The unemployment job

I’m a developer. And it is my job to make software that will make other peoples jobs easier, so they can be more productive.

Is it really? Lately I’m more and more getting the feeling that it’s my job to eliminate jobs.

My own employer works for large companies, that employ hundreds of people. And as my star has risen I’m sitting in at more top level discussions with these customers. And these discussions don’t just deal with making jobs easier. They often deal with making jobs obsolete.

From a developer perspective, these are the best assignments. In “department a” 10 people do administrative tasks, how can we automate these tasks in such a way, that this can be done by just 1 person. But what happens to these 9 jobs?

It’s often said, that innovation will eliminate jobs in one area and create new jobs in another area. For most of our customers this is true. Their core business is not the administration of the business itself. So if they eliminate an FTE in administration, they will most likely ‘grow’ their business by hiring an FTE at a technical (core business) position.

If this not the case and the shrink in personel is needed to prevent the business from going belly up, than at least it has protected jobs.

But if we as developers elimate an adminstrative job in favour of a more specialist technical job, that means that we’ve created a person with the wrong market skill.

This was the fear of many in the Industrial Revolution. People even revolted agains the machines, but it turned out that eventhough the skilled handworkers were no longer needed, it created more jobs than where lost.

But I think there is a difference with the ICT innovation against the machine innovation of the Industrial Revolution. Actually there are 2 key points here.

The first is the type of job exchange. In the industrial revolution jobs went from high skill to low skill. So new jobs were created, that were accessible to less skilled people. Right now the opposite is true. Jobs are getting increasingly technical and requiring more and more skill.

The second is speed. The speed of the industrial revolution didn’t even come close to the speed of the current technical innovation speed.

A school education here in the netherlands will spew out a new potential worker at age 18 to 24 (depending on the level of eduction). 24 years ago, you did not own a mobile phone. There were no selfdriving cars. The internet was just a fad.

Countries like the netherlands are struggling to keep their education system moving along with the relentless pase of progress. The whole school system is still aimed at prepairing you for a specific job, while this job has changed by the time the education is over.

So what happens to these jobs that are ‘developed’ away? And what happens to the people that possed the skills to perform these jobs? Will they be able to learn something new?

I will give an example, that for me is close to home. The town I live in Meppel (Netherlands) used to profound for it’s graphical industry. There we’re huge companies that had huge printing presses. They employed thousands of people.

My father was one of them. He was a lithograph. When he started this was an analog process. Films, for the presses, were created much the same way photo’s were developed. An high skill job, that it must be said, took some time.

In the 90’s things changed. The scanner made it’s introduction. My father got a nice apple computer and developed photo’s where stuck on a scanner and this scanner together with software and a film printing machine, made the films. The innovation made my father more productive. His company could do more work in the same amount of time.

These scanners cost in more than a 100.000 euro’s (guldens at the time) and the other machines and computers needed were equally expensive.

Now you can buy a scanner for just 50 bucks that outperforms the scanners of the day. Next to that, scanners themselfs are obsolete, because of the introduction of digital photography.

My fathers job ceased to exist before he was 50 years old. Innovation made it obsolete in just 20 years.

The graphical industry in my town is gone. Most of the customers made shopping catologs and commercial folders, these are all websites now.

Of course new jobs have come in place. Like the webdevelopers and designers. But not al the people that used to work in the graphical industry made this switch. Most of them just went unemployed.

My father began a new career in painting peoples houses. But I guess in a way he was lucky to have another skill to fall back to.

So did the change from print to the web create more or an equal amount of jobs? I’d have to look at research to know. But what I do know is that even the job of web developer/designer isn’t going to be save. If you are a webdeveloper, take a look a this; And of course you are a better designer. But think of all you’re mediocre collegeas. Are they better designers?

I must say I see beautifully designed websites, made by very skilled people. But be honest. 90% of the web is just spawn from a template. And most webdevelopers/designers will use the same template to satisfy 90% of their customers. And the only reason for the business to be so big is that the target audience consists of 50 year old entrepreneurs. The new generation of entrepreneurs grew up with computers and knows how to install wordpress with an acceptable template.

And for most small businesses something that can create will be fine.

But most certainly I as a developer should be in the clear right? We’ll need developers forever to drive the innovations? I’m not so sure. As a developer I am used to a live of continuous learing, but we all know that with age this become harder. And 10 years from thing might look completely different.

Machine learing, software that creates better software. It’s all here now. It’s not a distant dream, this is happening right now. For the type of business backoffice software I create you see the trend of model based software factories, that put the creation of software in the hands of the business consultant.

I like to think I’m a good developer, but I’m not the one creating the machine learing software itself. And I’m just not going to be able to venture out into such a field. I’ll have admit to that.

So how long untill some developer, a lot smarter than me, will make my job obsolete?

And more importantly, will I be able to adapt?





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