in leading companies.”

The study reveals that foreign-born talent plugs a crucial hole in the AI talent marketplace, with the hole likely to persist and even grow in the coming years. A laborious and out-of-date immigration policy is thus hindering the competitiveness of American AI firms because they cannot recruit or retain the talent they need to thrive.

Fragile ground

This could have profound implications for the hegemony of Western nations in the development of AI. The MIT researchers highlight that while residents of Europe and North America making up just 15% of the global population, they’ve contributed over 75% of the breakthroughs in AI.

The free movement of people has been crucial to that, as people with considerable natural talent have been able to move to countries where that talent not only has the opportunity to flourish, but the peer group to help support their work.

This was emphasized clearly by research from McKinsey a few years ago, which highlighted that 35% of the 247 million or so people who live outside their country of birth are highly skilled migrants with at least a tertiary education. What’s more, these migrants are typically significantly more qualified than the native population.

What’s more, research from the University of California San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy goes further still and directly measures the impact of migrants on innovation. It shows that bringing in talent from abroad not only helps with the birth of new products and phasing out of older ones, but also has an impact on corporate profits and consumer wellbeing.

“We found companies with higher rates of H-1B workers increased product reallocation–the ability for companies to create new products and replace outdated ones, which in turn, grows revenue,” the authors say. “This discourse could have far reaching implications for U.S. policy, the profitability of firms, the welfare of workers, and the potential for innovation in the economy as a whole.”

Brain drain

The findings come at a time when countries such as the United Kingdom and United States have been gripped by populist politicians who have risen to power in large part due to opposition to immigration. Recent research from Vienna University of Economics and Business highlights how the “hostile environment” created in the U.K. has been driving foreign-born scientists from their shores, with a particular exodus occurring since the Brexit referendum in 2016.

A similar picture was painted of the U.S. by research from Ohio State University, which revealed that a growing number of Chinese researchers are leaving the country and taking their ideas and intellect with them.

The study found that around 16,000 researchers have returned to China from overseas in the last few years, with 4,500 leaving the United States alone. That’s roughly twice the number who were leaving per year in 2010. It’s a trend that is helping to turn China into a true scientific powerhouse.

The West has undoubtedly been a driving force in the development of AI over the past 70 years, but if restrictive immigration policies continue to dominate, it is highly likely that other regions will drive the next generation of AI.

Source: The Importance Of Immigrants For The Future Of Tech

Immigration Policy and the Global Competition for AI Talent

Some really interesting cross-country comparisons, highlighting the gap between the current US approach and other countries:

This paper analyzes policies relevant to four categories of immigrants: students in AI-related fields of study, workers in AI-related industries, distinguished AI workers (that is, individuals internationally renowned for their achievements in AI), and AI entrepreneurs. These groups represent the range of backgrounds and experience levels that nations need to compete in AI. We explore trends that, taken together, may be making the U.S. immigration system less attractive to these groups relative to other countries’ systems:

  • Within the last five years, the UK, Canada, France, and Australia have adopted major immigration reforms to attract talent in AI and other technical fields. The United States has not.
  • Despite growing job opportunities, recent graduates and others may be restrained from contributing to the U.S. AI workforce to their full potential—partly due to current caps, backlogs, and sponsorship processes at the expense of the employer for temporary work visas and permanent residency. In contrast, Canada’s new immigration policies quickly bring in skilled migrants and integrate graduates into the workforce. The UK is proposing similar changes to ease and expedite the immigration process for technically skilled migrants.
  • The United States’ per-country quotas on permanent residency—which remain unchanged for decades—have created a significant bottleneck, especially for Indian nationals who make up the 25 percent of Silicon Valley’s technical workforce. The other countries in this analysis forego quotas on permanent residency status and allow immigrants who meet permanent residency requirements to apply.
  • Although data is scarce and important trends are in nascent stages, empirical indicators suggest that some new AI-focused immigration policies in other countries are successful.
  • The United States has long attracted immigrant entrepreneurs with its innovative culture, but does not offer an entrepreneur visa. Entrepreneur visas offered by other countries in this analysis have largely failed due to unrealistic and vague metrics for business success or long processing times. The United States could learn from the mistakes of competitor countries and design its own visa to increase its immigrant entrepreneur population and create jobs for Americans.

The United States historically and presently benefits from a strong baseline of technological innovation through existing institutions. Immigration trends alone are unlikely to eliminate the U.S. advantage in the near term. However, the global landscape is shifting, and restrictive immigration policies threaten to undermine U.S. AI progress in the long term. To ensure America remains competitive for AI talent in the coming years, U.S. policymakers should consider reforms to current immigration statutes, regulations, and agency guidance. Other countries’ immigration reforms suggest three main lessons:

  • Improve temporary visa options for skilled workers. The structure of the H-1B temporary work visa prevents AI talent from contributing to the United States to their full potential. In particular, workers seeking permanent residency while on H-1B status—a process that could take years or decades—would need another sponsorship if they wished to switch positions or employers. Further, the H-1B lottery occurs only once a year, forcing employers to wait until the annual draw on April 1 to learn whether critical employees have been selected. In contrast, Canada has no cap on the number of work permits that can be provided year-round and issues these permits in as little as two weeks.

  • Expand opportunities for permanent residency. Allocating permanent residency status based on decades-old caps and immigrants’ countries of origin, rather than the skills they bring to the United States, has created a bottleneck for highly skilled AI workers who wish to contribute to the U.S. AI workforce in the long term. Specifically, the employment-based green card wait time for Indian nationals, who make up 25 percent of Silicon Valley’s technical work force, is 89 years. There are no formal caps or quotas on permanent residency in the UK, France, Australia, and Canada. Instead, immigrants are eligible to apply once they have lived or worked in the country for a set number of years.

  • Expand opportunities for entrepreneurs. While each of the other four countries in this analysis offers some form of an entrepreneur visa, initial results suggest they have been relatively unsuccessful. The United States should strengthen AI innovation by adopting an entrepreneur visa informed by the flaws of competitor nations to better attract and retain AI entrepreneurs.