Two really interesting experiences yesterday at DePaul University in Chicago.

My first meeting was with James Moore, who studies and teaches Internet marketing.  We did an on-camera interview on blogging, social networking, and marketing that was plain-and-simple fun.  The best part of a teacher bringing in a supposed industry expert to their classroom (virtually, in the initial engagement) is when the outsider pretty much confirms everything the teacher is saying in the first place.  

One of the most interesting questions that he asked, though, and the one that was hardest for me to answer, was in the context of discussing these topics, what career advice did I have for his students?  I stumbled for a while and then decided that the best advice I could give was to contribute to innovation.   In so many industries, innovation is now the competitive differentiator.  As such, companies are learning to adopt to new ideas, regardless of where they come from in the organization.  This is hugely different from my first job out of university, where I was routinely derided and ridiculed for my ideas.  I'm not sure why I was supposed to get excited when our "marketing guy" came up with such impressive taglines as "save time and money", but the fact that I had the audacity to suggest alternatives was not looked upon favorably.  Now, I feel that more and more organizations are open to creative thinking...at least at times.  The question is whether a 23 year-old new hire can get traction for their ideas and innovation -- and the hope would be that the new tools make the -idea- the focus, not the originator.

In the evening, I joined Professor Danny Mittleman's class on "virtual collaboration in the workplace".  There, I gave a presentation for a little more than an hour about the collaboration market, industry trends, and Lotus Notes and Domino.  Few of the students had ever worked with Notes, but they listened attentively anyway.  I promised them not to give a sales pitch, and instead to give them ideas about what the technology did and why, and how companies come to use Notes.  

What was interesting about the class is that Professor Mittleman, and his students, are very into investigating, and using, a variety of collaboration tools.  About half the students were not in the classroom, connected instead via a product called Wimba and a group VoIP call on Skype.  Wimba crapped out about 2/3rds of the way through my presentation.  After the break, it was somewhat amusing to watch the class try a number of different other technologies to set up an e-meeting.  (Note to self: I really need to set up a Sametime Unyte code of my own, and stop piggy-backing on other meetings).  There was some definite irony to the technical challenges, which Professor Mittleman brings up here.

I stayed to listen to a couple of student presentations, including one on Central Desktop and one on SharePoint.  It was interesting to hear these perspectives on technologies in the market.  These students did good research, but it was interesting to hear something I view as "complicated" described as "robust".  They also didn't really see any downsides, other than the price of some of the products.  In the course of discussing these two, and my own presentation, we talked about Twitter (which I am planning to start using more seriously, instead of or in addition to Plazes that was on this blog), Google Sites, and a SharePoint project called "classroom online" that was built at DePaul, and took three developers two years to make something real out of it.  But I thought SharePoint was easy :-)

Thank you to both James and Danny for what was a really enjoyable afternoon and evening.  Thanks to the students for listening and asking great questions, and for the feedback as well.  This is really a great way to spend some time sharing expertise, and I look forward to some other, similar opportunities in the future.

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