All posts by Ian Roseman

As a space ranger, member of Star Command, I protect the universe from Evil Emperor Zurg. I also like SciFi, Tech, Philosophy, and Sociology.

Free Nights and Weekends Makes a Comeback

Remember when you could make free mobile calls after 9:30 PM weeknights, and all weekend? For awhile the mobile carriers competed on the time when “off-peak” started, from 10 PM to 8:30 PM. A whole hour and a half! These days we have unlimited domestic calling all the time.

So, now we have varying degrees of data plans, such as AT&T Wireless 3 GB, 9 GB, or unlimited per month, but there are caps where after 22 GB data transfer speeds are slowed down.  22 gigs seem like a lot until you have kids using Snapchat and TikTok.

When you think about it, data peak is when you may not be in a hot spot. At night, you’re at home using your own WiFi, or at an establishment with their complimentary WiFi. Weekends and weekdays are a bit scattered. Your work may have WiFi, but weekdays “on peak” are mostly commuting times, the “rush hour(s)”,

Can wireless carriers bring back on and off-peak for data?  The simplest approach:  “turn off the meter” during off-peak data periods.  Maybe on-peak the consumer can elect 5G, when available, and off-peak at 4G LTE? Our Smartphones can identify low consuming bandwidth opportunities, e.g. when the phone is locked, text messages without graphics and email are semi-passive states. Maybe users are able to prioritize their apps data usage? What about those “chatty” apps that you rarely use? Smartphone settings may show you those apps bandwidth consumption as opportunities to prioritize them lower than your priority apps.

Skeptic, and think there are no Peak or Off-Peak periods with data?  Check the business analytics.  I’m sure wireless carriers have a depth of understanding for their own business intelligence (BI).

7 Failures I Needed to Succeed

Here is a list of seven failures from my professional career, how I met those challenges, and in some cases, turned them into opportunities

Underestimate

Eager to please throughout my career, I was burned many times, and in some cases continue to be burned by underestimating the effort required for an activity, or task, which roll up to the delivery of features, or meeting a milestone. In my earlier years, I “shot from the hip” to senior management, and they held me to those commitments. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to document and mitigate risks. In addition I learned additional tools, both process and communication / people skills:

* “Interesting point, let me consider, and get back to you.” You don’t have to provide an answer right away. Consider the scope and impact of the questions you are presented. Unless you are almost certain of the answer, try to defer.

* Planning Poker (Agile) collaborative (blind) estimates make better estimations. Through collaboration, you reach joint commitment. You eliminate the “boss knows best” factor.

Hearing but not Listening

Throughout my personal and professional life, I’ve struggled with this aspect of communication, more so earlier on in my life. Two people have a meeting, and discuss their point of views regarding the same topic. They both leave the room, and have two polar opposite prospectives of what was communicated.

Even in the same language, things get “lost in the translation.“. There are many process tools to better your communications style. You hear what you want to hear. You don’t probe deep enough into another person’s perspective.

Overestimate

Adding too much margin into an estimate, being conservative in your effort estimate at times may not be the best course of action. “Right Sizing” the estimate is typically the desired approach unless otherwise guided by the appropriate stakeholders. There are lots of tools for Effort estimation, poker planning, and fist of five are just two examples.

Army of One – Embrace Opportunity

I was brought into a development team as a Software Quality Assurance manager for a well known Financial Services organization. I was to build a team of QA staff as well as mature their process workflow, e.g. implement software change management.

The department’s QA resources per team dwindled, letting go these resources, and not growing the teams as first advertised during the interviews. I found myself constantly working with the team putting out fires. Best case scenario, I worked “after” hours just to work on the strategic stuff like process improvements, and automation. I stuck to the opportunity to learn as much as possible. Sticking with the job, I built my knowledge and relationships that would wind up propelling my career to later on build and manage a 50 person, global team.

Build it and they will Come…Bull!

I chose to try my own startup at some point in my professional career. I had worked for a startup firm out of college, but that was not the same as my own self startup. There were lots of balls to juggle, decisions to make and prioritize. After a year and a half, I shutdown the company, more money going out than in, and I was also “relatively” self funded.

One of the several ill choices I made was “Build it and They will Come.” At the time it was 2009, and the mobile frenzy was just starting to heat up. Feb 2009, Apple was at 30 USD per share! 30! I built a client/server mobile application for expertise transactions, way ahead of my time. I was almost entirely focused on the development of the solution, I clearly lost sight of the focused requirement of building market share. I did post Press Releases, but I didn’t embrace digital marketing as a core spend and activity for my business.

Needless to say I was “The Best Kept Secret”.

Chasing the Sun

As a software product, startup firm, you need to segment your product to align to a target audience. However, honing in on the target market maybe problematic if the “fish aren’t biting”.

You find yourself reassessing the strategic and tactical goals of your product, pivoting often to eventually find your “pay dirt”. There may be fundamental influences to your ecosystem, such as a shift in a 3rd party product previously seen as complementary now seen as “overlapping”. Sales pitch and marketing approach may need to change along with your product.

Although pivoting often may be the name of the game, you still should recognize the cost in adapting to change. Process flows like being “agile” and Scrum help to smooth the pivot, as these processes revolve around constant development iterations and reflections every few weeks.

Time to Pull the Parachute Cord

I still have trouble with knowing when it’s time to say when. I enjoy troubleshooting problems, business, people, process, and technical. So, how long do you work on problem before you pull the ripcord?

Riddle of the Sphinx: Improving Machine Learning

Data Correlations Require Perspective

As I was going to St. Ives,

I met a man with seven wives,

Each wife had seven sacks,

Each sack had seven cats,

Each cat had seven kits:

Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,

How many were there going to St. Ives?

One.

This short example may confound man and machine. How does a rules engine work, how does it make correlations to derive an answer to this and other riddles?  If AI, a rules engine is wrong trying to solve this riddle, how does it use machine learning to adjust, and tune its “model” to draw an alternate conclusion to this riddle?

Training rules engines using machine learning and complex riddles may require AI to define relationships not previously considered, analogously to how a boy or man consider solving riddles.  Man has more experiences than a boy, widening their model to increase the possible answer sets. But how to conclude the best answer?  Question sentence fragments may differ over a lifetime, hence the man may have more context as to the number of ways the question sentence fragment may be interpreted.

Adding Context: Historical and Pop Culture

There are some riddles thousands of years old.  They may have spawned from another culture in another time and survived and evolved to take on a whole new meaning.  Understanding the context of the riddle may be the clue to solving it.

Layers of historical culture provide context to the riddle, and the significance of a word or phrase in one period of history may wildly differ.  When you think of “periods of history”, you might think of the pinnacle of the Roman empire, or you may compare the 1960s, the 70s, 80s, etc.

Asking a question of an AI, rules engine, such as a chatbot may need contextual elements, such as geographic location, and “period in history”, additional dimensions to a data model.

Many chatbots have no need for additional context, a referential subtext, they simply are “Expert Systems in a box”.  Now digital assistants may face the need for additional dimensions of context, as a general knowledge digital agent spanning expertise without bounds.

 Sophocles: The Sphinx’s riddle

Written in the fifth century B.C., Oedipus the King is one of the most famous pieces of literature of all time, so it makes sense that it gave us one of the most famous riddles of all time.

What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?

A human.

Humans crawl on hands and knees (“four legs”) as a baby, walk on two legs in mid-life (representing “noon”) and use a walking stick or can (“three legs”) in old age.

A modern interpretation of the riddle may not allow for the correlation and solving the riddle.  As such “three legs”, i.e. a cane, may be elusive, as we think of the elderly on four wheels on a wheelchair.

In all sincerity, this article is not about an AI rules engine “firing rules” using a time dimension, such as:

  • Not letting a person gain entry to a building after a certain period of time, or…
  • Providing a time dimension to “Parental Controls” on a Firewall / Router, the Internet is “cut off” after 11 PM.

Adding a date/time dimension to the question may produce an alternate question. The context of the time changes the “nature” of the question, and therefore the answer as well.

IBM didn’t inform people when it used their Flickr photos for facial recognition training – The Verge

The problem is more widespread then highlighted in the article.  It’s not just these high profile companies using “public domain” images to annotate with facial recognition notes and training machine learning (ML) models.  Anyone can scan the Internet for images of people, and build a vast library of faces.  These faces can then be used to train ML models.  In fact, using public domain images from “the Internet” will cut across multiple data sources, not just Flickr, which increases the sample size, and may improve the model.

The rules around the uses of “Public Domain” image licensing may need to be updated, and possibly a simple solution, add a watermark to any images that do not have permission to be used for facial recognition model training.  All image processors may be required to include a preprocessor to detect the watermark in the image, and if found, skip the image from being included in the training of models.

Source: IBM didn’t inform people when it used their Flickr photos for facial recognition training – The Verge

When and How to Create Journey Maps

Journey Maps are excellent as a tool for deriving requirements, as well as better understanding the customer.  Similar to a paper-based, use case process to understand an “Actor” on their business workflow, journey maps visualize the customer/user experiences.  The article below is a primer to the creation and usage of a Journey Map.

Summary: Journey maps combine two powerful instruments—storytelling and visualization—in order to help teams understand and address customer needs. While maps take a wide variety of forms depending on context and business goals, certain elements are generally included, and there are underlying guidelines to follow that help them be the most successful.

What Is a Customer Journey Map?
In its most basic form, journey mapping starts by compiling a series of user goals and actions into a timeline skeleton. Next, the skeleton is fleshed out with user thoughts and emotions in order to create a narrative. Finally, that narrative is condensed into a visualization used to communicate insights that will inform design processes.

Source: When and How to Create Customer Journey Maps

Microsoft’s Azure DevOps – Planning Poker Estimation Tool

Although I’ve been a huge fan of PlanningPoker.com since 2011, my Scrum Product team consisted of more than five members, and their Free Membership allows up to 5 users. The team I was working with had just started their agile transformation and was trying out aspects of Agile / Scrum they wanted to adopt. They weren’t about to make the investment in Planning Poker for estimations quite yet, so I stumbled across an estimation tool as a free add-on to Azure DevOps.

Microsoft’s Azure DevOps solution is both a code and requirements repository in one. Requirements are managed from an Agile perspective, through a Product Backlog of user stories. The user story backlog item type contains a field called “Story Points”, or sometimes configured as “Effort”.

Ground Rules – 50k Overview

All team members select from a predetermined relative effort scale, such as Tee Shirt Sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL) or Fibonacci sequence (0, 1/2, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…) All selections of team members are hidden until the facilitator decides to expose/flip all team selections at once. Flipping at once should help to remove natural biases, such as selecting the same value as the team tech lead’s selection. After that, there’s a team discussion to normalize the value into an agreed selection, such as the average value.

Estimate New Session

Integration with Azure DevOps

The interesting thing about this estimation tool is you can explicitly select stories to perform the effort estimation process right from the backlog, and in turn, once the team agrees upon a value, it can be committed to the User Story in the Backlog. No jumping between user stories, updating and saving field values. All performed from the effort estimation tool.

Agile Mind Games – the Psychology of Scrum

Team Effort Estimations Are Critical to Accurate Velocity, Maximum Productivity, and Team Building.

The team tech lead may provide an effort estimation with little or no input from the developers and/or testers doing the work.

If the tech lead vocalizes his/her effort estimation…

  • BEFORE the developer who will be doing the work, the developer may feel pressured to agree with the tech lead’s estimate.
  • lower than the developer’s guestimate, who will be doing the work, this might create social friction and inaccurate velocity.
  • WITHOUT a collaborative approach, a comprehensive estimation may be ruled out, such as consideration for not only dev. and test., but infra (configuration management, i.e. build & deploy) and other effort costs.

Using tools like Planning Poker, where all estimations are revealed at once helps the team appear to not contradict one another. The negotiation process occurs after all teammates flip their cards at once. Derives better estimates with more perspectives not factored in based on a single Tech lead providing the estimation.

Transparency and Scrutiny

Many “hands-on” project/product stakeholders want maximum transparency into the current state of the product regardless of the duration of the sprint (e.g. 2-week sprints),   Typically, a pulse on the product at two-week increments satisfy most.

Some of the agile, change management tools such as Microsoft Azure DevOps offer dynamic graphing and reporting.  Product stakeholders may be provided dynamic dashboards, that include Burn Down, and Burn Up charts based on the sum of effort from user stories (i.e. product backlog items).  At any given time charts can predict velocity, and based upon the outstanding, total effort estimation, can chart a course to the next release.

Meaningful burn up and burn down charts rely not just on accurate effort estimations, but the people who are assigned these user stories constantly update the status of these stories, e.g. New; In-Progress; In-Review; Done. Countless times I’ve seen team members update the user story status the day before the sprint close/demo, from New -> Done.  This habit gives any product stakeholders a false view of the product within a sprint.

Another challenge and opportunity with Transparency and Scrutiny within a given sprint, is making sure each user story has one or more (child) tasks.  Defining tasks provides a wealth of opportunity, such as naming all of the tasks to complete for the story, e.g. database tasks, UI tasks, etc.  If the tasks are itemized, they may also be assigned to multiple team resources, and show a delineation of labor.

Sticking with the Azure DevOps tool, Tasks have a default field, “Remaining Work”.  This field may express task work in hours or days, the unit of measure. In the beginning, tasks are populated with the total task guesstimate of hours. Each day the person assigned the story task may draw down on the task to incrementally show progress within the task and correlating story.

Task, Work Remaining field must be relentlessly updated across the Backlog in play or else it will create more harm than good. At this level of scrutiny on tasks are amorphous and will be challenging to garnish any projected value.

The Abominable Blocker

What, you can’t figure it out on your own?

The dreaded blocker has the ability to stop a Scrum team in its tracks. The term Impediment used synonymously with the word Blocker, has an innocuous sounding sentiment. Your Scrum team may use either, perhaps a less severe issue merits an Impediment?

The Kanban / Scrum board may have a column in the workflow called Blocker, which should fixate your team on helping to remediate that Blocker. Our Daily Scrum of 15 min may focus on Blockers as they have been isolated in our workflows.

Conquer the blocker before it conquers you!

Applause, Applause

Closing and Demo for Sprints should follow healthy applause from the team, including Stakeholders and Product Owner. Positive reinforcement of a job well done. We’ve completed what we committed to complete, should be followed by applause. We should take a moment to soak in the feedback.

Pass the Mic

For those of us on the Scrum team who are introverts and actively look for ways of dodging opportunities to speak, this one is for you. During Daily Scrum, pass the facilitation mic around where everyone gets an opportunity to facilitate per stand up.

Allow all people within the team an opportunity to demo the “Done” user stories on sprint close. It’s not to break folks out of their shell, it’s to impart a sense of pride in the work accomplished, and truly resonate the one team mentality.

Disclosure: the opinions provided are my own and do not reflect that of my clients, or anyone I represent.

As your Digital Assistant, Siri Will Answer Incoming Calls

Voice mail is so LAST Century. It’s a static communications interface to address your incoming phone calls. It’s a dinosaur in terms of communications protocol. Yes, a digital assistant, or chat bots should “field” your incoming calls, providing your callers a higher level of service.

Business or Personal?

Why not both? There are use cases which highlight the value of a Digital Assistant answering your phone calls when you’re unavailable.

Trusted Friends and Business Pins

Level of available services may change based upon the level of trusted access, such as:

  • Friends Seeking Your Availability for a Hockey Game Next Week
  • Business Partners Sharing Information access such as invoices

Untrusted Caller Access

  • The Vetting of Unsolicited Calls, such as robocalls

Defining and Default Dialogs

Users can define dialogs through drop and drag workflow diagram tools making it easy to “build” conversations / dialogs flows. In addition, out of the box flows can provide administrators with opportunities and discover the ways in which AI digital assistant may be leveraged.

Canned / Default dialog templates to handle the most common dialogs / workflows will empower users to the implement rapidly.

Any Acquisitions in the Pipeline?

Are the big names in the Digital Assistant space looking to partner or acquire tools that can easily transform workflows to be leveraged by digital assistant?

  • IBM’s Conversations – chatbot dialog definition tool
  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR) solutions

APIs available on Mobile OS SDKs?

Are the components available for third party product companies to extend the Mobile OS capabilities as of now? Or are the mobile OS companies the only ones in a possession of performing these upgrades?

Cryptocurrency + Quantum Computing := Encryption Fail, The Next Y2K

Over the last several months I’ve been researching Quantum Computing (QC) and trying to determine how far we’ve come from the theoretical to the practical implementation.  It seems we are in the early commercial prototypical phase.

Practical Application of QC

The most discussed application of Quantum Computing has been to crack encryption.  Encrypted data that may take months or years to decipher given our current supercomputing capabilities, may take hours or minutes when the full potential of Quantum Computing has been realized.

Bitcoin and Ethereum Go Boom

One source paraphrased: Once quantum computing is actualized, encryption will be in lockstep progress, and a new cryptology paradigm will be implemented to secure our data. This kind of optimism has no place in the “Real World”. and most certainly not in the world financial markets.   Are there hedge funds which rightfully hedge against the cryptocurrency / QC risk paradigm?

Where is the Skepticism?

Is there anyone researching next steps in the evolution of cryptography/encryption, hedging the risk that marketplace encryption will be ready? The lack of fervor in the development of “Quantum Computing Ready” encryption has me speechless. Government organizations like DARPA / SBIR should already be at a conceptual level if not at the prototypical phase with next-generation cryptology.

Too Many Secrets

Sneakers“, a classic fictional action movie with a fantastic cast, and its plot, a mathematician in secret develops the ultimate code-breaking device, and everyone is out to possess the device.  An excellent movie soon to be non-fictional..?

References:

 

Slack & Flickr Founder Stewart Butterfield Interviews with NPR

Excellent, Well Told “Rags to Riches” Interview with the Founder of Slack, Stewart Butterfield

In the early 2000s, Stewart Butterfield tried to build a weird, massively multiplayer online game, but the venture failed.

Instead, he and his co-founders used the technology they had developed to create the photo-sharing site Flickr.

After Flickr was acquired by Yahoo in 2005, Butterfield went back to the online game idea, only to fail again.

But the office messaging platform Slack rose from the ashes of that second failure — a company which, today, is valued at over $5 billion.

Click through to the Audio Recording of the Interview.

Source: Slack & Flickr: Stewart Butterfield : NPR