Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why community matters - even to IT services

An interesting question was haunting my mind since some time. Why does Community matter to a services firm ? In this case, it refers to thousands of IT Services firm all around India and elsewhere. A community makes sense to a Product firm. It allows engaging the end customers, developers and solution providers to drive the eco-system. Whats in here for a Services firm ? 

My 5+ year stint in IT Services firm has helped me discover interesting answers for this question. No organization works in silo, and an investment in community opens up great opportunity. The following are some of the points that come to my mind :-

1. Recruitment
Finding the best talent does not always require sneaking the job portals or social networks. The old paradigm of Job advertisements does not entirely work. An investment in community by the firm allows it to be able to scout talents that they cannot find with the usual ways. The community attracts people who are inquisitive in nature and seeking to learn from every opportunity that they can get. An IT service firm requires people who exhibit the same behavior. Driving community gives a chance for the recruitment team of the firm to be able to meet these individuals and initiate the conversations with them.

2. Brand
Like Product firms, IT services too require a brand recall that impacts customers, media and technology community. An IT firm with a strong brand image is a great marketing vehicle in itself. A community opens up the opportunity for the organization to build a great brand around itself. The community also allows external people to be the spokesperson for the organization. It enhances brand awareness and value. 

3. Interaction
Interaction allows exchange of ideas. Ideas to innovate, engage and create impact. An IT service firm can use the community to engage in dialog. It provides a way to assess and discover what people external to the company are thinking about. A perfect gold mine to discover trends  in technology adoption. The community also allows the employees of the organization to learn best practices and apply it to the business. 

4. Culture
A strong culture of an organization has its root in how its employees help each other. This attitude is the core foundation of a community. To make better employees and culture, it is mandatory for the company to have the spirit of helping each other in its core DNA. A community involvement will provide the employees of the organization the chance to polish this aspect of professional behavior. Thereby, creating better culture inside.

5. Pre-Sales and Partnerships
An important aspect for the IT services firm is to also look for opportunities for pre-sales and scout for partnership. Its evident everywhere - Great partnerships are not formed on golf courses or elaborate lunch meetings, its formed in small informal interactions. A community gives a chance to people of specific interests to come together. This provides a perfect ground for informal discussion, leading to a possible opportunity or a chance to work together. 

There are plenty of other points that can be added to the above list. The five mentioned comes immediately to me. Lastly, a community gives a chance to the firm involved to give back to the society and create a long lasting value that cannot be bought or sold. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The preview video for my talk at DroidCon India 2011 held between 18-19 November in Bangalore

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My talk @ DroidCon India 2011

Humanize the android

ADDENDUM : -The apps mentioned in the above presentation is as following :-

1. Endomondo (Slide no.32, 41)
2. Quit Now (Slide no. 55, 56)
3. Foursquare (Slide no. 25, 40)
4. Lookout (Slide no. 48, 49)
5. Remember the Milk (Slide no. 47)

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Boiled Frog and User Experience

I believe some of you if not all  have heard about the boiled frog story. The premise is simple - A frog is captured and placed into a vessel containing boiling water. Result - the frog leaps out of the water immediately. Next, another frog is placed into a vessel containing room-temperature water. The vessel is kept on a heater to boil the water. The frog adapts to the change in water temperature, but never leaps out. Result - the frog dies a slow and painful death.

The thing we learn out of this experiment is the sense of adaptation. Humans like all other animals adapt to their sorrounding, and this is same with their engagement with software. Too much changes in a small period of time in the application's UI can have negative connotations with the user. The trick is to allow the changes to be dispersed in steps - to allow the user to digest the modifications and finally adapt to it. 

So the big idea is : How do we use the Adaptation element of the human pscyhe to our advantage while designing the next app for mobile and web devices. 

Please Note: No frog was really harmed in this experiment.

This post is a continuation of the series leading to my talk at DroidCon.2011. Come participate in the Android festival (www.droidcon.in)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Balance in User Experience

With the rise of new buzzwords  every day, it is becoming increasingly difficult for engineers to adapt and build for change. I have seen new techniques and ideas thrusted on to the customer, only for the need to stand out. A marketing driven development isn't the right solution. It always  happens when an idea spreads like a wildfire - People start noticing it, especially those who build technology solutions for others. They start thinking of how this idea could be rolled into their product and the new avenues it would create. 

Let me explain this with an example : A while back I was talking to some of my acquitances about creating great presentations, not just powerpoints. A point widely discussed was raised in that conversation - the sense of minimalism. The minimalism wave has swept the world, and I too believe its for good. But here comes the challenge - we adopt these techniques without understanding their pros and cons. After the conversation, I found a couple of my acquitances started religiously following minimal designs in all of their presentations, with occasions where audience felt the sense of emptiness  and were annoyed . And sooner than later, these guys came back with the result - people do not always love minimal presentation. The question that came out was - Does minimal design in presentations work all the time ?

There are lots of factors that go in defining what level of minimalism should go in a presentation. Finding this "balance" is critical to the success of the method. Like this, there are multiple techniques available in the field of User Experience.Applying a technique as it is won't make a solution a rockstar.  It requires due diligence from the practitioner to apply, measure and iterate through these techniques. The result of this would be a pure balance between what the user expects and the designer intends. 

More thought on this in my talk at DroidCon.in. Register today at www.droidcon.in

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Human Element

This is the first of the many blog posts I would be putting up as a prequel to my talk at the DroidCon.in Conference to be held on 18-19 November in Bangalore (droidcon.in). 

I will be speaking about a topic quite close to my heart since a long time. The talk is titled as  "Humanize the Android" and will include insights on how do we as engineers use the findings from brain science, cognitive psychology and the emerging field of applying game mechanics, to create great experiences for android mobile users. 

Its ironic that we as engineers do not learn as much about the "user" as we do about the machine. We spent zillions of money of learning new programming paradigms, machine complexities, new software architectures but very little on the actual "endpoint" of the software that we intend to build. I am pointing about the study of how humans think, decide and behave. I believe it should be mandatory for engineers to learn about cognitive psychology, HCI (human computer interaction) and user experience - in order to create software of the highest order. The order for the next decade demands understanding of the human element in the experience that we impart from the software we develop. The rise of iPads, iPhones, Kinects, Siri re-inforces the point quite well. 

In the next few posts over the week, I will attempt to provide my views on what we need to know about the field of Cognitive Psychology and  Game mechanics, and how do we apply that to the software that we develop. There are tons of stuff available on the web, and my posts would anchor these links for all you readers. 

If you are interested to know more about this,  meet me at DroidCon.in (http://droidcon.in/2011/) next week. 

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Game Never Ends

I am not a big fan of gaming now, but lately I have been intrigued in how regular applications are employing game like features. Points, badges, avatars, bonus features, leaderboards are employed in variety of domains - Enterprise and Commercial Software, HR, Politics, Governance etc. A little more research on this and it reveals the wealth of work around Game Mechanics. 
A field of work that embraces how mechanics, that make games work and engaging, can be employed in making anything and everything fun. This is not new, the techniques were in business a long time. Remember, how our parents come up with stories so that we can have our veggies, or the medicine when we were young. You can say it was Game Mechanics at play. Or should I say - Gamification at work. 

I am intrigued by the opportunities this field has to offer, and how it can be used to make engaging applications in all domains. To further my research, I found the following material that may be helpful for anybody curious to follow my breadcrumbs :-

Technical Talk Videos to watch :- (Google the topics for links)

1. Fun is the Future - Mastering Gamification

2. Meaningful Play - Getting Gamification Right

3. Game On - 16 Design Patterns for User Engagement

Books :-

1. Gamification By Design - Implementing Game Mechanics In Web And Mobile Apps

2. Reality is Broken

Paper :-

1. From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining “Gamification”

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Hacker's day out

As I reached the venue for 2011 Yahoo Open Hack day on a windy Saturday morning, I was  greeted with a large ensemble of police men trying their best to sway the attention of the large media contigent. The ex-chief minister of the state was in a meeting with his supporters to tackle the situation that his governance had got into. I won't go to details of that, which perhaps is a topic out of my general interest and of my blog.

The venue was host to the largest gathering of engineers in India on a weekend to share a common brotherhood - the adventure of building something interesting in a span of 24 hours. And this time around, the stage was bigger and so were the stakes. My pals Vinod and Abhishek were interested enough to join me in my third stance at Yahoo Open Hack day. A couple of ideas were floating among us for sometime, and we hoped to take our adrenaline to the next level this time around. What we did not anticipate was the number of other people who shared with us the same enthusiasm and anticipation that day. A number no less than 800 non-Yahoo engineers came over from all parts of the country for this event. The crowd was a mix of professionals looking for their next big thing, to students of engineering colleges stepping up to be the next Zuckerberg of their times.

The whole ordeal of managing 800+ engineers with their hunger for wireless connections was big enough to detour even the best of the organzing teams in the world. Not to mention, the added uncertainity at which every wireless access point behaves, poured in more worries for Yahoo. This was supposed to be the biggest gathering of this kind in the world and anything Yahoo ever attempted.

A word for Yahoo. The company is going through interesting turmoil of activities at the top management while slowly sinking away from media glare since sometime. The law of dimishing returns had taken Yahoo for a ride. Not only it was losing its top tech people to competitors, its products had also taken a substantial amount of hit. But this event reminds the community every year that Yahoo still exists and carries the muscle to attempt the change. The Open Hack day becomes a religious visit for every Web and Social Software developer around the world, and is a trend now copied by all leaders in the tech space.

A word for HackDay. The concept of creating something useful and interesting in the minimum time possible is no immune to Uncertainity principle. The two different school of thoughts on this space have a distinct view on this mode of software development. The argument of a pure adrenaline based software development under time pressure challenges the opinion of well crafted and meticulously planned development approach. I agree to both the opinions and consider HackDay more like a long extended party for engineers. The idea of HackDay is not to come up with a full fledged product but to experiment and use the constraints to an engineer's advantage. A word of caution for readers who misunderstood Hackers in this space for individuals trying to steal and create digital (and physical) havoc. Hackers like fiddling, coming up with ideas and implementations that challenge the ordinary, and provide a creative relief to existing scheme of things. Hacking in Open Hack's dictionary is to come up with intuitive solutions that solve a real problem or does something really interesting. The sum of parts could potentially be a completely new thing compared to how each part works. Yahoo through its Open Hack days allows engineers to come together and share a common space to brainstorm new ideas and build models to demonstrate them in front of their peers and leading minds of the industry.

This time around the event was graced with the presence of the JSON guy, Doug Crockford. A popular name in the world of Javascript and Web Applications. Many among us if not all have grown up reading and appreciating Doug's work. He received a large round of applause from the audience as he walked up the podium with a Namaste pose, not able to derive how long he needed to have the same posture. But the crowd loved his stance and generosity. His talks had a sprinkle of geek humour bringing out the child like curiosity and a true spirit of a tech visionary at all times. Off podium he was frequently seen chatting with fellow engineers or sneaking in quietly to observe the progress of hacks.

As hackers proudly started off with their hack, there was a general sense of excitement and cheer in the air. Old faces were met, and new faces made connection. Hackers were quick on getting their hands on to the violet bean bags spread all across the venue. From a distance, it looked like a violet sea full of ships (laptops) with their masters around them. I have yet to see so many  laptops and devices in a single room in any event. After a series of sessions by Yahoo illuminati, the stage was set for some entertainment. A dance troop by the name Shadows  enthralled the audience with the moves on stage.

Post dinner, hackers turned over to their faithful partners (laptops) for a night that would set the stage for the champion of the competition. A good number of them broke the rhythm of coding by indulging in geek delights of Video Gaming, FoosBall, Chess and Carromboard. Microsoft Kinect was the star of that show, with people queuing up to take their chance at it even at wee hours of the night. We made a choice of using the night hours to finish up a core functionality of our hack - an attempt to use GPS Location of a mobile user to play Treasure Hunt. We wanted to develop something viral and what better than a game. The idea was to allow users to play Treasure hunt game through their Mobile while a Game server would track their location and provide the gamer with clues. Each clue was meant to be decoded by the gamer and clue lead to a location in the city. The gameplay allowed the gamers to play against each other, with the winner being the one who reached the treasure in the minimum time. It had all the ingredients of a winner, and is what kept us going through the night.

I am usually not a morning person, and a nightful of coding had left me in a trans-zombie state. The morning was painful, as our hack kept on crashing on our test mobile. We resolved to fix the issue, or worst - we had to demo it on the Emulator.  We tried till the end to make the demo ready but the Mobile app refused to comply. At around the end of the hack timings (24 hours), we found ourselves with a Mobile app that refused to work, and the only solution was to use the available emulator on our laptop to demo the idea. We were disappointed but it was least we could do to justify our efforts all through the night. The Sunday evening began with judges looking over each demo entry, where the hackers would have to demo their ideas to the elite team from Yahoo, including Doug.

Our demo to these judges went surprisingly well, inspite of our failed attempt to make the Mobile app work. I spoke to the judges and took them through the concept to the application including a demo on the emulator. The judges appreciated our efforts and were pleased to see somebody trying their hand on building a game using GPS as a social data. We thoroughly enjoyed that experience and came out ecstatic and surprised. Getting into the demo finals was still a distant dream as we knew that the key to finals  was the correct working of our application on a real mobile and not a emulator. Yet we comforted ourselves with the best we could do in the situation and enjoyed the time before the results were announced.

The results came out, in sync with our fears. We couldn't make it to the final demos . But our effort in making the idea work in 24 hours was enough boost to our adrenaline that kept us going. We cheered the other hackers as they proudly shared their demo with the audience. Out of a total of 170 hacks, 110 hacks were judged and 50 got their chance to demo on stage in front of all. I wasn't really impressed with the quality of hacks demonstrated compared to the expected potential of our idea. However a couple of hacks took our attention, especially hacks like FakeMyTrip - app that uses your photo to generate a fake travel pic which you can share with your friends on social networks, iPad app to transfer pictures from one social network to another in a jiff, Web application to shuttle auto rickshaws.

The event ended with the winners being announced in all categories along with the grand prize winner that included a full paid trip to New York to participate in All Star Hack Day. An open bar followed the event, as people rushed in to get their hands on free beer.  A few smiles and thank you's here and there, we moved out of the venue to head home.

A few words about the determination of Yahoo in making sure that each one of the hacker present there got internet access inspite of the overclocked access points and idiotic array of similar named hotspots people created. All participants were allowed to own a bean bag along with an electronic participation certificate. But bean bags apart, the fun for hackers was to be a part of a gathering of this size. It brought in a sense of self confidence among all participants in terms of what they can achieve out of a limited time frame and a right attitude.

The Yahoo Open Hack Day ended with a big applause for the participation of engineers, the interesting app ideas that it generated and finally for Yahoo for their courage and determination to execute an awesome event that will remembered for a long time.

Cheers to all.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Bring on the good news

How about building a newspaper dedicated to bring in good news from all parts of the daily life.

The modern newspaper is full of news that reflect poor role models, widespread corruption and painful parts of life. Is this what you need to know when you get up in morning ?

One idea that could work. A news service that is whole-heartedly focussed on bringing you whats good in the world every day. So every morning, when you read the newspaper, all you get is the fresh brew of the best in your city, country and world about goodness. And what is good ? What is not. A person's fight against corruption, initiatives by government leading to good life of its citizens, entrepreneurs working hard to create job opportunities, sportsmen and women on being the true role model for their community and country. Anything and everything that's good around you, the reader.

Is this idea worth a try ?

I bet a good idea shared is far better than fighting a bad idea.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Inspired by Nature

This image was taken at Lalbagh garden in Bangalore on a beautiful Saturday. As I walked past this tree, I was amused by the intricate beauty the leaves and the tree had to offer. The low hanging part of the tree caught my attention. There it was, an exquisite display of engineering : a spider web creating subtle connections across the interesting set of leaves. To find more, click on the image to look into the detail. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why I think referral bonus is a poor excuse

The concept of referral bonus is a poor excuse to motivate employees to bring in their friends and family to the organization. Compensating employees in return of their recommendation for hire is a poor excuse to building corporate culture that allows employees to evangelize their work and organization to others.
Referrals is a fantastic idea. This creates a stronger bond between the employee and the employer.
Referral bonus however is a left brain trend. The concept of reward in return of getting your contact to join in for a position at the company requires a serious re-thinking. Instead, organizations must work on creating a work culture that acts as a catalyst in inspiring employees to bring in their contacts as future co-workers. Asking your acquaintance to join you at work is a way of adding new dynamics to the existing relationship. This new layer of relationship better be formed on the foundation of trust and honesty. I believe organization must look at ways in leveraging this new layer of relationship and create occasions of strong bonding. This could be the reward the employee would look out for, and cherish longer than a handful amount of cash.

A number of ideas cross my mind that organizations can work on as a replacement for referral bonus :-

a) Appreciate and recognize employees having one or more of their connections working in the company.

b) Reward roles like "Organization Evangelist" to employees that bring in referrals.

If you as a reader believe that this makes sense, add your ideas for the same, in the comments below. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rules to live by : My Mantra @ Work

I have a old sheet of paper scribbled with "Rules to live by" in my workplace. I am not sure when I wrote this, but it has been with me for a while. I call it my Mantra.

Its amazing how a single scribble event can drive how I live my work life. I do not term it as a Vision document or Mission Statement. But a Mantra, or should I say - list of Mantras.

Let me share with you this list, and hope it helps you as to have your own list of Mantras.

1) Speed up Development process

2) Improve Effectiveness of Code being written

3) Make it extremely easy to write Great code

4) Build Great responsive and elegant apps

5) Balance between - using 1/2 time and build 2x quality in everything

6) Mitigate Risks in Software Development process

7) Reduce Initial hiccup time before development flow becomes steady

8) Create Reusable assets and Knowledge management features all along the SDLC

9) Make yourself and co-workers proud of their work

10) Build skills to complement each other in a team

More on these later, in subsequent posts.

Till then, Happy being great.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The "Wow" Effect

On my pursuit to research on my next presentation on "What makes Great Presentation", I found the web to be a zillion-gallon full of good resources on the topic. Everybody has a say on what makes a great presentation work. Thanks to what now we know as "Apple-era". Steve Jobs has epitomized the fact that the future belongs to the right part of your brain. Not that the left is not required, but its not the only one. For people unaware of what the previous lines meant, the truth stands : Logic is not enough, Creativity is the next frontier. "A whole new mind" by Daniel H. Pink speaks a length about it. 
Irrespective of the fact that the web is full of great wisdom about "Presentation / Speaker skill", I still crave for speakers who can blow my mind. Be it conferences, corporate presentations, or trade seminars - there are same people. People who understand and appreciate the "right brain", have access to the great depth of "Web knowledge" on what needs to be done - but in the end, they are waiting for the "Tipping point". 
Here is what I have learnt from the opportunities to listen and experience the "Wow" speakers, and use this consciously and some times in a manner that surprises me long after the talk is over :-

1) Surprise the audience
  • People love surprises. Surprises that don't hurt, but the ones that they can cherish long after the talk is over
  • Incorporating surprises : The best thing that works for me is the subtle pause once a while, or a two way interaction with the audience
  • Surprise humor works as well
2) Audience is intelligent, and they need a massage once a while to prove that they are intelligent
  • Never underestimate the audience. 
  • They love as much being appreciated and "massaged" for their intelligence, as much they hate being told that they are foolish

3) Connecting the dots 
  • Ideas that need to be communicated in steps, need to repeated
  • People need to have the big picture all the time in their head
  • In the heat of the content, people may loose the focus on the big agenda, so repetition never huts, however a balance is more than necessary
  • In explaining a complex scenery, I tend to always come back to the big picture because sometimes we get so deep and covered in the finer nuances that we loose out the 20000 feet view

4) The "Energy" is the suit for all seasons
  • Wear the suit of energy : I believe energy flows from the speaker to the audience, and a reciprocation flames it more
  • Energy does not always mean shouting loud, jumping around the stage
  • Being passionate about it also means energetic

5) Lateral thinking helps
  • Communicating ideas require connecting existing idea to the new idea, sometimes those ideas could be unrelated
  • Be aware of not just what you know about the topic, but everything and anything
  • Its a never bad idea to ride on the existing ideas that worked - be it films, culture, current affairs

6) Overconfidence hurts like a bad ego
  • You may not know it all, but you don't need to be all knowing
  • Don't force your ideas on the audience 
  • If nothing works, leave it at nothing 

7) Reading helps. Full Stop. 

The above ideas resonate with me all the time, and has helped me to shape up my talk, and my presentation each day. And like any art, its a work in progress.

So go out, make the "Wow you audience" your mantra.