The Pi Shaped Professional

The Pi Shaped Professional
Pi Shaped Professional

Today I get to do one of my favourite things. Present on careers in technology to High School students. This is as a speaker at the ACS Foundation's “Big Day In” roadshow.

Which got me to thinking about skills that you need to succeed as a professional today compared to when I started out almost 30 years ago.

Old Advice

A lot of universities will ask if you want to pursue a career in business OR technology. As if those two domains are disparate!! Between you and me, that's my biggest frustration with Technology Universities (in Australia) today. The digital economy means that IT is the business. You cannot separate the two. So yes you can make a choice to focus on being a 'business woman” or a “geek,” but you simply won't be valuable in the industry until you complement your skills on either side of those domains.

The “T” shaped professional has become vogue with many recruiters and even hiring managers. Someone with a broad understanding across business and technology, with deep skills in one discipline. But I think that too is flawed.

Or at least that is old advice.


If there's anything that sets the 80's and today apart, it's the approach to business. Stemming from the vast consumerism post the Industrial Age, the Information Age to date has been about competition. How a company can scale, become supremely efficient, and dominate its market.

Management theory, from Jack Welch's “Winning” to Jim Collin's “From Good to Great,” proselytise being the #1 company in market. A carrot/stick approach to incentives. This drives competitive behaviour. Subsequently differentiation that drives specialisation. As an individual you need a broad understanding of the political, and industry landscape for sure, but you want to be the world expert on your client, subject matter, industry, [name your domain here.]

The “T-shaped” professional.


But we're a long way from the Industrial Revolution, even from the downsizing and efficiency drives of the 90's. Today's business landscape is a complex interplay of technologies and disciplines. Success is driven far more through collaboration than competition.

Interestingly this was foreshadowed in the 80's by Ricardo Semler with his orthogonal management approach described in “Maverick” and “The Seven Day Week-end.” More recently Dan Pink talks about this new approach to motivation in “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

This phenomena is only going to increase. As planetary scale is democratised to smaller and smaller organisations, even individuals, the diseconomies of scale outweigh the economies.

This leads to disaggregation of large organisations. The consequence is those legions of specialist accountants, or recruiters, or lawyers expert in their specialisation will be without work. Or rather they'll need to find smaller organisations where they add value.

Anyone who works in a small organisation will tell you that the best thing is you get to do “everything.” It's also the most challenging thing. You can't simply pick up the phone and call the Market Research Department, or the Copy Writing department, because, well you are those departments.

Your Personal Value

To enable your business to succeed means being versatile, and I propose that you need depth, deep understanding, in at least two domains.

A nurse that can code is inestimably more valuable to a hospital looking at RTHS (Real Time Health Systems) than one that can't. A lawyer that understands blockchain, or autonomous vehicles will be the lawyer that transitions her career as corporate legal services get automated or removed.

Similarly, the developer that understands loan origination is more valuable to the online bank, or even insurance provider.

So the T-shaped professional is no longer enough.

Become a Pi-shaped professional.


The 21 (to 25) Pivotal Movies That Shaped My Career

The 21 (to 25) Pivotal Movies That Shaped My Career

Time for a somewhat light-hearted post after Easter 🙂

I find myself firmly ensconced in an IT career, although it wasn't always planned this way. Recently I shared the top 39 books that have shaped my career, but everything is connected, and movies are as important in filling the maelstrom that is our intuition, emotion, and even cognition.

As with the booklist, I have sorted these in alphabetical order so as not to imply any sort of stack-rank. I've also avoided movies where I rated the book, unless the movie was uniquely determinant. As you'd expect there's a lot (majority) of SciFi here, but not all. Here goes:

1. Back To The Future I, II, and III

There's so much richness in these comedies. If you learn nothing else, learn these two simple truths:

  1. Life constantly changes, so we must evolve. I.e. Life (& we) will be as different from now in the next 10 years, as from the last decade. This is an astounding truth that few people learn.
  2. Moore's Law means the next 10 will be exponentially greater than the last 10. Although we don't have flying cars, we do have 3D printing, IoT, AR, Drones, etc. etc. The movie got more right than wrong.

2. Blade Runner

Another movie that created an impression very early on. When does artificial intelligence become sentience? How can you determine AI from human? Especially when the 'intellect' of the AI may be greater than that of the human. Throw in a dystopian future, flying vehicles, and cinematography that bleeds into your dreams. Another imperative piece.

3. The Creator

This tackles science vs religion, nature vs nurture, and predestination vs free will. From a career perspective even considering the possibility to clone someone was science fiction but could we make it happen?

4. Cry Freedom

Another non-SciFi. For someone who had just spent a couple of years in the military during the troubles in the townships, this was an important film. It is often chronologically incorrect, focusses too much on the Woods family escape, and has inconsistencies in the production. For all that, this was the continuation of a very important journey for me. I saw it much later than the theatrical release.

5. Enemy of the State

Turns out the surveillance nation pictured in this movie was pretty accurate after all. Watch for a great performance by a young Jack Black.

6. Existenz

A Jude Law movie. We descend into virtual reality game world, yet is reality real, or just the next level?

7. Gattacca

Another Jude Law movie. This should be required watching. CRISPR-CAS9 is the real, current world technology that will allow us to modify the genome of our children. Yet the true world changing genii would never have been allowed to be born in a world with that much control. Perhaps I resonate so closely to the protagonist because I too was a 'love child,' (and want to go to Space). Consider ethics when you consider complex systems – led me to do IT & Ethics in my Masters Degree.

8. The Island

This is a modern take that riff's off of “A Brave New World” and “The Running Man.” I just love the technology (& Scarlett Johansen) from the Microsoft Surface inspired (yet Apple aesthetic) table computer, to the Augmented Reality XBox Game (Kinect, and Hololens anyone?), to the Video phones, biometric security, automated home and I want that flying motorbike.

9. The Matrix

Hoo boy, this is the brilliant recreation of the question posed by Socrates as described in Plato's “The Republic” as “The Allegory of the Cave.” Are we real, and if not, would we experience real as real, or rather be back in the delusionary virtual world. You're welcome to ignore the sequels.

10. Minority Report

This movie is no longer SciFi. We have most of the technologies described, if not mainstream, about to be: Driverless cars, long range iris scanning and facial recognition, robots, augmented reality, gesture based computing, and not pre-cogs, but Big Data allowing police to pre-empt crime.

11. The Net

This movie imagined the power of the mobile Internet. They had no idea.

12. No Way Out

Is this the best Kevin Costner movie I've seen? Or maybe the only good one? Great plot, great twist, and the constraints of technology of the day – like 24 hours to render the negative on a polaroid – like a polariod – all contribute to this movie. It would be a tough one to remake.

13. I, Robot

Are robots appliances? What happens when they become more? When they dream of electric sheep? Plenty of real world technologies here from robots & androids, AI, and osteo-integration (spoilers). In-ear phones. Driverless, and hovering, cars. We need to design these systems.

14. Runaway

Another take on tech aided police. Individual targetting bullets? Absolutely.

15. Runaway Jury

Ok. This one isn't SciFi. This one is about influence. It is a study on influence. Anyone who is in influence, like a consultant, manager, sales person, teacher, or instructor needs to watch this movie. I've been all of those roles.

16. Serenity (& the Firefly TV Series)

The control of the Alliance vs the freedom of anarchy. Learning Mandarin is probably a good idea, considering the privacy of the individual when designing the big data and IoT systems. There's plenty to like about this movie, especially the “neither utopian, nor dystopian” aesthetic that brings a deeper sense of realism.

17. Sneakers

Hacking into banks, governments, and controlling the world. This opened my eyes to social engineering, different modalities for orientation (e.g. the blind guy figuring out where he was by sound – genius), and the genius of teams trumping the individual.

18. Star Trek

The series, all the movies, DS9, they all contributed to thinking about the way technology can really enable and empower.

19. Star Wars – IV – VI

Another, less utopian take on a world where robots do the menial labour like controlling the farm equipment (IoT anyone?). Where we have AR, holograms, 3D chess, and light sabres. Watch for the upcoming Disney VR game.

20. Top Gun

So this one had an indirect effect. Once upon a life I wanted to fly. Jets. In the military. This of course was the 80's recruitment movie for the US Navy, to the Air Force's Iron Eagle. I'd already been selected for the South African Air Force, then taken off the course for an unspecified medical reason. At the time I'd been devastated, but strangely this movie liberated me what had been a lifelong dream. This combined with Cry Freedom.

21. Wargames

Where do I begin? Hacking, surveillance, IoT like control, and of course, Artificial Intelligence. This movie was pivotal at an impressionable age in considering IT as a profession. It is definitely worth a rerun. In fact this movie was one of the reasons I went into IT. No question.

There they are.

Definitely not a complete list. Not by a long shot. And not all great movies either. But each of them had some part to play in me ending up where I've ended up.

What movies have I missed?

What Are You?

Project 2012: Day 355

In his seminal work, the E-Myth, Michael Gerber presents an Entrepreneur as someone with 3 roles:

  • Leader
  • Manager
  • Technician (producer)

I have a different take on that – an entrepreneur has to:

  • Sell
  • Market
  • Raise capital
  • Produce a product
  • Partner

As well as lead and manage a team.

Whilst we all believe we can do many things well, the truth is we’re better at some things that others. In real terms that means you’ll partner, recruit, or outsource for your areas of weakness. Which is right. But my question is,

What is your primary role as an entrepreneur?”

Or put another way:

“What wouldn’t you outsource?”

I reckon it’s “Sell”

If you’re not selling, if you’re not a salesman, you’re on a hiding to nothing. Get a day job, earn more, stress less.

What do you think?