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Red flags to watch out for when looking for your next job

Diane Davis

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After a year and a half of operating in pandemic survival mode, workers across the country made a collective break from their jobs. In August 2021 alone, 4.3 million people gave their notice, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics. If you’re among the millions who left a job this year, you might feel more motivated and empowered to be selective about your next position than you were before. Many are looking for advancement opportunities and a culture that isn’t as stressful and draining as the corporate environments that have been the norm—one where you can bring your entire self to work.

Until now, the standard assumptions of business leadership have included a specific set of surface-level behaviors: think speed, decisiveness, high energy, and customer obsession. To succeed in this culture is to leave your feelings and your personal identity at the door. But this value system is precisely what’s turning the workforce off; working in a culture where you belong is becoming non-negotiable. Companies that want to attract and retain valuable talent will have to get below the surface and put values like empathy, psychological safety, self-awareness, equity, and deep listening at the forefront of their workplace culture.

The demand for talent has definitely created some urgency among employers. Some are trying to solve their Great Resignation problems with short-term fixes: signing bonuses, slight pay increases, and even free restaurant food for showing up to an interview.

How can you look beyond the distractions and be sure your next gig won’t have the same problems that convinced you to leave your most recent one? Here’s what to look for at each step in the application process:

On job boards

From the application stage onward, focus your efforts on companies that fit your values and needs. In job posts on sites like LinkedIn and Indeed, you’ve probably come across some elitist, cringe-worthy phrases like “thrives in a fast-paced environment,” “proficient at multitasking,” or “looking for a rockstar coder with a sense of humor.” Watch out for language that indicates that surface-level, survival-of-the-fittest mentality or a strong bias toward an in-group in the workplace.

Some companies have done well at masking this standard with a culture of fun, or what I call the “great culture” lie. They go beyond your basic casual Friday and install a foosball table in the common area, or develop a reputation for intense happy hours. I’ve found that these cultures are usually based on surface-level things, which may or may not be creating the desired effect. Question these perks and benefits and keep in mind that no culture is objectively “great” for everyone—except a culture of belonging.

During research and informational interviews

If a workplace or job posting appeals to you, dig a little deeper to find out what the company’s culture is like. If you set up an informational interview, ask questions to determine how surface the culture is or if leaders ever create below the surface connections. Here are a couple of revealing questions to start with:

Is there diversity in all levels of the company?

Beware of answers like “check out our website” or “that’s not really my area of expertise.” I’m not saying that every company that doesn’t suck will have impeccable diversity up front, but if you truly want to find your next happy home, look for honesty and humility in the responses.

Do employees feel comfortable using their PTO, calling in when they’re sick, and/or taking time off for mental health?

Many of us have historically been steered away about asking questions about compensation or benefits but this one is a must—especially considering what has happened over the last year. You never know what the future will bring and it’s important to find a company that will have loyalty to you despite what may come up in life’s unexpected challenges. You will also get a glimpse into how the company views work–life balance.

What you’re looking for is a place where employees are free to be human. Their individual identities and needs should be acknowledged and accepted, not suppressed.

During the interview

Job interviews are your opportunity to see how individual leaders and the company at large may react to your presence—and get a glimpse at how they interact with each other. You can discern more than you think in an interview process. A few things to beware of:

Interviewers are not showing respect for each other. Keep an eye on if people are talking over each other. Also, how do they enter and exit the conversation? If people are being interrupted or talked over, or if there is an air of competition, it’s a red flag.

One person is dominating the conversation.
Make note of power dynamics during the interview process. Is someone dominating the process? Is the team deferring to one person? Observe the power dynamics going on in the room and decide if they work for you.

One of the most important things to gauge during a job interview is how attentively the interviewer(s) listen to you. Are they listening to understand and get to know you, or listening for correct answers? REAL leaders are Relatable, Equitable, Aware, and Loyal. Use this acronym to remember what qualities to look for and check what you’ve learned after each interview. Remember, the company is interviewing you, but you’re also interviewing them.

Hopefully, these tips ensure you are happy to accept the job offer when it comes. With that in mind, in order to avoid more of the same stress, see what’s happening below the surface to find a workplace where you can belong: one with a culture that’s hard to quit.


LaTonya Wilkins is the CEO and founder of the Change Coaches, where she partners with executives, professionals pursuing career advancement, and diverse teams to build cultures of belonging through highly customized coaching and learning experiences. She is the author of Leading Below the Surface.


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Google DeepMind’s new generative model makes Super Mario-like games from scratch

Diane Davis

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example of game generated from a crayon sketch

“It’s cool work,” says Matthew Gudzial, an AI researcher at the University of Alberta, who developed a similar game generator a few years ago. 

Genie was trained on 30,000 hours of video of hundreds of 2D platform games taken from the internet. Others have taken that approach before, says Gudzial. His own game generator learned from videos to create abstract platformers. Nivida used video data to train a model called GameGAN, which could produce clones of games like Pac-Man.

But all of these examples trained the model with input actions, button presses on a games controller, as well as video footage: a video frame showing Mario jumping was paired with the “jump” action, and so on. Tagging video footage with input actions takes a lot of work, however. This has limited the amount of training data available. 

In contrast, Genie was trained on video footage alone. It then learned which of eight possible actions would cause the game character in a video to change its position. This turned countless hours of existing online video into potential training data. 

Genie can generate simple games from hand-drawn sketches

GOOGLE DEEPMIND

Genie generates each new frame of the game on the fly depending on the action the player takes. Press jump and Genie updates the current image to show the game character jumping; press left and the image changes to show the character moved to the left. The game ticks along action by action, each new frame generated from scratch as the player plays. 

Future versions of Genie could run faster. “There is no fundamental limitation that prevents us from reaching 30 frames per second,” says Tim Rocktäschel, a research scientist at Google DeepMind who leads the team behind the work. “Genie uses many of the same technologies as contemporary large language models, where there has been significant progress in improving inference speed.” 

Genie learned some common visual quirks found in platformers. Many games of this type use parallax, where the foreground moves sideways faster than the background. Genie often adds this effect to the games it generates.  

While Genie is an in-house research project and won’t be released, Gudzial notes that the Google DeepMind team says it could one day be turned into a game-making tool—something he’s working on too. “I’m definitely interested to see what they build,” he says.

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Tackling long-haul diseases | MIT Technology Review

Diane Davis

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Tal, who has been obsessed with infectious disease since losing an uncle to HIV/AIDS and a cousin to meningococcal meningitis, wondered what this striking diversity could reveal about our immune response to infection. According to one hypothesis, the wide array of these receptors is the result of an evolutionary arms race between disease-causing microbes and the immune system. Think of the receptor as a lock, and the “Nothing to see here” message as a key. Pathogens might evolve to produce their own chemical mimics of this key, effectively hiding from the immune system in plain sight. In response, the human population has developed a wide range of locks to frustrate any given impostor key. 

Wanting to test this hypothesis, Tal found herself walking the halls of Stanford, asking colleagues, “Who’s got a cool bug?” Someone gave her Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Previous research from Tal’s collaborator Jenifer Coburn, a microbiologist now at the Medical College of Wisconsin, had established that Lyme bacteria sport a special protein crucial for establishing a lasting infection. Knock this protein out, and the immune system swiftly overwhelms the bugs. The big question, however, was what made this protein so essential. So Tal used what’s known as a high-affinity probe as bait—and caught the Borrelia’s mimic of our “Don’t eat me” signal binding to it. In other words, she confirmed that the bacteria’s sneakyprotein was, as predicted, a close match for a healthy cell’s signal.  

Sex differences in Lyme infection

Until then, Tal says, she had never given Lyme disease much thought. But the more she learned, the more disturbed she grew. Even after timely antibiotic treatment, roughly 10% of all Lyme patients go on to develop chronic symptoms that can include crushing pain, debilitating fatigue, and cognitive changes that make basic tasks a struggle.  

This confocal micrograph depicts Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which cause Lyme disease when transmitted to humans by ticks. These Borrelia were genetically engineered to produce a green fluorescent protein.

COURTESY OF THE TAL RESEARCH GROUP

Perhaps even more alarming than the disease has been the medical community’s response to it. “I realized that there’s this public health debacle around Lyme, and it’s, for lack of a better word, obscene,” Tal says. Chronic Lyme patients skew female, and for decades, clinicians have dismissed their symptoms as signs of mental illness. The medical establishment has “done nothing but call them crazy,” Tal says, “instead of admitting that they just don’t understand what’s going on.” 

Today, there is no objective way to diagnose chronic Lyme, and no medically accepted therapy. For some patients, lengthy treatments with high doses of antibiotics can ease symptoms, but these come with their own serious risks. (They can, for example, damage the microbiome, leading to significant negative effects on health.) And because the antibiotic used currently only prevents bacteria from replicating, Tal notes, it’s up to the immune system to actually kill off the invaders. If immune cells can’t tell friend from foe, the utility of antibiotics may be limited. 

Chronic Lyme patients skew female, and for decades, the medical establishment has “done nothing but call them crazy,” Tal says, “instead of admitting that they just don’t understand what’s going on.”

For Tal, these revelations were electrifying. She dove into the immunology of Lyme disease, focusing in particular on sex differences. In one mouse experiment, she discovered that Lyme bacteria “completely disfigured” the uterus. Yet after delving through decades of Lyme research, she could find only one other study that even documented uterine infection. 

This shortfall mirrors larger problems in medical research. “We’ve let men dictate the direction of research funding for so long,” Tal says. Traditionally, studies focused on male subjects, and a 1977 FDA policy barred women from participating in most clinical trials in the US in the wake of birth defects caused by thalidomide. It wasn’t until 1993 that federal law required studies to include women and minorities. This, coupled with other sex- and gender-based medical biases, means that many female-dominated diseases remain under-researched. “So much of this research is being done on males, male mice—male, male, male,” Tal says. “And I’m like, no.” 

Tal suspects that the sex disparities seen in chronic Lyme and other pathogen-­triggered chronic diseases might come down to the fact that men mount a more robust response to acute infection. This no-holds-barred approach is risky—“Your immune system has the power to kill you,” she notes—but it may mean that men, on average, can kill off more viruses or bacteria in the critical first week of infection. After that window closes, the immune system largely settles back down, Tal says. Pathogens that escaped the initial blitz could take up long-term residence in the body, potentially causing persistent symptoms. And women have a higher chance of chronic illness.

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We are beavers all | MIT Technology Review

Diane Davis

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old black and white photo of William Miller in a canoe

As efficient creators and stewards of wetlands, beavers provide a hospitable ecosystem for dozens of other creatures, from insects, frogs, and turtles to owls, otters, great blue herons, and even moose and deer. What’s more, by harvesting undergrowth for their dams and creating ponds and bogs that raise the moisture content of the soil, beavers lessen the likelihood that forest fires will spread. As forest fires devastated Oregon in 2021, beaver wetlands remained green and lush, acting as natural firebreaks. On aerial images of the charred landscape, the beaver’s habitat stands out, a wide and verdant ribbon running through the blackened trees.

While not all property owners who live near beaver habitats appreciate the animals’ tree removal services, the pro-­beaver movement seems to be getting more organized. In November 2023, some 300 beaver restoration advocates from North America and Europe gathered in the Beaver State (Oregon) for the annual State of the Beaver conference. “Seventy-five percent of the artificial wetland restoration projects done in America over the past 30 years have failed,” conference cofounder Stanley Petrowski told the Daily Yonder. “But when beavers do it, they do it perfectly.” 

BeaverCon, held near Baltimore in June of 2022, and the Midwest Beaver Summit, held in Chicago and online in September 2023, attracted similar crowds of humans interested in promoting beaver welfare.

It is, in fact, possible to find ways to allow beavers to continue creating their watery habitats in ways that minimize damage to human infrastructure. For example, devices such as the Beaver Deceiver can be installed to prevent beavers from damming culverts, which often leads to flooding of roads. Skip Lisle, founder of Beaver Deceivers International of Grafton, Vermont, first developed the device in the 1990s to beaver-proof the Penobscot Nation’s 130 miles of roads in Maine. “In all likelihood, they are the first large landowner to completely beaver-proof their property nonlethally,” he says.

Living organic chemical factory

At the base of their tail, all beavers have two castor sacs that store castoreum, a complex, granular substance with a strong and long-lasting musky smell. It is made up of at least 24 different compounds, primarily derived from the barks of the various trees in the beaver’s diet. Beavers deposit castoreum atop foot-high mounds of mud, sticks, and grass to mark the edges of their territory. 

Humans have long valued castoreum. About 400 BCE, Hippocrates, a chronicler of natural cures, wrote of its wonderful medical properties. Around 77 CE, the Roman naturalist Pliny listed castoreum as a cure for headaches, constipation, and epilepsy. In the Middle Ages the list of maladies castoreum was said to cure expanded to include dysentery, worms, fleas, pleurisy, gout, rheumatism, insomnia, hysteria, memory loss, and liver problems. 

Author William Miller ’51, SM ’52, reports that his foot once crashed through a beaver dam while he was dragging his canoe over it to get to the next lake in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. About 100 feet away, a watching beaver immediately began to slap its tail on the pond surface. Having just unleashed a string of curses directed at the beavers, Bill assumed that the beaver was cursing at him. But he now suspects it was sending a warning signal to the other beavers—or possibly urging them to come quickly to repair the damage caused by the trespassing human oaf.

COURTESY OF WILLIAM MILLER

As it turns out, quite a few of the tree barks that beavers prefer contain compounds with known medicinal benefits. Phenols, for example, are often anti-­inflammatory and antiseptic and can have antiviral properties. They include salicylic acid (a precursor to aspirin), which can be found in the bark of willow, poplar, and alder trees—all beaver favorites. The beaver’s system functions as a natural pharmacy, extracting these compounds (among others) and secreting them in the form of castoreum. 

Humans have also used castoreum for several nonmedical applications, such as in high-end “leather note” perfumes including Shalimar, Givenchy III, and Chanel’s Antaeus. It is an ingredient in some bourbons and vodkas and has been used in Sweden to flavor “Bäverhojt” (literally, beaver shout) schnapps.

Today, most castoreum is harvested in a sterile environment by anesthetizing beavers and expressing the castor sacs near their tails. As a food additive, castoreum extract is “generally recognized as safe,” according to the FDA. But at close to $100 per pound, it’s used sparingly. The total annual US consumption of dried castoreum is around 300 pounds.

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