Monday, July 14, 2014

Growing IT Talent in Nashville

This week's Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce newsletter asked for input to help Nashville grow. Being in IT, the first thing I thought of as a barrier to growth is the lack of top IT talent. Middle Tennessee colleges and universities churn out a staggering number of IT students, however the skills taught in class only go so far towards preparing those students for growth in the workplace. For many, this growth is spring-boarded by attending conferences where they receive exposure to new technologies, training in vital skills, and connect with other professionals outside their organization. Conferences draw the best and brightest from surrounding states as both presenters and attendees, which provides a unique opportunity to market Nashville as a city of potential employers as well as establishing a reputation of excellence.

Below is the comment I submitted to the Chamber of Commerce. Please post any comments or suggestions you might have at the bottom of this article or tag me on twitter (@gainesk).
The technology sector seems to be driving much of Nashville's growth, however our current workforce is having trouble keeping up and may hinder continued growth. While various special interests have formed strong communities around specific technologies and products, Nashville is sorely lacking in regionally recognized technology focused events focused on educating and connecting both local and national talent. Local government needs to get more involved in helping to facilitate these events by making venues available and connecting organizers with sponsorship. The result will be a stronger reputation for Nashville as a technology hub on the National stage, higher standards for education and training of talent, and attracting top talent from other cities by showcasing what Nashville has to offer.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Build a Customized MVC eCommerce Site in 1 Hour (workshop)

For those of us who have spent most of our careers building business applications, the prospect of creating an e-commerce storefront can be quite daunting. Not only do you have to deal with calculating tax, estimating shipping and accepting payments, but employees need a way to manage products, discounts and marketing content. Thankfully, there's an open source e-commerce solution written in Microsoft ASP.NET MVC5 named nopCommerce that provides all this functionality and much more.

This workshop was designed to ramp everyone up on the Model-View-Controller (MVC) architecture, introduce advanced concepts used throughout the site such as Dependency Injection, and walk through the process of working with nopCommerce. By the end of the evening everyone should have first-hand experience building plugins that can be packaged and sold online.

Feedback and constructive criticism is welcome.
A list of past and scheduled speaking engagements can be found here.

To check availability or discuss presenting a specific topic, I can be reached by email or phone.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Three Reasons to Hire Consultants

Three Reasons to Hire ConsultantsConsultants are more than just developers with an hourly rate. In addition to honing their technical skills and staying abreast of the latest technology, successful consultants must develop valuable soft skills which are often sorely lacking in developers.

Time Management

When your client receives a bill for hours worked, the understanding is that each of those hours were spent doing something constructive for the client. Consultants are held to a much higher standard of productivity and must be self-motivated. Successful consultants learn to control their time by setting goals, defining and prioritizing actionable items, delegating duties, limiting distractions, and organizing information while managing these aspects within multiple projects or clients.

Problem Solving

In consulting, problem solving is where the rubber meets the road. Before a solution can be discussed, the consultant must first understand the problem and the conditions required for a successful solution. Consultants must have the ability to understand the client's industry and their role in it, the company's culture and expectations, business objectives, and processes. Only then can they consider the cost, risk and benefits to recommend a solution.

Communication

The ability to effectively communicate is by far the most important skill for an effective consultant.

Written Communication

The role of consultant inevitably involves the creation of estimates, statements of work, user stories, specifications, findings and recommendations, plans, trip reports, and hand-off documents. It's expected that these documents, as well as other written communication, be clear, succinct, orderly and unambiguous. They also have to write for a wide variety of audiences ranging from IT professionals to the CEO. This means the consultant must understand the interests of that audience and emphasize the relevant information. Some audiences will need additional context to understand complex topics while others simply need an executive summary. Often written communication involves skills beyond words, such as the creation of charts and diagrams. A good consultant determines the best method to convey their message to the desired audience.

Verbal Communication

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, three out of every four people suffer from speech anxiety. Consultants are required not only to overcome their anxiety, but to also hone their verbal communication skills by articulating and controlling their volume, pace, pitch, posture, facial expressions and eye contact. They must convey confidence without being arrogant and exhibit authority while remaining open to suggestions. Verbal communication involves not only speaking, but listening as well. Knowing when and how to ask questions is key. In order to craft the most effective solution to a problem, the consultant must understand the difficulties of their clients from multiple perspectives and present a solution that satisfies all parties.

While these skills are not unique to consultants, they are often more developed in those who make a living providing consulting services. What soft skills do you think are most important? Share your thoughts in a comment below.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Glasshole Alert!

Today I finally got my hands on Google Glass and I am impressed. It's a pretty slick device with an even more impressive design. The device itself is light weight and pretty stylish (especially with the shade attached). It is also pretty comfortable while wearing, definitely more comfortable than my reading specs. 

While the app selection is minimal, the apps that are available are pretty descent. Allthecooks and google play music are my favorites right now. There are other apps (facebook, evernote, cnn, etc.) I have yet to give them a try but will soon. 

One of the things I really like is how good the speech recognition is. It's really accurate, the first time. I have not had to repeat myself or yell for it to pick up my commands. It is really responsive too which is another plus for me. there is nothing worse than a lagging app. I am also able to speak at a normal speed and cadence and not feel/sound like I'm trying too hard to make it register. The touch pad is also nice, very responsive and pretty intuitive. 

Now hear come the caveats. Ah, the battery life, our age old friend has reared its ugly head within this realm of beauty. But I went into this expecting less than great battery life so I'm not all that disappointed. But i'm confident that Google will get this worked out as the device matures. Sunlight, the image within the prism gets washed out in direct sunlight. The shade helps a bit but it still wasn't great. Overall I am really pleased with the device and look forward to giving some good feedback to the Glass team and keeping you all up to date on my findings. With that said, it's time I get my glass out of here...

Oh, one last thing....(You see what I did there?).... Leave a comment below for a chance to receive an invite to the Google Glass program. With the invite you still have to pay $1500 for the device. Also,

Just a reminder that all Glass Explorers must:
  • Be US residents
  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Provide a US shipping address or pick up their Glass at one of our locations in New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles
We will pick a winner on Friday Dec 13, 2013!

Monday, October 14, 2013

DotNetDude on HealthCare.gov

DotNetDude on HealthCare.gov
Tonight I spent a few minutes applying for insurance on HealthCare.gov so I could get see the process and options first hand.

As someone who's been developing websites for over 10 years, my first impression was that the site is fairly well designed. The front end was created by a Washington, DC based company named Development Seed. The back end was created by a CGI Group Inc subsidiary, CGI Federal. Not only was CGI Federal the prime contractor for the exchange website, but it received $88 million for it's services. Good work if you can get it!

I was afraid I'd have to answer hundreds of questions, but the application process was very concise and took under 20 minutes. I cannot speak to the application process as it pertains to financial aid as I selected the option to apply without aid.

Since I work as an independent consultant I retain private health insurance which costs me $164/month for a high deductible plan that really only covers catastrophic illness. According to a good friend who works in the insurance industry, it was among the least expensive plans available for someone in my demographic.

Once I entered my information, confirmed my email, and agreed to the very simple terms, I was presented with four categories of plans; Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. I was pleased to note that the least expensive plan available to me was actually 20% cheaper than my current plan. Without going into minute detail, I can safely say that I can purchase an equivalent plan to my current coverage without spending a penny more.

I love how simple they've made the process of selecting and comparing potential plans. Medical conditions and treatments are laid out with side-by-side summaries of benefits.

This is only my personal experience and is in no way a definitive assessment of the Affordable Care Act or HealthCare.gov, but hopefully my experience will provide insight to others.

If you have any comments or questions, please post them below or contact me on twitter (@gainesk).

Friday, October 4, 2013

Ingress is the Future of Gamification

Ingress is the Future of Gamification
What is Ingress?
A secretive company named Niantic Labs discovered an element they named “Exotic Matter,” or XM, that seems to appear from cultural landmarks such as public art and places of historic, architectural or social significance. They believe XM is used by an alien race called the Shapers to affect humanity and may actually contribute to the creation of the landmarks near portals where it springs forth.

Technology was developed to interact with and control these portals using modern devices such as smart phones and tablets and has since been leaked to the public at large. This technology is now being used by two distinct factions in an attempt to harness the power of XM. The Enlightened faction believe that the Shapers are working toward a powerful enlightenment which will uplift all mankind. The Resistance believes that it is protecting humanity from Shaper ingression. The factions have, however, been occasionally observed to ignore their difference and to co-operate by establishing neutral zones and rules of engagement.

What is the True Nature of Ingress?
The true purpose of Ingress is data collection. Niantic Labs is a Google start up that has used gamification to recruit over 500,000 volunteers. In order to play, you walk from place to place with Ingress running on your GPS enabled smartphone, You take geo-tagged pictures using the app, and all the while the data is collected and sent to Google’s server where gameplay takes place. Through this process, Google is collecting vast amounts of pedestrian data, average walking speed, routes taken, pictures, and even Wi-Fi hotspots available.

What Makes Ingress Different?
Google has a long history of offering free products which contribute to their data collection efforts. In 2007 Google launched a free automated directory enquiry service named GOOG-411 which allowed them to build a database of accents and cadences that they later used to perfect their voice recognition technology for Android. What makes Ingress different is that, instead of offering a service, they have made the act of collecting data into a game.

Ingress is also a social game and is not designed to be played solo. In fact, there are significant restrictions on how much a single agent can accomplish and it can take as many as eight agents to make a single portal of the maximum level. While this may make it difficult for individuals in rural areas to participate, the social element is vital to adding enjoyment and keeping players involved.

Why Should I Play It?
With their other services, Google identified something that would be beneficial in people's everyday lives. They met an existing need or offered a better way of accomplishing a task. With Ingress they have created artificial incentives to participate in new activities which often reap personal rewards beyond the scope of the game. For instance, yesterday I spent several hours walking around the city of Franklin, TN. I explored cemeteries and monuments, learned things about my local area and got a lot of exercise. Ingress is an inherently social game and offers opportunities to meet new people. There are already examples of couples that met through Ingress.

There is another element to Ingress that sets it apart from other products that use incentives, such as Foursquare. Niantic Labs has developed a complex science fiction back story which is being revealed in real time. Not only are Ingress agents part of the story, they actually affect the plot through large organized events called anomalies. Anomalies can take place at a particular location or can span the globe and agent involvement determines the outcome which then becomes part of the ongoing story.

What's the Down Side?
As with all games, Ingress isn't for everybody. For one, it's still in closed beta which means an activation code is required to join. Each agent can send a limited number of invites to friends and invites can be requested at Ingress.com.

The game is also not without it's flaws. Players gain significant power as they level up and low level players are unable to have any real effect in the game. New players will spend most of their time grinding Action Points (AP) with the purpose of leveling. This process can go much faster with assistance from higher level players or by visiting locations with a high concentration of portals such as cemeteries or historic towns.

What Next?
While you're waiting for an invite, check out the Niantic Project investigation board and the Ingress Report on Youtube for videos and documents. The folks at Niantic Labs have done an amazing job at producing rich content to tell the story and it's a real treat for science fiction and conspiracy enthusiasts.

If I've missed something important or for questions, post a comment below or contact me on twitter (@gainesk).