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Image features three rows of books with different book covers on a hot pink background.

05/21/2024

Broaden your horizons with 2A’s reading list

By Carolyn Lange

Image features three rows of books with different book covers on a hot pink background.

Image by Julianne Medenblik

Book out your next few months. 2A is filling your TBR (to-be-read) list with fantastical fiction, memorable memoirs, tearjerker tales, and nail-biting novels. 

When I asked the team at 2A for their fiction and non-fiction recommendations, I should have known the suggestions would be as creative, diverse, and thoughtful as our talented team. And also, sometimes, really weird. (Okay, fine. Guilty.) So no matter what you’re into, we’ve probably got it. Cooking? Check. Video games? Yep. Mortality and existential dread? Um, sure, if that’s what you’re into. The concept of grief as explored by a robotic hive mind from the distant future researching human emotion? You get the picture. Enjoy! 

P.S. Consider buying from your local bookseller. With Libro.fm (for audiobooks) and Bookshop.org (for physical copies) you can find a comprehensive selection of books—and the profits go to a bookstore of your choice. Find a bookstore near you, or filter your search results by BIPOC-owned, queer-owned, and more. 

Fiction faves 

Dead in Long Beach, California – Venita Blackburn 
Psychological fiction 
A bestselling sci-fi writer discovers her brother’s body following his suicide and, in the thick of grief, begins texting people from his phone, pretending to be him. A raw, heartfelt, and often very funny story that made me think in completely new ways about how we grieve and remember. Also, the book is narrated by a robotic hive mind from the distant future researching human emotion, so.
-Jack Foraker

Binge: 60 stories to make your brain feel different – Douglas Coupland 
Short stories 
I’ve been a fan of Douglas Coupland since Generation X, and I find myself referencing and re-reading Binge again and again. It’s funny and smart, and the short stories are the perfect low-commitment reading snack. This book makes me laugh out loud, and I can guarantee you’ll never look at a car’s rooftop cargo carrier the same way again… -Andrea Swangard 

Heaven No Hell – Michael DeForge 
Comic anthology 
This collection captures some of Michael DeForge’s best work yet. His writing makes me laugh in a way few writers can, and I’m always surprised how his evolving illustrative style still manages to challenge me. (His drawings have evolved dramatically over the last decade.) Michael DeForge continues to push what is possible in the genre, reveling in the vulgar without ever seeming crude, and exploring complex themes (identity, class, sex) without feeling pedantic. -Brian Dionisi 

White Noise – Don DeLillo 
Postmodern literature 
Ever found yourself zoning out in front of a toothpaste section at the neighborhood CVS wondering why any of this matters? I’m doing it right now. This story takes a deep dive into the heart of our consumer-crazed, media-drenched world, mixing existential dread with the constant hum of the capitalist machine. This is the perfect read for your hipster pal or near-burn-out fintech bud questioning the sales-pitch reality and the layers of our buy-now culture. Therapy not included.
-Felip Ballesteros 

Maame – Jessica George 
Contemporary fiction 
This book reminded me of my early 20s, discovering the world and who I am in it. I see myself, my girlfriends, and so many of my life experiences in the protagonist. It’s hilarious, heartbreaking, silly, and most of all honest. -Sal Hill 

Demon Copperhead – Barbara Kingsolver 
Literary fiction 
Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver is my favorite book of all time, but I have to say that this one was almost as engrossing and had a less tragic ending (the tragic part is in the middle). Based on David Copperfield, this is a story about a really blighted area of the South where North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee all meet. Industries have left and drug addiction is high due to despair. This is a long sad book that’s uplifting at the end, and I loved every word because I could hear the accent of the narrator throughout the whole story. -Forsyth Alexander 

The House in the Cerulean Sea – T.J. Klune 
Contemporary fantasy 
I was charmed, outraged, and completely rooting for all the beautifully developed protagonists from Linus, the curmudgeon with a heart of gold to the charming unidentifiable green blob. Best of all, the sequel is coming out this year! -Annie Wegrich 

The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories – Jamil Jan Kochai 
Short stories 
A short story collection with the cohesiveness of a well-executed concept album. Pure perfection from the opening sequence to the final note. And in the predictable midsection where the bridge tends to sway? Only depth and dimension. This book set a new bar for the possibilities of storytelling. -Madeline Sy 

Chain-Gang All-Stars – Nana Kwawe Adjei-Brenyah 
Dystopian fiction 
No words. Go read it. And know I cried like a li’l baby at the end. -Ashley JoEtta 

The Three Body Problem (trilogy) – Cixin Liu 
Science fiction 
[Forgive me Timothée Chalamet *prayer hand lipstick emoji*] Forget about Dune for a minute and dive into something truly out of this world with Chinese sci-fi legend and Hugo Award winner, Cixin Liu. The story takes you from the Red Revolution straight into the next 400 years, an upgrade on the Western-styled space drama. It’s thought-provoking and made me question: Will we ever be ready for what’s out there? -Felip Ballesteros 

The Tatami Time Machine Blues – Tomihiko Morimi and Emily Balistrieri (Translator) 
Science fiction 
When our unnamed protagonist finds a time machine, it’s clear what he must do: Go back in time 24 hours to heroically prevent his “worst friend” (a brilliant descriptor) from spilling Coke on his dorm’s AC remote control. Nothing hits quite like weird fiction, and thankfully, Morimi’s unusual story elements and out-there humor are captured perfectly in Balistrieri’s translation. -Carolyn Lange 

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting – Clare Pooley  
Contemporary fiction 
I read another Clare Pooley book first, The Authenticity Project, which I enjoyed because of the characters and their struggles to be authentic in a book where authenticity was key. So, when Annie recommended this one, I ordered it right away. It’s a wonderful redemption tale for a cast of characters who become unlikely friends on a commuter train with a poignant twist at the end.
Forsyth Alexander 

Black Sun – Rebecca Roanhorse 
Fantasy 
What does it mean to be a hero? What does it mean to be a villain? Are you good? Are you bad? Are you an outsider or an insider? Generational trauma? Bisexual mermaid/siren/sea-captain? When you open your eyes, maybe you’ll be a god. -Ashley JoEtta 

Remarkably Bright Creatures – Shelby Van Pelt 
Contemporary fiction 
I was not prepared to fall so deeply in love with an octopus. -Annie Wegrich 

Non-fiction picks 

Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult: A Memoir of Mental Illness and the Quest to Belong Anywhere – Maria Bamford 
Memoir 
Maria Bamford’s book plays cleverly with the memoir format while talking us through her mental health challenges and the many “cults” she’s joined over the years: 12-step programs, public speaking courses, and even, as she says, her own family. As with her comedy, I love Maria’s empathy and willingness to let her freak flag fly. Also, it’s funny as hell. -Nora Bright 

The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship – Shaunti Feldhahn 
Self-help 
Do you want to feel at peace and happy? Who doesn’t!? The Kindness Challenge covers how you can transform your heart and any relationship through kindness. It also explains the eight types of kindness and seven ways you may be unkind and never realize it. I challenge you to do the 30-Day Kindness Challenge! -Liz Mangini 

Being Mortal – Atul Gawande  
Health & wellbeing 
This is a must-read if you plan on getting older. It explains how the body changes as you age and examines the options when you can no longer take care of yourself. -Laura Templeton 

The Many Lives of Mama Love – Lara Love Hardin 
Memoir 
You know those books where y’know it’s gonna be good from the first sentence? This is one of those books. The real-life story of PTA mom turned inmate turned ghostwriter. “Escape was always my real addiction, the one true high. Books were just my gateway drug.” -Madeline Sy 

Doppelganger – Naomi Klein 
Social & political analysis 
This book got me thinking a lot about twins, doubles, and the hidden versions of ourselves. Not really sure how Klein jumped from COVID conspiracies to fitness influencers to WWII history, but she did, and I loved it. -Jack Foraker 

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture – David Kushner 
History & Industry 
Centering on the scrappy development of Doom in the 90s, Kushner weaves together the stories of two tech whiz-kids: analytical programmer John Carmack and charismatic software designer John Romero. A fascinating, fun, and in-depth look at creativity, teamwork, and the swift advancement of technology that’s thoroughly entertaining far beyond “how they made one game.” -Thad Allen 

Gender Magic – Rae McDaniel 
LGBTQIA+  
Therapist Rae McDaniel guides readers through various gender journeys with a gender-expansive, queer-supportive approach. They provide therapeutic exercises, offer actionable advice, and define key terms for transition, gender exploration, and trans and gender-nonconforming freedom. -Ren Iris 

James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon – Julie Phillips 
Biography 
This biography was mesmerizing. Alice wrote science fiction in the 70s. She couldn’t get her work published as a woman, so she created the pen name, James Tiptree, Jr., then submitted and published the same stories. James was hailed as “a brilliant writer with a deep sympathy for his female characters.” Alice’s cover was blown at age 61. She was an artist, chicken farmer, WWII intelligence officer, CIA agent, experimental psychologist, and more! -Liz Mangini 

How to Taste – Becky Selengut 
Cookbook 
Perhaps the only cookbook that you will laugh your way through. And the only chef who admits that Doritos are perfectly flavored. Becky walks through the 6 different tastes and when and how to best use them, with a big side dish of humor. -Laura Templeton 

Image features consultant Michelle Najarian in the center surrounded by a collage of things that represent her interest. The collage features an image of her two dogs, sheet music, an airplane, and palm tree.

05/09/2024

All about that harmony: Michelle finds the perfect tune in every project 

By Mollie Hawkins

Image features consultant Michelle Najarian in the center surrounded by a collage of things that represent her interest. The collage features an image of her two dogs, sheet music, an airplane, and palm tree.

Image by Julianne Medenblik

Before joining 2A as a consultant, Michelle honed her skills as a brand strategist, marketer, and performance artist extraordinaire. Her path to consulting was nothing short of adventurous—with a few cross-country moves set to perfect playlists, of course. It’s no wonder she jazzes up client campaigns with a style that’s music to our ears. 

Michelle’s deep-rooted love for marketing, journalism, and storytelling started in high school, where she was editor in chief of the school yearbook and marketing chair of the choral department. After graduation, Michelle left the creosote bushes and Joshua trees native to her hometown of Palm Springs, venturing to the redwood trees in Arcata, California, where she literally found her voice. She practiced vocal performance and began a journey that took her to live in two countries, four states, and one district. Michelle sang her way to a degree in strategic communications and creative advertising, got hitched, adopted two fur babies, and hung a hammock anywhere two trees were close enough. While working for a brand and digital marketing agency in Washington, DC, she also earned a master’s degree in marketing from Georgetown University. 

While living on the East Coast, Michelle felt the call of the Pacific Northwest (ah, Douglas fir whispers, the steamy beckoning of so many good cups of PNW coffee…). So, she packed up her family, prepared a banger playlist, and headed west with a bevy of good snacks and a solid set of marketing chops. After landing in Vancouver, Washington, she found a job posting on LinkedIn that made her laugh, but not because of its humor. The description appeared to be lifted from her own profile and personal philosophy of work—it’s all about the storytelling. It was an ideal match. In a flash, Michelle joined 2A full time, where she uses her unique voice, passion for creativity, and curiosity to build harmonious relationships with her clients every day. 

When she’s not helping clients tell their brand stories, Michelle can be found offline—preferably in a hammock or near a body of water—exploring thrift stores and bookshops, or making music with one of the many instruments in her Zen Den. Her husband and two dogs also keep her busy, but she always finds time for a bonfire and a board game. 

Image features a hot air ballon floating along the right side of image with a small white cloud. Text reads Cloud Cover, volume 27.

05/01/2024

If your AI strategy were a dessert, what would it be?  

By Jane Dornemann

Image features a hot air ballon floating along the right side of image with a small white cloud. Text reads Cloud Cover, volume 27.

Image by Suzanne Calkins

World domination 

  • Microsoft is investing $1.5B in Abu Dhabi-based AI group G42, and according to this photo, the signing involved a Sheikh wearing sunglasses indoors. Style versus function debates aside, this continues the trend of private tech deals also acting as public geopolitical policy, whether it’s revoking licenses for Russian businesses or moving chip manufacturing away from China. This particular agreement only came after G42 severed ties with Chinese hardware providers, and is a bet on the strength of the US-UAE relationship. 
  • Meanwhile, OpenAI’s Sam Altman is like I DON’T NEED YOUR SUNGLASSES FRIENDS I CAN MAKE MY OWN SUNGLASSES FRIENDS. So he’s wooing Fortune 500 companies at three of his big city offices, pitching corporate applications of the technology. The company says that 92% of Fortune 500s already use the consumer version of its chatbot, ChatGPT. 
  • Of course, Microsoft is doing this, too, starting with Copilot’s coding assistant, which is saving engineers hundreds of hours of coding per month. Soon Copilot will save engineers from all hours of coding, ifyouknowhatImean.  
  • Side note: Google just launched Gemini Code Assist and CodeGemma. While they are marketed as “assistants” to engineers, they can write code on their own. 
  • Deloitte is launching AWS Centers of Excellence (or, Centres, if you like crumpets, tea, and irrelevant monarchies) around the world to help businesses in emerging markets move to the cloud. 
  • In February, AWS announced a $15B investment in Japan to support AI and cloud infrastructure. Microsoft is now coming in a distant second with a $2.9B investment in the country for the same reasons, plus skilling people. I hope the skilling sessions are held in cat cafes and everyone is in cosplay because we need more of that right now. 
  • Microsoft is launching an AI hub in London, which will focus on product development and research led by the newly hired Mustafa Suleyman.  

Wheelin’ and dealin’ 

  • What is the AWS plan for AI? Andy Jassy says the company has a three-layer strategy—a tiramisu of tech, if you will. 
  • But third parties view it a little differently. This reporter provides an in-depth analysis of where AWS will fit in the competitive AI landscape. For now, it will help businesses support and scale AI, making it more accessible. But an interesting advantage for AWS is simply the current disadvantage of Microsoft: security, which taps into businesses’ number one hurdle to AI adoption. 
  • Interestingly, software company Appian is working with AWS to bring generative AI to businesses, which involves combining Amazon Bedrock with Appian’s data fabric and large language models (LLMs). This “private AI” approach gives companies more control over their own data. 
  • It is evident, though, that a major part of the AWS strategy is to lean on what partners can offer joint customers—particularly, AWS partner Anthropic.  
  • First, AWS just announced that Anthropic’s Claude 3 Opus is now available on Amazon Bedrock AI foundation models service, which will help AWS better compete with the two cloud providers that ARE offering their own generative AI capabilities. 
  • Next, ZenDesk is collaborating with AWS and Anthropic to bring more speed, accuracy, and efficiency to its AI offerings. ZenDesk will use Anthropic’s Claude 3 family of LLMs and Amazon Bedrock to build and scale it. 
  • And to get more startups to use Amazon Bedrock for AI, as well as Anthropic’s AI models, AWS is giving away up to $500K in credits per startup. This is a five-fold increase in giveaways since the year prior, and tops what Microsoft and Google are offering to startups. 
  • Agilix Labs is collaborating with AWS for K-12, which is really just Agilix saying it operates on AWS. Thanks, that was definitely a must-know for me. 
  • Super-fast computing that can make scientific calculations which would otherwise take millions of years to complete today is being used to solve the climate crisis…j/k it’s for businesses that want to make more money. Microsoft and Quantinuum say they’ve made a breakthrough that brings the futuristic tech closer to the commercial sector. I can barely contain my joy.  
  • Is your business selling to other businesses? Do tornados and hackers have you feeling risky? Then you need the newest B2B risk management software from AWS and AXA, like, yesterday. 
  • OctoAI is collaborating with AWS to help developers build and deploy AI models quickly and efficiently. 

Personnel Pivots 

  • Formerly the president of web services in Japan for AWS, Tadao Nagasaki has moved over to OpenAI as president. I wish more people had LinkedIn photos like his, just adorable. 

Gossip (for nerds) 

  • Amazon you little sneak, sneakin’ secrets and hitting that copy + paste—now you owe $525M. A court found AWS GUILTY AS CHARGED for stealing patented data storage technology from Kove to create Amazon S3. Did you know that, with Amazon S3, you only pay for the stolen secrets you use and it’s highly elastic so you can scale all your stolen patents seamlessly? 
  • Microsoft has data center fever. Leaked documents reveal the company is going to use its additional IT capacity to expand—and indeed it is. Following the purchase of a big plot of land in Atlanta, the company acquired land in Johor, Malaysia. The deal is expected to be completed in 2042, only four years before an asteroid the size of a football field could hit Earth, with 1 in 600 odds. Look, I’m not weird, this is real and I don’t make the rules. Take it up with Neil deGrasse Tyson. 
  • Meanwhile, Microsoft is reportedly undergoing a reorg to transfer people from Teams to Copilot as part of its continued AI push. 

New stuff  

  • AWS has partnered with nonprofit Educause to develop a new tool that will help higher education institutions determine how ready they are to adopt generative AI (which of course must happen before they figure out how to save adjunct professors from applying for food stamps). The more you read the article, the more this tool sounds like a BuzzFeed survey but I’M SURE IT’S AMAZING. 
  • Twist my arm, why don’t ya: AWS has typically been the cloud service provider most steadily distributing ARM chips, but now Google has entered the chat. Axion is not a body spray for men—it’s Google’s first ARM-based CPU designed in-house—and allegedly performs 30% faster than the leading ARM CPU. 
  • Microsoft has updated its Azure AI Search to include more storage capacity, faster speed, and improved performance, all essential for application scalability. 
  • Deadline Cloud, the newest shiny thing from AWS, is a fully managed service that helps customers set up, deploy, and scale rendering projects in minutes. 
  • AWS has released a more cost-friendly version of its Amazon Aurora database that eliminates I/O charges. 

Ma’am, I’m going to have to call security 

Microsoft announced its unified security operations platform for public preview which is a little LOL because:  

  • The Midnight Blizzard attack is still ongoing, and at the same time, the government released a scathing federal report that says Microsoft could have fully prevented the Chinese state-linked hack last year that compromised many US agencies. 
  • After being dubbed a national security threat, and following recent headlines like “The US Government Has a Microsoft Problem,” the tech company remediated a record 149 security flaws in April—just after it resolved a major security threat in Azure which was, of course, discovered by…not them. 
  • Even Microsoft has had enough of its security problems and is embarking on the biggest security reboot in 20 years. Dubbed the “Secure Future Initiative,” the company’s program will use AI to detect cyberthreats and vulnerabilities—including in Microsoft products. Just so I have this straight, the plan is to use an emerging technology we still can’t fully control to solve a major cultural and technical security issue within one of the world’s largest companies. Am I right? Is that right? Just want to make sure I’m right. 

Best Friends Forever 

  • Volumez, which sounds like a 90s brand that makes headphones (on which you can listen to Jock Jams, naturally. I had all the volumes, believe it) has joined the AWS ISV Accelerate Program. 
  • New to AWS Marketplace: DeepScribe, a clinical documentation solution; b.well, which unifies data across healthcare systems; Prove, a digital identity solution; and Wing Security, which comes in honey BBQ, buffalo, and garlic parmesan.  
  • AWS and Salesforce continue to expand their partnership, this time by making select Salesforce products available in AWS Marketplace in the UK. 
  • Drata is the first compliance automation platform to achieve the AWS Security Competency. 
  • Cloud4C, an application-focused, cloud-managed services provider, has achieved AWS MSP status. 

Miscellany 

Image features a bright pink funnel on the left side of the funnel are three square categories, TOFU, MOFU and BOFU/

04/30/2024

How to spin up a marketing funnel that sizzles 

By Laurie Krisman

Image features a bright pink funnel on the left side of the funnel are three square categories, TOFU, MOFU and BOFU/

Image by Suzanne Calkins

Athletes, influencers, and celebrity endorsements increase brand engagement, extend reach, and drive sales. But if Beyoncé still hasn’t returned your call, don’t throw in the towel just yet. There are lots of demand-generation strategies that will engage your audience. It’s all about creating the right mix of content that breaks through the clutter, meets ROI, and gives back the KPIs you need. 

First, consider what drives your customer experience and work backward. (Wait, didn’t Steve Jobs say that? Apple was clearly on to something.) To create truly relevant content for your B2B marketing funnel, consider the real pain points, needs, and interests your target audience faces and then build your funnel strategy around it. As a refresher, the marketing funnel is made up of three distinct stages: TOFU (top of funnel), MOFU (middle of funnel), and BOFU (bottom of funnel). What your audience looks for evolves as they move down the funnel, so determining the type of demand-generation content that’s most effective for each stage is critical. 

Before we dig into each stage, there’s one more content best practice we should mention: a messaging and positioning framework (MPF).  An MPF will illustrate the key points you want your audience to take away when reading any asset. And by starting with an MPF, each piece of content you create will present the same points through different lenses. This way, your audience will hear you loud and clear—hopefully a few times. 

TOFU: Awareness and discovery 

From the top of the funnel, the audience is wide and so are the options. With customers not yet ready to convert, the goal is to engage them with your brand/solution and introduce them into the funnel. According to a report from Marketing Charts, B2B tech marketers and demand gen decision-makers say that blogs, infographics, and videos work best at this stage of the funnel. For cloud companies aiming to drive awareness, 2A would add social GIFs and email kits as great assets, too. And, additional research shows close to half (48%) of sales and marketing professionals believe that ROI from B2B videos is growing.  

  • Blogs: Pique interest in a short post from a reputable author 
  • Infographics: Turn your complex data into a well-crafted visual story 
  • Videos and animations: Entice and educate with core benefits and branding 
  • Social GIFs: Capture attention online with a quick moving showcase 

MOFU: Consideration and evaluation 

Once your audience moves through the initial engagement phase and into the middle of the funnel, they’ll want to see meatier assets to guide them through their buying journey. Case studies are a particularly effective way to bring tech use cases to life. Gated ebooks, whitepapers, and presentations are other assets favored by B2B marketers.  

  • Case studies: Bring technical use cases to life with stories that drive positive change 
  • Gated ebooks and whitepapers: Educate prospects with deeper content and collect leads 
  • Pitch decks: Start persuasive solution-based conversations with prospects 

BOFU: Decision and conversion 

Finally, once your audience moves into the decision phase they’ll want to see more—and more specific—information. In this area, meatier customer references for niche use cases, product demos, email follow-ups, personalized reports, and solution-specific videos are highly rated and help the audience take that final step.  

  • Product demos: Animate UI product screens to educate prospects about core benefits 
  • Email kit: Nurture leads with enticing copy, intentional, layout and a clear call to action
  • Solution-specific videos: Highlight specific product/solution use cases with video and animation  

Once you map out the three phases of the B2B marketing funnel and how your customer’s buying journey fits into it, content creation can begin in earnest. That’s where 2A comes in! As a cloud marketing agency focused on storytelling for business, we’re here to help when you’re ready to get started.  

Check out our new sizzle video for a taste of our demand-generation content! Then, give us a shout— contact@2a.consulting. I’d love to learn more about your marketing goals and how 2A might help.  

Dre brings technical expertise—and DIY spirit—to her creative process 

04/16/2024

Dre brings technical expertise—and DIY spirit—to her creative process 

By Jack Foraker

Dre brings technical expertise—and DIY spirit—to her creative process 

Image by Brandon Conboy

Storyteller Dre has a knack for embedding client stories with technological expertise—and for being in the right place at the right time. As an English major, Dre happened to live below a floor of computer science folks in her college dorms. This proximity helped uncover her aptitude for not only Jane Austen novels, but also operating systems. Naturally, she tacked on a minor in computer science. Also while in college, Dre worked at a coffee shop in downtown Eugene, Oregon, which was conveniently located opposite a small magazine publisher. After getting to know the publisher’s employees (and their morning coffee orders), she landed a job as their newest assistant editor and web developer. 

Bringing language arts to coding languages, and vice versa 

After a stint in Los Angeles working for the RAND Corporation (yes, that one) and Frank Gehry (yes, that one), Dre returned to the Pacific Northwest to pursue digital marketing in the tech industry. She worked at Amazon, which was seeking someone who could write both advertising copy and XML. Then she switched to Nintendo, where the company gained over six years of her talents. In that time, Dre expanded Nintendo’s West Coast marketing team, enhancing the brand’s web presence with dynamic announcements and immersive digital experiences. 

But something was still missing. While her day-to-day work was fun and challenging, Dre sought a role that would return her to writing. So, she transitioned from digital marketing to technology storytelling—or rather, at 2A, she found a role that combines both. These days, you’ll find Dre creating client assets that link compelling copy with deep technical expertise. 

And when she’s not behind the keyboard? 

Outside work, Dre’s hobbies lean toward the DIY, from writing an arts-and-crafts column in a local Seattle magazine to acrylic painting and retiling her bathroom. “I like projects where I can say, let me just see if I can do this and then keep trying until I figure out how to do it,” she says.

Dre brings that same DIY spirit to all projects. Whether you’re after the perfect drywall mount or creative collateral that captures your vision, Dre has an answer. And if she doesn’t, she isn’t afraid to dig into the nitty gritty to find it for you. 

Image shows the words

04/11/2024

Better together or better apart? Just ask Teams 

By Jane Dornemann

Image shows the words

Image by Suzanne Calkins

Wheelin’ and dealin’ 

  • Accounting tech firm Sage, which serves SMBs, has partnered with AWS to build a domain-specific large language model using Amazon Bedrock and Amazon Lex. What I really want is a collaboration with Sage that has them making things with SageMaker so we can say Sage is a maker of SageMaker stuff. And then Sage can turn around and do a big deal with McCormick spices, specifically in their sage-making department, so Sage can sell SageMaker to the world’s No. 1 sage maker. 
  • AWS, Accenture, and Anthropic have formed a partnership to help businesses in regulated sectors, such as finance and healthcare, access advanced AI models using Bedrock from AWS and Claude 3 from Anthropic. Accenture will train its engineers to use these tools so they can offer implementation support.  
  • This is part of the AWS plan to run the world’s “biggest AI playground,” starting with Bedrock. 
  • There’s a leadership shakeup at Microsoft, starting with its hire of Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind and Inflection, who is now EVP and CEO of Microsoft AI. The company has also hired Karén Simonyan, another Inflection co-founder, as chief scientist. Pavan Davuluri is the new head of Windows and Surface. And it’s unclear if Mikhail Parakhin, who was the head of advertising and web, is staying with Microsoft or not. Microsoft also promoted Azure VP Girish Bablani to president. 
  • After peeling off Inflection’s top two people, Microsoft agreed to pay the company $650M in cash to bring its AI models to Azure—and use most of its staff. So, basically this is what Mustafa’s new browsing history looks like.
  • Inflection and OpenAI have to share the spotlight with others. Microsoft invested $16M in Mistral, a French AI company, to bring Mistral’s newest AI model to Azure. Geez, Azure is getting more models than NYC Fashion Week (I get one dad joke per newsletter). 
  • This is part of Microsoft’s strategy to partner with many different AI companies. Microsoft will rely on these partners to enhance AI offerings while it focuses on building AI-essential infrastructure. 
  • ALSO having entered a partnership with Microsoft, Mistral AI is providing AWS with its foundation models for tasks like code completion and text summarization. 
  • And it’s wasting no time! Microsoft and OpenAI have plans to launch a $100B data center by 2028, which will include an AI supercomputer dubbed “Stargate.” Microsoft is largely footing the bill, which is about 100 times more than some of the biggest data centers, or about the same as my new health insurance deductible.  
  • After entering a major partnership with Microsoft, NVIDIA is now partnered with AWS to bring its Blackwell GPU platform to the cloud provider, which will offer it with EC2 instances. The goal is to accelerate generative AI capabilities. Chuckin’ chips to all the big clouds…NVIDIA has major rizz and serious player energy and I am here for it. 
  • E tu, Granicus? The “government experience” software and services provider is partnering with AWS to offer “engagement solutions” to the public sector. This will help the public sector do things like “customize citizen interactions.” In other words, it will help the government capture and correlate billions of our digital interactions. Should be fantastic, can’t wait. 

World domination 

  • Kries from the Kremlin? In step with Amazon and Google, Microsoft has limited or removed access to more than 50 of its cloud products in Russia. Many Russian companies will find their keys for Dynamics 365, Azure, and other major platforms invalid. (However, this doesn’t address the Russian companies that had used foreign accounts to bypass any future restrictions.) While it seems like the private sector’s version of sanctions, these tech companies may be doing the Russian government a favor—the dictator, I mean president, wants to steer Russian businesses toward domestic solutions. I dunno, though…have you ever been on a Russian elevator
  • Meanwhile, Chinese officials are telling government departments to stop using Intel, AMD, and Microsoft; they also want to drive domestic software and hardware production. They should make a TikTok about it… 
  • AWS will launch an Infrastructure Region in Saudi Arabia by 2026. As part of its long-term commitment to the Kingdom, AWS will invest $5.3B there—a measly one-third of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal’s net worth. “Why don’t you take me to dinner first before you insult me,” I imagine Talal saying to Jeff Bezos. “Take me out on your quaint little sailboat Jeff and tell me about this cheap infrastructure plan, it amuses me,” he’d say.  
  • More in our neck of the woods, AWS plunked down $650M to buy Talen Energy’s 1,200-acre data center campus in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Um, more interesting than that are the local news stories, forever my favorite. What’s going on in Luzerne County, you ask? A few things, like the installation of a toilet drop box for your ballots, an unruly hospital patient pulling the fire alarm, a drunken man kicking a state trooper, and a talent show!!! The data center will fit right in.  
  • AWS will also open a new Direct Connect location in Hawaii, allowing businesses to establish a private, physical network connection between AWS and their data centers or offices. 
  • Government agencies in the U.S. West region can use AWS Wickr, an encrypted communications service, following its FedRAMP authorization. Is there, like, a reason why the U.S. East can’t use it? Or will it just be approved in three hours because of the time difference? 

Gossip (for nerds) 

  • AWS laid off hundreds of people, primarily in sales, marketing, and store technology teams. This is sad news for us over at 2A, and we hope to see those people we’ve enjoyed working with do big things wherever they go. 
  • Microsoft will have to change how it markets its Teams and Office products following antitrust pressure from the European Union. The company has agreed to unbundle the two solutions, which makes Slack very happy. In the last decade, Microsoft has paid more than $2B in EU antitrust fines.  

New stuff  

  • There is now an AWS Generative AI competency that businesses can earn, and the cloud giant claims it is the first to offer such a competency to partners.  
  • Generative AI data company DataStax has achieved the new, totally hot and totally coveted Generative AI Competency. Crayon, an IT services company, has also colored itself competent. And so did Loka, a full-stack consultancy.  
  • Microsoft designed a new safety feature that can better detect when AI is hallucinating and block malicious prompts. Prompts Shield will (try to) protect against indirect and direct attacks, in which users manipulate the AI to do something or use it to carry out a malicious attack, respectively. Here are some other safety tools. 
  • This didn’t stop a self-described whistleblower at Microsoft from sounding the alarm on the harmful imagery Microsoft’s Copilot Designer can, and does, produce—even from benign requests.  
  • Teams update: Microsoft has improved the AI features in Teams to offer message generation and smarter meeting summaries.  
  • Businesses can move their data to other cloud providers for free, says AWS—and don’t think it’s out of the goodness of AWS’ heart. The company had to do this to comply with the European Data Act. 
  • New capabilities are out for Amazon Connect, including a self-service, drag-and-drop tool to create Live Chats, along with some new plug-ins.  
  • Copilot Pro is now available worldwide. Customers can use it to build their own copilots and embed them in Office apps.  
  • Copilot is also ready for cybersecurity prime time, says the company that’s always getting hacked.  
  • And Microsoft is developing a specialized strategy for bringing Copilot to finance teams, but its success depends on how customers use their data sources to generate results. 

Ma’am, I’m going to have to call security 

  • To get even less work done, congressional staff are no longer allowed to use the Microsoft Copilot chatbot because of security concerns. This comes after limitations on ChatGPT usage.  
  • YOINK! AWS has won Gee Rittenhouse away from his position of CEO at Skyhigh Security, after only two years there. Rittenhouse will join AWS as VP of enterprise security.  

Best Friends Forever 

  • Box has integrated Azure OpenAI Service with its selection of AI tools, but remains committed to its terrible user experience.  
  • Veeam, a data backup and restore software company, is adding Microsoft Copilot and AI services to offerings. 
  • Cognizant is going to work more closely with Azure by creating a special platform for Azure.  
  • Tidal, a SaaS platform that helps with cloud migration and application management, is now part of Microsoft’s Azure Landing Zone Accelerator program.   
  • Philips and AWS are collaborating to bring better diagnostic capabilities, including improved digital pathology, to healthcare companies.  
  • Leidos, a company that—and I quote—“addresses the world’s most vexing challenges,” has entered a multi-year strategic agreement with AWS to solve famine…oh wait, no, to accelerate innovation in the commercial market. My bad. The world is pretty short on innovation, though… 
  • Danske Bank, which is Danish but not like the kind you have for breakfast, I mean like the country, is migrating all its stuff to AWS.  
  • Cybersecurity firm Arctic Wolf has made its entire portfolio available in AWS Marketplace. 
  • Keeper Security, a cloud-based zero-trust software provider, has joined the AWS Partner Network. 
Image features Matt deWolf in the center surrounded by a collage including records, a music poster, coffee beans, and chat boxes.

04/03/2024

Meet Matt deWolf, visual virtuoso at Microsoft Research 

By Mollie Hawkins

Image features Matt deWolf in the center surrounded by a collage including records, a music poster, coffee beans, and chat boxes.

Image by Brandon Conboy

2A Embedded Consultants (ECs) are highly skilled, experienced professionals who function as contracted members of our clients’ teams. For the past two years, 2A EC Matt deWolf has been using his graphic designer talents at Microsoft Research (MSR). In this Q&A, Matt shares how he got here, what he’s doing, and why he loves it so dang much. 

Mollie: What do you do at Microsoft Research? 

Matt: So, the classic designer joke is that I “make things pretty,” right? Well, it’s more than just making things look nice, especially at MSR. Because of the global inflection point we’re at in technology, design is also about ensuring our visual language clearly communicates the message that we’re explicitly trying to send. An example of this is making sure our communications around AI visually align with our intentions. When we discuss AI, it’s important to ensure that our audience doesn’t get brought into a scene that inaccurately depicts what we want to say. The words in any asset tell one part of the story, but the imagery, color, and composition play a key role in reinforcing that textual direction. 

Mollie: That’s a fun challenge! What’s the most interesting part of working at MSR? 

Matt: It’s great getting to work with cutting-edge researchers who are wholly devoted to our mission statement: “Advancing science and technology to benefit humanity.” Something special about MSR is the non-product-related approach; not every development or mission immediately ties into something commercialized. I get to see new developments in AI research that range from determining the accuracy of image generation against a description to applications in healthcare. The breadth of work is truly impressive. 

Mollie: Can you tell me about a cool project you’ve been working on? 

Matt: MSR is piloting an episodic approach to our previous annual Research Summit called Microsoft Research Forum. This forum shares the latest findings with the global research community in real time. The event is considered a “tier 1” event for Microsoft, and it allows us to work with many vendors to develop the visual identity, web platform, and production for it. Not only is it the inaugural forum, but also we’re working collaboratively to build something great together. 

Mollie: How have you grown in your role over the past two years? 

Matt: The Research Forum project gave me opportunities to act as an art director, coordinating between design vendors, animators, developers, and internal production teams. This was a much more direct opportunity to explore these skillsets compared to some of my previous roles. I have definitely grown personally, learning to deliver constructive feedback and communicate clearly to multiple stakeholders, getting us closer to the outcomes we want. I hope to continue developing design leadership skills that support my team’s ability to do their jobs. 

Mollie: Where were you before Microsoft, and what about Microsoft makes your heart sing? 

Matt: Before MSR, I worked as a package designer at Hasbro. Yes, the Hasbro that makes Star Wars figures, Nerf Blasters, and Monopoly! But at MSR, I feel much more interested in the work. I enjoy technical things—bridging the gap between abstract concepts and visuals. Perhaps some of this comes from an adjacent design interest, web development. Let’s just say that when I write a JavaScript function and it doesn’t throw any errors, I basically feel like an MSR computer scientist. (LOL) 

Mollie: So, what else do you bring to the table? 

Matt: I think of myself as the Swiss Army knife of designers because of the different ways I’ve applied my knowledge. I have designed for print the old school way, on presses, and have designed for digital mediums. I know how to design and animate motion, as well as develop for the web, and I’m always growing and refining my leadership skills. 

Mollie: Now that we’ve talked business, let’s get down to the fun stuff. What do you do when you’re not designing? 

Matt: Outside of work, I’m an avid consumer of music and coffee. To me, music is something sacred and goes beyond listening to the radio. I love understanding the period from which the music originated, learning more about the artists, and seeing where it takes me. Layering this on top of my foundational understanding of music theory gives me a profound sense of pride when I uncover something new or view a piece of music from a new angle. And, of course, without overthinking it or applying any of that background, as humans, we all know when we like something. 

The coffee part is perhaps two-sided—not only do I appreciate coffee itself, but also I love the exploration and adventure in finding new cafes where I can enjoy music. 


Interested in becoming an EC? Check out our open roles or submit a general job inquiry if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for.  

Want to hire an Embedded Consultant? Learn more here. 

Image features a pink left on the left side of the image with three envelops drifting towards the right side of the image.

03/25/2024

Thanks for the parental leave, 2A 

By Rachel Adams

Image features a pink left on the left side of the image with three envelops drifting towards the right side of the image.

Image by Rachel Adams

Dear 2A, 

Thank you for making my maternity leave a wonderful experience! I felt supported through the whole process—from planning my leave to spending time away and returning to work. 

I appreciate the flexibility the 2A parental leave policy offers as everyone’s needs are different. I was thrilled to have the baseline 12 weeks of paid time off and to be able to take 8 weeks of unpaid time on top of that. This allowed me to recover after labor and figure out how to take care of my newborn son. As a first-time mom, there was a lot of learning! Additionally, leading up to my leave I felt a lot of love from the team, celebrating with a virtual baby shower and gifts for the baby. From the beginning, you made me feel like I was being set up for success. 

My time away from work is something I will cherish for the rest of time. Thank you for giving me the space (real space!) to bond with my baby without interruption. While there were a lot of necessary duties like doctors’ appointments, there were also a lot of meaningful moments like meeting grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It seems uncommon for a company to respect these boundaries given how connected we are to our work in this digital age. 

Returning to work after taking time off can be very stressful, but you’ve let me ease back into my role. You recognize the humanness of transitioning back into work mode and adjusting to a new schedule and routine. Not to mention dusting off the cobwebs that had weaved their way into my brain! The team welcomed me back enthusiastically and that made me excited to be back with my coworkers. I was also delighted to connect with everyone in person at the summer retreat shortly after I returned to work. Making those in-person connections was the cherry on top of returning from my leave. 

Being a new parent is scary and stressful, but being a new parent at 2A takes unnecessary stress out of the picture. Thanks again! 

With love, 

Rachel 

Image features a hand coming from left side of the image holding a pen drawing a line, there are two crumpled pieces of paper, and the word

03/21/2024

Words matter: Choose wisely with intersectionality-centered copyediting 

By Ren Iris

Image features a hand coming from left side of the image holding a pen drawing a line, there are two crumpled pieces of paper, and the word

Image by Julianne Medenblik

Copyediting requires constant decision-making. To hyphenate or not to hyphenate? Comma, semi-colon, colon, en dash, em dash, or ellipsis? Sentence case or title case? The answer usually is: It depends. 

Beyond syntax, semantics, and grammatical mechanics, there exists a more delicate space. Enter intersectionality, which can be quiet but is omnipresent. Copyediting is often the last hurdle before publishing or locking content, and conscientious copyediting means cultivating an awareness of reader multiplicity. It means constantly thinking, assessing, and reassessing. Recognizing and remembering that your intended audience contains multitudes unbeknownst to you, but ones you nonetheless must respect and address, overtly or covertly. Autopilot copyediting (as my mentor used to joke, “comma in, comma out?”) isn’t enough. Who is the intended audience, and am I revising to acknowledge their humanity? Am I editing out ableist, cisheteronormative, exploitative, and monocultural language? Because we are people, and people have several identities, evolving ideas and knowledge bases, and many, many opinions. People: We’re complicated. 

Let’s pause and review a key term—intersectionality. While the concept has been important throughout time, one could argue that we owe the earliest credit to Sojourner Truth in 1851. Members of the Combahee River Collective (formed in 1974) continued Truth’s work, but civil rights activist and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw is known for coining the term. I’m using Crenshaw’s 2020 TIME interview to define intersectionality

“It’s basically a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other…. some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.” 

These explanations and historical references provide necessary contexts. Because copyediting isn’t vacuum bound. Like linguistics, it evolves, hopefully in flow with ever-improving best practices. 

In the time of activist-scholar Pauli Murray, we didn’t have expansive language for disabilities, trans people, gender-nonconforming people, or pronouns (let alone rolling pronouns or neopronouns). Now we do. We didn’t have publication-based standards for capitalizing Black, Latine or Latinx, and Indigenous. But now we do. 

What’s my point? We as copyeditors need to edit with a learning-centered mindset, with the intersectional prism in mind, remembering that each edit can recognize or alienate a reader. Words matter because people and their experiences matter. 

Our editorial choices have ripple effects across, within, and between (insert preposition I’m forgetting here) for accessibility, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. This is what my pinned mental note reminds me each time I turn on track changes or use the comment function. Every inclusion and exclusion matters

Happy intersectional editing, y’all. 

Ren (they/them) 

P.S.: If you’re more of a visual-audio learner, I recommend Crenshaw’s 2016 TED Talk, “The urgency of intersectionality.” 

Image features Sal at the center. On the right and left edge are two original floral arrangements created by Sal.

03/18/2024

Balanced, organized, and elegant: Sal Thee Program Manager 

By Ashley JoEtta

Image features Sal at the center. On the right and left edge are two original floral arrangements created by Sal.

Image by Emily Zheng

As the program manager behind 2A’s case study practice, Sal is key to ensuring each layer of creativity and collaboration is concocted and delivered in the smoothest way possible. 

Balancing the layers of creativity with impact 

Like the illustrious Megan Thee Stallion, Sal Thee Program Manager is a lover of community. Sal wants everyone in their circle to feel invited to the table—including 2A’s clients. Before bringing her talents to the B2B world, Sal spent their time working with art non-profits, galleries and museums in Seattle. In those spaces, Sal provided close support to artists whose work is centered on social impact and community. From curating exhibitions to managing the behind-the-scenes minutia needed to produce a gorgeous and awe-inspiring show, Sal deeply understands the intricacies of planning and implementing a project that shines and delights audiences. That’s why she approaches each project like she’s building the layers of a perfectly shareable lasagna, considering every ingredient, potential taste pairings, and the baking (and cooling) times required. And let’s be honest—a healthy pinch of anxiety doesn’t hurt when it comes to planning. 

Bringing flowers to life for 2A’s clients 

With a passion for ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, Sal brings their talent for refinement to all of 2A’s creative endeavors. Whether she’s packaging an AWS case study, finessing a Google Cloud blog, or uplifting 2A’s marketing strategy, Sal is never afraid to delve in with both hands to create beautiful arrangements. When focused on uniting flowers, branches, and other natural elements, Sal considers the harmonies of mass, lines, and colors. With grace, they find the places where minimalism sparkles. She takes this elegance and infuses every 2A project with intentionality, taste, and vigor. This guarantees fresh and effective 2A templates, models, and processes that lead to kick-ass deliverables on a global stage. 

Remembering technology can be elegant, too 

At 2A, Sal loves collaborating with humans who care about preserving and enhancing the collective. When she first started at 2A, Sal managed a case study with AWS, Siemens, and Unlimited Tomorrow—a project focused on developing affordable and accessible prostheses. Here, she gained a deeper understanding of 2A’s storytelling, creativity, and collaboration powers. While attending the interview and listening to the customer explain how AWS and Siemens were helping their robotics team provide prostheses for children and adults around the world, Sal confirmed that they had brought their talents to the right place. In her own words: “I really love that our clients empower companies like Unlimited Together to create positive change in the disability community.” 

Ready to create your next case study with 2A? Sal will ensure the process layers in creativity, brings harmony to your stakeholders, and elevates your solution.