Startups
Year in review

Philly tech wrapped: What the best-read stories of 2022 tell us about the trends

This year, y'all loved reading about Gopuff's layoffs, Comcast's return to office, DuckDuckGo fighting Russian misinformation, new tech jobs and Technical.ly's RealLISTs.

Your 2022 Technical.ly Wrapped is here. (Graphic by Paige Gross, obvi inspired by Spotify Wrapped)
Full disclosure: Comcast is a Technical.ly Ecosystem Builder client. That relationship is unrelated to this report.
Just as your music, social and entertainment streaming platforms can tell you about the type of year you’ve had, the readership at Technical.ly can tell us a lot about the impactful things that went down this year.

The local tech scene often reflects what’s happening nationally, and even globally. In 2020, you read a lot about product pivots, remote work and company culture amid a pandemic. 2021 was all about operating in a new climate and innovating for this new time (in some cases, while raising tons of venture capital). And, well, 2022 was about embracing that the only constant to expect is change.

Broad tech and entrepreneurship trends this year included shakeups to Big Tech, an uncertain VC landscape and lots of layoffs. Large companies also dabbled with stricter return-to-office plans, or opened up new physical offices for employees. Y’all also really liked our RealLIST series celebrating the growing community: RealLIST Startups and RealLIST Engineers both ranked in the top 10 most-read of 2022.

What captured your attention this year? Let’s jump in.

Gopuff layoffs

The top three Techncial.ly stories in Philly this year focused on instant needs delivery giant Gopuff. After years of quick, massive rounds of fundraising and what seemed like endless hiring, the impending economic downturn showed its face in the Callowhill-based company’s operations. Our first big story this year looked at the company’s first layoffs, questioning what it meant for them ahead of a slated IPO this year.

The company again made layoffs (this time, 10% of the company) in July and in October. A July memo from its cofounders noted that the instant needs industry was at an “inflection point,” and Gopuff’s layoffs had been part of a strategy toward “improving operational efficiencies” as it focused on profitability, per co-CEOs Rafael Ilishayev and Yakir Gola.

The company is among a handful of large tech companies that have gone through rounds of layoffs this year. In the fall, Microsoft laid off about 1,000 employees, and Meta instituted a hiring freeze. Snap Inc., maker of Snapchat, also announced 20% reduction in workforce this year, accounting for about 1,200 employees. And well, Twitter continues to hemorrhage employees with new owner Elon Musk at the helm.

DuckDuckGo down-ranks Russian misinformation

In March, near the start of the war between Ukraine and Russia, Paoli-headquartered, privacy-focused internet browser DuckDuckGo announced on Twitter that the company would “down-rank sites associated with Russian disinformation.” Misinfo was playing a large role in in the war, as disinformation experts observed an effort from Russian leaders and state-backed media to “push a false narrative around the reasons for invading Ukraine,” an NBC News article noted at the time.

Our story outlining the swift, mixed reactions to DuckDuckGo’s move was one of Technical.ly’s best read this year.

The local company said it continued to place news modules and information boxes at the top of its search results that highlight “quality information” for quickly unfolding topics: “This isn’t censorship, it’s just search rankings. DuckDuckGo is not censoring results,” a spokesperson said at the time. “We are simply using the fact that these sites are engaging in active disinformation campaigns as a ranking signal that the content they produce is of lower quality, just like there are signals for spammy sites and other lower-quality content.”

Comcast returns to office

Among the highest read this year was a series of articles about Comcast’s decision to have its employees return to the office at least three days a week. The announcement came in early August, with the change in place just after Labor Day.

“A big part of our culture is working together. Innovation thrives when teammates are together to spontaneously consider and debate ideas,” wrote Dave Watson, president and CEO of Comcast Cable, in a memo to employees the first week of August.

About a month after the decision was announced, we checked in with technologists at the telecommunications giant about how the policy change affected their work experience. In September, some said they don’t mind in-office work, but were worried about potentially losing members of their team or struggling to recruit talent in the future. Two said outright that they’d be looking for other jobs. By October, one source confirmed to Technical.ly that he’d left the company for a remote job that paid higher, and another switched teams and was “designated virtual home office based.”

Comcast Technology Center. (Technical.ly photo)

Penn’s new president

Early this year, the University of Pennsylvania named its new president to replace its longest-tenured president, Amy Gutmann. M. Elizabeth Magill, a lawyer and administrative and constitutional law academic, succeeded Gutmann in leading one of region and country’s most influential universities on July 1.

It goes to show: Penn’s shadow looms large on Philadelphia, including its tech scene.

Capital One’s new Center City office

This summer, Capital One began developing a 22,000-square-foot Center City space as a downtown hub for incoming tech talent. The company was beefing up its consumer fintech offerings with projects relating to “everyday banking experiences,” and it was be hiring at least 100 tech employees to do so.

The strategy is to “meet them where they are” in a flexible, downtown space, as Jay Michelini, Capital One’s senior director of technology, told Technical.ly. The hub, forthcoming in Q2 2023 on an entire floor of 1735 Market St., will be home to engineering and product talent. We’ll be watching to see how the space and culture evolve.

West Philly High Chromebook repair shop

In the halls of West Philadelphia High School, one class of students reign supreme on TikTok. The school is one of three in the district that have a computer systems networking program as part of its career and technical education, or CTE. In the 10th- to 12th-grade class, students learn the design, implementation and management of linked computers, peripherals and associated software, and get comfortable with the devices.

Think of it like a Genius Bar or Best Buy’s Geek Squad: The class services computers within its school system, but also computers throughout the district. One then-junior even ran a TikTok account teaching basic Chromebook repair and maintenance so viewers can try troubleshooting on their own.

Since then, Technical.ly reporter Sarah Huffman has written a ton about STEM education in the School District of Philadelphia, from kindergarten robotics to professional development for teachers to the dos and don’ts of corporate-school partnerships.

Comcast control center tour

In August, we dove into digital infrastructure as a reporting theme, and I headed to a Comcast headend — one of 11 Philly-based control centers for internet and cable, for a tour. The 4,500-square-foot facility holds machines that power cable and internet to thousands of customers in the surrounding region and serves as an office space for those deploying out to the field. I learned what the internet looks, feels and sounds like behind the scenes, and checked out the hardware the runs the largest Philly internet service provider.

What did we learn there? You wanna know what powers your everyday tech, too.

What’s next for Technical.ly? More of all of the above (well, not layoffs or misinformation, we hope), plus a brand-new slate of editorial calendar themes for 2023. See you then.

Companies: Gopuff / Capital One / Comcast / DuckDuckGo / University of Pennsylvania
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