Silicon Valley, of course, is known for its casual dress, which means t-shirts, jeans and sneakers. But don't be fooled, techies care a lot more about fashion than they let on. Or put another way, there’s a lot of code in the Silicon Valley dress code.
In fact, engineer Alexey Komissarouk boasted he could tell if people were in tech and what they did by just looking at their dress. I met him a few months ago at the FWD.us hackathon and I asked him to show me his super power. He agreed and we met in downtown Palo Alto.
Before we got started, Komissarouk explained that the Silicon Valley is full of tribes: there are the engineers, designers, product managers, salespeople, entrepreneurs and VCs. And each tribe has its uniform.
The engineers? T-shirts, jeans and hoodies, of course.
“Hoodie signals young talent,” said Dan Woods, a techie we stopped on the street.
Woods walked by us and Komissarouk nudged me and said, “That guy, he’s a VC.”
The tip off? A zippered v-neck sweater.
“That’s like classic VC and then you got the button down underneath it, that’s like the classic uniform,” Komissarouk said.
We stopped Woods and asked him. Turns out, he did work in venture capital, which is about when he got the sweater.
Turns out the uniform is a long time tradition in tech, says Erik Schnakenberg, a co-founder of Buck Mason, a start-up that sells men's clothing online.
"I wear a pair of jeans and a black t-shirt almost everyday," Schnakenberg said. "It's one less thing to think about."
In the fast-moving world of tec, the idea is to show that your'e not wasting precious time on something as vain as fashion. Schnakenberg says the uniform hasn't changed much but tech is attracting a lot more of the cool kids and they care about fashion.
After my lesson with Komissarouk, I went to South Park in San Francisco, a techie hub, and put myself to the test. I tried to guess what people did from the way they were dressed. Let's see if you can guess if the following men are:
D) Product Manager/Biz
Judging from the hoodie and t-shirt, I pegged Dan as a programmer. The kicks made me think that maybe he could be a designer? I was wrong on both fronts, Dan is in sales at a start-up. But turns out, he meant to confuse me. Dan says he consciously dresses like an engineer to fit in and to win the trust of engineers.
The professional but hip collared shirt and the stylish leather kicks made me think entrepreneur. Turns out I was right! In his last job, Pedro said he wore suits but decided to tone it down when he moved to San Francisco to open an office of his transit start-up.
This picture doesn't do Mark's outfit justice. He looks like he's wearing a black sweat shirt but it's definately not sports gear, it's designer. His kicks are stylish and his jeans crisp, dark denim. It's the engineer's outfit but with a little more flair and so I pegged him as a designer. Turns out I was right, or at least sort of. Mark is a designer but is also an entrepreneur and just started up his own company.
T-shirt but no jeans. Cool hat but basic sneakers. As for the hat? That wasn't part of my lesson! However, the give away, the three wearables he's got on. Engineer!
Alexey Zakharou and Eduardo Perez
By now you can figure out what Alexey does, right? The hoodie, the jeans and sneakers. Eduardo was harder to figure out. He's got the button down but also the t-shirt. But the loafers? Turns out Eduardo is an engineer but said, "he doesn't like the uniform" and so intentionally chooses to dress differently from his team.
In parts of the Midwest, propane is double the usual price. Sam Sparks, who owns Miller Brothers Propane in Dewey Oklahoma, says his customers are getting hit by a double whammy: They need more -- to combat super-low temperatures -- as prices are spiking.
“When they’re looking at four-dollar-a-gallon propane, that kind of takes their breath away,” he says.
He says he’s actually selling to them for less than his current wholesale price. And he’s advising them to just buy enough to get them over the hump, till prices come down again.
He hopes. “I hope I’m not giving my customers bad advice,” he says.
Delivering smaller loads means extra work for his drivers, who cover a 50-mile radius. “Normally, we don’t like to run out and deliver just a hundred gallons,” he says. Three or four hundred is more the norm.
But making the extra runs to customers helps them out -- and it beats the alternative for him: Having to go out and refill his own supply when wholesale prices are so high.
“The trick for us is to try not to get our tanks full of this high-priced propane,” he says.
The Propane Education and Research Council, an industry group, says there’s plenty of supply -- it’s just in the wrong places right now.
But there aren’t pipelines to run that surplus to the shortage areas, and the alternatives are pricey. “It costs a great deal of money to run propane in an over-the-road truck from one region of the country to another,” says the group’s president, Roy Willis.
A similar problem lies behind the super-high natural gas in the Northeast. Spot prices there -- the same-day price on the wholesale market -- have gone 18 times higher than in the Midwest, even though lots of gas is coming from the Marcellus Shale region in nearby Pennsylvania.
“It’s not far away, but it’s not connected,” says Angelina LaRose, from the U.S. Energy Information Agency.
She means that there aren’t enough pipelines connecting the Marcellus to the East Coast.
Also, there’s no storage, says Jack Weixel, director of energy analysis at Bentek Energy. “There are no natural gas storage caverns east of the Hudson River,” he says. “Everyone on that side is effectively limited by what pipelines can carry to that market area.”
Also: The Deep South braces for a rare blast of winter weather; some Republican lawmakers shift on immigration; central banks move to boost emerging markets; and while the crisis in Ukraine continues, an anti-protest law there has been abolished.
If you haven’t heard of it yet, you’re likely to hear President Obama mention the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, in his State of the Union address tonight. Getting this global trade agreement signed is a big deal for the president, and an important part of his pivot to Asia. It covers 12 Asia-Pacific countries and 40 percent of the world’s economy.
But if you thought the fight over the North American Free Trade Agreement was bad 20 years ago, this one could be worse.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been called NAFTA on steroids. And NAFTA was already pretty brawny back in the day. So were the debates it produced.
“I think it’s going to be as challenging, or perhaps even more,” says Mireya Solis, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She thinks the U.S. stands to gain a lot from the TPP, but she says, “NAFTA left deep scars in this country. You know, American trade politics were very much influenced by the NAFTA debate.”
The TPP pushes more than traditional hot button trade issues like labor and outsourcing. NAFTA didn’t really touch the internet. The TPP does. And during NAFTA, you didn’t have Wikileaks publishing drafts from closed-door talks, particularly on intellectual property.
Maira Sutton is with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She worries copyright protections in the TPP would empower internet service providers, “to police users’ internet activities. So therefore they could block or filter or even spy on users’ activities to supposedly enforce copyright,” she says.
The intellectual property leak, among others, also helped mobilize groups like Doctors Without Borders around patent protection.
“Many of the generics that we currently use for the treatment of infectious diseases come in fact from Asia,” says Judit Rius, who is with the group’s access campaign, adding that the TPP would make it easier to extend pharmaceutical patents, decreasing access to cheaper generic drugs. Many generics come from India, which isn’t in the TPP now. But Rius says an agreement this big would create global norms for intellectual property.
“So the goal is not only to change the laws on the 12 countries that are negotiating, but really to change the laws in the whole Asia-Pacific region,” she says.
We don’t know what will be in the final text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But Brookings scholar Mireya Solis sees another hurdle that didn’t exist for NAFTA: Tea Party Republicans who like trade expansion, but don’t want to give the president discretion to shape it.
The president will announce in his State of the Union address that he's signing an executive order to lift the pay in new federal contracts. A top adviser tells NPR that Obama has "warmed up to" the idea of using executive orders to move his agenda ahead.
Tonight, President Obama delivers his State of the Union address. Income inequality is something the president has said he wants to tackle this year, but he has also acknowledged it is unlikely he is going to get much support from congress on anything. So, what are President Obama’s options?
He couldn’t raise the minimum wage on his own, but Heather McGhee, who runs a liberal think tank called Demos, says the president is not powerless.
“He is, right, now, as the chief executive, the biggest boss of low-wage workers in the country,” McGhee explains. She is talking about federal contractors, and McGhee says President Obama could use an executive order to improve their pay.
Researchers like David Grusky, the director of Stanford University’s Center on Policy and Inequality, argue education is a way to level the playing field. He says the president wouldn’t need Congress to create a new scholarship program, “simply identifying these poor kids who have tremendous capacity and talent.”
Jared Bernstein, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says the president would make greater strides with congress, but “with zero cooperation, it is much harder.”
He says another suggestion is “a rule change that the president could implement without congress that would significantly increase the number of people eligible for overtime pay.”
That would affect low-and-middle income workers who make a salary but aren’t automatically eligible for overtime.
The populist issue of income inequality will get a full airing in President Obama's fifth State of the Union speech. But immigration could run a close second in a speech designed to advance the president's second term agenda.