Humility is a good thing

Do you know the definition of humility?  I ask because it’s a word that I don’t hear used much any more.  Humility refers to having a low or modest sense of one’s own worth or value.  It’s sort of the opposite of pride.

Humility is a good thing.

A friend of mine once told me that a representative from HR (in the company that he and I worked for at the time) had given a talk in the branch office one day and made a point of telling those at the meeting that the company was looking to promote people who were good, who knew they were good, and who didn’t mind telling other people they were good.

We were both surprised by that.  And unsettled.  It’s easy to tell people how good you are – even when you aren’t.  It feels like bragging.  That’s not something either of us was comfortable with.

What a strange criterion.

On the other hand, neither of us got the promotions we wanted.

But, as I say, humility is a good thing and an occasional humbling experience is good for you.  It keeps you grounded.  I had a humbling experience just this week.  It was timely indeed!  I’m thankful.

Franklin Foer’s Book? Not Bad.

I recently read Franklin Foer’s book, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech.  It’s an interesting book: informative, thought-provoking, and very well-written.  This is not just a book about the tech industry; it’s an apologetic in defense of the writing profession.  That may sound boring, but it’s really not.  There are tensions, forces in conflict, the resolution of which will define the meaning of culture (in some significant respects) for a very long time.  Mr. Foer presents a well-reasoned argument that should be thoughtfully considered.  He has important things to say.


Updated Redbook on ABCs of IBM z/OS

IBM has updated their ABCs of IBM z/OS System Programming Volume 1 Redbook.

This is a good resource for anyone wanting to learn more about z/OS in general or about new z/OS features and functions.

Per IBM:

Volume 1 provides an updated understanding of the software and IBM zSeries architecture, and explains how it is used together with the z/OS operating system. This includes the main components of z/OS needed to customize and install the z/OS operating system. This edition has been significantly updated and revised.

Here’s the link:

Link to IBM ABC’s of z/OS Vol. 1

A Systems Philosopher?

It’s that time of the year when I think about what’s next.  What do I want to accomplish in 2018 and what do I need to accomplish?  What are my interests?  What are my priorities?

Do you ever find that your interests and your priorities don’t align very well?  I guess we all do.  That’s certainly my situation at the moment.  It’s one of the challenges of life, of course.  You have to make choices – trade-offs – and that’s not always easy.

I don’t have the answers, yet.  I know that I’d like to have more time to dig deeper and deeper into complexity and chaos.  Yes, I’m serious.  I suppose I’m more metaphysician than anything else.  If I could have made a living as a philosopher, that’s what I would be doing.

I’d also like to experiment with AI, just for some personal applications.  And, in general, I wish I could get back to doing more programming.  It’s been a long time since I’ve done that.

I’d also like to have time to do some writing, especially on professional development and consulting.  And I’d like to bring out a new version of my Effective Speaking book.

The desire to learn, apply, and teach is part of my nature.  Teaching is one of my question marks, though.  I have always enjoyed teaching, but, honestly, I seem to enjoy it less now.  Maybe it’s because I simply need to teach new things.  Or maybe it’s that, to me, technology has depersonalized teaching in the same way it seems to depersonalize everything else.

Then, there’s my profession – systems engineering.  It pays most of the bills and keeps me at the center of complexity (and always on the edge chaos).  It’s also “who I am” and “what I do.”  I’ll miss it when it’s gone.

How do I bring these disparate things together into a meaningful whole?

If only I could be a systems philosopher.

Recommended: Article on AI in Fiction

2017 has been a busy year, but I took some time off this week, which gave me the chance to get caught up on the magazines and journals I had set aside for a while.

The first one I picked up was the Nov/Dec 2017 issue of the MIT Technology Review.  It’s “The Artificial Intelligence Issue.”  There are plenty of interesting things in this issue. I’ll recommend one in particular.

A short article, Fiction That Gets AI Right by Brian Bergstein, is worth a look.  He recommends six works from (lesser-known) stories, TV shows, plays, and films that have an AI theme.  If you’re interested, as I am, in the various ways that our storytellers have thought about the significance of robots and AI, you should look it over.  Even if you don’t read or watch the recommended stories, I think you’ll find the contents of the article interesting and thought-provoking.

If all you have is a hammer…

… everything looks like a nail.  And if all you have is an algorithm, everything (and everybody) looks like a data set.  I assign limited value to analytics when it comes to things of great importance – like making decisions that directly affect people’s lives and careers.  Wisdom and compassion matter more to me.  I’ve seen what “machine insights” can lead to.  I’ve seen too many people get filtered out of a future where they could have succeeded.  I’d rather invest time understanding people and helping them find a path to success.

Graduate-Level Leadership Development

The December 15th, 2017 issue of Fortune magazine has an interesting article in its Special Advertising Section.  The title is “Educating the Next Generation of Business Leaders” and it explains how business schools are “offering innovative advanced degree programs aimed at developing the leaders of tomorrow.”  It’s worth reading.  I recommend it.

Obviously, this is an interest of mine as well.  I’m an instructor in the Master of Engineering program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).  Leadership skill development has been a point of emphasis within our Information Engineering and Management (IEM) track from its inception.  Our interest really accelerated, though, sometime around 2005 as years of feedback showed us that our graduates placed very high value on two particular outcomes: (1) Building a high-quality professional network within the business/technology community and (2) significantly developing their professional skill sets (leadership, communication, teamwork, and critical thinking).

In addition to teaching, I was also doing some consulting work at the time on strategic planning and curriculum development.  We were looking at data. And what we were seeing was that our students, all of whom were working professionals, were already pretty solid on the technical side and, to a considerable extent, on the management side.  They were gaining valuable incremental knowledge – which is good – but it was often more breadth than depth.  Even so, unexpectedly, many of them were telling us that the program had, literally, been “life changing.”  How so?

They were discovering or developing capabilities that came as a surprise to them.  The way we ran the program was more of a consulting model where our students were treated as clients.  We were not just teaching – we were also coaching and mentoring.

The result?  Nascent leadership skills were developing.  Fear of public speaking was diminishing.  Working in groups and on teams was becoming second nature – nearly every class required it – and they benefited from working with professional colleagues from other companies who brought diverse skills and insights to every project.

I’m not saying we were the only ones accomplishing this, but we did seem to be leading the way on the engineering side.  Graduate programs that are focused on working professionals should definitely include courses and course work that develops leadership and other professional skills.  It adds excellent value to the programs.  And it’s something that we, as educators and mentors, should constantly study and improve upon.