Friday, 5 January 2018

DYW... Digital Consumers?... Or Digital Creators? #AppsThatMatter

My attempts to get noticed and collaborate with the kind of tech companies who make a difference has meant that I've had a worrisome and stressful Christmas.

As I reflect on the personal risks and opportunities that lie ahead for me and my kids, I have also had a wider (and deep!) concern about whether or not Scotland is developing a disposable, commoditised workforce and nation of digital consumers.

Fortunately in the New Year, through projects like #AppsThatMatter, I wonder if projects like this could go a long way to Developing the Youth Workforce to be Digital Creators

I'm sure some readers will point to some of the fantastic work that the political classes and their cronies do.

All I can say to this is that in 2014 the then FE Minister launched the FELTAG agenda with fine and inspiring oratory like "It's FELTAG Friday... Rocket Boosters on!" and how 50% of all FE College course work would be available online by 2017, with all course material by 2020. As I highlighted at the time Huston We Have a Problem

As these worthy goals should be achieved by now, I checked in on the initiative. Where is this agenda today? No mention of how many colleges have 50% of their course material online but plenty about how "FELTAG has Evolved" and the documents I read are all about "The Spirit of FELTAG" What is this? Some kind of modern day Dickensian novel!

Even if I was a fan of "The Evolved Spirit of FELTAG" when you look at the tools that are mentioned about #FELTAG on social media, they are predominantly tools that were created in other countries, typically Silicon Valley... As well as a potential disrupter in this space in the not too distant future: Udacity*.

If you care to take a look at my Creatively Disrupt post from 2014 and then check out Udacity* progress since 2014 you will see that ALL of their Nanodegree course material is online. What I suggested would happen at the start of the project has happened.

*Work in FE? Curious about why Udacity achieved what FELTAG did not within the same time frame? See extract at the end of this post.

As usual, I find myself asking at what point are these comments welcome?
At the start when they are accused of dampening the mood... and are ignored?
In the middle when they are dismissed out of hand... and seen as being meddlesome?
Highlighting this now when the observation prove to be right... it comes across as smug and "I told you so?"

I've never been able to figure this one out! I just wish I had a voice... Not to mention the wage that some of these incompetent experts get for doing ineffective work!!

I might not know much, but one thing I'm certain of is that reform ain't gonna come from Holyrood or Westminster... they simply don't care about anything except themselves and/or they are a pretty incompetent bunch. Disagree? I have one word for you: Brexit.

In 2015 I heard about the Developing the Youth Workforce a shiny new plan by the Scottish Government as well as the calls for more collaboration amongst Scottish Educators at the 2015 Scottish learning Festival...I highlighted the same kind of concerns as I did with Gazelle and FELTAG.

The rest of this post considers the Scottish Government's "Developing the Youth Workforce" and "Addressing the Attainment Gap" with my own experiences and how, why, where and when this has been playing on my mind over the Christmas break.

3rd November 2017
Two months ago I asked a group of 5 year old School Children who wanted to make XBox Games or Ipad Apps when they were older, almost all the hands in the room went up.

1st December 2017

A month ago I had Skype calls with Microsoft's "Skype for Good" lead. The next day I presented my experiences going from sales to community management at Microsoft's offices.

My oldest son, who is considering a career in Tech, was involved with both the Skype call and the #Cmgr meetup.

At the meetup Lithium's Chief Data Scientist told us about the advantages of differentiating your product and the dangers of commoditisation

"As the market becomes more competitive, many products and services are being commoditized, where they become indistinguishable in the consumers’ eyes except their price. Therefore, companies engage in price wars constantly to stay competitive. This squeezes the profit margin of brands and threatens their business. Consequently, brands are struggling to differentiate in order to avert the commoditization of their products/services"

I could not help but see large sections of the Scottish Workforce in this commoditisation perspective... all you need to do is check any job board to see how uninspiring the opportunities are. Alternatively look at the fact that 4% of the Scottish workforce are in call centers... about to be replaced by chat bots? Or jobs under threat from cheaper offers from call centres in India?

13th December 2017
At Christmas I was (and still am!) looking for work.On the 13th December I succeeded with this... Erm kind of!

I had the most bizarre recruitment process by an agency for a job - complete with drugs test?! That was a first! Nothing says "We have a great culture and we trust our employees" than the introductory drugs test the minute you get in the door - Their client was a well known Silicon Valley based online retailer.

After some rather questionable practices I was all signed up and was told to get on a bus that leaves City Chambers at 6:30pm and will be dropped off at Bathgate.

I would then do a job that bots will do in 12 months time ... put some boxes in delivery vans from 8pm to 4am (Or for a shorter/longer duration with no say in the matter)

However... when myself and 5 others get there we were told that they had all the people they needed for Christmas, so we sat around until travel could be arranged. I got home at 1 am and felt very much like a commodity!

21st December 2017
Whether standing in a long queue for the games my kids wanted for Christmas, or waiting for packages from the retailer that I had thought had hired me but hadn't... I could not get some of these recent events out of my head.

1) The number of hands that went up when I asked a group of 5 year olds "Who wants to make XBox Games?"

2) Michael Wu's presentation and how things just become commoditised when there is no differentiation

3) My fruitless years of either trying to make a difference and/or finding meaningful work in Scotland with very little support.

4) How great politicians are with their fine speeches... but how useless they are with implementing the ideas and, most importantly

5) Wondering how many consumers there are of these tech toys in Scotland (Whether games consoles, laptops, phones or the games and apps that people play on them) Vs how many Scots worked on creating any of these games and products?

A Nation of Digital Consumers?
I am genuinely interested in this last question. Who has the stats re: number of Scots consuming all these Silicon Valley based must have tech products Vs the number of Scots involved in creating them?

This is an important point because the consumption of tech is only going to go up in direct relation to the commoditised jobs going down... if we are not teaching creators, what are the job prospects going to look like for our young people?

An extremely important follow up to this line of enquiry is...Just like Artist Taxi Driver's video at Christmas

"Who is there that cares about this stuff any more?"

I've seen the kind of people involved in FELTAG at the start... all the "Look at me, look at me" stuff then they get their Klingon Cloaking devices on if/when you highlight that you tried to raise the alarm.

But no one seems to care when they fail to deliver... there's zero accountability and/or only one or two self interested individuals are the main beneficiaries of these grand initiatives...They've climbed the greasy pole to land their next gig.

It was not until 2016 that I had an appreciation about how and why this happens... and discovered that it happens to the most innovative companies who have most stringent recruitment practices

"One of the biggest lessons I've learned over the years is that the business world (and the world itself) is filled with poseurs. These people are quite clever at figuring out what you want them to say, and then saying it exactly the way you want to hear it. I first learned about the omnipresence of phonies during the early days of Atari. The custom chip business was very difficult and time consuming. and because it could take at least a year to get it working, a whole cadre of people posing as chip designers would always find ways to leave the company or get fired before the chip ever worked. Steve Jobs once told me that there were many employees at Apple who never got a single chip working. I told him it was the same at Atari. These people were able to go from job to job to job, doing something that seemed creative but yielding zero output"
Nolan Bushnall, Finding the Next Steve Jobs

The answer to the question: Who is there that cares? 

It is not with the people who stand up and give fine speeches but yeild zero output. It's with the people who have "Boots on the Ground" "Skin in the game" or however you want to phrase people with commitmentHow This Teacher Noticed A Problem In Her Classroom And Built A Company To Solve It

I thought that my challenges in looking for work in Community Management in Education Technology was because there were few opportunities in Scotland and/or because this was a bit of a niche market.

However... go take a look at how many Tech jobs there are in Scotland. It sure ain't setting the heather on fire! It's far from "Braw" at least from what I can see at the start of this year of young people.

Amazon is an amazingly innovative company but it would appear that the best Scotland can here is warehouse staff and delivery drivers... There's no differentiation so these people are commodities, that is until the bots replace them I guess?

IBM can get bought over and a Scottish manufacturing plant can be moved to China without any hesitation?

So what's going on here then? Who's at fault? The company for looking after shareholders interests? The government for not ensuring that the workforce was not creative enough so the site got expanded instead of closed? Educators for not being relevant to local employers needs?

"If you want to create and capture lasting value, don't build an undifferetiated commodity business" Zero to One

I don't know the answer to this, what I do know is that my kids have an interest in careers in technology but the opportunities don't look as good as they seem elsewhere... Who is it in Scotland that will fix this in the way that Fred Terman did in the 1930s?

Fred Terman was an educator and, as the article highlights, is the Father of Silicon Valley, educators are also more trusted than our politicians... so there's a rather serious precedent for Educators being the catalyst for changing the economic and job prospects of their students.

Here what a Stanford Professor, Sebastian Thrun, is doing today to help with some of these issues

Can Proactive Reskilling Today Prevent Job Loss in the Future

Outside of Tech and regardless of the metric you use the World of Work in Scotland is rather underwhelming... and I'm not sure I'd be too reliant on that #GoDo financial institution RBS given their "Too-big-too-fail... but can't-seem-to-run-at-a-profit-for-nine-years-and-counting-despite-money-being-their-core-business" record.

Unicorn companies 
Two that I could see - Skyscanner and Fanduel.

Angel List

Never more than a handful of startups hiring at any one time on this popular startup platform. What about some of the popular entrepreneurial initiatives in Scotland, I hear you cry? I agree with Andrew Mitchell Too much Kool Aid as he highlights:

"The average turnover (£23,129 per company pa) and investment (£22,279 per company pa) is not so good"

Organisational Culture

The majority of Scottish jobs on Glassdoor have ratings of 2-3 stars and the company Head Office is not in Scotland. Only one company, Shuh, featured as a Glassdoor top UK companies in 2017 who have their Head Office in Scotland.

And of the tech jobs that there are - or even if there was an abundance of them - who would get those jobs?

Let's just say, if the status quo continues, I look forward to seeing the attainment gap being addressed as kids from Easterhouse and Drumchapel vie for the same opportunities as the privileged St Andrew's University students.

You only need to compare the pathetic offering of the New Enterprise Allowance and the people who administer it with the support that the "Better Classes" get (Man! The story I could tell about the NEA "Workshop" I attended! It would be hilarious... if it wasn't such a serious issue!)

So my thoughts and experiences with these issues where as bright as the Scottish weather... That was until.

Happy New Year! #AppsThatMatter
As a fan of Adam Grant's work I do what I can to encourage a culture of giving.

This includes reaching out to people in the New Year to ask if I might be able to do them a quick "5 Minute Favor" this is an article that is also part of my core values.

The reaction when I ask people if I can help never ceases to amaze me! But as one very good friend tells me when we share our battle scars from all the "takers" and "fakers" that we've encounter when I ask why we keep plodding on like this in such a difficult space:

"Because there are good guys out there"

One of those good guys appears to be MAD Learn and they have a super exciting initiative which, just like Bloodhound's Education program, could go a long way in inspiring a young creator or two... and help their ideas get funded.

This is not the first time that MAD Learn has been a bright spot, nor am I surprised to be writing about their work again!!

The company staff have classroom experience and have co-created with educators ever since they started. Their engagement at ISTE stood out amongst all the exhibitors as a result of this kind of co-creation and collaboration:

I would encourage anyone in my network and anyone reading this to check out MAD Learn's Mad About Mattering initiative where students can collaborate with young people around the world to create #AppsThatMatter

Are you MAD About Mattering?
MAD Learns initiative could not have a better name as far as this project is concerned.
  • I'm MAD about what matters!
  • I'm MAD about what will matter to my kids! 
  • I'm MAD about the missed opportunity FE had with the 2014 version of FELTAG 
  • I'm MAD about what seems like the now inevitable job cuts to the FE sector as new models could see admissions decline
  • I'm MAD that any tech opportunities will go to the same cultural advantage (family background) that Professor Lewis Termin identified in children with high IQs in the 1920s... This will be perpetuated and built upon with any Tech opportunities, regardless of whatever the Attainment Gap (No progress from what I saw in the last update on the program) thinks it is going to achieve 
  • I've given up with being MAD at the political classes... I simply don't rate them! (If you read Will Blacks Psychopathic Cultures you might find yourself thinking, like I do and that they are the cause of a lot of the problems. They most 100% definitely do NOT appear to the source of many of the solutions!)
FELTAG Vs Udacity - Zero to One
The day after publishing this post I got Peter Theil and Blake Master book "Zero to One" which is a far better way of articulating my views three years ago (And is a far more credible source too) 

"New technology tends to come from new ventures - startups. From the Founding Fathers in politics to the Royal Society in science to Fairchild's "Traitorous eight" in business, small groups of people bound together by a sense of mission have changed the world for the better. The easiest explanation for this is negative: it's hard to develop new things in big organisations, and it's even harder to do by yourself. Bureacratic hierarchies move slowly, and entrenched interests shy away from risk. In the most dysfunctional organisations, signaling that work being done becomes a better strategy for career advancement than actually doing work (If this describes your company, you should quit now). At the other extreme, a lone genius might create a classic work of art or literature, but could never create an entire industry. Startups operate on the principle that you need to work with other people to get stuff done, but you also need to stay small enough so that you actually can.

Positively defined, a startup is the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future. A new company's most important strength is new thinking: even more important than nimbleness, small size affords space to think... That is what a startup has to do: question received ideas and rethink business from scratch"

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