Work in the 21st

Why I stopped wanting to be the tech guy

When I was a kid I wanted to be “the tech guy”. You know the one. The wizard that everyone goes to when they have a problem.  The guy with all the answers.  Mr. Fixit.  I thought it’d be great to be able to help people stay up and running when their computers went down. To be problem solving every day.

Fast forward a decade or two.  My mind has changed.  I don’t want to be the tech guy anymore.  I could tell you that it’s because problem solving all day every day is hard.  Maybe it’s because what used to seem interesting quickly became mundane.  But I have another theory.

I don’t think there should be a tech guy anymore.  When I first got into it, computers were simpler.  Less reliant on the internet.  Less applications.  Less complex.

I don’t believe companies should have a tech guy because I think everyone should be the tech guy.  The ability to solve your own problems, to find new and innovative ways to do things. These can’t be delegated to a single individual or department.  That creates a bottleneck.

Any company that wants to thrive in the future needs to have a full compliment of tech guys and gals on their team.  Everyone should be cross trained in basic fundamentals of networking, problem solving, logic, and troubleshooting.

The benefits extends far past your computer.

Understanding networking allows you to understand how every computer, phone, and person is connected to each other.

Problem solving is an art form that transforms problems into opportunities.

Logic is the fundamental building block of good decisions.

Troubleshooting a computer is no different from troubleshooting a person, a team, or a customer.

Lead in the 21st

Deadlines are Dead

I don’t assign deadlines to my staff. They know their schedules better than I do. 

I assign the amount of time to spend.

This isn’t because I know how long it will take. It’s because I know how big of a problem they are solving.  I know the difference between a 15 minute problem and a 5 hour problem.  I make it clear to my staff how long they should invest in solving a problem before coming back to me.  That doesn’t mean that at 15 minutes they give up.  They know that at 15 minutes they need to reevaluate their approach, or come talk to me to discuss challenges, roadblocks, decisions, or opportunities to learn.

Career Development and Learning Technology

How to be better at everything

Think of someone you’d consider ultra successful. You’re probably thinking of someone with a pretty comfortable lifestyle, maybe they’re rolling in money, or they just seem to have it all figured out. Now I want you to try to think of the specific skills that person has. What sets them apart from the competition? What are they good at? Chances are they aren’t good at everything.

Think of your own life. What are your skills, what are you good at? It takes time to hone skills and to get good at something. It requires education, practice, mentorship. Nobody’s good at everything, but we’re all good at something. Compare your skill set to the ultra successful person. Do you share all of the same skills?

Probably not. Of course you don’t, you’re different people. But think about what skills are most important? Some skills have a disproportionate impact on success. That means that some skills are more valuable than others, and some pair nicely together to multiply the impact on your ability to execute.

Think of a salesman or someone in marketing who is just phenomenal at selling. If she is a great communicator, amazing at persuasion, and can negotiate the hell out of any deal, will she be successful? Well that all depends on what she’s selling. If she’s selling used cars that are about to fall apart the moment you drive it off the lot, you’ll see her as a con artist. If she’s selling a product that you’ll love and cherish for the rest of your life, you’ll always remember her as the person that helped you make an amazing decision.

I see this a lot when I’m interviewing people. Some people are amazing interviewers, but have no skills and are useless on the job. Some people have amazing experience and mastery of skills, but get nervous and tense up during the interview. If you’re in the job market, interviewing skills are a must, because without them, all of the other skills you have don’t have the opportunity to shine through.

Looking at my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to move into leadership and executive roles at a young age. I attribute a great deal of this success to one skill – my deep knowledge and understanding of technology. I have many other skills at different levels, but my ability to leverage technology has acted as a multiplier for my other skills, and helped me achieve what I set out to achieve in rapid succession.

Information technology is the most powerful tool humans have created. Using computers, the internet, social media, and smart phones, we can do things our ancestors couldn’t even dream. We live in a time where access to information has never been so plentiful, but only if we know where to look.

I leveraged technology to discover means of rapid learning, increase my intake of data, leverage the knowledge of others to help solve my problems, and automate mundane and repetitive tasks.

When I meet people who admit “I’m not tech savvy” or “I don’t like computers”, I shake my head. That’s like saying you don’t like when the sun shines after it’s rained, or a hot coffee on an early Monday morning. Computers make everything better, if only you know how to use them. Choosing to not know how to use them only makes your life harder, and gives a huge advantage to your competition. And believe me, we’re all competing for something with someone, whether it’s other job candidates, other businesses, your coworkers vying for that promotion, or your spouse in a silly debate.

Career Development and Learning communication Creativity emotions

If criticism pisses you off, this is a must read

The problem with good ideas is that they’re a dime a dozen. Once you know enough and you’ve trained your brain to have good ideas, you’ll see them all around you, and it won’t take any brain power to have them. The challenge is in balancing competing good ideas. Sometimes what separates a good idea from a great one is that the good idea exists in a vacuum, not taking into account other variables. Our world is chaotic, there’s so much going on that something that might seem like a good idea has unforeseen downsides once we take into account everything else going on around us.

As I write this, I have 20 examples of this very phenomena, and 100 tips, tricks, and pieces of proof that I can use to illustrate my point. It seems like a good idea to include as much proof as possible, and to take the time to contextualize what I’m saying so that everyone who stumbles upon this will grasp the idea, no matter where you’re coming from. But what seems like a good idea can often be 100% wrong. If I use too many examples, I might introduce confusion. If I keep trying to prove my point, I might start beating a dead horse, droning on and on, and losing the reader. Better yet, if the article is too long, you might not start reading it to begin with.

On that note, I’ll wrap this up by discussing criticism. When you receive criticism, it isn’t to say that your ideas are bad, or that what you’re doing is wrong, it’s to share additional context and information to introduce the question of “was that the best idea?”. Best is subjective. Best depends on the variables at play. If someone critiques your work and you don’t agree with it, that’s ok. Maybe the variables that matter to you are different than your criticiser. Maybe you knew about those additional variables but still think your idea is best. As long as you’re able to take in criticism, and be objective and without bias, you should be in the clear.

Good ideas are all around us. The challenge isn’t to have a good idea, the challenge is to work toward the best idea.

Career Development and Learning communication emotions

How to respond to angry people – even when that person is you

Anger is a villain. It’s the bad guy in every scenario. It’s the thing that leads us to making mistakes – saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing. When you’re angry you stop listening, you stop thinking clearly.

This isn’t just me saying this. It’s science. Anger exists in the amygdala. The lizard brain. The tiny, un-evolved part of your brain that produces our fight or flight response. It’s primal. Unsophisticated. It isn’t what you should rely on when making important decisions, or handling important scenarios.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever get angry. Getting angry is a normal, natural response to annoying people, upsetting situations, and frustrating news. We all get angry, and getting to a point where we minimize the number of times we get angry will take years. In the meantime, the best approach is to get past your anger. Slow down, recognize your anger, understand where it’s coming from, and remind yourself that anger is the problem.

I read somewhere the idea that if you’re arguing with someone, it’s not you against them, it’s the two of you against the problem. If someone (either you or the person you’re interacting with) is angry, whatever the cause of the problem or the bigger picture issue is, it’s irrelevant as long as anger exists. You must first get past the anger before moving on to solving the bigger issue.


How to create a list of amazing content for your social media or blog

Creating content is hard. Typically you want to share something with the world, in a way that is beneficial and understandable for them. The challenge is in taking an objective look at ourselves and recognizing what we know that others don’t. The technique below will give you a head start in creating a guideline of content for you to share with the more.

This exercise should take you no more than 20 minutes. Set a timer, make sure there aren’t any interruptions, grab a pen and paper, and don’t overthink it.

Come up with as many (at least 20) ideas as possible.  They don’t have to be good…

What are the pains, fears, challenges, hardships, perspectives, tasks, etc. that you’ve seen your coworkers face that you don’t see as challenges? Write them all down.  They can be vague (public speaking) or super specific (sounding energetic and positive in an email).  Once you’ve written your list, read it through, and highlight the vague items – now try to expand those out into something more specifics.  

Some takeaways from this exercise:

  1. We’re all more skilled and capable than we give ourselves credit for.  It’s good to take a step back and realize all of the things that make us amazing and unique.
  2. This task is called brain-writing.  You’ve now gone through and created a base for our brainstorming tomorrow.  We will build off of what you’ve already come up with.  This will take off some of the pressure of coming up with things on the spot, and hopefully give us some momentum for continuing to come up with more great ideas.
  3. Pen and paper helps us remove distractions and gets our brain working better. Being creative on a computer is challenging because there is a constant pull toward other more interesting content. Pen and paper will help you focus.

Corporate Communication – How Amazon Sends Better Emails

I was flipping through my emails and found 2 emails side by each, one from Amazon and one from Geek Squad, the tech support division of Best Buy Canada.

There were some stark differences between the two emails that I wanted to highlight to discuss some of the changes and demands in corporate communication, specifically digital/email marketing.

Companies haven’t been sending emails to consumers for all that long. It’s been mostly billboards, signs, classified ads… it was like that for decades. Email communication direct to consumer has become the norm among serious companies, but learning how to send emails like this is a skill, one that we’re still honing in on, so there’s no one perfect way to draft and plan them. That being said, there are better and worse emails, and specific tactics that are important to focus on. Here are a few examples I wanted to highlight.

Reason for communication – tell the customer why you’re emailing them as quickly as possible

Amazon says in the title what the email is about, Geek Squad has it nest somewhere in the body of the email. Geek Squad pads the email with a random picture of strangers, and calls your attention to the body of the email with an eye catching grey (that’s sarcasm)

Additional information – there’s a Goldilocks effect with length of email, you need to get it just right, which means picking the perfect info to include

Amazon reminds you what order this is, and how much it was, even gives you a picture to remind you. Geek Squad gives me a bunch of random numbers, a bunch of links that I may or may not find useful, and does it all in 2 languages.

Screen real estate is important. You only have so much screen, the top of the email is prime real estate

Both companies have marketing on top. But Geek Squad takes up about half of my viewing space with branding, while Amazon just has a tiny logo, and then provides useful information right away.

What do I do? It’s important to make clear what the use should do, it’s not always clear and they don’t want to read

Amazon provides 2 very clear and present links in their email. The button for “Track Your Package” and a link to the product page. Geek Squad provides 6 hyperlinks that blend into eachother. 6 is too many options, 2 is just right. Bring me to your website and show me all of the links from there.

Did I miss anything? Any marketing and communications gurus see any opportunities for either company to improve? Let me know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter:


Congrats on the promotion, hope you liked being happy

You’ve worked hard, long nights, schmoozing with the boss, taking on extra assignments, studying at night for that course or exam, all in an effort to get that big shiny promotion. Now that you’ve been promoted, you’ve got it made, right? Time to pop the champagne and reap what you’ve sown? Unfortunately you’re not quite there just yet.

Charles thought he had it all figured out. Starting out in the helpdesk, he hustled his way further and further up the chain at his medium sized tech support company. He got 6 certifications in a single year. He put in unpaid overtime when the power outage left a key client spinning up backups. His boss noticed his hard work too, even took Charles out for a beer after a late night of paperwork. That’s how Charles knew he’d be the perfect fit for the team lead role that was just created to help manage the troops.

Up until now, work was pretty easy for Charles. Most good decisions came naturally, and he was able to over-achieve by trying just a little bit. The exams he wrote took studying, but he could balance that during work hours. Sure, there were some late nights, but it was mostly easy work that meant spending more time with a few good friends he made on the team. But this was Charles’ big shot, a management spot. This was something to be proud of, something new, with this he’d be a big shot.

Of course Charles got the job. He was perfect for it. He nailed it in the interview, and he already had the respect of his colleagues. When they announced that Charles got the promotion, nobody was surprised, but everybody was happy for him, they even got him a cake.

What Charles didn’t realize was that nothing would ever be the same again. Right away he was thrown into some of the most grueling weeks of his life. He was staying at least 3 hours late each night, just to stay on top of the work. Everything was disorganized, there were emails and voicemails coming in from left and right, and it seemed like there was always a fire to put out somewhere — an angry client here, some office drama there. It was a nightmare. Depending on the day, Charles wavered between wishing he was back in the helpdesk and looking up “resignation letter templates” on Google. There was just no way the extra money and couple perks he got with this new job could possibly be worth it. The hardest part for Charles was wondering if it was just a big mistake, applying for this job.

Charles isn’t alone. While promotions are a cause for celebration, once the celebrating is over the hard work begins. Getting a promotion is a marathon, and most people tire themselves out by sprinting before they even apply for the job. What nobody ever tells you is that promotions are a radical change for any person to go through, especially when they involved completely new work, responsibilities, and earning and maintaining people’s respect.

Change is hard, even if you asked for it

Change is hard for everybody. The fact that you knowingly and willingly applied and accepted the promotion doesn’t make it any easier. You’ve been doing the same thing, every single day, for awhile now. But all of that stops with a promotion. Now your day is completely different. You’re doing different work. People see you differently, they treat you differently, and you treat them differently in return. Often times you’re learning as you go, and no company has everything documented, so you’re going to be chasing down answers to questions that nobody has.

Everything is different

If you’re lucky, you’re new position is well-established. You’re replacing someone that left on good terms, and your company has set expectations, a good job description, and you fall into a set bureaucracy with status reports, structured meetings, and channels of communication. But no matter what, nothing’s perfect. What’s already in place will have holes in them, and they’ll drive you nuts. It’ll take time to truly appreciate why those holes exist, but in the meantime, those imperfections in the (hopefully) well oiled machine will drive you nuts.

Your superpower — seeing what’s wrong

The worst part is when you look around and see what’s missing. “How do they not have a process for this?”. “How haven’t they figured this out already?”. You’re going to see problem after problem, clear as day, and that will be your own little superpower. Nobody else will see those problems as clear as you, because they’ve been living with them, day in, day out, like a bad knee that hurts when it rains. It’s normal, and it’s amazing what people can learn to live with. But until you learn to live with it, it’s going to be frustrating.

Change takes time

Lasting, effective change takes time. There’s no silver bullet for speeding things up. If you’ve just gotten a promotion, things are going to be hard for awhile. They just are. Strap in, buckle up, and be prepared. But there are things you can do to soothe the pain and make the transition easier.

  1. Recognize it’s a process, and the process takes time
  2. Get into the habit of making things better
  3. Set milestones and celebrate small victories
  4. Recognize that the problems were there before you, and you can’t fix them overnight
  5. Be kind to yourself. Meditate, exercise, do the things you love, even indulge in some of your vices. Through times of significant change, if you’re too tightly wound, you can be prone to snapping

A million small changes

Promotions aren’t one big change, they’re a series of tiny changes. Others recognize and celebrate the one big change, but you’re the one that will have to navigate the see of small changes. Remember that you’re right for the job — the hiring committee wouldn’t have picked you if you weren’t. Recognize that change takes time, and you can only do so much to increase the pace. Try to fix problems as you come across them, but don’t seek perfection. Perfection is the enemy of progress. Make things better, not perfect. Fix them and move on. You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you, and if you focus too long on the first things that raises it’s head, you won’t have the energy or fortitude to keep making things better, resulting in problems piling up.

The important thing is believing in yourself. You can do this. Remember that the desires of yesterday are still valid today. You’ve achieved something great. You put yourself out there, and were recognized for the hard work you’ve done. Be kind to yourself, be true to yourself, and forge ahead.

And if it doesn’t pan out, just quit — you’re nobody’s prisoner.


Oh button where art thou? Why Microsoft moved that button on you

We’ve all been there. Typing up a document in Microsoft Word, everything is going great, you go to the toolbar to make a change, and the damn button isn’t there. It used to be there. Where’d it go? It was that damn update. Stupid Microsoft, moving that button. Now where the hell is it?

Design vs User Experience

They all do it, all of the big tech companies. It doesn’t matter if it’s your phone, computer, or your PVR, everything was fine the way it was, and they went ahead and changed it. There are some obvious reasons we come up with.

1. “They’re stupid”

It’s easy to assume that someone did something without thinking, and for no good reason. We jump to that conclusion when we haven’t put in enough thought or can’t understand under what circumstances a decision was made. But let me tell you, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, they aren’t stupid. And the decision to move that button on you wasn’t taken lightly. Change management is a process that eats up thousands of hours of many workers’ time. Meeting after meeting, sketching up new designs and justifying the change. The work that’s required for the company to move that button is staggering, usually equating to tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. That decision wasn’t made lightly, and it wasn’t made by stupid people.

2. “They don’t care about me”

Total number of social networks users (Rapleaf's data)

This one is kind of true. They don’t care about you as an individual. They care about you, but only as much as they care about their other customers. These companies have billions of customers. Billions. Just because they don’t care about you doesn’t mean they don’t care about the customers. It’s the opposite in fact. They care about all of their customers, and make decisions based on what’s best for everyone, to satisfy the needs of the many, not the needs of a few.

3. “It was fine the way it was”

This brings us to the most important takeaway. When a company makes a significant change to their product, it’s for a good reason. It’s well thought out, there were many intelligent minds working on the decision, and the implementation had a very specific reason. It might be to make things more intuitive, to clean up the interface, to streamline your productivity, or to get rid of a function that nobody really liked. The most important thing for you to do when facing a change is to try to understand. Not just where they moved the button, but why they moved it. It’s not because they’re stupid and they aren’t out to get you. Chances are, the change made the product better, you’re just too close to the situation to realize it. You knew where the button was, so finding it now is a pain in the ass. But for the person who didn’t know where it was, it’s probably easier to find now.

The key to effectively using technology is not to memorize where things are, but why they’re there. Understanding is better than knowing. If you can understand the rationale of the developers, you can become immune to change. Think of yourself as an explorer, not a settler. In a constantly changing landscape, nothing remains the same. Always be open to exploring, looking for the answer to your question. Read the screen, click around, and when you find that gosh darn button, try to understand why they would have moved it there.

Lastly, if you still can’t find it. Google it. I promise you, someone has asked that same question already. Always feel comfortable hopping on the Google and typing “how to insert hyperlink in Microsoft Word”. I guarantee one of the top pages will help you along.

Keep an open mind to change, embrace change, and your world will get better.


The Open Source A.I. Boom — Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

One of the things that excites me about artificial intelligence is how open it is. All of the brilliant minds that are working on it aren’t hoarding their ideas and keeping them close to their chest, hoping to make billions off of them. The amount of free and open source technology that is available to build your own artificial intelligence is mind blowing, to the point where you can use the same underlying tech that Google or Microsoft uses, without paying a dime. Ever. No strings attached.

A lot of what has been developed in AI started with research, typically academic research. Most academic researchers publish their findings in journals, or academic texts. If you’re a nerd like me, you probably realized after leaving university that there’s no chance in hell you can afford all of those amazing journals you had access to as a student. Journals charge hundreds of dollars for access to single articles, let alone open access to their entire databases. Furthermore, academic texts usually costs hundreds of dollars each, again, no surprise to students or recent grads (or parents of students) out there.

Open Source

With technology, we’ve always had a quiet ruckus movement of those supporting free and open source software (FOSS). It’s the idea that the best way to make amazing software is by making the source code available to everybody, so that they can find bugs, fix bugs, add functionality, or build off someone else’s idea. This leads to innovation, and is the reason why more than 70% of the internet is powered by Linux, an operating system that is open source, unlike Windows or Apple Mac OS.

The research behind artificial intelligence is done by those who grew up in a world where open source software made sense. We have websites like GitHub that have over 1.1 billion contributions of open source software stretching from kids creating games, college students doing their homework, all the way to multinational billion dollar companies hosting their source code. Many AI researchers have even come out against traditional academic journals, stating that they won’t publish to their journals if they are closed access.

A good way to look at it is that source code = time. It takes time to write code, but it also takes time to collect and curate the information necessary to build and train an AI model. So the impact of working off of someone else’s code is that it let’s you start with a head start. Like a 10 year head start.

Labeling 14 Million Pictures

ImageNet is a image database that is organized in a structured format, and contains 14 million images that have been labelled and categorized by humans. You need something like ImageNet if you want to train an AI to detect objects in pictures. It is run by professors from Stanford and Princeton, and has been in development since 2009.

How we teach computers to understand pictures | Fei Fei Li

You Only Look Once

If you think ImageNet is cool (nerd), then you might find the project Darknet Yolo interesting. This tool allows you to download some software, hook it up to a camera, and you have instant object recognition capabilities. It can highlight the objects it sees and label them. If there are 3 dogs, 2 people and a frying pan in the picture, it will find them, put a big rectangle around each, with a label indicating what it’s found. Just. Like. That. It was developed by a student at University of Washington, and it’s free and open source. The best part, it was trained using ImageNet data. One amazing project that ties into another. If you want to create a smart camera to classify the objects it records, all of the hard work is done for you. For free.


Google — Solving the World’s Problems

Image result for tensorflow

Lastly I want to talk about Google. Google is using machine learning to solve some pretty huge problems in health care. In developing countries, there are too many people that require medical attention that simply do not have access to a doctor. There aren’t enough doctors being trained to treat all of the patients. An example of this is the rise of diabetes in India. If you have diabetes, you need to be in and out of doctor’s offices to check not only you blood sugar, but diabetes can lead to high blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, you can even go blind if you don’t regularly see the eye doctor. In India, there aren’t enough eye doctors for people to see. That means that people with diabetes are going blind, which is completely preventable, if you have access to an eye doctor. Google has built an AI that can help with this, and can perform a quick scan using just a camera and it’s software to determine if the patient is a high risk of going blind. The best part? The software Google used to create this tool is absolutely free. Even better, the software was created by Google. TensorFlow is a free and open source tool that Google has developed and made available to everybody to use, for free. And if it’s good enough for Google, I think it’s good enough for me.

So I’m off to go program some AI. I hope you enjoyed this post. If you found it interesting or useful, feel free to comment below.