Rewiring Education

Last night the kids and I were across the street at another family’s house for dinner. Their kids are the same age as my daughter and son and often stay for dinner at our house. Last night after the dinner we got to talking about the current state of education and how we can better educate our kids. Both the husband and wife have careers in the creative fields and are big supporters of STEM.

The conversation got me thinking about the role of parents in guiding their children in education but also how technology changes the game.

My wife and I religiously go to Back to School Night” and attend every teacher conference. We are in routine contact with the teachers through email and we give our kids plenty of secondary education as well (Chinese and German language classes).

My daughter just started 6th grade and she was excited and nervous to finally go to a big” school. We visited her school and met all her teachers during the Back to School Night a few weeks ago. Now she has to navigate the hallways to get to her classes and remember her locker combination. She has all the normal classes like French, Math, Science, Social Studies, and PE, but they’re subtle and interesting differences from when I was in school.

Of course, I didn’t expect things to stay the same from when I was in 6th grade – I expected some technological enhancements – but what I didn’t expect was just how intertwined things got.

Her French teacher emails her twice a week with a link to online lesson plans. There she can access French-English word flashcards, listen to an mp3 sound out the French word, and take “quizzes” to gauge her progress. She has the standard math textbook but it stays home and is used for reference. Her math homework is done online and submitted to her teacher. She has three tries to get the answer right and then it records it.

She even has a Research class that meets once a week where the students learn how to use the Internet to research, evaluate, and properly reference material.

The funny thing about this? She doesn’t complain about doing her homework. She accesses her work online through her iPhone and does her homework. She takes to education enabled by technology like a fish to water.

Rewiring Education

What my daughter doesn’t realize is that her education is slowly becoming customized. While the average American complains about Common Core and how it doesn’t make sense to them, there are entrepreneurs figuring out ways to customize learning to each child.

Children and adults all learn at different paces and in different ways. Some people and children are visual learners, others auditory, and some learn by doing (tactile learning). Why, then, should the “one sized fits all” method of education be applied to all children?

While I’m not an expert in education, I do believe that everyone can learn and have a rich education. The hard part is figuring out how each child learns and I believe the computer is the way forward.

Auditory learners can easily access podcasts or mp3′s to listen to. Computers are perfect ways for visual learners to access material, and tactile learners can just start writing code or building projects with a Raspberry Pi or Arduino.

Now, more than ever, online courses are available for free. You can access materials on Python Programming, Anthropology, Art, Humanities, Data Science, and anything you can dream of. High School students can access these college courses and get a headstart on higher learning.” Our High School offers online courses to its students that want to learn a particular course BUT wouldn’t be available because they couldn’t fill an entire classroom with students.

This is the key.

Education enabled by technology frees you from the constraints of filling up a classroom with students just to justify the course’s existence! Now you can have a class filled with students, each one of them learning something different specifically geared for them.

We truly live in amazing times.

Advice from a Venture Capitalist

I’ve been following Howard and Fred on and off over the years. They’re old Web 2.0 veterans like me and have kept a blog going for over 10 years. It’s always nice to see continuity and recently I found a great interview of Fred at MIT on Howard’s blog. It’s just under an hour and gives advice to students interested in the Venture Capitalist (VC) field.

Cheerleaders

What caught my ear (and Howard’s too) was how his wife (Gotham Girl) is his biggest cheerleader. What does he exactly mean by that? She was the one that supported and believed in him to go out into Venture Capitalism.

With any big risk you take in life, it makes your life so much easier to have someone behind you, cheering you on.  Like Fred, my wife is my biggest cheerleader. She encouraged and supported me to step out of the Engineering world and into the Startup world.

You won’t believe how much that mattered to me then and how much it still matters today.

Fred’s actual talk is about 25 minutes or so, but the Q&A part is gold. I’m going to watch this a few times just to glean as much wisdom as I can!

Other Interesting Bits

  1. The Founder(s) need to be like salespeople, they have to sell their idea to VC’s, customers, etc
  2. You need to build up well diversified startup portfolio, some will fail and you’ll lose your seed investment
  3. It’s a good idea to help negotiate the Series A and even B rounds, because that’ll help you get your exit
  4. Opportunities abound everywhere

Street Photography and Startups

If you’ve been following my blog posts, you’d know that RapidMiner isn’t the first Startup I’ve worked for. My first one was straight out school for an engineering firm in New Mexico. It was the best of times and the worst of times. I am who I am today from the lessons I learned there.

What many people don’t know about me is that I like to take photos in cities. I fancy myself a hobby street photographer and I like to roam around and capture small slices of life in the streets. It’s a very personal and lonely endeavor but I’m fascinated by the undercurrent of people interacting with places, people, and things.

Port Authority EscalatorPort Authority Escalator

It’s also very therapeutic! It gives me time to think when I roam around AND it sharpens my senses to opportunities. You have to be quick to get that shot!

I recently stumbled across some street photography tips by a prolific street photography blogger, Eric Kim. I watched this kid” go from shooting bad street photos to shooting really good ones. He experimented, he networked, he tried new things, and dropped things that didn’t work. Now he’s traveling the world and hosting street photography workshops. He’s like this own startup” and despite what all the haters say, I like the guy!

I gleaned a few of his tips. Some of them contradict each other, but I can overlook that. Why? Because life is one big contradiction. What ultimately matters is learning to see an opportunity, evaluate it, and then take it if it makes sense.

Fulfill Your Personal Maximum

I am certainly not a master” myself; just a humble student dedicated to a life-long pursuit of learning.

The Startup is you and your people. Without all your brains, you’d be dead in the water. Life long learning is important to keeping all those brains sharp and creative. Always remember, your employees want to contribute to something larger than themselves and if they feel like their work becomes to rote, then you’ll lose them. Invest in life long Learning.

Shoot 25% more than you think you should

If you see an amazing character once in your life, realize that you will never see them ever again. So live life without regrets and make the photograph.

This tip reminds me of not missing a good opportunity AND under promising but over delivering. In the Startup world you have go above and beyond for your potential and existing clients. You are the reason they are taking a chance on your startup, so don’t blow it.

Kill Your Master

Remember that after learning from the masters, you need to know when to ignore them or when to go against their teachings.

As you journey through Startup land, will meet and have great mentors and influencers. I still talk to my old mentors, which I affectionately call Tor”mentors. They will have great wisdom share but what you need to do is learn as much as you can and then chart your own destiny. You’re the captain of this Startup, you take their teachings and set out on your own into uncharted waters.

Kill Your Ego

By detaching your ego from your photos, you can judge them more honestly and objectively.

Don’t get hung up on something and lose your objectivity. I see this happen a lot when teams are formed to make new products. They lose themselves in the product that they forget who it’s really for, the customer. If you can’t honestly and objectively evaluate how good or bad your product is, well then you got a problem. Be prepared to kill your creation.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

Many photographers become jaded after years of shooting. They lose a sense of their hunger and passion. This is what leads to artistic death and stagnation.

This is a tough one. At times you can get tired and things just seem to be going all wrong in your Startup. You have to be vigilant against losing your hunger and passion, because it’s really tied together by a thin thread. If you feel jaded or burnt out, take some time off and detach for a bit. Then come back and be a force to be reckoned with.

Create A Relationship with your Subjects

By getting to know your subject, you connect with them on a deeper and emotional level, which might help you uncover some hidden truths about them, which might manifest in the photos that you take.

This is about your customer or clients. You have to get to know them to understand why they’re involved with you. Don’t be that selfish lover than only thinks about your orgasm, think about theirs. Once you build a strong relationship, everyone feels in it together,” and that goes a lone way to building your brand.

Unlearn

I want to leave you with the last lesson it would be this: unlearn.

If something doesn’t work, toss it. Start again. Don’t be tied to dogma.

Your Digital Profile

I think it was back in 2010 when I met up with an old high school classmate. Let’s call her T,” and she was in between marketing jobs. I reached out to her because we had an opening for a CMO at my old engineering firm and thought she would be great for it. She had recently worked on some really cool NGO campaigns and I liked her forward-thinking.

I eventually convinced her to throw her hat in the ring for the CMO gig but that’s not the most important thing I learned from our get-together.  We met up for drinks at Mustang Harry’s on 7th Ave and 33rd Street in NYC and after we caught up on where all our old classmates were and what they were doing, we got to the subject of Marketing and the Internet. She said one thing that is seared into my consciousness to this day, she said: Tom, you have to manage your digital profile before someone does it for you.”

Bang. Right in my head.

Manage your Career

I’ve always told my direct reports (when I had them) that they need to manage their careers.” I always wanted them to be aware of what they were doing and if it fits into their bigger picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up.” Why do I bring this up? I was working in engineering at the time and getting your professional engineering (PE) license was always a big deal, but what it really was was a great leveler. Everyone began at the same starting line.

Everyone was at the same point in their career if they got their PE license, it was up to them to go as far as they want to go after that. Some went into very specialized technical areas, others went into management, and even some in academia, but it was ultimately up to them.

Managing your career always felt so mechanical to me. Every silly employee evaluation was always if X then Y” flow chart and it often meant that you could easily be lost in the crowd. I often saw engineers on the technical path become one of those ubiquitous engineers squirreled in a cubicle somewhere. I often saw an engineer get into project management only to become another ubiquitous project manager that was getting hammered for not making his or her budget.

Sometimes, someone rose to Vice President or even the C suite.” Those lucky” few were the ones that stood out from the rest of the 1000′s toiling away. All those 1000′s have great ideas and a lot to contribute to the company but NO ONE NOTICES THEM! No one realizes they’re even alive. They are just an interchangeable labor unit.” What a shame.

I quickly put 2 and 2 together from T said and realized that I needed to stand out from the crowd. So, I got to work.

Leveraging Social Media

In 2010 LinkedIn was just becoming the behemoth it is today and T told me to build out my profile, start a group, get recommendations, do everything I could to show people that I have something valuable to contribute to what I like to do and want to do. In essence, become a thought leader.

Not only did I take her advice and pimped out my LinkedIn profile, but I attacked writing this blog with new content. I didn’t create a LinkedIn group but last year I created a Meetup group for Big Data. I actively managed my career from engineering into the startup world, a place I feel at home and super happy. You have to pinch me sometimes because it still feels like a dream to me!

Without sounding like a self-help” commercial, I believe you too can stand out from the crowd but it will require effort. Tom Wentworth really hammers on these points here in his latest post. Most notably:

Ditch the excuses and start writing. I’ve heard them all: But there’s no time. No one is going to read it. I’ve got nothing important to say. Wrong. The truth is that no matter where you are in your career, someone will benefit from the lessons you have to share.

Check.

Leverage tech vendors and industry conferences to expand your reach. Tech companies are always looking for customers to speak at their customer conferences, roadshows, and webinars. Nearly all of the top marketers” you see on those lists use their vendor to increase visibility. They will be thrilled to hear from you. Connect with the account management team at your favorite tech vendor to get started.

Check.

Host or attend a local networking event. Peer groups and networking events are a great way to gain reputation and share knowledge. I’m a member of a small peer group of marketing leaders in Boston, and even though we only meet for a few hours or so a quarter, I’ve found the time incredibly valuable. I always walk away with actionable learning, and it’s helped me build a positive reputation among my Boston marketing peers.

Check.

I would suggest to Tom that your digital profile is a big part of this as well but I’m sure he already realizes that, it’s baked into a lot of what he blogs about.

How To Get Started

So how can you get started?

  1. Start a blog. Tom and I agree here, you have to write about something you’re passionate about and genuinely interested in.
  2. Pimp out your LinkedIn profile. If you don’t have one, make one and spend the time to fill it out. This is your online resume and presence.
  3. Update your LinkedIn profile annually. Enough said.
  4. Create a group or join a group. Start or join a group on the topic you’re really passionate about and then share your expertise. Provide value and people will refer to you as an expert before you know it.
  5. Always accept an invitation to speak. Remember my post about Toastmasters and writing? Learn to speak in public and you’ll go a long way in your life.
  6. Don’t be scared to stand out. Standing out from the crowd was exciting, dangerous, and scary all at the same time. We are so conditioned to go with the status quo and not try anything different.
  7. Ignore the haters but accept constructive criticism. Once you do something different or start standing out, you will get push back, and that’s to be expected. You will be in the firing line of the critics, the nay sayers, anyone that feels safe in their status quo.
  8. Always invest in yourself. Spend quiet time thinking and trying new things. A successful person thinks different than all the rest.

Now go forth and manage your profile, manage your message, be passionate, and stand out.

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