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The Strange Experience of Being Australia’s First Tech Billionaires

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SYDNEY, Australia — Atlassian is a very boring software company. It develops products for software engineers and project managers, with hits like Jira (for software project management and bug tracking) and Fisheye (a revision-control browser). And who could forget Confluence (an enterprise knowledge management system)?

So why are its two founders household names in Australia?

Because Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes, both 39, are the country’s first start-up-to-I.P.O. tech billionaires. And because in the last year, they have started to make noise.

Until recently, they largely stayed out of the public eye, even as Atlassian grew to become a $20 billion company. Now, as Australian politics tilt toward the right on global issues like immigration, cybersecurity and climate change, they are emerging as new political voices, getting in Twitter spats and lobbying Parliament.

The other reason they are now household names: In 2017, Mr. Farquhar bought the most expensive home in Australia, a historic Sydney estate that sold for 73 million Australian dollars, or $52 million.

In December, Mr. Cannon-Brookes broke that record when he closed on the house next door.

I met the Atlassian founders for a few days in Sydney. Over brunches, a ferry ride and a birthday party, they told me about their new roles in public life, and what it feels like to be the first tech billionaires in a country where wealth usually comes from mining or banking.

“People are interested now in what we’re saying,” Mr. Cannon-Brookes said. “We have a voice. We have a sense of responsibility.”

The two met as undergraduates at the University of New South Wales, where both were in a business scholarship program sponsored by Australian companies. They were encouraged to join one of those companies after graduating, but instead the two friends founded Atlassian, shocking their teachers and friends.

It was 2002. Doing a start-up was unusual.

“It was disbelief, really — why would you not go with a sponsor company?” said Christine Van Toorn, the program’s director and a lecturer at the school.

They relied on credit cards for initial financing. They advertised by going to developer meetups, buying beer for the room and putting Atlassian stickers on the bottles.

The company took off almost immediately.

“Within three years we went from pariah to sponsoring the program ourselves,” Mr. Farquhar said.

The products they created were cheap and easy to use. They sold by word of mouth (the company employs few sales representatives). But Silicon Valley paid them little mind. When their friend Didier Elzinga, founder of Culture Amp, was at a venture capital dinner in Palo Alto, Calif., an investor asked why people should care about Atlassian.

“And I said, ‘O.K. Tell me a company in the Valley that listed with a $5 billion market cap and where the two founders own 75 percent,’” Mr. Elzinga said. “They didn’t need Silicon Valley.”

First they confused Silicon Valley. And then they confused Australia.

“The orthodoxy amongst the Australian tech companies is to stay away from politics,” said Alan Jones, the founder of M8 Ventures, an Australian venture capital firm. “And then now there’s these guys.”

Their approach to policy is an extension of how they run a business together and live next door to each other: by relying on their differences.

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Mr. Cannon-Brookes’s father was the chief executive of Citigroup Australia. His son wears his hair long, usually under a trucker hat. He has a shaggy beard and swears casually.

Mr. Farquhar’s roots are more working class: His father worked at a service station, and his mother worked at McDonald’s. He is quieter, with close-cropped, sandy brown hair.

He was recently upset that he hadn’t finished a marathon in under four hours (it was four hours and two minutes). When his green smoothie almost overflowed its glass (but didn’t), Mr. Farquhar immediately thought of lenses: “Positive meniscus!” he exclaimed.

In their political activism, Mr. Cannon-Brookes is often the public face, posting on Twitter and talking to the news media, while Mr. Farquhar focuses on Canberra, the capital — where this week he caused a stir by condemning a new law under which tech companies can be forced to build tools that help law enforcement get around encryption in their products.

“Sometimes we try the front door, sometimes we need to blow up the side door,” Mr. Cannon-Brookes said of their political activities.

Both became more interested in Australian politics after policies took a sharp turn toward the parochial, with the governing coalition abandoning efforts to address climate change and stoking fears around immigration.

That presented a problem for a company that needs to hire talented engineers, often from abroad. And so initially, the founders’ main goal was basic: to make Australia more tech-friendly and its politicians more tech-aware.

First, they hosted a coding class for elected officials and started working to get engineering into more curriculums.

“It was like organizing the world’s worst wedding,” Mr. Cannon-Brookes said.

Still, it earned them some respect. “They do some wonderfully creative things,” said Julie Bishop, who was deputy leader of the Liberal Party from 2007 to 2018. “Mike and Scott have an enormously influential role to play.”

Australia just passed Switzerland as the richest country in the world as measured by household median wealth, and Mr. Cannon-Brookes thinks its reliance on mineral wealth has made the country slower to make tech investment or long-term economic change a priority.

Mr. Cannon-Brookes is especially passionate about climate change. As Prime Minister Scott Morrison has walked back Australia’s renewable energy ambitions, Mr. Cannon-Brookes has become a staunch critic.

“You’ve made me mad & inspired me,” he told the prime minister on Twitter, adding an expletive for emphasis.

Along with goading Elon Musk to bring Australia the world’s largest battery to help solve its power problems, Mr. Cannon-Brookes has been gathering others in the Australian business community to push Canberra. Peter Dutton, the home affairs minister, has told the Atlassian founders to “stick to their knitting.”

“His knitting is running the country well, and he doesn’t seem to be doing it,” Mr. Cannon-Brookes said.

He personally invests in alternative fuel and food sources, and he is especially interested in controlled-environment agriculture. “My wife and I have a big belief in the future of insects as a food source,” Mr. Cannon-Brookes said over brunch (granola, not insects).

Mr. Farquhar tends to focus on the issues aligned with Atlassian’s fortunes: cybersecurity (he says the new encryption law has cost the company customers) and immigration (he argues that the government is hurting recruitment and innovation by aiming to cut Australia’s immigration intake).

It is not at all clear whether he can influence the encryption law; potential amendments are due to be debated in Parliament this week, and no changes are expected.

But on immigration, Atlassian’s founders have moved the needle. After Australia’s skilled worker program cut several technology roles (including web developer) from its approved visa categories, Mr. Farquhar and Mr. Cannon-Brookes lobbied Parliament to change course and add more opportunities for international recruitment.

On a ferry ride to work, Mr. Farquhar pointed out the two founders’ houses, massive estates set into the lush Sydney hillside. Before they bought the properties, plans had been made to tear down the houses and develop the lots.

Mr. Cannon-Brookes and his family moved in a few weeks ago. He and Mr. Farquhar created a hole in the fence so their children could play together. One day a week, the founders pick up their children at school together and take the ferry home.

“It’s a changing of the guard,” Mr. Farquhar said, referring to the houses. “They were owned by two newspaper families. It used to be newspaper dynasties, and now it’s technology dynasties.”

It was a symbolically significant transition. The Fairfax family, a newspaper dynasty, had owned the properties since 1901.

“It was an establishment family, a very conservative family, very committed members of the Congregational Church, and they were mainstays of Sydney’s exclusive eastern suburbs,” said Bridget Griffen-Foley, a professor of media at Macquarie University in Sydney. “So it’s quite symbolic that the fortunes of the old media dynasty have been so affected by digital disruption, and now you’ve got tech billionaires taking over.”

This is a big change for Australia, where software entrepreneurs do not have the kind of cultural sway they have in the United States and elsewhere.

“Most of the mansions owned by the neighbors are offshore billionaires or really old Australian money — mineral money, gold rush money,” said Mr. Jones, the venture capitalist. “It’s been 100 years since most of the families on Sydney Harbor made their money.”

Money notwithstanding, running a growing tech company in Australia is a challenge, the founders said. Recruitment is hard. Two-thirds of Atlassian’s work force is in San Francisco.

The founders have formed a cohort of friends with big tech companies outside Silicon Valley, including Daniel Ek, the Swedish chief executive of Spotify, and Ryan Smith of Qualtrics, who is based in Utah.

“We’ve got all the same problems,” Mr. Cannon-Brookes said.

And so every two years the Atlassian founders have hosted a private retreat, inviting every Australian start-up valued over $100 million, which is about a dozen. They hike and fish. Families are invited. The goal is to encourage camaraderie and share best practices.

It is one of many reasons the two men say they would not leave Australia for Silicon Valley.

“I know the U.S. very well, and I know Australia very well,” Mr. Farquhar said. “And I think we’ve got it better here.”

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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