Amazon HQ Blunder

Amazon HQ Blunder

I’m not quite sure what corporate folks think when they make blunders as the one Amazon did with deciding its next HQ location.

Well, maybe they meant to do it this way. During the review process cities across America vying for Amazon’s attention sent in their detailed proprietary city plans to lure the giant.

Essentially, Amazon now has detailed plans on how cities will expand and what they are planning to do next. These plans give Amazon a significant advantage with their corporate expansion plans.

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Apple Music vs Spotify vs Google Music

Apple Music vs Spotify vs Google Music

To determine which service is the best we have to go back to the roots of all great music. Finding that track, you could bump over and over again.

Remember Rasputins? Or tower records? Or your local record shop?

For my friends and I, it was always fun to walk into a record shop and sort through CDs. For you, it may have been crates of records or tapes. It was the thing to do on a Saturday afternoon. Usually when it was too hot to play basketball. The cool AC at the shop was just what we needed.

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Diversity will help your company make more money...seriously!

In this post, I’ll discuss why diversity is important to every business. In particular, how important diversity is to building great products.

Is diversity in the workplace just a cool statistic we talk about or a critical part of your company?

Let’s forget for a moment diversity, in general, is just the right thing to do as a society.

Let’s forget that no matter your race or gender, equality and inclusion should never be an issue.

Let’s say with all the recent events you’re still not on board with diversity.

Let’s forget for a moment diversity in an organization could be the most important strategic advantage your company could ever deploy.

Wait! Let’s not forget that one.

You are running a business, and it's has been created to make profits.

“When it comes to building a product, diverse thinking helps organizations appeal to a larger customer set by incorporating different voices. After all, you can’t sell to people whose perspectives you can’t understand.” - Hackernoon

Still, don’t believe it?

Advancing Gender Inequality

California recently became the first state to require a woman on a corporate board. In a rare message included in the bill, Gov. Jerry Brown said, “I don’t minimize the potential flaws that indeed may prove fatal to its ultimate implementation. Nevertheless, recent events in Washington, D.C. — and beyond — make it crystal clear that many are not getting the message.”

Government agencies are forcing the issue of diversity because people are not getting the message. Force feeding is truly sad we have to resort to political force.

It is to our strategic advantage as a company to maximize shareholder value, and diversity does just that.

The one reason to convince you diversity is important is the company will build better products with a more diverse workforce and diverse thinking.

You will make more money!

This also includes diversity from different ethnic backgrounds and races.

McKinsey & Company reported that companies in the top quartile of racial diversity are 35% more likely to have higher financial returns than the national median in their industry.

Product Development and Diversity

Let’s focus on the product side for a moment.

In our podcast episode “Machine learning and data bias,” we discuss actually how unsettling a lack of diversity can be for a company. For example, many claimed Pokemon Go discriminates against predominantly minority neighborhoods. Whether this is true or not is one thing, the main issue here is we should be using technology to break down these barriers, not put more up.

I am particularly interested in Internet of Things (IoT) and autonomous cars. I have heard from friends some smart assistant devices have a hard time understanding women. Interesting. I am also curious who is building all this self-driving technology? Are they all males? Are these companies considering how different people drive and their product experience?

Without a proper understanding of the user base, the user experience could suffer, resulting in lost revenue and a tarnished reputation. After all, over half the population are women. Probably a good idea to include different perspectives.

Don’t blame the algorithms either. Chris Stoll, a software engineer at Skiplist wrote a fascinating piece on machine learning and data biases. In the article, he discusses that data isn’t just data. It is indeed the people who build these algorithms have their own intentional and unintentional biases baked in.

We must account for these biases and diversity.

However, an issue companies face is there are just not enough minorities and women in tech. The limited pipeline of good talent is already a challenge. Tech companies, in particular, are very competitive when it comes to software talent.

While we can’t speak for other companies on fostering a more diverse workplace, especially in the software industry; we observe and learn. We work on projects that span many different industries, and because of this, we prioritize a diverse staff. It’s quite interesting to see the different perspectives from tech-leading companies to more traditional ones that are transitioning to more of an emphasis on tech.

The value of a diverse staff and varying backgrounds and perspectives becomes quite apparent. We have the unique opportunity to see what works for different types of companies when it comes to diversity, and to witness the challenges.

This perspective allows for us at Skiplist to continue improving and growing, ourselves.  Without a doubt, we see that more diverse teams tend to produce better results.

Our employees come from various non-traditional software backgrounds as Scott Stahl, a software engineer at Skiplist discussed in his article, Does diversity matter for success?

We’ve also seen that diversity of thought matters to our team, and not just for software. Our marketing coordinator, Samantha Wolfe reviews and edits our content. As someone who previously worked in the public health and non-profit field,  her perspective is equally essential to align what we say to the world, mainly because she does not have a technical background.

We know that Skiplist has room to grow regarding diversity and we look forward to that challenge. We can, and we will continue to do better. And in that same arena, we will continue to seek out partnerships with like-minded companies that hold the same values.

Cheers,

Fahad Shoukat

What is blockchain?

The Dotcom boom and bust was a wild ride. From the rubble came a wave of new tech giants - namely Google, Facebook, and many others. Tremendous investments were made to build out the foundation of the internet.

Wireless communication and the growth of LTE, Wifi, and Bluetooth have completely changed our lives. Mobile communication and the upcoming launch of 5G is going to be really cool.

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Where do you begin with blockchain?

proofofconcept.jpg

Start with a proof of concept with blockchain.

Most of what is written today about Blockchain technology is theoretical. What could potentially happen with blockchain and how disruptive it will be. 

There are articles after articles on how blockchain will disrupt X industry and change everything. Finance, supply chains, contracts, or venture capital, nothing is safe from blockchain's disruptive force. 

Let me know tell this is a lot of hype. Not to say it isn't true but hyped what too fast. This is the environment we live in now where something can go viral immediately. 

Hype is good thing when it comes to technology particularly. This is mainly how so much money gets poured into new projects and companies. The hype train brings in money so the infrastructure can be laid out today for a better tomorrow. 

Blockchain is not going anywhere. In the US we have a fairly good banking system and things generally work well. However, for many in the world their infrastructure is terrible. 

A basic thing such as keeping your money with you is not possible. Governments and banks hold all the cards. Extremely inflation in certain countries make the Bitcoin volatility look like a kids seesaw. 

Proof Of Concept

What most companies should be doing though is to start dipping their toes into blockchain. Start with a proof of concept (POC) and see what results you get from these tests. Maybe a smart contract can streamline the supply chain better and reduce costs by 15%. Then make bigger investments into a more wide spread architecture. 

There is not also a strong need to build out a full blockchain group internally. Use outside resources and freelance developers to build POCs. 

Test. Iterate. Test. Iterate. Look for areas to double down on. Then full steam ahead. 

Cheers,

Fahad

 

Design Review: ProtonMail

protonmail.jpg

Encrypted and based in Switzerland? Sounds interesting. 

On their homepage you'll find a bunch of cool features. At least cool to me. Swiss privacy. End-to-end encryption. Anonymous email. Open source. This is all good but ehhh. Intriguing for a nerd but the market doesn't really care. 

Wait a minute...then they list easy to use and modern inbox design. Ok now we are talking. "Security without the hassle" and "Security with productivity" is catchy. This the market does care about. 

Secure email will never get mass adoption without a great user experience. In the past, not many companies were able to solve this problem. When you think of security and encryption, I immediately think complicated. 

Protonmail makes it very simple. Just as simple as creating a Gmail account. This is really the most important factor. The underlying technology is an after thought when you just want to check email. 

The purpose of Protonmail and similar services is to keep your communications secure. Away from prying eyes. Corporate and government eyes. Even from hackers. You may think you have nothing to hide. That is true for most of us. I am mainly interested in security from hackers and general privacy when it comes to email. 

This led me to Protonmail. Check out this video for more into. You got privacy?

Sending an email message is like sending a postcard, says scientist Andy Yen in this thought-provoking talk: Anyone can read it. Yet encryption, the technology that protects the privacy of email communication, does exist. It's just that until now it has been difficult to install and a hassle to use.

 I signed up for the free account to get 5MB to check out the service. I almost immediately signed up for the paid account. The setup was extremely easy and the user experience is great also. 

For example, out of the box swipe right is archive an email and swipe left is trash. Simple. Touch ID setup was easy. Everything you would expect was simple. 

They really thought about the user experience. Even using the ProtonBridge to setup encrypted email on your desktop was easy. The bridge also can setup your Apple mail for you. Brilliant. 

The web portal is very good. They even show you how to secure your domain. This may be for a more advanced user but wasn't too bad for me. 

Not perfect

There are some drawbacks. It can be confusing to understand which plan to buy. Some plans give you 20G of total space. Then some give you a different space per user. Then another one included VPN. 

Setting up different email addresses seems quirky also. 

The major drawback is contacts isn't integrated with iOS. Meaning I can't save Proton contacts on my iPhone to a iPhone contact directory. I understand they want to keep it secure. Problem is if someone emails me and I save their email into a contact, I won't be able to text them from iPhone. It doesn't transfer over. 

Another big big drawback is no calendar support. This is a big problem for me. They say its on the roadmap. Even if it does come out I don't we will get iOS support. 

This leaves me with still having to use Gmail. I'll live with it for now. At least I got one secure email account. Nice work Protonmail. 

Cheers,

Fahad

My Thoughts on Blockchain Technology

What is blockchain?

blockchain.jpg

BLOCKCHAIN IS SO HOT RIGHT NOW

For me personally, I have always been fascinated by technology and finance. The Dotcom boom and bust was a wild ride. From the rubble came a wave of new tech companies. Namely Google, Facebook, and many others. Tremendous investments were made to build out the foundation of the internet. 

Wireless communication and the growth of LTE, Wifi, and Bluetooth have completely changed our lives. Mobile communication and the upcoming launch of 5G is going to be really cool. 

The financial crisis and housing crash was an interesting experiment that seems to be repeating itself. Banking is primed for a major technology overhaul. 

Every now and then we encounter seismic shifts in how technology will shape our future. Currently, that new technology is the Blockchain. You have probably heard of it by now. Bitcoin and Ethereum are examples of applications built on the blockchain. 

There is so much to digest. It can be difficult to filter through the noise as most conversations right now are very technical. This is generally a good thing as we need really smart people to build out the infrastructure of what will blockchain do for everyone. 

Although I have been following this technology for some time now. I am just recently focusing more attention to learn more about possible beneficial applications of the blockchain. 

Blockchain Summary

A blockchain is a digital ledger of records or transactions arranged in data blocks. Blocks are linked together through a cryptographic validation known as a hashing function. Follow the link if you want to nerd out for a bit or have trouble sleeping. 

Linking the blocks together forms a blockchain. 

What makes blockchain and this type of data structure so hot is applications can be decentralized. Records are not stored in any single location, are accessible by everyone, and are immutable. Meaning it is nearly impossible to hack. 

How does blockchain help us?

Let’s look at the most popular application of blockchain technology. Bitcoin is a digital currency that is built on the blockchain. There is no physical paper, like a US dollar. It is all digital. 

The challenge with making this purely digital is you could copy it for example. Also, how do I know your Bitcoin is legit and you didn’t counterfeit it. 

This is where blockchain technology enables us to use Bitcoins to buy and sell goods online with the confidence. 

Wait a minute. We can already buy and sell goods online. What’s wrong with PayPal and the current checkout system?

Well, for one thing, these transactions are controlled by just a few companies. We pay a ton in fees just to transfer money. Have you ever sent money overseas? It transfers from bank to bank adding fees upon fees and days to the process. 

There is no central company or person controlling Bitcoin. Bitcoin technology does not recognize a person or entity for validation. Completely decentralized. There are blockchain applications which are hybrids though. So it is not all or nothing. 

Blockchain hopes to make this more efficient by minimizing the middleman and enabling direct peer-to-peer transactions. 

A few more reasons to implement blockchain

  • No single authority in control

  • No center

  • No concentration of power

  • Secure (uses a push mechanism rather than pull). The network only sends what is needed where banks pull information from your account with credit cards for example.

  • Continuous innovation since it is an open network

  • Unchangeable

  • Unforgeable

  • Built-in privacy

  • No prior authorization needed to use the blockchain

  • Consumer protection allowing users direct control of their information

  • Predictable outcomes

My focus here is to summarize my thoughts around Blockchain and related applications. Specifically around how to apply this exponential technology to everyday businesses. The intention is not to be too technical because Ill get lost myself. 

How will blockchain effect banks?

How will blockchain effect supply chains?

How will blockchain be regulated?

How will blockchain affect my parents?

I hope to answer with future discussions. I cannot predict if Bitcoin will hit $20,000 or die out. However, one thing I know for sure is blockchain technology is not going away. 

Cheers,

Fahad

https://twitter.com/beatsblockchain

https://twitter.com/fahsho12

 

Good resources

http://amzn.to/2FRi2Pj

http://amzn.to/2DLAsQC

http://amzn.to/2DPHELO

https://decentralize.today/bitcoins-and-blockchains-for-mums-and-dads-part-1-the-basics-8694ba767440

The Blockchain Explained to Web Developers, Part 1: The Theory

Why Blockchain Matters More Than You Think!

Privacy on the blockchain – Hacker Noon

Blockchain Twitter Starter Pack

How can creative industries benefit from blockchain? - The World Economic Forum

Blockchain Revolution | Blockchain Companies | AI & Blockchain Revolutionize Industries

The Blockchain Explained to Web Developers, Part 1: The Theory

Why Blockchain Matters More Than You Think!

Decentralized vs Centralized vs Distributed

Peer-to-peer networking and cloud technologies are fascinating when you start to think about how information is moved. 

Particularly with financial institutions that are prone to aggressive and constant cyber attacks. 

A key aspect about blockchain is it is a decentralized network. There is no central control. This is important for security to not have a central point for attackers to focus on.

Illustration from “On Distributed Communication Networks”, showing three types of networks.

Illustration from “On Distributed Communication Networks”, showing three types of networks.

This is different from a distributed network. Even though Amazon may have various cloud services with servers distributed across the globe, it is still controlled by Amazon. An issue arises with Amazon and your data could be in danger. 

I am personally not so concerned that Amazon controls the servers. It seems to be working well and thousands of businesses are built on AWS. They must be doing something right. 

However, the future with blockchain technology promises a decentralized environment where no one company holds all the data.

Cheers,

Fahad

The Last Tech Humans Will Invent

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can cure cancer. AI that will know what you want before you want it. AI that can invent anything humans can invent but better and faster. As Scott Phoenix, co-founder of Vicarious calls it, “the last tech humans will invent”. It may take 10, 20, or 50 years to get there but it is coming.

AI Is Hot In Here

The new hot thing is artificial intelligence (AI). I started to look into AI and quickly found out most AI today is what is known as weak AI or narrow AI. Things like Siri and Google Now. Designed to do specifics tasks. Not as interesting as it used to be. I would classify this as smarter software. I am far from an expert in this field yet AI will be changing rapidly as computing power gets faster and as more investments pour in.

Vicarious is working on human-level AI. Some call it artificial general intelligence (AGI). Where things get interesting in the AI field is with AGI. This is where a machine has the ability to think like humans. AGI is what science fictions writers and futurists have been craving. Think HAL 9000, Tony Stark’s JARVIS, or the movie “Her”.

There is no need to worry though. A Terminator Skynet future is highly unlikely. AGI is not going to take us over. Rather AGI will “augment” our lives as Marc Canter explained it to me. Just as any technology today, AGI will help us do what we do.

“Possibly our last invention”

The bold claim is AGI will be able to solve our hardest problems. Such as a possible cure for cancer and create better inventions than humans. Possibly our last invention. This is a big “what if” however the implications are profound.

Today AI tools for sales and marketing professionals is mainly “rules based” AI. If something happens then do this. Software will scan your email and calendar and make suggestions. Salesforce is working on something called Einstein with AI built into its core. A smarter Salesforce for more predictive insights. This AI is more of an assistant. Obviously it is considerably more sophisticated. It is exciting progress but I see there is a need for much more.

I don’t know yet how I feel about a bot reminding me to call a client just because someone programmed in a timed trigger. Rules based AI has its place but it doesn’t yet think about our originality. There are so many nuances in human behavior unique to each individual. Particularly with buying and selling.

Originals

What makes the human brain amazing is its ability to create mental models with very little information. We learn primarily through our environment and experiences. Each person has a unique way of learning and applying what they learn. We are all original.

This is my beef with the traditional training models today. Essentially teach everyone the same thing the same way, Especially with sales trainings. Usually some veteran sales guy who teaches the entire class the same model he has been using for the last 30 years. Nothing adaptive or unique to me. I am left to figure it out on my own. Mainly conform to someone else’s opinion.

I can see the value of an AI engine automating some of my manual tasks. For me though I am more interested in an AI powered partner. Kind of like Steph and Klay. Han Solo and Chewbacca. Milk and cookies. Creating a dynamic duo. Someone or something that understands my unique style while merging it with effective methods. A personal AI just for me.

Granted AI is just in the beginning stages of getting interesting. My hope is Vicarious and other entrepreneurs are successful and we get a more personalized environment. More customization.

With Google’s announcement today of their Google Assistant, their vision is clear. Build a unique Google for each person. A personal assistant for everyone. Google understands the uniqueness of each individual. By tailoring Google to each person they understand the experience becomes more personal. Why does that matter? When we make the experience more personal, we tend to buy more. Simple concept, hard to implement.

A personal AI just for me. Now only if there was something like this for work….tbd.

Cheers,

Fahad