Exciting Periods Ahead for Tech

I think that the remainder of the year and the following year will continue to be an exciting period for IT. Hype of AI has toned down a little, and now we have more focus on applications. Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and recently Apple are showing more developer centric products. Just check all their recent announcements. Open source still rules and GitHub is still the go to place even after Microsoft’s acquisition. Startups keep popping up in all different places such as in Texas and not just the traditional states. IoT, ARM chips, and Maker tools keep getting cheaper for affordable proof of concepts. The lucky interns are landing summer jobs while the unlucky ones will have to be patient for other opportunities but can pick up new skills in the interim or enjoy family unions. On the other hand, there is not shortage of learning and wisdom leadership by the incumbent corporate employees. Overall, it is great to be in IT.

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.