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Lambda School, a coding bootcamp that takes a cut of your next tech salary, now takes a 30% cut in staff • The Register

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The Lambda School, an online coding bootcamp based in San Francisco, on Thursday said it will lay off 65 employees, about a third of the workforce.

The staff cuts follow a settlement announced earlier this week with the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation that requires the school to remove deceptive language from its student contracts.

The department argued that the school’s contract with students violated the California Consumer Financial Protection Law, which took effect at the beginning of the year and was enacted in response to predatory financial practices following from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lambda School offers students the option to finance tuition by deferring payment until after they graduate and get a job, whereupon they’re contractually obligated to repay the cost of their education from their salary.

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The school’s Income Share Agreement (ISA) with students falsely stated that the amount owed constituted a “qualified student loan” that would persist as an obligation even if the student declared bankruptcy.

That’s not the case and Lambda School has agreed to have its financing contracts reviewed for legal compliance and to correct misleading marketing claims.

ISAs have become a popular repayment scheme in recent years and are offered by several dozen colleges and bootcamps. But unlike loans, where the law recognizes specific rights for borrowers and creditors, ISAs have no legal definition beyond the fact that they’re contracts.

“ISAs are financial products, drafted by lawyers, often structured to provide an attractive return on the investment of funders or private investors,” wrote Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressional Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Katie Porter in a June, 2019 letter [PDF] to then Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “They carry many common pitfalls of traditional private student loans – with the added danger of deceptive rhetoric and marketing that obscure their true nature.”

The lawmakers expressed concern that ISAs contain exploitative terms, like mandatory arbitration agreements and class-action lawsuit bans, and they’re not subject to oversight by financial regulators.

One month later that year, a bipartisan group of US Senators proposed a bill titled “ISA Student Protection Act of 2019” to better define the legal parameters of ISAs. It contained impoverishment safeguard provisions like a minimal income level below which ISA payees would no longer be obligated to pay a percentage of their salaries. But the legislation never received a vote.

Doubling down

In a blog post, Austen Allred, co-founder and CEO of Lambda School, revealed the restructuring plan, which includes a temporary halt to enrollment in the school’s part-time programs, and went on to defend ISAs.

“Lambda pioneered the income share agreement (ISA) in the career and technical education space, and we’re now watching many of the schools who followed us abandon their ISA offerings because they believe it’s impossible to make this model work,” he wrote. “We strongly disagree.”

On Twitter, Allred has staked out a still stronger stance, extolling how much better ISAs are than traditional loans – having revamped Lambda’s ISA terms in February – and declaring that it’s ISA-or-bust for the Lambda School.

“It’s entirely possible that in the next 12 months nearly every school stops offering ISAs,” he said. “In fact, I think that’s the most likely outcome. Lambda School is in it for the long haul, though. It’s interest-aligned tuition or nothing at all.”

While it’s not difficult to find Lambda School detractors, there’s also data that suggests some students prosper from their coding bootcamp experience. According to Course Report’s 2020 Coding Bootcamp Alumni Outcomes & Demographics Report, published in March, 2021, “Students who used an ISA or Deferred Tuition actually report higher average salaries – ~$79,000 on average compared to those who opted out of an ISA/Deferred Tuition Plan and earn ~$69,500/year.”

Lambda School has come under fire for claiming that it only makes money when its students make money, even as it reportedly sold half its ISAs for $10K each in 2018 to a hedge fund as if the tuition contracts were any other speculative financial instrument.

This is just the sort of scenario Warren, Pressley, and Porter warned about in their 2019 letter.

“The opportunity for private investors to profit from ISAs – and even sell their investments on Wall Street, just like private student loans – demonstrates the core misalignment between the interests of ISA funders and investors and the best interests of students,” the lawmakers wrote.

“It also creates an incentive for funders and private investors to generate as much profit as possible from ISAs – a dangerous scenario for students.” ®



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CEOs told to ‘think before they tweet’ after Just Eat spat with Uber | Twitter

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Chief executives are being warned to “think twice before they tweet” after the boss of takeaway company Just Eat Takeaway was told his Twitter spat with Uber threatened to undermine the firm’s reputation.

Jitse Groen this week became the latest in a growing list of chief executives to be rebuked by customers, investors and even regulators over ill-judged tweets.

Cat Rock Capital Management, an activist investor which has a 4.7% stake in Just Eat, highlighted Groen’s Twitter battle with Uber boss Dara Khosrowshahi as an example of outbursts that damaged the brand. The investor said Groen’s tweets had partly led to the firm being “deeply undervalued and vulnerable to takeover bids at far below its intrinsic value”.

Earlier this year Groen had a rant at financial analysts on Twitter, claiming that “some can’t even do basic maths”. He tweeted that he was “amazed how bad these analysts have become … All of them mix up definitions. It’s unbelievable.”

Brand and marketing expert Mark Borkowski said Groen’s case highlighted the difficulty executives face when trying to engage with customers on the platform.

“Everyone sees Twitter as a huge marketing opportunity that can drive a business forward, and it really can,” Borkowski said. “But these bosses must stop and think twice before they tweet, as just one misjudged tweet can send their share price plunging.”

Possibly the most expensive tweets ever sent were posted by Elon Musk, the maverick boss of electric car company Tesla, in 2018. The US Securities and Exchange Commission fined Musk and Tesla $20m each after he tweeted that he had “funding secured” to take the company private at $420 a share. The regulator said the tweet, which sent Tesla’s share price up by as much as 13%, violated securities law. As part of the settlement, Musk was ordered to step down as Tesla’s chairman.

Musk’s tweets continued to anger some investors. Pirc, an influential adviser to shareholders including the UK’s local authority pension funds, last year recommended that investors voted against Musk’s re-election to the Tesla board because his tweets posed “a serious risk of reputational harm to the company and its shareholders”.

Pirc said his controversial outbursts on Twitter had cost Tesla millions of dollars in settlements, but Musk easily won the vote, and has continued to tweet several times a day to his 59 million followers.

“Twitter is all about personality,” Borkowski said. “While Musk’s tweets can be very controversial, they fit with his brand. Twitter is perfect for renegades, mavericks and disruptor brands. It’s much harder for well-established brands with solid reputations, if something goes wrong for them they risk damage to their hard-earned brand.

“People now think that to run a successful business, you have to be on social media and every brand has to have a Twitter account,” he said. “The chief executives see that the bosses of their rivals have a Twitter profile, and they feel they have to have one too.”

Borkowski said some bosses have been very successful at building a presence and personality on Twitter, and using their platforms to promote social issues such as LGBTQ+ rights and the Black Lives Matter movement (as well as promote their brand and products).

James Timpson, the chief executive of cobbler Timpson, this week celebrated passing 100,000 followers on his account on which he weaves photos of his colleagues working in shops with posts tackling tax avoidance and prisoner reform.

This week, he responded to Boris Johnson’s proposal to create “fluorescent-jacketed chain gangs” of people found guilty of antisocial behaviour with a tweet suggesting offenders should be helped into work instead.

Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, has won praise for using Twitter to successfully pressure the governor of Indiana into revising proposed legislation that had threatened to allow discrimination against gay people on religious grounds.

Researchers at Harvard Business School and Duke University said Cook “effectively framed the debate using social media at a time when opinions were being formed and the impact went beyond the political”.

Borkowski suggested that before chief executives tweet they should “consider whether they have the personality and temperament to get the tone right each time”.

“There is nothing more inelegant than a chief executive going after rivals publicly on Twitter,” he said.

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It was exactly that sort of behaviour that Cat Rock had accused Groen of undertaking. When Uber Eats announced earlier this year that it would take on Just Eat in Germany, Groen lashed out in a tweet directed at Khosrowshahi, accusing him of “trying to depress our share price”.

Khosrowshahi replied that perhaps Groen should “pay a little less attention to your short term stock price and more attention to your Tech and Ops”. That sparked Groen to reply “thank you for the advice, and then if I may .. Start paying taxes, minimum wage and social security premiums before giving a founder advice on how he should run his business”.

Alex Captain, Cat Rock’s founder, said: “The response should not happen on Twitter. It should happen on a credible forum with the facts, data, and analysis that the company has at its disposal.”

A Just Eat spokesperson said: “Just Eat Takeaway.com has a regular dialogue with all its shareholders and we take all their views very seriously.”



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AWS to retire classic EC2 – the compute service that started the IaaS rush • The Register

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Comment Amazon Web Services has announced the retirement of its third cloud service: the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, aka EC2 Classic.

A July 28 post by AWS Chief Evangelist Jeff Barr explains that the service was superseded in 2009 by Amazon Virtual Private Cloud, then again by Virtual Private Clouds for Everyone in 2013.

Barr’s post explains that customers who signed up with AWS since December 4, 2013, couldn’t use EC2 Classic unless they specifically requested it. The bulk of AWS customers will not, therefore, be inconvenienced by the service’s retirement.

Those that do use the service need to be on their toes, because AWS has set a deadline of August 15, 2022 – after which it expects “no remaining EC2 Classic resources present in any AWS account,” and all migrations to something else will be complete.

As a reminder, on October 31, 2021, AWS will disable EC2 Classic for accounts that don’t use the service and stop selling reserved instances. Barr writes that AWS will work with customers to make those migrations as easy as can be.

“We don’t plan to disrupt any workloads and will do our best to help you to meet these dates,” Barr explains.

The AWS man also reminisces about how EC2 became a big hit, fast. “We helped Animoto to scale to a then-amazing 3,400 instances when their Facebook app went viral,” he writes.

AWS has scaled things rather higher since: in 40th place on the June 2021 update to the Top 500 list of Earth’s mightiest supercomputers was a 172,692-core machine that ran for just 24 minutes in the Amazonian cloud.

EC2 was AWS’s third service. It debuted in August 2006, after the March 2006 debut of the Simple Storage Service and the July arrival of Simple Queue Service.

That all three sparked a vast and important change in business computing is not in dispute. Service providers had previously rented remotely-located compute and storage, but AWS made them more accessible and scalable than predecessors. AWS prices were also shockingly low – in a good way – and its services took off.

The Register cannot think of an enterprise computing product or vendor that has not been influenced by AWS and EC2. Makers of on-prem IT have all striven to become more cloud-like ever since EC2 debuted – both in terms of the user experience and by charging for consumption rather than up-front. Whole new software development and deployment practices have emerged to take advantage of elastic resources sold as-a-service.

EC2 has also left a cultural footprint, as the likes of Netflix realized that cloud computing offered previously unavailable possibilities.

AWS brings in more than $50bn of annual revenue, and is widely regarded as the dominant force in cloud computing.

Barr’s post states that AWS will give EC2 Classic “a gold watch and a well-deserved sendoff!”

The service deserves that, and more. ®

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Got an idea for the future of science in Ireland?

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The Creating Our Future initiative is seeking 10,000 ideas on which to base Ireland’s next science and research agenda.

The Government of Ireland is hosting a ‘national brainstorm’ to guide the future of science and research in the country.

First announced last month, a nationwide conversation about research and innovation has officially kicked off today (28 July) at CreatingOurFuture.ie.

The online portal aims to collect 10,000 ideas from a broad section of the Irish public. It will be open for submissions from now until the end of November.

‘Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas’
– SIMON HARRIS, TD

“Covid-19 has highlighted, like never before, the vital role that research has played in mitigating challenges facing the country,” said Minister for Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD. “But we have many more challenges and opportunities that research rigour and analytical excellence can help us with to build a better future for Ireland.”

Harris added: “Good ideas and curiosity are the starting point for most research, and nobody has a monopoly on good ideas. So, we are asking everyone to submit that idea that they have been thinking about, or have a conversation with their neighbours, host an event with a researcher or in your local community to think about what might make a difference and let us know.”

Events will be held across the country until the Creating Our Future ideas portal closes, inviting and encouraging citizens and communities to engage with the project.

The national initiative is itself an idea borrowed from similar efforts in other countries. A key inspiration was a programme driven by FWO, the Flanders research foundation. Launched in the spring of 2018, its Question for Science campaign received 10,559 responses, and has returned answers to more than 1,500.

These questions formed the basis of the Flemish Science Agenda, a strategy for science and innovation that is built on societal issues and citizens’ curiosity. Questions asked of FWO included ‘What is the effect of the 24-hour economy on psychological health?’ and ‘How can we avoid war and violence?’.

The Irish effort is hoped to deepen relationships between the Irish science community and the public it serves, and the resounding call from organisers is for all to participate.

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“This is an important opportunity to contribute to shaping future research. I encourage everyone to get involved,” said Taoiseach Micheál Martin, TD.

“This isn’t for any one section of society, we want to engage everyone in conversations in communities across the country, to inspire curiosity and generate ideas for research that will shape our future.”

All responses submitted to the portal will be collated and shared with an independent expert panel of researchers and civil society leaders.

There is also a Creating Our Future advisory forum chaired by Nokia Bell Labs global head of external collaboration programmes, Julie Byrne. In this role, Byrne brings researchers together for collaborative work and she herself has almost 30 years’ experience in engineering, tech and research.

“Over the coming months we will have many conversations about research across the country to gather ideas from our communities that research can tackle to create a better future for all of us,” she said. “I encourage everyone to get involved so that we capture ideas from all communities across the country.”

The results of the campaign will be published in a report by the end of 2021. This will go on to inform Ireland’s future strategy for research, innovation, science and technology.

Previously, Science Foundation Ireland’s director of science for society called on Irish citizens join a mass public debate about lessons learned throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Ruth Freeman spoke at Future Human in 2020 about the importance of including the voice of the public in shaping the future of science.

“Giving people more of a say in their future is clearly the right and democratic thing to do, and it might just make for better science as well,” she said.

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