IBM: An Ideal Employer Pushes into A.I.

When it comes to the firms that made Dice’s first annual Ideal Employer list, IBM is one of the oldest and most recognized. Founded in 1911 as the “Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company” (CTR), it later adopted the moniker “International Business Machines.”

IBM ranked sixth on the Ideal Employer list; analyzing by age, it ranked sixth among Millennials and Generation X’ers, and fifth among Baby Boomers. It ranked sixth for both men and women. Say what you will, the company is certainly consistent in its popularity!

During IBM’s 106-year existence, thousands of other technology companies have risen and fallen. What makes “Big Blue” different? Simply put, the ability to evolve. During the 1930s, for example, it made tabulation machines that organized millions of records; thirty years later, it entered modern computing with the IBM System/360 (S/36), the iconic mainframes.

As computers got smaller, IBM iterated again, plunging into the PC business. The 21st century saw yet another shift into consulting and business services (the company also sold its PC-manufacturing arm to Lenovo). Its latest front is artificial intelligence (A.I.) and deep learning, as exemplified by its Watson A.I. platform.

IBM wants developers and other tech pros to use Watson’s abilities to build apps and services. The company refers to this generation of creators as “cognitive developers.” In keeping with IBM’s emphasis on A.I., the tech stack surrounding Watson has grown to encompass dozens of components—a sizable foundation for building.

“We have just released in general availability a Watson-as-a-service toolset,” said Ryan Anderson, Architect in Residence (Watson West) & Cognitive Prototypes for IBM, who builds “cognitive prototypes” using IBM Watson technologies. “There’s a real nuts-and-bolts data science approach, but there are people building with cognitive who are more on the marketing and brand side who don’t care what’s going on under the covers, and they just want the API to return the information.”

Depending on your task, you don’t necessarily need to know a lot about A.I. in order to work with Watson—a necessary perquisite if IBM hopes to get hundreds of companies working on its platforms. “People who aren’t coders, who have a level of curiosity and interest, can build a basic chat-bot in a couple of hours and understanding the sequence,” he said. “For people with a liberal arts background who want to build, the tooling abstracts a lot of that away.”

At the same time, however, Anderson doesn’t believe that automation will eliminate the need for tech pros who code.

“I don’t think nuts-and-bolts coders and developers are going anywhere anytime soon; but at the end of the day, things mature when they’re passed out to enterprise,” Anderson said. Pulling disparate elements together into a cohesive, working whole still needs “conventional coding and development,” he added. “That connective tissue isn’t going anywhere.”

For tech pros wondering how to approach a rapidly evolving industry, Anderson’s advice is pretty straightforward: “Never stop learning. My career is a case in point—your skillsets must evolve with where the markets are going.” By doing so, you’re unlikely to be caught flat-footed by the next evolutionary leap in hardware or software. Whether you’re a company or a person, that willingness to change is the secret to longevity.

View the complete 2017 Dice Ideal Employer Rankings

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