on 17 October 18
Very recently IBM announced its newest breakthrough in nanotechnology research labs - chips with transistors just 7 nanometers across. Thatâs 1/10,000th the diameter of a human hair. Although these prototype wonder chips are a good two years away from commercial availability they demonstrate that Mooreâs observation (commonly called Mooreâs Law) back in 1965 about the number of transistors on a chip doubling just about every year is still valid. Even though it becomes less and less surprising each time such announcements are made one still canât help but be amazed by them, and then amazed again soon after when these advances become enablers for ingenious new applications of software.
Many advances in technology fuel social impact that further gives rise to angst and leads to debates on issues relating to sustainability, ethics, privacy, safety and so on, and eventually these debates move to legislative bodies for the evolution of new regulation around them if needed. But rarely does legislation result in blocking further advances. What this means for the world at large, and IT professionals, of course, is that the only thing guaranteed is the need to continuously adapt to change.
In a business environment where customers are happy to accept whatever technology companies produce that cuts costs, improves efficiencies and increases competitiveness, one of the rising discussions over the last few years has been about the potential to use automation to replace human effort. Weâre probably still a significant time away from using robots for certain types of skill-based manual jobs (like plumbing or cooking) but robots have been in use for quite a while to do certain types of manufacturing jobs such as welding, painting and cutting, that require repetition with precision in low to moderately hazardous work conditions. With the application of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and analytics, technology has also been replacing human effort in certain types of office jobs as well, and there has been an increasing focus on replacing human effort in IT or IT enabled services jobs such as production support and call centres.
Software development tools and technology platforms provide a number of services and functionalities to the IT community at or near a black box level, and these allow developers to focus on building new business logic, rather than spending time on soft infrastructure components and commonly-used generic algorithms. Advances and new tools are continuously made available, and with the accompanying research into the use of AI to replace several technology-assisted human tasks itâs no surprise that a survey done late last year found that as many as 59% of IT professionals were concerned that their current skills may face obsolescence in the future.
If change is unavoidable, and you are already doing your job reasonably well, what are the traits and capabilities that you and IT professionals in general could additionally seek to develop to ensure that they are continuously able to add value somewhere in the value chain, or at least cannot easily be replaced by technology? Here are a few tips:
- Never stop learning. Understand whatâs the road ahead for the technologies you currently work with and depending upon your areas of interest you may choose to either continue to deepen your expertise in the same area, or learn about technologies that complement and integrate with yours, or learn about those that may actually replace it in the future.
- Sharpen your fundamentals. Whatever the technology you work with, make sure your knowledge of the most basic of fundamentals is very strong. Itâs these that really make adapting to new technologies easier.
- Improve your communication and team working skills. Team working is something AI and robots are not good at. A lot of engineers come up with good ideas and are very good at implementing technology, but are not as good at communicating those ideas effectively. Apart from having sharp minds in their core skills, itâs the engineers that communicate well, are open to new ideas, and can work well with others that stand a better chance at being perceived as ones who could adapt to a new environment or become a leader.
- Be able to work independently. This really breaks into two qualities - being able to manage oneâs own time reliably and without supervision, and being resourceful in terms of finding solutions when confronted by technical challenges in the course of work, whether itâs through googling, being able to read manuals or getting in touch with the right people.
- Become a problem solver. Perhaps this is more of a change in thinking approach rather than a change in ability. There are a lot of technology frameworks and libraries available to support almost every perceivable implementation need. Unlike the way things were just a few decades ago, the kind of developer tools, technologies and support available is excellent, and this should facilitate IT pros from thinking in terms of "How do I implement this business requirement?" to "What's the problem I want my skills to solve"? There's a subtle difference between the two. How does one achieve this move? By networking with positive, inspiring people, by keeping track of developments in the external environment, by learning, listening and finding opportunities to solve problems, by using free time to experiment and try new things. All these help supplement good technology abilities with improved creative thinking, something else that AI and robots will take a long time to become good at.