May 24, 2024

Meet the professor: Google’s Ted Souder from Building an AI-First Organization

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It’s time to spotlight another one of our incredible faculty members: Ted Souder, instructor of the Building an AI-First Organization workshop.

Ted frequents stages all over the world speaking about digital transformation – something he knows a thing or two about after 20 years at Google. We think you’re going to love learning from Ted. Here’s why.  

Give students the Ted synopsis. What should they know about you?

My entire career has been in tech, but I was super fortunate to be one of Google's earliest employees. I spent over 20 years there helping some of the biggest brands in the world transform their businesses – originally through search, and then mobile, and then video, and then we started to get into automation, cloud, and AI.

So I was really able to work with all of these businesses throughout this entire digital transformation arc that continues on to this day. And I have to say that what is happening today is probably the most exciting time that I've witnessed, and I've witnessed a lot.

What AI is going to do to the acceleration of business, and opportunities, and revenue – and I believe jobs and opportunity – is going to be unlike anything we've experienced in the past.

What do you think is the most compelling thing about AI right now?

The AI we're playing around with today is the worst that it will ever be. It will only get smarter, better, faster, and easier to use. I think the compelling part of that is: Because it is so bad compared to what it will be, it's an easy on-ramp for anybody.

Anybody can go to a large language model today and, with zero training, get something out of it. That's really exciting. I think one of the challenges that we faced years ago with crypto and, and NFTs, and wallets, and bitcoin is that it's just too complicated for the average person. I've been in tech for 25 years and it took me like a month to figure out how to open a wallet so I could buy an NFT. And if you ask me today how I could go and find that NFT, I would have no idea.

The compelling thing about these large language model tools is that they're dead simple to use and everybody can get onboarded now. So when these tools do become more powerful, a significant portion of the working population is going to be up and running and ready to go with them.

What’s your take on AI pushback?

People immediately come to the worst case conclusions. It's always ‘AI is going to take my job’. But you never hear enough people talking about how AI is going to make it easier for businesses to scale. Now every business on the planet is on a level playing field with some of the biggest and most sophisticated companies in the world. You don't need to be a Google or a Meta or an Amazon to have access to game-changing artificial intelligence that can expand your business.

To be fair, a lot of negative things will come of this, for sure. Will there be job loss? Of course there will be. If you look throughout history, new technologies have replaced old technologies, old jobs, and old ways of doing things since the beginning of time, and that will continue.

But I believe that the good that's going to come out of this will far outweigh the bad. We're going to create new roles and new opportunities. A year and a half ago, no one on the planet had ever heard the term “prompt engineer.” That's just one tiny example of something that didn't exist a year and a half ago that is now really, really important.

You’re very passionate about AI education – tell us where that comes from.

When I travel around the world, I speak to businesses, government groups, etc. And I always ask how many in the audience are using even the most basic AI tools. These are always senior executives – CEOs and the like. And pretty consistently, it's about 30% that raise their hands.

The World Economic Forum’s annual CEO survey backed that up with real data. We're finding that business leaders are not taking advantage of this capability that everybody has access to. It’s common and it’s serious.

They’re going to fall behind really, really quickly to those businesses that do take advantage of it. That's why I think what Section is doing is so important. MIT is great, but I don't have time for that and I don't have $22,000 to spend on it either.

Making this baseline education available to the masses to give everybody a competitive edge almost begs the question: Why wouldn't you do this? What's the downside to learning something that's going to scale your business?

What is your advice for business leaders who haven’t tried out AI yet?

AI is a new competitive edge. We can celebrate what has gotten you to this point in time, but we're not going back to a pre-November 2022.

(That's when ChatGPT first launched). We are not going back to the way things used to be. What got you to where you are is not going to get you where you need to go now.

Awesome job building a business from the ground up, bootstrapping it yourself, making those first hires, bringing in that early tech stack, developing the partnerships that you did. Now, would you like a superpower sidekick that is going to hit the gas on your business and take you to a place that you've always dreamt of? Let me introduce you to AI. There's no excuse, period, for not embracing this. There's no industry that's not going to be impacted.

What are you most interested in imparting on students in your upcoming course?

If there's one thing holding most people back, it's that they’re not thinking big enough. If you could fundamentally completely transform your business, what would need to happen? What is the biggest success you can think of that your business could experience? Then work backwards on how AI and other technologies will enable you to achieve that.

I would love to inspire people to do that and give them some tools and resources that will help them on their journey. So in a year from now, you're in a much better place because you were able to do that.

I also really believe strongly in the idea of continuing the conversation beyond the end of class. I'm available to people. I reply to most emails, I accept all connections on Linkedin. And I think they should find ways to connect with each other again, too. The more connections that people make, the more they think of this as a real community, the more useful all of this is going to be because you're not in a vacuum.

Any parting words for new members of the AI class?

The most important thing for any student in any situation is to lean forward. Make connections with people, approach this as a really powerful community that will make you better. Don’t just passively sit.

Engage and attack these two or three hours with everything that you have. If you do that, you will come away in an elevated place compared to where you were a couple of hours ago. If you're not all in on this, then you will find that at some point you will be behind and it's going to be harder to make up your place in the AI class.

Ready to sign up for Ted’s workshop? We don’t blame you! It’s happening on June 27 at 12 PM E.T. If you’re not already a member, you can use code MAY20 to get 20% off a Section membership. And if you’re only interested in the AI stuff, well that’s why we created the AI Academy. The same code applies. See you in class!

Greg Shove
Section Staff