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.
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.