2015: The year tech found its groove and its soul

Better tech pay, more philanthropy, a big win for Net neutrality -- here's a taste of what was worth toasting this past year in tech

2015: The year tech found its groove and its soul
Credit: Thinkstock

Plentiful jobs, soaring pay, employers who finally woke up to the needs of families, and the victory of Net neutrality were some of the very good things that happened in the tech industry during 2015. It was a year that saw Microsoft finally get it (mostly) right with Windows 10, and charitable giving by the very wealthy in the industry soared.

Not everything went well this year -- it never does -- and too many of our fellow humans did not share in the good fortune. But let’s be grateful for what we have, and pop a bottle of bubbly as we look back at tech’s very good year.

IT job market going strong

When it comes to the IT job market, 2015 was, to quote Frank Sinatra, a very good year. Unemployment nationally hovered near 5 percent at the end of the year and was even lower in IT. In the 12-month stretch ending in October, the IT industry added 169,300 jobs, and over a two-year period, 293,100 jobs were added in IT, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Salaries continue to rise, with a survey by IEEE-USA showing that midcareer IT professionals are commanding a median salary of $133,000, up from $129,000 in 2013. There was progress in narrowing wage inequality within the industry, but there’s still a long way to go. The survey of more than 10,000 IEEE members found that women IT workers earn, on average, $13,365 a year less than men, while blacks earned $15,482 less than whites.

The industry may well be in a bubble that’s fated to pop. But for now, IT employees have never had it so good.

Parents get a break

When I went to an event on the Cisco campus earlier this year I noticed a stenciled cartoon of a stork above this message: “Expectant Mothers Parking.” Sure, that’s a silly sign and one parking space isn’t much, but 2015 was the year that family leave became more widely available and a major topic of conversation within the tech industry.

In August, Microsoft said it will expand fully paid maternity and paternity leave to 12 weeks for corporate employees in the United States. That's up from its previous parental leave policy, which provided four paid weeks and eight unpaid weeks.

The announcement came one day after Netflix revealed its own plan for unlimited parental leave for the first year of a child's life. Other companies followed suit, and the list continues to grow.

Starting Jan. 1, new moms working at eBay will get up to 24 paid weeks off at 100 percent of their base salaries, compared with 10 weeks previously at 80 percent of their base pay. Male employees for the first time will be given paid parental leave, with up to 12 weeks off.

Not all employees of companies that announced better family leave policies are eligible, and holders of blue-collar jobs are often out in the cold. Also, if it wasn’t so hard to hold on to talent, we wouldn’t see employers offering these benefits. But the tech industry is finally beginning to come to terms with the needs of families, and that’s good news.

Boy billionaire turned philanthropist

For years, I snarkily referred to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as “boy billionaire” -- not any more. Sure, he’s richer than any one person has a right to be, and his company still cavalierly invades everyone’s privacy. But when Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced that they will give away 99 percent of their Facebook shares, I decided it was time to give the dude some respect.

Zuckerberg and Chan got a lot of grief from cynical writers who saw the move as a self-aggrandizing tax dodge, but I don’t buy that. The mechanism they chose allows them more freedom and fewer tax advantages than a standard charity.

You could argue that by giving away scads of dollars, super-rich philanthropists garner unreasonable power to influence public policy and are able to shelter some assets from the tax man. That’s certainly true, but the fact remains that the couple will be giving away billions of dollars. Who cares if Zuckerberg and Chan don’t rival the Dalai Lama as pure souls? They’ll be doing an awful lot of good as they follow in the footsteps of Bill Gates.

And I’m happy to report that others in the tech industry are moving in the same direction.

The Web dodges a bullet

Net neutrality won, and the mega-merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable lost. Many of us spent a couple of years worrying that the greedy giants of telecommunications and media were going to trash the Internet -- but now they can’t.

Stopping corporations from controlling or constraining access to Internet resources based on business deals and incentives means that the Web can continue to grow, smaller players will be able to innovate, and consumers and businesses will continue to enjoy the access they need and deserve.

We dodged a high-caliber bullet when the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable crumbled under the pressure of public outrage. Comcast is now busily trying to up the ante and charge its captive customers even more for less service, adding data caps in the process. One could only image what evil the company had planned if it had actually succeeded in controlling the Internet for half of the United States.

In both cases, it’s worth noting that concerted efforts by public interest groups and angry users helped propel these victories over the goal line.

Microsoft gets it (almost) right

My colleague Eric Knorr points out that more than 1 million people have read an InfoWorld post about why upgrading to Windows 10 isn’t a great idea. Windows 10 could certainly be better, but it's a huge improvement over Windows 8.x, and as Microsoft pushes each update down the Interwebs it will continue to get better.

The company essentially took a mulligan after the debacle of the previous OS, and what the heck, you can upgrade for free.

Lots of us have been making do with aging Windows 7 PCs, but now that there’s a decent version of Windows, we can go ahead and get a new system without the fear of buying a kludge.

Happy new year from Tech’s Bottom Line.

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