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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.

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

Marshall Major IV wireless headphones offer great sound, plus 80+ hours of battery life and wireless charging

By Darrell Etherington

Marshall’s new Major IV headphones ($149.99) combine lightweight comfort with wireless charging, and up to 80 hours of playback for an iconic headset that’s affordable and flexible. At home or on the go, these are a great option with unique features that you won’t find anywhere else in the headphone market.

Basics

This is the fourth iteration of Marshall’s Major on-ear wireless headphones, and they offer a number of improvements new to the lineup, including a new folding clip design that makes them even more compact when packed for travel – and that allows them to rest comfortably on a charging pad to enable another new feature, wireless charging using the Qi standard.

Marshall has also greatly improved battery life, advertising an insane 80 hours of usage time on these, way up from the 30+ promised in the last generation. They still feature square earcups with that iconic Marshall look, but the detail on each is flat instead of pebbled faux leather (that remains on the headband). The multi-directional control knob is also carried over from past Major designs, and there’s a 3.5mm socket for wired sound, and for sharing your audio connection out to another headset.

In the box, there’s a coiled 3.5mm for that vintage Marshall amp feel, as well as a USB-C cable for wired charging, which will provide a full 80+ hours of use from 3 hours – or 15 hours from just 15 minutes with a new quick charge feature.

Design and performance

The design of the Major IV is classic Marshall aesthetic – which is great news. They look fantastic, with the iconic logo in script on both earcups. As mentioned, the earcup face is now smooth and matte, which looks great, and there’s a silicone edge on each which helps keep the right earcup in place when placed on a wireless charger.

Image Credits: Marshall

These are compact, over-ear headsets that rest comfortably, and that comfort is helped by the lightweight materials used in their construction. Despite feeling very light, they feel like they’re made of quality materials thoughtfully constructed, and should last a long time in terms of durability.

Marshall’s multi-directional controller is both an attractive cosmetic detail in gold, and a smart control interface that offers intuitive manipulation of audio playback and volume.

Sound-wise, the Major IV provides great audio quality for a headset in this price range. The bass is rich, and the highs are clear. There’s no noise cancelling at work here, so you will get a decent amount of audio bleed-in from your surroundings, but they do a decent job of sound isolation for an over-hear set. And the sound quality is made all the better because of the class-leading battery life Marshall has managed to pack into the Major IV. 80+ hours is just astounding, and it means you’ll likely be able to go at least a week or two without even thinking about a charger while using these actively.

Bottom line

Marshall has really delivered an amazing value with the new Major IV. Combining style, performance and quality into a headset that also has amazing battery life and unique wireless charging capabilities is a true achievement – and perks like 3.5mm wired audio sharing just round out the package. These are a great everyday wear headset that you won’t want to go anywhere without.

Shure’s Aonic 50 wireless noise-cancelling headphones offer best-in-class audio quality

By Darrell Etherington

The noise-cancelling over-ear headphone category is an increasingly competitive one, and consumers have never been more spoiled for choice. Shure entered the market this year with the Aonic 50, a premium-priced headset ($399) that offers active noise cancelling, Bluetooth connectivity and USB-C charging. Shure’s reputation for delivering top-quality sound is definitely part of the package, and there’s a lot more to recommend the Aonic 50 as well.

Basics

Shure offers the Aonic 50 in either black or brown finishes, and they have physical controls on the right ear cup for volume, turning noise cancellation on and off, power, activating voice assistances and skipping tracks. There’s a USB-C port for charging, and a 2.5mm stereo connector on the left ear cup for using the included cable to connect via wire, which allows you to use them even while the internal battery is depleted or the headset is powered down (albeit without active noise cancelling obviously).

The Aonic 50 also comes with a round, flat carrying case – the ear cups swivel to fit in the zippered storage compartment. This takes up more of a footprint than the typical folding design of these kind of ANC headphones, but it’s less bulky, too, so it depends on how you’re packing them whether this is good or bad.

Shure offers a mobile app for iOS and Android called ShurePlus Play that can provide EQ controls, as well as more specific tuning of both the active noise cancelling, and the environmental mode that pipes in outside sound. This allows for a lot of customization, but with one major caveat – EQ settings only apply when playing music via the app itself, which is an unusual and disappointing choice.

Design and performance

Shure’s Aonic 50 excel in a couple of areas where the company has a proven track record: Sound quality and comfort/wearability. The ample faux leather-wrapped padding on both the headband and the ear cups make them very comfortable to wear, even for longer sessions, which is great for work for home practicality. I often forgot I had them on while moving around the house, which gives you an idea of how well they fit.

As for sound, Shure has aimed for a relatively neutral, flat tone that provides an accurate recreation of what the original producer intended for any track, and the results are great. Music detail is clear, and they’re neither too heavy on bass or overemphatic on treble. This is a sound profile that audiophiles will appreciate, though it might not be the best for anyone who’s looking for a bass-heavy soundstage. That said, bass-favoring headphones are easy to find in this category, so Shure’s offering, with its clear highs, stands apart from the field in the ANC arena. To be clear, the bass is excellent, but overall the market has moved towards muddy, artificially enhanced bass vs. true rendering, which the Aonic 50 delivers.

The button controls on the Aonic 50 are well-placed and cover the spectrum in terms of what you’d want to be able to control right from the headset. USB-C charging is much-appreciated in an era where that’s far and away the standard for most of the mobile devices in your life, as well as many computers. The included stereo cable is a great addition for when the battery runs out – but Shure’s advertised 20-hour or so battery life estimate is accurate, so it’ll be quite a while before you have to resort to that as long as you remember to charge once in a while.

If there’s one place where Shure’s performance falls a bit short, it’s in noise cancellation. The ANC does a decent job of blocking out unwanted environmental sound, but it’s not quite up to the standard of the like of Bose or Sony’s top-end ANC headphones. It still gets the job done most of the time, and the trade-off is better sound.

Bottom line

As I said above, people looking for active noise cancelling headphones are spoiled for choice these days. But the Shure Aonic 50 offers something that discerning audio pros won’t be able to find from alternatives including those from Bose or Sony, and that’s an excellent soundstage and sound quality that just can’t be beat. Wearability is also tops, which makes these a great options for audiophiles who want a wire-free, sound-blocking solution for a home office.

Shure’s SRH1540 headphones can upgrade your home setup with quality sound and all-day comfort

By Darrell Etherington

We’re going checking out a range of different headphones on TC this week and next as part of our ‘Headphone Week’ series, and today I’m checking out the Shure SRH1540 ($499). These aren’t new – they’ve been a stand-by among audiophiles in their price range for years now. But there’s a great reason for that: They offer fantastic sound quality and value, as well as amazing comfort and wearability.

The basics

The SRH1540 from Shure are closed-back headphones that provide premium sound suitable either just for people who really like high-quality audio, or for those who actually have to work with audio on a regular basis, including sound engineers and podcast producers. They manage to produce a soundstage that’s very comparable to what you get out of open-back headphones, albeit with less noise leakage (great for shared work-from-home offices).

In the box, Shure includes not one but two cables, as well as a spare set of the Alcantara-covered ear-ads. They come with a hard-sided plastic carrying case, and a threaded adapter for using them with a 6.3mm audio jack (the cable is 3.5mm out of the box).

Design and features

Shure’s design with the SRH1450 is all about comfort and quality. The headphones are extremely lightweight – but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s made of cheap materials. The frame uses aircraft-grade aluminum and carbon fiber to offer the most strength without creating something that’s going to weigh heavy on your head for long listening sessions.

The Alcantara material used in the earpads is also very durable, while offering a pleasantly soft-touch feel. There’s ample padding in the cups, too, and they rest lightly on your head while providing necessary give to accommodate a number of different head and ear shapes.

Shure uses a dual-connector cord design here, with each gold-plated end of the headphone side clipping in securely. They’re color-coded for accurate placement, and the cable itself is kevlar-wrapped to ensure the cord will last a long time. There’s a twin backup in the box as well just in case.

Sound-wise, these are excellent headphones that should please even the most discerning audiophiles, especially when paired with a DAC or USB audio interface like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 I mostly tested them with. They provide an amazing level of clarity and detail, and great bass without being totally overwhelming or washing out the soundstage. I’ve long used open-back headphones as my standard wired cans for audio editing and all-day wear, but the SRH1450s have converted me.

Bottom line

These are an amazing choice for anyone looking to spend a bit of money (but not too much, in the world of premium audio equipment) in order to get a pair of headphones that offer great sound quality along with durability and all-day comfort. The one caveat to keep in mind is that they aren’t really at all sound-isolating, though they’re better in this regard than open-back headphones.

Should you replace your developer portal with a hybrid integration platform?

By Walter Thompson
Peter Kreslins Contributor
Peter Kreslins is co-founder and CTO of Digibee, a leader in holistic and agile approaches to systems integration.

The concept of a developer portal is to provide the necessary technical information to configure and manage the communication between an API and both internal and external systems. Originally, it was not thought of as a business-generating tool for companies that adopt them. Rather, it was an interface between APIs, SDKs and other digital tools and their administrators.

However, over time, many developer portal elements have caused friction for partners and resulted in higher costs for the company providing the data through APIs.

An alternative option to replace a developer portal is a Hybrid Integration Platform (HIP), a simple system connection solution that has the potential to generate more business through pairing ecosystems directly, efficiently and at a lower cost.

Fixing potential developer portal problems

The leading cause of friction within a developer portal is the amount of time it takes to create and support it. Quite often, an integration is delayed because the company providing the API is stuck waiting for support from the people they are working with.

To fulfill the demand for consumers in different stages of maturity, companies providing APIs later realized they needed to provide more data, new business cases and different mappings and transformations.

Once the portal and APIs adapt to the system, three key factors are necessary to provide a good user experience in the developer portal:

  1. Complete and easy-to-use documentation.
  2. Actionable and effective solution options.
  3. Quick response time.

Frequently, isolated and disconnected business challenges complicate developer portal implementations. To avoid such challenges, you should address these questions before the implementation process takes place:

  1. How can you ensure the business will benefit from the connection with partners, suppliers and customers?
  2. Is it possible to become more efficient, have lower integration costs and improve implementation and adoption times for technological solutions?
  3. How is innovation unlocked when previously unavailable data and services are made internally available?

When approaching a systems integration, it’s essential to develop a solution that considers business results first, before simplifying or removing any technical issues. Fixing predicted issues before they become problems only wastes time and takes the focus off the goal of making your business more efficient and profitable. Yet, many times we see the opposite happen — businesses tend to spend too much time fixing problems before they even occur.

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?

HacWare wants you to hate email security a little less

By Zack Whittaker

Let’s face it, email security is something a lot of people would rather think less about. When you’re not deluged with a daily onslaught of phishing attacks trying to steal your passwords, you’re also expected to dodge the simulated phishing emails sent by your own company all for the sake of checking a compliance box.

One security startup wants that to change. Tiffany Ricks founded HacWare in Dallas, Texas, in 2017 to help bring better cybersecurity awareness to small businesses without getting in the way of the day job.

“We’re trying to show them what they don’t know about cybersecurity and educate them on that so they can get back to work,” Ricks told TechCrunch, ahead of the company’s participation in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield.

Ricks, a former Pentagon contractor, has her roots as an ethical hacker. As a penetration tester, or “red teamer,” she would test the limits of a company’s cybersecurity defenses by using a number of techniques, including social engineering attacks, which often involves tricking someone into turning over a password or access to a system.

“It was just very easy to get into organizations by social engineering employees,” said Ricks. But the existing offerings on the market, she said, weren’t up to the task of educating users at scale.

“And so we built the product in-house,” she said.

HacWare sits on a company’s email server and uses machine learning to categorize and analyze each message for risk — the same things you would look for in a phishing email, like suspicious links and attachments.

HacWare tries to identify the most at-risk users, like those working in finance and human resources, who are more vulnerable to business email compromise attacks that try to steal sensitive employee information. The system also uses automated simulated phishing attacks using the contents of what’s in a user’s inbox already to send personalized phishing emails to test the user.

Email remains the most popular way for attackers to use phishing and other social engineering attacks to try to steal sensitive information, according to Verizon’s annual data breach report. These attackers want your passwords or to try to trick you into sending sensitive documents, like employee tax and financial information.

But as the adage goes, humans are the weakest link in the security chain.

Stronger security features, like two-factor authentication, makes it far more difficult for hackers to break into accounts but it’s not a panacea. It was only in July that Twitter was hit by a devastating breach that saw hackers use social engineering techniques to trick employees into giving over access to an internal “admin” tool that the hackers abused to hijack high-profile accounts and spread a cryptocurrency scam.

HacWare’s approach to email security appears to be working. “We’ve seen a 60% reduction in reducing phishing responses,” she said. The automated phishing simulations also help to reduce IT workload, she said.

Ricks moved the bootstrapped HacWare to New York City after securing a place in Techstars’ accelerator program. HacWare is seeking to raise a $1 million seed round, said Ricks. For now, the company is “laser focused” on email security, but the company has growth in its sights.

“I see us expanding into just trying to understand human behavior and trying to figure out how we can mitigate that risk,” she said.

“We believe that cyber security is an integrated approach,” said Ricks. “But first we definitely need to start with the root cause, and the root cause is we need to really get our people the tools they need to empower them to make sound cybersecurity decisions,” she said.

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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