Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"3 Small Things" via @dennistyang #leadership

I read with interest today a post on Medium by Dennis Yang, CEO of Udemy, entitled "3 Small Things That Separate Great Leaders From the Good Ones" - who writes that "Staying connected with employees is a top priority" to avoid "losing touch with your employees". This is easy to happen when a start-up grows rapidly in to a large organization where the "easy intimacy of those early startup days fades away as headcount increases". In my previous job, where my employee number was 36 when I started in 1989, the company grew from being very small to very large (500+ employees in Dublin office) - I could see this first hand. So what does Yang recommend to "temper that disconnected feeling and help 21st century employees find humanity in the workplace" so that leaders are "great" rather than just "good"?
  1. Establish personal connections: by learning everyone's name
  2. Maintain an equal footing: by having an open office plan and embedding in teams in rotation
  3. Be yourself but manage your emotions: by maintaining a calm demeanor in the face of adversity

A Great Leader: Abraham Lincoln.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
None of the above is easy - the aim is to "help people trust your leadership, so they can go about their business doing great work". 

I never had the guts or the opportunity to set up a new company like Dennis Yang, and I won't be doing so in the less than 10 years left of my working life. I never regarded myself as leadership material. In my Project Management classes, I often say to my students that PMs need to be leaders to be successful - where there are leaders, there must be followers. 

I have worked with some great and not so great leaders in my time (who I will not name or give a clue to identity here). Instead I turn to outside my own environment to hail other great leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Pádraig Pearse, Mick O'Dwyer, Éamon de Valera, Roy Keane, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, and many more. Some will say that circumstances (war, sport, protest) made these people what they were - nevertheless they responded in a way that great leaders always do.

Some will say that a person is born to be a great leader, that you don't just pick it up off the ground. But leadership can be learned, and taking Dennis Yang's simple advice shows that those who aspire to leadership so that others will follow can do inspiring things to become "great".

Saturday, January 28, 2017

First Friday

Image source: NCI Blog.
Semester II started this week in the College - it is my 31st semester teaching in NCI. In all the previous 30 semesters I never once had classes on a Friday evening. I'm no stranger to evening classes from Monday to Thursday, but this semester due to a new timetable (and a new module for me) - I agreed to a class on Fridays from 18:00 to 21:00. One of the good things about teaching in the evening is that I do not need to go into work until lunchtime - I have the morning to myself. 

I was pleased to see so many students turning up on a Friday evening - it can't be easy for them, they also have classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings (plus some Saturdays). Students of course know in advance that classes take place on Friday evenings, so they have to be ready to commit to this before they start the course. It cannot be easy for those who are also working full time to fit classes and study - they give up so much free time to learn, especially on a Friday.

I have to say that my first reaction to teaching on a Friday evening was a positive one - I was pleased with my first class which was on An Introduction to Data Visualization. The students seemed enthusiastic and I was happy to share the evening with them. A pizza and a glass of wine rounded off the evening - a good start to the weekend!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

New Semester

It's Sunday evening before the new semester starts at the National College of Ireland - my first class begins tomorrow at 09:00. As usual, I will have four modules to teach, but the good thing for me is that for one of the modules I deliver will be to two separate classes. So in reality, I have just three modules:
  • Business Data Analysis
  • Advanced Business Data Analysis (two classes)
  • Data Visualization

There are a few "firsts" for me with these classes. It will be the first time that all my modules will be based on data - three of my classes are Higher Diploma classes, while the other is a final year undergraduate BSc. The Data Visualization module is also a first timer - this is a new module on our Higher Diploma in Data Analytics programme, and I am very much looking forward to it. Also for the first time ever in my 29 semesters since I started in NCI, I will have classes every day. Finally, I will also be teaching on Friday nights for the first time.

A new semester is always full of hope and expectation. All my classes are Award Year ones, so I'm expecting high levels of student participation and attendance - it is "show time" for them as I will tell them all this week. The College is introducing a second Reading Week in the week leading up to Easter, this will effectively make the semester 14 weeks long - I'm certain that it will feel like it is dragging on later in the semester. 

So - here's to a great semester for all NCI students. Our motto is "To Change Lives Through Educaiton" - this is exactly what we do.

Friday, January 20, 2017

President Trump

Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
So - Donald J Trump has finally become the 45th President of the United States. Can we all stop holding our breath now? The world did not end when he swore to "uphold the Constitution of the United States" - like it or not he is now the man in the hottest seat in the world.

What will he be like? Will he be any worse than some of his predecessors who were slave owners, womanizers, warmongers, or criminals? Will he be any better than the leaders and statesmen who abolished slavery, saved democracy from despots, and who have already made America great? We don't know yet. I don't have high expectations, like a lot of people I thought his candidacy was a bit of a joke at the beginning, he seemed to have talked himself into losing the primaries as well as the election. But he won! Maybe he will win as President?

At first I am prepared to give the guy a shot and not pre-judge. A lot of people hate him, but 62,980,160 Americans voted for him - we should respect that mandate. Whatever the next four years give us, we must not forget that today's Inauguration is arguably the world's finest example of democracy in action.

I wish you well Mr President, but you have set yourself up for a fall with your "America First" policy. It will be among the greatest political achievements ever if you can succeed with even a fraction of what you propose to do. God Bless America (and the rest of the world too)!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Irish YouTube Earnings - One euro a week

While reviewing my YouTube Channel analytics for 2016, I decided to take a look at earnings just for Ireland. I have often wondered if it was worth my while letting the ads run when I am checking out my own videos, and I also wondered if I make any money out of my own students. As you'll see below, I earned the princely sum of €49.45 from ads served on my channel in 2016 - just under one euro per week (or about 0.14 cent/day). I think I'll keep the day job!

The best day was June 6th when I earned €1.54. Ireland accounts for just 0.9% of total earnings from the channel. This tells me it is very difficult to make money in Ireland from YouTube. Ireland accounts for just 1.5% of my overall views, so it is outside this country where most earnings come from. This goes a long way towards reducing my ethical dilemma about making money out of my own students - basically I don't!

Around 32% of views, and 59% of earnings comes from the USA - God Bless America!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

70% Third Level Drop Out Rates #SnobValue

In today's Irish Times, Carl O'Brien writes that Over 70% of students drop out of certain college courses - a worrying statistic for everyone involved, not least the students themselves. O'Brien cites evidence that "Courses with non-progression rates of more than 70 per cent include computing with software development at IT Tralee; computing and games development at IT Sligo; industrial physics at DIT; and computer forensics and security at Waterford IT". These seem to be stand out figures, but no information is given about class sizes and actually how many students this represents. "70%" is a headline grabbing figure that that does not reflect the general picture - the following chart (from the Irish Times) shows rates much lower than this:

Image source: The Irish Times.

Misleading headline?

At 26%, Computer Science drop out rates in ITs are the highest - just a third of the headline grabbing "Over 70%" rate. No figures are provided for non-IT and non-University Colleges. 

It is a complex subject trying to figure out why a high rate of 26% drop out from ITs exists. I'm not from the IT sector, so I'll not try to guess why this is happening. Even a 15% rate for Computer Science in the Universities is very high - that'as almost one in six students. Commentators point to the lower points required for entry into IT courses - but I'd like to see hard evidence of this. O'Brien reports that "Senior academics" recently "expressed concern that students who are totally unsuited to higher education are being shoehorned into universities by their parents”. All this because of "snob value". Again - I'd like to see the evidence for this. My three children all went to College - to learn and get a qualification, not for "snob value". I myself went to College - no one who comes from Carnew could ever claim this was for "snob value".

There is no mention of teaching standards on O'Brien's article - perhaps he will write about this at another time. As I have written before - education is not just about learning, but is about teaching too. High drop our rates, no matter what the figure is, is not due to students alone - there are probably many factors, and we cannot rule the Colleges/ITs themselves out of the equation. It is so easy to point the finger at "snob value", or at students who are "unsuited to higher education" - let's look at the mirror too.

Friday, January 06, 2017

"There aren't enough Data Scientists to go around" via @McKinsey #Analytics

According to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute: The age of analytics: Competing in a data-driven world, "big data continues to grow" and if anything, "earlier estimates understated its potential". We will continue to see a demand for data scientists and for equiping managers with the knowlege and skills necessary to make better decisions using data. Deep Learning and Natural Language will become more common by necessity as companies struggle to extract value from their data. Check out this video from McKinsey which warns "Make no mistake - the data analytics revolution is happening":

Why not consider a career as a Data Analyst/Scientist? Come along to the January Open Evenings (Wednesday 11th, and Thursday 19th) at the National College of Ireland in the IFSC and find out about our Higher Diploma/Postgraduate Diploma/MSc in Data Analytics. See you there!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Leaving Exams Early

I always tell my students never to leave an exam early. My exam papers are designed to take the time allocated to respond to my exam questions. I often half joke with my students that if I was standing outside the exam hall and pointed a gun at their head telling them to go back in and write some more - they would be able to do it. 

Image source: tes.
There are many reasons for leaving an exam early. Clearly, if a student has not prepared for an exam they might leave early because they struggle or are unable to answer any questions. It is also possible in some subjects that the exam is easy to complete before time is up. I recall one student who left a 2 hour exam after 45 mins telling me that she had "got everything done" in that time - this I refuse to believe. Some students may be satisfied with just a pass and are not targeting a high grade. Others may simply have given everything before the time is up.

It could be of course that as exam setters, I and my colleagues in third-level could be setting exams that are too easy and require only short answers. I have no evidence of this other than seeing students leaving the exam hall early. In my own time correcting exam scripts I have only once ever awarded a 100% mark (a statistics exam where this is possible). This means that there were more marks possible in every single other paper that I have marked. Exams that require an essay type answer will not generate high marks if the "essay" is just ten lines long - too often I see this.

My advice to students is to use all of the time allocated in an exam. The worst thing to do is to leave questions unanswered and leave early - at least make an attempt. If you feel that you have done enough, try to see if there is more that you can do such as add new opinion or compare your answer with the literature. Most important of all is to really analyse if your answer reflects the question asked. If you have given one example, why not provide a second and compare it to the first? This could be the difference between a good grade and a great grade. If you have had do perform calculations, go over them again. One thing I do know - if you leave the exam hall early you have no chance to improve your mark.

In all of my subjects exams are 1.5 or 2 hours long, usually exams are spread out over a week and there would be only one exam every two days. 2 hours is not a long time to commit.

Just to be clear - I do not stand outside the exam hall during my exams and observe who has left early. The exam invigilators do not report this to me either. This is to avoid any bias in correcting the scripts. It makes no difference to my attitude when grading whether a student leaves an exam early or not.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Blogging Every Day - Reflection

2016 was my year of daily blogging. Lots of writers do this to build an audience and to make some money. I'm not a writer, so I was not looking to be creative or to write thought-provoking prose. I am mindful that the word "blog" is an abbreviated version of "Web Log" - in a sense it was originally intended to be a web diary. I have only once ever kept a daily diary before and that was in the year 2000 when I was given a Whoseday Book as a gift - this was before I had any kind of an on-line presence other than email. I wrote in it by hand every day - on 2nd January 2000 I noted that I got a puncture in my car (Volvo V40), lost £1 at bowling to Claire in Castlebar, and watched "Blazing Saddles" on TV.

So 2016 was very much an experiment to just see if I could do it. I had no plan on what to write, though I knew that I would still be writing about education, YouTube, sport, books, travel, and family as I had done in previous years. Similar to the Canadian writer Stephen Downes, who has a blog called "Half an Hour", his blog is a "place to write, half an hour, every day, just for me". 

In addition to my regular types of post, I also published a lot of material from the Eileen Ryan Collection belonging to Roma. In May I did the Jeff Goins 500 word a day challenge. Throughout the year I wrote about Big Data as I am becoming more involved in this at work. There was also two elections to write about: Trump in the USA, and our own General Election last February. I tend to comment on events of the day or things I have done. As I showed to myself in the Jeff Goins challenge, I am not creative at all so I cannot make things up.

I did find the challenge of writing "anything" every day difficult. Some days it was easy, but others I was often reduced to looking up something in the News and write about that. There were plenty of times throughout the year when I had four or five posts in the pipeline ready to go, sometimes I would find or see something interesting and flag it for later. As Jonas Ellison in his blog post "How one year of daily blogging changed my life" writes:

Blogging every day forces you to notice the details of your life. You need fodder for the day’s post. And you’ll scour your world to get it. You become hyper-aware. You find ways to turn little subtleties into big ideas. You start writing with questions only to be faced with answers by the time you reach the end of the post. Your headspace literally becomes transformed.

The web site "Blog 2 Print" allows bloggers to convert posts into a book. When I create a book for all posts in 2016 it runs to 360 pages! That's 150 pages longer than my Wild Atlantic Way book. While it is tempting to order a copy for myself, the cost ($192.95) is prohibitive. But you can see for creative people that if they get into the habit of writing a post every day, than a book could easily follow.