Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Getting kids interested in Software Development

One of the things I worry about is the lack of talented young people going into software development. I know when I’ve been looking for junior engineers, it’s been almost impossible to find them, so I’m always on the lookout for ways I can help promote Software Development, Engineering or other STEM careers among young people. I think it’s critically important to the future success of our country.

That’s why I was so intrigued when I read about Kodu Game Lab, then I remembered something about this in Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture (if you’re one of the very few people that have not seen this – it is a MUST SEE. Yes, it’s long, but years later, just thinking about it still brings tears to my eyes) - a tool, or game, or learning environment invented at Carnegie Mellon called Alice. Two seconds on Google, revealed that there were quite a few of these tools, (or games, or environments, or whatever you call them)

I think these tools (or games, or environments, or whatever you call them) are brilliant ideas, but I don’t hear about them being used too much. Has anyone out there had any experience or first hand knowledge with any of these?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

When you’re done with product development

….you’re not really done. Let me explain what I mean.

We meet with lots of people and companies that would like us to develop products for and with them. They are sometimes under the impression that when we’re done creating the product, they won’t need any technical, engineering, or software development. After all, that phase is done, right? Well, yes, but the next phase is just beginning, and faltering here can be deadly to your product’s success.

Even if your product works perfectly, customers are going to have questions. Some sort of support will be needed. Not planning for this can be fatal to your product’s success. Often times, customers will be highly engaged and wanting more features and add-ons, creating opportunities and the need for enhancements. Ideally, more customers will want your product – maybe from an adjacent market or with needs not exactly targeted by your product, perhaps creating a need for other products.

All of these scenarios require additional support and/or continued development. Hopefully your product will be so successful, you’ll never be done!

Friday, November 5, 2010

40 years of Innovation at PARC

As many of you know, Advanced Decisions turned 40 this year, but this post is not about us. I recently came across this article about Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), which also turned 40 this year. I don’t know if you realize, but many of the things we’re calling innovative in 2010 found their roots decades ago. I think many of us have heard the stories about Xerox’s initial Graphical User Interface that later became the Mac interface and is the basis of how we use computers today (anyone remember using DOS? Wow – that was a different experience!). What I did not know was that in the 80’s they invented the PARCPad – a precursor to the iPad, and the PARCTab – the first PDA.

Another area they innovated in was culture. Work and play mixed, beanbag chairs were scattered throughout and shoes were optional. Sounds like the roots of the 90’s dotcom startup culture to me.

Having worked in a pure research environment early in my career, I know first hand that the most exciting aspect of an environment like this is the minds that surround you - not only the most technically elite, but wildly creative as well. The diversity is amazing, lunchtime conversations are completely engrossing, and in every lab, something is going on that could change the world. A great book about the early years at PARC is Dealers of Lightning. Full disclosure - it gets mixed reviews for technical and historical accuracy, but I found it extremely inspiring. If you have a budding engineer, scientist or inventor in your life, this might make a great holiday gift.