Lalit Singh – COO, Udacity

Johann

My name is Johann Berlin host of the Discerning What Matters podcast and CEO of TLEX Institute. Throughout this series, I’ll be interviewing experts and leaders who are driving with the future of work will look like within their companies and across their industries. During the podcast, we’ll be exploiting a central question. As technology speeds us into an uncertain future. How can we design a future of work that meets our human needs and values? How can we create environments that will help us flourish and thrive in the way we live and work? We’d love to hear from you what matters most to you in the future of work. Please share your thoughts with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook at TLEX Institute. And you can check out our work and symposiums on TLEXInstitute.com really excited to have Lalit Singh joining today. Lalit is a serial entrepreneur executive in the Silicon Valley. And he’s currently the CEO of Udacity. Doing really fascinating work around the future of learning and education, nano degrees, closing the skills gap. And he’s also a personal friend. So I’m really happy to have you on this show today as part of the series.

Lalit

Thank you and excited to be here.

Johann

Yeah, we’ll just jump right in. So whenever we think about the future of work and the future of humans at work, the name of the podcast is discerning what matters, right. There’s so much information. There’s so many things that are happening. What is it from your perspective, your vantage, your unique experiences as an executive that that you think matters most and this is how you’re thinking about it Udacity but also maybe at large?

Lalit

Yeah, so let me talk about you know, what we are seeing with our enterprise customers, because, you know, when we talk about future of work. A lot of it is being manifested in what we see with our enterprise customers, right. And when you look at it, most of the enterprises these days are going through technical disruptions, beat moving to cloud, or bringing in AI and ml technologies to solve the business problems that they are seeing, or otherwise bringing a lot more of data in the company. Those are the three big themes that we are seeing in every enterprise. And we are at the tip of the iceberg if you will. Most of the CXOs either talking about it, or otherwise they are actively doing something about it. And as we think about it, biggest thing you know, that they worry about now versus a year back when they used to worry or two years back when they used to worry about that hate cloud is a big problem for me or GDPR or cyber security problem for me. Now, the CXOs are talking about that I can put these things in place. But how do I transform the workforce to be able to deliver, you know, outcomes that the company want and aligned to some of these disruptive technologies? I think that’s where the future of work is going to be defined as to how you transform the workforce, aligned to the technology innovation, that the companies want to try to be productive?

Johann

And what are some of the ways that you guys are thinking about that? So there’s obviously a massive skill gap, we’re in almost a negative talent market, if you will, if you just think about from a from a resourcing point of view. So people do need to rescale what are some of the things that you guys are doing that to kind of close that gap?

Lalit

Yeah, so before I get into you know that the pain points that the company are seeing is of course, you know, the talent shortage and there’s not enough in the market right. If you go and look for AI and ml engineers, they’re more demand, I think the demand is three or four x versus the talent. And so it’s very expensive to hire them. But at the same time, what many of the enterprise companies are facing is they have tons of talent sitting in the company and they have right institutional knowledge. They also are culturally the right fit for the company, but they are just in their own different jobs that may be obsolete now. So the challenge that the companies are facing is either they would have to terminate these employees in hire outside and from very scarce talent. That means they will have to pay serious, serious money to hire them because many of the startups are pretty much galloping that type of talent and it’s tough to find it. Or otherwise you train them and that’s the area where we actually help solve this issue with our enterprise customers. We help transform their existing employees from A to B, for example, somebody who probably was doing programming earlier. We could help the enterprise transform that talent to become a data engineer or a data scientist in the company.

Johann

And are you thinking about that through mentorship through sort of SAS technology? How are you guys kind of combining the technological versus human aspect of learning and in that region?

Lalit

So that’s a very good question. So we at Udacity what we do is the, our program, which we call nano degrees, is a very comprehensive program wherein it composes of short videos, which actually provide you the concept about the new technology for example, at stake data. So it will talk about the foundations and the different aspects of data analytics and data science, if you will. Then the second aspect is basically, the projects we you know, you can never lose weight by watching somebody else doing the exercise. You have to know yourself, what type of exercises to do and then exercise to lose the weight. So that’s our philosophy about transforming the employees that they have to get their hands dirty by doing real world projects. So in our nano degree programs, you know, the employees have to spend time to listen to the content and that content is developed by industry leaders that we work closely with, then they have to get their hands dirty in the real world projects in when they submit the project work. They are supported by the project reviewers who are human beings. They give them the feedback on what they did right versus what they did wrong. At the same time, we also provide through the journey of this learning. We provide them what we call technical mentors, who will stay with them through from the beginning to the end, to provide them support when they want to clarify any concept. Or otherwise they are stuck while they’re doing the project. Or otherwise they need any help around. What should I be thinking about career? All of these things are big differentiators that actually help transform a student from their position A to, you know, their target milestone B.

Johann

I love this there’s three components. I just want to kind of highlight for everyone listening which, which I love in this. One is that the industry experts I think so much of like, somebody will spend 60, 80, $100,000 signaling. They know something from a four year degree when everything they’re learning is outdated and probably not relevant by the time they get to a fortune 100 company or even a nonprofit in that respect. So I love the idea of taking the industry experts as the subject matter experts and then teaching them in more of a flipped classroom sort of video thing. And then adding the mentors that sort of human element is fantastic. I think it’s a really great compliment that you guys are doing very excited about that. And I would be curious from your point of view you know, so much of the future of work discussion is one that is a little bit fear based. It’s focused on you know, are computers and AI and augmented reality going to take away the human experience and human jobs. And from a neuroscience point of view, this makes sense. We’re wired for safety first, but I’d be curious from your point of view, because you guys are really working to vision what the future of this could look like. Where does it that you find optimism? Where is it that the spots that you really look forward to in what technology can do to remove redundancies or improve outcomes?

Lilith

Yeah so I you know, this whole AI and ml and there’s a notion around is AI and ml going to replace the work and make people more redundant and you will have more unemployment. Our senses it’s actually going to be a positive. AI is not going to take the jobs away. Of course, you can apply some of them to help with repeated you know activities. Are my take is that it is actually a positive that it is IA or intelligence applied. You know, what it would really help our employees or anybody is really use those AI to make better. So this is more of a supplement to what they are doing it will help them make much more faster decisions. For example, I’ll give an example of chat live added customer support type of activities, you know, you could apply artificial intelligence to drive 90% of the chat activities. However, the last 10% when the chat cannot actually get to the right answer. It will have to transfer the call or the chat to an actual live human being. And then that human being can actually use the time to actually meet with a lot more of prospective customers. And spend more time in converting them to actual sales or spend more time in articulating about the value add of the of any offering. So, what I see is the productivity of employees as a result of some of these AI ml type of technologies will actually go up. Similarly, you know, data, what as you bring in the data type of technologies into work. What we are starting to look at in our companies that we serve is their employees are suddenly starting to become more static. So earlier they were doing some, you know, lower level type of work. Now they have these technologies available, they can actually apply a lot more strategic thinking. And they can participate in much more better decision making and which in return drive their productivity which in return drive the outcomes faster for the business units, which in return drive better financial and operational outcomes for the companies. For example, AT&T is a good example. They are one of our big customers. They over the last four years went through a major transformation moving from analog to digital. And using that process they have they ended up training more than 10,000 employees with us through our data science Nano degree programs. And now they are seeing a lot more productive outcomes from those employees. Rather than turning them they have you know, the institutional, culturally aligned employees who can actually deliver much more faster outcomes for the company.

Johann

Very interesting and you had mentioned in the in the beginning of the interview, you know, kind of the context of where you see those three big categories where you see the biggest disruption and change how they’re happening and the pain points from your, from your point of view and Udacity. What do you think some of the adaptive challenges are going to be over the next five, five years as we kind of transition into these new ways of doing things?

Lalit

think some of it is, you know, really driving what is the end result that the company wants to try? You know, having, having really good articulation of what is the end result that the companies are wanting to try? And as a result, what are the process changes? What are the changes in the tools? What are the changes in the people that need to be driven. And it’s very important to time them in the right manner that you are making the right changes in the tools or the technologies that you bring in, you’re making the right changes in the processes and you are making right changes and the people need up scaling. We actually providing the right incentive structure. Because many times what happens is, let’s say you want to up skill a resource and if you again, keep them in the same type of job with that up scaling doesn’t help them it’s of no use. So better career planning actually helps to also instant and drive the right outcomes you want to drive with the Human Resource, because at the end, the biggest asset for any company is the human capital. And if you do not drive the right strategy around that, you can do whatever you want to do, but you won’t be successful. So that’s my, that’s my two cents around this area.

Johann

Yeah, no, I like that and I think it’s also a way to address retention issues, right. If you’re taking people along, if they’re guiding if they’re learning in these micro ways, I think it’s you’re much more likely to keep them and I also think you’ll overcome a lot of those a lot of those frictions, which are unpredictable. I think it was something like more than 50% of CEOs don’t even know what skills they’re going to need in the future. So I think that maybe an economic forum that had that statistic.

Lalit

I have a you know, there were two CEOs who are sitting next to each other. And one of the CEO was complaining that you know as we are going through the transformation, we are spending a lot of time and money in skilling. Our employees in these future looking technologies and then they end up leaving the company. Then the other CEO, says “how about think about this scenario betting, you do not train your employees and they end up staying in the company?”

Johann

Yes no, it’s a great anecdote, right. Like you keeping people who don’t know what they’re doing. And I think what I see and I know that you’re kind of pioneering this to really great brands. They realize that people are going to move laterally, they’re going to they’re going to move more horizontally and often. But you want them to be branded sort of alumni of your company and brand ambassadors and feel like you help them progress in their life. And so I think bringing that spirit of the anecdote that you just mentioned. In terms of designing, how are you guys thinking about designing for this so you know, taking away the redundant tasks and creating more of the human experience. Is there anything you can share with us about how you can enhance the human experience at work?

Lalit

Yeah, so at our companies student first is our biggest value that actually drives what we do. And as a result, our classroom experience is very amazing. What we do out here is from the time somebody enrolls in our Nano degree, program meet a consumer or any enterprise business, the first thing they get is really very slick. You know, two minute onboarding wherein based on their inputs, we match them with a mentor who is in the same geography right within the same time zone. Then, as soon as they get into our classrooms, they our students have the ability to interact with hundreds and thousands of fellow students who are doing the similar Nano degree program across the globe. And that is pretty powerful ability to actually communicate with learners across the globe. And then you can share your perspective with others. So learn from their perspective. Then the other human element is, you know, as you do, listen to those three or four minute videos and when you start doing the project and you have a project reviewer, it’s a human on the other side, who is reviewing your project, giving you real time feedback. Then you have the technical mentors who’re there through the journey, providing you hand holding you and guiding you the right support. And we have the (unrecognizable) engagement team, or the student engagement team that creates the community outreach, you know. Provide the exposure to the 80,000 alums we have across the globe. That really provides to our students that experience you would get as if you were doing a regular Master’s or bachelor degree program in a university. That I think is very, very powerful to drive the outcomes that you want to drive for our students.

Johann

No, and I think it’s at scale and what’s so nice is it’s global. If we think about more inclusion from a social economical or background point of view, the type of scenario that you’re talking about can be scaled. Anyway we can give access in so many places anywhere in the world and I love that. And I want to just go back on that is one of the earlier parts that that you had mentioned around coming up with the outcomes. And I think that’s one of the reasons we’ll see the chief learning officer. These kind of formulating the right outcome and hypotheses, questions, learning questions. And then creating that flexibility that you’re talking about and what I love so much about what you guys are doing. What you’re describing, is I think you’re integrating a lot of things which have worked, which, quite frankly, from an L&D function. I’m surprised it hasn’t been more like flipped classrooms we know work really well in Khan Academy. So why not greater adoption, you guys are doing this with the mentor model with the global sort of community and student leaders. And we know people learn more when they teach than when they just listen or learn. So the fact that they can ladder up and engagement is so fantastic. I’m very excited as you can see about what you guys are doing next and just the whole field of possibilities in the education space. So any closing remarks on the future of humans who work what matters most to you personally? What are the human interactions that you think maybe will enhance people’s experience in learning and in career development, anything that stands out?

Lalit

Yeah, so I think couple of things, you know, one, learning never ends. We are in a lifelong learning scenario. And what that means is, you know, we have gone through elementary education we have gone to undergrad and masters and some of others would have also gone to PhD but never stop there. You know, as you get out of those and go back to work, we observed that two or three or four years down the line. Whatever we learn suddenly becomes obsolete because there are new technology new waves of new frontiers being opened. So my key takeaway and key advises don’t stop learning, you know, look at different alternatives to how to up skill yourself. There is Udacity there are other similar experiences that could be provided. But go out and seek for the right, what is the right learning for you? And keep, keep learning and be on the cutting edge. We are always there to provide you the learning in the environment in the areas of VDI or ML or data science or cloud or programming or autonomous systems. But by my key you know, we are in a lifelong learning environment right now and just keep going.

Johann

Yeah well to learn to continue to inquire, to continue to expand our worlds is, is part of what’s so great about us being human right, because we can do that, as long as there’s interest. So thank you so much Lalit for being part of the series, looking forward to also having you be part of the summit. And very excited to follow your work and thank you for sharing your insights.

Lalit

Thank you very much. I’m always excited to be talking to you.

Johann Berlin

Johann Berlin is a serial entrepreneur, international keynote speaker and leadership consultant specialized in human and organizational development, mental health and well-being, and sustainable business and investing. Johann is CEO of TLEX Institute, providing over 1 million digital users with evidence-based leadership, breathwork and emotional intelligence training. His clients include top business schools like Harvard Business Schools and Fortune 500 companies like Amazon and Microsoft. A leadership writer at Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Real Leaders and Huffington Post, Johann is also Consulting Chief Learning Officer for Cooper Investors, a $13 billion private equity fund where he is integrating values-based investing principles into the firm’s culture fund. He is also Consulting Chief Learning Officer at Total Brain where he develops mental health and well-being content for clinicians, large consumer groups, and organizations. Johann is a leading voice on human-centered leadership, founding the Future of Humans at Work conference and podcast. Previously, he served as CEO and co-founder of Sustainable CitySolutions and was SVP of Sustainability and Strategy for JDI. As a board member, executive advisor and community volunteer, Johann is passionate about social ventures dedicated to resilient schools, local economy, prisoner rehabilitation, and youth leadership. Johann's TEDx talk has been viewed over 100,000 times.

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