Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Election 2010... a Bright Future for IT in the Philippines

Looking at it from a 'project management' point of view, the preparations leading to the Philippines' first automated election system was almost at a 'nightmare' level. Just like a lot of fellow Filipinos, I shared the view and sentiments of the so called "IT Experts" I often see and hear in the news. As a project manager, you never deploy a system this big, a system this critical, without a thorough simulation and comprehensive "operational testing." I wanted to remain optimistic about the new system, but checking each item in my imaginary project management 'checklist', I cannot help but feel nervous about the situation. So with that feeling of nervousness, plus ongoing talks about possible failure of election scenarios, I went out on May 10, 2010, to cast my vote.

But as always, Filipinos never seize to surprise and amaze, specially concerning our democratic exercises. For starters, I was happy to see a lot of people joining the long lines of voters, and the mood was generally relaxed, if not festive, in the voting precincts. Secondly, in spite of the many 'glitches' in the technical preparation, and the supposed over-sensitivity of the system even for small mistakes in ballot shading, the voters (young and old alike) looked genuinely excited to try out the new system. Thirdly, unfamiliarity with the new system made the voting process quite time consuming compared with the previous, but voters were very patient about it, with some even extending until late in the night to cast their votes.

While waiting for about 4 hours before I finally had the chance to vote, mostly I was smiling with the thought that the Filipinos had again shown the world their love for democracy, their openness to adopt new technology, and their undying faith that things can, and will become better than it is now.

Oh. I almost forgot why I wanted to write this entry in the first place :)
Being an IT professional, I wanted to say how happy I am of the openness and enthusiasm of Filipinos in quickly adapting to the automated election system. In my own experience in the IT industry, a computerized system, however reliable and efficient it may be, is only as effective as the willingness of the "users" to use it in place of their current (manual) system.
In our recent election, I saw not only the willingness of voters to use the new system, but their excitement to be a part of it, in spite of the many negative news about it. If it is any indication of our general willingness to adopt a more organized, a more efficient, yet more structured (inflexible and sometimes rigid, specially regarding mistakes and errors) system than the one we are used to already, then I can say that we Filipinos really have a bright future in IT (and technology) ahead of us. I can see this trickling down to our local companies and organizations. IT solution providers and software developers can now propose computerized/automated processes and systems, and we do not have to worry so much about acceptability and adaptation by the users, especially Filipinos. Once they are convinced of the benefits, they will be more than glad to be part of the new system.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Remarkable PhilNITS Pass Rate of 31.25% from Davao

Congratulations to all who passed the recent PhilNITS exams!
(check out the results here at www.philnits.org ... passers from Davao begins with FE04...)

I am so happy!!!

I am so happy right now for so many reasons...
... results were updated to show 15 passed from Davao in the recent (March, 2010) PhilNITS exam, from the initially heartbreaking thought (see my previous entry) of only 5 passers
... we have met our target of 10 passers for Davao, however improbable a target it was when we set it knowing that Davao averages only about 6% pass rate and maximum of 5 passers in past exams
... we have met the challenge of our major sponsor company, Data Horizon, who hopefully will decide to continue their support and confidence for Davao IT students/professionals
... we have achieved a remarkable 31.25% pass rate (15 passers out of 48 examinees), which is quite good even compared to average national pass rate of around 15% and even Japan's average pass rate of around 20%
... we have achieved this result in spite of the surprise major change in structure and format of the examination
... it is a well deserved pass result, as I know most of the passers and I know how much heart and effort they have put into preparing for the exam
... our review program has finally reached this milestone, learning from several unsuccessful attempt to produce a good enough number of passers from Davao
... we provided very promising career opportunities waiting for our passers, considering how difficult it is to find a good job that compensates well and one that helps us to grow in our chosen field of Information Technology
... we have a good participation from our local SW development companies, contributing also to our list of passers

And finally, I am happy and excited that this inspiring result would encourage and motivate more from Davao to challenge the PhilNITS certification exam.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Lessons Learned from PhilNITS... again... and again...

It's about a year ago when I wrote about how PhilNITS reminded me how hard an exam it is to pass, and how unexpected the results can be. It seems I never learn.

Much of what I am feeling, and what I want to say now, you can read from that post (Lessons Learned from PhilNITS, May 8, 2009).

I am glad that 5 passed from Davao this time. I am glad that three of them I helped with their review, and of those three two were just third year college Computer Science students of UP Mindanao. But...

I know how to accept failure. Having conducted PhilNITS reviews for several years now, I have had my share of crushed expectations. But for me, believe it or not, more important than the present result is the improvement gained each time. It might take some time, but if I can show improvements every time, however small they may be, time will come when we can consistently produce good results.

The probem is, I am not seeing any improvement in the results from our review program. I would like to think we already covered all bases we can possibly can, but still the result doesn't seem to show any pattern at all, aside from it being consistently low (around 3 passers only everytime). Here are some of the possible causes that prevents us from getting a better performance, and what actions were taken to try to resolve them, or why I believe they should not be a reason for us not to pass the exam:
  1. Not enough resource/reference materials for review ==> We have gathered around 15 years of past exams (some from translated Japanese exams); received an exam handbook containing almost two hundred past questions with solutions; received a softcopy of the preparation book for IT passport; received a hardcopy of the FE preparation book; received copies of several lecture materials about fundamental IT concepts; and we even use one or two Japanese reviewer books. I usually tell my review participants that we actually have more than enough review materials that we can feasibly comprehend during our limited review time.
  2. Not enough focus/time is being given for the review ==> Busy with schoolworks (thesis, SP, exams, school activities, etc.) is one the usual excuses. But come to think of it, so are the other students in other schools. Teachers who passed the exams I would think are even busier with their teaching loads, not to mention their having to take care of their family and kids when they get home. As I usually advise my review participants, do not expect to secure 1 hour or longer review periods from your usual schedule, but instead, try to find those packets of time (around 5 to 20 minutes) which I fondly call "nakaw na sandali". These would include lunch breaks, snack breaks, travel time, even CR time. Added up, they amount to almost 2 hours of review per day.
  3. Lacking of motivation and desire to pass the exam ==> In this trying times wherein even the best graduates find it hard to find a good job, what can be a better motivation than an almost certain job offer if you pass the exam. Don't you think a three-year training in Japan, then going back to Davao and establishing the company here, a good deal? All you have to do is pass the exam, and you are almost certain they will offer you the job. of course not all who take the exam would have the same motivations, but I strongly believe there are quite a few (at least 30%) are highly motivated.
  4. Fundamental concepts learned at school is not sufficient ==> I can agree that our schools' current curriculum can use some revising/improving, but students from lesser known schools were able to pass the exam. Even older examinees whose curricullum during their generation I suppose is already obsolete by today's standard, are able to pass the exam. And in our review program, we even have a system to identify which are your weak areas, so you can give focus on improving those areas particularly.
  5. The review program is not very effective ==> Assuming this is true. But still, some students have passed the exam even without the benefit of an organized review, without access to the materials that we have. All they have to rely on are the materials they can freely get from the Web.
  6. The exam is really impossible to pass ==> This one I cannot accept. If Manila and Cebu can show 10 to 20% passing ratio, I cannot accept that students from Davao cannot do the same, or even better. I simply refuse to believe that students from other cities are much better than ours.
  7. The format of the recent exam was changed (from previous) without any warning ==> True. It has caught us off-guard and by surprise, and may have even caused unnecessary nervousness during the exam. But the examinees from other cities also experienced the same, but still they managed to pass the exam.

Maybe I have written too much already. Maybe all I really wanted to say is that I do not know what to do anymore to effect an improvement for the next review program. The last few exams seems to show that the result is really unexpected always. Would it be wise to just conduct the review any which way, without much strategy and planning, and just leave the passing or failing of the exam to mere 'chance'?