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Slack CEO looks to artificial intelligence for help in rolling out new products

EcDev chief gets (another) earful about competitiveness; Resilient Coders founder wants to keep tech’s diversity gains despite downturn; A road warrior comes home.

Lidiane Jones, chief executive of Slack.Chris Morris

Are you spending too much time in meetings? Lidiane Jones is willing to bet you are.

Speaking at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce annual gala earlier this month, Jones asked how many people in the crowd of 1,300-plus feel like they get stuck in meetings all day or think they have to wait until the day ends before they can be productive.

One way to break the cycle of drudgery, at least from her point of view, is by effective use of messaging software, particularly when enhanced by artificial intelligence.

As the newly christened chief executive of Slack, the messaging app, you would expect Jones to say that. She is all-in on making office workers’ days more productive. Toward that end, on May 4, Jones announced a suite of Slack programs that use artificial intelligence under the brand name Slack GPT. These are designed to make colleagues’ communications more efficient, including by providing conversation summaries and writing assistance, and to make it easier for salespeople to respond to clients and prospects, by providing alerts of sales leads and instant research. These AI programs will also help Jones and her colleagues integrate the consumer-facing Slack app with the business-focused tools offered by Slack’s parent company, Salesforce.

Jones was already one of the most prominent Latinas in the high-tech sector when she became CEO about four months ago, taking over for Slack cofounder Stewart Butterfield. Now, as the head of one of the best-known software programs used in modern office life, she’s also one of the most prominent tech executives in Greater Boston.


Although Salesforce is based in San Francisco, Jones lives in Cambridge. She moved to Greater Boston more than 15 years ago from the Seattle area as a Microsoft executive, in large part because her husband wanted to return to his home state. She continued to rise up the ranks at Microsoft, before leaving in 2015 to be VP of software product management for speaker maker Sonos in Boston. Salesforce called four years later; she liked how its e-commerce options allow companies like Sonos to stay independent, and took a job helping oversee that part of Salesforce’s business.


Jones said she was surprised when Butterfield reached out about taking over Slack. But she calls the past four months “the best, you know, four months I’ve had in my career” — even though it involves plenty of travel. She has bounced around from Australia to London to Toronto, with plenty of visits to San Francisco.

Chamber chief executive Jim Rooney thought Jones would be a perfect keynote speaker for this year’s annual meeting and invited her through chamber members Thea James and Betty Francisco, who volunteer alongside Jones at Boston nonprofit Compass Working Capital.

About that AI that Jones talked about at the chamber: She has been impressed by how quickly big companies are adopting Slack GPT. “Every customer is knocking on my door,” Jones said. “They’re like, ‘Hey, just protect my data, but I need this.’”

As the state’s economic development secretary, Yvonne Hao is leading the charge to update the official economic development plan for Massachusetts — something required by state law to happen every four years. She certainly won’t be at a loss for feedback.Webb Chappell for the Boston Globe

Hao hits the road for listening tour

As the state’s economic development secretary, Yvonne Hao is leading the charge to update the official economic development plan for Massachusetts — something required by state law to happen every four years. She certainly won’t be at a loss for feedback.

Last week, Hao told members of real estate trade group NAIOP Massachusetts that more than 200 people attended the first two regional listening sessions, in Springfield and Worcester — from big companies and small businesses, nonprofits and city councils. She plans to finish the report by the end of the year and is relying in part on an advisory council, which includes NAIOP chief executive Tamara Small as a member.


One possible reason Hao is getting so much feedback: rising concerns about the state’s economic competitiveness.

At the NAIOP event, Jake Grossman of the Grossman Companies said he worries about taxes and housing affordability. “Can you give me a little therapy session?” Grossman asked Hao. “What’s the good stuff that’s happening?”

Hao said she’s hustling to make the case at every turn for why companies should stay and grow here, arguments that tend to focus on our well-educated talent pool. She said she heard that a chief executive was being recruited to relocate to North Carolina, so she hopped on the phone with him to explain why he should stay. And she noted that Governor Maura Healey has hired Quentin Palfrey and Will Rasky to go after all the federal funds they can find for Massachusetts. “Other states have this muscle developed [but] we haven’t,” she said of lobbying Washington.

She knows Massachusetts has been one of the few states to lose people during the pandemic but is determined to reverse that trend.

“This is not the time to hang out and rest,” Hao said. “We have real issues we have to fix. If you wait too long ... by the time you realize you’ve lost, it’s too late.”


Leon Noel (right), the managing director of engineering at Resilient Coders, helped student Vonds Dubuisson with a project on Oct. 25, 2018.Jessica Rinaldi

Resilient Coders founder aims to keep pushing forward

As the founder of Resilient Coders training program for people of color, David Delmar Sentíes has helped a generation of Black and Latino tech workers enter the workforce.

Now that the tech sector is experiencing a downturn, Delmar Sentíes worries many of those alums are being left behind, and that the corporate diversity commitments made in recent years are slipping away. (Delmar Sentíes left Resilient Coders last year to finish his book on this topic, “What We Build with Power.”) Black workers, he said, have been disproportionately affected by all the tech layoffs, and diversity and equity budgets have been slashed.

That’s why he and Pariss Chandler, founder of the Black Tech Pipeline, among others, are launching a campaign for worker-led equity in the field. They’ll hold their first organizing meeting on June 12. Among the reforms Delmar Sentíes wants: companies getting serious about dropping bachelor’s degrees from the list of job requirements. He also hopes for the creation of some sort of organization — think of it as a Better Business Bureau, but for DEI — that can track companies that are doing well, and the ones that are performing poorly.

“Resilient Coders and other organizations like it are functionally marching into the wind,” he said. “If you do that long enough, you wonder what it would be like to change the direction of the wind.”

While at AMD, Terry Richardson, who led major sales efforts for AMD and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, was deciding whether to finally retire, or to find a job a little closer to home. He ended up picking the latter option.Ashley Pon/Bloomberg

Richardson settles down at last

Terry Richardson has led major sales efforts for two giant tech companies, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and AMD — the kind of jobs that can put you on the road more often than you’re home.


While at AMD, Richardson was deciding whether to finally retire, or to find a job a little closer to home. He ended up picking the latter option, when Josh Dinneen rang him up. Dinneen was moving up to president at Portsmouth, N.H-based IT services and cybersecurity provider GreenPages, which also has an office in Charlestown. And Dinneen wanted someone he could trust to take over his previous role there as chief revenue officer. Thus, the invite was extended to Richardson. He joined GreenPages, which is owned by Boston private equity firm Abry Partners, on May 1.

Richardson said he liked the technology expertise and the people at the 310-person firm. Plus, it’s hard to argue with the lifestyle improvements, because most clients are in and around New England as opposed to the marathon trips Richardson took on almost a weekly basis. While the GreenPages headquarters in Portsmouth isn’t exactly a short drive away from his home in Hopkinton, at least he knows he can finish the day in his own bed. It’s time, finally, to stop the running.

Jon Chesto can be reached at Follow him @jonchesto.