In another blog I sponsor, there is an ongoing discussion concerning the failure of colleges to adequately prepare students for IT jobs. One theme that has emerged is our failure to focus on problem prevention and problem solving. In the world of software development, this is a key aspect of software development. In order to develop secure software systems, we must imaging from the start all possible opportunities for breaches and misuse and then design to prevent these problems as much as possible. Similarly in database design, we need to focus on they types of errors, common or otherwise, that can result in errors often difficulty to diagnose without problem solving training. Rather than merely focusing on “how to” do things correctly, I believe we need to place far more emphasis on understanding scenarios that that cause efforts or other faults. I am now going to include problem prevention and resolution in all of my course objectives.

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In my courses, there is always a discussion of ethics focusing on the responsibilities we have to protect the public in our technology focused work.  Particularly in my software development classes we review the IEEE/ACM Code of Ethics and discuss in detail the individual responsibility every software developer has to maintain high standards in their work and protect the public from danger and damage that could result from flaws in their work.  But here’s the dichotomy – individual responsibility versus company immunity.  I stress individual responsibility for poor quality code in my classes and yet  major software companies have made themselves immune in their licensing agreements from damages resulting from  defects in their code.  This creates an impossible  situation particularly when we talk about security breaches and hacks resulting from insecure code development.  What is the incentive to develop secure or high quality code from the ground up, when it appears the only real duty is to send out updates and patches that create even more problems?  How do we reinforce individual ethics when employers have created tremendous loopholes to make themselves immune from similar responsibility?  We have tried to legislate corporate ethics through SOX and other legislation.  Do we need a similar approach to encourage ethics in software development?

Much of the guidance we provide our students extends beyond the classroom into their professional lives.  Similar to real estate where “location, location, location” are the key success factors, “network, network, network” are the key factors for professional success.  Many educators grew up in an environment where formal and informal face-to-face gatherings – such as cocktail parties – were the primary venues for professional networking.  Giving such advice to our students today would be seriously outdated. 

Today’s professional networking relies on mastery of the technology tools used in social media and as educators we have to be comfortable in that world in order to guide our students.   I believe that all professional domains benefit from professional networking sites such as LinkedIn, and the reach of Twitter is expanding daily.  However membership in these sites is not enough. 

You have to be strategic and thoughtful in your use of social media.  First, you have to understand the “professional image” you want to project and it must be consistent across all social media venues.  You cannot be a “wild child” in Facebook and expect to have much credibility when you present a more conservative image in LinkedIn.  I encourage anyone who enjoys writing to create a blog.  But make sure that your blogs are aligned with your professional image and goals.  Lastly, when you employ social media, do not be passive.  Join groups and discussions in topics surrounding your professional goals and interests.  Don’t be a “lurker”.  Answer questions and add your insights and thoughts to the discussion.  Asking questions is a great way to build you network as well.

Use of social media sites does not mean that your contacts are all virtual.  Use the sites to “meet” people virtually and then set up follow-up meetings at coffee shops, conferences or other locations.  I often connect with virtual contacts through follow-up phone calls as well.

The most amazing benefit of the use of social media sites is their global reach.  Through the use of such sites I have been able to follow student, friends, and professional associates as they travel the world.  I have also been fortunate to meet many experts in fields that are of interest to me.  In fact, the book I am currently editing has authors from 11 countries, most of which were contacted through social media sites. 

My advice to educators and students alike is to “just do it” as Nike would say.  Reading and talking about social media is not enough.  You have to become comfortable actively using the tools.  Try it – you’ll like it!

Barbara

It is common for us to teach that innovation is the only way that IT companies can survive in the current business environment.  But what do we really mean by that statement?  We often focus too much of our energy on only one side of the innovation equation – creating the environment and structure within which new ideas can germinate.  This is important, but, we also need to discuss that innovation is not just about coming up with new ideas that hit the mark of current consumer fancy.  The side of innovation that most companies face is not how to innovate but what innovations should they adopt.    At what point in the “Hype Cycle”, as explained by Gartner analysts Jackie Fenn and Mark Raskino in their book “Mastering the Hype Cycle”, should a company adopt a new process or product innovation.  These are the common dilemmas faced by companies as they search for solutions to help them produce, process and communicate faster and more accurately.    What is the difference between innovation and hype?  The answer is different for companies that are willing to risk more or less on a new solution.  How much is at risk and what are the potential gains?  How important is it to be first or is it better to be second or third? As the future leaders of our businesses, our students need to know that technology matures just like people and organizations, and the time in which to adopt a new technology is going to be based on research and cost/benefit analysis individual to each company.  I would recommend that “Mastering the Hype Cycle” is required reading for all IT students and faculty.

I believe that learning – real learning – can only be accomplished when several elements are in place: opportunity, interest, knowledge, exploration and in some cases encouragement. If there isn’t an opportunity to learn – and I do not just mean a physical space – but an educational environment, then learning can not occur. So what limits an opportunity to learn – a high degree of chaos (some chaos can be good); hunger, illness and fear; lack of learning mentors and guides; and lack of learning tools and resources such as paper, books, computers and laboratories. Without these basics, there is no opportunity to learn.

Some interest is needed to learn because you have to pay attention to at least some of the content under review. If something has no interest for you, then it is difficult if not impossible to attend very long to it. But interest does not have to exist at the start of learning. I believe one of the key roles of an educator is to generate a spark of interest and provide enough oxygen to keep that flame going until it can burn on its own.

Education consists of learning about some topic or idea. Having a focal point for your learning requires that some item of knowledge is present to review, discuss, analyze, and critique. For me, learning does not occur until I somehow make that knowledge my own. And that requires exploration through individual and group activities and discussion that turn the dry knowledge into a learning experience.

Lastly, learning can be difficult – quite difficult at times. I talk to many students who have returned after years away from classes who find it hard to get their mind re-adjusted to learning. For all students, the educator has to acknowledge that some learning is quite hard and provide encouragement to keep going. It is important to remind yourself and your students that mastery does not occur when you are first exposed to knowledge or the first time you do something. Learning takes time and patience and some areas of learning such as technology can appear particularly difficult to the novice.

It is important for those of use involved in either side of learning – educated and being educated – to remember that learning is not simple. We need to strive to provide the needed elements for ourselves and others to learn well.

A post by TechRepublic identifies the top 10 skills a developer will need in the next 5 years   http://i.techrepublic.com.com/downloads/dl_10_skills_dev.pdf   These skills include being fluent in systems, languages and tools such as .NET, Java or PHP; Python, Ruby or Goovy; Flash, REST SOAP; and IDE environments such as Visual Studio and Eclipse.  Emphasis is also placed on understanding various development methodologies such as agile and mobile development.  And of course the ever present soft or people skills that often seem the most difficult to master.  Where can our students learn these skills?  How can academia respond quickly to the environment and meet the primary need of preparing our students for successful careers?  I maintain that technology education must be dynamic.  Tradition, bureaucracy, and ivory towers or silos often get in our way of responding appropriately to the ever-changing technology landscape.  We do not have to give up theories and core knowledge, but we have to supplement that foundation with an understanding and integration of new technology tools and methodologies.  One of my favorite videos is Shift Happens which has many versions out there.  I find a recent version shared by one of my students quite well done http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emx92kBKads    It reminds me of our responsibility to our students to prepare them for technology careers in a constantly shifting and evolving world.  It is a responsibility that we need to take seriously.

I have learned so much from my students.  Over the past few years I have been an ardent learner on how to use social media as a teaching tool.  In our recent class on IT Trends and Issues, my students decided to use a collaborative wiki to create a survey to distribute through Google Docs Survey Tools to over a 1000 potential respondents.  We received a 33% response rate – pretty darn good in research terms.  The survey focused on the perspectives and uses of technology by different generations, sparked by discussion on Don Tapscott’s newest book “Grown Up Digital”.  We heard Don speak through YouTube videos and followed his blog,  He even responded personally to an email question we had on the continuing digital divide.  The learning experience for me and my students seemed secondary to the sense of collaboration we experienced.

My classes regularly rely on podcasts, blogs and other non-traditional sources of information to stay informed on the most current events and issues in IT.  When we discuss the Singularity, a virtual visit to MIT is always in order to hear Ray Kurzweil speak on the topichimself.  We share thoughts and ideas through discussion forums, and create requirement specifications using virtual conferencing tools such as dimdim.  It is now a regular phemonema that my students use basecamp to manage their group projects.  I am only now learning through my students how to use Twitter to stay in touch and resolve student questions and concerns quickly. 

The next steps are an iPhone app and the creation of a virtual world through which we can immerse ourselves even more in exploration.  I have one student who constantly reminds me that technology should be enjoyable (fun) to use as well as being useful.  Social media helps me to accomplish both.  Thanks to Vlad, Eric and others.

I attended a conference recently.  It was an all day event that included speakers from a variety of business, government and industry sectors.  The conference activities were located in three buildings: an auditorium for the speaker presentations; an exhibition hall where a number of companies in the security industry presented their products and gave away gifts to visitors for which conferences are so well known; and a lounge where attendees could mingle and talk with speakers and company representatives.  In attendance was a monkey typing away on a typewriter, a ballerina, an alligator, a unicorn, and a large number of blue heads.  This was a virtual conference held in a virtual world. The participants were avatars. Welcome to the newest face of  E-Commerce: Virtual Worlds. 

 

It is common knowledge that with the rise of the collaborative Web 2.0 technologies, the face of E-Commerce has evolved from a static presentation of products and services to an interactive participatory relationship with customers.  The use of Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, podcasts, discussion forums, Twitter, YouTube, and other technologies have brought businesses closer to their customers. However, these relationships are still primariloy asynchronous in nature and cannot parallel the real-time face-to-face communication that the brick and mortar world provides.  This constraint is lifted through the use of Virtual Worlds where participants are immersed in a world that provides real-time communication and relationships with other customers and companiy representatives.

 

Virtual worlds are digital worlds.  They are created using computer technologies and often model elements of the real world such as buildings, roads, trees, etc.  Participants in virtual worlds use avatars to represent themselves.  Avatars are graphical characters that can resemble humans, animals, or mythical creatures. Virtual worlds allow multiple users to share a common space that is represented in visual formats employing a variety of two and three dimensional designs.  Immersion is an important aspect of virtual worlds.  The more participants feel that they are a part of the digitally created world, the more they will interact and participate in the virtual world activities.  E-Commerce providers use Virtual Worlds to interact in real-time with their customers and develop personal relationships with them -resulting in stronger loyalty to the company – translating into sales and revenue.  It is for this reason, that the newest face of E-Commerce is the face of Virtual Worlds.

Ethics – accountability, responsibility, integrity – staying the course.  Technology – innovation, creativity, market share – pushing the limits.  Can these two be reconciled?  We have all heard about the technology horror stories like
Therac-25 where the evil technology villains are obvious.  We recite the IEEE/ACM Code of Ethics by heart that proscribes us from harming the public.  We know that hacking for profit is wrong – although there are still questions about hacking for good (an oxymoron?).   But what about a more fundamental question.  Are the societal upsets caused by technology breakthroughs an accepted part of evolution?   Is it okay to push technology to its farthest limits as an expression of human intelligence and creativity, letting the societal pieces fall where they may? By 2050 it is predicted that human and computer intelligence will converge (aka Singularity).  We can only begin to imagine the impact it will have on our world!  In many ways, ethics relies on a rule set – an understanding of actions and consequences – right and wrong.  But there is no rule set for radical technology transformations.  What will guide our actions and choices – religion, law, consequences, situations?  This question is important as it will be us, the technologists, who understand enough to predict the impact of these changes – to guide them – limit them – or exploit them.  What is your ethical flavor of choice?

In the early stirrings of the Internet, at a time when Howard Rheingold was talking with passion about the emerging virtual communities, the uproar began.  The faceless Internet will be the downfall of real community and culture.  Smart people – professors from famous universities – joined the foray stating that research indicated that the result of these virtual communities will be to damage the underpinnings of society.  Although this myth was dispelled within a few years, it remained a constant concern that has re-emerged at various times.  The most recent resurrection of this concept is the belief that our upcoming generation of highly sophisticated users of technology are deficient in basic human skills in communication and interpersonal relationships.

Fortunately we have once again disputed this erroneous belief through the words and wisdom of Don Tapscott in his recent book  Grown up Digital. Don’s thorough and expansive research has found that contrary to popular belief, our upcoming generation are in many ways wiser that the rest of us, both in their use of technology and their relationships with others.  They use technology as a tool not a replacement for life.  They are appropriately skeptical and open in their acceptance of others.  They are less inclined to accept how things have been and hope to create new ways to learn, work, and play.  We should applaud them, listen to them, learn from them, and most importantly, believe in them.  They are our future, which I believe is in good hands.

Barbara