Welcome to my blog! Please keep these three things in mind:

1. Everything on my blog is my point of view and does not represent the view of any company I've worked for, past, present, or future. 
2. If you want to respond to anything I've written, use my Contact form. 
3. The previous version of my blog is partially available online, but I put the best parts of it in my first book, Minority Tech: Journaling Through Blackness and Technology. You should buy it. It's fun.


My Essential Travel Gadgets

posted Jun 19, 2014, 1:47 PM by Anjuan Simmons

I have 658,287 lifetime flight miles (and that's just with United Airlines) so I know quite a bit about travel. As a techie, here are my must-have travel gadgets:

Clamcase iPad Keyboard Case: When I'm not travelling, I use my iPad as a media consumption device to watch movies, play games, or keep up with the news. However, when I'm on long flights, I've found that encasing my tablet into its Clamcase Keyboard Case lets me use it to produce content. The keyboard is comfortable and gives me the ability to navigate complex spreadsheets, respond to emails, and, of course, work on my Great American Novel.

Wacom Bamboo Stylus: While the iPad is responsive enough to not need a stylus, I like to doodle in the air every now and then. So, I've found that travelling with a stylus lets me nurture my inner artist even when I'm 30,000 feet in the air. 

Mophie Juice Pack: I travel with a lot of gadgets, but my phone is the one device that I can't afford to let it run out of juice. The Juice Pack functions as both a protective case and a power source for my Samsung Galaxy Android phone. The Juice Pack has allowed my phone to even survive an eight hour flight from Houston to Honolulu!

NapAnywhere: I used to use those U-shaped travel pillows, but I recently switched to NapAnywhere. It's so much better! It even makes sitting in a middle seat enjoyable! I've even been tempted to give it to the person napping next to me when their unconscious head starts slipping toward my shouldar.

Uber: This is an app that makes arranging a car safe and easy. I simply display my location and a car arrives within minutes! Since Uber stores my credit card information, I can just get out of the car at the end of the ride.

A Great Team Doesn't Make You a Great Manager

posted Jun 10, 2014, 4:22 PM by Anjuan Simmons

I routinely hear performance reviews from managers that sound something like this:

"This team member is doing a bad job. I constantly have to give guidance, monitor, and make corrections to their work."

My response, although rarely spoken out loud is, "Yes, that's your job." The job of a manager is manage, but most managers prefer to report. Instead of managing a resource, they report on the resource's performance. Few managers understand this. Let's use the analogy of a car. If you pressed on the brake pedal, and a number popped up on your windshield displaying your current speed, would that be an effective braking system? Or, if you pressed on the accelerator, and your dashboard displayed your current compass direction, wouldn't that be considered a malfunction? However, despite operating like defective brake and accelerator pedals, we let managers off the hood for failing to govern the performance of their teams. 

Managers are supposed to decrease the weaknesses of their teams while increasing their strengths. Far too many managers I've encountered simply let their teams function in the way that they received them. Therefore, if a manager gets a great team, then the team produces great work, and we think that the team had a great manager. However, that is often not the case. Great teams tend to produce great work irrespective of the manager in charge of the team. Conversely, if a manager receives a poor team, then the team, unsurprisingly, produces poor results. Managers, in this situation, tend to blame the team and almost never admit that they are bad managers.

Effectively managing a team (instead of simply reporting the team's performance) requires the ability to deeply analyze each person on the team and understand how to make improvements. This is hard work which is why most managers avoid it. You have to understand how each person receives feedback, create performance improvement plans, and conduct regular checkpoints to measure progress. While every team member has to own his or her career, the manager has to be fully invested and accountable for the improvement of everyone on the teams they lead.

Far too many managers are content to simply be reporters. The only way to improve the number of great teams in the workforce is by teaching managers how to steadily improve the greatness of their teams no matter the condition in which they were received.

Teaching Computer Programming: Hard vs. Soft

posted Jun 4, 2014, 1:12 PM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Jun 4, 2014, 1:13 PM ]

I finished Learn Python the Hard Way, and it was a good book. However, it is indeed the hard way to learn Python. Zed minces no words in voicing his disdain for other ways of learning how to program, and the text often says, "Go learn about that" for any subject in which the author has no interest. However, that subject may be critical to helping a student understand computer programming.

I started another book called Think Python: How to Think Like a Computer Scientist by Allen Downey, and it is a much softer way of learning Python. The author introduces concepts and then builds upon them. As someone who has taught technical courses, I am a big believer in the need to understand core concepts before trying to create something. So, I am enjoying Allen's book more than Zed's, but I appreciate Zed's approach to getting things done.

Some people teach swimming by throwing students into the pool while others get into the water and swim alongside the people they're trying to teach. I much prefer the latter so I'll recommend Allen's book to others who want to learn Python.

Learning Python

posted May 29, 2014, 10:41 AM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated May 29, 2014, 10:45 AM ]

I recently decided to dust off my programming skills and learn a new language. My undergraduate degree in electrical engineering required me to take courses in languages like C, and I've programmed during my career in languages like Perl, PL/SQL, and some proprietary languages. However, after being promoted to management several years ago, my programming responsibilities dwindled. Instead of being a programmer, I had to manage teams of programmers.

Despite not needed to program as a job requirement, I have found that knowing how to code is extremely valuable when working with coders. First, you gain a measure of street cred if programmers know you have walked in their shoes. Second, you can know if a programmer is overestimating or underestimating how long it will take to finish a feature if you have experience implementing similar features. Finally, knowing that I can, if needed, roll up my sleeves and contribute to the code base is immensely empowering.

I didn't think that returning to the languages I knew was the right way to go because several more modern languages have emerged since I last had to seriously program. After doing some research, I narrowed it down to three: PHP, Ruby on Rails,or Python. I chose these three because they were widely used, could solve a variety of different problems, and could quickly get me to my main goal: working code. 

I felt that PHP lacked the structure I wanted in a language, and I was concerned about the numerous security vulnerabilities. Ruby on Rails almost won me over, but I eventually selected Python because of its power and readability. Some may not like its reliance on white space for formatting, but I see this as a feature instead of a flaw.

I'm working through Learn Python the Hard Way by Zed Shaw, and I'm up to Exercise 42. I've enjoyed writing Python code because it is very straightforward. Instead of trying to find clever or elegant ways to accomplish a goal, Python encourages the most reasonable approach. I'm an Occam's Razor kind of solution finder so Python works well for me.

Being a Digital Leader

posted Mar 26, 2014, 9:43 AM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Mar 26, 2014, 9:47 AM ]

I just finished a Google Hangout with the students in a course called Leadership in Digital Contexts course that my friend Kaia Shivers teaches at Rutgers University. I shared these points:

I work as a digital leader by speaking and writing about technology and the need to expand diversity in the sector. I am passionate about making the technology industry truly inclusive so that we can maximize innovation on a global scale.

I was, many years ago, where you were. Well, there were no classes like this because Facebook and Twitter didn't exist. In fact, Google didn't exist! So, I structured this to share four points that I would want someone to share with me  about the digital space when I was your age. So, here are four tips for being a digital leader.

1. Choose Your Tools. Don't Try Every Social Network. You'll spread yourself too thin in you try. Pick three or four key sites, and focus on using those. I focus on Facebook and Twitter and occasionally use Instagram.

2. Create Great Content. It's cliche, but content is king. Great content creators consume great content. Know current hot topics, but don't just copy and paste headlines. For example, Facebook recently purchased the Oculus Rift. A lot of people posted that, but the next level is to analyze what that means. How does the Rift purchase fit into the context of Facebook's previous purchases of Instagram and WhatsApp. What types of companies might Facebook purchase in the future?

3. Connect Offline. Attend conferences in your area of expertise. Submit proposals to speak at conferences. SXSW just wrapped a couple of weeks ago, and I've spoken four times at that conference. One reason I wrote Minority Tech was to have a physical product that people could use offline. Online influence is made stronger by connecting offline.

4. Guard Your Brand We all have personal brands. It's what people say about us when we're not around. Avoid online arguments, Twitter beef, etc., as much as possible. In the past two weeks, I've had two friends have to apologize for getting into Twitter arguments with major members of the media. They both realized that they lost out on opportunities and hurt their personal brands. 

Building

posted Jan 20, 2014, 9:04 AM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Jan 20, 2014, 9:05 AM ]

I have to admit that I am enjoying this time of focusing on building products and services. I think that social media took too much time away from producing and getting things done. I turn 40 in December of this year, and that milestone has motivated me to focus on the things I want to leave behind in this world. It has to be more than a series of tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagram pictures that don't much good to anyone.

Publishing Minority Tech last year really helped me get to this building phase. I'm proud of the product I created, and I can't wait to share the other things I'm working on now. It will probably take me all year, but I hope that December presents the window for me to make my announcements.
Under Construction

Mapping Your GoDaddy Domain to Google Sites

posted Jan 17, 2014, 4:32 PM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Jan 20, 2014, 8:52 AM ]

I've started migrating my sites from Squarespace to Google Sites. Here is how I mapped each of my GoDaddy domains to point to Google Sites:

  1. Change CNAME of the www subdomain in GoDaddy for the domain to ghs.googlehosted.com. I recommend using the GoDaddy app for this instead of the poorly designed website.
  2. Verify the GoDaddy domain using Google Webmaster Tools.
  3. This will kick off the verification process which will prompt you to login to GoDaddy.
  4. Add the GoDaddy domain to the Google Sites site under Manage Site -> Web Address. This must be in www.<domain_name>.com format.

Associating Google Analytics to Google Sites with Custom Domains

posted Jan 14, 2014, 5:12 PM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Jan 14, 2014, 5:12 PM ]

  1. Create Custom Domain.
  2. Create Google Analytics Account
  3. Associate Google Analytics web property with Custom Domain.
  4. Enable Google Analytics for the Google Site.
  5. Enable Search queries in Google Analytics by adding the 'q' parameter.

Why I Left Squarespace for Google Sites

posted Jan 10, 2014, 10:39 AM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Jan 10, 2014, 10:48 AM ]

Image Courtesy 2slick

I've decided to move my domains from Squarespace to Google Sites. So, the journey of my web hosting services has followed this path (including if they were free or paid):

  1. Yahoo! Small Business (paid)
  2. WordPress.com (free)
  3. Self-Hosted WordPress (paid for server)
  4. Squarespace (paid)
  5. Google Sites (free)
Of these five services, I enjoyed Squarespace the most, particularly Squarespace 6. It was a paid service that offerred a lot of flexibility when it came to designing websites. So, why am I leaving Squarespace for Google Sites? Here are the reasons:
  • Google Sites doesn't provide the level of design control as Squarespace, but it's good enough. There are several page templates available, and they can all be modified by selecting different fonts, font sizes, colors, background images, headers, etc.
  • Google has done a lot of integration between Google Sites and other Google properties like Google+, Google Drive, and YouTube. So, it's easy to embed Google+ picture galleries, YouTube videos, Google Drive forms, etc.
  • Google Sites easily integrate with Google Analytics which offer more insight than the analytics that come with Squarespace.
  • I assume that Google will give sites created using Google Sites a little more SEO "juice" to encourage people to use it.
  • And, of course, Google Sites is a free service.
While Google Sites lacks a lot of features (most notably, the ability for anyone to make a comment on a blog post), it is enough of a minimum viable product for me to make the switch. Google Sites gives me the ability to make sites that look good enough to not look like a thrown together site. And the price is right.




Clarity

posted Jan 9, 2014, 8:06 PM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Jan 10, 2014, 7:44 AM ]

Some events in life being you to a point where even things that have been said to you repeatedly suddenly become clear. While the silence of being off social media is often (ironically) deafening, it has allowed me to think outside of an unending stream of information. I have also spoken with trusted advisors via the telephone which has yielded insights that can best be received on a one-to-one basis (instead of the one-to-many structure of social media). I think I'm beginning to put in place the proper structures and processes I need in my life for me to live up to my potential.


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