I remember the time when we as students first learned to program on early versions of PCs and terminal machines connected to a mainframe. Word processor software, namely WordStar and WordPerfect, were your everyday companion to write papers or stories. Productivity utilities for the first personal computers were innovative, especially that that memory allocation and processing power were so scarce. Developers of such tools had to find ingenious ways to create products that do not occupy all the machine resources to leave you with enough capacity for your work and software. What is now common in the development environment, including multitasking, multiple windows, screen splits, live code sharing, containers, cloud storage syncs, wireless headphones while coding, StackOverflow or Google for help, and virtually anything else you do today while coding did not exist a few decades ago. If I would pick up on some technologies that seem to stick around are:
– Listening to music while coding but not in the same and exact way we do today. You would have a double radio cassette player (if it is one of the big ones then you are rich!). The sound is covering the room until we managed to get our own Sony Walkman.
– Dark, green, or cyan desktop screens like terminal machines, monochrome monitors, and Commodore computer screens.
– Programming languages and standard operating system shell commands that are still common “dir” “cd”, or words like compile and run.
– Keyboard shortcuts! Yeah, shortcuts. The CONTROL key, ESC Key, Function, Alt, Option, Command on your keyboard were a legacy for developers. (Side note some keys like the Command Key or the Windows key were possibly part of the political battleground for Microsoft and Apple.)
Non-developers may not really know or care about the CONTROL key (other than copy and paste). They may find the TAB key convenient while writing but are not aware of the war of the worlds in TAB vs SPACES when writing code. They would see the function key or keys (F1, F2,.. ) on their computer but not do anything with it. They will not appreciate when young developers in the late eighties would find ingenious ways to make use of such keys for games, tools, and software. Apple also put a dagger in the developer’s heart when the ESC key was removed in their latest MacBook Pro. That key was so essential for developers using VIM and other text-based editors that people like me managed to turn a hardly used key CAPS Lock as my ESC key. Love it or hate it but Apple kept faith with its Command key which does not exist in Windows keyboard. It made it difficult for multi-OS developers using Windows/Linux, and MacOS to remember all the shortcuts when using the CONTROL key, the OPTION key, and the COMMAND key. On top of that, you have the ALT key, SHIFT-CMD, ALT-SHIFT-CMD, OPTION-CMD, CONTROL-OPTION-CMD, etc. and then add a character or number next to each one to perform a specific function.
In today development environment, key stroke shortcuts keeps getting created for every software product imaginable. Products like Visual Studio Code, Sublime Text, VIM, Office 365, LibreOffice, Mac OS own tools (screen capture and navigating around) have their shortcut commands along with the option of creating your own. As new products for developers come around, we have to remember new shortcuts. We are all humans, and we all age. So keeping up with the pile of shortcuts is problematic. Yes, there are options of not using shortcuts by using the Mouse, but we want to be fast and quick. We are developers after all!. I am not demanding a massive revolution against software manufactures that offers you new products with new shortcuts, but I think that the community needs to come together on making shortcuts less of long cuts. For instance, the famous CTRL C and CTRL V (copy and paste) should stay across all platforms and should not be replaced with CMD C & CMD V for Macs. Screenshot capture and paste should have a standard approach across OSes (remember Print Screen key?) We should demand that keyboard keys for Apple and Windows machines be the same – no more separate Windows flag or Apple own CMD key. The ESC key must return as well for Apple machines. These are just my ideas; others might have other suggestions in mind. Maybe we can eventually have an international developers guild of standard shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts are productivity functions. With our hands on the keyboard at all times, we can navigate and code much quicker than when using the mouse.
Now you can do select all, CTRL C to copy the text, and CTRL V to share it with all your developer friends. (Oh sorry, this applies to Windows users. CMD C and CMD V for Apple users)
I will write about Microsoft Build conference soon but one important photo that I feel any developer would appreciate is that of the first lines of assembly code that formed the BASIC language compiler on the first Altair personal computer written by Bill Gates and the late Paul Allen. It can be see at the Microsoft Redmond Campus Museum. Such lines of code sparked the generation of software developers across the world including me.
Lot of social media users tend to publicize their LinkedIn or Coursera course achievements. When we were at college, we would not post on walls that we completed some course. We might get laughed at. Completing a course (free or paid for) should not longer be treated as breaking news. What should be an achievement is what you do with what you learned rather than wait for recruiters to message you. They won’t if you completed X numbers of courses. If every small thing we achieve is posted as an achievement then how could you differentiate yourself from others who took nearly the same set courses? Instead, focus on the outcome. Do something with what you learned. Don’t make it an excuse that you only need your next x-figure salary to apply what learned. That’s bogus. You are wasting your time that way. Avoid publicizing the quantity of course completions and keep the quality of courses you took to yourself. It is also less stressful to you because you won’t have to worry about the likes that you will not get or the recruiters that won’t come. Better to just tap yourself on the shoulder and move on. It is a lot healthier since, at the very least, you are making some physical effort that personally benefits you and not anyone else
The corporate world should seriously embrace Generation Z into their workforce. Those born after 1997 are entering the workforce this year. Their approach in IT is to build applications with immediate real-world implications. Check what two GenZ engineers Nisha and Clarisse have to say at a HackerRank interview. Also two completely unrelated companies, BBVA Compass, a financial bank, and Skratch, a platform for teenagers, partnered together in Dallas to let teenagers use a mobile app to make money from community activities such as scooping ice cream at school fairs and teaching kids how to mix music like DJs. (Read more about it.)
Generation Z is on track to be the best educated and most diverse generation yet. (Check Pew Research article). 48% of them are racial or ethnic minorities and have similar liberal-leaning political as well as social views as Millennials (born between 1980–1995). (See Pew Research article.) However, similar to Nisha and Clarisse, Generation Z has its take on society and the workplace. SalesForce updated their blog post on “Millennials vs. Gen Z: How Are They Different?“. I quote from the article:
More millennials than Gen Zers will pay extra for customer experience
Gen Z sets a higher bar for expecting innovation from companies
Gen Z is less likely than the millennial generation to trust companies — but can be swayed
Gen Z is pragmatic; millennials are idealistic
Gen Z focuses on saving money; millennials are more focused on the experience
Millennials liked authenticity, but Gen Z takes it to a new level
Gen Z prefers in-store shopping; millennials shop online
Millennials cozy up to brands; Gen Z wants to be independently themselves
I recommend to check the SalesForce article since each of the bullets above is described in detail.
I think that for companies to be more successful in the digital world, it is essential that their products and services are not assuming all generation of customers (and employees) as one or as merely dividing in half between old vs. new. Having a clear understanding of the differences between millennial and post-millennials who is about to form the largest workforce can make a huge difference in not only companies’ bottom line but for the positive social change across the world. The latter is what all generations should be caring about except that Gen Z is actively caring more about it than everyone else.
All the news about planes crashing, planes burning, planes disappearing, planes stalling, and more of these is so devastating. It is true that one has a higher chance getting into a car accident than a plane crash, but when is this going to stop? When will quality engineering and advanced technologies save more lives? Forget about going to space. We can’t get to air safely all the time. If human generations won’t stop considering every airplane tragedy as a one off incident compared to the total safe flights, what will happen when we have space tourism or space traveling? It will be even worse problems than what human intellect is able to resolve in its lifetime.
Key technology announcements in the last few days for software developers, blockchain, and data science. Both Amazon and Microsoft launched their managed blockchain services for general adoption. I expect this to disrupt the blockchain business since it simplifies the process of adopting or integrating blockchain in the development ecosystem. More info at TechCrunch and CoinDesk. Microsoft launched its version of AutoML via Azure. Users can drag and drop their machine learning building blocks which should simply the process for the less AI-savvy. (Note that more than a year ago Google launched its AutoML version.) You can read more about it here. Microsoft launched a cool Visual Studio Code extension that allows you to have a complete development environment on remote hosting machines. This means that developers can use their desktops as basic terminal machines where everything from creating folders/files, compiling, and executing code is running via docker containers/ssh/virtual machines all through their Visual Studio Code environment. That way developers can rely less on their desktop machines and, instead, leverage higher end processing power of servers during code development which shortens the CI/CD pipeline process. For more infoaboutthe VS Code extensioncheck the Microsoftannouncement.
I participated in several events around Dallas this month of April, and each one is proving more and more that Dallas is a great hub for innovation. Here is my journal log about the 2019 Dallas Startup Week for April 1-5, followed by the Dallas Innovation Roadshow bus tour on April 24, and concluding with students talk about innovation at the 2019 DCCCD STEM Summit last Friday, April 26.
Dallas Start Week April 1-5, 2019
The event was largely sponsored by Capital One, gold sponsors including Thomson Reuters (my employer), Capital Factory, Dallas Regional Chamber, EY, and several other companies, in addition to silver sponsors. It included 150 sessions in 14 different locations around Dallas with 16 different topics such as AI, e-sports, investment strategies, blockchain, and more. I couldn’t attend every session, but I did manage to attend at least one session that covers a specific topic. My notes below include my notes from attending sessions on entrepreneurship, esports, education, blockchain, and the last one on corporate innovation that I was one of the speakers at a panel.
from Day 1 – on entrepreneurship
At a panel on entrepreneurship, one particular speaker that I found was engaging is David Copps, CEO at Hypergiant Sensory Sciences in Dallas. He discussed the importance of storytelling for transformative projects. David would say “who am I for other people? A question should you ask yourself all the time”. When asked about culture in his startups, he said that organizations should allow the culture to create itself. “You can’t make people responsible. You let them be responsible”. Learning from mistakes is an important attribute to entrepreneurship. Dave said that he learned the hard way to attract good people but also learned how to let go of the ones that are toxic to the culture in the company. When asked “is the agile the answer to culture,” Dave said agile is a way to administer culture, but it is not the culture in itself. He would add that companies should iterate, iterate, and iterate until they reach awesome; build a culture where people are always learning.
In another forum, we heard from entrepreneurs talking about the importance of focusing head down on execution. Entrepreneurs should make sure to have a good technical understanding of what they are receiving and spending money on. They should establish regular communication channels such as newsletters and emails to keep them up to date with progress. When seeking investment funds, startups should do their homework about the person they are talking to before pitching their ideas.
From Day 2 – esports
I attended the Mavs e-sports gaming arena in Deep Ellum. The building looks like a warehouse from the outside. Maybe it is but what matters is inside – giant screens, game consoles everywhere, cool lighting, and lots of open space. Dr. Richard Benson, president of the University of Texas in Dallas, first gave a talk about how esports and emerging technology are essential programs at the university. That’s because it is anticipated that by 2021 there will be more viewers in the US watching e-sports than any other sport besides NFL. According to Dr. Benson, e-sports make more money than the music and the gaming industry combined. After Dr. Benson’s talk, the director of strategic partnership at Twitch (an Amazon company for streaming game playing), Mark “Garvey” Candell talked about Twitch and the process of allowing streamers and broadcasters to earn money from game streaming. After that, a forum of e-sports activists in Dallas discussed their products in the space which ranges from blockchain and AI to managing locations and e-sports players. My key take is that Dallas is getting big on e-sports.
From Day 3 – education
I attended the session on education and AI that was moderated by a friend of mine, Viswanath Puttagunta, CTO and Principal Data Scientist at Divergence.AI. The panel consisted of Rod Wetterskog, assistant dean and corporate relations at the University of Texas in Dallas (UTD), Dr. Anna Sidorova, associate professor at the University of North Texas (UNT), and Sravan Ankaraju from divergence academy. The panelists discussed how their learning institutions are training professionals in the field of AI. My key take is that both university institutions, in this case, UNT and UTD, and vocational institutions, such as Divergence Academy, are supporting workforce development in AI.
From Day 4 – blockchain
I attended the panel on blockchain at Capital Factory which included Dallas startup leaders in the field. Each one would discuss their products and services that are predominately in cryptocurrencies and digital wallets. What I found interesting is the answer to my question about how would they position themselves in five years when big firms adapt similar technologies as startups today. One panelist responded by saying that they expect big firms to purchase companies like them rather than reinventing the wheel. I guess such startups are here for the short term to be acquired rather than for the long term to grow into larger companies.
From Day 5 – corporate innovation
I was part of the 1st panel on corporate innovation at Capital One. My fellow panelists were Scott Emmons from The Current Global, Sean Minter from AmplifAI, Charles Lass, MIT, and Sterling Mah Ingui from Fidelity Labs. Dalia Powers from CBRE was our moderator. The discussions centered on innovation in the corporate space. I shared my journey in leading the transformation of a learning product at Thomson Reuters. I talked about the personal and team challenges in shifting mindsets from waterfall to agile and from old technologies to new. Of course, the success does not come from IT alone but through partnerships with the business, leadership, and all other parts of the organization.
My key takes from the Dallas Startup Week in its second year is that we have lots of entrepreneurial mindsets in the Dallas metroplex. Traditionally one would assume that the hub of innovation is in Silicon Valley, Palo Alto, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, and Toronto/Montreal, but hey Dallas has an attractive offer – less expensive property, great universities (UTD is ranked 4th in the world in the field of Computer Science), and an energetic talent that wants to make a difference.
The Insider Tour: DFW Innovation Roadshow
Accenture sponsored an insider tour event to showcase corporate innovation within the Dallas metroplex. I owe a big thanks to Natalie Pazera from the Dallas Chamber to recommend me that I join the tour bus. I also thank Sarah Laborde from Accenture who handled the logistics as well as help reserving a meeting room for me at Capital Factory to take a conference call before joining the tour.
The meeting point for the innovation roadshow “tourists” was at Capital Factory. That place is truly magical. If you want to hang around with startups, innovators, and investors, I would highly recommend checking the place. They have rooms labeled as games such a conference room called “Minecraft.” They got a beer tap hanging out from a wall that has a drawing in the shape of an arcade machine. They have arcade machines and even game cartridges on shelf display. Capital Factory in Dallas comes after the first one in Austin. Startups can rent space, setup meeting events, and engage with investors for seed investments. The location is cool and hype.
Ok, back to the roadshow. The first tour was Capital One Garage.
Capital One Garage
Capital One Garage is the innovation center for financial services and digital strategy for Capital One. Rachna Ponia from the technology programs and operations management department took us on tour around the Garage. The place is located in Plano and oversees projects related to home loans, auto finance, or consumer-centric products that assist in purchasing decisions. For instance, a product that graduated from the Garage is the Auto Navigator which now includes a new feature that helps customers compare car information by only taking photos of the cars that interest them. Another product that graduated from the Garage is Eno, a Capital One digital assistant that automatically sends useful insights and alerts about your credit card accounts. Rachna walked us through some of the floors and walked us through the teams’ agile processes. We saw Kanban boards, notes, tasks lists, and various colorful writings all over the whitespace walls. We saw testing rooms that host customer feedback sessions. Rachna said that all team members in any given project are collocated in the same place. Regular rotations happen between the Garage and other parts of Capital One. The place is fun. They have their personal music band and a Maker Space for fun. The place is truly a great place to innovate. More information about the Garage can be found at the following article Alexandra Cronin (2017) article “The Wow Factor: Inside the Garage, Capital One Plano’s center of innovation”. (Note that we cannot took photos inside the garage but only at the entrance).
Our next stop was the Ericsson Garage in Plano. Ericsson is a Swedish company that provides information and communication technology (ICT) to service providers. It handles 40% of all the mobile traffic around the world. End users in the United States may not know about Ericsson because the company is not selling end-user products nowadays. However, I did have my first Ericsson cellphone in 1996 when I lived in Lebanon. Ericsson portfolio of products covers networks, digital services, managed services, and emerging technologies powered by 5G and IoT platforms. You can read more about Ericsson). The Plano office is Ericsson’s headquarter office in America. I do not recall the names of the Ericsson engineers, but they gave us an overview of the technologies that Ericsson is focusing on 5G and IoT. We saw simulations of how 5G can be used in edge computing and demoed practical use cases for augmented reality applications. We also saw simulation examples of IoT devices around smart cities. My key takes from the Ericsson visit is that the force of 5G is coming whether we need it or not today. But we should be ready with ideas especially in the IoT and mobility space that would take advantage of its speed.
UT Dallas Design Studio – Innovation Lab
Our third and last stop was at the University of Texas in Dallas Design Studio and Innovation Lab. The UT Design Studio is located in Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. Its purpose is to bridge industry with students especially those that are working on capstone projects before their graduation. From the UT Design website, there have been 557 total corporate-sponsored projects, 3411 total students completing capstone projects, 249 companies that sponsored projects, and seven national first-place awards in university capstone project competitions since 2014. Rod Wetterskog, the same Rod mentioned before in Dallas Startup Week walked us through the lab and gave us an overview of the winning projects. Also, Dresden Goldberg, Assistant Director for the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the university walked us through the process in which many of the graduates set up their startups and, the institute would help them with initial funding. My key take from the UT Dallas Design Studio is that the corporate world can get the best talent to work on industry-related projects at way much cheaper cost than hiring an intern. You may get 4 to 6 minds for 10k per semester which is a price of one intern. (No offense to interns!).
Thanks to Accenture for sponsoring the Garage Tour trip. The visits were great attestation on innovation in Dallas. Not only that but I also met great minds at the bus! I met Chris Gillan, entrepreneur and Senior Vice President – Corporate Innovation at Capital Factory. I also met Lisa McComb, CEO and co-founder of Rectify, a product for identifying and protecting confidential or proprietary information in data sets. I also had a very entertaining discussion on IoT at homes with Bobby Katoli, founder of CERES Technology, a Blockchain-enabled IoT device for the supply chain of perishables.
2019 DCCCD STEM Summit
The Dallas County Community College District had its innovation/stem summit last Friday, April 25. The event details are listed here. It started with a keynote from Romelia Flores, IBM Distinguished Engineer. Ms. Flores is also a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin and has 68 inventions, 38 patents, and another 30 patents pending. The program continued with an industry panel on how innovators turn ideas into action, and it followed with a student panel where three students from the UTD Design Studio that I reference above discussed their project and the importance of collaboration. The event concluded with lunch and company roundtables where students interacted with various local companies that were present at the event. I managed to listen to the student panel which enlightened me on how much the new generation is learning so much and so fast in today’s world of innovation and technology.
The 3 UTD senior students, Brishty Som, Reynu Shirali, and Safwan Mazhar talked about teamwork and collaboration. I missed the first part of the talk which I assume they discussed their capstone project. But what I managed to figure out is that it is related to IoT, embedded systems, and hardware. The project itself is not what matters here, but what impressed me is that the three senior students talked like experienced professionals in the industry. They used collaborative platforms, such as Slack, established team roles and responsibilities, took diverse input from other members, advisors, and even friends. They built upon their ideas in an iterative process. They had their challenges and their struggles but ended with a successful implementation. When they were asked by the panel moderator what are their main takeaways from the capstone projects, their answers were very mature and intellectual: – learned better to work in a team than in silos – the project lead said that she learned that doing everything yourself does not work; it is important to utilize other peoples’ skills and talents. Have faith in others. All this is important for a successful project.
When the moderator asked what feedback would they give to students, their answer is even more powerful: – Don’t let formal education limit you. Don’t wait to register for a class that has a technology that interests you. Just pick it up by checking the internet. Pick a personal project. Be involved in the community. Picking up skills on the fly is a key skill. – Be prepared to change. If you always wanted a certain career but found yourself that you don’t fit, try changing to something else. Find your passion and work towards your passion. Don’t compare yourself to other people.
All this concludes my April 2019 innovation discovery adventure in Dallas. I learned a lot from others regardless of their role in the Dallas society: investors, managers, leaders, innovators, students, professionals, gamers, educators, and more. I came to Dallas in 2001, and I am feeling more and more now that this place is indeed a magical land of opportunities.
Stamping a project as agile does not guarantee a successful execution; flagging a project as a waterfall does not ensure a failed implementation either. For me, agile is about iterative but speedy design to delivery, and waterfall is about too many iterative steps from planning to execution. I see agile projects as more quantitative (XYZ projects, X backlog items, Z releases) while waterfall is more qualitative (detailed explanation of ideas and too many discussions about each project). The IT industry today treats waterfall as something old while agile is cool which then in forces leaders, managers, and individuals to learn and embrace agile methodologies and making words like “waterfall” as taboo. I think it is a mistake to drop waterfall for agile. Just as we cannot drop qualitative thinking for quantitative ones or vice versa, it is important that both waterfall and agile concepts mesh together in our project management approach. We should drop the words of “waterfall” or “agile” in labeling projects, but we must always think as “agile” and deliver a successful “waterfall” project.
It is my 3rd year volunteering at Lamar Middle School (Lewisville ISD), a nearby school to our house in Texas. I kept accepting the volunteering task of presenting at its career fair even after my son moved on to high school because I felt a sense of purpose of encouraging new generations in the field of computer science. I estimated to have presented to around 150 8th graders at the school in total between all three times combined. I would first talk about about my past and what I do at the time with Thomson Reuters, and then get into my passion – technologies. Below are some slides about that I presented between 2017 and 2018.
This year I learned to summarize my background in one slide
After that I went into technologies. In 2017 I brought with me to school various gadgets including a Raspberry Pi, a maker robot, an Arduino, and various gadgets so as to show case what one can with technology. In 2018, I thought of focusing on AI and began showcasing through videos what artificial intelligence is about.
I showed YouTube videos of a MIT cheetah robot, an Audi self-driving car and a chatbot interaction between Alexa and Siri
After that I felt that I am lecturing the students by describing how to become a great computer scientist
But this year, I decided to make things more interactive by showcasing actual implementations and making the topic more aligned to their age of playing games! Hence, I focused on how gaming and artificial intelligence align together and how it can be cool to be the next programmer of such algorithms rather than simply playing Fortnite, League of Legends, Dota 2 and more.
I focused on the topic of leveraging cameras to let computers learn from players or people. Showed Chintan from DeepGamingAI video “creating custom Fortnite dances with webcam and Deep Learning”
After that, I brought out Amazon AWS Deep Lens that I had previously setup for the event by deploying the object recognition model that recognizes 20 objects: airplane, bicycle, bird, boat, bottle, bus, car, cat, chair, cow, dining table, dog, horse, motorbike, person, potted plant, sheep, sofa, train, and TV monitor. I projected the camera at my audience and began explaining the process of neural networks, object detection, object classification, and what can reinforcement learning do if we expanded the project.
After that, I brought out my Google AIY Vision kit and explained how it works. To my bad luck I could not get the device to do more than beeping when it sees a face. Its code should make different colors when I make a happy face or a frown face. I had it working all along in the past, but this time I realized that I brought the wrong lens with me. Nevertheless, I explained how students can build such kits by showing them what’s in it.
Overall, there were 45 students this year that came to my all day demo. They would come in groups of 5 to 7 coming every 20 or 25 minutes. I would answer questions about my career and what I do at Thomson Reuters. Some asked my about my day to day work at Thomson Reuters, what my challenges and what makes me interested at work. My answers were honestly true and simple: I love to take challenging projects and focus on solving them with the team just like we would playing the next adventure game and solving its puzzles.
My key take from the whole experience is that most of the students love games, and that I used to make my point that they can leverage computers in whatever they love to do. Note that some said they want to do something in law enforcement, law, media, medicine, and not necessarily games or computer science. Even that, I felt that I had an answer which is computer programming and artificial intelligence is useful in whatever career they wish to do. Hopefully the students left my sessions with more interests in computers and programming. That’s the goal. I hope it worked for them just like computers worked for me in my entire life and continuous to do so through innovation and problem solving.