The traditional thinking goes something like this: work hard at school, get a degree and then dine out on that degree for 40 years until you retire on a generous pension.
For better or worse, the sun is setting on those halcyon days. In its place is a rapidly evolving job market, driven by dizzily fast-paced technological change.
I’m not saying you should quit your job and buy a one-way ticket to Silicon Valley. And I’m not saying that tomorrow you will turn up to work to find a robot sitting in your chair (at least not yet).
But to keep ahead of the curve — wherever that curve may be headed — it’s vital to continuously improve your software skills and in some cases retrain entirely.
The obvious reason to upskill is that employers are looking for digital skills. Traditionally offline products and services are being taken online. Think Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, Uber, Xero, Airbnb. These employers need to hire staff with digital skills. It’s that simple.
Yet we need to delve much deeper to understand why it’s critical for the everyday person to continuously acquire new digital skills.
Software delivers a better consumer experience
Why would consumers opt for an offline product when there is a faster, cheaper and better quality alternative online? Do you still hire movies from a local video store? The reason you don’t is that online streaming services are 10x better than the physical alternative.
The free market drives this outcome. It doesn’t have any feelings. It doesn’t yearn for yesteryear. It simply wants the best outcome for the consumer. If software delivers a better outcome then software will win the consumer’s wallet.
The compounding effect
Some traditionally offline industries and job roles will resist this digital transformation for longer than others. This is simply because the software is not cheap enough or advanced enough to disrupt the industry. Yet.
There’s one thing we can count on: software is developing at an exponential rate. That’s largely thanks to the “open source way” which encourages free information flow. The open source way allows developers to build on existing code and create improved software.
But here’s the real game changer: machine learning and artificial neural networks allow algorithms to solve problems and develop solutions that would never even occur to a human mind. Again, AI doesn’t start from scratch each time. It builds on existing systems and information to produce an even better solution than before.
AI is now smarter than us … and it will keep getting even smarter
When I talk about this topic a common response goes something like this: “I’ve been working in this industry for 30 years. People have been telling me my job would be automated since the 80s yet I’m still here doing the same thing today”.
That may be true but such a state of affairs won’t repeat over the next 30 years. Until very recently, supreme intelligence was reserved for humans. That’s no longer the case. Today, we have developed non-conscious intelligence that far outstrips human capability. recently taught itself how to walk. What else will it be able to do in 30 years? No one knows exactly, but there’s a good chance it will be able to do your current job.
The good news
A new wave of online education providers is emerging, and they are changing the way people learn. is an online university built in collaboration with leading employers such as Google, Amazon and IBM. For less than $1,000 you can build on existing skills or completely retrain in a brand new space. There’s something for everyone, including courses on digital marketing, design, product development, AI, programming and data analytics. All you need is a computer. Go fast or go slow: learn at your own pace.
Smart employers are supporting staff in their retraining journeys. AT&T estimates that 140,000 of its staff are actively engaged in learning new digital skills for newly created job roles. What’s more, AT&T expects that its staff will, on average, change job roles every 4 years. It has made a pledge to its staff that it will pay for them to upskill provided that they complete the training in their own time. The company is sending a clear message: we’ll support you to upskill but if you don’t then there’s no place for you at AT&T.
With micro courses cheaper and more accessible than ever before, the time is now to embrace the brave new digital world.