Audio

When to Be Strategic

Strategy 2

In due course of any given day, we are busy at work, knocking off the tasks on our to-do lists.

Yet, rarely do we stop and ask: Am I working on the right problem?

This is not meant to be a trivial or flippant observation. We may be very hard at work, and producing copious volumes of output.

But – are we actually doing the proper things that need to be done, or merely, those that are the most expedient? Are we cognizant of the Strategic, as well as the Tactical?

Why is this important?

Because everything you do in your organization begins – and ends – with your strategic initiatives. Every conversation. Every decision. Every assignment. Every project.

It is the superstructure that gives shape to your culture, to your management, and to your financial planning.

And yet – we are continually swamped with the immediate, with the needful now. We are daily disintermediated by the crisis of the hour – which leeches and robs us of our drive, focus, and energy needed to accomplish our ultimate goals and targets.

So – how do we keep the main thing, the main thing?

  • By communicating to our colleagues and direct reports, explicitly, our strategic initiatives;
  • By daily discriminating between what is tactically within our strategic objectives, and removing anything that detracts from our core mission;
  • And by constantly monitoring our activities, to insure we are holding true to our strategic plan.

Organizational politics, economics, and unforeseen crises will test your resolve.

It is incumbent upon you as a leader, manager, and educator to keep strategy front and center – at the water cooler, in the board room, and in the classroom.

Go, and be you.

Audio

He’s Pining for the Fjords

Pining for the Fjords

Q: When is a technology dead?

A: When you can pry it from your user’s cold, lifeless hands.

Now: it probably isn’t that bad at your school. Or, maybe it is.

I spent the better part of the day today going through boxes and boxes of old IT gunk – everything from SCSI II cables, to Centronix Printer Cables, to Bubble Readers.

Conversing with someone who is fighting tooth and nail to keep his blackboard and chalk. Gently coaxing another who is unshakable in their belief that we should continue replicating hundreds of CD-ROMs, rather than uploading one copy of our video to the cloud. Discussing why we need to keep stringing VGA and sound cables to our smartboards and projectors, rather than implementing a single cable HDMI solution.

Hundreds of small battles fought per day. Wondering if the war can truly be won.

The simple fact is: we are all comfortable with a certain baseline of technology, and our ability to wield it effectively in the classroom, or in the boardroom.

Beyond that: someone may have to die, in order for change to truly take hold.

Pining for the Fjords

So. We can boldly declare obsolete technologies to be Dead. Deceased. Gone to meet their maker. Singing with the Choir Eternal.

Pining for the Fjords.

Or – we can pragmatically realize that we must meet our teachers and staff where they are in their technological mastery, and focus instead on the goals of our teaching and instruction, rather than the uniformity and currency of our technology platforms.

Go, and be you.

Smartphone Survival Kit

Survival Kit

There are many, many realizations that arise, as one moves from a city of 50,000, to a city of 10,000,000.

One is that having a smartphone is not merely optional. It’s a requirement.

Directions. Train schedules. Nearby restaurants. Subway routes. Cabs. Your smartphone is your modern day survival kit for living in the big city.

Here are the most commonly used “tools” in my mobile survival toolkit:

Google Maps – the most used app on my phone. Invaluable for locating the nearest subway station, best route to get from point A to point B, and for just simply finding out where in the heck I am.

Uber – while the mark of a true urbanite is their mojo in hailing a cab, with Uber even a n00b can get around anywhere in the big city… for a price, natch. Sometimes very pricey during “surge pricing”, there is still no better way of getting door-to-door in the City. Uber is a close second in my list of “must haves” in your survival kit.

MyTix – if you grab the train from Garden State, the New Jersey Transit mobile app MyTix is an absolute must have. Makes it super easy to buy, and store your train tickets. Plus, when you pay a $5 premium for buying your ticket (cash only) on the train, it can be a lifesaver (just make sure to keep your phone charged). Which leads me to…

Charger – my iPhone 5S battery is totally shot. Which means that by the time I ride the Q train from Herald Square to Avenue J, there’s more than a fair chance that my battery is well on it’s way to being dead. That’s why I always carry a spare charger, to plug in where, and when, I can. (Yeah, yeah. I need a new phone. Soon.)

So – What did I miss?

Tell me your essential smartphone survival tips, in the comments below.

Go, and be you.

Road Trip

Road Trip, Man Plans, G-d Laughs, 300 Words 2 Minutes

Man Plans, G-d Laughs

I began my road trip today – a drive across half the country, from Arkansas to New York City.

I don’t have to tell ya’ – Flatbush ain’t Conway.

This is the third – or perhaps the fourth? – time, that my family and I have loaded a truck, and criss-crossed hundreds of miles to a new home, a new job, and a new set of friends.

You know – it isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s challenging. It’s scary. It’s – literally – life changing.

Five years ago, I didn’t envision being a CIO at a top liberal arts college. Last year, I wasn’t thinking about being the Director of IT at a large independent school in the middle of Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Where will you and I be five years from now? Who’s to say? Man Plans, and G-d Laughs.

I’m very grateful that my new colleagues have been welcoming, generous, and kind.

And, happily, the only faux pas that I’ve been directly challenged on were (1) ordering sweet tea, and (2) misspelling the name of my new employer. Oy.

How far, and how fast, will the remainder of the journey be? I’m ready to find out.

Open the door. Step on the road. Embrace the journey.

Go, and be you.

Scarce Commodities – Google Android, Memory, and Bitmaps

I Have a Job

This week has thrown a severe monkey wrench into my daily schedule.

Sometimes, life just happens.

But to make it up to you, O Gentle Reader, I share with you one of my most trafficked posts, from Logorrhea.

Enjoy.

Logorrhea

Working on mobile devices forces one to make conscious decisions regarding coding choices, if for no other reason that resources are scarce (memory, screen size, bandwidth). Taking the easy route and ignoring wise mobile programming practices can take what could be a promising application and make it a disappointing user experience.

If you’ve spent any time with the Google Android SDK, and have tried to read a JPEG into a Bitmap using Media.getBitmap, you’ve almost certainly run into this little gem of an error message:

bitmap size exceeds VM budget

Unfortunately, since Android caps all applications’ VMs at 16MB in size, it only takes one or two big image reads to get you into trouble, regardless of all the garbage collection and Bitmap recycles you may try (see code snippet at the end of this post for more on that).

So, what’s a programmer to do?

Well, the…

View original post 331 more words

Decisions, Decisions

Decisions

Decision making is the key trait, by which your leadership and management style will be judged.

Are you consistent in your decision making approach? Are you thoughtful and considerate? Are you rash? Do you put off decisions, until the matter is settled for you, by outside forces?

Vital to being a good decision maker, regardless of your style of deliberation, is your ability to process data and information from many disparate sources, some contradicting each other entirely, and coming to a timely, best possible decision that you can make; or, at least, the best possible decision that you can make for the moment.

By making decisions, you are declaring your thoughts and decisions for all to see.

But more importantly: Decisions are the key metric by which your job performance will ultimately be judged.

Inaction until a decision is made for you is sometimes a powerful and extremely powerful tactic; however, it is a poor default decision making mode, because it makes one look ineffectual and out of control, rather than decisive.

A wrong decision made with clear decisiveness can be used to good effect; first, as a way to show that it is OK to make mistakes and attempt something untried, and second, to demonstrate leadership as a learning and growth exercise.

I can’t stress enough that decision making is the very DNA of your leadership style and character. And, like all great attributes of leadership, you learn by doing.

Decide to be great.

Go, and be you.

Audio

Unreliable Narrators

Unreliable Narrators

I have long claimed that one truly is well on their way to becoming a mature professional, when they can readily spot unreliable narrators.

An unreliable narrator is usually someone in literature, film, or theatre whose credibility – or at even, perceptions and perspective – is compromised. In actual real life, we’re all unreliable narrators; our attitudes and perspectives are constricted to our limited – and biased – personal experience.

Unreliable narrators are generally not deceitful or deceptive. But, their opinions and internal dialogs are informed by incomplete information, past experience extrapolated inappropriately, and, sometimes – by pure naiveté.

And, because someone is an unreliable narrator in one regard, doesn’t mean that they aren’t reliable sources in every other area.

So – how do you know when you’re dealing with an unreliable narrator?

The best advice that I can give is: trust your own direct experience, over the related experiences of others. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advice from others – only that your direct observations and experiences should trump all else.

You should also corroborate others’ experiences and perceptions against those of the person you think may be an unreliable narrator. If their experience squares with yours, odds are you’ve got a handle on the actual facts on the ground, and can either accept – or discount – the narrative coming from an initially suspect source.

Ultimately, time and experience will allow you to hone your skills at identifying bias, and impaired opinion.

We’re all unreliable narrators – at least to someone. Be objective, transparent, and authentic in your interactions with others, to minimize your bias.

Go, and be you.

Audio

Recognizing Opportunity

Discovery

Sometimes, being successful as a software developer has zero to do with having great talent.

Sometimes, being successful is simply being lucky. Being in the right place, at the right time. Having skills and talents that are needed at just that moment. Knowing the right people. Getting in early.

But most times, it involves you recognizing opportunity when it is staring you right in the face.

If I had to choose something (aside from being conventionally handsome, naturally) to have as a career skill, it would be to have an innate ability to recognize opportunity – and the courage to act upon that opportunity – at all times.

This is silly, of course – because it presupposes that recognition has no basis, other than having some sort of Eureka! moment, without having any context whatsoever.

The ability to recognize opportunity is actually possessing mastery over multiple domains; and, understanding how those domains may be applied in new, and useful, ways.

Technology innovation sometimes drives opportunity recognition. But without mastery over the problem set being solved, there is no there, there – technology innovation is mostly a necessary, but not sufficient, precondition of successfully acting upon opportunity.

Today, the technology land grab is in wearables (Apple Watch, FitBit, Pebble), Mobile, and the Internet of Things. New platforms are the seedbeds of opportunity. But, without a clear understanding of how these technologies may be successfully staged to solve a real world problem, you’re at less than zero.

And even when you have the skills, and the recognition, to act first – and act fast – success is still not guaranteed.

RadioShack was the first retailer to broadly market personal computers and cell phones. They are now bankrupt. Palm was the first – and initially most successful – maker of personal digital devices. Now dust. Microsoft marketed one of the first smartphones – currently an also-ran in the mobile space.

It’s not enough to recognize opportunity. You have to be committed to do something with that knowledge.

Go, and be you.

Audio

Not Everyone’s a Special Developer Snowflake

Special Snowflake

There is a prevailing mindset these days, that everyone should learn to code, or that everyone is a potential creative.

Pffffftttt.

Thirty years toiling in the business of writing software, and personally doing a fair amount of copywriting and creative work for enterprise systems, small businesses, and mobile applications have convinced me of just the opposite.

By way of disclaimer, let me openly and honestly say that I am not the greatest software developer in the world, nor the world’s reigning Photoshop master. But I have worked with some of them, on occasion. I have also worked with their evil doppelgangers.

Let’s examine who is pushing this trope / tripe that “everyone is a developer”: for the most part, companies whose business it is to teach people how to code. Or, organizations looking to develop a larger base of developers in a geographical region.

Look – having educational opportunities to promote STEM, STEAM, eSTEAM education – in and of themselves – is fine, and a worthy pursuit.

HOWEVER: the stark reality is that some people are better at programming than others. Some people are more creative.

And some aren’t.

That doesn’t diminish their worth one jot; but we do them a severe disservice by not dissuading them from pursuing a career path that they may not be suited for, and for which no one benefits.

And while not everyone may not be a special programming snowflake, everyone does have something that they are spectacular at. Let’s take the time to promote the development of that, rather than show-horning everyone into a becoming mediocre technocrat.

Why not encourage people to pursue their real passions and talents, rather than have them drink the Yuccie Kool-Aid: the claim that everyone is a coder-creative?

If we really care about preparing people for the brave new world, and living up to their full potential, we need to stop perpetuating the illusion that everyone can take a six week class and be the next programming rock star.

If you’re still not convinced of my argument – take a look at a colleague’s source code. Or their portfolio.

Snowflakes don’t last very long when exposed to heat and light. Neither do frauds and phonies.

Go, and be you.

Process to Proficiency

process

Every developer is different.

Some sit and stare until inspiration strikes out of the blue. Some talk over problems and solutions with their colleagues. While still others put on their earbuds and proceed to get biz-zay.

What they all have in common is a process by which they approach their work. Proficiency doesn’t occur by accident; it occurs through a systematic application of your craft.

Why is process important?

Because without process, you can’t predictably project when any given engagement will complete. Without process, there is no reliable and repeatable way to communicate what you will do, how you will do it, or how others will sync up with your work.

Now, whether you call this project management, or methodology, or simply your mojo, it’s all the same – you need a consistent programming practice, a method to your madness.

Test Driven Development. Agile. SCRUM. Waterfall. ITIL. All of these methodologies are designed to wrangle order from chaos, getting teams of developers to have a common purpose and a common meta-language to coordinate their development efforts.

Minor wars have been fought over which methodology is better than all others. But this isn’t a treatise on best processes; only a declaration that process is necessary for proficiency.

What you will find, in actual practice, is that not every programming problem needs or deserves the full brunt of whatever team management process you currently subscribe to.

Sometimes a mix of methodologies is called for to get the job done.

The simple fact is this: over your professional life as a developer, you will learn – and forget – a multitude of technologies, languages, and tools. Mastering the tactical at the expense of the strategic

What will sustain – and prolong – your professional usefulness, is your ability to systematize your approach to your craft, to learn how to learn, and to embrace process.

Go, and be you.