How to work the room at the GIANT conference, part 1: Bring your instrument!

work the room

Last year, I was at the GIANT conference in Charleston, but not as an attendee.

My then-fiancee, now-wife attended the conference while I spent the days working remotely from a number of wifi-equipped cafes and snapping pictures in Charleston’s lovely downtown, and the evenings attending GIANT’s many interesting social events as her “arm ornament”.

Despite being a non-attendee, I got into a number of interesting conversations, talking both shop and non-shop topics, and making friends and connections who occupy my contacts list, social media feeds, email and online reading today. This happened because I worked the room.

The second GIANT conference starts this coming week, and this year, I’m an official, paid-for, proper attendee. For the benefit of my fellow attendees, I’m sharing my “how to work the room” tips and tricks, which I’ve learned over the years as a conference-goer, tech evangelist, and street musician in installments.

I’m posting this one first, because I want to make sure I’m catching GIANT attendees who are packing right now…

If you have a reasonably portable musical acoustic instrument, bring it and play it proudly!

I like to refer to my accordion as “social hardware”. Ever since that fateful day when the accordion made me an accidental rock star at Toronto’s most notorious goth bar, I’ve taken it to social events and conferences, and the payoffs have been nothing short of spectacular, from making friends to landing job offers to meeting The Missus.

I thought I’d be the only non-official musician at the parties last year, but I wasn’t! Katie Greff (pictured above) brought not just her ukulele, but a stack of lyrics and chord charts, and we had a grand old jam session at the closing night party at the Blue Ion offices. If you’ve got an instrument and sheet music, bring them!

The accordion worked well beyond just jamming with fellow musicians. It’s a conversation starter, a way to add an interesting touch to someone’s birthday (at a large enough conference, it’s always someone’s birthday, and how many people get a personal accordion performance of “Happy Birthday” at a conference?), and if there’s a karaoke night — and yes, there is one at this year’s GIANT — people will invite you to back them up onstage. I’ve you’ve never done karaoke with an instrument before, I will lead a master class on quickly looking up song chords, getting a quick practice session in, and then rocking out on stage.

If you feel a little weird about bringing an instrument to a conference, don’t! If there’s any conference that does vive la difference well, it’s GIANT. And hey, the last conference I attended with my accordion was one full of people who spend half their waking weekdays wearing button-down shirts, misusing the word “spend” as a noun, and making PowerPoint presentations out of walls of bullet points, and I got them into sing-alongs by the end of the night. You can be sure that GIANT’s decidedly less buttoned-down crowd will be into hanging out with a musician.

The only thing you have to remember is that you don’t have to play it all the time. Read people’s faces, and look for the sign that it’s time to stop playing and starting conversing. After all, that’s what we’re really at the conference to do.

Go forth, harness the social powers of music, and bring your instrument! And look for the guy with the accordion — I’ll be happy to jam with you in just about any genre (and I do mean any).



iOS vs. Android vs. Windows Phone, summarized in a single animated GIF

Pictured from left to right: iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

There are times when only Japan can come up with the right visual metaphor.


A worthwhile read – Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual by John Sonmez

85 percent of financial success

Found via Ray Higdon.

Don’t get me wrong, having technical skill is valuable. But as a reader of this blog, you may be aware that sometimes, we focus on tech skills almost exclusively, to the detriment of other ones, including people skills. Even the name we give them — soft skills — shows the low regard in which we hold them, despite the fact that time and again, they often make the difference between success and failure. There’s a reason why the phrase “unrecognized genius” is a cliche.

soft skills

As techies, we’re often reading books to improve our abilities. Why not, instead of picking up one that will improve your grasp of a programming language, framework, or operating system, pick up a book on soft skills? John Sonmez’ book, Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual, is a book that aims to teach those valuable people and life management skills in a way that appeals to software developers and other techies. It’s broken down into the following sections:

  1. Career: “Few software developers actively manage their careers,” Sonmez writes, “but the most successful developers don’t arrive at success by chance.” He starts off the book with a section that covers how to actively guide your career, the kinds of opportunities you might want to pursue, and how to navigate all the tricky passages you’ll encounter, whether it’s company politics, working for yourself or someone else, working on-site or remotely, the value of people skills, and the importance of not getting religious about technology.
  2. Marketing Yourself: As a developer turned marketer, I know the bad reputation that marketing has. When a developer says “So-so moved to marketing”, it’s usually said with the same tone of voice as “So-so died…horribly and painfully.” But we often forget that marketing gets people’s attention, drives them to take action, and when done properly and ethically, offers people real value and keeps them coming back for more. You can’t succeed in any aspect of business — or even life — if you don’t market yourself.
  3. Learning: In a field like ours — remember, the definition of “computable” isn’t even a century old yet — things are constantly changing, and as a result, we have to keep learning. Sonmez explains how to “keep your saw sharp”.
  4. Productivity: I’ve seen a lot of geeks whose productivity comes in great spikes followed by doldrums of getting nothing of consequence done. The technology we work with comes with powerful distractions, from social media to cat videos to videogames, and it’s all too easy to while away the time. This section has some great advice on how to get down and get to work, how to be accountable, and if necessary, how to deal with burnout.
  5. Financial: Since a techie career often pays pretty well, it’s surprising to outsiders how uninteresting money is to many of us. However, to quote a much-loved geeky literary work, with great compensation comes great financial responsibility. Sonmez covers money management, retirement plans, the stock market, real estate and other matters that you’d do well to consider. He includes some additional information about finances and stocks in the appendices.
  6. Fitness: A mind can’t stay sound in an unsound body, and this is something that Sonmez can write about with some authority, as he’s been into fitness since his teen years and entered his first bodybuilding competition when he was 18. He explains why and how you can hack your health, and even threw in some additional diet and nutritional information in the appendices.
  7. Spirit: Before you start backing away, what Sonmez means by “spirit” is that inner force or motivation that can either put you on the path to success or send you careening into the chasm of failure. This section covers facing life with the right attitude, coping with both success and failure, and even managing love and relationships. (And yes, he couldn’t resist throwing in a “forever alone” graphic into the “love and relationships” chapter.)

Don’t let the fact that the book has over 70 chapters worry you. As Sonmez points out in this Java Code Geeks interview, he broke the book into many small chapters so that it would be easier to read to the end of whatever chapter you were currently on, no matter how pressed you were for time. “I really wanted to make the book the kind of book that you enjoyed reading; a book that you could just pick up and read whatever parts happened to be relevant to you at the time.”

I wish I had this book when I was starting out on my career, but even at this stage of the game (20 years in, if you must know), there’s stuff in it that I found in Soft Skills that made me go, “Hey, I think I’ll try that.” If you’ve been thinking about picking up a new book to sharpen your saw, try a non-technical one — Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual — for a change. You might find it paying off in more ways than you’d expect.

Bonus! Today only — Wednesday, June 10, 2015 — Soft Skills is available in ebook form for 50% off with the promo code dotd061015, which knows its price down to a mere US$13.99.


Mobile roundup: State of the mobile market for Q1 2015, the most important feature in iOS 9, and smartphones take over a Sports Illustrated cover

Chetan Sharma’s Q1 state of the mobile market report

average us monthly mobile data consumption

You can always count on consultant Chetan Sharma to provide insights about the mobile industry that are more than just valuable; they’re quite interesting as well! In his latest report, titled US Mobile Market Update Q1 2015, he reports on the growth of cellular data consumption. It took 20 years for American mobile users to reach the point where the average cellular data consumption rate was 1 gigabyte a month, but less than 4 quarters for the average to become 2 gigabytes a month. At the end of the first quarter of 2015, the average is 2.5 gigabytes a month. In Q1 2015, the average mobile user consumed as much cellular data in 75 hours as the average mobile user in 2007 would’ve used in a year.

US carrier ARPU

Click the graph to see it at full size.

Sharma has been paying attention to the growth in mobile data usage. In his mobile market update from the same time last year, he observed that mobile carriers had reached the point where more of their ARPU (average revenue per user) was coming from data than from voice, and that they’ve adjusted their business models accordingly. That’s why we’ve seen a reversal over the past few years; in the pre-iPhone era, voice calls were limited and data wasn’t, and nowadays the opposite is true for a lot of plans. In US Mobile Market Update Q1 2015, Sharma has this to say about mobile data:

  • Mobile data contributes to 62% of mobile carriers’ overall revenues.
  • US carriers made more than $100 billion from mobile data last year, and they’re like to hit $132 billion this year.
  • The two biggest mobile carriers, AT&T and Verizon, accounted for 70% of mobile data services revenue and 68% of subscribers in Q1 2015.
  • In 2015, Verizon will become the first carrier to generate more than $50 billion from mobile data.

carrier logos

Other interesting news items that appear in Sharma’s report:

  • Smartphone penetration in the U.S. is now at 76%, and they represented 95% of mobile phones sold in Q1 2015. Non-smartphones (sometimes kindly referred to as “feature phones” and less kindly as “dumbphones”) are now an endangered species.
  • Connected devices — non-phone, non-tablet devices that use cellular networking — accounted for just more than half of net-new added mobile accounts in Q4 2014, and they’ll make up the majority of new mobile accounts in general. The lion’s share of connected devices in that time period were cars, which made up 68% of the new additions.
  • People want even more mobile data: half of AT&T’s postpaid subscribers have data plans that provide at least 10 gigabytes a month.
  • Mobile data growth contributes to the revenue of more than just carriers. 70% of Facebook’s quarterly revenues come from mobile, as does 89% of Twitter’s advertising revenue. Outside the world of web businesses, Starbucks, Sears, and Hertz are also generating significant revenue from mobile.
  • T-Mobile’s “Uncarrier” strategy is paying off. In Q1 2015, they had more than 40% of all the net-new subscribers. With less than 300,000 subscribers separating T-Mobile and the next-largest competitor, Sprint, we should see them take the slot in the “Big Four” sometime this year. Sharma calls this “more or less just a symbolic event with the transfer of bragging rights”, but if there’s someone who can get mileage out of such a symbolic event, it’s T-Mobile CEO John Legere.

We could go on about Sharma’s report, but we think it’s far better to show it to you instead. We’ve included his slides below:

The most important new feature in iOS 9

If you missed the livestream of the opening keynote at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference earlier this week, you can watch Apple’s recording, which runs about 2 hours and 24 minutes to find out about what’s new in iOS 9.

Or you could watch The Verge’s summary, which takes the highlights of the keynote and shrinks them to a more digestible 12 minutes:

Or you can take it from us and watch this video, which shows you what we think is the most important (and likely to be underappreciated) new feature in iOS 9:

For all these years, despite not having the limitations of physical keyboards, the iOS virtual keyboard letters have never changed to reflect the current case of the letters. A keyboard that shows upper-case letters when the shift key is engaged and lower-case letter when it isn’t has been a feature on Android and Windows Phone devices for some time now, and at long last, iPhones and iPads will have one as well. Consider how much time you’ve wasted wondering if shift lock was on and making upper-/lower-case corrections on your iOS devices, then multiply that hundreds of millions of users. This feature may be the one that creates the biggest gain in productivity — far more than Apple Music will, anyway.

Smartphones take over a Sports Illustrated cover

sports illustrated cover

The cover of the June 15, 2015 issue of Sports Illustrated is supposed to be about the race horse American Pharoah winning the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes, but given that a sea of smartphones takes up the foreground, we think it’s also about how much mobile devices are a part of our lives now. Huffington Post sports takes a dimmer view of this, saying that the photo “epitomizes everything wrong with modern society”. We disagree; smartphones as we know them haven’t even been around a decade, and we’re still figuring out what’s possible with them.

Upon taking a closer look at the photo, we may have found something wrong: not with society, but with usability. Take a look at our zoomed-in view:

no picture for you

It shows someone who’s using their camera app, but will never be able to capture this historic moment because right then, the phone decided that it was time to show one of those notifications that won’t let you do anything until you dismiss it. Come on, mobile phone operating system vendors — make it so that our phones can give us notices and still not get in the way while we’re in the middle of something!

this article also appears in the GSG blog

this article also appears on the enterprise mobile blog


How to catch today’s WWDC keynote livestream and liveblogs

wwdc cook federighi ive

Once again, it’s time for WWDC 2015, the 2015 edition of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, where software developers who write applications for iOS and Mac OS get together in San Francisco to find out what’s coming up for Apple’s platforms. While the conference itself runs for the entire week and is aimed generally at programmers, it kicks off with a very layperson-friendly, attention-grabbing keynote.

stability and bug fixes

Stability and bug fixes…get it?

If you’ve been using iOS 7 and 8 after having used iOS 6, you may have some concerns about the upcoming version. With each successive release, the operating system appears to have become a little less reliable, a little more buggy, a little less performant. It could be because Apple no longer has a raging perfectionist like Steve Jobs at the helm, but it could also be that a feature race is a natural outcome of the fact that the smartphone war is down to two superpowers. There will be some new features announced, but don’t expect something mind-blowing along the lines of a Steve Jobs-esque “one more thing…” announcement. Personally, I don’t mind that the both iOS and Android are slowing down and cleaning up what’s already been implemented instead of rushing forward to create the next new thing, and I think that many users feel the same.

tim cook onstage

How to watch the WWDC 2015 keynote livestream

Want to see the livestream video of the WWDC keynote? You’ll need to watch it on an Apple platform:

  • On Apple desktop computers and laptops: You’ll need to run OS X 10.8.5 or later, and you can view it only on the Safari browser (Steve Jobs may no longer be with us, but his control-freakery lives on.). If you’ve got those, go here to see the livestream. 
  • On Apple phones and tablets: You’ll need an iOS device running iOS 6 or later, and if you do, go here to see the livestream.
  • On the Apple TV set-top box: There’ll be a dedicated channel for the livestream, and I’m sure if you turn it on, you’ll be told how to get to it.

Where to catch the WWDC 2015 keynote liveblogs

A number of sites will have their reporters in the WWDC keynote audience, liveblogging it as it happens. Unlike the video livestream, you’ll be able to catch these on any computing platform that supports web browsing:

this article also appears in the GSG blog


You can never have too many smartphones

never too many smartphones

Found via Catsmob. Click the photo to see it at full size.

I’m sure at least one of these is being used as a GPS.


My favorite HTTP status code joke of the moment

404 not found

Found via AcidCow. Click the photo to see the source.