Ctrl-Alt-Del: rebooting my career

January 29th, 2010

After fifteen years in speech, language and Internet technology, I’m about to make a big career shift. Three weeks from now,  on February 22, I will join the ranks of the TeleAtlas/TomTom engineering force in the beautiful city of Ghent, on a permanent, full-time basis. My task: contribute to various process automation and improvement initiatives.

The reasons for this change are manifold, as they always are.

Firstly, I was craving to work (again) in an environment that blends innovation culture with a clear international dimension. Over the last five and a half years, I have had the chance to work on a number of international opportunities, ranging from the Beavis and Butthead Hotline to a project for a speaker verification company in Ireland. But in between, and all too often, I had the feeling to be missing out on much of the professional fun. This situation could not last forever.

Secondly, every now and then it’s good to enter a domain (geographical data management and applications) that is both new enough to be intellectually stimulating, and familiar enough to be digestible in a reasonably short time-frame. I’m very much looking forward to applying software development automation, process improvement and/or machine learning techniques in this new setting.

Thirdly, it will be great to have real colleagues again. However hospitable a customer’s working environment may be,  a freelancer fundamentally stays an outsider; however amicable relations with partner companies may be, there generally is no Big Plan or Strategy guiding your actions in a direction that goes further than your next assignment.

It’s not that we haven’t tried, as an industry. Since 2005, the Speech Technology Workgroup of ContactCentres.be have put a lot of effort into getting the speech technology business (back) on track in the Belgian telco and call center world. Our seminars in Diegem and Brussels have featured a number of local success stories. But the fact remains that the adoption of speech technology in this country has been slower than in the Anglo-Saxon world, Germany or France. A bizarre blend of overconfidence and lack of ambition from the major local players is one reason. Another one is the refusal of government agencies and state-run companies to programmatically open up public data for the innovative developer community (contrast this with data.gov and data.gov.uk).

Don’t get me wrong:  our industry pipeline does have a few high-profile speech projects coming up. But they won’t be for me anymore. It’s time to (let) go.

My life as a freelancer has brought me to some interesting (read: sunny) places like Silicon Valley, Mallorca and Cannes. It has also put me in contact with a number of smart and driven people who have made a difference to me. Special thanks, in no particular order, go out to Alain, Jean-Marc, Vincent, Peter, Vincent, Jon, David, Myriam and Patrick. We’ll be in touch.

And now for something completely different.

ScrumMaster Certification

December 8th, 2009

For years I have been practising various aspects of agile software development, commonly used in speech technology projects. Short iterations, test-driven development, self-organising teams: been there, done that. But explaining how and why to other people wasn’t always easy. So after a brief lookout, I decided to further consolidate my agile knowledge by taking the Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) course and exam. Which I did last week and today, respectively.

The 61 multiple choice questions took about 35 minutes to answer. Thanks to an acceptable score, I was able to add another acronym to my CV. So if you’re looking for a CSM with MBA, MA and MSc degrees who is certified in VXML and knows how to program a.o. in PHP, do send me an SMS.

Announcement: eComm Europe in Amsterdam, Oct. 28-30, 2009

June 3rd, 2009

After previous editions in Silicon Valley, the widely acclaimed eComm conference is now coming to Europe! If there’s one conference that European telecom innovators and strategists shouldn’t miss, this is it. See you in Amsterdam?

Interview in Vacature Magazine about ROI of MBA

May 31st, 2009

This week’s issue of Vacature Magazine (Belgium’s most widely circulated HR magazine) features an interview (in Dutch) with two fellow managers and myself about the question: does an MBA repay itself?

Interview in Vacature Magazine May 30 2009 on ROI of MBA

The obvious answer is: it depends. The most important payback factors are timing, personal drive & involvement, and immediate on-the-job applicability. My activities today are largely based on the business plan I wrote as my final MBA project at Vlerick Leuven Ghent Management School. So the decision back in 2002 to pursue an MBA has certainly steered my life in its current direction. But that’s true for any decision, of course. Time is unidirectional, without backtracking, so what-if questions are largely irrelevant.

This being said, the philosophical answer is: if you feel you need an MBA, find a program that suits you, get qualified, and then go for it. Don’t let the future happen, make it happen.

Or, as William of Orange said: One need not hope in order to undertake; nor succeed in order to persevere.

Bronze INCA Award for voice application offering realtime Belgian train times

May 14th, 2009

Last Tuesday at the iMinds conference in Ghent my speech application prototype with realtime Belgian train times got a Bronze INCA Award. Here’s what the jury had to say:

A practical application shows the clear potential for new applications by voice via any phone using public data and open APIs (that are unfortunately not available yet).

About 25% of my code and time was indeed spent on the development of an (obviously) invisible screen-scraping Web service layer on top of www.railtime.be. Judgeing from the feedback I got before, during and after iMinds, there would have been 5 or 10 times as many public transport related INCA submissions, if only Infrabel, De Lijn, MIVB etcetera had done the effort of opening up their internal web services to the development community.

Bronze INCA Award for Realtime Belgian train times application at iMinds 2009 in Ghent

So, in case the folks at IBBT and the newly to-be-elected politicians are looking for a low-cost initiative with an immediate impact on innovation and value creation in the local ICT sector: have the Belgian and Flemish government agencies and companies open up their data. Make this your top priority for this year. No, this month. No, this week!

INCA Award submission, in French

April 28th, 2009

Since the train delay voice application demo submitted for the INCA Award does not only exist in Dutch, I thought a French video was also in order. Here it is:

INCA Award submission

April 28th, 2009

Yesterday afternoon I submitted my proposal for the INCA Award. Read all about it on http://traininfo.i-speech.com/.

Or just watch this video:

Announcement: iMinds conference in Ghent on May 12, 2009

April 26th, 2009

In two weeks’s time the Flemish Institute for BroadBand Technology (IBBT) is hosting a new networking event called iMinds. This conference is the sequel of the 5-year old IBBT Brokerage event.

What’s more, IBBT also announced an excellent new initiative for innovative developers: the INCA Awards, with €20K in prize money. The deadline for submission is tomorrow evening – still working on my project! The winners will be awarded at the same iMinds conference on May 12.


See you in Ghent!

BT’s Martin Geddes speaking virtually on new telco business models at eComm09

March 24th, 2009

Unlike last year, I wasn’t able to make it to the eComm09 conference in Silicon Valley. Neither was Martin Geddes, Head of Strategy at BT Design, but he was kind enough to record and publish his keynote address:

Required listening for all telco & call centre strategists!

Announcement: Plugg conference, Brussels, March 12, 2009

February 27th, 2009

See the Plugg website for more details on this European Web startup conference. I’ll be there.