Technology Leader Sue Barsamian Shares Her Leadership Playbook

Transform your Workforce

Great leadership is the foundation of any organization, big or small. Without capable leaders guiding the way, growth is impossible. Effective business leadership requires a skillful captain to navigate the ship, and not simply a passive presence standing near the helm. Quality leadership is active, not static. One person who knows what it takes to be a successful leader is technology veteran Sue Barsamian. 

We sat down with Sue during our recent Udacity Thought Leader Series Webinar to discuss the qualities leaders need to create and manage high-performing, productive teams. Sue’s extensive background in general management, marketing, sales, and engineering is a testament to her reputation as a foremost expert in team development. Currently, Sue serves on the boards of Symantec, Box, Gainsight, and Xactly. Previously, she was the Executive Vice President, and Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise Software, where she orchestrated the successful spinning-off of the division from HPE and merger with Micro Focus International, to form the world’s seventh-largest software company.



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Learning & Development Roadmap Reboot

Your single most important asset on the road to innovation is the quality and the talent of your tech team.  It has never been more important to ensure that learning and development programs are providing your with the return on investment needed to innovate, stay ahead of your competitors, and meet your growth objectives.  

Today, competition in recruiting and hiring for technical positions is at an all-time high.

Organizations large and small are being forced to reevaluate how they develop and retain talented teams through L&D programs. Nurturing, training, and developing talent is essential to a company’s growth and it’s vital that the correct training provider is chosen to meet these objectives. To help breakdown the process of finding an L&D partner, we’ve built a roadmap to help you through this dynamic decision making process.  These factors will help you identify the training partner, which will transform your learning initiatives and your talent into a winning team.

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SXSW: How Top Companies Create Training Data

Udacity had the unique opportunity to have two of our thought leaders on a panel discussion on training data for machine learning entitled AI-AI-Oh! during SXSW 2019. The discussion triggered an exchange of viewpoints among the expert panelists which ranged from how the data is being used in various industries, how much training data you need to apply machine learning, and practical tips for the audience to consider.



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Q&A with AT&T’s John Donovan

John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications sat down with Sebastian Thrun, Udacity’s Executive Chairman as part of Udacity’s ongoing Thought Leader Series to discuss how to lead through change, leverage your employees to turn invention into innovation, and provide teams the skills needed to build tomorrow’s companies.

John manages over 250,000 people. Which begs the question, what’s the key to running an organization that large? For John, it starts with knowing his values, knowing that you’re only as good as the people who work with you and having a relentless focus on training.

“What I noticed early on was how much invention was going on that wasn’t actually going into the innovation. The distinction is invention is the thought and construction and innovation is when it becomes usable to the end user, ” John reflects.

AT&T recognized early on that it needed workers who were trained and ready for the technologies that would drive tomorrow’s business — artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, and more.

It was a math problem, according to AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan who recounted the challenge to Sebastian. The percentage of the company’s workforce that was highly technical needed to evolve from where it was a few years ago, about 50% who were already highly technical, to some number close to 85% or 90%, according to Donovan.

“You do the basic math,” said Donovan. “You can’t hire your way there and you can’t acquire yourself there. You really have to start with the workforce you have. How can we help our employees know jobs and skills are transforming?”

That’s the problem that many companies are facing as they look to evolve their businesses for a new era. If they don’t have the trained staff today, it’s not really clear how they will get to where they want to be for tomorrow.

Reimagining work requires you to be proactive about y

our workforce planning, according to Donovan. Pivoting the workforce means being able to identify new areas of growth and helping workers acquire the right skills.

AT&T lets employees access an HR system that shows a career path to a future job they may want and lets them plot their course to that job and then map the curriculum needed to get to that job.

“I have to establish competencies along the way just to stay in my current job,” Donovan said. “Then I can add a badge that certifies I’m competent in a new skill. I can add a nanodegree.”

Listen to the entirety of John and Sebastian’s conversation as they discuss:

John’s leadership style and how he deeply cares about relationships
His strategy for getting honest feedback from his peers
The catalysts for workforce transformation

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Educating Our Way Out of the Data Scientist Shortage

It’s no secret that employers are looking for data scientists. They have become the stars of the modern workforce – the most valuable employees.

Companies of all sizes have awoke to the fact that data science, by mining new insights from even decades of accumulated data sets, has the potential to drive efficiencies and increase productivity in ways never previously imagined. Simply put, it has the potential to transform businesses. From Zillow’s home price predictions to Amazon’s recommendation engines, applications of data science have become increasingly accurate, prevalent, and impactful on our everyday lives.

But while “data scientist” has been ranked the “No. 1 Job in America” for three years running now, according to careers website Glassdoor, there’s still a shortage of talent to fill the huge need of employers across every industry. In fact, according to a recent LinkedIn study, businesses across the nation need 151,717 more data scientists right now.

The need is nothing short of stunning.

This is why companies understand that they must increasingly invest in the education of their employees in order to compete in an ever-changing world. At the same time, employees need to recognize that traditional higher education just isn’t designed or equipped  to keep up with the breathtaking pace of technological developments and digital transformation that we see in business every single day. People may intuitively know that learning is a lifelong process. But the modern employees also needs to accept that that continually adding to their skill set is the best way they stay competitive in the job market.

Here’s the reality: Jobs are available. But organizations expect potential employees (and current ones) to have the skills to those critical jobs.

The advantage of this digital transformation is that it’s also changing how we think about education. And it truly can be the answer to solving the data scientist shortage within your company.

This ongoing process of learning can take place digitally and independently of location. E-learning can happen anywhere, anytime: at the workplace, at home, on the train, or in the coffee shop. The subject matter can even be adapted to the precise, tailored requirements of a company. This way, it has maximum added value for employees and employers. For example, last year the automobile company Audi launched its employee “data-camp” training focused on big data and artificial intelligence.

Even companies that specialize in data analysis have recognized their own crying need to create alternatives to the traditional training pathways. After all, they are on the front lines of the digital transformation, and their workers need to have cutting-edge skills.

For example, our customer Alteryx, which develops self-service data analysis software, offers a nanodegree that enables regular employees to become data specialists and to expand their own career opportunities. In this way, companies meet the need for data specialists, while employees sharpen their skill sets, receive additional qualifications and ultimately improve their career opportunities.

It becomes a win-win. Organizations benefit the improved effort of employees. The workers themselves expand their horizons.

Employees who have a background in computer science or mathematics – and interact with numbers, data and programming daily – are ideal candidates in terms of becoming data experts in the company. Udacity’s online course, with concrete sample projects and application examples, is usually enough to give employees the added education they need to take that next step within their own company.

But employees outside of traditional IT departments have opportunities to pursue what is known in the industry as  “Citizen Data Scientists.”The term describes employees who evaluate data but do not program the algorithms themselves. Instead, they use self-service tools. These tools enable the analysis and visualization of large amounts of data with preconfigured workflows. The advantage here is that employees usually know more about the context of the data and can bring that understanding directly into their own departments.

Data isn’t the future. It’s now. And it’s critical to every company in every industry.

Companies are looking everywhere for data scientists. They can be academically trained, educating through  internal further education programs, or this relatively new world of Citizen Data Scientists, It’s clear that businesses need all of them because we live in  a world where data is collected everywhere. It’s clear that companies need to invest in employee training to keep pace with digital transformation.

Faced with this dire shortage of talent, business leaders who want to make the most of data science can’t rely on half-measures and casual hiring processes. What they need is a strategic roadmap toward building data science skills internally and effectively upskilling their talented employees.

Stay tuned for new releases from Udacity Enterprise.

Kai-Fu Lee joins Sebastian Thrun for Udacity Talks

The author of “AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order” talks about AI, innovation, and his belief in the human soul.

Udacity Talks with Kai-Fu Lee and Sebastian Thrun was quite an international affair! People joined from all over the world, including Canada, Greece, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, Switzerland, and more. Here in the US, we had attendees from Arizona, California, Michigan, New Orleans, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington, D.C., just to name a few!

As is to be expected when Sebastian hosts, conversation topics were wide-ranging, running the gamut from China’s rapid ascendance to the status of AI superpower and the end of banking as we know it, to the inevitability of flying cars and the chasm between “narrow AI” and “general AI.”

Highlights included Kai-Fu Lee’s eloquence on the subject of the human soul, and his teasing admonishment to “the CEO of Kitty Hawk” for still using text messaging!

For those viewers not familiar with the latest developments in China, it was remarkable to hear of the innovations already happening, especially when it comes to infrastructure spending. Lee described one such effort, in which a new city “the size of Chicago” is being built; a city that will essentially have two “layers” — a traffic-free one featuring parks, pedestrian walkways, and pet areas, and a lower level where autonomous vehicles drive.

Details like these make the entrepreneurial spirit in China seem almost magical, but as Lee pointed out, there is a downside. He described the Chinese entrepreneurial space as being like a “gladiator ring” in which only one competitor survives!

The conversation took an unexpected turn to the spiritual when Sebastian asked about the “AI endgame” and whether or not Kai-Fu Lee believed in “general AI,” which is considered the equivalent of human intelligence, and is often understood to be the point at which machines have a “consciousness.”

Sebastian Thrun: Do you believe in general AI?

Kai-Fu Lee: I do not. I choose to believe that we have a soul, and that it cannot be replicated.

Sebastian reintroduced variations of this question throughout the remainder of the talk, with Lee at one point stating that, “I’m not saying it’s impossible to build a machine with a soul, I’m saying we shouldn’t.”

It was powerful stuff, but there was levity as well. When asked to give advice to American companies interested in going to China, Lee had this to say:

“My advice to most American companies that want to go to China is, don’t.”

Lee also offered advice to younger generations coming into the workforce, who will increasingly be contending with an AI-powered world:

“Do what you’re good at, and what you love. And be aware of what AI is going to replace. Think of AI as either a job destroyer, or a job enhancer, and go into those areas where AI will enhance.”

Kai-Fu Lee is the former head of Google in China, and the co-founder of Sinovation Ventures. He is also the author of “AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order,” which Sebastian has described as:

“A unique book by one of the leading pioneers of the field of AI. Kai-Fu Lee is a top notch researcher, business executive and investor. He tells the tale of AI — in China and the US — better than anyone else. A great read!”

You can watch the full episode of this Udacity Talk here.