Friday, December 28, 2012

The K-12 Computing Potato is Heating Up

Heading Into The Pipeline Soon
This won't be news to some of you - but we have a problem in K-12 Computer Science education. It isn't news to me either, but I have been seeing just how sticky it is from a new perspective recently. One of my projects has led to my reading detailed documentation about existing and proposed national education standards. And boy is it fascinating.

Now, we think (we know) we have some challenges in higher education because computing (the more internationally preferred term) is not always given the recognition it is due and that national and global economic needs indicate it most definitely deserves. One of the puzzlements (is that a word?) is reflected in the fact that post-secondary computing departments are sometimes found within Engineering, sometimes within Mathematics, sometimes under the Natural Sciences. But at least we recognize it when we see it. We have curricular recommendations for several computing programs (one of the most recent is CS2013 which I have written about before) and there is the option of rigorous departmental accreditation by ABET which is appropriate for some programs.

But I'm realizing in a profound way that part of the pipeline problem (whereby not enough students are coming up through the K-12 pipe who are both interested and prepared to study post-secondary computing) is that in some quarters - perhaps in a lot of quarters - there is fundamental confusion about what Computer Science is.

In curricular guidelines known as the Common Core, currently being adopted by many states in this country, the focus is on English Language Arts and Mathematics. No doubt the lead is taken from federal initiatives that emphasize the same. Unfortunately, No Computer Science prominently displayed. Now, we can find technology/information technology courses taught in many Vocational-Technical programs. Some of the Voc-Tech programs with an IT focus are really well done; well thought out, well taught, well assessed - but they aren't Computer Science.

Then there are the developing revisions of national recommendations for K-12 Science Education Standards. The last guidelines came out almost 20 years ago and it is well recognized that much has changed since then. However, based upon the Framework for Science Education it appears that Computer Science is not going to be included here either. Why not? Because it is deemed to be a branch of mathematics. The problem is, as I already noted, the K-12 Mathematics recommendations don't include Computer Science either.

Do you see where this is leading?

If no one is claiming computing then it gets lost in the shuffle. Not a trivial matter. 

Everyone agrees that computing is everywhere and undergirds professions everywhere. But there isn't a rush to claim it under any existing or proposed curricular umbrella. This feels like a game of pass the potato. It isn't a hot potato - yet.

On the optimistic front:

The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) has put together some impressive recommendations for making computing integral to K-12 (click here and scroll to the bottom of the page for the K-12 specific Model Curriculum document). Having read these guidelines in depth I am impressed by the thought that has gone into this tough task. It fits the bill and it makes perfect sense. There should be no question in anyone's mind after reading this documentation just what computing/computer science is with regards to primary and secondary education.

Now the hard work is really under way: making it happen.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Breathe. Or Else the Pink Will Get You.

Are you holding your breath? It is that time of year. I may have forgotten to breath several times recently. I've been head down up to my eyeballs both hands in feet buried in several big projects. Although many people go on vacation or disappear at this time of year, some people find that the approaching end of the calendar year means more than the possible end of the world. It means deadlines. From the people at the brokerage houses frantically trying to push through online trades before the so called fiscal cliff throws us all over the edge and for some people slams them with tax increases on their assets to the people employed in the retail stores at the pink pink pink colored malls who want your credit card and dollars in an ever so desperate way.

I found myself in a large mall recently and was overwhelmed by the PINK. My eyes, my brain, were registering screaming pink everywhere. Not red mind you, but PINK. Unfortunately for me I was wearing a pink sweatshirt so I blended in just fine. The keyboards behind the computerized cash registers were slick with greasy finger oil from sweating not terribly cheerful sales personnel.  Just buy the darned thing otherwise don't bother me. And I had a conversation with someone who works in the financial industry who sounded like they were about to pull their hair out (alas, I do not have to worry about any enormous assets) as they told me their computer was responding slowly that day. I'm sorry, it's a busy time of year, can you hold while I transfer you? Push 1 for our hours, Push 2 for online services, Push 3 for tech support... Push 14 for a Representative (followed by: I'm sorry but all of our representatives are busy. If you would like to leave your number we will return your call and you won't loose your place in line. Promise.)

I tortured a colleague by having him test an online Java tutorial today - he was gracious enough to spend part of his Saturday on it. I'm not sure if he was actually in his vacation hot tub in Arizona at the time but it is a distinct possibility.We had a video chat afterwards and I wasn't quite sure if the steam was coming from his head or from bromated water.

Meanwhile, my external hard drive went kaput. Shortly after I backed up years worth of pictures and data onto it, and deleted them from my computer - it died. Fully and completely died. I sadly retrieved it from the repair guys (a woman actually) who told me they had done their best but the data is DOA. I saw more women than men working at the Geek Squad today. Techies. Made me want to ask them about their professional interests in computing, but I was too preoccupied with the demise of my records. From the tight feeling in my chest later, I think I may have been forgetting to inhale much of the time.

Although the world did not come to an end yesterday, some, like House Speaker Boehner, may have felt that it did. I don't believe he can lay it on a computer however. Or the Mayans.

Crazy things happen at this time of year. You learn things you never expected to learn and you see things you never expected to see and people tell you things you never expected to hear. And sometimes you don't.

Impermanence. All things will inevitably change. The year will come to a close. The PINK will (hopefully) recede somewhat into the retail background and the dented keyboards at Macy's and Nordstrom and The Gap will have a chance to recover their shape or at least to dry off. The stock market computers and all the computers tied into them will prepare for the next hair raising economic and political upheaval. Projects will move on to their next stage of life. People will too.

Breathe. It is the holidays and the end of the year and perhaps a vacation of one sort or another or perhaps not or perhaps it is just plain crazy time. Breathe.

Sometimes we just forget to stop moving and breathe. And do it again.


As one friend of mine likes to say:

Now take

three deep breaths.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

M & M s

Definitely Not A Hot Topic

Two puzzling phenomenon have been running around in my head for some time and I'm wondering if there is a connection between the them. If there isn't, let's make one.

I spend a lot of time working with researchers in the computer science education community, and I have at least one of my limbs firmly planted in computing education policy circles. There is, I suspect, no computing educator or affiliate who is not familiar with "the MOOC question". One of computing education's favorite topics of conversation for several years has been the Massive Open Online Course. Things are only heating up. Who is involved in their creation and propagation, who is not? Where is the quality and where is it lacking? What is the potential and what is the threat? How do we respond?

There are probably those who would rather sit this one out. In response to that and other burning MOOC issues, in my next column for the ACM Inroads Magazine, due to appear in March, I go on for about 1000 words about the importance of engaging  creatively with MOOCS. I don't hear too many people vocally advocating for ignoring MOOCS. That would be inherently contradictory.

The point is: in computing education circles, the hottest topic of the day is, arguably, MOOCS.

Not so in the private tech sector. I also spend a lot of time with people in the private sector and many of them barely know about MOOCS. Or they simply don't feel it is of concern to them. Having done a bit of asking around, I hear, and am told by well-placed friends as well, that the private tech sector isn't all that engaged with the MOOC question. There are a whole host of reasons why they should be engaged with it. Maybe I'll write a column about that...

On the other hand, one of the hottest topics in high-tech is Mobile. Mobile is not The Future. Mobile has Arrived, as one of my UX (User Experience) colleagues reminded me recently. The markets are hot, hot, hot in all sorts of places related to hardware, software, services based upon Mobile. If you aren't into Mobile you are behind the innovation curve. Those industry colleagues I know who aren't working with Mobile in some respect say, either aloud or quietly, they wish they were. Or, at the very least, think they should be. Whether for personal interest, professional mobility (ouch), or simply for not being perceived as behind the times.

As with the MOOC issue and computing educators, it is an endangered species of high-tech employee that will advocate for ignoring Mobile.

On yet another hand, computing educators and in particular computing education researchers don't seem to be doing much with Mobile. The primary discussions about Mobile are about how to get students to unglue from their devices and pay attention to their education.

Which brings me to the burning desire to ask:

What are the possibilities for getting the greater high-tech industry more actively engaged with MOOCS in creative positive ways? 

What are the possibilities for getting the computing education / research community more actively engaged with Mobile in pedagogically creative ways?

Mobile MOOCS? 
Not a far fetched thought at all. 
What else?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

UX Design, Classic Art and Grounded Theory

Lo and Behold: Art meets User Experience Design meets Grounded Theory. At a local brewery no less.

This month's meeting of the UX (User Experience) Speakeasy group featured Julie Morgan from Digitaria sharing a few design case studies using a tool called Optimal Workshop. Standing in front of a large tank, presumably full to the brim with fermenting beer, Julie enthusiastically popped up images of artwork ranging from Van Gogh to Gustav Klimt to Jasper Johns, with a Roman arch tossed in for good measure.

Each of these pieces of art was an analogy to something in the user design research process. A Klimt piece related to music, which related to patterns and the search for harmony in web design. An early version of Van Gogh's Potato Eaters was tied to UX sketching and a later version to the final online design. There was something about a Roman arch in there when discussing Information Architecture. I didn't catch everything she said about it, but now I'm thinking about how one little center stone at the top holds the whole thing up for centuries. Brilliant. It also connects two sides, as in the desire to bridge the gap between users and designers - one of Julie's main points last night.

You see, that is what made the classical art analogies so interesting - they got you thinking in new ways. Looking for connections and inspiration from old to new.

Such as when Grounded Theory popped into my head. As Julie was explaining the different ways a technique called Card Sorting works, and how it can be done with Open or Closed categories, I knew I had heard this before. In Grounded Theory (a well established form of Qualitative Research methodology dating from the 1960s) you can observe people in their natural setting and see what patterns emerge, what categories or activities appear, and eventually develop a behavioral hypothesis from it. This would be a purist form of Grounded Theory. Very much like a UX Designer providing users a stack of cards with labels on them about something they care about, and watching what happens as they discuss them and sort them into categories of their choosing.

Alternatively,with Closed category Card Sorting you can test a user experience hypothesis about something (e.g. "they think this way about web design XYZ...and will behave this way...") using predetermined categories. Use the same cards as in the Open approach, and watch what happens as the users try to put the cards in your categories. Maybe all will go as predicted. Maybe it won't and they push back in some way. Oops, hypothesis not true, users hate this design. Very much like going into a Grounded Theory study with a hypothesis about user behavior, seeing what happens and adjusting codes, taxonomies and theories accordingly.

Inspiration takes place in all phases of these monthly meetings. Somehow, after the formal presentation, while discussing the relationship between art, design and how the commercial world works, I found myself in a deep and meaningful conversation about how to outwit Wireless providers (yes, those organizations that provide service for your mobile phone). There is art and skill to legally outsmarting those guys. Perhaps this reflects the desire to move from Edvard Munch's "The Scream" towards Monet's "The Magpie".

Monday, November 26, 2012

What is Your Opinion About Sustainability in the Computing Curriculum?

I'm making final edits to my blurb on Sustainability for a panel presentation description about social and professional issues in the computer science curriculum*. More precisely, I'm thinking about conflict. There isn't much time when you are on a panel. What to focus on, what to focus many choices and I'm conflicted. And oh boy, so will be some of my audience. Conflicted. Perhaps many of them, if past performance is any predictor of future performance. Which market analysts remind us all the time is not the case.

Yet, enlightened educators and psychologists tell us about the beneficial opportunities for managed conflict. Not the kind where you duke it out and slug your neighbor, but the kind where something provocative lands in your lap and you wrestle with it in a civilized manner as a group.

Sustainability in the computing curriculum is my little piece of the panel presentation**. When I wrote my original blurb I ended it with "Lisa will discuss the sometimes controversial sustainability knowledge unit in the social and professional practice knowledge area".

One of the anonymous reviewers asked: what is controversial? I wasn't sure if s/he was positively inclined and surprised by the statement or didn't know much about the issue and was just curious. I am 99.99% sure the reviewer was not negatively inclined towards the idea of sustainability in the computing curriculum. Anyone who gets all p.o.'d about the idea knows they are in conflict with a growing movement.

Another reviewer suggested that I bring up to speed members of the audience who are not familiar with the fundamental issues. In light of the first reviewer, this makes good sense. Ok, will do - if you wrote that and are reading this, then yes, I will make sure when I speak to cover the fundamentals for those who are not already deeply embroiled in everything.

And embroiled many people are. I was momentarily surprised to read the question asking what is controversial about infusing sustainability into the undergraduate computing curriculum. Perhaps because I routinely encounter professional colleagues who have strong opinions on the matter. In prior outreach on this issue I have encountered everything from:

"Thank goodness AT LAST this issue is being taken seriously!" 
"Oh no, not ANOTHER mandate being shoved down my throat!"

(Mandate? Mandate? They are called "recommendations" for a reason).

There are also people in the professional community of computing education who are curious, curious, to hear about what the controversy is all about. Not ready to bite my head off nor to shower me with roses. Just curious.

I am reminded by this reminder that rather than presuming either roses or rotten tomatoes when I speak next March, I can view this as a micro-classroom opportunity. Perhaps challenge the crowd with comments such as these:

Sustainability is part and parcel of computer science and you ignore it at your peril

Sustainability is more than reducing your electricity load - which we suck at by the way

The "solution" isn't sending your old electronics off to a developing country for recycling  and patting yourself on the back

I believe all of the these, and I could continue with some evidence, but the point isn't (and won't be) for people to sit and take solemn notes about the pros and cons and the logic of it all. The whole point here will not be for me to talk talk talk but to get people off their comfy little conference hall chairs and engaging with the challenge of sustainability in their classrooms. What a panel can provide is an opportunity for constructively dealing with a difficult, challenging, conflicted topic with one's peers. In person. Where it is a lot harder to flame someone.

If you are a computing educator and think sustainability in the classroom is great stuff but haven't overcome the challenges of curricular rubber hitting the road let's all wrestle with your excitement and questions.

If you are a computing educator and think infusing sustainability in the classroom is silly or impossible let's all wrestle with your skepticism.

If you are a computing educator and not sure what you think - even better. I would like to put you right smack in between your opinionated peers and let's all talk about it.

*The Panel will be presented at the SIGCSE 2013 Symposium in Denver, Colorado and is called: "Computer Science Curriculum 2013: Social and Professional Recommendations from the ACM/IEEE-CS Task Force".

**My fellow panelists and wonderful colleagues are: Beth Hawthorne - bravely moderating this adventurous panel, along with Flo Appel and Carol Spradling, both of whom are battle seasoned veterans of the social and professional issues world of computing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Do Elections and University Lectures Have in Common?

If you said "Ug" or something to that effect, you are not alone. Countless voters and students would agree with you. Making the effort to vote and the prospect of attending large lecture classes engender similar non-plussed reactions in many people.

I have been percolating on a relationship between the challenges of encouraging active, informed participation in a democratic electoral system and the challenges of encouraging active, informed participation in a traditional large college lecture course.

No doubt the alignment popped into my head earlier this month. Not only was it the waning days of a long painful national election, but I was simultaneously onsite with a university team that is developing an innovative model for increasing intrinsic motivation. Their focus is on those huge lecture courses often seen in large public institutions. The electorate, like the student body nationwide, may feel "I'm just a number, what does it matter, I have no real voice". Why bother to pay attention?

All of which leads to an electorate declining to vote, and/or voting without digging into the facts and implications of individual candidates and issues. Similar perhaps to students declining to attend class, and/or turning in homework and projects without truly engaging with them. Cynics stand back! because participation really does matter.


In a local election one's vote can make a visible difference, just as in a small intimate class one's voice will be more easily heard. In neither case will things always come out the way one wants but receiving feedback that one is making a difference often leads to increased intrinsic motivation. More participation follows, more positive learning results.

Some of the similarities don't cross over as well. Small intimate classes tend to be better attended than large impersonal ones, whereas local elections sometimes experience worse turnout than regional or national elections. Of course, attendance in a small class can occur because one loves the class or because one doesn't want to be called out for skipping. Be that as it may, avoiding punishment is an extrinsic motivation and doesn't lead to greater learning for the long haul.

Sad to say, I have no immediate implementable-today suggestions about how to tackle the problem of an electorate that lacks an intrinsic motivation to vote.

However, the educators and researchers I am working with in the Engineering School at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign are creatively tackling the intrinsic/extrinsic motivation challenge in the large lecture class.  For those of you not familiar how tough the situation is, consider these typical factors, which represent only part of the complicated picture around the country:

- Several hundred students are enrolled in a class with just one faculty member assigned to teach the course
- Class meetings are scheduled several times a week in a large impersonal lecture hall
- Smaller breakout sessions (sometimes called labs, study sessions, 'sections') are held once a week, and led by a graduate student teaching assistant
- The faculty member has little formal training in state of the art pedagogical techniques and no resources or ability to seek it out

On the other hand,

- The faculty member truly cares about her or his students' learning and wants students to succeed
- Teaching assistants also care about student learning and may have an eye on a future teaching career
- There is much well supported research about the factors that motivate or demotivate people towards creativity and towards going the extra mile. We know a significant amount about what does and does not encourage intrinsic motivation.
- Much of this research has been conducted on individuals or small groups.

I've given you some big hints about what the team at UIUC is up to. What do you think they might be doing?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Electronic Voting in the US - Lagging But On the Way

At one point in time I might have said that voting and the democratic process was extremely important but boring to think about technically. No longer. In fact, this past Tuesday I had the nail biting experience of being on an airplane for most of election day with no idea what was going on. After circling in the sky for the final 30 minutes, with a possible threat of being diverted somewhere far away, we landed in the fog, I flew out of the plane into my car and boogied up the freeway to a friend's election night gathering, arriving just as they called the election for Barack Obama. Technology has come a long way when we can reliably report results so soon after the last polls close.

I had the satisfaction of knowing that I had been able to vote even though I was half way across the country on election day. That is because California provides the option of being a permanent mail-in voter. Very convenient for those of us who are often away from home.

But what about all those people who live places where you simply have to show up in your designated precinct polling place on election day? And all those people for whom this seemingly simple process is fraught with stumbling blocks? Why, as I was reminded last night at the monthly UX Speakeasy meeting, is our voting technology in the US 10-15 years behind our technology in other areas of society?

A few years ago I learned just how divisive the prospect of Internet voting is in this country. While researching the topic of Internet voting for my book, I posted both a blog post and a LinkedIn conversation on the topic and to my complete surprise there ensued a lengthy heated conversation and I received a few, um...spirited emails.

However, as I have suspected since then, the process of dragging and pushing the US towards secure, reliable electronic voting is continuing in spite of efforts from some quarters to stop it.

Last night at the UX Speakeasy meeting, Mike Joyce spoke at some length and in some detail about his experiences implementing electronic voting around the world. Mike covered many of the "usual" topics to those familiar with the subject (verification, validity, security ...) but there was a unique spin to his talk. He posed electronic voting and the challenges of universal enfranchisement as a usability issue. More than a user interface issue. More than a software issue. Voting should be accessible and easy for everyone, regardless of where you are, and what limitations you might have physically or cognitively.

Here in the US we are unlikely to go the way of the Australians any time soon and make voting mandatory for all citizens, however it was quite instructive to listen to how seriously the Australians take voting and how they put in place mechanisms to try and make everything run smoothly for people in far away Perth (look it up on a map and you'll see what I mean) or in the Outback.

Here in the US it sometimes seems as if, in contrast to what we heard last night about several other countries, we go out of our way to make it a challenge to vote. However, after listening to Mike last night, I am more convinced than ever that the US is going to get Internet voting implemented sooner or later. Of course it won't be perfect, but tell me, honestly, is the current system anywhere close to perfect? And shouldn't we make it easier for people to vote so that fewer people will view it as a burden or an inconvenience? Let's encourage and support participation in the democratic process.

Oh...we had our own little vote last night. UX Speakeasy is busily deciding what the theme of our next mini-conference will be. After polling our membership recently for ideas, we developed a ballot for people to mark up and submit. Not electronic alas, but truly in the spirit of the day and of the week.

Do you have an opinion about the next mini-conference? Then vote!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What Can Global Tech Women Do For You?

A conference like The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) is a fantastic experience. Having attended many times I can vouch for the fact that there is nothing (nothing) like being surrounded by a couple thousand other professional technical women. You don't realize until you experience it just how different the technical world, our world, would be if there were more technical women around. I can't describe the experience other than to say it is mind blowing, empowering and life changing.

However, most technical women around the globe don't have access to the GHC or one of it's sister conferences. They don't have access to the resources and connections available to those relative few who can physically attend a conference for women in computing. What to do?

Global Tech Women, introduced in my last post, intends to bridge the gap between globally dispersed technical women and the equally dispersed resources and like minded others. That means bringing resources for personal and professional growth to technical women on a local level. In their communities and homes. That also means providing technical women access to content and a network on a global scale. Global Tech Women (GTW) is employing both a bottom up and top down approach to supporting and connecting often isolated technical women.

"Women Talk Tech" Webinars. Information and expertise coming to you.

On September 21st Global Tech Women founder Deanna Kosaraju spoke in some depth about the organization: its vision, mission, goals, and plans.  What is going on as well as opportunities for you to get involved. This 30 minute webinar contains far more information than can easily fit in a blog post. Or even several blog posts. Deanna also hints at some nifty technology in the wings. If you want the full scoop on Global Tech Women, you can access the webinar and slides here.

Then there was the second webinar on October 12th which featured Caroline Simard getting into specifics about how to identify a work culture that is (or is not) actively supportive of technical women. I thought I knew a lot already about this topic yet I walked away with things to ponder and act upon. A particularly nice feature of this webinar was the active discussion from women across the career spectrum. Curious? The webinar and slides are archived here (scroll down the page).

The next webinar is ... Friday. It looks like we are going to hear about disruptive innovation. You can still sign up here. If you miss it, don't worry - like all the other webinars it will be archived.

"Voices" - an International Women's Day Conference. We return to the challenge facing technical women who would like to attend a conference geared toward their personal and professional goals.

Voices will be held on International Women's Day of course.  March 8th, 2013. What is truly innovative about this conference is that you don't have to go anywhere to participate. The conference comes to you. As described in detail in the first webinar video, Voices will take place over a 24 hour period, following the sun as it circles the globe. Not only can you attend the conference but you can participate in the planning and execution. In other words, if you want to hear about something, share about something, if you know about something worth sharing at the conference, you are encouraged to contact the organization to discuss how to make it happen. The agenda is not going to be decided by "someone out there".

A Customizable Open Source Platform with resources and connections geared towards your profile.

If every social media savvy marketing organization can target you with ads based upon what they creep around snooping out about you (yuck), doesn't it make sense to turn things on their head and *ask* technical women what they want to help them achieve their personal and professional goals and then deliver it? Sometime soon, the GTW website will provide you the ability to create a goal driven profile which will be used to connect you with resources, ideas, activities and people that fit where you are in your life and career.

The platform will likely require an entire blog post of its own sometime down the road. Meanwhile, in order to eventually provide oodles of bloggable material about how this platform serves your needs, you can contribute to its architecture and development. This is yet another example of Global Tech Women walking the talk - they want to involve technical women in the creation and direction of this platform.

It dawns on me, on this, the waning week prior to our incredibly close national election here in the US, that just as I hope all of you in this country get out and voice your opinions by VOTING (this is no time to be apathetic or too busy to register your opinion), I hope that all technical women reading this, wherever you are in the globe, take the opportunity to take part in the participatory democracy presented to you by Global Tech Women. In whatever way works for you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Introducing Global Tech Women: Are You a Technical Woman?

Technical Women are Leaving
It is a well known fact that there are not as many women in technology careers as men, and equally well documented that numbers are declining rather than increasing - unlike in most other science and engineering disciplines. The problem doesn't stop there - reliable data show that many women who complete a technical degree choose not to pursue a technical career. To cap it off, women in technical careers around the globe leave those careers at an alarming rate. The whole situation is completely crazy when you consider that lucrative computing jobs are increasing by leaps and bounds and many companies (not just in the US) have difficulty finding people to hire.

As many of you know, there are excellent organizations around the globe that have set their sights on addressing one aspect or another, one facet or another, of this incredibly complex problem. But...

I'm going to hazard a guess that many of you don't know about Global Tech Women. Global Tech Women (GTW for short here) is different. This organization, the brainchild of Deanna Kosaraju who you may know from her previous role as Vice President of Programs at the Anita Borg Institute, takes a holistic approach to the problem. In other words it is about the technology but it's not only about the technology. It's far more than that. As Deanna puts it, GTW wants to support technical women in becoming "connected, inspired and self-actualized".

This vision leads to a different approach than many other organizations, starting with an important definition:

What is a technical woman?

Answer: You get to decide. Yes, you.

If you self-identify as a technical woman, then you are a technical woman. Period. 

Why should someone else tell you if you "are" or "are not" technical?

Not everyone takes the same trajectory into a technical career. We know this, yet at the same time there are people who apply an exclusive "definition". i.e. you must have a technical degree, or you must work for an established big-name corporation or... If you don't, then you are excluded either explicitly or implicitly. When I write it out it sounds ludicrous to my ears, but some people/organizations will exclude from their definition, and hence exclude from support, someone, and often this means women, who take unconventional routes to achieving their technical and life goals. Global Tech Women starts from a position of inclusiveness and empowerment.

As Deanna pointed out in one of our recent conversations, technology can be truly interdisciplinary. Technology cuts across disciplines. For example, Deanna told me about a woman she met who has a graduate degree in Sociology and is now developing apps in a developing country. Here is the key take home point - this woman did not "leave" Sociology. She incorporates her training into her work as a technical woman helping people in Africa. There are a lot of women out there like her. Who is to tell them they aren't really technical?

If you choose to identify yourself as a technical woman, Global Tech Women wants to be there to support you in defining success for yourself, and in connecting you with resources to make that easier. GTW may be a fairly new organization but Deanna Kosaraju brings years of executive experience in the technology world and in non-profit organizational management to this endeavor. She has already established some impressive partnerships and more are in the wings; (see the GTW website); in addition she is in the process of forming a consortium of technical women's groups around the world to talk about best practices.

So - what can Global Tech Women do for you? I thought you might ask. In the next post, I'll dive more deeply into Global Tech Women's ongoing activities.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Social Entrepreneurship Means Business

I've been dying to come back to the issue of social entrepreneurship as addressed in my recent post about the documentary "Design & Thinking". Early on in the film one of the business leaders interviewed said a guiding principle should be to ask yourself the following questions [slightly paraphrased]:

"What is the higher calling?"
"How can an organization consecrate itself to that higher calling?"
" address the world's problems?"

At first I was puzzled because I am used to hearing this kind of language in religious conversations. However, a rapid mental reset was in order. What a growing number of organizations are doing today is looking at how to conduct their business with the goal of addressing societal and environmental problems. Across industries. This can be clearly demonstrated by the accelerating number, size, and profitability of Socially Responsible Investments (SRIs). 

Notice, by the way, I didn't say "solving" the world's problems, because, and this is my thought on the matter, if you set your mind firmly on a "goal" that you "must" achieve, it is harder to stay in it for the long haul. However, every organization (as well as person) has something to contribute. It can be as concrete as evaluating the plans for the product or software you are developing and considering the ramifications of its design. Perhaps you then change certain design attributes. The film documented several organizations that are doing just that.

Thus, another mental reset is to embrace the idea, advocated in the film, that it is not about tradeoffs. It is not about "Business vs. Society". It is about holding a certain perspective on the world and how we solve problems.  It is about acquiring a broad range of skills to be able to address the complexity of the world in a product - including for-profit enterprises. 

An existing organization, cruising along, can stop and ask itself at anytime the following questions:

"Are we having an impact?"  [on the higher calling identified previously]
"If not, why not?"
"What can be done to get there?"

Aside from profiling lots of examples to prove the point, it was these dirt simple gems of questions that were one of the most important takeaways of the documentary. Anyone sitting there watching was prodded to do more than just admire the people and organizations working for change.

Anyone, in any organization, from a sole proprietorship to a global behemoth, can ask these questions.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sketching in the Computing Classroom

Once convinced by Sketchcamp San Diego that what you draw is good enough and that you should sketch anything and everything, the next adventure is deciding where sketching fits in your professional world. Thus, it was only a matter of time before I would explore how sketching could apply directly to computer science.

I could (but won't) write a treatise on all the opportunities for the professional computer scientist to sketch. Instead, let's ponder computing education.

Instructors, consider this - why not incorporate sketching into your classroom presentations? We know that humans are very visual creatures, but that doesn't mean that all visual presentations are good presentations (Death By Powerpoint comes to mind).  Why not sketch part of your lecture as you give it, especially if you present in a large impersonal lecture hall? Take a look at my previous post for an example of this in action.

Unless you are working out a formal proof, I put it to you that there are plenty of opportunities to draw instead of write on the whiteboard, blackboard, tablet. You have to work out the details, but if you are creative enough to come up with other classroom innovations, as are many of my colleagues in the computer science education world, then you are up to the challenge of adding sketching to your pedagogical portfolio.

No, wait. Let me take back part of that last point. I'd love to see someone work out how to sketch a formal proof. Not only would it be terribly exciting but it would rock many people's world. Just think of the positive effect you could possibly have on those students who currently struggle with the abstraction of proofs.

Then there are the possibilities for collaborative sketching for software engineering students. The yawns and complaints (and subsequent below standard results) with which countless students approach the requirements gathering and specification development process are legendary. Not only do they miss the point, they can be disengaged, and just plain old lousy at client interaction. It takes practice, after all, to be a good listener and communicator.

What about reinventing the "Reqs and Specs" process to include team problem solving with the users present? Applying sketching techniques already used in the professional world, students can iterate on data interpretation and problem identification. Together they will produce a graphic illustration that captures the evolving conversation. What a great opportunity to break down barriers, achieve consensus and clarify intention.  I suspect the sketching approach to specification development would suck in students and their client users alike.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sketch ... Everything.

Why would you want to sketch? Why professionally would you want to sketch? Continuing the conversation started in my last post about the goings on at the San Diego Sketchcamp, the next thing on the docket after "yes I am perfectly capable of sketching" is of course: WHY?

There are so many reasons to sketch. One of the most fascinating experiences of the day-long workshop was listening to one speaker after another illustrate how they use sketching in their work - and why you should too. Especially if you are a User Experience (UX) professional, which most of the audience was.

Sketching is a great way to capture ideas on the fly and problem-solve together in a meeting with peers or a client. You can capture much more information via pictures than with text. Sure it takes practice, but so does note taking or any other skill. But the end result is a memorable visual description of the conversation as it evolved. Not to mention the fact that the faster you write the worse your handwriting gets, and if you are like many people in this digital age (self included) your handwriting is fairly illegible to start with. Even being familiar with your own handwriting, you may find yourself scratching your head later trying to figure out what on earth those words are. I know I do. Whereas with a zippy picture the meaning doesn't disappear just because some of your lines get sloppy. Remember - we aren't talking about creating "art", we are talking about capturing ideas, impressions, observations.

One speaker in particular blew many workshop attendees out of the water by literally walking and drawing the talk. Amber Lundy spent 45  minutes discussing why she sketches, how she came to sketching from a start in computing (she is a self-described nerd) and and how one can benefit from sketching on the job. She calls it resocializing the interface.

But here's the kicker. As she spoke, the colorful highlighters never left Amber's rapidly moving hand. As she spoke, Amber moved back and forth, along a room-length sheet of paper pinned to the wall, drawing what she was saying. So not only did you hear her talk via your ears, you watched her her talk with your eyes. Talk about an impressive display of multi-tasking.

"Anything you can say you can sketch" according to Amber. Hard to argue with that when you are watching it unfold before you. At the end of her talk she went back and added boxes and additional arrows to show the flow of her talk even more clearly. Imagine sitting in a room with peers or clients and at the end of an intense and productive meeting you find yourself in front of a detailed visual representation of everywhere the conversation went, the points covered and the conclusions you mutually reached. In living color. Wow.

Perhaps anticipating the response ("I can't do THAT!"), Amber made a point of saying that she didn't take a bunch of classes to learn how to sketch so fluidly in front of a group. She said she practiced. And practiced. And practiced. She forced herself to sketch all sorts of things. For example, Amber advocates sketching meetings, not only as good practice, but because you will pay better attention. Remember some deadly dull meeting you have been in when all you could think of was how much you desperately wanted a roving espresso cart to appear in front of you. Then think about how entertaining and productive it could have been to instead have sketched the players in the room and what they were saying. Fun, no? Lasts longer than a latte too.

Sketch things you might not think of scheduling just to stretch yourself - rise to the challenge and think about things when you have time to build the habit. Why? These are the people and objects you interact with on a daily basis, which can come in handy later when you are in a fast paced situation and don't have time to ponder what something should look like. Like what? Sketch your schedule. Instead of a linear To-Do list, how would you lay out your day visually? As a die-hard list maker and organizer, I'm having serious fun pondering that one.

Here is the best (bizarre?) suggestion Amber had -sketch your grocery list.

Be careful however. Perhaps the first few times you should go to the store with both a sketched list and a traditional list. Until you learn what your own sketches mean.

Otherwise you might come home with ... things. Really odd things.

Monday, October 8, 2012

What Do You Mean "I Can't Draw"?

You don't have to "be able to draw", that's the joy of it. It's about sketching. Whether or not you think sketching == drawing doesn't matter. Don't get hung up on the words. Hey, what happened to the joy that almost all of us had as kids when someone tossed a pen, pencil, marker, crayon, chalk, white board marker our way? When did it go from "YES!!!" to "I can't do that".

Close to 100 people attended the first San Diego Sketchcamp this past Saturday to learn more and put pen or pencil to paper. Some attendees were devoted doodlers, scribblers, designers, artists. Other attendees were initially rather timid. By the end of the day I'd dare say everyone was trying it out. That is the joy of a workshop: interactivity.

Eight different speakers, some running in parallel session, walked the talk by not only showing the audience how they approach sketching but challenging the audience to try it - right now! As one speaker pointed out:

 "no one is going to die if you make a bad sketch". 

The day's keynote speaker, Jeannel King, was the first of several speakers to point out the mysterious change that typically takes place as we grow up. We lose the exuberance and lack of fear, and won't even try because "I can't draw the way I think I should" or "I can't draw the way I would want to". As King pointed out however, nothing has changed from when we were kids in terms of ability. We just get all self-conscious.

Another theme of the day, initiated by King, was to shift your mindset to:  

"What I draw is Good Enough"

Send your inner critic out for coffee.

I appreciated King's reference to Buddhism to illustrate this point.

There isn't just one Buddha, there are many Buddhas. Everyone has a Buddha inside. Just as everyone is a Buddha so is everyone a stick figure strategist. We are just at different places along the path.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Thinking Crazy - Do It!

"So much of coming up with great ideas is allowing yourself to think crazy" spoken by someone in the film "Design & Thinking" which screened last night at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego. But can the corporate world accept this idea on a widespread basis? Can it be done without busting budgets? Important questions, addressed both directly and indirectly throughout this interesting film.

The film opened with scenes from the Occupy Movement and spent the next hour and fifteen minutes roving back and forth between New York City, San Francisco and Toronto, speaking with and observing a diverse and eclectic group of people in the design movement. I'm not sure why I'm calling it a movement, but after watching these people passionately describe what they do and what they think about the term Design Thinking, "movement" seems fitting.

There was the PhD candidate in Biology who had never heard of the term but described how he designs experiments with frogs (it seemed that no harm comes to the frogs - at least I hope so) and evolves his work through an iterative process that might sound familiar to someone from a classical design background. When he described the process of needing to be flexible and creative, it sounded rather like the many conversations during the film with people affiliated with classical design schools. These designers also spoke about following their intuition and being willing to shift course when development of a product produced unexpected feedback and results.

Moving from scientists to artists, along with CEOs, CTOs, and university faculty, one of the emerging themes in the film was: learning to be comfortable with taking risks. Realizing that you can do so at low cost. Taking risks and being willing to fail doesn't necessitate a huge budget. One of the challenges addressed throughout this film, both directly and indirectly, was how to "get a place at the table", i.e. in a number crunching bottom line world that wants algorithms for achieving success, how do you get the message across to all the relevant decision makers?

It can be done and the film showcased some wonderful examples. I loved the segment when the founder of Code For America was interviewed (was she was in her pajamas?) and spoke about the fear public officials have of putting anything up online that isn't "perfect". She made the very good point that the reason public officials are so risk averse is because we, the voting public, have made them afraid to make even the smallest mistake. No wonder they are afraid to innovate and experiment in the same way as firms in Silicon Valley. The good news however, is that organizations like Code For America are fostering cultural change in small incremental steps.

There is a lot more to say about the film's point of view on multi-disciplinarity, social entrepreneurship and having an impact. For now, consider how this might apply in your world:

"So much of coming up with great ideas is allowing yourself to think crazy"

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Guest Post : Stroll On Over There

There is a terrific organization called Global Tech Women. I hope to write more about them here soon. Meanwhile, I invite you to stroll on over, check them out, and read my guest post about women in high-tech and fashion on their blog. This new piece is a follow up to an earlier post that you might recall.

Friday, September 21, 2012

UX Without Psychology?

"You can talk about behavior without knowing anything about psychology" 

according to Christopher Konrad, one of the panelists at the UX and Psychology meeting I have been discussing in the last few posts. Konrad has a significant background in  software for several large companies we all know and love (or hate, depending upon your personal taste) such as Microsoft, Intuit and Sandia National Labs. He also has a degree in Psychology and runs his own design firm (suitably named Konrad) so you can't just write off his comment without considering what it might mean.

No doubt Konrad likes to be provocative. He made another point by holding up a photograph of a user restrained in a chair with an eye tracker covering their face. Provocative gets you attention and if handled skillfully can make you think critically.

There is Psychology and then there is psychology. Konrad has critiques of both. Capital "P" Psychology can be, under the worst scenario, a deadening pileup of statistics and controlled studies divorced from reality. When it comes to understanding what users do in their lives, what they care about, the type of Psychology Konrad takes issue with is a waste of time.

psychology (lower case "p") refers to pop psychology. Inferring what Konrad meant by pop psychology, I take this to be exemplified in its worst guise through a certain genre of self-help books ("Break All Your Bad Habits in Six Days"). These kinds of books, software and the motivational speakers that promote them make me ill because they prey on gullible people. When it comes to professional UX work of any sort I cannot but agree with Konrad - there is no place for pop psychology.

Many people don't know what "psychology" (upper or lower case) means, as was evident by the enthusiastic audience discussion following Konrad's remarks. Not everyone agreed with him, but some did.

One of the other speakers, Matt Kelly, provided an excellent balance. Kelly is a human factors researcher at Pacific Science and Engineering whose work relies heavily on traditional psychological research methodologies. He gave some excellent examples of where collecting and analyzing formal data can make the difference between saving lives or losing them. He stressed the "...importance of not getting a 60% fail rate on mission critical applications - something might kill you".

If something might kill you, you want to make sure your application has all its ducks in a row in terms of how it and users interact. I couldn't help thinking about the term "collateral damage" which has come to stand in for people dying or getting severely injured. If running formal experiments and tests will save lives, power to Psychology.

Can you study behavior without Psychology? It depends what you mean by studying behavior and by Psychology.

Can you "do" UX without Psychology? 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Wondering if Users Have Bad Instincts

(Not the quoted audience member!)
"We live in a synthetic world. What we think is commonsense may not be common sense". This was another audience comment at the industry panel on UX and Psychology sponsored by the San Diego UX Speakeasy group.

I have heard and read endless commentaries and articles about our modern technology-enhanced culture - good, bad, indifferent. Almost everyone seems to agree to some extent that modern society is too cut off from the natural world. Sitting on one's behind in front of a computer or TV for hours on end isn't healthy for an endless set of well documented reasons. There is an entire movement to try and counter what has come to be called Nature Deficit Disorder. The movement was started by Richard Louv who posits that it is seriously problematic not to get into the outdoors and connect with living breathing ecology - the less we do it, the less our children do it, the more mental and physical problems result.

The audience member was trying to say that our common sense understanding of things, including software and hardware, is based upon instincts evolved for a non-synthetic world. i.e. the Natural World. Which we have little regular contact with. He claimed our instincts are based upon interactions with non-natural things. To be blunt, our instincts are wrong.

There is an important psychological hole to the argument that our instincts are purely evolutionarily evolved and not at all influenced by our present lives and environment. Plenty of research would yes, there are evolutionary instincts and yes, there are instincts based upon our experiences. As this is not an academic publication, I'll spare you the references.

Running with the theory a bit more though: What would this mean for psychology and those of us in high-tech who work with users? Well, it could mean that you don't trust your users. Their instincts about what they want and need are inaccurate. Hence, the developer/designer knows best. "You may not like the way this feature works, but trust me, it is in your best interest to get used to it". User adapts to the system, system does not adapt to user. I'm not comfortable with that approach at all. It's egotistical, don't you think?

Anyway, why would this line of reasoning only apply to users? Developers and designers are also evolved home sapiens, who, following this line of argument, also possess instincts and cognition based upon a non-synthetic world. Thus, according to the theory, what they perceive and believe would be no more accurate than their users. Different perhaps, but just as flawed. I find this so fatalistic (and frightening actually): we might as well all throw in the towel.

No one on the industry panel was a proponent of the "our instincts are wrong" argument. In fact, Gema Almilli, an Experience Planner at Red Door Interactive, made a very strong point of talking about the importance of providing users with desirable, engaging and delightful experiences. Delightful doesn't come from being compelled to go against all your instincts. Gema even drew upon the notion of game-ification: what are the psychological principles that make a game enjoyable? What causes people to connect with their online activity and want to go further? How can these psychological principles be extended beyond the world of games?

There is a middle path. We, users, developers, designers, do spend far too much time (imo) disconnected from the natural world. Our psychological health can only improve with time spent reconnecting to the environment. We are surely influenced and deceived by things we see on TV and the Internet. However, instincts usually have something important to tell us if we listen to them. Our mind is trying to tell us something - hey you! hey!  Someone on LinkedIn, commenting on my previous post, claimed that it was impossible to "become" the user. Not sure I agree with that either, but in both that case and this situation, working hard to understand and validate the users' perceptions is the right way to go.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Where is the Psychology in UX?

 "Isn't what Google does just computer science? (or statistics?). Where is the psychology?"

asked a member of the audience at the panel discussion on User Experience (UX) and Psychology Wednesday night. I moderated the panel of 4 lively industry speakers and boy, did everyone get into it.

I suspected on several occasions that we could have an entire discussion in response to the question "What is psychology?". Surprising, considering that many of the people present work in media that effects user reactions, points of view, and perspectives. Perhaps not surprising. The audience contained a wealth of perspectives including graphic artists, developers, interaction designers, researchers, and human factors engineers.

Nonetheless, if I hadn't been standing up I might have fallen off my chair when that question was asked. As it was, you could have seen my eyes pop so wide open they shoved my eyebrows well up under the hairline. Google Search is ubiquitous - do people think there is no ulterior motive behind how Google designs its search engine display and the results? Or that the effectiveness of Google Search happens purely through algorithmic means? Heck no. The people at Google are out to make money as well as provide a service. That doesn't happen by accident. It happens when you understand your user and interact with them in such a manner that they engage with you and ... eventually do what you want.

Phil Ohme, Principle Interaction Designer from Intuit and one of our panel speakers, made that point when he discussed the need to get in users' shoes and sometimes use that understanding to lead them down a path they might not initially want to go. As he put it, "if you lead them down the path everyone wins in the end". This of course, was in reference to working on accounting services and software. As he said, it is Good to Ask the Users, Better to Watch the Users, but Best to Become the Users. How does Phil become a tax accountant? By volunteering as a tax return preparer in a program sponsored by the IRS for low income populations. Ok, that isn't all he does to understand the experience of an accountant, but I was impressed by this level of dedication.

In the next post I have many more interesting (and occasionally outrageous) things to share from this panel meeting. I'm also going to come back to this question of what psychology is in the minds of a commercially oriented audience. It was at the same time mind blowing, fascinating and exciting to listen to what people thought or implied they thought about the role of psychology in UX. (Yes, some thought it played no role at all. Or that it should not play any role at all).

Hop on over to Google's Search Engine and type in something. You choose. What do you get back? What do you think? What is the next thing you do? Ask your pal in the next chair to do the same thing on their computer. What do they get back? What does she or he think? What is the next thing she or he does?

Before I write anything else I MUST mention that this meeting was also a celebration of the one year anniversary of the San Diego User Experience "Speakeasy" group. It has been a great year. I had no idea what to expect when I joined but every time I go I learn something, meet great people and have a good time.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why Would Anyone Say That?

"Psychology has run its course in user experience". Someone relayed that statement (possibly paraphrased) to me today as having been said by someone who works in .... I'm not quite sure.

It doesn't matter where this person works, it is the idea that matters! What could that possibly mean? My colleague and I kicked around a few ideas.

Perhaps "we" (the collective "we", which by the way does not include the individual "me") have said all there is to say about the application of psychology to interactive design, web design, mobile app design. Perhaps there is nothing new to say. The underlying principles have been hashed out and now it is just a matter of applying them. Is that what the person meant by "has run its course"?

Or perhaps we don't need psychology any more? Is that what the person meant?

Is the statement's author bored, or jaded, or perhaps bored and jaded? I could speculate on that:

Perhaps she or he comes from a cognitivist background and is sick to death of numbers and statistics and timing how long things take, and where people look, and how fast they respond, and drawing little colorful graphs that may or may not have any meaning in a practical setting? [Cue: Yawn... ]

Or...perhaps she or he comes from a background in affective psychology and is sick and tired of trying to intuit the deep inner angst or elation behind barely discernible vocalizations? [Cue: Scream!]

There must be other interpretations as well. BUT WHAT? As someone with plenty of background and opinions in this area, I'm dying to kick this one around some more. If only there was an opportunity...

Heh Heh. Next week I will be moderating a panel of people who have something to say about psychology in UX at the monthly meeting of the San Diego UX Speakeasy group. As moderator I am in a position of power! (of a very limited nature and of short duration). Aside from taking steps to see that our panelists and audience have an interactive experience, I think I'm going to try and slide this question into the conversation.

Unless someone else brings it up first.

Does the statement about psychology having run its course in UX sound bizarre to you? Do you even have any idea what psychology in UX is all about? If not, then clearly you want to find out. If yes, then you know this is a perfect question for inciting an audience. Of course now the cat is out of the bag. All the better.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Why Keep Good Work Secret?

Recently, I wrote the following opinion piece for another venue - I thought I'd share it here with you, as you too might find it interesting. Although I refer specifically to San Diego, I think you'll see that the concept applies far more broadly. The case studies I mention are taken from my book "Computers and Society - Computing For Good".

(For fun, I'm challenging you to figure out why I'm including this particular picture)

People are cynical about the social value technology has for society. As part of my research into socially beneficial computing, I ask random people what the phrase “computers and society” means to them. Respondents invariably start referring to problems: people get hurt, people are screwed over, all types of disasters can happen. Occasionally, people provide specific examples but most of the time they say vague things about how computers dehumanize society. Prodded to think about where computing is being used to benefit society, they pause, and most commonly refer to the One Laptop Per Child initiative or perhaps make a vague reference to philanthropy in “developing countries”.  They think about large software companies that have “extra money” to spend on “side activities”. The evidence is clear: on a gut level, public perception associates computing, and technology driven business in general, with causing harm. People believe there is no business case for using computers to make the world a better place.

Yet, my research has also shown that a wide range of organizations across the country are better able to do business when they focus on the unique role computing can play in helping people or the environment. Not just hi-tech companies either. I studied several dozen organizations that achieved dramatic improvements in executing their core mission by leveraging computing for the public good.

There are many ways to both benefit the public and support your mission with computing. One approach is to take advantage of state of the art advances in computer hardware and software. For example, the Children’sHospital of Philadelphia started with an industry standard PACS for storing and managing their digital images. Unfortunately, the proprietary system did not deal effectively with the demands of modern complex healthcare data. Nurses and doctors who want to spend their time on patient care found themselves having to spend time on wasteful and expensive activities such as manually retrieving digital images.  After implementing a Vendor Neutral Archive, the hospital was able to more efficiently store and retrieve images and to achieve significant cost savings. Stakeholders such as doctors and radiologists were pleased. Most importantly, patient care was improved because imaging data became more rapidly and reliably available, greatly reducing instances of patients “getting the run-around”. The hospital’s already world-renowned reputation for excellence in children’s medical care increased even more. 

A second approach uses distributed computing such that experts can combine forces and make discoveries no single person or institution could make alone. For example, in another healthcare project, a team of interdisciplinary neonatologists, known as The Children’s Hospitals Neonatal Consortium (CHNC), is collaborating with The Child Health Corporation ofAmerica, based in Kansas City, to develop a national database to identify and share best practice recommendations for rare, life threatening conditions. Although still early in the development cycle, the CHNC initiative has already fostered important discussions between member hospitals about how to collect and study data in compliance with federal healthcare reform mandates. When fully implemented, the project will facilitate tracking and trending of individual and patient data, and establish benchmarking standards for quality care across the United States. Physicians and their patients in rural or otherwise isolated hospitals will share in the benefits of cutting edge health informatics research. 

You don’t have to be a large organization to benefit from using computers for social good. As demonstrated by the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), based in Gainesville, Florida, social networking can be a powerful way for a small organization to gain more power and influence. With a staff of fewer than 20 people, the STC is trying to reach a world-wide audience about the importance of saving sea turtles. By enhancing, and in some cases replacing, traditional labor intensive outreach methods with a strategic use of social media, they get their message out where it really counts. For example, when the Deep Horizon Oil Spill occurred, state and federal agencies asked for STC assistance, knowing the group was a source of reliable, accurate information about sea turtles and that they had an effective social media presence. The agencies kept the STC in the loop about many activities and the group subsequently played an important role in voicing the positive aspects of the disaster response. Significantly, the STC increased their membership even during the recent recession.

Surprisingly, most organizations I studied did not advertise their computing accomplishments. Yet publicizing your use of computers for the public good can be a valuable selling point. Here in San Diego, where our industry focus is heavily weighted towards biotechnology and medical care, we have a unique opportunity to be on the leading edge of social responsibility and computing. Competitive advantage will follow. San Diego businesses use cutting edge digital technology, are making life saving new discoveries all the time, and provide state of the art services. Putting the spotlight on how you use computing to benefit society will surprise your audience and cause them to see you in a whole new light.