This issue covers the period between October 4 - 11, 2020 with six news stories – three from English language sources, three from Chinese language sources. Disclaimer: all translated article titles are done by me, not official translations from the media outlets.
Before you go on, please check out last week's deep dive post: "When ‘Jurassic Park’ Goes to China"
“Microsoft is letting more employees work from home permanently” (English Source: the Verge)
My Thoughts: This announcement makes Microsoft the company with the largest headcount, around 163,000 people, to embrace permanent remote work. While remote work was a hot topic of discussion when COVID-19 first became a global pandemic, it has died down a bit recently. The Interconnected newsletter devoted its first two posts to the topic of how the coronavirus will impact both remote work and remote consumption. Although Microsoft isn’t the first tech company to release such a policy, it is probably the first one with a sizable hardware division and product line, i.e. Surface, XBox, HoloLens. What will be important to observe going forward is how it will manage its hardware team and R&D with this new policy, which necessitates more physical constraints (e.g. research labs, material experimentation) than software (e.g. pushing code into the cloud, remote login), and managing just the sheer size of its workforce with all the taxation, local labor law, and other regulatory concerns that come with having a distributed force. As someone who has managed a remote team spanning three countries pre-COVID, it wasn’t easy.
“AMD Is in Advanced Talks to Buy Xilinx” (English Source: Wall Street Journal)
My Thoughts: Consolidation in the semiconductor industry is taking shape rather quickly, with Nvidia’s acquisition of Arm announced a few weeks ago, and now AMD of Xilinx for a rumored price of $30 billion or more. Xilinx is one of the many American semiconductor companies who have suffered revenue losses due to U.S. sanctions of Huawei -- its Huawei business is estimated to be 6-8% of total revenue. Xilinx’s specialty is also FPGA chips -- programmable hardware that are used heavily in the military and the early stages of 5G development, because 5G implementation isn’t mature and lots of experimentation is needed, which FPGAs more easily enable. One last interesting tidbit to note: both Lisa Su (CEO of AMD) and Victor Peng (CEO of Xilinx) are American tech executives born in Taiwan. So is Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia. And we can’t forget the dominant chip manufacturing powerhouse that is TSMC, founded by Dr. Morris Chang. It’s safe to say that generations of technical talent and executives from Taiwan have effectively cornered the entire world’s semiconductor industry.
“The Developer Experience Gap” (English Source: RedMonk)
My Thoughts: RedMonk is one of my favorite analyst firms focused on technology and developers. Even though this is the first time I highlight their writing on Interconnected, I read everything they write religiously. This piece explores the poor developer user experience that generally exists (and persists) in the infrastructure technology sector that has a myriad of solutions that’s “diverse to a fault”. This is an important observation as we think about the future growth and expansion of cloud computing, open source software, and other technology trends in the next 10-20 years. I believe developers are the most important demographic in this century of technology-fuel economy, but most people don’t view them as either a demographic or a coherent audience. The companies who do view them that way and design products that have “magical” user experience, like the iPhone for smartphone users, will be wildly successful.
“BiliBili selects four banks for Hong Kong listing, seek to raise $800 million to $1.5 billion USD, aims to complete second listing by next year” (Chinese Source: iponews)
My thoughts: It’s easy to chalk up BiliBili’s Hong Kong second listing next year to yet another example of US-China geopolitical relations (or lack thereof) pushing Chinese tech companies away. That’s only a partial truth, if we dig into this listing. BiliBili is not using the Hong Kong exchange as the backup or redundancy measure to the NASDAQ; it’s trying to raise more capital to fuel the company’s growth when the market is full of cheap capital looking for places to invest. Even on the low end of its $800 million offering, that would still be almost twice as much money raised as BiliBili’s IPO on the NASDAQ of $483 million two years ago. The Hong Kong exchange’s recent rule change allowing more leniency towards companies with a dual-class share structure -- popular among high-flying tech companies -- also makes such a listing actually possible, and Hong Kong tries to compete with New York for business. BiliBili’s user-comments flying across the screen, which first originated in Japan, is a sticky user experience that’s hard for a Western audience to grapple with. It’s also just a fascinating company -- with multiple revenue models from ads, gaming, livestreaming, and membership subscription -- that deserves its own detailed business case study. Personally, I’ve attended quite a few tech conferences hosted by Chinese companies during the last few months as these events all go virtual; all of them were livestreamed on BiliBili.
“Is China's Tuber browser officially approved? The government takes you over the Great Fire Wall with real name” (Chinese Source: VOA Chinese)
My thoughts: Can hopping over the Great Firewall to check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube become legal? That certainly seems to be what the Tuber browser is trying to accomplish. Tuber’s release was apparently even praised by the Global Times, the state-run media outlet, as an important step towards China’s further opening up. But to use Tuber, you’d have to register with your Chinese cell phone number, which is linked to your ID, thus the authority can (and will) track what you are doing outside of the “wall”. To what extent this Tuber browser will make an impact in China’s Internet user behavior is unclear, especially since it looks to be shut down already:
“Searching for China’s Snowflake” (Chinese Source: PingWest)
My thoughts: Snowflake’s splashy IPO a few weeks ago has set many in the tech and investment community into a frenzy -- a rare occurrence for a big data company; Berkshire Hathaway’s involvement certainly had a lot to do with it. That frenzy wasn’t limited to the U.S.; many in China are wondering if the country will produce its own Snowflake, given its burgeoning though still immature enterprise tech sector. Whether that will happen depends heavily on how well Chinese enterprise startups can develop a “cloud-native” product to meet the “cloud-native” expectations of developers and customers. This PingWest article takes on that question by talking to two companies that may have the best chance in achieving that goal: PingCAP and Kyligence. Full disclosure: I’ve worked with both companies in the past in a management and operator role. I don’t hold shares in either company.
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“微软允许更多的员工永久性地在家远程工作”（英文来源: The Verge）
我的想法: 半导体行业的整合正在加速成形，几周前英伟达宣布收购Arm，现在AMD以约300亿美元或更高的价格想收购Xilinx。由于美国对华为的制裁，许多美国半导体公司遭受了收入损失，Xilinz是其中一个。据估计，其华为业务占总收入的6-8%。Xilinx的专长是FPGA芯片——在军事和5G开发的早期阶段大量使用的可灵活编程的硬件。用在5G领域合理因为5G科技具体落地的方式现还不成熟，需要大量的实验，而FPGA可以更容易实现需要的实验。更有趣的是：Lisa Su（AMD的CEO）和Victor Peng（Xilinx的CEO）都是出生在台湾的美国科技高管。英伟达的CEO Jensen Huang 也是台湾裔。当然也不能忘记占全球领先地位的芯片制造巨头，台积电，它是由张忠谋博士创立的。可以说，从台湾出来的一代又一代的技术人才和高管已经垄断了整个世界的半导体行业。
“传B站委任四家银行安排香港上市，寻求募资8亿至15亿美元，目标明年完成二次上市” (中文来源: 独角兽早知道）
“中国Tuber浏览器受官方核准？政府带你实名翻墙” (中文来源: 美国之音--中文）
“寻找中国的Snowflake” (中文来源: 品玩）
我的想法: Snowflake几周前大张旗鼓的IPO让科技界和投资界的许多人疯狂——这对于一家大数据公司来说是罕见的；这种疯狂与Berkshire Hathaway的参与无疑有蛮大的关系。这种狂热并不限于美国；许多中国的科技和投资人事也是一样，考虑到中国企业服务行业的发展又不成熟之中，是否会生产出自己的Snowflake。能否实现这一目标在很大程度上取决于中国企业服务创业公司能否开发出“云原生”的产品，以满足开发者和客户对“云原生”的期望。品玩的这篇文章通过与两家最有可能实现这个目标的公司，PingCAP和Kyligence，来探讨了这个问题。声明：我曾与这两家公司合作过，担任过管理及运维的角色。我不持这两家公司的股份。