Career Swings

Read in the latest Communications of the ACM (Sept. 2005, Vol. 48, No. 9, page 10):

Research firm Gartner Inc. predicts up to 15% of todays’ tech workers will drop out of the profession in five years, not including those who retire or die. (…) demand for technology developpers is forecast to shrink by 30%.

Repeat after me: long term predictions about the job market are worthless. Basically, they often take first order trends and extrapolate. Why? Because they are written by people with only a very basic understanding of numerical analysis and time series.

If the system is stationary, then the prediction might hold true. However, technology is hardly a stationary system. Right now, there isn’t much happening in technology and the oil industry looks like a safe bet if you need to invest. In two years, there might be a new disruptive technology like the web has been, requiring companies to massively reinvest in their IT architecture or factories. Like a new way to manage massive data sources or ultraefficient solar panels.

Hint to students: if you are interested in technology, don’t go to a business, medical or law school. Get a CS, Math or Engineering degree. You may not earn as much initially, but you might very well have the last laugh. Don’t base your life on useless predictions. Back when I was a High School student, I was told that 75% of new jobs would be tech. jobs when I’d graduate. I was then told that there would be a severe shortage of science Ph.D.s. Both of these predictions were overwhelmingly wrong. The truth is not that science and technology is a bad choice, the truth is that job market predictions are terribly inaccurate.

Myself, I cannot believe that in 2015, we’ll all be lawyers, business managers, salesman, and medical doctors. I cannot believe that technology will stand still and mathematics beyond basic algebra will be a lost art. I cannot believe my two sons will have business degrees and make three times my salary by managing a bunch of underpaid Indian programmers.

Call me a fool, if you want, but I’m slightly more optimistic. If I’m proven wrong, then I’ll retire early and write science fiction novels describing the world as I think it should have been.

Daniel Lemire, "Career Swings," in Daniel Lemire's blog, September 16, 2005.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

2 thoughts on “Career Swings”

  1. Wow, a sensible, intelligent assessment of careers. I totally agree, most of these type of surveys are based on false assumptions and without taking into account any sort of dynamic systems effect.

    How people develop software might change (requiring new skills), what people develop might change but society’s need and desire for development is unlikely to diminish.

    If I was to give some advice to the same group of students I would say do what you can really be passionate about do it to the best of your abilities.

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