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Why Silicon Valley Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Returning Home

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NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw visited Silicon Valley last month to meet immigrant entrepreneurs. At Microsoft’s Mountain View campus, he met with a dozen of them. More than half said that they might be forced to return to their home countries. That’s because they have the same visa issues that Kunal Bahl had. Unable to get a visa that would allow him to start a company after he graduated from Wharton in 2007, Kunal returned home to India. In February 2010, he started SnapDeal—India’s Groupon. Instead of creating hundreds of jobs in the U.S., Kunal ended up creating them in New Delhi.

At a time when our economy is stagnating, some American political leaders are working to keep the world’s best and brightest out. They mistakenly believe that skilled immigrants take American jobs away. The opposite is true: skilled immigrants start the majority of Silicon Valley startups; they create jobs.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurship is booming in countries that compete with us. And more than half a million doctors, scientists, researchers, and engineers in the U.S. are stuck in “immigration limbo”. They are on temporary work visas and are waiting for permanent-resident visas, which are in extremely short supply. These workers can’t start companies, justify buying houses, or grow deep roots in their communities. Once they get in line for a visa, they can’t even accept a promotion or change jobs. They could be required to leave the U.S. immediately—without notice—if their employer lays them off.  Rather than live in constant fear and stagnate in their careers, many are returning home.

American immigration officials are also clueless.  They do everything they can to make life miserable for immigrants who want to make the U.S. more competitive and create U.S. jobs. As I noted in this piece about the Startup Visa, they interpret rules and regulations as restrictively as possible.

Rapportive co-founder, Martin Kleppmann, who came to the U.S. from Germany, told Brokaw “In our case — we got a beautiful letter from the immigration service asking to prove that we had enough warehouse space to store our software inventory. We don’t even have boxes of software, it’s all on the Internet.”

Sakina Arsiwala, from Mumbai, India, struggled for years to get a visa so that she could work with her husband Naveen Koorakula on their social-networking startup, Campfire Labs. “Why deal with all this, you know, old school immigration systems, just go where you’re wanted”, said Arsiwala, who formerly headed YouTube’s international operations.

Michelle Zatlyn, a Canadian who founded Cloudflare (a TechCrunch Disrupt runner-up), said that American visa policies are very outdated and do not “promote entrepreneurship in this country at all”. She told Brokaw that her startup was trying to create jobs and hire engineers, but that the country had almost made her leave before she had an opportunity to build a company.

Aihui Ong, founder of Love With Food, spoke about America’s being under “technology attack”. Everyone wants America’s techies. Countries such as her home country, Singapore, are working hard to bring people like her back home as well as to attract skilled workers from other countries. Singapore is giving startups four dollars for every dollar they raise, she said.  Sakina Arsiwala added that living conditions in some other countries are “really really attractive”. And the founder of Backtype, Mike Montano, spoke of his home country, Canada, offering startups major subsidies. They all wonder why the U.S. makes it so hard for them though other countries roll out the welcome mat.

These entrepreneurs tell their stories much better than I can. I encourage you to watch the videos yourself. The first video below is the segment that was broadcast on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams on March 3. In this, I discuss the big picture and tell my own story—how I came to the U.S. to study, and later started two companies. My first company created over 1000 jobs; and the second, over 200. (The majority of these were American jobs—for American citizens.)  The second video is a more in-depth discussion with the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

Unlike a lot of problems facing our country, this one is easy to fix. We just need to increase the numbers of permanent-resident visas available for those trapped in “immigration limbo”. And we should create a Startup Visa that is more inclusive than the VC/Super Angel bill that is being proposed. This may give the economy a significant boost at no cost to taxpayers.

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5 Predictions for APIs in 2014

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In 2013, the rapid growth of the application- and mobile-driven Internet brought APIs to the spotlight, both in the web and the enterprise. Fueled by new device platforms and cloud computing, 2010 saw a two-fold increase in new APIs per month over the previous year. ProgrammableWeb’s API directory now includes more than 2,600 APIs.

At Apigee, which provides enterprise API management technology and free developer tools, we’ve seen the API market not only grow, but diversify, in 2013. APIs have given developers access to important data sets from government data to geolocation, and powerful services from semantic analysis to 3-D. As we head into 2014, here are five predictions for what’s next in APIs:

1. APIs Go Real-time, Big-time

“Real-time” was hot in 2010 as innovations in the API space brought the real-time web closer to reality. The PubSubHubBub protocol, which allows services to “push” notifications rather than forcing clients to poll for events, was implemented by the YouTube API team. Additionally, the high-profile launch of Twitter’s streaming API showcased market desire for APIs that allow real-time access to data.

The real-time web is currently led by innovative platforms like Notifo, a mobile notifications API that pushes notifications from many services to phones. In 2014, we can expect to see APIs take front and center in pushing real-time from the bleeding edge into the everyday.

2. Developers Will Adopt HTML5

This year, HTML5 was a new development darling. HTML5 makes it possible to create a better user experience — like the ones we expect from apps — in the browser. It also means developers don’t have to write new code to reach multiple platforms. With modest requirements for loosely connected devices in a time when reaching many devices is a strategic necessity, HTML5 combines the power of APIs with the ubiquity of browser access to provide a modern app experience that easily crosses platforms.

OpenAppMkt, an HTML5 app store, is an early indicator of HTML5 growth. We can also expect to see HTML5 support added on low-price-point, consumer electronics.

3. JSON Rises, XML Wanes

One of the biggest emerging stories in the API market is the ongoing debate of JSON vs XML support. JSON and XML are the two primary ways APIs exchange data. While many APIs have historically supported both, 2010 marked a turning point as both Twitter’s streaming API (sub req’d) and the Foursquare API ended XML support.

Why JSON? JSON is easier to use in JavaScript, an increasingly popular language for app developers. It is also lighter, requiring less processing, and is more readable by humans. As a result, developers often find it easier to use.

In 2011, we can expect to see more API providers switch to JSON only. There are still benefits to XML, which means it won’t go extinct anytime soon, but for today’s app developer, the tides are turning toward JSON. Savvy API providers will be giving developers what they want – not just for the holidays, but for the whole year.

4. More Companies to Redo their APIs — The Right Way

2010 saw several high-profile efforts by large companies – both consumer and enterprise – to offer more performant, usable APIs that conform to the REST principles that developers love. launched a new REST API and made it a focal point of its Dreamforce conference. Foursquare also launched a new version of its API focused on speed, consistency and usability.

As developer adoption becomes a competitive necessity, more and more companies must re-focus on offering APIs designed for adoption: simpler, RESTful APIs that are easier to learn and implement. This will be especially significant in the enterprise as it adapts to the new standards of “web 2.0” development. Finally, as more and more API-centric companies (e.g., SimpleGeo and Twilio) prove that APIs are a product in themselves, API design that lowers the barrier to entry becomes tablestakes.

5. API Frameworks Flourish

Although well-designed APIs make it easier to create apps, there’s still a market need for better ways to build APIs. 2010 marked several notable language-specific API frameworks that aim to help developers create usable APIs, including Grape for Ruby and FRAPI for PHP.

In 2011, we’ll see this grow with dedicated API frameworks for node.js, Python, Java, .NET and more. These frameworks will be especially significant in language communities like Ruby that have seen a boom of adoption in the age of cloud services. The $212 million acquisition of Heroku by reinforces that making life easier for these developers is key, and finding better ways for developers to build APIs, is a ripe opportunity for 2011.

The Website Anatomy

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Many people find it hard to imagine a website as more than a bunch of content. This often makes explaining the language mixture used and the way everything comes together a very difficult task.

Because what makes up a website can be related and linked to the human body basic anatomy, this article’s comparison should help clients and beginners alike understand the complex nature of a site’s development and components.

Designer DNA: Schemas and DTDs

Humans have predefined characteristics for how we look. These building blocks of life are passed down to us via genetics, and when arranged properly, give us our unique appearance.

This process of evolution takes millions of years to adapt to changing environments and certainly plays a part in limiting both our visual appearance and structural.

In terms of the Web, the regulators of code “genetics” are commonly known as Concepts/Schemas.

Of course, while the process of creating a schema doesn’t take millions of years, it does take a certain length of time for new languages to appear and become widely adopted, thereby evolving the building blocks of your website.

As a consequence, while sites may look different, you can be assured that they only use one of a family of structural languages that predefine many of its characteristics, and at the end you will share common elements and tags with many millions of others.

Bonus: The very inclusion of a DTD in your document can set standards for your code and avoid the obscurities that quirks mode can present to your web browser. Therefore, having this DNA, which describes the language used, can prove beneficial in inheriting Web standards.

Skeletal Structure: The Structural Markup

The structure of the human body is made up of bones that define our basic shape — the same is true of web documents in the sense that they are shaped from various interlinking elements that form the backbone of the Web.

Most web documents are formed through languages which describe the skeletal structure of the document, such as HTML and XML.

Without these core markup languages, your website would not be able to maintain its layout.

While each bone in the human body serves a specific purpose, entire groups of bones can serve a single job, such as the ribs (each protects your lungs) or your finger bones which help you grasp objects.

Because this repeating purpose can exist within a website’s body, they can be distinguished by attaching conventions like microformats that can give additional semantic characteristics and value beyond what a “generic” or reused element would offer, acting as a point of bodily recognition.

Bonus: Micro-formats are descriptive elements (usually as class or ID values) which give your structure some recognizable semantic values — this is much like recognizing each finger bone by its appearance and unique characteristic. It’s labeling your anatomy for referral!

Mechanical Muscles: Client-side Scripting

Being able to move allows you to interact and engage with people you meet. Without muscles, we can’t turn thoughts into a reaction.

As people expect a certain level of involvement with your site, not enough interactivity could make your site appear unemotional.

Muscles work between the skin and bones to allow both to fluidly play their part in the interaction. The same is true about sites where behavior underpins the style and structure of a site to “flex” only when interaction is required.

Client-side scripting is the muscular component of a site. Languages like JavaScript allow interaction when visitors click, move their mouse, press a key on their keyboard or make any other noticeable gesture. This response mechanism functions just like the body in that it reacts based on its surroundings.

Simply put, the “muscles” act as a way to interact and make noticeable changes in structure (standing up rather than sitting down) or appearance (smiling instead of frowning).

Bonus: Just as humans have multiple methods of input (such as sensory mechanisms like touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing), JavaScript and other client-side scripting languages can interact and react based on its own input methods like touch, speech, automated actions and movement.

Nervous Reactions: The Web Browser

With scripting included in your website comes the need to send and receive information that acts upon the interaction occurring within your design. In a website, the mechanism of communicating these signals belongs to the user-agent or server that handles the requests and reflects those requests to act into a mechanism that is visible to the end user. In short: Your web browser works the mojo!

In the human body, such requests are sent as electrical signals that pass through the various organs and are broadcaster to conduct the action determined from the receptor, such as when you feel pain.

In a website, while pain doesn’t exist (except for the end user who encounters an unusable interface element like a nasty webform) the code fires signals to the browser upon examination and triggers structure, style and behavioral reactions in turn.

Bonus: The rendering engine of a browser does everything from ensuring the sites “body” appears correctly, right down to reacting upon interaction. Even the likes of Flash,which attach themselves to a browser, have their own method of “nerve”-based interaction!

The Future of Web Development

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What we do on the Web changes daily. The web development industry evolves constantly. While we may not be able to tell the day-to-day changes while it’s happening, it’s easy for us to look back to the past few months and see that a lot of things we do now are much different than what we’ve been doing earlier.

Because our work lies in one of the fastest-paced industries, it’s important for us to predict and learn about what’s coming up or risk being left in the web development dust.

While this may sound intimidating at first, it’s actually pretty easy to see where we’ll be in the next several months or years to come.

Let’s look at some of the things we are predicting are going to happen in the near future.

More Appreciation for Web Standards

It used to be tough to sell clients on the importance of valid/standards-compliant and semantic code, but now, with so many devices and browsers on the market, standards have become even more important in order to produce flexible and interoperable products.

With more web browsers supporting open web standards and companies chucking out support for proprietary software in favor of open technologies, there is a stronger demand — more than ever — for coders that are able to work with web standards well.

Developers that focus on outputting compliant code will benefit from this trend.

Less Demand for PSD to XHTML/CSS Conversion Services

As a developer who specializes in PSD to CSS/XHTML conversions, I’ve already seen this trend start to happen. While I’m definitely not losing business, I’m no longer getting as many regular PSD to XHTML/CSS jobs. Most of my jobs currently consist of WordPress development or specific and specialized server-side scripting (e.g. PHP). In short, web developers are beginning to work more on niche jobs such as open source software customization.

As the months go on, developers like me who charge a premium over “PSD to HTML” chop shops are going to need to continue to shift our niche. I believe there will always be a demand for this type of work, but you’ll need to differentiate yourself from the $50-per-PSD-conversion companies, especially if you’re charging significantly more than the “market price”.

Less Client Work, More Personal Projects

I’ve noticed that many developers have stopped taking on as much client work and have started working on their own projects.

With the popularity of devices like the iPhone and iPad and public APIs, I think this is going to become more common in the next year.

Personally, I’ve decided to also go this route too, as working on my own apps is a lot more fun than working on client sites. Plus, the potential for making the next Twitter is always on the horizon, and also more attainable with the tools and knowledge that our maturing industry has accumulated.

Working on your own projects, however, offers another benefit. Since the Web evolves so much, you’ll end up learning new things that can be incorporated into client work. I’m currently learning both PHP and Cocoa, and soon, I’ll be able to offer iPhone app development services to clients as well. Doing your own projects keeps you updated on the newest stuff.

Internet Explorer Will Actually Be Cool

Yes, I said that. I’m actually excited about the new IE9 for several reasons. The biggest reason being the fact that it’s finally going to be a real modern browser with standards-compliant HTML5 and CSS3 support.

Another benefit of IE9 means that IE6 is now going to be three browsers old. While I’ve been lucky enough to be able to drop support of IE6 due to my client base, I know some of you guys are still stuck supporting it.

The fact that IE6 is now going to be three browser versions old and almost 10 years old means that those big corporations that are hesitant to update their systems might finally be forced to upgrade.

“Thanks” to the identification of several security vulnerabilities in outdated versions of IE, people are also beginning to realize that there is a need to upgrade their browser for safer browsing. And, as far as the UK and the rest of Europe is concerned, Microsoft is going to be forced to offer several browser options, which will in turn (hopefully) curb down the use of IE6 even more.

The Need to Know More Languages and Technologies

It’s not uncommon for web developers to know and work in several languages in one page and on one site. I strongly believe that to be one of the best in what you do, you need to have a broad scope of knowledge and specialize /niche yourself into something quite narrow at the same time.

I’ve been able to do this successfully by specializing in CSS/HTML and offering my services only to other freelancers and web design agencies. Quickly though, I’ve been getting requests for WordPress work and so I learned the API inside and out by jumping right into it. Now, WordPress has become one of my specialties and something I enjoy doing for almost every site I make.

This concept is important in a constantly shifting industry like ours and something that’s often missed in college education. Many people I went to school with are now without jobs because all they can (and want to) do is print design.

Our markets are shrinking constantly, so it’s important that we continue to learn and have other skills in case we need to quickly switch. Knowing other languages and technologies also helps keep things interesting and avoids burnout.