Data Mining 2010:SAS Conference in Vegas

An interesting conference which I attended last year, this year one of the main guests is an ex professor of mine at UTenn. I am India bound this year though for family reasons.

http://www.sas.com/events/dmconf/over.html

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Location
Caesars Palace
Las Vegas, NV

Conference: October 25-26
Pre-conference workshops: October 24
Post-conference training: October 27-29

The M2010 Data Mining Conference is an international educational conference and exhibition for data mining practitioners including analysts, statisticians, programmers, consultants and anyone involved with data management within their organization, Hosted by SAS, M2010 is now in its 13th year and has become the world’s largest data mining conference, attracting over 600 people from various industries including Financial Services, Retail, Insurance, Technology, Education, Healthcare, Pharmaceutical, Government and more.

This conference is the top-choice for serious education and career networking. Conference highlights include

  • 6 keynotes
  • 36 sessions
  • 6 session tracks
  • exhibit hall
  • poster session
  • SAS software training
  • educational workshops
  • special events
  • networking opportunities
  • predictive modeling certification testing event.

Session Topics

  • Business applications
  • Data augmentation
  • Perspectives from the financial services industry
  • Fraud detection
  • Perspectives from the healthcare industry
  • New and emerging technologies
  • Perspectives from the retail industry
  • Data mining in marketing
  • Retention and Life Cycle Analysis
  • Text mining
  • And more! (View session abstracts.)

Wealth = function (numeracy, memory recall)

As per a recent paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research

It has been postulated that wealth is simply a function of your ability to handle numbers as well as recall memory.

That is – answering just three numerical questions for Retirement/ people with age above 50 years. This alone should serve as a wake up call for greater investment in Education (than just banks and corporations).

Citation- NBER

Cognition and Economic Outcomes

Household wealth is strongly associated with numeracy and memory recall.

In Cognition and Economic Outcomes in the Health and Retirement Survey, (NBER Working Paper No. 15266), co-authors John McArdle, James Smith, and Robert Willis show that the ability to answer three simple mathematical questions is a significant predictor of wealth, wealth growth, and wealth composition for people over 50 years of age.

Using data from the Health and Retirement Survey (HRS) — a nationally representative longitudinal survey for the United States, which combines comprehensive information on household wealth with “cognition variables” designed to measure memory, intactness of mental status, numerical reasoning, broad numeracy, and vocabulary — these authors find that household wealth is strongly associated with numeracy and memory recall.

To test memory recall, respondents listened to a list of ten simple nouns, answered other questions for five minutes, and then were asked to recall as many of the nouns as possible. Two-thirds of the HRS survey respondents were able to recall between three and seven of the words. Most respondents answered just one of the three numeric questions correctly.

Answering a numeric question correctly in the three-question sequence was associated with a $20,000 increase in total household wealth and about a $7,000 increase in total financial wealth. Wealth also tended to increase with a higher numeracy score for either spouse in a married couple—when neither spouse answered any numeric questions correctly, which was about 10 percent of the cases, household wealth was about $200,000. When both spouses answered all questions correctly, household wealth was about $1,700,000.

In households where one spouse, the financial respondent, was in charge of finances, household financial wealth was larger if the financial respondent had the higher numeracy score. Answering a question correctly was associated with a $30,000 increase in household wealth if the financial respondent answered correctly and only a $10,000 increase if the non-financial respondent answered correctly. Households with higher numeracy scores were also more likely to have higher fractions of their portfolios in stock.

In this sample, wealth was higher for couples than for single-person households, and lower for minorities than non-minorities. Wealth increased with age and family income, and rose steeply with education. In the HRS, median household wealth was $198,000, and 9 percent of that was held in stocks. Median total income was $37,000, and the typical sample member was a high school graduate.

The authors point out that their exploratory analysis has only established that specific cognitive measures are useful predictors of accumulated wealth and that they have not established causal pathways. It is possible, for example, that a lifetime interest in investments and the stock market can improve numerical ability. However, they note that the fact that numeracy seems to predict total and financial wealth at lower wealth quartiles where people are less likely to be active investors does seem to weigh against a purely reverse pathway from investments to cognitive ability.

— Linda Gorman

Speaking of Educational Programs I came across a good example on education in numeracy –

SAS Institute has been working in the field in the following  manner- directly as provider of SAS® Curriculum Pathways®

Fully funded by SAS and offered at no cost to US educators and students, SAS Curriculum Pathways is designed to enhance student achievement and teacher effectiveness by providing Web-based curriculum resources in all the core disciplines: English, math, science, social studies/history and Spanish, to educators and students in grades 8-14 in virtual schools, home schools, high schools and community colleges.

I believe other statistical softwares (like RE Computing, IBM SPSS , etc ) can also donate a small part of their product portfolio to K12 education (not just college education) as well. Education is an area where software companies especially in the field of statistics and analytics, co-operation and co-mpetition can co-exist to enhance the pool of potential developers , users and enhance life skills in numeracy as well .

Digitization to help education: Blackboard

At University of Tennessee, we use a digital solution called BlackBoard. This helps streamline communiction as well as enables us to cut down down on paper usage, besides capturing a lot of data for analysis and course improvement.

Basically it helps capture data for the following-

1) How often and ehen precisely did instructors announce change in syllabus, announcements, homework

2) Grades are posted online and students can see their grade with average and s.d of whole class ( FERPA – A federal law restricts making comparisons between students or telling them another person grades)

3) Lectures are recorded by Video ( and can be seen but not downloaded). Thus good lectures and courses can possibly be offered as digital courses or donated to suitable causes.

4) Instructors can see from analytics ( web) when and how often students referred to the course specific site. This helps them in understanding needs for students who may be lagging behind.

5) It has the facillity for polls to give constant feedback to instuctor during the course.

6) All slides and course material is shared securely without being accessible to outside web thus ensuring intellectual property protection for the course contents ( a policy I disagree with mildly- and sites like StudyBlue now offer students incentives to post the same content back for sharing)

7) Much better version control than lots of email floating with attachments or lots of printouts of slides per lecture. Digitization saves costs AND is good for student.

Eg A high school in Harlem or say in rural East Tennessee lacks good maths teachers. Using Digitization, Online Video and inexpensive solutions- students in far off schools can possibly share video lectures from the best private maths tutors ( at exclusive California or Dc schools). Technology can thus help bridge the technical instructor divide without  rampant labour cost destroying offshoring- and it is heartening to see some companies like SAS Education go for On Demand educational solutions ( though more SAS focussed and not basic maths or stats focussed) Even SAP has a great University partnering program.

bb

SAP and University Alliances

Great Stuff on SAP’s University Network I did exchange emails before turning them over to the Departmental guys-they are really serious on expanding the pool of analysts

more analytics and BI companies should do this- and buzz me at www.twitter.com/decisionstats if you like to do it with U Tenn students- we currently are working on the the world’s biggest super computer at the nearby Oakridge National Lab.

Screenshot-12

Hidden Agenda- Teach the Kids

Win $25K in cold hard cash by creating a better way to teach a high school subject – on Facebook! Get creative. Blow away the competition! The best example of fun and effective “social learning” gets the juicy prize.

Here is the official link and page-

In 2003, a small nonprofit foundation ran the first ever educational video game development contest. With the help of a powerful and exciting advisory board, college students around the country worked throughout the school year to build the best games possible for middle school kids with two key goals – their games had to be FUN. And they had to teach a middle school subject. The prize was $25,000 cash – practically the foundation’s entire operating budget for the year.

The games these students built in 2003 and in the years since then were revolutionary. The winners are available for free at http://www.hagames.com, and more about the contest can be found at http://www.hiddenagenda.com. Several thousand copies of the games have also been distributed on computers donated to underprivileged middle school children in urban areas. And more is being done with them, and the games they’ve inspired, every day.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hidden-Agenda/114956308585

ha

As someone who studies besides , socializes and tries to teach American children ( my coursemates are a decade younger than me)- this is one cool cool way of making the world a better place.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hidden-Agenda/114956308585

Interview Peter J Thomas -Award Winning BI Expert

Here is an in depth interview with Peter J Thomas, one of Europe’s top Business Intelligence expert and influential thought leaders. Peter talks about BI tools, data quality, science careers, cultural transformation and BI and the key focus areas.

I am a firm believer that the true benefits of BI are only realised when it leads to cultural transformation. -Peter James Thomas

 

Ajay- Describe about your early career including college to the present.

Peter –I was an all-rounder academically, but at the time that I was taking public exams in the 1980s, if you wanted to pursue a certain subject at University, you had to do related courses between the ages of 16 and 18. Because of this, I dropped things that I enjoyed such as English and ended up studying Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics. This was not because I disliked non-scientific subjects, but because I was marginally fonder of the scientific ones. In a way it is nice that my current blogging allows me to use language more.

The culmination of these studies was attending Imperial College in London to study for a BSc in Mathematics. Within the curriculum, I was more drawn to Pure Mathematics and Group Theory in particular, and so went on to take an MSc in these areas. This was an intercollegiate course and I took a unit at each of King’s College and Queen Mary College, but everything else was still based at Imperial. I was invited to stay on to do a PhD. It was even suggested that I might be able to do this in two years, given my MSc work, but I decided that a career in academia was not for me and so started looking at other options.

As sometimes happens a series of coincidences and a slice of luck meant that I joined a technology start-up, then called Cedardata, late in 1988; my first role was as a Trainee Analyst / Programmer. Cedardata was one of the first organisations to offer an Accounting system based on a relational database platform; something that was then rather novel, at least in the commercial arena. The RDBMS in question was Oracle version 5, running on VAX VMS – later DEC Ultrix and a wide variety of other UNIX flavours. Our input screens were written in SQL*Forms 2 – later Oracle Forms – and more complex processing logic and reports were in Pro*C; this was before PL/SQL. Obviously this environment meant that I had to become very conversant with SQL*Plus and C itself.

When I joined Cedardata, they had 10 employees, 3 customers and annual revenue of just £50,000 ($80,000). By the time I left the company eight years later, it had grown dramatically to having a staff of 250, over 300 clients in a wide range of industries and sales in excess of £12 million ($20 million). It had also successfully floatated on the main London Stock Exchange. When a company grows that quickly the same thing tends to happen to its employees.

Cedardata was probably the ideal environment for me at the time; an organisation that grew rapidly, offering new opportunities and challenges to its employees; that was fiercely meritocratic; and where narrow, but deep, technical expertise was encouraged to be rounded out by developing more general business acumen, a customer-focused attitude and people-management skills. I don’t think that I would have learnt as much, or progressed anything like as quickly in any other type of organisation.

It was also at Cedardata that I had my first experience of the class of applications that later became known as Business Intelligence tools. This was using BusinessObjects 3.0 to write reports, cross-tabs and graphs for a prospective client, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (State Department). The approach must have worked as we beat Oracle Financials in a play-off to secure the multi-million pound account.

During my time at Cedardata, I rose to become an executive and filled a number of roles including Head of Development and also Assistant to the MD / Head of Product Strategy. Spending my formative years in an organisation where IT was the business and where the customer was King had a profound impact on me and has influenced my subsequent approach to IT / Business alignment.

Ajay- How would you convince young people to take maths and science more? What advice would you give to policy makers to promote more maths and science students?

Peter- While I have used little of my Mathematics directly in my commercial career, the approach to problem-solving that it inculcated in me has been invaluable. On arriving at University, it was something of a shock to be presented with Mathematical problems where you couldn’t simply look up the method of solution in a textbook and apply it to guarantee success. Even in my first year I had to grapple with challenges where you had no real clue where to start. Instead what worked, at least most of the time, was immersing yourself in the general literature, breaking down the problem into more manageable chunks, trying different techniques – sometimes quite recherché ones – to make progress, occasionally having an insight that provides a short-cut, but more often succeeding through dogged determination. All of that sounds awfully like the approach that has worked for me in a business context.

Having said that, I was not terribly business savvy as a student. I didn’t take Mathematics because I thought that it would lead to a career, I took it because I was fascinated by the subject. As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed learning about a wide range of things, but Science seemed to relate to the most fundamental issues. Mathematics was both the framework that underpinned all of the Sciences and also offered its own world where astonishing an beautiful results could be found, independent of any applicability; although it has to be said that there are few braches of Mathematics that have not be applied somewhere or other.

I think you either have this appreciation of Science and Mathematics or you don’t and that this happens early on.

Certainly my interest was supported by my parents and a variety of teachers, but a lot of it arose from simply reading about Cosmology, or Vulcanism, or Palaeontology. I watched a YouTube of Steven Jay Gould recently saying that when he was a child in the 1950s all children were “in” to Dinosaurs, but that he actually got to make a career out of it. Maybe all children aren’t “in” to dinosaurs in the same way today, perhaps the mystery and sense of excitement has gone.

In the UK at least there appears to be less and less people taking Science and Mathematics. I am not sure what is behind this trend. I read pieces that suggest that Science and Maths are viewed as being “hard” subjects, and people opt for “easier” alternatives. I think creative writing is one of the hardest things to do, so I’m not sure where this perspective comes from.

Perhaps some things that don’t help are the twin images of the Scientist as a white-coated boffin and the Mathematician as a chalk-covered recluse, neither of whom have much of a grasp on the world beyond their narrow discipline. While of course there is a modicum of truth in these stereotypes, they are far from being wholly accurate in my experience.

Perhaps Science has fallen off of the pedestal that it was placed on in the 1950s and 1960s. Interest in Science had been spurred by a range of inventions that had improved people’s lives and often made the inventors a lot of money. Science was seen as the way to a better tomorrow, a view reinforced by such iconic developments as the discovery of the structure of DNA, our ever deepening insight about sub-atomic physics and the unravelling of many mysteries of the Universe. These advances in pure science were supported by feats of scientific / engineering achievement such as the Apollo space programme. The military importance of Science was also put into sharp relief by the Manhattan Project; something that also maybe sowed the seeds for later disenchantment and even fear of the area.

The inevitable fallibility of some Scientists and some scientific projects burst the bubble. High-profile problems included the Thalidomide tragedy and the outcry, however ill-informed, about genetically modified organisms. Also the poster child of the scientific / engineering community was laid low by the Challenger disaster. On top of this, living with the scientifically-created threat of mutually-assured destruction probably began to change the degree of positivity with which people viewed Science and Scientists. People arrived at the realisation that Science cannot address every problem; how much effort has gone into finding a cure for cancer for example?

In addition, in today’s highly technological world, the actual nuts and bolts of how things work are often both hidden and mysterious. While people could relatively easily understand how a steam engine works, how many have any idea about how their iPod functions? Technology has become invisible and almost unimportant, until it stops working.

I am a little wary of Governments fixing issues such as these, which are the result of major generational and cultural trends. Often state action can have unintended and perverse results. Society as a whole goes through cycles and maybe at some future point Science and Mathematics will again be viewed as interesting areas to study; I certainly hope so. Perhaps the current concerns about climate change will inspire a generation of young people to think more about technological ways to address this and interest them in pertinent Sciences such as Meteorology and Climatology.

Ajay-. How would you rate the various tools within the BI industry like in a SWOT analysis (briefly and individually)?

Peter- I am going to offer a Politician’s reply to this. The really important question in BI is not which tool is best, but how to make BI projects successful. While many an unsuccessful BI manager may blame the tool or its vendor, this is not where the real issues lie.

I firmly believe that successful BI rests on four mutually reinforcing pillars:

  • understand the questions the business needs to answer,
  • understand the data available,
  • transform the data to meet the business needs and
  • embed the use of BI in the organisation’s culture.

If you get these things right then you can be successful with almost any of the excellent BI tools available in the marketplace. If you get any one of them wrong, then using the paragon of BI tools is not going to offer you salvation.

I think about BI tools in the same way as I do the car market. Not so many years ago there were major differences between manufacturers.

The Japanese offered ultimate reliability, but maybe didn’t often engage the spirit.

The Germans prided themselves on engineering excellence, slanted either in the direction of performance or luxury, but were not quite as dependable as the Japanese.

The Italians offered out-and-out romance and theatre, with mechanical integrity an afterthought.

The French seemed to think that bizarrely shaped cars with wheels as thin as dinner plates were the way forward, but at least they were distinctive.

The Swedes majored on a mixture of safety and aerospace cachet, but sometimes struggled to shift their image of being boring.

The Americans were still in the middle of their love affair with the large and the rugged, at the expense of convenience and value-for-money.

Stereotypically, my fellow-countrymen majored on agricultural charm, or wooden-panelled nostalgia, but struggled with the demands of electronics.

Nowadays, the quality and reliability of cars are much closer to each other. Most manufacturers have products with similar features and performance and economy ratings. If we take financial issues to one side, differences are more likely to related to design, or how people perceive a brand. Today the quality of a Ford is not far behind that of a Toyota. The styling of a Honda can be as dramatic as an Alfa Romeo. Lexus and Audi are playing in areas previously the preserve of BMW and Mercedes and so on.

To me this is also where the market for BI tools is at present. It is relatively mature and the differences between product sets are less than before.

Of course this doesn’t mean that the BI field will not be shaken up by some new technology or approach (in-memory BI or SaaS come to mind). This would be the equivalent of the impact that the first hybrid cars had on the auto market.

However, from the point of view of implementations, most BI tools will do at least an adequate job and picking one should not be your primary concern in a BI project.

Ajay- SAS Institute Chief Marketing Officer, Jim Davis (interviewed with this blog) points to the superiority of business analytics rather than business intelligence as an over hyped term. What numbers, statistics and graphs would you quote rather than semantics to help re direct those perceptions?

I myself use SAS,SPSS, R and find the decision management capabilities as James Taylor calls Decision Management much better enabled than by simple ETL tools or reporting and aggregating graphs tools in many BI tools.

Peter- I have expended quite a lot of energy and hundreds of words on this subject. If people are interested in my views, which are rather different to those of Jim Davis, then I’d suggest that they read them in a series of articles starting with Business Analytics vs Business Intelligence [URL http://peterthomas.wordpress.com/2009/03/28/business-analytics-vs-business-intelligence/ ].

I will however offer some further thoughts and to do this I’ll go back to my car industry analogy. In a world where cars are becoming more and more comparable in terms of their reliability, features, safety and economy, things like styling, brand management and marketing become more and more important.

As the true differences between BI vendors narrow, expect more noise to be made by marketing departments about how different their products are.

I have no problem in acknowledging SAS as a leader in Business Analytics, too many people I respect use their tools for me to think otherwise. However, I think a better marketing strategy for them would be to stick to the many positives of their own products. If they insist on continuing to trash competitors, then it would make sense for them to do this in a way that couldn’t be debunked by a high school student after ten seconds’ reflection.

Ajay- In your opinion what is the average RoI that a small, large medium enterprise gets by investing in a business intelligence platform. What advice would you give to such firms (separately) to help them make their minds?

Peter- The question is pretty much analogous to “What are the benefits of opening an office in China?” the answer is going to depend on what the company does; what their overall strategy is and how a China operation might complement this; whether their products and services are suitable for the Chinese market; how their costs, quality and features compare to local competitors; and whether they have cracked markets closer to home already.

To put things even more prosaically, “How long is a piece of string?”

Taking to one side the size and complexity of an organisation, BI projects come in all shapes and sizes.

Personally I have led Enterprise-wide, all-pervasive BI projects which have had a profound impact on the company. I have also seen well-managed and successful BI projects targeted on a very narrow and specific area.

The former obviously cost more than the latter, but the benefits are commensurately greater. In fact I would argue that the wider a BI project is spread, the greater its payback. Maybe lessons can be learnt and confidence built in an initial implementation to a small group, but to me the real benefit of BI is realised when it touches everything that a company does.

This is not based on a self-interested boosting of BI. To me if what we want to do is take better business decisions, then the greater number of such decisions that are impacted, the better that this is for the organisation.

Also there are some substantial up-front investments required for BI. These would include: building the BI team; establishing the warehouse and a physical architecture on which to deliver your application. If these can be leveraged more widely, then costs come down.

The same point can be made about the intellectual property that a successful BI team develops. This is one reason why I am a fan of the concept of BI Competency Centres [URL http://peterthomas.wordpress.com/2009/05/11/business-intelligence-competency-centres/ ].

I have been lucky enough to contribute to an organisation turning round from losing hundreds of millions of dollars to recording profits of twice that magnitude. When business managers cite BI as a major factor behind such a transformation, then this is clearly a technology that can be used to dramatic effect.

Nevertheless both estimating the potential impact of BI and measuring its actual effectiveness are non-trivial activities. A number of different approaches can be taken, some of which I cover in my article:

Measuring the benefits of Business Intelligence [URL http://peterthomas.wordpress.com/2009/02/26/measuring-the-benefits-of-business-intelligence/ ]. As ever there is no single recipe for success.

Ajay-. Which BI tool/ code are you most comfortable with and what are its salient points?

Peter –Although I have been successful with elements of the IBM-Cognos toolset and think that this has many strong points, not least being relatively user-friendly, I think I’ll go back to my earlier comments about this area being much less important than many others for the success of a BI project.

Ajay -How do you think cloud computing will change BI? What percentage of BI budgets go to data quality and what is eventual impact of data quality on results?

Peter –I think that the jury is still out on cloud computing and BI. By this I do not mean that cloud computing will not have an impact, but rather that it remains unclear what this impact will actually be.

Given the maturity of the market, my suspicion is that the BI equivalent of a Google is not going to emerge from nowhere. There are many excellent BI start-ups in this space and I have been briefed by quite a few of them.

However, I think the future of cloud computing in BI is likely to be determined by how the likes of IBM-Cognos, SAP-BusinessObjects and Oracle-Hyperion embrace the area.

Having said this, one of the interesting things in computing is how easy it is to misjudge the future and perhaps there is a potential titan of cloud BI currently gestating in the garage so beloved of IT mythology.

On data quality, I have never explicitly split out this component of a BI effort. Rather data quality has been an integral part of what we have done. Again I have taken a four-pillared approach:

  • improve how the data is entered;
  • make sure your interfaces aren’t the problem;
  • check how the data has been entered / interfaced;
  • and don’t suppress bad data in your BI.

The first pillar consists of improved validation in front-end systems – something that can be facilitated by the BI team providing master data to them – and also a focus on staff training, stressing the importance to the organisation of accurately recording certain data fields.

The second pillar is more to do with the general IT Architecture and how this relates to the Information Architecture, again master data has a role to play, but so does ensuring that the IT culture is one in which different teams collaborate well and are concerned about what happens to data when it leaves “their” systems.

The third pillar is the familiar world of after-the-fact data quality reports and auditing, something that is necessary, but not sufficient, for success in data quality.

Finally there is what I think can be one of the most important pillars; ensuring that the BI system takes a warts-and-all approach to data. This means that bad data is highlighted, rather than being suppressed. In turn this creates pressure for the problems to be addressed where they arise and creates a virtuous circle.

For those who might be interested in this area, I expand on it more in Using BI to drive improvements in data quality [URL http://peterthomas.wordpress.com/2009/02/11/using-bi-to-drive-improvements-in-data-quality/ ].

Ajay- You are well known with England’s rock climbing and boulder climbing community. A fun question- what is the similarity between a BI implementation/project and climbing a big boulder.

Peter –I would have to offer two minor clarifications.

First it is probably my partner who is better known in climbing circles, via here blog [URL http://77jenn.blogspot.com/ ] and articles and reviews that she has written for the climbing press; though I guess I can take credit for most of the photos and videos.

Second, particularly given the fact that a lot of our climbing takes place in Wales, I should acknowledge the broader UK climbing community and also mention our most mountainous region of Scotland.

Despite what many inhabitants of Sheffield might think to the contrary, there is life beyond Stanage Edge [URL http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanage ].

I have written about the determination and perseverance that are required to get to the top of a boulder, or indeed to the top of any type of climb [URL http://peterthomas.wordpress.com/2009/03/31/perseverance/ ].

I think those same qualities are necessary for any lengthy, complex project. I am a firm believer that the true benefits of BI are only realised when it leads to cultural transformation. Certainly the discipline of change management has many parallels with rock climbing. You need a positive attitude and a strong belief in your ultimate success, despite the inevitable setbacks. If one approach doesn’t yield fruit then you need to either fine-tune or try something radically different.

I suppose a final similarity is the feeling that you get having completed a climb, particularly if it is at the limit of your ability and has taken a long time to achieve. This is one of both elation and deep satisfaction, but is quickly displaced by a desire to find the next challenge.

This is something that I have certainly experienced in business life and I think the feelings will be familiar to many readers.

Biography-

 

Peter Thomas has led all-pervasive, Business Intelligence and Cultural Transformation projects serving the needs of 500+ users in multiple business units and service departments across 13 European and 5 Latin American countries. He has also developed Business Intelligence strategies for operations spanning four continents. His BI work has won two industry awards including “Best Enterprise BI Implementation”, from Cognos in 2006 and “Best use of IT in Insurance”, from Financial Sector Technology in 2005. Peter speaks about success factors in both Business Intelligence and the associated Change Management at seminars across both Europe and North America and writes about these areas and many other aspects of business, technology and change on his blog [URL http://peterthomas.wordpress.com ].

For beginners interested in software

1) For web development , get  into http://www.wordpress.org and its a pretty easy software to start making websites on.

You can maybe spend say 10 $ a month so that you can buy some server space on http://www.bluehost.com and tinker with his own website /blog in the meantime.

For learning language CSS ,PhP and HTML are the way to go.

2) If you knows some languages already, try  to make a Facebook application , and then play with Google’s open social API,or game, as that will get his interest besides giving him a skill thats useful. Ipod developer’s kit is another hot area to experiment.

3)For designing software solutions I would recommend the Microsoft Certification program. Try  to learn 1 language like Visual Basic or into .Net programming.These platforms will still be useful in coming years.

4) For statistical/business software try  to learn a language called R, which is good for data mining (www.r-project.org) . its quite easy to learn and has a good graphical user interface too.

5)For software careers it is best to learn multiple types of softwares to hedge your bets.

For sustaining interest, you  can join and network with fellow programmers using bulletin boards especially boards on http://www.google.com for google code and microsoft developers area..

6) You can also download Ubuntu linux (www.ubuntu.com) , which is a free Linux based Operation System (like Windows) and  be more familiar in it. Also add openoffice from http://www.openoffice.org This gives you perspectives on open source software.

7)I recommend him getting summer internship in a software startup (especially any software company in Silicon valley or Bangalore) ,and with established companies (like http://www.google.com , http://www.facebook.com,www.infosys.com

Software developers are the un-sung heroes of today’s modern world!!!

All the best !