Originally published in LinkedIn
New skills have become the topic du jour. Every day, jobs are disappearing only to be replaced by new ones. Technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Leaning (ML) are being applied to everything. Who needs experience as a fisherman when AI can tell the difference between albacore tuna and yellowfin?[i] Who needs grey-haired selectors when ML can determine the balance of batsmen and bowlers in a cricket team?[ii] By now you’ve perhaps guessed where this is going: What will the Job Descriptions of tomorrow look like?
In the mid-80s, when I started my career, I used to be sent to attend to customer complaints when their IT systems went on the blink. I would go alone, with no Internet to help, and the only knowledge base I could access to was in my head. I had to know everything, from COBOL to crimping RJ-45 connectors into a CAT6 cable. It is difficult – crimping those tiny Register Jack 45s to the thick CAT6 cables -- just in case you didn’t know. I was the Swiss Army Knife of customer care. They could send me to fix anything.
Fast forward 15 years, to 2000. You have a problem with your data base? Call a Java expert. Your procurement engine has hiccups? Get a SAP expert. It was the age of specialization. Every skill was compartmentalized into boxes. The Java guy would never know why the procurement package was running slow. Everyone had deep knowledge, which was good – but also a little frustrating, if you know what I mean. As an industry, the compartmentalization of people into specific areas and roles – Java programmer, DBA, system analyst, network architect, tester – worked very well for this period of globalization but has created a fundamental problem moving into the new digital era.
Things have come full circle. We want multidisciplinary people again. We want the banker to know how to assess risk or make an investment and also know blockchain. We want T-shaped people who are Jack of all and master of one. Or π-shaped people who are specialists in two areas with a broad layer of knowledge covering both. Or x-shaped people who can deal with diverse teams and domains who thrive at the intersection of the possible.
But one thing is certain – all L1 type requirements will get commoditized and go to chat bots. Knowledge bases will be idiot-proof. Technologies like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality will re-cast everything. For example, there will be no need for a person to come and provide you a demo for the new washing machine you just bought. An AR/VR system will demo it for you instead, at your own time, without intrusion from a service agent.
Basically, what defines an expert will change. The real expert will be the person who has broad domain knowledge, extreme customer focus, and the creativity to assemble and implement solutions. The tools to diagnose any type of problem and access any type of information, expertise and community wisdom will be available. All it will take is the spirit to mix the right information, add a dash of innovation, and give it a good stir.