This is the next blog in the continuing series of interviews with top-echelon and renowned professionals. In this blog, I interview Dr. Maggie Johnson: Distinguished Researcher, Educator, Executive, and Top Thought Leader shares her insights into trends, IT benchmarking, computing education, teaching, and corporate training.
Maggie Johnson is a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at Stanford University, and Director of Education and University Relations for Google. Her extensive past and present roles include: Assistant Chair, Director of Educational Affairs & Undergraduate Studies, Stanford Computer Science 2003-2006; Software Litigation / Expert Witness; Executive Vice President and Director of Research for Metricnet (1999-2004); Member, ACM Education Board and Council; Member, ACM Professional Development Board; Member of Governing Board, NSF NSDL Computing Pathway; Member, Advisory Board of UCCP (University of California College Prep).
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Maggie profiles her education, training and her many past and present roles.
You have a background in music – do you see a relationship with mathematics and computing?
“….The way that I think about it is that you get wired a certain way in learning (especially the kind of music I was and still am interested in – Bach and baroque). There are mathematical tendencies in that music – a lot of underlying math and music theory that have connections – but I think it’s a little bit more about how your brain is wired….”
What can you tell us about yourself that few know?
“….Probably the music background….”
What were the biggest challenges in your career and how did you overcome them?
“….One of the biggest challenges was being a woman in a field of mostly men. I’ve often felt the need to over-achieve and over-perform in order to be taken seriously in certain situations. It may have been my perception that pushed me to do that but there have been times where I had to do more than a male colleague in order to get to the same place in the end….”
What are the milestones in your life and why?
“….My family is really important to me….Getting my PhD….Getting the academic position at Stanford…Coming to Google – that was a significant change in direction….”
What evidence is there that benchmarking produces value?
“….If I am a CIO of a company, I certainly know how much I spend each year, how many are on my staff, the processing power of all the computing resources, etc….Once I have those basic metrics there are some interesting ratios, things like how much does IT spend versus revenue, what does IT spend per employee. There are those kinds of ratios which are interesting metrics and benchmarks. They also map against all the published benchmarks that are available….”
Why are critical failure factors so important?
“….There have been a lot of lessons learned from failures and benchmarks….You want to be careful about making decisions based on really high level data or incomplete data….”
What is “benchmarkable” and what aspects of IT should be considered?
“….Anything really obvious and easy to collect is usually easy for others to collect. Once you have a lot of people collecting the same thing, then you can start creating these published benchmarks and you have a basis for comparison….”
What are the common measures that have produced value?
“….The more granular you get the better. There are a lot of different perspectives that we’ve taken when looking at the different kinds of data that characterize an IT organization or the services it provides….”
How can benchmarking be turned into a sustainable process and integrated into the “business of IT”?
“….It’s not just about benchmarking….The real message is how you can use data creatively to make those decisions….Data should be used wherever it’s possible to better understand the current state that you are in and the future state that you might want to be in….”
What does the future of benchmarking look like?
“…It’s getting more granular, it’s getting more detailed – which is really helpful….Also this whole notion of more innovative use of the data to support decision-making is another thing that we are seeing more actively and more explicitly done….”
Do companies need to do benchmarking periodically or will it be another form of “market data feed”?
“….I think it depends on the company or industry….”
What are the best resources and tools for benchmarking?
“….One of the most prominent experts on IT benchmarking is Howard Rubin….Partner Group, a consulting group in IT, do a lot of studies in this area….”
Where else can we go to get more information?
“….If you want to learn the basics of getting started there is a certification course offered at Stanford in IT Benchmarking…http://scpd.stanford.edu under the Degrees and Certificates….”
What lessons can you share from your role as an expert witness?
“….Software systems really stretch traditional intellectual property laws in that you have trade secrets, copyrights and patents and those are the standard methods of protection for intellectual property. There has been a lot of interesting adjustments that have had to be made to these traditional forms of protection to work with software….It’s interesting to watch and to be part of the process….”
You are quite engaged in the community through volunteer roles. Can you describe why you contribute and if others should engage (how and why)?
“….I serve on a number of different boards that relate to the work that I’ve done at Stanford and that I currently do at Google. It’s really important to have networks outside one’s immediate environment in order to learn what’s going on in the outside world….Those relationships are key and it’s a great way to give back to the community as well….”
What are the top priorities in computer science and computing education?
“….The first is, thinking about Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics (STEM) education in K-12 – we really need to improve this….I feel we have to completely change the way we do education and we need to expand it to go way beyond what happens in the schools….The second is the enrollment crisis in computer science and IT at the undergraduate level….We have a serious image problem in computer science and IT – the field is not attractive to students and we have to try to fix this….”
You are an outstanding teacher. What qualities make for good teaching and teachers?
“….Respecting your students and really listening to them to try to get a sense of what they are understanding and what they are not understanding and using that information to improve….You need to know your stuff cold. You need to have the knowledge of the material to get and maintain the credibility….”
Maggie shares her top best practices for corporate training.
How do relationships play a role in IT?
“….It’s not something that is specific to computing and IT….It’s an absolute critical part about being in the business world….”
What lessons can your share from the projects you have worked on?
“….Define the problem carefully….Think of an ideal but achievable end space that will solve that problem….Understand clearly why you are doing something and who is asking and why. Sometimes analyzing the motivation behind a request might uncover a completely different issue and the different issue might call for a different solution….”
Please make predictions for the future, their implications, and how executives and IT professionals can best prepare?
“….My perspective is really geared toward education right now….We need to fix our K-12 education system by loosening that really archaic structure….”
What do you see as the top challenges facing us today and how do you propose they be solved?
“….Lack of interest in our young people to pursue technical careers….There is a really strong presence of cloud computing and all the benefits of economies of scale that it provides, but one of the challenges we have is the security and privacy around the data that people are putting in the cloud….”
Please provide your quick comments on the IFIP IP3 program on professionalizing the profession? [http://www.IPThree.org].
“….It’s a long standing question in the IT and computer science field as to whether or not credentialing, certification or even licensing can help build public trust in software engineering and information technology….What IFIP is trying to do is making great progress because I think the profession has matured and evolved enough now….”