My Geek Origin story, what’s your story?

This post was inspired by Michael Kordahi, well known to many as @delic8genius, who put out a call encouraging to geeks to share their geek origin stories.

My geek origin is shrouded in the mists of time.  It was so long ago that there is no only one photographic record [update: which is now in the hands of Michael Kordahi, heaven help me].  But there was a revolution going on and I became part of it.

During school and university I had no interest in technology or gadgets.  My passion was for the humanities – history, philosophy, anthropology.  Nothing to do with any of the so-called ‘hard sciences’ or mathematics.

But my first job was in a bank, one of those boring jobs I mentioned recently. Thus my first exposure to computers was to the mysterious mainframes to which one submitted requests that were returned, if you were lucky, two days later.

Yet I was still not attracted to technology. After all, what was there to love about the cold hard mainframe? And where was the immediate gratification?

After escaping from the job in a bank to a stockbroking firm I was given client trust accounts to manage.  There were lots of things to track. Again we relied on the slow and klunky mainframe (oh the joys of JCL and TSO I could recount).  Then a colleague showed me his new gadget – a personal computer running MS DOS – it was the only one in the office, nay the only one in the building.

That gadget fascinated me and, before my colleague realised it, I had co-opted the machine for myself.  I was suddenly able to keep track of things using new fangled things called spreadsheets. Then I discovered you could make it do what you wanted by writing programs.

Not yet a geek, but well on my way toward it.

Landed my next job partly due to my PC skills, still doing finance work.  But one day I was standing in the kitchen chatting with the CEO (as you do) and happened to mention that there was a problem with the computer system in the office.

[Pro-tip: never casually mention problems to a CEO unless you are prepared to help fix them]

She mentioned that we needed an IT manager and, since I sounded like I knew about that ‘stuff’, asked if I wanted the job.  My ‘prudent’ response (having no experience at all for this job) was “yes”.

Thus began my geek apprenticeship: inheriting the world’s most unstable and unreliable Unix system and applications. From there I discovered how hardware, operating systems, networks and databases work; and how various programming languages work (starting with shell scripts and moving on from there). It was endlessly fascinating.  Eventually I had to accept that no one can ever know everything about technology. I also had to accept that I am a very bad software programmer and an even worse metadata modeller.

The next interesting thing I came across was a guy in Finland who proposed an open source version of Unix, eventually known as Linux. In retrospect, by that time, there had been an evolution in my life: from the early days of humanities studies, to hanging out with friends for days on end (eating pizza) while we fooled about reverse engineering kernels. By this stage I was an unconscious geek (i.e. a geek but completely unaware of this fact, even though a member of AUUG).

Then came the web.  From the first time I heard about the web and hypertext it held enormous fascination. The power inherent in the notion of hyperlinking and hyperconnecting documents, people and things seemed to have great promise.

From the early days of the web I worked on enterprise web development, managing teams who were building large scale web applications.  The roles varied: project manager, enterprise architect, software development manager, consultant.

In the late 1990s I worked as one of the architects on a large scale middleware application – we called it a “multi-channel integration architecture” – that enabled multiple front end channels to interconnect with heterogenous backend systems.  Off-the-shelf middleware like we have now did not really exist so it had to be created from scratch.

From there I moved onto development of early e-commerce for both B2B and B2C, and customisation of supply chainERP and CRM systems. The power of technology to revolutionise business and business models inspired me to study management, marketing and e-commerce at university.

While working on all these large-scale enterprise systems, I was also playing with what has come to be called web 2.0 and experimenting on my own time. Learning HTML and other scripting languages for fun.  Started blogging for fun too, before blogging tools existed.  Was an early user of Blogger, Typepad and finally migrated to WordPress.

It was during the blogging that I finally became conscious of my geekiness.  But I didn’t really come out of the closet then since there weren’t many women geeks in my circles of acquaintance.

But with the advent of Twitter, and connecting with many amazing women who were also geeks, I finally came out of the closet and embraced my geekiness.

And that is the story of my geek origin, what’s your geek origin story? And, as Michael Kordahi (a.k.a. @delic8genius) said:

“This year at TechEd (super secret but super high profile project for now), I want to profile and capture your Geek Origin Stories.

What memories do you have that define you?

I’m looking for your personal stories that tap into what makes you geek. Stories like mine that tap into your geek DNA and the (tacit) attributes that define you.

So, please email me one or a few of your Geek Origin Stories. Also please include a photo or video of you being a young geek.

Email me at michael.kordahi@microsoft.com or post your own online and send me a link.”

Women having fun, expressing their …

A few days ago I noticed the following tweet and clicked on the accompanying link. The image below was at the other end of the link:

bronwen-pollenizer-girls
Source: Bronwen Clune – used with permission

This tweet and the picture made me laugh. It caught a bunch of women having a moment of feminine camaraderie in the office while all the guys just happened to be away. It’s a pretty informal office and it was amusing to see the girlz having fun on a crazy hot day in Sydney.

Oz Girl Develop IT 2011 #ozgdi

Just spent another evening with a great bunch of women learning about JavaScript as part of the Oz Girl Develop IT program for 2011.

Discussing the plans for this year’s Oz Develop IT with Pamela Fox and Cathy Lill tonight it became clear that there’s an interesting line up for the rest of 2011.

IMG_0571For example we’re planning to run sessions on:

  • SEO for geeks
  • UX for n00bs
  • Introduction to Blogging
  • PHP for script kiddies
  • Introduction to web programming – HTML and CSS
  • and a special workshop on blogging for Ada Lovelace Day in October

Final dates for these sessions are yet to be confirmed.

If you’re a woman who’s interested in learning more about web development sign up to our OZ GDI meetup group to find out about upcoming sessions and meetups
Girl Develop IT (Sydney)
You can also follow us on Twitter @OZGDI.

Some more about Oz Girl Develop IT:

Welcome, women developers of tomorrow!

Want to learn how to code? Have a great idea? Don’t be shy. Develop it.

Though the web developer community these days is open and welcoming, it is still up to 91% male and it can be intimidating for women to learn and ask questions when they are in an extreme minority. We decided it was time to provide a place where all questions are OK and everyone can learn in a supportive environment. The idea started in New York, and now we’re taking it down under to Sydney, Australia.

Our courses focus on coding, leveraging existing technology, and having something to show for it (aka building sweet websites). We will start with a series on HTML/CSS, and if that goes well, we can hopefully offer additional series to continue building your skills, or repeated sessions of that series

Note: Membership and event attendance is currently limited to women.

Social Media – the US Army gets it

Most organisations are grappling with the digital revolution and its democratization of communication. The US Army is no different.

However, they have met the organisational challenges of social media head on and have become an acknowledged leader in practice. They along with other parts of the US military – such as the US Air Force – have invested resources in adopting, using and benefiting from this digital revolution.

It is interesting that so many civilian organisations are still ignoring the potential benefits of the digital revolution while government and military adopt it so readily.

The US Army has updated their Social Media Handbook for 2011 and it’s available on slideshare as well as embedded below.

It’s worth a read no matter what stage of adoption your organisation is at – it gives some good ideas about how to communicate with people about how an organisation can use social media.

Army Social Media Handbook 2011

Gear review: Lenovo ThinkPad X201i

For my recent trip to Europe I was able to take and road test a Lenovo ThinkPad ultra-portable laptop (model x201i). I’m going to be a bit sad to give it back.

That’s a pretty big call for someone like me who usually takes a MacBook Pro on trips and hasn’t used a Windows laptop for many years.

The Lenovo turned out to be a gem of a machine. It is fairly light in weight for a fully loaded laptop. It has built in wifi and DVD drive, several USB ports and all the functionality of a Windows desktop in a nice lightweight laptop. And it has the solid feel of a well-engineered machine, not just flimsy plastic like some of the other Windows laptops I’ve used.

I was traveling for nearly a month and needed to do a lot of work – writing documents, slide decks and working on spreadsheets – while away. This machine turned out to be very good for this. A proper keyboard with large keys for my fairly large hands was a real boon. There is even a little light up near the webcam that gives some illumination to the keyboard in low light, although it would have been even better if the keyboard was backlit.

The ThinkPad survived some pretty cold weather in France and Belgium and worked just fine at airport lounges in transit through London, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Usually I disable all of the manufacturer’s software as it tends to annoy me. But in this case the ThinkPad wireless connector was very useful as I was in low wifi areas.

The built in microphone and webcam are good quality and made Skype calls a breeze so it was easy to join in conference calls while traveling. The onboard DVD drive made watching shows on flights a good option where no in-flight entertainment was available. The multiple USB ports made the mini hub I was carrying redundant and I was able to plug in my phone and Flip Video Camera at the same time.

From this experience I think that the Lenovo ThinkPad x201i is an excellent Windows laptop for business travelers. It combines all the grunt of a a larger machine in a lightweight and fairly rugged device. It’s definitely on the shortlist for the next laptop we buy in this house.

LeWeb 2010 Wrap up

I rather suspect that some of the locals regard LeWeb as a kind of blowsy aunt who arrives in whirl, talks too loudly, drinks a bit too much, pinches their cheeks, and flies away again.

main room - Le Web 2010 Paris (by K Carruthers)That said, I think Le Web is now a great conference.  It’s got some faults. But there are few conferences in Europe where such variety and quality of speakers is available together with such diversity of attendees from around the world.

In many ways it is still very much Loic and friends having a chat on stage.  And that is part of its charm.  Why not get friends like Michael Arrington to chit-chat with various web folks on stage in Paris if you can make it happen?

This year Le Web was at Les Docks venue again.  This enabled three separate halls to be running simultaneously, with the networking hall getting a good workout.

Unfortunately the snow made walking between the various halls somewhat of a challenge.  As did the unwillingness of Parisian cab drivers to deliver or collect delegates out in the boondocks of St Denis in aforesaid snow.  This meant that for those unfortunate enough to miss the coach shuttles to the nearest metro station it was a trudge through the snow.

The food, drink and heating were good this year.  Some American friends found some of the food tastes alien to their palate (which was amusing to watch) but I found the food tasty and plentiful.

Again the parties were fun and a great chance for networking and vodka and there were a number of late arrivals on day two after the partying.

This year my favourite thing was the Ignite style talks which included gems such as:

  • a passionate plea from a Ricardo Sousa (on Twitter @ricardojrsousa), a teen entrepreneur, seeking for mentors for himself and his peers so that they can change the world;
  • and a superb talk on twitter diplomacy from Matthias Lüfkens (on Twitter @luefkens) about the democratization of political access .

The Ignite model is a great way to bring diversity of voices to LeWeb and I hope that they continue it next year.

On the first day many of the keynotes and fireside chats were brand and product discussions with company representatives from Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Twitter, France Telecom-Orange, etc.  There was nothing earth shattering in any of these if you already follow the industy. Marissa Mayer proved herself, yet again, as one of the most polished players in this game.

There was also a startup competition – which seemed a tad disorganised compared to others I’ve seen – yet which provided a valuable opportunity to showcase some local talents.

On day two the stand out sessions for me were Jeremiah Owyang‘s overview of Social Media And Big Business: Trends for 2011 and Gary Vaynerchuck‘s session where he refused to answer Twitter questions so as to be present with the audience in the room.

One of the problems with having two plenary rooms that were physically separated by a snowy road is that I (and probably many others) did not get over to the Eiffel Plenary room on day 2. This is where Thomas Crampton (who’s apparently now gone over to the ‘dark side’ from journalism – aka PR) was hosting a series of sessions that looked quite interesting.

Thus I have no personal insight into those sessions (which did sound interesting):

  • “Lean Analytics for Startups: what every founder (and VC) needs to watch”
  • “Asia: Digital Life, Real Billions”
  • How Social is Changing the Gaming Industry
  • How to Grow Your Business through Platforms and APIs
  • How to leverage social networking in your business
  • How to build your own platform
  • Hackathon Award Ceremony by Alcatel Lucent
  • The Social OS and the Human API
  • Photography: From Analog Artists to Digital Mainstream

I do think it would have been better to be able to merely walk from hall to hall within the one building given that LeWeb is held in a Parisian winter.

All in all for me the visit to Paris from Australia was worth it.  LeWeb is a good conference that enables me to see what is happening in another part of the world by bringing together a diversity of practitioners from across the world. Some interesting new ideas came up in conversation, the networking was amazing, the parties and dinners were fun, and it was in Paris (after all).

LeWeb 2010 Paris – day 1

The day started out rainy and grey, then turned snowy and grey and then ended with a cocktail reception in the Paris town hall. For the folks where were not jet lagged the party continued way into the night (but I was in bed early i.e. by 1.30am).

I caught up with some interesting people in the networking area throughout the day and will post those chats to YouTube when I get some decent bandwidth. As is traditional for LeWeb the wifi has been very flaky; but this is not a surprise given how many people are in attendance (approximately 2,000 attendees I’m told).

The formal plenary sessions of the first day were very oriented big brands explaining their value propositions (not very exciting for me) – Marissa Mayer from Google is probably the best at doing this without making it dull.

But a new idea for LeWeb was a series of Ignite talks and this was a real hit with some standout speakers. I really hope LeWeb continues this idea in future.

  • Francis Dierick: “Cold Water Swimming”
  • Beathe Due: “Clouds and Concerts. New music experiences.”
  • Ricardo Sousa: “Teen Entrepreneurs Can Change the World”
  • Romain Lacombe: “Tocqueville 2.0: Opening Government Data”
  • Matthias Lufkens: “Twitter Diplomacy”
  • Fabrice Marchisio: “The Boiling Frog Phenomenon and The Importance of “weak signals””
  • Luca Sartoni: “9 Things We Should Copy from the Internet”
  • Ali Naqi Shaheen: “Protecting Sarah from the “iCulture””
  • Steven Willmott: “Speak Beautiful XML to me – 10 ways to change the world with APIs”
  • Fumi Yamazaki: “Japanese geek culture”

I’m gradually uploading my photos to the LeWeb 2010 set on Flickr as bandwidth permits.

The starship, Enterprise: social business – opportunity and risk

Navigating the tangled web of Enterprise 2.0 enabled platforms is indeed an opportunity “to explore strange new worlds” in business…

Enterprise 2.0 has been defined as “the application of Web 2.0 technologies to workers using network software within an organisation or business” (Dion Hinchliffe, 2006). There has been much discussion over recent years about Enterprise 2.0 and how it is revolutionising business. Yet, much of the promise remains unfulfilled, especially for large and complex organisations.

The general approach to Enterprise 2.0 has been much like the approach for earlier knowledge management and collaboration initiatives. It has been largely a mechanistic approach. Simply install the tools, train the people, do a bit of change management and leave them to it.

The challenge for organisations
A big challenge for larger organisations remains getting teams to work more effectively across team and organisational boundaries.

Recent discussions with people in Australian banks indicate it is clear that there is no lack of Enterprise 2.0 enabled technology. Rather, there is a great deal of it already in place. For example, one contact in a ‘Big Four’ Bank reported that his organisation has 11 “quite different intranets”. The complexity of navigating these is so high that they have implemented “a fully-federated search that spans them all” that provides “Google-like search with page ranking/indexing and the equivalent of sponsored/suggested links to help staff find critical information faster based on an identified keyword”.

Thus, the implementation of Enterprise 2.0 enabled platforms has resulted in issues of findability, usability and relevance of the information. The answer to these problems is not simply to acquire additional technology, instead it is important to take a step back from the technology and consider the business design. Using social business design approaches are important to enable effective use of collaboration technologies.

The social business solution
Since business is an inherently social process, it is worth exploring how we can redesign business operations and processes to leverage social tools more effectively. All too often, collaboration tools are implemented as yet another piece of technology without the support of social business design to ensure that return on the investment is achieved.

We have already seen the effectiveness of consumer oriented social tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, in breaking down barriers between people. And now social networking and social media is reaching into and across organisational boundaries. Businesses are under increasing pressure to incorporate these external social networks into internal collaboration systems (for example, through the application of social CRM tools). Social business design principles enable this same capability to assist people in working across organisational boundaries and engage each other more effectively for business purposes.

With social tools we have the opportunity to reshape our business architecture so that it better creates value between the participants. No longer do our people need to conform to the way the software needs them to act or behave. Instead, we can more easily tailor the Enterprise 2.0 systems to meet the needs of the people – staff and customers – that they are meant to serve.

Social tools like Facebook are re-educating our workforce and customers in the ways of online collaboration. Further, the success of online collaboration and socially calibrated activities can readily be monitored and evaluated. Social business design enables an evolutionary approach to business practices. It is not a set-and-forget approach like old style knowledge management; rather it is a plan-do-check-act cycle.

Risk of missed opportunities
Another key challenge for businesses in effective implementation of Enterprise 2.0 using the social business design approach is filtering the firehose of information coming into the organisation via so many sources. No longer do companies receive hard copies of media results, now they receive vast amounts of information from diverse sources. That information is about their operations, competitors, customers and industry trends. The opportunity for businesses is to create real-time listening posts that filter and categorise information.

If companies do not find a way to filter and analyse this firehose of information, then they risk missing opportunities. The answer is no longer to create expensive and complex data marts to manage this largely ephemeral information and to turn it into useful information. Enterprise 2.0 technology enables the creation of listening posts that filter and sift this firehose of information and can turn it into actionable insights.

It is possible to leverage the Enterprise 2.0 platforms that already exist within many large organisations. However, key to effectiveness is adopting a social business approach to re-imagining the business architecture. And the use of real-time social listening posts creates opportunities for businesses to reassess and recalibrate their activities based on real-time feedback.

Note: This piece was originally published in Online Banking Review on 21 October 2010

The business of being agile

Recently I noted several large businesses announcing proudly they had adopted Agile development techniques – for example Suncorp, NBN Co, Allianz, Jemena.

There is a pattern to the adoption of a new methodology within an organisation. I have lived through the adoption of a number of new methodologies over the years at various companies, for example: Six Sigma, Total Quality Management, Lean, Capability Maturity Model, and Balanced Scorecard (to name a few).

Like many corporates adopting a new idea I suspect that these four companies are in the honeymoon phase. They are still getting managers used to the ideas, training staff in the new processes. And the critical things for success will be:

  1. consistency of management support,
  2. consistency of practice, and
  3. consistency of internal reward systems.

Without these three kinds of consistency the adoption of the new methodology is a real challenge. Most importantly the internal reward systems – not just remuneration, but also promotion and recognition – need to be recalibrated to support and endorse the new methodology.

To effectively support Agile development (or Agile adoption in any other part of the business) it is necessary to change some of the cherished management tools and practices that date from the days of Taylorism.

Agile means doing something that seems counter-intuitive. It means accepting the uncertainty which is inherent in so many business activities. It also means working with that uncertainty to create change and build value based on the social nature of business and the creative process. It also means that we shift away from long-term highly-structured and well-documented plans and towards smaller chunks of work. Thus certainty is achieved in small focus deliverables and there is an ability to quickly adapt to new business needs and requirements.

At about the same time I saw the news about these four companies I also discovered a wonderful summary of the challenges we often face in adopting agile in an enterprise context in the form of the Manifesto for Half-Arsed Agile Software Development. This sums up the situation facing organisations that want to adopt Agile practices successfully.

https://www.halfarsedagilemanifesto.org/