Bye 2014 experiences, Welcome 2015

2014 was first year in my life when I wrote less code and worked more in field. For me this has been a very rewarding experience to see what happens when the rubber(product) hits on the road(field).

Some of you might point that these are basic business activities and I acknowledge the same as 100% true. As a techie who is open to code, my experience enabled  me to overcome my fears and perform these new things. I am able to get out of the chair to go out to field and still be in touch with technology. Will 2014 experience help me in future? Sure in long term and not sure about immediate or short term. Thanks to GN, Arun and Guru for support in my down times.

In product(cold call, presales, demo and evangelism) space

  • Worked with PR firm to understand how PR works and found that cost was quite high for start-up like us.  Created campaign to offer discounted courses through NGO for differently abled students and economically poor students and this created some PR.
  • How to pitch product to users and customers when the product is still in Beta. When demo had errors, I tried to work out a positive experience by taking help needed or using human influence of doing a re-login to hide demo errors and continue. I did curse my team for the error in private, did not stop demo and found ways to handle error gracefully. It was scary to do them first time alone and later figured it out.
  • How to write outbound sales email to prospects to generate leads. I made mistakes when I wrote my emails. Colleagues pointed the mistakes. The challenge was to send emails and not to get right messages and not send them.  Wrote personalized emails as much as possible.  It was interesting to find that couple of successful entrepreneurs who were titans responded to my email and asked his enterprise to explore more.
  • To perform cold calls to strangers , Some time barge in to office and give v-card and ask people to give appointment. Wait for an hour and get 15 minutes to pitch. rejected too in some places. Performed cold calls in Colleges and large institutes in Chennai. Went to auditors offices to pitch skill course. Found the more humble you are to everyone there, the more chances of meeting the other person, hoe busy he is.
  • Shed inhibition and asked a fellow volunteer working for industry body to demo product to his folks and he agreed. There came an opportunity to demo the course and initiated process  to align our course to the industry body standards.
  • I pitched skill development product  to enterprises and found the array of  stakeholders involved before closure. I was not driving to closure and see myself  developing relationships.
  • I started to attend meeting. Some times it felt there might no worth in attending the meeting. I was wrong. Generated leads/opportunities.
  • First time, I started to listening to sales videos http://close.io. Realized that sales is not to push through some one’s throat and involved helping other person to make decision.
  • Created presentation at http://www.slideshare.net/gsvasan  and started sharing them with prospects instead of sending emails.
  • Applied for free slots to two industry show cases. Got selected and demonstrated our product to audience, generate leads to perform demo and actually followed-up, and demonstrated product in person.

As I have done above, what does this mean with respect to sales and marketing?   I am aware of how people function in sales and marketing functions in real world. I need to improve how to handle negative emotions in sales (cold calls). I need to improve in follow-ups and started working. I am emotional and passionate and need to sharpen focus. I see need to sell myself to the person first before the product.

In networking space

  • In social space, when you volunteer first year, you become volunteer second year. That is not case in industry space. You need to apply to become volunteer. Not the best way for me . Still it is a good way to give other space to grow and experience and  that helped me to move on.
  • In entrepreneurship space, I realized the gap between struggling, achieved, successful and too much successful ones. Want to be more open and still able to see the club concept that Guru talks always.
  • Wrote a crazy email offering myself as product 2 free hours of consulting at TIE and couple of forums. had a lot of interesting meetings with entrepreneurs without expectation and found that I could contribute value to some of them.
  • Thanks to Shradha, I continue to attend TechSparks and MobiSparks.
  • I deactivated my facebook login and plan to continue to use twitter more and LinkedIn.  My blogs still get published on Facebook

In IT and volunteering space ( I was less in touch with code in 2014 in my last 16 years of experience)

  • Redesigned website and wrote case study of projects that we executed for customers.
  • Generate leads for software projects.  One software lead (with Guru support) got converted in to real project.(small value, atleast started).
  • Contribute to Synergy Service, a non -profit IT employment outfit. Presented to group of placement officers of colleges. Thanks to Prasad. Helped to structure slide-share https://proteans.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/it-skill-development-be-volunteer-and-get-benefits/
  • As part of non-profit initiative, I did motivation session to students and helped students with resume building, met couple of corporate to pitch course and supported to find gaps in current approach and come with new pedagogy. Started to teach android development course.

In personal space,

  • I wrote blogs on analytic focused on why and what  questions and not the how (technology) and on customer service from consumer perspective . Thanks Shraddha.  I published this article When human and analytics mix; how Big Data can help with Big Decisions. I asked favorite author for feedback and he responded with comments.
  • Bought second hand maruti for my wife to drive. I am yet to start driving.
  • Started to practice meditation thanks to Balaji(S). Helps me to get out of stress and pressure. I am yet to completely figure how to perform actions without stress and pressure,.

Thanks to GN, Guru, Balaji(s), Mohan, Rahul and Satish helped me to discover more of myself and my own priority .For the first time I realized

  • importance of money and role played to keep family integrated and need to give earning money high priority.
  • the extent my wife has pulled along in my start-up journeys
  • time has come for me to ensure space for my daughters to explore their life ambitions and aspirations.
  • need to take their needs in priority as part of my own needs.

I have pivoted from education( education and  skill development) products and open to contribute to opportunities(technology, product, customer) with goal to help them and generate money on immediate, short term and long term. Thanks to all entrepreneurs for their support.

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What is teacher’s role to deliver vocational education?

We do not have educators on leadership team. We consciously have educators as part of academic council and I interact and take their inputs seriously. I checked around with others skill providers and we are good to have thought of academic council with eminent academician.  The public-private collaboration based skill development agency does not have educator represented in leadership team and is  filled with industry people.

Exploring in education for more than 2 years,  The teacher has a major influential role to help  student and parent to enable a purchase decision. Are we  aware that  academicians are out of skill development initiative scope and any specific reasons ?  Are suitable good academicians not available? Is the industry closed and selfish that they are not ready to engage with teacher? Is the industry not ready to take contribution of academician ?

On daily operations  the skill provider is challenged to deliver in  remote location.  Some of guest faculty are not interested to travel and have other priorities . They help to arrive at “Train the Trainer ” program to train a set of fresh graduates by industry experts. Some of these graduates become facilitators for student interaction over chat or email or phone call. Do facilitators have real work exposure to answer questions?  The answer of the industry is “Provide on-line course with videos, student would learn on-line”.

Do we forget to include teacher in solution?  

  • The industry expert is not available round clock. Should business depend more on him on continuous basis?
  • May be the industry feels that college teachers are old school and there is no value explaining to teacher. They impress management and the management asks teachers to recommend student to join course. Why will teacher recommend the course that he has no knowledge?
  • The teacher observes a parallel system where corporates are doing separate teaching and no one has explained  what they are teaching and how  is it better one?. The teacher is put under pressure  to ask students to  join the skill program, Do the teachers recommend without clarity?
  • Will current approach solve academic deficit over time? Are you developing mistrust teachers? Why is teacher self-esteem damaged? What is plan to take  take vocational learning main stream?
  • Can we evaluate teacher and student associated for a long term in separate manner?  Both of them need to be evaluated and their results, based on interactions, cannot be accurately measured.

Why will teachers get to a strong opinion “Creativity, appreciation, inquisitiveness‎ are purpose of education and these cannot be scale. We teach to free minds, we teach to inspire, we teach to equip careers that come naturally. We do not want to prepare workers”. This does not help skill providers.

“Tablets sold in education space” – My views

I think it should be “BYOD -Bring your own device” in educational space.

Enterprises emphasizes providing their own devices to their employees. Employees dislike them as it constraints the freedom to learn and experiment. Latest cool stuff would not work on the company approved browser and the company application would have challenges on the outdated company browser. But there is not much choice as the device is owned by the corporate and the employee uses the same till he is on job. Do you like the same locked devices in consumer space?

I observe tablet companies trying to sell the enterprise concept to sell tablets in Indian consumer market by bundling educational content in their outdated devices or unpopular devices(some with with earlier android versions) and push them to consumers. The advent of Ice Cream sandwich has made them at-least to upgrade from 2.2 to 4.0. Education players unable to sell the media educational content build over years want to sell the existing content through tablets. They are happy if some one can help them procure tablets( do not are what it should be) from China in bulk price and bundle educational content in to them and sell them as value for money. What is state of students who are locked to older version of education device?

One glaring example for this is iProf. iProf sold tablets as educational devices. when they started, they copied content from different education partners and bundled them with the price of the tablet with a upmarket price of more than 20K and for this they also received a large funding from VCs. I have seen them progressing to sell educational content to BYOD consumer model and also having their own learning management system.

We might agree that Apple tablets are costlier for Indian population and lock users to their device. Apple provides application for free and offer a good number of online courses from various universities and can be downloaded to iPad. I also like their iBooks and iBooksAuthor, which helps to complete ecosystem. Why are Indian OEMS selling tablets not look to build ecosystem like Apple?

I liked the Pearson approach towards education through tablets.They share their perspective and also their understanding of the market. Indian Tablet Market Lacks Eco-System: Pearson India . They are open to working with multiple providers and are ready to look SD card as option for the Indian market.

How to build educational ecosystem? is a question whose answers are still far away.

Can tablet(Akash) reduce the weight of school bag?

I have read from media about the introduction of Akash tablet by Indian government.I was wondering with states like Tamil Nadu have already provided laptops and why again a subsidized tablet. Keeping aside questioning whether the government needs to be in business of giving tablets, my thoughts were how to make this a positive thing for India?

With the government announcing the intent to provide subsidized tablets, what steps the government can take to make tablet useful and effective to students? What are the applications and content that shall be preloaded in to tablet? How will the students know that the content in their tablet is obsolete and needs to be upgraded? Ok, they know how they can update the tablet, who would pay for internet connection ? The school does not have current bandwidth or know-how.

The idea”text books should be replaced with tablets” read by me made me think more. Seeing my daughter carrying a heavy bad, I think it is a good idea to buy tablets to read books and carry schools. Is there a way that her school bag is reduced and she does not become too dependent on internet.

  • Student purchased their own tablets or obtain a tablet through Akash scheme. If they purchase tablet, it can be of their own choice.
  • To enable student with content, the government enables the educational institutions with a special subsidized scheme using BSNL to offer internet for schools. This subsidized internet shall allow access to website that contain school books and educational materials and research papers.
  • The subsidized scheme is offered to schools/ educational institutions that would setup wireless infrastructure network in school and appoint coordinator to enable students to download content.
  • BSNL firewall should allow only educational institutions. They would start with a set of educational institutions and then add/remove educational institutions. To start with, only free content is made available through the network.
  • Schools are free to have additional wireless network to enable students to download paid content from other educational institutions.
  • Text book content and government related stuff accessed by teh student gets downloaded in to the student’s own device. It is quite possible that the coordinator shall download the required content in the school library and the students sync with local server on wireless.

All three line of tablets ipad, android and windows phone 7 devices support offline consumption of data. How to make this magic happen for the community?

Third alternative for teachers to utilize technology?

I am writing this blog after attending the conference “Preparing World Class Teachers Through Online Education : The Future is Now!” is held on April 20 and 21st, 2012 at Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalaya, Coimbatore. It was my first hand experience to interact with a huge set of teachers and educators. Before the conference, I was questioning that by attending the conference, what is the value provided by me/received by me?.

The conference was conducted superb and more than 300 delegates attended the conference. Foe me this was the first time I met this many number of teachers. There were a lot of teachers who were aware of technology. Guru presented mobisir learning from the field in the conference and challenge for online learning in India and a few teachers came to discuss with us how it works and I installed our mobile app on few of their mobiles and they were happy. I was privileged to meet Dr.Hema Ramanathan in conference.

I attended paper presentation sessions. Teachers were presenting usage of EDUSAT or usage of moodle or usage of mobile for learning. Most of the sessions looked theoretical and they were missing the implementation. As most of the sessions were abstract sessions, I got over enthusiastic and asked them whether they have implemented the technology in their organizations and the results obtained. After talking to a few of them, I realized that they are trying to learn about technology by searching on the web/ magazines. This was a good starting point and it was unfair that I expect them to implement technologies. Let me do unfair comparison of teacher with a software professional to see how things are different for the teacher.

  • Learn by action: Teachers used to perform offline tutoring earlier. when online tutoring became available, they happily migrated to the same and added with extra money. so teachers are waiting for existing methods made available through the use of technology in the simplest form with flexibility and space to commit errors. A software professional uses benefits of online learning by attending webcasts, webcasts and even attends Bangalore sessions through online webcasts. For a lot of paid conferences, the sessions are posted online, post the session and for no charge, he can attend and learn recorded sessions.
  • Flexibility to learn Teachers cannot have planned leave to learn new education concepts or new technologies, during the day. Even after gaining theoretical knowledge, teachers have limited opportunity to become aware of where new concepts are effectively implemented and where not. A software professional have a flexible job that allows me to attend trainings, extend work hours, attend a late night webcast and go to work late the next day. What would they do if software professional have dependents waiting for them the whole day? .
  • Awareness to technology Only few teachers are involved with software implementation in their institutions. That is person who is provided with leave grant or permission grant to work on software implementation. This makes simpler tasks for IT professional a complex tasks for teachers. For example, discussion forum usage is complex for teachers.

Concluding, I do not have answers to question of my blog. They have expanded more. How will we be able to take technology to teachers when they do not have a formal awareness of using technology for their own benefit?. I see two alternatives

  • Train them to make use of technology for education.
  • Provide them education through technology can come with his own idea of how to use technology effectively.

Is there a third alternative for teachers?

Content & Media Protection in android – available @MobiSir

Today we have a working solution to protect content in android mobiles for audio, video and files. The solution is embedded in our mobile app present in Google Play. The solution is going through multiple rounds of testing. Credit for the work goes to Balaji kutty.

Though we started building applications in early 2011, we had serious questions raised about the need to protect the content provided by educational content providers to us. We implemented a solution for J2ME phones and the solution has its own limitations for large media files. We had a way build to control the expiry the content based on date on the mobile. When we were planning to move to android in end of 2011, we assumed that life would be cool with assumption android is matured system compared to j2me.

To start with content protection, we did not have good news. Android devices can be rooted by the users and there is no way for application to detect whether a device is rooted or not. Neither one could modify the hardware or the user’s system. Google play was only helping in license protection for the application and did not offer much help for application content.

The first hand thought was to encrypt the content and try to decrypt the content by the application. This worked for text files, xml and images, but we has a question where to store the private key safely? Then came playing media files. We found that there was no direct approach to pass a local video stream to the player. The player supported methods to work with HTTP stream and played, but the player did not have methods to read local file streams also. Any solution should cover the following

1. Bind content to the phone.
2. Bind Content to an application
3. Control the validity/expiry of the content.

Thanks for the initial thought to the solution at stack-overflow link. Using this solution, we made the player to play local files over HTTP stream. The player received decrypted HTTP stream of protected local media, which it plays beautifully. This helps to make sure that the content was blinded to the application.

To bind the content to the phone, we decided to ask the user to activate their content subscription on the first start of the application by sending the same credentials(login name , password) used during purchase of the subscription. we used this to make sure that the content was blinded to the phone.

there is still a challenge that the user can still activate the content from his tablet and also from his phone using the same credentials. We strongly believe that the user has right on the content on his devices. IT is also possible to implement checks to ensure that activation happens once for a specific user, which brings additional issues like replacement of user’s device due to loss or device upgrade.

Flip learning process in India. When? How?

Today the teacher teaches lessons in the class and ask the students to perform activities and projects at home. For some home work, my daughters are not able to perform the entire activity by themselves and my wife jumps in to help to complete the task. When I assist, I overdo and the child loses the fun of learning. Can we do something different?

Today I see there are tablets coming with online learning, tablet based learning. I see companies want to provide videos and audios for classes. they also providing text book problems and solutions to text book problems. This means that tablet and teacher are duplicating learning process. Will this make the school class room boring? How can we make learning a joy at school?

Let us provide learning content on tablet and let us make it available offline. Once every student has the offline content, I would propose the changes to education and learning system across all classes and courses.

  • Teacher ask the student to read lessons before he comes to the next class.
  • The student can watch the lesson again and again multiple times at home. They can even ask questions online (anonymous)
  • The teacher explains crux of the topic or does not teach/repeat what is present in the book.
  • The teacher conducts a discussion session in the classroom and the student has already spend time to learn topic.
  • The student start participating in the class
  • The teacher utilizes the extra time to provide guidance for the student to perform the activities and projects at school independent of others and clear doubts. In addition , he needs to answer the questions asked in the forum or moderate the forum.

Will students take initiatives to perform learning of the ? Will teachers be ready to migrate to the new model?