As every tech company, big and small, races to make its app artificially intelligent by adding machine learning – software that teaches itself how to respond to stuff it’s never seen before – the talent war to hire data scientists is on.
There simply are not enough people with the big-data/machine-learning background to fill all the thousands of jobs that companies have open.
So Salesforce’s CEO, Marc Benioff, explained how he got the people he needed to build its major new machine-learning product, Einstein. Salesforce will launch Einstein next month at its massive annual Dreamforce tech conference.
To build it, Salesforce had quietly assembled a team of 175 data scientists, mostly through acquisitions, Benioff told analysts on the quarterly conference call (emphasis ours):
“Salesforce Einstein is AI for everyone. It’s going to democratize artificial intelligence. It’s going to make every company and every employee smarter, faster and more productive. We are going to deliver the world’s smartest [customer relationship management].
“And as you know, over the last few years we have acquired a number of AI companies – incredible companies like RelateIQ, MetaMind, Implisit, PredictionIO, Tempo AI, and more with amazing, amazing people and technology.
“We have been able to stitch all this together into this incredible AI platform, and this focus on AI and on the critical aspects of AI as the next wave of our industry has resulted in a machine-learning team of more than 175 data scientists who have built this amazing Einstein platform.”
In other words, Salesforce has spent years and hundreds of millions acqui-hiring.
The company didn’t disclose how much it spent on all of those companies, but we know it spent $390 million on RelateIQ. It also spent $32.8 million on MetaMind and $41.6 million combined on PredictionIO and a German consulting company called Your SL.
The company is on an acquisition binge this year in particular, spending more than $4 billion so far.
It has also been slowly, quietly collecting data scientist talent since 2014. It poached a good number of data scientists from LinkedIn that year.
Building a world-class AI team is critically important for Salesforce. Benioff, like many others – including Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella – believes that machine learning is the next big wave of innovation in tech.
Soon, large enterprise customers are going to “demand that your software is going to be intelligent, smart. That you are going to have machine learning and deep learning and machine intelligence built in. That it’s going to be excellent,” Benioff told analysts.
He added that he thinks his tech would even be able to take on IBM’s Watson.
“I really believe we are going to have the best artificial-intelligence platform in the industry. We have phenomenal executives, phenomenal minds. The progress so far has been incredible. And I think when you see Einstein, you will see that it is on par and capable to any other AI platform that you have seen, like Watson and others.”
Benioff also wants to come out of the gate with AI offerings that are made available both as services that developers can use and build into their apps as well as offered as an “add-on” to the software that Salesforce sells. That’s a similar tactic as Google and Microsoft are using to make their AI technologies available.
And that probably means the demand for data scientists won’t be slowing for many, many years.