Top Chinese think tank: China will fare worse than US from a tech decoupling – Protocol

A top Chinese think tank found that China might fare worse than the US from a tech decoupling.
“Both the U.S. and China will lose from ‘decoupling,’” the researchers wrote. “And at this point, it looks like China’s loss may be greater.”
China and the United States are in a race to develop the newest, hottest technologies of the 21st century as a technological decoupling looms. But the effects won’t be felt equally — according to a new report from one of China’s most prestigious think tanks, a full-blown tech decoupling will be even worse for China in the end.
The Peking University Institute of International and Strategic Studies (IISS) published its findings just days before the new year — China’s biggest holiday — and the beginning of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. The introspective report clashed with the festive vibes spreading across the country, as it concluded China will come out worse than the U.S. as tech competitions continue to escalate between the two nations.
“Both the U.S. and China will lose from ‘decoupling,’” the researchers wrote. “And at this point, it looks like China’s loss may be greater.”
The report was pulled from the internet within a few days of its publication, but by then, the text of the piece, titled, “U.S.-China Strategic Competition in Technology,” had already circulated widely on the Chinese internet. The IISS didn’t respond to Protocol’s request for comment.

The analysis assessed China’s technological competitiveness and weaknesses relative to the U.S. in three key areas where both countries are competing to see who will lead in the future: information technology, artificial intelligence and aerospace.
The researchers claimed that although China has made huge progress in catching up with cutting-edge technologies, and has even gained a leading edge in certain areas, its tech innovation still lags behind the U.S. in many fields.
“In the future, China may narrow the technological gap with the U.S. and achieve ‘autonomous control’ in some key sectors,” the report reads. “But China faces a long uphill battle surpassing the U.S. in tech.” The report was signed off by Wang Jisi, the head of IISS and a bigwig in international relations, according to an archived copy of the report obtained by Protocol.
The introspective assessment about China’s technological gap with the U.S. stands in stark contrast to the indisputably bullish messaging nationalist media and social media influencers have adopted in the past few years. And the conclusions are similar to those that U.S.-based researchers have drawn.
“I do think there is a small group of cool-headed Chinese scholars who take a realistic view on these critical issues, and some of them have direct communication channels to top leaders,” Xiaomeng Lu, director of Geo-technology at Eurasia Group, told Protocol. ”But their perspective is not necessarily in line with the political message tailored for the broader audience – which is more nationalistic and has a ‘feel good’ twist to it.”
IISS researchers acknowledged that China faces a critical shortage of talent to make integrated circuits, operating systems and industrial software. “In recent years, although Chinese firms have made breakthroughs in important and wide-ranging areas such as [making] 5G communication technology standards,” the report says, “their voices are limited when it comes to setting international technology and product standards in memory chips and automotive-grade chips.”

IISS researchers said U.S. sanctions of Chinese telecommunications firms such as Huawei particularly have hurt China’s information technology sector. Business exchanges between Chinese companies not under sanction and the U.S. and other countries have also been hampered. “In contrast,” the report adds, “the direct impact of ‘technology decoupling’ on the U.S. IT industry is not yet evident at this stage.”
China and the United States are “far ahead of” other countries in AI, according to the report. “The U.S. leads in computing power and algorithms, while China’s strength lies in big data,” the authors write. China has a comparable number of AI papers being published and cited, “But the U.S. has a clear advantage in original, groundbreaking research.”
Again, the authors find, China grapples with a lack of talent. Only 10% of the Chinese nationals who studied AI in the U.S. returned to work in China, according to the report, and the field so far hasn’t seen a clear trend of Chinese scientists returning from the U.S. due to worsening U.S.-China relations. That said, there’s an upside: While the overall exchange of scientific and technological talents between the U.S. and China has lost momentum in recent years, the AI academic community in the two countries remains open in sharing research results.
The U.S. is “the absolute leader” in space transportation, human spaceflight, satellite navigation and communications and deep space exploration, the Chinese researchers asserted. China, with an independent technology and equipment system, ranks in a second tier along with Europe and Russia.
“In space technology and military aviation, China has been able to independently develop a large and comprehensive technology system under conditions of near ‘technological decoupling’ from the U.S,” IISS researchers said. “However, in the civil aviation industry, which relies on market players and obeys commercial logic, China’s disadvantage is obvious.”
IISS researchers suggested that to approach the so-called “tech war” with the U.S., China should encourage academic exchanges and international collaborations, continue to invest in R&D and build a solid talent pipeline for future innovation. “We should keep the gap in the lagging areas from being further widened, or narrow it as much as possible, and fight for dominant positions in the competitive emerging technologies,” the researchers wrote.

U.S.-based researchers studying U.S.-China tech tensions broadly agree with their Chinese peers’ conclusions. Matt Sheehan, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Emily Weinstein, an analyst at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, both seconded Chinese researchers’ concern about China’s lack of talent in key tech sectors. But it’s hard to come up with an overriding take on which country would hurt more from a tech decoupling, at least on the talent front.
“15 years ago, it was very clear. Nobody was worried about Chinese technology,” Sheehan told Protocol. “[A tech decoupling] would have hurt a lot of things, but it would have hurt China most. Today, I think it’s very unclear, and it really depends on the industry.”
Lu, the Eurasia Group analyst, said the IISS piece is “one of the most comprehensive and meaty reports” she’s read about U.S.-China competition in AI and other critical technologies. The assessment of China’s AI research and talent lines up with what she’s heard from the AI community stateside, she told Protocol. “U.S. scientists created many open-source AI algorithms that their Chinese counterparts heavily rely on to build advanced applications,” Lu said. “Despite recent U.S. regulatory focus on AI, from the now-blocked TikTok ban to ongoing debate around putting more export control restrictions on AI, these fundamental technical architectures have remained open to Chinese developers.”
Lu also agrees with the Chinese researchers’ sober observation that though China has increasingly taken a forward-leaning posture on technology diplomacy, the lack of cross-agency coordination “points to Beijing’s uneven participation at international organizations and inconsistent messaging to outside stakeholders.”
As to why the IISS piece was removed only days after its publication, without an answer from IISS, one can only speculate.
“China is not afraid of admitting weakness publicly,” Weinstein told Protocol. “In this case, I would speculate that the piece was likely pulled out of concern that it would be weaponized against China, at least in terms of messaging … The Chinese government is likely very eager to keep up its image, particularly in the context of technology competition.”

Shen Lu covers China’s tech industry.
The company has grown as a middleman, not aiming to compete with merchants or banks, while adding more and more services for retailers.
Adyen is a middleman and doesn’t offer a branded payments service itself or build relationships directly with end customers, which is key for large merchants that want to control that relationship.
Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]
Payments company Adyen is growing amid the latest phase of the pandemic, avoiding some of the pandemic-related problems that have hit its competitors.
PayPal revealed it had missed earnings expectations last month and said it was pulling back its plan for growth in users and focusing on more active, higher-spending users and blamed inflation, supply chain issues and the pandemic for curbing shopping.
Adyen, meanwhile, has continued to grow, posting $342.7 billion in payment volume and $646 million in net revenue in the second half of 2021, which was up 72% and 47% year-over-year, respectively. Excluding interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, it earned $408 million for the period, up 51%. It lists customers such as eBay, Uber, Spotify and Etsy. Shares jumped 10% Wednesday on the news.
The company, which went public in 2018, has seen its shares fall this year in the tech downdraft, and is still smaller than rival PayPal, which has a market cap of around $143 billion. But Adyen’s market cap is now $69 billion, larger than Block at $64.5 billion. Stripe was last valued in private markets at close to $100 billion.

Because it handles a broad range of in-store, self-serve checkout, curbside and online payment options, Adyen could weather the pandemic and changes coming out of the pandemic, said Pieter van der Does, chief executive of Adyen.
“The strength that [merchants] know us for is that we are helping them to sell in all channels. Often they take us for point-of-sale and think it’s only in years that they’re going to do online — and now with COVID that’s quicker,” he said. “But the ultimate promise is that we will help them whatever comes their way.”
During the pandemic, many Adyen clients quickly moved to online or contactless curbside options — even luxury merchants who would have previously turned up their noses at such sales methods. Adyen sold new services for many existing customers while also adding new customers. (More than 80% of growth came from existing merchants and churn based on volume was less than 1%.) As a result, it wasn’t as affected by changes or drops in revenue volume of its merchants, van der Does said.
“We just get more share of the wallet,” he said. “If a merchant starts with us for one brand, and they like it, they roll it out over multiple brands or regions.” McDonald’s, for example, started in 2019 with Adyen for mobile payments in the U.K. and later expanded elsewhere.
Adyen’s take rate on transactions has declined as it has grown and added large clients, and its average transaction value has grown, the company acknowledged.
The company also has grown by expanding outside of Europe, with 40% of net revenue outside of EMEA for the first time. North America net revenues grew 74% in 2021, faster than the company overall.
Adyen also got a banking license in the U.S. last June, which has made it easier to operate and enables things like faster payouts, van der Does said.

While some of its rivals have grown through acquisitions — look at PayPal’s acquisitions of Braintree, iZettle and Paidy, or Block’s recent Afterpay deal — Adyen, founded in 2006, generally prefers not to acquire companies and believes building its own technology to meet the needs of clients provides the best products, while avoiding costly and distracting integration issues, he said.
Another key difference: Adyen is a middleman and doesn’t offer a branded payments service itself or build relationships directly with end customers, which is key for large merchants that want to control that relationship, van der Does said.
Adyen plugs into many “buy now, pay later” providers, but doesn’t provide that service itself. But it looks to offer new payment methods as soon as they’re available, he said, citing Brazil’s Pix, a new electronic payments system.
Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]
Sandra Colner, CCRA is Head of the Lab & Life Sciences Vertical at Intel Corporation. In this role, Sandra leads a team of technology and subject matter experts that focus on digital transformation from edge-to-cloud in order to make precision, value-based care a reality. She works to design and build laboratory instruments and compute appliances that deliver innovative technology the pharma/biopharma, life science, genomics, environmental and life science industries. With over 20 years of industry experience, Sandra brings deep clinical, healthcare, clinical research and pharma development experience. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Health Science from Pepperdine University and is an ACRP Certified Clinical Research Associate.
The biopharma manufacturing industry has seen incredible growth in just the past couple years, with the pandemic spotlighting a need for the industry to move quickly and effectively to bring new drugs, vaccines and therapeutics safely to market. The result has been a drastic increase in the pace of innovation, largely driven by the ability to use technology and collaborate at global scale, turning a process that would typically take nine years into just nine months.
As we move into a world after COVID-19, the biopharma industry must understand how to maintain this pace of innovation without forfeiting precision or quality. Smart manufacturing — otherwise known as Industry 4.0 — converges IoT, software-defined infrastructure, advanced analytics and AI to create more flexible and interoperable digital manufacturing platforms. Infusing traditional manufacturing with better decision-making and analytics to be done at the edge will be key to propelling the industry forward.

For biopharma, the two biggest pain points are maintaining product consistency and optimizing yield as batches are typically produced in thousands at a time. If there is a loss in integrity in the product at any stage of its production, that could mean the entire batch would need to be destroyed. That’s why it’s critical to be able to measure and monitor processes and parameters using certain instrumentation to extract insights, which requires significant computing power — this is where IoT and edge computing come into play.
As manufacturers embrace digital transformation, sensors are being used at almost every touch point across the production line to generate a wealth of data and valuable insights, especially if analyzed in real time. This data needs to be processed where it is being collected — at the edge — on the plant floor at machine level to enable operators to extract quick insight into what’s happening so they can make the necessary adjustments. Edge analytics in biopharma can provide real-time insights to help identify potential issues on the manufacturing line. Actioning quickly to resolve these issues can mean the difference between losing a whole batch of product, such as vaccines, versus fixing the issue and continuing production.
The biopharma manufacturing industry is moving toward more-personalized medicine, which has the potential to treat a wide range of chronic conditions or potentially reprogram the ways our bodies fight disease, aiding in treating diseases that have been previously untreatable and ultimately save lives.
In this patient-centric future, medical professionals would be able to prescribe treatments that match an individuals’ unique pathology. However, producing personalized medicine creates complex manufacturing challenges related to decreased batch size and rising costs. We’re in the early days of understanding how to shift away from a one-size-fits-all approach, but what’s clear is that the traditional approach to manufacturing will not suffice. A supply chain that uses machine learning and AI to learn and adapt could be one way for biopharma to use data to improve manufacturing and the distribution of a product. And perhaps biopharma can learn something from the consumer industry, which is already well on its way to producing individualized goods.

With the increasing use of AI, modern clinical, pharma, agriculture and research labs will be able to operate with greater speed and effectiveness by using data in new ways and applying sophisticated analytics. Pathologists, for example, may use AI systems in combination with their expertise to expand access to care, while pharma research scientists may use AI to suggest new drug targets and candidates from complex computer simulations.
Intel technologies for data analytics, automation and virtualized deployment of applications are helping chart a path for the future by improving workflow and efficiency. In addition, Intel technologies are supporting connecting globally distributed labs to improve collaboration and accelerate results.
With these technologies as the foundation, we may one day see R&D labs being able to leverage increased automation with cloud computing while operating on a globally distributed platform. This would also lead to more opportunities to use advanced AI to both analyze the data and modify experiments in real time. Such a future could free up time for researchers to run experiments at massive scale, or collaborate more closely with other researchers, which could in turn advance the pace of scientific discovery.
New process control technologies and improved operational efficiencies will deliver the necessary quality, precision and cost-effectiveness to move next-gen therapeutics forward. This can only be achieved if the industry embraces the shift to smart manufacturing, particularly with the use of IoT and edge applications.
As the pandemic has made clear, almost every industry and human depends on the success of biopharma to keep communities safe and healthy. Smart manufacturing, driven by IoT and edge innovations, provides the industry an opportunity for a simplified, protected and autonomous way to lower costs, increase efficiency and enable greater access to treatments, while maintaining the necessary precision and quality.
Sandra Colner, CCRA is Head of the Lab & Life Sciences Vertical at Intel Corporation. In this role, Sandra leads a team of technology and subject matter experts that focus on digital transformation from edge-to-cloud in order to make precision, value-based care a reality. She works to design and build laboratory instruments and compute appliances that deliver innovative technology the pharma/biopharma, life science, genomics, environmental and life science industries. With over 20 years of industry experience, Sandra brings deep clinical, healthcare, clinical research and pharma development experience. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Health Science from Pepperdine University and is an ACRP Certified Clinical Research Associate.
More tech recruiters are seeing “pandemic parenting gaps” on resumes as people reenter the workforce.
There’s now more respect and support for people reentering the workplace.
Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.
We’ve coined a lot of new terms and phrases over the past two years of working through a pandemic. The latest to add to the list: “pandemic parenting gaps.” Recruiters are beginning to see a new type of career gap on resumes as people return to the workplace following stints of caretaking.
LinkedIn has even added new job title entries for people to denote parenting-related career gaps. Last year, to better reflect their members’ career journeys, LinkedIn introduced “stay-at-home mom,” “stay-at-home dad” and “stay-at-home parent” as official titles. It was done to recognize the challenge of full-time parenting, said Suzi Owens, LinkedIn’s director of Communications, in a statement to Protocol.
A 2021 LinkedIn survey of over 2,000 respondents revealed that the stigma surrounding career gaps is fading:
Allison Rutledge-Parisi, senior vice president of People at Justworks, also said she’s seen a shifting view toward career gaps. “I sense in the atmosphere a change from the days earlier in my career. If you see a gap on a resume, it’s no longer a red flag at all. It’s an area of inquiry,” she said. “But the inquiry is not assessing if it’s OK or not. The inquiry is more like, ‘Wow, what did you do?’”

There’s now more respect and support for people reentering the workplace. COVID-19 was the “great leveler” because everyone’s life was disrupted, said Rutledge-Parisi.
Eric Blumenthal, a father of two, was laid off from his IT job in September 2019, after a reorganization at his company. Blumenthal, who had been working in IT for 20 years, had planned to take some time off at the end of the year to spend with family, and then begin looking for jobs again in 2020. Then, the pandemic hit.
“My oldest at the time was in kindergarten, and by March they went fully remote. So basically any progress I had made looking for a job had to stop right there, because we had to have somebody home with them,” he said. “And then for my baby, he was supposed to go into a daycare once I found a job, but then I didn’t find a job, so he was at home with me full-time as well.”
By the time Blumenthal was able to dedicate himself to finding a job again, it was September 2021, and two years had flown by. He estimates that he sent out about 200 resumes by that November. When he reached out to one recruiter, he was told that gap might be seen as a challenge in IT.
“We were going over my resume, and he said to me, “You’re probably going to run into a major issue because of this two-year gap. Because in IT, the technology changes every day and you’ve been out of work for two years,’” he said.
During the pandemic, he struggled to balance parenting with keeping his tech skills up to date. For Blumenthal, being a stay-at-home parent felt like a full-time job. The job search entailed a couple months getting little to no bites at all on his resume. “It’s been tough for a lot of parents like me, they’re just not getting that fair shot,” he told Protocol.

But Blumenthal did eventually land a job. In January, he started a new role back in IT. He said when the hiring manager at his current company reached out, they weren’t looking at the gap. Instead, they asked more about what he knew rather than what had happened during the gap. For Blumenthal, it spoke volumes about the organization’s values and culture.
Some companies, recognizing that need for a shot, have launched training and reentry programs for people who have experienced career gaps. Meta’s legal group is launching the third iteration of its “Reconnect Program” for legal professionals who have had to pause their careers. While Meta partnered with The Mom Project for the program, the initiative is for anyone who has paused their career, whether that be to actas a caretaker, to pursue a lifelong passion or for any other reason. Meta’s director and associate general counsel, Nikki Stitt Sokol, said she’s seen candidates with pauses anywhere from two to 12 years.
People just want you to take a chance on them, Sokol told Protocol. She herself took a few years off to care for her children when they were younger. She said it had been an anxiety at the time, “of wanting to have quality time with my family, to take care of my family, but also feeling really passionately about my career. I was lucky enough that I ended up connecting with people who were in positions of power at firms who really understood this … and I was able to on-ramp back into my career.”
She pitched Meta’s Reconnect Program with that experience in mind. The 12-month program now offers participants a cohort for support as well as a sponsor within the organization to give them the best chance of succeeding back in the legal profession. Much like highly skilled tech roles, working within legal in tech is a rapidly changing space, causing some to easily feel left behind.

Claire Conneely, who is the talent acquisition lead at Argo Group, said she’s not concerned about whether people can catch up following a break in their careers. The insurance firm is currently hiring for a number of highly skilled tech roles. For her, it’s more about ensuring that job candidates have a desire to learn and are curious. While it is absolutely fair for a recruiter to ask about a career gap, she said she urges her team to focus more on finding the right skills and fit for the company.
“I think especially for those that took a step back, I think they’re almost more aware in terms of what it is that they want, not only for their next job, but I think what they want in terms of the intangibles from a career from a company,” said Conneely.
Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.
As productivity tools get more plentiful, using the right ones can make or break your company’s retention plan.
Someone rejecting a job based solely on its tech might make you scoff, but it can happen.
Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She’s a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school’s independent newspaper. She’s based in D.C., and can be reached at [email protected]
Alex Torres just couldn’t envision spending his entire work day in Microsoft Teams.
He was close to scoring a six-figure job at an enterprise software company. The workload seemed manageable, the people seemed smart. But the first round of interviews took place on Teams. Torres, a San Francisco-based writer with experience in the tech industry, likes to be delighted by his workplace tools. And Teams doesn’t spark joy. When the recruiter asked for his writing portfolio, he said no.
“I literally told the recruiter: ‘I’m sorry, using Microsoft Teams is not for me,’” Torres said. “I never thought I would be passionate about this. But I am.”
Rejecting a job based solely on its tech might make you scoff. Plenty of people made fun of a user on Blind who claimed they denied a job offer because the company used Outlook. Many of the people Protocol spoke with acknowledged that rejecting a job based on tools is a bit extreme. Even Torres admitted he might be an outlier.

But workers have a new kind of leverage in today’s job market, with intense demand for tech talent and companies’ fear of losing workers to the “Great Resignation.” Many of us spend our days online, beholden to the communication and collaboration tools that let us do our jobs remotely. Add this tool reliance to worker leverage, and it makes sense that candidates might steer clear of a company that forces them to use tools they hate.
“More than ever, a candidate has the choice to really customize their personal employment experience,” said Josh Drew, regional manager at recruiting firm Robert Half.
Despite the preponderance of new productivity tools, the world of work is still overwhelmingly binary. You’re either a Slack person or a Teams person. You like Outlook or you like Gmail. You stand by Zoom or BlueJeans (though fans of the latter are probably dwindling). Adobe Illustrator or Figma. The internet loves “this or that” debates, and workplace tools are no exception.
There are a million reasons you might like one tool over another. Maybe it has to do with familiarity; plenty of new products are daunting, and it’s easy to stick with what you know. It might depend on how your brain works. Sometimes people are genuinely more productive using a certain tool. But if two tools have essentially the same function, the reasoning might become a little less rational.
“With Microsoft Teams, it just feels like I’m doing work,” Torres said. “It has more of an old-school, IT-ish feel to it. I don’t have anything more to complain about it other than the fact that the vibes are off.”
“The vibes are off,” or as hiring platform Knac CEO Ariel Lopez said about receiving a Teams invitation, “something in my spirit is uneasy.” Most people don’t have the time to painstakingly compare tools side by side. Our tastes and choices often come from general instincts and impulses. It’s personal and, obviously, subjective. Some people might refuse traditional workplace tools in general, like freelance UX director Noah Conk. He says: To hell with Slack and Teams, let’s use Discord. Hence the need for a centralized, IT-sanctioned group of tools. A workplace where everyone uses a separate tool stack sounds hellish.

But the pandemic-driven explosion in workplace tools, particularly collaboration software, has given workers more freedom to act on their tool preferences. A 2021 Gartner survey showed a 44% rise in workers’ use of collaboration tools since 2019, and a 10% rise in use of tools obtained outside of IT. Understanding what candidates want in a collaboration tool is more important than ever.
“If you’re not using the most mainstream platforms, candidates can be put off — or at least, that’ll prompt them to dig in way more on tools and processes,” Medium’s head of People, Lauren Newton, told Protocol. She said offering the most “mainstream and popular” platforms at this point is “table stakes.”
Though we all have our own opinions, we can often come to a consensus on what’s popular. Inevitably, as tech companies grow older and bigger, their products accumulate baggage. Meanwhile, humans have short attention spans, and we like trying new and fun tech. This dynamic is apparent across all kinds of workplace tech, especially with an explosion in productivity startups (Figma, Notion, ClickUp). Slack versus Teams is just one example. Slack, though now a part of behemoth Salesforce, still benefits from its early hot-new-product branding. Microsoft, a longtime giant in workplace tools, is the elder in the room. As a 46-year-old company, Microsoft has plenty of baggage and products it needs to account for.
Even if tools are perceived as “uncool,” they can be ubiquitous in the workplace: Teams reported 270 million monthly active users in January. Workers may be increasingly choosing their own tools, but cost and IT convenience are still what mostly drive tool adoption. UX design expert Jared Spool works with Adobe, which he said recently made the leap to Microsoft workplace tools. “I don’t think anybody cares about the usability of Microsoft products for the end user,” Spool said. “So many companies use it, it’s got to be easy.” (Adobe didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Not all companies have the luxury of being able to try out new tools all the time. Updating your tech stack requires careful consideration and plenty of time, both of which can be hard to come by. In health care, for instance, “they have to be prioritizing patient care, and not, ‘How can I make my workflow surrounding patient care be as optimal as possible so that I have more time for patient care?’” said Katie Sagaser, who is currently an executive at biotech startup Juno Diagnostics and used to work in a major hospital system. She said she’s happier with her tool stack now, but acknowledged that in a hospital environment, employee-favored tools are a low priority.
But if companies do have the time and resources, particularly in tech or tech-adjacent industries, a popular tech stack might be the tipping point that clinches a job acceptance. Candidates might read into a company’s choice of tools and decide they know the company’s culture.
It’s difficult to know what a job is really like until you’re in it. Sussing out a company before you accept its offer, therefore, is crucial. Talking to current employees helps. But its tools might clue you in as well.
Spool believes that choosing a job based on the tools that the company uses is superficial. “It’s sort of like refusing to date someone because of the shoes they wear,” he said. But in certain instances, Spool can see why someone would place more weight on a tool stack. If the company won’t let you use a tool you like for no clear reason, for example.
“It communicates a set of values that that organization has, which is they don’t care about the efficiency or effectiveness of the people who are trying to get their work done,” Spool said.
Staying attuned to employee tool inclinations is a must in the context of employee retention. Conk said companies shouldn’t solely consider price when evaluating workplace tools. “If people are happier using another program, and it costs a little bit more than investing in your employees that way, it becomes a strategic thing for the company to help retain their employees,” Conk said.

Colin Day, a creative director at Microsoft Teams, maintains that employee tool preferences are ultimately more about the people who use them than the design of the tool itself. “There’s an emotional bond that’s created when a person has used a collaboration tool in their previous workplace,” he said. But “the emotional bond, interestingly, is more strong between people themselves.” He said if recruiters face pushback on a certain collaboration tool, they should emphasize it’s merely a space or “architecture” for employees to work in.
“You might not like the architecture, but is that going to be a deal-killer?” he asked.
For people like Torres, it might. For others, salary, flexibility or DEI efforts are the more important considerations. One thing is for certain: The job market is full of opportunity, and more tech workers are able to reevaluate their deal-breakers. Companies need to look at retention from every angle if they want to keep talent. If enough employees or candidates voice disdain for a tool, maybe it’s time to listen and do something about it.
“The opinions have always been there,” Drew said. “The weight of those opinions is probably stronger than ever.”
Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She’s a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school’s independent newspaper. She’s based in D.C., and can be reached at [email protected]
Maria Avgitidis — aka Matchmaker Maria — tells us all her favorite tips.
Matchmaker Maria is TikTok’s favorite dating coach.
David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol’s editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.
You may know Maria Avgitidis as “@realmatchmakermaria,” TikTok’s favorite reviewer of dating profiles. She’ll tell you which pictures need to be swapped out, why putting your Instagram handle in your profile is a red flag and whether you’re sharing too much or too little before you get swiped.
Avgitidis is also the owner of Agape Match, a high-end matchmaking company in New York City. For more than a decade, she’s been working with clients to help them find love in an increasingly digital, app-centric world. It’s harder than ever to just meet someone in a bar, she said — and not just when a pandemic makes bars impossible.
For our second episode in a monthlong series about how tech is changing dating, love, relationships, sex and what it means to be a human in a world filled with other humans, Avgitidis told us about what it takes to make a perfect dating profile, how she helps her clients get off dating apps and into the real world, why swapping Instagram handles is more of a second-date thing and much more.

You can hear our full conversation on the latest episode of the Source Code podcast, or by clicking on the player above. Below are excerpts from our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

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You started your matchmaking business in 2008, which was right at the beginning of social life becoming an internet-mediated thing.
What’s crazy to me is I had a BlackBerry when I started this. And I remember the day I went full time was the day I bought an iPhone. My BlackBerry had Twitter, but now that I had the iPhone, I had Foursquare. And that was the moment everything changed.
You know how on Facebook, it’s a relationship on both sides? We both have to find each other to be friends? On Twitter, it was very one-sided, and suddenly having an iPhone, that one-sidedness was just compounded across different apps.
It was a very social time in New York City at that time. And it was different. It was so different compared to what it’s like now. Now it’s like, everyone’s just thumbing. Before, it was like, “I’m going to look at the app to see what I can do here.” Do you remember the app Urbanspoon? You would use the phone as a tool to get somewhere or to talk to someone. And now the phone people have a very different relationship with their phone: It’s no longer a tool to get outside or do something, it’s a tool to be distracted by, and that distractions spills over in how present you are as a friend, as a spouse, as a partner, as a parent.
How has tech changed the way you think about the matchmaking process? Because it feels like this is such a different world even from two years ago, like when your grandparents were matchmakers.
I started my business in 2008, 2009. And since then, I feel like there’s been like five waves of dating. The current one, right now, it’s intense. You have this one portion of singles, who are under the age of 26, who have never not had a smartphone in their hand. They have never participated in analog dating, ever. So to them, online dating is normal. And not only normal — online dating is rough, right? There’s a reason why people would hire expensive matchmakers like me, because they want to avoid all that.

So you have this population that doesn’t know that dating doesn’t have to necessarily always suck, that not every guy is meant to juggle eight women. Or ghosting: There was a time when ghosting meant you dated a guy for five years, and then he just up and left and you never heard from him again. And now ghosting is a term that people use for a guy who did not call you to have a second date. Which is … dating! That’s what happens in dating!
Before, because they met through friends, or they met at work, or they met at a barbecue, they weren’t online dating, so maybe they also made the phone call ahead of time because they still have to show face to the people that are accountable for the introduction. Now, because of online dating, you’re not accountable to this person; you don’t know them. You don’t owe them anything. So you’re just like, “I’m not interested, I’m not going to contact them.” So you have this population that just does not know a world of analog.
They also don’t know a world without thumbing. I remember when I was in my early 20s, if one of my girlfriends went to the bar, especially being tall, I always stood out in a venue or whatever — I could guarantee a guy would come up, talk to me, offer me a drink. When my friend would come out, he’d buy her a drink, too. I couldn’t wait for my friend to go to the bathroom for three minutes!

And now what does everyone do when their friend goes to the bar or goes to the bathroom?
You look at your phone.
You look at your phone. You look immediately down, and what is that guy or that woman doing that could be coming up to you? They’re looking at their phone. So suddenly, there is not even this analog social discovery. It’s all digital social discovery.
And then you have this other population of singles, who remembers that way and still has these expectations of that old way to be in this new way when online dating has certainly changed the game. How people swipe, so much of this faux validation rather than someone actually seriously looking for a relationship. There’s extreme dating fatigue among all singles. I read the comments that people leave on my stuff, like, “Oh, you’re making it seem like it’s a full-time job.” And, well, yeah.
So for you as a matchmaker, I could see it going one of two ways: Your job is either to teach people how to embrace and make the best of all that, or to create a world for them outside of that, where dating can feel maybe more like it used to. Do you lean one way or the other?
I think both have to work simultaneously. A lot of the people that hire us tend to be, like, C-level executives. We have busy entrepreneurs who are just not focused on this — so much of fundraising and investment in a company is dating professionally, right? So it’s like, well, how do I find the bandwidth to also do this on an emotional level? And then other people that hire us are people that just cannot use online dating for privacy reasons. We have had celebrities, professional athletes, politicians, those people will come to us as well. LeBron, if he were single, you’re just not going to see him on a dating app.
So yes, there’s a world where it’s analog. It’s like I’m their friend: “Hey, I’m setting you up with my friends.” That sort of environment. And then of course, as a dating company, I think so much of what I like to provide as Matchmaker Maria is helping people date better. And sometimes it’s not matchmaking.

We’ve worked really hard to have really great relationships with some online dating sites, who will give us information like, “Hey, if your people did this, they would get more swipes.” We do our own studies as well. For instance, if you disconnect your Instagram, you have a higher probability of meeting someone in a physical first date than if you connected it. And if people say something like, “Well, no, I want to see that person,” we say yeah, but when people look at people’s Instagrams, they’re just looking for any photo not to go out with someone. It just takes one.
That question of how much information to share and when feels like a hard one in the dating world. Like, my wife claims — and I’m convinced it’s not true — that when we met, I gave her a fake last name. So she didn’t know my actual last name for like two weeks! And that worked out really well for me, because it’s not hard to find me on the internet, and she would have been like, “This is a gigantic nerd, I’m not going to date this guy.”
Even as people fill out profiles, you can put in as much or as little as you want, you can share tons of information about yourself or play it sort of coy. Managing all that seems complicated to me.
It’s a lot. On TikTok, I review people’s online dating profiles. And I’ll open up people’s profiles, and I’m really shocked by the level of detail that these apps ask for! I’ve had people that are executives at Facebook get a profile review from me — with their permission — and it says right there on the Hinge profile, “I’m this and this at Facebook,” and I’m like, wow, that is public!
I could see a way where that person’s like, “Oh, you know, on dates, guys ask me about my job, and they’re trying to hit me up for job advice.” And I’m like, yeah, of course they are! Because that’s being publicized. And that does not have to be on your profile.

What do you tell people to do?
You should know their first name and their last initial. I don’t think you should be exchanging phone numbers with any stranger. If you feel it’s necessary to exchange a phone number just for emergencies, make that a Google Voice number. But I really don’t think that communication should ever leave the app.
The moment you start texting, that is the end of you going on a first date. I’m telling you, we have an entire team on our staff that does online dating management. And we’ve seen it time and time again: The moment a phone number is exchanged, the probability of you meeting in a physical capacity, it just plummets. Because, again, people will find any reason not to go out. “Oh, I’m tired, but I have the phone number so I can just be like, ‘Hey, do you mind if we reschedule?’’’
In my office, we like to do the 48-hour rule — that’s what we call it. So if we’re going to [look for a] date on your behalf, we need you to be available in the next 48 hours to go on a date. And maybe that’s a FaceTime date in an hour, or it’s to meet in person the next two days. And we only want a few messages back and forth before we start setting up the date. And that helps people get on dates.
The whole point of online dating is to get offline. That’s it. It’s not to make pen pals. Right now, as we’re speaking, there are currently thousands upon thousands of women falling in love with a guy they’ve never met, who they’ve become pen pals with via text. Just initiate. Ask out, get out.
Going through your TikTok, it jumped out to me that like we’ve now sort of turned everything about dating into a science. Everything is kind of a numbers game, it’s all algorithmically based, and the advice you give to people is so almost infuriatingly consistent: Here is the game, and here’s what it looks like to win. And, OK, that’s interesting and helpful and useful. But the other part of me wonders, does it suck that this is what dating has been reduced to?

So for people who don’t know what the hell we’re talking about: People submit their online dating profiles for me, and I will review them. As of today, I’ve posted 170 episodes of that.
And I always like to see the comments. I put a lot of time in reading the comments, because you can learn a lot about how the dating scene is shifting as we speak. When I give people a critique, it’s not for them to be attractive to everyone. I know that you’re trying to attract a certain person. What I’m trying to do is make your profile more optimal, so that that person you’re looking for also swipes on you. In the comments, some people get confused by this. And they’ll say, “Oh, he eats meat? Next.” Or “Oh, he’s a liberal? Next.” And they’ll say stuff like, “He should remove this, otherwise, I’m not interested.” It’s like, no, no, he should keep that, because he doesn’t want to date you.
That’s an interesting way of thinking about profiles in general: Part of the job is to attract the people you want to attract, and maybe part of the job is also to repel the people you’d rather repel. It’s easy to think of these things as just, get as many matches and as much incoming as you can and then weed it out, but maybe what you should be doing is trying to, as quickly as you can, get rid of people.
Repel! Repel away! It’s kind of like photos: I always say your second photo should be a full body shot, because it’s the photo of clarity and transparency. And people might think, well, you just want to show if you’re fat. And I say, well, fat’s not a negative word. It’s just an adjective of someone’s body type. And yes, you should show what your body type is. Because that same person who’s attracted to what you look like right now, that would have met you at a friend’s wedding’s open bar? He wants to meet you online.

But what happens when you put a profile photo of yourself from 15 pounds ago, he’s expecting her. So when you meet in person, it’s like, oh, that lie. And men do this too, right? I’ve heard it from so many women: “Oh, he clearly put on some old photos.” You might have met him at your friend’s wedding and had no issue, but because he showed a different photo, now you’re wondering, what else is he lying about? Your photos just have to be so recent, and so transparent, so that you know that anyone who’s swiping on you, they’re definitely physically attracted to you based on who you are now.
I was talking to Justin McLeod, the CEO of Hinge, on the episode before this. And one thing he and I spent some time talking about was the new Voice Prompts.
Oh, I love them.
That’s what I was going to ask! With these questions about how much you share and when, how do video and voice fit into that?
I think if you’re extroverted, do it, but otherwise, don’t do it.
You can’t come out guns blazing on a Hinge audio. Hinge audio is just supposed to give me a glimpse of your voice, and that you’re a real person. This one woman, she did a scene from “The Incredibles,” and to me it’s so funny. Who wouldn’t want to have fun with her?
But keep it light. Don’t play music. I hate it when people play music, like, “here’s some background music.” Don’t do that.
But if you’re going to do that, here’s the hack. Look up the kind of person you’re trying to attract — and what year they were 12. Whatever the number one song or Top 5 song was that year, that’s the song you’re gonna put in. Because that just puts people instantly in a good mood.
But ultimately, people just want to know that you’re real, not a bot. And a voice is a really great way to do that.
David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol’s editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.
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