Pluralsight LIVE 2019: keynote notes, quotes & anecdotes

The Computer Weekly Developer Network team has started its week in Utah at the Pluralsight LIVE 2019 conference.

For those that would like a reminder, Pluralsight specialises in online cloud-based technical training content and skills management for businesses, which it executes through its own technical skills benchmarking platform and tools.

Pluralsight IQ measures a developer’s technology skills based on a percentile ranking for a skill area or technology. After completing a Bayesian-analysed set of test questions, developers can gain a Skill IQ on more than 60 skills, spanning languages, frameworks, tools and processes.

Last year the company launched Pluralsight Role IQ as the follow up to Skill IQ. Driven by Pluralsight’s own Iris machine learning algorithm brand, Role IQ provides science-driven assessments of individuals combined with real time analytics to assess competencies for any given job – and by ‘job’, we of course, mean ‘role’.

While Skill IQ measures an individual’s proficiency in a specific software technology (e.g. Angular, HTML, Git, JavaScript, Python and so on), Role IQ measures a collection of skills that an individual typically needs to be successful in his or her role.

Through a combination of hands-on interactive courses and in-browser coding challenges, Pluralsight projects are designed to mimic real-world scenarios and so allow users to test their skills in a local environment to validate for accuracy before applying those skills at work.

Author auteurs

Pluralsight noted a recent survey it undertook to question its ‘author’ base (Pluralsight authors are the creators and teachers of the firm’s base of training content) – the company found that:

  • 60% of authors have helped ‘build or guide’ the direction of the technology they teach – a crucial factor when we consider a) real world open source code commits and b) higher-level platform architecture roadmap builds in all technologies.
  • On average, Pluralsight authors got into tech around age 15 – and they have an average of 20 years in technology today – also on average, they drink roughly 3.24 cups of coffee a day.

Speaking during the main stage presentation this year, Pluralsight CMO Heather Zynczak emphasised the focus for year’s event on diversity, inclusion and belonging. The event has a full 50:50 gender parity in its speaker list. “In fact, there is one more female speaker than male this year,” said Zynczak.

Telling the story of how her firm had moved to bring a new level of tech skills forward inside her organisation was Becky Whitehead in her role as VP of software development for health savings company Health Equity. She was joined in the conversation on stage with Pluralsight chief legal officer (CLO), Matt Forkner.

“When we started testing our application rollouts, it was really our business users [not developers] who were testing our apps. In terms of code quality, we had some metrics, but it was what I would call ‘cowboy coding’… and we knew we had to change because our company was (and still is) growing fast. We moved to embrace Agile practices and decentralised decision making and organised our teams based around owning responsibility for the modules of the technology they were responsible for. We spun up Scrum teams and hosted ‘Scrum therapy’ sessions to get employees to really understand what was working and what wasn’t in ongoing project developments. We really needed to also stress how continuous (we call it relentless) process improvement is essential; this is because we see that all to often software development teams will find a process that works okay, just fine… and so, in reality, they stop short of looking for areas where they need to reinvent themselves and refactor parts of the technology stack in place,” said Whitehead.

Spin-up spin-down ethos

Emphasising that the cloud skilling challenge is multi-layered, Whitehead suggested that when customers really do move to the cloud, it’s not just as simple as the technology question. There’s also a business challenge in terms of preparing team members to work in a way that allows them to work with a technology stack that is based upon a spin-up spin-down ethos.

Digging into technology expertise challenges and goals further, Pluralsight author evangelist Greg Shields took the stage to talk about the Pluralsight user interface (which he refers to as best-in-class).

“While many companies today talk about AI all the time, Pluralsight is unique in many respects today as we focus so directly on human intelligence. Many of our authors have to learn big new skills such as ‘instructional design’ on the road to how our teams all come together to build the ‘everyday sausage’ that is the total Pluralsight product,” said Shields.

Pluralsight CMO Heather Zynczak added to the keynote technical sessions by talking to Google VP of global partnerships Bonita Stewart, who is also a member of the Pluralsight board.

“We have a program at Google where we are specifically training managers on how to manage inside environments of [extreme] complexity. [When you look at] Google as a company, one of the things that we do is bring together technologies that create opportunities for everyone… so one of our key focal points has always been innovation… don’t forget, Google started as just search before we’ve moved onward to Android, YouTube and all the other things that we’re now known for,” said Stewart.

It’s okay to fail, forwards

Area 120 is a workshop project that Google started a few years back that is designed to allow employees to work on their 20% ‘creative time’ innovation that can be incubated through Google itself. Stewart says that it’s important to remember that Google knows that it’s okay to fail… and the company has embraced the fact that if you don’t go to the edge, then you don’t know what [product and service] capabilities might be around the corner.

In summary, Stewart suggested that today, skills and skills training is moving to the ‘other side’ of the profit and loss (P&L) sheet. They should no longer be seen as a cost; they should be seen as part of an organisation’s competitive advantage IP measure.

Microsoft Azure GM for partner + developer relations Erin Rifkin spoke with Pluralsight head of tech leader experiences David Rackham to explain how Microsoft offers a cloud adoption framework to provide new cloud projects with the tools and resources to manage everything from performance to governance and more.

“The shelf life of a [cloud] skill is about five years, so we need to create enough space for customers to be able to keep an open-ended approach to human capabilities. Microsoft’s mission is to help look at aspects like role-based certification through multiple modalities of training (could be video-based, could be instructor-based, could be more interactive hands-on learning such as also seen in Microsoft Learn)… and a lot of this has dovetailed with Role IQ and Skills IQ from Pluralsight and we have used these technologies internally to make sure every employee has their own individual skilling plan,” said Rifkin.

A final technical keynote session saw Pluralsight head of practices Mariah Hay speak to Google VP of Google Cloud PSO Jason Martin. Martin is prominent in Google Cloud… but he is also heavily involved in the learning programs.

“If you look at cloud and how broad it is in terms of compute, storage, networking, security, data engineering principles, machine learning process… pretty much every layer of IT changes when you move to cloud, so we have needed to think about how to create, build, share and refine new skills at every layer of this stack. We need to make sure we give developers access to sophisticated tools for advanced technologies that do things like auto-replication [to take one example] so that they can build more robust applications faster,” said Martin.

Looking at the future of how Pluralsight works with Google, Martin says that there is a lot of synergy between the way the two firms work together. Given that developers push to release code continuously on a daily basis, the company also wants to make sure that the curricula that makes up learning materials are also continuously updated.

One step at a time

What’s a conference keynote without an inspirational speaker, right?

Day one keynotes at Pluralsight Live 2019 wrapped with a talk presented by professional adventure rock climber Alex Honnold of ‘Free Solo’ El Capitan fame — and let’s remember, these talks can be cheesy, shmaltzy and very hit or miss…. But Honnold is a pure hit. He’s humble, entertaining, inspirational and really great at conveying the need break down impossible goals into stages and conquer challenges one step (literally) at a time.

< class="wp-caption-text">Pluralsight’s Heather Zynczak (left) with Google’s Bonita Stewart (right).

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