Tuesday, November 10, 2015

China Singles' Day sales near $4bn in first hour; Dubai business activity at 68-month low; Are software engineers real engineers?

1 China Singles’ Day sales near $4bn in first hour (BBC) China's Alibaba has made more than $3.9bn in sales in the first hour of Singles' Day in China, the world's biggest online shopping event. The figure is almost double the $2bn spent in the same time period of the retail giant's sales event last year.

Singles' Day, also known as "Double Eleven" because its held on 11 November, is the biggest single shopping day in China. Alibaba said $1bn was spent within the first eight minutes. It said 130 million users visited its marketplace app Taobao.

Singles Day has grown tremendously since it was started by Alibaba in 2009, and now includes many retailers such as rivals JD.com that stage sales promotions. Alibaba reported a record $9.3bn in sales on its platforms in 2014. In comparison, sales on Cyber Monday, which the biggest online shopping day in the US, hit $1.35bn, according to comScore.

Alibaba chief executive Daniel Zhang said over the course of the 24-hour shopping marathon, consumers will have a new surprise every hour, especially targeting mobile users. More than 27 million buyers were using mobile phones in the first hour, the company said. The tech giant accounts for over 80% of China's internet sales market.

Economists will be looking for clues about domestic consumption in Wednesday's sales as the world's second-biggest economy heads for its slowest growth in nearly a quarter of a century.

2 Dubai business activity at 68-month low (Issac John in Khaleej Times) Dubai's private sector economy registered a slower expansion of business activity in October, with the rate of growth edging down to a 68-month low, a survey report shows.

Weaker growth was partly driven by a slight fall in business activity at travel and tourism companies, while both construction, wholesale and retail sub-sectors registered slower increases in activity in October.

"Activity growth in Dubai slowed sharply in October, with the travel and tourism sector showing an outright contraction in output and employment. However, we expect activity in this sector to recover as we head into the winter high season. The construction sector survey data is encouraging as it signals relatively robust growth in new orders and output in October, despite heightened concerns about government spending in the face of sustained low oil prices," said Khatija Haque, head of Mena research at Emirates NBD.

Companies meanwhile signalled a sustained squeeze on operating margins, with input prices rising moderately while prices charged marginally declined. The report pointed out that in line with the trend for activity, employment growth slowed in October, with private sector companies registering the weakest increase in staff numbers in the current 46-month sequence of job creation.

"Business confidence towards the year ahead weakened across Dubai's private sector in October amid reports of relatively subdued global economic conditions. Furthermore, the degree of optimism was on par with May's three-year low, with all three key sub-categories noting reduced sentiment towards future activity growth," the Emirates NBD report said.

The International Monetary Fund had said the UAE economic outlook is expected to moderate amid lower oil prices. Non-oil growth is projected to slow to 3.4 per cent in 2015, before increasing to 4.6 per cent by 2020, supported by the implementation of mega projects and private investment in the run-up to Expo 2020.

3 Are software engineers real engineers? (Mike Moffitt in San Francisco Chronicle) Thousands of Silicon Valley's tech workers need to stop calling themselves engineers if all they engineer is lines of code, according to a column for The Atlantic. Ian Bogost makes the argument that the term "engineer" is a position that is "regulated, certified and subject to apprenticeship and continuing education."

He says 50 years' worth of attempts to turn software development into a legitimate engineering practice have failed. Real engineers make sure that elevators don't get stuck, that buildings and bridges don't collapse, that your late model car starts every morning.

Tech "engineers" build websites that may or may not freeze while loading. Or new OS systems that suddenly render devices unusable. "Computing has become infrastructure, but it doesn't work like infrastructure," says Bogost.

Does Bogost have a valid beef, or is he splitting hairs over the use of "engineer"? To find out, I asked my best source in the software industry — my brother Stephen Moffitt, director of software development for Silicon Graphics in Fremont.

"First off, the trend these days is to use "software developer," says Moffitt. "I believe the term 'software engineer' emerges from universities – where EE (electrical engineering) over time migrated from traditional electrical engineering to chip design. Computers emerged from EE technological innovations.

"As (computers) needed to be programmed, 'software' engineers were added to support the hardware engineers in a co-development process – this still is the case today on any computer hardware device from iPhone to Cray – you have the hardware and software engineers (and a third group 'firmware engineers' who write code that is embedded and not 'soft' or changeable) working together to build a functioning system."

Moffitt noted that computer science is still part of the engineering departments in most universities. He says that while it's true that there isn't a formal qualification test like there is for doctors and lawyers, "No hacks are going to get into Facebook or Google's software engineering departments — the degree of interrogation before getting accepted into these top-tier companies is legendary."

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