Archive by Author

The ABCs of Tech Education

25 Jan

Last week, in the wake of Code Academy’s  – “Learn to code in 2012” campaign we asked:  What does digital literacy really mean today?  And what might a Digital Literacy Agenda for 2012 include?

Betsy, our friend at Google, replied directly arguing that “digital literacy” is too narrow a concept – we need to think more broadly about “digital citizenship,” she argues. “Understanding how to write code that builds an isolated piece of technology is like understanding how to read and write, or knowing the ins and outs of a particular subject like Biology. But understanding how the Internet works is like understanding the way society is governed.”  It’s about providing enough digital civic education so that students can recognize why Chinese censorship of the Net, SOPA/PIPA, or debates about wireless spectrum are connected to our fundamental values about speech and communication.

I’m agnostic about whether “digital literacy,” “digital civics,” or even basic “technology education,” is the right term. But, as I watch Mozilla, Code Academy, General Assembly, and many others dive into this topic, its clear there’s a need to continue untangling these concepts.

Last week Bloomberg and Fred Wilson announced the new Academy for Software Engineering, a tech-focused high school in New York. In doing so they intimated that one vision of the school is to develop a tech curriculum that can be exported to other schools in New York.  What might such a curriculum include?

In our view, basic tech education should center around three core concepts: Understanding, Creation, and Critique.

  • Understanding Understanding is about explaining the building blocks of technology as well as the larger ecosystem of institutions in which technologies operate. It’s about enabling students to understand the basic relationships between inventors, tech companies, publishers, regulators, or consumers and the centers of control therein. It’s also about teaching the fundamental “internet architecture” or “digital civics” topics of which Betsy speaks.
  • Creation Creation is about giving students the basic tools and grammar to create and “build stuff” using new technologies. It about raising a generation of “web makers” as Mozilla trumpets. It is also about teaching the fundamentals of publishing in the new media era and the flow of information on the web. Ultimately it’s about giving young people the ability to exploit all the structures and architecture, to have a voice. This is part of democratizing media and technology. Today, creation might be about providing basic coding, mobile app creation, or web design skills. But it’s surely an evolving standard.
  • Critique  – Critique is about enabling students to decipher and analyze both incoming information as well as the communications they create. If teaching coding is like teaching the basics of a new language (ie. basic grammar), teaching critique is like teaching literature. It’s about teaching students to analyze the reliability, perspective, and editorial control in the Wikipedia articles, digital videos, or other web communications they receive.  It’s about enabling students to understand the difference between platforms that are highly moderated or curated and those that are opens. It’s about understanding what’s at stake with anonymous vs. identifiable speech.

It’s clear that in some cases, teaching these fundamentals may require the creation of new high school classes -  i.e. coding class.  But in many cases, it’s more about extending our existing classes in literature, history, and science to cover the technology related stories and topics.

Digital and web literacy is a lot about opening up the black box that is our tech-enabled world so that more people can participate in this world and critique it. Coding alone is about being able to create and modify this box.  It’s clear that the Academy for Software Engineering will likely add a whole host of additional classes on entrepreneurship, design, finance and many other topics.  But if they can lead us and strike even the basics of digital literacy and technology education right, that will be a huge accomplishment.

The Social Enterprise and Identifying Talent

6 Jan

Last December we wrote about the Social Enterprise movement and the way these tools create opportunities for employees to participate in and influence the “corporate discussion”. (Think of Sharepoint, Jive, Yammer, Kaltura or Lithium – which just raised $53mil.) Indeed, if implemented correctly, social enterprise tools offer employees new ways to become deeply involved in sharing knowledge, collaborating, and influencing company direction.

Although the enterprise software community is focused on productivity and collaboration – less understood is the opportunity these tools may offer leaders in identifying talent and thought leadership in an organization. Over time, some employees will attract followers to the knowledge, information and ideas they share.  The results may be particularly interesting given the changing demographic and culture of new employees entering the workforce. If tracked correctly, this might be come a great means of identifying leadership from the bottom-up – and specifically a means that is very different from the traditional corporate review and hierarchy practices.

Employees who voice valuable information and ideas (either in text or video), share knowledge, and tend to collaborate will be valuable assets to any organization.

So… talent management, HR folks…  it’s time to join the discussion.

Building A Digital Literacy Agenda

5 Jan

One of our most popular posts this fall was “Why Digital Literacy,” where we talked about the growing set of thought leaders speaking out about the importance of digital literacy. For some it’s a matter of training the next generation of entrepreneurs and engineers. For others it’s about matching skills to jobs and ensuring basic comprehension of the information ecosystem.

The digital literacy debates are escalating as we head into 2012; but as I listen, it strikes me that few have articulated what digital literacy really means.  What constitutes a digitally literate high school graduate? What do I need to be able to know, make, or understand to be a digitally literate adult?  The most thoughtful piece I read last year was by @betsymas at Google, titled “To learn how the Internet works is to learn civics.”  She emphasizes that teaching students to code is not enough:

Understanding how to write code that builds an isolated piece of technology is like understanding how to read and write, or knowing the ins and outs of a particular subject like Biology. But understanding how the Internet works is like understanding the way society is governed. The architectural design should be taught in high school, the same way we teach about the design of the US Constitution.

Last Friday, as I was returning from vacation, I was amused to hear a network segment titled “2012 – the Year of Code” looping in all the airports. It was filled with catch phrases – “Code is the new Chinese.” “Code is the language of the next generation.” “First we teach math, then we teach code.”

The segment was provoked by the recent launch of Code Academy’s New Year’s Resolution Coding Class – “Code Year.”  At Code Year, anyone who adds his or her email to a website receives free coding classes once a week for a year.

The Code Academy campaign is an awesome initiative, and they’ve managed to sign up over 100,000 people so far.  Still, if 2012 is the Year of Digital Literacy, it’s time to dive in and think about a real Digital Literacy Agenda.  We’ll try to unravel this further in the coming months. For now, I’ll leave you with Mashable’s Code Academy video… in case any of you want to learn how to code… whilst we debate!

5 Tools for Startup Innovation

29 Dec

We recently wrote a short article for Inc. Magazine highlighting key tools for enabling continuous innovation in startups.

The topic is in many ways counterintuitive; many people assume that because startups are often new market entrants, innovation comes naturally. It’s “in the blood” so to speak.  The truth is that once initial products are developed, a vision is detailed, or funding is secured, much of the focus of startup leaders turns to execution…

In the post we provide a number of concrete tactics for maintaining continuous innovation- tools that we’ve used in Kaltura and have seen at work in other tech companies. We hope you enjoy.

Social Enterprises and the Freedom to Listen and Learn

12 Dec

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen increasing discussion about the coming “social enterprise.” At the root of this discussion are 2 major ideas:

Idea 1: The advent of cloud-based services like Yammer, Successfactors, Kaltura or Salesforce are shifting the buyers of enterprise software from IT to end users.

Idea 2:  The way we do business will soon undergo a rapid transformation as enterprises adopt social tools that allow collaboration between customers, employees, and partners.

I’m enthusiastic about these trends and excited for Kaltura to lead the cloud-video part of the social enterprise transformation. Yet, just as the consumer world struggles with norms around privacy and sharing, the enterprise software community must significantly revise its own practices here before the ‘social enterprise’ vision can truly be realized.

As we are implementing our MediaSpace product for many enterprises (which is essentially a “Corporate YouTube”), we are constantly asked by our enterprise customers to restrict user access to different content channels. I question this request because it hinders the ability of many users to participate in the corporate discussion. It takes away the “freedom to listen”, and the “freedom to learn.”

I’ll give you a personal example.

Once we implemented Sharepoint at Kaltura, I rapidly lost my ability to listen. Why? Because our IT department restricted my access to other departmental content.  The result is that I now know significantly less about what’s happening in other groups, and I have a more difficult time with cross-company collaboration.

Surprisingly, email is an inherently open platform in many ways. Any user can email any other user. And once received, any email can be forwarded to another user or group of users.  Authors hold the initial decision-making power.

Enterprise social platforms are different. Although many are inspired by the Facebook and Twitters of the world, these platforms are often implemented by central IT teams who immediately divide up the world by organizational units.  Permissions are determined centrally – not by individual users.  

The instinct to create walled gardens is natural. Enterprises are concerned about security at many levels; and as more information is traveling online, there’s increasing movement to secure this new information.

Still, to the future enterprise product developers out there… and to those who are implementing social enterprise platforms today –  I encourage you to think hard about the walled gardens you erect.  Preserve an inter-group read/write/share culture whenever possible.

A 3rd prong must be part of the social enterprise discussion – Idea 3: Social Enterprise is about the freedom to Listen; and when implementing social enterprise solutions, IT departments should be careful not to harm this freedom.

 

What is a Startup?

1 Dec

As the entrepreneurship frenzy in the US grows it seems that more and more people are walking around talking about their “startup.” Sometimes they refer to a full time venture-backed endeavor.  And sometimes it’s just a project “on the side.”

But what actually turns a group of people into a “startup”? Do we call a group of people a startup:

  • when they have an idea and start to pursue it?
  • when they make a commitment to one to the other to find an idea and pursue it jointly?
  • when they form a company?
  • when they start building something or invest capital?

We might also ask – when does a startup outgrow the definition of “startup” and become an actual “company”? Does the startup threshold have to do with:

  • company size (# of employees)
  • # of customers
  • company maturity
  • ratio of R&D to the rest of company
  • brand awareness
  • the type of investors who are investing (for example, private equity versus VCs)
  •  profitability

Think of many of the hot tech companies today – Jive, Yammer, Twittter, Yume, Palantir, etc. Many have large customer bases and big staffs. Few are profitable.

What do you think? Should they be considered startups?