Some Great Advice – Focus on High Leverage Activities

From a fragment of a discussion on Quora – What’s the single most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your professional life?  (there are over 228 answers). This one from Edmond Lau was one of my favorites. There are many good points in this answer. Here is one, I really like:

Mentoring new hires.  Mentoring (and really managing) is an extremely high-leverage activity.  Over the course of a year, an employee will spend somewhere between 1880 to 2820 hours working (assuming 47 work-weeks and somewhere between 40-60 hours per week working).  Spending 1 hour every day for a month (20 hours) mentoring or training a new hire may seem like a lot of time, but it represents only about 1% of the total time the new hire will spend working his/her first year and yet can have a significant influence over the productivity and effectiveness on the other 99% of those hours..

LearnLog: 30 Million Word Gap and Why You Should Talk to Your Kids a Lot

From Support children’s learning by talking with them over a book

Almost two decades ago, in 1995, Hart & Risley published the results of a landmark study [1] that linked success in school at age nine to the amount of talk they hear from birth to age three.  The actual difference in the amount of words children hear is astonishing; successful children heard on average 8 million more words per year than their struggling peers, leading to what was termed the “30 million word gap” by the time they turn four.

I was just lucky to chance upon an SVForum Event in Santa Clara. A friend who runs the Digital SIG invited me. The talk was given by the founder of Kindoma. It was fascinating to listen to his journey.  Here are some highlights:

  • Kindoma is made up of two words German words-  Kind and Oma. Kind in German means “the kid” and Oma stands for grandma. Kindoma’s mission is to connects kids and their grandparents to benefit both.
  • One stat Tico (the founder of Kindoma) showed was that grand parents spend over 16B dollars for their grand kids.
  • Kindoma was a research project in Nokia and later became an independent company.
  • Tico explained how they went through research prototypes (two of them) and how they learned the behavior of families – kids, parents, grandparents and how they used their knowledge to build their products.
  • In US on an average grand parents are more than 200 miles away from their grand kids (and several thousands for many immigrant families).
  • The current mode of connection is phone or skype. Tico showed videos of actual interactions using each mode and discussed the issues with each one of them

Other Related Posts

Kindoma – a few slides

LinkLog: A for Apps

This is a learning trend to watch. Here is an article from Fast Company titled A for Apps.

When the Singer sisters were just 6 months old, they already preferred cell phones to almost any other toy, recalls their mom, Fiona Aboud Singer: “They loved to push the buttons and see it light up.” The girls knew most of the alphabet by 18 months and are now starting to read, partly thanks to an iPhone app called First Words, which lets them move tiles along the screen to spell c-o-w and d-o-g. They sing along with the Old MacDonald app too, where they can move a bug-eyed cartoon sheep or rooster inside a corral, and they borrow Mom’s tablet computer and photo-editing software for a 21st-century version of finger painting. “They just don’t have that barrier that technology is hard or that they can’t figure it out,” Singer says.

Gemma and Eliana belong to a generation that has never known a world without ubiquitous handheld and networked technology. American children now spend 7.5 hours a day absorbing and creating media — as much time as they spend in school.

Three Courses Every Engineering Institution Should Consider Adding

In addition to teaching core engineering subjects, I think we need to add three (may be optional) courses.

1. Entrepreneurship
2. Learning and Thinking
3. Innovation

The idea is to give students an appreciation of what entrepreneurship is all about. Students joining smaller start-ups learn every thing faster in the first few years (though may not make as much money).

We take both learning and thinking for granted. The best training we can give students is the ability to understand how they learn and think. We can include several aspects of thinking including critical thinking, later thinking, thinking about thinking etc. Learning to learn is taught implicitly (by just forcing them to learn a lot). Increasing awareness of learning styles, multiple intelligence will help students realize several ways to accelerate their learning.

Innovation is taking ideas and realizing an implementation (the joy of doing). Most of the labs I see repeat some standard set of problems. Why not let the students do a bit of exploration and research in problems they are interested in solving and innovate in identifying and solving problems?

Posted via email from Dorai’s posterous

Understanding Expertise

Have you watched an expert at work? You can sense  a level of comfort and fluency. I often watch expert programmers code, debug, fix problems in software.  I get the same sense watching painting shows on TV. A stroke here, a stroke there and suddenly you have a beautiful creation taking shape, right in front of you.

I always wondered what makes experts experts. I thought it was intelligence or just a lot of experience. It seems to be a lot more than that. I never dug deeper into the subject and suddenly I stumbled into this, while exploring a completely unrelated subject.

People who have developed expertise in particular areas are, by definition, able to think effectively about problems in those areas. Understanding expertise is important because it provides insights into the nature of thinking and problem solving. Research shows that it is not simply general abilities, such as memory or intelligence, nor the use of general strategies that differentiate experts from novices. Instead, experts have acquired extensive knowledge that affects what they notice and how they organize, represent, and interpret information in their environment. This, in turn, affects their abilities to remember, reason, and solve problems.

… the study of expertise shows what the results of successful learning look like…

We consider several key principles of experts’ knowledge and their potential implications for learning and instruction:

    1. Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices.
    2. Experts have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organized in ways that reflect a deep understanding of their subject matter.

    3. Experts’ knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or propositions but, instead, reflects contexts of applicability: that is, the knowledge is “conditionalized” on a set of circumstances.

    4. Experts are able to flexibly retrieve important aspects of their knowledge with little attentional effort.

    5. Though experts know their disciplines thoroughly, this does not guarantee that they are able to teach others.

    6. Experts have varying levels of flexibility in their approach to new situations.

Now we know. Or at least, have some theories to explore. The fragments above, were taken from the second chapter – How Experts Differ from Novices of a really fascinating book – How People Learn.

Good Reads: An Element of Beauty in Learning

There is an element of beauty versus duty in learning most things. When the task is all duty, you may do it, but you may never like it. Indeed, you may come to hate it and stop altogether when the external forces that keep you on task (your teammates, your sense of belonging) disappear. When you enjoy the beauty of what you are doing, everything else changes.

From Eugene’s Math and Computing as an Art.

I think I finally found my morning reading. I stumbled upon this blog following threads of a controversy about a new CS curriculum and ending up in A Small Curricular Tempest. I spent a few hours, reading many of his posts, before I realized that I spent a few hours. This is what used to happen when I was a teenager and in early twenties. Endless hours of reading, engrossed and not even noticing the passage of time.

Thanks Eugene for making my day a bit better and giving me lots of stuff to read.

The Mismatch Problem

I was watching this video of Malcolm Gladwell’s talk over the weekend and enjoyed every minute of it.  Malcolm has the uncanny ability to look at problems in new ways. He was talking about the challenges in finding the right people to hire in various professions. He calls it the “mismatch problem”   According to Malcolm, the problem exists because:

  1. Our desire for certainty in a world where uncertainty is the norm
  2. The growing complexity of every profession increases mismatch

He points out, how, in various fields from sports to teaching, metrics used to select candidates do not really reflect the reality of the changing requirements of the job.

In software we do the same. We try to measure some of the basic skills like knowledge of software development including programming, conceptual understanding, ability to solve simple problems. The true attributes, however, are more complex and are not easy to measure in a test or in a few interviews. These include the ability to work in a team, ability to learn and communicate, a healthy curiosity and a certain amount of pride in work. Our challenge is to figure out how to train our employees in these  new skills.

LinkLog: Software

This blog is such a wonderful source of information. Here are just a few of the posts:

How a beautiful idea becomes a Frankenstein system is a must read for every software developer. Here is a small fragment of a much more comprehensive diagram in this post.


I always thought that we built tools to take boring repetitive parts of the work and automate it. How Tools Frame Programmer’s Mindset makes you reflect a lot more about the tools. What qualities should effective programmer tools have? The author identifies three:

  • Usability – enhance flow of programmer’s ideas or at least don’t impede and interrupt this flow.
  • Representation – enable easy for understanding and modification representation of the structure, ideas and domain concepts in the code.
  • Agile development friendly

From Beginners to master programmers – First Language and More is a problem that faces every training organization. When I started working on Learning Point, this was one of my constant worries. I have seen several threads of discussions on the choice of first language for programming.

This blog post is a good starting point. Hopefully I will have more to contribute after my current experiment with 5 interns for the next six months.

  1. Train clear logical thinking.
  2. Understand modern software concepts and environments.
  3. Learn to effectively implement customer needs.

Why, How and Why Not?

As children, we are always questioning people. As we grow older, we question less and less and accept more.  Corinne Miller, suggests that this may be because of the perception that asking questions is a sign weakness and describes how we can change this.

“What’s your favorite question? Over the years we’ve found that the most popular answers to this question are ‘why,’ ‘how,’ and ‘why not’ in that order. A trend we’ve also observed is that those who ask ‘why’ are typically more holistic or whole-brained thinkers, those who ask ‘how’ are typically more box thinkers, and those who ask ‘why not’ are typically the challenging thinkers. All types, of course, are equally valuable and equally required for innovation!”

Questions stimulate the brain! Questions use verbs and words that activate key areas of the brain that, in turn, increase the volume and variety of questions. The more questions, the more creativity and innovation. We like to say that questions open the innovation pipeline.

This article questions why people do not question and suggest ways of changing this.

  • Why as you become older, we question less and less?
  • How do we build questioning into a part of  business culture?
  • Four steps in developing question banks – identifying, collecting, organizing and refining

One of the habits I am trying to develop among our interns and students is to keep a log of the following activities.

  1. A question log
  2. A learning log (things that they learn on a daily basis)
  3. An idea log

I personally use a personally wiki for this. After reading this article, we may want to extend the wiki to act as a question bank for each project.

LinkLog: Future of Learning

This is from a blog about Stephen Downes seminar in Malaysia on how to use Web 2.0 tools for learning.  It has great links to lots of useful resources for both learners and teachers too.

I especially liked the part about Future Learning Directions

  • Learning as Creation
  • Social Learning
  • Personal Learning Environments
  • Immersive Learning
  • Living Arts

I regularly read Stephen Downes blog and get his newsletter and I learn a lot about learning.