Technology

South Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution limited by lack of computer literacy, access

By Amy Sokolow
Medill Reports

Thabo Malatji, 29, commutes an hour from Alexandra, a township north of Johannesburg, to Tembisa, another township even farther north, every day for work. His office is inside a cluster of vibrant blue, green and orange converted shipping containers, which pop against their dusty surroundings. The neighborhood is dotted with trees and situated in a community of modest, tightly packed houses with tin roofs. Malatji works at the Tembisa location of the Youth Employment Services, or YES, on their marketing team, and is mostly in charge of their social media presence. He is guaranteed employment for at least the next couple weeks, since he has been working with them for almost a year as part of a career training program, where he also learns computer and business skills.

His real passion, though, is fashion. “I actually made this top that I’m wearing,” he said, pulling at the hem of its blue-and-white-striped fabric to show it off. It’s perfectly tailored to his thin frame. Malatji has been trying to get his fashion business, Solexxx Threads, off the ground through social media, but he can’t always get his work done because he can’t get online at home. “I just need the financial backing because what I use here is Wi-Fi, and when I’m out of the range, I don’t have internet access,” he said.

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Melinda Gates is making a big investment in gender equality in tech in Chicago

By Camille Galles
Medill Reports

Melinda Gates is pouring $50 million towards an effort to get more women in tech, and Chicago is on the top of her list. Chicago is the first of three cities to be selected by the Gender Equality in Tech Cities initiative, or GET Cities.

Plans for the initiative aren’t finalized, but women in Chicago’s tech scene know what they want. Listen below to hear from  students, entrepreneurs, and tech workers about what they think an investment in gender equality should look like and what they’re expecting from GET Cities.

Photo at top: On the wall of the Women in Computer Science Lounge at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the club’s leadership team has displayed pictures of members, event flyers, and inspiring posters. UIC is the official academic partner of GET Cities, due to its robust technology curriculum. (Camille Galles/MEDILL)

Would you take a job without knowing how much you will make? Uber and Lyft drivers do.

By Kari Mcmahon
Medill Reports

Ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft provide their customers with an estimated cost of a journey before they order the ride. But their drivers only see an estimated duration, leaving them in the dark about how much they will make.

In Chicago, the median wage for a ride-hail driver per trip is $10.78, according to Gridwise, the developer of a ride-hail advice app. This is after the ride-hail company has taken its cut but before drivers’ expenses, which makes their earnings even lower.

Drivers said their take changes day by day depending on passenger availability, journey distance and hours worked as well as the cost of expenses, which can include insurance, cleaning, tax and car maintenance. They find it almost impossible to make a stable living.

Marcy, a full-time ride-hail driver in Chicago, said she was “really pleased” with her post-expense income from Lyft in 2017 and 2018. But then “everything changed drastically” when the company went public in 2019.

“The amount of money I could make on Lyft changed; it did a complete 180. They kept lowering the rate. They took away a bunch of bonuses and challenges,” Marcy said.

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Veo chief executive talks safety, regulation and Chicago’s second e-scooter pilot

By Kari McMahon
Medill Reports

In the summer of 2019, Chicago ran an electric scooter pilot program that examined whether scooters could be a viable alternative mode of transport for city residents. Out of the 10 companies that participated, only one was from Chicago.

The three-year-old electric scooter company, Veo, serves over 50 cities with electric scooters and bikes, which don’t require charging stations. This enables communities to implement Veo’s solutions for free. The company instead makes money through charging rental and membership fees.

This summer, Chicago plans to run a second e-scooter pilot program to implement lessons learned from the first pilot and test new features from e-scooter companies. Veo’s chief executive, Candice Xie, shared her thoughts on the pilot programs, scooter safety and the future of transportation.

Why did you choose to build out an e-scooter company in Chicago over somewhere like New York or San Francisco?

I studied at Purdue University, which is in Indiana, and since the Midwest has been my base for the past several years, we felt pretty confident and comfortable starting within Chicago. The talent pool in Chicago is pretty good and since we implement solutions around the country, it doesn’t matter too much where our headquarters is.

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Mennonite and Amish farmers struggle with increasing rain in Illinois

By Anne Snabes
Medill Reports

ARTHUR, Ill. — Mennonite farmer Willis Kuhns said 2019 was “as frustrating as it gets.”

He started planting corn on his farm in Arthur in mid-April last year, but frequent rain halted the process.

“It would almost be ready to plant and then we’d get another rain,” Kuhns said.

Kuhns and his colleagues finally finished planting their corn late in the season — on Memorial Day weekend. The farm also grows soybeans, like many farms throughout Illinois and Iowa. It took until late June for Kuhns to finish planting the soybeans. That’s at least 30 days behind schedule for both crops, he said. Continue reading

Via no longer sees Uber and Lyft as direct competitors: Its operations chief discusses strategy and the future of transportation

By Kari McMahon
Medill Reports

Via, Chicago’s third largest ride-hailing service behind Uber and Lyft, expanded its reach in the city in August 2019 with novel strategies such as partnering with Northwestern University on a new and improved Safe Ride program, which provides free rides to students in the evening hours to prevent students walking alone in the dark. The New York-based company’s global head of operations, Alex Lavoie, oversees its business in over 100 cities. Lavoie provided his perspective on how the company thinks about technology, regulation and competition.

How is Via different to Uber or Lyft?

From the beginning, we’ve seen ourselves more as a public transit service than as a ride-hail equivalent. Our entire philosophy is aimed at providing an efficient experience for the rider, for the driver and for the city we’re operating in.

Via is purpose-built for shared rides. We think about efficiency as the number of riders that you can get into a vehicle while still keeping the trip optimal from a routing and timing perspective. We’ve worked for years to develop the algorithms and technology to ensure the route we’re choosing for you is an efficient one.

Why did Via choose to enter the Chicago market and what has the response been like?

We viewed Chicago as a really attractive market to launch our ridesharing product because it’s a large urban market and one where we think the type of service, we offer can be particularly valuable. We have seen a very positive reception from riders.

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Virginia Rounds wants to save America’s manufacturing industry with apprenticeships

By Amy Sokolow
Medill Reports

Last month, 12,000 Americans who work in manufacturing lost their jobs. But Virginia Rounds, 44, has a plan to get them back to work: apprenticeships. Popular in Europe, these salaried training programs teach people on-the-job skills such as metalworking and also give them stipends for community college classes. Rounds, director of apprenticeships for the German American Chamber of Commerce in its Chicago office, explains how participating companies, which make everything from auto parts to pickles, are using this centuries-old German model to create a steady pipeline of well-qualified workers in the U.S.

How was the program conceived?

Germany has a very well-known and well-established apprenticeship program that they call the “German Dual Education System,” and German companies credit that program for a lot of their international success. A lot of innovations come out of the technician level, as opposed to having to be an engineer with a four-year degree. And they credit it with a lot of the employee retention and loyalty they have. German companies, when they go abroad, sometimes miss that, and so they reach out and say, “How can we replicate or adapt the German model to these markets we’re in?” In 2014 [the German American Chamber of Commerce] got a little bit of grant money and founded the Industry Consortium for Advanced Technical Training in 2015.
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Zoom shares up 7% amid strong earnings and coronavirus concerns

By Henry Ren
Medill Reports

Shares of Zoom Video Communications Inc., the company known for its videoconferencing platform, soared 7% Thursday as concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak intensified and the company reported quarterly earnings that beat expectations.

Backed by stronger demand for videoconferencing products as more companies and their employees work remotely, Zoom’s stock price has risen 84% this year so far. At the same time, the S&P 500 has fallen more than 6%.

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City’s new congestion tax puts burden on Uber and Lyft drivers

By Kari McMahon
Medill Reports

On a recent journey downtown local Uber driver Matt collected a fare of $10 but said he only made $4 from it. The city, which began imposing a new congestion tax a month ago, made $3.

Matt, who typically drives eight hours a night, said that working as a ride-hail driver was not an easy job. He said the congestion tax is just another challenge he has to deal with on top of ride-hail companies taking a significant cut of his fares and having to compete with thousands of other drivers for those fares.

“It really is just a cash grab for the city, cloaked under the guise of congestion reduction,” said Matt, who did not want to share his full name for fear of losing his job. “Now you just have the same number of cars looking for potentially fewer riders.”

 In January, the City of Chicago implemented a new congestion tax on ride-hail providers to encourage riders to either use public transport or shared trips in the downtown area. The thinking behind the tax was that it would encourage residents to use public transportation, thereby lowering the number of vehicles in the city center and reducing congestion.

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Uber targets profitability by the end of the year

By Kari Mcmahon
Medill Reports

Uber Technologies Inc., a ride-hailing company, reported a wider quarterly net loss, but its shares still rose as the company said it expected to meet their adjusted profitability target by the end of this year, a year earlier than previously estimated.

Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, said on the earnings call that 2019 was a “milestone year” for the company as they crossed the 100 million mark in the number of monthly active platform consumers and saw a 68% increase in the number of consumers using both their rides and eats services. He said the company’s progress in 2019 gave him the confidence to accelerate their adjusted profitability target from full-year 2021 to quarter four in 2020.

“We recognize that the era of growth at all costs is over,” Khosrowshahi said in a press release. “In a world where investors increasingly demand not just growth, but profitable growth, we are well-positioned to win through continuous innovation, excellent execution, and the unrivaled scale of our global platform.”

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