Today’s the first day of school in my city, and the plethora of “OMG 1st day of school!” posts of Facebook and my own kids heading back in to slog through another year of fundamentals got me thinking about education. My own kids (12/daughter and 10/son) came home and went swimming since it was about 104 degrees today…the hottest day of the summer, as it were.
Anyways, after that activity my son decided to get down to business. And by business I mean: play Minecraft. Some of my friends and family have banned Minecraft during the school week or even as a whole, because of the incredibly addictive nature of the game. I elected instead to make my son play it on the computer instead of the Xbox or iDevice. See, on those systems it’s slightly more mindless (yet still very creative); you just pick the things you want to make and it makes them, and the game is what the game is because it’s on a console. On the computer, you have to memorize the ingredients and patterns necessary to make objects (from making andesite to baking cakes). You can mod the game with a variety of amazing mods out there in the community. You can play on servers that have goals ranging from “kill everyone you see” to “let’s build something incredible together.” I like that. It’s like legos, except with social implications, unlimited blocks of every kind, and electronics lessons all rolled into one.
What’s more, in the last few months my son has learned to install Java, use basic DOS, modify heap parameters, create a .BAT file, and many other cool things. Add that to his foray into the world of cryptocurrency, and he’s growing a set of very valuable skills. My daughter’s no slouch either, she spent a couple years on Ubuntu Linux and actually came to like it quite a bit!
Okay, so enough bragging on my kids. They’re goofballs anyways.Teach Kids Cool Things
A while back I posted about how I became a DBA while in High School. When I was 18, I offered to help someone at a community college with a presentation to teach college students about programming. I remember them telling me that it was a ridiculous concept, because kids can’t learn those kinds of things anyways. It struck a nerve as you might imagine. Kids can learn highly technical skills if someone is willing to teach them. And with the proliferation of technical gadgets and abilities in the world, they want to learn. You can even start them young…REALLY young.
There are some great resources out there beyond build-a-world-with-blocks games like Minecraft. There are simple learning sites like phpforkids.com, highly interactive and informative classes like Code Academy, and even specially made storyboarding and design programs like Scratch by MIT.
For books with associated exercises, we have 3D Game Programming for Kids, Learn to Program with Minecraft Plugins (Java and Minecraft!), and even Python with Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming.
Babies don’t get a pass from learning! Code Babies has a set of excellent introductions to programming including Web Design, CSS, and HTML. A is NOT for “Aardvark,” it’s for “Anchor Tag”!
Even Oracle has a part to play in the education of youngsters with Oracle Academy. Oracle Academy has resources for all levels of learning, contests, and even a self-study programming environment and course called Greenfoot that teaches Java from zero experience with 2D gaming design. I’ve had the privilege of judging some of their contests in the past and was astounded by the skills these young people had in highly advanced technology.
This is so awesome. I really wish these sorts of things were around when I was a kid. If you have children and want them to learn how to tech, the resources are plentiful and amazing.
I’m going to kick this post off by taking sides in a long-standing feud.Apple is amazing.
There. Edgy, right? Okay, so maybe you don’t agree with me, but you have to admit that a whole lot of people do. Why is that?
If you browse message boards or other sites that compare PCs and Apple products, you’ll frequently see people wondering why someone would buy a $2,000 Macbook when you can have an amazing Windows 8.1 laptop with better specs for a little over half the price. Or why buy an iPad when you can buy a Samsung tablet running the latest Android which provides more freedom to tinker. Or why even mess with Apple products at all when they’re not compatible with Fragfest 5000 FPS of Duty, or whatever games those darn kids are playing these days.
When you get it home and open the box, it’s like looking at a Tesla Model S. Your new laptop, situated inside a silky plastic bed and covered in durable plastic with little tabs to peel it off. The sleek black cardboard wrapped around a cable wound so perfectly that there’s not a single millimeter of space between the coils, nor a plug out of place. The laptop itself will be unibody, no gaps for fans or jiggly CD-ROM trays or harsh textures.
All of which is to say, Apple provides an amazing customer experience. Are their products expensive, sometimes ridiculously so? Of course. But people aren’t just buying into the product, they’re buying into the “Apple life.” And why not? I’d rather pay for experiences than products any day. I may be able to get another laptop with better specs than my Macbook Pro Retina, but there will always be something missing. Maybe the screen resolution isn’t quite so good, maybe the battery doesn’t last as long, or maybe it’s something as simple as the power cord coming wrapped in wire bag ties with a brick the size of my head stuffed unceremoniously into a plastic bag. The experience just isn’t there, and I feel like I’ve bought something that’s not as magnificent as the money I put into it, features and specs be damned.
Customer experience isn’t just a buzz phrase, and it doesn’t just apply to how you deal with angry customers or how you talk to them while making a sale. It also doesn’t mean giving your customer everything they want. Customer experience is the journey from start to finish. It’s providing a predictable, customer-centric, and enjoyable experience for a customer that is entrusting their hard-earned cash in your product. And it applies to every business, not just retail computer sellers and coffee shops. What’s more, it applies to anyone in a service-oriented job.Customer Experience for IT Professionals
In a previous post I mentioned how important it is to know your client. Even if your position is Sub-DBA In Charge of Dropping Indexes That Start With The Letter Z, you still have a customer (Sub-DBA In Charge Of Dropping Indexes That Start With The Letters N-Z, of course). Not just your boss, but the business that is counting on you to do your job in order to make a profit. And you may provide an exceptional level of service. Perhaps you spend countless hours whittling away at explain plans until a five page Cognos query is as pure as the driven snow and runs in the millisecond range. But it’s not just what you do, but how you do it that is important.
I want you to try something. And if you already do this, good on you. Next time you get a phone call request from someone at your work, or have a phone meeting, or someone sends you a chat asking you to do something, I want you to send a brief email back (we call this an “ack” in technical terms) that acknowledges their request, re-lists what they need in your own words (and preferably with bullets), and lists any additional requirements or caveats. Also let them know how long it will take. Make sure you don’t underestimate, it’s better to quote too much time and get it to them early. Once you’ve finished the work, write a recap email. “As we discussed,” you might say, “I have created the five hundred gazillion tables you need and renamed the table PBRDNY13 to PBRDNY13X.” Adding, of course, “Please let me know if you have any other requests.”
If the task you did involves a new connection, provide them the details (maybe even in the form of a TNSNAMES). If there are unanswered questions, spell them out. If you have an idea that could make the whole process easier next time, run it by them. Provide that level of experience on at least one task you accomplish for your customer if you do not already, and let me know if it had any impact that you can tell. Now do it consistently.
From what I’ve seen, this is what separates the “workers” from the “rockstars.” It’s not the ability to fix problems faster than a speeding bullet (though that helps, as a service that sells itself), but the ability to properly communicate the process and give people a good expectation that they can count on.
There’s a lot more to it than that, I know. And some of you may say that you lack the time to have this level of care for every request that comes your way. Perhaps you’re right, or perhaps you’re suffering from IT Stockholm Syndrome. Either way, just give it a shot. I bet it will make a difference, at least most of the time.Conclusion
Recently, I became the Director of Customer Education and Experience at Delphix, a job that I am deeply honored to have. Delphix is absolutely a product that arouses within customers an eager want, it solves complex business problems, has an amazing delivery infrastructure in the Professional Services team, and provides top notch support thereafter. A solid recipe for Customer Experience if there ever was one. But it’s not just about the taste of the meal, it’s about presentation as well. And so it is my goal to continuously build an industrialized, scalable, repeatable, and enjoyable experience for those who decide to invest their dollar on what I believe to be an amazing product. Simply put, I want to impart on them the same enthusiasm and confidence in our product that I have.
I hope you have the chance to do the same for your product, whatever it may be.