Techwomen takeaway II: Done is better than perfect

This is the review of a Facebook techtalk we attended as part of the Techwomen program. "Done is better than perfect" was on one of the signs I saw in Facebook's building and is one I found to reflect perfectly the culture of the company. 

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You do not get to more than 500 million active users, 30 Billion pieces of content shared every month and more than 700 Billion minutes spent monthly on your website without having a great company. In fact, it has been found that in the war of talents, Facebook is winning the day. How can a relatively young company take down Silicon Valley's giants? I've pondered that question for quite some time, lucky for me I was able to attend a techtalk at Facebook where I had found few answers (I say few because, let's be realistic too, you can never get to the gist of it).

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source: Topprospect

It's the culture, stupid.
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Signs are spread on Facebook walls and employees are encouraged to comment them.
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Mike Schroepfer, VP of engineering at Facebook.
"What would you do if you weren't afraid?" A question that according to Mike Schroepfer, VP of engineering at Facebook, lies in the middle of the company's culture. A culture that incorporates transparency, embraces failure, encourages going fast and breaking things and inspires its employees on being bold. No wonder that Hackathons are a huge part of Facebook culture ("Hack" is actually written on the face of the building). Mike enumerated the number of projects that saw the light during hackathons, Facebook's chat, video, Hip Hop for PHP project to name a few. He said that these events offer employees and interns a chance to launch ideas they're excited about and help create a collaborative dynamic that is essential to stirring innovation within the company.
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Going bold has also been the motto of the Prineville project which aimed to Build a Data Center that approaches the theoretically most efficient Data Center and that doesn't require any air conditioning. By circulating the air from the outside into the building, the Data Center was based on a "We just open the window" approach which was a first in the industry. The details of Prineville's design have been made public and can be accessed on http://opencompute.org/ to "help other companies save money" says Mike.   
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Prineville primary design.
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It's not not about Technology.
Having a culture that readies the ground for innovation is essential, but building the IT to support it is the voucher of its sustainability. Tim Campos, director of IT, gave us a compelling overview of how IT at Facebook supports a "move fast and break things culture". 
It starts by breaking the old school paradigm and maintaining an environment that values productivity and efficiency, gives employees "Choice", offers them awesome support ("If it's not awesome support, it's not good enough" according to Tim) and is essentially agile. The Facebook way, as Tim calls it, is based on living the enterprise's standards, personalised automation and a menu of choices. 
"We think that employees don't need to be controlled, they need to be empowered". To illustrate this, Tim presented the supply vending machine. A dispenser that tags supplies with their price to create self-accountability in employees. "It's ok for them to use, but it's good to tell them how much it costs".     
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Courtesy of fortunebrainstormtech : Vending machine @ facebook 
Tim Campos also gave us an overview of some internal tools used by Facebook to support a culture of openness, sharing and transparency. Facebook uses platforms that enable employees to know where they are positioned within the organization. Each employee has an internal Facebook page that states who he reports to and what projects he has been working on.
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Discussions aren't done around emails but rather occur in a Facebook-notes-like fashion with features such as comments and likes. 
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Employees review are also revisited. Facebook uses Rypple to get feedback from employees. If an employee does something exceptional (even outside of his team), he can get recognition "Give a Thanks" from fellow collaborators and a notification is sent to his manager. This not only helps with performance reviews but means a lot to employees who feel valued for the job they do.
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Facebook's story is an impressive example of how a culture backed up by solid IT can create an ecology for innovation. In the end, it's about empowering your employees and reinventing yourself on regular basis. less control is really equivalent of more impact!

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"Our work is 1% finished" one of Facebook's mottos

Lamia Ben.
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G|Maghreb Day 1 : An event in review

Once I started writing down my notes from the first day, I realized that I had more to say than a single blog post can bear. This is my review from the morning of the first day of G|Maghreb, the second post will be published shortly, stay tuned! 🙂 

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You don’t get an auditorium full to its last seat, cheering whenever you show up, enthusiastic geeks waking up before 8 am to attend your event, unless of course you’re Google. That was the first thing that came to my mind when I set foot in the G|Maghreb, the first Google event in Maghreb, taking place in Rabat from 21st to 23rd May.     

I only had the chance to attend day 1 a.k.a “The mobile and web developers’ day” since it suited most my “PHD student” and “Geekette” hat (Yes, my hat is big enough to bear both). That’s to say that my review of the event would actually be from that perspective, not the hardcore developer’s one. (It’s worth pointing out that the keynotes will be available on the event’s website very soon)

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? Once badge in hand (Not as easy as it sound believe me!), I headed to the auditorium where G|Maghreb would officially start. A countdown (see picture below), hundreds of giddy geeks with phones and laptops in hand, in short, I’ve never felt so “at home”. 

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Google MENA strategy: up for the long haul

After a funny Arabic-oriented welcome speech from Sebastian Trzcinski-ClémentOutreach Programs manager for MENA, we were introduced to Google’s strategy regarding the region in Juergen Galler’s keynote: “Towards an Arabic Internet Ecosystem: Locally relevant, vibrant and with an enriched user experience”. Galler listed the obvious reasons why Google would be interested in the region but also the challenges ahead: Lack of high quality content (while 5% of Internet users speak Arabic only 2% of Arabic content is published online), underdeveloped infrastructure and lack of online forms of payments to name a few. He said that Google’s mission is to: Foster the growing Internet Ecosystem by delivering a locally relevant product portfolio and promoting a mature user experience. In short, two main focuses: Relevance and sustainability.

Innovation @ Google: Culture + Technology

The second keynote by Ahmad Hamzawi, Head of Engineering – MENA, was more culture oriented as he spoke about Google’s philosophy of innovation summarized in one word “its environment” (Google Zurich headquarters point in hand).  If Google is one of the most innovative workplaces in the world it’s no accident. It is bathing in a culture that encourages quick learning, embraces failure (Fail early, fail often, fail gracefully) and attracts top talents from around the world. Alongside these cultural aspects, Google is geared up by a set of internal tools that help foster innovation. Hamzawi made us a quick preview on:

 

  •  “Google Ideas”, the platform that encourages employees on acting on their ideas by sharing them and having colleagues rate them.
  •   “Google Snippets” that ensures transparency by submitting employees’ progress report to the system rather than their hierarchy (which takes a flatter form in the Google world by the way).
  •  “Google Projects” lists the various projects an employee has worked on
  • and “MOMA”, Google’s intranet with various search capabilities. 

Hamzawi closed the session by demoing some of Google’s innovative products. I have been most impressed by Goggles and visual search as they unleashed some of the great potential laying in augmented reality.

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Now that the first set of keynotes was done, came the difficult choice of workshops (ok, it wasn’t that difficult in the end). I of course, geared up with my PHD hat, headed to “Google and students” and “Google and Professors” workshops, both presented by Noha A. Salem, University relations manager in MENA.

Google || Students: Myriads of opportunities

Noha first presented the interesting opportunities Google is offering students such as Google Ambassador program, Google summer of code and Google Code Jam. I had the nice surprise to discover that they also offered excellence awards (If you’re an excellent student, have your teacher contact Google right away!), conference and travel grants (300 € registration Fees and 400 € travel grant) and Internship programs ranging from 3,6 to 9 months. Google is also encouraging women to excel in technology and computing fields by offering the Anita Borg Scholarship. The scholarship recipients will be granted up to 7000 €, and along finalists will be invited for a 3 days stay at a cool Google office where they will meet Google Engineers and exchange experiences.

To postulate for an internship: mena-recrutement@google.com

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Google || Professors: Bridging the gap

On a rather different note, where most attendees were professors and grad students, Noha affirmed that they don’t get enough candidates from the country. Bridging this gap is a priority for Google as it is trying to reach out to professors by helping them set curriculum, offering them research awards, post-Doc positions and encouraging them to weave a collaborative network through initiatives such as faculty summit.

Research awards: is a program initiated twice a year (on August and February) with grants reaching 150k$ a year. Last December’s round attained 6M $ for 112 proposals from 20 areas around the world. There are also focused grants on 3 years that could reach up to a Million $.

Visiting Faculty: is a program that welcomes faculties into Google’s offices for a year where they can use Google’s material and human resources. The project stays the researcher’s propriety.

Noha also brought out the AndroidEdu program that provides teachers up to 10 Android handsets to help their students coding and testing on the gadgets. An upcoming program dubbed ChromeEdu will do pretty much the same with Chromebooks.

And that wrapped up the morning of the first day of G|Maghreb. This was Lamia, live (with a slight 24h jetlag) from EMI, Rabat. Stay tuned for more details on the second half of the day as I will squeeze publishing the blog post into my busy schedule of tomorrow.

Have a great start of the week!

Lamia Ben.

 

 

 

Sunday Fun: Saving the planet, one action at a time

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Image courtesy: www.350.org

Next Sunday – 10/10/10 – is the "Global Work Party". A celebration where people will put up solar panels, dig community gardens–and send a strong message to our leaders: 'If we can get to work on solutions to the climate crisis, so can you.'

Why 350? 


I'm being part of a fun action in Rabat. We'll be planting trees and raising awareness in over 20 schools. If you're interested in joining us, please check our fan page on Facebook or contact me here or on my twitter.

There is also an action in Casablanca called : A Gloden Wave. For more details, here is their Event page.

I'll leave you with this cool video that encompasses the whole spirit of the Global Work Party in a rather artsy way. You can find more details on the campaign on 350.org.

Have a great Sunday!

Lamia Ben.

TEDxCasablanca: An event in review

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Image courtesy: TED.com  
 

Disclaimer: Ok, I gotta be honest, it’s a half review since I couldn’t stay till the end although I wished I could!

 

TEDxCasablanca is the first TEDx event to take place in Morocco. I secretly envied the organizers because the idea was lurking in my head since last May but I just didn’t get the time to think about it seriously. In the end, I’m just glad someone did it! The event, which obviously took place in Casablanca last Saturday, was greatly orchestrated within the calm atmosphere of the Mohammed Sekkat Library. Between the great books and the enlightening insights, we couldn’t but marvel at the beauty of sharing, of openness and of the amazing gift that is the human mind.

What I liked about the event:

  •        It’s a TEDx! It’s inspiring by construct
  •        Well organized, not much of delays
  •        Speakers from all walks of life: Public sector, business, art…
  •        I finally got to meet @Hisham_G (more about this later!)
  •        I loved the fact that not all presentation were in French!
  •        I got to catch up with friends as well

What I disliked:

  •        The Food: Just kidding, I’m not that lame!
  •        Internet Access: Would’ve loved to live-tweet and interact with the audience. I really hope the upcoming event will take this vital geeky need into account

The event started by a brief presentation from the man behind the event. Mr El Ourouba talked about how knowledge has metamorphosed from point to point to multipoint to multipoint thanks to web 2.0 and TED-like communities. He also brought to attention that there are 3 golden rules to grasping knowledge:

  •        Open mind
  •        Tolerance to difference
  •        Embracing new ideas

1st  talk: The power of non domination

Speaker: Mr Driss Alaoui Mdaghri

Main ideas: When we talk about leadership, we are often speaking out of a domination logic. While it could certainly drive success, leadership doesn’t not necessarily lead to happiness nor the happiness of people around us. Success is rather achieving our objectives together, no domination involved.

  •        Every decision we ever make has a negative aspect to it.
  •        Every decision triggers legitimate opposition. Don’t fight it; embrace it.
  •        Everything is important and nothing is important. Accept that tiny actions can often have tremendous effect
  •        We’re social animals, our professional lives are a continuum of our personal lives.
  •        Always put yourself in people’s shoes to understand their motives and difficulties
  •        It’s important to dominate your real or symbolic violence, your anger for instance.
  •        Art saves humanity. Permanent creativity is an absolute need for people and societies
  •        Art teaches us Freedom: Do it your own way!

 

2nd talk: Identity is diversity

Speaker: Mr Ahmed Ghayet

Main ideas:

  •        Diversity, plurality, tolerance… have become Big words
  •        Growing up in Barbes – France makes one feel he’s a citizen of the world (multiple nationalities, rich cultures…)
  •        Everyone of us holds a plurality within himself that could be beneficial to the “us”
  •        We need to rethink our identity with a constructive spirit, with addition in mind (not subtraction, nor division)
  •        We needn’t be afraid of who we are, rather proud but not arrogant.
  •        The enemy of identity isn’t openness but withdrawal and confinement

3rd talk: Morocco 2.0

Speaker: Mr Taieb Debbagh

Main ideas:

  •        Prospective: approach that aims to prepare for the future by elaborating scenarios based on the available data
  •        Generations have changed from Digital retards – Digital immigrants to Digital Natives (Generation Y)
  •        As water and electricity, the flow of information via Internet is going to become a given
  •        Enterprise 2.0 is the future of enterprise
  •        Administration 2.0 is the future of public Sector (egov.ma)
  •        M-commerce (purchasing via mobile) is supplanting e-commerce
  •        Education 2.0 is becoming collaborative and collective.

 

4th talk: from culture in general, to the documentary in particular

Speaker: Mrs Nezha Drissi

Main ideas:

  •        There is nothing as powerful as sharing to help us face our solitude of creating
  •        He who wants to do something finds a way, he who doesn't finds an excuse
  •        Today’s utopia is tomorrow’s reality
  •        Documentaries are tools for popular education
  •        Documentaries share the vision of the producer, therefore are subjective
  •        A society that isn't open can’t be enriched, nor will it enrich others
  •        FIDADOC: International festival of documentary is taking place in Agadir, 9-13 November 

 

5th talk: I blog, therefore I am

Speaker: Mr Hisham Khribchi

Main ideas:

  •        Eugene deLacroix thought truth existed only among individuals, not among the masses
  •        Web 2.0 have given people the chance to create content of their own
  •        Web 2.0 gives voice to citizens and a stage for them so they can be heard
  •        Morocco = stereotypes: Camels that run in the streets of Casablanca as you may have all noticed
  •        There are few details about the density and passion of our lives
  •        It now takes less that 6 degrees of separation to reach people on the web (5 for Facebook, 4 for Twitter)
  •        TalkMorocco has been created to overtake the francophone sphere reigning Morocco

I’m a great fan of Mr Hisham’s work and dedication to a noble cause that is Freedom of speech and human rights. He even was kind enough to grant me an autograph that I’ll cherish along with my Seth Godin and Tariq Ramadan dedicated Books. You must be jealous, I know!

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6th talk: DabaTeatr: anchoring here and creating for the long drive (in dialect Arabic)

Speakers: Mr Hisham Khribchi

Main ideas:

  •        People don’t dream as they used to
  •        We need to educate our children to believe in their dreams.
  •        Dreams educate
  •        Theater offers the possibility to dream
  •        In the continuum of everyday life, theater brings pauses
  •        The state needs to realize how art is important to the education
  •        Dabateatr: bringing theater to the center of community


My adventure with TEDxCasablanca stops here. Kudos to the organizers who brought us an exquisite event that we hope will get only better and better in the upcoming editions.

More details about the speakers can be found on: http://www.tedxcasablanca.com/

 

Lamia Ben

Arab Techies Women gathering: An event in review – Part 2

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Image courtesy of Imen Ben Achour

This blog post is the 2nd part of my review of the exceptional event Arab Techie Women Gathering held in Lebanon from 11 to 14th May.


Discussion panel by Hala Deeb : Free and Open Source Software

The second discussion panel that took place was presented by the prominent young entrepreneur and Linux Geek Hala Deeb. The panel dubbed “Free and Open source software” brought up some interesting points relative to the state of FOSS in the Arab world. Sure enough, the battle for open source is still a long way to go and the FOSS case needs to be backed up by competent organizations and communities. The participants shared what seem to be embryonic initiatives from their countries to help spread the open source culture and encourage FOSS usage by Arab particulars and companies.


Workshop: Mapping of information

I had the opportunity to be part of an interesting workshop relative to the Mapping of information. The workshop was conducted by Laila Shereen Sakr (the R-shief.org lady) and resolved into creating a visualization of tweets that have been shared using the hashtag #ATWomen (the official hashtag for the event). The project is still a work in progress as the team has been through conceptualization, Data extraction and will map the tweet on a Diaporama of the physical space where we’ve been gathering. The results will be available in few days; I’m surely very excited to see how they’ll turn out.

The workshop was very enriching since I learned about “the language of new media” a book by Lev Manovich that mainly tries to “analyze the language of new media by placing it within the history of modern visual and media cultures” (as stated in the book’s introduction). I also discovered <a href=" http://processing.org/“>processing, an open source programming language and environment for setting up images, animations or interactions. While browsing the website I was very impressed by projects that have been made based on processing, such as the “Just Landed” project by Jer Thorp. More projects can be explored on the exhibition part of the processing website.

This is how far my note taking goes for the first day of the gathering, more to come on the 3rd post of the series. Until then, I wish you a great weekend!


Lamia Ben

Arab techies Women gathering: an event in review – Part 1

 

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The event

 

It has been a really amazing week in the presence of inspiring women from all over the Arab world at the ATWomen gathering, held in Lebanon from 11 to 14th May. The event was organized by Arab techies and Smex in the lovely Youth center of the city of Jouneh – Lebanon.

 

ATWomen was organized basically to bring Arab women techies under the spotlight and give them a voice in a male dominated field. The gathering was an opportunity for women leaders from around the Arab World to meet and exchange ideas and expertise. The blending of the different cultures was quite interesting to observe but it only proved how diversity is the greatest catalyst of innovation.

 

The event was very "cozy" which made it even more enjoyable. Every day was a mixture of workshops, discussion panels and projects' presentations. And what was truly amazing was “the water cooler effect” that reined the coffee breaks. Ideas were floating everywhere and many collaboration possibilities were looming in the air. 

 

Day 1

 

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Photo courtesy: smex.org

 

I have truly enjoyed every presentation and every workshop I was able to attend. On this first blog post of the series, I’ll try to present some of the ideas I took note of on the morning of the first day.

 

Discussion panel by Nadine Moawad about: Gender and ICT

 

I have once asked the question why is the blogosphere male dominated? And this panel was truly refreshing. Geeky female presence in the virtual realm leaves a lot to be desired and the problem is, as stated in a WSJ article, “… twofold. First, you have women's own self-limiting views of themselves… but equally problematic are the stereotypes, perceptions and expectations…” that believe women far from being good at anything Geeky.

Nadine presented a very interesting initiative called: take back the tech – Arabia, which aims inter alia to encourage, train, and support young women to use ICTs creatively, purposefully, and efficiently and incites them to geek up and venture into tech-related careers.

 


Projects’ presentations:

 

       Wiki Syria: presented by nada Albunni. Collaborating on wikis for a better translation and far more accurate information.

       R-shief.org: presented by Laila Shereen Sakr. A working environment that integrates existing open source software in order to archive 21st century knowledge production on the Middle East/ North Africa and its Diaspora.

       Mizaj: presented by Mira Loutfi a web platform for promoting young unsigned musicians

       Arab Digital expression summer camps: presented by Ranwa Yehia which is a summer camp program for Arab youth aged 12 to 15 encouraging the use of ICTs for digital expression and artistic creation.

 

Ok, I think I have been long enough; these were basically the ideas/projects that have been officially presented on the first morning. If you are interested to know more about the projects, or have an idea that could help these initiatives, please leave a comment or contact me on @lammiia.

 

Lamia Ben