Category Archives: General


Don’t undervalue the power of the dorm room citizen developer

One of the big findings from the 2014 IBM Business Tech Trends study was the fact that companies are finding more value from attracting armies of developers who had no previous affiliation with themselves (who we call citizen developers). For instance, IBM in partnership with the City of Honolulu opened up a platform to allow local programmers to build useful mobile apps based on information such as bus timetables and walking routes:

Anything new? At one level, barely. After all Linus Torsvalds energized a body of developers to build the Linux OS and revolutionize the software industry almost 20 years ago. Since then, we’ve seen the rise of Kaggle, Kickstarter and hackathons in just about every major city bringing ‘citizen developers’ to work on all kinds of projects. 

However, at another level, we are now seeing businesses big and small really start to engage the citizen developer. Why? Huge amounts of compute power are now available via the cloud. Mobile has simplified the distribution and consumption of applications. Analytics helps organizations understand which services are most popular and prioritize those.

Get it right and businesses can get many more solutions faster to market than they could ever do with their internal teams. Also, many times citizen developers build apps that are useful to themselves and by extension a broader audience.

So, if you’re bought in this far and wondering how you get hold of a bunch of citizen developers, I’d suggest there’s two great places you should look: inside your own walls and inside dorm rooms. Look for a follow-up post on the employee as citizen developer. Right now I want to focus on the student developers.

Why do students develop code?

So, what’s their motivation? They are itching to build a name for themselves. They often have more time on their hands and they may be to some degree suitably disgruntled with the status quo. Enough to try and shake it up.

In an excellent post in the New York Times, writer Ariel Kaminer, looks at students that have been building apps to make college life simpler using available college data, many times without the knowledge of the college. Based on the work of these student citizen developers:

“Students now arriving for fall semester may find course catalogs that they can instantly sort and re-sort according to every imaginable search criteria. Scheduling programs that allow someone to find the 47 different classes that meet Thursdays at 8:30 p.m., then narrow them down to those that have no prerequisites, then narrow again to those that count toward requirements in two majors.”

Can you think of a better way for a CompSci major to stand out with their peers?

Ariel goes on to show how some schools have embraced and legitimized these kinds of grassroots applications, but in other instances these have caused a headache for unprepared colleges, bringing down parts of their IT services.

There’s a clear lesson here for business: if you bury your head in the sand and don’t think citizen developers (students or otherwise) can scrape your content and build applications on top of it, beware! On the other hand if you build a platform and enable the citizen developer, you may be pleasantly surprised.

As was the University of Stuttgart when they ran a hackathon on the IBM Bluemix PaaS platform. Within 24 hours student teams had built apps that “ranged from the photo-sharing via Twitter analysis to the weather-dependent wake-up call, the eventual winner app.”

Getting started

So, businesses can potentially get better by engaging citizen developers, some of whom are on a local campus. How can you engage them?

If you have a training arm or other part of your organization that works with educational establishments (even if it’s predominantly faculty you work with), reach out and see what opportunities exist. If you don’t have current links with educational institutions, you can look for on-campus computer science clubs or even reach out to specific computer science faculty members (many of whom are listed on college websites these days) and look for effective partnering opportunities, eg: 

– Engage in hackathons like the one in Stuttgart

– Embed cloud-based platform and data services into the classroom experience

– Bring students onto your premises to show them your development process

If you want to learn more about organizations that are partnering in inventive ways with citizen developers, check out the IBM Business Tech Trends 2014 On-Demand Presentation.

The impact of driverless cars on insurance

I had an interesting discussion with Lee Fogle a year ago who was them at Exigen. We talked broadly about some of the key trends in car insurance and it began to dawn what a different landscape we will have in this regard if driverless cars become the norm. Sure you can still have accidents, but now it will be the fault of the car software, not the hapless human driver.

This should leave insurance costs rapidly trending downwards. For example, there’s no reason why folks in New York shouldn’t pay the same rates as those in Idaho. Frankly, i’m surprised this didn’t come up as an example as this great article in the UK Telegraph:

Oh, and if you want to hear Lee share his thoughts, check out this video:

#SMBEB: Jory Des Jardins, BlogHer on current state of blog publishing

When Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort Page and Jory Des Jardins founded BlogHer in 2005 they were only thinking of helping showcase women bloggers, not of building the content network empire that BlogHer is today.

In an inspiring Social Media Breakfast here in the East Bay this week Jory took us through where BlogHer came from and where BlogHer is today. Sourcing content from 1000s of bloggers and dealing with issues as diverse as tech, politics, sex and food, means that Jory and team have a good sense of what’s happening in the world of digital publishing.

So what’s going on?

Jory reiterated three major trends impacting the world of publishing:

Most consumption of BlogHer content now happens on mobile devices. And it has been that way for some time. Jory points out that for BlogHer they do adopt a mobile-first mentality, whether it relates to infrastructure or advertising. We hear a lot about responsive design and building for mobile, but Jory points out this is tough for smaller publishers (read many individual bloggers) who lack the time and skill to ensure an optimized mobile experience. Jory suggests that practically all traffic to the network will be from mobile devices within a few years. One observation: we still hear a lot of pronouncements that the web is dead, particularly driven by the use of mobile apps of the mobile web. However listening to Jory, it’s clear that the blogosphere (built on the web) has a vital role to play in our mobile future.

Jory points out that increasingly video is being employed for digital storytelling purposes. Video consumption is growing and the ease at which you can create great video grows, particularly given the huge advances in digital cameras and smartphones. It’s a medium that needs to be understood, particularly on how you can leverage video for maximum effect.

Jory stressed the importance of getting to the right metrics, and this also proved a popular area when it came to questions. Gone are the days of showing success through page views. What are the key areas to focus on? On the one hand attribution metrics which help advertisers chart the course to a sale and give attribution back to each of the partners that helped enable that sale. On the other hand engagement and community metrics which tell you a lot about how your content resonates and the propensity for you to build and influence a network. Somehow I suspect there is still some room to grow when it comes to metrics – so watch this space!

Check out this recap of the event:

And obviously check out BlogHer and their upcoming conference in the Bay Area July 25/26.

IBM @ TiEcon 2014

I’m looking forward to attending my first TiEcon event tomorrow. If past events are anything to go by, we’re in for a real treat from some of the brightest minds in the startup/tech space.

And some of those minds just happen to currently hold positions at IBM. Just take a look at this line-up of IBM speaking engagements:

9:15 am 
Fireside chat in the Grand Key note Hall
Mike Rhodin, Manoj Saxena

10:15  am
Announcement of Big Data Lightning Round Winners
Piyush Malik

10:45 am
Onramp to Big Data session with Gartner in Big Data Track
Piyush Malik

12:15 pm
Fireside Chat on Cognitive Computing in Big Data track
Dr Laura Haas

1:45 pm
To Introduce the Afternoon Keynote in Big Data track
Piyush Malik

2:30 pm  
To introduce the panel on Technology Landscape of Big Data
C Mohan

2:45 pm 
Panelist on the cloud Infrastructure track
Monica Hein

4:30 pm
Keynote in IOT track by Sandy Carter
Sandy Carter

4:45 pm 
Fireside introduction on Big data in Education with Andre Ng CEO
Piyush Malik

6:35 pm
Tie50 Award Ceremony
Sandy Carter

Thanks to Piyush Malik  @pmalik1 for compiling this list!

I look forward to seeing you there…

MyMenu: IBM Pulse App Throwdown winner brings mobile, cloud and analytics to restaurants

Have you ever sat at a restaurant and wanted to make sure the creator of that sumptuous Tiramisu knows just how good it really is? Or find an easy way to give feedback on less-than-stellar service? MyMenu has the answer.

The startup has developed an app (which incidentally runs on IBM Bluemix) to simplify the dining experience via your mobile device. As Mark Little, CEO of MyMenu explains, whilst many restaurants can develop their own app to build engagement with their diners, this can lead to ‘appathy’: after all, do we really want an app for every restaurant we frequent?

What’s more, MyMenu provides restaurants with deep analytics they can use to make better decisions. Any negative comments immediately trigger a notification to the restaurant so they can act on it immediately.

For this reason, MyMenu achieved most votes via Twitter during the IBM Pulse conference, picking up the IBM Pulse App Throwdown crown, beating out five five formidable participants

See the MyMenu application video

Reshma Saujani from Girls Who Code on bridging the skills gap

One great thing about IBM events is that you get to meet some of the most influential and poignant thinkers of our time. That said, I was excited about the opportunity to talk to Reshma Saujani, CEO and Founder of Girls Who Code in preparation for dev@Pulse, the developer-focused conference-in-a-conference at IBM Pulse.

What struck me from talking to Reshma is that the gender inequality in the field of software development appears to be growing. As she states on her website, “Though women earn 57% of bachelors degrees overall, we earn just 12% of bachelors degrees in Computer Science. This is a massive drop from 1984, when women earned 37% of CS bachelors.”

She explains some of the reasons why this might be and also touches on the programs Girls Who Code run at the High School level to redress the balance. Now here what struck me was the huge growth in the number of participants in the programs she runs. This would suggest that a large reason girls aren’t going into computer science is at least somewhat tied to fear and environmental factors: given the right nurturing circumstances and programs, we could see the bias pull back in the right direction and end up with a software development industry that more closely mirrors its target audience.

More on Girls Who Code

Follow Reshma Saujani on Twitter

Learn about dev@Pulse