February 20, 2024

Soft-skills and formal education

Xteen years ago, I graduated from university, got a job as a young software engineer, and discovered that school hadn't given me any of the soft-skills needed to function as an adult. I had no public speaking experience, presentation skills, negotiation, planning, team management, project organization know-how.

Sure, I had the vocabulary, I had read thousands of books, but I had no practical experience whatsoever. I didn't even know how to collaborate, because in college we were taught to solve problems alone, it was always a competition. In 5 years of engineering school, I don't remember even one group project, or a public speech (only the final master dissertation, also without guidance).

My first boss (and mentor) once told me that he needed time to trust me because I wouldn't look him in the eye when speaking, and he often felt  I was hiding something.

I needed software engineering and project management courses from Open University UK, to learn how to organize and collaborate.

I needed patient managers and mentors to teach me how to speak in public, lead meetings, motivate and organize projects and teams, create a strategy, a Gantt, an organizational chart or a budget.

I discovered project-based research and study only during the MBA (with American professors).

Soft skills are part of basic education in the Anglo-American world, in northern and western Europe. A few years ago, I met a student from Sweden who gave a phenomenal speech at a European conference, and he had very little domain expertise, but he spoke with a poise and style that left me speechless. In Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, these skills are taught directly in elementary school. Project-based learning, team collaboration, creating and using slides and props, communication and oral presentation.

Digital bureaucracy

There's an IT system for digital communication with government authorities (MySmis).

To send an answer to any simple question, you need 5-7 overlapping digital signatures. 

You get an email telling you that you have a new message. You log in (electronic signature 1, not qualified). You download the question (usually a short text, very nicely formatted, header, footer, etc, and saved as pdf document, digitally signed, etc). You write the answer, save it as pdf, and sign the pdf with a digital qualified signature (2). You log in (3). Upload the answer. Optionally log in again. Download the receipt. Sign the receipt with a qualified signature (sic) (4). You log in (5). Upload the signed receipt. Receive a confirmation.

All this, for an answer that often consists of a standard text: "We confirm the budget, and the eligibility".

The entire process could be replaced by 1 email.

Digitization is not only about tools, it is also about processes.

I said a few years ago that if they would leave me unsupervised 3 days in a public institution, I would eliminate 90% of the processes and 90% of the jobs. And move staff to something better.

But that's how bureaucracies work. The purpose of bureaucracy is to grow the level of bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is power. Processes, forms, and approvals: are sources of power.

Parkinson said that officials have 2 major career goals: to multiply subordinates, and to create work for each other.

See also this post.

February 11, 2024

Bullying, professors, managers, and insecurity

Bullying is quite common among professors and teachers. And it has always been.

MY MOTHER was telling me about her professors, frustrated probably about their positions, shouting at pupils that they are barefoot peasants, polenta-eaters (mămăligari, opincari).

We all had professors calling us stupid. Professors also used to be violent - this is now prohibited.

The objective of many teachers is to demonstrate that their students are stupid. They fail to recognize the paradox that their students are largely the result of their own work.

Laughing at students, saying they are incompetent, diminishing them, insulting them, is a form of bullying. It is not pedagogy, it is destructive.

AND THE SOURCE of bullying is mostly frustration. Hiding a sense of inferiority, a lack of personal accomplishments. Especially when directed at people in a subordinate position, with significantly less power.

Because teachers hold a unique position of power, over a significant number of (young) people. The fact that they need to express this power through bullying signals insecurity. 

MAYBE some professions are more likely to attract or cultivate bullies. Teachers, doctors, soldiers, managers, and Hollywood producers.

Or, this simply reflects the overall maturity of society and its members.

January 27, 2024

LLM ethics: how to properly cite Gpt

Using ChatGpt for solving homework or other tasks is not implicitly unethical. Unless specifically forbidden, of course.

There are 2 issues: quality and plagiarism.

1. ChatGpt text should be properly cited. Otherwise it is plagiarism. APA guidelines for citing Gpt are a good starting point. Generally, APA recommends using a citation style similar to personal communication: "x said this (Gpt source)". See link in comments.

But this is just a guideline. To be enforceable, it would be better to be formalized in the rules of the school/course.

2. Quality. Any instrument is suited to some purposes, not suitable for others. As stated in some previous articles (link in comments), LLMs are great at processing text, e.g. summarizing certain documents, or generating text similar to other texts. It is also, obviously, terrible at generating new ideas.

ChatGPT is ultimately just a tool. It is not responsible for the quality of your work or results - same as MS Word or a piece of paper are not responsible for the text that you write on them. 

(Inspired by a question from Bogdan Dumitrescu).

APA guidelines for citing Gpt: https://apastyle.apa.org/blog/how-to-cite-chatgpt

My previous articles on Gpt use cases: https://blog.stefanmorcov.com/search/label/AI

January 24, 2024

Which was first: the chicken or the egg?

Which was first: the chicken or the egg?

Obviously: the egg.

Because genetic mutations happen at the time of embryo conception, at fertilization. So the embryo (egg) was always the first member of a new species. Or, granted, the first tiny variation from an existing species to a new species.

So the chicken always comes from an egg, both with exactly the same DNA.

BUT the egg comes from an ancestor of the chicken, with a slightly different DNA.

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Soft-skills and formal education

Xteen years ago, I graduated from university, got a job as a young software engineer, and discovered that school hadn't given me any of ...