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On solution architecture and lifelong learning

November 18th, 2018

I have been a solution architect for over a decade now and for several companies, though almost exclusively in APAC. Over that time one thing that has stood out to me is how poorly defined solution architect is as a job. And not just across different companies but within the same company. I have seen Solution Architects act as glorified project managers for customers or salespeople to create or evaluate proposals. Other times I’ve seen solution architects play the senior technical problem solver, working on day-to-day operations or planning. I’ve meet amazing solutions architects who come from completely non-technical backgrounds and I’ve meet techies who can’t solution themselves out of their pre-conceived boxes.

I have been a solution architect now in the same company for eight years. I have been in the same industry, telecommunications, for my entire career. Working in the same company and industry for so long has created a major issue for me if I wanted to change jobs: domain knowledge. Or, more specifically, how recruiters focus on domain knowledge or skills. It’s an effective way to filter a large pool of applicants or potential applicants but I don’t consider domain knowledge to be one of my key skills. Domain knowledge is the result of my key skill: learning.

A few years ago I would have listed technical foundation alongside learning but, while I still think a solid technical foundation is one of my key skills it’s less important than learning. Eight years ago when I started this job my area of deep domain knowledge in telecommunications was in what are known as Value Added Services or VAS. But a year in that was less important and I had to quickly become an expert in Core BSS domains: Customer Relationship Management, Ordering, Charging and Billing. This involved a lot of discussion, listening, reading product documentation and industry standards —I read close to 800 pages of 3gpp standards for Online Charging at one point. A few years later and I had to learn “Digital” —how Content Management Systems work, what Search Engine Optimization is, how online Campaign Targeting and Execution are done— and I have had to learn what Agile, DevOps, Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment, Microservice architectures and how it enables all of that. I had to understand revenue recognition rules to handle IFRS compliance issues, security standards like PCI DSS and GDPR. And I’ve had to learn to find and evaluate hidden risks and costs associated with any and all of this to ensure that projects are managed end-to-end for risk, TCO and business benefits. Some of its technical and some of its much more “business”.

The point of this soup of terms and idea is that I knew none of that when I started this job. So how would any HR or recruiter judge me? I know the answer is that they judge me badly. I’ve been interviewed enough times and been told by enough recruiters that I don’t have the “right” experience. But they don’t want to hear about the ability to learn, and learn quickly. My most valuable skill is not something that shows up in job descriptions. We hear a lot, or at least I do, about how lifelong learning is the skill of the future. If that is so I should be well positioned, but I feel like it’s not valued, either not for someone my age? or experience? or recruiters and HR are not ready to evaluate people in the lifelong learning job market.

Top 10%

October 25th, 2018

Last week LinkedIn reminded me I have worked for the same company for eight years. In the same role. By coincidence Jeff Atwood  [codinghorror.com] published a new post on his blog a few days later, What Does Stack Overflow Want to be When it Grows Up [codinghorror.com]. Jeff’s blog is in my feed because I was fairly early user on Stack Overflow [stackoverflow.com], though I had already left day-to-day programming, a choice driven by the economics of making a good living as a techie in Singapore. Coding was the only career I ever wanted but it lost out in the end to wanting to live and travel outside the US and getting married.  I moved into development management and then into solution architecture, so I don’t have a lot of chance to practice software engineering or programming.

In his post Jeff mentions the “people reached” feature of Stack Overflow:

Stack Overflow later added a super neat feature to highlight this core value in user profiles, where it shows how many other people you have potentially helped with your contributed questions and answers so far.

So I checked mine: 

Almost one million people! Wow. But much more impressive, to me, is this stat:

Top 10% overall“. I have not contributed to Stack Overflow in years and I’ve still managed to crack the top 10%. I’m proud of that. Anyone want to hire me to go back to writing code?

Justin Bieber has banana

October 7th, 2018

The whole series of things need to be done as a project looking person the ringer enterprise architecture is it from Justin Bieber has banana

Siri was listening to my daughter and I discuss what drink (Ribena) and snack (Strawberry Pokki) she wanted after Chinese class this morning. I’m dying… “Justin Bieber has banana…”

Just to make sure Google can index this: The whole series of things need to be done as a project looking person the ringer enterprise architecture is it from Justin Bieber has banana

The Rabbits in Memphis

September 30th, 2018

Memory is a strange thing. The ability of a smell, taste or sound to immediately invoke a specific memory is amazing. There are foods that take me back to Charlottesville or DC or London. But one of the funniest triggers I have a sound association with a book and by extension a movie.

The sound is Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis [wikipedia.org] album and it is forever linked to images of the rabbits in Richard Adams Watership Down [wikipedia.org].

My association is not from the first time I read Watership Down but the second. Sitting in my tiny one room flat in London listening to Dusty in Memphis in early 2002. I bought a copy of Memphis for £5 at a used CD shop in Islington on a whim. I listened to it on my crappy laptop speakers. Reading Watership Down because I had just labored through Ulysses and I needed some lighter fare.

Maybe the link was burned into my mind due to my mental state at that time. Having just gone through a bad breakup and still a bit lost in London. I played Memphis over and over. It wasn’t my “breakup song” I wore out Black by Pearl Jam for that, but that is a different story.

A few bars of Just a Little Loving is all it takes to open the flood gates. I can see Fiver, Hazel and Bigwig. “Seeing” them is another odd feature of memory… I see the animated movie version [wikipedia.org] of them I watched when I was young. A movie that I loved but also scared me a bit as a kid. It was probably more then close to 15 years since I saw the movie when I read Watership Down in London.  But the images from the movie are linked to the songs on Memphis. I remember reading in a psychology text book about the fallibility of memory, an example given about a man who have very vivid memories of when he first heard about the attach on Pearl Harbor — that he was listening to a baseball game when the broadcast was interrupted, he cloud remember the inning and the score.  The only problem is that Baseball has never been played in December.  His vivid memory had become corrupted with some other memory. I guess listening to an album and reading about rabbits is not same league as hearing about an attack like Pearl Harbor but somehow I just remembering the movie from my childhood as I read Watership Down has linked it to Dusty in Memphis.

Dusty in Memphis is still one of my favorite albums and Watership Down is one of my all time favorite books. I’m listening to Memphis as I write this and it still invokes a strange mix of feelings, anthropomorphic rabbits and imagery of London: crying for Hazel and watching the sun set from Finsbury Hall.

Consume…!

September 26th, 2018

I can imagine three possible groups in the target audience for this product:

  1. People with OCD
  2. Teenage girls
  3. People with maids who don’t have to actually fold and put away their tee shirts

My own experience of race in Charlottesville

August 23rd, 2018

I grew up in Charlottesville. Where all the Neo-nazi shit happened a year ago. I played flag football and capture the flag as a Boy Scout under the Statue that was the trigger for the whole episode. But I’m white so I don’t have much experience of being the target of racism. For me, growing up in Charlottesville, I never thought of people’s race much.

My first understanding of race differences was in retrospect years later.  I think it was sometime during middle school (more on that later).  My first encounter with race, though I didn’t know it, was when I was in kindergarden and first grade. One of my best friends was a boy who lived just a few minutes down the road named R—.  He was black, but I don’t recall ever thinking about that until much later.  I’d visit his house, he’d visit mine, we sat together on the bus, things like that.  I don’t remember much other than his first name and being fascinated by the fact that the living/dining room of his house was all one big room and there was a step in the middle (split level) unlink my house.

I think the first time I realised there was something about different skin colors was about the same time he moved, a couple bought the house just behind my parents, a couple who were mixed.  Someone adult must have said something at some point, I don’t remember, but I do remember wondering why it was an issue.  They had three kids, two girls — M—— and L—— and a boy, J—–.  We played with them regularly and it was never much of an issue. We discovered a bat on the ground of their back yard one summer day and after poking it (thinking it was a wounded mouse or something,) it flew away, bumping into at least one of the girls head or cheek on the way.  One of the worst spankings I ever got as a kid was after my older sister and I got caught playing with matches with those three.  Oops.  My sister and I were doing a “fire safety demo”.  We had a wood stove at home at the time so had been taught the rules before, though we weren’t allowed to use the matches. So we took the matches and the neighbour kids back into the woods behind the houses and showed the them how to light a fire (the fire was in the hollow of a cinder block) and how to put it out and make sure it was covered with soil.  Worse beating I ever got, my dad knew before we even got home.  Don’t know who squealed.  That’s a different story though.

I got a better concept of race and the issues with race in seventh grade, in Ms. B—–‘s social studies class. I don’t recall all the details but we covered the civil rights movement of the `60’s that year.  I went to middle school in Jackson P. Burley and as part of the lesson Ms. B—– explained that before integration Burley had been the black high school.  Maybe I already knew that, it was written above the main entrance; Jackson P. Burley High School, but I remember it from her lesson. We also covered the race issues that took place in Charlottesville in the `60’s, especially around the destruction of the Vinegar Hill district. As part of the same term I remember we also talked about the way that black culture was at the forefront of popular culture, from Jazz to Hip Hop. I have a vivid memory of sitting in that classroom with those school issue blue and white headphones on and listening to 2 Live Crew sing “Banned in the USA” (if you must [youtube.com]) and Bruce Springsteen’s original “Born in the USA” (to be fair [youtube.com]). “Banned in the USA” was probably my first exposure to any form of rap or hip hop.  MC Hammer doesn’t count, but I think I heard Funky Cold Medina that same year. I associate that song with a girl that was being made fun of, oops.

Outside of black or African American friends or schoolmates I think the only other experience I had with minorities through middle school was, as far as I remember, one kid who was Arabic.  I think.  His name, H—– was definitely of Arabic origin but I don’t think it was ever discussed. I was not until high school. Looking back I hung out with a diverse group of kids.  There was my neighbour, M—–. Who was black. As was O—.  F—- was Taiwanese, G—– was half Polynesian and J– was half Arabic.  Being a college town Charlottesville was diverse for its size compared to other nearby parts of Virginia.

The most negative experience I had around race in high school was when M—— was followed around a video store I once worked at and then the manager actually followed us out of the store and around the mall.  Trying to see if M—— had stolen something. Which he had not.

I guess all of that shaped my view of race.  I knew the negative shit, the racism and hate was out there but people’s skin color was never part of any mental process for me when deciding how to deal with a person or situation.

There was one other big factor that shaped my views, not directly on race, but on the wider subject of bigotry while I lived in Charlottesville: Club 216.  216 was the only real club in Charlottesville for dance music and I got big into the Techno and Dance scene my last year in high school.  I spent a lot of time in and around 216 over the next few years, until I moved to Northern Virginia. 216 was run by the Piedmont Triangle Society, of which you had to be a paid member to get in. If you don’t understand what that means… It was a gay and lesbian club operated by a gay an lesbian society. So I spent a lot of time around gay and lesbian people. I was friends with a lot of guy and lesbian people. Some well adjusted “normal” people, some… less so. But this was also never an issue.  They were just good company and their scene was the best dance scene in town.  I have a lot of great memories of Friday and Saturday nights in 216. And road trips with homo- and hetro- friends to seek out better parties at raves across Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region.

So that’s my experience of race in Charlottesville.  I know there was racism, and other bigotries, but there was a lot of acceptance and diversity too.  In my life after Charlottesville I had a lot more formative experiences with regards to race; reading The Invisible Man, living in London and traveling around Europe. Visiting Japan (where J——- famously said “I’m white, I’ve never experienced racism” when the only empty space on the rush hour train was around the four of us – all four of us white gaijin. And, of course, I’ve ended up marrying a ethnic Chinese Singaporean, so most of my family is not Chinese and I live as a minority in Singapore.  Where most of my day-to-day friends are Indians. 

P.S. If anyone wants to understand Charlottesville’s history of race from a wider perspective check out The Charlottesville Syllabus [medium.com] on Medium.

Bali, Indonesia, March 2018

August 16th, 2018

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Late as usual but… the family took a trip to Bali for a few days. Relaxing trip, spending time in the pool and walking the beach. We did take a day tour and see a few of the sights. We stayed in Seminyak, and the beach had sand like icing sugar. Would have been awesome except there was too much trash. This was March right when this video of a diver swimming through a swarm of trash [theguardian.com] came out. I’ve been to Jakarta for work many times and to Bintan a few times, same story there. Indonesia has a problem, a massive problem.

We drove up into the mountains to see Mount Batur [wikipedia.org] and Lake Batur. A long drive for mediocre weather to obscure the top of the mountain. We stopped at a museum, setup as part of the Batur Geopark, part of the Global Geoparks Network [wikipedia.org]. But everything was in Indonesian so we didn’t spend too much time there.

On the way back we stopped at Tirta Empul [wikipedia.org] temple. Lots of statues and people taking their ritual bath. The temple is built around some natural springs which were cool to watch, rolling the sand at the bottom of a couple of crystal clear pools. Did I mention the status? I loved the status.

IMG_8329

As we were finishing our walk around Tirta Empul it started raining. Hard. Even with an umbrella I got soaked from what Forest Gump would call rain that “come straight up from underneath”.

For our last stop we visited Uluwatu Temple [wikipedia.org]. This is one of the spots on Bali you have definitely seen photos of. The temple is perched on sheer cliffs at the southernmost tip of the island. Of course we stayed for the sunset and “fire dance”, or more properly “Kecak Dance”. Given that it’s sold as a fire dance there was not as much fire as I expected.

There are many more places in Bali that I would like to see, so maybe I will push to go back for a holiday again soon.

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Tokyo, April 2018

July 20th, 2018

IMG_9131

I was lucky to be in Japan in April, a few days after the peak of the sakura bloom. I had a Sunday afternoon free and one evening. In all the pictures of sakura I strangely find this photo to be my favourite. Click on the image to see the whole set.

Progress

June 26th, 2018

The world is much better than in the past and it is still awful.

Dr. Max Roser, in Memorizing these three statistics will help you understand the world [gatesnotes.com] on Gatesnotes.com.

the idea of the article is important; knowing a few basic statistics about the world will help everyone to understand and contextualize the news and social media noise we encounter all day. To make an informed judegment on the veracity of online, and offline, claims, too often qualitative and editorial, about the world. Doom and gloom sell, “if it bleeds, it leads” but now is the best time to be alive.

John Hamon

June 6th, 2018

Today in my Facebook feed:

Finally I know who the man in the picture is! [confusion.cc] It’s been 17 years since I saw his face, and mistook it for someone my Ex knew.