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Solar Company Folds After $0.5B In Subsidies 694

Posted by timothy
from the all-these-lovely-broken-windows dept.
First time accepted submitter dusanv writes "Solyndra, a Silicon Valley solar energy firm, subsidized to the tune of $500 million and held as a 'gleaming example of green technology,' announced bankruptcy yesterday. 1,100 employees fired."
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Solar Company Folds After $0.5B In Subsidies

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  • Stop (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mensa Babe (675349) * on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:42PM (#37277752) Homepage Journal
    Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that green technology is not profitable and therefore a big scam, or a modern religion if you will, with all of its guilt, shame and asking for money, let me state an opinion that might not be popular here: Maybe, just maybe, the subsidies was too low? I know what you think but let me play an evil's advocate for a second. How much the fresh air is worth to you? To your children? To your children's children? To your children's children's grandchildren? Well, you get the idea. And what about fresh water? What about cold weather? I am not saying that all of those things should be worth more than 500 billion to everyone but I suggest that we have to account for them in the business plans of companies developing green technology. We have to ask ourselves: Why do we develop green technology? How much money are we willing to waste? What sacrifices are we willing to make? What do we expect to get in return? Those are the most important questions that we should at least try to answer.
    • Re:Stop (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 0123456 (636235) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:43PM (#37277778)

      Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that green technology is not profitable and therefore a big scam, or a modern religion if you will, with all of its guilt, shame and asking for money, let me state an opinion that might not be popular here: Maybe, just maybe, the subsidies was too low?

      Ah, yes. We can make 'green technology' profitable by simply... taking more money from taxpayers and giving it to them.

      That'll work.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Waffle Iron (339739)

        Of course it'll work.

        Corporate welfare is how this country was built, and it's the engine behind today's fastest growing economies. Why change a winning formula?

      • Re:Stop (Score:5, Insightful)

        by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:51PM (#37277930)

        It is what we do with every other energy source. Name one large commercially used energy source that does not get subsidies, tax breaks, government backed loans or liability protection of some form.

      • Re:Stop (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:52PM (#37277942)

        No, what the guy SHOULD be saying, is that non-green technologies are a lot less CHEAP when you factor in the real cost of environmental degradation, negative health effects, non-renewable resource use, etc. in properly, which the MARKET does not do correctly. A Government subsidy is one way of correcting this market failure.

        Or do you think it's just fine that strip-mining coal leads to destroyed lands, which then cannot store water and cause flooding onto people's towns, and also produce acid rain, widespread mercury poisoning, air pollution, climate change, NONE of the costs of which are factored into the price of coal? That's A-OK?

        If that's NOT OK, how do you fix it? One way is to subsidize green tech. Another is to tax coal or whatever according to the true cost of their activities. Which do you think is more realistic politically?

        What we should do is do the math and figure out how much of a subsidy is really justified, THEN talk.

        --PM

        • Re:Stop (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Archangel Michael (180766) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @05:31PM (#37280186) Journal

          So, where do you think all that Rare Earth Metals and stuff the solar panels comes from? Where do you think the energy to make them comes from? Unicorns and Leprechauns?

          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            You mean the silicon they're made from? Ever heard of sand? Nothing rare about it.

            No one ever said solar panels (or any technology) is perfect, environmentally speaking. But doing a little digging to build something that creates power out of sunlight for decades of service is a lot better than doing a LOT of digging for something you're just going to burn.

          • Re:Stop (Score:4, Interesting)

            by inglorion_on_the_net (1965514) on Friday September 02, 2011 @02:20AM (#37283220) Homepage

            So, where do you think all that Rare Earth Metals and stuff the solar panels comes from? Where do you think the energy to make them comes from? Unicorns and Leprechauns?

            The answer is, of course: it depends.

            There are various materials [wikipedia.org] that solar cells may be made from, and the environmental impact is bound to differ based on the materials used.

            As for the energy required to make the panels, I think we all know that there are various ways to generate electricity. You can get the environmental impact arbitrarily low by using more environmentally friendly sources.

            One study [acs.org] found that, using 2004-2006 technology for manufacturing solar cells and the then current mix of energy sources, solar panels reduce harmful air emissions by 89% compared to the current energy mix.

            So, to run with that data point (and I know I'm oversimplifying here), if we were to stop doing any more research into better options, and simply convert everything to solar power using technology that is already deployed on a commercial scale, we will kill 89% less unicorns and leprechauns. Yes, we would still harm the environment. But doesn't a reduction by almost a factor 10 sound worth it?

      • It's worked for Big Oil, hasn't it?

      • by Tsingi (870990)

        Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that green technology is not profitable and therefore a big scam, or a modern religion if you will, with all of its guilt, shame and asking for money, let me state an opinion that might not be popular here: Maybe, just maybe, the subsidies was too low?

        Ah, yes. We can make 'green technology' profitable by simply... taking more money from taxpayers and giving it to them.

        That'll work.

        It worked for the financial institutions. They got trillions, they seem to be doing OK, management are getting their huge bonuses again. Of course that may be what happened at Solyndra.

      • Re:Stop (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Darinbob (1142669) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @04:01PM (#37279058)

        The problem with Solyndra is that the green market was too active. That is those who made things cheaper in China using old technology drove the prices down. Solyndra was developing newer technology and could not compete. The new technology is not dead though but it may be some time before it emerges. People want simple solar panels today at low cost rather than waiting a decade for low cost advanced panels.

        I don't necessarily think that subsidies are going to help matters though. It just seems that a good investment went sour from unforeseen market shifts. It's always a bad idea to invest in one single company, but that does not mean it is not a good idea to invest in a wide variety of green companies.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Reverend Joe (324737)

        s/green technology/fossil fuel companies/

        ============

        are you aware that, compared to this relative pittance of $0.5B, the US government subsidizes the fossil fuel industries to the tune of upwards of $700B ... per YEAR?

        how profitable would those companies be without taking THAT money from taxpayers and giving it to them?

        what about if we stopped spending ($3.5Trillion+ / 10 years) for the war machine to provide us first-in-line status at the MidEast Gas Pump?

        does your invisible-hand-of-the-almighty-free-mark

      • by hey! (33014)

        Companies go bankrupt all the time. Even a *profitable* company can go bankrupt if it can't raise cash to meet current obligations. So it's not the case that companies go bankrupt because they don't create value. Companies go bankrupt when they don't generate cash flow. And it's hard to generate cash flow if you don't have a product to sell yet, or you can't scale production enough to cover your fixed costs.

        Reading TFA, this looks like a classic case of a company stuck between a cash rock and a cash hard pl

    • by slapout (93640)

      How much of your own money are you willing to invest in a company like this?

      • by Sir_Sri (199544)

        Depends on if you count the government as 'my own money'. On a personal basis an airline pilot shouldn't put his retirement fund entirely in airline stock - diversity is good. If I'm only willing to invest 1% of my money on a project like this, it's never going to have enough if I invest on my own. That's why the government gave them a grand and not bill gates.

        Remember there's a cost on the back end here too, if you *don't* invest your money (through government or on a personal basis) in this, are you go

    • by mr1911 (1942298)
      Absolutely. Let's keep subsidizing green energy. And fossil fuels. And corn. Then, when all of these companies go as bankrupt as the federal government, we can say we tried, for the children, of course.

      Seriously, you want subsidies for cold weather?
    • The most important thing is whether something is profitable or not. Everything else doesn't matter in the least.

    • by Twinbee (767046)

      Why not talk about the elephant in the room? I expect noise and fume pollution from cars and lorries to be an order of magnitude (or two) more significant to subjective air quality generally than any nuclear reactor.

      Electric cars will solve both of those issues, and at least give country-like air and a strange, wonderful relative silence to busy cities. That'll be a time worth living for.

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      Nope, it's because the customers were all racists.

    • by Kenja (541830)
      How about we just stop with the subsides, for oil companies and green energy firms alike (and farm etc). Then the technology can flourish or fail based on its own merits.
    • by homer_ca (144738)

      That's exactly this analyst's take on the situation, from that dirty hippie magazine, Forbes:

      What Solyndra's Bankruptcy Means For Silicon Valley Solar Startups [forbes.com]

      But as the companies finally begin mass production — Solyndra just flipped the switch on a $733 million factory here last month — they are finding that the economics of the industry have already been transformed, by the Chinese. Chinese manufacturers, heavily subsidized by their own government and relying on vast economies of scale, have

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      too low? sounds like too high to me. 1100 is a lot. more time, less people, better results. their company structure wasn't viable for what it was doing.

      but headcount increases managements pay, the pay works like an inverse pyramid.. and more people equals bigger subsidies. you'd think that results would equal bigger subsidies but it almost never works that way.

    • Re:Stop (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LoyalOpposition (168041) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @03:10PM (#37278282)

      Maybe, just maybe, the subsidies was too low?

      Well, that wasn't my first thought. My first thought was that if they couldn't make a go of it with five hundred million dollars of subsidies then there would be no way they could make a go of it on a level playing field. It wasn't my second thought either. My second thought was that our government is surely incapable of picking winners. Similarly, with the third. My third thought was that I sold some scrap aluminum yesterday. It appears to me that they're able to make a go of it without subsidies. Maybe scrap aluminum isn't green? Nope, it's pretty green compared with smelting bauxite. Maybe it's an unfair comparison? Nope, manufacture of solar cells produces lots of waste.

      How much the fresh air is worth to you?

      Well, I've got plenty right now. I suppose I could use some more, though. I might be willing to pay a penny for a cubic mile. How much do you have?

      To your children?

      They are in the same boat as I am.

      To your children's children?

      They don't have any, so they wouldn't want any. But perhaps you're speaking metaphorically? Let's see...air is cleaner now than it was fifty years ago. Presumably, there will be more clean air when the grand kids come around. I don't know? Penny for a thousand cubic miles?

      And what about fresh water?

      Yeah, we're pretty well set for fresh water, too. I don't know...maybe if I had more fresh water I could water the lawn. What's the going rate? Let me buy one lawn worth of fresh water. But I'm not willing to pay the going rate! If I were then I would have watered it already. How about you give me a ninety percent discount?

      What about cold weather?

      I wouldn't give you a plugged nickle for all the cold weather in Antarctica.

      I am not saying that all of those things should be worth more than 500 billion to everyone

      That brings up a good point. Why is the government taking 500 billion from everyone if it's not worth that to everyone. (I think it was actually 500 million in this one case, but I didn't want to misquote you.)

      We have to ask ourselves: Why do we develop green technology? How much money are we willing to waste? What sacrifices are we willing to make? What do we expect to get in return? Those are the most important questions that we should at least try to answer.

      I'm afraid you've missed some of the more important ones. Will it give me a good photo opportunity? Will it get me enough votes to get me reelected? Will this come back to bite me before I retire?

      ~Loyal

  • by Scareduck (177470) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:45PM (#37277812) Homepage Journal

    Led, of course, by Salon's Andrew Leonard [salon.com], for whom no amount of subsidy is ever enough, and no amount of state intervention can possibly suffice. The reality is far different, of course, and starts with the lousy energy density of solar; but we are dealing with a very heavily government-controlled "market" that is steadily eroding as subsidies decline. The myth of green jobs is something like promising to feed people with tasty barbecued unicorn ribs [the-americ...terest.com].

  • by milbournosphere (1273186) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:46PM (#37277828)
    ...that this is the company that Obama visited when he was on his renewable energy tour. I guess this is a symbol for how well those policies worked out. We really should be supporting these kinds of companies, not throwing our money at foreign oil/power interests.
    • by ckaminski (82854)
      We should be throwing money at technology that works: nuclear power. The research on nuclear power didn't end in 1973 - it continued. And unlike the rest of the green movement, we KNOW we can achieve break-even before the lifetime of the plant expires.
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Then why does every nuclear power plant require government backed loans, insurance and legally mandated limited liability?
        Have any plant owners ever paid for a decommissioning themselves without even more government support?

        I like nuclear power, but for the free market it seems to be a non-starter.

        • by gknoy (899301) <gknoy@anaLISPsaz ... m minus language> on Thursday September 01, 2011 @03:01PM (#37278120)

          Probably because building nuclear power plant costs a LOT of money, and has the potential to damage massive portions of their surrounding areas. Moreover, the profit is probably in the relatively distant future -- an investment the government can often afford to make, but most private investors are unlikely to like.

          • by initdeep (1073290) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @03:53PM (#37278906)

            One of the main reasons nuclear power plants in the United States cost so much money to build is that each one of them is independently designed and built.
            Want to see a shining example of cost control (and an ironic one at that)? Look to the US Navy where plants are designed once and used multiple times.

            This is the way nuclear power plants in the US should be built.
            Wit ha standardized design that is both modular and updateable within the basic design for future discoveries.
            Instead, each is a hodgepodge of known ideas that are decided upon and implemented without thought to cost control.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        If we don't investigate all of the alternatives now, and determine that Solar really never will be better than Nuclear, then we won't know which really is the better choice.

        And Nuclear, at least fission, isn't as unlimited as it seems. And comes with high environmental risks and political dogma.

        The only problem with Solar is that it's not a magical panacaea with a 99% conversion efficiency. But it will be all we have left in the 35th Century, unless we learn how to make fusion reactors that turn garbage a

    • We really should be supporting these kinds of companies

      We gave them a half-billion dollars! How is that not supporting them?!?

      You're right about this being a symbol of how well this administration's policies are working out, though.

    • by AlXtreme (223728)

      We really should be supporting these kinds of companies, not throwing our money at foreign oil/power interests.

      Reminds me of Greece's debt and the Eurozone bailing them out: "They're losing enormous amounts of money so we should lend/give them more!". No matter how many subsidies you get, if you depend on them your business model is shaky.

      If it's a question of when, not if, your company or country fails it's best to fail early. Bankruptcy is painful but it gives everyone involved a fresh start. Delaying the

  • Extra, extra! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:50PM (#37277888)

    An experimental business in an emergent technology fails to establish itself in a collapsing economy. Read all about it...

    Give me a break folks, them and a whole bunch of other companies both old and new... Stop trying to make.

    • Re:Extra, extra! (Score:5, Informative)

      by blair1q (305137) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @03:07PM (#37278242) Journal

      Actually, it succeeded in establishing itself. But it was outrun by its competition and there was no way to make it run faster. Rather than attempt to continue in a race it can't win, it abandoned.

      The assets and goodwill will be sold, and the creditors, including the government, will get back a portion of their investment. Business as usual.

    • The guy that posted this article is a moron asshole. Not only is he actually stretching the truth, he is also using a false example to make some bullshit political point. This company didnt recieve subsidies, it was loans. Furthermore, as you said, "An experimental business fails in a collapsing economy".
  • “It is clear that Solyndra was a dubious investment,” representatives Fred Upton, of Michigan, and Cliff Stearns, of Florida, said in a joint statement. The company “is just the latest casualty of the Obama administration’s failed stimulus.”

    Meanwhile China continues to invest is loss incurring businesses and technologies to under-cut and eradicate the competition.
  • Dear Princess Obama:

    Today I learned that you can't use legislation to force technology or change principles of chemistry and physics, no matter how heavy the subsidy, or from whom the subsidy money is coerced, or how many people who didn't vote for you which you blame. I also learned that economic practicality will trump blind idealism every time, as one is grounded in reality and the other in denial of reality. When a technology is ready and feasible, marketplace forces will ensure its rapid adoption if

    • by boarder (41071) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @03:16PM (#37278386) Homepage

      Dear Queen Caerdwyn:

      Today I learned that people would rather breathe toxic fumes from coal fired power plants than spend $3 extra per year to have clean air. I also learned that some people would rather see a well-meaning company fail and have 1100 people out of work than see their political opponent succeed.

      Your faithful screw-the-rest-of-the-world-as-long-as-I-get-mine crotchety-conservative Billybob,

      Chevron Texaco

  • So we have about 312,026,572 people in America, roughly 53% of them pay taxes (which is insane btw). The investment was 500 million. If my math is correct all 165,374,083 of us tax payers deserve to get a $3.02 tax write off on this bs just to stick it to the man for them making poor business decisions with our money. Boooo big gov.
  • by LehiNephi (695428) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:56PM (#37278046) Journal
    And this is a prime example of why government subsidies of production are a bad idea. I haven't firmly settled on a position with regards to federal funding for R&D (although certain examples, like sick shrimp running on treadmills, should be an obvious choice for budget cuts...), but trying to force adoption through subsidies only distorts the market, without adding any value.

    In this case, the US Government effectively forced every US citizen to invest $1.60 in a company that had never been profitable and showed no prospects for profitability. The investment was not for development of technology that would make solar power economically viable, but rather it was for purchasing capital equipment for existing, uneconomic technology. The results were perfectly predictable. If no private investors see the value in the company, we should be thinking awful hard about whether it's a good idea to force them to invest in it anyway.

    I would love to see solar power prove profitable, but such a goal will come as a result of research and development, not as a result of government subsidies for production of inefficient technology.
    • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @03:47PM (#37278810)

      although certain examples, like sick shrimp running on treadmills, should be an obvious choice for budget cuts...

      Why exactly is that obvious? Because it sounds silly? Apparently it didn't actually cost $500k

      "The treadmills were just a small part of it, a way to measure how shrimp respond to changes in water quality. Burnett says the first treadmill was built by a colleague from scraps and was basically free, and the second was fancier and cost about $1,000. The senator's report was misleading, says Burnett, "and it suggests that much money was spent on seeing how long a shrimp can run on a treadmill, which was totally out of context." http://www.npr.org/2011/08/23/139852035/shrimp-on-a-treadmill-the-politics-of-silly-studies [npr.org]

      • One of the things that annoys me about this kind of example, is that much larger amounts of money are wasted on moronic military R&D projects, but for some reason those examples are rarely used in recent years. Part of the problem is that most of the worst programs are secret, so most people don't know about most of them. But its still strange that people who believe that government is inherently wasteful, and consequently should be minimized, seem to exempt such a large part of federal spending from

  • It's what I'd like to see the Feds use to go over the CxO compensation records and reports. I'm all for advancing technology and helping out, but if they guys at the top managed to walk away with more than $150-200k/year in total compensation, I would like to see them brought up on fraud charges for accelerating the demise of a company which used federal guarantee dollars.

    Now, if it was all on the up and up, and they suffered with the masses, I'd be inclined to be more lenient. CxOs of start-ups should get

  • Burned Out Solar (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IorDMUX (870522) <mark.zimmerman3NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday September 01, 2011 @03:02PM (#37278150) Homepage
    So, I live (literally) around the corner from one of Solyndra's offices. And one thing I noticed is that, no matter when I left for work in the morning, drove out to the grocery store, or took the kids on a Sunday walk to the park, Solyndra's parking lot was always full and the lights were on in every laboratory.

    At first, I was fairly intimidated. I was new to the Valley, and wondered if this was the pace I would be expected to keep for my employer. After a few months, though, I realized that Solyndra was the exception, not the norm, and not even the more hardcore start-ups in my field matched the hours their employees put in.

    As I watched their work pattern, I wondered at the office culture that would lead to such employee behavior, as well as the pay and benefits that had to be backing it up. I could never shake the uneasy impression that Solyndra was vigorously burning the candle at both ends, with potentially disastrous consequences in store.

    Steady as she goes, I guess. Even in Silicon Valley.
  • by John Bresnahan (638668) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @03:02PM (#37278160)
    ABC News [go.com] did a story on May 24th, which discusses how the Obama Administration "bypassed procedural steps meant to protect taxpayers as it hurried to approve an energy loan guarantee to a politically-connected California solar power startup", and how the loan "benefited a company whose prime financial backers include Oklahoma oil billionaire George Kaiser, a "bundler" of campaign donations. Kaiser raised at least $50,000 for the president's 2008 election effort."
  • by ISoldat53 (977164) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @03:03PM (#37278168)
    The summary is misleading. The company was given $500 million in loan guarantees. That doesn't necessarily mean a subsidy. If the company went broke and never got the loans no government money was spent.
    • That doesn't necessarily mean a subsidy. If the company went broke and never got the loans no government money was spent.

      Strictly speaking you're correct; however, from one of the links of the linked article...

      The company has borrowed $527 million of the $535 million covered by the Energy Department loan guarantee, Damien LaVera, a department spokesman, said in an e-mail.

      ~Loyal

  • by pz (113803) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @03:03PM (#37278176) Journal

    Reading through the Solyndra web site, there's the following announcement of the departure of their Founder and CEO

    http://www.solyndra.com/2011/08/chris-gronet-takes-on-advisory-role-for-solyndra/ [solyndra.com]

    from August 18th, about 2 weeks ago. Coincidence? Founder / CEOs don't normally leave after the first 5 years of a startup. Is there more to the bankruptcy story than what's in the OP's article?

  • by emagery (914122) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @03:20PM (#37278434)
    These guys and Evergreen Solar both had viable advanced products, good ideas, and solid business practices and a eagerness to hire local/american workers to do a job that desperately needs doing. The folded because of 'free trade' competition with China who is more than willing to dump silicon tetrachloride in people's backyards (rather than recycling it as is required here) and pay people nigh-on slave wages in the process. You can't compete with that. If you want high quality jobs here in the states... if you want progressive, good-intentioned, future-forging entrepreneurship... then exit free trade and renegotiate in fair trade deals... or reinstate rational tariffs.
    • by cdrguru (88047)

      We got into the WTO and I seriously doubt we are going to get out anytime soon. It absolutely forbids such "national tariffs" and the last time we tried it with steel the WTO sanctioned retaliation against the US if we didn't stop it.

      Of course for some reason China, Japan and a whole bunch of other places are permitted to block US imports with rules that exclude the introduction of US goods. There is no balance with this "free trade" nonsense, but it certainly appears we are stuck with it.

      I suspect a move

  • 2 things (Score:3, Insightful)

    by YesDinosaursDidExist (1268920) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @03:32PM (#37278598)
    First:A $535 Million loan guarantee is not the same as a subsidy....so.....maybe these articles need to be vetted a little better. Second: “Solyndra could not achieve full-scale operations rapidly enough to compete in the near term with the resources of larger foreign manufacturers,” - DUH!! And this will continue happening as long as the US is not China.... ....so instead....we should CREATE NEW TECHNOLOGY and license it for manufacture to other countries....welcome to International Business 101
  • by w1nt3rmute (2165804) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @03:36PM (#37278658)
    Just so everyone is clear, the article says that the Feds backstopped $535MM of the company's borrowings, which isn't the same as giving $535MM in subsidies. In BK, the company's assets will be liquidated to pay off creditors, with the Feds only covering the shortfall (because it's just a guarantee)... and it sounds like the company has a salable facility and marginal patent/IP rights. I'm not saying there won't be a sizable loss, but I don't think "US LOSES $535MM ON GREEN ENERGY SUBSIDIES" is fair to say either.
  • by greymond (539980) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @03:39PM (#37278706) Homepage Journal

    That plenty of Green Businesses here in the Bay Area are doing very well, primarily Petersen Dean, though others include SunWize, RPS Solar and REC Solar to name a few. Of course they are all private sector businesses that our current government wouldn't concern themselves with because they only want to give handouts to corporate america and green start-ups that have no legitimate plan for growth or success.

  • by sdguero (1112795) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @04:11PM (#37279202)
    Glassdoor.com rating for solyndra was only a 2.6, which is pretty bad considering the exciting tech they work with. Most of the posts (most recent was in May) are by Engineers who basically say "the tech is cool, but management is terrible and top heavy."

    So, really not that surprising how it went down...

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