Sun. Jul 14th, 2024
    career advice
    career advice
    "Houston, what career advice would you give me?" 3

    I got a call yesterday from a third year student who is studying at Wits University. Her question was simple: What career advice could I give her. I paused for 30 seconds to think about it and, after that, this is what I told her:

    Whatever industry you want to get into, understand how technology is going to disrupt it.

    Is this too much to tell someone who has never spent a day in corporate? I do not think so. Current students are many years older than companies like Facebook, Instagram, Uber, and Twitter! Look at the impact these companies have had on traditional ways of doing things just these past five years.


    When these students were born, whole industries and jobs didn’t exist – who would have thought there would be companies that are sorely dedicated to managing social media or have established ones create whole new teams to formulate strategies and manage such? Data Scientists? Well, lets just say calling them “geeks” back then was an understatement. Now everyone is running clustering algorithms and neural networks in their basements. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are changing so many industries at a pace that is difficult to keep up with: Self driving transportation (e.g. logistics industry), doing dangerous jobs (e.g. mining), figuring trends that humans could never find (e.g. trading), AI-powered chatbots changing our interactions with customers (e.g. banking), increasing the rate at which we are discovering new medicines and doing complex tasks like protein folding, improving the independence of vulnerable populations for example the elderly.

    When the student called me yesterday, I felt it would be an injustice to only tell her to go for what she is passionate about, to look for where she can grow and all the usual gems we tell each other because once she is there, to truly be exceptional in this brave new world, she needs to understand how exponential technologies are going to affect her field. It cost $95million to do DNA sequencing in 2001. Now it is well below $5 000 thanks to decreasing computing costs and increasing computing power captured perfectly by Moore’s Law (and what is this we are hearing about quantum computers?). Is it not an injustice to not tell students, who grew up with iPhones and Google to look at the impact exponential technologies are going to have on their careers? I’m not saying she needs to learn how to code complex algorithms or even write a thesis paper but rather have a basic sense of what technology can do for her career. If you are in logistics and you are not researching how block-chain is disrupting that field, aren’t you limiting yourself? Don’t build it but be a manager who understands its pros and cons and where to plug it into your daily tasks.

    The rate at which technologies like block-chain and machine learning/deep learning/artificial intelligence are disrupting normal businesses is only going to increase. I feel we are cheating our students if, when they ask us for advice, we tell them exactly what we were told when we started our careers.

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