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Archive for May 2007

The largest Feynman diagram in the world?

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As far as I know, the Feynman diagram embedded in the atrium floor of our physics building is the largest in the world. I often overhear campus tour guides describe the diagram as a kind of “molecule” :-/

It’s hard to see in the photos, but the diagram is of the Drell-Yan process, where a quark and antiquark fuse into a photon or other gauge boson, which then decays to a lepton-antilepton pair.

Written by infoproc

May 31, 2007 at 8:47 pm

Advice to a new graduate

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One of the students who has worked part time at Robot Genius is graduating from Stanford in computer science. My advice to him and to others like him is to investigate opportunities at local startups before just joining one of the giants like Google, Microsoft or Cisco.

At a good startup you will likely learn more, have more responsibility and get a deeper look at the interplay between risk, innovation, success and failue. It is sad but true that even the best big companies have a large component of mediocrity — in my experience the average quality level is often anticorrelated with the amount of time since the company has been a startup. Many bright young graduates will be stuck with little real responsibility, working under a clueless politician who barely understands his or her industry. It’s the nature of a large organization that such people can survive and prosper without making any contribution to the competitiveness of their employer.

After working at a startup you won’t necessarily have a blue chip name on your resume, but you’ll likely have specific accomplishments you can point to, that you had real ownership over. If your grades and other qualifications were good enough to get you hired at Google, they’ll still be impressive a few years down the line (for employers who want to check your overall brainpower). But in addition you’ll have demonstrated willingness to take risk and have had significant responsibilities. And finally, there’s also that lottery ticket which might pay off 🙂

This Times article covers Google’s fierce compeition to hire the best talent.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — On a spring Saturday, about 90 students from Stanford and as many from the University of California, Berkeley, converged on Google’s corporate campus for a day of spirited team competition over mind-bending puzzles, Lego building problems and video games.

It was called the Google Games, a convivial way for the mostly computer science and engineering students to renew the Stanford-Berkeley rivalry. But behind the fun was a serious corporate recruiting event that underscores a rivalry no less intense: the tug of war for talent between Google and its competitors.

As much of the high-tech industry is enjoying a renewed boom, the competition for top recruits in engineering and other fields is as intense as ever. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo frequently find themselves going after the same candidates or recruiting in one another’s backyards. At the same time, they are running up against a myriad of start-up companies across Silicon Valley that have been pumped up with venture capital in recent years.

To lure talent, these companies have expanded their recruiting arsenal far beyond the traditional job fair to include a growing number of events like technology lectures, cocktail parties, pizza parties, treasure hunts and programming contests, dubbed “code jams” or “hack days.” Much like the Google Games, these are no-pressure recruiting occasions meant to create excitement around their companies and impress potential recruits as young as college freshmen.

“It comes down to just getting them introduced to our culture, showing them that, hey, being part of Google could be a lot of fun,” said Ken Krieger, a Google engineer who had volunteered to supervise the Lego-building contest.

Google, more than any other company, looms large in this latest chapter of Silicon Valley’s talent wars.

The company has been vacuuming talent wherever it can find it to keep fueling its torrid growth. Its work force has roughly doubled every year for the last several years, to more than 12,200 at the end of March. Google is now adding about 500 workers each month. Its Web site lists nearly 800 open positions in the San Francisco Bay Area alone.

If Google is hungry for top talent, the class of 2007 seems to think that a Google job offer is a prized commodity. Stories about Google’s notoriously tough and sometimes off-putting recruiting process continue to surface. Even so, the company was considered the most desirable employer for all undergraduates this year, and for the first time, it edged out the blue-chip consulting firm McKinsey & Company as the most desirable employer among M.B.A.’s, a position McKinsey had held for the last 12 years, according to surveys conducted by Universum, a research firm.

“Being in an environment where you are going to learn a lot is the most important thing to me,” said Alice Yu-shan Chang, one of hundreds of recruits who are graduating this year and heading for Google.

Ms. Chang, who is finishing master’s degrees in computer science and management science at Stanford, was sought by both Microsoft and Google, as well as eBay and Oracle. She said Microsoft had done what it could to find the right group for her, first at its headquarters in Redmond, Wash., and then, upon learning that she did not want to leave the Bay Area, at its Mountain View campus, not far from Google’s. She received phone calls from company vice presidents and met face-to-face with one of them.

“With Google, you don’t have that much face time with high-up people,” she said. But there was some wining and dining on the part of Google, which Ms. Chang would not discuss in detail because she had signed a nondisclosure agreement. Eventually, Google won, in part because it had agreed to permit Ms. Chang to rotate positions every six months in the first year and half, and because, for her, it was a better cultural fit.

“There are a lot of young people there who are very creative,” Ms. Chang, 25, said. Many of her peers at Microsoft would have been in their 30s and 40s “and more family oriented,” she said.

In the last two years, Google has expanded its university recruiting programs to nearly 200 campuses from about 70. But the ubiquity of its events has ruffled some feathers. Max Levchin, the chief executive of Slide, a technology start-up in San Francisco, said he used to have good luck recruiting from his alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, by going there in midyear and persuading computer-science students to defer graduation and join him in Silicon Valley. “Now all I hear about is Google holding a puzzle hunt this, or Google campus pizza that,” Mr. Levchin said in an e-mail interview. Chief executives at other start-ups had similar frustrations.

Stanford does not keep an official tally of where its students go, and even informal numbers are not in for the class of 2007. But an unscientific, voluntary check of students run by the university’s career center showed that Stanford had funneled more of its graduates to Google than to any other employer in the last three years.

While playing down the rivalry with Microsoft, which is hiring at an even faster rate than Google, albeit into a company nearly six times as large, Google has not shied away from bringing the competition for talent to Microsoft’s door. Google has more openings in the Seattle area than anywhere else in the country other than California and New York.

“I think it’s unlikely that you’ll see us back up a truck to their parking lot,” Google’s director for staffing programs, Judy Gilbert, said. “We have done a lot of things to engage with the local talent in an appropriate way.”

As an example, Ms. Gilbert, a former recruiter for McKinsey, pointed to a lecture this year at Google by Kaifu Lee, the president of Google Greater China, which was intended to appeal to the “large community of Chinese ex-pats” in the Seattle area. Mr. Lee used to head Microsoft’s research organization in China. After Google hired him in 2005, Microsoft sued Google and Mr. Lee, accusing him of violating a noncompete agreement and misusing inside information. The lawsuit was later settled.

Google’s efforts notwithstanding, Microsoft and Yahoo say they are able to hire the candidates they need.

“Our competition is really the market for top talent, not a specific company,” said Scott Pitarsky, Microsoft’s general manager for talent acquisition.

Similarly, Yahoo, which held a hack day at its campus that was attended by about 500 programmers, as well as smaller ones elsewhere, said its recruiting strategies were working. The company also opened a research center at Berkeley in part to attract student interns.

“Dozens of people have come from the labs into Yahoo,” said Bradley Horowitz, vice president for product strategy at Yahoo.

All three companies say their toughest recruiting challenges come from start-ups, who snap up people like Nitay Joffe.

Mr. Joffe, who had summer internships at Google for the last two years, expected to go to work there. But before Mr. Joffe, a recent computer engineering graduate of the University of California, San Diego, accepted a job, a friend suggested he check out a San Francisco start-up, Powerset, which is trying to build a rival search engine.

“Powerset had everything that Google had in terms of what I was looking for — smart people, interesting projects, great amenities,” Mr. Joffe said. Powerset also had one thing Google could not offer: the potential to strike it rich with the Internet equivalent of a lottery ticket.

“When you get a stock option at 5 cents and it goes to $50 …,” Mr. Joffe said, before his voice trailed off. With Google’s shares hovering around $480, it no longer offers the same potential. “Google isn’t going to $4,000,” said Mr. Joffe, who began working at Powerset recently.

For every recruit who gets away, Google hopes many more enter its pipeline of potential employees at events like the Google Games.

“We never say, ‘Come work for us,’ ” said Ronner Lee, who is in charge of Google’s university programs at Berkeley. “If they like what they see here and they want to approach us with questions, that’s great.”

If the goal was to impress this crowd, it did not hurt that the games were held inside one of Google’s cafeterias, where the food is free, healthful and plentiful. Or that students were picked up at their campuses by Google’s free shuttles, which are outfitted with wireless Internet access. Or that many of the puzzles were created by the No. 2 Sudoku player in the world, who, by the way, happens to work at Google.

David Nguyen, a doctoral student at Berkeley who went to Google for the games, said the company clearly understands its target audience. “This is exactly the kind of person they want,” Mr. Nguyen said, “someone who is going to work and solve problems on a Saturday and enjoy it.”

Written by infoproc

May 28, 2007 at 4:23 pm

Virtual meetings

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John Battelle describes HP’s HALO system for virtual meetings. Please, let this become cheap and widespread so I can stop schlepping around on planes, trains and automobiles. (Earlier rants here and here.)

Last week I got a chance to test drive HALO, Hewlett Packard’s super high-end telepresence application. And all I can say is …. Oooooh, I want one. In fact, I want everyone to have one.

Of course, that’s pretty impractical. HALO is, in essence, an extraordinarily expensive television studio cum virtual private network, and I can only imagine the cost of building one of them is in the low seven figures. For now, only large enterprises with serious budgets can afford to install such a system.

But man, after you use it, you really, really want to use it again.

I was invite to a HALO meeting by VJ Joshi, the fellow who runs HP’s Imaging and Printing Group (IPG), and HALO is one of VJ’s many products. IPG is best known for its printing business, but VJ has a larger vision for printing as a platform, and he wanted to bounce it around with me. (HP is a marketing partner of my company FM. Am I guilty of writing glowingly of a partner’s products? Yes, but I only do that when, in fact, it’s worthy.) VJ is also on the board of Yahoo, so I knew we’d not run out of things to talk about.

I came unsure what to expect – I’ve done video conferences before, and I was worried that all the usual glitches – latency, crappy video quality, poor audio – would make it hard to really connect. And I wanted to connect with VJ, I had heard a lot about him, and I was eager to pick his brain.

All that fell away when I walked into the rectangular HALO meeting room. The room was paneled in soft, light brown fabric, and dominating its left side was a board room table of sorts – well, half of a board room table, really, an arc of sorts from the stem to the stern of the room. On the wall to my left as I walked in were three 42+inch HD monitors, arranged at table level. Above them was a fourth screen, the same size.

And it was looking at the image on those screens where the mindbender came in: sitting at the table on the “other half” of the room were four people from Hewlett Packard. They looked jarringly real – but in fact, they were sitting in three different locations. They smiled and said hello when I entered, and I got this eerie feeling that I had triggered a family of Disneyland-esque automatons – they weren’t reacting to me, were they? Maybe I triggered some kind of response system a la Haunted Mansion, where the ghost starts speaking to you as you pass by?

But nope, these were the folks assembled from various HP locations around the country, ready to meet with me. VJ sat in the middle, in HP’s Fort Collins offices. Others were piped in from New York and Vancouver (I was in HP’s Palo Alto offices). But as I viewed them, they were all sitting across the table, as if we were all in the same room. It was, as I’ve said before, really cool.

VJ gave me a brief tour of HALO’s features – the fourth screen at the top allows you to manage the experience, share computer screens, and even share images of physical objects (a square light appears on the table next to you, and anything you put in the light can be seen by everyone else). By the time he had finished giving me the nickel tour, I had quite forgotten we were not in the same room. Our subsequent conversation was as nuanced and, well, as human as most meetings I’ve had face to face. The sound was superb, there was absolutely no latency, and the system adjusts for eye contact – people know when you are looking at them, allowing for the full gestural language of conversation to flourish.

After experiencing HALO, I asked VJ if he thought it was practical to get one of these into every Kinko’s in the world. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say “Why not?” I’m sure that day is a ways off, and because of that, I feel like a got a test ride of the future. Telepresence for me was some kind of Jetsonian fantasy, a silly, far off concept that I understood intellectually, but discounted entirely because it struck me as unrealistic and impractical. But after experiencing it first hand, it strikes me as the kind of impractical idea – like the telephone or the automobile – that will end up changing the world someday.

Of note: Cisco has a similar product in the market, recently featured on Fox’s 24 (see here for more, and Charlene Li’s site has a write up of it here).

Written by infoproc

May 25, 2007 at 4:12 pm

Japan’s brain drain

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This Times article describes the exodus of senior engineers from Japan to other Asian countries, in particular companies in Taiwan. Hsinchu is the silicon valley of Taiwan. Japan, unfortunatlely for them, has no silicon valley. The incentives must be particularly attractive for insular Japanese to consider joining a foreign company and living abroad, but there you go. These are exactly the talented risk takers that no nation can afford to lose.

See also here for more on the decline of the chip industry in Japan. Japanese LCD-makers have had to form alliances with Korean and Taiwanese competitors to stay in the display business, where fabs cost billions each.

A Japanese Export: Talent

By MARTIN FACKLER
HSINCHU, Taiwan — One of the hottest exports from Japan these days isn’t video games or eco-friendly cars.

It is engineers.

Japan’s once vaunted electronics industry has downsized to survive global competition, and is inadvertently setting off a brain drain. Thousands of Japanese engineers and other industry professionals have gone to Taiwan, South Korea and China to seek work at aggressive, fast-growing companies that want to use Japanese technological expertise.

One such explorer is Heiji Kobayashi, a 41-year-old semiconductor engineer, whose career hit a dead end when his employer, Mitsubishi Electric, spun off its memory-chip business a few years ago. With job prospects bleak in Japan, he turned to Taiwan’s booming chip industry, where he became a popular commodity.

Last month, he began a new job overseeing the design of factory production lines at Powerchip Semiconductor, a memory-chip maker in this suburban city just south of Taipei. As a deputy director, he gets stock options (rare in Japan) and a secretary, and he is climbing the top rungs of management at the company, which has 6,500 employees.

“My skills are in far higher demand here,” said Mr. Kobayashi, who once worked in Taiwan for Mitsubishi Electric. Such employment mobility was once unthinkable in highly insular Japan, where until recently, workers virtually married into their company and kept their jobs for life, and the strength of its electronics industry was a source of national pride.

However, the recent export of job seekers is a sign of just how much Japan has changed during a decade of increased competition, corporate belt-tightening and the end of lifetime job guarantees. This harsher new world has forced Japan’s famously conservative salarymen to become more aggressive in their job choices, and to view their careers as something for their own benefit and not simply their companies’, employment experts say.

This shift in mindset also underscores how Japan’s long-closed economy is finally integrating with that of its neighbors. China has already replaced the United States as Japan’s biggest trading partner, and many Japanese now see their nation’s and their own personal future as linked to Asia’s red-hot economies.

“Salarymen are taking bigger risks,” said Mitsuhide Shiraki, a professor of economics at Waseda University in Tokyo. “They’re making a logical decision to work in Asia, where they are being better rewarded than in Japan.” The trend has set off some hand-wringing in Japan, where the government fears the loss of technology to Asian rivals. Some Japanese companies are also complaining that they are having trouble finding enough talented engineers at home, especially as fewer young Japanese are now entering the field.

No one knows for sure how many Japanese have left, since the outflow began in earnest less than five years ago. However, employment agencies in Tokyo have reported a surge in inquiries by middle-age Japanese professionals seeking work abroad.

There has also been a growing number of retired engineers wanting to go to less-developed economies where their skills are still highly valued, allowing them to pursue second careers late in life.

“In Asia, we can keep contributing to society,” said Kazumitsu Nakamura, 64, a former engineer for Hitachi who quit to go to Taiwan, and was recently hired by a Hitachi subsidiary to train Taiwanese employees. “In Japan, we would just be collecting pensions.”

Taiwan was one of the first to start courting Japanese professionals, with at least 2,500 moving here in recent years, the Taiwanese government says.

Taiwanese companies have been keen to gain access to Japan’s leading technology in areas like electronics, both to catch up with Japanese front-runners like Sony and to stay ahead of fast-gaining Chinese competitors.

More recently, however, China and Southeast Asian countries like Singapore have also begun hiring Japanese en masse to acquire their know- how, recruiting agencies say.

“This is a new era,” said Tomoko Hata, managing director of Pasona Global, a Tokyo-based recruiting agency that specializes in finding jobs overseas for Japanese. “The number of Japanese working abroad is only going to keep growing.”

The Japanese migrants are finding themselves welcomed with open arms and generous pay packages. The Taiwan government says it has spent $20 million a year since 2003 to recruit foreign engineers, including Japanese, in key industries like semiconductors and flat-panel displays. It has held annual job fairs in Japanese cities like Tokyo and Osaka, and offers subsidies to Taiwan companies to help pay moving costs and the higher salaries that Japanese expect. To avoid angering Tokyo, Taiwan officials say that they direct their efforts at older Japanese engineers nearing retirement age.

“We need experienced engineers, and we need them quickly,” said Lin Ferng-ching, the cabinet minister in charge of technology policy in Taiwan. “Japanese engineers are very well trained, and have good attitudes toward their work.”

Larger Taiwanese companies have offered annual pay packages topping $1 million for candidates in prized technological fields, according to some Japanese engineers. Such a large number of Japanese has moved to Taiwan that some cities are building or planning Japanese-language schools for the engineers’ children.

In Hsinchu, a subeconomy has sprung up to serve the rising number of Japanese, including izakaya (pub-style restaurants), karaoke bars and dubious-looking massage parlors with names like Tokyo Town.

Japan’s trade ministry is trying to stem the outflow of engineers by persuading Japanese companies to offer better pay and more frequent promotions. It has also reminded companies of other alternatives, like laws that forbid former employees from leaking corporate secrets to competitors. Asian diplomats have also said that Japanese officials have complained to them about their efforts to lure Japanese engineers.

“The national government cannot stop these people from going overseas,” said Nobuhiro Komoto, an official in the Japanese trade ministry’s manufacturing policy section. “We’re helping companies think of their own ways to protect their technological know-how.”

While many Japanese engineers say that they have been offered potential jobs by Asian companies, others say that they have looked for work in Asia in hopes of finding something more promising or stimulating.

Pasona Global, the employment agency, said 4,930 Japanese registered last year for job searches in other Asian countries, twice the number five years ago.

Almost every Japanese with technology-related experience attracts job offers, Ms. Hata said. The largest number of offers are from companies in China, she said, but those with the most coveted skills tended to be hired by companies in Taiwan, which is rushing to close the technological gap with Japan.

Hiroshi Itabashi was an engineer with more than 20 years of experience at a midsize Japanese television maker when he got an unexpected phone call in 1999 from Delta Electronics, a fast-growing Taiwanese electronic components company. Delta wanted to start producing TV screens and asked Mr. Itabashi to help set up their operation.

Three interviews later, including one with a Delta executive who flew to Tokyo to have lunch with him on a Saturday, Mr. Itabashi decided to make the jump.

“They gave me this exciting opportunity to build a whole new business from scratch,” said Mr. Itabashi, 56, who asked that his former Japanese employer not be named. “This is something you can’t do in Japan. These days, Japanese companies always seem to be closing down operations, not starting new ones.”

Mr. Itabashi said that his friends were puzzled at first about his moving to a company they had never heard of. But now, they ask him for help finding jobs overseas for themselves. To lure Japanese engineers and their families to Taiwan, a government-run industrial park for technology companies in the southern city of Tainan is building a Japanese-language school. A similar technology park in Hsinchu plans to add a Japanese school and a Japanese restaurant.

“Companies in the park are asking us to do more for the Japanese,” said the director of the Hsinchu Science Park, Huang Der-ray. Though the benefits are great, Japanese going abroad say they sometimes struggle to adapt to vastly different corporate cultures. For Tatsuo Okamoto, a 51-year-old semiconductor engineer, the biggest change was the speed in decision-making at the Taiwanese company, Winbond Electronics, which hired him away from the Tokyo-based chip maker Renesas Technology two years ago.

Dr. Okamoto recalled one instance when a 15-minute chat in the hallway with Winbond’s president was enough to win immediate approval to purchase millions of dollars worth of factory equipment. The same decision in Japan would have taken days of committee meetings, he said.

Dr. Okamoto said the experience opened his eyes to the problems that were hobbling the competitiveness of Japan’s electronics industry.

“Joining a Taiwanese company was a high-risk, high-return decision,” Mr. Okamoto said. “But staying in Japan had become a high-risk, low-return proposition.”

Written by infoproc

May 24, 2007 at 3:31 pm

Japan’s brain drain

leave a comment »

This Times article describes the exodus of senior engineers from Japan to other Asian countries, in particular companies in Taiwan. Hsinchu is the silicon valley of Taiwan. Japan, unfortunatlely for them, has no silicon valley. The incentives must be particularly attractive for insular Japanese to consider joining a foreign company and living abroad, but there you go. These are exactly the talented risk takers that no nation can afford to lose.

See also here for more on the decline of the chip industry in Japan. Japanese LCD-makers have had to form alliances with Korean and Taiwanese competitors to stay in the display business, where fabs cost billions each.

A Japanese Export: Talent

By MARTIN FACKLER
HSINCHU, Taiwan — One of the hottest exports from Japan these days isn’t video games or eco-friendly cars.

It is engineers.

Japan’s once vaunted electronics industry has downsized to survive global competition, and is inadvertently setting off a brain drain. Thousands of Japanese engineers and other industry professionals have gone to Taiwan, South Korea and China to seek work at aggressive, fast-growing companies that want to use Japanese technological expertise.

One such explorer is Heiji Kobayashi, a 41-year-old semiconductor engineer, whose career hit a dead end when his employer, Mitsubishi Electric, spun off its memory-chip business a few years ago. With job prospects bleak in Japan, he turned to Taiwan’s booming chip industry, where he became a popular commodity.

Last month, he began a new job overseeing the design of factory production lines at Powerchip Semiconductor, a memory-chip maker in this suburban city just south of Taipei. As a deputy director, he gets stock options (rare in Japan) and a secretary, and he is climbing the top rungs of management at the company, which has 6,500 employees.

“My skills are in far higher demand here,” said Mr. Kobayashi, who once worked in Taiwan for Mitsubishi Electric. Such employment mobility was once unthinkable in highly insular Japan, where until recently, workers virtually married into their company and kept their jobs for life, and the strength of its electronics industry was a source of national pride.

However, the recent export of job seekers is a sign of just how much Japan has changed during a decade of increased competition, corporate belt-tightening and the end of lifetime job guarantees. This harsher new world has forced Japan’s famously conservative salarymen to become more aggressive in their job choices, and to view their careers as something for their own benefit and not simply their companies’, employment experts say.

This shift in mindset also underscores how Japan’s long-closed economy is finally integrating with that of its neighbors. China has already replaced the United States as Japan’s biggest trading partner, and many Japanese now see their nation’s and their own personal future as linked to Asia’s red-hot economies.

“Salarymen are taking bigger risks,” said Mitsuhide Shiraki, a professor of economics at Waseda University in Tokyo. “They’re making a logical decision to work in Asia, where they are being better rewarded than in Japan.” The trend has set off some hand-wringing in Japan, where the government fears the loss of technology to Asian rivals. Some Japanese companies are also complaining that they are having trouble finding enough talented engineers at home, especially as fewer young Japanese are now entering the field.

No one knows for sure how many Japanese have left, since the outflow began in earnest less than five years ago. However, employment agencies in Tokyo have reported a surge in inquiries by middle-age Japanese professionals seeking work abroad.

There has also been a growing number of retired engineers wanting to go to less-developed economies where their skills are still highly valued, allowing them to pursue second careers late in life.

“In Asia, we can keep contributing to society,” said Kazumitsu Nakamura, 64, a former engineer for Hitachi who quit to go to Taiwan, and was recently hired by a Hitachi subsidiary to train Taiwanese employees. “In Japan, we would just be collecting pensions.”

Taiwan was one of the first to start courting Japanese professionals, with at least 2,500 moving here in recent years, the Taiwanese government says.

Taiwanese companies have been keen to gain access to Japan’s leading technology in areas like electronics, both to catch up with Japanese front-runners like Sony and to stay ahead of fast-gaining Chinese competitors.

More recently, however, China and Southeast Asian countries like Singapore have also begun hiring Japanese en masse to acquire their know- how, recruiting agencies say.

“This is a new era,” said Tomoko Hata, managing director of Pasona Global, a Tokyo-based recruiting agency that specializes in finding jobs overseas for Japanese. “The number of Japanese working abroad is only going to keep growing.”

The Japanese migrants are finding themselves welcomed with open arms and generous pay packages. The Taiwan government says it has spent $20 million a year since 2003 to recruit foreign engineers, including Japanese, in key industries like semiconductors and flat-panel displays. It has held annual job fairs in Japanese cities like Tokyo and Osaka, and offers subsidies to Taiwan companies to help pay moving costs and the higher salaries that Japanese expect. To avoid angering Tokyo, Taiwan officials say that they direct their efforts at older Japanese engineers nearing retirement age.

“We need experienced engineers, and we need them quickly,” said Lin Ferng-ching, the cabinet minister in charge of technology policy in Taiwan. “Japanese engineers are very well trained, and have good attitudes toward their work.”

Larger Taiwanese companies have offered annual pay packages topping $1 million for candidates in prized technological fields, according to some Japanese engineers. Such a large number of Japanese has moved to Taiwan that some cities are building or planning Japanese-language schools for the engineers’ children.

In Hsinchu, a subeconomy has sprung up to serve the rising number of Japanese, including izakaya (pub-style restaurants), karaoke bars and dubious-looking massage parlors with names like Tokyo Town.

Japan’s trade ministry is trying to stem the outflow of engineers by persuading Japanese companies to offer better pay and more frequent promotions. It has also reminded companies of other alternatives, like laws that forbid former employees from leaking corporate secrets to competitors. Asian diplomats have also said that Japanese officials have complained to them about their efforts to lure Japanese engineers.

“The national government cannot stop these people from going overseas,” said Nobuhiro Komoto, an official in the Japanese trade ministry’s manufacturing policy section. “We’re helping companies think of their own ways to protect their technological know-how.”

While many Japanese engineers say that they have been offered potential jobs by Asian companies, others say that they have looked for work in Asia in hopes of finding something more promising or stimulating.

Pasona Global, the employment agency, said 4,930 Japanese registered last year for job searches in other Asian countries, twice the number five years ago.

Almost every Japanese with technology-related experience attracts job offers, Ms. Hata said. The largest number of offers are from companies in China, she said, but those with the most coveted skills tended to be hired by companies in Taiwan, which is rushing to close the technological gap with Japan.

Hiroshi Itabashi was an engineer with more than 20 years of experience at a midsize Japanese television maker when he got an unexpected phone call in 1999 from Delta Electronics, a fast-growing Taiwanese electronic components company. Delta wanted to start producing TV screens and asked Mr. Itabashi to help set up their operation.

Three interviews later, including one with a Delta executive who flew to Tokyo to have lunch with him on a Saturday, Mr. Itabashi decided to make the jump.

“They gave me this exciting opportunity to build a whole new business from scratch,” said Mr. Itabashi, 56, who asked that his former Japanese employer not be named. “This is something you can’t do in Japan. These days, Japanese companies always seem to be closing down operations, not starting new ones.”

Mr. Itabashi said that his friends were puzzled at first about his moving to a company they had never heard of. But now, they ask him for help finding jobs overseas for themselves. To lure Japanese engineers and their families to Taiwan, a government-run industrial park for technology companies in the southern city of Tainan is building a Japanese-language school. A similar technology park in Hsinchu plans to add a Japanese school and a Japanese restaurant.

“Companies in the park are asking us to do more for the Japanese,” said the director of the Hsinchu Science Park, Huang Der-ray. Though the benefits are great, Japanese going abroad say they sometimes struggle to adapt to vastly different corporate cultures. For Tatsuo Okamoto, a 51-year-old semiconductor engineer, the biggest change was the speed in decision-making at the Taiwanese company, Winbond Electronics, which hired him away from the Tokyo-based chip maker Renesas Technology two years ago.

Dr. Okamoto recalled one instance when a 15-minute chat in the hallway with Winbond’s president was enough to win immediate approval to purchase millions of dollars worth of factory equipment. The same decision in Japan would have taken days of committee meetings, he said.

Dr. Okamoto said the experience opened his eyes to the problems that were hobbling the competitiveness of Japan’s electronics industry.

“Joining a Taiwanese company was a high-risk, high-return decision,” Mr. Okamoto said. “But staying in Japan had become a high-risk, low-return proposition.”

Written by infoproc

May 24, 2007 at 3:31 pm

Japan’s brain drain

leave a comment »

This Times article describes the exodus of senior engineers from Japan to other Asian countries, in particular companies in Taiwan. Hsinchu is the silicon valley of Taiwan. Japan, unfortunatlely for them, has no silicon valley. The incentives must be particularly attractive for insular Japanese to consider joining a foreign company and living abroad, but there you go. These are exactly the talented risk takers that no nation can afford to lose.

See also here for more on the decline of the chip industry in Japan. Japanese LCD-makers have had to form alliances with Korean and Taiwanese competitors to stay in the display business, where fabs cost billions each.

A Japanese Export: Talent

By MARTIN FACKLER
HSINCHU, Taiwan — One of the hottest exports from Japan these days isn’t video games or eco-friendly cars.

It is engineers.

Japan’s once vaunted electronics industry has downsized to survive global competition, and is inadvertently setting off a brain drain. Thousands of Japanese engineers and other industry professionals have gone to Taiwan, South Korea and China to seek work at aggressive, fast-growing companies that want to use Japanese technological expertise.

One such explorer is Heiji Kobayashi, a 41-year-old semiconductor engineer, whose career hit a dead end when his employer, Mitsubishi Electric, spun off its memory-chip business a few years ago. With job prospects bleak in Japan, he turned to Taiwan’s booming chip industry, where he became a popular commodity.

Last month, he began a new job overseeing the design of factory production lines at Powerchip Semiconductor, a memory-chip maker in this suburban city just south of Taipei. As a deputy director, he gets stock options (rare in Japan) and a secretary, and he is climbing the top rungs of management at the company, which has 6,500 employees.

“My skills are in far higher demand here,” said Mr. Kobayashi, who once worked in Taiwan for Mitsubishi Electric. Such employment mobility was once unthinkable in highly insular Japan, where until recently, workers virtually married into their company and kept their jobs for life, and the strength of its electronics industry was a source of national pride.

However, the recent export of job seekers is a sign of just how much Japan has changed during a decade of increased competition, corporate belt-tightening and the end of lifetime job guarantees. This harsher new world has forced Japan’s famously conservative salarymen to become more aggressive in their job choices, and to view their careers as something for their own benefit and not simply their companies’, employment experts say.

This shift in mindset also underscores how Japan’s long-closed economy is finally integrating with that of its neighbors. China has already replaced the United States as Japan’s biggest trading partner, and many Japanese now see their nation’s and their own personal future as linked to Asia’s red-hot economies.

“Salarymen are taking bigger risks,” said Mitsuhide Shiraki, a professor of economics at Waseda University in Tokyo. “They’re making a logical decision to work in Asia, where they are being better rewarded than in Japan.” The trend has set off some hand-wringing in Japan, where the government fears the loss of technology to Asian rivals. Some Japanese companies are also complaining that they are having trouble finding enough talented engineers at home, especially as fewer young Japanese are now entering the field.

No one knows for sure how many Japanese have left, since the outflow began in earnest less than five years ago. However, employment agencies in Tokyo have reported a surge in inquiries by middle-age Japanese professionals seeking work abroad.

There has also been a growing number of retired engineers wanting to go to less-developed economies where their skills are still highly valued, allowing them to pursue second careers late in life.

“In Asia, we can keep contributing to society,” said Kazumitsu Nakamura, 64, a former engineer for Hitachi who quit to go to Taiwan, and was recently hired by a Hitachi subsidiary to train Taiwanese employees. “In Japan, we would just be collecting pensions.”

Taiwan was one of the first to start courting Japanese professionals, with at least 2,500 moving here in recent years, the Taiwanese government says.

Taiwanese companies have been keen to gain access to Japan’s leading technology in areas like electronics, both to catch up with Japanese front-runners like Sony and to stay ahead of fast-gaining Chinese competitors.

More recently, however, China and Southeast Asian countries like Singapore have also begun hiring Japanese en masse to acquire their know- how, recruiting agencies say.

“This is a new era,” said Tomoko Hata, managing director of Pasona Global, a Tokyo-based recruiting agency that specializes in finding jobs overseas for Japanese. “The number of Japanese working abroad is only going to keep growing.”

The Japanese migrants are finding themselves welcomed with open arms and generous pay packages. The Taiwan government says it has spent $20 million a year since 2003 to recruit foreign engineers, including Japanese, in key industries like semiconductors and flat-panel displays. It has held annual job fairs in Japanese cities like Tokyo and Osaka, and offers subsidies to Taiwan companies to help pay moving costs and the higher salaries that Japanese expect. To avoid angering Tokyo, Taiwan officials say that they direct their efforts at older Japanese engineers nearing retirement age.

“We need experienced engineers, and we need them quickly,” said Lin Ferng-ching, the cabinet minister in charge of technology policy in Taiwan. “Japanese engineers are very well trained, and have good attitudes toward their work.”

Larger Taiwanese companies have offered annual pay packages topping $1 million for candidates in prized technological fields, according to some Japanese engineers. Such a large number of Japanese has moved to Taiwan that some cities are building or planning Japanese-language schools for the engineers’ children.

In Hsinchu, a subeconomy has sprung up to serve the rising number of Japanese, including izakaya (pub-style restaurants), karaoke bars and dubious-looking massage parlors with names like Tokyo Town.

Japan’s trade ministry is trying to stem the outflow of engineers by persuading Japanese companies to offer better pay and more frequent promotions. It has also reminded companies of other alternatives, like laws that forbid former employees from leaking corporate secrets to competitors. Asian diplomats have also said that Japanese officials have complained to them about their efforts to lure Japanese engineers.

“The national government cannot stop these people from going overseas,” said Nobuhiro Komoto, an official in the Japanese trade ministry’s manufacturing policy section. “We’re helping companies think of their own ways to protect their technological know-how.”

While many Japanese engineers say that they have been offered potential jobs by Asian companies, others say that they have looked for work in Asia in hopes of finding something more promising or stimulating.

Pasona Global, the employment agency, said 4,930 Japanese registered last year for job searches in other Asian countries, twice the number five years ago.

Almost every Japanese with technology-related experience attracts job offers, Ms. Hata said. The largest number of offers are from companies in China, she said, but those with the most coveted skills tended to be hired by companies in Taiwan, which is rushing to close the technological gap with Japan.

Hiroshi Itabashi was an engineer with more than 20 years of experience at a midsize Japanese television maker when he got an unexpected phone call in 1999 from Delta Electronics, a fast-growing Taiwanese electronic components company. Delta wanted to start producing TV screens and asked Mr. Itabashi to help set up their operation.

Three interviews later, including one with a Delta executive who flew to Tokyo to have lunch with him on a Saturday, Mr. Itabashi decided to make the jump.

“They gave me this exciting opportunity to build a whole new business from scratch,” said Mr. Itabashi, 56, who asked that his former Japanese employer not be named. “This is something you can’t do in Japan. These days, Japanese companies always seem to be closing down operations, not starting new ones.”

Mr. Itabashi said that his friends were puzzled at first about his moving to a company they had never heard of. But now, they ask him for help finding jobs overseas for themselves. To lure Japanese engineers and their families to Taiwan, a government-run industrial park for technology companies in the southern city of Tainan is building a Japanese-language school. A similar technology park in Hsinchu plans to add a Japanese school and a Japanese restaurant.

“Companies in the park are asking us to do more for the Japanese,” said the director of the Hsinchu Science Park, Huang Der-ray. Though the benefits are great, Japanese going abroad say they sometimes struggle to adapt to vastly different corporate cultures. For Tatsuo Okamoto, a 51-year-old semiconductor engineer, the biggest change was the speed in decision-making at the Taiwanese company, Winbond Electronics, which hired him away from the Tokyo-based chip maker Renesas Technology two years ago.

Dr. Okamoto recalled one instance when a 15-minute chat in the hallway with Winbond’s president was enough to win immediate approval to purchase millions of dollars worth of factory equipment. The same decision in Japan would have taken days of committee meetings, he said.

Dr. Okamoto said the experience opened his eyes to the problems that were hobbling the competitiveness of Japan’s electronics industry.

“Joining a Taiwanese company was a high-risk, high-return decision,” Mr. Okamoto said. “But staying in Japan had become a high-risk, low-return proposition.”

Written by infoproc

May 24, 2007 at 3:31 pm

Mama said knock you out

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Ultimate fighting has grown from obscurity to unbelievable levels of popularity. It will soon surpass boxing as the premier combative sport. And it will soon be widely recognized that the baddest man on the planet is not a boxer, but an ultimate fighter. ESPN now covers the weigh-ins before big fights, and even the Times has a story today on how NFL players are fascinated with and in awe of professional fighters. The sport will have reached transcendence when the New Yorker runs an in-depth article covering the sport with more than cliches (“human cock-fighing”, “blood everywhere”).

I started training seriously in judo and brazilian jiujitsu back in the 90’s, when no-holds barred fighting was totally unknown in the US, although already popular in Japan and Brazil. I spent a summer in Tokyo training with professional fighters like Enson Inoue, pictured below. (These pictures are hopelessly old school; young fans and fighters will smile at seeing them again, but I’ve had them on my web page since I was a professor at Yale and faculty advisor to the judo club.)

Here’s an excerpt from an essay Learning How to Fight I wrote over a decade ago.

Unarmed single combat — mano a mano, as they say — has a long history, and is a subject which fascinates most men, both young and old. As a boy, I can remember serious discussions with my friends concerning which style was most effective — karate or kung fu, boxing or wrestling, etc. How would Muhammed Ali fare against an Olympic wrestler or Judo player? What about Bruce Lee versus a Navy Seal? Of course, these discussions were completely theoretical, akin to asking whether Superman could beat Galactus in arm wrestling. There was scarcely any data available on which to base a conclusion.

However, thanks to the recent proliferation of “No Rules” or “No Holds Barred” (NHB) fighting tournaments, both in the U.S. and abroad, we finally have some interesting answers to this ancient question. As with many things, the truth of the matter was known long ago, and then forgotten and relearned many times. Part of the reason for this is that unarmed combat is a peculiar thing — it is unlikely to occur in its pure form once weapons such as knives, bottles or guns are available, and when it does occur it is usually under special circumstances involving surprise or intoxication or multiple combatants. The clean schoolyard confrontation between two individuals is something which rarely occurs again in later life. Hence, single combat can only be studied in a controlled way as a form of sport. To my knowledge, the last time this was possible was during ancient times in Greece and more recently in Asia. The ancient Greek sport of Pankration (or “All Powers”) was the most popular of all of the original Olympic competitions. It combined boxing and wrestling as well as submission holds such as chokes and arm- and leg-locks. In China and Japan, unarmed fighting was also developed systematically in environments where tests through actual combat were frequent, although the modern descendants of those arts are often far from realistic.

In its modern incarnation, NHB fighting is one of the most exciting new sports to hit the market. It has a small but rapidly growing pool of fans and practicioners, despite its undeserved reputation for being bloody and dangerous. In fact, any student of the history of boxing knows that the introduction of padded gloves, along with rules against grappling, have made that sport much more dangerous than real fighting. Padded gloves protect the hands of a boxer and allow repeated blows to the head of an opponent, increasing the likelihood of brain damage. The prohibition against grappling creates an unrealistic environment, where fighters are forced to stand toe to toe and pummel each other, rather than use more efficient takedown and submission techniques to bring the fight to the ground and end it. That wrestling and submission techniques would often prevail against striking was well known to both the ancient Pankrationists and at least some of the martial artists in Asia. This lesson has been re-learned in the NHB context, as fight after fight ends with a grappler applying a submission hold to his opponent, often with neither suffering more than superficial damage. This is in contrast to the flashy styles of fighting popularized in movies and television, as well as to the expectations of fans of boxing. …

Teddy Roosevelt on judo and jiujitsu. He lined the white house recreation room with tatami mats and earned a black belt under emissaries from the Kodokan.

From a letter to son Kermit, dated 02/24/1905:

Yesterday afternoon we had Professor Yamashita up here to wrestle with Grant. It was very interesting, but of course jiu jitsu and our wrestling are so far apart that it is difficult to make any comparison between them. Wrestling is simply a sport with rules almost as conventional as those of tennis, while jiu jitsu is really meant for practice in killing or disabling our adversary. In consequence, Grant did not know what to do except to put Yamashita on his back, and Yamashita was perfectly content to be on his back. Inside of a minute Yamashita had choked Grant, and inside of two minutes more he got an elbow hold on him that would have enabled him to break his arm; so that there is no question but that he could have put Grant out. So far this made it evident that the jiu jitsu man could handle the ordinary wrestler. But Grant, in the actual wrestling and throwing was about as good as the Japanese, and he was so much stronger that he evidently hurt and wore out the Japanese. With a little practice in the art I am sure that one of our big wrestlers or boxers, simply because of his greatly superior strength, would be able to kill any of those Japanese, who though very good men for their inches and pounds are altogether too small to hold their own against big, powerful, quick men who are well trained.

From “Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children” edited by Joseph Bishop.

From the Times article. NFL players know who is the baddest:

…In Detroit, where Morton spent eight seasons, he was the kind of player who did not get tired even during two-a-days. He can bench press 400 pounds. His body fat is less than 5 percent. But during a sparring session Wednesday, he could not summon the energy to get off his hands and knees. Joker and Gun had to drag him to his feet.

“Let me die in peace,” Morton moaned.

Then he remembered that he was a former professional football player, that his girlfriend was watching, and that Joker and Gun do not believe in peace.

Morton charged at his sparring partner, battering him with a combination of punches and dropping him to the mat with a sweep of his leg. Morton used one hand to grab the man’s neck and the other to pound the side of his face.

If Morton were in the N.F.L., he would have drawn a 15-yard penalty, an automatic ejection, a fine and a possible suspension. But here, he prompted Joker and Gun to do their version of a touchdown dance.

“Look at this guy,” Gun said. “He’s beautiful. He has tons of money. He has an incredibly happy lifestyle. And he’s putting his brain on the line. He’s putting his manhood on the line. It’s hard to say what would make him do it.”

…One of the broadcasters will be Jay Glazer, who has a unique perspective on the bout. Glazer is best known as an N.F.L. analyst, but he also competes in mixed martial arts. When he visits N.F.L. training camps in the summer, players ask him more about fighting than about football.

“Football players are looked at as the biggest and baddest guys on the planet,” Glazer said. “People see them as superheroes. But football players also need someone to look up to. They view mixed martial arts as something even they are unwilling or unable to do. All the guys love Johnnie. But they think he’s nuts.”

Postscript: Johnny Morton, the NFL stud, was viciously knocked out 38 seconds into the first round of his MMA debut. I link to the fight video above, but don’t particularly recommend you watch it since Morton is far from a skilled fighter. Mama Said Knock You Out!

Written by infoproc

May 22, 2007 at 4:31 pm