Friday, August 29, 2014

Doing an interview via Skype

I sometimes use this blog to share advice for students who are looking for jobs, especially in the art of interviewing (see also: on interviewing, on writing resumes, and 5 tips to get a job). Over the years, I've provided resume, cover letter, and interview coaching for many students—I started doing this career coaching during my role as adviser to Triangle Fraternity and ΑΣΚ Sorority, but I've also enjoyed helping students at Morris take that next big step. It's one more way I can serve the campus.

Many of us know interviews in the traditional sense: an in-person meeting. But our students may find themselves interviewing for their first job via Skype, or some similar video conferencing. How do you prepare for this new mode of interview?

NTD Training provides an interesting video tutorial on how to look good in Skype interviews:

The video offers several tips, which I will briefly share here:

Set up your immediate environment to avoid echo and avoid distracting sounds.
Remain mindful of what appears behind you when you are on camera.
Move your webcam to be at about eye level, and make eye contact with the camera.
Use a light slightly above and in front of you.
Dress professionally, this may be your one opportunity to make an impression.
photo: Alex France

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Welcome back, students!

Today is the first day of classes at Morris! Students moved back to campus over the weekend, and orientation has been Sunday through Tuesday this week.

It is wonderful to see the campus full of students again. Welcome back, students!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mobile phones and BYOD

How do you prefer to communicate when you are at work? Do you use a traditional "land line" and desktop handset, a VOIP system, or your personal mobile phone?

Like an increasing number of workers, you probably use your own mobile phone for at least of your work. And in IT, "at work" doesn't always mean "at the office." Support folks who are "on call" often are "on the clock" when at home, to support production systems if things go do or have problems. Rather than carry a work phone in addition to their personal phone, or even a work pager in addition to a personal phone, many IT workers opt just to use their personal mobile phone for everything. It's certainly more convenient—and if you have an unlimited mobile plan, it's not more expensive.

But this mode of "BYOD" may soon change. According to a recent article in Forbes:
The California court of appeal issued a sweeping decision that may spark a new wave of class action lawsuits against California employers. … [T]he appellate court determined that employers must reimburse employees for work-related phone calls made on personal cell phones or face liability.
So what does this mean? This decision may alter how employees and employers treat mobile phones. Under the law, employers will need to reimburse a "reasonable percentage" of mobile phone use that account for work (at least, in California). Expect employers to create new policies that clarify personal phone use, and define a reimbursement strategy. Under "reasonable percentage," some companies may simply assume a percentage of phone usage and reimburse a flat percentage. That would certainly be easiest, requiring the least effort from both employee and employer. Others may opt to issue phones to mobile workers. For very bureaucratic organizations, employees may need to provide a printed bill every month, highlighting work usage.

Forbes predicts this future:
To the extent employers require employees to use a cell phone for work, employers should consider providing their employees with cell phones and voice/texting plans. In the alternative, employers should implement written policies requiring their employees to track and submit expense reports regarding their work-related cell phone usage so that employees can be reimbursed for the actual cost of such usage. If the actual cost cannot be determined, such as if an employee already has an unlimited minutes/texting personal plan, then the employer will be required to reimburse the employee for a “reasonable percentage” of the personal cell phone bill. The court did not provide any guidance as to what a “reasonable percentage” means. Finally of course, employers can avoid the problem altogether and make clear that cell phones are not needed and should not be used for work.
photo: William Hooko

Friday, August 22, 2014

Chromebooks in education

Google's Chromebook was an interesting spin on the "netbook" when it debuted in 2011. Chromebook is not a traditional laptop. The basic idea behind Chromebook is that you don't install software programs. That is, you won't have a copy of Microsoft Office running on the Chromebook. Instead, you run everything from the Cloud: Google Docs, Gmail, Google Calendar, … you do everything via the built-in Chrome web browser. The technology in the Chromebook is all about supporting web applications.

So it may not be surprising that Google Chromebooks are Outselling Apple iPads in the Educational Market, as suggested by a recent article in The Digital Reader. To get there, you need to unwind the sales figures reported by Apple and Google. Both will try to frame the numbers to put themselves in the best light. From the article:
Google reported a few days ago that a million Chromebooks were sold to schools last quarter (another 800,000 were sold to consumers). While that might not look nearly as impressive as Apple’s 13 million iPads, the numbers suggest that Google could be selling as many Chromebooks to schools as Apple is selling iPads.

We don’t have specifics on how many iPads Apple sold to schools last quarter, we do know that Apple last reported in February 2013 that they had sold 8 million iPads to schools around the globe.

A quick back of the envelope calculation tells us that schools bought 5 million iPads in the 17 months since February 2013, which means Apple averaged under a million iPads sold to schools each quarter—an average which is less than the million Chromebooks sold.
These numbers alone don't make a trend, but observation indicates that more institutions in higher ed are moving to Chromebooks. The low cost ($249 for the popular Samsung Chromebook) is easier on education budgets. And with the predominance of web or Cloud systems, users just need to get online with a web browser to do their work.

Small wonder the Chromebook is doing well in education. A recent article in ComputerWorld adds:
Gartner on Monday said that sales of Chromebooks will reach 5.2 million units worldwide this year, with more than 80% of the demand in the U.S. That's an 80% increase in sales from 2013.

But this demand was driven almost entirely by education last year, which accounted for nearly 85% of Chromebook sales, according to Gartner.

Google has created a centralized management system that allows for rapid changes, with no reimaging, and controls that allow a school system to restrict website and network access.
That makes the Chromebook a very attractive device in education. Never having to install software or patches makes the Chromebook really easy for overstretched faculty and campus IT teams to support. Just boot it up, and you're ready to go.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Amazon as the new bookstore?

In 2000 or 2001, I attended a CIC CIO TechForum. I remember that a presenter spoke on the issue of "owning" the interface between student and university. Addressing the then-new trend to "outsource" development of web systems such as registration and admissions, the presenter highlighted his disapproval for outsourcing by asking, "Can you imagine what it would be like if we outsourced our bookstores to Amazon?"

He meant that question to give us pause, to consider the folly of outsourcing a critical university function such as the bookstore. But the idea struck a chord in me; I thought that would be great!

I imagined an online "Amazon-U" bookstore where students could buy their course textbooks online, and have them delivered directly to their dorm room or campus apartment. And next to each textbook, you might have a list of other, related resources. "Students who bought this text book also bought…" might show study guides, Cliffs Notes, or textbooks from related courses. For example, a physics textbook might link to a statistics textbook. Or a novel (such as for a literature class) might link to the movie adaptation on DVD.

Just like Amazon's regular online bookstore, students could rate the textbooks and leave comments. "This textbook was good, but also buy the study guide that goes with it" or similar comments could help other students make the best decisions in buying their course materials.

I still think outsourcing to Amazon or a similar private reseller would have been a good idea. But 2000 was too early for privatization; higher ed wasn't yet ready for outsourcing. But I predicted the campus bookstore will see increased privatization over the next decade.

So I was not entirely surprised to read that Purdue will offer students savings on textbooks through a special deal with Amazon. A few highlights from the announcement:
… Purdue and Amazon have launched the Purdue Student Store on Amazon, a new, co-branded experience where students can purchase lower-cost textbooks and other college essentials.

… The Purdue Student Store on Amazon, found at, launched Tuesday (Aug. 12). The first campus pickup location is expected to be open in early 2015.

… “This relationship is another step in Purdue’s efforts to make a college education more affordable for our students,” said President Mitch Daniels. “With the pressure on college campuses to reduce costs, this new way of doing business has the potential to change the book-buying landscape for students and their families.”

… Amazon will return a percentage of eligible sales through the Purdue Student Store on Amazon to the university, including sales to faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university. Purdue will use the proceeds for its student affordability and accessibility initiatives.

… The Purdue-Amazon relationship follows a year of work by a Purdue committee looking at ways to cut the cost of textbooks, said Frank Dooley, interim vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs.
It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone working in higher ed that costs are a major concern, and have been for years. This extends even to the books that students must buy for their classes. Universities have long sought new ways to lower textbook costs. Purdue's move to partner with Amazon is an interesting step for higher ed, one that other institutions will seek to emulate—with Amazon, or with other textbook resellers.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Workshop: Open source comes to campus

Please hold this date on your calendar! If you are interested in participating in this exciting event, please contact Elena Machkasova, UMM Computer Science. I'll add that I participated in this workshop last year, and it was a lot of fun! It was great to help students get started in contributing to open source software!

Some of you may remember last year's "open source comes to campus" workshop. We appreciate help from several UMM alums who contributed to the workshop as mentors and speakers.

This year we will have a similar event, but this time we will run it on our own. Shauna and Asheesh from the Open Hatch group are kindly helping with the organization and with the materials. The event will be held on Saturday Sept 13th.

We are also looking for those with experience in open source tools (git, github setup and conventions, IRC channels, etc) who would be able to help students as the day progresses, and perhaps give a bit of an overview of a topic. These mentors can be alums or upper-level students.

Lots of details are not quite settled yet, so your comments/suggestions are welcome.

Anyone willing to serve as a "speaker" and/or a mentor - please let us know, we greatly appreciate your participation!

We also encourage current students (especially those who didn't participate in the last year's event) to mark their calendar and plan on attending. We will send out a sign-up form once all the logistics are settled.

Interviewing as CIO

In a 2013 article, Mark Askren (Chief Information Officer for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) writes for EDUCAUSE about The CIO: Defining a Career for the Future. Mark shares several great insights for anyone looking to take the next step up the ladder. His advice to aspiring CIOs:

1. Pushing Yourself Forward
This relates both to the psychology of taking the next step ("I could never do that.") and to the challenge of physical relocation: "This is often in terms of location—that is, not being willing, because of family or other local commitments and preferences, to relocate. We all know of successful IT leaders who have stayed at one institution, or within one metropolitan area, their entire career. Nevertheless, being anchored greatly limits opportunities for growth."
2. Climbing outside Your Comfort Zone
"To make significant progress in career growth, you need to understand your weaknesses. For example, do you fear public speaking? If so, the good news is that you have plenty of company. The bad news is that unless you address your fear, you will severely limit your ability to be successful in higher-level positions."
3. Applying and Interviewing
"After the first impression, interviewers are making another judgment: has this candidate spent the time to learn about the department, the institution, and current priorities and issues? If the judgment is no, you are not likely to be hired. Be prepared. Make sure you know who you will be meeting with, what roles they play, how they interrelate, and why they are part of the search process."
4. Listening to the Experts
Mark cites a number of executive search firms in answering key questions for CIO candidates: Phil Goldstein and Mary Beth Baker (Managing Partners from the executive search firm Next Generation), Matthew C. Aiello (Partner, Heidrick & Struggles), Martin M. Baker (Vice President, Baker and Associates), and Linda Hodges (Senior Vice President, Information Technology Practice Leader, Witt/Kieffer).
  • "What are college/university senior leaders really looking for in an IT leader?"
  • "What are the most important characteristics of a successful candidate?"
  • "What is your advice for those who are applying to and being interviewed for a senior IT leadership position?"
  • "What new trends in IT leadership placement have you noticed during this past year?"
5. Navigating Status and Risk in Higher Education
"What is your risk profile? We are familiar with the importance of evaluating risk in the decisions we make for our organizations. But have you considered how much risk you are willing to tolerate in terms of your career growth? Leaving a central IT position to accept a higher-level role in leading a campus IT organization has risk … Yet those and other changes also have high potential to be very successful choices that will ultimately take you much further than you would have ever gone if you had not taken the risk."
See also the video interview with Mark Askren, "On the Path to CIO," attached to the article.

Monday, August 11, 2014

If You’re Always Working, You’re Never Working Well

Michael Harris at the Harvard Business Review writes about work-life separation, claiming that If You’re Always Working, You’re Never Working Well. After you read his excellent piece, you may recognize this all-too-familiar scenario: it's the evening or weekend, and you pick up your phone and find yourself flipping through work email. You believe you're a very productive person, always "on" even when you're supposed to be in downtime.

We tell ourselves that we're just picking off the easy emails, maybe deleting some unnecessary things, doing a quick review of others to make sure nothing is "exploding" back at the office. We may claim that this quick check actually makes us more productive—but we're just fooling ourselves. According to recent research (PDF), the cost of such interrupted time is more speed and more stress. We're making ourselves less efficient by trying to be more efficient.

From the article: (emphasis mine)
And let’s not forget about ambient play, which often distracts us from accomplishing our most important tasks. Facebook and Twitter report that their sites are most active during office hours. After all, the employee who’s required to respond to her boss on Sunday morning will think nothing of responding to friends on Wednesday afternoon. And research shows that these digital derailments are costly: it’s not only the minutes lost responding to a tweet but also the time and energy required to “reenter” the original task. As Douglas Gentile, a professor at Iowa State University who studies the effects of media on attention spans, explains, “Everyone who thinks they’re good at multitasking is wrong. We’re actually multiswitching [and] giving ourselves extra work.”
But that constant "connectedness" is also a detraction from good work-life balance. And the danger here is that we become too connected to work when we're on personal time, then become easily distracted when we return to work. This "always on" mentality drains energy—energy that you'll need to be creative and productive the next day at work.

How often have you found yourself checking work email from your phone, over the weekend, during the evening, or on vacation? Make the choice to disconnect in a smart way, to maintain your work-life balance. I challenge you to find your own way to completely relax while outside of work. What keeps bringing you back to check your email? Maybe it's that the phone is right there next to you while you're watching TV. Try leaving the phone on a shelf; it's there if you need it, and you can still hear it if someone calls you, but you won't have easy access to check "just one more" work email during the commercial break.

If you're on-call, that's one thing to stay connected. But when you aren't on-call, you should do your best to maintain that work-life balance.
photo: Chris Brown

Friday, August 8, 2014

More are online via mobile than a PC, in China

In what I view as the first of a trend that we've been predicting for several years, China has more people going online with a mobile device than a PC. Quoting from Reuters:
The number of China's Internet users going online with a mobile device—such as a smartphone or tablet—has overtaken those doing so with a personal computer (PC) for the first time, said the official China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) on Monday.

China's total number of Internet users crept up 2.3 percent to 632 million by the end of June, from 618 million at the end of 2013, said CNNIC's Internet development statistics report.

Of those, 527 million—or 83 percent—went online via mobile. Those doing so with a PC made up 81 percent the total.
This isn't just students using mobile devices, but everyone going on the Internet from China. This is a continuation of today's "bring your own device" or BYOD, in which people increasingly use personal devices to go online and access information. These findings should impact everyone in technology, from web developers to managers to CIOs.

To understand the current BYOD trend, let's look at a brief history of business computing:

When businesses started to use computers to help us organize information, and process large amounts of data, everything was neatly stored on a mainframe. This "timeshare" system allowed all the data to be managed "centrally". The equipment could be easily audited, the organization could control how information was accessed. If you needed to process the data stored on the mainframe, you used a "terminal", not much more than a monitor and keyboard at your desk. But that was only a "view" into the system; the real processing always took place on the mainframe, located in an isolated server room.

In the early 1980s, IBM introduced the IBM-PC. This put individual computing within the budget of home users, or departments within an organization. With the right software, a worker could process data without having to go through the company's mainframe. Directors and managers could use the "personal computer" as a tool to solve new business problems.

But at the same time, the industry began to worry that technology was leaving IT's hands. PC's were not mainframes, and central IT did not know how to control the new computer when you could buy one at a store: the "Consumerization of the desktop". Many in IT scoffed at the PC as a "consumer" desktop, that "personal computers" were underpowered or lacked sophistication to become a suitable replacement for mainframes.

But eventually, the PC pushed aside the mainframe, and IT had to find ways to adapt to the new model, and adopt the PC as a business tool.

Fast-forward to today, 30 years later. We are hearing the same rhetoric about tablets and smartphones. Except this time, individual departments aren't bringing them to the workplace—it's the people. Central IT worries about controlling the data on these devices, when they aren't managed by the organization. Still others say the tablet and smartphone as work devices are a "fad", and will pass.

IT will ignore the impact of BYOD at its peril. As an industry, we need to embrace the concept of BYOD, and find ways to leverage it. How do we support these personal devices without putting data security at risk? Cloud computing is a good first step, because the data isn't actually stored on the device, it's in the cloud. But we need to plan ahead for where we need to be in 1 year, in 5 years. How will the IT landscape change with BYOD?
photo: See-ming Lee

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

In praise of GUADEC

Lipton poster as an unfortunate example of casual sexism
In writing my reflections from GUADEC, the GNOME Users And Developers European Conference, I was excited to review several key presentations that caught my attention. GNOME is a great example of free software, demonstrating how many contributors can come together in a "great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches … out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles" (to quote Eric S. Raymond's description of open source software).

On another note, I was also pleased to see GUADEC has a very clear non-harassment policy, which says, in part:
GUADEC is dedicated to providing a safe and friendly conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form. Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to any of the above qualities, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.
GUADEC established several members as go-to people for harassment incidents (both women and men) and identified them to us during the welcome session. Everyone at the conference was provided the phone numbers and email addresses of the code of conduct support team. GNOME actively encourages women and minorities to get into coding, so a clear non-harassment policy is a must-have.

And it's not just lip service; GNOME's non-harassment policy got mentioned during my first night in Strasbourg, when several of us went to dinner. I connected with a group of other men after the pre-registration event, and we found a small restaurant a short distance from the city centre that was happy to seat all 11 of us. We had a great time until our drinks arrived. When the waiter engaged in casual sexism (he spoke almost no English, but the gestures were clear) one of our members spoke up and reminded the group about GNOME's non-harassment policy. I'm glad to say the reminder wasn't necessary; I don't recall that anyone in our group thought it was funny. A great example that even though it was before the conference, the non-harassment policy still applied and we shouldn't encourage the waiter's behavior.

On the first day of GUADEC, Marina Zhurakhinskaya shared a presentation about How to be an ally to women in tech. Marina's talk was a refreshing reminder on how to support everyone in free software. Marina talked about how women in technology often face the "unicorn syndrome"—if you are a woman working in technology, you will eventually be asked to give a talk about being a woman working in technology. Marina also discussed words to avoid when talking about people and technology, something I realized I fumbled when I gave my keynote. Notably: you can find examples everywhere of people who can't use technology; be careful of saying "the interface needs to be so simple that your mother could use it." (Oops. In my keynote, I said that I wanted GNOME to be something that my mom could use. That's something to work on.)

I am so glad to see these examples! Technology must be open to everyone. This is especially true of free software, where there should be no barriers to contribute. GNOME and GUADEC clearly have set expectations about appropriate behavior, and the GNOME community has achieved not only "buy-in" but ownership.
photo: mine (poster found in Strasbourg, an unfortunate example of casual sexism)

Teaching Workshop: Active Learning and the Flipped Instruction Model

I wanted to forward this message from Pam Gades, Instructional & Media Technology. If you are interested in attending this workshop, please contact Pam directly.

Both Michelle Page and I would like to invite you to attend a day-long teaching workshop scheduled for Thursday, August 14th. The workshop will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in The Learning Studio - Humanities/Fine Arts (HFA) building - Rm. 45.

The title of the workshop is:  "Active Learning and the Flipped Instruction Model."

Lunch and day-long coffee, tea, and lemon-ice water will be provided. Also, all attendees completing the full day workshop are eligible to receive a technology incentive (i.e. You will be able to choose from a selection of equipment or software options).

Persons who attended this workshop last year (and who received the technology incentive) are welcome to attend again if there is room in the workshop, however there will be no additional technology incentive).

—Pam Gades, Coordinator, Technology for Teaching & Learning
—Michelle Page, Associate Professor, UMM Secondary Education

Monday, August 4, 2014

GUADEC wrap-up

GUADEC 2014 was an exciting experience for me! This was my first time at GUADEC, although I've attended other, similar open source software conferences before: O'Reilly Open Source Convention and Penguicon both come to mind.

If you haven't attended GUADEC before, the general schedule is that each day kicks off with a keynote or similar session, then much of the rest of the day is devoted to general sessions, usually with a single closing presentation at the end of each day. The general sessions gave an option of two presentations per session.

There were so many great talks to choose from, but of course I could only attend some of the general sessions. I've just posted a few highlights from each of the four days of GUADEC, to my research blog at Open Source Software & Usability. While I'm actually posting these almost a week later, I have back-dated each article to the corresponding day at GUADEC. I hope this will help you follow GUADEC, and perhaps interest you to join us next year!