Posting course achievements on social media

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

Embrace Gen Z into the Workforce

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:

  1. More millennials than Gen Zers will pay extra for customer experience
  2. Gen Z sets a higher bar for expecting innovation from companies
  3. Gen Z is less likely than the millennial generation to trust companies — but can be swayed
  4. Gen Z is pragmatic; millennials are idealistic
  5. Gen Z focuses on saving money; millennials are more focused on the experience
  6. Millennials liked authenticity, but Gen Z takes it to a new level
  7. Gen Z prefers in-store shopping; millennials shop online
  8. 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.

planes should keep us alive

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 tech announcements this past week

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 info about the VS Code extension check the Microsoft announcement.

Innovation Spring in Dallas!

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.

Capital Factory

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).

Ericsson Garage

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 SomReynu 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.

Entrepreneurship in Dallas

For Dallas Entrepreneurs, soon-to-be, or any of my Dallas contacts, you should check out the following entrepreneurial sources in Dallas. The DEC (Dallas Entrepreneur Center) is nonprofit org to support innovation in Dallas website: http://thedec.co. Capital Factory (https://www.capitalfactory.com/) brings fellow entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors in one place. You can get a space there to innovate as well. Mavs Gaming (https://www.mavs.com/mavsgaming/) is a primary e-sports arena in Dallas. I will write in more detail about these and related key entrepreneurship areas in Dallas, but do check Capital Factory events at https://www.capitalfactory.com/events/. I also highly recommend subscribing to Dallas Innovates https://dallasinnovates.com/, the newsletter by the Dallas Regional Chamber and D Magazine #innovation #dallas

Is agile an urban legend and waterfall a taboo in project management?

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.

Cool 8th Graders, Computers & Games!

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”

and went over the videos from Farza “DeepLeague: leveraging computer vision and deep learning on the League of Legends mini map + giving away a dataset of over 100,000 labeled images to further esports analytics research” and explained how machines can learn through cameras

From website: “DeepLeague at work. All I input is a VOD of an LCS Game, and by analyzing just the pixels of the VOD, DeepLeague can tell us how every champion moves around the map. MAGIC!

from website “Check out the bounding boxes around the blue players that our program that “watches” the video produces.”

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.

AI & Games at Grade 8 Career Fair

I am showcasing today AI gadgets to Grade 8 midddle schoolers at Lamar Middle School (Lewisville ISD) next to my house. The students have a career fair event, and I hope to encourage future programmers to the field of technology. I am taking with me Amazon DeepLens and built-it-yourself Google AIY Voice. I plan to show them real time object classification with DeepLens/pretrained MXNet neural network followed by audio response to facial expression (smiling or frowning) with Google AIY/Raspberry Pi Zero/PiCamera. Hopefully it would do the trick and get students excited with AI just like us adults.

b2b companies should hire like b2c

I believe that an effective strategy for b2b (business to business) companies to innovate and grow is by powering their talented resources as if they are b2c (business to consumer) clients. That’s because the current generation of talents, millennials and post millennials, are digital consumers armed with the power of social networking and digital-everything. If b2b companies makes them feel cool and hype, the products they develop will be cool and hype, and the customers, young or old, could double down on such businesses because such companies are meshing modern and trustworthy professional experience. The only caveat is that b2b companies must have an organic feeling of doing this by seriously perfecting new talent acquisition and more seriously transforming their products and services quickly. Anyway, saying it versus actually doing it is not the same.