Mylea Charvat, Ph.D. is the CEO & Founder at Savonix. Follow her on Twitter.
Last week, I was fortunate to be invited as a speaker at PluralSight LIVE, PluralSight’s first conference to bring together consumers, educators, corporate and technology executives and thought leaders to discuss the current trends in technology.
As part of the theme about the future of tech, I conducted a breakout session centered about the promises and perils of Digital Health. For those unfamiliar with PluralSight, it is an online education platform with thousands of courses geared toward IT, creative, business, and data science professionals.
Just as I aspire for Savonix to democratize cognitive assessments, PluralSight CEO Aaron Skonnard believes that his company can make learning tech ubiquitous. Most tellingly, during his keynote speech Aaron explained that “only technology can unlock better ways of learning technology”.
There were many intertwining themes of the conference such as solving solutions with tech, increasing tech education for everyone, and promoting diversity within organizations, with the overarching theme of preparing the world for the future.
The conference assembled a remarkable roster of speakers. As well as championing diversity on the demographic front, PluralSight LIVE demonstrated the wealth of information that can be garnered from people of different career paths and trajectories.
For example, Steve Young, former NFL MVP and now managing director HGGC, used his background and experience to support his major takeaways that “disruption is the new normal” and “change can’t happen fast enough”. We are at a time of innovation where updates, inventions, and tech tools are being reinvented constantly. So how do we keep up?
First, we need to discard protocols that are only in place because that’s how it’s always been done. Although there is merit to tradition in certain spheres, within the world of technology, tradition for tradition’s sake only serves to hinder progress. Thus, we have to find a way to more quickly evaluate ideas to determine their merits. Only then can we accept the discomfort that comes from abandoning technological artifacts.
One of my favorite talks came from Jeremy Johnson, CEO and co-founder of Andela, a global engineering organization that has its sights on nurturing the next great software developers. Johnson spoke about how the world is suffering from a human capital shortage, one that can be remedied by investing in tech education in Africa. At one point, he polled the audience: “How many of you think that every person has the potential to learn to code?” Only about a third of the audience raised our hands. Johnson framed this against a historical statistic: a few hundred years ago when only 10% of the world was literate, people believed that only about 30% of the world’s population could learn to read. We now know this to be patently false. Barring any pronounced cognitive disabilities, all humans can be taught to read and write. There’s only one thing inhibiting each and every person from being able to add to the tech community: access to education. With PluralSight and Andela working to grow the population of programming literate people in Africa and across the world, I look forward to the richly diverse creative, business and tech community of the future.
A major highlight from the conference was Aaron Skonnard’s interview with the captivating former First Lady Michelle Obama. A token to Obama’s grace is that she comes across as effortlessly approachable, something that is not easily done when sitting on a stage in front of 1500 applauding audience members.
From discussing moving into the White House to parenting her daughters, Obama was relatable in a way that few so examined by the public eye are able to achieve. She and Aaron had a great conversation about diversity and education, with many of Obama’s sentences punctuated by the crowd’s cheers.
One of her worries is that “children are going to fall by the wayside as the technology gap gets bigger.” She and Skonnard discussed how income inequality is only going to worsen as our economy, and therefore our job market, becomes increasingly reliant on tech literacy. Schools that cannot afford computers or internet will not be able to properly prepare their students for the real world. There is no obvious solution to the looming problem, besides the hope that computers will keep getting cheaper so that they're more affordable.
Skonnard also asked Obama’s opinion on how corporations can increase and promote diversity. Before the White House, Obama worked in the recruiting department of a prestigious law firm and she shared with the audience her insight from her time there. At the end of the day “people hire what they know,” she explained, “so diversity at the recruitment table is key because diversity begets diversity.”
Additionally, the ability to solve the problem of a lack of diversity is dependent on the awareness that comes from being part of the marginalized demographic. Obama put it more straightforwardly: “If a bunch of white guys are sitting around a table trying to figure out how to get women involved, you’re going to get the wrong answer. You have to make more room at the table. That’s a tough thing because that does mean sharing power.”
At the end of the day, it takes companies really wanting to make a change for anything to happen, but the diverse group of employees that comes as a result will always be worth it.
Once again, thank you to PluralSight and Aaron Skonnard for the invitation to your outstanding conference, and I look forward to next year’s PluralSight LIVE.