Dan Appleman: Kibitzing and Commentary

My personal blog

New course: Leading Virtual Teams

I’m pleased to announce publication my latest Pluralsight course “Leading Virtual Teams” – just in time for Pluralsight’s free April promotion.

Now I guess you’re wondering, why is this course different from the myriad of other articles on the subject?

From what I’ve seen, most treatments of virtual leadership are largely rehashes of standard leadership content with a few references to remote work tossed in. To me this makes little sense – a course on leading virtual teams should only cover those areas where things are different! Where skills need to be adapted or abandoned, and new skills learned.

This course starts by answering a basic question – how do virtual teams differ from non-virtual teams and what are the resulting challenges?

Then it addresses those challenges from two perspectives. First – how do they impact productivity – the work? As in – how do you know if remote team members are even working? How do you find out without becoming an obsessive micro-managing jerk? How do you gain visibility on what is going on, and how do you influence it?

Next, it addresses those challenges from a human perspective. How do you build culture in a distributed team? How do you create a sense of family, of loyalty, of trust? How do you ensure that they become a team, and not just a group of Zoom fatigued individuals chained to their desktops?

By the time you finish this course I think you’ll realize that not only is it possible to lead virtual teams – done properly these teams can have huge advantages over non-virtual teams both for team members and for the organization.

I invite you to check it out – especially now in April, when you can watch for free!

Objectivity in COVID-19 Data Visualization

There are epic numbers of sites sharing charts and data about the COVID-19 pandemic. And there are endless posts offering advice and conclusions based on that data. But how do you get from the data to opinion? How do you decide which advice and conclusions are true and objective?

I’ve put together a.. let’s call it a sequel or supplement to my Pluralsight course “Objectivity in Data Visualization” that I hope will help people understand better how to interpret data, and evaluated interpretations of data and data visualizations relating to COVID-19. Enjoy!

Writing About the Apocalypse (just kidding)

I recently began a series of articles focusing on the issues of the day – primarily the COVID-19 Coronovirus, the economy, and their impacts now and going forward. I decided to publish on LinkedIn – it’s a nice publishing platform, and easy to use. I also have friends who work there 🙂

On one hand it feels a bit conceited to think that I have anything new, uniquely perceptive or meaningful to say on topics that are being covered relentlessly elsewhere in the media. But that’s OK – I think most of us are just looking for something we can do to deal with the uncertainty. Some people stock toilet paper. Some people stay home as much as possible. I write. (OK, I also have a bit extra toilet paper and stay home, but that’s not important). Whether my articles help others or not, I can only hope. But writing them and sharing them gives me a sense of doing something, so I will continue, and invite you to come along for the ride.


A Tale of Just-in-time and IT

A Tale of Just-in-time and IT

I’m a big advocate of just-in-time learning. I talk about it often – it’s one of the key principles in my Pluralsight course “Learning Technology in the Information Age“. And while I usually think of it in terms of software development, it clearly applies to all technology – including Information Technology. And I made good use of that principle over the past week or two.

I host a number of blogs – the main ones being this one, searchtheforce.com, advancedapex.com, and teenleadershipbook.com. I know there are plenty of blog hosting sites, but I do it old school – I run my own server (virtual, of course) and host my own WordPress multi-site installation. I’ve done this all along, partly out of habit, partly out of the desire to have complete control over the sites, and partly because I’ve always wanted to keep at least that level of IT within my skill-set. I think it’s good for developers to know something about the underlying systems their code is running on.

These blogs have been around for a long time. Most were running on a Windows 2012 server on WordPress 4. A couple of weeks ago I received a request to upgrade searchtheforce.com, which was running on Ubunto 14.04 with nginx to SSL, which I did (more on that in a minute). But it occurred to me the other blogs were living on borrowed time. Windows Server 2012 is a few years away from end of extended support. WordPress 5 was out, but the themes I was using weren’t compatible with it. The sites were not responsive for mobile users and they didn’t support SSL encryption. Clearly it was well past time for an update.


Teaching Truth and Objectivity

Whether it is “fake news”, biased media organizations, or manipulated social feeds, it is increasingly difficult to figure out what is true and objective. There are many people working constantly to expose and promote the truth, but it is also essential for everyone to have the ability to look critically at charts and data and figure out if, how and where they might be lying.
I’m pleased to announce my own small contribution to that effort. My new Pluralsight course “Objectivity in Data Visualization” will teach anyone how to become a smarter consumer of charts and data. You’ll learn how charts can lie. You’ll learn how data can be manipulated. And you’ll learn the subtle power of storytelling to distort facts, even if they are 100% true.
Using real world data and examples on some of today’s most controversial topics, after taking this course, you may never look at a chart the same way again.
Remember, anyone can get a free trial on Pluralsight – so there’s no excuse not to check it out 🙂

Building a Culture of Learning

I’m pleased to announce the publication of my latest Pluralsight course: “Culture of Learning: Executive Briefing“.
I’ve authored a other courses related to learning such as – “Learning Technology in the Information Age” and “Keeping up with Technology“, but both of those are more targeted to individuals who are seeking a strategy for learning and keeping up.
In “Culture of Learning: Executive Briefing“, I take things to a higher level – looking at how to apply learning strategy to an entire team or organization by establishing a learning culture. This is critically important for organizations in addressing the technology gap – the difference between the technical skills and resources an organization has available, and the skills and resources that they actually need.
The Executive Briefing series on Pluralsight are short (30 minute) high level courses on specific topics – I think you’ll find it very much worth the time. Plus, it easily fits into a Pluralsight trial subscription 🙂

Learning Edge Skills (it's not necessarily a waste of time)

When we talk about learning technology, the focus is almost always on core skills – keeping up with technology, or becoming competent in a core new technology stack. I talk a lot about this in my various Pluralsight courses like “Learning Technology in the Information Age” and “Keeping up with Technology“.
I also talk about “Just in time” learning – learning things as you need them, but mostly that’s also in the context of core technologies – things you NEED to know to do your job.
But what about things you just want to learn – that are hard to justify?
Now I have a confession. I love creating things. I’d be an artist, except – that I don’t have any particular talent there. And of all of the art I’ve dreamt of creating, nothing is more exciting to me than animation. I’ve tinkered with it. If you’ve watched my courses you’ve seen some of my experiments – mostly PowerPoint animations, and my “So You Want to be a Billionaire” video from “So you Want to be an Entrepreneur“. I’ve experimented with various easy to use programs, but in the back of my mind I’ve always know that what I really needed to learn was Adobe After Effects.
After Effects is the gold standard for the kind of effect animation I wanted to do. But the learning curve intimidated me – how could I justify the time?
But this year I found my excuse. Authors of Professional development courses on Pluralsight are challenged to use video, animation and other approaches in their courses. So in developing my upcoming course on “Building Trust and Commitment on Teams” (coming soon), I decided to bite the bullet and learn After Effects.
But to make it work, I had to learn as efficiently as possible – remember, this is an edge skill for me – it’s not like I’m going to build a business on animation, or even turn it into a major hobby.
Fortunately, I’m not just a Pluralsight author – I’m a user as well. So my first thought was “What might Pluralsight have on the topic”. I ended up starting with Jeff Sengstack’s “After Effects CC Fundamentals“. It covered pretty much everything I saw myself wanting to do, at least starting out, and while I certainly didn’t absorb everything in the course, it left me feeling confident that I could actually accomplish something. I was no longer intimidated by the program. Next I took on Jeff Hurd’s “After Effects CC – Creating Your First Animation“. I took that one slowly, following along with all of the examples. I finished that course feeling ready to tackle some real work. From then on, it was learning “on the job”, and while I made some mistakes, overall I was pretty happy with the results, and look forward to my next challenges.
I use Pluralsight in various ways in my own work, but this really brought home the value – that I could leverage my access to the library to learn the edge skills – skills that I may only use once, or for which I can’t justify a major investment in time or money. Skills that I might pick up just for fun.
If you have a Pluralsight subscription (or even if you pick up a free trial), I encourage you to do the same – take some time to find something that you don’t need to learn, that may have no practical value whatsoever. You never know, you might create something you never expected.
For those interested in getting a free trial on Pluralsight, you can find more information here or from any course.