There’s More to the Story Than You Think: Women in Technology

March is Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the contributions and movements that have come from women throughout history. Think about what you take for granted every day without thinking of where it came from or who invented it; would you immediately think a woman had created it? Take the modern medical syringe, an item that is now in every doctor’s office across the globe. The first patent for the single plunger syringe was given to a woman, Leticia Greer, in New York in the year 1899 (you can see the original patent application here). In 1966 a woman by the name of Stephanie Kwolek invented the first prototype for Kevlar, the material that would become integral in crash helmets, radial tires, and eventually bulletproof vests (learn more about her invention here). We also owe a lot of our modern inventions in computing and coding to women who were passionate about, and dedicated to improving, technology.

The first documented coding concept for a machine was invented by the Mathematician Ada Lovelace, who had become fascinated with Charles Babbage’s design for a computing machine. The Analytical Engine was conceptualized to perform long and complex mathematical equations in a short amount of time. Using the pattern designs from the Jacquard Loom, Lovelace conceptualized a set of “cards” that would have holes in them that would correspond with numbers and patterns established by the creator. These cards would be read through the holes by the machine and in turn produce a numerical answer. The notes on this card design that Lovelace published in a Scientific Memoirs journal are now considered to be the first plan for a “coding” system for a machine. The Analytical Engine could have been programmable, thus making it customize-able for various types of computing and the punch cards could then also be reused. Initially Ada Lovelace imagined that this engine would be used to create and play music, as well as do complex mathematics. Though the Analytic Engine was never constructed, the notes that Lovelace published set the ground work for the future of programming and computing. For more information on Ada Lovelace and her programming design, click here or visit The Ada Project website.

Another pioneer in computing and programming is Grace Hopper, an Admiral in the United States Navy. Have you ever “de-bugged” your computer? Well that term came from Grace Hopper herself! After removing a moth from the Mark I computer and taping it to her notebook, the term stuck and has been a part of our culture ever since. Hopper was born at the beginning of the 20th century in New York City. After completing her Bachelor’s in Mathematics, she went on the Yale to complete her Master’s and then her Ph.D. She taught for a number of years until she enlisted in the United States Navy Reserve where she was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project being researched at Harvard University. She was then later named as a Research Fellow. Her work was dedicated to the first large-scale computer named the Mark I, and would go on to help develop the Mark II and Mark III. After working with numerical code in computing, Hopper began work on the first computer compiler and computer programming language referred to as COBOL. It was her idea to start collecting programming commands for a shared library of codes in order to save time and reduce programming errors on projects. The collection of commands using binary code allowed for the computers to begin to understand basic phrases in English and then translate them into binary. She is called “Amazing Grace” for a reason! Learn more about her life and her work here, at the US Navy website.

Mathematicians have been integral in computer and science technologies and even space exploration. During the Space Race in the 1960s, Katherine Johnson paved the way for space flight and helped NASA put Astronauts into orbit, and put them on the Moon. Her story begins in West Virginia where she was born in 1918. From an early age she was gifted with incredible curiosity and determination to succeed. She moved ahead several grades when she was in middle school, and started high school at the age of 13. She graduated from West Virginia State College with honors and began a career teaching mathematics in 1937. By 1939, she was invited to become one of the first African American citizens to attend the Graduate program at the recently opened West Virginia University. Though she left the program early to marry and start a family, she still continued to teach math in local public schools. In 1952 she applied to become a computer for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA’s) Langley Laboratory. At the time this computing section was all African American; science was still segregated. After her first two weeks, she was promoted to work on the Maneuver Loads Branch of the Flight Research Division where she analyzed data from flight tests. After the successful launch of Sputnik from Russia, her work became much more in demand.  As NACA (soon to be NASA) began to frantically develop a plan to put men into space, Johnson became an integral part of the team to calculate and analyze data in order to make that happen. Her calculations were used for the Freedom 7 mission in 1961 that put a human into orbit around the Earth, which led to her development of a set of calculations and equations that would make it possible to accurately determine the landing point of a space craft. However, her most famous project was the orbital mission of John Glenn, who demanded that she do the calculations for his orbit despite the mechanical machines that had been put in place to do all of it. He trusted her mind and her calculations with his life, and would not go into space until she had confirmed that the machine’s results were accurate. She did all of the thousands of calculations by hand, using only her desktop mechanical calculating machine, which was at the time the equivalent to a basic calculator. She was also asked to work on the plans for the moon landing and her calculations helped to ensure that the Lunar Lander would synch with the Command and Service Module. After 33 years in Langley, she retired. In 2015, at the age of 97 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. You can read more about her on the NASA website.

We owe a lot to the women who have taken their passions and followed them into greatness. These three women are just the tip of the iceberg on a long list of female led technology development throughout history. The next time you turn on your laptop, or use your phone to calculate, think of these women who had to create these technologies that we freely use today. For more on these women, click on the links provided or go to computerscience.org for more information on other women who have made history and the issues that women in technology are still facing.

Coleman University Students are Chosen as Semi-finalists in Robotics Development Competition for Mars Exploration!

Chase Thurmond (top right) is leading the ENVI team, along with Coleman students Hao Yu and Anthony Anderson (far left), in their autonomous robot project for Mars exploration. This team will be working on this throughout the spring in order to meet the summer 2017 due date.

Technology is not a static field; it changes daily, hourly, and minute by minute. Technology development isn’t even restricted by Earthly aspirations; developers are now looking to the skies again as their next target. Unmanned ground vehicles have become the latest topic for development and putting these autonomous droids on Mars is no longer just a dream. In early 2017 the Mars City Design Competition put out a call for student teams around the world and across the nation to submit their ideas for an autonomous robot or program that centers on the theme of “transportation” that could be used to help colonize Mars. Applicants had to submit a video explaining their project and what they felt it could contribute to Mars exploration, as well as a breakdown of how they would build their project and what materials they would use. Students from Coleman University, with the help of the expert engineers at ENVI, and lead by student Chase Thurmond, submitted the ENVI design for an autonomous and cooperative robot flock.  The ENVI team, hosted at Coleman University, was chosen as a semi-finalist!! Out of 135 applications, this project and its team of developers were chosen to be one of just 15 teams competing for the chance to see their projects come to life this summer and possibly become part of the race to Mars! Teams from all over the world including France, the UK, and South America are in this competition, vying for the top spot and global recognition as a leading developer in Mars exploration. Students from our Software Development, Cybersecurity, and Graduate Studies Program came together to build the first engineering concept for a cooperative “flock” of unmanned land robots that would essentially become the eyes and hands of astronauts or colonists living and working on Mars. The overall goal of Mars City Design is to promote the development of sustainable and efficient tools for a successful living community not just on Mars, but on future planets yet to be discovered and explored. The semi-finalists chosen for this project will be presenting a teaser of their design and vision at a fundraiser in Los Angeles on May 25th. We at Coleman University want to congratulate the students who took interest in an extracurricular opportunity to put this project into motion, and the dedicated team at ENVI who are mentoring them through this journey. We look forward to seeing the finished product! You can find more information on the other designs, previous winners, and track to competition from their website: https://marscitydesign.com/news.

Coleman University President is invited to Speak at the IEEE Life Member Luncheon

The esteemed Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) held a luncheon for their Life Members in San Diego in early March. The Life Member status for IEEE is awarded to members who have been an active part of the organization for a certain number of years while maintaining a positive status within the IEEE community. The Life Member Association invited the President of Coleman University, Norbert Kubilus, to be a Keynote Speaker for this event and to discuss the dedication of the University to fostering technology development in San Diego. The agenda for the luncheon speakers included topics such as robotics in military and commercial fields, renewable energy, automotive developments, and the benefits of increased technology in medical fields. In his Keynote, the President reflected on the history of Coleman in San Diego and the legacy that the university has maintained as an influencer in technology. The President then outlined the steps being taken to bring the latest developments in Software Development and Cybersecurity to the Coleman campus and integrate them into the curriculum. Mr. Kubilus discussed the efforts being made at Coleman to bring experiences to its students that enhance the curriculum, which is continuously developed through input from professionals in technology fields and the instructors at the university. The keynote closed with an invitation from the President for the Life Members to visit the Hornet’s Nest Indoor Drone Testing facility run by ENVI. The members were excited to be given the opportunity to see for themselves an example of the technological developments that Coleman is fostering and the extracurricular experiences that are available to its students.

Coleman University Hosts Esteemed Tech San Diego Data Series Presentations

Coleman University does its best to host events that our students can sit in on, and ones that will directly benefit out students through professional development. Follow our Coleman Calendar, The Coleman Post newsletter, and look for announcements on campus to find out about all of the student opportunities each month. 

Our University has been successful throughout its many years due to the relationships that we have curated with local companies and institutions that share our vision of community engagement with progressing technology. In February of this year we worked with a local organization that also seeks to advance understanding of technology not just for our city, but also nationally. Tech San Diego has been a purveyor of the San Diego technology community since 1994. Their mission is to foster the growth of collaborations between industry, education, and government as a support structure for our community. Tech San Diego supports various industries such as: Cybersecurity, Big Data (analytics), Robotics, IOT, Defense, Telecommunications, and Cloud Infrastructure. This month they hosted two events on our campus centered on the future of technology development in Big Data Analytics and Cybersecurity. On February 23, 2017 Ramkumar Ravichandran presented his speech on his experience as Director of Analytics for VISA and using Teradata in major data analytics. Teradata is database management system founded in 1979 that has become a leader in the Analytics of Things (AoT) for major corporations (Teradata.com). Mr. Ravichandran drives Visa’s actionable insights derived from Business Analytics, Advanced Analytics and A/B testing. He discussed how to build high performing data science/analytics teams and the best practices for delivering results to drive business impact. The presentation was attended by representatives from Big Data companies and students from local universities as well as Coleman. The second event was a round table discussion on the current state of cybersecurity in major company networks led by Stephen Cobb. This round table was a deep look at what is on the horizon for threats to not just personal information but also to companies that handle mass amounts of data daily. Attendees were able to ask questions about what threats are trending now, and how to promote “cyber-awareness” within a corporate community.

Events such as these are open to Coleman students and Alumni who are interested in registering, and the university encourages our community to attend. Promoting technology awareness is more than being in a classroom, it is also about the extracurricular events that allow for public participation with accurate information. If you would like to attend more events such as Tech San Diego keep an eye on the Coleman Post newsletter for updates on what is coming to campus, follow the Coleman University blog, and look for the digital displays on campus for daily reminders of upcoming events.

Avoiding Failure with Higher Education Technology Projects

I am frequently asked for a definition of a “successful” technology project. As a career senior technology executive, university educator, and now university chief executive, I have a deceptively simple answer. A successful technology project is one that is delivered on time, that comes within budget, and that meets or exceeds stakeholders’ expectations. Yet according to a study conducted by McKinsey & Company in collaboration with the University of Oxford: “On average, large IT projects run 45 percent over budget and 7 percent over time, while delivering 56 percent less value than predicted.”1 When I look around higher education, I would say these numbers are optimistic.

Why Higher Ed Technology Projects Fail
The easy answer to explain why technology projects in higher education fail is to place blame on ineffective project management and lack of communication. Technology project postmortems generally fail to get to the root causes of project failure—probably because true reflection means having to deal with the painful realization that the institution was ill-equipped to undertake the project in the first place. From nearly four decades of technology project-management experience, I see five main risk factors that lead to technology project failure. These risk factors are interrelated, and a failed project typically exhibits two or more of these factors.

Inadequate or Incomplete Definition of Requirements
In this age of agile project management, we seem to have lost appreciation for having a requirements document that details such items as the purpose for the technology project (including financial ROI), mandatory and desired functionality, and data conversion and retention requirements. In essence, what are the institutional, functional, and/or programmatic outcomes that the technology project must achieve? These outcomes form the basis for a project rubric, which can be used to evaluate aspects such as competing technologies (or systems), mode of implementation (e.g., “build versus buy” or a local server-based solution versus a cloud-based one), conversion schemes, documentation, and training. Without this rubric, how does one know whether or not this technology project has a chance of succeeding?

Lack of Stakeholder Involvement
I cannot overemphasize the importance of stakeholder involvement in a technology project. All too often, the technology department of a college or university initiates a technology project—and obtains funding for it—without involving administration, faculty, staff, students, and others who will potentially be affected by the outcomes of the technology project. Collaboration and cooperation between stakeholders and the technology organization are keys to project success.

Two decades ago, I was engaged by a college to “rescue” a student information system (SIS) conversion that was late and over budget. It was in month eight of what was supposed to be a nine-month project, yet no academic or cocurricular departments knew anything about the project. They were not involved in the selection of the new system, were never scheduled for training, were never asked to validate the student data being converted, and were never included in any other aspect of the project. The technology organization’s rationale for this lack of stakeholder involvement went something like this: “They are too busy to be involved. We will train them when the technology team is ready to deliver the new SIS.”

In another, more recent SIS implementation, the institution’s technology organization proceeded with a “dry conversion” from a legacy homegrown system to an integrated vendor-supplied system. Thirty months later, and eighteen months after “completing” the SIS implementation, the institution is still struggling with the new system. Why? Without stakeholder involvement up front and during the project, the new SIS was made to mimic inefficient workflows based on the legacy system, data interrelationships were not understood by the technology folks (resulting in numerous data-related issues), and stakeholders again received “just in time” training that was ineffective.

Unrealistic Schedule
Higher education is not alone in its tendency to set schedules at the top of the organization. Some schedules reflect the reasonable constraints of a semester or term systemfor example, upgrading computer lab equipment over spring break, implementing a new financial system based on the fiscal year, or deploying a new admissions system over a semester break. Fitting implementation into the first available break in the academic or operating schedule is not a valid reason to rush a technology project.

Many higher education administrators (like their counterparts in the private sector) are unfamiliar with what it takes to deliver a technology project, especially the time needed to perform data quality control and to train faculty and staff to a level of proficiency with the new technology. Yes, taking longer to correctly complete a technology project has an associated cost, but so does delivering one that is doomed to fail. As I used to tell my software engineering students: Spending $1 to catch and correct an issue in the requirements stage of a project will avoid the $1,000 that will be required if the issue is left undetected until after implementation.

Scope Creep and Inadequate Change Control
Without a project rubric, it is difficult to contain the scope of a technology project. With overactive stakeholder involvement, there is a tendency to add functions and features—or to turn on options—that at best are a marginal improvement to the system being delivered. The results are cost overruns, missed project deliverables, and schedule changes. Every technology project should have a formal change-control process to handle implementation realities and stakeholder requests. One reasonable way to deal with requested changes is to create a priority list of those requests that can be accommodated in the initial implementation and those that will come later.

Ineffective Documentation and Training
The project rubric should be the foundation for ensuring the adequacy and effectiveness of documentation and training. Vendor documentation and training should be examined for every function and feature listed in the project rubric; institution-developed documentation and training should emanate from the project rubric. It’s never too early to start scheduling training for stakeholders based on their need to know or use the new technology. Here again, collaboration is essential.

Honing a Successful Technology Project Team
Mitigating project risk factors is a major part of avoiding technology project failures, but doing so will not be enough. A successful project requires strong project-management skills, frequent and clear communications with stakeholders, and a well-functioning project team. Honing a successful team to undertake a technology project requires preparation, leadership, and internal communication.

A technology project team brings together people who may or may not have worked together before. Some come from the technology organization, some are stakeholders, and still others are consultants or vendor representatives. It is extremely important that every member of the team knows his or her role and responsibilities and how to communicate within the team and has received an overview of the project itself, including goals, assumptions, limitations, constraints, deliverables, and deadlines. Conveying this information is the job of the project manager. Regardless of how many times these team members have worked together, this orientation is absolutely necessary.

Also key to preparing the project team is providing team members with the resources they will need to undertake the project—for example, hardware, software, Internet access, documentation, and training. Too often, higher education technology projects launch with insufficient resources, in part due to budgetary constraints. Time is another needed resource. Team members must have the dedicated release time necessary to spend on the project. This is extremely important for faculty and staff stakeholders, who will find it difficult to juggle project duties with everyday teaching or office responsibilities.

When a problem arises with the project—and it will—the team members and the project manager need to know about it and work together to get the project back on course. The project manager must anticipate problems, take corrective action, and help the team learn from the problems and issues encountered. Protecting the team from untoward external influence or pressure is also a key role for the project manager.

Continuous, positive reinforcement for team members can go a long way to moving the project forward successfully. There can be a lot of excitement and enjoyment in achieving the smallest of outcomes on a technology project. Acknowledgment of hitting project milestones helps build team morale, especially when the final deliverable is not yet in sight.

Takeaway
So what is the best way to avoid technology project failures in higher education?

  • Have a strong project rubric based on stakeholder involvement. It will be the foundation for the project plan, documentation, and training, as well as ongoing communication with the stakeholders.
  • Create a realistic schedule for the project and equip the project team with the necessary resources for success, including dedicated release time for this project.
  • Commit stakeholder resources for testing and training.
  • Empower the project manager to move the project forward without untoward pressure to change project scope or deliverables.

Finally, communicate … communicate … communicate!

 

Note

  1. Michael Bloch, Sven Blumberg, and Jürgen Laartz, “Delivering Large-Scale IT Projects on Time, on Budget, and on Value,” McKinsey & Company, October 2012.

 

© 2016 Norbert J. Kubilus. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

 

 

 

Black History Month: Gerald Lawson

JerrylawsonTV

In the mid-1970s, Lawson helped create the Fairchild Channel F, a home entertainment machine that was produced in 1976 by Fairchild Semiconductor, where he worked as director of engineering and marketing. (Only years earlier, Mike Markkula, co-founder of Apple Computers Inc., had headed marketing for the company.) Though basic by today’s standards, Lawson’s work allowed people to play a variety of games in their homes, and paved the way for systems such as the Atatri 2600, Nintendo, Xbox and Playstation.

One of the few black engineers in his industry, Lawson later said that colleagues were often surprised to find out that he was African American: “With some people, it’s become an issue. I’ve had people look at me with total shock. Particularly if they hear my voice, because they think that all black people have a voice that sounds a certain way, and they know it. And I sit there and go, ‘Oh yeah? Well, sorry, I don’t.'”

Lawson passed away on April 9, 2011.

Black History Month: Valerie Thomas

ValarieThomasTVFrom 1964 to 1995, Valerie Thomas worked in a variety of capacities for NASA where she developed real-time computer data systems, conducted large-scale experiments and managed various operations, projects and facilities. While managing a project for NASA’s image processing systems, Thomas’ team spearheaded the development of “Landsat,” the first satellite to send images from space.

In 1976, Thomas learned how concave mirrors can be set up to create the illusion of a 3-dimensional object. She believed this would be revolutionary if technology could be harnessed to transmit this illusion. With an eye to the future, Valerie Thomas began experimenting on an illusion transmitter in 1977. In 1980, she patented it. In operation, concave mirrors are set up on both ends of the transmission. The net effect of this is an optical illusion of a 3-dimensional image that looks real on the receiving end. This brilliant innovation placed Thomas among the most prominent black inventors of the 20th century.

NASA continues to use her technology and is exploring ways to use it in surgical tools and possibly television and video.

Dynamic Selfies Coming Soon?

It’s a common known fact that people love to document their passions. That passion could be painting or car engines; or even just your new makeup or tech gadget. With documenting comes sharing, which our generation is very eager to do. Now with rising technologies and the explosion of social media, it has become an almost integral part of our day to document or ‘blog’ about ourselves.

With Instagram, people are able to share things they’ve found, new ideas as well as new looks through images. Combined with Facebook, it’s a constant stream of what people are up to. So what is the next big thing for our ‘selfie’ focused generation? Maybe Hovercams?

As absurd as that sounds it’s close to becoming a thing. Drone technology is on the rise, which will eventually lead to personal drone. It also isn’t that big of a step from having phones in our pockets 24/7, which we use to take pics and upload onto social media sites. Having one that can hover outside of your arm span to take the perfect selfie. Developers are working on the ‘Nixie’, a quadcopter camera drone — currently in the prototype phase — that’s designed to be flexible and lightweight enough to wrap around your wrist. When a selfie opportunity arises the Nixie detaches, flies to a likely spot, hovers and takes a picture.

Very similar to sic fi stories, but it looks promising. The idea was also used in the popular book series, ‘Uglies’ by Scott Westerfeld. In the 4th book, everyone has their own hover cam and news feed to post about themselves or their interests, when they want. The cams came in different sizes, heavy-duty large drones or ‘swarms’ of mini drones that constantly record their owner’s lives. This would be a step up from the selfie shots and could lead to other uses such as an upgrade to body cams worn by police.
It will be interesting to see the development of these devices.

Sources:
http://scottwesterfeld.com/books/uglies/
http://flynixie.com/