Columbus Collaboratory Discusses Understanding Goals and Developing Software With the End User in Mind
Pete Gordon - Columbus Tech Power Player Honoree
Software Quant Virtuoso
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Software Quant Virtuoso for Columbus Collaboratory, Pete Gordon, discusses understanding goals and developing software with the end user in mind.
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GB: Hello. We are here today with Pete Gordon, who is a Software Quant Virtuoso at Columbus Collaboratory, an organization based in Columbus with 40 employees. Uh, my name is Gaby Batshoun, I’m with the Global Business Solutions, and we are a technology company based in Newport, Kentucky. Let's get started today. Welcome.
PG: Excellent, thank for having me today, Gaby.
GB: Absolutely, thank you. I have couple of questions for you. Um, in your opinion, what is the most exciting, disruptive technology that is beginning to impact our work and our lives?
PG: I think I have a…that’s an interesting question, I think I have two kind of responses, because they're very different but yet related. Um, no discussion about new technologies and innovative technologies can go without talking about AI and machine learning. I like to refer to AI though, with my coworkers and others that I work with as, instead of artificial intelligence, it's automated inference. And what I mean by that is, it's really this beautiful merger of statistics and software and it can be boiled down to the past 50 years, 60 years of mathematics and statistics and quantitative analysis, and then applying that to this huge disruptive force we have in internet technology and in mobile technology and in cloud-based technology. And bringing those together is what we're experiencing, and that is changing our world. Like, every day. If we have something that is, uh, that we can do as humans in the blink of an eye, right? Then we can teach a computer how to do it, uh, with a high probability. So, that's, that's it as far as AI and machine learning, um, which I like to communicate fairly simply and kind of get beyond the buzz.
The next technology I talk about is just voice, and the fact that we can run these machines with the spoken word, and they can speak back to us. When I am able to ask my Google Home to play a, a movie trailer, and then tell me what the times are with my family all around the couch and see it on our big screen? That is amazing, and it simplifies my life. It gives more, more presence, more information, like, to the family as we decide what movie to watch on a Sunday afternoon or Sunday evening and uh, controlling our world with voice and interacting with these connected machines, this internet world that we live in with our voice is just amazing. And it's going to become more and more prevalent.
GB: Very cool. I have another question for you. Today, we have so many apps that run, whether on a desktop or a laptop or on your mobile devices, and they do so many tasks. What are the challenges in designing these applications is in your opinion?
PG: Oh, that's a really good question. And, in fact, I think I can probably answer it with my license plate. My license plate has “users first” on it, and this is the biggest challenge in building software. It's not, “Do we have an app for everything under the sun?” It is whether or not the apps meet our goals as users, if they meet our mental models that allow us to achieve our goal more efficiently. Kind of like the story of watching a movie trailer and getting movie times with your kids on a weekend. Being able to do that with a Google Home and a Chromecast on your television? It's simplifying that experience and that goal. And so, the challenges in development and software development life cycle is to be able to really understand that user goal, right? To understand what is the user trying to accomplish and what's their mental model coming into that? And now, I can begin to actually build applications around that.
Um, the other, the other problem in this world though is the, just, you're inundated with so many applications. So many words. I actually think that the, that the limitations of English, right? To describe, right, what it is I'm trying to accomplish, kind of is what we're bumping up against, right? So many different words, or that we're using for the same things without the specific differentiation of what it is that I really need right now. Right? And that is really hard to get into people's lives, right? So that it's useful to them. And that's really what I mean by users first is when technology, when technology is really good, it's no longer technology, right? It's, it's the car that we take on vacations, right? It's the plane that we take on a trip. It's the table that we eat dinner at!
GB: It's part of your everyday life.
PG: That's right. And it gets a name that's beyond technology. So, um, putting that user goal first, really where it fits into their mental model? That's where the key is in developing applications and where the challenges are.
GB: How would you choose what application to you to use? I mean, there's so many.
PG: I know, that's right. I mean, we're just overwhelmed by, like, so many choices. I think it really as a, as an engineer at heart, it really drives down into, um, how well do you really understand your goals? How well do those map to those applications? And that's constantly a challenge, right? How many, how many of us have had Siri fail, right? With what we wanted it to do? Um, and that's the mismatching of our mental models and the technology, and, um, overcoming that is, it is a huge challenge in this world of so many apps. I do think that it's getting better. It's getting, it's getting better, um, with some little hiccups along the way.
GB: Absolutely. It's a new technology. I mean, this is still a young technology. More is yet to come.
GB: With that, talking about all these apps and AI and all that stuff, comes security. And security is, is big. There is so much news about seeing all these companies being hacked and, you know, all these scary things that you hear about. In your opinion, what would you recommend for a company that doesn't have a lot of security to stay secure and create a security practice?
PG: Yeah. That, that's an interesting one. In terms of, like, the internet and security, the machines we use and then maintaining security, right? I think that, uh, I think there's a, it's good to go into the topic with your eyes wide open first about what it is, right? Um, these technologies were originally intended to be used, right? So, um, we want what they're capable of doing to be available and to allow you to accomplish your goals and experience better technology that just meets your goals. Um, but at the same time, how do we keep it on track, keep it in the guard rails and keep it doing what we intended it for it to be used for?
The internet boils down to fairly simple technologies, right? Um, we've, we've had technology stabilization around the internet and TCP IP for the past 20-odd years. We've seen the growth and HTTP web services. We've seen technology stabilization in the marketplace, even with the conflict, competitors between browsers, browser wars that we've gone through and seem to be reemerging somewhat again. And, um, I think that the key is, is to, to really hone in on what are my core technologies that make up my business? Right? And, by doing that, I can begin to limit my scope of the technology in the surface area that I need to secure.
And in doing that, I start to like, get some hands around the situation and I start to understand basic principles of, “Hey, I don't want to install things on my computer without understanding the source of them,” right? Um, I don't want to respond to communications, right? Without having an understanding of, hey, how credible was this email or this text message? These are, I don't want to have a relationship on the internet in terms of social media and communications back and forth that I'm not understanding, and I'm not vested in. And these aren't just good principles for security specifically for business, right? These are good principles to teach my 14-year-old.
PG: In how to use the internet and how to relate with people in this technology-oriented world, right? With, um, so many opportunities to interact with others, right? Um, and to download software and all of a sudden give up control of my computer by doing so, and, and not wanting to do that. So I think that, um, I like to start with first principles when it comes to security. And I would suggest that anybody in business find a technology partner that can help them to start there, with those first principles. Um, I, uh, I think that, I think there's a lot of concern about the risks associated with security that are, um, probably beyond like how, how much risk there truly is, too, and this comes down to really understanding the data that you have, the value that you have, and then putting in the proper level of security.
GB: Very good. Well, thank you for your time! Uh, my name is Gaby Batshoun, I'm interviewing Pete Gordon here. And, uh, thanks again for coming in, and to learn more about our interview and more about comSpark, visit comspark.tech. Goodbye, until next time. Thank you.
PG: Thanks, Gaby.
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