4 tech leaders talk 2021: What to expect and how to be prepared

This year has been one of the most challenging for businesses and the leaders and technologists who power them. As we prepare for the year ahead, we look to see how the trajectory of technology has shifted, the up-and-coming tech that shouldn’t be ignored and how consumer preferences have and will continue to change.

We met over Zoom with Dan Pupius, co-founder and CEO of Range; Janani Ravi co-founder of Loonycorn and Pluralsight author; Scott Lewis, co-founder and VP of engineering at APiO; and Shelley Benhoff, site core MVP and Pluralsight author. Below you’ll find a few of our favorite questions answered by these industry leaders.

What has changed in terms of the general public's technology expectations over the past year, and how do we take those learnings into 2021?

Dan: If you think about teams as being co-located in office, there's a lot of ad hoc interactions which people use to facilitate processes. So now that everyone is essentially remote for the remainder of this year and into next year, those ad hoc processes no longer work. So people have no expectations around how they interact with each other and how to communicate.

Two really obvious examples are asynchronous communication and video. You have to build intention around how people interact with each other because there's informal processes that happened in person and they're no longer available. So if you don't intentionally design the processes to replace them, you end up with information silos forming and people just not being in the loop about what they're working on. So I think that's going to continue into 2021.

The other big trend that we're seeing is increased focus on wellness, belonging and mental health, and thinking of those in the context of work instead of separate programs that are outside the context of work. How do you integrate wellness programs into the work stream and into people's work practices? I think that will become much more of a trend next year.

Another trend in the U.S., as the pandemic gets cleaned up next year maybe or the year after, people will start with returning to the offices. But overwhelmingly we've seen that the cats out the bag and a large portion of people will want to continue working remotely part of the time. Many people want to return to the office, but they don't want to pretend stuff is five days a week.

So we need to figure out hybrid work models. You'll start to hear more about digital virtual by default as the way of collaborating with your team regardless of where people are located. So that might be some people in the office, some people in different time zones or some people just prefer to work at home a couple of days a week.

What are some predictions about where technology will show the most in 2021 and beyond?

Shelley: This year has impacted us like no other. There are many different technologies that have emerged. This year we've already touched on remote work tooling and then also security. I actually work with Johns Hopkins currently, and we've seen a lot of trends with machine learning and artificial intelligence as well to help crunch all of those numbers and to automate a lot of the manual processes in statistics and math, especially.

Janani: I think this is a trend which has existed in the past and it's just going to be much more important in the future: no code and low code tools—essentially the democratization of technology. People have data to work with, people need to work with data, but the barrier of someone having to know how to code to be able to see what the data is saying will be lowered. There can be no code solutions for building business workflows, no drag and drop tools for machine learning or visualization data. These are just going to be much, much more important for a business and how they operate. It no longer makes sense to not have access to these capabilities.

Scott: I think some other areas we haven't really talked about is how workers and house tech people are doing these things, but we really haven't explored how everybody is dealing with their normal lives. I think that people are having to reinvent a lot of things, even necessary things like education. That's been completely reinvented. And things like telemedicine and being able to not only deal with your healthcare providers, but also move other types of people counseling online.

We also now think about entertainment and the lack of being able to get together. I think those are the immediate needs, but also many of us have friends and family in various locations and can’t always get together. And I think there's going to be things that we need to kind of come up with and some things have been done to build a community, not only in teams of workers, but families, friends and just to kind of keep the mental health up of people so that we don't feel so isolated all the time.

What are the risks of a rapid shift in technology and the struggle between anticipatory experience and privacy concerns?

Scott: One of the ones that we mentioned here was anticipatory technology. It’s when technology actually does things ahead of you asking for it. So for example, in the old days, it was just ads. You went to look at one shirt and now everywhere I go on the internet that shirt follows me around for the next six weeks. I think maybe some people like that, but I don't really like that. I think there are several big companies in the space where one is “you’re the product” and the other is “privacy is most important.” I'm more in the camp of I like to have anticipatory technologies. I think we really need to find ways to have companies be able to do both.

And I think that's one area that we need to kind of think about as we do shift this technology. I think the risks are great, whether it be your religion, your race, your belief system, whatever that is. Getting that into the hands of the wrong people at the wrong time can be disastrous. We have to figure out better business models that can balance privacy and economics.

Janani: My thoughts are shaped very much by what I do and where exactly I sit. I run a business here in Bangalore, India and I'm pretty clear between anticipatory experience and privacy concerns right now. What I need on the spectrum is better experience from all the technologies that I use. Give me an expatriate experience that simplifies my life, and I'll take the hit on my privacy, but that's right now. It's so contextual. It depends on what you're doing and what you're struggling with every day. And there is of course a cultural aspect to this. How open are folks to sharing details about themselves? Are they comfortable about sharing what you may be comfortable sharing? I may not be and vice versa. And basically, I think the most important thing is how smooth your current experience is. I have so many little things that I have to worry about which are very difficult, little operational and bureaucratic matters. If I have to do compliance or file taxes, just working with those sites is just so painful. Everything is a struggle. So anything that makes my life a little simpler is just worth it for how much utility I derive from it. I like things to be simpler so I can just focus on doing my job.

So once again, this also depends on what's happening in the world. Views have moved significantly during COVID. A year ago, if you told me to go to a restaurant and sit down and just have a nice dinner, I’d have to install an app on my phone, and then have that app record my temperature for a couple of days so it's tracking how I'm doing, I would have been all annoyed, and I would be wrestling and shun that restaurant forever, but I've done it. I've done it a couple of times in the past few months, and it seems reasonable to me. I'm very conscious that others might have a different perspective when things are a lot smoother and you're giving up much more information, which you may not want to give. You're obviously concerned about privacy in that sense. I'm concerned about privacy because I'm not on social media. I avoid using social media because I feel I don't want anyone to know anything about me and I only use person-to-person messages which I feel are reasonably secure. So what I do and what I want is a little different. That’s where I am right now.

2020: the year that forever changed expectations on how teams and businesses run

With all of the struggle that this year has brought, there is always something good that comes with it. We’ve been pressured to adapt at such a fast pace and innovate our tech drastically, and it’s crucial to be aware of potential risks and new opportunities.

Catch up on the full conversation with our panel here.