Why Ageism will Kill your company?

I was recently re-thinking about the flow of ideas and how ideation works. If you want to get up to speed, I suggest you watch Dr. William Duggan TED talk. In a nutshell, “your brain takes things from the outside, and makes connections”. When we think of creative thoughts, your brain takes things from the outside and makes a new combination, we do not create ideas out of the blues, the only out of the blues part, is the new combination. You need to have the parts in your mind prior to creating that new combination. Which parts will you need? How deep do you need to understand those parts? Maybe we can find some answers to that from the patent criteria that requires an “inventive step”. Basically it requires that your invention not be obvious to someone in the field of application. In other words, the “things” you put together and the way you put them together would not appear obvious to people working in your field. This might in many cases discard many common “parts” of your field. You will have to dig parts elsewhere.

There is not a single source of “things/ideas” to feed your internal ideation process, you will get inspired by the many ideas and experiences you have been exposed to. It is the sum of your knowledge in many different fields that will allow you to create those new connections. Maybe the last part you will read about, hear about or experience tomorrow and immediately make a connection that will be invaluable. Maybe you already have all the “things/ideas” parts inside of you, but haven’t experienced the problem that needs solving yet and once you see the problem, the solution will appear clearly to you. There is simply no way of knowing what will be of importance. The only certain aspect is that since it should not be obvious to people working in your field, it certainly is not something you get out of a single study program. It will require a sum of experiences and diverse knowledge, even diverse point of view maybe.

Hear me out, I’m not saying that a new grad cannot be the inventor of a new fantastic combination. However if he is, it will be because of other experiences and learning he had previously or in parallel. In the same way, you can spend a lifetime before knowledge you acquired early in life suddenly creates a new useful combination in your mind. As Victor Hugo was saying: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come”. Time might not have been right before but now suddenly the right time for that combination of ideas to create a solution to a problem.

Early in my career I was working in the aerospace industry, more specifically in the simulation field. There I learned the base of simulations. A few years back (you can find it in my past articles), I had a need for simulation of “denizens” moving about their lives in a city as a source of initial data for my work in the telecom industry. There my knowledge of simulation came in handy. My knowledge of open data sources helped me integrate various data inputs in that simulation. When we started comparing the simulation with some real-life examples, we saw ways of characterizing certain elements of the input distributions to better represent real-life. In a way, deep-anonymization through simulation as a potential solution to personal data protection acts around the world.

This didn’t lead to a patent in this case, but solved some of the issues we had at that time. One thing I like to do however, especially for those wacky ideas is to share them. I post part of them in my blog, I do internal presentations with more content, etc.That way those ideas continue to live on in others mind. Recently I’ve seen a presentation from colleagues where they have plans to create higher detail simulations of peoples walking about their lives and “virtually” interacting with real cloud based telecom equipment to have a high fidelity simulation of reality. Maybe nothing from my previous work has anything to do with that, or maybe presenting my ideas, writing a blog about that made someone think at a point in time, and now is the time for that idea to become powerful.

I’ve always been highly interested in the process of generating ideas, ideation if you will. At some point in my career I saw the need in my local company for a tool supporting ideation. I was inspired a lot by an article I read at the time about a company which implanted a “stock market of ideas”. We created that tool and what we discovered is that beyond the tool, the process of handling those ideas is central to making something out of them. Eventually the tool we created spread to other countries and got some attention from the headquarter. Ericsson created a company-wide equivalent of our tool. Creation to which we participated by sharing our experiences, our view on the important requirements on the tool we did.

Those are only two anecdotal examples. I could give you a lot more of those, and I’m sure many of you have such experiences. The central point is that new ideas come from connecting past ideas together. Those ideas are not all “your” ideas, but you were exposed to them because someone communicated them, or you experienced them. It is the sum of your experience that helps you come up with new interesting combinations when the time is right and it is communicating your ideas that make it possible for others to build new interesting combinations in the future.

Hopefully you now understand the point of view expressed in the title of this article. Ageism, whether it is discarding new ideas/parts from young ones, or firing older employees (we often hear that you cannot stay in tech past 50 year old) is a sure way of killing your sources of ideas/parts and potential to assemble those ideas/parts into new useful combinations when the time is right. New grads come with new ideas/parts from the most recent technology. Older employees have experienced a lot of technologies (and most probably a lot of the new ones as well), made errors and learnt from those. They can probably anticipate some of the problems that may come through the usage of new combinations of ideas, and have a large pool of experience to propose new combinations when the time is right.

The second point I hope I made clear is that thought leadership ideas sharing is an essential part to expose others and expose yourself to ideas that later may become the source of new combinations you need. Through exposing your ideas, you create a vehicle to discuss them with a broad range of people and experiences. You enrich others as well as enriching yourself and enabling future combinations to come to fruition. We do not live in close bubbles. It is idea sharing that enables us to sit on the shoulders of giants that came before us, and maybe, become the giants the next generation of ideas will sit on.

Cover image by Anemone123 at Pixabay.

Default to Open or Control Access?

I had discussions recently with colleagues on the benefits versus cost of having information open by default to everyone within a company versus having strict access control.

First let’s see what kind of “internal” information may exist. Without going into an exhaustive list, I think the following are the broadest categories. Yes, we could subdivide a lot, but let’s try to stay broad first:

  1. Personal information e.g. HR records
  2. Strategic enterprise direction
  3. IPR subject to patent
  4. All other technical information / discussions
  5. Customer data (where the company is the processor of data)
  6. Own data (where the company is the controller of data)

From my point of view, it is clear that #1 should stay under information control. You don’t want to have personal information available to everyone. 

When we go to #2, it is debatable. If you build an organization on trust, most of #2 should be discussable through all employees and anyone could potentially bring a valid point. I would argue in favor of default to open internally.

Looking at #3, again if you have a culture based on trust, all employees are under NDA, so from a patent point of view, if your employees are properly “educated” to the need of non-disclosure outside, it should be possible to share the information freely internally. I might be an idealist, maybe some of that info can be under some embargo for a while, but that should not be indefinitely.

Now on #4, I think everything else should default to open to everyone internally. If you want an organization built on trust, and you want to help the exchange of ideas, you should allow anyone in your organization to access information and comment on it, or start side discussions on it.

When we look at customer data, owned by the customer but processed by the company, it needs to be aligned with the legislations in place and the contracts you have with your customer. It is hard to have a general line, but we should try to make it as open as possible within the company while still maintaining proper security in preventing data theft.

Finally #6 is a subset of #5. We don’t have the restriction of the contracts with customers, but we may be bound by certain legislations. Again we should aim at having as internally open data as possible.

I guess my views are clear. If you want to build a company with a culture of trust and cooperation, you should aim at having internal data/information defaulting to be open to all employees.

In my recent years I worked in two kind of approach regarding openness of information:

  1. One company defaulted for an open by default stance for internal information; however when it came to external it was closed by default.
  2. One company defaulted to strict access control for any internal information; however when it came to external it allowed for a more lax approach regarding thought leadership since it valued the benefits it could get from it.

As one of my good friends once said, what seems impossible in one company will become super easy in another and vice-versa. This is probably a perfect example of that. I’d hope that we could take the best of both worlds in that case. That we could build a trust based company who keep open by default as much information as possible while at the same time keep an external open view on thought leadership sharing (like this very same article).

But let see the reasons why access control should be maintained and let’s try to challenge those reasons. One of the reasons we need to keep access control in place is that there are spies from other companies, from other countries that we need to counteract. I can agree with that. However, we often think of the spies as someone like James Bond, the unicorn spy doing it all by himself. But even James Bond has Q and Money Penny and a team behind him, even if we don’t see them much in the movies. And in real life it’s most certainly true as well. Yes there are some lone spies who want to make a quick buck, but those are caught fast (usually), the ones that really hurt us work in teams, with big budgets from other companies to steal our IPR, and most probably with the help of other governments. 

This means that if you want to steal the IPR from a specific product, as a spy agency, I know I need to introduce maybe a developer spy in that product and maybe some more spies with different job roles. Because we partition information and have barriers in place to limit information flow, those spies will have an easier life because all they will have access to is information of that specific product thanks to access control. They won’t have to search what is relevant information, they will be presented it on a silver plate. And the team behind them (the spy agency) will help them transfer it abroad.   

Having an open to everyone by default mindset would have at least required that the spy agency to go through what is important or not, to figure out the in and out. Taking more time, more resources, more chances to get caught… This is what woke me up. Having information open to everyone (internally) by default is more secure. Mind blown!

Moreover, I would argue that there are more loyal employees than spies inside the company. I certainly hope so. This means that if one of those loyal employees is in a phase of Quiet Quitting (to make a link with my previous article), maybe, he can try to regain the “flame”, to get back in the zone by learning, or if information is more open by getting interested in a problem from another area, maybe providing a new view on that problem.

I once worked in a company providing an internet based infrastructure to customers (as a Service type of company). Some scammers were using that service to defraud unsuspecting victims. Since the company was defaulting to open for all information, I could use some of my free time to investigate some cases of scammers, find patterns (as a data scientist), and feed back my findings to the fraud handling team. “Free” work for the fraud team. “Outside” fresh perspective on the ways to detect scammer’s use of the service. This is one of the kinds of opportunities we lose by not being information open by default.

That realization that internally controlling information is a lose-lose-lose situation is a wake up call for me. It makes life easier for spies, it limits our ability to fight Quiet Quitting as well as limiting the benefit gained from allowing other employees from a different perspective to help us.

Don’t read me wrong. Defaulting to open is not a universal panacea. I still think that the best way to learn about different information is through your contact “list”, the people you know, the people connection. But once a person points you to a specific piece of information, or a specific document, not having to request for access to it, not having to wait for that access to be granted or having to fight for the right allows you to start right away. Probably a good complement to that company wide default to open should be a good search engine, but that’s another subject.

A good point in favor of having access control is that the infrastructure and access to any company is generally attacked on a regular basis. And that putting access control as a roadblock internally also puts external roadblocks. But is it the solution? Couldn’t we think of something else? Do we have to pay the price of poor collaboration / poor internal sharing to slow down the attackers? I’m not in the security domain at all, maybe I’m an idealist, but can’t we find other ways to block them (the bad people) without blocking ourselves (the loyal employees)?

Cover image by Ron Lach at Pexels.

Gen X Quiet Quitting in Tech

A lot has been said on Quiet Quitting. Amongst those things, it is clear that Quiet Quitting has its subtleties from one generation to the next. I am of the generation X. I won’t say I am the messenger of my whole generation, but maybe of some of us in tech. 

One thing that I haven’t seen said about Quiet Quitting though, is how different it can be from one job to the next. Let’s start with the wikipedia definition of Quiet Quitting: “an application of work-to-rule, in which employees work within defined work hours and engage in work-related activities solely within those hours […] doing precisely what the job requires”. In simple terms, it means doing your job without that “extra mile”. It means doing your job only during work hours. If you think about it, it looks like a “good plumber” to use the hockey definition. Someone reliable, consistent, never going to be the high scorer, but always there as expected. Overall, it looks like a good way to balance work and life. But does it?

Let’s assume for a moment I was a plumber (a real one), or any physical workers in the construction domain. Doing my job, following the state of the art in plumbing during the agreed working hours is most probably a really good way of working. In that domain I can see the occasional ask to do extra work or work extra time and a Quiet Quitter might not want to do that. As an employer, this can be an annoyance, but if the employer is objective, he knows the work is consistent, so he can look for someone else for those extra hours.

Now let me go back in my “technology” shoes. I’m a thought worker. It makes the Quiet Quitting a bit more fuzzy. What does it mean doing exactly what the job requires for me? Many companies have different ways of evaluating the performance of their employees in tech. Some have tried using hard numbers e.g., the number of tickets closed, the number of pull/merge requests implemented, the number of lines of codes written, … Every time I’ve seen such an implementation it failed. It failed because it doesn’t measure a lot of other quantitative as well as qualitative measures which are in conflict or equilibrium together. I will always remember that anecdote of a company which decided that to curb bugs in the code base would offer bonus to the developers to correct bugs. It wasn’t long before even the most righteous coders started including some small stupid bugs they could fix in a minute to get the bonus.

So one aspect of thought jobs is that they are making it more difficult to evaluate the employee performance in an absolute manner. But still, even if the job description is generally more fuzzy for an intellectual job, it is still a guideline on what is expected. Even if evaluating quantitatively the performance of the worker is more difficult or fuzzy, we are still managing to say: that person is a plus, a minus or is ok, average. So Quiet Quitting in that context is probably staying in that middle range, being ok, average. In general, the minus are a problem, but the average or above are fine to work with. So is Quiet Quitting a problem for tech workers?

As a thought worker, it is very hard to stop or detach the brain outside the work hours. You always somehow think at least a bit about the job. I remember multiple times being woken in the middle of the night by my brain who thought it found the solution to a problem I had during the day. Then I can try to ignore it, note it, or go straight to do some work about it. If you go the path of Quiet Quitting, I guess the right answer is to try to ignore it. Maybe after a while it will stop waking you in the middle of the night? Personally I doubt it, but who knows. Just having ideas outside of work hours and noting it, thinking about it, is that a sign that you are not a Quiet Quitter? How easy can it be for a thought worker to shunt off any thought about a subject outside certain hours?

The more “physical” manifestations are easier to categorize. You can refuse to take meetings outside normal working hours and you can disconnect from work emails and instant messaging outside normal work hours. There is already legislation being drafted in certain countries going that way, so can we consider that being Quiet Quitting, or simply creating some boundaries between work and life?

I am asking more questions than I can answer. It feels to me that the definition of Quiet Quitting is not so easy to apply to thought workers. It can be as difficult to observe Quiet Quitting in thought workers as it can be to objectively measure the performance of them. It might drill down to a feeling of engagement, of purpose with your job. If you feel it, you do the extra mile and you are not Quiet Quitting. If you can’t feel that purpose, you may Quiet Quit maybe as a self-protection mechanism?

In my mind, at some point of my career I lived Quiet Quitting. My personality makes me always look toward the future. I like the openness of white sheets design and find ways to show the unimaginable being possible. So when there comes a time where I’m needed to “fill a gap” in-between projects, my interest levels will go down. I will still do what needs to be done, but the engagement level may lower to the point of “just doing that”. This is for me the definition of Quiet Quitting and it happened to me a number of times in the past. But then the new white sheet comes to me, thanks to multiple fantastic managers I had in my career and I’m back in the zone in no time. 

Beyond those periods of Quiet Quitting, I quitted my job a number of times. The decision for the Straight Out Quitting had (for me) no link to Quiet Quitting. It had been for salary, expanding my knowledge in an area beyond what was possible in a current company, finding more work-life balance, new interesting proposed challenges… but never as a consequence of Quiet Quitting. I have the feeling those are quite different. You Quiet Quit because you don’t feel the call anymore. You Straight Quit because you are feeling the call, but need something else the company you are at cannot provide.

Some see Gamification of work as a panacea to cure Quiet Quitting. I think it might be true for physical or repetitive work. But those jobs are probably the ones that will disappear to automation eventually. If you have a really exciting job, one challenging the mind to find the “new”, it’s probably not a really repetitive thing, and you can therefore probably not put clear “objectives” to reach in that “game” to earn points and compare to other participants in a fair fashion. Maybe some part of the job can be gamified, but for the core of it, I don’t think it would be a wise idea. Because for the core of it, it is not about exploiting the game system to get the most points, it is to figure out what is the “game” (the real world) and create something new from almost nothing. And if you start counting points there, you will break the “spirit” that enables it to happen. A little like the bad performance evaluation practices I touched upon earlier. That being said, we need to find what is uplifting in our jobs, and find how to make it even better in this new work from home / hybrid ways of working. Companies that manage that transition well will become even more attractive for the future.

Finally I would like to touch on the idea that the Future of AI might be encouraging Quiet Quitting by showing a message that your job will disappear. It might be true for some repetitive jobs as I suggested earlier. However, for the foreseeable future, I think where the “best” of AI is going is to augment the capability of humans. We can already see this with Image generating AI. Sure they could generate any random things, but the best images I’ve seen were the best because of meticulously crafted “generation quotes” and manipulations on those quotes by the human, followed by a rigorous selection process through a number of generations of images. The AI in this case is augmenting the human capacity to generate highly detailed images, but it does not do it by itself. The human is still in charge of the wanted subject, the message it conveys, the emotions it can carry. The same could be said for text generation AI, some go the random creation path, but the most useful ones are guided by humans who really know what he is doing and what to achieve, it becomes more of a powerful tool than really something that can replace you. 

In the telecom industry, the domain where I work, we see that complexity of the networks is exploding. I don’t think the real question is if people will lose their jobs to AI. Some will, if the work they do is repetitive and can be automated or if they can’t adapt to the new AI augmented tools, but for most of the others, it will be a question of adapting to use AI tools to achieve more/better through augmentation. 

In that context, the right reaction is probably not Quiet Quitting, but learning. Learning how to use AI to augment your powers. And that’s something we usually know how to do in techs, learning. We learn our whole life, just to stay on top of the technological wave. We are probably not in the AI augmented era yet in the telecom domain, but I feel there are exciting times to come!

Cover image by Marcus Aurelius at Pexels.

The Data Science Pyramid

Forgive me my good friend Marc-Olivier as I take the exact same title you used for an article on the subject 4 years ago. In this article I want to revisit the forever truth you can find in the Pyramid of Data Science.

Everyone and their dog have heard of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Abraham Harold Maslow was an American psychologist who came up with that hierarchy of needs. His pyramid of needs amongst others made him rank as the tenth most cited psychologist of the 20th century. Funny enough, the pyramid itself is apparently not one of Maslow’s creations, but rather from an editor who created it to illustrate Maslow’s work. It is, however , an inspiring piece of work, showing that a pressing need would need to be mostly satisfied before you can give proper attention to the next highest need. You probably won’t achieve your full potential as a music composer if you cannot fill your food, water, warmth and rest needs first… But at the same time, you don’t need to fully fill those physiological needs to indulge in creative activities. So to the contrary of what my friend said on his blog, I believe you can skip some steps, but the past will always catch-up with you if you skip too many items of those steps. At the same time, you won’t achieve your full potential through self-fulfillment activities if you skip too many items in those steps.

Which brings us to the Data Science Hierarchy of needs. As in psychology, you can do AI, Deep Learning and ML even if you do not have proper Data Collection in place. But eventually, reality will catch on you and you will see that you do not have the means to actualize your data, you don’t have the tools to perform efficient retraining of those models and if the models completely breaks, you do not have ways to re-perform data analysis, you don’t have a way to figure out what is wrong and make it work again. In one sentence, you will be sorry once again and have to restart from scratch. If this is a school project, it probably will not have consequence. If you did it that way for one of your company’s essential services, it will be costly to restart from scratch, it will take time and the downtime may affect your bottom line.

You need to have enough repeatable, consistent Data Collection before you can think of having Data Infrastructure which extract, transform and load (ETL) that data in, let say, a data lake. You need that infrastructure in place before you can have repeatable and reliable data analysis made on that data. You need enough of… you see the pattern.

Each step of the pyramid is necessary to efficiently perform the next one. However, you don’t need to have it perfect the first time. You will probably not achieve enlightenment from your first “AI” model, but your organization will learn. And here is the important word. It needs to learn from that experience. What is difficult to repeat? What needs to be redone from scratch because we skipped too much the first time? What can be generalized so it is easier the next time?

One easy error to make is to say: “but I don’t need to collect that piece of data for this use case”. No you don’t. But you don’t know either the next use case which might be built from it. You don’t know what could be found from Exploratory Data Analysis of the future from that piece of data. Stay with me, I do not say you should record everything, or use way more resources to record things that are not necessary right now, but you certainly shouldn’t go out of your way to make sure you don’t record things that are easy to collect today and might have benefit tomorrow if the cost of such collection / data retention is not prohibitive. For example, I work with a system that takes some measurements (integers values) each 15 minutes. The system is taking let say 200 such measurements, but today I need only 10 of those. I will not go out of my way to discard the 190 others. It’s just a few integers, four times an hour, they might be useful for a future analysis. At the same time, I will not start to build a data collection process that snapshot the full content of the memory of the system every second…

In a field that evolves so fast as Machine Learning, you should not try to do it all the first time, but each time you go through that process, you should make sure you add what will make your journey easier the next time and build on that. As studies say, make it so that 60% of the time it works every time!

As Marc-Olivier was saying in his original article. Every time you jump too quickly to the next stage, you are lying to yourself. You are lying and you are building a debt at the same time, a debt that may one day become just too high.

So before you start hiring the best ML Engineer out there, start with good Architect, Software Developers and Data Engineers as they are the builders of the base you need to grow the infrastructure your Data Analysts and Data Scientists will need to make their magic. Once those are sufficiently in place you can go higher. And from those climbs and down skiing from the pyramid, learn and make your bases always stronger.

Cover image by Omar Zetina at Pexels.

The Importance of Aggregating Data

A short article today. As a data scientist one thing I often have to explain and demonstrate to non data scientists is the need to aggregate data. I came up with this really simple example to demonstrate the reason behind it.

In construction an aggregate is a component of a category of mixed composite material which serves as reinforcement to add strength to the overall composite material. Aggregating data serves the same purpose in data science: It add strength to the overall models you create.

Let’s assume the following phenomenon exists, but we haven’t observed it yet and know nothing about the model representing it.

Let’s assume that we can observe part of the phenomenon for 3 different customers, regions or devices (blue, orange and green). The dots on the graph below represent observation of the phenomenon for those 3 different instances.

If we are not allowed to aggregate data from the 3 instances, the best we can do is to create 3 different models, which will work only for the observed data. Note that outside what has been observed for a customer, the model in this case simply assumes the average observation. We had to produce 3 models. Each of them is specific to one instance. None of those models generalize the full phenomenon. If an instance behavior drifts a little, that instance model will need to be retrained.

If we aggregate the data from the 3 instances, we can build on the first time a more generalized model. If one instance of behavior drifts, it will still be in the model coverage. No need to retrain this generalized model in that case.

This is one of the ways to understand the advantages of aggregating data across customers, regions or devices. Without aggregation you may not be able to generalize a model. Aggregation can make models more robust to drift and will save you time required to train specific models for each instance of a phenomenon.

Cover image by Soner Mazlum at Pexels.

Playing with your mind: Other tools

This is the fourth and last part of a series of blog posts on tips and ways to improve your presentation skills. If you haven’t read the first three parts, you should probably do that now! In this article, we will look at miscellaneous tips and tricks on how to supercharge your presentation that we have not covered yet in the previous articles. We already saw how using stories, repetitions, contrast and emotions can help make your presentation stand out, now let’s see some other ways!

Do not bound your creativity

When I’m presenting this blog series as a presentation, this is the point where I was taking a pause and involving the audience. The exercise might be a bit more difficult, but try to do it. Get a pen and a sheet of paper. If there are people around you, choose someone, if not, go to a photo gallery you may have on your phone, or the internet. Choose someone, not a cartoon character, but a real photo. Now time yourself. Yes, do it! You have 2 minutes to draw your chosen person.

Well, I couldn’t check you, but sincerely hope you have done it. And did not spend more than 2 minutes! Now if the person you draw is near you go see that person. If you used a photo and can reach that person via video conference or other means, do it. Otherwise, find someone you can show the original photo and your drawing to. Let the other person tell you what they think of the drawing. Accept the criticism.

I know, most of you have not done the exercise. Still you are reading this… Go back, you need to do it!

Still here? Do the exercise!

Ok, I’ll assume you have done it now. Think of the reaction of the person you showed the drawing to, and of your reaction. What was your reaction? Maybe a little laughter? Maybe an “I’m sorry”… Some embarrassment? Would a 4 year old kid have that reaction?

A 4 year old kid would be proud of their creation, they would show it with the expectation of congratulation, with the expectation that the drawing would be hung on the wall or fridge. What has happened to you since you were 4 year old? The fear of judgment has settled in. Maybe you even haven’t done the exercise. That fear is a factor that limits your creativity. The fear to show your ideas, the conservatism that settles in.

To unbound your creativity, you need to re-learn to trust to play, to trust to be creative. Those are important rules to innovate. What I’m asking you is to be innovative in your way of presenting. You might never have thought about presenting in the way I suggested in the first few articles. You might have other ideas on how to present that you never tried. You need to allow yourself to try it. There are a few things that kill the innovative mind as well as routine. You need to get out of routine. A few things you can try out:

  • Exploration of ideas: go for quantity! Do not censure or filter out yourself initially.
  • Building: build something with your hands, a drawing, a cardboard mock display, play doo, …
  • Role Play: act it out.

Most importantly, don’t be ashamed to think and act as a kid! If you are interested in the subject, Tim Brown on Tales of Creativity is a good inspiration source.

Geniuses like kids have an unbound creativity. Some ways they are expressing it:

  • Looking at a problem in many different ways, finding a NEW perspective and communicating it. Abandon old ways of looking at a problem and ways to present it and try new things. Messing things up and making better out of the thing that surrounds us.
  • Making your thoughts visible and communicating them. The unknown genius is just that… unknown!
  • Producing, and producing again. Geniuses don’t always have the right answer, they try and try again and learn from those tries. Same is true on how to present your ideas.
  • Making novel combinations and forcing relationships. Use everything you have at hand to express what you want to say. Use things in a different way, change the way of looking at things, … challenge the status quo. Unexpected message. Push the boundary.
  • Thinking in opposite: Some people think art and science don’t mix well… but they really do mix well. Use different spheres of your personality, even spheres that are in opposition to help communicate your message. You can even see yourself reaching more people that way. Rejecting Normal order, Messing things up, and by rearranging the pieces.
  • Thinking metaphorically: Sometimes explaining things through a metaphor is the best way to better understand it and make it understood. A lot of great speakers use that successfully.
  • Prepare for chance: When something happens from sheer luck, learn from it, see how it can be repeated and be applied to other parts of your life and work.

If the subject interest you, you might be interested in Michael Michalko post on how geniuses thinks and Kelly Anderson Design to change reality TED talk.

Do not be an alien

Don’t be an Alien! You need to vulgarize what you are saying. Even when you “think” your audience is in the same domain, there will be things they don’t know about, if you want to reach your audience, don’t just say it, say it in a simple way. Bonus: it will show your mastery, since if you can say it in a simple way, you really need to master it.

As you create your presentation, always answer: So What? How is it relevant to others?

Don’t use Jargon as it is limiting the audience. Making thing accessible, simple but not simpler (dumb), as Einstein said. Again, make use of stories and analogies to engage people. Our brain is wired to engage with stories.

No bullet points!!! Bullet points are generally boring, they rely on language area and your language area can only concentrate on one experience at a time. It’s either I read bullet points or I listen to your speech. Bullet points are overwhelming and this makes them inefficient and distracting from your core message.

Keep an “external” view of your presentation, who is the target audience and how will they perceive this: No jargon, is this the message I want to convey? Will it be understood by those peoples

Learn from your mistakes.

Resist doing as everyone else do e.g.: bullets! Introduce creativity in your presentations.


We better like ideas endorsed by people we like or that we feel are like us. But watch out, people you like might not be people your audience likes… you need to adapt to them:

  • We like similar peoples
  • We like peoples who are nice and pay compliments
  • We like peoples who works with us towards common goals

Try to share personal information which can make you similar to the audience and pay genuine compliments to them before you start to convince them.

When someone gives us something, you have the desire to give back. This is easily applicable in presentations if you know a bit about the people you’ll present to.

With a simple: “We all know how great [people of this group] are, your reputation precedes you and I’m really looking forward to your feedback on the subject I’ll present to you.” Already you have some people on your side. You can work it a bit more, but don’t over do it. Otherwise it will sound fishy. Be the first to give, personalize it, make sure it’s unexpected!


When someone gives us something, you have the desire to give back. This is easily applicable in presentations if you know a bit about the people you’ll present to.

With a simple: “We all know how great [people of this group] are, your reputation precedes you and I’m really looking forward to your feedback on the subject I’ll present to you.” Already you have some people on your side. You can work it a bit more, but don’t over do it. Otherwise it will sound fishy. Be the first to give, personalize it, make sure it’s unexpected!

Social proof

Everybody else does this, so it must be good. Follow the group.

In a company context, sometimes, a good way to get things accepted is to say (assuming it’s true): “But they do this at [headquarter] or in [headquarter country]”. Sometimes to get quick agreement you can use that technique. Or the often used: “Others in our field do that this way, … “.

Commitment and Consistency

I could add Authenticity. Commitment and Consistency is about fighting for your point over and over again. Some say that consistency is a value only if you’re not a screw up… but consistency is better than the rare moments of greatness.

I was an archer when I was younger. And let me tell you that if someone would walk-in doing what you see in the above picture consistently, turning them into champions by correcting their aims would be really easy!

You can show consistency to a certain level in a presentation, but it’s over time, from a presentation to the next that this can really shine and help you.

You can ask for a small commitment that will have a great probability to be accepted, then as time goes, increase its level (bigger BUT consistent with the initial commitment). Based on voluntary, active and public commitment and get those commitments by writing when possible.


When something might be scarce, people associate it with a higher value. Even if there is plenty of water in that “faucet”, to the bird, that one drop seems like all there is…

Harder to use in a presentation context unless it’s a “business” proposition you have. Maybe only a limited number of people can do, acquire or purchase what you propose, so they better accept it otherwise they won’t find it later when they need it…

Show the benefit of your proposal but also what is unique about your proposal and what they stand to lose if they don’t consider your proposal. The bright future we were talking about earlier when discussing contrast.


Authority, strength or expertise provide power over people. Just make sure not to over do it as it may be perceived as a threat. One subtle and easy way is to get introduced by someone the audience trusts before a presentation. 

Visual Appeal

Visual appeal of your presentation is important. As I said before, if you use the presentation media, the slides are there to support your discourse, to strengthen it, not to distract from it. It should appeal to the visual cortex of your audience and you should feed their mind and their soul with your speech. If you want to provide raw data, then provide them as a book or an article that you can distribute to the audience at the END (otherwise it’s just more distractions) and let them know you’ll distribute it so they don’t try to write down everything. But don’t confuse the presentation and the supporting material.

On the visual appeal, you should be of your time and century. Today the style is to be as simple as you can be, tomorrow, who knows. But you can also play on that. Giving a retro style could help put the emphasis on some part of your discourse, reinvent yourself, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.

Colors are powerful. An all black and white presentation could put the audience in a mood of austerity or even sadness. Colors have meaning which can be understood on different levels. Personal level is acquired by individuals and based on their experiences, you cannot adapt to every individual, but there is the Social level, where colors have a meaning for a group of persons. But don’t forget that this is social… White for North Americans means purity, virginity, even sanctity. It’s associated with the bride as the prime color for the dress. In some Asian countries, it’s associated with death… nobody there would wear white at a wedding as the dress… And that’s just an example. 

Lastly there is the universal level of understanding colors. That’s the physiological response colors have on humans, because, well, we are humans! For example red is usually making our heart rate go faster, it pushes us towards action. After all, red is the color of your blood, and usually you prefer it to stay well hidden inside your body! Seeing red is a sign of danger. There’s a reason the red carpet is red… it is to make sure the actors go forward so the flow doesn’t stop. Blue, the visual opposite of red, has the opposite effect, it’s calming and makes us more relaxed. Just remember that if you want to use a strong color, make sure it will bring the proper “emotion” to your audience.

Well, we could go about the Visual Appeal and Aesthetics of a presentation for hours and hours. But if you bought the idea that presentations are an important aspect for your career, then you’ll keep your eyes open, and you’ll learn new tricks as you go and improve on them, as I did, by learning by yourselves. Unless you have unlimited time for that and are ready to go to an art and design school!!!

Change Ahead

If I could sum it up in a few words, I would say: least amount of text or figures as necessary for your message, your ONE Idea to go through in a visually supporting format and NO Jargon!!!

I hope I inspired you to change the way you present your knowledge and yourselves. You are full of ideas that in a way or another could change the world. Those ideas need to be heard, need to be understood, need to be accepted. You can’t change the world all by yourself, but if you can inspire others, then the world will change.

You now have a few more tools to reach that goal, go, use them!

Playing with your mind: Emotions

This is the third part of a series of blog posts on tips and ways to improve your presentation skills. If you haven’t read the first two parts, you should probably do that now! In this article, we will look at a strong way to make sure people remember your presentation by emotionally super charging it.

The role of emotions

An excellent way to help people remember your presentation, your message, your IDEA, is to involve emotions. If you can move people through your presentation, you can bet there is a good chance they will remember it. A good way to gauge if people are moved by your presentation is to see if they feel engaged and involved with what you say. If they are, there will be a physical reaction: clapping, laughing, etc.

One way to achieve it could be to marvel yourself at what you are presenting so you are modeling for the audience what you want them to feel. Bring them to the emotion, being the mentor.

As a general rule, we remember emotionally charged events better than boring ones. Pleasant emotions appear to fade more slowly from our memory than unpleasant emotions.

There is a proven link between emotions and physical reaction.

For example, when 250 men, women, and children were asked to draw where certain emotions were located in their bodies and the drawings were combined together, the researchers obtained the following picture.

Another research arrived at similar results and created this map of emotions.

If you can bring emotions to your audience, they are more likely to remember your message. And if you are to bring emotion, good emotions are probably better in the long run.

To keep your audience emotionally engaged, you can start off with a joke, or have a few jokes throughout your presentation. Anecdotes, images, interactive activities or as we said earlier: stories. These tricks can lead to some emotional reactions.

How great leaders inspire action

This is the title of a TED talk by Simon Sinek. In his presentation he exposes that the proper way to present things is starting with the WHY. From the Why, after people have bought why you do or want to do something, you can go into the What and How. People “buy” in your beliefs if you truly embrace them. The “buy in” might not be as strong (if at all) if you expose them first to the “What” or “How”.

An excellent example of this is the historical speech from Dr. Martin Luther King jr. He was an American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. His efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. There, he established his reputation as one of the greatest orators in American history. Here’s an excerpt of that speech where starting with the Why is perfectly illustrated.

‘’I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

But, this is a technical presentation…

Ok, but it is just as important for your message to be assimilated and accepted. Maybe having the wrong presentation will only lead to your idea being rejected, but having the wrong presentation may lead to a big catastrophe. The catastrophic launch of the space shuttle Challenger is partly attributed to a wrongly communicated presentation where the potential risk was not properly communicated. In that respect, if you are interested in digging deeper, The Craft of Scientific Presentations – Critical Steps to Succeed and Critical Errors to Avoid by Michael Alley is a trove of information and details.

There would be a lot more to discuss, but if you can leave this article with only a simple message: Start with the Why, and try to engage your audience emotionally (maybe a joke or two along the way), you will be on the right path to improve your presentations.

What is coming?

In the next installment, we will take a look at other tools or tricks you have at your disposal to make your presentation stand out and be remembered.

Playing with your mind: Inside out of an efficient presentation

This is the second part of a series of blog posts on tips and ways to improve your presentation skills. If you haven’t read the first part, you should probably do that now! In this article, we will look at the reason you should thrive to make your presentations punch and some of the basic ways you can make your presentation more impactful.


Unless you plan to live your life as Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) in Cast Away, in complete isolation, you will need to cherish and develop your interaction with others and your communication skills. In a lot of industries and careers, this means improving your presentation skills (amongst others).

Communication is necessary to live in society. And communication has many ways of expressing itself. You can talk, you can write, you can draw… but also you can dress in certain ways, move (or not) in certain ways, smile or be serious, use onomatopoeia, etc.

You HAVE to live in a communicating world and the better you can communicate, the better you can be understood, the easiest it will be to reach your goals, and this is true no matter your field of expertise. Being social animals, people will listen to you (or at least try to), and if you don’t feel the urge to be understood, you have at least a moral obligation toward those listeners to be as clear as possible.

Assuming you cherish your career, you better admit up front what is important for it to grow, what you should do and what you shouldn’t do.

In the context of presentations, what is necessary (what you need to do):

  • Admit to yourself up front that presentation skills matters to your career, because it does matter.
  • Demonstrate mastery by understanding the most important challenges in your area and express them in a way others can understand them as well (as Einstein said, make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler)
  • Know what you want to get from the presentation (base your presentation on that ONE objective)

What is not necessary (what you shouldn’t do):

  • Recite your recent history of achievements (note that boasting can be hindering relations for some type of peoples myself as example)
  • Overload your presentations with details; most of them don’t matter. 
  • Speak of principles or topics with arbitrary labels (acronyms or jargon for that matter)

Everything starts with an idea. Your first task is to identify this idea since it will be the focus of your presentation. Not 20 ideas, not 2 ideas, 1 idea!!! You need focus, and you need to keep the message to it.

In a TED talk, Nancy Duarte once said:

Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time is now.

Now: Here’s what you can do […] (simple steps).

You have the power to change the world, because you have the most powerful device known to mankind and that’s an idea.

An idea can be the seeds of a movement, it can rewrite our future

But, an idea is powerless if it stays inside of you, it will die with you

Maybe you have tried to convey your idea and it wasn’t adopted, it was rejected and some other much mediocre idea was adopted and the only difference was how it was communicated. One idea has the power to change the world if you can communicate it through.

Changing the world is a big job, it’s hard, it won’t happen with one person, it needs to spread.

I personally find those words really powerful. You can look at them in a different way as well. There are many hinderers to communication:

  • It might not be the right time, you may not have total control on that… you’ll have to test the water.
  • You may not communicate the idea properly, you have control on that, you may need practice and trials, but you can control that part.
  • The right communication at the right time to the right people can have a huge impact.

So your first step is to find your one important message and concentrate on it.


For a long time, ideas were passed from generation to generation through stories. Those who were able to learn from stories had a better chance at survival by learning from the mistakes and best practices of their ancestors. This is why we evolved physical reactions to stories. An engaging story can make your heart rate increase, you can feel a chill, etc. We will come back to the emotional and physical response later, but stories are a way to obtain it.

But how can you insert a story in a presentation? The very first way is to make sure that one presentation slide presents only ONE concept and can have one supporting visual to convey the concept. Moreover, that slide should be there to further the ONE IDEA you want to push for.

The key here is to make the slide as simple as possible. The least wording you can use, the best. People should concentrate on your speech, not the slides.

Structure of a Story

Aristotle defined a story structure as having three parts (acts): beginning, middle, end. You need to briefly start with strength, present your subject and briefly conclude with strength again.

Stories have a hero, we could think it’s the presenter but it is not. If we present an idea and the audience does not catch it and does nothing with it, then the idea won’t go anywhere. The audience is the hero.

Likable hero in an ordinary world hears the call for an adventure. At first there is resistance, maybe a refusal of the call. Then a mentor comes along and shows the path (that’s the presenter role) from an ordinary world to a special world. Guiding the hero to cross the threshold.

  • A likable hero
  • Encounter roadblocks
  • Emerged transformed 

A story beginning, middle and end.

Freytag’s dramatic structure presented as a pyramid consists of: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement. A good story has a shape and a good presentation should have a shape too. Lead the audience to a climax and then conclude with a call for action.

Using contrast to your benefit

A presentation should have a beginning, a middle part and an end. But since presentations are often a “one of” event, you need to make sure the message (that ONE idea) is hitting the target. A principle as old as pedagogy is repetitions. So you should count on repetitions, coming back to some important parts in new ways or as side notes as you go, without being invasive… this is a fine line to navigate and dry runs may help gauging it. 

A way to even strengthen the repetition, is to use contrast for your benefit.

Today, Future, … Today, Great Future.

What is (status quo), What could be: the biggest the gap the biggest effect. You need to amplify that gap. Give Contrast to the gap.

Past…, present…, but look at the future! Problem…, but look at the problem removed! 

This is like the first event in a movie.

Then the rest of the presentation should support that (and nothing else). Again simplicity, if you have something to the presentation that does not support the one message, remove it.

Back and forth, back and forth, because you want to make the status quo and the “normal” unappealing in order to draw the audience to the exciting future. You’ll encounter resistance, the audience, the hero will resist, that’s why you need to go back and forth and again.

Last point (the end of the presentation) is a call for action, a call for action to the new bliss. How the future’s so bright if the audience embraces your call.

What is coming?

In the next installment, we will take a look at the power of emotions in storytelling and how you can use them to your advantage in the presentation you will create.

Playing with your mind: Why form is as relevant as content

This is the start of a series of blog posts on tips and ways to improve your presentation skills. Let’s start this essay a little bit differently to illustrate my point. I’ll go through three quite different subjects (quick stories) and I will use them as a support to introduce the real point of this series.

First Quick Story: Information about Laval city

I happen to live in Laval city in Québec. I’d like to first introduce you to some information about the knowledge of language by its inhabitants. We’ll look at data from the 2006 census, below is the complete data set we will look at. The columns show different neighborhoods of the city, the rows are the different languages used by the citizens. French is the official language in Québec, English is the second language and Laval is a region opening its doors to many immigrants some of whom do not yet master either French or English.

First let’s look at the spread of the population. We can quickly see that the biggest neighborhood is Chomedey, followed by Fabreville and Laval-des-Rapides, then other neighborhoods have smaller populations.

The next graphs looks at the ratios of language being used in the different neighborhoods i.e. French only, English only, Both French and English, or neither French nor English. Some have higher ratios in usage of French like St-François and Pont-Viau. Some are more bilingual like Laval-sur-le-Lac and Ste-Dorothée. And some receives probably more immigrants without knowledge of either French or English, like Chomedey.

Second Quick Story: My youngest son

Sometimes he walks up to his room then at the last minute changes his course to his older sister’s room. Take one of her princess dresses, the princess shoes, crown, jewelry. Put it all on then come back to us. We know before we see him. The hard plastic shoes sells himself before him being in front of us: “Click, Clack, Click, Clack…” At that point my boy is a princess. There’s nothing you can say to convince him otherwise. “You know, boys can be princes, firefighters, astronauts …”, “Yeah, but I’m a princess!” In the world he built himself he’s a princess. That’s it. End of the discussion. There’s nothing you can say to change it. It’s usually the time his sister decides she’s a dragon. They are both in an imaginary world, the princess and the dragon and nothing can bring them back. “But dragons are big, they can’t fit in the house!”, “I burned the house! I’m mighty and will breathe fire at you!”. And there’s nothing you can say to change it.

Third Quick Story: The Earth

For this story, I want you to take a look either at the picture just below, or the text further down. One or the other, not both. Make a choice. Do not cheat!




at times,

tiny and naked,

it seems

as though you would fit

in one of my hands,

as though I’ll clasp you like this

and carry you to my mouth,



my feet touch your feet and my mouth your lips:

you have grown,

your shoulders rise like two hills,

your breasts wander over my breast,

my arm scarcely manages to encircle the thin

new-moon line of your waist:

in love you loosened yourself like sea water:

I can scarcely measure the sky’s most spacious eyes

and I lean down to your mouth to kiss the earth.

(Poem by Pablo Neruda)

What can we learn from those short stories?

First, if the title of the essay didn’t give it out already, you may have figured out by now what we will discuss here. We will play with our mind and see why the form is as relevant as the content. Especially in the context of a presentation. Something you will have to do more or less often in your career, but with as much importance to your career as other “technical” tasks you need to perform.

Without looking back, do you remember any concrete number from the first short story? Or even some relative values? Don’t worry, most people don’t. Having too many bullets or text on a slide, Showing a big table full of numbers or presenting too many graphs looking just the same one another is a sure way to bore people to death, except maybe if they are really interested in the subject. I’m pretty sure you don’t care about that boring little city of mine! Giving too much information is like giving none. Nobody will remember.

Again, without looking back, what do you remember of the third story? If you looked at the picture, you probably remember a few hard number facts describing the surface of the earth. If you looked at the text, you probably remember that nice feeling a poem can provide. You can go back now, and see what the other choice had so special that you missed.

You are back? Quite a different perspective isn’t it? When you do a presentation and have a lot of text on a slide, people will (for a period of time) either read and interpret what is written on the slide OR listen to you. If you speak long enough they will come back to you if they chose to read, but will have missed a part of what you have to say, they will feel lost and not engaged as anyway they already read it. Do you want to flip slides and let people read? You could achieve better results with an essay in that case. If you want them to read, give them a book! Would you rather not have people listen to you and engage with what you have to say? Then do not use overloaded slides. One, or a couple of words to give emphasis. A picture to give the tone. Nothing to divert their attention for too long. Limit, or even eliminate slide reading.

Now let us think about the second short story. With the whole discussion up to now, you would have all the excuses in the world to have forgotten about it. But no. You remember vividly my son playing dragon and princess. Why? Because it’s a story. Stories are engaging. Millenia of evolution leads us to listen and engage with stories. That’s how knowledge was passed on for a long time. That’s how society was telling you its past experiences, how to survive in a dangerous world. If you could not engage with stories, you would not survive. Remember Darwin? You will remember stories.

What is coming?

In this blog series I try to write down the essence of a presentation I offered many times in the companies where I worked in the last 10 years and in a number of student classes at a few local universities. I hope you will enjoy it as much in this written format as some others told me they enjoyed it being presented to them. It is certainly not a complete view of the subject, but an expression of my personal journey towards better presentations, something you will always need to improve through your professional career.

Better Software Writing Skills in Data Science: Pragmatic Projects

Definition of pragmatic (Merriam-Webster)

1: relating to matters of fact or practical affairs often to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters: practical as opposed to idealistic.

But can you really exclude all matters of the heart? Can you remove all politics from technical decisions? Maybe thinking so is being idealistic! Being pragmatic means promoting fact based information and practical aspects over other considerations, but other considerations can also be facts to deal with. Being truly pragmatic might not be so much cutting the link between the mind and the heart but more finding the right balance where one privilegiate facts while still accounting for other pursuits such that in the end we get a practical solution.

This week’s mentoring and post is based on the eight and last chapter of “The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master”: Pragmatic Projects. This chapter wraps up everything we learned up to this point into a nice view and provides a good summary of the learnings.

If you want to live the pragmatic data scientist (or programmer) life, you’ve got to implement pragmatism in all aspects of your team workings. You ought to automate every repetitive aspect and make sure testing of your artifacts are automated as well. No manual steps that need to be repeated over time.

Pragmatic teams should not allow for Broken Windows (see the first post of the series). Second, you should always monitor your “environment” and not let it degrade over time. Even a slow degradation if left unchecked will amount for large problems in the future. This can creep up in many ways: data growing linearly may be a challenge if left unnoticed. You may need to adjust your resources as time passes, why not automate that? If you decide on that path, make sure you put some limits on the increase factor allowed over time if you don’t want to end up with a huge bill! Now what about exponential growth of data? If that growth follows your “customer” base, that might not be a financial problem to adjust the resources, but what if it’s not? You should address the issue as soon as possible. Maybe there are other ways to aggregate the data and for it to still be relevant.

As we have seen in previous chapters, communication is king. Communication within the team as well as communication with stakeholders and other parts of the organization. I often found that the best advice this book provides on that subject is to create a brand. When you start a project, give it a name and always refer to it. If it can by itself create a mental image of what you try to achieve the better.

Then there are a bunch of reminders. Don’t repeat yourself! Refactor to eliminate those repetitions. Create orthogonality, not by organizing around job functions, but around functionality.

Value testing, and repeatable testing. Value as well a good data scientist level documentation. Not documentation made for the sake of a process, or for other parties that won’t read it (well if they are to read it, do it, but make sure it answers their needs, no other useless extra). In a few months when/if you need to get back to that piece of code or algorithm you design, will you be able to remember all the small decisions you made? I bet not. And if you leave the organization, will the team still be able to maintain and enhance that functionality? Have documentation as close to the code as possible. If you have concepts that spans a lot of code e.g. system level information, make it meaningful for yourself and your fellow data scientists firsts. Make it accessible, and don’t repeat information found at levels closer to the code or algorithm. I especially like the tip 67: “Treat english as just another programming language”. This means that all that applies to your code should apply to your documentation…

And most importantly, remember that good enough is good enough. There is no perfection in this world and even if you could achieve it, the goal would move away the next day.

This concludes our series on reading through “The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master”. I hope this can help you become a better programmer for data science! Keep on programming, keep on practicing!

Cover image by Gordon Johnson at Pixabay.