Gen Z in Corporate Strategy

In several forums on digital transformations that I attended in the last two years, I would ask the panelists on whether they are incorporating Generation Z millennials into their product development strategy. In such forums you never get a yes or no answer and that is understandably ok, but the silence prior to saying anything makes it clear. It takes an effort to think about it when it should not be. Digital first or mobile first strategy should begin by clustering customers (and employees because they can influence your customers) by generation (silent gen, boomers, X, Y, and Z). Spend more research in determining differences in behavior toward your current or future products. The Z generation could ultimately drop your product altogether, so it important to maintain such outlook and strategize accordingly.

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.

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.

Minecraft or Fortnite for your career?

A common past/present/future dilemma in the professional space is what I learned from yesterday, which job is available today, and what to learn for tomorrow. It gets more complicated as career and family building kicks in, and even more stressful as a person’s age. If you can imagine Past, Present, and Future as building blocks stacked on top of each other, Future bottom, Present in the middle, and Past on top, and the height of each set equals the years of experience, things get interesting.

If you have been in the industry for a long time, the long years of experience make the Past blocks taller and heavier and put more weight on Present and Future underneath. The set of Future blocks tend to be less in quantity, and the set of blocks that stand or break the stack would be the Present set of blocks. Hence, things get fragile….

The converse when you are in young in the field, your set of Past building blocks are much less in size than the future ones; your Present blocks have a tougher situation. The first set of Past blocks would not have enough pressure over the Present blocks, and the Future blocks are numerous, and, subsequently, harder to pressure.

Either way, the Present blocks are in a sensitive situation – pressure or not pressure from Past blocks, and break or make the Future blocks. Furthermore, the middle set of blocks constantly form some kind of balance between Past and Future unless some external force or King Kong tumbles the whole stack apart.

So what do you do if you want to an instructive Past, a less fragile Present, and a healthy stack towards the Future?

I don’t think I have the right answer, but I have a personal one instead. We can’t change the number of blocks that we stack as our experience throughout our lives from past, present, and future, but we can influence its quality. Think of playing constructive-building Minecraft rather than destructive-style Fortnite. Which type of blocks do you want to build – gold, steel, wood, shiny, cracked? How do you want them stacked? Horizontally, vertically, or both? Do you want to build a castle or a fort or a pyramid? Do you want something that is a work of art or science or a hybrid? Do you want to spend a lot of time making every block perfect or have fun stacking things? The ideas can go on and on… Last, play Minecraft as your career building strategy. Stop wasting time destroying things as in Fornite.

X is not Y and is surely not Z in the Digital Age

Witnessing over 20,000 women in tech attendees at #GHC18, majority of those by pure observation seem to be in their early twenties, hence Generation Z (those born after 1998), filling all lecture rooms about IT & AI, occupying career fair booths, and consumed with technology, internet, and mobiles phone, are all strong indications that Generation Z is most crucial generation to think of. Whether it is the old or the new generation of businesses, Generation Z is consumers, producers, and employees of technologist today and pretty soon will be employers as well – that’s if they are not there already because they are entrepreneurs as well.

In the last couple of years, we witnessed many companies talking about digital transformation – mobile-first, cloud-first, and everything digital. The era of digital became popular in the last two decades mostly because of the rise of social media and mobile; all thanks to the Generation Y or millennials, those born in the early 80s, who use technology for everything. The enterprises that are trying to transform into digital are run by older generations, the X born from the early-mid 1960s to the early 1980s or the Boomers born before the X. It remains to be seen if digital transformation by enterprises run by Generation X or Boomers at a time when millennials are maturing in the field and the younger Generation Z are not taking over the workplace would force more subsequent business transformations or even bigger bangs! But we need not get carried away with this. What we need is a right amount of customer analytics, market studies with explicit delineation between generations (Boomers, X, Y, & Z) in the researches’ demographics, as well as products and services targeting generation Z consumers.

So if I want to go back to the title of this article, “X is not Y and is surely not Z”, I would ask any of prior-than-generation-Z readers and myself to: “as generations of A to Y” make sure that you think as Z because there is nothing after Z!

tricking the phone camera!

one of my favorite photo#WorkingatTR. ‘May look weird to you but let me explain. We once decided to mess up with technology. We circled ourselves with boards in a 360degrees and placed ourselves between the boards. Think of yourself standing in a center where big boards surround you anyway you turn. One of us then stood in the center, placed the mobile phone camera in panoramic mode, and began turning around himself while taking a panorama photo. What you see in the picture is a 2D+Time photo (Time from Back to the Future?) turning flat into a 2D image. While the photo is being taken, some of us would run and take different positions in order to get photographed twice in the same photo. Unfortunately, the speed of the camera is faster than our movements so we couldn’t make Einstein happy with the theory of relativity. Plus the camera was somewhat smart to recognize what is going in here – kidding, the panoramic photo shooting would stop right around the 360 degree shooting. The point with all this is I look like one of the interns and it makes me happy because it is all about energy, fun, collaboration, and love for technology and teamwork! Caleb Fung Sandilya Madiraju Samir Naqvi Shiqi (Katherine) Li Akhilesh Yeleswarapu

my advice to young professionals and restarters in IT.

Learn Python both as data scientist tool and web developing tool. Learn JavaScript for a richer web experience. Just don’t go bezerk wanting to learning everything there at once, and, definitely do not put every single technology you encountered in your resume! Don’t always follow instructions. Be badass sometimes – not all the times. Be humble but break status-quo. Be fearless just like you are playing Fortnite. Use Jupyter Labs extensively, enjoy ZSH scripting, try stuff and break stuff. Blog about anything and write something new each day. Have fun even at work. Talk and chat often.  Cry sometimes (we are humans after all) and cheer at other times. Love what you do and you would do great !

My advice to young professionals and restarters in IT

My advice to young professionals and restarters in IT. Learn Python both as data scientist tool and web developing tool. Learn JavaScript for a richer web experience. Just don’t go bezerk wanting to learning everything there at once, and, definitely do not put every single technology you encountered in your resume! Don’t always follow instructions. Be badass sometimes – not all the times. Be humble but break status-quo. Be fearless just like you are playing Fortnite. Use Jupyter Labs extensively, enjoy ZSH scripting, try stuff and break stuff. Blog about anything and write something new each day. Have fun even at work. Talk and chat often.  Cry sometimes (we are humans afterall) and cheer at other times. Love what you do and you would do great !

Awesome Interns at Thomson Reuters

Aewesome data science and AI projects with myself and youngest talented member of my team Shiqi (Katherine) Li as intern mentees at Thomson Reuters! – Akhilesh Yeleswarapu and Caleb Fung working on a Javascript & patterns library modules for a tax product, Samir Naqvi working on a interactive chatbot/nlp product for a learning product, Sandilya Madiraju working on fraud detection machine learning tool for an audit product, and Drew Huck working on a cool blockchain identity poc. #TRintern#workingatTR

Reverse XML – my lessons learned for millennial sake

In April of 2001, I was so much into XML and had some innovative ideas of my own. I was working as a software engineer at Knowledgeview. The company was heavily focused on developing content syndication software for news agencies and newspapers. At that time the language Perl was still dominant for parsing text and Java was the popular language for websites. Knowledgeview was adamant about using standard specifications including NewsML, NITF, RSS, and more. XML, initially defined in 1998 wiki was starting to become a topic discussion within the office during the time that I was working with them between 1999 and 2001. As a young programmer, working mainly from the Lebanon office, I had lesser exposure to the technologies that the London office had at the time. But that did not stop me from trying to innovate. On April 23, 2001, I send an email to the xml mail distro at Knowledgeview that said:

Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2001 11:39:03 +0100

Attached is a 4-page white paper about a concept that crossed my mind like week. The whole idea initially started after a brief conversation with Dr Ali about XML in which he mentioned that not all companies may integrate XML in their applications. Such a remark, made me think of solutions that would keep one form of framework for such companies to exchange their data (that are based on customized and different structuring) without resorting to applications’ modifications (expensive) but where standards (like any form of XML) still apply.

What I basically said in the document is that if the industry is heading towards XML as a standard form of communication across systems or applications, and if some companies many not be quick to jump onto XML, why not generate an orchestration mechanism to allow a company A and a company B share data by bridging each of their own custom formats with a help of a middle-player – a two translator. The steps would be as follows

  1. let each company declare its set of set delimiters D for its content and publish the format on a common repository
  2. define a set of XSL rules that convert each set of delimiters D from (1) into a universal XML X format.
  3. anytime a company Y would like to leverage date from company X, company Y would query the common repository for company X data specification and execute the set of rules in 2 to convert the text from Company X into the format needed for Company Y.

I named the technique Reverse XML

I did not hear from anyone in the company about my idea. I was 27 at the time and was still young in the industry. I did not push myself nor I knew any better way to articulate my idea other than just emailing. Few month later I left the company not because of this but because I decided to moved the United States and a build a new future with my wife.

Why am I saying all this? I thought I had a great idea at the same time. Given that I had limited resources I really did not know that there might have been a similar product out there. Maybe if I know at that time what I know now I could have been more aggressive in marketing my idea. I would also ask the question why would I have sent a subsequent email and say that some competitor product exist when I really did not try that product. Whatever my idea was truly unique. Moreover, even if I did not hear from my management I should have tried another way. Nevertheless, I was proud of my idea and the name that I gave it – Reverse XML. I tried to be imaginative and was thinking big. In my conclusion I wrote:

The application may be established as a free service where the following could be our revenue:

  1. Our database would include all companies’ source formats, where our content-representation language that should handle all of these formats may create a data bridge between all those companies whose applications are not XML-friendly yet.
  1. Having said point “1”, our database would be also valuable because we will be able to market-focus our products that maybe of interest to these companies.

Note: “Reverse XML” may be free to use and our company may provide as a paid service the option to write the client’s “content key” files.

I was thinking of open sourcing the solution but provide a paid service for assisting companies.

Who knows maybe it would have been a great business opportunity or a great success story. Maybe this idea might have turned big just like JSON format nowadays. What if I patented the idea or made something more of it? There is no shortage of one’s tendency to dream and think of great accomplishments. Why not? Unfortunately I did not push for it and, at the same time, I could not convey its value in a better presentable fashion.

I later received a call from management but eventually the idea was not really understood nor was accepted. I still believe that, at the time, this idea could have had a great potential. But that does not matter. What matters is not to give up on your ideas. Push for them. That said, if you are in the late twenties early thirties or any age actually, if you have a great idea, push for it with your heart and soul. It might win big, and if it does not, learn from your mistakes to do something even better the next time. Don’t just wait for someone to call you… be proactive and make the call – not once but more.

note: I have no intention to say anything negative about my past employer. This post is only meant to illustrate the point that if you feel strong about your idea, push harder and don’t just accept the status quo.

You can read my original document here here.