Why Programmers Must Do Customer Support

I am constantly amazed by what the programmers at Skyrove come up with. With the minimum of intervention, our 2 full-time programmers seem to know what’s most important and what they should dedicate their time to.

Exploring this a bit, it dawned it on me: Skyrove programmers also do customer support. They have to help end-users get online at WiFi Hotspots and they need to help Hotspot owners set up new hotspots and help process paymentst to them. These tasks lie primarily with our technical division and accounting, but we rotate incoming phone calls to whoever is available.

Now, as any programmer would know, tech support is less fun than coding. The result of programmers having to do customer support is that they very quickly implement fixes that would prevent them from having to do customer support in the first place!

For example, it’s quite common for customers to have trouble sending emails from public WiFi hotspots. The reason for this is that most ISPs don’t allow mail to be sent from any client that is not on their network. A dedicated tech support representative can easily help a customer within 5 minutes to change some settings on her computer to use another mail server. The tech support guy would be quite happy with this outcome, as he’s done his job perfectly!

Not so with a programmer! A programmer has just had 5 minutes of his day wasted and has been distracted from doing something more fun. The result: The programmer spends an hour re-writing Skyrove’s firmware so that in future all emails will be automatically forwarded to a working mail server. The programmer never has to help a customer again with this particular problem.

Rinse and repeat this process, and you’ll soon find less and less customers phoning in with problems. Just imagine how efficient our banks would be if the consultants who dreamt up their systems were the same ones to provide customer support?  

GeekRebel Guide to Online TV

This post first appeared at Mail & Guardian TechLeader

I don’t have a TV at home, so I consume a decent amount of bandwidth watching TV shows and YouTube videos.

Here’s how I go about it getting loads of entertainment without a DsTV subscription:

1. StumbleVideo: I don’t spend that much time on YouTube itself. Rather, I watch video clips on StumbleVideo. StumbleVideo offers a slick interface that allows you to quickly rate each video you watch, either by clicking the “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” button. It then learns what you like and what you don’t like watching. You can also choose different categories, so if you feel like watching funnies, select the comedy channel, or choose documentary, for a wide variety of full length movies.

2. BitTorrent. Go to The Pirate Bay, and simply search for any movie or TV series you’d like to watch. The only real problem is that BitTorrent will consume a disproportionate amount of bandwidth. Firstly, the videos available are high quality, which means you’re looking at a whopping 350 MB per TV show. Also, as BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer service, you’ll be uploading while downloading, meaning you could easily use double as much bandwidth. Your TV show just used 700 MB, or about R50 worth of bandwidth. The upside is that you now have a high-quality version of the show for keeps.

3. iTunes. Believe it or not, but actually paying for that TV show might well be cheaper than downloading it illegally from BitTorrent. iTunes has an increasingly wide range of TV shows and now also thousands of movie titles available. Now, I know that in South Africa there is technically still no iTunes Store available, but hey! It’s the internet, stupid!

Click here to find out how you can open an iTunes account from anywhere in the world and have full access to all features.

4. Joost. If I had to bet money on what the future of TV would look like, both online and offline, I’d but a hefty part of my fortune on Joost. Coming from the same brainiacs who first brought us KaZaa and later Skype, Joost has a slick interface and, most incredibly, full-screen high-quality streaming video. It has a large bouquet of programming, including channels from CNN, Warner Bros. and Fox. It’s the perfect online TV application for couch potatoes, but unfortunately also a heavy consumer of bandwidth.  

5. Streaming video aggregators. These come and go at an alarming rate. Basically, an aggregator will point to movies and TV shows that have been uploaded to video sharing sites, such as Google Video, Youtube and a large variety of Asian websites, which would be difficult to navigate without an English language aggregator. Current ones include tv-links.eu,sidereel.com,alluc.org, ovguide.com and  Project Free TV. In some cases, you are able to download the Flash Video files using Flash Video Downloader 2 (for Mac) or Orbit Downloader (for Windows) or an online service such as KeepVid.

Watching videos online in South Africa might still be more expensive than getting DsTV and won’t give you the same quality or sports content. The upside is that you have video available on demand, which is really the way things should be.

<b>Disclaimer</b>. Some of the techniques described above <i>may</i> be illegal in your country and I take no responsibility if that’s the case. My favourite method is iTunes, as it’s fully legal, offers the highest quality and the cheapest price.

Why Market Leaders Don’t Innovate

This post first appeared at Mail & Guardian TechLeader

“Radical innovation never originates with the market leader!” — Jim Utterback, MIT

Did you know Mitch Kapor tried to license 1-2-3 to IBM for $3,5-million in the 1980s? They told him that hardware was a multibillion-dollar industry, and that the market for PC software was only a $50-million industry. IBM later bought Kapor’s Lotus Development Corporation for $3,5-billion.

The point is that IBM missed a fundamental paradigm shift.

Another example: in the late 1800s, the chairperson of Western Union said: “Many of our stockholders have asked me about this new invention by Alexander Graham Bell called the telephone. While we think it’s an interesting curiosity, there’s never going to be a market for that technology, and therefore we have declined the offer to take a licence.”

Or this quote attributed to Napoleon: “What, sir, you mean to tell me that by lighting a bonfire under the deck of a ship, you can make it sail against the wind and the currents? I pray you, excuse me. I have no time for such nonsense.” He then kicked Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamship, out of his office.

Thomas Edison is an example of someone who started out smart, but later became a market leader. When Edison first invented the light bulb, he invited the press to a demonstration. The market leaders then were the gas companies, selling gas to illuminate streets and homes. One company felt so threatened that it hired an electrician to sabotage the demo. He carried a hidden wire tucked under his sleeve, around his back and out the other sleeve. During the demo he shorted the wire across one of the lightbulbs, in order to cause a short-circuit and turn off the lights.

However, Edison placed a fuse on every fourth light bulb, so only four of the light bulbs went out and the others remained on. There was enough light to see what was going on and they caught the saboteur!

However, 25 years later Edison was the new market leader. An entrepreneur called George Westinghouse was working with Nikola Tesla to promote Tesla’s new AC power innovation, which was better for carrying high voltages over longer distances. Edison did everything in his power to sabotage Westinghouse and Tesla. He electrocuted an elephant to create the image that AC was extremely dangerous. He even helped Westinghouse get its first customer: The New York state legislature bought an AC generator to electrocute felons instead of hanging them.

Edison is remembered as one of the most innovative people in the world. But when he became the market leader, his mindset changed and he resisted radical innovations rather than adopting them.

Anyways, Tesla showed that AC was safe by passing it through himself to power a light bulb…