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Stacklet raises $18M for its cloud governance platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Stacklet, a startup that is commercializing the Cloud Custodian open-source cloud governance project, today announced that it has raised an $18 million Series A funding round. The round was led by Addition, with participation from Foundation Capital and new individual investor Liam Randall, who is joining the company as VP of business development. Addition and Foundation Capital also invested in Stacklet’s seed round, which the company announced last August. This new round brings the company’s total funding to $22 million.

Stacklet helps enterprises manage their data governance stance across different clouds, accounts, policies and regions, with a focus on security, cost optimization and regulatory compliance. The service offers its users a set of pre-defined policy packs that encode best practices for access to cloud resources, though users can obviously also specify their own rules. In addition, Stacklet offers a number of analytics functions around policy health and resource auditing, as well as a real-time inventory and change management logs for a company’s cloud assets.

The company was co-founded by Travis Stanfield (CEO) and Kapil Thangavelu (CTO). Both bring a lot of industry expertise to the table. Stanfield spent time as an engineer at Microsoft and leading DealerTrack Technologies, while Thangavelu worked at Canonical and most recently in Amazon’s AWSOpen team. Thangavelu is also one of the co-creators of the Cloud Custodian project, which was first incubated at Capital One, where the two co-founders met during their time there, and is now a sandbox project under the Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s umbrella.

“When I joined Capital One, they had made the executive decision to go all-in on cloud and close their data centers,” Thangavelu told me. “I got to join on the ground floor of that movement and Custodian was born as a side project, looking at some of the governance and security needs that large regulated enterprises have as they move into the cloud.”

As companies have sped up their move to the cloud during the pandemic, the need for products like Stacklets has also increased. The company isn’t naming most of its customers, but one of them is FICO, among a number of other larger enterprises. Stacklet isn’t purely focused on the enterprise, though. “Once the cloud infrastructure becomes — for a particular organization — large enough that it’s not knowable in a single person’s head, we can deliver value for you at that time and certainly, whether it’s through the open source or through Stacklet, we will have a story there.” The Cloud Custodian open-source project is already seeing serious use among large enterprises, though, and Stacklet obviously benefits from that as well.

“In just 8 months, Travis and Kapil have gone from an idea to a functioning team with 15 employees, signed early Fortune 2000 design partners and are well on their way to building the Stacklet commercial platform,” Foundation Capital’s Sid Trivedi said. “They’ve done all this while sheltered in place at home during a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic. This is the type of velocity that investors look for from an early-stage company.”

Looking ahead, the team plans to use the new funding to continue to developed the product, which should be generally available later this year, expand both its engineering and its go-to-market teams and continue to grow the open-source community around Cloud Custodian.

Use Git data to optimize your developers’ annual reviews

By Walter Thompson
Alex Circei Contributor
Alex Circei is CEO and co-founder of Waydev, a Git analytics tool that measures engineers' performance automatically.

The end of the year is looming and with it one of your most important tasks as a manager. Summarizing the performance of 10, 20 or 50 developers over the past 12 months, offering personalized advice and having the facts to back it up — is no small task.

We believe that the only unbiased, accurate and insightful way to understand how your developers are working, progressing and — last but definitely not least — how they’re feeling, is with data. Data can provide more objective insights into employee activity than could ever be gathered by a human.

It’s still very hard for many managers to fully understand that all employees work at different paces and levels.

Consider this: Over two-thirds of employees say they would put more effort into their work if they felt more appreciated, and 90% want a manager who’s fair to all employees.

Let’s be honest. It’s hard to judge all of your employees fairly if you’re (1) unable to work physically side-by-side with them, meaning you’ll inevitably have more contact with the some over others (e.g., those you’re more friendly with); and (2) you’re relying on manual trackers to keep on top of everyone’s work, which can get lost and take a lot of effort to process and analyze; (3) you expect engineers to self-report their progress, which is far from objective.

It’s also unlikely, especially with the quieter ones, that on top of all that you’ll have identified areas for them to expand their talents by upskilling or reskilling. But it’s that kind of personal attention that will make employees feel appreciated and able to progress professionally with you. Absent that, they’re likely to take the next best job opportunity that shows up.

So here’s a run down of why you need data to set up a fair annual review process; if not this year, then you can kick-start it for 2021.

1. Use data to set next year’s goals

The best way to track your developers’ progress automatically is by using Git Analytics tools, which track the performance of individuals by aggregating historical Git data and then feeding that information back to managers in minute detail.

This data will clearly show you if one of your engineers is over capacity or underworked and the types of projects they excel in. If you’re assessing an engineering manager and the team members they’re responsible for have been taking longer to push their code to the shared repository, causing a backlog of tasks, it may mean that they’re not delegating tasks properly. An appropriate goal here would be to track and divide their team’s responsibilities more efficiently, which can be tracked using the same metrics, or cross-training members of other teams to assist with their tasks.

Another example is that of an engineer who is dipping their toe into multiple projects. Indicators of where they’ve performed best include churn (we’ll get to that later), coworkers repeatedly asking that same employee to assist them in new tasks and of course positive feedback for senior staff, which can easily be integrated into Git analytics tools. These are clear signs that next year, your engineer could be maximizing their talents in these alternative areas, and you could diversify their tasks accordingly.

Once you know what targets to set, you can use analytics tools to create automatic targets for each engineer. That means that after you’ve set it up, it will be updated regularly on the engineer’s progress using indicators directly from the code repository. It won’t need time-consuming input from either you or your employee, allowing you both to focus on more important tasks. As a manager you’ll receive full reports once the deadline of the task is reached and get notified whenever metrics start dropping or the goal has been met.

This is important — you’ll be able to keep on top of those goals yourself, without having to delegate that responsibility or depend on self-reporting by the engineer. It will keep employee monitoring honest and transparent.

2. Three Git metrics can help you understand true performance quality

The easiest way for managers to “conclude” how an engineer has performed is by looking at superficial output: the number of completed pull requests submitted per week, the number of commits per day, etc. Especially for nontechnical managers, this is a grave but common error. When something is done, it doesn’t mean it’s been done well or that it is even productive or usable.

Instead, look at these data points to determine the actual quality of your engineer’s work:

  1. Churn is your number-one red flag, telling you how many times someone has modified their code in the first 21 days after it has been checked in. The more churn, the less of an engineer’s code is actually productive, with good longevity. Churn is a natural and healthy part of the software development process, but we’ve identified that any churn level above the normal 15%-30% indicates that an engineer is struggling with assignments.

Space manufacturing startup Varda, incubated at Founders Fund, emerges with $9 million in funding

By Jonathan Shieber

From a young age, Will Bruey, the co-founder and chief executive of Varda Space Industries, was fascinated with space and running his own business.

So when the former SpaceX engineer was tapped by Delian Asparouhov and Trae Stephens of Founders Fund to work on Varda he didn’t think twice.

Bruey spent six years at SpaceX. First working on the Falcon and Dragon video systems and then the bulk of the systems actuators and controllers used in the avionics for the crewed Dragon capsule (which recently docked at the International Space Station). `

According to Asparouhov, that background, and the time that Bruey spent running his own angel syndicate and working at Bank of America getting a grounding in finance and startups, made him an ideal candidate to run the next startup to be spun out of Founders Fund .

Like other Founders Fund companies, Palantir and Anduril, Varda takes its name from the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien. Named for the Elf queen who created constellations, the company has set itself no less lofty a task than bringing manufacturing to space.

While companies like Space Tango and Made In Space already are attempting to make a viable business out of space manufacturing, they focus on small scale pilots and experimental projects. Varda separates itself by its loftier ambition — to manufacture commercially viable products at scale in space.

To be economically viable, these products have to be very very high value, and according to the IEEE there are already some goods that fit the bill. Things like carbon nanotubes and fiber optic cables, organs, and novel materials are all potential targets for a space manufacturing company, because they can conceivably justify the high cost of material transportation.

Image Credit: Getty Images/AbelCreativeStudio

“Manufacturing is the next step for commercialization in space,” said Bruey. “The primary driver that makes us economical is success in the launch business.”

With now-established companies like SpaceX, Rocket Lab and Blue Origin, and upstarts like Relativity Space, Spinlaunch, and the newly launched Aevum Space all driving down the cost of launching objects into space, the next wave of commercialization is coming.

Varda’s backers, led by Founders Fund and Lux Capital, with additional participation from Fifty Years, Also Capital, Raymond Tonsing, Justin Mateen, and Naval Ravikant are all placing a bet that the biggest returns could be in manufacturing. As a result of their investments, Founders Fund partner Trae Stephens and Lux Capital co-founder Josh Wolfe are both taking seats on the company’s board.

“The first things we will manufacture are things with high dollar per-unit-mass value,” said Bruey. “As we establish our manufacturing platform that will ramp into the longer term vision of offloading manufacturing for all space operations.”

There are two categories of space manufacturing in the industry to come, according to Bruey and Asparouhov and those are additive manufacturing for making products to be used in space, and manufacturing in space for terrestrial applications. It’s the second of these that Varda focuses on. “Nothing we will be doing will be 3D printing,” said Asparouhov. “We will be focused on making things in space that we can bring back to earth.

The company may not be working on 3D printing, but its manufacturing facilities won’t look like anything on Earth. Initially, they’ll be unmanned, according to a blog post published by Fifty Years. Then they’ll manufacture things in space that benefit from low gravity. Finally, the company intends to build the first inrastructure that can harvest source materials for new products in-space via asteroid mining.

“Varda can make manufacturing sustainable by eliminating the need to destructively extract earth’s resources, help cure chronic diseases, deepen our understanding of biology, help connect more people to the Internet, and usher in higher-throughput and lower energy methods of computation,” Fifty Years co-founder Seth Bannon wrote in a direct message. “Bringing human industry into the stars — this is entrepreneurship at its boldest! Varda is the sort of big swing ambition venture capital was invented for.”

 

GitHub gets a dark mode

By Frederic Lardinois

It’s GitHub Universe week and unsurprisingly, the ubiquitous code management service is announcing a slew of updates. Companies can now become GitHub Sponsors and invest in open-source projects by paying developers directly, there is automatic merging of pull requests (if that’s your thing), discussions for all public repositories and the beta of dependency reviews. GitHub is also making some updates to its continuous delivery features.

That’s all good and well, but let’s face it: you came here to see GitHub’s new dark mode.

Here it is:

Image Credits: GitHub

“Dark mode may offer respite from the visual overstimulation of a bright screen or simply give you a more consistent development experience across your text editor, IDE, and terminal. Whether you like your screen bright or if you want to feel like Mr. Robot in dark mode, it’s your choice in how you experience GitHub. Enable dark mode from your settings or set it to track your system preferences,” the company says. That sums it up pretty well.

Researchers say hardcoded passwords in GE medical imaging devices could put patient data at risk

By Zack Whittaker

Dozens of medical imaging devices built by General Electric are secured with hardcoded default passwords that can’t be easily changed, but could be exploited to access sensitive patient scans, according to new findings by security firm CyberMDX.

The researchers said that an attacker would only need to be on the same network to exploit a vulnerable device, such as by tricking an employee into opening an email with malware. From there, the attacker could use those unchanged hardcoded passwords to obtain whatever patient data was left on the device or disrupt the device from operating properly.

CyberMDX said X-ray machines, CT and MRI scanners, and ultrasound and mammography devices are among the affected devices.

GE uses hardcoded passwords to remotely maintain the devices. But Elad Luz, head of research at CyberMDX, said some customers were not aware that their devices had vulnerable devices. Luz described the passwords as “hardcoded,” because although they can be changed, customers have to rely on a GE engineer to change the passwords on-site.

The vulnerability has also prompted an alert by Homeland Security’s cybersecurity advisory unit, CISA. Customers of affected devices should contact GE to change the passwords.

Hannah Huntly, a spokesperson for GE Healthcare, said in a statement: “We are not aware of any incident where this potential vulnerability has been exploited in a clinical situation. We have conducted a full risk assessment and concluded that there is no patient safety concern. Maintaining the safety, quality, and security of our devices is our highest priority.”

It’s the latest find by the New York-based healthcare cybersecurity startup. Last year the startup also reported vulnerabilities in other GE equipment, which the company later admitted could have led to patient injury after initially clearing the device for use.

CyberMDX, which works primarily to secure medical devices and improve hospital network security through its cyber intelligence platform while conducting security research on the side, raised $20 million earlier this year, just a month into the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cloudflare and Apple design a new privacy-friendly internet protocol

By Zack Whittaker

Engineers at Cloudflare and Apple say they’ve developed a new internet protocol that will shore up one of the biggest holes in internet privacy that many don’t know even exists. Dubbed Oblivious DNS-over-HTTPS, or ODoH for short, the new protocol makes it far more difficult for internet providers to know which websites you visit.

But first, a little bit about how the internet works.

Every time you go to visit a website, your browser uses a DNS resolver to convert web addresses to machine-readable IP addresses to locate where a web page is located on the internet. But this process is not encrypted, meaning that every time you load a website the DNS query is sent in the clear. That means the DNS resolver — which might be your internet provider unless you’ve changed it — knows which websites you visit. That’s not great for your privacy, especially since your internet provider can also sell your browsing history to advertisers.

Recent developments like DNS-over-HTTPS (or DoH) have added encryption to DNS queries, making it harder for attackers to hijack DNS queries and point victims to malicious websites instead of the real website you wanted to visit. But that still doesn’t stop the DNS resolvers from seeing which website you’re trying to visit.

Enter ODoH, which decouples DNS queries from the internet user, preventing the DNS resolver from knowing which sites you visit.

Here’s how it works: ODoH wraps a layer of encryption around the DNS query and passes it through a proxy server, which acts as a go-between the internet user and the website they want to visit. Because the DNS query is encrypted, the proxy can’t see what’s inside, but acts as a shield to prevent the DNS resolver from seeing who sent the query to begin with.

“What ODoH is meant to do is separate the information about who is making the query and what the query is,” said Nick Sullivan, Cloudflare’s head of research.

In other words, ODoH ensures that only the proxy knows the identity of the internet user and that the DNS resolver only knows the website being requested. Sullivan said that page loading times on ODoH are “practically indistinguishable” from DoH and shouldn’t cause any significant changes to browsing speed.

A key component of ODoH working properly is ensuring that the proxy and the DNS resolver never “collude,” in that the two are never controlled by the same entity, otherwise the “separation of knowledge is broken,” Sullivan said. That means having to rely on companies offering to run proxies.

Sullivan said a few partner organizations are already running proxies, allowing for early adopters to begin using the technology through Cloudflare’s existing 1.1.1.1 DNS resolver. But most will have to wait until ODoH is baked into browsers and operating systems before it can be used. That could take months or years, depending on how long it takes for ODoH to be certified as a standard by the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Dragos raises $110M Series C as demand to secure industrial systems soars

By Zack Whittaker

Cybersecurity firm Dragos has raised $110 million in its Series C, almost triple the amount that it raised two years ago in its last round.

Dragos was founded in 2016 to detect and respond to threats facing industrial control systems (ICS), the devices critical to the continued operations of power plants, water and energy supplies, and other critical infrastructure. The company’s threat detection platform — its moneymaker — helps companies with industrial control systems defend against hackers trying to get into important operational systems. Its platform kicks out hackers that could shut down manufacturing lines or control energy supply systems, while its research arm keeps tabs on the hackers that can break into these highly complex and segmented industrial networks in the first place.

The startup’s latest round was led by National Grid Partners and Koch Disruptive Technologies, with both firms adding a member each to Dragos’ board. The round also saw participation from Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, as well as return investors Allegis Cyber, Canaan Partners, DataTribe, Energy Impact Partners and Schweitzer Engineering Labs.

This latest round of funding will help the company with its go-to-market efforts, as well as growing its customer support team with 30 staff and building up its sales and marketing team. Lee said the company’s priority had been to work on its threat platform, and less selling it.

About one-third of the company’s employees work in software engineering to build its threat platform.

Dragos founder and chief executive Robert Lee said the pandemic, which forced vast swathes of the world to work remotely from home under lockdown restrictions, served as a wake-up call for companies with critical infrastructure.

“When you’re talking about critical infrastructure sites and people’s utilities, you need to put your best foot forward on the tech first,” he said.

Many companies were already trying to adapt with the digital age, but Lee said many companies realized they had underinvested in ICS security.

Dragos team picture

A team photo of Dragos employees. Image Credits: Dragos

Based just outside Washington D.C., Dragos now has over 220 employees and will be adding more, close to doubling its headcount since last year, and adding new offices in Melbourne, Dubai and in the United Kingdom.

Lee said the U.K.’s transition out of the European Union would all but ensure that the new U.K. office could not serve as an EU hub for the company, but that it was necessary to “to go where the problems are.”

Another one of those places is Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers, where Dragos has an office and now draws an investment. Saudi oil and gas manufacturing plants have been the target of several cyberattacks, including the Trisis malware in 2017 that shut down one of the kingdom’s biggest petrochemical plants. But the country has faced extensive criticism for its human rights record by international rights groups. Lee said the company works to protect infrastructure that serves civilians and has actively rejected military contracts that would fall afoul of those values. “I don’t want to put asterisks on that mission,” he said.

Lee told TechCrunch that the company has grown at a rapid pace since it was founded four years ago.

“Our goal was never to get acquired,” he said. Echoing remarks he made last year, Lee said that the company’s plan was to continue growing and investing in the problems that Dragos sees — with an eventual goal to take the company public. “But we’re not rushed,” he said.

“The hallmark of Dragos being successful won’t be a successful IPO,” said Lee. “The hallmark will be having validated and built the market large enough that there can be other companies that come behind us serving the other more niche aspects of the ICS market and building out the community, and making sure our infrastructure is safer.”

Jeli.io announces $4M seed to build incident analysis platform

By Ron Miller

When one of AWS’s east coast data centers went down at the end of last month, it had an impact on countless companies relying on its services including Roku, Adobe and Shipt. When the incident was resolved, the company had to analyze what happened. For most companies, that involves manually pulling together information from various internal tools, not a focused incident platform.

Jeli.io wants to change that by providing one central place for incident analysis, and today the company announced a $4 million seed round led by Boldstart Ventures with participation by Harrison Metal and Heavybit.

Jeli CEO and founder Nora Jones knows a thing or two about incident analysis. She helped build the chaos engineering tools at Netflix, and later headed chaos engineering at Slack. While chaos engineering helps simulate possible incidents by stress testing systems, incidents still happen, of course. She knew that there was a lot to learn from them, but there wasn’t a way to pull together all of the data around an incident automatically. She created Jeli to do that.

“While I was at Netflix pre pandemic, I discovered the secret that looking at incidents when they happen — like when Netflix goes down, when Slack goes down or when any other organization goes down — that’s actually a catalyst for understanding the delta between how you think your org works and how your org actually works,” Jones told me.

She began to see that there would be great value in trying to figure out the decision-making processes, the people and tools involved, and what companies could learn from how they reacted in these highly stressful situations, how they resolved them and what they could do to prevent similar outages from happening again in the future. With no products to help, Jones began building tooling herself at her previous jobs, but she believed that there needed to be a broader solution.

“We started Jeli and began building tooling to help engineers by [serving] the insights to help them know where to look after incidents,” she said. They do this by pulling together all of the data from emails, Slack channels, PagerDuty, Zoom recordings, logs and so forth that captured information about the incident, surfacing insights to help understand what happened without having to manually pull all of this information together.

 

The startup currently has 8 employees with plans to add people across the board in 2021. As she does this, she is cognizant of the importance of building a diverse workforce. “I am extremely committed to diversity and inclusion. It is something that’s been important and a requirement for me from day one. I’ve been in situations in organizations before where I was the only one represented, and I know how that feels. I want to make sure I’m including that from day one because ultimately it leads to a better product,” she said.

The product is currently in private beta, and the company is working with early customers to refine the platform. The plan is to continue to invite companies in the coming months, then open that up more widely some time next year.

Eliot Durbin, general partner at Boldstart Ventures says that he began talking to Jones a couple of years ago when she was at Netflix just to learn about this space, and when she was ready to start a company, his firm jumped at the chance to write an early check, even while the startup was pre-revenue.

“When we met Nora we realized that she’s on a lifelong mission to make things much more resilient […]. And we had the benefit of getting to know her for years before she started the company, so it was really a natural continuation to a conversation that we were already in,” Durbin explained.

Okay nabs funding from Sequoia to build performance dashboards for engineering managers

By Lucas Matney

Amid the pandemic, workplace cultures have been turned on their heads, meanwhile investment and growth haven’t slowed for many tech companies, requiring them to still onboard new engineering managers even while best practices for remote management are far from codified.

Because of remote work habit shifts, plenty of new tools have popped up to help engineers be more productive, or quickly help managers interface with direct-reports more often. Okay is taking a more observatory route, aiming to give managers dashboards that quantify the performance of their teams so that they can get a picture of where they have room to improve.

The startup, which launched out of Y Combinator earlier this year, tells TechCrunch they’ve raised $2.2 million in funding led by Sequoia and are launching the open beta of their service.

Co-founders Antoine Boulanger and Tomas Barreto met while working at Box — Boulanger as a senior director of engineering and Barreto as a VP of engineering. They told TechCrunch that in the process of building out a suite of in-house tools designed to help managers at Box understand their teams better, they realized the opportunity for a subscription toolset that could help managers across companies. For the most part, Boulanger says that today Okay is largely replacing tools built in-house as well.

Getting a picture of an engineering team’s productivity means plugging into these toolsets and gathering data into a digestible feed. Okay can be integrated with a number of toolsets, including software like GitHub, PagerDuty, CircleCI and Google Calendar.

“Part of the problem for managers is that there are so many tools, so how do you get signal from the noise?” Barreto tells TechCrunch.

A large part of Okay’s sell seems to be ensuring that managers can keep an active eye on the common pitfalls of rapid scaling and keep them in check so that can keep direct-reports satisfied. On the individual basis, managers can quickly see stats related to how much of an individual manager’s time is being spent in meetings compared to un-interrupted “maker time” where they actually have the ability to get work done.

People don’t like to be micro-managed and the idea that everything you do is feeding into a pie chart that judges whether you’re a good employee or not isn’t the most savory sell for engineers. Okay’s founders hope they can strike a balance and give managers data that they’re not tempted to over-rely on, instead defaulting to team-level insights when they can so that managers are dialed into general trends like how long projects are taking on average or how long it takes for pull requests to be reviewed.

Investors have been bankrolling remote work tools at a heightened pace for the last several months and things have been especially fortunate for young companies that were ahead of the trend. Barreto, for his part, has served as a scout at Sequoia since 2018 according to his LinkedIn.

The team says their product, as it stands today, is best fit for companies with 50-200 engineers that are high-growth and perhaps going through some of those growing pains. The company’s early customers include teams at Brex, Plaid and Split.

Aerospace’s Steve Isakowitz to speak at TC Sessions: Space 2020

By Alexandra Ames

A mere two weeks remain until we kick off TC Sessions: Space (December 16 & 17), our first conference focused on the technology designed to push galactic boundaries and the people making it happen. Building successful space programs, whether private, public or hybrid combination, requires a well-trained workforce — today and for generations to come. That’s why we can’t wait for Building the Workforce of the Future, a breakout panel discussion featuring Steve Isakowitz.

Isakowitz is the president and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation, a national nonprofit corporation that operates a federally funded research and development center. It addresses complex problems across the space enterprise focused on agility, innovation and objective technical leadership.

In his 30+ year career, Isakowitz has held prominent roles across the government, private, space and technology sectors, including at NASA, U.S. Department of Energy and the White House Office of Management and Budget. Prior to joining Aerospace, he was president of Virgin Galactic, where his responsibilities included the development of privately funded launch systems, advanced technologies and other new space applications.

Building the Workforce of the Future focuses on what’s required to advance the United States’ leading role in space, namely developing a workforce that’s up to the challenge. Panelists also include Dava Newman, MIT’s Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics, and Yannis C. Yortsos, Dean, USC Viterbi School of Engineering and former Zohrab Kaprielian Chair in Engineering, University of Southern California.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities to imagine new models for how and where to train the next generation of scientists and engineers. This session will explore how universities and industry can work together to integrate professional experience into the curriculum and how universities and industry can work together to build robust talent pipelines that create digitally fluent, agile workers for the future.

The panelists will weigh in on strategies to build diverse workforces — with different perspectives and experiences that drive innovation — as well as new approaches that promote continuous learning for workers throughout their careers.

The space industry requires a deep bench and a long pipeline of engineers and scientists. Tune in to Building the Workforce of the Future for the latest thinking on this vital topic. It’s one session you don’t want to miss.

Late registration tickets are still available, as are discounts for groupsstudentsactive military/government employees and for early-stage space startup founders who want to give their startup extra visibility.

Is your company interested in sponsoring TC Sessions: Space 2020? Click here to talk with us about available opportunities.

T-minus 24 hours left to save on tickets to TC Sessions: Space 2020

By Alexandra Ames

We’ve initiated the final countdown, and we’re just hours away from the deadline for early-bird savings to TC Sessions: Space 2020 (December 16-17). It’s your last chance to grab the first of many opportunities this two-day conference provides.

Purchase your early-bird ticket today before the offer expires tonight at 11:59 p.m. (PT).

Let’s talk about the opportunities at TC Sessions: Space. You’ll learn from and engage with the top leaders and officials across private, public and military sectors. These are the people currently driving and funding the future of space technology — founders, CEOs, generals, NASA officials, scientists and investors. Peruse the event agenda for all the presentations, fireside chats interviews, breakout sessions and interactive Q&As.

Fresh from the “Thank you, Captain Obvious” file, building a space startup ain’t cheap. Don’t miss your opportunity to meet some of the leading space funding programs and learn how you can access grant money to fuel your startup for the long haul. Representatives from each program will present and explain its grant process for 30 minutes. Then you can schedule individual appointments — using CrunchMatch — to discuss the specifics of your proposal.

We’ll add even more programs in the coming days, but here are four of the programs available (read more about them here):

  • The Space Force Accelerators
  • Advancing Space Technology with NASA SBIR
  • NAVWAR SBIR/STTR Primer 
  • Introduction to In-Q-Tel

You’ll go further with a strong network, and you won’t find a better opportunity to expand yours. Connect with people who share your business goals and can help you achieve startup success. CrunchMatch, our free, AI-powered platform, makes it much easier to find and connect with people across a virtual environment. Schedule 1:1 video calls, find partners, potential customers, investors or the perfect engineer to advance your business.

Explore the early-stage startups exhibiting in the expo area and see what your peers are working on. All exhibitors will get five minutes to pitch live to global attendees. If you want in on that action, grab an Early-Stage Startup Exhibitor Package ($360 gets you three tickets, digital exhibition space and the ability to generate leads).

TC Sessions: Space 2020 offers almost infinite opportunity, but your first opportunity — to save $100 — disappears tonight at 11:59 p.m. (PT). Take flight with the early bird and buy your ticket right now.

Is your company interested in sponsoring TC Sessions: Space 2020? Click here to talk with us about available opportunities.

Render raises $4.5M for its DevOps platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Render, the winner of our Disrupt SF 2019 Startup Battlefield, today announced that it has added another $4.5 million onto its existing seed funding round, bringing total investment into the company to $6.75 million.

The round was led by General Catalyst, with participation from previous investors South Park Commons Fund and a group of angels that includes Lee Fixel, Elad Gil and GitHub CTO (and former VP of Engineering at Heroku) Jason Warner.

The company, which describes itself as a “Zero DevOps alternative to AWS, Azure and Google Cloud,” originally raised a $2.25 million seed round in April 2019, but it got a lot of inbound interest after winning the Disrupt Battlefield. In the end, though, the team decided to simply raise more money from its existing investors.

Current Render users include Cypress.io, Mux, Bloomscape, Zelos, 99designs and Stripe.

“We spoke to a bunch of people after Disrupt, including Ashton Kutcher’s firm, because he was one of the judges,” Render co-founder and CEO Anurag Goel explained. “In the end, we decided that we would just raise more money from our existing investors because we like them and it helped us get a better deal from our existing investors. And they were all super interested in continuing to invest.”

What makes Render stand out is that it fulfills many of the promises of Heroku and maybe Google Cloud’s App Engine. You simply tell it what kind of service you are going to deploy and it handles the deployment and manages the infrastructure for you.

“Our customers are all people who are writing code. And they just want to deploy this code really easily without having to worry about servers, or maintenance, or depending on DevOps teams — or, in many cases, hiring DevOps teams,” Goel said. “DevOps engineers are extremely expensive to hire and extremely hard to find, especially good ones. Our goal is to eliminate all of that work that DevOps people do at every company, because it’s very similar at every company.”

Image Credits: Render

One new feature the company is launching today is preview environments. You can think of them as disposable staging or development environments that developers can spin up to test their code — and Render promises that the testing environment will look the same as your production environment (or you can specify changes, too). Developers can then test their updates collaboratively with QA or their product and sales teams in this environment.

Development teams on Render specify their infrastructure environments in a YAML file and turning on these new preview environments is as easy as setting a flag in that file.

Image Credits: Render

“Once they do that, then for every pull request — because we’re integrated with GitHub and GitLab — we automatically spin up a copy of that environment. That can include anything you have in production, or things like a Redis instance, or managed Postgres database, or Elasticsearch instance, or obviously APIs and web services and static sites,” Goel said. Every time you push a change to that branch or pull request, the environment is automatically updated, too. Once the pull request is closed or merged, Render destroys the environment automatically.

The company will use the new funding to grow its team and build out its service. The plan, Goel tells me, is to raise a larger Series A round next year.

Now may be the best time to become a full-stack developer

By Walter Thompson
Sergio Granada Contributor
Sergio Granada is the CTO of Talos Digital, a global team of professional software developers that partners with agencies and businesses in multiple industries providing software development and consulting services for their tech needs.

In the world of software development, one term you’re sure to hear a lot of is full-stack development. Job recruiters are constantly posting open positions for full-stack developers and the industry is abuzz with this in-demand title.

But what does full-stack actually mean?

Simply put, it’s the development on the client-side (front end) and the server-side (back end) of software. Full-stack developers are jacks of all trades as they work with the design aspect of software the client interacts with as well as the coding and structuring of the server end.

In a time when technological requirements are rapidly evolving and companies may not be able to afford a full team of developers, software developers that know both the front end and back end are essential.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the ability to do full-stack development can make engineers extremely marketable as companies across all industries migrate their businesses to a virtual world. Those who can quickly develop and deliver software projects thanks to full-stack methods have the best shot to be at the top of a company’s or client’s wish list.

Becoming a full-stack developer

So how can you become a full-stack engineer and what are the expectations? In most working environments, you won’t be expected to have absolute expertise on every single platform or language. However, it will be presumed that you know enough to understand and can solve problems on both ends of software development.

Most commonly, full-stack developers are familiar with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and back-end languages like Ruby, PHP, or Python. This matches up with the expectations of new hires as well, as you’ll notice a lot of openings for full-stack developer jobs require specialization in more than one back-end program.

Full-stack is becoming the default way to develop, so much so that some in the software engineering community argue whether or not the term is redundant. As the lines between the front end and back end blur with evolving tech, developers are now being expected to work more frequently on all aspects of the software. However, developers will likely have one specialty where they excel while being good in other areas and a novice at some things….and that’s OK.

Getting into full-stack though means you should concentrate on finding your niche within the particular front-end and back-end programs you want to work with. One practical and common approach is to learn JavaScript since it covers both front and back end capabilities. You’ll also want to get comfortable with databases, version control, and security. In addition, it’s smart to prioritize design since you’ll be working on the client-facing side of things.

Since full-stack developers can communicate with each side of a development team, they’re invaluable to saving time and avoiding confusion on a project.

One common argument against full stack is that, in theory, developers who can do everything may not do one thing at an expert level. But there’s no hard or fast rule saying you can’t be a master at coding and also learn front-end techniques or vice versa.

Choosing between full-stack and DevOps

One hold up you may have before diving into full-stack is you’re also mulling over the option to become a DevOps engineer. There are certainly similarities among both professions, including good salaries and the ultimate goal of producing software as quickly as possible without errors.  As with full-stack developers, DevOps engineers are also becoming more in demand because of the flexibility they offer a company.

Jam raises $3.5 million to Figma-tize product collaboration

By Lucas Matney

The web of collaboration apps invading remote work toolkits have led to plenty of messy workflows for teams that communicate in a language of desktop screenshots and DMs. Tracing a suggestion or flagging a bug in a company’s website forces engineers or designers to make sense of the mess themselves.  While task management software has given teams a funnel for the clutter, the folks at Jam question why this functionality isn’t just built straight into the product.

Jam co-founders Dani Grant and Mohd Irtefa tell TechCrunch they’ve closed on $3.5 million in seed funding and are ready to launch a public beta of their collaboration platform which builds chat, comments and task management directly onto a website, allowing developers and designers to track issues and make suggestions quickly and simply

The seed round was led by Union Square Ventures, where co-founder Dani Grant previously worked as an analyst. Version One Ventures, BoxGroup and Village Global also participated alongside some noteworthy angels including GitHub CTO Jason Warner, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince, Gumroad CEO Sahil Lavingia, and former Robinhood VP Josh Elman.

Like most modern productivity suites, Jam is heavy on integrations so users aren’t forced to upend their toolkits just to add one more product into the mix. The platform supports Slack, Jira, GitHub, Asana, Loom and Figma, with a few more in the immediate pipeline. Data syncs from one platform to the other bidirectionally so information is always fresh, Grant says. It’s all built into a tidy sidebar.

Grant and Irtefa met as product managers at Cloudflare, where they started brainstorming better ways to communicate feedback in a way that felt like “leaving digital sticky notes all over a product,” Grant says. That thinking ultimately pushed the duo to leave their jobs this past May and start building Jam.

The startup, like so many conceived during this period, has a remote founding story. Grant and Irtefa have only spent four days together in-person since the company was started, they raised their seed round remotely and most of the employees have never met each other in-person.

The remote team hopes their software can help other remote teams declutter their workflows and focus on what they’re building.

“On a product team, the product is the first tab everyone opens and closes,” Grant says. “So we’re on top of your product instead of on some other platform”

Jam’s interface

Can a Genetically Modified Bug Combat a Global Farm Plague?

By Eric Niiler
Biotech company Oxitec has created a caterpillar with self-destructing eggs in an attempt to curb agricultural damage. But will other pests simply move in?

Can a Bubble Net Stop a Hurricane? Some Norwegians Think So

By Eric Niiler
An idea to use underwater bubbles to cool oceans and deflate oncoming storms is the latest in a series of far-out schemes for controlling the weather.
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