3 Career Lessons I Learnt From “Hidden Figures”

Reading time: 5 mins


I went to see “Hidden Figures” last week and I absolutely blown away! The hype is real! The film is based on the lives of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson, black female mathematicians, engineers and computer scientists that worked for NASA in the early 1960’s under the racist Jim Crow and Segregation Laws. Not only did these helped put Man on The Moon but helped advance the fields of Science, Mathematics and Technology and some of this was before US segregation even ended!

At first, I was going to do a straight-up movie review, but a) that would be too easy and b) that’s why Rotten Tomatoes was created… So I decided to write about 3 career gems that I learnt while watching this great film!

***MAJOR SPOILER WARNING*** This post will be discussing major plot points of the film, so it you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want it to be spoiled, stop here, watch the film and make your way back here. You have been warned…

1) Be So Good That They Can’t Ignore You

Hidden Figures Day 41

In the film, our three heroines were known as ‘computers’, human beings who could work out long and complex calculations with speed and accuracy. Because of the Segregation Laws, whites and ‘coloured’ people had to be separate which meant that coloured had to put up with inferior utilities, services and be treated as second class citizens. The black computers were segregated in the ‘West Area’ while the white ones in the ‘East Area’. In the movie, the ‘East Area’ needed more talented computers and Katherine Goble (before she got married and changed to Katherine Johnson) was selected as the first black female to cross the barrier and found herself working closely with the Director of the Space Task Group, Al Harrison.


However it wasn’t smooth for our dear Katherine. Katherine was treated with suspicion, had much lower pay and her line manager left out key parts of the calculations which meant that she could not do her work accurately. To add further humiliation, in the East Area, there were no coloured toilets, which meant that Katherine had to run to walk 20 minutes to the West Area just to relieve herself. When Al Harrison publicly rebuked her for being away from her desk for long periods of time, she emotionally explained that all the difficulties that she faced being a coloured woman in NASA. Very shortly after Harrison, abolished the toilet segregation rules and Katherine found herself being treated as more as an equal and playing a more pivotal role in the Project.

Although this was heartwarming, there is a very clear fact that emerges: Katherine was brilliant and she was so good at what she did that towards the end of the film, John Glenn refused to fly unless Katherine personally checked the launch calculations. There is an old Bible saying that says that “A man who is good at his work will serve before Kings and not mere men.” Cal Newport in his great book “So Good That They Can’t Ignore You” stated that those who work on critical skills that serve the marketplace can basically write their own life ticket. Work on your skills and they will work for you!

2) If You Are Not Learning, You’re Dying


Dorothy Vaughn, the unofficial supervisor of the West Area, learns that NASA is going to install the IBM 7090 mainframe – a massive room-wide computer that could do thousands of calculations per minute – making the human computers obsolete. Rather than defeated, Dorothy quickly figured out that, although they maybe able to do the calculations, they will need someone to program the machine with correct ones.


Dorothy, after taking a FORTRAN book from the public library, started to teach herself computer programming and also taught her colleagues ready to configure the supercomputer. When the IBM 7090 was fully installed rather than lay off the entire West Area, NASA promoted Dorothy as the supervisor of the Analysis and Computation Division, saving her colleagues’ livelihoods and helping usher in the new Technological Age in Space Travel.


I love this part of the film! Dorothy created a new opportunity for herself and her peers by leveraging technology rather than being crushed by it and she did this by improving herself. Continuous learning is an absolute must if you want to survive in the Information Age. And this does not apply only to programmer either – with the increasing technological, social and economical changes in our world, your willingness to adapt quickly and evolve your skillsets will be vital to your life success. To adapt 50 Cents famous album cover we now must “Get Skills Or Die Trying.”

3) Nothing You Learn Is Ever Wasted

In a key part of the film, the Americans were behind in the Space Race – The Soviet Union managed to send a man to Outer Space and complete a full orbit of the planet. They needed to better and fast.

The Americans started the Mercury Program to go beyond and even the odds. The human computers were tasked with coming up with the Math that will allow an astronaut to go into space, stay in circle the planet a coupe of times, then break orbit and return to Earth. The problem was that this hadn’t been done and they needed a new set of Maths to calculate the capsule’s flight – and they have 2 weeks to do this before the launch.

After many long nights, Katherine recalled “Euller’s Formula” an almost 300 year old set of equations to help solve the problem. After a couple of hours adapting the formula, they finally solved the problem and the Astronaut, John Glenn, managed to do 3 orbits around the Earth becoming the first American to do so.

What’s so great about this example is that Katherine’s line manager at NASA described the formula as “ancient.” But this didn’t stop Katherine from using it to get the job done. Before I started to learn coding. I would many jobs from a retail sales assistant, an inventory planner, a music performer/producer and my latest career, a teacher. And as the years go by, I have managed to use most of my skills in my teaching practice. I was intimidated because I didn’t have a Computer Science degree but I soon realised that virtually all my skills in sales, writing, negotiation and organisation have helped me become a better coder.

Take stock of all the jobs and courses that you have studied over the years and see what skills that you use today: you will be very surprised on how these skills give you a unique advantage in your job and can help you get the next one!

I hope you enjoyed this blog! Please go and watch “Hidden Figures”- it’s a very inspirational film. Have you watched “Hidden Figures?” What do you think? Leave your comments below or @karlwebdev.

As always, see you next Thursday


5 Life Lessons I Learnt From XCOM: Enemy Within

Reading time: 6 mins
Hello People!
For me, XCOM:Enemy Within (EW) is the greatest strategy game of all time. Hands down.
XCOM:EW is a 3D turned based strategy game about a hostile, technologically advanced alien force that is trying to invade & conquer Earth. The game places you in the role of ‘The Commander’, a general and master tactician who has been recruited by ‘The Council’ (think the UN or NATO) to lead the campaign to end this menace.
Your main job will be guiding a platoon of 4-6 soldiers through various ground missions where you will have to combat the aliens.
          In between missions, you will have to run a top secret base that will serve as your mission control centre which also has barracks, research & engineering facilities that will help your campaign against the aliens.
But this all costs money and your main source of income will be from the 16 member countries of ‘The Council’ who all have their own competing demands & interests. If you ignore requests for assistance or fail too many missions, countries will leave ‘The Council’ & take their funding with them. If more than 8 countries leave then its game over dude/dudette.
This game is so incredibly and immersive that I have played it many times over. But after hours of gameplay, I realised there are several life lessons that can be applied to your ‘the campaign of your life!’
So I proudly present to you 5 life lessons that can help improve your life!
Good luck Commander.

1) Invest In Your Network

In XCOM:EW, the Mission Control Centre provides you valuable intelligence of alien activity from around the globe and guides the missions that shape your campaign.
At the beginning of the game, one of your first priorities is to set up a satellite network over all ‘The Council’ countries around the globe. Launching satellites are invaluable as they allow you to track UFO’s, helps you access mission critical missions and reduces the country’s panic level. But the aliens will soon cotton on that you are on to them and will often try to shoot down your satellites – thus you must invest in fighter craft to protect them.
Likewise in life, having a good social network, both real and virtual is absolutely critical to success and happiness. Research has shown that the chances of life success increase with the size of your personal network. Especially if you are considering changing career paths like I am, people who are in the industry can provide invaluable intel about the industry and set you on the right path. As well as the traditional real-life networks I have, virtual networks like Twitter has helped me immensely and created great opportunities. It’s easier than ever to create and maintain one – try it!

2) Pick Your Battles

XCOM is all about trade-offs. In the early stages when the aliens are rampaging around the Earth, many countries will all ask for your help at the same time and you can have up to 3 countries at the same asking you to save them, but you can only pick one. Now whatever 2 countries that you ignore, the panic level will go up and it it goes too far, the country will leave and withdraw their funding. Each country will give you an assessment of how difficult the mission is from ‘Easy’ all the way up to ‘Very Difficult’.
Also different countries will give different levels of funding. For example, the USA will give 3 times more funding than just say India or South Africa and protecting a group of countries that exist on the same continent i.e France, Germany and the UK form ‘Europe’ in the game will give you bonuses like additional funding or more efficient laboratories and workshops.
Also you must consider the state of your squad. If you veteran soldiers are all injured or dead, leaving you with a group of rookies, you could be sending them on a suicide mission and still lose the country. It’s not easy!
Likewise our lives are also about trade-offs but no where near as dramatic! When ever we are making any important decisions such as starting a new job, getting married or starting a family, there are many factors that we need to consider such as our careers, finances, health, family relationships and time. As we go through our daily lives, all these areas demand our attention but contrary to popular belief, we really can’t do it all and we must learn how to prioritise what are the most important things to us and be willing to delegate or let go of the rest.
The key to winning at XCOM:EW and at life is to try to take the long term view.
At one point in my life I made money and my career my main priority and I put it above everything. But a short time later, when I got sick and very unhappy, I had to realise that things like health, happiness and great relationships were vital in my life and I am now conscious to factor them into any major decisions. It’s OK not to be able to do everything. Pick the projects and goals that overtime will give you the most peace about the goal or path you have chosen.

3) Protect And Invest In Your Soldiers


Your soldiers are everything in XCOM and like real life when they die in the game, they are gone forever. When you start the game, you are given 10 rookie soldiers that you can take in a team of 4-6. These rookies are rubbish shots, run away and if panicked can shoot their teammates! But if you manage to keep them alive and well, with each mission, your soldiers gain experience and can start climbing the ranks eventually going all the way up to Colonel. After awhile, soldiers gain a specialism: i.e snipers, medics, assault and rocketeers and every time your soldier climbs a rank, they get new exciting abilities  which make them more effective on the battlefield.
As The Commander you must try to make sure that you have the right types of soldiers that will balance your squads. For example, snipers are great at shooting enemies over long distances but are virtually useless in close quarters combat. The key to a great platoon is trying to have one of each type of soldier to handle the ever changing battlefield.
In real-life, your ‘soldiers’ could be your skills, assets or personal brand. To be truly successful, you will need to be able to effectively ‘skill-stack’ so that you bring the right blend of skills to help you win the game of life. What I have learnt is that although it is important to get great technical skills like coding, practising medicine or law or marketing, do not neglect so called ‘soft-skills’ like communication, negotiation and influencing. If you are a great coder but you are an absolute douchebag to everyone around you will only get you so far. Nurture you technical skills but don’t neglect people skills – they are both important!


4) Tread Carefully In The Battlefield


Once you have done steps above, you are now ready to launch a ground mission in the Area of Operations (AO). So should we rush in all guns blazing like Rambo? Hold your horses, Arnie. Even the toughest soldiers in open space will usually be slaughtered in one or two turns and soldiers that rush into unfamiliar places will get ambushed and sent home in a bodybag.
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. When you first land in the AO, the uncharted parts of the battlefield will be covered in a ‘fog’ until you send your soldiers move into that area where any enemy will also be revealed. The key to completing your missions with any casualties is to move very carefully in the AO and find good cover behind objects that will shield them from enemy fire, with no more than 2 soldiers going forward and the other soldiers providing covering fire. That way if any aliens are discovered, the back soldiers can eliminate them or be a good position to win a firefight. Placing the right soldiers in key positions make battles much easier and help you achieve your objectives. For example, placing a sniper in a high place like a hill or building with good cover, will help you pick off pesky or difficult enemies from a long distance without hassle.
Likewise in your life, whenever you want to make any major decisions, by all means experiment and explore but it would be wise to do it in careful logical way. The popular thinking is that when you have got a dream is to “take drastic, massive action” and give it 120 percent. Although this can work sometimes, unfortunately it can be disastrous for your life. But research has shown, the successful people amongst us don’t do that at all but take small, logical risks that can be easily reversed or corrected, only taking bigger ones when their hunches have been proved. If you have an idea or want to make a change, like your soldiers go forward but make sure that you have a couple of ways to protect yourself if things go wrong or you can correct it easily. For me, taking little steps have helped me greatly and they all add up.


5) Research, Research, Research

So far so good Commander. But doing the 4 things above will get you probably to the middle of the game and then you will still die miserably. As the game progresses you will meet increasingly more aggressive aliens with increased body armour and devastating
weapons. No matter how skilled your soldiers become if they still have low grade armour and starter rifles, they will be all six feet under.
This is where the Research Laboratory and the Foundry come into play. The Research Lab will allow you to study alien artefacts that you recover from the AO. Research Labs they complete their individual studies, create the blueprints for advanced weapons and armour like laser rifles and the ‘skeleton suit’.
As the game progresses even further you can splice the DNA of your troops with alien genes that will give them special abilities, like super-jumping, further vision and even invisibility which can help even the odds with tougher enemies.


Likewise, in real-life to achieve your dreams and goals, you will need to take a regimen of personal development to keep on improving in every area of your life. Where ‘protect your soldiers’ means about nurturing existing skills, research involves being creative and trying new things and innovating so that you can create something even better. An example of this I can use is from my own life: I started off as a music producer and through research discovered that I can teach those skills. After 2 years of study I become a music production teacher and one day, I had to teach a ‘digital marketing class’. From there I realised the power of the Internet and music and wanted to learn programming. I am currently learning to code and this lead me to writing the blog you are reading now.


Treat your life like a laboratory. Run experiments and do research about your industry, goal or interest. It also doesn’t have to be in massive chunks either: as I have mentioned in previous blogs, small but consistent steps can lead to massive results. Research allows you to reinvent yourself and like the soldiers gives you an ‘edge’ in this ever changing battlefield of life.
Thank you for reading and please let me know what you thought in the comments below or hit me up @karlwebdev!
Thank you for reading and see you next Thursday!

Is Mark Carney Right?

Reading time: 7 mins



The Governor of The Bank of England, Mark Carney claimed that up to 15 million jobs in the UK (which is just under half the UK workforce at the time of writing) will be replaced by machines in the coming decades. And it’s not just the menial, low skilled jobs either. Carney warned that “safe”, well paying jobs like accountants, auditors, copywriters and salespeople could all go as well.

Although some believed that his views were ‘alarmist’ and ‘extreme’, I wrote a blog post a while ago saying that the 40-40 plan (40 hours a week, for 40 years) had vanished and was not coming back.

The major anti-establishment backlash that we saw in the Brexit vote and the shock 2016 US Election victory of Donald Trump were as research shown were made caused by disenfranchised workers, who made have lost livelihoods to machines and companies taking their jobs overseas.

But this is not something that any leader or politician can fix nor turn back the clock. As Mark Carney said… we are living through technologically and economically a massive time in human history and our old way of thinking just won’t cut it. The genie’s out of the bottle Aladdin and it won’t go back in.

I have discussed these themes before but with this blog post I wanted to make it more personal. I have personally seen what technology can do to a whole industry… Let’s talk about music…


A month ago, my wife and I went to watch the fantastic Jazz Saxophonist Soweto Kinch at the Roundhouse for his new album launch – seriously guys check him out!

As were waiting in line, this young, very eager guy approached us telling us to buy his new album on special offer for only £5. He spoke about the production, his dreams, the artwork and everything in between without catching a breath. When he finally stopped, I told him that I loved every word he said & I would have bought his album but there was major problem:

I don’t have a CD player.

In fact I haven’t bought a physical CD in 5 years. I mainly stream music or watch it on YouTube. But what made me sad was his reaction to what I said – rather than understand my point, he took it as an excuse and personal insult from me not buying his music. This guy did not realise that the music industry has moved on and he didn’t want to go with it.

When I got into the music industry in the mid 90s (I know I’m old right?!?), cassette tapes and CDs were still the rage and if people wanted to know what the hottest tunes were, they would listen to DJs like John Peel and Trevor Nelson and watch programs like Top of The Pops and CD:UK. To buy an albums, you had to physically go to the shops, listen to the album of your choice and then pay anything from £10 – £30 (especially if the album was an import!) To listen to our CD, we would use a portable CD player called a ‘Discman’ which was huge! When you clipped it on your jeans it was like having a small dinner plate stuck to your hip – but it was cool!


Even Eminem can’t make discman’s look cool!

Record labels because they relied mainly on physical sales, had a lot more money to throw around and could afford to take more risks on up coming talent and give them “development deals” – where they would help them develop their artistry. It wasn’t perfect but it was easily understood…

But as the Internet Age came so did file sharing services like Napster and LimeWire, then platforms like iTunes and YouTube – and when Steve Jobs created the iPod and said those legendary words “it’s like having 1000 songs in your pocket”, it was last grenade that blew the Music Industry Business Model wide open and it has never fully recovered ever since.

Internet Killed The Radio Star

A good friend of mine works in a publishing agency, which as a company that collects the ‘royalties’ on behalf of record labels and artists and when we sat down to chat, he told me that “most of these artists that you see on TV don’t actually make a lot of money off their music anymore.” Seeing my puzzled face he said “mate, I am responsible for signing these guys royalty checks off – unless you are Beyoncé or U2 you’re not making big money. The days of living off one album for the rest of your life is dead”.

Whoa. I wasn’t ready to hear that – I spent at the time, the best part of my life preparing to enter the industry, but as the years rolled on, I realised that my friend was right. Labels merged or went under, studios closed and people that were making good livings making and performing music started to lose their jobs. The Titanic sunk. With luck on my side, I got a teaching position in a wonderful music college which I cherish dearly.

But as time went on, something started to worry me. Time and time again, I taught these wonderful young people who with their music, wanted to change the world. Their tunes were brilliant – but they were completely ignorant to how the music industry works and the gigantic changes that were happening. The still believed in “burning their CDs and getting it to the right A&R guy”, totally unaware that social media and YouTube has made the traditional A&R redundant and labels will be more interested in your Twitter following than what instruments you used in your 4 minute masterpiece. Technology has changed the whole game & they didn’t get the memo.

So Was Mark Carney Right?

Is this the end as we know it? No, it won’t hit us like a meteorite – but that’s the point.

In the music industry, these innovations didn’t happen all at once but they rolled at gradually over the years and decades. Likewise we talk about the future like it’s some far away place but it’s here. We have self driving cars and planes, cashless banks, 3D printers, cashier-less shops and Artificial Intelligence becoming more and central to our daily lives. Humans no matter how we measure things, have a very poor relationship with time – we are always on the look at for the for the sudden, explosive changes but more often than not it’s the gradual and slow changes that hurt us the most.

Mark Carney’s words were frank and grave but I feel that they were right. Although technology is a major part of the puzzle, I feel that we have to rethink ALL parts of our culture to face the massive challenges that humans face in the 21st Century.

Thank you for reading! What do you think? Do you think Mark Carney was right or wrong? Leave your comments below or tweet me @karlwebdev.

Thank you for reading and see you next Thursday!



Do or Die! 3 Reasons Why You Have To Think Like An Entrepreneur – Whether You Like It or Not

Reading time: 6 minutes


We too have the tools to fly. Let’s use them.



It was tough growing up in an African household. My parents would often tell stories of how they would have to walk 20 miles to school, sit in a class of 100 students that was designed to seat 30, have to study without electricity, fight evil ninjas… okay I made up that last part but I got the picture that it was a really tough gig for them to do well, come to the UK and have a decent life.

My mother would drill into me that life consisted of these 4 steps and I had to do them in a particular order: here is a picture I drew just for you guys! (Thank you Mama WebDev for copyright permission).


According to my mother, I shouldn’t even start talking to women until I am at least 30…

I got steps 1 and 2 in the bag and was heading to step 3 but then it happened…

The Armageddon of 2008-2009


In 2008-2009, this is what we felt was happening to the world economy…

In 2009, there had been rumblings of the “credit crunch” on the news for the last couple of weeks but I didn’t take any notice as I was more interested in how Michael Schofield would break out of Fox River Penitentiary in “Prison Break” (It’s a great show, catch it on Netflix).

But one day in late September, I went to account management job at a large telecoms company as usual and sat at my desk to start making calls. My boss urgently told me to finish my call and log into an emergency all-hands-teleconference with the Managing Director. I never saw my manager’s face so pale and my spider-sense was tingling… To cut a long story short, we are informed because of the financial crisis, our department was being closed.

Within a month, I found myself jobless and absolutely terrified. I was desperately trying to find a job but nothing appeared to work. This was not part of the plan. So after much thought I decided to retrain as a teacher and teach those ‘dangerous minds’.

But now with the Brexit vote, I’m seeing the same turmoil again. The Further Education sector where I work lost funding due to the result and this meant further job cuts.

But strangely I’m not afraid. The Armageddon of 2008 taught me some great lessons that allowed me simply to shrug my shoulders and pivot faster in my career than Lionel Messi at the Emirates.

If you don’t know already, we are now in the Information Age – which is the most exciting yet turbulent time in human history. The rules have changed for ever and nothing is safe anymore – but that is great! Here are 3 changes that mean you will have to channel your inner Richard Branson.

1) The Death Of The Lifelong Job


Arsene Wenger smiles because he knows he will never be sacked…

When my father landed in the UK in the 1970s, he had dreams of working for good company, with good benefits and a pension, for 30 years so that he could retire with a pat on the back and a gold watch. But with increased global competition, technological change and increasingly disruptive social and political changes in the world, change is now the norm not the exception. With zero our contracts is becoming increasingly popular for employers, workers have less job security than ever.

Research has also shown that the modern worker changes their job every three years, meaning that in the average lifetime you and I could have up to 15 to 20 different jobs!

My parents always told me to find “a good, safe and stable job”. But the stats show that the chances that you will stay in the same company for 30 years are as remote as Arsene Wenger asking Jose Mourinho to be the godparent of his child. It’s not happening.

2) Technology Is Changing Everything


Facetime was predicted not by Steve Jobs… but The Jetsons


Education expert, Cathy N. Davidson stated “65% of children entering grade school (primary School) will work in careers that haven’t been invented yet.” In the past 10 years we have seen absolute giants of industry: Blackberry, Kodak, Blockbuster video et al being toppled by newer more innovative companies.

It’s hard to believe that Facebook was launched in 2004, YouTube in 2005, WhatsApp and Uber in 2010, but they have changed the way that we make friends, consume media, talk with each other and catch a ride home after heavy night. “Google’s Top rated Future Speaker” Thomas Frey, reckons that 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030 and be replaced by smart machines – that’s half the jobs on the planet!

With the death of old industries and birth of new ones, workers whether employed or flying solo, must be prepared to ride the wave of these changes or be crushed underneath them.

3) More Pressure And Complexity In The Day Job


“My boss told me that if I die, that would eat into my holiday allowance – overtime it is then”

As I wrote in a previous post, we are consuming and processing more information than any other humans in our species’ history… And we are struggling.

When was a lot younger, I’ve worked in jobs where I came in, sat at my desk, made 10 sales calls and spent the rest of the time talking about whether Superman would beat up the Son-Goku in a fight. (Shout out Death Battle). I was ‘coasting’ and I got decent pay. But pushing papers around and expected to be paid well is on the way out. Journalist Thomas Friedman wrote a great article saying “Average is Over” and stated:

In the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But, today, average is officially over. Being average just won’t earn you what it used to. It can’t when so many more employers have so much more access to so much more above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation and cheap genius.

So to all the racist speakers saying that “foreigners are taking our jobs” – I understand your frustration… But your job is more likely to be taken by an IBM server than Jamal, Amandeep or Pietrck. We all need that something special in today’s labour market.


The world of Mama WebDev and your parents are gone. And it’s not coming back.

I didn’t write this post to depress you or make you want to shout at your already stressed parents (okay, you can have 1 eyeroll only – that’s it!) But we are all entrepreneurs now.

The word “entrepreneur” is defined ‘as a person who organises and manages any enterprise usually with considerable initiative and risk’. The 40/40 plan (40 hours a week for 40 years in the same job) is over. We, more than ever, must take the risk organise and manage our careers.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. With the Internet and all the changes that are happening, we have the unique ability to design our careers and our lives in ways that not even our parents could imagine!

The smart phone in your pocket has 20 times the processing power than the computer that sent Man to the Moon. We have incredible access to tools and devices that will allow us to create films, reach new customers, take great exciting new job opportunities and brand yourself like a pro literally at your fingertips!

Rather than being frightened of all the changes that are happening, let us embrace them, take some risks & design the career & life that we dream of!

In the words of the wise:

Carpe Diem (Seize The Day!)- Horace, poet (23BC)

YOLO (You Only Live Once) – Drake, rapper (2011AD)

Thank you for reading!  Are there any changes I forgot? Please comment & let me know what you think! Share it with all your friends and start a conversation! Let me know below or tweet at me @karlwebdev

See you next Thursday!