Monday, September 12, 2011

On Sales

While CS3216 is not a marketing class, one of the key points that I would like students to take away from the course is the importance of sales.

While the hope that is that good engineers will be able to build insanely great products that will eventually "sell themselves", the road to success is hard and often times all we have are not a real product, but a dream.

To get to the actual product, we might first have to sell that dream.

First, come the idea and then comes the execution. Sales is part of that execution.

I would like to put on record my gratitude to Yanjie for taking time off to teach a Presentation workshop last Saturday. Sadly, attendance wasn't that good.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight two classic TED talks that I think all the students should watch and understand:

In addition, Yanjie highlighted the following clips during the workshop:

I hope that the students who missed the workshop will check out these video clips.

This Friday evening, we will be holding our customary Final Project pitching party. The party serves as an opportunity for the class to come together to celebrate the completion of half the course and also to come together to share their ideas on what they think would make for a good Final Project.

This pitching session is also about community. Many ex-students of the course will also come back and hang out. To listen to what the new batch of students have to say, to share their two cents or perhaps just for some free food and fellowship on a Friday evening.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my trusty TA Kok Wee and the tutors Eldwin, Zhao Cong and Haocong for the work that they have put in thus far to keep the course running like clockwork. Another 7 more weeks and we'd be done with yet another offering of CS3216.

Time really flies. Hard to believe that this is already the fourth year.

Monday, September 5, 2011

On Ideas

I would like to congratulate my students on surviving the first 25% of the course with the completion of the Facebook application assignment and also the FB/iPad Application Seminar.

CS3216 follows a tried and tested formula: the first six weeks is about honing technical skills and developing ideas.

Clearly the two programming assignments, Facebook and Mobile-Cloud applications, are designed to help students pick up technical skills (both programming and design) in a hurry and I think we have done well with the FB/iPad app assignment.

At the same time, the students are also expected to apply their technical skills to explore some new ideas and hopefully, the feedback that they will be getting will be helpful to them.

I personally think that most ideas are not *completely* original. Most ideas are inspired by other ideas. Hence, it is also important for students to look around to see what's already available. Obviously, the FB/iPad app seminar was designed to do this.

Tonight, we will have having another activity that is designed to achieve the same goals. We have invited external folks to come pitch possible Final Projects to the students. In this way, the students will get a sense of what the "market" cares about.

Ideas also need "timeliness". Sometimes having an idea is not good enough. Obviously, coming up with an idea too late is bad ('cos someone would have done it), but some ideas fail because they are "too early".

Also, it is my view that engineers should build stuff and for CS3216, instead of merely building assignments that will be graded and then thrown away, I hope that the students will take the opportunity to build something real that people actually care about.

In this light, the students are welcome to work with external partners on real problems (if they want).

Obviously, there are limits on what could realistically be accomplished in a 7-week Final Project. Still, because CS3216 students are technically capable, it is not unlikely that they would be able to put together a reasonably good proof-of-concept prototype.

Hopefully, the Final Projects wouldn't just end when the course ends. Realistically, most times, they will. But I am confident that it is certainly plausible that we might see a working product that started in CS3216 someday if we try this enough times.

To conclude, I would like to say that I think it's good to share ideas. I think most people overrate their ideas. The probability that someone will come up with a completely original idea that no one else in the world has ever come up with is very low.

And in practice, coming up with an idea is the easy part. It's the execution that is really difficult and where most fail. That said, there are also some circumstances under which some stealth is a good idea. It just turns out that it's unlikely that in CS3216, these circumstances will arise.

I hope that for the duration of the course (which only has 9 weeks left really) that the students will share and generate ideas liberally.