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Robots to displace humans in certain jobs July 26, 2015

Posted by Edwin Ritter in career, Trends.
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Let’s get this clear right from the start – I am a human writing this article. That can change some day in the future, but for now, a carbon based life form is forming these thoughts and expressing them to you. I enjoy seeing the musings that predict how the labor force will change as robots are being used in more and more job roles. One thing I know for sure is that the rate of change is never as fast as the predictions say they will be.

robot-replacement-robots-replacing-human-workers-factory-33353269I think the definition of what is, and is not, a robot is still a bit elastic. For me, a simple definition is a device using mechanical, electrical and software components that can  perform a series of steps that result in a work product repeatedly with quality similar to, or, exceeds when the same work product is performed by a person. Regular readers know I have mentioned the topic before and I have been paying specific attention to the progress with robots driving cars. That is a change I welcome and hope to see in my lifetime. In the interim, there are jobs that robots are performing already and we will see other jobs that can, and will, be performed increasingly by robots.

I expect one area that robots can be a competitive advantage is in business recovery. Simply stated, using robots ensures the business is always available using redundancy and fail over/recovery tools performed by robots based on triggers set by humans. Relative to the definition used for robot, there are companies that can state they already are doing this. Going forward, I expect this capability will be common place in more and more industries.

At present, here is a NBC News article that lists these 9 jobs robots can do as examples:

  1. Pharmacists
  2. Lawyers and Paralegals
  3. Driver (Can’t wait!)
  4. Astronauts
  5. Store Clerks
  6. Soldiers
  7. Baby Sitters (way distant future)
  8. Rescuers
  9. Sportswriters and reporters

Each of these is plausible where a human could eventually be displaced by a robot. From this list, robots are already working in some of these roles. For other jobs listed, many changes are needed before a robot is capable to do the work. Last, for others, there will be much resistance, consternation, hand wringing and posturing in opposition to robots working in those roles. Also, notice jobs that are absent from this list (teachers, doctors, programmers, managers).

While robots transition into these jobs as well as others, that implies that us carbon based life forms will be working in new jobs. That is a consistent theme from what I have read. The robots will enable us to do new work as we use the results of their labor for our jobs.  Here is another article that begins to describe that effect.

The changes implied in the transition will range from the simple to the complex. In many cases, a one to one direct replacement from carbon life form to silicon based worker is possible. In other jobs, getting work to a point that the steps involved are repeatable (and, consistent) may drive ripple like changes to other jobs. The resulting changes required will happen with more and more frequency and in jobs that we do not anticipate at this time.

How will you prepare for this change? What impact will that have on your job? How can you use robots for your business?

Comments invited and the next update on this topic may, or may not be, written by a human.


Multitasking is a myth June 16, 2015

Posted by Edwin Ritter in career, Project Management.
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All employers want it and every employee attests they can do it. Cognitive neuroscientists will tell you that multitasking is not possible. A myth, popular misconception and a white lie employers and employees accept while knowing it is a fallacy. In fact, studies reveal that only 2% of people can effectively multitask.

multitaskingI understand how multitasking is a desirable trait to have. But, the reality is very few have this ability. Studies also have proved that you are less effective doing multiple tasks versus being singly focused. So, let’s agree to ban multitask as a phrase from job descriptions and be realistic about how to get work done. Having the ability to work on many things in different phases is not multitasking. It is just that – working on many things concurrently. Being able to prioritize is a highly desirable skill to make effective decisions. Maybe that is the better term – prioritization.

Recently, I read about how the mind works and how we organize information. Turns out that we have a system for what grabs our attention. We process information using an attentional system and it has four parts.

Attentional System

1) Default mode – fluid and non-linear thinking (let the mind wander). This is the default mode when the brain is resting. Leads to the creative state. In this mode, thoughts are inward to desires, feelings, planning, daydreaming. While in this mode, we feel refreshed after a nap or vacation.

2) Central Executive mode – stay on task; focused. This is the other dominant mode for attention. Opposite of the default mode; they are yin-yang and exclusive. When one mode is active, the other is not. Writing reports, problem solving, painting are examples while in this mode.

3) Insula – is the ‘switch’ between the default and central executive. Enables shift from one mode to another. A neural switchboard. If the brain switches too often it can lead to dizziness with information overload as a result.

4) Attention Filter – What grabs our attention and causes a change in focus from what is in the sub-concious.

Perils of MutitaskingOur brains have a finite capacity to process information. We can keep about 4-6 things in mind at once. Keeping track of too many things requires switching and leads to fatigue. All that switching takes energy, can cause information overload and leads to mistakes or otherwise being unproductive.

Along with information overload, our attention filter has a blind spot. Things that we need to pay attention to; details that impact our decisions can be easily missed. A famous example of the blind spot and selection attention involves a group of people passing a basketball. Clink on the link and watch the selective attention video if you have not seen it before. I’ll wait. See what I mean?

This is formally known as Attentional Resource Theory. When we are focused on a specific thing, it uses most, if not all or our ability to process information. Cognitive studies prove the theory and explain why performance is hampered when multitasking.

We know the brain is a very complex instrument. We continue to learn how it works and these new learnings on how we manage information and make decisions will shape how work is organized, performed and how productive (see post on Capacity & spinning plates) any single person can be.

I admit to not being a multitasker. Not part of the 2% who can. But, I am good at setting and keeping priority to make decisions and I know my capacity.

What techniques do you use to manage your workload? Comments invited, as always.

Virtual Work January 30, 2015

Posted by Edwin Ritter in career, Cloud Computing.
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While in the office, how many times have you heard someone ask the old saw ‘Are you Working hard or hardly working?’ Funny when used at the right moment and a proven gambit to spark friendly banter among co-workers. In the digital age that is reflective of current work practices, a variation to the phrase could be ‘Are you working virtual or virtually working?’

Virtual WorkThe difference is more subtle than you might think. Working virtual can mean working remotely. That is,  you may not be in the office for a short time but will be back physically. The expectation of management is that while remotely working (wherever that may be), you will be working on the same tasks as when in the office. Virtual work is conceptually similar but different in that you are never physically in an office with co-workers. No office cubicle, no ad hoc hallway or water cooler conversations, no in person meetings or face time.

There are definite advantages to virtual jobs. Top of mind advantages include:

  1. life-work  balance,
  2. minimal commute time and
  3. flexible work hours.

Having a virtual job is not for everyone and certainly not possible with all jobs. It does take different habits with virtual work. Making the transition to working in a virtual office also requires a change in mind set. Being comfortable with having lots of alone time is part of the transition. The interactions with co-workers is reduced and takes a bit more effort (and, time) to pose a question, have ad hoc conversations via chat or email.

In response to the question, I am virtually working and enjoy what I am doing.


Blog Milestone – 5 years and counting April 16, 2014

Posted by Edwin Ritter in career, Miscellaneous, Social Media.
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So the other day, I saw a note from the fine folks at WordPress concerning my blog. The note reminded me that I have been blogging now for five (5) years. Woot! A good run and I have no plans to stop.

5 years bloggingWell, to be accurate, it said I registered 5 years ago. No mention of how active I have been on the blog. A quick check of my blog archive shows I have had at least one post every month since I started with one exception. That distinction belongs to December 2010. That is the only month I did not post. So that makes 59 out of 60 months with a post. My style has evolved and is different now than when I started. Hopefully, it is improved and continues to get better. Writers always say the best thing to do is keep writing.  I refer to this as Hemingway did as fighting the white bull. The archive shows there is a wide variety of blog topics – personal interests, professional concepts, business practices and social media changes. 

There a few posts I am most proud of. In no particular order, they include :

  1. Diversity and Potatoes
  2. Puzzle and Mystery
  3. Positive Change
  4. 2nd Day of Infamy
  5. Re-entry

The all-time traffic leader by far is my ramblings on diversity (#1 above). More about that in a future post. I am in a much different place personally and professionally from when I started. I plan to continue on this journey and post further ruminations going forward. I hope you enjoy my observations and invite your comments. Which post is your favorite?

Here’s to another five years!

Email Ramblings January 20, 2014

Posted by Edwin Ritter in career, User Experience.
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One of the oldest online applications that we still use on a daily basis is email. Short for electronic mail. You may have seen e-mail as a variation also.

PROFS email imageIn the old days, email was the primary tool to connect with another person after the phone. I look at email as an evolution on the hard copy office memo. Compared to the phone, email had the advantage in that you send a note whenever time works for you and the recipient reads it some time later. Checking your in-box for new email is a bit like opening Christmas presents or a box of chocolate as you never know what you are going to get. That may help explain why we check for new email so often.

I won’t segue about faxes. Never was a fan – too error prone, not always legible and non-secure. Focus and back to email.

Outlook email imageFast forward to present day and almost everyone uses Outlook for their work based email application. There are free email tools also (gmail, yahoo, etc.). Email as a tool has come a long way since the old days. For the average office worker, there are many features that go unused. Checking email is very easy from a laptop or mobile phone. In fact, so easy, it is expected that you are always current on reading your email.

Here is the point I want to get to: email is easy to use but not always an effective way to communicate. Over time, the impact has diminished. It is too easy for someone to say ‘I sent you an email’ when they see you in the hallway/cafeteria/bathroom or by office cooler/coffee pot/water fountain.

Great. You sent me a note. That explains everything. Now, it is my responsibility to read it. And, I may have to respond. So, I need to find time to catch up and read your note. Yours and 40 others since this morning. What I read it not always helpful. In fact, it may raise more questions than it answers. Worse, it confuses me and is not helpful at all. There are times when I take the note and walk to the sender’s office and say “I don’t understand your note, can you explain?” Not helpful.

Soon after email became ubiquitous, the behavior seen with memos was transferred online and also heard in reference to email. ‘Did you not read the email I sent?’ was a common refrain. Ditto the aforementioned ‘I sent you a note about that’. Or, the condescending ‘It’s all laid out in the email I sent’.

Here are a few suggestions when creating email:

1) Think about what you want to say. Be clear and don’t make me think about what you are asking for – say it and stop.

2) Use some structure. Email is free form text mostly. However, outline your thoughts. Also,  insert images or links to illustrate your point(s).

3) Be complete. If there is background, refer to it from a past note or meeting. Include a link to a site with more information.

4) Use the Subject wisely. Include something meaningful not whatever is top of mind.

5) Do NOT send me a note asking if I got your note. Assume I got it and chances are high that i did. Those days are long gone when notes are not delivered. If they are, you are using the wrong email address for me.

Email has come a long way but going forward, its’ usage will decline and we will interact using social media platforms instead. There are so many other choices available – blogs, wikis, portals the list goes on.  Some time in the not distant future, email will be done and surpassed by a tool with more features and ways to send and receive information. I hope our habits will change to advantage of what is available.

When that happens, send me a note about that, would you ?

2013 review of my ramblings January 1, 2014

Posted by Edwin Ritter in career, Miscellaneous.
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A nice feature provided by WordPress and an easy way to share this summary. Their stats helper monkeys prepared this 2013 annual report for my blog. How was your traffic? What goals did you meet?

Happy New Year!!!

Looking ahead, what expectations do you have for your blog in 2014?

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,300 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 38 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Ramblings on positive change September 22, 2013

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Behavior, career.
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Since my last post, I have gone through some changes. Changes in employment and changes in location. It came about fairly quickly, now that I have some time to reflect on it. I recently found a position as a project manager and am part of a web development group once again.


I am fortunate to have so many good people in my life. My family has been 100% supportive. I have great friends who wished me well and their help is only a phone call or email away. I have but to ask. That support makes the transition much easier.

Taking this new job required relocating out of state. Not something I had intended initially. For many reasons outside of my control, the job I wanted was not available locally. I have been solicited to work in many areas around the country but held out for an opportunity that was in my home town. Keep the other aspects of my life the same. Did not work out that way this time around. Over the last 5 years, I have had several career changes. Most of those were outside my control in terms of duration.

change_exitAs for the work, it feels good to be back in many ways. Good to be working again. Good to be with an IT team that works closely with Marketing.  Like any new job, it takes some time to get settled. Get up to speed. Learn the ropes. More shop worn cliches. There are some interesting challenges ahead. I firmly expect to have an impact and be able to help my new team. I already know they will listen. That makes things so much easier. In my first week, I have already established my skills and experience. Here the biggest change is people are willing to accept it. That has not always been true in the past.

Going forward, more changes will be dealt with. In both the personal and professional facets, I will have good people to work through any and all changes that come my way.

I am most grateful for that and hope that never changes!

Ruminations on another LinkedIn milestone August 7, 2013

Posted by Edwin Ritter in career, Social Media, Trends.
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Earlier this year, I was surprised by an email that indicated my LinkedIn profile was in the Top 5 % of accounts viewed.   Recently, I achieved another LI milestone as my network  is now 500 strong and growing.  LI_500 Connections

To my network – Many thanks to all who have connected with me. I appreciate the interactions and look forward to continued knowledge share. I must admit that these connections are largely organic and the result of networking. I had not intended to reach this number. While reviewing my connections, many of them also have networks of 500 or more so I am in good company. Glad to be here with you.

Initially, I would connect with any and all on LI. My focus then was on growing the network in the wilderness that once was LI. That changed over time as it increased in popularity. The selection criteria was also a recent discussion topic in another network group I belong to. The most basic way to manage connect requests is to show the value provided in the connection. Don’t assume it is obvious and that I will accept. If I don’t see the value, I won’t accept. As part of the request, where possible, customize the invite message.

I have always been, and continue to be, active with my status and ‘check in’ multiple times each day. One of the features I like best about LI is the status updates. It is very easy to share what your are interested in and a great way to observe what is top of mind within the network  Other useful features include :

  1. potential new connections via the ‘People you may know’  pod,
  2. joining groups of interest,
  3. checking the ‘Who’s viewed your profile’ (c’mon, we are all a bit vain, aren’t we?),
  4. viewing company profiles to research/learn about and
  5. sending/receiving messages.

One change I did not enjoy was getting removed from groups. The message here is if you belong to a group, you should actively participate. If not, LI will remove you due to inactivity. Also, I noticed there is a limit to the number of groups you can belong to. Note – I use the basic ‘free’ account. It may be different with upgraded accounts.

LI_Account_ProfileI have a fairly robust profile that detail my career changes with recommendations from many people I have worked with the past. I  certainly appreciate endorsements (a fairly recent feature) on my skills and expertise and enjoy reciprocating with my connections. I find the profile is better at conveying who a person is and their career achievements and skills. In my opinion, the LI profile is an improvement over the traditional resume. At the risk of repeat, I submit that this profile will have more impact than a traditional career resume. This implies many changes in recruiting need to occur before that is commonplace. It is a direction I encourage as we improve how to digitally communicate.

That’s been my journey on LI so far. Do you have a goal for network connections? What are your favorite features on LI?

Ramblings on coding once again June 18, 2013

Posted by Edwin Ritter in career.
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I learned a long time ago that being good in one thing can limit your career. I did not limit myself and have worked as a software programmer, system administrator, project manager and supervisor. I quickly learned that moving into each new role requires a change in focus and leads to new insights as to how teams interact. In each role, I have always worked with software development teams in one capacity or another.

Over the last two months, I set a goal for myself to re-new my skills (and learn new ones) in software programming. The web is so good at providing learning resources and somehow, I found my way to the CodeAcademy web site. It tracks your progress and also awards badges and points, like a video game.

1stDay_CodeStreakThe first day, I ‘earned’ 68 points and getting back into coding was easier than I thought. I started with a HTML refresher and quickly re-gained a developer frame of mind. While the tools are different since my first job, the actual coding is similar to the bike riding syndrome. I then began using the site every day and  started a consecutive day coding streak.

Each day, I learned more about HTML and moved on to CSS, Java and gained insight into working with jQuery, PHP, Python and Ruby. I find an affinity to the server side apps of PHP, Ruby and Python.

60Day_CodeStreakMy recent daily learning regimen using Codeacedemy has just ended.  I worked my way through 1000 exercises over a consecutive 60 day period. On weekends and holidays, it took a concerted effort to find the time to code. During this streak, I also installed Eclipse IDE, created an account on JSFiddle and reviewed Oracle Java training also. Also a bonus, my MAC OS provides access to the java complier and Ruby via the command line as they are built in to the OS. The command line brings me back to the old days….<insert favorite old soldier story here>.

I’m not done yet and there is always more to learn. My intent here is to keep improving my skills. Having always worked with technical people, I understand the software development process from different perspectives. I also know that being able to ‘wear different hats’ is a positive and makes me more marketable.

Now that I am riding the coding bike once again, I am comfortable working on these applications as part of a development team. I also bring my experience and perspective as a project manager, supervisor and system administrator to the table. I continue to code and to learn about syntax intricacies and improving on my skills.

If you have programming skills, you may be aware of the site I used. For new programmers, it is a good place to consider – especially, since it is free. I like the Eclipse IDE (also free) and have also used DreamWeaver in the past. Oracle provides a good overview with Java also. Everyone builds their toolkit over time. I am refreshing mine and adding new ones.

Ramblings on Work Units August 12, 2012

Posted by Edwin Ritter in career, Trends.
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I am fortunate that in my career I have worked at both the management and individual contributor levels. The positions I held have mostly been technical roles in  IT, Marketing and of course, Project Management Office (PMO). I have also worked at multiple companies and while there are consistencies, I have also encountered unique processes, tools and ways to measure units of work.

Those development and management jobs I have had require many skills. Common in this non-inclusive list are : effective communication, organization, detail focus, decision making, analysis (technical and business) and the ability work work well with anyone in the company. The way a unit of work is measured in these positions will vary, but at a fundamental level, work is work. Which bring me to the focus of this post.

Job descriptions provide some insight on the unit of work involved. I find it amusing the lengths some companies go to when posting for open positions. There should be more consistency in job functions and the work required within those roles. By that I mean the skills required should be equivalent and measured against a consistent standard. I realize they should be; some would say they are. I do not agree.

In some job descriptions, the unit of work can easily be discerned. Project Managers manage projects. Developers write code. QA ensures it works as designed. Each of those can be measured as a unit of work. The variance is in what tools and processes companies use to measure (assuming they do). Too often, the job description contains fluff about the company, what a difference you can make, etc..

Next time you read a job description, look for the terms that describe the essential unit of work. If you don’t find it, I submit it is poorly written.

I’m interested in how you measure your work. Do you measure your productivity with units of work? Have you used them to generate estimates? For yourself? For your team?