If you were the best shovel-user in the world, there’d still be some work for you, but hey look: bulldozers and excavators and backhoes have all shown up. You are now marginalized to only insanely tiny niche jobs. If you knew how to set type on a manual machine (my dad did this for a living once years ago), that rocked, until electronic typesetting came to power. Oh, and forget that. We’re all publishers now. We’re video editors. We’re music producers. We all have our own labels, our own TV studios, our own comic books.
Uh-oh, that’s a problem, right? Yes. It is. Deny any of the above, and I’ll be buying my large iced coffee from you this summer. Don’t worry. I’ll listen to you cry about how you used to have a great job. Don’t believe me? GM just offered pretty much EVERYONE a chance to shuffle off the mortal coil with a little bit of cash and a strange boot-print feeling on their ass.
If you make a living at a keyboard, you’ve got to take a look at the work you’re doing and break it down into tiny pieces. You’ve gotta be brutal about it. Look at every single piece of this pie. What can be done by a robot? What are you doing manually that just betrays your lack of technical knowledge? (I had a personal experience with this last night: I learned how vector drawings would’ve been SO much easier for some things I was painting pixels to accomplish).
But all is not lost.
More and more conversations are out there on the web about how humans are still the secret sauce to things working well. I agree. I think we’ve got all kinds of easy-cheesy things on-board that make us better than the best google search. Sure there are things computers and systems will do better for us. Let’s talk about that for a minute.
Amazon launched Mechanical Turk because they understood the value of humans to do a lot of little jobs that need human interface. This is neat because it is a shot across the bow of the crumbling notion of computers replacing humans as “artificial intelligence” machines. It’s just not likely to be happening any time soon. Helpers? Yes. But more like bionics, cybernetics. You follow?
How does this all relate to you, your job, your future role?
It’s the value chain, stupid
Clinton knew it was the economy in 1992. Around the same time, we learned it was cheaper to manufacture overseas. Not many people make computers (or anything) in the US in any bulk now. It’s stupid to do so. It’s cheaper elsewhere.
In the 2000’s, Thomas Friedman knows it’s in the value chain. What does that mean? My definition of the value chain is: a view into the different components of your product/service creation-delivery-service process from a cost-vs-return perspective. Blech. What a crappy definition. Let’s break it down just a little bit.
You make something. Maybe you make software. Someone writes requirements for what it should do. Someone in the company comes up with the design. Someone writes the code. Someone tests it. Someone documents what it does. Someone markets it. Someone sells it. Someone supports it. And then, there’s a whole other layer. Someone pays you. Someone keeps you safe, legally. Someone hires you. Someone keeps your benefits up to snuff. hese are all distinct elements of the value chain. And often, they are all done within the walls of your company. But they don’t have to be.
Some people think of value chains as a way to understand outsourcing. Call centers are an easy example. It’s cheaper to get people in Bangalore to answer the phone than it is for someone in San Francisco. I can buy 7 software developers in Hyderabad, India, for what it’d cost me in Boston. That’s all easy to understand, right?
The Bionic You
Considering the value chain means understanding if what you do is VITAL to the product/service you offer, or if what you do is something easily replicated in a cheaper location? What extra something are you giving to the process? Are you a set of hands like a shovel or are you the mind that can jump into the bulldozer and get even more done with this new technology?
Creativity, content, new ways to synthesize information and ideas from disparate sources are your new target skillset. You are a farmer standing in line at Henry Ford’s factory, looking at the well-oiled machines of industry. But boy, this factory is crazy. I’m already seeing signs of it.
An enhanced you, a you equipped with digital talents is now positioned to maneuver around the existing passel of “knowledge workers” like a ninja. There’s a layer cake out there right now: On the bottom layer are people who aren’t comfortable with technology, and who are dragging their feet trying to hold to the old ways. In the middle layer are people who can use technology and use if proficiently, but more in the mindset of “weapons.” Point them at a target, and they’ll hit it. But ask them to contemplate what targets will come up next, and they’ll shrug. The top layer of this cake is where you can make a difference as a creative person.
Just like the cake I described, there can’t be a top layer without the bottom two layers. Don’t ever look down on the people who fill those other categories. They are all providing something valuable to the system as well. However, it’s in the realm of the creative where the most opportunity will lie in the coming years. I almost said “security,” but I think job security is about as relevant to conversations as betamax.
What This Means
If you’re heavy on the left-brain, prepare to laugh at me and dismiss me.
You should start looking into education around the following:
By the way, give Visual Thinking School a look-see. Dave Gray’s got the right idea with his company, XPLANE. They’re selling their storytelling abilities to HUGE companies and institutions all the time. Demand is outpacing supply.
Learning about play, how we learn from it, how to use it for a communications method, and how to create new content for it strikes me as a safe career for the coming future. There are lots of engineers out there who can work through ragdoll physics and wireframe rendering, and those jobs are noble. However, it’s writing the stories and populating the worlds with characters and giving games something to do that gives those engineers their work. YOU should consider a position bringing content to play in some form or another.
Oh, and if you want a career in the gaming industry, it’s now just a given that gaming has overtaken the movie industry and is eating its LUNCH! Trade your moviestar aspirations for game character dreams.
I think you could clean up by throwing away technical certifications in Linux and getting instead a degree in how humans do what they do. Like I said a minute ago: we really are still monkeys staring into flame. Skills in the human world are far more necessary than knowing how to code php. There are plenty of folks to do that for you.
Ultimately, the bionic you is someone who uses all this amazing technology around us to share their creative vision with us all. Learn all about the technologies that blend your ability to develop new content, sythesize different things into a new format. Mashups are like this. As I type this line, I’m listening to a blend of Kris Kross and Ludacris that neither artist would’ve thought of left to their own devices. Instead, I have someone named Instamatic to thank.
The blood in your brain is much more important than AJAX, RubyOnRails, or anything else you’re reading about these days in the field of technology.
Go forth and hone your new top-layer-cake skill sets!