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Monday, February 12, 2018

Convergence and career evolution

Despite resolving to attempt smaller, more frequent blog posts a few years ago, I'm back after another multi-month hiatus with this one. Due to the rarity with which I've been updating this blog, Google has de-indexed all but three of my pages on this site, but actually that's not the main reason for this newest piece of content, which is perhaps more personal than is typical of this blog.
Over ten and a half years ago, I chose to make a lateral move (for a manager who kindly took his chance on me), and due to circumstances, I am once again in a situation where at least organizationally, moving has become necessary.
Moving great distances, not only physically but professionally and culturally, has been something I had been willing - and able - to undertake in the past. My CV, which lists a career history spanning Toronto, Boston, and Dublin (and my initial move States-side for third level education) attests to this. Lately however, my reasons for not uprooting myself (and my spouse) yet again, have strengthened despite the fact that I'm not entirely certain that Vienna will ever be my emotional home. It certainly is, however, by far the most culturally enriched, convenient, and surprisingly affordable place I've lived in, and I'm loathe to relinquish this.
The aforementioned lateral job move had brought me into the realm of digital content from that of Natural Language Processing, and the rise of Rankbrain and various NLP-based technologies that comprise the fascinating and multi-faceted "AI" space, where niche start-ups and tech giants alike are vying for share of voice, has led to a convergence of my past and current roles, as well as the most likely future one.
I've chosen Darwin Day to write this post, but perhaps fittingly, it will be April 1st before I'm able to formally announce a significant shift in role and division, if not employer. To paraphrase a Buddhist sutra, to be alive is to change, and impermanence can result in suffering. On the other hand, courtesy of George R. R. Martin's fellow INTJ character Petyr Baelish:

Let me climb.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Extemporaneous speech has its hazards

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to have some in-person time with one of my employer's vice presidents. My card-holding manager invited me and one of the colleagues I've worked with the longest, to visit a different office location and to cover some SEO news topics over the course of a half hour.
While I was quite content to split this time allocation evenly, I also had a disproportionately large amount of information to cover, although I was quite selective in topic choice (our team has gained momentum and, hopefully, a wider sphere of influence since moving organizationally last year).
Since this opportunity arose with very little lead time, I also decided to use pre-existing slides (which I only provided some feedback to create, not as primary author). It could have easily taken an hour to cover just my section in proper detail, but also in trying to meet some "business as usual" deadlines, my attention remained painfully divided even during the hours just prior to the talk.
In addition to speaking much more quickly than I would have preferred to (in light of there being many present, to whom English was their second or even third or fourth tongue), there was one incident which amused me enough to decide to document here. It also wasn't "professional" enough to include in my team's intranet based blog, where I've been attempting to post regularly - much to the detriment of this, public (yet more personal) venue.
About a decade ago, I worked with an IA expert who frequently spoke to the vivid image of "putting lipstick on the pig". When SEO best practice is sought and applied post hoc, which is to say when some digital asset is largely ready for publishing, I tend to think this analogy fits. So when this image came unbidden to my conscious mind and I'd spoken it aloud, I immediately wished to extend said analogy into a more preferable course of events, I was trying to make sense (as I do in every communication I attempt).
What resulted in issuing forth was "... while we want to treat SEO as nutrients so that the pig grows into a beautiful one". Should I have said "prize winning"? And that IA was akin to the barn housing said pigs? Or is SEO pre-natal care of the sow so that the piglets get the best start to life?
I already perceive this to be yet one more humourous anecdote to add to an otherwise fairly serious career. Good thing I have a sense of long term perspective! 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The powers wielded by search engines and social media

It seems to me that it's increasingly becoming a frightening new world that we live in.
Back when the internet was merely nascent, I was studying psychology in college: numerous examples hammered home to me the notion that we, collectively, are easily manipulable, emotionally, cognitively, and that our memories are scarily labile, too.
Over three years ago, I'd blogged about Google+ increasing its reach, which has since apparently been adopted by many more people. Sure, a small fraction of its estimated 2.2 billion + account holders are publicly posting content - but Google has access to all the trackable behaviours of everyone who remains authenticated, not to mention numerous third party cookies and ways metrics are being recorded.
Last summer, amongst other topics I'd read the coverage on Facebook's 1-week, 700K user experiment on emotional contagion, which is well summarized in the Atlantic.
Then, about a week ago, another piece was brought to my attention (thanks to my spouse) about Google and Facebook's inherent power to manipulate election outcomes.
In the intervening time, topics like #gamergate (Forbes offered a good op/ed piece on this whereas I, a presumed SJW, have remained silent mostly due to lacking even a passing familiarity with the gaming community), the #jianghomeshi trial, and currently, the US elections related buzz, have taken over my newsfeeds.
In fact, simply reading the above linked articles from the Atlantic, Forbes, and Aeon should provoke so much thought without my editorializing, that I wondered whether it was worth attempting to blog about these subjects at all. Furthermore, as an internet specialist of sorts, it occurs to me also, that keeping a neutral stance on these topics (as well as Apple's open letter to their customers) may well be prudent.
However, I do feel compelled to ask these questions of myself, and I would strongly encourage everyone to do the same:
  • Am I seeking and finding balanced and/or impartial coverage of world events before arriving at a personal stance thereon?
  • How credible are the sources that provide the news that I consume? How do you decide whether a source is credible?
  • Do I make an effort to validate content before I share them with my friends and followers?
  • Do I exercise critical thinking when I read something?

Just today, Facebook launched "reactions" buttons. Now we're providing them with even more data, willingly and perhaps unthinkingly, and making further newsfeed algorithm experiments even more fine-tuned. Wasn't this so considerate of the design team, accommodating such a significant feature request?
But remember:

Geek&Poke cartoon: "if something is free it means you are the product."
Meme courtesy of Geek&Poke

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Content based marketing advice: aim to increase base hits, not home runs

Several colleagues of mine recently attended this year's Internet Summit in the US, so not unexpectedly, lots of advice came couched in the form of American-friendly metaphors. I'd lamented some years before about culture-specific expressions, and how they confuse non-native speakers, but given my heritage, the advice cited in the blog title actually "struck home" (baseball pun not intended).
Perhaps a soccer metaphor would be more recognizable to those outside of North America, in which case it would likely be to strive for strategic passes and goal assists, and to value the role of Libero (or sweeper) rather than fixate on scoring goals or becoming an ace striker.
In any case, this advice pertains to keeping a blog fresh - a topic that I've been mindful of, having started several draft posts since my prior entry in April, which have not seen the light of day. So, here I am wading back into the fray, as it were, by taking said advice. From now on, if I find something new to share that's relevant to this blog, I'll endeavour to do so.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Thoughts on introversion, extroversion, and related controversies

 20 question quiz to test for extroversion by
Try the quiz linked via the graphic, to answer 20 questions all skewed towards extroverts

Most of my socal media profiles openly declare my self-identification as an INTJ (estimated to comprise 1-2% of the population, and popularly depicted in fiction as antagonists or anti-heroes). I've tested as such since I was 11, though during my university years I came close to registering as INTp. Of course, Myers-Briggs has had numerous valid detractors, and one criticism is that the dichotomies of I-E etc. are not quantified by the labeling: that is, one cannot tell just how strongly introverted I believe myself to be. And since it's a self-identifying classification, one could easily delude oneself into believing that inclination is manifesting directly into actions, meaning that others may not classify one as belonging to that type at all. Nevertheless, lately there have been quite a bit of confrontation between the two camps, where one normalizes one's preference and marginalizes the other. Being in the perceived minority yet again, I can't say that I've been impressed with the arguments presented by either side - but personally, introversion has never been a point of concern, and less so after ex-patriating to outside of North America.
Certainly, it should be no secret to introverts that socialization is encouraged for the most part, and conversely, expressing predilection for spending time by oneself is (at best) treated as a weird quirk, or at worst, a sign of mental disease. Isolation (in the solitary confinement sense in prisons) has also been claimed to be torture. Business situations certainly call for networking, interpersonal and inter-organizational engagement, and it's presumed that extroverts, since they tend to enjoy such opportunities, will generally fare better in them, for several assumed reasons.
However, establishing a reasonably successful career necessitates that an individual explores and confronts their weaknesses, at the same time as playing to her or his strengths. Thus, no matter how disinclined one may be to schmoozing, networking, and elevator-speech delivering, being employed drives one to hone all such skills, and anecdotally, I've found that one's proficiency in gaining such is not correlated necessarily to one's preferences, but rather one's innate capacity combined with effort and making it a high priority to attain.
Before anyone asks, I have not yet read Susan Cain's bestseller, whose title I'll contract to just "Quiet". Part of this being that I haven't access to much English language material locally (I prefer to borrow rather than purchase books, already having a burgeoning collection and a dearth of shelving), but mainly this is due to my already having been sold on the concept of introversion having merit and some advantages.
With that disclaimer, I'd like to present a few observations and opinions of my own, coming from a significantly biased perspective:

  • "Thinking aloud", especially in meetings, often comes across to me as wasting everyone's time. Is it not polite to formulate one's position, preferably with substantiable reasons, before opening one's mouth?
  • Having been raised at home with the cultural attitude that "Silence is Golden: only break it if you know you can improve upon it", I was penalized for well over a decade in Canadian schools by the extroverted mindset. My teachers frequently, and erroneously, concluded that I was disinterested (not true much of the time), had no opinions (also almost always false; I simply took too long to arrive at my conclusions), and lacked confidence (the most persistent and mistaken of the trio of misunderstandings).
  • I believe that generally speaking, it is extremely difficult to get to know others in a group context, particularly since even observing them means the information gleaned only comes from how they happen to behave amongst that particular set of people, and said behaviour can shift dramatically. Small talk may have its place, but it's singularly inefficient as a style of conversation, so I would prefer comfortable silence over stilted, shallow exchanges. I would certainly prefer deeper discussion over either of the former two, with just one or two individuals at a time.
  • Extroverts are also capable of (or vulnerable to) clinical depression and demonstrating withdrawn behaviours. Introverts may prefer to have periods of solitude or reduced company at times, but this is not equivalent to exhibiting depression. Non-depressed introverts genuinely enjoy their time interacting with others and can lead balanced lives with quality socialization without severe discomfort. 
  • Introversion is also not shyness, necessarily - it may speak to feeling drained after being in the proverbial or literal spotlight, but not to an inability to share ideas or opinions with others, or being a poor public speaker. 
  • Like sexual orientation, I believe inclinations such as introversion to be on a spectrum as pictured at the top of this post. Most of the population would fall in the mid (not extreme end) zone.
  • This article claims that 75% of those with IQs over 160 are introverted - of course, EQ is a separate (and equally important) metric, but I'd be interested in understanding the extensiveness of the research that drew that conclusion.
  • The "Quiet" website implies that "Asian-Americans" are baffled by the extrovert-friendly educational system in the US, but this statement irks me also, as roughly half the Asian-American population consists of those inclined to extroversion, too - it's just that in some contexts such as speaking out of turn or embodying that Proverb (17:28) are culturally embedded, serving to mitigate extroverted behaviour.

I'd like to share one final article link concerning how extroverts seem happier than introverts, before I end this rant-esque post. As one of the top comments states, when the survey questions have to do with social situations, of course extroverts who draw energy and worth from said external experiences would report higher levels of happiness. Another example of a skewed survey, indeed, where the "norm" is defined as extrovert-friendly activities, and the preferences of the introvert are largely ignored.

About Mayo

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Professional: I served as "Senior Enterprise SEO Strategist" in IBM's Digital Marketing division until early 2018, during which I provided consulting and training services for both internal and external clients. Before this I was involved in Natural Language Processing, software localization, quality assurance and documentation authoring.
Currently, I am stewarding a taxonomy and scaling the learning curve to (the IT sense of) ontologies.
Personal: INTJ Nikkei Nisei ex-patriated Canadian who takes photographs and enjoys Baroque through late Classical music. The G+ page shares some of the "best of" photos.