It's that time of year when you can vote for SXSW proposals using the PanelPicker website. Voting goes from August 8th to September 2nd.
Voting is just a third of what gets considered for acceptance into the Interactive festival, but it's the only part that proposal writers can influence.
Over the years, I've learned ways to increase the number of people who know about and can support your proposal. Here are a few tips:
The URL shortening site bit.ly is a great resource to use for sharing your proposal. First, it creates an easy to remember URL for your proposal. For example, the PanelPicker generated URL for my "Lending Privilege" proposal is http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/66524. However, I used bit.ly to create this much shorter (and easier to remember) version: http://bit.ly/sxswLendPriv
The bit.ly site provides metrics for tracking who clicked on your proposal link. It tells you things like Total Clicks, Referring Channels, and Location. It also shows a timeline of clicks. Since the PanelPicker doesn't show a count of votes, this provides a fuzzy understanding of who is looking at (and hopefully voting on) your proposal.
Leverage Your Social Graph
Use your social media graph to ask for votes. This is the case of “dig your well before you’re thirsty”. If you’ve put in the months of work to build a following on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc., then share your bit.ly link wide and deep. You’ll be able to track clicks and get an idea of which platforms are working versus those that are not.
Ask for Comments
When you ask for people to vote for your proposal, make sure you ask people to leave comments. Again, since the PanelPicker interface doesn’t show votes, this is the next best thing. If someone took the time to leave a comment, then they probably took the time to upvote your proposal.
Enjoy the Insight!
A ton of people try to speak at SXSW every year so the competition is tough. However, if you use the techniques of creating bit.ly links, using your online platform, and asking for comments, you'll get a great idea of how well you're getting out the vote for your proposal!
As a Black person who has worked in the technology sector for two decades, I can attest to the value of community. When you often find yourself at companies and tech events where no one else looks like you, knowing there is a place where others can relate to you is powerful. Having a community is particularly useful in an industry that has demonstrated difficulties in hiring people like you.
There are several Slack groups for Blacks who work in the technology industry. They all create valuable safe spaces, but each one approaches community in a difference way. Since these are Slack groups, most are closed and require an invite to join. However, several have created signup forms that you can use to get an automatic invite.
Here are a few of the Slack groups for Black technologists:
Young Black Austin
The Young Black Austin Slack team has been around for a while and has over 900 members. While the focus of the group is on events around Austin, since the Capital City is a major technology hub, there are often ongoing conversations about the tech scene. Their #sxsw channel is a treasure trove of information, and I think it is a great resource in the months leading up to the conference.
You can join the Young Black Austin Slack group here.
Black Men in Tech
Founded by Wayne Sutton, this group focuses on building a community for Black men who work in technology. It has more than 400 members. Given the founder's expertise in entrepreneurship, a lot of the discussions are around starting and running technology companies. Wayne also has regular Ask Me Anything (AMA) events with tech heavyweights like Tristan Walker.
You can join the Black Men in Tech Slack group here.
Started by Maurice Cherry, this Slack group is a companion community for Maurice's excellent Revision Path podcast. This Slack group has over 200 members, and most conversations have a design and product management slant. However, the group also has many great resources for tech professionals.
You can join the Revision Path Slack group here.
Greg Greenlee created this Slack group as a companion community for his Blacks in Technology (BiT) site. There are over 600 members in the BiT Slack group, and the discussions are usually deeply technical.
The Joy of Black Tech Communities
I have tried several times to understand the Snapchat app. Unlike Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social sharing apps, I was unable to immediately understand the value of Snapchat. So, I would install the app, look at a few stories, and then usually uninstall the app after a few minutes. Until a couple of weeks ago, it had been months since I last installed the app. However, I saw an increasing number of people I follow on Twitter began publicizing their new Snapchat accounts. So, I decided to take another look at the app, installed it, and discovered something.
It's easier to see a person's true self on Snapchat. I have met people in person after following them on Twitter for several years, and I've found that personalities in real life often differ from how people come across in 140 characters. You can't even get a true indication of who a person is from Instagram photos. However, for some reason, personality seems to ring true on Snapchat. I can attest to this based on meeting people after only knowing them through their Snapchat stories as well as seeing the stories of people I've already met in person.
The reason that people may be more authentic in their Snapchat stories may be due to the closed nature of the platform. There is no way to publicly link to someone's Snapchat profile. There is no way to see who the people you follow on Snapchat follow themselves. The closest you get to this is when someone posts a Snapchat username to their story. Also, snaps disappear after 24 hours so there is a sense of impermanence which leads to a sense of freedom to be yourself. How bad can things get in a world where everything disappears in a day?
So, after seeing so many compelling stories, I finally installed Snapchat and used it long enough to develop a way for it to make sense to me. Here's how I use Snapchat.
Ditch the Recent Updates Feed
Don’t use the Recent Updates feed. While it displays snaps in chronological order, the way it auto-advances to the next story is maddening. Instead, scroll down to the All Stories feed which displays your friends in alphabetical order. Stories also don’t auto-advance in the All Stories feed.
Categorize the People You Follow
Rename your Snapchat accounts to put them into categories. Do this by long pressing on each account, clicking the gear icon, and selecting Edit Name. Enter the category name and then the actual name of the account. Here are some examples:
Enjoy a Better Snapchat Experience
Since you’re in the All Stories feed, all of your Snapchat accounts appear grouped together by category, and you can click on them individually without the auto-advance feature. This is a much better experience than the Recent Updates feed because you can click around to the categories and people you want to watch.
When prioritizing business requirements, I have heard this numerous times from customers and product owners: "All of these features are important. Find a way to put them all into the release". However, this response is not helpful in a world with limited time, resources, and money.
As a project manager, I always respond to this "find a way" approach by emphasizing the responsibility the team has to make adjustments to how much work can be committed to by the development team while maximizing value to our customers (without sacrificing quality). In my experience, this is best done by prioritizing requirements in terms of business value which means they need to be ranked in order of measures that are valuable to the business.
Here are a few measures and guidelines that I have used in my work:
A friend sent me a question about removing information from Google:
hey anjuan. i'm hoping you can help me. i went through the process of googling myself and ran across some listings i want removed - one in particular was page that was indexed on a blog i've since made private and others are random stuff. is there any easy way to do that?
This is what I shared with her:
Thanks for the question! There are a few ways you can remove results from Google searches:
1. Prevent the Page from Being Indexed Yourself: If you own the pages you want to be removed, then you can add what's called a robots meta tag to the header section of the page and keep search engines from indexing it. It looks like this:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex,nofollow" />
This will keep search engine spiders (which are programs that search the web and update the index of sites like Google) from looking through the site. However, you'll have to wait for the spider to go through your site and remove it from the index so this is not an instantaneous fix.
2. Ask the Owner: If you don't own the site, then you can ask the owner to essentially do what I described above. Your success at doing this will depend on the willingness of the owner of the site.
3. Ask Google: Google has a site that can be use to request information to be removed from its index. You can go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/removals, log in with your Google account, and then request that certain pieces of information be removed. The removal site will usually ask that you contact the owner of the site first before using it, and it will only remove information if its something really sensitive like your social security number.
4. Bury the Information: If you can't get the results removed using the previous steps, you can create content online and associate it with your name. This can be done by setting up a blog about a subject you're passionate about, creating the online newsletter of an organization to which you belong, or becoming active on Twitter. As you build your online presence, the objectionable material will probably pushed down in rank since Google prefers fresh content over old content. I have essentially done this with my brand. The first results when my name is searched usually point to my blog, my Twitter feed, or the articles that have been written about me online.
I received this question from a colleage:
Hello I am a 44 year old black male and starting in the IT field. I am taking my first Programming Classes(Kennesaw State University) and it has been very difficult. My question would be how do you know if I T is for you and do you have any study recommendations?
Here's my response:
Thanks for writing, Andre. I applaud your decision that go into the IT field. You've made a decision to join a growing sector of the world economy. Getting into IT can be challenging, but I think the rewards are worth it.
To determine if IT is for you, I think there are three questions you should ask yourself:
Am I Building an Area of Expertise?
You mentioned that your first programming classes have been very difficult. I can relate to that because I also initially struggled with my first programming courses when I was an electrical engineering undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. Are you struggling with everything, or have you found one or two areas that you are good at? For example, maybe you have trouble understanding algorithms, but you're really good at writing unit tests. If you can find one valuable aspect of programming that you excel at, then focus on that instead of the areas that cause you to struggle. Don't ignore your weak areas (because you'll have to improve them), but try to find at least one thing you do better than most people.
Do I Love this Stuff?
People who have built long careers in tech often possess a love for tech. They read articles and journals about tech in their spare time. They create personal projects to sharpen their skills or just to have fun. If you find yourself wondering how to get more throughput in your home WiFi, figuring out useful IFTTT recipes, testing different Linux distros, etc., then you probably have enough love for tech to build a long career and ride out your current challenges with programming.
Do I Have Mentors?
A mentor is just someone who has something you want and is willing to help you get it. It can be a skill, position, relationship, etc. If you have found people who are doing the things you want after you finish your degree at Kennesaw State University, then you have a potential support system to help you reach your goals. Mentors can give you advice, relate to your struggles, and provide resources and relationships to help you. Technologists often focus on the hard skills necessary for success, but it's also important to work on your soft skills (i.e., people skills). Finding and cultivating relationships with mentors is a key soft skill.
If you can find one technical area in which to excel, have a love for tech, and can cultivate a network of mentors, then I think that you can be successful in information technology.
My one study recommendation is to join a study group. Computer science is a discipline in which very few people can succeed alone. Find those students who seem to have a strong grasp of topics you struggle with, and meet with them outside of class to study and work on assignments. Make sure you have at least one area of expertise (see Question #1) to bring to the table because there will probably be people in the group who will need your help in that area.
I received a question about gathering mailing addresses for sending holiday cards from a friend:
Hi Anjuan - I'd like to tap into your expertise. I've always used Plaxo for maintaining addresses, but they were wiped out. As I prepare to send holiday cards to my huge family, I need a tool/app. But I don't want to have to enter every address myself. Is there a good tool/app that I can use to send to my family and ask them to upload their info for me to have?
Here's my response:
Hi, I like this question because it is a problem I need to solve myself! I've searched for online solutions, but I think the best one is free and easy to use: Google Forms.
You probably don't use GMail, but you can create a Google account which gives you access to Google Drive (Google Forms is a service in Google Drive). You can create a form with fields like "First Name", "Last Name", "Address Line 1", "Address Line 2", "City", "State/Province", "Country", etc. You can then email a link to the form to your friends and family and ask them to fill it out.
Their responses will be recorded in a Google Drive spreadsheet which you can download in Excel format. You can then use this Excel spreadsheet for your holiday card list.
Also, you can go to the next level and use third party sites that let you create greeting cards from templates or custom photo cards. Some of them will even scan your spreadsheet of addresses and do a mail merge which will automatically address and stamp the envelopes. You'll just need to stuff, seal, and mail them out. I think some may even mail them for you to their target addresses.
You can see a form I created to gather information to update my holiday card mailing address spreadsheet here.
I received this question from an associate named Howard about a career in technology:
Currently now I work as a Data Analyst and System Administrator for <a government agency in NJ>. I was able to acquire this job from a family friend who happened to be a former senior manager and contractor lead at <a government tech conference> two years ago. I've just graduated Richard Stockton College of New Jersey with a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science and Information Systems in 2011. Even in the beginning before I started this position I couldn't understand the hype that Stockton College gave <this government agency> other than it having "job security". But as I started and got the feel of the culture and environment, I started to realize that this position really had little to no career growth for me. Also growing up in South Jersey, I acknowledge the lack of opportunities around this area and the lack of competition for my field in this area. I read everywhere about places like New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia (for example), of the many places where the jobs are thriving.
I'm looking to become a Database Administrator one day, and as the years went on and looking into webinars and online training MOOCs, I've started to shape my career towards Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing. So before I'm able to acquire that position, I have to start with Data Analyst, Software Developer/Engineer, BI Analyst, and even go another direction and check out Data Scientist!
So as I've been working <in the this government agency>, since last year I've been looking for a different position and failed on each attempt to find something better. I've started to look in Philadelphia for opportunities as well and did happen to get interviews, but then find out I wasn't selected. So earlier this year I've started going to networking events in and outside of Philly to see what the different meetups are doing, the technology trends, and what are the hottest fields. More recently I've also took time to work on my career management skills and start working on my interviewing skills and networking documents to present to the hiring managers. And although I've been getting better reception from people who know what I'm looking for in a position, I'm still in my same position.
...I've been to networking events, recruiting agencies, job fairs, etc., and still do not understand why these companies who see my qualifications still do not see the value that I could bring to a company. I now have presentations to which I could present to a network, or a separate interview presentation for managers to help demonstrate what I could bring to a company and I want to know if I'm doing the right thing/ going the right direction? I greatly appreciate your advice and insight!
Here's my response:
Howard, thanks for reaching out to me. I understand the feeling of being stalled in your career because I've hit that roadblock a couple of times over my 20 years in the tech industry. However, I want you to know that you have the ability to improve your situation. I think you should consider a few options.
First, consider using those presentations to speak at conferences in your industry. Reach out to the organizers of the networking events and conferences you attend, and let them know that you're interested in being a speaker. I can tell you from personal experience that event organizers are often scrambling to find speakers to fill their schedules. Secure a few speaking engagements and make sure that your attire, dress, and the way you carry yourself exude professionalism and confidence. Deliver outstanding presentations, OWN the room, and you'll see your personal brand grow. This alone will bring networking opportunities your way.
Second, pick a technical area that you excel at, and focus on it. Too often, I've seen technologists who try to be all things to all people. That may look good on paper, but hiring managers are often trying to solve a specific problem when they are looking at job candidates. Big Data is a hot topic so crafting your expertise around BI and data warehousing would be a good option. I encourage you to blog, tweet, and write journal articles about what you know about Big Data because that's another way to show your expertise to those who are looking for talent. Don't neglect LinkedIn and make sure you reference all of your content there.
Third, consider moving to a different city. If the opportunities where you live aren't to your liking, then look for opportunities elsewhere. I have several friends who moved across the country to change their careers. Ideally, you should do this after acquiring a job in the city of your choice.
The opportunities are tremendous. Don't worry about any intentions to keep you out of technology. There is definitely prejudice in technology, but I've found that the best antidote to prejudice is personal excellence. You can't always control your circumstances, but you can change your attitude toward them and find a way to eventually improve them.
Here's a question I received from someone in my network:
Dear, Mr. Anjuan Simmons
I am Regie Tuyco, Bachelor of Science in Information technology student of the Philippine College of Technology, Davao City, Philippine. I am currently doing a research on philosophy of management in information technology and i am very interested with your work on "Minority Tech". I hope i can get your own view on the following questions:
1. What is the role of an information technology Manage in society?
2. What are the moral obligations that pertain to it?
3. What is your philosophy of management in i.t?
Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.
Very truly yours,
Bachelor of Science in Information technology
Here's my response:
Thanks for the question. I actually visited the Philippines several years ago, and I have a lot of great memories of your country.
Your question is a lot more subjective than most of the questions I receive from my readers, but I like it. Keep in mind, of course, that this is just my opinion.
I think that the moral obligations of information technology management are rarely discussed. That is a tragedy because we've seen several examples of scientific and technological failures that can be traced to lapses in moral judgement. The best example of this is probably the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. However, I think that much smaller lapses in moral judgement happen every day. This can range from technology consultants who demand payment even when contractual obligations are not met. I've even seen technologists exhibit poor ethical behavior when they are competing against other vendors.
While we often think of technology as occurring behind corporate walls, the reality is that technology is gaining an increasing portion of our daily lives. This can be seen by the number of people you can see walking (and even driving) while looking at their smartphones or tablets. Soon, and I can't wait for this to happen, technology may drive us around by taking control of our cars. So, there is a huge moral obligation to get technology right not just in terms of requirements but also in terms of minimizing societal harm.
I would summarize my philosophy of information technology morality this way:
I entered this in the SXSW Interactive 2016 David Carr Prize for Emerging Writers. I didn't win, but I am proud of this piece. Congratulations to the winner, Jaime Boust!
“In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”
Famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz uttered these words to underscore the power of the camera. While we live in a time when cameras are everywhere, Stiglitz began his career in the 19th century when photography was a mere novelty. Photographs were not taken as seriously as other art forms such as paintings, sculptures, and music, and this drove Stieglitz to tirelessly labor for an increased appreciation of the pictures that cameras could produce.
We are now seeing the emergence of another medium that struggles to gain the respect accorded to established media forms: virtual reality (VR). While consumers have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to movies, television shows, and video games, VR has yet to present content compelling enough for mass adoption. However, VR is poised to make the leap from novelty to ubiquitous technology far faster and with wider implications than photography.
The evolution of VR in the next few years will offer exciting possibilities that will touch the lives of nearly every person on the planet. While we are in the early stages of what VR can offer, enough progress has been made to make predictions about what mature VR products will eventually make possible.
I believe that the evolution of VR has to achieve three P’s before the technology’s benefits can gain traction: Presence, Price, and Personal. The good news is that we have already unlocked the first two P’s.
Presence is a term used to describe the almost overwhelming feeling of “realness” when a person experiences VR. The product that showed us the possibility of presence was the Oculus Development Kit 1 (DK1). The DK1 was superior to previous VR products with its expanded field of view and improved resolution. By providing the interface through a headset tethered to a computer, VR became something that anyone could wear and become immersed in a realistic digital experience.
Samsung’s Gear VR demonstrated that VR could be delivered to the masses at an affordable price point. Although a Galaxy phone were required for the Gear VR to work, millions of those headsets were available to consumers, often subsidized by wireless carriers. The Gear VR demonstrated that virtual reality could be priced at a point that anyone who owned a smartphone could afford.
With presence and price now at the right levels, the next obstacle that VR must hurdle is the creation of personal experiences. VR applications for the next few years will continue to be mass produced for the general population. While the technology will rapidly develop, VR will have trouble crossing the “uncanny valley” that results from our brains refusing to fully believe the virtual experience. However, once VR can convincingly trick the human brain, the technology can then be tailored to individual tastes.
The ability to create truly individual VR experiences will be tightly coupled to the evolution of the physical form factor of VR devices. The current state of the art are headsets that, while portable, are still bulky. It’s difficult to predict how VR technology will evolve, but we do have a possible pattern in one of the most personal technologies available today: the artificial cardiac pacemaker.
The first pacemakers were invented in the 1920s and were large bulky devices that were immobile and had to be plugged into electrical outlets. Pacemaker technology progressed over the decades with the devices shrinking in size and gaining portable power supplies. By the 1950s, the devices were small enough to be externally placed on the body of patients. The 1960s marked the emergence of the first people with pacemakers implanted inside their bodies. Today, pacemakers are shrinking down to the size of a multivitamin.
The evolution of pacemakers from large machines that were tethered to their users to internal devices that no one, including the patient, can see offers a predictive path for VR technology. Initial implementations will probably take the form of goggles followed by contact lenses, but VR implants that interface directly with the brain will soon follow. When VR becomes integrated into the physical body of the user, that will lower the first barrier to the truly personal experience.
Another pattern we can take from the evolution of the pacemaker is opposition based on moral grounds. Scientists and medical professionals took pacemaker testing underground for most of the 1930s and 1940s due to complaints by groups who thought the devices would unnaturally prolong life. It’s possible that VR technology will also face the barrier of those who fear exposing people to “false worlds” where longstanding moral and ethical beliefs may be impossible to enforce. However, pacemakers now enjoy wide adoption, and it is my hope that, once the initial fear mongering subsides, VR technology will quickly outmaneuver those who oppose it based on religion or philosophy.
The next and final barrier will be the creation of VR experiences. These experiences will be many and diverse, but obvious examples are entertainment, sports, exploration, society, and education.
VR will transform the entertainment industry by changing content from passive in nature to active experiences. Instead of watching a two dimensional representation of a book, television show, or movie, consumers will be able to move inside the story and fully control the experience. Instead of being constrained by the camera angles, pans, and zooms selected by the director, VR will let users choose where they want to experience each scene. However, content creators won’t lose control. In fact, they can expand the story by placing events that can only be seen by viewers placed in a specific location who pay attention to a certain set of events. This will broaden storytelling by allowing multiple paths through the plot instead of one linear story.
Sporting events are now starting to be made available as VR experiences using current technology. However, future uses of VR will revolutionize many aspects of modern athletics. Most sports require the construction of seating areas for spectators ranging in complexity from simple stands to massive stadiums. Providing a way to view sporting events using VR will significantly reduce the investment in building spaces for spectators. Furthermore, the best seats, whether at mid-court or mid-field, will be able to support an almost unlimited number of customers who can all enjoy a premium experience. The sound of the sporting event will be provided by real time surround sound, and users can also chose friends around the world to privately join them during the event. VR will provide the experience of a private suite in an athletic arena to far more people than possible today. It’s also possible that VR will reverse the trend of building progressively bigger stadiums. Eventually, sporting events will require spaces not much bigger than the playing field.
The travel industry will also be radically changed by VR. Virtually any place on land, sea, or space will be accessible to anyone regardless of their age or level of physically ability. The Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramids, or even the surface of the Moon can be explored at a price that most consumers can afford. VR may even make space exploration easier by launching rovers with VR recording equipment to places like Mars to map the surface of the planet. These maps will be used to create immersive VR training sessions for astronauts on Earth well before they make the long journey to the Red Planet.
VR will also provide a way to bridge the differences that often divide our society. We live in a world of various privileges (gender, racial, physical ability, religion, etc.) which create inequalities in society. VR can provide people with privilege the opportunity to live without privilege. Men can literally experience what it is like to walk in a woman’s shoes, White people can understand the experience of people of color, and those blessed with the full function of their bodies can see how difficult it can be to have a debilitating physical handicap. VR may remove the “otherness” that is often the root cause of prejudice and societal strife. If we can be virtually exposed to the lived experiences of those different from us, then we may be able to embrace our shared humanity.
Another societal benefit of VR will be the ability to live out your true self. Some people feel that they were born in the wrong body and yearn to experience life in their true form. VR can provide a way for people to virtually reincarnate themselves as an expression of their inner self-image. Whether as a different race, gender, or species, VR can provide a way for individuals to enjoy the psychological benefits of true self-actualization. Therapists will find this aspect of VR to be a fertile proving ground for treating their patients by leveraging the ability to observe their behavior when exposed to realistic, albeit simulated, scenarios. It’s possible that cures for many mental diseases that we struggle to treat today may be discovered through the use of VR.
The field of education will also be revolutionized by VR. Middle school kids will experience historical recreations of events like the inauguration of past Presidents, speeches made by great orators of the past, and current events around the globe. Subjects like physics, chemistry, and biology will be illustrated by VR models of atoms, molecules, and anatomy. Pre-med students will virtually observe the world’s greatest surgeons no matter where they are in the world. VR will change the learning experience from a one way flow of information from teacher to student into an exciting exploration of topics and concepts.
While VR will transform many fields, the intersection of VR and other emerging technologies will provide the most profound changes. For example, when VR technology is combined with robotics, people who are gravely injured or born with extreme defects can be placed in humanoid machines that are controlled using VR interfaces. Other emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology will be augmented by the integration of human senses with VR technology.
I am excited about VR because it is one of the few transformational technologies that will be within the reach of ordinary people. As VR experiences become more personal, anyone can be immersed into any time or any place. The technology is very young, but, if VR advocates could borrow and slightly modify the words of Alfred Stieglitz, I think they will soon be able to make this statement:
“In VR there is an experience so pronounced that it becomes more real than reality.”