Advances in automation mean technology gurus can’t rest on their laurels.
Those Fast Track readers who attended school in the hallowed halls of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), or have been trained in the skills that today’s organizations can’t get enough of (programming, information security, database management, etc.), might be feeling a bit smug.
They know that companies are falling all over themselves trying to hire them, and that if they don’t like their jobs, they can go somewhere else in five minutes.
What many tech pros may not realize, though, is that if they don’t hone their creative thinking skills, automation may soon render them obsolete.
In the future world of work, STEM ability alone won’t be enough to be either marketable or competitive. This is because more of the tasks that make up your day are being taken over by machines all the time, and what will eventually set human beings apart are traits like creativity and innovation.
By the mid-21st century, the human who remains gainfully employed will be able to spot the solution that will take her organization to the next level. She will routinely hop over barriers and constraints to get the best result. She’ll match the pace of a company that is likely evolving its strategy daily, and the moment she realizes her job isn’t adding value anymore, she’ll pivot to do something else. What skill allows her to do all this? You guessed it – creativity.
If you think there’s no place for creativity in your current tech job, look at what Steve Jobs did with Apple. He was a computer guy too, but he didn’t become famous because of his awesome programming skills. Jobs made a name for himself because he could design an ideal experience that would capture human dreams in the space of a microchip.
Although Jobs is certainly a special case, evidence suggests that a focus on creativity and innovation helps everyone. According to Anna Feldman’s Slate article, University of Florida research showed that “on average, students who study the arts for four years in high school score 98 points higher on the SATs compared to those who study the same for half a year or less” and that “students who took up music appreciation score 61 points higher on the verbal section and 42 points higher on the math section.”
“On average, students who study the arts for four years in high school score 98 points higher on the SATs compared to those who study the same for half a year or less.”
And speaking of schools, you can’t even study STEM these days without the extra 'A' added to make the acronym STEAM. 'A' is for arts, and per Feldman, in just one month last year, 27 school districts and programs in Pennsylvania were awarded $530,000 specifically for the development of STEAM programs and facilities.
STEAM’s goal is to encourage students to think creatively and to be committed to ongoing learning. It is also intended to reach those who could make valuable contributions to STEM fields, but have been traditionally turned away by difficult coursework or a dearth of role models. This certainly applies to me, a former student interested in biology and genetics who was pushed into a liberal arts curriculum because of less-than-stellar math skills.
According to Feldman, STEAM labs like the one at the Boston Arts Academy are popping up around the country. “Students there not only design and produce electronic textiles, they draft, model, and print 3D product prototypes and digitally render visual murals to be shared and experienced via smart TVs, projectors, and tablets,” she wrote.
STEAM-trained students will be competing for your job within the next few years, so what can you, schooled in traditional STEM disciplines, do to stay at the top of your game? Snapping out of complacency is a good start. Automation is bound to render at least some of your skills obsolete very soon, so it’s time to scout out how to acquire new ones.
To better anticipate where your world is going, follow people in your field who are revolutionizing it. Analyze what they are doing to disrupt the industry and consider how you can add your own point of view.
Rather than hiding out in your cubicle with your headphones on, start sniffing around the organization for innovative projects you can own, initiatives where you can use your unique combination of skills and talents to make a difference. Remember when you were encouraged to experiment and tinker? Revisit those days as often as you can, for only then will you be likely to hit upon something meaningful.
Finally, don’t be afraid to take an occasional risk in service of a cool idea. All it takes is one ignited spark to catapult you from run-of-the-mill techie to the creative genius that everyone wants to employ now and in the future.
How do you stay marketable as a 21st century tech pro?