Harbinger or Outlier? Scott Berkun’s Keynote at Saturn 2013

Last week I attended Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute’s annual Saturn Software Engineering Conference in Minneapolis. Attendance was a new record high with 208 software engineers and architects from 20 different countries present.  Conference delegates represented countries as dispersed as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Peru, Argentina, and Brazil, as well as Europe, North America, and 19 representatives from South Korea.

The first day afternoon keynote was delivered by tech innovation author Scott Berkun (Making Things Happen, The Myths of Innovation).  He was talking about his new book (coming out in September, 2013) The Year Without Pants:  WordPress.com and the Future of Work (Jossey-Bass).  Here are my reflections:

  • He was the after lunch speaker.  This gets him bonus points in my book.  After a nice big conference lunch many folks are lethargic, or email is starting to pile up, or you need to return phone calls.  All of these factors combine to make it easy to “slip away” or give less than your full attention to the speaker, so Mr. Berkun had the challenge of keeping us all engaged.  He HAD to be entertaining.  I will report that he was enthralling.  He knows how to tell a story.  He knows how to use his visuals properly and professionally (to reinforce the point, but not to provide the full script), and he is a comfortable speaker which makes him easy to attend to.
  • I’m eagerly awaiting his book release in September.  So, given that book promotion is his main reason for speaking about this topic, he did his job.
  • I won’t steal his thunder by giving away his points, but I will give you my list of favorite quotes.  Agree or disagree as you please, they are provocative (another of his stated goals):
    • An excellent talent pool minimizes the need for methodology.
    • Whatever you do last will suck the most.
    • It is a fallacy to assume all developers are equal.
  • In summary, he was speaking at a Software Engineering conference, and telling a story that questions the need for process, methodology, and a lot that Software Engineers hold dear.  I truly cherish this kind of provocative keynote address, one that asks questions that challenge  the attendee’s dogma.  In my experience, it livens things up quite a bit!  Whether you agree or not, it expands the state of the art just to ask and consider such audacious questions.  And, this talk left me wondering if this is an “Après moi, le déluge[i]” moment?

This presentation will join my “Hall of Fame of Provocative Keynotes.”  Bravo Scott Berkum, bravo!

[i] A French quote meaning, “after me the torrent,” from the French Revolution indicating that you are just seeing the first part of the revolution that is about to arrive.

RapidMiner Introductory Tutorial Videos

RapidMiner Introductory Tutorial Videos

I’m getting ready to teach Data Analytics and Visualization in the Graduate Program in Software at the University of St. Thomas this spring.  I’m really excited about this course, and thrilled that 31 people registered within a week or two.  There is great energy around these topics.  I’m using two tools:  RapidMiner (from Rapid-I.com) and R.

Since these tools are freely available for students they are priced right, but one of the challenges is that you get what you pay for in terms of training, explanations, etc.  RapidMiner is widely used in Europe.  It is a suite of hundreds of algorithms used in Data Mining and statistical analysis.  It uses a graphical programming environment that is easy to use and understand.  However there are a few techniques it is useful to understand to maximize using the tool.  So, I’m creating YouTube videos to show people how to get started.  They are online at:

  1. Installing RapidMiner  http://youtu.be/FtBvxWI9QsA
  2. Online Tutorials  http://youtu.be/h20-Ae_xQkA
  3. Extensions http://t.co/CNXLuLJB

Each is just a few minutes long.  Check them out and let me know what you think.

Overall, the best free training that I’ve found for RapidMiner are videos that various users have posted on YouTube.  I’m curating a list of useful videos that I’ll share with my class.  If you want a copy, please email me and I’ll send it to you.


Robert Stephens 3.0

In May 2012 I attended the inaugural MinneAnalytics: Predictive & Social Media Analytics and the world of ‘Big Data’ Conference at the Medtronic campus in Mounds View, MN.  I presented work from the Center of Excellence for Big Data (CoE4BD) with colleague Brad Rubin, Ph.D. in the Graduate Programs in Software at the University of St. Thomas.  Our session went well.


The highlight of my day was watching Robert Stephens @robertstephens http://www.robertstephens.com in the first public, post Best Buy event at which I’ve seen him.

(Just for background, I first met Robert Stephens when my long-time collaborator Janelle Jurek introduced us over lunch in the 1990s.  Janelle said, “There’s this guy who used to do tech support for our computers at the U of M labs when I was a grad student. He has started a company called ‘Geek Squad,’ and he has some big ideas.”  Well, Robert Stephens had big ideas like the Grand Canyon is a creek bed!  He told us about his company, marketing and branding plans, his movie script, his book, you name it.  I was enthralled with his creativity and insight.  Over the years, from the fifth anniversary party at The Lounge to MHTA to the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce I never, ever missed a chance to hear him speak.  He is an audacious, edgy, insightful marketing genius.  And, although he often says, “I just make this sh!t up,” I know that although his presentations are always fresh and energetic, he has carefully crafted his message, and he always knows where he’s going.

Over the years, I watched Mr. Stephen’s presentations as a young-buck entrepreneur (Robert Stephens 1.0) with edgy metaphors.  For example between branding and religion – religions have been around for thousands of years, and yet are often based on a few guiding principles summarized in one book.  As he sold Geek Squad to Best Buy – in characteristic swagger he always says Geek Squad acquired Best Buy– his presentations became a bit more mainstream.  For instance,  the religion metaphor went away but his attitude remained.)

So, after leaving Best Buy as its Chief Technology Officer (Robert Stephens 2.0) in the spring of 2012, I enthusiastically anticipated Mr. Stephens’s presentation at Medtronic in May.  I was not disappointed (but then I’m a fan, I probably can’t be), and, although he claims the following, my observations are different:


Among the great points that Mr. Stephens made in this presentation were:

  1. Service is the only way to differentiate a brand.  The better brands can get at anticipation (which is way beyond simple “automation”) the better they will grow.
  2. Hot opportunities exist in dynamically dispatching excess capacity (think airbnb.com, opentable.com, zipcar.com).

These are great ideas, and, of course, the presentation was chock full of challenging concepts like “once is a hint, twice is a pattern, three times is a preference, and four times is a habit (lock in)” … but I’m not going to explain them all here.  I just want you to join me in the Robert Stephens fan club, and follow him for yourself. 😉

Who Knew?! 2012/01/23

Click here for the full blog with company listings: Who-Knew-2012-01-23.

“Who knew?” is a phrase I’ve been using a lot lately. I used it when I learned about the long-term dynamism and resilience of Minnesota’s economy as detailed by the U of M Carlson School’s Professor Myles Shaver. As I’ve written before, we’re Minnesotans and we don’t brag, and that means it is sometimes easy to surprise us with our own success. Professor Shaver’s work details some of that success.

This week’s “who knew” moment came when I completed a joyful annual ritual. I bought and downloaded The Business Journal’s “Electronic Book of Lists (EBOL).” You may see the individual lists every week in The Business Journal, you may get their annual publication of the year’s lists, but you’re not really in business intelligence nirvana until you download the electronic version when it is available every January! I am in data visualization bliss right now! But, my “aha” moment this week didn’t come from a complex multivariate four-dimensional animation, just a simple sort. Yes, sort, one of the humblest of algorithms that introductory computer science students study, the kind of tool so ubiquitous as to render it trivial in some people’s minds. Here’s the deal: The EBOL lists the top one hundred publicly traded companies in our market, from UnitedHealth Group to Aetrium Inc. (originally published 4/1/2011). And it lists the largest privately held companies from famously large and famously private Cargill to the Dakota Electrical Association (originally published 5/20/2011). So, what would happen if you merged the two lists (private and public companies) and sorted the merged list? What would you expect? Cargill with $107 billion in revenue would beat UnitedHealth Group’s $94 billion in revenue, of course, but then you might expect the public companies to obliterate the private companies, right? That’s what I thought too. So imagine my surprise to see how well our local private companies did! In fact, the number 100 private company, Dakota Electric Association (annual revenues of $199 million), has revenues better than forty-four of the publicly held companies. That’s right, better than Digi International Inc. ($187 million), HickoryTech Corp.($162 million), Famous Dave’s of America Inc. ($148 million), Communications Systems Inc. ($120 million), and Stratasys Inc. ($117 million). It’s true, among the top twenty only four are privately held companies, but within the top fifty, public companies make a very respectable showing.

So what’s my conclusion? With the goal of every entrepreneur to “go public” and the goal of all investors to reach a stratospheric “liquidity event”, perhaps those of us who build businesses should be more circumspect and learn the (literally) valuable lesson from our local private companies who succeed quietly and privately on their own. “Who knew” it could be so rewarding?

Blog: BTBRs Bonnie’s Twitter Book Reports

Blog: #BTBRs 2011/07/24

I have been doing “Bonnie’s Twitter Book Reports” for a few years now. I like to read. I like to discuss what I read, and learn what other people are reading. So that is why I started tweeting book reports. I figured that if I could consolidate my experience of a book to 140 characters or less, then I could share that piece with friends, and if someone was interested then we could open up a REAL conversation about it. Feel free to send me suggestions for books to add to my list via email or Twitter @bonnieholub #BTBR.

I read a variety of things. I like technology and business books. I like historical fiction. I like sci-fi. So, here is an incomplete listing of many of my BTBRs:

11/10/2011: #BTBR “Better Angles” @NYTimes Tyler Cowen writes, ”The big, smart nonfiction book of the year; nuclear weapons should get the credit”

11/10/2011: #BTBR: “Better Angels..” S. Pinker-a TOUR DE FORCE on the use of force. IMHO: everyone should read ch. 1.

10/21/2011 #BTBR M.Lewis’ Liar’s Poker – The Big Short was so good, that I HAD to read this earlier work. Satisfying as well!

10/21/2011 #BTBR: J.Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad” near-future fantasy? Music industry expose? Entertaining story? All of the above, so Pulitzer!

10/21/2011 #BTBR “The Big Short” M.Lewis Ghastly account of the sub-prime market derivatives fiasco. Understandable, engaging financial analysis->scary

10/21/2011 #BTBR: Toby Lester’s “The Fourth Part of the World” which is the Americas, Oceania, and Antarctica and how they were “found” and “explored”

10/21/2011 #BTBR: PD James’ “The Lighthouse” intelligent who-done-it on a remote UK island.

10/21/2011 #BTBR: “Miss New India” by Bharati Mukherjee: Insightful-Indian call center employee’s experience from her point of view

6/6/2011 ‎#BTBR “The Social Animal” easily the best book I’ve read this century! You should read it just so you know.

6/6/2011 ‎#BTBR “Where Good Ideas Come From” S.Johnson. Innovation throughout history, and simple habits you can follow to be your innovative best.

5/9/2011 ‎#BTBR: “Bossypants” T.Fey Funny, eclectic, feminine. A LOL read.

5/9/2011 ‎#BTBR: “The Social Animal” D.Brooks @nytimes LOVING every minute of this book: philosophy, psychology, social science in a readable story.

5/9/2011 ‎#BTBR: insightful discussion of “The Great Stagnation”

5/9/2011 ‎#BTBR: T. Cowen’s “The Great Stagnation” recommended by D Brooks @nytimes and I agree. Provocative economics, short read.

4/11/2011 ‎#BTBR: The Great Stagnation, T.Cowan. My current favorite business book of the year

2/26/2011 #BTBR “In Cod We Trust” by E. Dregni, living the Norwegian dream as a grad student and new parent for a year.

2/24/2011 #BTBR “Freedom” by J. Franzen: a UofM student falls for a Macalester grad (and his roommate) life ensues.

2/24/2011 #BTBR “Made to Stick” by C&D Heath: Want to get your story across? Tell a STORY! (a lesson I’ve been learning since HS, Thanks! P Reikowski

12/20/2010 #BTBR: At Home by Bill Bryson characteristically witty, erudite, provocative exploration the place we call home.

12/17/2010 #BTBR: The Life of Pi – loved all of it! Parts are “challenging” to endure, which means it is well written since I hung on.

11/17/2010 #BTBR: Bonnie’s Twitter Book Report

11/17/2010 #BTBR: P. Midler’s “Poorly Made in China: An Insider’s Account of the Tactics Behind China’s Production Game” … be scared, beware!

10/29/2010 #BTBR “Saving Cee Cee Honeycut” B.Hoffman Cynics will say “another Cinderella.” A poignant story of a bipolar’s daughter given hope..

10/29/2010 #BTBR “The Facebook Effect” D Kirkpatrick. Meteoric growth, single-minded vision, technical, ethical and business challenges. 3.5 out of 5.

8/17/2010 #BTBR P Johnson’s “A History of the American People” Epic, enthralling, direct, thorough…. in other words, I liked it, and recommend itWatch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Downl

7/23/2010 #BTBR The Bonesetter’s Daughter … I always enjoy Amy Tan, this one included … reminds/informs me of the mom/daughter bond/tension

7/23/2010 #BTBR: A Thread of Grace – a historical novel of Jews in Italy during WWII. Makes you feel you were there (and better informed for it).

7/23/2010 #BTBR: Blood’s a rover Gritty? Check Multi-threaded? Check? Audacious history rewrite? Check!

7/23/2010 #BTBR: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – Loved it, like I liked all the books in this series!

7/23/2010 #BTBR: What the Dog Saw-M. Gladwell Essays: frequently informative and thought-provoking, ALWAYS entertaining!

4/27/2010 #BTBR: David Sedaris: Live for Your Listening Pleasure … I can’t help it, he just makes me laugh, and laugh!

4/27/2010 #BTBR: Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” a powerhouse of historical fiction: intimate, thoughtful, well-researched … I can’t wait to hear more.

4/27/2010 #BTBR: What the Dog Saw – Classic Malcolm Gladwell in essay form. I truly appreciate his work.

3/17/2010 #BTBR: “Ender’s Game” part sci-fi, part management philosophy. Published in 1985, it is still fresh. from 3/5

3/17/2010 #BTBR: Ender’s Game: some thoughtful colleagues challenged me on this: I mean ENDER has an interesting management philosophy, not his teachers

3/10/2010 #BTBR: “Eventide” by Kent Haruf heartfelt, poignant (sometimes painful) story of ranchers in CO, & other people struggling to make a life…

3/5/2010 #BTBR: “Ender’s Game” part sci-fi, part management philosophy. Published in 1985, it is still fresh.

3/2/2010 #BTBR “Snowcrash” by Neal Stephenson … fine sci-fi, IRONIC after “The e-myth revisited” by Michael Gerber!

3/2/2010 #BTBR: “The Golden Age” by Gore Vidal … political intrigue in the FDR administration

2/1/2010 #BTBR: Go, Put Your Strengths to Work. I resonate with Buckingham’s “do what you’re best at!” attitude … and over apply it, dessert? 😉

2/1/2010 #BTBR: Natural Cures They Don’t Want You to Know About …. hmm, IMHO 40% bunk, 40% VISION, and 20% other … can’t tell which is which…

2/1/2010 #BTBR: Tara Road – Culture studies: Surely the way I think about something is how EVERYONE would think about it? Right? Maybe not?

1/11/2010 #BTBR: “A Thousand Splendid Suns.” Gives you a greater appreciation for the literary skills of Kite Runner’s author. I recommend it.

1/11/2010 #BTBR: “My Life in France” Julia Child. Endearing, entertaining and fun.

1/11/2010 #BTBR: “Shop Class as Soulcraft” …challenged my chauvinistic and pre-conceived notions of education and work.

1/11/2010 #BTBR: “The Ascent of Money” stories of how we trade and why. I liked it.

1/11/2010 #BTBR: “The Children’s Hour” … a bunch of navel-gazing by promiscuous Victorians … if you’re into that kind of thing.

1/11/2010 #BTBR: “The Help.” YES, great read. Characters earn your respect in a variety of different ways.

Blog: Innovation Clusters

I recently spoke at the Minnesota High Tech Association’s (MHTA’s) Spring Conference. I was in a breakout session on Innovation. I started with a retrospective of the last 30 years of software R&D. During that time, infrastructure and capital expenses for advanced computing have decreased and internet connectivity has increased. So we have been able to move from centralized R&D organizations to diverse, decentralized R&D. Many large organizations are using the market to resolve R&D, so instead of funding advanced research, large companies just buy surviving startups, effectively outsourcing R&D. Even government agencies are adopting this approach with the more near term, “field-able within a year” procurements. In summary:

  • The R&D Landscape has changed over time, it has moved from the domain of large industrial and academic enclaves to garages and basements.
  • Disruptive technologies have been documented and are recognized in market forces.
  • To stay competitive, large organizations need to use “technology scouts” to track disruptive technologies and stay relevant.
  • Commercialization requires nimbleness, agility, perseverance, talent, and luck.

One thing that the MHTA needs to be aware of is world-wide competitiveness. So, the most requested slide from my presentation is presented here.

Blog: Entrepreneurship Presentation

Entrepreneurship Presentation:

I recently spoke to Isac Fox’s MBA Entrepreneurship class at the Carlson School of Business at the U of M. I just love getting the chance to connect with students, and I’ve been reminded of how much energy I get from the classroom experience lately.

My message to them was simple:

  • Now is a great time to be an entrepreneur. It is a time of great technical as well as economic creativity.
  • Even if you don’t have your entrepreneurial idea yet, even if you don’t know what your company is going to be you can:
    • Get good experience at established companies. Big, successful companies are big and successful because they’ve built themselves to scale in many different ways. Learn what these are. And, learn what to expect from a professional accounting, legal, human resources, marketing, sales, etc. department, because, as an entrepreneur, you’ll need to build that or buy it someday.
    • Build your own network of professionals that you’ll be able to tap as peers, consultants and so forth. You need personal relationships with several of each: bankers, lawyers, accountants, investors. Start building that now.

Blog: It’s Interdisciplinary, Stupid.

In the last 48 hours, I have had the chance to listen to presentations from two leaders in the field of Computer Science, and I’m interested in the harmonic chords that both speakers’ presentations struck with me.

Over the weekend I attended Carnegie Mellon University’s “Opportunity for Undergraduate Research in Computer Science,” or OurCS workshop in Pittsburgh. You can see my tweets about it by searching for the hashtag #OurCS. That’s where I heard the first speaker Dr. Jeannette Wing, President’s Professor of Computer Science and Department Head, Computer Science Department, Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Wing’s thesis was that the disciplines learned and studied in the course of obtaining an undergraduate computer science degree are fundamental to studying a wide variety of disciplines. These ideas were outlined in her paper Computational Thinking, (CACM – Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2006). Put another way, Dr. Wing argues that many other disciplines could be illuminated by applying fundamental computer science techniques like algorithm analysis and designs, data abstraction, and heuristics. She says, “Thinking like a computer scientist means more than being able to program a computer. It requires thinking at multiple levels of abstraction.” The analytic skills taught in a computer science curriculum teach one to logically dissect a problem, construct a solution, and analyze its results in terms of how fast it will solve a problem, how much computational power it will take, and how much storage it will require. These analytic skills, she argues can inform a variety of disciplines, and should become part of the basic toolkit of educated people. It reminds me of the law school professors who told me that they like to have students with computer science undergraduate degrees because they are accustomed to teasing out the logic of a situation and thinking methodically.

Today, I heard a presentation by David Clark, entitled, “Computer Science as Social Science: The Future of the Internet.” Dr. Clark was the Chief Protocol Architect of the Internet from 1981-1989. As you can imagine, he has seen a tremendous change in his career. His talk was about lessons he’s learned in 35 years of working on the internet, and the forces that will shape the future of the internet. His point: the internet is deeply embedded in social, economical and cultural forces that will drive its future. Dr. Clark draws widely from the law, economics, and other disciplines in his talk. And he makes the point to future researchers that they should consider these influences as well.

What do I take away from all of this?

Well, I’ve been thinking interdisciplinary for a very long time. Starting with my undergraduate double major in Computer Science and English I was frequently struck by parallels across the disciplines. One example was the semester I was focusing on Shakespeare. I was reading the play “As You Like It,” wherein the original production a male actor, playing the role of Rosalind, would then take on the persona of Ganymede (a young male page) in the play within the play. At the same time, I was studying the LISP programming language in which a subroutine is called with a given value for a variable, which recurses so that the subroutine calls itself with a slightly different version of the variable, and this continues until a terminal condition is met. At the time I remember thinking, “Wow, recursion has been around for a long time, since it was clearly established by Shakespeare’s time.”

Each of these speakers, in the fullness of their mature careers, are reflecting on the role of Computer Science within the broader academic community. Dr. Wing wants us to spread the word about what we do, and apply it more broadly. Dr. Clark encourages us to broaden ourselves and learn more about the context in which we are working. I think both views are worthy of consideration, and I’m glad to be working in the field when these cross-disciplinary currents are strengthening.

Blog: Addressing STEM High School Students

2/8/2011 I spoke to about 175 STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) students in the South Washington County Schools (Woodbury, Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, MN). My message to them was:

  1. Jump in
  2. Start with the hard stuff
  3. Prepare to make the MOST difference

It was fun to connect with them, and I was delighted to receive a note from a staff person who was also a parent of an attendee. She said that her son was able to repeat my message at dinner that night. I was glad to hear that.

Blog: MN Independent School Forum

11/4/2010 I spoke at the Minnesota Independent School Forum STEM Teachers Conference at the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM).  I was delighted to be on the bill with SMM Executive Director, and ROCK STAR Dr. Eric Jolly.  That is always a pleasure.

My message to them was:

  • High tech companies need well-prepared scientists and engineers who are:
    • Technically competent
    • Communicate excellently in writing and speech
    • Possess a teamwork mentality
  • We know there are challenges ahead of us as 40% of engineering talent retires over the next 10 years
  • Thomas L. Freidman:  NASA motivated baby-boomers, green-tech & global work need to motivate next generation
  • We’re eager to work with you and cross “cultural” boundaries
    • Use tools like MHTA’s get stem www.getstem-mn
    • Become a “contact curator”