A Business Technology Place

Live to give

This week I said good-bye to my father-in-law Mario Rognoni. It was a time of remembrance, celebration, and reflection. As best I can describe him, Mario Rognoni lived life to give life.

  • He cared more about personal interactions than personal possessions.
  • He cared more about giving money to those in need than making money for his own needs.
  • He cared more about the possibilities of the future than the failures of the past.

Mario was an eternal optimist. He saw possibilities where most people saw none. He embodied the phrase “Carpe Diem”.

May your soul rest in peace Don Mario. You left the world better than you found it.

Pick your team.

I have fond memories from my youth when I was with a group of friends and we picked teams for a game. The games varied; baseball, kickball, capture the flag, football, or war. But the act of picking teams usually followed the same process. Two captains were selected and then each captain would take turns picking team members from the rest of the group. The order of selection was based on skills and the kid the captain thought provided the best chance to win. Sometimes it was based on friendships and alliances made outside the field of play. Then we played.the-sandlot-crew

When I select members for a technology department today, I have a different perspective. I like to look for team members that can contribute beyond a specific technical skill set. A base technical skill is required, but it is not enough to be on the team I would pick. Daniel Pink writes in his book A Whole New Mind that technical skills are increasingly being replaced by someone who can do it cheaper (think Asia) or a computer that can do it faster. Pink argues knowledge workers who can contribute beyond direct technical output will find more options for employment and a higher likelihood of career fulfilment. These workers can detect patterns, see opportunities, and combine results into new inventions and stories to connect with customers and coworkers.

This past week my wife interviewed two candidates for a position on her team. She asked me for advice on how to approach the process and make a distinction between the two candidates. I recommended looking for the candidate who showed interest in the mission of her workplace. Did they ask questions about the business, the workflows used by the team, the current challenges, etc.? This employee would become more fully engaged in looking at the big picture and trying to help find solutions and make improvements.

In another conversation this week, I was asked about replacing a member on our technology steering committee. The basis for the question was the new prospective member was younger and more comfortable with technology solutions. I reminded my colleague the primary purpose of the committee was to discuss the direction and impact of technology solutions on the business more than any specific technology used. The skill set I want on the committee requires more institutional knowledge of the business than it does technical knowledge.

Picking teams today is different than when I was a kid. I want team members who are engaged enough to ask clarifying questions, to ask why, and to suggest areas of improvement. I want team members to make an intentional effort to understand the whole solution and not just the tasks assigned to them. When we play the game, these are the skills that will help us win. You in?

Onward and upward!

Judging a computer algorithm

Does your GPS have a name?

Years ago when I bought the first GPS unit for our family we gave it a name within a week. There was a human voice. That voice gave us instructions and told us when we made mistakes and needed to correct our route. It was like having a live person in the car with us. The kids liked the naming process because we tried to match a name with the voice that came from the device.nuvi-265wt

But something else happened.

We started to rate the instructions we received from the device. We would get a little excited when we knew multiple ways to navigate a route and preferred another option from what the GPS determined to be the best route. We would talk to the device as if it could understand us and tell it that we knew a better way. We would stay on the larger interstate when the GPS wanted us to exit and drive on smaller two-lane roads. .

But why?

It’s just an algorithm in a computer program. It’s performing math calculations to determine the shortest route between two distances. This particular version of the GPS did not have current information related to traffic patterns that factored into the algorithm. Yet we wanted to treat the unit like a person. We judged the instructions and the outcome and expected the GPS to know about new roads and road detours.

Do we judge algorithm mistakes differently than we judge human mistakes?

There was a recent story on NPR from Shankar Vedantam in which he discusses research from the University of Pennsylvania about human’s use of algorithms. The research found that humans will typically stop using a computer algorithm after they experienced a mistake even though the computer algorithm was less likely to make a mistake than a human counterpart.

Vedantam goes on to discuss that algorithms are getting smarter and more complex. They learn from mistakes. They have the ability to make decisions based on a variety of inputs. So it’s illogical to judge the algorithm more harshly than a human but yet it feels so natural to many people.

Do we feel threatened by algorithms? Perhaps movies like The Matrix or Ex Machina make us more aware of just what a truly learning algorithm could be like. Maybe that’s what influences us to judge simple computer programs more harshly.

I will say this.

When the GPS takes us on a tangent, I’m always the one saying “Trust her. She’s always gets us there.”  I stand by her instructions even though she’s taken me to a few dead-end roads.

But I’ve never trusted Siri. :-O

Onward and upward!

Smartphone passwords and privacy

How would you rule in this case?

An employee is provided a smartphone and cellular service by their employer. The employee leaves the company and returns the device. Then the employee is brought under investigation for by the SEC for insider trading activities. The SEC requests the password for the phone in an effort to build evidence for their case.

Is the employee required to surrender their passcode so that access can be granted to the smartphone?

The result may not surprise you but the reason will.

A US District Court ruled that that the employee was not required to surrender their password in SEC V. Huang as this could violate their Fifth Amendment right to privacy.

In a court response it stated that,

“Since the passcodes to Defendants’ work-issued smartphones are not corporate records, the act of producing their personal passcodes is testimonial in nature and Defendants properly invoke their fifth Amendment privilege. Additionally, the foregone conclusion doctrine does not apply as the SEC cannot show with “reasonable particularity” the existence or location of the documents it seeks. Accordingly, the SEC’s motion to compel the passcodes is denied. “

The case revealed that Capital One, the employer, did have policies stating that the company owned the device issued as well as corporate documents stored on the device. As you would expect, Capital One also required employees to use a passcode and by best practice the code should be private and not written down anywhere. Hence the court ruling that the passcode itself was not a corporate record.

The court also stated that,

“Each party argues based on established legal precedent m non-smartphone contexts involving the interplay between corporate records and encrypted information on computers. As we find the personal thought process defining a smartphone passcode not shared with an employer is testimonial, we deny the SEC’s motion to compel. “

I bet you’ve never considered making your password part of your “personal thought process”!

How far could this reach?

Could this apply to computer and laptop passwords? Would an employee be able withhold their password from an employer if they were not under investigation for criminal activity?

If the rationale of this decision carried forward then I would think it could be far reaching.  Employers typically don’t assert ownership of the password or require they be stored where they are accessible. Hence they would be considered something personal.

If a Company wants maintain complete control and ownership of equipment issued to employees they should consider the following policies:

  1. Create a policy that issues passwords to be used by employees on company owned equipment.
  2. Designate a required storage area for passcodes.
  3. Equip phones with software that allows a remote wipe of the device if the employee leaves.

Photo Credit: binaryCoco via creative commons


Windows 10 productivity tips and tricks

I’ve been using Windows 10 for about seven months for both home and office computing. Here’s a quick list of some useful productivity tricks I like to use:

  1. Print to PDF

The ability to transform any document to PDF format is built in to Windows 10. Just select the print function from your application and choose the built-in printer called “Microsoft Print to PDF”. This will prompt you for the location to the save the PDF. From there you can share or print to paper as needed.

  1. Change applications / Task view

For the longest time I’ve switched to another open application by scrolling through open applications with the atl+tab keys. I still use that quite a bit because it is habit. Windows 10 shows open applications in a condensed view (called task view) in several ways:

  • Windows Key + tab
  • Three finger swipe up on the touch pad
  • Pressing the task view button on the taskbar TaskView

TaskView Windows

  1. Using virtual desktops

Windows 10 supports virtual desktops. It’s a way to assign open applications to different desktops. In our office environment most employees use multiple physical monitors while docked to get this effect. They can drag windows across monitors. But if you don’t have multiple monitors you can get the effect using a virtual desktop. Here’s how:

  • Windows key + tab to open task view
  • Three finger swipe up  to open task view

At the bottom of the screen you’ll see desktops in the center and a button to create a new desktop in the right corner. You can drag open windows from the task view into a desktop at the bottom.

This could be useful if you have some applications that need to remain open but you don’t want them to clutter the space in your primary working view.

Virtual Desktop

  1. Minimize all open windows / Show desktop

I frequently want to get something on the desktop view and I start minimizing open windows. After four or five clicks I still haven’t found the desktop because I didn’t realize how many open windows I had! Here’s a simple way to get back to the desktop:

  • Windows key + D
  • Three finger swipe down on the touch pad
  1. Scroll up/down

There are many ways to scroll up and down on a screen. A nice feature for laptop users with a touchpad is to use two fingers on the touchpad to scroll up and down.

  1. Wi-Fi on/off Toggle

I move between wired and wireless connections each day. I don’t like to have Wi-Fi enabled while I’m on a wired connection. Technically Windows will support this configuration but I don’t like the idea of having two default gateways and Windows choosing how paths are prioritized. For some reason by default Windows prioritizes the wireless connection over a wired connection even though throughput for the wired connection should be higher. Here’s how to toggle the Wi-Fi on/off:

  • There is a physical toggle switch on many laptops. My Dell model has a slide switch on the right-side next to the USB connections.
  • Press this icon in the task bar  Messages  or select Windows key + A. This will bring up a series of toggle switches for commonly used features. One of them is Wi-Fi . WifiSimply press the toggle switch to turn on/off.

Let me know what productivity tips and tricks you have for Windows 10.

Onward and upward!