Olympic Kudos

Not all software or web interfaces are very good – congratulations ADP on winning gold for “most-stupid password requirements of 2014″ – so it’s nice to be able to give praise to a good one.

If, like me, you’re a sports fan, you’ve probably watched your fair share of Olympic events recently.

Most of my viewing was through the Canadian CBC – US channels were available, but, you know – and in fact most events I watched online. It’s just easier to pretend to work when you can watch a video stream on a computer (don’t try and tell me you don’t know what I mean)!

What helped is that the CBC had a really nice interface for viewing the live video streams. They were a bit hidden on the web site, but great when I found them. The controls looked like this:


OK, the design is really basic – a simple play/pause button with volume control just about covers it – but what I liked is that they had obviously thought about the sports fan in general. For example, I was watching Canada vs US in the women’s hockey final and started watching about an hour after the actual start, plus had to keep pausing the feed to do real work.

Then it was this part of the interface that really mattered:


Notice that goals and penalties are shown on the timeline (as clickable icons, incidentally) but only up to the point I’ve watched. If I’d paused the video but the timeline kept updating it would have spoiled watching as I’d have known about events in advance.

What’s also good is if I’ve watched past that point, then the icons remain if I rewind to replay something, so I can flip back and forth at will. But I never see markers for events past where I’ve watched up to. Awesome!

Likewise with the shortcuts to each period:


See how they didn’t add a shortcut to “overtime” while I was still watching the 2nd/3rd period? That too would have been a downer, because then I would have known Canada had come back to force overtime and the third period would have been way less exciting. True sports fans will totally understand what I mean. The OT shortcut is there now, but by now you’ll know the result.

The interface also had a stats button and…


…Hey Presto! It only shows the stats up to the point I’ve watched in the video, which is again very good indeed. For a start it must be hard to synchronize stats against a video feed, which is obviously what they’ve done because that functionality is still there (try it).

But mostly I’m giving the CBC kudos for thinking about this at all. It would have been all too easy to thoughtlessly show live stats against a delayed feed, but obviously they took that into account in their design. And, of course, this is doubly important when most of the events are taking place between midnight and 6am in Canada, and folk are only tuning in to watch sometime the next day.

I’m not just impressed but very happy the setup enhanced my Olympic viewing. Thanks CBC! Good work.

NB: I did take these screenshots well after the event. At the time I was too busy jumping up and down screaming at the screen. What a game! What a comeback!

PS: Since I posted this I noticed (via a hint from this blog) that you have to get onto the event when it’s still going. If you went to the hockey page after the game finished then it did show the “overtime” tag. So maybe not quite as good as I thought, but still not bad. Oh! And I agree with that blog about ads. I didn’t see any on the live web stream and it made for a way better experience.


What Does the Mark Do?

Meeting new people is fairly hellish for me. That’s not because of any social anxieties, or even confusion with my English accent; instead the big issue is when I’m asked what I do for a living.

When I think about it, a lot of people have jobs that are very easy to define: for example doctor, pilot, astronaut, engineer, lawyer. Even a lap dancer or a garbage collector does a specific, recognizable job, albeit one lower on the prestige scale.ThatsNiceHoney

But, I don’t have that luxury. My job titles run along the lines of “support specialist”, “training architect” or “product evangelist”; which aren’t ones that everyone would readily identify with. They certainly aren’t anything that your grandmother would identify with, which I think is the acid test.

I used to be a land surveyor, and that needed no clarification. Then I because a GIS analyst, which wasn’t so straightforward but became easier to explain when Google Earth became well known. “Maps on computers” I would say, just like this from the Drunken Geographer


But, even saying “maps” is difficult as I’m not a cartographer and never really have been. “Geographer” just about covers those fields, and is sort of in vogue, but…no.

In actual fact I work for a software company and I think a lot of the computing industry seems to have an identity crisis. My theory is that most of the industry relates to a different field and that’s why the ambiguity. For example, if I work for a company producing accounting software, do I work in the field of accountancy or computing? I think the latter, which means that I no longer regard myself as a land surveyor, or a GIS analyst, or a geographer. I don’t work in those fields at all; I help produce software for those fields.SurprisedAstronaut

That’s a really important distinction that it’s taken me ten years (and 7 paragraphs) to realize. It’s like I trained as a lawyer and suddenly found myself in space thinking “I’m an astronaut – how did that happen?”

None of this has yet helped me to explain to folk what I do and it doesn’t help that, though I work for a software company, I don’t have an obvious role like programmer (developer) either. That too seems to confuse people. So let me try and clarify by saying this:

I like to think of myself as a Customer Education Officer, responsible for making sure our customers know what our software can do and how to use it. That the initials of that are CEO is an amusing bonus. Basically we produce a complex product for a complex industry, and my job is to make sure users “get it”; hopefully with the same style and panache as this guy:

Donald Sadoway Lecture

But for as many tasks as I do in that role, I seem to have an official job title. What I really do is:

  • Educate users as to what our software can do, through blog posts, webinars, and conference presentations (this is the Product Evangelist part, where evangelizing means extolling the benefits of our products)
  • Provide technical support and communicate with users on online forums (this is the Product Specialist part)
  • Design and write training materials that teach how to use our software (this is the Training Architect part)
  • Provide input on software design decisions (this too I think of as my Product Evangelist role – in this case in the reverse role of evangelizing to my colleagues on behalf of our users)
  • Run our Certification Program, assessing users to provide formal recognition of their skills (I sometimes call myself the Certification Manager for that role)

So, that’s what I do – plus a few other things – and so that’s what you can expect me to blog about here.

And now when I get asked about my job in social situations, I can just hand out cards with a link to this article on them!