Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Review: The Education of Millionaires

The Education of Millionaires contains a damning analysis of the US higher education system (and likely soon-to-follow in the UK given recent rises in tuition fees).  Basically, it concludes that it is no longer fit for purpose (and actually in something of bubble). 

Ellsberg argues that the cost of higher education ($100K+ to get a degree and then a Masters)  makes it an increasingly risky proposition in today's economic environment ie a quality formal education no longer entitles you to a job paying enough to even clear your debts (never mind profit from the investment).  Further he charges the skills developed within the higher education system are of limited use in the real world (and hence the high numbers of graduates struggling to find even low paid jobs).  And this applies even to the business schools.

Lastly, he suggests that reliance on a single burst of higher education in a person's life isn't enough to guarantee job security.  In other words, the old adage, beloved of middle class parents everywhere, of get a good (ie university) education in order to secure a good job no longer holds water.  The education ain't what it used to be, and the jobs are often not good or secure.

As someone who has both studied (and worked) in higher education I have a lot of sympathy with Ellsberg's point of view.  Most courses are designed to teach a limited set of skills which are mostly of use to students wanting a career in academia.   In fairness, quite a few tenured academics will freely confess this if asked (and often bemoan the floods of students washing up to their lectures who have neither the ability or interest to follow a career path in academia).   Many students, in turn, appear to sense something is wrong (especially once they start looking for work) but cannot put their finger on the problem.   Note, this isn't a complete slamming of higher education (on my part at least), for some careers it is still a hugely valuable path to take.

Fortunately, Ellsberg has a solution. He suggests young people model their development on that of successful self-made non-conventionally educated business people even if their ultimate goal is to be a employee.   He boils this down to 7 key skills (accompanied by case studies from the self-made rich):
  • Work out what a meaningful life is for you
  • Find great mentors
  • Learn marketing
  • Learn sales
  • Continuously re-invest in your own self education
  • Build your personal brand
  • Develop an entrepreneurial mindset (rather than an employee one)
Again, as a self-confessed autodidact who enjoys bootstrapping small internet experiments in my spare time and coming up with/implementing unsolicited stuff in my day job this approach (and the effect) mirrors much of my own experience. Usefully, I found plenty to chew on myself (sales, marketing, personal branding and networking chiefly)

There is some fantastic practical advice here - and I would have happily read a lot more of it although the case studies add a great human dimension.  Even if you don't end up agreeing with the book - I think it's an eye opening look at a different way to be successful. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

3 reasons why Steve Jobs is right (and wrong) about Google

The Register has a few choice quotes from Steve Jobs' new biography which is out on Monday. He has some particularly incendiary stuff to say about Google and Android.

Android is "grand theft"

I have some sympathy with this. The iPhone was the first smartphone to get it 'right' in my experience - i.e. produce a smartphone for ordinary humans that was quick and easy to use.

I had a smartphone (the O2 XDA exec) and while it did everything it said on the box, it wasn't particularly nice to use. You needed a stylus to make it have a chance of hitting the icons on the screen and it was darn slow.  Sometimes, due to button placement and the time it took to get it out of its case - you either accidentally disconnected the incoming call or it went to voice mail because you couldn't open it up in time.

If you were going to pick a phone to copy...ahem...improve on - the iPhone was definitely it.

So Android definitely learnt a lot from iOS.  But who doesn't stand on the shoulders of giants in the tech world nowadays?  And it's clear that Apple is not adverse to learning from Android from time to time either (notifications anyone?)

"I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."

Never going to happen, Steve. Here's why. There will always be a market for Android while Apple's phone offerings are either 2+ year old tech (3Gs) or £400+.

I had the first generation of iPhone because I needed a new MP3 player and  I managed to buy it new for £150 and unlock/jailbreak it.  That seemed like decent value. It was fifty quid more than an iPod touch and the extra cash bought a camera and a phone. 

Fast forward a few years and my latest smartphone is an Orange San Francisco. Under a hundred quid and better specs in most respects. Similarly, the Android OS has quite a few more features than iOS and they aren't locked down (e.g. tethering).  But it's real clunky compared to iOS.  Settings are often buried deep.  There's plenty of interface clutter and Marketplace...

Sure I'd like to have upgraded to the iPhone 4 earlier in the year but it's not 4-5x as good as my San Francisco.  Siri may yet help tip the balance back again though. Android's voice stuff is an embarrassment (at least in the UK).

The caveat to all of this, of course, are all of the patent battles going on between Apple and practically everyone else.  I suspect no-one, except the lawyers, will come out smiling after those.

Google is making products "that are adequate but not great. They're turning [Google] into Microsoft"

Steve is absolutely right on this. Outside of search (and perhaps Gmail), including Android, Google's recent offerings lack a certain polish or even vision. 

For all of the hoopla around Google Plus it isn't yet a place I'd go to instead of Facebook (or even as well as if I'm honest). Circles is a considerable step forward in managing your contacts and the uploading of pics from my Android phone is great but Plus seems like a collection of bits and pieces rather than a proper destination at the moment.

So like Buzz and Wave before it - I don't quite get it. Now that was true of Twitter to start with but within a few minutes it just clicked.   I'd love to be wrong about Plus. Perhaps there is a simple profound vision for Plus - but I'm not seeing it yet.

There's no excuse for it either - Google have some of the best techs in the world and must have reams of useability/market data.  I'm not sure the approach of letting a thousand flowers bloom is entirely working right now.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Review: The Fear Index

The Fear Index is thriller writer, Robert Harris' latest and this time he tackles the murky world of automated trading, hedge funds and artificial intelligence.

Alex Hoffman,  the billionaire owner of a algorithmic hedge fund is having a very bad day.  Normally, such a person wouldn't be deserving of anyone's sympathy but Alex is an unworldly physics geek turned super-quant and he's not really in it for the money (honest). 

As is normal with many of these kinds of books (Crichton I'm looking at you) all of the author's research is lovingly woven into a fairly sparse plot, punctuated by blasts of financial exposition and populated by thinly but sometimes amusingly drawn characters.   Thankfully the flashes of wry humour lift it slightly above most airport novel fodder.

I found it a fairly compulsive fun read (and showing a little more restraint than the average Clive Cussler who I normally rely on to provide this kind of guilty pleasure). As a result I happily devoured most of it while the missus was at her evening class.

Whether you will enjoy it - depends a lot on your interest in the subject matter. Personally, the geeky finance and automated trading stuff ticked all of the boxes for me - even if I didn't really warm to any of the characters or their plight.   And the central conceit has been done much more interestingly before eg Neuromancer.

Buy it from Amazon.co.uk >