Started more than a couple of weeks ago, this is the personal site of technologist, writer and all round good egg Andrew Skinner. I am a trusted advisor to many of the worlds most innovative brands, advising business, startups and the public sector on technology strategy and digital product design. More…
I was invited to talk at the Melbourne Mobile meetup this month at the York Butter Factory. My talk was about how to convince businesses to invest in your mobile project. When there are so many ideas out there why should yours be chosen and how do you make sure it is? I covered conviction, research, business model canvases, a service oriented approach, risk management, emotional attachment and not forgetting luck.
It was really great to meet everyone, to chat over some of my past work and find out about what others are up to. Thanks to Chris and the team for organising.
All in all a very enjoyable evening and, if you’re in Melbourne the Mobile Meetup is highly recommended.
Well isn’t this whole year of code government initiative a bit of a balls up?
I’m not really going to comment on the recent launch, enough people have done that already. I will say that I don’t like seeing anyone humiliated and although I don’t know her I feel very sorry for Lottie Dexter. It’s clear the bigger context of this has nothing to do with her. If you’re not sure what I am talking about then check out this Newsnight coverage of the launch of the Year of Code.
I also don’t profess myself to be an expert on education, it’s been a very long time since I was in the system but I do own a child* and I do know how to code well in quite a few languages. I also count a fair few teachers among my friends (now there’s a phrase the 13 year old me never imagined writing) so I feel entitled to have an opinion on this.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think the focus should be on code, code is part of the mix but it’s not the foundation, in fact it’s kind of missing the point. Future generations need to be taught how to become part of a digital society. They need to be shown the value of being of technology (see my previous post) and how software and computing can be used to design and craft digital services and products that enhance humanity. They also need to be taught about how to be part of a connected global community and how to be good digital citizens. The current trends and bullying that are taking place on social media just goes to prove more needs to be done here – and it’s not just the kids. ICT (god I hate that term) teachers just aren’t equipped to do this (i’m willing to bet my 4 year old boy is more digitally savvy than they are). They’re the wrong people. ICT is the wrong topic, it’s just slop! Universities aren’t equipped to do this either, i’ve first hand experience of the woefully inadequate skills current graduates are leaving with. For digital to thrive in the UK (and Australia for that matter) a radical overhaul of how technology, software and design is knitted into the curriculum needs to happen and it’s going to cost much more than £500k. It’s going to require business and experts roll their sleeves up and invest in future generations and not just harp on about how much they used to love their Spectrums and BBC Micros. They were great but it’s time to move on. I’m willing to bet that by making the topic engaging and delivered by people that kids actually believe understand what they’re talking about we’d see massive change. Change that produced well rounded digital citizens and even encouraged more gender equality into the area – just browse the Raspberry Pi forums to see what might be. The current approach addresses the nimbys, the whinging PR hungry fringe of the industry who are more media hungry than hungry for positive change and the government know’s it. They’ve proven this by the amount they’re willing to spend, oh and just look at Tech City. Additionally, the passionate people, those who have made positive change have excluded themselves from the initiative and the professionals, those who truly understand the topic are disgusted. I’m betting by the end of the year we won’t be hearing about any of this but lots of after dinner public speaking calendars will have been filled thank you very much (sorry to be so cynical).
Worse, the year of code could ghetto the subject further into poorly taught, hour long impenetrable or light touch coding sessions that benefit nobody, bore kids, produce mediocre hackers trivialising the skills of Software Engineers and those who work in the other areas of digital not mentioned. The designers, the business analysts, the user experience professionals, the researchers, the data scientists, the project managers, the testers and all the other disciplines required to craft great digital products and services. In my experience there is no shortage of coders both at home or abroad – there is however a woeful shortage of GOOD Software Engineers. How will you feel getting on a plane where the people who produced the aircraft control software learnt to code in an hour?
*My wife tells me I guide him and don’t own him. My continued financial investment suggests otherwise and until I see a return on this investment I continue to claim ownership.
Every now and again I get obsessed with things. For example at the moment I am obsessed with measuring and managing the amount of water we use in the house. I’m using published weather data along with reservoir and water collection tank levels to predict our needs and when best to draw from the mains our our own collected reserves.
Most of these obsessions are fleeting or resolved by the successful completion of a project. Others linger or remain in the back of my mind, dormant, coming to the foreground when certain outside factors bootstrap them back into action.
One such obsession that I have had for years now has been about societies increasing reliance on digital technology and the ever invasive creep of gadgets into our lives but perhaps most importantly the trade off between attention and utility. Some of the 2014 trend predictions i’ve seen from people I respect and the bubbling discourse on the web about the 2013 film by Spike Jonze – Her (a film about a writer and his relationship with his operating system) has brought these thoughts right back again.
For me it all started when I saw the Ba’Ku in the 1998 film Star Trek Insurrection(stay with me here). In the film the Ba’Ku are a technologically advanced race who many years ago decided to shun technology and become a simple farming community (for all the Trekies out there I know i’ve simplified it a bit). The deep, advanced, digital technology remained but was in the background, invisibly augmenting their lives and enhancing their tools without being the tool. Well, at the time this hit me like a brick in the face – this is the future I crave. A future where digital technology gets out of the way invisibly augmenting and supporting our lives and increasing the quality of our being through the products and serves we interact with. I love the idea of us being of digital rather than being with digital if that makes sense? I’m not sure it does. In short, at the moment I feel that digital technology on the whole is the focus, is more of a burden than an aid and it shouldn’t be.
As I mentioned earlier the 2014 trends reports that came out at the end of last year are backing this up. They started to talk about unplugging – they posited that this year we will see services and retreats that helped people disconnect from the internet. Being technology weary is starting to become part of the public mindset. I don’t think the issue is that digital technology is a bad thing, instead I see that we’re not blending product design, service and digital technology in the right way. At the moment digital technology is more often that not detracting from the product or service experience rather than enhancing it. That’s why i’m investing my time in projects like my water monitor, technically rich, augments an established physical pump and increases my well being while needing no interaction. If it stops working, it won’t nag me, it won’t beep. Instead it should silently restart and start all over again while the pump happily whirrs away. When it works, it saves me money and keeps my garden green while my neighbours gardens are left as brown thatch. Easy.
I was fortunate to attend a talk by Tobias Andersson, one of the founders of the Pirate Bay last night. It was fascinating to hear some of the many stories from the last 10 years and to find out more about the anarchistic ideologies on which the site was founded. Tobias talked at length about the challenges to these ideals, scarier organisations than the MPAA, how his family life prompted his departure from the group and why he thinks the site should now shut down. In the Q&A that followed there was a great discussion about new industries that are finding themselves ripe for disruption by the file sharing ecosystem, the challenges from organised crime, 3D printing guns, cars and all other sorts of previously unaffected IP. We talked about the free internet, a distributed decentralised future for the pirate bay (the Pirate Browser), how to communicate that this stuff matters to the general population, why wiki leaks is based on ego and how despite everything Tobias is strongly against profiting from piracy.
If you’re only aware of the Pirate Bay as a place to get free stuff I suggest you dig a little deeper. It’s a fascinating story.
I’m not a great blogger but I enjoy writing and i’ve always wanted a blog. As such I’ve started many only to lose interest after a few weeks. I’m going to have another go. Here goes…