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5 Lessons to Learn from the Fastly and Akamai Outages – ReadWrite

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Delivering a website, Domain Name Service


Fastly, one of the Internet’s many critical components experienced an outage on June 8th that took some of the most prominent websites online — well, offline. Then, almost two weeks later, Akamai, one of the largest global content delivery networks, also stumbled — taking out online systems for airlines, banks, and stock exchanges worldwide.

Lessons to Learn from the Fastly and Akamai Outages

In light of these recent outages, it’s important to remember that failures will happen, but the vital attribute of failure is the opportunity to learn. So what can you learn from these examples? Here are five lessons learned from the recent outages and actions you can take to ensure you have a fast website that provides a reliable digital experience even when infrastructure partners fail.

Lesson 1: Everything fails eventually. Have a backup plan.

I was told as a young engineer: “If you design software with the expectation that every dependency will fail at some point, you’ll never be disappointed, regardless of the outcome.”

The recent failures certainly bring this lesson home, but we forget things fail all the time. Although the scope and magnitude of the Fastly and Akamai outages drew headlines, the reality is that the internet experiences failures all the time. For example, for the week of June 14 – 20, 2021, there were: 427 network outages, 352 internet service provider outages, and 23 outages in the public cloud.

It’s more important than ever to recognize the inescapable fact of the internet: everything fails eventually. To combat this impact, reliability engineers look to implement redundancy wherever financially and operationally possible.

An Online Infrastructure

When users access an online store, a delicate handoff occurs between multiple providers of core infrastructure. So first, let’s take a quick look at the significant infrastructure levels for accessing an online store and identify the opportunities and costs to implement some levels of force majeure protection. The first step is the Domain Naming Service (DNS).

The Domain Naming Service (DNS)

DNS is responsible for translating a website’s name (e.g., your website here) to its underlying Internet Protocol (IP) address (e.g., think of the IP number as a global internet phone book).

DNS is distributed, with 13 core Root Servers providing the backbone database and thousands of copies replicated globally for multiple geographic locations. In addition, every website has a DNS provider responsible for mapping a site’s name to its existing IP value.

As these values may change over time, DNS providers implement a Time to Live (TTL) for each record update to ensure that the latest information is continuously updated. If a DNS record does not exist for a website, the end-user is left facing an error page stating, “Server Not Found/Webpage Not Available.” (There are many other reasons to “get” an error page also.)

For many companies, DNS functionality is provided by a single company — leaving companies exposed to DNS lookup failures if that provider has a material outage. Implementing redundancy for DNS does not cost much, as DNS services are a few hundred dollars annually at most — but there is a high operational cost, as multiple providers must be updated simultaneously about any backend changes.

As is common in the modern age, a bevy of companies provide offerings to automate this process, and it’s often money well spent.

The Edge Network / Content Distribution Network

Delivering a website: the Edge Network

 

 

The next level is the “edge” network, often a Content Distribution Network (CDN).

The CDN is at this layer where our high-profile failures (Fastly and Akamai) took place. CDNs help websites load faster by reducing the physical distance between your web server and the user. CDN’s enable users worldwide to view the same high-quality content without slow loading times while simultaneously employing a global fleet of servers to power your online presence. Unlike DNS redundancy, where the financial cost is minimal, implementing multiple redundant CDNs is expensive.

For this reason, CDN redundancy is often employed only by enterprise customers and large eCommerce brands. In most cases, the CDN redundancy is implemented at the DNS layer itself. However, for smaller companies, ensuring you have up-to-date IP addresses for your origin server (your web host itself) can save the day if you have DNS separated from your CDN provider.

CDN Failure Mitigation

When CDNs fail, engineers can update DNS records to have users bypass the CDN altogether. This gives customers a functional (but slower) experience. During the Fastly outage, many companies sidestepped the impact by simply redirecting users to either their web server or backup CDN provider.

Mitigating CDN failure via DNS bypass

The Origin Web Server

This is either a hosted content management system (Magento, WordPress, etc.) or a platform (Shopify, Kinsta, etc.).  This is the traditional place where IT deploys redundancy resources, with backups and load balancing often already in place.

Delivering a website: Your Web Server

An important lesson from the Fastly outage: ensure your web servers could operate a capacity to service all customers if necessary. If you are forced to bypass the CDN – your web servers will be responsible for serving all the traffic. CDNs often cache between 60-95% of all web requests—so if you need to bypass this provider due to an outage, can your web server keep up with 10x the site traffic?

Lesson 2: Understand your third-party dependencies.

When critical infrastructure fails and takes a site offline — you have a fatal failure. For example, if you have a first-party dependency on a provider, and that provider fails—your support team is hit with a barrage of angry customers (assuming they can reach you).

But what about third-party dependencies, those critical services woven into every online store? The blast radius of the Fastly outage was more extensive than sites that went offline, as it took out hundreds of SaaS companies. Around the globe, marketing and development teams had blackouts in analytics data, failures in the email follow-up campaigns, and more esoteric impacts, such as failures to calculate shipping costs for some regions.

Third-party dependencies also show up in the user experience, such as external JavaScript (JQuery, D3.js) failing to load and render the page correctly. These non-fatal failures often cause the biggest headache, as users think the site is operational, but some components (e.g., clicking buttons) don’t work.

Analyzing your infrastructure dependencies

This free online tool provides a way to analyze the infrastructure needs of any website. Using Tesla.com as an example, we can see that there are dependencies on Akamai, Google, and Microsoft. Each one of these providers plays a critical role in the Tesla experience.

Analyzing infrastructure dependecies

For larger sites, especially those that employ regional content delivery, the web of dependencies can be extensive (and vary by the user’s location!). For example, looking at BBC.com, we can see dependencies on three CDN providers, three cloud providers, and a direct hosted advertising network. That’s a significant amount of infrastructure to oversee.

Looking at the cross infrastructure needs for the BBC site

Fatal Failures vs. Non-Fatal Failures

The solution reliability engineers employ here is to make as many failures fatal as possible. At first, this might seem counterintuitive, but a partially working site may indeed be more damaging than one that is hard down. Furthermore, fatal failures are the easiest to debug as the failure is explicit—the system itself stops.

Non-fatal failures, on the other hand, are often “Heisenbugs,” i.e., notoriously tricky issues that may be transient and never truly root-caused because overall, the system continues operating.

In light of this, reliability engineers push toward making failures explicit and minimize the blast radius of dependencies by self-hosting as many services as possible.

For example, when an essential piece of JavaScript is needed to load some functionality, hosting this “on origin” (your webserver) is faster and more transparent. In addition, in the ever-increasing push towards privacy, hosting assets (fonts, JavaScript, images, etc.) “on origin” minimizes data sharing with external providers.

The key takeaway: When possible, streamline and host your dependencies on your infrastructure — and may all your failures be fatal.

Lesson 3: If you don’t measure, you won’t know.

For explicit fatal failures, the monitoring challenge is simplistic — is the website up? But what if just some parts of the website are broken, or worse, so slow they seem broken? Would you even know? Modern websites are surprisingly complex. The average website needs 73 network requests to load. That’s 73 different network calls out to dozens of separate networks. When outages happen, they might only impact one of those requests — but maybe it’s critical (think: credit card validation?).

To make matters worse, site speed is not deterministic. For example, sites that load personalized content or ads may experience vastly different performance characteristics from user to user, region to region, or device to device. Complex systems require robust monitoring, and it’s never been a better time to implement it than now.

If it’s not Real User Monitoring, it’s, by definition, Fake User Monitoring.

The only way to know how your site performs for your users is to measure its performance when loading and interacting with the site. This type of measurement is commonly referred to as Real User Monitoring, and in the world of eCommerce, this is the only monitoring worth looking at.

When explicit failures happen, like the failure of a third-party component to load, Real User Monitoring systems provide detailed views about what content failed, on what device, and from which network or infrastructure partner it came from.

For implicit failures, where a third party may be in a degraded state and thus serving content more slowly, Real User Monitoring is the canary in the coal mine that provides accurate and actionable data to reliability engineers on what’s going on.

 

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Looking at the distribution of real user experiences
Server response delays, as seen by looking at real user experiences.
Infrastructure delays as seen through real user monitoring
Infrastructure delays as seen through real user monitoring

In an eCommerce world, where site speed is critical to business success, Real User Monitoring provides the flight data recorder that engineers and business leaders need to optimize the store. This is even more important today, where even a tenth of a second slowdown in page load time can result in an 8.4% drop in conversion rate and a 9.2% decrease in average order value.

Lesson 4: Error messages matter.

When sites have a fatal failure, the “site unavailable” page rears its head. However, if the failure is more pronounced or further up the delivery chain (as was the case with Fastly), the error page might be something even less user-friendly.

Error page during Faslty outage
Screengrab of The Guardian website during the Fastly outage. Credit: Twitter/@matthewchampion

Error pages are often overlooked as a potential source of customer outreach. Yet, a well-crafted error page can turn a frustrated, lost customer into a future potential sales opportunity.

Making great error pages

Error pages offer an opportunity to convey important information to your customer. Great error pages have three key attributes:

  1. Acknowledge: This is your error, not the customers. It’s critical to acknowledge this and offer links to support services, social updates, and status pages. The key is to ensure the customer knows this is a temporary failure and that you will be back online soon.
  2. Apologize: For wasting the customer’s time. Nobody arrives at your website for free; you’ve either paid with advertising dollars or marketing. Now that we have them at the site, we have failed to deliver our offered value. Please take a moment to convey that their visit matters to you.
  3. Award: Just because your site is offline doesn’t mean the relationship has to end here. Offer the customer a discount if they provide you an email. Error pages can also redirect to third-party websites that (hopefully) are not offline. Use this moment to regain customer trust and move the sale process forward.

When done correctly, error pages can be superheroes—and give your support teams (who are already dealing with other issues) some cover. When eCommerce sites are down, we also likely have lost our tracking and metrics capabilities, so capturing that user email and following up with additional offers might save the day.

Lesson 5: Client-side technology offers advanced protection.

When it comes to failure prevention, we often look at things we can implement at the infrastructure or server level. But what if the failure is the user’s network (cable’s out)? What if your site is so big that you can’t track every infrastructure partner? What if your IT team is months behind on implementing your last infrastructure request? Is it time to give up? Nope, it’s time to look at client-side solutions.

Client-side performance solutions run inside the user’s browser itself. These are pieces of code that you ship with your website but run directly in the browser itself  — like a guardian angel watching over the page load. And over the past decade, the web has made some powerful yet often overlooked client-side solutions. But none more potent than Service Workers.

At your Service (Workers)

The Service Worker API was initially designed to facilitate offline browsing of a website, specifically Gmail. When Gmail first came out, people used it on early smartphones. When they went into the subway (where network connectivity is zero)— they couldn’t use the site. Obviously, an email client that couldn’t work offline was a buzzkill.

To fix this, the Google team developed a feature in the browser that would allow the browser itself to have some control over a website, even if the network was down.

They called the new feature Service Workers, as they are a form of code that can run in the browser (do work) but aren’t dependent on external network services. Instead, service Workers act as a proxy between the website, the browser, and the network  — and give developers the ability to store data on the device and respond to requests from inside the browser. In many ways, they are infrastructure-level ideas but run directly on the user’s device itself.

How Service Workers work
The Service Worker flow: adding client-side resiliency and performance

Service Workers can intercept network requests the browser sends, take action based on whether the network is available, endpoints are responding quickly, or return a locally cached copy of the site in the event of a server error. In advanced cases, they can enable client-side caching that makes the site both more reliable and faster.

How Service Workers can help in times of peril:

Caching client-side:

The number-one benefit is the ability to store data, including those pesky third-party resources, on the device itself. A dedicated client-side cache will dramatically speed up a working website and provide some level of protection when individual assets are failing. If the cache is advanced enough, you may be able to reduce your returning customer’s dependencies on your network-based infrastructure by 70% or more.

Client side caching can help pages load 65% faster
Client-side caching can both protect from infrastructure failures AND load the website faster.

Client-side failover:

Implementing multi-CDN solutions can be costly, and as we discussed, and require a certain level of operational expertise. However, with a Service Worker, you can implement client-side failover that is both automatic and operationally simplistic.

For example, a client-side failover rule might say, “if foo.com is unavailable, or not responding in one second or less, then automatically try backup.foo.com.” All the benefits of advanced infrastructure level failover, with minimal effort.

Client-side data buffering:

Most solutions that implement advanced client-side functionality include client-side performance metrics (Real User Monitoring). We can also continue capturing marketing data such as Google Analytics events and store them client-side for later transmission when the site is back online. No more data loss!

Advanced offline error messages:

What’s better than an error page? How about a full offline error site. Service Workers were designed to allow websites to work—partially—offline. You may not complete checkout, but you can still have a few top product pages and a client-side version of a AAA error response. Combined with client-side caches and data buffering, you might be able to allow a customer to “start to shop” while the website comes back online in the background.

Learning from failure

As they say, “to err is human, but to error is software.” As the world trends toward online-first marketplaces, it’s even more vital to learn from failure. The techniques and best practices outlined here give a glimpse into how we can all build robust, performant – and user-centric digital experiences—even in failure.

Image Credit: blue bird; pexels; thank you!

Jake Loveless

CEO

Jake Loveless has a 20-year career in making critical technology go faster. Jake is the CEO of Edgemesh, the global web acceleration company. Edgemesh enhances any browser,
on any device, with intelligent, automated, next-generation client-side caching.



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The Power of Human Touch in Software Development and AI Environments

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Igor Bergman


Necessity is the mother of invention — a principle that has defined technological advancement and design for generations. We innovate and create new products, services, and processes based on human needs that arise. Just as these needs evolve with each generation, so too must the way we approach the innovation required to address them, and that requires a human touch in software development.

Digitalization Driving Productivity and Collaboration

In today’s era of digitalization, companies are turning to new technologies, specifically software applications, to drive efficiency, productivity, lowered costs, and smarter collaboration. As the adoption of digital transformation has increased, so has the number of software solutions enabling and supporting it.

Companies are looking to software developers for new ways to integrate technology. Operations demand process automation, improved communications, and the delivery of more value to their customers.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been an influential part of this progression and an enabler for many capabilities today; however, we must exercise restraint in relying too much on technology alone to reach business goals.

Restraint With AI Makes Better Sense Today

There’s power in the human touch that can set the stage for meaningful transformation when embraced during the software development process. As we continue to integrate digital technology into nearly every facet of work and life, we need intelligent software design to incorporate more of the human experience to thrive.

The key is finding a measured balance between purpose-driven software design and human touch and understanding how to execute this collaboration successfully and ethically.

AI’s Role in the Consumerization of Software

Historically, enterprise software was initially designed with a particular persona and a very specific set of requirements in mind. As a result, it was built to serve simply as a tool with no focus on the user’s experience, behavior, or even the potential ability of the user to change behaviors.

For example, if a person were using a software program to search for fruit, that software would need to be coded to show each specific fruit. Then, if a user searched for a peach, the software would display a peach. If they wanted to search for an orange instead, the software would need to be hard-coded to show an orange. This is a very cut-and-dry process leaves little room for interpretation.

Software Designed to Consider User’s Behavior

Today, AI-powered software is designed with realistic human values in mind, defining a set of user stories and use cases that proactively adjust to potential user behavior, with a strict focus on providing and maximizing end-user value and experience. Explained differently, rather than designing software around who a user is or what they do, the software is designed to consider the user’s behavior and the value the product can provide for an optimum user experience.

Revisiting the example above, if a user in Florida is seeking “fruit,” the initial result the software is likely to show them would be an orange. Alternatively, if the user lives in Georgia, it would likely show them a peach — since these fruits are indigenous to their respective regions.

Software Built With Human Touch Provides an Experience

In this example, the software was built to look for an outcome and design an experience that considers several factors to present the most likely desired result. This is how AI algorithms are used to design an environment meant to improve the customer experience by anticipating needs based on trends. This is also how software developers automate an experience.

Several different inputs are analyzed to the point where an assumption can be made based on a person’s behavior over time. Content is then populated, or an action taken that the program deems would be most useful for that person, all in the name of improving the user experience. But what if the person in Florida doesn’t like oranges and the person in Georgia doesn’t like peaches? This is where the human touch comes into play

Finding the Ethical Balance Between Smart Personalization and Human Privacy

AI algorithms require and collect personal user data to customize the experience in a unique and valuable way for a specific user. However, they can sometimes be too rigid when analyzing only the data without considering personal preference, free will, or choice.

AI alone, without any oversight, can also go too far, as there’s a fine line between personalization and privacy, and AI can’t make the distinction on its own. A human developer addresses this issue by providing the guardrails necessary to ensure ethical design and desired behavior while also incorporating the flexibility needed to give users a greater sense of choice.

How Do You Protect Your Customers?

Software must be built so the user can determine what data they want to provide to improve their life or minimize evasiveness. On the front end, as software is being designed, developers can build flexible architecture with certain constraints in mind to provide an ethical and secure framework around how the AI algorithm works. This allows users to define where the line is or how much personal data they allow into the architecture or the cloud.

Ultimately, users want AI to optimize the tasks they need to perform but don’t want the AI to make decisions for them without approval. This idea of choice is another critical element of why the human touch is so imperative in the development process, even as the industry has sought faster and more efficient ways of writing software programs.

The Artistry of Software Engineering From the Human Touch

As a means of automating code writing, code generators were introduced several decades ago to quickly write new code and get applications to market faster. Requiring minimal human intervention, the developer would simply set what it needed the app to do, and then code was generated for that specific purpose. It was easy to write code that would solve a particular problem and take the user from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible.

However, the lack of human touch is the issue with this model. There’s no consideration for the user experience or innovation that excites and delights; the software is simply working to solve the problem without room for interpretation. Alternatively, the human coder can push boundaries and determine how to interpret the user requirements to decide the best path between the two points.

Flexible Code Environments Make Efficient Programming

For example, if a program were coded to simply draw a tree, a code generator would produce the same tree over and over with no differentiation in color, leaf type, size, etc. There would be no artistry behind it, and users wouldn’t have the ability to choose from various tree designs. Instead, they’d have to accept the tree the generator produced. But when an engineer has the ability to integrate their personal touch, the artistry of software design is unveiled, and the experience becomes something very different.

Today, our industry has evolved even further, and low-code/no-code environments have emerged as the next generation of modern and efficient programming. Developers can now quickly build the foundation of a program from existing services and functions that have already been written by other coders, easily defining the path the user takes to get from point A to B.

This type of coding is a much more flexible way of designing software that allows engineers to adopt the preferences of the end-user and change functions as the end user changes. However, the various functions are still being coded by an individual and, thus, are constrained to the preferences of that person.

Reusable Templates Boost Productivity

So, to revisit the previous “tree” example, software developer A designs a single tree which developer B can now take and, in about the same amount of time as it took to create just one original tree, reuses as a copy over and over but in different ways.

Several copies can be placed side by side to depict a forest, or a single copy can be placed in front of an abandoned building or on a deserted island to create different applications entirely. However, because they’re all using the same original tree design, all of the trees in each environment still look the same — the artistry is limited to that of the person who originally designed the tree.

Decide and Improve the End Product to Customize

Where the human element comes into play is when the software engineer can have the ability to decide how they want their tree to look and can add features along the entire design process to augment it.

Then, the next engineer can come in and change or improve it to meet the needs of their users, and so on. Now, instead of one tree that everyone has to use repeatedly in different ways, there are hundreds of different trees that all came from the same initial version but have been customized and improved upon.

How Does AI Build a Tree?

If we relied on AI to build the perfect tree, it would calculate only one way to do so, but what if you don’t like it? It’s no longer perfect for you. So, rather than relying on AI completely, developers can choose how to embed AI capabilities into their programs to drive the best customer experience.

These AI integrations have to be customized to fit the environment, however, and this requires an actual engineer to be part of the process, which ensures the human element is preserved.

Ultimately, software engineers have to find the right balance of enabling smarter technology that can proactively anticipate and solve our problems while also ensuring end users have the ability to exercise their right to choose and decide what’s right for them based on the facts presented.

Human Touch at the Heart of Modern Software Design

No longer are software solutions built for a single defined purpose. Instead, they are built to learn and evolve based on the creativity, artistry, and ethics of the human touch. As emerging technologies have helped enable modern innovation with unprecedented speed, and invention can now be born out of demand and pursuit of progress rather than out of necessity.

As AI continues to be integrated into the software development process, the human touch will play an integral role in teaching the software how to adapt to each user’s needs, values, behavior, and privacy priorities.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio; Pexels; Thank you!

Igor Bergman

A Software and Cloud transformation engineering and product leader, Igor Bergman has extensive experience in software businesses, product management, startups, and business development. He is currently heading Lenovo’s $750M Global Software and Cloud business unit.

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5 Ways to Find Balance at a Startup

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Startup founders and employees find that achieving work-life balance can be challenging. 43% of entrepreneurs agree that work-life balance is one of their biggest challenges. As the start-up grows, demands will also grow. Founders and employees need constant motivation and fresh ideas to keep up.

As challenging as a good work-life balance is to achieve, it is very important for your personal and professional lives. It can be as important as a business plan for your startup. This article gives a better understanding of work-life balance, what it means, and why it is important. It also highlights a few ways to find work-life balance at a startup.

work life balance office setting

Work-life balance meaning

So what is work-life balance all about? In simple words, the term work-life balance is about how you manage your time between work and outside of work. It gives you the flexibility to get things done in your professional life while still having time and energy to enjoy your personal life.

There is no perfect work-life balance template to follow. We are all different, and so what a healthy work-life balance looks like will differ between us. However, the primary goal of a better balance is that you should have a greater sense of well-being and lead a better quality of life.

Why work-life balance is important

Work-life balance is important for many reasons. Some people are willing to give up money for a better work-life balance. This is a true testament to the stress levels of the modern workplace. In a 2020 Deloitte survey, it was found that 44% of millennials say they are stressed all or most of the time. Companies that help their employees have a good work-life balance in their professional and personal lives have higher retention rates.

A good work-life balance has many perks. Some of these include:

  • Fewer health issues
  • Higher productivity levels
  • Fewer burnouts
  • More mindfulness

Poor work-life balance has some dire consequences. It can wreak havoc on your health, home life, and personal relationships. Some of the drawbacks include:

  • High-stress levels
  • Feelings of dissatisfaction with life
  • Increased rates of family issues and divorces
  • Escalation of substance abuse
  • Low productivity levels
  • Dissatisfaction at work
  • Lower levels of motivation, commitment, and loyalty.

work life balance girl outdoor

5 ways to find balance at a startup

To create a better work-life balance, think about how you can achieve balance in your personal and professional life. What works for someone else may not work for you. However, here are some tips you can try to improve your work-life balance.

Develop some time management skills

Many entrepreneurs struggle to manage their time correctly. This is because they spend most of their time working long hours to complete their to-do list. There are only 24 hours in a day, so prioritizing may be the best way to manage your time better.

Create a daily, weekly, and monthly to-do list. Try focusing on the most important tasks on your priority list. Doing so can increase the chances of things being done with greater care and focus.

Another thing you can try to do is to say no to the less important stuff. You can simplify your work and delegate the less important stuff. Also, turn off your phone and email notifications. Set a scheduled time to respond to emails and make phone calls. Replying to emails and checking messages as they come in can be distracting. It can make you lose focus and mess with your productivity.

Try to leave work at work

How often do you find yourself taking work home and working remotely from home? The answer is probably too often. You may find yourself working on weekends and holidays. This leaves you with little to no time to relax or spend with loved ones. Try to do work during work hours and stop once those hours are up.

It is important to have a strict policy when it comes to work and other areas of your life. You can try having a no-work-on-the-weekend rule. Having the rule is one thing, but sticking to it can be hard. Try your best to follow this rule and make no exceptions. The weekend can help to reduce stress from all the issues you dealt with during the week. It can even give you time for ideas and solutions to emerge. It is vital to give your body and mind a chance to rest and recover.

Set aside family time

Making time for your family with a busy schedule can be hard. However, you need to remember that your family is your main support system. When things aren’t going smoothly at the startup, your need for support is greater. This is where your family comes in.

Work decisions and responsibilities become easier to manage with your family’s support. Spending quality time with family members can relieve stress, nurture positive behaviors and promote a healthy lifestyle. Time spent with family can improve both your professional and personal life. Plan family trips, game nights, and other activities. These can help build quality relationships with your family.

Schedule personal time

In today’s fast-paced world, it can be hard to find time to indulge in personal interests. However, one’s personal life is as important as one’s professional life. When you unplug and take a step back, you will experience a whole new perspective.

If you feel overwhelmed with everyday life, it may be time to take some time off work. Take your vacation time to rest and recover. Choose an activity that you love and one that relaxes and rejuvenates you.

You can try to make time to meditate, travel and do things you love. Personal time is best for self-reflection and setting goals. Self-care is also essential for your mental health.

If you cannot get much time off, simply ensuring you sleep and eat well can help. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Sleep Research Society (SRS) say to aim for at least six to seven hours of sleep. You should also be mindful of what you’re putting into your body. Constantly chugging coffee and eating junk food will eventually affect your health. Try to eat at least one or two healthy meals a day.

Outsource when possible

Technology has come a long way. It has gone to great lengths that we can now replace much of the work necessary to run a business. Try to outsource repetitive tasks that take up too much of your time. This can allow you to focus on your goals and have more time to deal with personal matters. For your personal reading, here are 10 reasons you should be outsourcing your marketing.

Bonus Tips

SET FLEXIBLE HOURS

A flexible work environment can lead to a healthier work-life balance. Flexible hours, telecommuting opportunities, and other systems can relieve stress. They also allow you to attend to personal matters and spend time with your family. At the same time, it can also help to increase your productivity levels and effectiveness.

EXERCISE

Exercise can improve your physical health and mental health. It can also help to improve your productivity. Exercising for just 30 minutes a day can keep your body and mind active and fresh. This can lead to higher energy levels, increased focus, and completion of tasks faster. Exercise can also help with creativity, so when you’re faced with a challenge, exercise. It doesn’t have to be anything too intense; a simple 30-minute walk may help.

MAKE WORK FUN

The only way to make an 80-hour work week bearable is to integrate some fun. Play is crucial when it comes to working. It can improve employees’ work-life balance as well as founders. Some fun can make you both more productive and lead to a more engaged workforce. It can keep everybody motivated and happier. Try to keep the happy spirit alive as much as possible. You can do this by promoting play, encouraging hobbies at work, etc.

TRAVEL

A change in scenery can work wonders. It is great for your mental and emotional well-being. Traveling to new places can free your mind, body, and soul from stress. It can help you reflect on personal goals and interests. Aside from these, it can enrich and transform your perspective on life. Traveling can also improve productivity, sharpen problem-solving skills and increase creativity.

STAY POSITIVE

Staying positive when dealing with entrepreneurial failures and threats can be hard. However, a positive mindset may be able to help you pull through. It allows you to focus on the positives of the situation and help you visualize your goals. Focusing on the positives and having a clear idea of your goals can result in you meeting them. A positive attitude is awesome, even though it can be tough to maintain.

Inner Image and Featured Image Credits: Provided by the Author; Pexels; Thank you!

Joe Martin

Joe Martin

VP of Marketing

Joe Martin is currently the VP of marketing at Scorpion, a leading provider of technology and marketing to help small businesses grow. Formerly he was CloudApp’s GM and CMO and a Head of Marketing at Adobe. With over 15 years of experience in the industry and tech that makes it run, he provides strategic guidance on how to build and use the right stack and marketing for businesses to grow. Joe believes marketers need smart training and leadership to scale company growth. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @joeDmarti.

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The Impact of AI as Companies Address the Skilled Labor Shortage

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The Impact of AI as Companies Address the Skilled Labor Shortage


Due to a combination of Baby Boomer retirements and a declining birthrate leading to smaller subsequent generations like Gen Z — employment firms predict that the talent shortage we’re experiencing now is likely to last for years to come. While this has the potential to be disastrous news for the economy, it doesn’t have to be, thanks to another growing trend in business: AI acceleration.

We’re currently seeing an increase in the application of AI in the workplace that moves beyond typical machines and into areas of law, medicine, software, and even art. While many have predicted that the acceleration of AI would lead to the demise of human labor, it may very well be this technology that solves the labor problem — at least for those willing to work in tandem with these AI solutions.

Taking Advantage of AI

So what does working with these AI solutions look like? What challenges are businesses facing due to this labor shortage, and how can AI help solve them? I’ll answer these questions and offer some strategies on how organizations can best position themselves to take advantage of AI and combat the continued labor shortage.

Bridging the Gap

The growing skilled labor shortage is already baked into the next 15 to 20 years, thanks to existing and continuing demographic trends. However, the opportunities to innovate within the labor shortage space are massive in the areas of cloud computing, AI, and robotics. Investment in these areas can help U.S. companies compete in a world that’s increasingly fractured and regional.

Robotics and AI systems have already proven reliable in repetitive, precise, and dangerous tasks. Businesses transitioning their supply chain away from globalization and toward more regional approaches can use AI to automate many of the tasks necessary in warehouse and factory environments.

Plenty of Use Cases

In construction, AI is being adopted to complete tasks such as drywall installation and painting, allowing humans to focus on more complex jobs such as plumbing and electrical installation.

In industrial projects, remote-controlled machines handle the more dangerous duties, like demolition and movement of heavy materials. For office environments, artificial intelligence and automation are handling repetitive occupations — taking over tasks like data gathering, clean up, and prep.

More Than Mundane

However, repetitive tasks aren’t the only places in which AI prioritization is making a difference. It is being employed to help existing workers do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.

A great example of this is OpenAI’s Codex. Codex is an AI solution that scans and analyzes petabytes of code, questions, and answers from websites like Stack Overflow. With this tool, developers no longer need to search for answers or examples of code. Instead, Codex is directly integrated into the code completion of their IDE, saving them hundreds of hours of searching and increasing their productivity.

Creating More Creative AI

Meanwhile, systems such as Stable Diffusion and ChatGPT show how AI can take over, creating more derivative works and freeing employees up to tackle creative tasks that are still well out of reach of AI.

This isn’t to suggest that AI is an eternal solution to the skilled labor shortage. But it is a critical stop-gap that can be leaned on until the workforce grows again — something that’s projected to happen sometime in the early 2040s.

In the meantime, for organizations to maintain competitiveness as the talent shortage continues, it will be necessary to strategically integrate AI into the labor force wherever possible.

1. Don’t build your entire strategy on top of a third-party AI platform.

While there are speed-to-market benefits to third-party solutions, using the same platforms as your competitors means you’re relying on the same data and, consequently, will wind up with the same business model as everyone else.

By developing your own platform — at least in some use cases — and focusing on the data within your niche instead, you can create a cone of differentiation that protects your business and creates long-term opportunities within your niche market. This will also ensure you don’t get trapped within the vision of a third-party company rather than following your own.

2. Invest in skills acquisition over education.

To combat the skilled labor shortage, you don’t need more employees with general education. Instead, you need candidates with specific skills who can help you close the widening skills gap. Technology certifications such as AWS, Azure, and GCP are great examples of the skills required to build the necessary cloud solutions and AI platforms you’ll need to compete.

This focus on skills isn’t just about hiring. It’s also about changing your focus on internal employee training. Apprentice and licensing approaches like those used for electricians and plumbers are great models for training people in new skills as they’re needed.

3. Align your investments with global shifts in geopolitics, economy, supply chain, and demographics.

As the U.S. and the rest of the world move toward more regionalized supply chains and manufacturing, the combination of human creativity and advanced technology, such as AI and robotics, will be critical. But that will only be true if this combination is pointed in the right direction.

Make sure that your investments in AI and skills acquisition are guided by your environment rather than a desire to invest in technology for technology’s sake.

The Necessary Human Touch

In summary, labor shortages, the current supply chain crisis, and inflation that organizations and leaders face will continue to impact their operations over the next few years. The rise of AI-based solutions could be a key technology to help organizations combat those challenges and maintain a competitive edge if they adopt AI solutions and integrate them effectively with their greatest assets: human creativity and problem-solving.

The strategies I outlined will help leaders prioritize as they begin selecting and adopting those AI solutions and navigate the current and growing issues associated with the shift from globalization to regionalized supply chains and labor.

Realizing AI’s Vast Potential

It’s important to remember that today’s artificial intelligence and automation solutions are designed to enhance human capabilities and improve their potential to solve problems and create explainable knowledge. They aren’t meant to replace humans in the workforce.

Leaders who remember this and focus on the symbiosis of human creativity and AI rather than on using AI to replace people will have a strategic advantage in the decades to come.

Featured Image Credit: Provided by the Author; Unsplash; Thank you!

Daniel Williams

Principal with Pariveda Solutions

Daniel Williams is a principal with Pariveda Solutions, specializing in digital strategy, implementation, and analytics. With B.S. and M.S. degrees in Computer Science and Technology Management, he has become an expert in digital transformation and AI/ML.

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