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Why NASA’s 20-Year-Old Astronaut Hiring Process Still Works Today

By Nate Regier // Quartz // August 27, 2015

U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, crew member of the mission to the International Space Station, ISS, gives a thumbs up prior the launch of a Soyuz-FG rocket.
U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, crew member of the mission to the International Space Station, ISS, gives a thumbs up prior the launch of a Soyuz-FG rocket. // Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

In 1978, NASA was just beginning its space shuttle program and Dr. Terry McGuire was responsible for assessing the psychological fitness of astronauts in preparation for NASA missions. It was a daunting task. Putting several extremely talented, smart and confident people into space together requires the ultimate in teamwork, physical and mental toughness, and psychological agility. McGuire’s key concern was an astronaut’s ability to manage his emotions, communicate effectively with others and handle stress.

It was during this time that McGuire was introduced to Dr. Taibi Kahler, a psychologist from Hot Springs, Arkansas who had discovered a process to assess human interactions second by second and determine the productivity of the communication.

Kahler sat in on several neuropsychological assessment interviews as part of the astronaut selection cycle. About 10 minutes into each one, he would make some notes on a piece of paper and place it on the floor. Several hours later, when McGuire had concluded his testing and interview, he and Kahler would compare notes. Kahler’s assessments after just 10 minutes of observation aligned with McGuire’s with astounding consistency and predicted how the rest of the interview would play out with eerie accuracy.

McGuire and...

Will More Federal Employees Learn To Code Any Time Soon?

By Mohana Ravindranath // August 21, 2015

Morrowind/Shutterstock.com

It's well known that the federal government is facing a shortage of tech talent: A survey released in June showed that about 63 percent of federal CIOs felt their agencies were “not at all” or “insufficiently” prepared for talent development needs.

Despite the talent deficit, federal attempts to offer coding classes appear to be sporadic, and one education startup is trying to cash in on that opportunity. General Assembly, which operates in-person and online classes nationally, is now offering discounts on Web development training to city, state and federal employees, if they sign up with a dot-gov or dot-mil email address. Discounts apply to courses on topics such as Web design and data analysis, among others.

So far, several government agencies have paid for their employees to take General Assembly courses, Paul Gleger, regional director at General Assembly’s Washington campus, told Nextgov in a statement. 

“We know the interest and demand for digital skills is there, and our goal is to make it as frictionless as possible for government employees to apply and obtain their agencies’ support for enrollment," he said. 

Some federal groups -- such as the Department of Veterans Affairs -- offer their own tech training. VA operates...

Bill Would Require Agencies to Keep Track of ‘Critical’ Cyber Workforce Shortages

By Jack Moore // August 21, 2015

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio // AP Photo

A new bipartisan Senate bill aims to accelerate the federal government’s recruitment of cybersecurity experts by mandating the use of a previously voluntary classification system to identify “critical” shortages in the ranks of the federal government’s cyber workforce.

The Federal Cybersecurity Workforce Assessment Act, introduced by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, earlier this month, would require agencies to use a cyber-jobs framework developed by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education to tally up their slate of cyber workers and report annually on workforce gaps.

Introduced Aug. 6, the bill tasks the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence with implementing the new classification system and identifying all civilian cyber jobs in the federal government. Officials at the Defense Department would be tasked with undertaking a similar count of military cyber employees.

The bill would also require agency heads to report to OPM annually on shortages of cyber experts deemed “critical,” which would help speed the stagnant federal hiring process.

Efforts to compile a full roster of government cyber employees have long been hindered by the lack of a single job category or description that encompasses all cyber work.

The...

Are Tech Companies Destroying Workers' Personal Lives?

By Max Nisen // Quartz // August 21, 2015

Dustin Moskovitz, right, at his new company.
Dustin Moskovitz, right, at his new company. // Eric Risberg/AP

In the wake of news about Amazon’s appalling work culture, and some arrogant responses to it by tech bosses, Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz has come to the defense of workers.

In a post on Medium, the CEO of productivity software company Asana argues that the tech industry is “destroying the personal lives of their employees and getting nothing in return.”

Drawing on research about the diminishing returns of overworking, Moskovitz argues that driving workers to put in more than 40 to 50 hours per week ultimately doesn’t pay off, and instead detracts from employees’ drive and their health.

What’s pushing tech companies to be relentless over-workers, then, must be a backward notion of professional drive and commitment, he argues:

It must be some combination of 1/ not knowing the research 2/ believing the research is somehow flawed or doesn’t apply to them (they’re wrong) or 3/ understanding that many people see these cultural artifacts as a signal about the intensity and passion of the team.

Moskovitz describes his efforts to convince job candidates used to intense environments that the company can still work urgently and efficiently without throwing work-life balance out the window.

He also...

Amazon's Despised Management Tool Could Be Coming to Your Office

By Tim Fernholz // Quartz // August 17, 2015

Ken Wolter/Shutterstock.com

Who doesn’t enjoy a good round of brutal criticism? A lot of former Amazon employees, apparently.

In a deep dive into the corporate culture fostered at internet mega-retailer Amazon by founder Jeff Bezos, the New York Times reports on a piece of management software that is particularly controversial among the company’s employees: The tool, called “Collaborative Anytime Feedback,” was built into the company directory and allowed workers to send feedback about their colleagues directly to managers.

At Amazon, it reportedly became a powerful weapon in a culture that demanded complete commitment and brutal honesty. Workers said that annual firings of bottom-performing employees—”stack ranking“—led to the abuse and manipulation of the feedback system, including criticism pasted verbatim into performance reviews. A company spokesperson said most of the feedback generated by the tool is complimentary.

Workers using the system were offered boilerplate text to frame their complaints, including one suggestion printed in the Times: “I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.”

Amazon built a digital retail rival to Walmart with a culture of frugality and an obsession with solving customer problems. But eighty-hour weeks, ruthless competition and little patience for family and health...