Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Need for Speed - Predictive Analytics Meets Education for Mobile App Developers

Peter Rogers
My world travelling friend and colleague, Peter Rogers, Chief Technologist for Studio 13 at Cognizant, shares his insights and experiences teaching rooms full of spanish mobile app developers.  Enjoy!
There has always been a strong requirement for education within IT but the SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytic, Cloud) and Digital spaces are moving so damn fast that we now need to look at next generation learning solutions. Technology is coming out faster than technical authors can write a book and even online guides are often out of data just a few weeks after they are published. I remember falling asleep during the last Apple event and waking up to find Objective-C was dead and everybody appeared to be using something that looked like JavaScript to write iPhone Apps. Bleeding Edge technology used to describe a situation where there is a lack of documentation, code stability and active community to use a technology in a production environment. Nowadays this is the typical situation if you want to use the latest technology, with developer builds of web browsers implementing features out of HTML 5.1 and ECMAScript 6 before the standards are even complete.

This leads to a strong requirement to teach people and to teach them quickly. Often companies are rolling out Digital Training Programs and the participants are expected to finish the course in a week or two, whilst juggling a full plate of work. The emphasis is often in spotting potential early in order to move the right people into your department or to take corrective mistakes before it is too late. A typical training course is designed to start slowly and work gradually up the level of difficulty, so that at the end of a 2 – 3 week course then you have a thorough understanding of the skills, competencies, weaknesses and potential of the students.

The problem is that in this current market you really don't have 2 – 3 weeks to make that kind of judgement of potential. Imagine if in a single day you were able to determine somebody’s potential and furthermore analyse their weaknesses in order to streaming a dedicated training program for them. You could quickly collect the right people for your new department, make recruitment decisions and longer training programs would be infinitely more effective.

I am currently trialling such a method in Spain and I have called it “Big Bang Training”. The theory is that you carefully select the candidates for your course so that you know they are trainable and have potential for greatness. Once you have the right candidates in the mix then on the first day you throw them in the deep end and teach them an advanced topic flat out for the whole day. You need to choose the right educational tool for this to work and I have chosen a very advanced interactive video system with a real-time code playground. If you can get your students to engage 100% with the educational tool then you have a chance of pushing them further than most people would think possible. You also need a good sense of humour and to be able to read people to tell when to plan the breaks, as opposed to being a slave to fixed lunch hours.

Once the students have completed a mixed batch of theory and practical for a whole day then you assess them in an eLearning system that can build up an analytical profile of their strengths and weaknesses. From my experience so far you can spot the truly great candidates even on the first day and you can also spot those who are going to grow. You use the weaknesses to build a dedicated character profile in order to create a personalised training program that can support the weaker candidates more effectively.

It becomes more interesting when you start to wonder if you can use predictive analytics on smaller sets of data in order to effectively predict behaviour. Obviously this depends on the quality of the data samples but interesting IT learning does follow some simple patterns. IT folk have definitely evolved over the years to be more business focussed but they are still a more predictable bunch that other demographics. This invariably means that less analytical seed data is required to make some quite radical conclusions.

It takes 4 weeks to learn Angular but in one single day I have been able to teach the basics from scratch to a carefully selected bunch, with a carefully selected education tool and to fully profile them in order to spot potential and create dedicated training plans to counter any weaknesses. The right learning software, the right people and the right conditions are critical but it does seem that Big Bang Training may indeed offer the next generation of education to those who are not granted the generosity of father time in today’s hectic working environment.

Kevin Benedict
Writer, Speaker, Senior Analyst
Digital Transformation, EBA, Center for the Future of Work Cognizant
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and digital transformation analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.