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Facebook ex-HR boss worries grads will miss out due to coronavirus

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Fiona Mullan, former vice president of global human resources at Facebook.

Fiona Mullan

LONDON — Graduates are likely to find the workplace “much more challenging” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the former vice president of global human resources at Facebook, who said companies are finding it harder to offer them a satisfactory experience.

Fiona Mullan, who spent almost six years at Facebook, said she is particularly concerned that graduates won’t be able to form the same kinds of relationships with their colleagues that they normally would when they enter the world of work.

“We made some of our best friends in that first job,” Mullan told CNBC via Zoom last week. “We did that because we went on holiday together or we went on boozy nights together or … we learned together. That cohort experience for graduates is going to be much more challenging.”

Mullan, who is now chief people officer at cellphone top-up company Ding, said she’s interested to see whether the pandemic ends up diluting company cultures or whether there’s a difference in job satisfaction levels between employees who joined pre-Covid and post-Covid. “How will it be for people who have never been inside an office or met a physical person of the company that they’re going to work for?”

While some industries such as travel and retail have been decimated by the pandemic, tech on the whole has continued to grow, albeit slightly slower than before, said Mullan.

“The tech industry will be better positioned to continue to invest in graduate hiring than other industries,” Mullan said. However, she highlighted that there likely will be fewer graduate roles available at tech companies this year as a result of the virus.

Engineers, moderators and software developers

In terms of recruitment, Mullan said social media platforms will continue to focus on hiring engineering talent, moderators, and people with the skills to develop software that can automate moderation.

“They’re building for the future and their appetite for the market’s best technical talent is always a strategic plan,” she said. “If they miss a year, they feel the negative impact of that in future years so they will be keen to continue to invest there.”

Indeed, The Telegraph newspaper on Monday reported that TikTok was hiring a new “university relations recruiter” at its London office to find at least nine people to start work at the company next year. Some of the new recruits will reportedly work on developing the company’s machine-learning software that underpins the app’s recommendation algorithm, while others will work in marketing, content development and creative strategy.

Focus on efficiencies

Looking ahead, Mullan said tech firms would likely look to make their finance, legal, and HR teams more “efficient” in the pandemic.

Chris Bray, a recruiter at Heidrick & Struggles who helps U.S. tech giants to find talent in Europe, agreed that strategic decisions around recruitment were now being made, after a difficult period earlier in the year. 

“At the outset of Covid, we witnessed a semi-paralysis amongst many large players, with spending reined in and recruitment strategies put on hold,” he told CNBC.

However, he added: “Over the past quarter, a definite pattern has emerged now that uncertainty is the new-normal and a number of companies have thrived during their first six months in a Covid economy, they are starting to make braver moves and we are seeing a lot of more strategic decision making.”


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The Guardian view on Arcadia and a retail emergency: where’s the plan? | Retail industry

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Arcadia is a figurative region of rural contentment. Perhaps no other business has been so inappropriately named as Arcadia Group, which owns Topshop, Burton and Wallis. This week it is likely to enter administration, offering a cautionary tale. Sir Philip Green, Arcadia’s driving force, used cost-cutting to boost profits. Financial engineering saw a £1.2bn tax-free dividend paid to the Green family in 2005. But there was little innovation. Arcadia lost ground to high street and online rivals. Sir Philip became embroiled in unseemly rows with the pensions watchdog over Arcadia’s retirement fund and his behaviour towards employees. More than 13,000 jobs could go in the biggest retail collapse of the pandemic so far.

The demise of Arcadia threatens to sink a rescue deal for a struggling Debenhams. These two occupy 600 stores and employ about 27,000 people – more than the fishing industry that the prime minister wants to protect. Yet there’s no rescue planned for the high street. Familiar names such as Monsoon, Accessorize, Laura Ashley, Oasis and Warehouse have gone under this year. Analysts say almost a quarter of a million people will lose their jobs as 20,000 stores close, with women disproportionately affected. This will be a bleak Christmas for many families. Though the high street giants must take their share of the blame, it is an emergency that the government needs to address. City and town centres rely on shops for a sense of place. Retail is a vital source of work in every community, providing one in eight jobs and accounting for more than a tenth of Britain’s economic output, according to a 2018 TUC report.

As spending moves from physical stores to the internet, the amount of work and person-to-person contact involved in shopping wanes. Only about a minute of human labour goes into the average Amazon parcel: its plans to recruit 8,000 more workers won’t make up for the tens of thousands of high street jobs lost. Whether online or offline, owners win big while workers lose out. E-commerce executives this month raked in the largest payouts in UK corporate history. Many bricks-and-mortar retail jobs are low-paid, particularly for young workers. But they offer human contact and a ladder to the top. Tony Hoggett, the chief operating officer of Tesco, began his career stacking shelves, and noted in 2017 that his is “one of a handful of industries where it’s still genuinely possible for people to progress from the shopfloor to the boardroom”.

Coronavirus is a reckoning for the retail trade, with profound effects for the economy. As big names go under, landlords face rent shortfalls that could drag down asset prices. Creditors will be staring at big losses. This unsustainable mix of trends is coming to a head: job cuts lead to income reductions and then spending drops. Workers cannot load up with ever increasing levels of debt. Demand for goods and services will fall. The government must show leadership by setting a policy framework that is conducive to good jobs, with effective tech oversight and proper corporate accountability. It might be too late to stop the Green family sloping off in a yacht, but checking irresponsible behaviour in business ought to be part of the ministerial brief.


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Microsoft’s GitHub has become magnet for thorny issues like RIAA

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In 2018, Microsoft made one of its priciest acquisitions ever, spending $7.5 billion on code-sharing site GitHub. It wasn’t the cleanest fit. GitHub is used by over 50 million developers who tend to be outspoken, including when it comes to things they dislike about Microsoft.

The deal continues to pose unexpected challenges, like a recent spat with the Recording Industry Association of America. In October, the RIAA asked GitHub to take down youtube-dl, a piece of open-source software that enables people to download videos from YouTube and other online services.

The software disappeared from the internet, and users objected.

One GitHub user, on the site, described the incident as “a shame for GitHub” and said “that Microsoft acquisition was really a mistake.” Another called for Microsoft to resign from the RIAA, an organization that consists primarily of record labels and musicians. The removal by GitHub so angered yet another user that the person responded by posting part of GitHub’s own proprietary software on the area of the site where digital copyright takedown requests are reported.

The code was adjusted by the person who maintained the project so that it was no longer in violation of the RIAA. The company then brought youtube-dl back online and announced a new process for handling similar claims.

Like fellow tech giants Amazon, Apple and Google, Microsoft faces all sorts of challenges related to its bigness, whether from its many rivals, millions of customers, profit-hungry investors or politicians concerned about competition. GitHub, as a storehouse of open-source projects and a virtual lifeline for programmers, creates tension of a different sort.

Some problems GitHub can solve by adhering to the demands of protesting users. Others are more sensitive, like the company’s work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

GitHub has refused to cut ties with ICE, leading employees to resign after the agency renewed its contract to use GitHub software. Key GitHub users published an open letter late last year insisting that GitHub end the contract, citing the agency’s separation of children from their parents and other activities. Hundreds of GitHub’s own workers signed an internal petition to have GitHub stop work with ICE last year, too, said two former employees who were not authorized to talk about internal affairs.

GitHub did not respond to a request for comment.

In addressing the ICE issue, GitHub expressed opposition to family separation. The company said it doesn’t have a services agreement with the agency, provides no consulting work and “has no visibility into how this software is being used, other than presumably for software development and version control.”

Microsoft has faced criticism, separate from GitHub, for its work providing cloud services to ICE, even though the company said in 2018 that it was “dismayed” by the practice of family separation.

For GitHub, the latest incident involving the video downloading tool has provided an opportunity for users to reignite the ICE controversy. Former GitHub engineer Zach Holman responded to an explanation provided by Nat Friedman, the company’s CEO, by bringing up the past incident.

Friedman’s tweets often receive replies to the effect of “Drop ICE.”

“The whole thing permeates everything they do now,” said Holman, who left GitHub in 2015 and now invests in start-ups. He said the easiest resolution would be to end the contract, which Friedman has described as “not financially material for our company.”

Earlier this year, GitHub was among the technology companies that showed support for the Black community following the killing in May of George Floyd while in police custody, and the nationwide protests that ensued.

A few GitHub users suggested that the company could rename part of its service so that “master,” a racially sensitive word, could be retired. The term referred to the primary area where developers store their code.

GitHub announced a plan to do exactly that one week later, changing the name to “main.” Even with good intentions, the company welcomed a fresh batch of comments about the ICE contract.

Holman summed it up this way: “How do I reconcile your position with ICE and what you’re saying about support for diversity in tech?”

WATCH: The rise of open-source software


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Zoom investors look to post-pandemic 2021 even with big Q3 expected

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