Breakthrough Technologies – Search Trends

August 30, 2017

PwC, in July 2016, published Tech breakthroughs megatrend where they screened 150 technologies for global business impact and selected eight technologies that they think would have the most impact over the next three to seven years.

Forrester, in September 2016, published Forrester’s Top Emerging Technologies To Watch: 2017-2021 which listed 15 emerging technologies, of which they also included Internet of Things, Intelligent Agents (Robotic process automation), Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Artificial Intelligence. However, they excluded Blockchain, 3D Printing, and Drones as they didn’t think those technologies will have the biggest impacts in the next five years.

Gartner, in August 2017, published 2017 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, which includes each of the eight technologies at various positions in time with regards to expectations:

  • 3D printing (now 4D Printing which adds the dimension of time) in the innovation trigger phase;
  • Robots (Smart Robots), Internet of Things (IoT Platform), AI (Deep Learning, Machine Learning and Cognitive Computing), Blockchain, and Commercial UAVs (Drones) in the peak of inflated expectations phase;
  • Augmented reality in the trough of disillusionment phase; and
  • Virtual reality in the slope of enlightenment phase.

Looking at the technologies listed in the PwC paper, I decided to take a cursory look at how these eight technologies have trended over the 12 months since the paper was published. Using Google Trends to examine search interest over time for these eight technologies, it came out in order as Robots, Drones, Virtual Reality, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing, Internet of Things, and Augmented Reality.

Looking at interest by region, it was interesting to see that different countries had different most popular search interests – Japan and Russia (Robots); Australia and United States (Drones); Denmark and Indonesia (Virtual Reality); China and Singapore (Blockchain); and, India and Pakistan (Artificial Intelligence).

Robots search interest peaked around March 2017, and finished ~25% above its starting point in search interest over the 12-month period. Highly related queries included ‘robots war’, ‘transformers robots’, and ‘movie robots’ indicating consumer association with the technology related to games and movies. Lesser related queries included ‘human robots’ and ‘real robots’.

Drones search interest peaked around Christmas / New Year, and finished ~10% above its starting point in search interest over the 12-month period. Highly related queries included ‘camera drones’, ‘dji drones’, and ‘drones for sales’ indicating the strong consumer association with the technology.

Virtual Reality search interest peaked around Christmas / New Year, and finished ~20% below its starting point in search interest over the 12-month period. Highly related queries included ‘virtual reality headset’, ‘virtual reality glasses’, and ‘virtual reality games’ indicating the strong consumer association with the technology.

Blockchain search interest trended strongly upwards throughout the year, and finished ~250% above its starting point in search interest over the 12-month period. The highest related query was bitcoin, which was the first distributed blockchain and famous for the technology.

Artificial Intelligence search interest trended upwards throughout the year, and finished ~90% above its starting point in search interest over the 12-month period. Highly related queries included ‘learning artificial intelligence’ and ‘what is artificial intelligence’ suggesting a lesser understanding of the technology. Lesser related queries included ‘artificial intelligence jobs’, ‘artificial intelligence programming’, and ‘artificial intelligence software’.

3D Printing search interest trended slightly upwards throughout the year, and finished ~10% above its starting point in search interest over the 12-month period. Highly related queries included ‘3D printing software’, ‘3D printing service’, ‘3D printing pen’, and ‘3D printing design’.

Internet of Things search interest trended slightly upwards throughout the year, and finished ~10% above its starting point in search interest over the 12-month period. Highly related queries included ‘what is internet of things’ and ‘internet of things definition’, and other related queries included ‘internet of things examples’ and ‘internet of things meaning’ suggesting a lesser understanding of the technology.

Augmented Reality search interest trended slightly downwards throughout the year, and finished ~20% below its starting point in search interest over the 12-month period. Highly related queries included ‘google augmented reality’, ‘augmented reality apps’, and ‘android augmented reality’, and other related queries included ‘pokemon go augmented reality’ and ‘hololens’ suggesting a more directed search of this technology. The drop in search interest correlates with Gartner placing this in the trough of disillusionment.

Time, innovation, and society will determine how these breakthrough technologies will impact the world, businesses and consumers.

Note: This blog post also appears on LinkedIn Pulse.

Farewell QSR International

August 3, 2017

After 14 years with QSR International, it’s time to move on and explore something new.

It’s been an honour and privilege to work with, lead and learn from so many capable people over the past 14 years.  There have been many great times and some difficult changes navigated; including forming new teams, creating new products, and introducing new development methodologies.  I’ve made many great friendships along the way which I will always appreciate.  I particularly enjoyed working with my teams, direct reports and peers in the executive team over the years.  It was a special privilege to have worked closely with the original founders Tom Richards and Lyn Richards, as well as long term serving CEO John Owen.

My time at QSR International took me to many countries around the world; United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Qatar, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam.  The travelling was hectic at times, but it has broadened my understanding of the world and given me a greater appreciation of different cultures and what connects us as humanity.  Particular travel highlights included attending Apple WWDC conference in San Francisco, attending Microsoft Build conference in Seattle, presenting at Universities around the world, and conducting a live-demo in Japan with Japanese data (and no I don’t know Japanese, but did have a translator).

I am proud of what my teams have accomplished over the years.  Firstly, adoption of new technology, from building NVivo for Windows 7 using .NET 1.1 when it was a relatively new language, to building NVivo for Mac 10 using Objective-C when few of us had any knowledge of it.  Secondly, innovation of new data analysis methods, from new analytical approaches to identify patterns within data to incorporating machine learning to handle larger volumes of data.  Thirdly, early introduction of new infrastructure, moving from physical servers to virtual servers to the cloud.  Lastly, hack days were an important event to surface ideas and demonstrated the breadth of talent within the company.

It was great to see the company receive recognition along the way with numerous industry awards, including Governor of Victoria Export Award for ICT and the Dell Small Business Excellence Award for innovative use of information technology in better serving customers.  The Dell Award was particularly fulfilling as we got to meet Michael Dell in person and spend 2 days with Dell executives overseas.

I would also like to thank the many technology partners that I have worked with that ensured our success, including AWS, Dell, Lexalytics, Microsoft, Monash University, and Readify to name a few.  Building integrations with other software vendors such as SurveyMonkey and Qualtrics were both challenging and rewarding.

QSR International had fantastic company celebrations for important milestones, from flying the whole company to Sydney to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, to flying the whole company to King Island on DC3s for the day.  I recall fondly presenting at a Board meeting and having the Board of Directors serve champagne to celebrate my 10 years of service.  I appreciate the opportunity afforded to me to study at Harvard Business School.

Ultimately, looking back you remember the people whom you interacted with and what you accomplished together.  We did great things.

What’s next?  Something new.  What that is?  I will let you know soon.

Note: This blog post also appears on LinkedIn Pulse.

Popular Techniques for Visualizing Qualitative Data

July 24, 2017

In May 2017, I was privileged to present at the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry on ‘Popular Techniques for Visualizing Qualitative Data’. This blog post is a summary of that presentation.

Qualitative data (sometimes referred to as unstructured data) is virtually any information that can be captured that is not numerical in nature. Qualitative data includes electronic journal articles, audio from interviews, video from focus groups, open ended question responses from online surveys, social media posts, and much more.

Visualizing qualitative data is useful for providing clarity during analysis and helps to communicate information clearly and efficiently to others. Representing data visually is useful during analysis for identifying connections and patterns which would otherwise be difficult to discern. Using visualization techniques is a continual analysis process, rather than being included at the end of data collection.

In early 2017, QSR International conducted a survey on SurveyMonkey with qualitative researchers around the world from academia, health, not for project, government, and enterprises. This blog post looks at the 1,020 survey responses, focusing on popular techniques for visualizing qualitative data; those visualizations that are regularly used, those visualizations that are used to explore or gain insights, and those visualizations that are used to report on or share information.


Visualizations that are regularly used

Qualitative researchers regularly use the following visualizations:

  • 56% Coding Stripes which are colored bars displayed alongside content that allows visual scanning of sections of content to assist in seeing patterns and co-occurrence of themes, sentiment, or cases.
  • 31% Word Clouds which reflect the language within the data by emphasizing the most commonly occurring words in the context of other frequently occurring words by using font size to indicate the number of times a word occurs.
  • 28% Charts which are used to explore and present aggregated data such as the makeup of themes for content or which content makes up a theme.
  • 25% Word Trees which display a key word with context displayed as branches that grow based on frequency; they assist in finding recurring themes or phrases that surround the key word by using branch size to indicate the number of times a sentence occurs.
  • 17% Concept Maps which are used to map out connections to present ideas, interpretations, or theories; these are typically a free-form visualization made up of different shapes and connectors to articulate links such as this causes, this requires, or this contributes to.
  • 15% Mind Maps which are a brainstorming tool that starts with a central topic or main idea; they can be used to map theoretical groups of concepts sorted into themes.
  • 14% Hierarchical Charts which visualize a hierarchy to see patterns in thematic structures or view demographics of cases and content; they use size to convey meaning and use color to show additional information.
  • 13% Explore Diagrams which focus on a single item, showing all the other items connected to it, allowing the user to step forward and back through the different connections between items.
  • 10% Comparison Diagrams which show what two items have in common and how they differ; they can be used to compare content, themes, or cases – to see their similarities and differences.
  • 9% Project Maps which are a way of visually exploring and presenting different items and connections within a research project; they can be used to identify emerging patterns, theories and explanations.
  • 8% Sociograms which are a graphic representation of social links that a person has; it plots the structure of interpersonal relations in a group and can assist in performing social network analysis on a population of cases and their relationships.
  • 5% Geovisualizations which refers to a set of tools and techniques supporting the analysis of geospatial data through interactive visualization; they provide deeper understanding of location groupings and is particularly useful with demographic information.


Visualizations used to explore or gain insights

Qualitative researchers use visualizations to explore or gain insights into their data as follows: 62% Coding Stripes, 41% Word Trees, 37% Word Clouds, 36% Charts, 27% Concept Maps, 26% Explore Diagrams, 25% Mind Maps, 22% Comparison Diagrams, 21% Hierarchical Charts, 15% Project Maps, 12% Sociograms, and 10% Geovisualizations.


Visualizations used to report on or share information

Qualitative researchers use visualizations to report on or share information as follows: 32% Charts, 27% Word Clouds, 18% Word Trees, 15% Concept Maps, 14% Hierarchical Charts, 12% Coding Stripes, 10% Mind Maps, 10% Explore Diagrams, 9% Project Maps, 9% Comparison Diagrams, 7% Sociograms, and 5% Geovisualizations.


Visualizations vary according to research stage

This survey revealed that qualitative researchers use a range of different visualizations with different preferences based on the stage of research. When visualizing data to explore or gain insights, Coding Stripes (62%) are the most popular technique; whereas when visualizing data to report on or share information, Charts (32%) are the most popular technique. Interestingly, Word Trees and Word Clouds are the second and third most popular techniques, swapping places depending on the stage of research.

It will be interesting to see how technology continues to impact how we visualize qualitative data in the future, and how we go about understanding human-generated content.

What visualizations have you used? How has your approach changed?

Note: This blog post also appears on LinkedIn Pulse.

Reflections on WWDC14

July 4, 2014

Last month I attended Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) from 2 June to 6 June 2014.  I had wanted to attend the previous 2 WWDCs, but was unable to get a ticket due to near instant sellouts. This year WWDC tickets were via ballot amongst Apple Developers and I was lucky to be selected.  It was a bit over 2 years ago at QSR International that I started to become familiar with Mac OS X as we started developing NVivo for Mac, coincidentally we publicly released NVivo for Mac on 5 June 2014. Before this, the majority of my commercial software development was with Microsoft Windows applications.


The keynote was introduced by Tim Cook (CEO) and focused on 3 major topics – OS X Yosemite, iOS 8, and improved developer support.

Craig Federighi (SVP of Software Engineering) introduced OS X Yosemite (10.10). This brought a refreshed interface with a cleaner design which was likely influenced by iOS. It changed the typography, refreshed icons, introduced a dark user interface mode, and translucent views.  Spotlight, the desktop search feature was broadened to include search results from the Internet. Continuity was announced which provides seamless transition between devices, including the ability to take phone calls from your Mac.

iOS 8 brought many usability improvements such as improved email app and interactive notifications, whilst also providing the corresponding Spotlight and Continuity changes. Health app which compiles and presents your health data from HealthKit which is open to other apps and institutions via controlled access. New photos app which improves photo editing and integration with iCloud. A new capability called Family Sharing enables sharing of photos, calendars and purchases from iTunes with up to six people.  Interestingly, the day before I flew to San Francisco, my son asked me if he could have his own iTunes account. I had said ‘no – I am not buying the same App several times, once for my iPad, once for your iPad, and once for your sister’s iPad’. Now with Family Sharing they can have their own account and ask permission for Apps they want to purchase from their device and I receive a notification to approve on my device.

It was pleasing to see the amount of investment that Apple was putting into improving support for developers. Xcode gained a new programming language called Swift which is like Objective-C without the problems of C. This will improve developer productivity and will make it easier for new developers to start developing on the Apple platform.  This reminded me of when Microsoft released C# without the problems of C++.  Xcode gained many necessary IDE improvements and new SDKs were introduced which open up exciting new possibilities – HealthKit (health data), Home Kit (home automation), Cloud Kit (cloud logic), and many gaming improvements. I predict that Apple will launch some new products later this year that will take advantage of these capabilities. A revamped App Store will provide app previews, app bundling, beta test support, and better analytics for developers on user purchases and usage.

It was great to have the opportunity to speak with Apple designers and engineers directly, including the ability to demonstrate your application and get feedback.

Having attended Microsoft Professional Developer Conferences in the past, it was interesting to contrast the differences, and it simplistically boils down to differences in culture which influences different priorities and delivers different products. Neither is better or worse, just different, and different is great!

Exploring Trends in Qualitative Data Analysis

December 10, 2013

Since 2006, QSR International has been conducting annual online surveys about qualitative data analysis.  These surveys assist us in having a macro view of those that undertake qualitative data analysis, identifying emergent industry trends, and improving our NVivo software to meet the future needs of qualitative researchers.

In this blog post, I wanted to share some of this survey data, and depending on interest share more trends in future blogs.  The charts below have been fitted with polynomial trend lines to reduce noise and assist with visual comparison.

Why do we survey and how?

Between 2006 and 2013, over 10,000 respondents from around the world have completed these surveys, answering 20 to 40 questions per survey.  The respondents to these surveys generally have job titles of analysts, consultants, lecturers, managers, professors, students and researchers.

For the past 3 years, the surveys were conducted via SurveyMonkey, with the analysis of the open-ended questions done within NVivo.  This has been made even easier now that NVivo integrates with SurveyMonkey directly via their API.

How do researchers collect their data?

Over the years we have asked respondents about how they collect their data and have found the following trends:

Most Popular Qualitative Data Collection Approaches

  • Interviews (e.g. one-on-one, in-depth) are the most popular approach with 81% of respondents stating in 2006 that they collected some of their qualitative data via interviews and by 2013 this had risen to 88%.
  • Articles and documents (e.g. literature reviews, government reports) which rose from 51% to 61%
  • Observation (e.g. field notes) which rose from 44% to 60%
  • Focus groups (e.g. group interviews) which rose from 40% to 53%
  • Self-report questionnaires (e.g. assessments and evaluations) which fell from 46% to 38%
  • Individual accounts (e.g. diaries, narratives) which rose from 22% to 35%.

More recent surveys over the past 3 years have highlighted the emergence of popular approaches leveraging online technologies, including online surveys (39% in 2013), online content (36% in 2013), and online communications (28% in 2013).

Overall, we are seeing greater diversity in data collection approaches.

What are the popular data formats?

We also noticed some interesting trends in the digital data formats that are collected by researchers:

Most Popular Qualitative Data Formats

  • Documents (e.g. Word, PDF) have been the most popular format collected; with 73% of respondents stating that they captured some of their qualitative data as documents in 2006 and by 2013 this had risen to 86%.  This increase can be partially attributed to improvements in reference management software and databases, providing more convenient access to digital articles and papers.
  • Audio (e.g. mp3, m4a) which rose from 51% to 79%, the increase in audio collection is likely due to improvements in technology and more respondents conducting interviews, focus groups and observation research.
  • Spreadsheets (e.g. Excel, CSV) which rose from 45% to 51%
  • Web (e.g. html web pages and social media) which rose
    from 45% to 47%
  • Images (e.g. gif, jpeg) which rose from 23% to 40%
  • Video (e.g. mp4, 3gp) which rose from 18% to 40%

Given the range of data formats collected by respondents, NVivo has evolved to ensure that such needs are met, with documents supported in version 7 (2006) and prior; audio, images, and video in version 8 (2008); spreadsheets and databases in version 9 (2010); and web and social media in version 10 (2012).

What about methodologies?

We also found that the methods of qualitative data analysis continue to evolve:

Most Popular Qualitative Data Analysis Methods

  • Mixed methods has been the most popular approach reported; with 50% of respondents stating that they used mixed methods for some of their research in 2006 and by 2013 this had risen to 69%.  This corresponds with many methodologists advocating that multiple strategies such as qualitative and quantitative enhance validity of the research.
  • Grounded theory which rose from 43% to 55%
  • Ethnography which rose from 24% to 39%
  • Discourse analysis which rose from 25% to 33%
  • Evaluation which rose from 21% to 25%
  • Phenomenology which rose from 17% to 25%

More recent surveys over the past 3 years have highlighted other popular methodologies such as interpretive analysis (36% in 2013), narrative analysis (36% in 2013), conversation analysis (21% in 2013), and framework analysis (15% in 2013).  NVivo does not dictate the method, this is a decision that the researcher must decide and the software supports.

More data, more methods, more variety

Over this 7 year period we have witnessed that respondents conducting qualitative data analysis are employing a broader range of data collection approaches resulting in more varied digital data formats being collected and undertaking an increasing range of analysis methodologies.

Sometimes it is hard to notice the constant change in today’s information age; since the start of this millennium we have seen digital cameras and smart phones become ubiquitous, online search providing access to an incredible diversity of information, and the rise of social media changing how we communicate.

It will be interesting to see how technology impacts how we collect data in the future, the forms that it takes, and how we go about understanding its content.

What trends have you noticed? How has your approach changed to accommodate them?

Note: This blog post also appears at The NVivo blog.

Hack Days – Creating New Product Innovation

May 14, 2013

A hack day (also known as hackathon, hackfest or codefest) is an event in which those involved in software development collaborate intensively on software projects over 1 to 5 days to create new product innovation.

Where does the idea come from?

Companies that run hack days include Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, NASA, and many more.  I was convinced that we at QSR International should also be running hack days to empower our talented staff to create more inventions for our customers and employees.

QSR International’s company values are articulated as collaboration, innovation, and celebration.  Our hack day goals supported our company values and were summarized as:

  • Collaborate with Peers
  • Innovate the Platform, Product, or Process
  • Celebrate the Demonstration of Ideas

Choosing a theme

We undertook our first hack day in October 2012 and set the theme ‘Invent the Future’ which was inspired from the quote ‘the best way to predict the future is to invent it’ by Alan Kay. Our second hack day was in March 2013 and set the theme ‘Leadership through Innovation’ which was inspired from the quote ‘innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower’ by Steve Jobs.  We will continue doing more hacks days every six months.

What’s involved in a hack day?

In the lead up to the hack day we created a wiki based charter of ideas originating from customers that had not been explored.  Participants were encouraged to choose one of these ideas or propose new ideas and seek out interested team members.

Our first hack day involved 37 employees working on 15 unique project ideas over 2 days.  Given the success and interest in the first hack day, the second hack day involved 49 employees working on 17 unique project ideas over 2 days.

Each day started with a stand-up meeting to describe each project idea and raise any assistance requests.  On the afternoon of the second day an exhibit was held to demonstrate and celebrate each of the project ideas to the whole company.

Hack_Day_Photo 1

Quality and diversity – how do you judge the best hack?

We assembled a judging panel consisting of the CEO, CTO (that’s me), Senior Project Manager, and an invited customer.  This judging panel had the difficult task of choosing the ‘most innovative’ and ‘most promising’ project idea.

Additionally, everyone in the company was given tokens to vote on the ‘most popular’ project idea.  The quality and diversity of demonstrable project ideas was incredible and exceeded most expectations.

Kevin Burfitt, our Senior Project Manager coordinated the hack days and when asked about his reflection on the hack days he had this to say:

“For two days we remove all the normal reporting structures, meetings and red-tape and just let people concentrate on their own innovative ideas.  Seeing the enthusiasm of so many people working together and bringing their hacks to life is inspiring.”

Hack_Day_Photo 2

Turning hacks into real features: Community Feed and Geovisualization

The NVivo 10 Service Pack 2 released in February 2013 included 2 hack day project ideas from the first hack day.  The first was the Community Feed which facilitated the ability to provide live news, tips, and video tutorials to users of NVivo within NVivo.

Screenshot of Community Feed and Geovisulization

Screenshot of Community Feed and Geovisulization

The second was Geo-visualization which facilitated geospatial visualization of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter data captured using NCapture (a browser add-in) for analysis within NVivo.

Encouraging creativity and passion

We are proceeding with a half dozen hack day project ideas that will find their way into product releases and company process over the remainder of this year.

Hack days support building an innovative culture which allows experimentation, failure, and learning.  It enables participants to express their creativity and passion outside their day to day work and drives increased innovation within the organization.  The time constraint imposes the need for creative problem solving and early prioritization to ensure a demonstrable idea.

To finish, I quote Thomas Edison, one of world’s most prolific inventors in history:

“The real measure of success is the number of experiments that can be crowded into twenty-four hours”

Note: This blog post also appears at The NVivo blog.

Recruitment Observations – Getting your next job

August 28, 2012

Over the past 15 years, I have read over 4,000 resumes, interviewed over 300 candidates, and recruited over 100 employees.  This blog post talks about my recruitment observations over the years with advice to those seeking to be interviewed and how to be best prepared for the interview.

Before you send your details to a prospective employer, be selective.  Do not apply for every possible job that is listed, the scatter gun approach will not get you the interview and will waste everyone’s time.  It is better to apply for 10 jobs and get 3 interviews, than to apply for 100 jobs and get 1 interview.

1. Research the company and the job

Visit the companies website and learn about the company, their products and services, their customers, their suppliers, and their recent history.  Do an internet search for news on the company and visit their social media sites.  Determine whether this is a company that you are passionate about and want to work for.

Check your personal networks to see if you know someone that works at the company.  This is made a lot easier with professional social network sites like LinkedIn where you can see your connections and their connections.  Ask your network about the company, their work culture, and information about the job.  Many company’s have referral programs and your contact may refer you giving you an advantage in the selection process.

2. Provide a tailored cover letter

The cover letter is your opportunity to market yourself and differentiate yourself.  The cover letter must be tailored to the job.  You should talk about why you are interested in the job and how your skills and experience relate to the job advertised.  One impressive candidate even provided a link to a relevant commercial application they created with a license key so I could look at their work.

Too often I receive generic cover letter’s that could be for any role, or worse still talk about a totally different role than that advertised.

3. Provide a concise resume

The resume should be concise and tailored to the job.  You should match the terminology and skills of the job advert where applicable and only briefly mention any irrelevant positions.

Too often I read resumes with spelling errors and MS Word highlights these for my attention; this has even occurred for roles where language skills are important such as Technical Writers.

A good resume length is 5 pages or less, the ability to summarize is important, more detail is not always better.  I have seen some fantastic 2 page resumes that are concise, relevant, and inspiring; in contrast to some painful 20 page resumes that are repetitive, irrelevant, and boring.

4. Prepare for the interview

Find out who will be your interviewers and do some research on them.  Check if any of your contacts know them.  Check their LinkedIn or Facebook pages to learn more about them and see if they have a blog.

Arrive 5 – 10 minutes before the interview.  To be safe, arrive 30 minutes earlier, and relax in a nearby cafe, it is never good to be late and flustered.

Respond to questions with 1 to 2 minute responses.  I have seen candidates that answer with 10 second responses through to candidates that provide 20 minute responses, both of which left us wondering.  For behavioral questions, provide responses that follow the STAR (situation, task, action, result) format.

Do not speak negatively about previous managers or positions.  I am hesitant to recruit applicants with a history of negative experiences, I want those in my team that have a history of contributing to a positive working environment.

Ensure that you have some well thought out questions to ask at the interview.  This is your opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of the company and your interest in the role.

5. Follow up post interview

Candidates that send a thank-you email after the interview are rare, but this simple gesture is noticed.

Ensure that you have referees available that know about the role you applied for and will give you a positive reference.

Even if you do not succeed in getting the role, good candidates will leave a positive impression on the interviewers and may contact them when another relevant position becomes available.

Thoughts from Build Windows Conference

September 15, 2011

This past week I attended the Microsoft Build Windows conference in Anaheim, California.  The conference was focused on developing applications for the next version of Windows – known as Windows 8.

The keynote was presented by Steven Sinofsky (President of Windows and Windows Live Divisions) where he provided an overview and demonstration of Windows 8. Windows 8 introduces a new user interface called Metro (similar in appearance to Windows Phone and XBox) which is possibly the biggest change to the Windows user interface since Windows 95. Metro is designed for touch first and keyboard/mouse second, thereby changing how users interact with the operating system. In Metro there are no overlapping windows, nor are there any icons on the desktop – rather it has ‘living tiles’.  The operating system recedes into the background, whilst applications and content take front stage.

Windows 8 Start Screen

Microsoft claims that any application that runs on Windows 7 will run on Windows 8. To achieve this, Windows 8 provides both the Metro user interface and the traditional Desktop user interface, whilst allowing instant switching between both.  However, applications must be either Metro applications or Desktop applications.  Windows 8 effectively packages 2 different user interface paradigms and allows the single operating system to run effectively on both tablets and desktops.  This is a different approach to Apple which has separate operating systems with iOS for tablets and OS X for desktops.

The conference sessions focused on developing applications for the Metro user interface.  From the sessions, Metro appears great for developing content consumption applications targeted for consumers, but does seem lacking for content creation/productivity applications targeted for businesses.  I am interested in knowing what Microsoft plans to do with their productivity software, such as Word and Excel which are feature rich applications, whether they remain as Desktop applications or whether they can be reimagined into Metro applications.  I particularly like the Share Contract for Metro applications, but it is short-sighted in not allowing the Share Contracts to be used with Desktop applications.

The Windows Store is a good addition to Windows.  Metro applications can only be distributed via the Windows Store and must pass a certification process to ensure quality.  The revenue sharing model has not been released, but all Metro applications use a Microsoft licensing model which licenses software to an account which may be used across multiple devices.  The ability to specify a trial period for a Metro application is a good inclusion, and improves upon the separate Lite/Full version apps in the Apple App Store.  Desktop applications can be listed in the Windows Store if certified and continue to use traditional licensing and distribution methods.

LiveID plays an important role in Windows 8 by leveraging the Cloud to sync user profiles, preferences, applications and their associated data across devices.  Other nice aspects of Windows 8 is the fast boot, AppV support, chrome-less Internet Explorer, revamped Task Manager and the innovative picture passwords.

Metro applications reuse developer language skills in C, C++, C#, VB, HTML, and Javascript.  Developers will need to learn the Windows Runtime which is in a flavor similar to the .Net framework.  Desktop applications developed using the .Net Framework and Silverlight are part of the Windows 8 journey, but they are now relegated to the back seat, with Windows Runtime in the drivers seat and HTML5 calling shotgun.

Windows 8 Apps

Besides sessions on Windows 8, I was interested in Anders Hejlsberg’s session titled Future directions for C# and Visual Basic which demonstrated Project Rosyln – the compiler as a service.  I was also interested in Roger Doherty’s session titled Building mission critical database apps with SQL Server code name “Denali” which overviews the many great improvements in SQL Server for developers and needed a day of sessions to do it justice.

These are my thoughts after attending Build Windows over the past 4 days and look forward to seeing how Windows 8 evolves through the Developer Preview and Beta.  In summary, Windows 8 is a bold refresh of the Windows operating system, positioning to be the best user experience for a diverse range of device formats.

Feedback Loops and Agile Software Development

July 6, 2011

The June 2011 edition of Wired published the article The Feedback Loop by Thomas Goetz.  Thomas mentions:

“Feedback loops are powerful tools that can help people change bad behavior.  Just as important, they can encourage good habits, turning progress itself into a reward.”

Thomas discusses how feedback loops were used to change behavior in drivers by getting them to slow down in school zones.  A feedback loop involves four distinct stages, which I have paraphrased as follows:

  1. Data – gather evidence of behavior that can measured, captured, and stored
  2. Information – relay with emotional resonance the relevance of the data to the individual
  3. Consequence – reinforce purpose and enable the individual to sense opportunity to act on the information
  4. Action – individual engages  to recalibrate a behavior with action

The resulting action can then be measured and the feedback loop restarted with every action stimulating new behaviors that get them closer to the purpose or goal.

After reading the article, I contemplated that Agile software development is built upon feedback loops.  Agile software development is described as being a software development methodology based on iterative and incremental development where solutions evolve through collaboration.

Iterations or sprints are typically timeframes of one to four weeks resulting in working software.  An iteration is planned (goal), progress is captured via daily stand-up meetings (data) and communicated via burn down charts and quality metrics (information).  The team understands the goal and how the information relates (consequence) and is encouraged to improve (action).  These actions typically result in getting closer to the goal, whether that is via improved planning, efficiency or quality.

Agile developers typically receive feedback in many practices, including code reviews, unit tests, and continuous integration.  These are designed to encourage good habits.

Agile project management is responsible for ensuring purpose or goals are effectively communicated to the team and evidence collected of their achievement.  These goals would focus on value, quality, and constraints (scope, cost and schedule).  Project visibility is reported to stakeholders, providing feedback in another loop.

The Declaration of Interdependence was written in 2005 as an adjunct to the Agile Manifesto by a group of successful project leaders, as follows:

  • We increase return on investment by making continuous flow of value our focus
  • We deliver reliable results by engaging customers in frequent interactions and shared ownership
  • We expect uncertainty and manage for it through iterations, anticipation and adaptation
  • We unleash creativity and innovation by recognizing that individuals are the ultimate source of value, and creating an environment where they can make a difference
  • We boost performance through group accountability for results and shared responsibility for team effectiveness
  • We improve effectiveness and reliability through situationally specific strategies, processes and practices”

Without feedback loops, these values would not be achievable in the whole.  In particular, adaptation – the act of adapting  necessitates feedback.

ISV Perspective of Partnering with Microsoft

March 23, 2011

QSR International is an Independent Software Vendor (ISV) that develops and sells Qualitative Research software to an international market. Since 2004, I have been QSR International’s Executive Contact for the Microsoft Partner Network. QSR International has achieved the Gold ISV competency which represents organizations that have demonstrated the highest, most consistent capability and commitment within their business area. This blog post reflects my views on partnering with Microsoft as an Australian ISV.

To achieve an ISV Gold competency with Microsoft, an organization must accomplish the following:

  • Deliver a product that has passed either
    • Certified for Windows Server 2008 R2, or
    • Windows 7 Logo Test
  • Commit to achieving either
    • 12 customer deployments involving Microsoft technologies, or
    • US$50,000 in Microsoft product licensing sales
  • Provide a minimum of 5 customer references for your product
  • Provide a minimum of 10 customers to complete a satisfaction survey
  • Complete an organization profile
  • Pay a membership fee

The benefits of the partnership that we have leveraged are:

  • Access to training, technical support, and events
  • Partner newsletters with news and business opportunities
  • Attendance at the Microsoft Partner Conference
  • Internal usage licenses of Microsoft products for staff
  • MSDN subscriptions for developers and testers
  • TechNet subscriptions for IT professionals
  • Ability to use the Microsoft Partner Network branding
  • Access to ISV Royalty program

The partnership with Microsoft has greatly assisted the growth of QSR International over the past 7 years through empowering our people with relevant information, access to technology, and helping us deliver better products to our customers. The only weakness of the partnership has been with the usage of outsourced telesales Partner Account Managers who lack established connections within Microsoft Corp, struggle to understand your business, and turnover every 3-6 months. I have learnt personally that developing connections within Microsoft has to occur through peer networking and attending conferences. There are a lot of great people within Microsoft and these are the people you need to be connecting with, the Microsoft Partner Network is not a replacement for this, but does help you gain some recognition.  Overall, a highly recommended partnership for ISVs involved with Microsoft technologies.