Author: Mike Magee

Too many Chinese CEOs in Silicon Valley

Donald-Trump-funnyDonald Trump’s top advisor claims that there are too many Chinese CEOs in Silicon Valley, in a statement which might suggest that Donald Prince of Orange might want businesses to select whites only to lead them.

Steve Bannon, who previously served as Breitbart News Network’s executive chairman, hinted at some of his views on foreign workers at technology companies and to be fair they were made over a year ago in an interview between Trump, Bannon and The Washington Post. He might have suddenly realised that all people are equal and that deciding anything based on race is a rather bad idea in the meantime.

In the interview, which turned up yesterday, Bannon said foreign students should return to their respective countries after attending school in the US, instead of sticking around and working at or starting tech companies.
Trump was a little more logical. He was worried that these students attending Ivy League schools and then going home: “We have to be careful of that, Steve. You know, we have to keep our talented people in this country,” Trump said.

Bannon replied that: “When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think…” he didn’t finish his sentence. “A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.”

While he did not say anything against immigrants, he seemed to hint at the idea of a white nationalist identity with the phrase “civic society.” Under Bannon’s watch stories which he allowed to go up on Breitbart News, included pieces that attacked women, feminists, political correctness, Muslims, and trans people. Breitbart has become a go-to site for the US far right.

Foreign-born CEOs, including Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, have tried to quell concerns from employees.
Last week, Nadella and Microsoft congratulated Trump, while saying that the company’s commitment to “fostering a diverse and inclusive culture” remains “steadfast.”

Logitech sees life in the PC yet

funny-pictures-cat-hunting-miceLogitech’s CEO Bracken Darrell said he is not ready to walk away from the personal computer business just yet, even though faster-growing accessory markets are making the outfit a pile of dosh.

The company recently introduced a home control device it calls Pop switch which can act as a remote control for lights, door locks, speakers, thermostats and other household devices.

Darrel Darrell told investors at Morgan Stanley European Tech Media and Telecom conference that everything the company is doing today is about creating cloud-based peripherals.

“I keep the PC business in a dark space in my mind. The rest of the business has just been super exciting.”
Committing PCs to a mental underworld has helped Darrell transform his company from one which was in steady decline. Logitech is now on track to report steady sales growth in constant currencies of around 10 percent and improving operating margins around the same level.

But Darrell said that Logitech was now holding its own in the PC peripherals business which really has no right to grow.

PC accessories like mice and keyboards still accounted for nearly half of net sales of $564 million for the quarter ended in September.

Logitech is also gearing up to build virtual reality or augmented reality gadgets. In a throwback, its product developers are reusing technology from a pointing device the company developed in the early 1990s for an earlier generation of virtual reality systems that went nowhere.

Cisco shocks Wall Street with adjusted profit

the Cisco kidCisco forecast adjusted profit for the current quarter below analysts’ estimate as the company’s traditional business of switches and routers continues to struggle with sluggish demand.

Shares of the world’s largest networking gear maker fell more than 4 percent in extended trading.

The networking giant has been trying to improve its wireless and security businesses to offset weakness in its switching unit. This section used to be its bread and butter but is facing intense competition from companies such as Juniper and China’s Huawei.

It looks like the newer moves are not growing fast enough to make up for declines in its main networking division.
Revenue from Cisco’s switching business fell 7 percent to $3.72 billion in the first quarter ended Oct. 29.

The decline in switching is likely to stretch out over several quarters, Needham Co analyst Alex Henderson said.
Revenue from security business rose 11 percent to $540 million, while wireless unit’s revenue fell 2 percent to $632 million.

Cisco said it expected an adjusted profit of 55-57 cents per share for the second quarter, lower than analysts’ average estimate of 59 cents.

The company had $71 billion in total cash and investments at the end of the first quarter, including $10.4 billion in the United States.

It said it would lay off about 5,500 employees from the first quarter, recorded a pretax restructuring charge of $411 million.

Wall Street was expecting adjusted earnings of 59 cents per share on revenue of $12.33 billion.

Space X wants to build a satellite internet

pigs in spacePrivate rocket outfit SpaceX is asking the US government to approval its cunning plan to operate a massive satellite network that would provide high-speed, global internet coverage.

According to its US Federal Communications Commission application, Space X plans an orbiting digital communications array that would eventually consist of 4,425 satellites.

The project, which Musk previously said would cost at least $10 billion, was first announced in January 2015. Signed up to the project are Google and Fidelity Investments, which together have contributed $1 billion to Musk’s space launch firm.

The proposed SpaceX network would begin with the launch of about 800 “care sized” satellites to expand internet access in the United States, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

“The system is designed to provide a wide range of broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, government and professional users worldwide,” SpaceX said in technical documents accompanying its filing.

It is not the only outfit planning this. Similar internet-via-satellite arrays are under development by privately owned OneWeb and by Boeing.

The system would provide a space-based alternative to cable, fibre-optics and other terrestrial internet access currently available. However, it will be more expensive and probably require higher powered phones.
SpaceX did not say when its launches would occur. The satellites would be launched into orbits ranging from 714 miles to 823 miles above the planet.

Armenia ups the IT ante

Armenian wine makerYou can probably tell from other stories I’ve filed recently, but last week I was in Armenia for the first time to report on the high tech in the country.

There’s plenty of famous Armenians – the one in the news most recently is Kim Kardashian West, robbed of millions of pounds worth of jewellery in Paris. But others include Hovannes Adamian – inventor of colour TV, Boris Babanal – father of supercomputing in the Soviet bloc, and many many more. You can find the impressive list here.

On that page you’ll also find a list of prominent chess players. Chess is Armenia’s national game. Another very famous Armenian was George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, born in Gyumri, Armenia’s second city and formerly called Alexandropol. This city suffered a devastating blow in 1988 when it was close to the epicentre of a 6.8 earthquake which killed an estimated 45,000 people. The country has suffered other tragedies, including mass genocide of around 1.5 million people starting in the days of the Ottoman Empire, something which modern day Turkey still denies.

I must say that speeding around Armenia over a period of five days I was very impressed by the strides in IT the country is making. We visited a number of lively companies including PicsArt, Digital Pomegranate, Volo,  and Energize Global Services.

In addition, I had meetings with Microsoft Armenia, Mentor Graphics and Synopsys – I’ve covered the last two in separate articles on TechEye in recent days.

And I took in visits to Tumo – the Centre for Creative Technologies, the Enterprise Incubation Foundation, ANEL – the National Polytechnic University of Armenia, and Gtech, based in Gyumri.

digitecLast Saturday I visited a computer exhibition in capital city Yerevan called Digitec Expo 2016 where I had the opportunity to meet a large number of other companies – big and small and just starting out. As a veteran of countless trade shows all over the world, I can tell you that while this isn’t the largest, it’s certainly buzzing with activity and enthusiasm and numbers aren’t everything. See that car on the right? That’s the president’s.

Did I say I’d been to a winery? I did that too. Shame you can’t easily buy those wines and those brandies here in the UK. The Armenian currency is called DRAM and a mere 600 of those will buy you a packet of cigarettes. 600 DRAM, by the way, is around a quid.

What really struck me was the level of education in Armenia, with universities, and computer companies cooperating with other in the IT sector. The youngsters’ enthusiasm was great to see – I don’t think their palates are quite as jaded as here in the UK and America.

I’m told that IT is the fastest growing sector in the country and represents a cool five percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

All of the companies and organisations I spoke to made it clear that Armenia wasn’t aiming to compete on price for outsourcing projects – quality is the name of the IT game there, and I was certainly struck by the professionalism of the people I spoke to.

In some ways, the Armenian tech sector reminded me of the early days of technology in Taiwan – not so much the type of IT, but the willingness of the people to roll up their sleeves and to work with will and enthusiasm. From being abandoned by the Soviet Union to its own devices, my assessment is that Armenia is already going places and has plenty of room to grow more.

Did I mention that the parts of the countryside I’ve seen are beautiful too?

Volo goes global in Armenian worldwide mission

intel_ireland_semiconductor_chip_fab_300mm_waferWe had a chance last week to chat to Volo – a 10 year old company based in the capital, Yerevan, which now appears to have become a global, rather than a local, company.

Volo’s in house motto is “razor sharp thinking” – so what exactly does the company do?

It claims that it is “out innovating” other outsourcing companies in the field worldwide,  and that’s largely down to its solid engineering base and the way it approaches the market.

The company said that for the first eight years it had 24 of the best developers in the world, but few people had heard of the company.

Now all that’s changed. Its customers include Spinnaker, BMW and Accelerance and they’re just the ones it’s talking about.

Volo executives told TechEye last week: “Prospects had never heard of Armenia and people thought there couldn’t be IT in Armenia. But Armenians throughout history have invented things.”

Armenian technologeers were responsible for the first satellite to be launched – Sputnik – and Armenians also invented colour TV.

As far as outsourcing is concerned, the burning matter of the day isn’t price, but talent.

The company specialises in developing enterprise, internet of things and mobile technology for its customers.

We were told: “We are now a global company. We have big brains but small egos.”

Volo has hired superior post Soviet engineers and works with a number of big players including Microsoft.

And the company claimed that both it and the country have a progressive approach to engineering.

“Armenia has the highest proportion of female engineers than anywhere else [in the world].”

Synopsys in push to power up Armenia education

intel_ireland_semiconductor_chip_fab_300mm_waferI was in Armenia last week, courtesy, you could barely Adam and Eve it, of the British Embassy,  and was given the chance to speak to many a vendor, to students, and to regular people too, and taste the atmosphere of this ancient country.

In particular, I was privileged to interview Dr. Vazgen Melikyan, the director of Synopsys Armenia’s education department  and believe you me, that was quite an eye opener. The company is running effectively a powerhouse university.

Like its competitor, Mentor Graphics, Synopsys is investing money in bringing Armenia squarely into the 22nd century. The country is noted for its development skills – for example, an Armenian invented optical laser surgery, while another, American Armenian, Charlie Demerjian, invented an influential magazine called semiaccurate.com.

The professor said that the Synopsys aim is to cooperate with the main American universities. He said: “We select the best students after the second year.”

He said the internal university also offers a PhD programme, an IC design programme and an electronic design course.

Synopsys licenses its tools to external students with each licence worth around $1.5 million. But its students get the tools free of charge.

“We’re changing our curriculum in response to changing conditions,” said Professor Melikyan. Ninety percent of its students get jobs in the semiconductor industry and 77 percent get jobs in Armenia. The rest work for competitors such as Mentor Graphics.

Synopsys Armenia has its own library, which we saw when we were there last week, and it’s pretty impressive.

The Armenian story appears to be largely untold, although here at TechEye we’ve known about the influence its scientists and engineers have for some years. What we particularly like, resulting from our visit, is the clear enthusiasm and dynamism of the ICT industry in the country.

It’s pretty clear to us that the story needs to be told outside the confines of the IT industry – this little country is clearly going places.

Good chip engineers are hard to find

FUTURE HORIZONS ARMENIA 2016 Mentor Graphics has offices all over the world but we talked to the head of its Armenian office and she had plenty to say about finding top engineers.

Irina Dumanyan said that that she looks after 150 people in Armenia and also runs an internship programme.

Mentor has a set of different projects which are worked on by people in its offices all around the world.

But its Armenia office was never in the business of hiring cheap labour.

“Engineers are hard to find, that’s why we established the internship programme,” she said. The company puts its internees on live projects.

She said universities needed to get more savvy about what graduates will actually need in the real world.

“The university mentality should be changed and lots more investment is required,” she said.  It’s hard for Mentor to cooperate with the Armenian state university.

PicsArt spells out its plans

Hovhaness AvoyanBritish people may not have heard a great deal about PicsArt, but we certainly found out a good deal about the firm at its office in Yeravan, Armenia earlier today.

The CEO, Hovhaness Avoyan – pictured – is a serial startup guy – this is his fifth startup and started up five years ago. The company has 200 people working in Armenia and 25 in San Francisco, its headquarters.

The firm got venture funding two years ago from the already famous Sequoia.

Its engineers are based in its Yeravan, Armenia engineering hub.

The company is doing pretty well, said Avoyan, and isn’t looking to be taken over.

“We’re on a growth part. We’re not looking at acquisition,” he said today. “We’re one of the largest in the social editing platform. Our biggest competitor is Instagram.”

It’s just about to shunt out a new version of PicsArt that uses artificial intelligence. Avoyan knows all about AI, he graduated in it way back when, but the new AI is a different kettle of fish.

“AI has become very practical,” he said.

He has some strong views about the lack of backing of Armenia’s IT sector by the government. “We’d like to see more investment in universities,” he told us today. The company is considering opening an office in the UK.

Petition calls for Brexit to protect EU collaboration on R&D

European flagA total of 38,370 people has called on the UK government to protect access to European Union research and development programmes in the run up to Britain leaving the bloc.

The petition says that UK access to the programmes “stimulates billions of pounds of investment” and gives us here access to skills and technologies.

“Ending our access to these programmes will weaken our economy which depends on exploitation of innovative science and technology,” the petitioners say.

The government under its own rules has to respond to petitions if over 10,000 people sign.

But as far as Brexit goes, the government hasn’t really made a response except in the blandest of terms.

“The Government continues to value scientists, researchers and students, including those from outside the UK who come to learn and work in our country and recognises the benefits that the rich diversity of our research and scientific communities brings to our society and our economy. The UK continues to be one of the best places in the world to do science and the Government will work to ensure that our excellent education and research remains a magnet for brilliant minds.”

That, according to one of the lead petitioners TechEye spoke to this week, is nothing short of scandalous.

The petition says that while the UK might be able to replace the lost EU funding, it wouldn’t be able to restore research collaboration and indeed they’d have no financial incentive to do so.

You can find the petition here.