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April 15 2015 2:02 PM

This Is How McDonald’s Franchisees Really Feel About the Golden Arches’ Future

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

McDonald's franchisees say the company's turnaround plan is going to fail and eventually force operators out of business, according to a new survey. "The system is broken," one franchisee wrote in response to the survey, by Janney Capital Markets. "There is no leadership, no plan, no respect for operators or their investment or bottom line."

Another wrote: "The future looks very bleak. I'm selling my McDonald's stock. The morale of franchisees is at its lowest level ever." Added a third: "We will continue to fall and fail." The franchisees' six-month outlook for the company's U.S. business was the worst in more than 11 years of the survey.

Franchisees operate about 90 percent of the roughly 14,000 McDonald's locations in the U.S. They were surveyed after a summit in which executives from the company's headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, unveiled their plans for the company's future. Those plans include adding upscale, customizable burgers to the menu and improving food quality.

More than a half-dozen operators said the summit was a complete waste of their time. "Instead of acknowledging and solving the real problems facing us today, they chose to pretend that everything is normal and to look at what the restaurant of the future will be," one franchisee wrote. "They did nothing to address what the REAL problems are in our system: significant financial problems for owner/operators and menu complexity. ... It's as if they have NO CLUE of what our world looks like."

Another said the costs of the upgrades would force some franchisees out of business. "Why go out to a cheerleading camp when you don't have a direction in mind and the team is in shambles," the franchisee wrote. "This is going to take some time. Only the franchisees with minimal or no debt can ride it out. There will be a lot of fallout and many franchisees will be forced to leave the system with little or nothing."

Most franchisees cited costs as a major hurdle to the turnaround plan. They said that aggressive promotions by McDonald's, along with lagging sales, have bankrupted them and that they can't afford any new investments in their stores. 

Equipment for the new customizable burgers, called Create Your Taste, will reportedly cost between $120,000 and $160,000. "Leadership is out of touch with the financial realities that owner/operators are facing. This is not the time to ask us to take on significantly more debt," one franchisee wrote. "The restaurant of the future will cost a lot of money and will be even more labor-intensive than the stores already are. This is a step backwards."

Many franchisees also complained that the menu keeps expanding despite promises from corporate that it would be slimmed down to help speed up customer service. "They say they are going to simplify the menu and then add the Sirloin Burger and new ingredients," one franchisee wrote. "They are continually forcing new products on the owners to try and drive sales, but the new products continue to slow service and frustrate managers and crew in the restaurants."

Others complained that executives seemed confused about what kind of restaurant they wanted McDonald's to be. The chain is trying too hard to be "all things to all people," one franchisee wrote. Another said: "I came away from the summit completely confused. McDonald's management does not know what we want to be. Expensive (and slow) custom burgers in the same restaurant where we sell the Dollar Menu?"

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April 14 2015 2:55 PM

This Computer Science Major Couldn’t Get a Best Buy Job. Now He Refuses to Pay Back His For-Profit College Loans

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

At 28, Michael Adorno got fed up with his low-wage job at a pizzeria in Richmond Hill, Georgia, and decided to go to college. Adorno attended the for-profit Everest College, part of Corinthian Colleges Inc., in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from 2010 to 2012, and he received an associate degree in network administration. 

Three years later Adorno is unemployed and was even rejected from a job at Best Buy. Adorno belongs to a group called the Corinthian 100, alumni of Corinthian Colleges who refuse to pay back their student loans and claim they were defrauded by Corinthian. Like other members of the group, he claims he got a subpar education and was left with massive debt and no suitable job.

Before 2014, Corinthian Colleges Inc. was a network of more than 100 schools and one of the largest for-profit college companies in the U.S. But numerous investigations and lawsuits alleging wrongdoing against the company rapidly decreased its size. In July, an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education forced Corinthian to sell 85 of its schools and close another 12.

As the first person in his family to attend college, Adorno was excited, but he admittedly didn't know a lot about higher education and financial decisions. "I felt especially proud to take this first step forward, because I thought maybe it would be a big role-model experience for myself, and to set that example for my friends and my brother," Adorno told Business Insider.

He said that he relied on the college to give him accurate information about financial aid, something he said did not happen. "It was such a rushed experience," Adorno said. "My student adviser, she was a great salesman. I don't understand why she wasn't selling cars or something else."

Michael Adorno

Courtesy of Michael Adorno/Business Insider

He said his adviser promised that he would not be on the hook for student loan payments until after he graduated. But he said that he started getting requests for payment on his loans while still at Everest. Still, amid a rushed process and some confusion, Adorno pushed ahead. "I was just ready—I was just ready, ready, ready, to pull the trigger on something that was going to lead me to a more prosperous future with a better career, like I said, instead of delivering pizzas," he said.

When Adorno got to Everest, he said, he was immediately disappointed. He said Everest sold him on the promise that he'd get hands-on experiences with emerging technologies that would prepare him for high-caliber IT positions. But Adorno ended up taking a lot of unnecessary gen-ed classes such as literature and oral communications, he said.

And when Adorno, who said he has had a lifelong interest in computer systems, finally got into the core classes of the degree program, he said he was shocked by the outdated technologies offered at Everest. "I mean, I was learning how to work with operating systems that were 10, 15 years old. ... Why, why on earth was I being taught on systems that were already obsolete, outdated?" he said.

Adorno told Business Insider that one of the most compelling reasons he attended Everest was its pledge to provide lifetime career placement services. But he quickly realized he couldn't find work in an IT department, he said. The only job that Adorno said Everest could get him was working in a call center administered by Xerox. The role was a customer-service position that didn't require a college degree.

He did not accept that job.

He looked into attending Colorado Technical University to pursue a bachelor's degree, but when he went there he discovered some of his classes didn't transfer. He'd have to incur even more debt, which he said would "again lead me to keep plunging down the hole." Adorno eventually moved back to Georgia, where he took a job as an assistant manager at a Little Caesars. He said he was demoralized after attending Everest and didn't think he had any other options.

"I had to kind of pull myself back together and stop chasing that dream," Adorno said, "because there was no call-backs when I started looking into local technical recruiters. I wasn't getting any calls back with the info on my résumé having gone to Everest. I almost felt that, because I had that on my résumé, that's why they might not be calling me, because they might have intimate knowledge of their practices."

Now, at 33, Adorno has moved in with his mom, in Alexandria, Virginia, and is unemployed, but he said he is using the time to find an entry-level position in IT in or around Washington, D.C. He voiced frustration at getting rejected from a job with the Geek Squad at Best Buy. He is trying to remain upbeat, though he has no serious job leads. "Again, I feel a lot of it boils down to the fact that they are looking at the whole Everest thing," he said. 

He spoke about the $37,000 of student-loan debt that he's been deferring for the past three years. He and the other members of the Corinthian 100 are trying to get the Department of Education to discharge that debt. "What I expect to see is a full discharge of these loans so that I can reclaim a better chance at higher education," he said. "I still want to be able to go back to school."

We reached out to a representative for Corinthian for comment on Adorno's experience, and we will update this post if we hear back. Previously, the company told us in a statement that "career colleges like Corinthian play an important role in the U.S. education system and serve a need that would otherwise be unmet."

Correction: The headline originally said that Adorno is suing Corinthian Colleges. He is refusing to pay his loans back.

April 13 2015 3:33 PM

Some McDonald’s Are So Worried About Taco Bell Breakfast That They’ll Give You a Free Egg McMuffin

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Some McDonald's restaurants are allowing customers to exchange Taco Bell breakfast receipts for a free Egg McMuffin. 

The promotion, which appears to be limited to McDonald's locations in Northeast Pennsylvania, is a sign that the burger chain is worried about its breakfast competition, according to Janney Capital Markets analyst Mark Kalinowski.

"Clearly, at least some McDonald's folks are concerned about the potential competition at breakfast that Taco Bell could provide over time—and maybe is providing right now," Kalinowski wrote in a research note.

Taco Bell has been ramping up its attacks against McDonald's since launching its first breakfast menu last year. In its latest ad campaign, Taco Bell compares McDonald's with a communist dictatorship where everyone is forced to eat Egg McMuffins.

McDonald's has long been the leader in fast food breakfast. The chain commanded a 19 percent share of the morning market in 2013, according to Nielsen Co. data cited by Reuters. The next closest rivals, Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts, each had a 7 percent market share that year, by comparison.

But McDonald's sales are sliding, so it has to play offense. The company is rolling out a more upscale menu, making its burgers customizable, and removing hard-to-pronounce ingredients from its chicken. It has also slimmed down its menu to help speed up customer service.

And while Taco Bell has throwing direct punches at McDonald's in its advertising, McDonald's has taken a different approach with light-hearted ads touting "lovin' " over "hatin'."

As part of a recent promotion, for example, McDonald's started accepting selfies, hugs, and other forms of so-called "lovin' " as payment. 

April 10 2015 2:02 PM

Sure, It Tells Time, but Can You Date on It?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

The launch of the Apple Watch brings new possibilities: one of which is watch-based dating. 3nder, the dating app for threesomes, has come up with something called Close Encounters, which is designed especially for the wrist. 

3nder talks about its new concept in a Medium post, and says that the Apple Watch "inspired us to create something that will help all of us. A new way to connect with open-minded people." The matchmaking tool isn't for three-ways, unlike 3nder, but it does look like it'll be about "evolving beyond social norms."

Firstly, you can't see anyone else on the app. Only basic information, a bio, interests, and desires are featured. Close Encounters has no photos—"We decided to ditch photos and focus on the surprise element of dating. It’s similar to blind dating, that’s why we tease you with some bits of information about the human,"3nder explains on Medium.

Another intriguing part of the Apple Watch app is that there's no "device interaction" required at all. The technology works by notifying users when someone else is close by: Close Encounters will make the Apple Watch vibrate on users' wrists, then show people, using little red dots on the screen, where other people are.

If an Apple Watch dater likes the look of someone's interests, desires, and so on, they just have to share their location and a little red line appears that will lead both parties to one another.

3nder does have safety and privacy in mind, though. Users can hide or ignore potential matches if they're not feeling like a date. And if they agree to a meet, they can activate something called "Emergency Mode," which will tell the police where they are and share the location of their "date."

The developer believes this is the future of dating. Technology has certainly revolutionised the way people get together. First came websites, such as OkCupid and Plenty of Fish. And with smartphones, apps like Tinder and Happn arrived. A dating app for watches is inevitable. 

Close Encounters hasn't launched yet—and probably won't for a while, as Apple is being restrictive about who can release a product. But Dimo Trifonov from 3nder told me that his team plan develop it once Apple grants "full access to the SDK." As he mentioned, things took a while to get going with the first iPhone, too.

"Hopefully they are going to give us more access by the end of the year," Trifonov noted. "So it might take couple of months or a year." Right now, only big players including Uber, Citymapper, and Nike have apps on Apple Watches.

There hasn't been a lot of news about dating apps on the Apple Watch. But The League, Tinder for the rich and successful, did say that it will match Apple Watch users together. Even then, its developers haven't said anything about developing a product-specific version of its app.

April 9 2015 5:50 PM

The Students Who Got Into Eight Ivies Are All Children of Immigrants

This post first appeared on Business Insider.

With some of the lowest acceptance rates in the country, the Ivy League universities are notoriously tough to get in to. Acceptance to all eight is nearly impossible. But a handful of students have gotten eight Ivy acceptances for the class of 2019. These students have one specific thing in common—they're all the children of immigrants.

Take Cape Fear Academy student Victor Agbafe. His mother, who now lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, emigrated from Nigeria. Munira Khalif, who attends Mounds Park Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, is the daughter of Somali immigrants. Likewise, current Yale University freshman Kwasi Enin made headlines last year when he got accepted to each of the Ivies. Enin's parents both emigrated to the U.S. from Ghana.

Other students who received eight Ivy League acceptance letters are immigrants themselves. Harold Ekeh now attends Elmont Memorial High School on Long Island, New York, but moved to the U.S. with his family from Nigeria when he was 8 years old. That's the same age North Central High School student Stefan Stoykov was when his family moved from Bulgaria to Indianapolis.

Aside from their Ivy League acceptances, these students also scored a number of "yes" letters from equally impressive and competitive colleges. Three of the high school seniors got accepted to Stanford University—the most competitive college in the country—and at least one was accepted to MIT.

Many credit their success to their parents' experiences growing up outside the U.S. "When I was growing up, my mom told me her own story of growing up in Somalia. My grandfather was a very revolutionary man in that he not only wanted to educate his sons, but also his daughters," Khalif told the Star Tribune. "My mom got that opportunity and passed that opportunity on to me. It put me in a position where I thought I had to give back."

April 8 2015 4:59 PM

Is Coca-Cola Going Flat?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Too many times in recent months, headline writers have had reason to write that "Coke is losing its fizz."

Pepsi-Cola surpassed Diet Coke to become the second biggest soda brand in the U.S. (Coca-Cola's biggest market), Beverage Digest reported last month. Diet Coke had been the second biggest soda brand by volume in the US since 2010, but Pepsi's shift back to No.2 provided evidence of America's growing dislike for diet sodas—and that is at a time when Americans are drinking less soda overall than in the 1980s.

Before that report was published, Coca-Cola reported that net earnings attributable to shareholders plunged 55 percent in its fourth quarter to $770 million. Net operating revenue dropped 2 percent in the quarter to $10.9 billion (but global sales did increase slightly over the full year). North America, its biggest market, saw a modest sales rise for the first time in four quarters.

The long-term picture is worse. In 2014, global revenue was $46 billion, down 4 percent ($2 billion less) from 2012.

This downward trajectory isn't due to a sudden, major catalyst. As Beverage Digest's report explains: "Brand Coke's volume was up (0.1 percent), but just barely. However, the brand was up, after multiple years of decline. The last time brand Coke grew was 2000." 

Globally, Coca-Cola has been missing its own 3 percent to 4 percent annual volume growth target for two years, as this chart—drawn from data compiled by the Wall Street Journal—indicates.


Coca-Cola/The Wall Street Journal/Business Insider

It's not just Coke experiencing this issue: The entire soda market in the U.S., picking out one region as an example, is in decline. The attention is on Coke because it is the leader of the sector. It may yet be decades before people start referring to Coke in the same way they do Kodak, and its terminal decline may not even happen at all. But if the company does not make a big strategic move soon, a massively mature market could be coming to an end.

Right now, Coke is on the way out. Not with a bang, but a long, slow whimper.

Coca-Cola's CEO Muhtar Kent said 2015 would be a "transition year," and that it would like time for the benefits of the $3 billion cost-cutting plan it announced in October to materialize "amidst an uncertain and volatile macroeconomic environment."

The "transition" Kent is looking for is already evident in some of its most recent actions: It has invited 10 agencies to pitch ideas for its next global marketing campaign. In Europe it has redesigned the packaging across all its different flavors to look the same, and it is dropping its marketing for individual brands like Diet Coke and Coke Zero. All marketing will instead be consolidated under the Coca-Cola brand in the region (you will still see other products from the portfolio in ads, but there will be no more individual ads like the famous "Diet Coke hunk" campaign.)

But as sales continue to fall from previous heights as consumers change their drinking habits, opting for healthier beverages (its portfolio of sugary drinks is another reason Coke often hits the headlines for negative reasons,) are the big marketing changes coming all too late, or can they really save the company from falling into a terminal decline?

No matter which stat you look at, Coke's value as a business appears to be eroding. In recent years, Coca-Cola has been edged out of the top five in BrandZ's annual "Top 100 most valuable brands" rankings by tech companies, and even McDonald's. Coca-Cola does fare better in Interbrand's annual rankings—coming third last year, behind Google (2) and Apple (1.)

But Coke is unlikely to dominate those lists again, according to Melbourne Business School associate professor of marketing, branding consultant, and Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson.

He told Business Insider: "Coke will always be the leading brand of cola until the end of time. But the value of that cola category is set to plummet over the next 20 years. It's no good being a big fish in an ever smaller pond. The days of Coke being the world's biggest brand are over forever."

And that's down to nuanced drinking habits becoming more widespread, Ritson added: "Natural products, organic ingredients, incredibly fresh origin, local provenance—these were initially the watchwords of small groups of maven consumers, but this movement has become more and more pronounced in the developed world in recent years. And it will only get stronger in the years to come. The very success and former dominance of Coca-Cola during the 20th century blinded them to the very different market conditions that the 21st century ushered in and left them suddenly vulnerable to change."

Coke's move across Europe to advertise its entire range, rather than each brand separately, has some clear advantages: It eases confusion around its ever-increasing portfolio of brand extensions; it shifts focus away from its unhealthier products to low or no calorie variants; and it has the potential to cut costs.

Coca-Cola tells us that the move is not about cutting marketing investment (on the contrary, it plans to increase investment in the Coca-Cola trademark in Great Britain, for example), but there will no doubt be savings in areas where there are now crossovers.

We asked what would happen to the brand managers and marketing managers who worked on specific brands like Diet Coke or Coke Zero. A Coca-Cola spokeswoman told us that the company is currently going through a global reorganization that will affect 1,600 to 1,800 roles across corporate, Coca-Cola North America, and Coca-Cola International—but it's too soon to say how many roles will be impacted in Europe.

The move to the master brand approach could well be adopted in North America and other global markets too. The result of its recent ad agency pitch will likely see the end of the brand's six-year "Open Happiness" activity and a push into a new creative direction for the flagship red Coca-Cola brand.

In a statement the company said: "We have invited a selection of our key agencies from around the world to bring their best thinking to Coca-Cola in order to create the strongest work for our flagship brand. We are always pushing ourselves and our agencies to deliver world class creative with global appeal that engages and entertains our consumers and drives business growth. This process will help us harness thinking from some of the best agency minds from around the world to deliver the best possible work."

Elspeth Cheung, global BrandZ valuation director, told Business Insider that Coca-Cola's recent campaign to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its famous contoured bottle, setting up retro-themed pop-up shops in major cities, and a wider advertising push "starring" icons like Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe shows the power of the master brand still exists today.

Cheung said: "There are few other brands that could challenge Coke by matching this, and this is all due to the historical cultivation of the Coca-Cola master brand. If anything is going to revive the business, it will be this signature brand—which is the most recognized around the world."

However, Cheung adds: "I would advise the brand owner not to concentrate on the cost saving advantage that the use of master brand will bring about. BrandZ research shows that brands in categories such as beer and cars which have shifted the focus to the operational advantages of global economies of scale have caused their brands to become less unique and distinctive."

Coke also needs to look beyond advertising alone to usher in its turnaround. Jamal Benmiloud, a former vice president of marketing at Monster Energy (and former UK head of marketing at Red Bull,) who is now the chief creative officer and founder of marketing agency EARN, thinks Coke has the power to change opinion not just by the way it communicates, but a different business approach.

"I think they have the opportunity to be true to their values and do more in terms of giving back. It may create a negative reaction, but so what, it's about doing the right thing. Coca-Cola should be the most entertaining, anticipated brand in the world, and they should also be loved in the same way someone like Princess Diana was loved by committing to causes and making the difference. They have the power to do amazing things on planet earth," Benmiloud said.

A great example of this is Coke's project in partnership with other charities to lend its vast distribution and logistics network to help deliver essential medicines to remote African villages. "You need to give to get love, and we need to see more giving of love," Benmiloud added, saying Coke has the ability to fund more such initiatives.


Coca-Cola/Business Insider

One of the things that has characterized Muhtar Kent's reign at the top of Coca-Cola is his long-term outlook for the company. In 2010 he outlined the company's "2020 Vision," built around six socio-economic trends that it hopes will help it double revenue by 2020. Other strategies are also given long-term completion dates, like its ambition to get 1 million people more physically active in Great Britain by 2020.

Benmiloud comments: "One thing about Coke that really impresses me is how long in the game they are, they really think long-term. They may be having a difficult time right now, but it has a plan for five, 15, 20 years on how to grow as a company ... I think Coke's at a certain point in its history and we'll see what it does in the next five years, and what it does to embrace people and its partners to get there."

Diversification will also be key if Coke is to adapt to ever-changing consumer consumption trends, and the company is already making in-roads in that area. Earlier this year it launched a premium milk called Fairlife in the U.S., for example, and last year Coca-Cola paid $2.15 billion for a 16.7 percent stake in Monster Energy to help expand its reach in the energy drinks market. And in 2013 Coke increased its stake in Innocent Drinks to almost 100 percent in a bid to grow its share of the European smoothie and juices market.

But Coke still has work to do, according to Ritson: "PepsiCo is in a much stronger position versus Coca-Cola because it derives less than half its global profits from soda beverages, compared to 75 percent of revenues at Coca-Cola. That screams out an obvious and urgent fix. Coca-Cola needs to maintain Coke sales as much as possible and manage the decline as well as they can while urgently looking to diversify and acquire new brands that are fit for the 21st century."

The Coke era as we know it is probably over. But a new, more diverse era for Coke is just beginning.

April 7 2015 3:23 PM

Even Apple Is Getting Over the Insane Lines for New Apple Products

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts is trying to usher in a new way for her company to handle product launches. She wants to encourage customers to avoid their local Apple Store when the Apple Watch goes on sale and instead order online, according to instructions she sent to store staff members obtained by Business Insider.

"This is a significant change in mindset, and we need your help to make it happen," the memo says. The memo is interesting because it suggests that the publicity Apple's stores normally enjoy on product launch days—when customers line up for hours or days ahead of a new iPhone launch—isn't entirely welcome this time.

After the launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, supply of the new product was so constrained that even weeks later, in December, up to half of the demand for the new phones was going unfilled. Customers walking into stores hoping to buy the new phones were often disappointed. It is a poorly kept secret among employees at Apple Stores that the best way to obtain newly launched products is to order online and avoid the stores.

For observers, shortages of Apple products have appeared to be a PR advantage. When Apple ran out of the gold iPhone 5S shortly after launch, it generated yet more publicity for the product. Some people have even thought these shortages are part of Apple's marketing strategy—to make them seem more desired and scarce than they actually are.

The Ahrendts memo, however, is an indicator that Apple does not like being unable to meet demand or leaving customers frustrated. Directing customers online partly solves that problem. Customers will still have to wait if there isn't enough product, but at least they know the product is on its way—and they're not wasting their time showing up at Apple's stores.

The only way to get an Apple Watch at launch in the UK will be to order online and then have the device shipped to your home, even if you're in the store. After customers arrive in the store, employees will order the watch for them through "Kiosk," Apple's internal version of the online Apple Store. (That way, the local store gets credit for the sale even though the sale was conducted through the website.)

Crucially, "there will be no store pickup" for Apple Watch in the UK, according to the source who leaked us the memo. Watches will only be shipped to their homes after they have chosen their model and strap. The U.S. system will do something similar, but customers will still be able to pick up their watch at the store. Otherwise, customers will be encouraged to order online and choose to have the product delivered to their home.

"Store inventory will be limited," our source says. Apple did not respond to a request for comment. (Mark Gurman at 9to5Mac has more detail on just how limited some of that inventory will be, particularly for the gold Apple Watch Edition.)

Here is the text of the Ahrendts memo. You can see that there is a huge emphasis on training Apple customers to go online rather than show up at a physical location for both Apple Watch and the new MacBook. "The days of waiting in line ... are over," Ahrendts says:

The days of waiting in line and crossing fingers for a product are over for our customers. The Apple Store app and our online store make it much easier to purchase Apple Watch and the new MacBook. Customers will know exactly when and where their product arrives.

This is a significant change in mindset, and we need your help to make it happen. Tell your customers we have more availability online, and show them how easy it is to order. You'll make their day.

Here is the actual memo:


Apple/Business Insider

Note that the memo covers both Apple Watch and MacBook.

Customers who walk into an Apple Store simply hoping to see or play with an Apple Watch may also be disappointed. This image leaked to Business Insider (below) was designed to help employees understand the new Apple Watch store setup. It shows Apple's display apparatus for the Apple Watch. Note that the watches will be displayed under glass embedded in the table. The products will NOT be on little stands or attached to security chains (as iPhones are). Customers without an appointment, which are made online, will not be able to pick them up and try them on.

This is the case in part because the back of the watches contains sensors for detecting your pulse and for transmitting your heartbeat as a series of vibrations to another watch wearer. Those sensors can't sit on any display or stand.

Here is a look at how the new displays are being previewed internally to staff members:


Apple/Business Insider

While the new policies will not end shortages, they may end one major embarrassment for Apple: fights outside stores on launch days and long lines of Chinese immigrants paid to be there to buy phones for the Asian black market, which marred the iPhone 6 launch.

April 6 2015 2:18 PM

The Reason McDonald's Chicken McNuggets Come in Four Distinct Shapes

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

McDonald's molds its Chicken McNuggets into four distinct shapes. The fast-food chain calls the shapes the bell, the ball, the boot and the bow tie (which is also called the bone). We went digging for the reasoning behind the shapes and here's what we found.

The shapes are all the same width and they are "pressed out with a rolling cookie cutter," according to McDonald's Canada. Here's a picture of the nuggets after they have been formed. The bottom row is the bow tie, followed by a row of boots, then balls, and the bells:


McDonald's Canada / Business Insider

The reason why they are all a standard shape and size is to ensure consistent cooking times for food safety in all McDonald’s restaurants, the company wrote on its Q&A page.

 But the varying shapes are also geared toward kids. "Our Chicken McNuggets are shaped uniquely for kids and kids at heart—it makes dipping more fun!" the company wrote. 

So why just four shapes? According to the chain, "three would've been too few. Five would've been, like, wacky.” 

After the nuggets are shaped, they are smothered in a two layers of batter and then sent to the fryers, where they are partially cooked. They come out of the fryer looking like this:


McDonald's Canada / Business Insider

Finally, the nuggets are frozen and packaged for shipping to McDonald's restaurants, where they should be fully cooked through for consumption.

April 3 2015 3:29 PM

Microsoft Users Now Have to Opt Out of Having Third Parties Track Their Data

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Microsoft on Friday updated its approach to “Do Not Track” for all future versions of its Web browsers, saying it “will no longer enable it as the default state.”

“Do Not Track” is all about protecting your online privacy. It’s a simple mechanism on most Web browsers that lets you opt out of tracking from third parties, including websites you don’t visit. 

As the standards around “Do Not Track” keep evolving, so do the public policies. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) just offered up a new draft that sheds light on the new standard (Microsoft bolded the final line for added emphasis):

Key to that notion of expression is that the signal sent MUST reflect the user’s preference, not the choice of some vendor, institution, site, or network-imposed mechanism outside the user’s control; this applies equally to both the general preference and exceptions. The basic principle is that a tracking preference expression is only transmitted when it reflects a deliberate choice by the user. In the absence of user choice, there is no tracking preference expressed.

Microsoft says it wants to “eliminate any misunderstanding about whether our chosen implementation will comply with the W3C standard,” so “Do Not Track will not be the default state in Windows Express Settings moving forward.”

Still, Microsoft says it “will provide customers with clear information on how to turn this feature on in the browser settings should they wish to do so.” The changes will apply for anyone buying a new Windows PC, or if they’re upgrading from a previous version of Windows or Internet Explorer. 

You can read the full update on Microsoft’s approach to “Do Not Track” over at the company’s blog.

April 2 2015 4:50 PM

Must Be Nice: What It's Like to Graduate From Stanford and Get Fought Over by Tech Companies

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

The sunny campus of Stanford University, with its many trees, sprawling quads, and kids with backpacks, looks like many American colleges. But because Stanford is in Palo Alto, California, in the middle of Silicon Valley, things are happening there that don't happen anywhere else.

Start with the money students make just after leaving. The average starting pay for a Stanford graduate with a computer-science degree is $90,000, according to PayScale, a company that aggregates salary data. That's more than the median salary for a person with a bachelor's degree and 20 years of professional work experience—and well above $52,000, the median household income in the U.S.

For Stanford grads, the money can get even bigger. Big publicly traded tech companies like Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn regularly pay new hires out of Stanford a salary of between $100,000 and $150,000. In addition, those companies will offer stock grants worth $100,000 or more. Sometimes there are signing bonuses close to $25,000 (and less-established tech companies often offer top Stanford recruits much more than that).

The numbers can hit $500,000 or more. This time a year ago, Snapchat was offering Stanford graduates $100,000 to $150,000 in salary and $400,000 in stock grants vested in four years. Snapchat's offers are lighter this year; finishing students are being offered no more than $300,000 in stock. Because stock in tech companies can sometimes appreciate quickly, stock grants can make Stanford students wealthy at a young age. In 2013, Snapchat was a $3 billion company; now it's worth $15 billion.

Many Stanford students don't have to wait until after college for the big money to start coming. In Silicon Valley, most of the established tech companies, and many fast-growing startups, host student interns every summer and pay them between $4,500 and $7,000 a month for three months.

Why does the industry work so hard to recruit Stanford students? Representatives from Google, Snapchat, Facebook, and Dropbox declined to comment on the record for this article. One representative said her company did not want to give the impression that it favors students from Stanford over those from other universities. But, speaking on background, one industry source agreed that Stanford students are, on the whole, more appealing to tech companies. Tyler Willis, the CMO of, a company that connects job seekers with companies, says it's not unusual for Facebook or Google to hire 300 to 600 entry-level engineers in one year. The first place those companies look is the university down the street.

It's not that the school has a superior computer-science program, which is good but not better than departments at, say, Carnegie Mellon, MIT, or Waterloo. It's the school's proximity to the industry. Palo Alto is blocks from where Google CEO Larry Page lives and Steve Jobs died. Yahoo, Google, and Facebook grew up there. Billionaires can walk to campus and deliver a lecture on Thursday night and later stroll home.

After students arrive on campus, they become immersed in, and infatuated with, the industry. Then they intern locally and learn what it takes to be a good employee in the industry. Just like Google's careers page tells them to, they walk around telling everyone that what they want is to "do cool things that matter." Then, when they walk into Snapchat or Google on day one after graduation, they know what is expected of them: lots and lots of coding.

"At the Googles of the world, the truth is there is so much engineering work happening that you basically need an army," says one industry source. "Stanford grads are not only experienced and talented but they are willing to slide in at the right level."

Some Stanford students forgo the big salaries they could earn in entry-level jobs. Instead, they start companies. Many are now well-known billionaires. Larry Page and Sergey Brin made Google. Jerry Yang and David Filo created Yahoo. Reid Hoffman cofounded LinkedIn. Elizabeth Holmes created Theranos. Evan Spiegel and two of his Stanford fraternity brothers created Snapchat.

What is it like to be a 21-year-old computer-science student at Stanford surrounded by all this success and money, knowing that if you work hard and don't screw up a good amount of that money and success is sure to be headed your way? What's it like being such a valuable living commodity?

We began to wonder about all of this a couple of months ago, so we started calling Stanford students and asking them. Following are some of their stories.


Vinamrata Singal/Business Insider

Vinamrata Singal, a soon-to-be Googler

Both of Vinamrata Singal's parents are doctors, and she went to Stanford planning to become one, too. But during a weekend at Stanford held for incoming freshmen, she met with her future adviser, a lecturer named Jerry Cain.

Cain encouraged Singal to consider studying computer science. She told him she was intimidated by the idea. She had never coded before. Cain had Singal meet with three women who were stars of the computer-science department who had also never coded before they went to Stanford. That fall, Singal took an introductory computer-science class. Within weeks, Singal decided she would pursue a computer-science major.

Switching majors is common enough. What's uncommon is what Singal did next: She began her career. Just weeks after starting her first computer-science class ever, Singal went to a career fair and asked the recruiters what they were looking for. They used a lot of terms Singal didn't understand. She worried that her chances of getting an internship were bad. She sought to improve her situation.

Singal got a job working 10 hours a week doing quality-assurance testing for a company called DigiSight. Basically that meant going through DigiSight's apps and trying to find bugs. It wasn't coding, but it was technical work at a company that made a technical product. Singal added the job to her résumé and uploaded it to Stanford's career-development website.

What happened next was the kind of thing that almost only happens at Stanford. Just months after starting her computer-science studies, she got a note from PayPal, the payments company owned by eBay. A recruiter had seen her résumé on the career website, and an engineering manager wanted to interview her. PayPal offered Singal a summer internship. When Singal accepted, the company sent the teenager a gift package full of candy and coffee mugs for her parents.

Back at Stanford, in the fall of her sophomore year, Singal attended an information session put on by Google. She had an interview and got an offer. (Singal got quite a few offers from other companies that fall. One asked her to write down all of the offers that she had gotten so that it could make her a winning bid, but Singal ultimately went with Google.)

At Google, Singal attended an information session about Google's associate product manager program, which she had heard about. It's a popular program that was created nearly a decade ago by Marissa Mayer, the early Google employee and Stanford graduate. Mayer created the program to help Google hire technically adept people for management roles.

Google made Singal an offer, and she's going to do the program this summer. Singal didn't tell us the figure, but according to reports, Google will pay her about $6,000 a month. Google will pay for her housing and a twice-weekly house-cleaning service. It will also make hair stylists available to her at the office twice a week.

If the internship goes well, Google will almost certainly make Singal an offer for a full-time job, one that will pay her about $125,000 a year and award her a stock grant of at least $100,000. Singal says money was not the reason she decided to work at Google. "Money is not the issue," she says. "What really drew me to Google is their mission and their culture. I think they are solving really cool problems and they really care about impact."

Myles Keating, an incoming Microsoft intern

Late last year, Stanford junior Myles Keating took a trip to Seattle. He was visiting to interview for a summer internship at Microsoft. As much as he intended to sell himself to Microsoft, Microsoft planned to show itself off to him. Minutes after Keating landed, he was chauffeured to Microsoft, where he got a grand tour. One highlight was Microsoft's gigantic gym (which the SuperSonics had used before moving to Oklahoma City).

Keating sat down for a meeting with a team of engineers working on machine virtualization, an interest of his. He was introduced to his future mentor. He was told about the perks of the internship, including a massive event Microsoft puts on for its summer interns called the "Intern Signature Event." A couple of years ago, Microsoft rented out Boeing's headquarters for the event. Seattle restaurants set up on an airfield. Interns took a tour of the factory and then had a wine tasting. There was a concert just for them featuring Macklemore and Deadmau5.

Microsoft made Keating an offer. On average, Microsoft pays summer interns $7,500 a month with a monthly housing stipend of $2,500. That's $30,000 in all.

Eventually, Keating took the Microsoft gig, but not because of the money or the perks, he says. For one thing, the perks were pretty standard. Just as Microsoft has its Intern Signature Event, other companies have their special weekends and trips. Google does a cruise around San Francisco Bay. Dropbox has a "Parents' Weekend." Oracle flies interns around in a helicopter.

As for the money, Keating says it was not the deciding factor. It won't be when he considers full-time jobs after Stanford, either. It's more important for him to feel like he's on a mission. "I want to work on problems that matter with people who care," he says. "I want to work on problems that I think are important. I want to feel like I'm valued, but never that I'm being coddled."

Keating says he can worry about money later if he has to. "I have all of this ridiculous earning potential. If, for whatever reason, I decide that I value money more later down the road, I can do that. For right now, what I'm really looking for is to learn a lot and to feel meaningful in my work. So I'm going to do something a little different."

He starts at Microsoft in June.


Kyler Blue/Business Insider

Kyler Blue, a 'startup dropout'

Kyler Blue was recruited to Stanford to row crew. He had no real awareness of the tech industry. He started taking classes for a degree in product design. Then, two summers ago, he interned at Extole. There, he was asked to build some websites and design emails for clients, including Spotify and Dish Network. Within weeks, millions of people were visiting the sites he designed. Blue was thrilled. He joined a startup called Riffsy in 2013, his junior year, and worked there while still taking classes at Stanford.

In the spring of 2013, word started to spread that Apple was going to integrate keyboard software from third-party companies into its iPhones and iPads. Blue helped design one for Riffsy, almost on a lark. The keyboard that Blue and Riffsy came up with allows iPhone users to include GIFs in text messages. Apple loved it, and it included Riffsy in its annual keynote presentation in front of millions of Apple users and developers.

In 20 days, the keyboard was downloaded 1 million times. The GIFs included were viewed 500 million times in a month. In November, Riffsy raised $3.5 million in venture capital from Redpoint Ventures, an early investor in Netflix and TiVo. In January, Blue quit going to classes. He says he's still a Stanford student but that he's on a leave of absence. He says his Stanford advisers told him it was the right thing to do. 


Andrea Sy/Business Insider

Andrea Sy, a mentee

To judge by how often people talked about them, "mentees"—people who are mentored—did not exist until recently. According to a search through the more than 20 million books that Google scanned, "mentee" accounted for just .0000000091 percent of all English words used in books and magazines in 1958. By 2008, the most recent year available in Google's search, the word was 3,000 times more common.

Nowhere is the rise of the mentee more obvious than at Stanford, where a steady supply of potential mentors from the tech industry flows through campus. They come formally as guest lecturers and advisers to entrepreneurial organizations or informally on their own. Some are in business with professors.

The mentors go to Stanford to meet students like Andrea Sy, a senior who is completing her major in management science and engineering this spring. She's also a mentee, at least three times over. One of Sy's mentors is Ellen Levy, who describes herself on her LinkedIn page as an "Angel Investor, Advisor, Consultant, Entrepreneur." Sy met Levy through a professor.

Another mentor is Benson Yeung, an IT consultant. Sy met him when she took Engineering 145. In that class, students group together and come up with a business idea to bounce off an official mentor from the industry. That was three years ago. Since then, Sy and Yeung get coffee once a quarter.

Sy's newest mentor is Jeff Heilman, a sales executive at Intel. Sy says the first time she met him, his parting words were, "Andrea, I want you to text me, or email me 10 times a day. As many times as you have questions. I want to hear from you as often as possible.” After she graduates, Sy plans to work for a startup, one that Levy advised. 

Sy wasn't always going to work there. Sy's first job in the industry was one that Yeung helped her get, an internship at a company called Skytree. The next summer, Sy interned at a big publicly traded tech company and worked on data science. The internship went really well. Sy cold-emailed the CEO, who agreed to meet with her. They talked about her future.

At the end of the internship, the big publicly traded company offered Sy a job. Sy didn't say, but it's likely this job would have paid her about $100,000 a year. There would have been a significant stock grant as well. At first, Sy thought she would take the job. But before accepting the offer, she wanted to consult her mentors, new and old.

She cold-emailed a senior engineer at the publicly traded company. This engineer agreed to have breakfast with Sy the next morning. They charted out her career. Sy reached out to her intern manager. They discussed her long-term goals, which are to create a startup and eventually go back to the Philippines and develop its entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Stanford has a large radio telescope on its campus that everyone calls "the Dish." She went on a hike or two to the Dish with her mentors to discuss her future. After all those conversations, Sy turned the big publicly traded tech company's offer down. "It was definitely a very long and hard process," Sy says.

Ultimately, she says, she felt comfortable turning down the rich offer: "I was given a lot of support and encouragement by a bunch of mentors, who said that it was possible for me to do whatever I wanted to do. If I wanted to start my own company, that's possible," Sy says.

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Kyle Wong/Business Insider

Kyle Wong, a slightly less successful classmate of Evan Spiegel

Kyle Wong has been out of Stanford for a couple of years now. When he was still at Stanford, he took a class with Evan Spiegel, who would go on to cofound Snapchat, the photo- and video-messaging startup that's now reportedly worth $15 billion. (Spiegel is the world's youngest billionaire and lives in a $3.3 million house in Brentwood, California.)

Wong also started a company, and it's also in photo sharing. It's not as successful as Snapchat. Wong only recently moved out of a one-bedroom house he shared with four other men.

Wong started his company, Pixelate, with a best friend from high school, right after they graduated from college. Wong says he intentionally ignored overtures from big tech companies that wanted to hire him because he did not want there to be a comfortable plan B for him to fall back on. He went all in on starting a company.

When current Stanford students ask Wong for advice, he tells them not to do what he did. Pixelate is not a failed company, but Wong says keeping it going has taken a huge amount of stressful effort.

Coming out of college, Wong didn't have any savings. That meant he had nothing to lose if his startup failed, but it also meant he had nothing to live on. (He had to figure out the cheapest, highest-calorie food at the grocery store. One of his roommates slept in the kitchen.)

Wong thinks he was not mature enough to run a company when he started Pixelate. He didn't know what a real work environment was like. He didn't know how to give employees negative feedback. He didn't know how to inspire them. He didn't know how to fire someone, because he had never seen anyone get fired.

Wong says Stanford did not teach him how to deal with adversity: "If you don't get into the class you want at Stanford, you use a petition and hopefully you'll get in. In real life, it's a little bit different."


John Yang-Summataro/Business Insider

John Yang-Sammataro, a graduate student who works 98 hours a week

If John Yang-Sammataro were going to work for a big tech company after he finishes his master's program in the spring, he would work for Twitter. He interned there a couple of summers ago. It was great.

But he isn't going to work for Twitter. He can't. He's got 15 employees who depend on him to keep running his business.

Yang-Sammataro was born in Boston and grew up assuming that he'd go to an East Coast school and end up on Wall Street. But then he kept getting into trouble in boarding school for starting unauthorized businesses. An uncle told him there was a school that would encourage that kind of behavior: Stanford.

Yang-Sammataro went to Stanford as a freshman intending to study finance or business. That didn't last long. "I took one CS class, two CS classes, and pretty soon I was doing operating systems," he says.

This kind of thing happens a lot at Stanford: Students arrive on campus certain that they'll pursue one passion but then get pulled into studying computer science. Some of the students we talked to called this the "CS vortex." Usually its gravity works only on people already pursuing left-brained majors: electrical engineering, math, or mechanical engineering. But we spoke with one student who spent three years studying literature before giving it up to become an engineer.

Yang-Sammataro wasn't ready to leave Stanford when he finished his undergraduate degree in 2014. So he opted to stick around through a program Stanford calls "co-terming." In it, Stanford seniors can reapply to the school to finish a master's degree. It's almost free, if you help teach some undergrad classes. Lots of computer-science majors use the program to experiment with startups between summer and fall or extend their job search a few months.

After a junior-year internship at Twitter, Yang-Sammataro decided he didn't want to work at a big company. Nor did he rush out to start a venture-backed company the way Kyle Wong or Evan Spiegel did.

Instead, he hired some of his friends around campus, including Andrea Sy, and built a small company that does contract coding work for big companies, including Google and Facebook. His plan is use the money that those projects bring in to finance some sort of in-house startup project. Yang-Sammataro's company is called Silicon Valley Connect.

Between his graduate classes and all the contract coding, Yang-Sammataro says he's now working 14 hours a day, seven days a week. He's not making much money, he says. Definitely not as much as his friends at large tech companies who are pulling six-figure salaries.

"At this point," he says, "it's a really great way to basically learn these different things. I get to learn management, hiring, recruiting. I get to learn operations. I get to learn business development. I can't tell you how fortunate I feel."

A Stanford grad student who didn't want us to use his name

We spoke to one Stanford graduate student who asked us not to use his name because he wanted to speak candidly without damaging his career prospects. This student is pursuing a job in the tech industry, but he does not want a job as a software engineer. He wants to be a product manager. He's having a hard time.

"If you are a software engineer and you're looking to get into software engineering, then you're in a great spot [at Stanford]," he says. "Most likely, things are going to work really well for you. Every company is looking for people who can code. You can feel the desperation of companies to hire." 

"That being said, the top companies—like Google, Facebook, Uber, Snapchat—are still incredibly hard to get into,” he says. "There is a lot of competition. Finding a job is no longer a problem, but finding a good job is a problem. If you're looking to get into anything besides engineering—business development, sales, and other functions that are related to technology companies but not directly engineering itself—these jobs are incredibly hard to find.

"There's a ton of competition, because now the restrictions on your background are lifted. That means there's a humongous amount of competition."

This student says he heard that this year LinkedIn got 5,000 applications for six spots in its associate product manager program. He thinks it's slightly easier for a non-engineer to get a job at a risky startup or an enterprise company, one that sells its products to other companies instead of consumers.

The student says his hunt is made more frustrating because his friends who do want to be software engineers keep getting huge offers. He has a friend who got a $500,000 all-in offer from Snapchat, a slightly smaller one from Uber, and another from Facebook.

As hard a time as he's having finding the job he wants, this student says he can only imagine how much worse it must feel to be a nontechnical student at Stanford—"a person who might on a day-to-day basis be much smarter than a computer-science student.” He worries that all these people will succumb to the CS vortex:

"When you're coming into college, one of the things you want to keep an eye on is the whole job thing. If you do that, why would someone who's always loved writing or loved art not choose CS as your major? How many people are actually going to be able to rise above the economics and be able to pursue those things?

"We're creating what is a generation of people who, 20 years down the line, are going to have a lot money and still feel like they made bad choices back in college." This student says if he were writing this story he "would try to find someone who has turned down ridiculous offers just because they want to work on their own thing."


Jessica Taylor/Business Insider

Jessica Taylor, a girl who turned down Google because of the robots

Like Vinamrata Singal, graduate student Jessica Taylor started working at Google very early in her Stanford career. The summer after her sophomore year, she worked there as a software-engineering intern. She did the same after her junior and senior years.

After her last internship, Google made Taylor an offer. She did not tell us what it was, but, according to other Stanford students, it likely included a salary of between $100,000 and $150,000 and a stock grant worth between $100,000 and $200,000. Taylor wasn't sure if she wanted the job. She visited with her manager at Google, someone she had worked with for years by this point. After much discussion, Taylor's manager delivered a final message to her: It's OK to be selfish.

What this manager meant by that was not that it was OK to accept such a huge amount of money and spend it on whatever. She meant it was OK for Taylor not to work for Google, if that's what she wanted. It was even OK for her to go work for a nonprofit research institution for about half as much money.

Taylor's "selfish" desire is to "do the most good for the world.” She describes herself as an "effective altruist." It's a philosophy espoused most vocally by Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist who made his money cofounding PayPal and investing in Facebook very early.

Effective altruism is different from normal altruism in that its adherents are supposed to make their decisions based on evidence, not sentiment. Also, it has an annual conference. One strategy of effective altruists is "earning to give"—that is, getting rich and giving some of the money away.

For a while, Taylor favored this strategy and considered pursuing it by launching an artificial-intelligence startup right out of Stanford. She eventually moved on from this idea. In part, this is because she met the people at MIRI.

MIRI stands for Machine Intelligence Research Institute. Its mission is to "do foundational mathematical research to ensure smarter-than-human artificial intelligence has a positive impact." MIRI is a group of people who are worried that if artificial intelligence is not developed correctly, it will destroy the human race, enslave it, or otherwise make life worse.

It's a growing fear in Silicon Valley. Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently donated $10 million to an institute with a similar mission to MIRI’s. Taylor is already working with MIRI part-time and thinks she will go full-time when she finishes her degree this spring. She's excited because MIRI has only three full-time researchers and she'll be able to make a contribution to the team.

She says she will make about half as much money working there as she would have at Google. She's also not worried about the money. "If I bought most of the things I wanted, I don't think I would end up spending that much money," she says.

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Rafael Cosman/Business Insider

Rafael Cosman, the one who just wants to make enough money to live

Two summers ago, Stanford senior Rafael Cosman interned at Palantir, the super-secretive data-science company that works for the CIA and other organizations. It was an impressive internship to get. Palantir pays interns about $7,000 a month.

But Cosman wasn't very impressed with the place when he first got there. He saw that some of the most talented interns were getting put on boring projects. Cosman decided he wouldn't put up with it.

"I talked to my mentor," he says. "I talked to him and said, 'Look, they're going to assign me to some lame project. I really don't want to do that. Can you give me a couple of weeks to just explore around Palantir, figure out where the most interesting work is happening and then go work with those people?'"

Cosman's mentor said OK. "Which I really respected," says Cosman. Cosman ended up working with a team of four on a tool that used machine learning to predict climate changes. It was "very exciting" and "very interesting," he says. But he still left Palantir certain that he did not want to work for a big company after he graduated.

"Palantir is a great tech company full of a lot of smart people. They're working on some interesting problems, but most of the people there are not. You need to fix the UI of something. It's not really what you want to do, but you've got to do it."

The next summer, he worked on a startup with some classmates. Its product was an educational video game — "like Minecraft but set in space." For Cosman, the most interesting part of the game was that to do well, players had to learn how to program spaceships. Cosman had always been interested in computer-science education.

Over the summer, he realized his cofounders were less interested in the educational aspects of the game and more interested in pure gaming. Cosman quit the startup. "Working on something and not really believing in what you're doing is really hard," he says. Ultimately, Cosman decided that the for-profit tech world wasn't for him.

For most of the past year, Cosman had been working part-time at a nonprofit coding and technology school in East Palo Alto called the Street Code Academy. He recently accepted an offer to work there full-time after he graduates.

East Palo Alto is a relatively poor city next to Palo Alto. But along with the rest of the Bay Area, its housing prices are starting to rise. It's gentrifying. Cosman says the changes are forcing Hispanic and black families out of their homes. He blames the tech industry. "The folks who are starting to move into East Palo Alto are the white employees of Facebook," he says.

Cosman says the Street Code Academy's mission is to teach the youth of the area how to code so that they can be the ones getting tech jobs that pay enough for East Palo Alto's new rents. If Cosman had stuck with Palantir, he would have probably been able to ask for a salary north of $125,000 in his first year out of school.

He's not sure how much he'll make at the Street Code Academy. He is not concerned. "The amount of money that I need is minimal," he says. "I just need enough money to be able to buy a loaf of bread to eat and clothes to wear. Collecting lots of money is not something that I care about."


The glow will fade.

Myles Keeting, the Microsoft recruit, says that when he was a freshman, there was a rumor going around that a senior finishing up a mathematical and computational sciences major was going to go work for some huge bank and earn a salary of $900,000, with a bonus that would surely put him over $1 million a year. "Those numbers just make your eyes pop," he says.

And yet Keating and almost all the other Stanford students we spoke to said the decisions they're making to begin their careers have little to do with money. Instead, they talk about how they want to have an influence on the world and do good. According to data, 80% of these students turn down the biggest offers they get for lower-paying jobs.

Are they naive? Or are they wise? One student, who asked us not to use his name for this quote, said he thinks Stanford students may turn down huge offers because, to them, "that money is almost not real in a sense. We don't have to deal with personal finances that much. Our parents still pay our bills, and we get free room and board. I don't think a lot of people have a sense of what the money means. So maybe when we get out into the real world people will start to care more about the money."

When Andrea Sy told her parents back in the Philippines that she was going to work at a startup and forgo a big salary, they asked, "Are you crazy?” Eventually, she convinced them that now is the time to take risks. "In the future, I might have a family and more things to worry about," she says. She feels less pressure to chase a big paycheck because she doesn't have a lot of student debt, she says. "I guess I'm pretty fortunate in that I have my parents that have supported me throughout my college education," she says.

Many of the Stanford students we spoke with said they weren't worried about money right now because their Stanford education provided them an earnings potential that would always be there. For example, Jessica Taylor, the girl who opted not to work at Google, says, "I have pretty high confidence that I could in the future reapply at Google or apply at some other company like Google and probably get a decently good offer again."

It might not be so simple. Tyler Willis, the CMO of, says that right out of school, Stanford students get bigger salaries than their peers from MIT, Waterloo, Carnegie Mellon, and other top engineering schools.

This confirms PayScale data, which shows new Stanford computer-science grads get paid 9% more than MIT grads and 28% more than Cornell grads. But Willis says his data also shows that, after two years of work experience, Stanford graduates get no premium over graduates from other schools with equal work experience.

"The way that I interpret that data is that the brand of where you went to school matters a lot to get your foot in the door," he says. "Once you've got some projects under your belt that you can point to, the educational brand matters less."