Tuesday, December 29, 2009

advice for students

a friend on twitter shared an article about how students should focus on more than just their GPA. here is an excerpt.

Students seem overly obsessed with grades and organized activities, both relative to standardized tests and to what I’d most recommend: doing something original. You don’t have to step very far outside scheduled classes and clubs to start to see how very different the world is when you have to organize it yourself.

For example, if you try to study a subject in depth without following a textbook or review, you’ll have to decide for yourself which sources seem how relevant to your topic. If you try to add something to the subject you’ll have to decide what changes are how feasible and interesting. Doing these may feel awkward at first, but they will be very useful skills later in life. Similar skills come from writing your own game or starting your own business or composing your own album.

i think the article makes a great point, although i think organized activities does have room for originality. i shared this article with our intern and he wasn't too impressed. i was trying to come up with a reason why that this is probably good advice. but it didn't really click. i tried what i usually do and i sent him my blog post about doing a honors thesis. he seemed to like that a little more, but maybe because i wrote it. haha.

anyway, i left our chat hoping i proved a point. later in the day i came across these two articles; Advice for College Students and Success & Motivation:Scatterbrained and in College. i think all three of these provide good advice.

here is steve shapiro's talk at RIT. the cool thing is that his advice is inline with our student intern mantra; make students awesome and my thoughts about soft skills.

mark cuban's article:
You are still in school. You don’t need to have all the answers or focus on one thing. You should be trying a lot of things until you find the one thing you really love to do and are good at. When that happens, you will be able to focus.

Being focused at 21 is way over rated. Now is the time to screw up, try as many different things as you can and just maybe figure things out.

The thing you do need to do is learn. Learn accounting. Learn finance. Learn statistics. Learn as much as you can about business. Read biographies about business people. You dont have to focus on 1 thing, but you have to create a base of knowledge so you are ready when its time.

You will never know when that time will come. But you can be ready when it does.

i sent both those articles to our intern and had a short discussion.

intern: wow...
intern: I'm wasting my money
me: well he got that opportunity from school.
me: his point is that there are a lot of opportunities in school
me: from being in school
me: take advantage of that.
me: ie. like honors thesis
me: ie like other programs they have.
intern: i see
intern: i wasn't that ambitious of a college student in the past few years
intern: that is where i fail
me: yeah neither was i.

i hope that he got that "yeah neither was i." really meant i was like him until i made the decision to do my honors thesis. and after reflecting on all these articles. the advice they all share is carpe diem. seize the opportunities that are given to you. if you don't do anything you get nothing. don't be lame, do something.

ps. our intern is doing something. he's becoming awesome.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

lacy veach day of discovery 2009

for the third year in a row, referentia systems incorporated participated in the lacy veach day of discovery. once again, we taught the kids about scratch. and once again, the kids blew us away with their awesomeness. the cool thing was that we've seen a few of the kids before and they are getting smarter. it seems like more kids (at least the kids that comes to these kinds of events) are learning about programming either through things like scratch or through robot competitions. thats cool.

anyway, thanks to the engineers at referentia for always volunteering for events like this. it really makes a difference.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

dear ICS student

(i got an email from one of the students i met at the career fair today. i wanted to follow up with him, but i decided to post my response in my blog, because i think others could benefit from it. i'll leave out the specific personal comments.)

dear ICS student,

thanks for following up with our discussion at the career fair. i'm glad you stopped by to talk to the different companies. ICS students are probably under represented at the career fair, so you coming by to meet us is definitely a very good step on your part.

i was impressed by several things that you did:
  • you came to find us again after talking to you more informally last semester. you've shown good initiative, by being more prepared this semester. i really think coming to visit companies at every opportunity is a very good thing. whats even better is that i remember you from last year. it shows that you understand thats important.
  • it was immediately obvious is that you have done side projects that help grow your experience. having longer term project work whether in the classroom or out is definitely something students should strive for.
  • your resume looked well thought out and you had an appropriate amount of real world experience given that you are still a student.
  • you were dressed appropriately. usually, i don't necessarily dwell on this point. but, the competition (namely the other EE students) are definitely on their game in this respect.
  • you know what type of software development (web development, database, client, etc) you were interested in.

    here is some follow up advice.
  • continue to learn about the companies out there. talk to us as much as possible at these events. learn what we do and how we do business. come with specific questions. in general, its even more impressive when students come to visit us and know what we do.
  • i'd spend some additional time networking and meeting other technology professionals. read blogs (like mine. hahaha) and sign up for things like TechHui. the more you can network the better. you'll learn a lot from those relationships. back to my blog again, here are some posts that i wrote about students: career fair, work on your soft skills, don't be afraid to speak up, student portfolios, making students awesome, COE Fall Career Day
  • continue to do larger project work. one of the best things to do in an interview (or at a career fair) is talk about your lessons learned on ongoing projects. for example, how your leadership influence the project or how you debated over design decisions. more importantly, its your chance to show off your domain knowledge and how you are able to learn about the problems you are trying to solve with your software. in my opinion this is really important.

    you did a good job of approaching us at the career fair. definitely the best attempt from an ICS student we talked to today. keep it up!

    thanks, aaron

  • (i'm going to get a little more general now and tad bit negative)
    some of the ICS students that i talked to today weren't really sure what they wanted to do. this might be acceptable for intern positions (however, even intern positions are very competitive these days). but its probably definitely not okay for students looking for full time employment. career fairs are your chance to show the employer, wow we need to hire this guy; immediate benefit to the company usually wins over potential. immediate benefit and potential definitely wins over uncertainty. i remember when i interviewed with companies, one of things that i would say is "this is what i can provide the company... i bring experience in... and i believe that my skills can make this company better" that might be a little to forward for some places, but i wanted to be sure i found a company that would allow me to utilize my skills and where i could make a difference. the bottom line is that we have a whole stack of resumes and a lot of them know they want to work for us. students need to show that same excitement.

    in general, ICS students (i'm being general and isn't directed at you) don't seem as prepared as other college of engineering students that we talk to. i met a student once that said, i'm interested in mobile development. i asked why? and he said cause i just finished a course. hmm... well um. i think you need a little more experience in mobile development than that.

    i want to make another quick note. i'm seeing more and more students from the mainland coming back home. these are students from USC, UW, MIT, ITT, etc with a good amount of schooling and experiences. YOU ARE COMPETING WITH THESE STUDENTS. you're advantage is that you are in hawaii for your entire schooling and we are in hawaii, but thats about it. so you better maximize that advantage. to me that means, students cannot come to visit companies their last semester and expect that all the companies are going to be standing their with open arms. getting a job is competition. its a pretty serious and important competition. do something that separates yourself from the rest of your peers and even the rest of the mainland school students. you need to if you want to compete. here is one example how, why you need to do a honors thesis.

    Friday, January 23, 2009

    night time internet is awesome

    a few of us (austen and james) at work started something called "night time internet". i think it basically started because we were working on proposals and side projects after work at home. so, we would get home from work, eat dinner, etc and get right back on the computer and work on stuff; instant messaging each other to communicate. eventually, it just became part of our routine and habit to come onto night time internet. a lot of times we would be working on totally different things and different projects. i would be reading and writing blogs as austen hacked away on hackystat, while james pretended to be online. haha. (okay well we don't do this every night, just when we have stuff to do; i suppose we have lives...)

    anyway, now its part of our culture. we have a few people that are part time night time interneters. and even people from different companies. but, i think the cool thing is we use a lot of this time to learn from each other.

    i'll just focus what i get out of night time internet...
    1) i use this time to do a lot of just talking story. a lot of times i'm pretty busy at work so i don't get a lot of time to talk to my engineers. i'm probably able to talk to a large majority of my engineers on night time internet. and the discussions tend to be really good. whether its me offering advice or trying to solve work problems, i view night time internet as a really time to do this. it really does seem to work for us.
    2) night time internet is an opportunity to experiment and learn about things that i don't get to at work. i do a lot of digging into new ideas and technologies at night time internet. i read a lot of blogs and try to learn more about things that i'm interested. its awesome because i can share them with others and get feedback.
    3) internet networking. um.. you all probably know i spend a lot of time networking. and night time internet allows me to learn about the different people and organizations out there.

    those are some of my initial thoughts...

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    STEM at the apple store

    i've been visiting apple stores more frequently over the holidays and especially since i've got my new iPhone. one of things that i finally realized is that the apple store is changing the world. haha... okay stop laughing. let me explain.

    this past weekend i walked into the kahala apple store and i noticed that almost every mac book was taken over by kids playing halo. at first i thought to myself that the kids were basically keeping real customers from checking out the products. after walking around for a while i noticed that the kids weren't only playing halo, some of them were playing with iMovie and some art software (i don't know what it was because i don't have a mac... boo). after checking out some of the iPhone accessories i came back to the mac books and saw this

    this scene was so awesome that i had to snap a picture of it. something about these kids excitement was so captivating. they were having so much fun in the apple store. hm.. self taught STEM education at the apple store. now thats definitely unique. i don't have a mac book and i'm not sure if these kids have one either. but, mac book or not, its awesome to see that we share the same fondness of technology. i love technology, but i had a slow start - i didn't really learn about the internet till i was in college. when i grew up we didn't have apple stores, we didn't have opportunities to learn about technology in the shopping centers; technology wasn't part of everyday life. now it is... these kids have a lifetime of loving and learning technology and hopefully that inspires them to accomplish things that i've never dreamed of. and the apple store is playing its small part of making technology cool.

    next time while you are at the apple store. look around at the people. notice the young and old loving technology. its pretty awesome when you think about it.

    Sunday, January 18, 2009

    ideas for web videos

    i read a lot of blogs and i've noticed that i actually prefer when the blog/article has pictures instead of videos. actually, videos are great for digging deeper into the topic, but i've found that the videos in blogs slow down reading a lot, because you want to know whats in the video. so, you tend to load up the video and manually fast forward to see if there is anything good in it. this slows down my reading and i hate that. but i continue to do that because sometimes the video is actually way easier to understand than the write up.

    to solve those problems i have two visualization ideas for web videos.

    skimming for web videos
    skimming is a iMovie thing and its pretty cool. basically its a way to explore and preview your video and is a great way quickly identify the best parts of your video. to skim all you have to do is move your mouse horizontally over the video and the video plays back chronologically in respect to the mouse direction. you can also hear the audio while skimming. watch the apple tutorial on skimming

    skimming for web videos makes a lot of sense to me. it allows you to quickly find things of interest. perhaps there are technical issues with doing that, for example how to download the data to be able to do that. the whole buffering the video thing really sucks and i hate that i have to do that all the time. not to mention it sort of defeats the purpose of the skimming feature.

    a collage of video thumbnails
    usually, when you upload a video you can select a single thumbnail of the video to show users what the video is all about. but, i've always wondered why stop at just one thumbnail. what if there were multiple thumbnails that showed snapshots of the highlights of the video. then i can just look at the collage of thumbnails to know what the video was all about. i created an example of my thumbnail collage for this time lapse video:

    (my mock up)

    compare my mock up with the actual video. i wonder if my thumbnails actually helps. what do you think?

    (actual vimeo video)

    perhaps there would be away to toggle between skimming and the thumbnail collage. anyway, those were two ideas that i think would help save time while encountering videos on the web. do you think those two features would be useful?

    Saturday, January 10, 2009

    stop saying there is a lack of technology talent

    I've been trying to stay away from this discussion on techhui about Are Hawaii's Tech Tax Credit Worth the Cost?, because I don't particularly think its that productive and has a far too negative tone. But, I decided to chime in because of this comment:
    As a whole, in software/IT, I don't think the local talent compares with the level of global competition a startup has to face. (This is the same point Guy Kawasaki essentially made.) Because of the talent deficiency, funding such companies is almost inherently a high/bad risk. Money is a very inefficient way to compensate for talent. Using state funds to subsidize this is very likely to be wasteful.

    Here are a few comments:
    (1) did i miss the state wide talent evaluation survey that allowed you to make this claim. perhaps people should stick recounting their own experiences and refrain from making broad claims. besides i really don't think the talent thread you keep pointing to had very much careful and analytical examination of talent. i know a lot of these software and IT people that you are calling talent deficient and i think thats very wrong and inappropriate. perhaps all the talented people are avoiding you. or perhaps its the senior management, entrepreneurs, and executives that aren't getting the job done. i'm being sarcastic, but i think my statement is just as plausible.
    (2) i actually think Guy Kawasaki is a little mistaken in his comments. we do have awesome professors and students in the College of Engineering (he actually is forgetting about the Department of Information and Computer Science where most of the software and technology graduates comes from). but, the problem is that the startup industry is too small of an industry for them to target to transition into. i recently had a conversation with a professor that said we want to grow the startup mentality in his students. perhaps Guy should visit the College of Engineering and Dept of Information and Computer Science and help build and transition the "supply".

    anyway, say what you want about the actual tax credit program, the facts, the reports, the investors, or even the companies. but stop calling the people in hawaii's tech industry talentless.

    Monday, January 5, 2009

    reactions to some of the TechHui discussions

    there have been some discussions on TechHui my favorite hawaii social network about a couple of subjects centering around Act221 and the talent in hawaii.

    here are some excerpts (i know a few of these authors, so i'm definitely not taking a shot at them):

    In Dave Takaki's forum post Action Committee for Threatened Hi Tech Tax Credits John raised an excellent point, "But maybe the issue is: Hawaii has insufficient tech talent so we are simply throwing money at the wrong problem." This is definitely a serious issue for a number of reasons.

    - the talent is fairly limited (which is the premise of Dan's opening post)
    - we lack talent in building startups
    Let me give 2 examples:
    When I worked in SF, our 50 person startup had the equivalent of a Hawaii all-start team. The academic and work credentials, along with the level of expertise was extraordinarily high. Someone like Dan would easily excel there but a lot of local techs would have trouble because of a lack of experience/training at that level.

    For example, I used to go to the Ruby meetup in Berkeley and every meeting had 30 guys who were really advanced programmers. That's just Berkeley and just for Ruby, there were others in Novato, SF, San Jose, etc. While Hawaii has a number of people with similar skills, it's nowhere near that quantity of people.

    IMHO, Mainlanders (well, West Coast mainlanders from my limited experience) tend to invest more time establishing their careers before settling down.

    I view Act 221/215 as a High-Tech Charity (or Welfare Program) that should not be renewed.

    All of these comments seem to be be pretty negative. And I tend to disagree with them. Here are some of my comments:
  • Hawaii is Hawaii - Hawaii doesn't have to be a Silicon Valley, Berkeley, or where ever. It needs to be what it is. Hawaii is about its people and thats what makes it special. With that being said, I don't think we need to have a Silicon Valley culture to make it in the tech world. We need to maximize the strengths of Hawaii to create a tech industry that thrives off of our own unique culture. People that want Silicon Valley culture should probably go to Silicon Valley. Lets not lose our identity - diversity is key.
  • Perhaps its not the talent, its the leadership that sucks - there are many talented people in hawaii. many that i think would thrive in startups. i think a large part of the finding and retaining talent in hawaii is the lack of true leaders, visionaries, and mentors. i always like to think about this quote that kevin taketa said in hawaii business magazine:
    In Hawaii, you have to listen, you have to be a good listener. You need to pay attention to relationships and how relationships are all connected here. And you need to have a certain kind of humility. And humility does not mean you don’t have courage or a certain kind of self-confidence. Hawaii is a people place and if people don’t feel you respect them or don’t care about them enough to think about them, it is really hard to lead here.

    leading and talking the loudest is different. leading and having the most money is different. you have to listen before people will listen to you; and thats the way it should work. we have the talent, but can you lead us?
  • less talk and more doing - there are a lot of people that unhappy with the current state of the hawaii tech industry. myself included; especially when i was being recruited by google (i failed the interview, i suck). but, i've come to realize that i'm to blame, because i know that i could be doing more to help. i've devoted the last couple years to not only this blog, but also to numerous student and industry events. my goal was to talk to as many students and people (including people like mazie hirono and neil abercrombie) that i could find about what we (techies) do and why its awesome. there is a huge need for mentors and experts to talk to students. do something for the greater good, anything.

    anyway... its great to see discussions on TechHui.