The way of the future is automation, automation, automation.
First to fall were the factory workers, replaced by massive robots and metal machines. Then went the bank tellers, the grocery clerks, and the ticket sellers, replaced by ATMs, kiosks, and self-checkout lines. Gmail’s replacing mail carriers, TurboTax is replacing accountants, Trulia is replacing real estate agents… the list goes on and on.
Yes, there are still some factory workers, bank tellers, grocery clerks, ticket sellers, mail carriers, accountants, and real estate agents. Yes, society still needs human workers in many industries (for a while, at least). But if you look at the overarching trend, the reality is clear: tech is often much cheaper and more efficient than human workers, so it is naturally (if not all that gradually) swallowing up the job market.
If you’re sitting here in 2016 or 2017 trying to decide on a career path, ask yourself the following question. Do I want to get into an career that is being replaced? Or do I want to work on the technology that is bound to replace it? If you want a stable career, the answer is clear. Learn to code.
Which jobs are at risk of automation?
Low Paying Jobs
According to White House estimates, 83% of workers making under $20 per hour will soon be replaced by technology.
High Paying Jobs
Wall-Street jobs paying between $350,000 and $500,000 per year are quickly being replaced by analytics software.
Half of US Jobs
Over half of US jobs are at risk of automation, according to a recent Bloomberg Study.
Manual labor, especially repetitive tasks like putting together automobiles, furniture, and widgets of all kinds, is easy to automate. Robots can be programmed to do things much more quickly efficiently, and safely than humans. Robots can be built to be much stronger than humans, and can handle tasks that humans could never even hope to accomplish.
Cognitive jobs, especially repetitive ones like doing calculations and applying formulas to problems, are even easier to automate than manual labor. To automate a Loan Officer’s job, for example, is as simple as creating a piece of software that receives the same information that a Loan Officer would ask for, does the same calculations that the Loan Officer would do, and outputs the same decision that the Loan Officer would have. For reasons like this, Loan Officers (among other “cognitive repetitive” workers) are being faster than any other kind of worker.
As noted above, routine jobs are by far the easiest to automate. Jobs that require the worker to follow a repetitive set of steps and procedures are extremely susceptible to being automated by algorithms.
Non-routine jobs, or jobs that require workers to do things differently depending on each situation, are more difficult to automate. Simple algorithms (a+b+c=?) won’t work. For this reason, non-routine jobs have been the safest… so far.
However, new developments in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are allowing computers to push into the non-routine sphere.
We can see this shift happening right now, with the advent of self-driving cars. Driving may be one of the most non-routine tasks imaginable. Conditions are constantly changing. Vehicles are zooming by at various, changing speeds, often breaking traffic rules. Pedestrians and animals can jump out into the path of your vehicle at any time. Hazards on the road can range from fixed potholes that stay in one place, to ice & snow falling at an unpredictable pace. Worse yet, driving is perhaps the most high-stakes non-routine job that there is; one mistake can lead to catastrophic results not only for the driver, but for innocent bystanders on the road.
In spite of all of this, companies like Google, Tesla, and Uber are testing and implementing self-driving vehicles as a replacement for human taxi-drivers, truckers, and transportation professionals. If driving is already being automated today, it won’t be long before AI & Machine Learning swallow up the rest of the non-routine career opportunities.
So is it even possible to have a stable career in this crazy, changing world?
Because of this trend where automation is literally swallowing up all of the jobs, many tech leaders are calling for a fundamental change in our economy. Within the next few decades, there simply won’t be enough jobs available to support the population. Forward-thinking technologists like Elon Musk content that we must stop tying money to labor; that we must give each human a “Universal Basic Income.” Each human would get a salary just for being alive, and robots will do all the work of building things and taking care of us.
But as you might be thinking right now, this kind of “techno-utopia” is probably still a few years away. Until that time, you’d be wise to get into a career in technology. Instead of scrambling from job to job, trying to avoid being swept away in the tide of automation, you’ll be the one writing the code.
In the end, the reality is very simple. If you want a stable career, learn to code.