One of the most frequent questions I get on my travels is “what should my kids study and/or do early in their career to give them the best shot at getting a great job that will sustain them throughout their life”?
Clearly this thought comes from a place of anxiety; understandable and appropriate anxiety. Anybody paying attention to the development of artificial intelligence, automation, and bot-based arbitrage knows that the functional capability of machine learning is growing exponentially, and that when the “bot cost” is cheaper than the “bod cost” (assuming the quality of the task execution is broadly comparable) many “bods” are going to be deemed surplus to requirements.
If you’re thinking about the future through the eyes of your children (as I am) trying to steer your kids into areas where they won’t be surplus to requirements is Parenting 101.
So here are seven emerging areas/jobs that are set to grow massively over the next few years and provide incredible opportunity for those with a science oran arts disposition. Remember the FLOWER is as important – more important – than the STEM.
Egaming – the egaming industry, still considered a curio by non-gamers, is set to be a $100bn market in the next few years, but is still in reality in its infancy. I’d say it’s where the movie industry was in 1935 or the music business was in 1960. Though you may feel that the hours Johnny’s spent shooting things up on Call of Duty have been a complete waste of time, I’d disagree. I think Johnny’s been learning the reflexes, language, social norms, and aesthetics of the new world. Taking those skills, that DNA, and commercializing them will serve him well. Maybe he’ll be the Colonel Tom Parker of egames; maybe he’ll be the Elvis. Maybe he’ll simply be the manager of the concessions stand at the local superdome when the egaming world championships come to town. Whatever, egaming is big and just getting bigger.
Show production–somewhat related but with lots of different applications, the whole concept of “show production” is quietly booming and set to explode even more. If, like me, you spend a lot of time on the road going to trade shows and conferences and industry events, you’ll have noticed that the “production values” of these events have increased very noticeably in the last few years. Whereas you used to find a jerry-rigged stage, a black curtain, and a slightly askew projection screen as the backdrop for the latest product launch or pronouncement from the CEO, now you have 300 foot, 180 degree wrap around HD screens, Hollywood quality videos, lighting and audio rigs from a Beyonce concert, and the vibe of a Vegas show. In short, the production values of movies and TV are finding their way into the day to day of business. Given the pervasiveness of the screen in our times, not being as glossy and polished as the presenters on CNN or Entertainment Tonight leaves the big wigs looking like Lina Lamont in Singing in the Rain, i.e. a relic from a previous age. There are tons of roles – technical, artistic, commercial – in democratizing this trend. There’s going to be lots of businesses that want show business.
IoT infrastructure– again, somewhat related, but something with much broader application, is the rise of the Internet of Things. Let’s assume that everything will – within a few years – be a thing. Building these things, deploying them, managing them, integrating them, upgrading them, optimizing them, fixing them is the huge wave ahead of us. The egaming world championships with its incredible production values – held in your town – is going to exist within an IoT environment; the stadium will be smart, the ticketing and entrance will be smart, the concessions will be smart, the live and virtual experiences will be smart, the ride to and from the stadium will be smart, the build-up and follow-up of the 3 hour game will be smart. Everything will be smart. Replicate this scenario out into every aspect of life and the possibilities are endless. Getting in on the ground floor would be smart.
Digital munitions– given that we’re so fractious a bunch (you are watching Euro 2016 aren’t you?!) I’d say it’s a pretty good bet that we’re going to have a big punch up soon. Left versus right, color v color, religion v religion, north v south, whatever, war runs through the history of man like the word Brighton in a stick of Brighton rock. The next big war though won’t be fought on the fields of northern Belgium- or the playing fields of Eton –but in the data centers of Sunnyvale and Canary Wharf and the Datong Road, Shanghai. The weapons of this war won’t be a Gribeauvai or a Sig Sauer MCX or an ICBM but a piece of code written in C++ delivered through a piece of glass running under the sea or through the ionosphere. If you don’t like the idea of working in the military, fine, call it homeland defense. In the future the idea of attacking or defending, home or abroad, will be quaint notions found only in the manuscripts of Sun Tzu and Von Clausewitz. War will be total. War will be everywhere. War will be invisible. The business of dying (unfortunate as it may be) is set to be a growth industry.
Space– check out the job openings page at Blue Origin. Enough said. Put another way, follow the enthusiasms of the newest billionaire class a.k.a. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Their investments are your opportunity. These guys are the kings of the new frontier, underwriting the new Cristobal Colon’s of the new, new world. It’s going to be hell of a ride and you might die but if I was 21 that’s what I’d be doing. Space is big, and according to Einstein, only getting bigger.
Story telling – the oldest profession (well, not theoldest, but we won’t go there) is becoming the newest skill. Why? Thank TED. The 18 minutes Chris Anderson gives you forces you to tell a story as though you’re back in the cave or out on the high veldt or in the coffee shop on Fleet Street. TED has raised the bar for every type of corporate communication. In a world of ADD, and multi-tasking and second and third and fourth screens, and everybody communicating every second of every day through every channel and every form factor, being able to cut through the noise with a good story is fundamental. The truth is though, very few people can tell a good story. If you can’t add, and you can’t code, I reckon you should double down on learning the art of the yarn. The techies will thank you for it and might let you have some crumbs from their table.
Finishing schools–assuming that in a bot-full-future DNA-life-based-forms (that’s you and me mate) want to deal with other DNA-life-based-forms, I’d say giving “good meeting” is going to be a pretty important job requirement in the second machine age. The Lex Machinabot https://lexmachina.com/ is probably going to do all the work when you go to see your $1,000 an hour lawyer so it will be important that the DNA based lawyer makes the meeting valuable, interesting, exciting, fun, and enjoyable. In the last few decades of HBR/McKinsey/Goldman Sachs orthodoxy these “soft” skills have gone out of the window in an environment of efficiency and ruthlessness. The three martini business lunch has mutated into the sandwich “al-desko”. The 19th hole doesn’t see the action it used to. Professional people’s interpersonal skills are – in my observation – much coarser and much poorer than they were when I started my working life. I think this is going to change and that “bed-side manners” are going to be important again. If you buy this argument there’s an opportunity to develop the curricula and infrastructure to teach professional people how to treat the staff (i.e. the bots) and the guests. Schools hardly do this nowadays; nor colleges, nor graduate level entry programs, nor professional associations. Sales training programs cover some of it, but as a thin veneer to help sales people close the transaction. To me the broader opportunity is to teach people to differentiate themselves from machines. Of course, this isn’t something bourgeois people have had to worry about ever before. But now they do. Not many people will be able to go to Montreuxto stay ahead of the bot; helping the folks around you do so is set to be an expanding niche; one that will probably get you onto quite a few Christmas card lists. That is if cards exist in the future.
The questions that parents (and non-parents) are asking are big ones; important ones; the right ones. In 1,500 words – or a few minutes response at the end of a presentation – it’s hard to do them justice. All of these seven areas are big and broad and deep and all could stand much deeper investigation. I’m not attempting to replicate or condense all of the literature that already exists about them. Something big is going on right now, due to the software nibbling away at the world. We all subsequently need to ask big questions. My answers may be puny but I hope they might be seeds that with your watering and TLC may flower – beautifully – for you and yours in the seasons to come