AI is not a strategy: What companies need to know to overcome tech obstacles in their business

O'Reilly Media President Laura Baldwin discusses the roadblocks companies are facing with legacy systems and why cloud will be even bigger in 2020.

AI is not a strategy: What companies need to know to overcome tech obstacles in their business

TechRepublic's Karen Roby talks with Laura Baldwin, president of O'Reilly Media, a company that publishes tech learning books, about the skills developers need heading into 2020 and what the enterprise needs to know to stay current in the marketplace. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Laura Baldwin: We have a ton of proprietary data. We've got 5,000 enterprise customers and 2.5 million users on our learning platform that is really technology focused with an accent on business as well. And what we're seeing is a huge shift in 2019 that is really into cloud in a much deeper way than it was before.

We still see people going after main languages, Kubernetes, Python , Java, JavaScript. But what we're really seeing is people diving in to try to figure out what is the architecture they need for their future and how do they make their legacy systems, using all of those languages, work with all of the new things that are coming up: Developer productivity tools like Google's Go. What we're seeing is how these companies are trying to put things together to go into 2020. It's a whole new, different world with cloud and microservices.

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Karen Roby: One of the things you talk about is "next architecture" and what people need to know there. Explain that for us.

Laura Baldwin: One of the things that we're very cognizant of is what we call legacy systems, and the fact that most companies are dealing with implementations that they put in 10 or 12 years ago, that they are still going to maintain. What they need to do in today's world of cloud and of microservices is figure out how do they take those legacy systems and make them operate in the new world that all of these containers and cloud architectures provide. And so what we talk about as next architecture is the layering on of legacy, plus all of the new technologies that are allowing incredible advancements and innovation in technology. But the reality is they all have to work together, and we're very focused on that, and we see our customers doing the same.

Karen Roby: Where do you think companies are going wrong, or are they just not there yet with their mindset of understanding how all of this is going to work together?

Laura Baldwin: I think they're not sure where to start. And you know, we just did a survey not too long ago. We surveyed our whole audience around artificial intelligence (AI) in the enterprise and what they needed to know about it. And the reality is 73% of the respondents in that study were either trying to figure it out or believed that it was not going to be for them. They believed they wouldn't be able to do AI.

What we're seeing is that there is a huge, I think, lapse in the area of technology, which is, "How do I make these technologies work for us? How do we make them work for our organization?" I think that what happens is, as you can see, many learning platforms are about, "Learn this particular skill." But what companies are trying to figure out is, "What's the strategy around these things?"

One of the things I always say is that AI is not a strategy--AI is a technology. You've got to figure out how to use that technology to advance whatever strategy you have in place. We're seeing a lot of that on the platform: People are just searching it to try to discover what they can do with these new technologies. We have case studies where we actually bring the best of the best from large companies like Netflix and Microsoft to bear so that everyone who comes to our conferences or actually comes onto the platform can see how other companies are doing it.

That has been a very important way for people to learn, just to experience and to understand what's possible. We're working hard to try to make sure people understand what's possible with these new technologies.

Karen Roby: We talk a lot about the big three languages and, of course, Python, Java, and JavaScript are all still very important as we head into 2020. But in terms of new programming languages, what are you hearing a lot about there, and how will that work? Do the enterprises need to work those in as well?

Laura Baldwin: Yes, tools like Rust and Go, we're seeing really big numbers in trying to learn those tools. When you look at it, those are real productivity tools that help people move faster. While the languages are still important--Python is the most important one out there right now, and the growth just keeps going--the reality is many of those legacy systems I was talking about are built around Java and JavaScript, and the need to stay on top of those and the innovation that's happening there is just as important as needing to know the new things, and you can actually see that in the data that comes from our learning platform.

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