We launched AWS Support a full decade ago, with Gold and Silver plans focused on Amazon EC2, Amazon S3, and Amazon SQS. Starting from that initial offering, backed by a small team in Seattle, AWS Support now encompasses thousands of people working from more than 60 locations.
A Quick Look Back Over the years, that offering has matured and evolved in order to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse base of AWS customers. We aim to support you at every step of your cloud adoption journey, from your initial experiments to the time you deploy mission-critical workloads and applications.
We have worked hard to make our support model helpful and proactive. We do our best to provide you with the tools, alerts, and knowledge that will help you to build systems that are secure, robust, and dependable. Here are some of our most recent efforts toward that goal:
Trusted Advisor S3 Bucket Policy Check – AWS Trusted Advisor provides you with five categories of checks and makes recommendations that are designed to improve security and performance. Earlier this year we announced that the S3 Bucket Permissions Check is now free, and available to all AWS users. If you are signed up for the Business or Professional level of AWS Support, you can also monitor this check (and many others) using Amazon CloudWatch Events. You can use this to monitor and secure your buckets without human intervention.
Personal Health Dashboard – This tool provides you with alerts and guidance when AWS is experiencing events that may affect you. You get a personalized view into the performance and availability of the AWS services that underlie your AWS resources. It also generates Amazon CloudWatch Events so that you can initiate automated failover and remediation if necessary.
Well Architected / Cloud Ops Review – We’ve learned a lot about how to architect AWS-powered systems over the years and we want to share everything we know with you! The AWS Well-Architected Framework provide proven, detailed guidance in critical areas including operational excellence, security, reliability, performance efficiency, and cost optimization. You can read the materials online and you can also sign up for the online training course. If you are signed up for Enterprise support, you can also benefit from our Cloud Ops review.
Infrastructure Event Management – If you are launching a new app, kicking off a big migration, or hosting a large-scale event similar to Prime Day, we are ready with guidance and real-time support. Our Infrastructure Event Management team will help you to assess the readiness of your environment and work with you to identify and mitigate risks ahead of time.
The Amazon retail site makes heavy use of AWS. You can read my post, Prime Day 2017 – Powered by AWS, to learn more about the process of preparing to sustain a record-setting amount of traffic and to accept a like number of orders.
Come and Join Us The AWS Support Team is in continuous hiring mode and we have openings all over the world! Here are a couple of highlights:
Today, I’m very pleased to announce that AWS services comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This means that, in addition to benefiting from all of the measures that AWS already takes to maintain services security, customers can deploy AWS services as a key part of their GDPR compliance plans.
This announcement confirms we have completed the entirety of our GDPR service readiness audit, validating that all generally available services and features adhere to the high privacy bar and data protection standards required of data processors by the GDPR. We completed this work two months ahead of the May 25, 2018 enforcement deadline in order to give customers and APN partners an environment in which they can confidently build their own GDPR-compliant products, services, and solutions.
AWS’s GDPR service readiness is only part of the story; we are continuing to work alongside our customers and the AWS Partner Network (APN) to help on their journey toward GDPR compliance. Along with this announcement, I’d like to highlight the following examples of ways AWS can help you accelerate your own GDPR compliance efforts.
Security of Personal Data During our GDPR service readiness audit, our security and compliance experts confirmed that AWS has in place effective technical and organizational measures for data processors to secure personal data in accordance with the GDPR. Security remains our highest priority, and we continue to innovate and invest in a high bar for security and compliance across all global operations. Our industry-leading functionality provides the foundation for our long list of internationally-recognized certifications and accreditations, demonstrating compliance with rigorous international standards, such as ISO 27001 for technical measures, ISO 27017 for cloud security, ISO 27018 for cloud privacy, SOC 1, SOC 2 and SOC 3, PCI DSS Level 1, and EU-specific certifications such as BSI’s Common Cloud Computing Controls Catalogue (C5). AWS continues to pursue the certifications that assist our customers.
Compliance-enabling Services Many requirements under the GDPR focus on ensuring effective control and protection of personal data. AWS services give you the capability to implement your own security measures in the ways you need in order to enable your compliance with the GDPR, including specific measures such as:
Encryption of personal data
Ability to ensure the ongoing confidentiality, integrity, availability, and resilience of processing systems and services
Ability to restore the availability and access to personal data in a timely manner in the event of a physical or technical incident
Processes for regularly testing, assessing, and evaluating the effectiveness of technical and organizational measures for ensuring the security of processing
This is an advanced set of security and compliance services that are designed specifically to handle the requirements of the GDPR. There are numerous AWS services that have particular significance for customers focusing on GDPR compliance, including:
Amazon GuardDuty – a security service featuring intelligent threat detection and continuous monitoring
Amazon Macie – a machine learning tool to assist discovery and securing of personal data stored in Amazon S3
Amazon Inspector – an automated security assessment service to help keep applications in conformity with best security practices
AWS Config Rules – a monitoring service that dynamically checks cloud resources for compliance with security rules
Additionally, we have published a whitepaper, “Navigating GDPR Compliance on AWS,” dedicated to this topic. This paper details how to tie GDPR concepts to specific AWS services, including those relating to monitoring, data access, and key management. Furthermore, our GDPR Center will give you access to the up-to-date resources you need to tackle requirements that directly support your GDPR efforts.
Compliant DPA We offer a GDPR-compliant Data Processing Addendum (DPA), enabling you to comply with GDPR contractual obligations.
Conformity with a Code of Conduct GDPR introduces adherence to a “code of conduct” as a mechanism for demonstrating sufficient guarantees of requirements that the GDPR places on data processors. In this context, we previously announced compliance with the CISPE Code of Conduct. The CISPE Code of Conduct provides customers with additional assurances regarding their ability to fully control their data in a safe, secure, and compliant environment when they use services from providers like AWS. More detail about the CISPE Code of Conduct can be found at: https://aws.amazon.com/compliance/cispe/
Training and Summits We can provide you with training on navigating GDPR compliance using AWS services via our Professional Services team. This team has a GDPR workshop offering, which is a two-day facilitated session customized to your specific needs and challenges. We are also providing GDPR presentations during our AWS Summits in European countries, as well as San Francisco and Tokyo.
Additional Resources Finally, we have teams of compliance, data protection, and security experts, as well as the APN, helping customers across Europe prepare for running regulated workloads in the cloud as the GDPR becomes enforceable. For additional information on this, please contact your AWS Account Manager.
As we move towards May 25 and beyond, we’ll be posting a series of blogs to dive deeper into GDPR-related concepts along with how AWS can help. Please visit our GDPR Center for more information. We’re excited about being your partner in fully addressing this important regulation.
Vice President, AWS Security Assurance
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Backblaze is growing, and with it our need to cater to a lot of different use cases that our customers bring to us. We needed a Solutions Engineer to help out, and after a long search we’ve hired our first one! Lets learn a bit more about Nathan shall we?
What is your Backblaze Title? Solutions Engineer. Our customers bring a thousand different use cases to both B1 and B2, and I’m here to help them figure out how best to make those use cases a reality. Also, any odd jobs that Nilay wants me to do.
Where are you originally from? I am native to the San Francisco Bay Area, studying mathematics at UC Santa Cruz, and then computer science at California University of Hayward (which has since renamed itself California University of the East Hills. I observe that it’s still in Hayward).
What attracted you to Backblaze? As a stable, growing company with huge growth and even bigger potential, the business model is attractive, and the team is outstanding. Add to that the strong commitment to transparency, and it’s a hard company to resist. We can store – and restore – data while offering superior reliability at an economic advantage to do-it-yourself, and that’s a great place to be.
What do you expect to learn while being at Backblaze? Everything I need to, but principally how our customers choose to interact with web storage. Storage isn’t a solution per se, but it’s an important component of any persistent solution. I’m looking forward to working with all the different concepts our customers have to make use of storage.
Where else have you worked? All sorts of places, but I’ll admit publicly to EMC, Gemalto, and my own little (failed, alas) startup, IC2N. I worked with low-level document imaging.
Where did you go to school? UC Santa Cruz, BA Mathematics CU Hayward, Master of Science in Computer Science.
What’s your dream job? Sipping tea in the California redwood forest. However, solutions engineer at Backblaze is a good second choice!
Favorite place you’ve traveled? Ashland, Oregon, for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the marble caves (most caves form from limestone).
Favorite hobby? Theater. Pathfinder. Writing. Baking cookies and cakes.
Of what achievement are you most proud? Marrying the most wonderful man in the world.
Star Trek or Star Wars? Star Trek’s utopian science fiction vision of humanity and science resonates a lot more strongly with me than the dystopian science fantasy of Star Wars.
Coke or Pepsi? Neither. I’d much rather have a cup of jasmine tea.
Favorite food? It varies, but I love Indian and Thai cuisine. Truly excellent Italian food is marvelous – wood fired pizza, if I had to pick only one, but the world would be a boring place with a single favorite food.
Why do you like certain things? If I knew that, I’d be in marketing.
Anything else you’d like you’d like to tell us? If you haven’t already encountered the amazing authors Patricia McKillip and Lois McMasters Bujold – go encounter them. Be happy.
There’s nothing wrong with a nice cup of tea and a long game of Pathfinder. Sign us up! Welcome to the team Nathan!
Backblaze is growing rapidly and as we have more and more job listings coming online and more employees to corral, we needed another member on our Human Resources team! Enter Michele, who is joining the HR folks to help recruit, onboard, and expand our HR organization. Lets learn a bit more about Michele shall we?
What is your Backblaze Title? HR Coordinator.
Where are you originally from? I was born and raised in the East Bay.
What attracted you to Backblaze? The opportunity to learn new skills, as most of my experience is in office administration… I’m excited to jump into the HR world!
What do you expect to learn while being at Backblaze? So much! All of the ins and outs of HR, the hiring and onboarding processes, and everything in between…so excited!
Where else have you worked? I’ve previously worked at Clars Auction Gallery where I was Consignor Relations for 6 years, and most recently at Stellar Academy for Dyslexics where I was the Office Administrator/Bookkeeper.
Where did you go to school? San Francisco Institute of Esthetics and Cosmetology.
What’s your dream job? Pastry Chef!
Favorite place you’ve traveled? Maui. I could lay on the beach and bob in the water all day, every day! But also, Disney World…who doesn’t love a good Disney vacation?
Favorite hobby? Baking, traveling, reading, exploring new restaurants, SF Giants games
Star Trek or Star Wars? Star Wars.
Coke or Pepsi? Black iced tea?
Favorite food? Pretty much everything…street tacos, ramen, sushi, Thai, pho.
Why do you like certain things? Because why not?
Anything else you’d like you’d like to tell us? I love Disney!
Another person who loves Disney! Welcome to the team Michele, we’ll have lots of tea ready for you!
The Summits are offered at no charge and are an excellent way for you to learn more about AWS. You’ll get to hear from our leaders and tech teams, our partners, and from other customers. You can also participate in hands-on workshops, labs, and team challenges.
Because the events are multi-track, you may want to bring a colleague or two in order to make sure that you don’t miss something of interest to your organization.
Responding to the lack of diversity at the RSA Conference, a group of security experts have announced a competing one-day conference: OUR Security Advocates, or OURSA. It’s in San Francisco, and it’s during RSA, so you can attend both.
Our hiring spree keeps rolling and we have a new addition to the support team, Matt! He joins the team as a Junior Technical Support Rep, and will be helping answer folks’ questions, guiding them through the product, and making sure that everyone’s taken care of! Lets learn a bit more about Matt shall we?
What is your Backblaze Title? Junior Technical Support Representative
Where are you originally from? San Francisco Bay Area
What attracted you to Backblaze? Everyone is super chill and I like how transparent everyone is. The culture is very casual and not overbearing.
What do you expect to learn while being at Backblaze? What the tech industry is like.
Where else have you worked? The Chairman! Best bao ever.
Where did you go to school? College of San Mateo.
What’s your dream job? Being a chef has always interested me. It’s so interesting that we’ve turned food into an art.
Favorite place you’ve traveled? Japan. Holy crap Japan is cool. Everyone is so polite and the place is so clean. You haven’t had ramen like they serve, I literally couldn’t stop smiling after my first bite. The moment we arrived, I said, “I already miss Japan.”
Favorite hobby? As much as I like video games, cooking is my favorite. Everyone eats, and it’s a good feeling to make food that people like. Currently trying to figure out how to make brussel sprouts taste better than brussel sprouts.
Of what achievement are you most proud? Meeting my girlfriend. My life turned around when I met her. She’s taught me a lot of things.
Star Trek or Star Wars? Star Wars!
Coke or Pepsi? Good ol’ Cola. I quit drinking soda, though.
Favorite food? As much as I love eating healthy, there’s nothing like spam.
Why do you like certain things? Because certain things are either fun or delicious.
Anything else you’d like you’d like to tell us? If you have any good recipes, I’ll probably cook it. Or try to.
You’re right Matt, certain things are either fun or delicious, like The Chairman’s bao! Welcome aboard!
As Backblaze continues to grow a couple of our departments need to grow right along with it. One of the quickest-growing departments we have at Backblaze is Customer Support. We do all of our support in-house and the team grows to accommodate our growing customer base! We have a new person joining us in support, Lin! Lets take a moment to learn a bit more about her shall we?
What is your Backblaze Title? Jr. Support Technician.
Where are you originally from? Ventura, CA. It’s okay if you haven’t heard of it, it is very, very, small.
What attracted you to Backblaze? The company culture, the delightful ads on Critical Role, and how immediately genuinely friendly everyone I met was.
Where else have you worked? I previously did content management at Wish, and an awful lot of temp gigs. I did a few years at a coffee shop in the beginning of college, but my first job ever was a JoAnn’s Fabrics.
Where did you go to school? San Francisco State University
What’s your dream job? Magical Girl!
Favorite place you’ve traveled? Tokyo, but Disneyworld is a real close second.
Favorite hobby? I spend an awful lot of time playing video games, and possibly even more making silly costumes.
Star Trek or Star Wars? Truthfully I love both. But I was raised on original series and next generation Trek.
Coke or Pepsi? Coke … definitely coke.
Favorite food? Cupcakes. Especially funfetti cupcakes.
Anything else you’d like you’d like to tell us? I discovered Sailor Moon as a child and it possibly influenced my life way too much. Like many people here I am a huge Disney fan; Anyone who spends longer than a few hours with me will probably tell you I can go on for hours about my cat (but in my defense he’s adorable and fluffy and I have the pictures to prove it).
We keep hiring folks that love Disney! It’s kind of amazing. It’s also nice to have folks in the office that can chat about the latest Critical Role episode! Welcome aboard Lin, we’ll try to get some funfetti stocked for the cupcakes that come in!
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In 2009, Google disclosed that they had 400 recruiters on staff working to hire nearly 10,000 people. Someday, that might be your challenge, but most companies in their early days are looking to hire a handful of people — the right people — each year. Assuming you are closer to startup stage than Google stage, let’s look at who you need to hire, when to hire them, where to find them (and how to help them find you), and how to get them to join your company.
Who Should Be Your First Hires
In later stage companies, the roles in the company have been well fleshed out, don’t change often, and each role can be segmented to focus on a specific area. A large company may have an entire department focused on just cubicle layout; at a smaller company you may not have a single person whose actual job encompasses all of facilities. At Backblaze, our CTO has a passion and knack for facilities and mostly led that charge. Also, the needs of a smaller company are quick to change. One of our first hires was a QA person, Sean, who ended up being 100% focused on data center infrastructure. In the early stage, things can shift quite a bit and you need people that are broadly capable, flexible, and most of all willing to pitch in where needed.
That said, there are times you may need an expert. At a previous company we hired Jon, a PhD in Bayesian statistics, because we needed algorithmic analysis for spam fighting. However, even that person was not only able and willing to do the math, but also code, and to not only focus on Bayesian statistics but explore a plethora of spam fighting options.
When To Hire
If you’ve raised a lot of cash and are willing to burn it with mistakes, you can guess at all the roles you might need and start hiring for them. No judgement: that’s a reasonable strategy if you’re cash-rich and time-poor.
If your cash is limited, try to see what you and your team are already doing and then hire people to take those jobs. It may sound counterintuitive, but if you’re already doing it presumably it needs to be done, you have a good sense of the type of skills required to do it, and you can bring someone on-board and get them up to speed quickly. That then frees you up to focus on tasks that can’t be done by someone else. At Backblaze, I ran marketing internally for years before hiring a VP of Marketing, making it easier for me to know what we needed. Once I was hiring, my primary goal was to find someone I could trust to take that role completely off of me so I could focus solely on my CEO duties
Where To Find the Right People
Finding great people is always difficult, particularly when the skillsets you’re looking for are highly in-demand by larger companies with lots of cash and cachet. You, however, have one massive advantage: you need to hire 5 people, not 5,000.
People You Worked With
The absolutely best people to hire are ones you’ve worked with before that you already know are good in a work situation. Consider your last job, the one before, and the one before that. A significant number of the people we recruited at Backblaze came from our previous startup MailFrontier. We knew what they could do and how they would fit into the culture, and they knew us and thus could quickly meld into the environment. If you didn’t have a previous job, consider people you went to school with or perhaps individuals with whom you’ve done projects previously.
People You Know
Hiring friends, family, and others can be risky, but should be considered. Sometimes a friend can be a “great buddy,” but is not able to do the job or isn’t a good fit for the organization. Having to let go of someone who is a friend or family member can be rough. Have the conversation up front with them about that possibility, so you have the ability to stay friends if the position doesn’t work out. Having said that, if you get along with someone as a friend, that’s one critical component of succeeding together at work. At Backblaze we’ve hired a number of people successfully that were friends of someone in the organization.
Friends Of People You Know
Your network is likely larger than you imagine. Your employees, investors, advisors, spouses, friends, and other folks all know people who might be a great fit for you. Make sure they know the roles you’re hiring for and ask them if they know anyone that would fit. Search LinkedIn for the titles you’re looking for and see who comes up; if they’re a 2nd degree connection, ask your connection for an introduction.
People You Know About
Sometimes the person you want isn’t someone anyone knows, but you may have read something they wrote, used a product they’ve built, or seen a video of a presentation they gave. Reach out. You may get a great hire: worst case, you’ll let them know they were appreciated, and make them aware of your organization.
Other Places to Find People
There are a million other places to find people, including job sites, community groups, Facebook/Twitter, GitHub, and more. Consider where the people you’re looking for are likely to congregate online and in person.
A Comment on Diversity
Hiring “People You Know” can often result in “Hiring People Like You” with the same workplace experiences, culture, background, and perceptions. Some studies have shown [1, 2, 3, 4] that homogeneous groups deliver faster, while heterogeneous groups are more creative. Also, “Hiring People Like You” often propagates the lack of women and minorities in tech and leadership positions in general. When looking for people you know, keep an eye to not discount people you know who don’t have the same cultural background as you.
Helping People To Find You
Reaching out proactively to people is the most direct way to find someone, but you want potential hires coming to you as well. To do this, they have to a) be aware of you, b) know you have a role they’re interested in, and c) think they would want to work there. Let’s tackle a) and b) first below.
I started writing our blog before we launched the product and talked about anything I found interesting related to our space. For several years now our team has owned the content on the blog and in 2017 over 1.5 million people read it. Each time we have a position open it’s published to the blog. If someone finds reading about backup and storage interesting, perhaps they’d want to dig in deeper from the inside. Many of the people we’ve recruited have mentioned reading the blog as either how they found us or as a factor in why they wanted to work here. [BTW, this is Gleb’s 200th post on Backblaze’s blog. The first was in 2008. — Editor]
Your Email List
In addition to the emails our blog subscribers receive, we send regular emails to our customers, partners, and prospects. These are largely focused on content we think is directly useful or interesting for them. However, once every few months we include a small mention that we’re hiring, and the positions we’re looking for. Often a small blurb is all you need to capture people’s imaginations whether they might find the jobs interesting or can think of someone that might fit the bill.
Your Social Involvement
Whether it’s Twitter or Facebook, Hacker News or Slashdot, your potential hires are engaging in various communities. Being socially involved helps make people aware of you, reminds them of you when they’re considering a job, and paints a picture of what working with you and your company would be like. Adam was in a Reddit thread where we were discussing our Storage Pods, and that interaction was ultimately part of the reason he left Apple to come to Backblaze.
Convincing People To Join
Once you’ve found someone or they’ve found you, how do you convince them to join? They may be currently employed, have other offers, or have to relocate. Again, while the biggest companies have a number of advantages, you might have more unique advantages than you realize.
Why Should They Join You
Here are a set of items that you may be able to offer which larger organizations might not:
Role: Consider the strengths of the role. Perhaps it will have broader scope? More visibility at the executive level? No micromanagement? Ability to take risks? Option to create their own role?
Compensation: In addition to salary, will their options potentially be worth more since they’re getting in early? Can they trade-off salary for more options? Do they get option refreshes?
Benefits: In addition to healthcare, food, and 401(k) plans, are there unique benefits of your company? One company I knew took the entire team for a one-month working retreat abroad each year.
Location: Most people prefer to work close to home. If you’re located outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, you might be at a disadvantage for not being in the heart of tech. But if you find employees close to you you’ve got a huge advantage. Sometimes it’s micro; even in the Bay Area the difference of 5 miles can save 20 minutes each way every day. We located the Backblaze headquarters in San Mateo, a middle-ground that made it accessible to those coming from San Jose and San Francisco. We also chose a downtown location near a train, restaurants, and cafes: all to make it easier and more pleasant. Also, are you flexible in letting your employees work remotely? Our systems administrator Elliott is about to embark on a long-term cross-country journey working from an RV.
Environment: Open office, cubicle, cafe, work-from-home? Loud/quiet? Social or focused? 24×7 or work-life balance? Different environments appeal to different people.
Team: Who will they be working with? A company with 100,000 people might have 100 brilliant ones you’d want to work with, but ultimately we work with our core team. Who will your prospective hires be working with?
Market: Some people are passionate about gaming, others biotech, still others food. The market you’re targeting will get different people excited.
Product: Have an amazing product people love? Highlight that. If you’re lucky, your potential hire is already a fan.
Mission: Curing cancer, making people happy, and other company missions inspire people to strive to be part of the journey. Our mission is to make storing data astonishingly easy and low-cost. If you care about data, information, knowledge, and progress, our mission helps drive all of them.
Culture: I left this for last, but believe it’s the most important. What is the culture of your company? Finding people who want to work in the culture of your organization is critical. If they like the culture, they’ll fit and continue it. We’ve worked hard to build a culture that’s collaborative, friendly, supportive, and open; one in which people like coming to work. For example, the five founders started with (and still have) the same compensation and equity. That started a culture of “we’re all in this together.” Build a culture that will attract the people you want, and convey what the culture is.
Writing The Job Description
Most job descriptions focus on the all the requirements the candidate must meet. While important to communicate, the job description should first sell the job. Why would the appropriate candidate want the job? Then share some of the requirements you think are critical. Remember that people read not just what you say but how you say it. Try to write in a way that conveys what it is like to actually be at the company. Ahin, our VP of Marketing, said the job description itself was one of the things that attracted him to the company.
Much can be said about interviewing well. I’m just going to say this: make sure that everyone who is interviewing knows that their job is not only to evaluate the candidate, but give them a sense of the culture, and sell them on the company. At Backblaze, we often have one person interview core prospects solely for company/culture fit.
Hiring success shouldn’t be defined by finding and hiring the right person, but instead by the right person being successful and happy within the organization. Ensure someone (usually their manager) provides them guidance on what they should be concentrating on doing during their first day, first week, and thereafter. Giving new employees opportunities and guidance so that they can achieve early wins and feel socially integrated into the company does wonders for bringing people on board smoothly
Our Director of Production Systems, Chris, said to me the other day that he looks for companies where he can work on “interesting problems with nice people.” I’m hoping you’ll find your own version of that and find this post useful in looking for your early and critical hires.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, if you know of anyone looking for a place with “interesting problems with nice people,” Backblaze is hiring. 😉
Join us for AWS Security Week, February 20–23 at the AWS Pop-up Loft in San Francisco, where you can participate in four days of themed content that will help you secure your workloads on AWS. Each day will highlight a different security and compliance topic, and will include an overview session, a customer or partner speaker, a deep dive into the day’s topic, and a hands-on lab or demos of relevant AWS or partner services.
Tuesday (February 20) will kick off the week with a day devoted to identity and governance. On Wednesday, we will dig into secure configuration and automation, including a discussion about upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements. On Thursday, we will cover threat detection and remediation, which will include an Amazon GuardDuty lab. And on Friday, we will discuss incident response on AWS.
Sessions, demos, and labs about each of these topics will be led by seasoned security professionals from AWS, who will help you understand not just the basics, but also the nuances of building applications in the AWS Cloud in a robust and secure manner. AWS subject-matter experts will be available for “Ask the Experts” sessions during breaks.
Note to readers! Starting next month, we will be publishing our monthly Hot Startups blog post on the AWS Startup Blog. Please come check us out.
As visual communication—whether through social media channels like Instagram or white space-heavy product pages—becomes a central part of everyone’s life, accessible design platforms and tools become more and more important in the world of tech. This trend is why we have chosen to spotlight three design-related startups—namely Canva, Figma, and InVision—as our hot startups for the month of February. Please read on to learn more about these design-savvy companies and be sure to check out our full post here.
Canva (Sydney, Australia)
For a long time, creating designs required expensive software, extensive studying, and time spent waiting for feedback from clients or colleagues. With Canva, a graphic design tool that makes creating designs much simpler and accessible, users have the opportunity to design anything and publish anywhere. The platform—which integrates professional design elements, including stock photography, graphic elements, and fonts for users to build designs either entirely from scratch or from thousands of free templates—is available on desktop, iOS, and Android, making it possible to spin up an invitation, poster, or graphic on a smartphone at any time.
Figma is a cloud-based design platform that empowers designers to communicate and collaborate more effectively. Using recent advancements in WebGL, Figma offers a design tool that doesn’t require users to install any software or special operating systems. It also allows multiple people to work in a file at the same time—a crucial feature.
As the need for new design talent increases, the industry will need plenty of junior designers to keep up with the demand. Figma is prepared to help students by offering their platform for free. Through this, they “hope to give young designers the resources necessary to kick-start their education and eventually, their careers.”
Founded in 2011 with the goal of helping improve every digital experience in the world, digital product design platform InVision helps users create a streamlined and scalable product design process, build and iterate on prototypes, and collaborate across organizations. The company, which raised a $100 million series E last November, bringing the company’s total funding to $235 million, currently powers the digital product design process at more than 80 percent of the Fortune 100 and brands like Airbnb, HBO, Netflix, and Uber.
David Platt thought that his computer was adequately backed up, but when his hard drive crashed, he was forced to turn to a data recovery company to get back specific files and emails he needed.
When the company recovered some data — but not the files and emails he wanted — and David was charged $383 anyway, he turned to NBC Bay Area Responds, the consumer action group at the San Francisco Bay area NBC TV affiliate.
Their investigation showed that even though the firm hadn’t recovered the data he needed, David was obliged to pay them the full data recovery cost anyway. If David had wanted the recovery done in a hurry, his cost could have been as high as $999, and he still wouldn’t have gotten back the files he needed.
NBC Bay Area Responds contacted 33 data recovery companies around the country and discovered that 24 of the 33 also charge full price even if they only recover one file from the drive — any file.
Gleb Budman, Backblaze CEO, who was interviewed for the story, advised viewers that it’s far more effective, and less expensive, to be fully backed up with a backup solution like Backblaze. Backblaze backs up everything on your computer, even the files and folders you might not think you need, but might contain valuable data, such as in David’s case. A 3-2-1 backup policy (three copies of your data, two locally, and one in the cloud), is a good policy to follow.
“On average, one out of every two people lose data every year,” said Gleb Budman, CEO of Backblaze, a San Mateo company that aims to prevent lost files. “In the case of Backblaze, it’s $5 a month and we back up all of the data,” Budman said. “Then… it’s a bummer if your hard drive dies, but you don’t lose any data.”
David Platt now uses Backblaze and has a full backup of his hard drive stored in the cloud. Every file is there.
“We’ve kinda upped the game of backing up of our personal data,” he said.
We’ve eclipsed the 400 Petabyte mark and our data center continues to grow. What does that mean? It means we need more great people working in our data centers making sure that the hard drives keep spinning and that sputtering drives are promptly dealt with. Lorelei is the newest Data Center Technician to join our ranks. Let’s learn a bit more about Lorelei, shall we?
What is your Backblaze Title? DC Tech!! I’m the saucy one.
Where are you originally from? San Francisco/Bowling Green, Ohio. Just moved up to Sacramento this year, and it’s so nice to have four seasons again. I’m drowning in leaves but I’m totally OK with it.
What attracted you to Backblaze? I was a librarian in my previous life, mainly because I believe that information should be open to everyone. I was familiar with Backblaze prior to joining the team, and I’m a huge fan of their fresh approach to sharing information and openness. The interview process was also the coolest one I’ll ever have!
What do you expect to learn while being at Backblaze? A lot about Linux!
Where else have you worked? A chocolate factory and a popular culture library.
Where did you go to school? CSU East Bay, Bowling Green State University (go Falcons), and Clarion.
Favorite place you’ve traveled? Stockholm & Tokyo! I hope to travel more in Asia and Europe.
Favorite hobby? Music is not magic, but music is… Come sing with me @ karaoke!
Favorite food? I love trying new food. I love anything that’s acidic, sweet, fresh, salty, flavorful. Fruit is the best food, but everything else is good too. I’m one of those Yelp people: always seeking & giving food recs!
Why do you like certain things? I like things that make me happy and that make other people happy. Have fun & enjoy life. Yeeeeehaw.
Welcome to the team Lorelei. And thank you very much for leaving Yelp reviews. It’s nice to give back to the community!
Now, Amazon Cloud Directory makes it easier for you to apply schema changes across your directories with in-place schema upgrades. Your directory now remains available while Cloud Directory applies backward-compatible schema changes such as the addition of new fields. Without migrating data between directories or applying code changes to your applications, you can upgrade your schemas. You also can view the history of your schema changes in Cloud Directory by using version identifiers, which help you track and audit schema versions across directories. If you have multiple instances of a directory with the same schema, you can view the version history of schema changes to manage your directory fleet and ensure that all directories are running with the same schema version.
In this blog post, I demonstrate how to perform an in-place schema upgrade and use schema versions in Cloud Directory. I add additional attributes to an existing facet and add a new facet to a schema. I then publish the new schema and apply it to running directories, upgrading the schema in place. I also show how to view the version history of a directory schema, which helps me to ensure my directory fleet is running the same version of the schema and has the correct history of schema changes applied to it.
Note: I share Java code examples in this post. I assume that you are familiar with the AWS SDK and can use Java-based code to build a Cloud Directory code example. You can apply the concepts I cover in this post to other programming languages such as Python and Ruby.
Cloud Directory fundamentals
I will start by covering a few Cloud Directory fundamentals. If you are already familiar with the concepts behind Cloud Directory facets, schemas, and schema lifecycles, you can skip to the next section.
Facets: Groups of attributes. You use facets to define object types. For example, you can define a device schema by adding facets such as computers, phones, and tablets. A computer facet can track attributes such as serial number, make, and model. You can then use the facets to create computer objects, phone objects, and tablet objects in the directory to which the schema applies.
Schemas: Collections of facets. Schemas define which types of objects can be created in a directory (such as users, devices, and organizations) and enforce validation of data for each object class. All data within a directory must conform to the applied schema. As a result, the schema definition is essentially a blueprint to construct a directory with an applied schema.
Schema lifecycle: The four distinct states of a schema: Development, Published, Applied, and Deleted. Schemas in the Published and Applied states have version identifiers and cannot be changed. Schemas in the Applied state are used by directories for validation as applications insert or update data. You can change schemas in the Development state as many times as you need them to. In-place schema upgrades allow you to apply schema changes to an existing Applied schema in a production directory without the need to export and import the data populated in the directory.
How to add attributes to a computer inventory application schema and perform an in-place schema upgrade
To demonstrate how to set up schema versioning and perform an in-place schema upgrade, I will use an example of a computer inventory application that uses Cloud Directory to store relationship data. Let’s say that at my company, AnyCompany, we use this computer inventory application to track all computers we give to our employees for work use. I previously created a ComputerSchema and assigned its version identifier as 1. This schema contains one facet called ComputerInfo that includes attributes for SerialNumber, Make, and Model, as shown in the following schema details.
AnyCompany has offices in Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. I have deployed the computer inventory application for each of these three locations. As shown in the lower left part of the following diagram, ComputerSchema is in the Published state with a version of 1. The Published schema is applied to SeattleDirectory, PortlandDirectory, and SanFranciscoDirectory for AnyCompany’s three locations. Implementing separate directories for different geographic locations when you don’t have any queries that cross location boundaries is a good data partitioning strategy and gives your application better response times with lower latency.
The following code example creates the schema in the Development state by using a JSON file, publishes the schema, and then creates directories for the Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco locations. For this example, I assume the schema has been defined in the JSON file. The createSchema API creates a schema Amazon Resource Name (ARN) with the name defined in the variable, SCHEMA_NAME. I can use the putSchemaFromJson API to add specific schema definitions from the JSON file.
// The utility method to get valid Cloud Directory schema JSON
String validJson = getJsonFile("ComputerSchema_version_1.json")
String SCHEMA_NAME = "ComputerSchema";
String developmentSchemaArn = client.createSchema(new CreateSchemaRequest()
// Put the schema document in the Development schema
PutSchemaFromJsonResult result = client.putSchemaFromJson(new PutSchemaFromJsonRequest()
The following code example takes the schema that is currently in the Development state and publishes the schema, changing its state to Published.
String SCHEMA_VERSION = "1";
String publishedSchemaArn = client.publishSchema(
// Our Published schema ARN is as follows
The following code example creates a directory named SeattleDirectory and applies the published schema. The createDirectory API call creates a directory by using the published schema provided in the API parameters. Note that Cloud Directory stores a version of the schema in the directory in the Applied state. I will use similar code to create directories for PortlandDirectory and SanFranciscoDirectory.
String DIRECTORY_NAME = "SeattleDirectory";
CreateDirectoryResult directory = client.createDirectory(
String directoryArn = directory.getDirectoryArn();
String appliedSchemaArn = directory.getAppliedSchemaArn();
// This code section can be reused to create directories for Portland and San Francisco locations with the appropriate directory names
// Our directory ARN is as follows
// Our applied schema ARN is as follows
Revising a schema
Now let’s say my company, AnyCompany, wants to add more information for computers and to track which employees have been assigned a computer for work use. I modify the schema to add two attributes to the ComputerInfo facet: Description and OSVersion (operating system version). I make Description optional because it is not important for me to track this attribute for the computer objects I create. I make OSVersion mandatory because it is critical for me to track it for all computer objects so that I can make changes such as applying security patches or making upgrades. Because I make OSVersion mandatory, I must provide a default value that Cloud Directory will apply to objects that were created before the schema revision, in order to handle backward compatibility. Note that you can replace the value in any object with a different value.
I also add a new facet to track computer assignment information, shown in the following updated schema as the ComputerAssignment facet. This facet tracks these additional attributes: Name (the name of the person to whom the computer is assigned), EMail (the email address of the assignee), Department, and department CostCenter. Note that Cloud Directory refers to the previously available version identifier as the Major Version. Because I can now add a minor version to a schema, I also denote the changed schema as Minor Version A.
The following diagram shows the changes that were made when I added another facet to the schema and attributes to the existing facet. The highlighted area of the diagram (bottom left) shows that the schema changes were published.
The following code example revises the existing Development schema by adding the new attributes to the ComputerInfo facet and by adding the ComputerAssignment facet. I use a new JSON file for the schema revision, and for the purposes of this example, I am assuming the JSON file has the full schema including planned revisions.
// The utility method to get a valid CloudDirectory schema JSON
String schemaJson = getJsonFile("ComputerSchema_version_1_A.json")
// Put the schema document in the Development schema
PutSchemaFromJsonResult result = client.putSchemaFromJson(
Upgrading the Published schema
The following code example performs an in-place schema upgrade of the Published schema with schema revisions (it adds new attributes to the existing facet and another facet to the schema). The upgradePublishedSchema API upgrades the Published schema with backward-compatible changes from the Development schema.
// From an earlier code example, I know the publishedSchemaArn has this value: "arn:aws:clouddirectory:us-west-2:XXXXXXXXXXXX:schema/published/ComputerSchema/1"
// Upgrade publishedSchemaArn to minorVersion A. The Development schema must be backward compatible with
// the existing publishedSchemaArn.
String minorVersion = "A"
UpgradePublishedSchemaResult upgradePublishedSchemaResult = client.upgradePublishedSchema(new UpgradePublishedSchemaRequest()
String upgradedPublishedSchemaArn = upgradePublishedSchemaResult.getUpgradedSchemaArn();
// The Published schema ARN after the upgrade shows a minor version as follows
Upgrading the Applied schema
The following diagram shows the in-place schema upgrade for the SeattleDirectory directory. I am performing the schema upgrade so that I can reflect the new schemas in all three directories. As a reminder, I added new attributes to the ComputerInfo facet and also added the ComputerAssignment facet. After the schema and directory upgrade, I can create objects for the ComputerInfo and ComputerAssignment facets in the SeattleDirectory. Any objects that were created with the old facet definition for ComputerInfo will now use the default values for any additional attributes defined in the new schema.
I use the following code example to perform an in-place upgrade of the SeattleDirectory to a Major Version of 1 and a Minor Version of A. Note that you should change a Major Version identifier in a schema to make backward-incompatible changes such as changing the data type of an existing attribute or dropping a mandatory attribute from your schema. Backward-incompatible changes require directory data migration from a previous version to the new version. You should change a Minor Version identifier in a schema to make backward-compatible upgrades such as adding additional attributes or adding facets, which in turn may contain one or more attributes. The upgradeAppliedSchema API lets me upgrade an existing directory with a different version of a schema.
// This upgrades ComputerSchema version 1 of the Applied schema in SeattleDirectory to Major Version 1 and Minor Version A
// The schema must be backward compatible or the API will fail with IncompatibleSchemaException
UpgradeAppliedSchemaResult upgradeAppliedSchemaResult = client.upgradeAppliedSchema(new UpgradeAppliedSchemaRequest()
String upgradedAppliedSchemaArn = upgradeAppliedSchemaResult.getUpgradedSchemaArn();
// The Applied schema ARN after the in-place schema upgrade will appear as follows
// This code section can be reused to upgrade directories for the Portland and San Francisco locations with the appropriate directory ARN
Note: Cloud Directory has excluded returning the Minor Version identifier in the Applied schema ARN for backward compatibility and to enable the application to work across older and newer versions of the directory.
The following diagram shows the changes that are made when I perform an in-place schema upgrade in the two remaining directories, PortlandDirectory and SanFranciscoDirectory. I make these calls sequentially, upgrading PortlandDirectory first and then upgrading SanFranciscoDirectory. I use the same code example that I used earlier to upgrade SeattleDirectory. Now, all my directories are running the most current version of the schema. Also, I made these schema changes without having to migrate data and while maintaining my application’s high availability.
Schema revision history
I can now view the schema revision history for any of AnyCompany’s directories by using the listAppliedSchemaArns API. Cloud Directory maintains the five most recent versions of applied schema changes. Similarly, to inspect the current Minor Version that was applied to my schema, I use the getAppliedSchemaVersion API. The listAppliedSchemaArns API returns the schema ARNs based on my schema filter as defined in withSchemaArn.
I use the following code example to query an Applied schema for its version history.
// This returns the five most recent Minor Versions associated with a Major Version
ListAppliedSchemaArnsResult listAppliedSchemaArnsResult = client.listAppliedSchemaArns(new ListAppliedSchemaArnsRequest()
// Note: The listAppliedSchemaArns API without the SchemaArn filter returns all the Major Versions in a directory
The listAppliedSchemaArns API returns the two ARNs as shown in the following output.
The following code example queries an Applied schema for current Minor Version by using the getAppliedSchemaVersion API.
// This returns the current Applied schema's Minor Version ARN
GetAppliedSchemaVersion getAppliedSchemaVersionResult = client.getAppliedSchemaVersion(new GetAppliedSchemaVersionRequest()
The getAppliedSchemaVersion API returns the current Applied schema ARN with a Minor Version, as shown in the following output.
If you have a lot of directories, schema revision API calls can help you audit your directory fleet and ensure that all directories are running the same version of a schema. Such auditing can help you ensure high integrity of directories across your fleet.
You can use in-place schema upgrades to make changes to your directory schema as you evolve your data set to match the needs of your application. An in-place schema upgrade allows you to maintain high availability for your directory and applications while the upgrade takes place. For more information about in-place schema upgrades, see the in-place schema upgrade documentation.
If you have comments about this blog post, submit them in the “Comments” section below. If you have questions about implementing the solution in this post, start a new thread in the Directory Service forum or contact AWS Support.
ClearCare – helping home care agencies operate efficiently and grow their business.
DNAnexus – providing a cloud-based global network for sharing and managing genomic data.
ClearCare (San Francisco, CA)
ClearCare envisions a future where home care is the only choice for aging in place. Home care agencies play a critical role in the economy and their communities by significantly lowering the overall cost of care, reducing the number of hospital admissions, and bending the cost curve of aging. Patients receiving home care typically have multiple chronic conditions and functional limitations, driving over $190 billion in healthcare spending in the U.S. each year. To offset these costs, health insurance payers are developing in-home care management programs for patients. ClearCare’s goal is to help home care agencies leverage technology to improve costs, outcomes, and quality of life for the aging population. The company’s powerful software platform is specifically designed for use by non-medical, in-home care agencies to manage their businesses.
Founder and CEO Geoff Nudd created ClearCare because of his own grandmother’s need for care. Keeping family members and caregivers up to date on a loved one’s well being can be difficult, so Geoff created what is now ClearCare’s Family Room, which enables caregivers and agency staff to check schedules and receive real-time updates about what’s happening in the home. Since then, agencies have provided feedback on others areas of their businesses that could be streamlined. ClearCare has now built over 20 modules to help home care agencies optimize operations with services including a telephony service, billing and payroll, and more. ClearCare now serves over 4,000 home care agencies, representing 500,000 caregivers and 400,000 seniors.
Using AWS, ClearCare is able to spin up reliable infrastructure for proofs of concept and iterate on those systems to quickly get value to market. The company runs many AWS services including Amazon Elasticsearch Service, Amazon RDS, and Amazon CloudFront. Amazon EMR and Amazon Athena have enabled ClearCare to build a Hadoop-based ETL and data warehousing system that processes terabytes of data each day. By utilizing these managed services, ClearCare has been able to go from concept to customer delivery in less than three months.
DNAnexus is accelerating the application of genomic data in precision medicine by providing a cloud-based platform for sharing and managing genomic and biomedical data and analysis tools. The company was founded in 2009 by Stanford graduate student Andreas Sundquist and two Stanford professors Arend Sidow and Serafim Batzoglou, to address the need for scaling secondary analysis of next-generation sequencing (NGS) data in the cloud. The founders quickly learned that users needed a flexible solution to build complex analysis workflows and tools that enable them to share and manage large volumes of data. DNAnexus is optimized to address the challenges of security, scalability, and collaboration for organizations that are pursuing genomic-based approaches to health, both in clinics and research labs. DNAnexus has a global customer base – spanning North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, South America, and Africa – that runs a million jobs each month and is doubling their storage year-over-year. The company currently stores more than 10 petabytes of biomedical and genomic data. That is equivalent to approximately 100,000 genomes, or in simpler terms, over 50 billion Facebook photos!
DNAnexus is working with its customers to help expand their translational informatics research, which includes expanding into clinical trial genomic services. This will help companies developing different medicines to better stratify clinical trial populations and develop companion tests that enable the right patient to get the right medicine. In collaboration with Janssen Human Microbiome Institute, DNAnexus is also launching Mosaic – a community platform for microbiome research.
AWS provides DNAnexus and its customers the flexibility to grow and scale research programs. Building the technology infrastructure required to manage these projects in-house is expensive and time-consuming. DNAnexus removes that barrier for labs of any size by using AWS scalable cloud resources. The company deploys its customers’ genomic pipelines on Amazon EC2, using Amazon S3 for high-performance, high-durability storage, and Amazon Glacier for low-cost data archiving. DNAnexus is also an AWS Life Sciences Competency Partner.
Join us in San Francisco at the AWS Pop-up Loft for AWS IAM Day on Monday,October 9, from 9:30 A.M.–4:15 P.M. Pacific Time. At this free technical event, you will learn AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) concepts from IAM product managers, as well as tools and strategies you can use for controlling access to your AWS environment, such as the IAM policy language and IAM best practices. You also will take an IAM policy ninja dive deep into permissions and how to use IAM roles to delegate access to your AWS resources. Last, you will learn how to integrate Active Directory with AWS workloads.
You can attend one session or stay for the full day.
Learn more about the available sessions and register!
This is the fifth article in a short series about Poland, Europe, and the United States. To explore the entire series, start here.
Perhaps not surprisingly, my previous blog post sparked several interesting discussions with my Polish friends who took a more decisive view of the social costs of firearm ownership, or who saw the Second Amendment as a barbaric construct with no place in today’s world. Their opinions reminded me of my own attitude some ten years ago; in this brief follow-up, I wanted to share several data points that convinced me to take a more measured stance.
Let’s start with the basics: most estimates place the number of guns in the United States at 300 to 350 million – that’s roughly one firearm per every single resident. In Gallup polls, some 40-50% of all households report having a gun, frequently more than one. The demographics of firearm ownership are more uniform than stereotypes may imply; there is some variance across regions, political affiliations, and genders – but for most part, it tends to fall within fairly narrow bands.
An overwhelming majority of gun owners cite personal safety as the leading motive for purchasing a firearm; hunting and recreation activities come strong second. The defensive aspect of firearm ownership is of special note, because it can potentially provide a very compelling argument for protecting the right to bear arms even if it’s a socially unwelcome practice, or if it comes at an elevated cost to the nation as a whole.
The self-defense argument is sometimes dismissed as pure fantasy, with many eminent pundits citing one questionable statistic to support this view: the fairly low number of justifiable homicides in the country. Despite its strong appeal to ideologues, the metric does not stand up to scrutiny: all available data implies that most encounters where a gun is pulled by a would-be victim will not end with the assailant getting killed; it’s overwhelmingly more likely that the bad guy would hastily retreat, be detained at gunpoint, or suffer non-fatal injuries. In fact, even in the unlikely case that a firearm is actually discharged with the intent to kill or maim, somewhere around 70-80% of victims survive.
In reality, we have no single, elegant, and reliable source of data about the frequency with which firearms are used to deter threats; the results of scientific polls probably offer the most comprehensive view, but are open to interpretation and their results vary significantly depending on sampling methods and questions asked. That said, a recent meta-analysis from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided some general bounds:
“Defensive use of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence, although the exact number remains disputed (Cook and Ludwig, 1996; Kleck, 2001a). Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million.”
“A different issue is whether defensive uses of guns, however numerous or rare they may be, are effective in preventing injury to the gun-wielding crime victim. Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was “used” by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies.”
An argument can be made that the availability of firearms translates to higher rates of violent crime, thus elevating the likelihood of encounters where a defensive firearm would be useful – feeding into an endless cycle of escalating violence. That said, such an effect does not seem to be particularly evident. For example, the United States comes out reasonably well in statistics related to assault, rape, and robbery; on these fronts, America looks less violent than the UK or a bunch of other OECD countries with low firearm ownership rates.
But there is an exception: one area where the United States clearly falls behind other highly developed nations are homicides. The per-capita figures are almost three times as high as in much of the European Union. And indeed, the bulk of intentional homicides – some 11 thousand deaths a year – trace back to firearms.
We tend to instinctively draw a connection to guns, but the origins of this tragic situation may be more elusive than they appear. For one, non-gun-related homicides happen in the US at a higher rate than in many other countries, too; Americans just seem to be generally more keen on killing each other than people in places such as Europe, Australia, or Canada. In addition, no convincing pattern emerges when comparing overall homicide rates across states with permissive and restrictive gun ownership laws. Some of the lowest per-capita homicide figures can be found in extremely gun-friendly states such as Idaho, Utah, or Vermont; whereas highly-regulated Washington D.C., Maryland, Illinois, and California all rank pretty high. There is, however, fairly strong correlation between gun and non-gun homicide rates across the country – suggesting that common factors such as population density, urban poverty, and drug-related gang activities play a far more significant role in violent crime than the ease of legally acquiring a firearm. It’s tragic but worth noting that a strikingly disproportionate percentage of homicides involves both victims and perpetrators that belong to socially disadvantaged and impoverished minorities. Another striking pattern is that up to about a half of all gun murders are related to or committed under the influence of illicit drugs.
Now, international comparisons show general correlation between gun ownership and some types of crime, but it’s difficult to draw solid conclusions from that: there are countless other ways to explain why crime rates may be low in the wealthy European states, and high in Venezuela, Mexico, Honduras, or South Africa; compensating for these factors is theoretically possible, but requires making far-fetched assumptions that are hopelessly vulnerable to researcher bias. Comparing European countries is easier, but yields inconclusive results: gun ownership in Poland is almost twenty times lower than in neighboring Germany and ten times lower than in Czech Republic – but you certainly wouldn’t able to tell that from national crime stats.
When it comes to gun control, one CDC study on the topic concluded with:
“The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes.”
This does not imply that such approaches are necessarily ineffective; for example, it seems pretty reasonable to assume that well-designed background checks or modest waiting periods do save lives. Similarly, safe storage requirements would likely prevent dozens of child deaths every year, at the cost of rendering firearms less available for home defense. But for the hundreds of sometimes far-fetched gun control proposals introduced every year on federal and state level, emotions often take place of real data, poisoning the debate around gun laws and ultimately bringing little or no public benefit. The heated assault weapon debate is one such red herring: although modern semi-automatic rifles look sinister, they are far more common in movies than on the streets; in reality, all kinds of rifles account only for somewhere around 4% of firearm homicides, and AR-15s are only a tiny fraction of that – likely claiming about as many lives as hammers, ladders, or swimming pools. The efforts to close the “gun show loophole” seem fairly sensible at the surface, too, but are of similarly uncertain merit; instead of gun shows, criminals depend on friends, family, and on more than 200,000 guns that stolen from their rightful owners every year. When breaking into a random home yields a 40-50% chance of scoring a firearm, it’s not hard to see why.
Another oddball example of simplistic legislative zeal are the attempts to mandate costly gun owner liability insurance, based on drawing an impassioned but flawed parallel between firearms and cars; what undermines this argument is that car accidents are commonplace, while gun handling mishaps – especially ones that injure others – are rare. We also have proposals to institute $100 ammunition purchase permits, to prohibit ammo sales over the Internet, or to impose a hefty per-bullet tax. Many critics feel that such laws seem to be geared not toward addressing any specific dangers, but toward making firearms more expensive and burdensome to own – slowly eroding the constitutional rights of the less wealthy folks. They also see hypocrisy in the common practice of making retired police officers and many high-ranking government officials exempt from said laws.
Regardless of individual merits of the regulations, it’s certainly true that with countless pieces of sometimes obtuse and poorly-written federal, state, and municipal statutes introduced every year, it’s increasingly easy for people to unintentionally run afoul of the rules. In California, the law as written today implies that any legal permanent resident in good standing can own a gun, but that only US citizens can transport it by car. Given that Californians are also generally barred from carrying firearms on foot in many populated areas, non-citizen residents are seemingly expected to teleport between the gun store, their home, and the shooting range. With many laws hastily drafted in the days after mass shootings and other tragedies, such gems are commonplace. The federal Gun-Free School Zones Act imposes special restrictions on gun ownership within 1,000 feet of a school and slaps harsh penalties for as little carrying it in an unlocked container from one’s home to a car parked in the driveway. In many urban areas, a lot of people either live within such a school zone or can’t conceivably avoid it when going about their business; GFSZA violations are almost certainly common and are policed only selectively.
Meanwhile, with sharp declines in crime continuing for the past 20 years, the public opinion is increasingly in favor of broad, reasonably policed gun ownership; for example, more than 70% respondents to one Gallup poll are against the restrictive handgun bans of the sort attempted in Chicago, San Francisco, or Washington D.C.; and in a recent Rasmussen poll, only 22% say that they would feel safer in a neighborhood where people are not allowed to keep guns. In fact, responding to the media’s undue obsession with random of acts of violence against law-abiding citizens, and worried about the historically very anti-gun views of the sitting president, Americans are buying a lot more firearms than ever before. Even the National Rifle Association – a staunchly conservative organization vilified by gun control advocates and mainstream pundits – enjoys a pretty reasonable approval rating across many demographics: 58% overall and 78% in households with a gun.
And here’s the kicker: despite its reputation for being a political arm of firearm manufacturers, the NRA is funded largely through individual memberships, small-scale donations, and purchase round-ups; organizational donations add up to about 5% of their budget – and if you throw in advertising income, the total still stays under 15%. That makes it quite unlike most of the other large-scale lobbying groups that Democrats aren’t as keen on naming-and-shaming on the campaign trail. The NRA’s financial muscle is also frequently overstated; it doesn’t even make it onto the list of top 100 lobbyists in Washington – and gun control advocacy groups, backed by activist billionaires such as Michael Bloomberg, now frequently outspend the pro-gun crowd. Of course, it would be better for the association’s socially conservative and unnecessarily polarizing rhetoric – sometimes veering onto the topics of abortion or video games – to be offset by the voice of other, more liberal groups. But ironically, organizations such as American Civil Liberties Union – well-known for fearlessly defending controversial speech – prefer to avoid the Second Amendment; they do so not because the latter concept has lesser constitutional standing, but because supporting it would not sit well with their own, progressive support base.
America’s attitude toward guns is a choice, not a necessity. It is also true that gun violence is a devastating problem; and that the emotional horror and lasting social impact of incidents such as school shootings can’t be possibly captured in any cold, dry statistic alone. But there is also nuance and reason to the gun control debate that can be hard to see for newcomers from more firearm-averse parts of the world.
For the next article in the series, click here. Alternatively, if you prefer to keep reading about firearms, go here for an overview of the gun control debate in the US.
The collective thoughts of the interwebz
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