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3 lessons tech leaders are learning from the pandemic

December 3, 2020, 2:55 PM UTC

During the final day of our virtual Brainstorm Tech conference, we heard from executives from some of the world’s leading tech companies. They spoke on a particularly timely topic affecting a wide range of businesses: the coronavirus pandemic and its long-lasting impact. 

Some of the big names featured on Wednesday included Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s senior vice president of retail and people; Donna Langley, chair of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group; Patrik Frisk, CEO of Under Armour; and Jennifer Tejada, CEO of PagerDuty—all of whom gave Brainstorm Tech attendees an inside look at how the pandemic changed their strategies ahead. Here’s a look at some of the takeaways:

• While Apple has adapted to working remotely and shifted some of its products online, the company still thinks in-person collaboration and in-store experiences are best. O’Brien suggests there’s something special about walking into an Apple store and taking a seminar, learning about its latest devices, or getting tech help from its Genius Bar. It’s an experience that can’t be replaced.

• It seems that making movies has never been so complicated. Langley said that Universal’s crew of more than 1,000 people working on Jurassic World: Dominion took a total of more than 40,000 COVID-19 tests during production. On top of that, producers changed the way they filmed to avoid crowding too many people in one place. And due to the virus, company released another big-budget movie Trolls World Tour on video and on-demand the same day it hit theaters. Moving ahead, Langley said the company’s latest deal with theater chains to make the movie available for rent 17 days after release will strike a better balance.

• As people have adapted to their new lifestyles, they’re creating habits that could last well beyond the pandemic. That includes how they work out. Under Armour’s Frisk said he’s watched more customers take to running, biking, and other outdoor activities. And Brynn Putnam, CEO of home fitness company Mirror, said her company has benefited from the rise in people opting to work out from home as they avoid crowded gyms. But for fitness companies aiming to capitalize on consumers’ changing habits, one challenge remains: Can they provide a unique product or service personalized for their customers?

And finally, Box CEO Aaron Levie casually mentioned a random tidbit that revealed how Silicon Valley leaders have been navigating the crisis: They’re doing it together. Fortune’s Sy Mukherjee writes, “Evidently, there’s a special Slack channel filled with Silicon Valley types hashing out ideas and picking one another’s brains.”

Seems like this might be useful post-pandemic for a number of different issues. Diversity, I’m looking at you.

Danielle Abril


Google under fire for firings. Google has been slapped with a complaint from the National Labor Relations Board, which alleges that the company illegally spied on several workers and then fired two for their activism. The complaint, filed on Wednesday, refers to former Googlers Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers, whom Google claims were fired for violating its data security policies. The NLRB says their investigation suggests otherwise.

Wondering about Wandery. Amazon has pulled ahead as the lead potential buyer of podcast startup Wondery, according to The Wall Street Journal. The startup, one of the largest independent podcasters, is said to be valued at more than $300 million. Amazon expanded into podcasting in September, offering 70,000 podcasts on Amazon Music at the time.

Want to stream Shark Week? Fans of Food Network, HGTV, and, yes, Shark Week will soon be able to stream their favorite shows. Discovery plans to debut its streaming service, called Discovery+, on Jan. 4. The service will cost $4.99 per month, the same price as NBCUniversal’s Peacock service. And for $2 extra, customers can watch Discovery+ shows ad-free.

Almost equal pay. Adobe has stepped up to become the first large tech company in the U.S. to offer data on how it pays men and women at its company. And the results were somewhat promising. Adobe said female workers earn 99% as much as males doing the same job. Almost there, Adobe. Almost. 

New rules against hate. Twitter has expanded its hateful conduct policy to prohibit any language that dehumanizes people based on race, ethnicity, or national origin. Any tweets that violate the policy will be removed from Twitter and repeated offenses could lead to temporary suspension, the company said on Wednesday. The change follows a March policy update prohibiting posts that dehumanize people based on age, disability, or disease. Facebook already has similar policies. 


Researchers from institutions including Harvard and MIT have published a new study in the IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology that suggests mobile health technologies may help health professionals monitor coronavirus patients and predict worsening symptoms. They say that combining electronic devices that help patients report their condition, wearable sensors, and digital contact-tracing technology could create a "holistic" solution to tracking and treating patients who contract the virus.

“When combined with diagnostic and immune status testing, [mobile health] technology could be a valuable tool to help mitigate, if not prevent, the next surge of COVID-19 cases. Specifically, [mobile health] technology could provide the means to estimate the probability of infection and prioritize diagnostic testing in individuals whose data suggests a moderate to high probability of infection,” the study reads.


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It’s a big week for fans of the late Tejano star and cultural icon Selena. On Friday, Netflix will release the long-awaited series Selena: The Series, starring Christian Serratos of The Walking Dead.

I recently saw an interview with Serratos in which she explained that the series offered producers more time to explore Selena’s life. So viewers may see some new details on screen that weren’t showcased in the 1997 biographical film starring Jennifer Lopez.

The role is no short order. Serratos’ performance could earn her widespread praise or massive criticism from loyal Selena fans—fingers crossed that Serratos does Selena justice.