Friday, October 23, 2015

Don't get SMACked like "The Martian" !

In the movie – The Martian, Matt Damon gets “smacked” by flying debris from an intense storm leaving him stranded on the planet. After watching the movie (a very good one BTW), my daughter and I started playing the “What if” game – what would be doing if we were in his shoes. Somewhere along the way, a thought occurred – What such event could hit us in the ever-changing technological storm that we always seem to be in middle of? Thus, the seeds for this article were sown from another planet. :)
SMAC, an acronym coined by Cognizant in 2011 - seems to be the storm brewing recently. It has made its presence felt in the technologies that enterprises are working on today. It stands for Social, Mobility, Analytics and Cloud Computing. 
Considered the fifth wave in computing, SMAC’s solution market is expected to hold 80% of all total enterprise IT investment in the next 5 years, generating about $225 Billion of revenue for IT service firms.

This article explores trends in each of these areas and ways to train yourself and learn more about the technologies of this wave. Most, if not all, of these courses share a few common traits.
  • Available as online courses, certification programs or just DIY links.
  • Can be learnt for free or for a nominal cost.
  • Many of these take no more than a couple of hours per week – and more importantly - on one’s own schedule(of course, the time varies based on the technical depth of these courses and individual background )
Course Delivery Platforms
Many of these courses are available in three distinct environments.
  1. Enterprise Environment: Companies like IBM, Google, Hubspot, Cloudera and many others offer several learning opportunities on their websites. These lessons and certification programs are generally found in sections listed under Training/Developers/University.
  2. Academic Environment: Universities like Stanford, MIT (Open Courseware), Harvard (Extension School) and others offer courses in academic and online setting. Not all of these courses are free, especially if you require credit hours towards a degree or specialization.
  3. Hybrid Environment: Many venture-backed, for-profit Companies like Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, etc. and non-profits like edX, and Khan Academy generally fall under the category of MOOCs – Massively Open Online Courses. There are various distinctions within this category. Many of these courses are free if you just want access to content. If you need a link to certification at the end of the course (after passing the exam), most of these cost about $50 to $100 per course. If you need access to additional help like Udacity’s Coaches – it could cost about $200 per month.
Now, let’s look at how these sectors are evolving and how to be prepared in each of the SMAC categories.
Social Media
Hubspot offers a comprehensive marketing course that covers the Inbound Marketing methodology. It gives you enough breadth to cover the new age of marketing – especially in the B2B world.
  • How do you get visitors to your site and get them interested in your products?
  • How do you track, nurture, and convert those leads into prospects and customers?
  • How can Sales and Marketing work together on inter-dependent and aligned goals?
During a recent CMO Argyle event I attended, it was not uncommon to hear many B2B marketers generating at least one-third of their sales from Inbound Marketing.
If you want to get a quick overview of best practices in Search Engine Optimization, Blogging, Email Marketing, Social Media Distribution, Content Analysis, etc., this Hubspot course is for you.
As much as there seems to be an app for everything we ever want to do, the tipping point of Mobile Media time being greater than Desktop media did indeed happen for the first time in the last year- as shown in this comScore’s graph.
10 great courses to learn Mobile App Development is a great starting point to view courses in each of the three categories of course delivery platforms discussed earlier. Both Android and iOS courses are listed. All of these would require a decent amount of programming experience.
This is my favorite one. Though “islands of Microsoft Excel culture” are scattered in many parts of the enterprise, 43% of organizations are restructuring and reorganizing their organizations to exploit big data opportunities and 2/3rds of them either already have or are planning to appoint a C-Level role (ex: Chief Data Officer)– as summarized in this CapGemini and EMC study.
There is an EXCELLENT metro-map that outlines the path to get on the Analytics train. It can feel overwhelming, just like any of the metro maps in a foreign country – especially if you don’t know where you are and where you want to go.
  • If you think you are the right-brain kind of person and are generally scared of numbers, I would encourage you to start by browsing a few chapters of the book - Naked Statistics.
  • If you can calculate tip at a restaurant without pulling your calculator, comfortable with basic math, vaguely recall that PDF meant Probability Density Function (in the pre-Adobe world), and are willing to learn on your own, I would start with what you may have already done years ago - An excellent introduction to AP – Statistics Course. (I also use this while I tutor 10th grade students. The best comprehensive statistics material all in one place).
  • If you already know the difference between Descriptive and Predictive Statistics, and slowly want to get into the programming/tools side of statistics- a good place to start is with a programming language like R. Coursera’s data science specialization track is helpful – especially R Programming.
  • If you are comfortable with doing basic data analysis for yourself – either in Excel or R and want to get into more sophisticated tools and concepts, you can start indulging in Machine Learning and Data Visualization. All the MOOCs have great courses on this. Stanford’s course on Machine Learning by Andrew Ng is generally considered the rite of passage into the Machine world. Udacity also allows you to access for free their Machine Learning course, part of their Nanodegree offering.
  • When your data analysis skills start to crash your laptop(because you can no longer open large files in Excel locally), it may be time to jump into Distributed computing technologies - Map Reduce and Hadoop – also referred to as Big Data Technologies. And, here is where it could get a little hazy – on the Analytical vs. Cloud nature of these technologies. Both IBM’s Big Data University and Coursera offer several courses in these areas.
If you want to get the sexiest job of the 21st century – as deemed by Harvard Business Review, here is a terrific infographic detailing the roadmap to become a Data Scientist.
Cloud Computing
Globally, cloud apps will account for 90% of total mobile traffic in 4 years, compared to an astonishing 81% at the end of last year. 57% of IT Architects and tech professionals are running apps on AWS today, as summarized in this Forbes article.
Rackspace eases you into the terminology of Cloud with a basic/free 10-chapter CloudU Certification course elaborating the differences between public, private and hybrid cloud.
Cloud Academy offers multiple learning paths to traverse the cloud platforms from Amazon, Azure (Microsoft) and Google.
There are several paths to start the SMAC journey. We barely scratched the surface. Many of these technologies usually converge in many real-world enterprise projects. For instance: Analyzing (A) social network (S) data using Big Data technologies on the Cloud(C) combines three of these technologies.
The key is to start somewhere closer to the world you are familiar with in one of these areas, and without getting stranded, step by step, expand into others and get Home to the field of your interest.. Just like the Martian did !!