Women-Only: Out with the Bucket-list, In with the Action Plan

For those unfamiliar with the term, a bucket-list is essentially a list of experiences one wants to gain before ‘kicking the bucket’ or ‘meeting their Maker’. Hollywood is partially responsible for making ‘The Bucket-List” concept widely popular. It has been romanticized endlessly as the ultimate gift one character can give another; they are to help the other main character cross off all of the items, travel to remote destinations and partake in kooky adventures- all this mentioned on the bucket-list before they die.

Ever seen Mandy Moore’s ‘A Walk to Remember’ ?  One of Jamie’s wishes is to be in two places at the same time, so Landon makes it happen:

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It is easy to see the allure in choosing this concept for moviemakers as it makes for a straightforward plot line.  But here, on this blog, we are sticking to the real world.

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I say down with the bucket-list! Enough with adding bullet-points upon bullet-points to soothe the frustrated soul and the impatient mind  into believing that you will, indeed, take a big juicy bite out of Life- Someday.

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As a South Asian woman, especially as a Pakistani woman in today’s world, the lingering narrative is to ‘wait’ – wait until you are married to travel, wait for approval from a large, faceless ominous presence called “log” (a Desi-Urdu term for community) before choosing your major for graduate school, wait until the kids are older before going back to work (or to begin working in the first place!), wait for a better time for your partner before trying out a side hustle – just keep waiting.

If you are reading this, you are practically enrolled in the Catalyst Woman movement. I will let you in on a little secret-  us Catalyst Women, we do not wait for change to happen – we are the ones who make it happen!

Ease off the brakes and gently push down upon the accelerator when it comes to living your best life in 2018.  Replace the winding scroll of travel destinations, quirky hobbies and languages to learn with a point-by-point Action Plan.  Rather than dampen your dreams (and your spirit) by banishing them to a distant, undefined point in the future, try feeding the same list into a task management tool like Asana and start figuring out the logistics for attaining “Experience #1”.

 

Be realistic about what resources you have at hand – so that means taking a long, hard look at whether you have the basic requirements sorted – the savings, the passport,the right credentials- before embarking on “Experience #1”. Worst case scenario? You’ll find out  exactly what needs to be done before you can scale Mt. Kilimanjaro or enroll in vegan cooking classes.  Add that to your ‘to-do’ list and get cracking!

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If your dreams are founded upon undeniable aspirations, they deserve a chance to be actualized. No one will give you express permission to do so – not your boss, not your partner, not your pets- so you will need to be practical, focused and find motivation from within yourself about it all.

What is more logical and practical than an action plan?!

Product Design Demands Discomfort

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Take a careful look at the infographic titled The AHA Moments above.  Ranging from age 19 to 47, these people  have revolutionised how we communicate (Steve Jobs/iPhone), how we re-energize (Dietrich Mateschitz/ RedBull) and even workout (Chip Wilson/Lululemon Yoga Pants).

None of them set out to create a break between the old and new way of doing things. All they wanted to do was solve one particular source of discomfort. They zeroed in on that particular barrier and relentlessly worked to eliminate it.

Product design and system design demand discomfort. If a device or system seems broken, inadequate or even missing – that is your cue!  You do not require anyone’s permission to make a system or device more efficient. I think this is a reminder for myself as much as it is a blog for public consumption. 

Virtual Reality: Untapped Opportunity

The Science

Immersion + Interactivity = Tele-Presence. That is how the VR techies define Virtual Reality.  For us regular folks, here is a simpler definition: Virtual reality is  computer generated environment that allows the user to experience an alternate reality. This reality may or may not resemble ‘real life’.  The headset uses two small lenses to feed the user’s eyes with three-dimensional images while headphones supply the accompanying soundtrack or noises.

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The VR Engine

Virtual Reality headsets are powered by regular personal computers, since contemporary PCs are sophisticated enough to run software for Virtual Environments.  Headsets consist of two monitors, one for each eye, and they combine images to create a stereoscopic effect. This creates the illusion of depth while exploring a virtual world.

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The user is literally is immersed into a new world that is ‘near reality’ or virtual – so this is called immersion. Once in the user can interact with this new world. The combination of the immersion and the interactivity is what is called Telepresence.

Remember this formula?  Immersion + Interactivity = Tele-Presence

VE designers determine the success of their design when the user becomes completely unaware of their real surroundings and solely focuses on their existence within the virtual environment.

So far most VE involve visual and audio simulation but engineers are working to incorporate the user’s sense of touch – user force feedback and touch interaction is called haptic systems.

The Lingo

  • VE= Virtual Environments
  • VRX= Virtual Reality Experiences
  • Haptic Systems = User Force Feedback and Touch Interaction

How is it already changing our lives?

For perhaps the most obvious place of entry, virtual reality is edging into the Entertainment industry.  Films are being filmed exclusively for VR headsets while live-streamed concerts are giving users a front-row experience from the comfort of their own home.

If you recall the computer monitor at the Home Depot that helps you select the right colour for the living room, it makes sense that the design industry has eagerly adopted VR tech.  Pop on a headset, feed in a picture or two of the room that needs a renovation, you can build a new space with 3-D tools.  

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Collaborative experiences beyond traditional gaming are gaining momentum, you can tap in friends to help you build a 3-d painting -Google’s Tiltbrush.  You can use apps and wand-like controllers to add further customisation to the 3-D experience.

Gaming has gotten infinitely cooler with VR as now game designers flip the switch on traditional designing, creating easter eggs and predicting where their player will actually turn or reach out and touch in the gaming dimension – the possibilities are only limited by their creativity

Did you listen to my latest podcast ‘Virtual Reality: Are We There Yet?’? 

There is the logical extension of VR tech with Tourism and Exploration of places near and impossibly far – Google Cardboard and others promise a tour of the Planet Mars.

However, I think the potential of disrupting Meditation is infinitely more exciting!  Psychologists in the United States have already starting using it with army vets to treat Post-traumatic Disorder.  Researchers are using VR worlds to explore human behaviour in a safe space, suspended from reality.

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Studies have shown VR sessions to work better than traditional painkillers – meaning it can be used in place of medicines to heal with distraction and engagement of the mind.

Video conferencing has become common-place, but VR technology means logging onto a Tele-presence robot that wheels around automatically in the workplace while you work from a remote location.  It’s not all work, you can also log onto a chat room, not much different from The Sims, and chat or play in the guise of your game avatar.

Shopping in virtual reality is gonna be like never before,as you can try on a new pair of shoes or  squeeze into a shirt before buying it online.

What Skills Are Required to Break into VR Tech Industry? 

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The virtual reality space has taken off and the demand for job candidates with VR knowledge has gone up by 37% since 2015! Since the tech is new, VR Startups and research companies are facing difficulty filling that demand.  There are a large number of jobs available for those open to building virtual-reality apps, games, and experiences. If there is anything that screams CAREER OPPORTUNITY – this would be it.

There are two different types of VR content being created for VRX:

  1.  360 VR Video, and
  2. True-VR .

A career in 360 VR Video asks for experience in  Film Production and VFX skill-set.  The 360 video medium is a highly complex mixture of on-location production skills, sophisticated technical cameras and detailed post-production techniques. Once the experience is hot, technicians need to stitch scenes back into 360 spheres with tools like Kolor, or Nuke compositor. The final edits are made in Premiere, while any motion graphics tweaking is accomplished with After Effects or Fusion.

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360 VR Video content can be used on Youtube 360, Facebook 360 as well as all apps and devices that play VR.

A contender for a job in the 360 VR would require portfolio that exhibits:

  • Examples of grading and editing,
  • VFX breakdowns of complex fixes ,
  • Motion Tracking and embedded motion graphics,and
  • A showreel with their best 360 video work, including samples of before and after post-production stitching.

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Entering into a career in True-VR requires a strong pre-knowledge of game engine technology as well as a demonstrable game design skills-set.  The workflow for True-VR is similar to traditional game development, from modelling and animating to the eventual rendering.  Virtual Experiences created by True-VR technicians are geared for headsets such as Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, HTC Vive, and even the humble Samsung Gear VR.

Familiarity with the following programs will be beneficial for any True-VR hopeful:

  • Animation and Modelling: Maya or 3ds Max
  • Sculpting and Texturing: Mudbox, ZBrush, or Mari
  • Final Rendering and Publication:  Unity or UnReal Engine

Within True-VR there are two career paths:

VR Developer

Those looking to become VR Developers should have a showreel of VR experiences they have created for game engines, a downloadable link to the game or experience, sample code in C#, C+ or equivalent and further detail of the content they have created.

3D Artist

Those wanting to become 3D Artists should have a showreel that best exhibits their artistry in live games and experiences, wireframes and samples of their work in a game engine like Unity, UE4 or Marmoset.

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Interested in the software end of things and itching to break into Virtual Reality Development? You will need experience in the following to break into B2B VR startups:
  • Strong Knowledge of Realtime Game Engine Tech + Arts Skills: Designing and Developing with 3D Modelling Software such as 3ds Max or Maya, texture or sculpting in Zbrush or Mari and Unity or UnReal Engine to pull the whole project together.
  • SDKs (Software Development Kits) being used by VR developers, such as SDK 0.8 for Oculus,
  • Head tracking, 3D calibration and side-by-side rendering, and
  • Programming Experience with C or C ++ languages.

Leaning towards hardware? Skills from PC and Mobile Phone technology easily transfer over to immersive filming. You will need experience in Optics since visualisation is key for developing engaging Virtual Environments (VE).

Past Gaming – Where Else Can VR Be Found?

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VR jobs are expected to show up in education, military and medical fields as tech can be used for trainings, simulations, safety modulations  – as well as construction, engineering and architecture that can exploit 3D design to optimise models/estimates.

Venture into Computer Vision to understand the fundamentals of VR Tracking and camera-based user interaction.  Cognitive computer engineers are needed to help businesses create, test, and evaluate cognitive software designed for their computer network.

On The Horizon

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Scientists are also exploring the possibility of developing biosensors for VR use. A biosensor can detect and interpret nerve and muscle activity. With a properly calibrated biosensor, a computer can interpret how a user is moving in physical space and translate that into the corresponding motions in virtual space. Biosensors may be attached directly to the skin of a user, or may be incorporated into gloves or bodysuits. One limitation to biosensor suits is that they must be custom made for each user or the sensors will not line up properly on the user’s body

Thinking Out Loud

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Is this it, fellow humans? Is the pinnacle of human ingenuity and creativity  limited to regurgitating real-life scenarios onto digital screens for rapid consumption?  Are we fulfilling the prophecy predicted by the animated movie ‘Wall-E’?

Are we destined to become increasingly sedentary, floating about on hoverchairs, consuming packaged foods, viewing the world through strapped-on headsets and booking our flights to the nearest planet?

Listen to latest Catalyst Woman podcast ‘Virtual Reality: Are We There Yet?’? 

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Meet the Millennial Asian: Over-educated + Under-employed

If you are a Millennial Asian, the newspapers think you are pretty pathetic. Looking at the numbers, you have earned more degrees than anyone else in your family,  are up to your neck in education debt, you are chronically under-employed and will stay so for the foreseeable future.

Yes. Under-employed.

Investopedia defines this phenomenon like so:

Labor that falls under the underemployment classification includes those workers that are highly skilled but working in low paying jobs, workers that are highly skilled but work in low skill jobs and part-time workers that would prefer to be full-time.

The market has few jobs to offer the growing legions of fresh grads and the ones available fail to offer much of anything: little money, little career growth and little in terms of security. These handful of jobs are not what you aspired to back in college. It is highly likely you will be delivering goods ordered online or managing a social media campaign for the local non-profit organisation until a “Real Job” opportunity turns up.

Let’s suppose that you finally get a chance to interview for a “Real Job”.  As a fresh grad  you are facing competition from the people who graduated years before you and have relevant work experience to show for it.

Jobs available in the government sector are scarce, practically impossible to access unless one has a ‘link’ (how I loathe that practice)  and the benefits hardly ever compensate for the dismal pay.

Gordon Orr warns China’s fresh graduates that even the low-barrier, entry-level careers  in bank telling or insurance agencies are going obsolete. Technologies like AliPay and WeChat have streamlined basic banking tasks and banks will soon be a thing of the past – much like post offices.

…there may be new jobs but they are just not the jobs you set your heart on when you went to university: low pay and low security is a poisonous combination of many of the new jobs in China’s “rebalancing economy”.

Orr suggests brushing up on vocational skills that may come into play in the emerging sectors, like learning coding or other such I.T. wizardry. If nothing else, it is suggested that a fresh grad like you should start a business and embrace self-employment as your fate.

The fastest growth category of urban employment in recent years has been self-employment.  While some of this is likely a cute way of describing unemployed, the broader trend that it represents is the growth of small and mid-sized enterprises and their importance to job creation in the economy. 

Next up is the “Has Pakistan overeducated it’s middle class?” article that appeared on Dawn’s website about two days back.  The lack of congruency between the education Pakistani universities are churning out and the jobs available is painfully apparent for anyone who been through a hiring cycle. Not only is the quality of education suspect, the graduates are ill-prepared for the rigours of the job-search and interview process. I am in complete agreement that there need to be university-based career prep centres at both public and private universities. Private universities barely scratch the surface when it comes to preparing their students for the corporate/real world. A mandatory 2 hour workshop in the last week of university does not suffice.  I recommend universities to start students on mandatory courses that cover internship seeking, c.v. writing and interviewing skills from freshman year.

The author, Murtaza Haider,  makes a valid point about how loosely underemployment is tallied and also how faulty the premise is regarding what constitutes a ‘living wage’.

My primary concern is about how the state defines underemployment.

The state considers those working for fewer than 35 hours in a given week as underemployed. This definition assumes that those working for 35 hours or more in a given week are gainfully employed, i.e., they are earning enough to support their families.

The under and unemployment figures are quite meaningless for struggling economies like Pakistan. Even by the government’s estimates, 60 million Pakistanis, 29.5 per cent of the population, live below the poverty line. Experts at Oxford University estimate a much larger proportion of Pakistanis (44 per cent) to be poor.

Thus, boasting about low unemployment rates is rather futile because a large proportion of those considered employed by the government are not earning enough to feed and clothe their families.

Lastly, here is an article from the World Economic Forum warning us that for the millennials post-graduate degrees may be a waste of money.  Lux Alptraum shares that despite belonging to a family accustomed to collecting degrees (the way some collect shares) she ultimately decided not to seek a postgraduate degree.  For her, the math simply didn’t add up!

Every time I’ve considered going back to school, I’ve done a cost-benefit analysis—and for me, that analysis has never worked out in academia’s favor. My law school dreams died when it occurred to me that the kind of do-gooder law I was interested in would likely leave me in debt for the rest of my life (and also when I realized that “liking to argue” is but a small part of a law career). My potential public health degree stopped making sense when I realized the small salary bump I might secure wouldn’t balance out the money—and time–I’d spend getting the Master’s.

As a fellow Millennial Asian, I feel your anguish.

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I also sense your need to reach for the nearest tub of ice cream to drown your sorrows.   Hold off on that for a second.  There has to be a Plan B.

Will it be running our very own Food Truck? Maybe.

Can it be starting up a coaching centre for the chronically under-employed and helping them loosen up via improv sessions?  Could be.

The beacon of hope lies in our ability to carve out careers, create brands  and provide services in emerging markets – despite the nay-sayers and dismal statistics. 

Drop me a tweet @marsonearth.

I write about financial empowerment, digital literacy, and educational technology at my blog called Catalyst Woman.  Who am I? I once described myself as a Communications consultant who conducts trainings focused on Women’s Empowerment, Employability Skills and Educational Innovation.

Time to ‘Woman Up’!

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Two quotes from the interwebz – one message – it’s time to ‘Woman Up!’

“Profound change will be possible only if we build a grand female tradition that men are forced to measure themselves against. – Only when a man publicly recognises his debt to a woman’s work without the condescending kindliness typical of those who feel themselves superior will things really start to change.”

In a Manner of Speaking – Interview of Elena Ferrante 

Do you agree? Send a tweet at  @catalystwoman or drop me an email on talktocatalystwoman at gmail dot com.

“Phir ban gaya na, equal -equal” – Fair and Lovely takes a Jab at Fairness in Adulting expectations

You *must* have eye-rolled at this fairness cream ad by now. It depicts a father-daughter duo jogging in a park when the father pitches a potential suitor who has EVERYTHING a young girl could desire ‘a good job, his own house, well-settled’.  Since this is a fairness cream commercial, based in India but also shown in Pakistan, the young woman gains confidence to ward off the potential suitor with her OWN plan to get a ‘good job, her own car, etc’ in three years.

Surprisingly, my issue this time around with the fairness creme advertisement is not that the systematic bleaching of one’s skin makes a woman not only more beautiful, but also endows her with wit and savvy.  (That is a long-standing objection with the prejudicial and superficial approach that such beauty cream adverts take when marketing to multi-complexion communities such as Pakistan. No complexion takes precedence over another.)

She is effectively bargaining with her parents/guardians  for a paltry three years to put into play all that she has learned at university (even Life) before entering into an arranged marriage situation.hqdefault

Can Fair & Lovely ad execs back up the claim that Snow White makes that she can accomplish all the markings of financial and vocational success fresh out of university in 3 years? a car, home, “good job” in THIS  global economy? It is impossible to afford a home independently on just a Bachelor’s degree in Pakistan or India, especially within three years of graduation.

Going with the general dynamics when desi folks go ‘rishta’-ing, it is likely that that the potential groom is at least 5 to 7 years older than our  formerly- dark and distressed damsel. Why does this invisible casanova of her father’s dreams get a minimum 5 year advantage on the whole ‘success’ aspect?

This ad reinforces that the double-standard that is glaringly relevant in Pakistani and Indian communities the world over; if a young woman is to experience her adulthood as singleton, she MUST be achieving the very pinnacle of vocational, educational and social success.  That, too, on a considerably shorter deadline (leash?) than her male counterparts; to be exact, before her  ‘looks’  or ‘charm’ fade into oblivion. 

F&L, if you are listening, this may be the one time I will applaud you for illustrating just how drastically societal expectations for  young men and women vary, especially when it comes to leading one’s life as an Adult.

What do you think? Drop me a tweet @catalystwoman. 

 

 

M.I.A.: Work Culture

First, read this tweet.

When the Wiggle-Room Becomes the Bermuda Triangle 

As social animals, us humans have an inherent sense of how compatible we are with others.  This compatibility does extend beyond the typical domains of romance or familial duties; we have a definite compatibility ratio when it comes to our colleagues at the workplace.

In today’s project-driven offices it is quite common for us to be communicating with coworkers in the next city over or even the next timezone.  Given this reality, despite the numerous advantages of instantaneous connections via the internet (Skype, WhatsApp, Email), colleagues often provide each other some wiggle room when it comes to responding back on tasks that aren’t red-hot, Priority #1.

Working in Pakistan there are times we are dealing with choppy internet, poor bandwidth and plain ol’ power breakdowns; to battle all this, Pakistani professionals make it a priority to build in a cushion of time/space to ensure work gets delivered on-time.  We also invest a hefty sum of money in back-up power and multiple internet service providers;  I would specially give credit to our independent freelancing professionals who maintain this high-level of responsiveness without the buffer of a mega-corp or the mega-corp budget.

Going back to the compatibility aspect, we usually have a good sense of who will not exploit the wiggle room given; until that wiggle room becomes the never-ending Bermuda Triangle. Something inexplicable happens and the perfect syncopation fizzles out into unanswered emails and missed deadlines.

I write this only to trigger a conversation about this phenomenon. What makes us, all of us, lose steam during a project? Is this an indication of poor leadership?  Aside from the obvious communication breakdown, are there expectations from the project associates that aren’t being met?  How to jump-start such failing connections?

Is this a failing of our national work culture?  Can work culture even be generalized to include multiple industries across a beautifully complex and rapidly metamorphosing country like Pakistan?

Note: I am sure I am not the only one who has experienced this phenomenon in the workplace. If you have any stories, please leave a comment or drop a tweet at @catalystwoman

 

Needed:Co-working Spaces in Lahore

My headphones are plugged in to what I imagine a shoreside picnic coupled with thunderclaps and slight rain shower sounds like. If you have ever wondered who is lame enough to actually use a rain sound app, that would be me. It can also be you, too, if you were camped out in a busy cafe in Lahore’s commercial district. 

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I’m attempting to stay focused on the upcoming meeting, while the couple at the table on the left has once again asked me for the wi-fi password.  Such interruptions, while normal if one is in the mood for people-watching or idle posturing in a swanky eatery, are frustrating if one is waiting to meet a client to finalize terms on a contract.

photo-1429681601148-75510b2cef43Office-less, officially, when it comes to our consulting work, my partners and I feel the need for a formal meeting room or conference room at least twice to three times a month. While that seems quite frequent, when we calculated the math, it still doesn’t make sense for us to invest in a permanent office in the near future.  Reasons being that some of us are still working traditional 9-5 jobs while others prefer the convenience of flex-time and telecommuting afforded by the consulting work-life.

What Lahore desperately needs is an affordable Co-working space which is open to all types of professional, techies and non-techies, entrepreneurs, freelancers, cottage-industry workers, bakers and yes, even musicians. 

What should the co-working space consist of? The usual, a conference room, a small kitchenette, desks or cubicles for hire by the hour or the day, reliable wi-fi/internet connection, a tv lounge/reception and a printer/fax machine corner to round off all the mundane necessities of grownup, office-life.

Let’s step beyond the vomit-inducing, Silicon Valley-esque marketing gibberish that immediately gets plastered upon the advent of a functional service idea.  This is not a recommendation for all of you sitting on your butts to open up 5 co-working spaces right across from each other in Bahria Town  and begin hosting ‘entrepreneurship workshops slash mentorship sessions slash fireside chats’  on the regular.  I am not claiming to be your guru for new-fangled business ideas.

What I am recommending is a more holistic, survey-based approach to solving challenges  your peers and neighbors are dealing with in your immediate vicinity. If you solve that challenge successfully, and lucratively, good on you!  If you fail to solve that challenge the first time around, no problem; you’ll have earned goodwill in the community. Rest your bruised ego, keep your eyes and ears open, and rise up tomorrow with the intent to put your education and initiative to good use.

Note: I have heard inklings of a co-w0rking space popping up in my hometown, but I’m curious if there are any others on the horizon. If you know of any, leave a comment or drop a tweet at @catalystwoman

 

 

Women in Positions of Authority (Quote)

Feminists have been telling us for a very long time that women in positions of authority find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Too assertive or confident and they’ll call you a “bitch.” Too passive or self-deprecating and they’ll think you’re a doormat and unfit to be taken seriously.”

We lack the cultural narratives to make sense of women in positions of social power or authority. The ones we do have haven’t changed much since the days of Freud and de Beauvoir. This failure of cultural imagination affects women’s political, economic and social prospects.”

Read the entire article by Carol Hay titled Girlfriend, Mother, Professor? (it’s excellent) here.