Detachment Strategy for the Apple Watch

Apple has hit roadblocks in making major changes that would connect its Watch to cellular networks and make it less dependent on the iPhone, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The company still plans to announce new watch models this fall boasting improvements to health tracking.

Every single time I run into an Apple Watch user, out of curiosity, I ask about their experience with the device. Hence I have heard plenty of valuable feedback, beautiful user stories, but also curious challenges they encounter. But without question the main complain they usually bring up — besides battery life of course, is the ability to untether the Apple Watch from the iPhone.

It is a perfectly reasonable claim though. At the end of the day, the narrative for the Apple Watch is about bringing technology closer, creating a more intimate experience without the inconvenience of having your phone in your pocket all the time.

But this narrative breaks down every single time the Apple Watch loses the "connectivity support" from its parent. Which usually happens when you need it the most: hiking, going to the beach or any activity where you would prefer "not to" bring your phone with you.

Some improvements have been made along the way with the introduction of watchOS 2 and the ability to connect the Apple Watch directly to a Wi-Fi network. But in order to get full autonomy the Watch needs to connect to a fully fledged cellular network, the same way an iPhone does. But of course, it is tricky. On one hand, data transmissions through cellular connectivity drain batteries quicker than BLE or Wi-Fi. On the other, the smaller the footprint of the device, the smaller the batteries you can fit inside. If your challenges come from both ends, it follows that from a technological standpoint, we are quite not there yet.

Regardless, there always have been rumors about Apple becoming its own cellular carrier. Which makes perfect sense, since it would allow Apple to integrate the single most important chunk of the experience they are not in control of. It would automatically translate into seamless activation of the devices, cross-country compatibility, simplification of the product line and an endless list of enhancements ultimately benefiting the customer experience.

But it remains an extremely complex endeavor. First of all, closing deals with operators that are now partners. Then scaling capacity to provide data to all devices, in every single region. Google did something similar last year with Project Fi, but the service was deployed in a more controlled environment, only for selected Nexus models. Which not only accounted for less devices, but also targeted a more early adopter type of user.

Where I want to drive this at is: what if Apple rolled out the next generation Apple Watch with a built-in, low power, world wide, cellular connectivity that helped detach the device from the iPhone. Of course I am not talking about a 4G connection here, but something more like (please, I need a leap of faith here): SigFox. The nature of this network would not be intended to watch videos on YouTube, but rather to receive an important notification or send a critical message that can't wait until you reach the phone.

Probably this would be the kind of service only Apple apps could use in the very early stages. Maybe afterwards would be accessible to third parties through a private API with highly strict rules, as it has happened in the past with the rollout of other Apple products. Moreover, the Apple Watch would be the perfect device to start with: it is already targeting pre-chasm users, more willing to support "experiments", and also operates at a smaller scale than the iPhone does.

It is not the exact same thing, but Amazon has been doing something similar for their Kindle lineup for more than ten years now with outstanding results.

I acknowledge there are plenty of flaws in the idea. But wouldn't it be a clever way to bridge the detachment gap of the Apple Watch, while laying the foundation for a world wide network to power every single Apple device in the long term?

The Designer I Wanted to Be

This fall, at Ironhack, we are introducing a brand new UX/UI bootcamp. Despite this writing has nothing to do with that — well maybe a little bit, but more on that later, it is a great segue to a more personal story that recently has brought back some memories from my 23 year old self.

The launch of any new product at Ironhack always involves the industry from the very beginning in order to craft an educational experience that trains students with valuable skills for employers. Since we started researching for this new bootcamp, we have already met with a lot of companies to understand their needs, reached out to dozens of experts to iterate on the curriculum or gathered our industry friends to discuss about the importance of UX.

Because of it, I would say all the team is right now pretty fluent in UX parlance. But at a personal level, from the beginning I was particularly passionate about this new bootcamp. I kept providing resources, apps, blogs, people doing great work in the field... and consequently, my team kept asking me the (reasonable) question: how do you know all of this?

And I know all this stuff because believe it or not, when I was 23, fresh out of college, I wanted to become a UX professional. Maybe back then I did not coin the exact UX term, but it was crystal clear to me that I wanted to be the guy who designed the interactions with products.

Crafting the experience, what actually happens when you tap that button, was absolutely mind blowing to me. Back then I did not understand how this role played out within a team or if it even existed inside a regular company, but I loved the idea of designing a holistic experience: Design with capital D.

But despite this has been a recurrent theme of mine after college, it is obvious that I have failed to become a UX professional. Life routed me to other paths, but the obsession with interaction and design, has stuck with me in every single thing I did.

That is the reason why regardless I have been pulled away from explicit design roles as my daily job, I have always tried to embrace design principles when making product and business decisions. I quote from the iomando’s design recap I wrote last summer:

During my years at iomando I understood that design is a much more profound concept than "how it looks”. To me, design means falling in love with the problem. You are really designing when you break the problem down to pieces and get to the roots of it. Because getting features out of the door is an easy task, but getting the right ones, the ones that are really solving a problem in a meaningful way, that is hard.

Yet this precise thing, the joy of building great products and putting them in the hands of people is the ultimate reason why I started this company. And my job, everyday, is to just try to instill this enthusiasm to every single corner of iomando.

We built an entire company around this foundation because we deeply cared about what people experienced when they interacted with our product. That is exactly what I mean with "embrace design principles". I loved the idea of designing for experience, and despite I could not allocate all my time to this endeavor, I have always made sure that the we were putting attention to the last, small detail. I think I put it much better here (emphasis mine):

I co-founded iomando almost 4 years ago with just one goal in mind: building an amazing product and putting it in the hands of people. That’s all I cared about. I was thrilled watching our customers fascinated by the fact that they were able to access their parkings, factories, or whatever place, with their mobile phones. That feeling was the fuel that kept me going, and to me, the most tangible expression of happiness, aside from my family.

Crafting this experience, building something that people were actually in love with, has always been my guidance, my little contribution to the world.

Anyway, I have countless examples like these. You can read it here, or here. But going back to the point, despite learning some of this fascinating stuff on the side, and doing my best to deliver a great experience in everything I did, I did not become the UX designer I wanted to be.

But back when my professional career started, I did not know where to start. I did not know what the hell a UX job was. And I was afraid because it was not clear to me how I would get a job out of this. It was 2011 and some industries have changed a lot since then, but I am sure nowadays someone who wants to become a UX professional, still shares the exact same fears.

Luckily for all or them, there has never been a better time to be a UX designer. I keep hearing people talking about UX and how we desperately need to put more care in the products we design. I hear it and read it over and over again. How we need to humanize technology and ask ourselves whose problems we are solving to begin with. Without a question, the demand for these skills is right in front of us.

As technologies commoditize entire product categories and industries, the experience will be the differential factor that will drive the next generation of successful products. The information age has brought us stuff that we could not even imagine a few years ago, but it has also overwhelmed us with tons of products and data.

Now more than ever, we need to allocate time and resources to make sure the products we build are actually useful and aimed to address real needs. Therefore, and circling back to the beginning of the post: what an amazing time to be a UX designer.

All of it made me think a lot of my 23 year old self. The doubts I had back then, and what would have been of me if I had pursued that path. I wish I had found a program such as the Ironhack bootcamp to kickstart my career back in 2011, because I was not brave enough to go on my own. The frustration that derives from knowing where you want to go, but not where to start, is usually the precursor of giving up.

Looking back it seems that all I needed back then was somebody who trust. Somebody that clearly knew what was talking about and could light up the path. Maybe a mentor, or maybe a program that not only would teach me how to build stuff, but also connect me with the industry and create the opportunities so I could get a job at the end. I have never thought of that from this perspective, but this is exactly what we are doing at Ironhack for our students.

UX designers have one of the best jobs in the world. It is a job for the curious minds, a field that nurtures itself from countless disciplines spanning from Technology, Psychology, Data Analysis... being in this intersection has to be fascinating. I could go on and on, but for you, aspiring designers of the world, you have been presented with a unique opportunity to become the UX I have always wanted to be.

What If I Had Skipped College?

Since the day I joined the Ironhack team, I have witnessed — from the very first row, more than one hundred students graduating from our bootcamp here in Barcelona. Right after the program, most of them successfully land amazing jobs as developers or start working on their own projects. Because of that, sometimes, I can’t help but ask myself what would have happened if I had skipped college altogether.

I know it is a useless exercise and just food for thought — I'm not getting back my college years anytime soon. It helps me, though, better understand how I got here, and also share with the newcomers what I have learned — and got wrong, from the experience.

The best way to frame this exercise is to go back to your eighteen year old self, facing the decision of "what to do next", right after school. Giving some thought to the matter, you soon realize that there were three main factors driving the decision making:

  • Lack of information
  • Peer pressure and societal momentum
  • Asking the wrong question

Lack of Information

Again, back to the eighteen year old, fresh out of school, preparing for a long summer and an unclear picture of what would happen in September. With this amazing, yet confusing scenario, you are given a few days to make, arguably, one of the most important decisions of your life: what to do next.

Maybe, maybe, you have already discovered your life passion during your childhood and laid out a master plan for the next five years. But data shows us that this is not usually the case among school graduates, and if I may, although you think you know, you are probably wrong anyway. In other words, nobody has a clue of what happens next.

I presume each country would have its own rarities in the way college programs are chosen, but for the most part, it was not clear to me how to link studies of choice with a future professional path. Sure, I got lots of propaganda, lots of workshops, but I did not get a clear understanding of which options were available outside the box.

Because of the lack of information, it is almost impossible to decide on which path is the one that will get you closer to your future self. At least to me, it was not clear how such programs would help me get industry valuable skills.

Despite the lack of knowledge, somehow, I wandered with the idea that in order to get there — this promised land I didn’t even know what it was, I had to enroll a college program. I didn’t understand how it worked, but the message I got sounded like this: proper citizens have meaningful jobs, obviously, you want a good job, but you can’t have it right now (don’t ask), first, you need to do something to be valuable.

The most fascinating part to me it is not how the argument was laid out without a structured logic reasoning behind, but this one size fits all approach and the amount of things it presumed to be true:

  • Being employed is always the end game.
  • In order to be employed you need help from a 3rd party, you won’t get there by yourself.
  • This third party looks a lot like college.
  • You are useless the way you are — because the end game is being employed, right now you are not, but you can’t fix it on your own.
  • A good job looks like you wearing a suit sketching something in a meeting room’s white board.
  • If you join college, then you will get a job. Despite the data says otherwise and the process is not clear to you.
  • You have to choose right away, because losing a year is an unmitigated disaster (a topic for a whole other post).

Now, back to the eighteen year old dealing with all this stuff. I can’t remember which where the exact feelings I had back then, but I assume they were related to fear, anxiety, but overall, failure.

And here comes the most interesting part, when avoiding failure becomes the driver for decision making, the natural reaction is leaning towards the safer place, not taking risks, and this is the moment when peer pressure and societal momentum kick in.

Peer Pressure and Societal Momentum

These are the main reasons why college, as it is, still prevails as the main mechanism we are educating the new generations on. When you are about to make a decision and there is an asymmetry in the amount of information available for both parties (those being you and the University) you always default to the safer choice in order to decrease risk.

Your incentive is not about winning the most, but losing the least. In this situation, less risk means following (mimicking) your peers path. But if everybody is thinking exactly the same, the line is already drawn and it goes straight to college.

The main drivers for the decision making are not aligned with starting a meaningful career path. They are influenced by the fear of making a bad choice, or worse, one that can disappoint in societal terms.

And this gets us to the most worrisome part. If the newcomers are joining college because of a false promise, the lack of information and the fear of getting it wrong, then Universities are not incentivized to provide an outstanding education. Because whether they do it or not, students will keep joining for a different set of reasons.

That is the worst (depending on which side you are at) thing that could happen to an industry. If you are not judged by the quality of your craft, and business keeps going because of a societal momentum, you are not incentivized to improve or innovate. You are just ripping the benefits of a false construction that we have all agreed on, for the time being. Enjoy while it lasts.

Asking the Wrong Question

Although we can acknowledge the former points, as an eighteen year old looking for a better choice there is not much you can do about it.

What you could do, though, in order to choose a path that is intimately aligned with your future goals, is ask yourself “why” instead of “what”. The default thinking goes about asking what to study, because the rest of the options have already been chosen or preselected, for you. Asking what, presumes the path is already set, but you get to choose the flavor.

But maybe instead of what, you can ask why you want to study. The answer for “why” will get you much further down the road and will reveal several options you were available from the beginning. Answering this question will force you to think of the career as a way to fulfill a vision, not just an end by itself.

Despite every industry keeps evolving and changing its needs, college degrees remain exactly the same. They are not incentivized to adapt, because they thrive under other premisses than preparing the students for their next job.

For example, if you want to become a carpenter, maybe you don’t need a mechanical engineering degree. The same applies if you want to build software, maybe you don’t need to go for five years of CS. Just try to figure out which is the end game and trace the path backwards. Sometimes it might not be 100% defined, and that’s ok, but at least try to understand how each step in the way will help you move closer to your end goal.

That being said, I am not, by any means, against University or college degrees. I believe they provide a ton of value and they are a great choice for a lot of people. I have both admiration and respect for Universities and I look up to them, from time to time, as a source of inspiration.

What I am not comfortable with, is the way we have set the path for education, and how we have created a false correlation between college degrees and preparing for a job. I know a lot of people who has pursed the college dream because of the false promise of getting a job at the end.

I am not sure how it all played out, what I do know is that we have created the false illusion that college is the one fits all solution for a properly working society. I don’t want to hold a dogmatic truth about it, maybe I am completely wrong. But I find it worrisome that we have rooted this issue so deep in our societal believes, that we are not even questioning why is it there in the first place.

Drivetrains and Free Time

Autonomous cars will be commonplace by 2025 and have a near monopoly by 2030, and the sweeping change they bring will eclipse every other innovation our society has experienced. They will cause unprecedented job loss and a fundamental restructuring of our economy, solve large portions of our environmental problems, prevent tens of thousands of deaths per year, save millions of hours with increased productivity, and create entire new industries that we cannot even imagine from our current vantage point.

Never heard of Zack Kanter before, but his post about self-driving cars definitely caught my attention. I do not entirely share his dramatic view of the job market fallout. I ultimately believe we are tool builders, that’s what we do. New tools always spur new opportunities and create needs that were not even imaginable before.

There are countless examples of this narrative, from profound industrial shifts, such as the transition from craft production system to the mass production system — where the figure of the Industrial Engineer and a subset of highly skilled workers erased massive portions of the craftsman workforce, to more contemporary figures such as bloggers, youtubers or an enabled distributed workforce, that simply was not even possible ten years ago.

I do agree though, that this transition will bring along huge societal changes, but further than that, Zack’s words made me reflect on how autonomous cars might reshape cities and shake some patterns that we, nowadays, consider as a given.

First of all, we have to acknowledge that this is already happening. There are several partially self-driving "ideas" in the market such as self-driving trucks fleets crossing entire countries, and this party is just getting started.

On a more emotional layer the interest in cars is dropping among younger generations. Smartphone are replacing cars as a proxy for freedom and social status, and paradoxically, they can’t used while driving. Nowadays cars embody a wide range of negative values such as pollution, accidents, congestions… even Toyota’s USA President, Jim Lentz, agrees:

We have to face the growing reality that today young people don’t seem to be as interested in cars as previous generations.

The problem though, is that most conversations I hear are revolving around self-driving cars when in fact they attempt to describe three different — and partially independent, dynamics.

  • Drivetrains moving from ICE to electric i.e. Tesla
  • Ownership moving away from individuals to fleets i.e. Uber or Lyft
  • Operations moving from human to computer-based i.e. Google’s self-driving project

Drivetrains

In an ICE-centered world, the engine is the most complicated and important component of a car. Electric motors are much simpler than their ICE counterparts. An ICE engine is built out of hundreds of components, moving parts and complex mechanical systems, think of it as a mechanical watch. On the other hand, electric motors are extremely simple, they can be easily assembled with less than ten components.

The immediate consequence of this transition is that barriers of entry for the industry are torn apart. The ICE is by far the most complex piece of a car and few manufacturers can afford the capital expenses required for its development. Moving to an EV centered world, engines get commoditized, it literally means that they can be bought from a local supplier.

In other words, the craft and expertise amassed building ICE cars is worth nothing when EV simply use batteries, computation and software to control a drivetrain.

Another interesting factor to this narrative has to do with batteries, since they will be the most critical component of an electric vehicle. Even more important — and that’s pure speculation, EVs might only be a piece of a much larger shift in energy usage and generation. Batteries, on wheels or stationary, might become a key role as the link between multiple energy generation sources.

Ownership

Owning a car is expensive, one of the largest expenses of an average family. On top of that it is a really crappy asset, since it quickly loses value, it is hard to maintain and it is not liquid in the marketplace.

On top of that, the (sad) fact that cars spend more than 95% of their lifetime parked, doing nothing, has created an entire new market of transportation as a service, led by Uber, Lyft, Cabify and an army of local operators.

If this model gains traction and becomes the default option for most people to move from A to B, it follows that cars will be owned by fleet operators, not individuals. Which in turn has even more profound implications:

  • In an individual ownership world, manufacturing and selling are bundled. But if ownership changes, car manufacturers are left in the middle, with no leverage across the value chain.
  • It is not just leverage, but also incentives. Car manufacturers are currently incentivized to optimize for driver's delight i.e. getting a ZF transmission that shifts smoother and quicker. But if the driver is not the buyer anymore, does it matter?
  • Does it mean that flying in a Boeing / Airbus or economy / business becomes much like hailing a BMW / Mercedes or UberX / Uber Black?
  • Parking is interesting as well. Cities are nowadays built around cars, at any given moment there are more cars parked than moving. Although this is a given for most of us, we can all agree that it doesn’t make much sense, since parking is wildly mismanaged and it is probably our most inefficient use of resources within urban areas. But if cars are not owned, but hailed on demand, what happens to the parking industry?
  • The issue goes deeper though, no parked cars, means less cars, since its idle time will dramatically decrease: the perfect on-demand car is one that never stops. It follows then that less cars reduce collateral industries as well i.e. $198 billion automobile insurance market, $98 billion automotive finance market, $100 billion parking industry and $300 billion automotive aftermarket will be most certainly threaten.

Operations

The most interesting piece of this triangle is the transition to self-driving or what happens when we add "autonomous cars" to the equation.

The obvious one is that driver as a job won’t be needed anymore. On one hand this is a good thing because we have to admit it, overall we are really bad drivers. The bad news it that driver represents the single largest profession, in the USA and around the world.

This inevitably ties back to the EV conversation, since automakers will find themselves with misaligned incentives when it comes to pursue self driving capabilities: how come they can compete selling a "driving experience" when there’s no driver in behind the wheel? It's just a "feature race" to a place where they don't matter anymore.

It reminds me to the PC industry in the 2000s, when PCs started being purchased by consumers, but the other way around: the purchaser stops being the driver, but a fleet, who values other things.

I could go on and on, but what fascinates me the most is the amount of combined time we will save as a whole. Millions of hours we will get back "for free" to engage in creative endeavors, leisure, family time, reading, drawing, whatever!

And of course, the most important question: what we will make of it?

Little Hacks

Our goal here isn’t to be defensive and resist our phones but to ask the question, “how can we make our home screen a livable place?” A place we can return to frequently, knowing it will respect our intentions and support our conscious use. And a place that makes room for the thoughts and concerns we want to have, and not the ones we don’t.

From time to time, I ask myself which is the single habit I can easily stick to right away, that will have the largest impact in my daily life.

For example, a few years ago I read The Miracle Morning — good book, where I came across a seemingly harmless quote, that might strike as a rather obvious statement at first, but ended up radically transforming the first hours of my days.

Well, hitting the snooze button keeps us from waking with a sense of purpose. Each time you reach for that button, you are subconsciously saying to yourself that you don’t want to rise to your life, your experiences and the day ahead.

I simply tried it: put the alarm clock across the room, in a place where I had to stand up in order to stop it. I have never hit the snooze button once again since. Now I wake up every single morning at 6am and get a ton done before 9am. In fact, I’m writing this because of it.

Little action, huge impact and upside.

Along these lines, last week I read this article and something similar happened. My home screen and notifications settings were already a reasonably quiet place, but the article made me revisit some habits and the overall relation I had with the device.

Since, I came up with a simple set of rules that have radically changed the way I interact with my iPhone.

Home screen

  • Two screens: first of all address the amount of screen real state to place apps. Having a predefined number of screens in the springboard acts as a natural constraint for the number of apps you can fit in the canvas. Moreover, I found that avoiding mindless swipes between screens reduces the time "wasted" on the device, doing nothing.
  • No folders: keep everything visible. Hiding complexity under the rug is usually not a good long term solution, but on top of that, folders are the cheating mechanism for the previous rule, so avoid them.

Apps

  • Stick to the ones you actually use: this seems like a simple rule, but spring cleaning apps can become a rather unpleasant task. The nagging thought of "maybe I need it for X...", "I used it that one time..." will never remiss. That’s the reason why I took a radical opposite approach to tackle this issue: I started with zero apps and installed them as needed. You’ll be surprised with the few apps you actually use: right now, my phone only has 16.
  • Default to defaults: require a really compelling case to install 3rd party apps that mimic Apple stock ones. This can be controversial for two reasons: first one, because we all love 3rd party apps, but second, because Apple stock apps are usually not that great. Then the question: why do it? I found that "staying default" limits "what you can do", reduces duplicity and complexity across the OS. If there’s no strong case to do it, stay default. Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Weather, Photos, Safari... are great examples of stock Apple apps that can suit most of our basic needs.
    • The exception to that rule, of course, exists. If the delta of functionality (and enjoyment) the app provides is so massive that is worth dealing with the added complexity, so be it. In my case, Bear, Spotify or Citymapper are clear examples.
    • Then of course there is functionality the OS doesn’t provide by default. In these cases, of course a compelling case is still required, but the utilitarian aspect here becomes more relevant.

Notifications

Last, but most important, notifications. The single feature that can make or break the experience of using a your phone.

The most important realization about notifications is that they clearly map out as an 80/20, even 99/1. In other words, 1% of the apps, produce 99% of the notifications. This 1% being messaging apps, where their very nature of 1-to-N communication layer turn you into a random node of the network, able to receive notifications from any node that can potentially connect with you.

The problem though, falls back again to the defaults. The moment you accept the app request for sending notifications, you’re granting any person on Earth the ability to light your phone screen up at their will. In other words, you are giving free, ubiquitous access to the backlit mechanism of your most precious and personal device.

This is simply madness.

In order to avoid this, I created three distinct states an app can inherit as notifications settings (slightly updated for iOS 10, which changed the way History and Lock Screen worked).

  • Off: these are messaging apps. Turning their notifications off by default have three combined benefits: 1/ your screen won’t be flashing every minute because of an unimportant WhatsApp group notification, 2/ your battery will last way longer, 3/ you won’t be peeking at your phone looking for the next dopamine shot, because you already know it will be none.
  • Only show in history: this should be the default mode for almost all apps, but messaging. You will silently receive notifications, but they won’t light up the screen and quietly stack in the history tab, waiting for you to go there and check them out.
  • System default: stay to the defaults (this is lighting up the screen, sounds, badges... the whole pack) only for critical notifications such as reminders, important calendar events or potential security warnings.

Following these three simple rules had transformative results that truly changed the way I interact with my iPhone. Things as easy as rearranging apps, forbidding red bubbles, avoiding colors and limiting to just two screens, literally, gave me an extra hour per day out from "wasted time" and made me be more present, relaxed and sharp.

Again, little hacks, amazing outcomes.

The Ironhack Experience

This Saturday the 2nd of April, I will be enrolling the Ironhack Web Development program, in its part-time format. It spans six months: two afternoons during the week and the whole Saturday, accounting for more than 400 hours of accelerated learning.

Despite it is not as intense as the full-time format, the goal remains the same: turn you into a full fledged digital builder, with the abilities to develop web applications by yourself, but at the same time, embracing best practices and learning the underlying principles behind digital products.

As a campus manager, my daily tasks at Ironhack are far away from technical endeavors. My role consists in managing and inspiring the team, but also ensuring we are delivering on our promise of providing the best possible educational experience.

The main difference with our flagship, full-time, bootcamp program — that has already trained more than 500 people with outstanding results, is the part-time format has been specifically designed for people who is currently employed. The materials team has done an outstanding job structuring all the contents in a way that can be digested, but demanding enough so you can still feel the strain that comes with these intense programs.

I have put a lot thought into this decision. We all run busy lives, and it is definitely a huge challenge on top of anybody who already has a challenging job. I acknowledge that going through this experience will inevitably imply saying no to a lot of things, and despite I’ve been told otherwise several times, I am profoundly convinced that enrolling is the right call.

In this post I will explain why I decided to join, and why I firmly believe that everybody in a managing position, technical or not, should join, too.

My Role at Ironhack

As a campus manager, my daily tasks at Ironhack are far away from technical endeavors. My role consists in managing all aspects of Ironhack’s operations here in Barcelona while executing on the company mission. At the end of the day I find myself not only managing and inspiring the team, but also ensuring we are delivering on our promise of providing the best possible educational experience.

My Role at Ironhack

All of this translates into sales, business development, planning and executing marketing actions, leading hiring processes, ensuring we have an awesome work environment, and representing the Ironhack brand by interacting with students and other ecosystem partners. In other words, I’m kind of the last responsible for Ironhack’s success here in Barcelona, but as you can see, there is no coding involved.

Therefore, the legitimate question to ask here would be: “how come learning how to code, will help you succeed at your job, since there’s no coding required at all?”

Alignment With the Company Vision

I deeply believe that in order to achieve greatness, no matter what your job title is, you must understand, embrace and align yourself with the company vision. It might sound abstract, but I have come to realize that for a company to be successful in a market, for an employee to thrive within a company, and in most facets of life, the alignment with the bigger picture is always a prerequisite for success.

Markus Leyendecker — Harvard MBA student and also Ironhack alumni, has already done an amazing job explaining this issue. As he points out in his article Pre-bootcamp: Why would a future Harvard MBA learn how to code? the understatement of the building blocks of your business is key for anybody that attempts to lead any team or company.

If one accepts the hypothesis, that companies, which are at-heart digital, will continue to outgrow the competition, one should realize why I want learn to code. It follows a very basic logical chain: Everyone working at a company should be able to understand what the company is best at: selling the right product to its customer segment. For instance, one would think that a Boeing CEO would understand, at least much better than a CEO from another industry, how an airplane works and which steps of the value chain Boeing excels at.

I could not agree more. But as devil's advocate one could argue that if a company is not competing in the software industry, and say it is selling razor blades, then code should not be a lever for success. Which brings us to the second point: that software is becoming a transversal discipline.

Digital Transformation

As I already pointed out in The Rise of the Hybrid Profile, programming is not only for programmers any more. Instead, it is starting to permeate across all industries, changing the way we interact with products and how customers want to be reached in order to deploy effective marketing actions.

All the components involved in the creation, distribution and sale of a digital product are, in some way, influenced by the same digital ingredient: code. For this reason, the ones who acknowledge this situation and learn the fundamental principles underlying digital products, will inevitably have a considerable advantage when having to deal with this new breed of products.

What this excerpt from my article conveys is that we should approach each market, business or product, from a more holistic perspective. Meaning that despite certain end products will remain hardware based, its surroundings: distribution, marketing, operations and ultimately, the customer experience, will be profoundly affected by the digital transformation that lies ahead.

Coding at Ironhack

Going on with the razors analysis, the only player that comes to mind that is growing like a rocket, curiously enough, is Harry’s. The blueprint for how to enter a mature, saturated market, leveraging technology in order to enhance the customer experience. Harry’s is not a software company, but I would bet that employs plenty of software engineers and their digital strategy is core to understand their success.

Earn Their Success: Speak Tech

The conclusion that derives from this premise is clear: as a manager you will be dealing with software issues at some point. That might come in the flavor of the project that you are working on or it may be the core competence of your team. Either way you will need to prove that, at least, you have the slightest clue of what you are actually managing.

After more than five years involved in product at tech companies, I have seen plenty of issues such as PMs not respected by engineering because they did not have technical chops, or marketers who were literally mocked for not understanding how something worked. Believe me, as a manager, it is a harsh situation to overcome.

We have drawn some kind of line between tech and non-tech, placing more value to the former by default. As a manager, this is a harsh situation to overcome.

I am not saying this is a good thing, but we have drawn some kind of line between tech and non-tech, placing more value to the former by default. If you want to earn the respect of your peers and make informed decisions you will need to understand how stuff works, and the only way is playing by their own rules.

Management entitles lots of things. But at the end of the day you will find yourself making key decisions and you want to do that through the eyes of every person in your team, even better, through the eyes of the company as a whole. You will be setting the table on behalf of a lot of people, and you will only earn their respect you if you know what you are talking about.

Why Am I Doing This?

In my particular case, first of all, I am doing this because I want to experience first hand what it is like to go through our Bootcamp. I think it is not fair that I am rooting for a product that I have never experienced. I have repeatedly seen how we are helping our students pivot their careers and ultimately turning them into digital makers. I know it is amazing and I know it works, but I don’t know what it is actually like to be there.

Therefore, from an evangelist perspective, I am absolutely convinced that by fully understanding the experience not only I will improve my ability to communicate why somebody would benefit from learning how to code. But also get insight and make a better case for who we might be solving a problem to, but we still don’t know it.

From the inside I hope it will help me better relate to the student experience and have informed conversations with them, as we were discussing before, it is like speaking their language. Because I would be able understand what they are going through, I will have a better chance when it comes to earn their respect. And looking into the future, having this shared connection can also be a great way to create stronger bonds that will help enhance the collaboration with our alumni community.

I have repeatedly seen how we are helping our students pivot their careers and ultimately turning them into digital makers. I know it is amazing and I know it works, but I don’t know what it is actually like to be there.

I also expect to gain credibility from the team, mostly in the academic side. Because I would be able to analyze the full scope of every decision I make for the campus, from the layout of the desks, the acoustics of the room to the number of TAs we will need for the next cohort. Only by having a better comprehension of the market, the product, the team and everything in between, I will make the right calls and earn the respect of my peers, by being able to speak their language.

Again it is about understanding and aligning yourself with the company vision, only then you will be in the position to achieve greatness. Learning how to code is a prerequisite to comprehend the full scope of your company, in education, technology or razor blades. Then that’s the ultimate reason why I am going to learn how to code and why you should, too.

The future of computing

In 1971 the fastest car in the world was the Ferrari Daytona, capable of 280kph (174mph). The world’s tallest buildings were New York’s twin towers, at 415 metres (1,362 feet). In November that year Intel launched the first commercial microprocessor chip, the 4004, containing 2,300 tiny transistors, each the size of a red blood cell.

Since then chips have improved in line with the prediction of Gordon Moore, Intel’s co-founder. [...] A modern Intel Skylake processor contains around 1.75 billion transistors—half a million of them would fit on a single transistor from the 4004—and collectively they deliver about 400,000 times as much computing muscle. This exponential progress is difficult to relate to the physical world. If cars and skyscrapers had improved at such rates since 1971, the fastest car would now be capable of a tenth of the speed of light; the tallest building would reach half way to the Moon.

It's amazing how, for more than 50 years, we've relied on an empirical law to set the pace of a whole industry. Moore's predictability has allowed, in some way, to foresee in the future and envision when - currently impossible - applications might ready to ship. I don't know how much of this slow down has to do with physics or with the amount of capital required, but it remains an outstanding achievement that we've managed to keep up with it for such long period of time.

This piece embraces Moore's law slow down in a really clever way and outlines the areas where the industry might focus on in the future, instead of raw speed.

  • Slowing progress in hardware will provide stronger incentives to develop cleverer software.
  • Reliance on the cloud as the way to deliver better services over the internet.
  • New computing architectures (also in the cloud) optimized for particular jobs.

Same way we used to approach AI with this "brute force" mindset and it turned out that the what actually worked was something more "human", maybe hardware will also become more powerful "just in different and more varied ways".

The sadness and beauty of watching Google’s AI play Go

At first, Fan Hui thought the move was rather odd. But then he saw its beauty.

“It’s not a human move. I’ve never seen a human play this move,” he says. “So beautiful.” It’s a word he keeps repeating. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.

The move in question was the 37th in the second game of the historic Go match between Lee Sedol, one of the world’s top players, and AlphaGo, an artificially intelligent computing system built by researchers at Google. Inside the towering Four Seasons hotel in downtown Seoul, the game was approaching the end of its first hour when AlphaGo instructed its human assistant to place a black stone in a largely open area on the right-hand side of the 19-by-19 grid that defines this ancient game. And just about everyone was shocked.

It's both exciting and terrifying see how we are able to teach machines how to think. But, to me, the most remarkable feat is how despite we are using algorithms that emulate the way we learn, machines are developing their own way of thinking. Fanu Hui thought it was not a human move, which seems like an obvious statement, but it outlines an amazing reality, which is that the current state of the machine's mind followed a development path with no human intervention at all.

It inevitably reminded me of PlaNet the deep-learning machine (also developed by Google fellows) that worked out the location of almost any photo using only the pixels it contains. It plainly beat humans guessing photo locations, but it didn't rely on some of the cues we are used to, instead "We think PlaNet has an advantage over humans because it has seen many more places than any human can ever visit and has learned subtle cues of different scenes that are even hard for a well-traveled human to distinguish.