What I have learned working with scientists in my time at Amazon


What I have learned working with scientists in my time at Amazon about building algorithms for solving business problems.

For the past few years I have been working with Amazon’s Machine Learning University. My role has been to help them scale and reach more Amazonian’s. We accomplished this by creating a learning platform with supportive course content, an emphasis on strong visual and interactive learning. We basically flipped the classroom. My focus has always been to put the experience of the learner first. Providing a clean design, removing noise, with engaging content so the student can focus on learning. The approach has been a great success in teaching Amazonian’s to solve Amazon business problems with Machine Learning.

Enough on what I did and back to what I have learned.

I think one of the first lessons was the importance of gathering data. Data is at the core of understanding the problem. We often approach problems in business or personal for that matter without taking in good data. We lack a complete understanding of the problem.

Until you have data you really can’t build an understanding of what ground truth is. This is very important because everything builds from ground truth. You must explore and visualize your data to establish this. You need to make sure you understand the details that may be hidden in your data. Establish things like context, sentiment, frequency to establish relevancy. Remove the unimportant stuff and focus on what is really important. To do this you may have to do the math, yes, the math. Math is the magic used manipulate and visualize your data. This may sound simple but remember its math. There may be some work to do as you build your algorithm and try and find ground truth. You may need to do some tuning, adjusting your algorithm there is not always a predefined path but more of a process or framework to help you get to your final output.

It is at this point, the point when you see things clearly. But that’s not it. There is something bigger than solving the problem. What? As you know solving problems can sometimes be like putting your finder on the dike. The problem may come again or one like it.

The real value comes in prediction. Now that you can see clearly what has happened in the past and today using insights from your data you can start to predict what will happen next. It’s something Amazon does very well. You know “I see that you purchased that guitar, would you like to look at guitar for dummies or perhaps something to tune that thing please. It’s the secrete sauce, yes, I’d like to solve my problems in the future.

There is one more thing and it maybe my favorite. In my time at Amazon I have discusses quantum physics, robots & rocket science and lots of other geeky fun topics sometimes while playing ping pong. What a privilege that has been to work with some truly inspiring people at Amazon. That said the real insights I gained where from working with the amazing people at Amazon. It’s their drive to solve problems, innovate, willingness to work hard and learn as they go. I’ve worked with some of the smartest people I have ever met here. Many of them are physicists, mathematics masters and rocket scientists. Yet they don’t pretend to know the all answers but they do know how to work hard to get them. I also appreciated the great leadership I worked with in my time at Amazon. Nothing happens in an organization without true leaders and inspiring people who establish clear expectations and remove obstacles it’s truly part of the algorithm for success.


Instructional and Learning Experience Design


Hats off to this series of blog posts by Intrepid Learning.


Series: Declaration of Modern Learner Rights blog posts VIA – Intrepid Learning

I just ran across this great series of blog entries from my friends at Intrepid Learning by Sam Herring on LinkedIn. Besides being a local company here in Seattle I’ve always respected the great work they do. I was first introduced to their work while I was at T-Mobile. I also respect their accessibility locally and involvement in ATD. Sam Herring who is CEO at Intrepid served on the ATD board of directors for 4 years and made big contributions to the learning community. Here is an interview I did with Sam for the ATD Puget Sound 2012 Workplace Learning Conference.


There are some really great blog articles in this series. I recommend you check them out and sign up to follow their blog. Don’t forget to download the cool infographic from the blog article I ♥ infographics . Enjoy!




Are you ready for the next iteration of SCORM? You better be!

With tool makers like Lectora and Articulate on-board with #tincanapi it is time to start paying attention. Everyday I hear of another company that is jumping in. Is your organization ready? It’s a game changer. Companies need to start looking at building a learning technology road-map so they don’t get left in the dust. We now have new ways of understanding how and what people are learning. You can look at real data for learning outside an LMS. But don’t take my word for it – join the conversation.

A good place to start is my conversations with Aaron Silvers of ADL and Tim Martin of Rustici at LSCon 2012. Then follow my interviews with Ali and Russell of SaltBox. Saltbox jumped on board early with Project Tin Can. Russell has been an active contributor in refining Tin Can. Saltbox has created some technology to record statements from the Tin Can API called an LRS or Learning Record Store. Saltbox has developed Wax LRS, a Learning Record Store with analytics using the Tin Can API.. Project Tin Can really made a big show at mLearnCon 2012 by creating a special area dedicated to Project Tin Can called Tin Can Alley. Several companies showed support and jumped on board. Companies like Float Mobile Leaning with their release of Tappestry, a social learning app that is first to hit the market place leveraging Tin Can. Tin Can created quite a buzz. One of the things I like about the eLearning Guild is they really showcase current trends and technologies. They have their eye on the ball as they say.

Last week I conducted a few follow up interviews with my friends at Saltbox. Saltbox is located downtown Seattle and is part of SURF Incubator and collaborative work space for startu-ups. Check out my conversations with @alishahrazad & @fugu13 of @saltboxservices about what is going on with the next iteration of SCORM.

My interview with Russell Duhon CTO Saltbox Services

My Interview with Ali Shahrazad Co-Founder Saltbox Services

Rapid Video Development for Trainers A Book Review

When I was serving on the ASTD Technowledge planning committee I had the pleasure of working with Jonathan Halls. Jonathan and I went for coffee after the final planning committee meeting. We shared ideas as well as our passion for video, it was a one of those great conversations. Jonathan knows his stuff, he was a learning executive at the BBC, where he ran the prestigious production training department. Jonathan has also taught media and learning for almost 20 years. He is currently an adjunct professor at George Washington University.

I was flattered when Johnathon asked if he could interview me for the book he was writing. Of-course I agreed. As you would expect for a professional like Jonathon, the interview was a lot of fun and he brought out my best. A few months went by and then I received a package form Johnathan in the mail, it was the book and a nice hand written note of thank you.

I was excited to dig in and read the book. Right away I could see that Johnathon had put something together that would really be valuable for anyone interested in starting a great video program for their organization. Jonathan has great attention to detail and it shows in this book. There are so many little nuggets in this book. I like the way he explains things so that anyone can understand. The book is laid out nicely and includes photos and illustrations to demonstrate some important techniques. As an added value you can access videos to support some of the key points in the book.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in video. Not only should you read it end to end but keep it close by to use it as a reference.
The book is published by ASTD Press and is available here.

Here is Jonathon’s website.

Jonathan Halls & Associates

Getting the most out of attending a conference

I remember the first few conferences I attended, I was not sure what to expect and how to get the most out of it. Since then I have attended and spoke a lot of conferences, I believe I now know how to get what I need out of them. I thought I would put a short list of ways to get the most out of attending any conference.

  • Before you leave review the conference schedule closely and read about the presenters.
  • Establish an objective. What do you want to learn about? Decide what sessions you are interested in attending.
  • Know who you want to network with or get to know when you are there?
  • If you have contacts that may be there it may be good to reach out before the conference gets going if you want to meet up. The conference will go by a lot faster than you think and you may not get the chance.
  • Download the conference app to your mobile device before you leave and spend some time getting to know it.
  • If you are not on Twitter sign up. Even if you don’t plan on continuing after the conference it is still worth it. If you actively participate in the Twitter stream you may just see the value in it and can apply what you learn for future Twitter use after the conference.
  • Follow the back-channel on social media. There are a lot of people blogging about most conferences on personal blogs, official blogs, linkedin groups, Google +. Watch for the conference hash tag on these sites.
  • Get there early first day, don’t be late, sleep in or be rushed. Get up early and have a good breakfast and coffee up if that is what gets you going in the morning.
  • Attend all the keynotes. The keynote speakers are usually great and there are defiantly some ones this year.
  • Don’t sleep…ok just kidding but don’t hide in your hotel room. I know the rooms at the hotel rooms are fantastic and the fuzzy robes are comfy or so I hear, but you need to get out in the evenings. Meet people, go to dinner (there will be dinner group postings at the event), strike up conversations in the bar. Set a goal to meet new people, share, converse, engage and network.
  • Take notes, exchange cards, scan QR codes. If you don’t have a QR code reader and you have a smartphone then download one from the market place.
  • Go to the Expo. See what companies are doing. See how new technologies are emerging to make your job easier.
  • Most of all have fun. Fun is infectious. It makes you interesting and people will want to talk to you.

Looking forward to seeing you at the next conference and please feel free to come up and say hi.


Mobile and the Medical field

I have been researching at vertical or specialty markets for mobile learning. One area that has really peeked my interest is the medical field. I have noticed that the doctors I have visited lately have all had laptops or desktops computers in their exam rooms. On a recent visit to a specialist the doctor interviewed me entering information into his laptop. After he was finished he popped in a VHS video in a VCR connected to a tiny little TV and left me to watch it. I could not help thinking about the opportunity here. He could have combined the technologies and had both on one ipad. The video could also have had interactive content allowing me to dig deeper if I had any questions. I can think of many potential applications that would take advantage of the mobile platform. I this case the patient could have learned the baseline information about their diagnosis. What if they wanted to learn more? That same content could be online and the patient could have checked a box or entered an email address so more information could be made available to them after they get home.
Here are some links to additional research I found on the web.