The analysis cites Amazon, Apple, and Tesla as three of the major employers in Texas pursuing AI initiatives. Photo via Getty Images

If internet search volume is an accurate barometer, Texas is a hotbed for interest in artificial intelligence jobs.

An analysis by Agility Writer, whose technology helps users produce AI-generated content, shows Texas ranks second among the states with the highest monthly search volume for AI-related jobs. The analysis puts Texas’ monthly search volume at 1,300, with California sitting in first place at 1,900 monthly searches.

“As the AI revolution continues to gain momentum, the geographic distribution of interest in AI careers is likely to evolve further, with states investing in AI education and fostering supportive ecosystems poised to reap the benefits of this transformative technology,” says Adam Yong, CEO of Agility Writer.

The analysis cites Amazon, Apple, and Tesla as three of the major employers in Texas pursuing AI initiatives.

Dice.com, a search engine for tech jobs, says AI roles that are in high demand include machine learning engineer, data scientist, AI research scientist, and robotics engineer.

“Looking forward, the demand for AI professionals is expected to intensify as technologies continue to advance and integrate into everyday business processes and consumer products. AI is not just creating jobs but also transforming them, requiring workers to adapt by gaining new skills,” says Dice.com.

A January 2024 report from career platform LinkedIn found that AI consultant and AI engineer are two of the 25 fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. this year. Most of these roles are concentrated in San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C.-Baltimore, and Boston, according to the report.

On the flip side, some analysts predict millions of jobs will be affected by or even lost to AI. For example, research from investment banking giant Goldman Sachs indicates roughly two-thirds of U.S. occupations “are exposed to some degree of automation by AI.”

A study released in 2023 by Chamber of Commerce, a business research company, anticipates as many as 12 percent of Houston-area workers could lose their jobs by 2027 due to AI.

"AI and technology in general may be taking certain jobs away, and yet we also see how it is changing the nature of jobs and even organizations and professions. In the ever-changing arena of AI, employees, job-seekers, and students will continue to adapt and learn new job skills that align with and anticipate workforce needs,” AI expert Fred Oswald, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences at Rice University and a professor of psychological sciences, said in a 2023 news release.

Temporary gatherings — like conferences and hackathons — are essential to attracting third-party developers. Photo via Getty Images

Rice expert: Why tech companies should sponsor hackathons

houston voices

Companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Apple depend on third-party developers to create applications that improve the user experience on their platforms. However, given the many options available, developers face a daunting task in deciding which platform to focus their efforts on.

“Developers are faced with imperfect information,” says Rice Business assistant professor Tommy Pan Fang. “They don’t have an overview of the entire technology landscape.”

A team of researchers, consisting of Fang, Andy Wu (Harvard University) and David Clough (University of British Columbia), set out to investigate how temporary gatherings like “hackathons” — in-person software development competitions — might influence a developer’s choice of software platform.

Hackathons like Rice University’s annual HackRice draw developers looking to pick up new skills and create applications with teammates. Many of these events are sponsored by software platform companies.

The research team conjectured that hackathon attendees are more likely to adopt a particular platform if any of the following conditions are true:

  • A high number of fellow attendees have already embraced it.
  • A fellow attendee has built an award-winning hackathon project on it.
  • The platform that sponsors the hackathon is already popular.

To test their theories, the researchers followed 1,302 software developers participating in 167 hackathons from January 2014 to May 2017. Twenty-nine different platforms sponsored the hackathons. Fang and his colleagues tracked developers’ platform choices before and after the in-person events.

The researchers found that temporary gatherings — like hackathons, conferences and trade fairs — make a difference.

Developers with greater technical expertise were more likely to use a platform widely embraced by fellow hackathon attendees. And with every 10% increase in the number of hackathon attendees already using a given platform, other attendees were 1.2% more likely to try out that platform themselves the following year.

They also found that platforms benefit from sponsoring temporary gatherings, like hackathons.

Developers who attended a hackathon sponsored by a particular platform were 20.4% more likely to adopt that platform in the following year, compared to developers who either did not attend any hackathon or attended one without a sponsor.

Part of the reason for the findings is that developers at hackathons exert social influence on each other, both during organized hackathon events like competitions and workshops, as well as informal ones including ping pong tournaments or nights playing video games.

“The social interaction and seeing their peers be successful with the tools and what’s fashionable impacts the tools they decide to adopt,” says Fang. “For developers trying to figure out what technology to adopt in a world with imperfect information and uncertainty, having a gathering can be a beacon.”

Interviews with hackathon organizers, sponsors and developers in the U.S. and Canada backed up the researchers’ findings. Interviewees shared how they learned from their interactions with fellow developers during hackathons.

“When I’m walking around, it becomes noticeable what technologies people are using,” said a veteran of 15 hackathons. Another noted that if more people use a certain application programming interface, “it’s lower risk because it will be usable.” They added, “Most people just follow others.”

The study has implications for both developers and software platform companies alike. Results suggest hackathons can be a valuable venue for developers, not only to pick up new skills, but also to help them identify which platforms to use in the first place. For software companies, the lesson is simple: Sponsoring hackathons can be good for business.

Future research could look at how other types of events like conferences, tournaments and world’s fairs might impact how people end up adopting technologies, especially emerging ones, Fang says. For example, a company like OpenAI could use these types of in-person events to garner support and build momentum for its products.

“Companies that may have taken a step back during Covid should reevaluate in-person events to get people excited and regain momentum for their platforms,” Fang says. “The take-home message is, go out there and sponsor these events.”

This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom. For more, see Fang, et al. “Platform diffusion at temporary gatherings: Social coordination and ecosystem emergence.” Strategic Management Journal 42.2 (2021): 233-272. https://doi.org/10.1002/smj.3230.

Apple's current facilities in North Austin. Photo courtesy of Apple

Apple announces $1 billion Texas campus

I-news

Apple is embarking on a massive expansion in the Austin area. On December 13, the Cupertino, California-based company announced it is investing $1 billion to create a North Austin campus and adding 5,000 potential new jobs.

Though an exact location was not revealed, the company said the new 113-acre campus will be located "less than a mile" from its current office on Parmer Lane near the Domain. Initially the new Austin Apple will be designed to accommodate 5,000 employees, with the possibility to grow to up to 15,000 employees, the company says.

According to a release, the new facilities will house a broad range of job functions, including engineering, R&D, operations, finance, sales, and customer support. Currently, Apple employs 6,200 Austinites, the largest group outside of the tech company's California headquarters.

"Apple has been a vital part of the Austin community for a quarter century, and we are thrilled that they are deepening their investment in our people and the city we love," said Mayor Steve Adler in a news release. "Apple and Austin share a creative spark and a commitment to getting big things done. We share their commitment to diversity and inclusion. We're excited they are bringing more middle-skilled jobs to the area."

Apple says the new North Austin property will also feature 50 acres of preserved open space, and will be run on 100-percent renewable energy.

Austin isn't the only city receiving a windfall. Apple says that in addition to creating a new Capital City campus, it plans to add 1,000 new jobs in Seattle, San Diego, and Culver City (near Los Angeles). It's also making a dedicated push into other cities and promising to bring "hundreds" of jobs to Pittsburgh; New York; Boulder; Boston; and Portland, Oregon. The company also recently announced a new office in Nashville.

"Apple is proud to bring new investment, jobs, and opportunity to cities across the United States and to significantly deepen our quarter-century partnership with the city and people of Austin," said Apple CEO Tim Cook. "Talent, creativity, and tomorrow's breakthrough ideas aren't limited by region or zip code, and, with this new expansion, we're redoubling our commitment to cultivating the high-tech sector and workforce nationwide."

------

This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Here's what it's like using new connection-focused app that just launched in Houston

Branching out

Editor's note: CultureMap Austin editor Brianna Caleri recently attended a dinner arranged by Timeleft, an app that helps people meet each other. The app just launched in Houston — read about Brianna's experience using the app below.

Conventional wisdom — if I may be so bold as to define it — would suggest that people who want to make friends should: select a genuine interest, join a group centered around it, and keep attending meetings. I have not quite been sold on the generic women's group meetups I see on Facebook; and even the most passionate conversations about my ramen bar neighbor's favorite noodle dishes at have never led us to hang out a second time.

I tend to look for friends who will suggest ethical shopping alternatives, make impassioned, over-intellectualized art recommendations, and stay up late workshopping existential dread. But I recognize that's a lot to ask after one dinner.

Thus, I was both surprised and not surprised at all to really enjoy Austin's second-ever Timeleft dinner, a lightly match-made night out for strangers. I don't think I've discovered a new portal to jump into and skip all the awkward early stages of making adult friends, but I had an energizing night with people who impressed me with their social ease and willingness.

The setup
When someone signs up for the French app Timeleft, they are greeted with a pleasantly detailed, yet broad personality test. First, a this-or-that rapid fire: things like, "Do you consider yourself more of a smart person or funny person?" (Smart.) "Would you rather listen to rock or rap?" (Rock.) "Are your opinions usually guided by logic and facts, or emotions and feelings?" (Tough, but I chose logic.) Next is a 1-10 rating scale in areas like intro/extroversion, stress, spirituality, loneliness, creativity, and habits.

Some of these, like "I enjoy going out with friends" and "How important is family to you?", felt neat and inspired concise answers. Others, like "I enjoy politically incorrect humor" and "I enjoy discussing politics/news," felt like minefields. I do enjoy a wicked joke, but are we talking politically incorrect like The Office, or politically incorrect like I got kicked out of my bookclub and believe no one can take a joke anymore? I selected 3 for political incorrectness, and 8 for discussing news and politics, angling hard toward sensitivity and away from potential, if unlikely belligerence.

According to Timeleft, its algorithm considers these answers and a few other logistics to pair users with a restaurant and with each other, resulting in two medium-size tables at each. Our group of seven met at 68 Degrees Kitchen in East Austin; It would have been eight, but one didn't show up. A Timeleft representative says the app overbooked from the intended five, expecting that some people would not show.

Quoted from Timeleft's algorithm explanation, it focuses on these "main ingredients":

  • "Language: Select yours for fluid dialogue[...]"
  • "Balance: A balanced mix of men and women. Note that Timeleft is favored by women, who often make up over 60 percent of participants (thus 4 per table). [Note: Although Timeleft only mentions men and women on this list, it also offered a nonbinary gender marker)"
  • "Temperament: A mix of introverts and extroverts for a balanced rhythm."
  • "Generation: An age gap of five to seven years for common life echoes."

Before we met, we got to see a basic rundown of who would be joining, detailing profession, nationality, and zodiac signs. (Not my ideal trifecta, considering that six-sevenths of us were American, and I'm fairly confident in my ability to interact with people born on any day.) I don't think it's incredibly open-minded of me, but I did feel slightly nervous that half the group worked in tech; I like tech workers, but can't say I really relate.

The dinner
An unexpected point of beauty in the often overwrought world of app-coordinated socializing: Beyond matching us and making our reservation, Timeleft left us to a normal dinner. We ordered from the regular menu, sat among the regular clientele, and handled the payment ourselves, opting to get in a group chat and Venmo one person for one clean bill. It offered a "game," which was really just a list of conversation topics; We only got through two before the topic changing ran cheerfully rampant.

A group of seven — although it did increase the likelihood that we would all like at least one of our companions — was perhaps a bit too large to get to know anyone especially well. We talked as a large group about as much as we split into side conversations. That was perfectly doable, but it made me wish a few times that we had a quiet table of three or four, where we didn't have to raise our voices past each other or inelegantly shift our attention from one conversation to the next.

We discovered a fair amount in common: places lived, schools attended, foods loved, places traveled, parties and underground scenes frequented. Although some of it dipped very lightly into taboos (Who has been to sex clubs? Who has been kicked out of restaurants?), most of these were surface-level parallels.

I learned that one of my dinner mates shared my lack of enthusiasm for school spirit as a concept, but couldn't say whether it was simply noncommittal or deep-rooted antiestablishmentarianism. I learned that at least one of my dinner mates likes to do yoga, but I don't know if they prefer to work up a sweat to EDM or study the Yoga Sutras.

It would be hard to suss out many of the deeper values behind these things, since seven people sitting at a dinner table together are generally trying to be agreeable — or at least entertaining. We're playing to the lowest common denominator, and we don't really know what our denominators are. We never found the gold thread running through — for instance, if we all rated our passion for working out similarly. But if we could narrow it down that much, it might be time to cut out the middle man and join a CrossFit gym.

The after-dinner drinks, and social patterns
After the small group dinners, all the diners from the various Timeleft tables in South and Central Austin were invited to meet up at Hold Out Brewing. Our group (less one person with a morning appointment) decided to head over. It was already 9:45 pm by the time we left the restaurant, having spent nearly 3 hours together already. We were surprised to see the dense crowd that gathered among the picnic tables.

In reporter mode, I started popping by different groups to find out how their night had gone. I talked to more than a dozen people, all of whom had entirely positive feedback about their evenings. The only criticism I heard was that one person felt the $16 "ticket" to the dinner (which was then priced à la carte) was a bit pricy.

Other groups went to Fresa's Chicken al Carbon, North Italia, and what I have to assume was QI Austin: Modern Asian Kitchen, although diners kept pronouncing it "key." Most groups had met members of the other table at the same restaurant, and some even wandered over during the dinner to see how the other half lived. Our group never found its counterpart.

It seemed to me that our group was objectively the most outgoing. Not only were we the last to arrive after our long dinner (as far as I noticed), but we were also (definitely) the last to leave the brewery. One duo from another group said theirs was a little awkward, in a pleasant way, so the two of them kept up most of the talking. One group said conversation flowed fairly easily, but when there was a lull, they returned to the provided conversation topics. It seemed about equally common to share meals or order for yourself, but our gang all shared everything.

Every group noticed their close ages beyond any other unifying factor. No one offered up any common threads, yet people responded in conversation as if they knew each other, with affectionate interjections like, "Of course he would say that!"

Brianna's gang at the Timeleft dinner in Austin. Photo by Brianna Caleri

Final impression
Most interesting to me was that nearly every single person I talked to all night, including in our own group, first heard about the dinner series on Instagram and just thought it sounded worth trying. Only one person specifically told me that they wanted to make new friends because theirs were mostly from work.

My biggest prejudice before the dinner was that the majority of attendees would either be new to Austin or in need of some outside help in making friends. I was right about the first thing; It seemed like most people had only been here a year or less.

But I was wrong about the second thing. In retrospect, it makes sense that a huge group of people who got together just to get together are deeply friendly. And while I still wouldn't expect long-lasting connections to come out of this Friendly People Convention, I can see that's not exactly what most people are aiming for, either.

The app has direct messaging, but I don't feel inclined to use it. Our group is already on an SMS thread, and I got so many new Instagram followers at the after-event that the next morning, I was not even sure who one of them was. We have started rating our compatibility on the app, and indicating who we would be open to seeing at future events, and who we wouldn't.

If I can have a silly dinner with someone who is investing in the world I want to see, I'll happily get silly. I'm sure some of the people I met yesterday are doing that, but I would have little way of knowing — or at least, a much harder time than if we had started on shared ground.

It's tempting, then, to see this as a way to meet people who are very different from you and expand your worldview. I do think it holds some promise for people who want to legitimately invest in becoming friends with each other and learning what's underneath the amiable surface, but I'm curious about where that sense of initiative will come from. Perhaps more regular dinners hold the answer.

I would be happy to see anyone I met yesterday again, if we end up in the same place at the same time. But I think my days of connecting with strangers over no common objective at all are limited.

----

More information about Timeleft is available at timeleft.com, and the app is available via Apple's App Store and Google Play. Houston's next dinner happens Wednesday, June 19. Dinners happen weekly, and RSVPs must be made no later than Tuesday evening.

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston energy data software platform expands into Europe, hires new execs

making transatlantic moves

It's official. Houston-based, AI-powered electricity forecasting and analytics services company Amperon Holdings is live in Europe.

The expansion, which Co-Founder and CEO Sean Kelly previously told InnovationMap about, is official, the company announced this month. In addition to the expansion, Amperon announced Jon Ecker as general manager, Europe, and Kelsey Hultberg as executive vice president, communications, and chief of staff.

Now, European companies that buy and sell energy in the renewable energy producers, financial institutions, and utilities markets can leverage Amperon's platform of AI and machine learning technologies to access short- and long-term forecasts for their individual meters and generation assets.

“As a warmer-than-expected June ushers in a hot summer, and increasing uncertainty looms for the calmer fall months due to the influx of wind and solar generation, we are eager to assist our European customers in navigating the power market volatility caused by heat waves, extreme weather events, and shifts in power usage across the region,” Kelly says in a news release.

“Our cutting-edge AI models are enabling our North American customers to benefit from data and asset optimization, on-site solar to commercial load management, and backup generation and we’re excited to bring these tools to our European customers,” he continues.

Leading the new initiative for Amperon is Ecker , who previously served as an executive at energy market simulation software company Energy Exemplar and as CEO of real-time energy data provider Genscape, which is now owned by Wood Mackenzie. He also co-founded at Energy Velocity, an energy data and software company now owned by Hitachi Energy.

“Amperon is providing North American, and now European renewable energy markets, with the critical tools they need to optimize their clean energy operations and support grid reliability,” Ecker says in the release. “As Europe faces high temperatures and rising power demand this summer, power market participants will need precise energy forecasting, and Amperon is looking forward to delivering these critical tools to help participants succeed.”

Hultberg joins Amperon from Houston-based Sunnova Energy International, where she was executive vice president of corporate communications and sustainability.

Founded in 2018, Amperon closed its series B round at $20 million last fall. This year, the company Amperon announced that it replatformed its AI-powered energy analytics technology onto Microsoft Azure. The partnership with the tech giant allows Amperon's energy sector clients to use Microsoft's analytics stack with Amperon data.

"For Amperon, 2024 is the year of partnerships," Kelly shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I think you'll see partnership announcements here in the next couple of quarters."

Houston expert: How adopting business strategies in the education sector can improve results

houston voices

It’s no secret: K-12 public schools in the U.S. face major challenges. Resources are shrinking. Costs are climbing. Teachers are battling burnout. Student outcomes are declining.

There are many areas of concern.

Some difficulties are intangible, inescapable and made worse by crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Some can be fixed or alleviated by wisely allocating resources. And others — like a lack of strategic focus — can be avoided altogether.

It’s this final area, strategic focus, that researchers Vikas Mittal (Rice Business) and Jihye Jung (UT-San Antonio) address in a groundbreaking study. According to Mittal and Jung, superintendents and principals misallocate vast amounts of time and resources trying to appease their many stakeholders — students, parents, teachers, board trustees, community leaders, state evaluators, college recruiters, potential employers, etc.

Instead, Mittal and Jung show, administrators need to put their entire focus on one key stakeholder — the “customer,” i.e. students and families.

It may sound strange to call students and families “customers” in the context of public education. After all, 5th-period Spanish isn’t like buying an iPhone or fast food. The classroom is not transactional. Students and caregivers are part of a broader relational context that most directly involves teachers and peers. And students are expected to contribute to that context.

But K-12 public funds are tied to enrollment and attendance numbers. This means the success or failure of a school or school district ultimately comes down to “customer” satisfaction.

Beware the Stakeholder Appeasement Trap

Here’s what happens when students and families become dissatisfied with their school:

As conditions deteriorate, families (who can afford to) may choose to homeschool or move their children to private or better-performing public schools. As a result, enrollment revenue decreases, which forces administrators to cut costs. Cut costs lead to worsened performance and lower satisfaction among students and families. Lower satisfaction leads to further enrollment loss, which leads to more cost-cutting. And so on. (Schools need about 500-600 students to break even.)

It’s a vicious downward spiral, and it’s not unusual for schools to become trapped in it. To avoid this vortex, administrators end up adopting a “spray and pray” or “adopt and hope” approach, pursuing various stakeholder agendas in hopes that one of them will be the key to institutional success. Group A wants stronger security. Group B wants improved internet access. Group C wants better facilities. Group D wants to expand athletics.

It’s an understandable impulse to make everyone happy. However, Mittal and Jung find that the “stakeholder appeasement” approach dilutes strategic focus, wastes resources and creates a bloat of ineffective initiatives.

Initiative bloat isn't a benign problem. The labor of implementing programs inevitably falls on teachers and frontline staff, which can result in mediocre performance and burnout. As initiatives multiple over time, communication lines become strained and, distracted by the administration's efforts to please everyone, teachers and frontline staff fail to satisfy students and families.

Pay Attention to Lift Potential

Using data from administrator interviews and more than 10,000 parent surveys, Mittal and Jung find that students and families only value a few strategic areas. By far the most important is family and community engagement, followed by academics and teachers. The least important, somewhat surprisingly, is extracurriculars like athletics programs.

The assumption that athletics would be high on the list of student and family priorities raises a crucial point in the study. Mittal and Jung note that it’s a serious error to assume that the more a strategic area is mentioned the more it drives customer value.

“Conflating the two — salience and lift potential — is the single biggest factor that can mislead strategy planning,” the researchers say.

A customer-focused strategy prioritizes lift potential — meaning it allocates budgets, people and time to the areas that have the highest capacity to increase customer value, as measured by customer satisfaction. If family and community engagement is the most important strategic area, then savvy administrators will invest in the “execution levers” that improve it.

For instance, Mittal and Jung find that allowing input on school policies is the most effective lever for demonstrating family and community engagement. Another important strategic area is improving the quality of teachers, and one of the most effective ways of doing this is to emphasize their academic qualifications.

Just as important as instituting effective customer-focused initiatives is de-emphasizing those that are ineffective. It can be a difficult process to stop and de-emphasize initiatives, however ineffective. But ultimately, the benefit is that teachers and frontline staff will be able to concentrate on the execution levers that matter.

This strategic transformation can’t happen overnight. Developing the framework will require a school district 18 to 24 months, Mittal and Jung estimate. Embedding it into practice can take an additional 12 to 18 months. For example, it would involve changing the way senior administrators, school principals and teachers are held accountable. Instead of emphasizing standardized test scores, which do not add to customer satisfaction, it’s more effective to concentrate on input factors that directly impact the quality of academics and learning.

To help schools develop and implement a customer-focused strategy, future research can focus on frameworks for guiding schools to maximize the areas of value that students and families care about most.

------

This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom. For more, see Mittal and Jung, “Revitalizing educational institutions through customer focus.” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science (2024): https://doi.org/10.1007/s11747-024-01007-y.