I’m dreaming of the finish line.  Suddenly, my alarm went off, at 6 AM, just like the day before. As usual, I snooze the alarm for 30 minutes. It usually takes me 20 minutes to get ready and there was the knock just on time. I opened the door and Walid was ready for our morning run. As you run, the pressure built, the key is to remember to keep your pace. Of course, the pivot of slowing down is alway in your mind, but your running partner reminds you that you can do it.

That is the feeling you get when you are trying to solve a problem and you cannot solve it. As I develop On-Call Ma, there is always one problem after another like everlasting runs that never finish. Every software cycle I finish or every lap I finish running, there is another lap ahead. For example, On-call Ma uses chat bot technology to confirm if a call is cancelled, but getting answers we are looking for in a chat is not straightforward. For instance, if we ask for the last name, the user may respond as “my last name is Jackson” or “it’s Jackson”. It would be nice if the user just say “Jackson”.

Finish Line Not in Sight. Pivot or Persist

We are trying to solve this problem by having a database that stores all the last names in the world and realized that people love to have unique last names. It was a bad idea and we can never complete the list of last names. Then we tried to use AI just to identify the name itself just like humans would do, which has some success, but the accuracy is not great. The same feeling of wanting to stop running comes back. My partner reminded me again to keep my pace or persist. The fact is we do not know when to Pivot until we have some data to guide us. Sometime we give up on the solution before even giving it a chance. Persistency is the key to making it to the finish line, not just dreaming.

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“MacGyver defined your career”, whispered a voice in my head. That’s the conclusion I came up with after asking myself: how did I get here? There are many memories that replay in my mind before I came to my conclusion.  One in particular was my professor “Dr. H” who educated the concept of recursion theory – what computers can and cannot do?

Computer sidekick

As CEO we do not think about our sidekick doing repetitive work, in the blink of an eye. We do not think about the fundamental difference between us and the sidekick. That is, a certain task was designed for us and a certain task was designed for our sidekick – the computer.

There are many different types of sidekick in today’s world, but there are only two core versions, which is Unix and Windows just like cells – the smallest unit of life. There are animal cells like you and I and there are plant cells that vegetarians love to eat. I believe many of us used Microsoft Windows 10 and also used Unix type systems like Apple MacOS. The interesting part is that we literally created or gave birth to these sidekicks. As the sidekicks mature or grow, of course, they grew to give us what we want. Need the closest coffee shop? A search engine can do that for you. Need a ride to the coffee shop? Uber can get you there. All the software runs under either Unix or Windows-based systems.

Now how did you get here? The whisper repeated. As a child, I used to love watching MacGyver the TV series. He always seems to find a way to get out of trouble by building things that he can use to escape. As a CEO, I bet you somehow always find a way to solve your problem.

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Since the start of COVID-19 quarantine, I have not gone for a haircut. As a result, my wife told me “You’ll be more attractive if you do something about your hair, Manny.” My career is all about solving problems for customers so they can run their business. In my mind, I am thinking about taking my chances and getting a haircut. I could knock out two birds with one stone – make myself so-called “attractive” and look professional when I visit customers. After giving some thoughts, I decided to solve my hair situation using hair gel instead.

Problem Styling

Many business owners go through a similar process to determine what direction to proceed to solve their problems – fix permanently (haircut) or patch (hair gel). As a voice engineer, my job is to provide all their options. I’ll describe the outcome in a way that makes sense to them. This also means to explain why certain services cost as well.

For example, one of my colleagues told his client that “you do not have to pay me for the visit for this time as a courtesy, as long as you come by my office for a coffee. It can be for a few seconds if you like”. The client responds, “That’s very generous, especially since you are far away.” Of course, the client is a business owner himself.  He realizes why my colleague is willing to waive a fee. If my colleague goes himself, as a patch-up this one time instead of dispatching a technician, he saves money, such as gas and employee time to drive to the client site.

As a voice engineer, my job is to explain this to the clients, in a way they understand. I let them know the advantages of patch-up work vs. a permanent solution. As an owner of a business, it is their job to pick the path.

It is important to understand that there is nothing wrong with patch-up work. I may be scared of getting a haircut because of COVID-19, now.  However, my mindset is to put off the haircut for a little while. This way, the barbershop has more time to prepare for customers in more effective ways.  Permanent or patch.

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God said, “Let there be light”. In my previous posting, I talked about what a computer can and cannot do, such as come up with truly random numbers. The Terminator movie series attempts to explain the limitations of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI cannot just figure out how the unique gift that God gave us, the right to choose, works. It is unpredictable and random on so many levels. The movie The Devil’s Advocate explains even God’s son, the Devil, could not predict the nature of human beings.

As I help develop On-call Ma, I face the problem of predicting scenarios to find caregiver replacement. There are many scenarios and randomization. For example, On-call Ma text caregiver if she wants a job. The caregiver decided to respond back 3 days later, but by that time we already had found a replacement. We have to teach our AI chatbot about predicting scenarios.  Teach it to send a “?” text after a few minutes to remind the caregiver to respond to us. There are factors such as motivation paying a major role. The post Caregiver: Where is my MONEY explains a little.

These challenges I face to solve on-demand caregiver replacement problems is one out of many reasons to give up. As I face one problem after another, I must remind myself that “Life Is a Journey, Not a Destination.”

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One of Spock’s famous lines from Star Trek is “that is quite logical”. We are in a modern age where Artificial intelligence (AI) is mastering the art of logic. Many people do not understand AI, and even the programmers who are developing AI do not understand the logic AI producing. For example in On-call Ma software, we are using AI to determine if we need to find a caregiver replacement, we are not sure how AI is using the data to figure out when to start the process of finding a replacement. According to our statistics, we know the accuracy is improving over time. The more AI listens to the conversation between on-call coordinator and the caregiver or the client, the more it improves on to determine when a call-out or canceled appointment happened.

One of the issues that On-call Ma have that we as human beings also have is making an assumption. Sometimes we draw a conclusion based on listening to only part of the communication. For example, a caregiver calls in. They leave a message their car is not working and cannot make their appointment. Most coordinators know that caregivers usually use the car scenario to cancel the visit because they do not want to go to work. However, there are cases where caregivers would call back, state the car is fixed, and able to make the visit. By the time the caregiver notifies the agency of their status, On-call Ma already found a replacement.

This type of assumption can cause issues where the client feels they are receiving poor service. However, On-call Ma is still young and it has a lot of time to learn. As Spock would say “live long and prosper.”

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“Are you saying that if I could find a caregiver at the last minute, you are willing to pay half of your profit?” She replies, “Yes, because I am losing the money on the visit anyway.  If a caregiver calls-out or cancels the visit for the client, there is no profit”. That is one of the reasons why I started developing the On-call Ma application. Owners of a home care agency had a problem and were willing to pay for a solution.

Start and Stop Development? No Pain, No Gain

It was clear to me that the problem could be solved, but not sure about the details. As a system engineer, I am aware that creating software is like writing a story. We know what to write about, but we do not know all the sentences within a paragraph. In fact, we do not know all the paragraphs we need to write or the exact amount of paragraphs we need to write. It is a journey with uncertainty. It is important to mention that once we start the journey, we cannot stop. Either we come up with a solution or all the time spent is wasted.

Another way to look at the journey is the movie Sanctum made in 2011 and directed by Alister Grierson. The move is about “an underwater cave diving team experiences a life-threatening crisis during an expedition to the unexplored and least accessible cave system in the world.”

If there is a cave next to the ocean, any cave driver knows that underwater usually always has a path to the ocean. However, there are, most likely, multiple paths. In the movie Sanctum, one of the main characters, Frank, one thing is clear is that once you enter a cave, either you exit on the other end or go back. However, Frank’s cave driver team did not have the option to go back. Either they exit the other end or die. That is not far from the truth when it comes to software development. Either we stop development or release software.

Another knowledge to keep in mind is that software has a cycle. We revisit our first draft and modify the writing on the next round to make the story better.

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Photo by Jasin Boland / Rogue Pictures – © 2011 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


The feeling of a father taking his first son to kindergarten registration is something hard to explain. Any feeling is usually hard to explain because it does not match up with logic. We all know emotion and logic do not go side by side. That is not far from the truth when it comes to developing the software for years.

“Mylul, your father is taking you to school today.” I did not understand the smile of my father’s face, but I did feel his happy mood when he took me to school that my sister attended. My dad paid 500 taka for registration, which is about $7 dollars in the US. I am assuming it is a joy only a father could understand. One thing that was clear is he did not care about the money. Raising a child and developing software does have some similarities. It almost seems as the software becomes the programmer’s child. The same could happen in a job where the employee puts enough emotional effort into the work they do.

Software Developers following their Intuition

As I am working on On-call Ma for home care agency, I am beginning to see extra details programmers insert that I did not request.  Sometimes the programmer changes certain detail from the requirements. For example, the programmer may  feel a report is important and adds an extra tab to display it. Experience programmer knows very well that “no good deed goes unpunished” is common. That is because programmer awareness of emotion and logic become concert.

There was I toward the end of my kindergarten year where I was getting hit with a bamboo stick on my hand by my teacher because I did not do exactly what I was told to do like standing up when the teacher enter the room to show respect.

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😠 She saw me as the Mango Killer. I cannot say that she does not love me, because she does. When I looked back I could see the anger rushing through her eyes. I still remember the running shadow in the crop field as the sun is at the highest peak. There I was, my grandmother chasing me with a stick. If she caught me I knew I was going to get it , but I was not worried. I have been in this position many times, since I had a habit of climbing trees and plucking mangoes just for the fun of it. The green mangos are not ready and that is what pisses my grandmother.

🌴  When software does not have good usability, you also get that same feeling. It is the same as eating a green mango expecting a sweet taste. When I design a Graphic User Interface (GUI) for On-call Ma SMS delivery, the first principle I think of is “don’t make me think”. The fact is people do not want to think. Making people think is the same as creating pain and users will try to run away in the face of pain.

However, that is not the case for my grandmother. My grandmother could simply tell my mother not to visit her, leading to me not visiting her. She wanted my company, but not my bad behavior. My grandmother wanted me to visit her for sure. I can see that in her eyes when she makes food for me in the morning time. Sometimes it can be difficult to see from someone else’s perspective. When it comes to usability, there is nothing wrong with just asking the user instead of guessing.

Arriving at good UX for SMS

👩‍💻 According to Google Senior UX researcher Jenny Gove, it does not take a lot of money to do some usability testing. In fact, you can pick a family member like your grandmother. I am sure my grandmother prefers me interacting with her instead of picking mangoes. To help me with usability testing on On-call Ma SMS messaging I asked my wife, two sisters, my brother in law, and my college friend. I picked these users because they have a job. SMS module was designed for business-to-business customers and I want to make sure my test subject is closest to the end user.

My goal was to leverage existing user behavior such as WhatsApp or Skype to handle the navigation of the GUI. The goal of usability testing is to understand the thinking process of the user as they do a certain task. An example would be “I clicked on the “Message (SMS)” tab because I want to send a text message and the word SMS meant I was in the right place. Then I clicked on “Send a new message” with a plus icon next to it so I can send the message.”

📂 As I was doing my usability testing, I have realized that using a template to send a message is uncommon and requires education. Regular users did not have enough existing knowledge to navigate. Therefore, I have added a help section within the template GUI “Need help? Click here to learn how to use a template.” There is nothing wrong with giving a helping hand just like my grandmother spending time explaining why bad behavior gave her stress.

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