Category Archives: Management

This category contains articles talking about general business management issues

Windows speech recognition

This week, starting my MBA, I was reminded of windows speech recognition for the use of writing and commenting on documents.  As I have never really got into it,  and people were telling me that it could save me a lot of time using it, I thought I would try it out and provide a small summary of my experience here.

 

Setting up speech recognition systems was very easy.  It took me about 30 seconds to find the right configurations and switch it on.  The next thing to do was to run through the system tutorial, which took me a lot longer (about 30 minutes).  The tutorial itself runs through many different actions that you can accomplish through speech recognition on windows.  Many of these are very intuitive and whilst going through them the system starts learning how to interpret your voice.  I was pretty confident after having finished the tutorial, but have now been stuck for a over 10 minutes on this post, as I was trying to post it using speech recognition alone.  Admittedly I have only been using voice recognition for about 45 minutes and things are getting better as I progress in this post, but it is still not where I would have wanted it to be.  I will give it a fair trial in writing long documents, but I am really not convinced yet.

 

I am keeping this post short, as I would not want to lie when I say that I wrote this post fully using speech recognition.  I just hope that my experience will not stay as bad as it was for the past hour, as I do not think I will be able to hold my calm for much longer.

Different experiences of management

Following is an account of various experiences of management I have had over the years. It is the first in a series of many essays and texts I will write over the course of my OU MBA, which I will be publishing on my blog at the same time.

Being managed in a work-based situation

For about 6 years, I worked as an IT-Consultant for a big firm. Initially, I started-out as employee, but then spun-off to do more interesting things (which, at the time, was the only way of doing so for me). I worked in a small team of 8 people in a pretty independent way for a long time, developing an IT system for various departments of the business. It took off slowly but surely and it was the first major project I was given part-ownership off (alongside a domain-expert helping me guide the application). As soon as the project became successful, however, people (my managers at the time) suddenly started to want to manage it more directly. Instead of letting me do my job I was suddenly getting stuck in politics, management and rules of all I could or could not do. This went on for about 3 years, with the project slowly losing momentum and appeal to most of the business. In the end, half of it was cut because another system came along that did the same thing, but better (3 years passed without a significant update on the application, so it became out-dated). I would not blame the people involved in my direct management, as I understand the need of oversight in as big an organization as the one I was working in (especially as I was 20 years old and new to this size of project at the start), but I do hold an important lesson from it for my own style of management: I firmly believe that sometimes you just have to let people do what they do best, especially if they are not yet constrained by the rules and status quo of the business, even though it can be a bit scary not knowing exactly what happens in the back and how it will all turn out.

Managing in a work-based situation

When I was 18 years-old I founded a software consultancy. It was a completely bootstrapped business mostly composed of a network of students that were working from home for a various number of hours each week. It grew to be pretty successful, with a significant turnover and projects worth over £50k (which was huge for me at the time). In the business I employed better and worse employees and as is the case in IT, the best developers will completely outshine the medium ones (both in talking-time and in profitability). I made the mistake of not having solid back-up plans for what could happen if my star developers would leave and it hit me hard. In an effort to keep these people happy, they were given more freedom to do as they like than others. The problem was that that meant nothing was standardized and in the middle of one of my biggest projects, the star developer decided to leave the business, without any notice and / or handover. Having spent most of what the client had paid us already, I was in big trouble having to finish the application myself. This is where I learned 2 important lessons: 1) Always have a solid back-up plan, 2) When you are managing the project (especially if you sold it to a client), the buck stops with you…

Being managed in a non-work situation

The best, although probably pretty weird to most, situation I can think of in my life is my period as an officer in an online game. Officers were to my guild as managers are to a business: organizing people and getting tasks done but still responding to the guild leader, who gives general directives and makes the bigger decisions when they need to be made.

I played with the same group (around 80) of people for about 3 years, multiple hours each day (and thus, it became a very big part of my life). The role in this guild gave me my first experience of being managed outside a “kid” context (as in, your parents tell you what to do J) whilst being present in a game (which makes it all more interesting, as a game traditionally lets you escape these contexts!).

As a player, I was one of the younger officers in the guild, but that didn’t seem to matter a lot. As I played a lot and knew what I was doing, I was considered as much part of the managing team as anyone else (even more to those that simply didn’t know my age). I did however, run in to some situations where people felt it necessary to remind me of my “duties” and responsibilities as a leader in the guild. What I learned most from this situation was to be bold and not be held back by the status quo of how things are supposed to be, especially when hierarchal decision making is concerned.

Managing in a non-work situation

A little over a year ago I got married and we decided to have the wedding in Scotland (far away from any of our friends and / or relatives). We invited about 80 people from across Europe (and one from the US!) and organized a 3-day getaway for everyone, fully hosted and organized (with the wedding at the second day).

My biggest surprise was the day everyone arrived, as we (me and my wife) suddenly realised we were the only ones who knew exactly who was supposed to be housed where (some people stayed in the castle, others in accommodation 5 minutes walking, etc.). We should probably have sent this information around before-hand but didn’t, which meant we were running around trying to find the rooms for each person as they came in.

The next day went nicely, up until the point where we got a noise complaint before 9PM in the evening… I thought I’d have a chat with the person responsible for the complaint, but the moment he opened the door he seemed extremely aggressive (and I didn’t want any trouble on my wedding day J), so I walked away completely failing the goal of what I came there to do (talk to the guy). We then turned-up the volume a bit and simply hoped for the best (which ended up being all good Smile). My big takeaway from this situation: not all situations are to be managed!

Incredible start-ups, impossible goals and inspiration

Today I thought I’d write about a nice phenomenon we’re starting to see around the world concerning successful entrepreneurs, specifically in the tech area. As technology enthusiasts and future-focused people, successful tech entrepreneurs have a healthy disregard for the impossible. That, coupled with the fact that a lot of technological innovation is accomplished through (initially) abstract thinking makes for a special type of entrepreneur that simply doesn’t see the limit. What is new, however, is that after these entrepreneurs have had their first big tech success they go straight for the next, biggest possible challenge they can find and simply decide to tackle it. Following are a couple of examples which came to be recently and clearly show the trend.

Calico (Google) and defying aging

Calico is a Google venture, spun off into a separate company to have full autonomy. It’s goal: not making people immortal per se, but increase the lifespan of people born 20 years ago by as much as 100 years…

When you stop for a minute and think about that, it is HUGE. This is one of the biggest companies in the world, committing to making people live 100 years longer… and that’s definitely something I could get excited about (please, please, please Google include 25-year-olds, I’m only 5 years off! Smile with tongue out).

Gates foundation and eradicating Malaria

Everyone knows the enormously successful and richest-man-alive (for many years) Bill Gates. He made his fortunes through founding and guiding Microsoft to where it is today: dominating enterprise IT. A few years ago he decided he had had enough and, instead of taking it slow and deciding to sip off some of that 50 BILLION $, he thought of something else. He decided to change the world, AGAIN, but in a more fundamental way this time, by eradicating Malaria. His fortune and contacts at his side, he simply decided it was enough and that big challenges should be face head-on. He has publicly stated this is now his life goal and I must say, it puts a whole new light onto what many would consider the emblem of a capitalist system Smile.

Elon Musk, SpaceX and a Mars Settlement

Elon Musk is the CEO & CTO of SpaceX and CEO & CPA of Tesla Motors. He made his fortune through previously co-founding PayPal. After PayPal, he decided that electronic cars were a cool and necessary idea for the future and due to the market dynamics, current car manufacturers did not have enough incentive to do it themselves. For this reason he founded Tesla Motors which is aiming (and very close to succeeding) to become the first fully electric car made for the general consumer (under $30,000). Although that is a completely honourable goal (and many would say an enormous challenge on it’s own), it doesn’t seem to be enough for Elon Musk, as he decided to found another, even more ambitious project: SpaceX.

SpaceX develops and manufactures space launch vehicles with focus on advancing the state of rocket technology. It was awarded a $1.6 Billion NASA contract on December 2008 (for 12 flights to of their Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station) and in seven years, it has designed the family of Falcon launch vehicles and Dragon multi-purpose space crafts from the ground up. The goal of the company: Expand life beyond the green and blue ball we call earth (in more recent interviews, this was more precisely defined as creating a human settlement on Mars)… Now that is a pretty exciting goal!

Impossible goals and inspiration

As a tech entrepreneur, there are 2 things I really love about these examples:

  1. It promises an enormously bright future ahead, with too many interesting things to count and adventures to take. It has been a while since we have had these big challenges taken-on by people who actually might make it.
  2. It sets a clear example to follow, milestone to reach and moon-shot to better. It’s as-if we’re starting a challenge of “who can make the biggest impact, with the most amazingly impossible project and succeed”… and I love the idea of it!

Personally, I am really optimistic and feel inspired by the examples these people put in place. They’re showing the way to a “culture” where people simply try the impossible and that can only be a good thing Smile

Trello (& Agile) review

At my current company, I inherited the use of « Trello » (www.trello.com). Initially I wasn’t too psyched with it, probably due to my own habits and the fact this meant changing, but I have grown really fond of it!

Trello is an online task management tool that “gets back to the basics”. In essence, it somewhat replicates the good-old whiteboard with post-its, but makes it digital, multi-user, cross-platform, mobile & simply amazing Smile. It consists of a very simple column system, with each column containing several tickets. Each ticket can contain text, images, due dates, labels, etc. and be assigned to users. You can create as many columns as you want, suiting different needs. This creates for a very flexible workflow that can be tailored within minutes to do what you want it to do.

Agile use case

In our case, we started out a bit messy, simply keeping a backlog of tickets in “To Do”, moving to “Doing” when worked on, “Done” when finished and “Deployed” when deployed (duh… Smile). However, switching over to a scrum-like model is as simple as adding a column “Current Sprint” and applying the needed logic of daily scrums, grooming, etc.

Conclusion

All-in-all I am really pleased with Trello and will definitely be using it for the foreseeable future. As flexible as it is, it seems to enable me to cater specific boards to specific scenarios of project management. I Would recommend everyone who’s looking for an effective project management suite to give it a go and let me know how it went !

A developer / entrepreneurial Windows setup (Part 2)

This is the second post where I detail my current setup under Windows, as a comparison to my previous Ubuntu Linux one.

Visio

It’s been a while that I was looking for some good modelling software to draw pretty pictures both for my software development & for my business process mapping. Visio is expensive for sure, but with a student license it is free! Smile. Now I realise that means it’s not for everyone, but depending on the kind of job I will be doing, it might be worth the occasional couple of hundred £. It just makes UML modelling fun again, which goes a long way towards making my day a lot better.

DestroyTwitter

I always loved the Gwibber client under Ubuntu and never managed to find anything similar under Windows, until DestroyTwitter. It’s exactly the same as Gwibber, with the difference of being purely based around Twitter (which is still a little bit of a pain, but better than nothing). I use it every day now and because it’s so lightweight, it’s a really good client to always have running.

Evernote Application & Plugins

I am getting so used to Evernote that I put more and more stuff in there. It has become my second brain and it’s really useful they have an official Windows client. On top of that, they have all sorts of plugins to easily store notes on any of my web browsing, which is enormously useful for future reference.

KeePassX

Under Ubuntu, I was using Revelation Password Manager and I needed an equivalent under Windows. Luckily there is a very good one (a better one than Revelation even) which is called “KeePassX”. It’s free to download and really does the job.

Microsoft Office & Outlook

One of the reasons of my switch was simply because I realised more and more of my time was spent with Open Office. Now I like Open Office a lot and I think it does a great job of providing a MS Office alternative. However, I still think MS Office is quite far ahead. As I am a student, I got a rebate on the price and am happy I went for it in the end. Put on top of that the way Outlook handles e-mail (compared to Thunderbird) and I must say I’m a lot more comfortable.

 

That was it for me. If you have any questions on how I made this switch, please feel free to ask !

4 hour sync with Tasker (Android)… and gaining in productivity

Over the past couple of months, I had started to feel as if my phone was keeping me busy all the time. Being a technology entrepreneur / geek / developer, I had everything configured on my phone to be “wired in” 24/7″, this included :

  • 3 e-mail accounts with push
  • 2 e-mail accounts syncing every 15 minutes
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Meetup
  • SMS / Calls

I realised that I was “drawn” to my phone every 2-3 minutes, as some sort of push notification popped up (mostly e-mail, with other services mixed in between). At first, I tried to cope with this and simply work around it. However, after a little while, I started to have the impression that I was actually becoming less productive because of it, so I started researching a little bit. I found a couple of articles telling me that turning off sync would really help my productivity, but I couldn’t really do that. Not having my phone sync at all didn’t seem like an option : I need my e-mails / feeds to be updated on a regular basis. It did, however, get me thinking.

Tasker – Switch auto-sync on for 5 minutes, every 4 hours

I had already heard about Tasker on Android before, but this was the first time I thought of it becoming really useful. My reasoning was as follows :

  • During my day at work, when I am available to answer e-mails, I will be behind my computer – meaning I don’t really need to get e-mails on my phone
  • After work, I want my e-mails available on my phone, to read, but will probably only answer them once I’m behind my computer again

It suddenly struck me that an idea situation for me would be to have auto-sync on my device enabled, but only once every 4-5 hours. This would mean that all my services got synced, but I wouldn’t be bothered by notifications every single time. This is where Tasker came in handy. I configured a task, to run every 4 hours, that switches auto-sync on for 5 minutes and then turns is off again. Now I get notifications only once every 4 hours and, if something is really urgent, people tend to call / send an sms anyways.

I have definitely noticed an increase in productivity, being able to more closely focus on a certain task and not get distracted by e-mails in the middle.

Working from home, taking time to think and Star Wars hover bikes

I spent half of this month in Spain and even though I had full internet available, the rhythm over there simply isn’t the same. However, that still leaves the other part of the month, so here is what I deemed interesting :

Working from home

Freakonomics had a very interesting podcast about the benefits of working from home. Not only does it reduce costs to business (no need for office space, etc.), but it also seems the average productivity goes up ! You can listen to it at : http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/freakonomicsradio/~5/plvU4eoPPKc/freakonomics_mppodcast082212.mp3

Is there such a thing as too fast ?

A very interesting podcast on how, in a world where information is available faster and faster, it might be worth it taking your time to make the right decision. They have a very nice example of an automatic trading system that did better by increasing it’s latency. For more information, you can download it here : http://traffic.libsyn.com/hbsp/314__In_a_Fast_World_Think_Slowly.mp3

I guess we’re here

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a pretty public person and that I am a fervent defender of most of today’s tracking technologies (as long as you get some benefit out of it). However, this article showed me just how far we’ve gotten and really rang the bell saying “yup, we really know everything you do, whenever you do it”. A scary, but interesting read : http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/15/new-totalitarianism-surveillance-technology

Star Wars hover bikes !

If I ever get my hands on this, it will be the end of my productivity : http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/video/2012/aug/23/star-wars-hover-bike-float-video?CMP=twt_fd :)

Facebook IPO roller coaster and investment

I thought it was time to actually write something down about this, as it is taking proportions that I really would not have predicted : Investing your money in shares is very risky ! If you didn’t know that before you invested, then you were simply reckless and if you did know it, then you do not have a right to complain.

Short term fluctuations in share prices are driven by speculation and not real company results. Facebook didn’t dramatically decrease their revenue over the past few days, nor did it release an amazingly bad feature that scared all of it’s users away. The only reason the share price is going down is because analysts are revising their optimism over the future of the business and their revenue potential.

In the long run, however, the share price will reflect actual results and the performance of the business compared to what people expected of it. If in the long run, Facebook under-delivers, you have a right to complain : they sold you a vision that was either wrong or badly executed. However, for this you have to give them some time : they have no control over the current fluctuations.

I bought a few shares in Facebook myself, simply for the sake of being “in the game”. However, I didn’t invest my life savings or anything I couldn’t lose because I didn’t want to risk it. If you don’t want to risk losing your money, then don’t invest but do not turn around and blame the company for a share price they only partly control.

London Java Community and user groups in general

A couple of weeks back, I made my way to my first user group ever. As I had attended some more business-oriented user-groups in the past, I was hoping it wasn’t going to be the same kind of boring network-only type of event. I went there because I had some spare time and I had heard a lot about these user groups and wanted to check it out for myself, but didn’t expect much of it : I was wrong.

I was in a period where I was considering the best routes I could take to further my career development (the famous education vs experience debate) and really needed some external views to help me decide. From the organizers of the events to the actual users, everyone was completely available. I found that the value of the events depend on your own actions, daring to approach person XYZ to simply have a chat with them.

After having attended 3 events, I can surely say that I have already benefited a lot from everyone present, their advice and simply their company. I will definitely turn up to many of them in the coming years and invite all skeptics to try it out at least once rather sooner then later ! :)

Start-up weekend Geneva 2011

I am currently at the airport, after a pretty intense weekend in Geneva : start-up weekend.

The idea is that for 54 hours, you do nothing but work on new ideas with a group. You develop them to get to a stage where you think they might be viable and you come up with ways to make them work. At the end of the weekend, you present your project to a jury through a small presentation and see what others think of it.

I ended up with a project that looks into last-minute hotel deals. I developed a prototype Android app (I was surprised I got this running within 2 days, but for some magical reason, it worked during our presentation), while others were working on the business model, the marketing plan and the development strategy.

The whole experience has been wonderful to me. You meet many entrepreneurs and like-minded people that want to make a difference and create their own jobs out there. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who thinks of him / herself as an entrepreneur ! :)