paul vidal - pragmatic big data nerd

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5 reasons gaming can boost your professional life

by paul 0 Comments
5 reasons gaming can boost your professional life
Sorry boss, Gotham isn't going to save itself.

The first year I started working, I remember hesitating to buy a game console in order to play in my spare time. Despite the cost, what made me hesitate was the idea that I was an adult and should act as such. Pondering upon this colloquial “rich people problem”, I talked to one of my best friend who told me: “Paul, a man needs the ability to play”; needless to say, these zombies did not see what was coming their way. A little later in life, I was re-introduced to what is now my favorite game, Magic: The Gathering (if you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a HUGE nerd). I can safely say that this game really changed my professional life. Combined with the reading of Play It Away: A Workaholic’s Cure for Anxiety from Charlie Hoehn, I decided to spend this week talking about the importance of gaming for your career. A few disclaimers to start. First, I am talking about gaming, and choose not to talk about playing, because playing might infer physical activities, and I think that the benefits of regular physical activities are so evident, they don’t need another blog post about that, plus I believe there is a distinct advantage in sitting down and playing a game as opposed to go outside and play sports; that being said, I realize I’m biased on this aspect since I’m pilling up 10+ hours a week of training every week. Secondly, this article won’t be a breakthrough for many who embrace gaming as part of their everyday life. That being said, coming from a very European mentality, I know that there are still many people who don’t game enough, and that’s why I think it’s important to highlight these points. Finally, I’m talking about casual gamers, not about competitive/professional gamers, although I doubt they read this blog anyway.

1. Reduce Stress

The first item is the most self evident. I was recently at my physician doing a checkup who mentioned that the biggest contributor of me catching colds was stress. To be, having the opportunity to game is almost as good as playing the game itself. Let me explain: life is very demanding, and most of the professional I know agree that the most valuable currency a man can have is time. When you actually carve into your super busy schedule to do something as pointless as spending hours looking for ammunition before getting in the next mission in Fallout 4, it is liberating. It means that during that time, you accomplished nothing of value. One might add you may actually have lost time and money doing this. And this is why it is so powerful: you get to spend time without any objective or worry in mind.

2. Learn to be decision oriented

This skill is probably the best skill I have ever learned from a game. As mentioned in introduction, I play Magic: The Gathering quite a bit. For those who don’t know this game, think about a game of chess, where the rules are exponentially more complicated, the starting pieces are 60 out of 13000 cards (all of which are pieces of art) and you get to cast firebolts, summon demons and bribe your opponent. It’s pretty awesome. But like in every card game, or game for that matter, it encompasses significant variance, which makes some games almost impossible to win. What is interesting is what to do when the outcome of a game (loss or win). The first basic reaction can be to blame it on luck and move on, i.e. not learning anything. The second reaction is often to focus on the outcome rather than the process: oh, I used this card to win, therefore this card is awesome and I should play it all the time. In this case, you are not only basing your judgement on a very limited sample, you are most likely missing the big picture. Which brings me to what I think is the ultimate way to analyze a game: focus on the decision you made during the game. By focusing on decisions, trying to understand what you could have done better, what elements were out of your control, and taking each game and each event during the game as a data point towards your personal improvement, then you can really maximize your journey towards a better player. Yes, I go deep when I play Magic.

I all seriousness, this is an extremely powerful habit: when something happens in your professional career, whether it is a sales opportunity, a failed attempt at an implementation, a complicated discussion about strategy or marketing positioning, rather than focus on the outcome of the activity or blame it on bad luck, look at it from end to end and analyze what worked and did not work. You will then be able to build a framework that will refine overtime and cater to what your career needs.

3. Find inspiration

While our job description does not entitle the creation of pieces of art (I’m sure some of us can recall some pretty horrifying powerpoint presentations), inspiration is an essential piece of our daily life. Finding the write words to send in an email, position the slides to captivate your target audience attention, using the appropriate algorithm that will allow maintainability and scalability, all of our daily endeavors require some amount of inspiration. Gaming helps when you can’t put these words together. Granted, one could argue that anything that takes your head off of the activity for which you are lacking inspiration may help, I find that emerging yourself in a fantasy world that requires interactive actions from yourself is the one of the fastest way to get epiphanies.

4. Extend your social circle

Everyone tends to stay within their eco-chamber. With work and family taking most of our daily life, it’s sometimes hard to put yourself into question and realize that there is a world out there of people that don’t care about why relational database management systems are a technology of the past. Unbelievable. All joking aside, gaming is a very easy way to encounter people that do not live in the same echo chamber as yours, and therefore enrich your view of the world and thus ultimately being better at understanding your professional circle.

5. Stop taking yourself seriously

This is probably one of the best outcome of gaming. Our professional image is often one that was molded by difficult email conversations, argument over solution architectures and so forth, to the point that sometimes your professional self and your personal self are split personalities. I could write a whole post on the fact that if you are not behaving the same at work and outside of work, then you should probably address that. What I’m highlighting here is that when people know about your dorky side (again, huge magic nerd here), you become human to others, which is extremely valuable for your career. And because you become human to others, you have to admit flaws and stop taking yourself seriously. Society is exchanging most of my time and brain power against currency that I use to provide for myself and my family first, but also buying games that have no purpose but amuse myself. That’s far from serious.

Do software companies need purpose?

by paul 0 Comments
Do software companies need purpose?
There are cookies on the other side, right?

Following Richard Branson, I stumbled upon this article from Virgin: Is purpose the new branding? When I read this, all I could think of was this quote from Rick & Morty: “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s going to die. Come watch TV?”. It’s a very funny quote despite being out of context here, although one could argue that it isn’t that much out of context, since this blog and this article don’t belong anywhere :) In all seriousness, the fact that purpose has been on the forefront of my newsfeed lately and that I have been pondering with branding strategies for my job got me to dive a little further into the subject. And you, fellow reader, get to bathe in the splashes of this hypothetical dive.

Establishing the premise

I want to set the stage of this post and thus establish the scope within which I will be operating. Let’s acknowledge my (limited) domain of expertise. First, I’m going to talk about software, not things. Secondly, I have little experience in B2C marketing and strategy, but I have an extensive experience in marketing and strategy in software B2B. So I’m going to talk about B2B here, not B2C. And it’s good, because I think that the “purpose in B2C branding” horse has been beaten to death. Poor horse.

With this established, let’s have a look at who is the target of B2B. A good place to start is this study from Google, The Changing Face of B2B Marketing, debunking some of the myths surrounding B2B marketing. The surprising outcome of this research and what I can read is quite simple: the persons that you are trying to target are following the same demographic and user expectations patterns as the rest of the population.

So, in short, here is the what we’re talking about: software B2B marketing strategy for people like us.

Not only caring about money does not mean we want to make the world a better place

Make no mistake: the first goal of a marketing strategy is to sell more. At least until capitalism collapses, which I’m not going to debate here. The assumption that many articles debating purpose is that generating revenue is not a purpose in itself. I think this assumption is correct, and several studies suggest that a paycheck is not the sole purpose of employment for our generation (take a look at this report for instance).

What I think is wrong is the conclusion that because millennials (we) are not by default driven by money, because we acknowledge that our jobs will change quite a bit over the course of our career, and because we seek personal development, it means that we are moved and seeking purpose. Like I argued before, our generation is the generation of individualism, and these findings should be interpreted within this framework. Specifically in the realm of B2B, I can tell you from experience that what excites is not the Purpose with a capital P of a solution but rather what it can do. What it can do for me, now.

Do bytes have purpose?

Another interesting question to ask, and perhaps the first question we should have asked, is: can my software have a Purpose? I would argue that no, software is a tool to achieve a goal. It does not have a purpose, it’s 0s and 1s (at least as long as we use binary machines). Of course, any set of tool can be used to achieve a purpose; but we are not talking about what you can do with the tool, rather if the company that is building the tool or the tool itself can be presented as having a higher properties or purpose than using the tool. I think this quickly becomes over reaching.

So: do software company need purpose?

The outcome of my current thought process is no. The theorized search for purpose of the millennial generation is operating under false assumptions. Furthermore, pieces of software by definition do not have a purpose which makes your software marketing strategy intrinsically swimming against the current.

Instead, I think that branding should focus on capabilities, not purpose. In my opinion, highlighting what a product can do in a comprehensible and palatable manner is far more exciting and ultimately convincing than positioning a product as the banner behind which we need to rally to express our views of the world. I would also add that B2B decisions are more and more data driven, and I don’t think that purpose is a relevant data point when considering alternatives. As always, I would love to proven wrong and hear your thoughts against this conclusion.

Is patience overrated? how real-time big data affects our behavior.

by paul 0 Comments
Is patience overrated? how real-time big data affects our behavior.
soon.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m fairly action driven. One of the skills that is often pointed out to me for a lack thereof is patience. If you want an illustration of my personality, I encourage you to read this comic:

woah-woah-woah-slow-down-friend-dontcha-know-that-sometimes-you-have-to-stop-and-smell-the-flowers-flower-smelling-champion-type-a-type-b-1471399276

Thank you @shenanigansen. Seriously, I have a problem. My cousin would tell me I need to do yoga, many of my friends would tell me I should practice mindfulness, and my Dad would tell me I should be patient. Here is my take on it: I think patience is overrated, and I think that it is the result of the technology we have at our disposal.

The advent of real-time in Big Data

A couple of years ago, the selling point of big data was the big in big data. Being able to store practically unlimited amount of data was a game changer. But if you look at the recent trends (see a few excerpts here, here, and here), real-time and speed are selling points. People want access to their data quickly, and I can tell you it is a major part of my every data pitch. To be fair, the shortening of time of any part of your life is a trademark of the modern era, as much as hipsters are trying to fight it (typewriters, anyone?). However, I do think that accelerating big data access and storage has and will continue to be one of the trends that impacts that acceleration the most. Indeed with the luxury to record everything in our lives, through IoT or simply by being a normal being that spends a significant portion of his time in the virtual realm (a.k.a. surfing the web or playing video games), real-time is the next game changer after personalization.

What that means for us, the end user

We are already a product being sold by any social media, site, fitness tracker or video game. And we already see the outcome of this by targeted ads, suggestions and so on. But these suggestions can be a bit off at times (think suggestion about something you already bought), on the account of the algorithms needing more iteration, but also by the lack of sufficient data, not because of pure lack of it but by the latency of gathering all these pieces of data together. Imagine what speed can add to these phenomena. The accuracy of the suggestions will be at times frightening, but mostly we will become more impatient. And we already see results of that. An recent example would be the reaction of retailers about using cup readers, due to their processing time. We’re talking about a few seconds of difference, but it matters to us, the end user. Personally, if I can’t use contactless payment and have to pull out my card like and animal, I’m annoyed. And this trend will continue folks, make no mistake.

Conclusion & Limitations

So why should I be patient? Why should I have to wait for a specific outcome? The frustration comes from the fact that many situations for which you are impatient are not limited anymore by logistics themselves but by inaction, at least in the business world. But my point is the following: the world of data and therefore to some extent our personal world is moving to real-time. You can decide to be an outsider and there is of course value in this, or you need to adapt. The value of waiting for a possible different situation is overrated. For instance, let’s say you have to make a life changing decision. Chances are that the amount of data that you will have to make that decision now versus 3 weeks from now is going to be roughly similar. So why not take the decision now? Why be patient?
Of course, this may sound like I’m advocating for having results now now now now, like a 3 year-old (and I talk from experience). This is not it, valuing highly hard incremental work towards a long term goal is extremely important, but patience as an excuse to inaction isn’t.

5 reasons you should go to the Cassandra Summit 2016

by paul 0 Comments
5 reasons you should go to the Cassandra Summit 2016
I did a search for summit on royalty free images and this is what I got.

For those who don’t know, I’ll be attending the Cassandra Summit 2016 in San Jose (possibly talking, but this is still in the works). The Cassandra Summit is organized by DataStax, the Cassandra enterprise company with which my company, K2View, is a partner.
I’m super excited about this summit, and participated to last year’s edition. I thought I’d share the excitement by writing a total click-bait of an article, expressing my genuine feelings of excitement. Seriously, I am excited about this summit. Of course my judgement is biased by the fact that I am part of the show, but I would not be working for who I am working now if I was not honestly passionate about this technological environment and the events that surround it. So allow me the right to be a nerd and share this with you: 5 reasons you should go to the Cassandra Summit 2016.

1. To learn about market-leading technologies

Like the paradoxical man would say, it goes without saying but it’s better said than not. Obviously, this should be the first thing you look for when attending that kind of summit. First, Cassandra and DataStax Enterprise are used by companies that are the leaders of our day to day technological life (e.g. Netflix, Apple): at this summit you get to talk to the guys that implemented these clusters and understanding their deployment is always fascinating. Perhaps even more interestingly, you get to learn about new companies leveraging Cassandra in use-cases you never thought about. If you play your cards right, you should be able to overload your brain with new information, which is always a good feeling.

2. To listen to people that are smarter than you

Granted, this is not very hard for me. Take a look at the conference agenda and the speaker list though. I have a professional crush on Patrick McFadin, Chief Evangelist at DataStax, who was my first encounter with Cassandra. I really y enjoy its delivery, and always have fun listening to him, but he is one of many for that conference.

3. To genuinely connect with other data nerds

With our (professional) lives going at 100 miles per hour, we don’t get a chance to stop and tell someone: the gossip protocol is one of the coolest things. If you try to tell that to someone that does not work in the field, he probably won’t know what you’re talking about; if you try to tell that to someone in your field, it either comes out as a platitude or you simply never get time to enjoy a very nerdy conversation. You get to do that at the Cassandra Summit. If you’re participating, grab a beer and a snack and come talk to me about anything you find cool, I’ll listen.

4. To witness cool logistic hacks

Two words for you: whiteboard tables. This blew my mind last year, being able to doodle with a marker on the very table you sit at is amazing. Why isn’t every conference room table a whiteboard? I will never know. I can’t wait to see what cool things the organizers will come up with this year.

5. To have fun

Look. Work is arguably the largest part of our lives outside of sleeping, It is not every day we get to be in an environment full of new exciting information, surrounded by extremely intelligent and passionate people, where everything has been thought of to the last detail. I like to think of it as an all-inclusive resort for data nerds. I’ll be damned if I don’t enjoy every minute of it and so should you, so please, enjoy yourself!

A case for talking too much

by paul 0 Comments
A case for talking too much
How do I play pokemon go with that?

I spent the last few days writing a white paper on SaaS integration, as part of what represents more than a third of my time, interestingly more than the time I spend sleeping a.k.a my job. I considered briefly diving deeper in some aspect of this work for the benefits of the readers of that blog, but I decided against it to write a lighter piece on the benefits of speaking too much in the business realm. Case in point, I spent more than 75 words, 77 according to my text editor, to say very little about the main topic of this article. Did the world catch on fire because I said too much? Nope. Worst case scenario (admittedly not actual worst, the world catching on fire being a much scarier proposition), you’ve already jump to the first section of the article. Best case scenario, you enjoyed learning about my process and are eager to read what follows. That’s the heart of my premise: when considering giving away information versus the potential negative outcome of that information, skew towards giving information away to maximize value.

Debunking the information silo myth

For some reason extremely foreign to me, throughout the years I encountered many co-workers feeling that their value is determined by the amount of information they have and other don’t. If you’ve ever encountered that kind of behavior, you know how frustrating that is. I can’t explain why they feel the way they feel, but I can tell you their premise is wrong. If you have vital information to your company or your state of business that you do not share, this will not make superstar. On the contrary, it is usually identified as a liability and a reason for making a person redundant. On the other hand, if you possess information that no one is aware of that is not extremely important, then it will die with you, and with it your value.

Why it works: you are not important.

Honestly, I often get into these conversations whenever I or my friends are attempting something difficult. No one cares about you. It’s the syndrome of the newbie at the gym that worries about what other think of him, the answer is: they don’t. The same goes when sharing information, you should not worry about communicating ideas, expressing the fact that you don’t understand something, or expressing why you agree and disagree with. If you ever get negative feedback about it, take it as it is: feedback, more information for you to consume and build upon. If you get actual mockery from your interlocutor, it is also feedback: your interlocutor lacks communication intelligence (sometimes shortened as “your interlocutor is a dick”). Another added bonus of nobody caring about you and over information, is that if you say something that you shouldn’t have said (not that I think that ever occurs), chances are the person won’t notice or judge it as inappropriate because it is consistent with your character.

The aftermath of over-communication: transparency & reliability

On the flip side, over communication unlocks you as a personal asset by making you seem transparent and reliable. If you constantly and honestly communicate with everyone you encounter and do not hesitate to share information, I guarantee that people will judge you as trustworthy. Think about it, every time you say something, especially when genuinely showing lack of knowledge or comprehension. People will want to take to you because they know that you will give them a genuine answer. Furthermore, I truly believe that cultivating a culture of over communication is essential for the success of a company. From every level of the organization, management to engineering, lack of communication is frustrating, and too much information is not hurtful. I know I have extreme views on that, but I even think you should talk simply about sensitive subject. Let’s take an example: your salary. I don’t mind of you make more than me or if I make more than me. For me, it gives me a very good insight where you are within the company, the market and your career. I believe I am worth what I make because I make sure to deliver, and my salary is in accordance to the market for a person in my position. Do you know how I know that? I talked about it with people around me.

This is not carte blanche for stupidity or chit-chat

The issue with over communication is that it is an open door to your thoughts. And every one has his share of stupid or uninteresting thoughts, myself included. Heck, I don’t even know if that article is interesting or relevant at all. This is however unrelated to over or under communication. This is work that you need to make on yourself to grow as a person that has relevant things to say. The best way to do that is simple: listen to people that over communicate.