How Mexico is using technology to help people after the 7.1 earthquake: interview with Paulina Bustos

Is that an earthquake?” the candidate asked with their eyes wide open, as everything around us started shaking. On September 19th, a 7.1 earthquake hit Central Mexico shortly after 1pm, and I was there interviewing university candidates for Microsoft. We were able to exit the building without issues, and even though my phone was unable to make any calls, it had data connectivity, allowing me to contact my family and friends over WhatsApp.

Many others weren’t so lucky: 369 people were killed, and over 6,000 were injured. The earthquake occurred on the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, which killed around 10,000 people. After spending the following days inspired by the amazing reaction of the Mexican society, united and determined to help each other, I wondered how different the situation would have been without technology’s help. How long would it take for people to find out if their families and friends were OK? How would they be able to find help or where help was needed?

My good friend Paulina Bustos was the perfect person to talk about these issues, so I decided to interview her. Paulina studied Computer Science at the Tecnológico de Monterrey University, worked at Microsoft in Redmond, WA for over 3 years and is now living in São Paulo doing a Technology Fellowship with Artigo 19; she is the co-funder of Cívica Digital in Mexico, where she worked with several non-profit organizations and governments to strengthen citizenship using technology, and she also teaches Software Design & Analysis at ITAM University.

Where were you during the September 19th earthquake in Central Mexico and what was your immediate reaction when you realized the magnitude of the event?

I was in Sao Paulo in a meeting, when my cellphone started ringing with all the messages from family and friends. My oldest sister lives in Mexico City and she usually texts back within the first 5 minutes after an earthquake. This time she took almost an hour. I knew immediately that something was off.

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About the iPhone X notch controversy

The iPhone X was already controversial even before it was officially introduced last Tuesday, mostly due to the rumored removal of Touch ID in favor of Face ID.

However, Apple’s presentation caused a new controversy: the infamous notch. Even though the array of cameras and sensors got leaked long before the event, nobody knew how Apple was planning to do in order to integrate it with iOS 11. We have the answer now: Apple is so proud of that black bar that they decided to render the user interface around it.

Since Apple controls the operating system, they made sure it looks good with most 1st party apps. But what happens with 3rd party content like a website? The notch gets in the way.Safari adds two very noticeable white bars around the content to work around the notch, creating a horrendous experience with many webpages. And when the notch is on the right side, the scrollbar becomes practically useless:

Developers have already started investigating ways of adapting their content (controlling the color of those white bars with CSS, for example), but it’s a problem that Apple could have avoided in the first place.

Look at this design, for example; it’s simple and yet, it fixes all of possible notch issues by avoiding the top region altogether:

If iOS rendered all apps (including Safari) that way, developers would be confident that their content can never be blocked by the notch, regardless of the orientation of the device. Aesthetically it looks better too. The internet is already filled with many designs that go in the same direction, and most of them look better than what Apple did.

Apple is using the notch as a brand statement: it makes the iPhone X immediately recognizable from any other phone and it draws attention to the amazing technology that it packs. But I believe they should have let the notch disappear in certain situations, like web browsing.

I doubt that there will be any changes to iOS 11 before the release of the iPhone X; Apple will probably wait to see the reception of the phone before making any drastic changes. But I bet that they will address the notch interference in a future software update. The alternative is an ugly and bumpy road filled with usability and development issues.


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Images via Apple, Thomas Fuchs, Ben Packard, Carlos Gavina

3 reasons why I’m excited about the new iPhone

Apple will present the new iPhone this Tuesday and, as usual, most of the details have already been leaked.

What seems guaranteed is that we’ll see 3 models being introduced: the iPhone 7s, 7s Plus and a special edition to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the original iPhone. That special edition has been known until now as iPhone 8, iPhone Edition, or iPhone Pro, but the official name iPhone X has been confirmed (among other details) thanks to the final version of iOS 11 leaking.

These are the top 3 reasons why I’m excited about the iPhone X.

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One month with the Nintendo Switch

Scarcity is “the fundamental economic problem of having seemingly unlimited human wants in a world of limited resources“.

Many thought that Nintendo was the master of artificial scarcity because of how difficult it was to find in stock the Switch (and other Nintendo consoles). It increased the hype for all those fans who were anxious to get their new toy, and for those who got it, it created a feeling of exclusiveness.

However, reality is slightly different: even today, over 5 months after its worldwide release, many retail stores still have limited availability or are sold out. Nintendo is actually having supply issues, which I bet they are trying hard to resolve before the holiday season.

Now, does the console live up to its hype? After a few weeks playing with it, I have to say ‘absolutely‘. The Nintendo Switch surprised me with its versatility as a powerful docked console and as a portable gaming device that doesn’t compromise.

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Women in engineering and public office: interview with Bea Q. Rico, candidate for Port of Seattle Commissioner

Becoming an engineer is not an easy task. Excelling at it is even more complicated. And if you happen to be a woman and part of an ethnic minority, things will be remarkably tougher for you.

Today, I’m interviewing Bea Querido-Rico, an engineer with over 12 years of experience in the aerospace industry, who is also running for Port of Seattle Commisioner. Join us while we talk about what we can do to improve the world for future generations.

Education is one of the big challenges of our time, with less students choosing STEM degrees each year. How would you encourage the younger generations to become the professionals that we need as a society?

The strategy that works the best is inspiring through understanding first what motivates younger generations. Once the motivation is understood, then link that motivation to S.T.E.M. and pair it with relevant fun courses as well as role models that they can relate to.

Growing up I was only exposed to sports, accounting, and nursing. Some people in my family took steps into starting a business and my brother pursued engineering in college but all of that in my world was so abstract until I landed an internship at the Boeing Company working for the C-17 military cargo aircraft. That summer internship in aerospace widened my perspective and heavily influenced the way I think and operate professionally.

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Using a Surface RT, 5 years later

Right before my last trip to Spain, rumors of a laptop ban in flights from Europe to the U.S. started appearing. I didn’t want to take my Surface Book and risk being forced to throw it inside my luggage on my way back (we all know how airlines treat luggage).

So what options did I have? Either leave my laptop at home, or travel with a device that I could live without, in case it broke after being handled like a sack of potatoes.

That’s when I thought of my old Surface RT, abandoned in a shelf for years. I wasn’t sure it would be “enough of a tablet” for my trip but coincidentally, that same week happened to be the 5th year anniversary of its presentation, so it was perfect timing for a test.

Would I be able to use my email? Write a little bit? Upload pictures to Facebook? Read Twitter? Buy tour tickets and make trip reservations? Would any of the old apps work?


The answer to all of those questions was, surprisingly, yes.

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My experience with Snapchat’s Spectacles

I got the Spectacles over Christmas thanks to my good friend Carlos. Back then, it was difficult to buy them because Snap was playing a genius scarcity game.

Today you can buy a pair online and get them delivered to your home in 1-2 weeks. Gone are those days when the Spectacles would sell on eBay for $3000.

Now, you might be thinking: “should I get them?” Let me help you.

Have you ever had a vacation to a sunny place, taking pictures here and there to immortalize the scenery? Having your phone with you all day might not be convenient, especially if you want to disconnect.

Have you ever been at a wedding where everyone is looking at their recording phones? Most of these people end up having just the memory of what their camera saw, not their eyes.

Can you think of a summer day when you hiked through a trail with breathtaking views? Getting your hands busy to take pictures might be uncomfortable and even dangerous.

I have been in these situations, and the weird-looking sunglasses truly allow me to be in the moment while capturing the memory.

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Tech interviews and how to cope with them

‘The recruiter will call you back soon’ told me the fourth (and last) interviewer I spoke with after a long day interviewing at the Microsoft campus.

I was pretty psyched about getting an offer and moving to Redmond. I wasn’t desperate (I think) but I definitely was a Microsoft fanboy willing to change his entire world to work there. I had decided to tell the recruiter that although I preferred a position related to developing Word’s ultimate new feature, I was willing to take pretty much any job there.

‘Let’s go straight to the point –  I accept your offer’, I practiced many times with a mirror. You can imagine my disappointment when the recruiter didn’t call me back, didn’t pick up my calls and didn’t reply to my emails.

Though I am not a black belt at interviewing in big tech companies, I have had my share of reality checks:

You had me at ‘hello’. I found that getting an interview with the Tech titans requires a lot more than building a nice resume and submitting it through their careers web page. I don’t think I am overstating when I say that this worked for me once in a hundred times. On the other hand, having someone internally refer me worked more often than not and reaching out to recruiters through LinkedIn also turned out to be a pretty good option. But by far the best way to get these companies’ attention is to be already in the club – once I joined Microsoft, other companies started poaching me.

The lucky streak. Succeeding in interviews requires a (very misbalanced) mix of luck and technical depth. I feel humbled to say that I have worked with a few brilliant minds who shine not only for their technical excellence but also for their outstanding ability to collaborate and their driven execution. Yet, many of them have failed to get an offer at these companies. How is that possible?

Think different. I agree in principle that it is expensive and risky to bring in someone new, so employers want to be very, very sure. In practice, however, these companies seem to have ultra-standardized processes that require applicants to interview a lot and only then, the ones who adapt quickly to the system get the offers. Presumably, this ‘uniform’ hiring bar ends up impacting the tech giants’ ability to attract diverse talent who can boost innovation.

‘Patience is a virtue’, said no one who has ever interviewed in the tech industry. The interviewing teams made an astonishing job on ‘selling’ me the position so I put my future in these companies’ hiring processes only to get disappointed after hearing back months after the interview, if at all.

Forwarding my life by a dozen rejections across multiple tech giants, I now sit on the other side of the table. I am someone who has been part of Microsoft’s and Google’s engineering teams and their hiring troops and someone who still scratches his head every time he is asked how to fix this. My guts tell me that there is plenty of bias to be removed and that no candidate should need to study for months before interviewing.

I’ve been told that tech startups are changing the game by doing more hands-on interviews where the candidate’s aptitudes are assessed as they fix a random bug in GitHub. I wonder if that will be the next turn… or maybe we should just go back to the era of erratic brain teasers with questionable ethics (just kidding!).

Facebook created a mess trying to take on Snapchat

If you use Facebook, Instagram, Messenger or WhatsApp, you have probably noticed recent updates that allow you to share a picture that expires after 24 hours.

Stories, Shared Days, or Status, all different names for the same feature across 4 different apps. This is what they look like side by side:

Facebook is trying to suffocate Snap by flooding every app they own with the one thing that made Snapchat special.

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Why did you stop posting on Facebook?

Many of my friends have stopped posting on Facebook. Some have uninstalled the app and others even deleted their accounts.

They are not posting on Twitter either, and the more ephemeral Snapchat hasn’t reached critical mass among my closest friends.

Instagram is the only place where I still get a glimpse of the most intimate side of the people I love the most, but I’d say only 20% of my online friends actively use it.

What causes someone to stop sharing on social media? Is it a natural part of being over 30? Or is there an actual problem with the platform? Talking to several of these friends, I learned that there are several groups.

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