How should the youth approach their career amidst the recession
It is said that a pandemic or societal gamechanger hits us every century, the Spanish Flu of 1918 being an example. But for the job market, a turbulence every 10 years has now become the norm. At the turn of the millennium, just when we thought we had successfully evaded the Y2K problem or the Millenium bug, the dotcom bubble burst. What had seemed to be a technology overheating issue sent a lot of other businesses on a tailspin and into oblivion.
About a decade later, just when social media was digitally reinventing our personal interactions, a hitherto-unheard-of subprime crisis spread with domino effect. The current contagion is a medical issue but this continuation of macro upheavals is definitely not the last one in our lifetimes. The career ship, too, will have to traverse turbulent waters every now and then, with waves crashing over the bow and stern.
How should the youth approach their career amidst the recession, uncertainty, doomsday prediction and apparent lack of opportunities? Far from being the end of the world, the crisis has actually thrown up a plethora of options that almost everyone has an equal chance to capitalise on. And for some it has provided access to the inside track, giving them an edge in the race.
Jobs are never lost, they just transform. Human labour has always been replaced by more productive means, be it the first mechanised looms, electric motors or automated assembly lines. But the factory has not been depleted of workers even after 30 years of industrial automation. So it is naïve to fear that automated business workflows and digitalisation would steal the next human’s job. Yes, your personal assistant is now Alexa but Alexa’s predecessor too is happily employed, lending a human touch to enhancing customer experience. Likewise, robots will develop codes with greater quality and efficiency while erstwhile developers will train the robot and marry it to the applied context. Artificial intelligence (AI) is not a threat but a tech-and-touch combination that can elevate a human’s job, not eliminate it.
There is a bounty of online learning platforms that have made free courses available to students. Recognise which of these can give you a boost over the job threshold and redefine your graduation standards outside the college syllabus.
Tech is ‘essential service’
The pandemic has clearly shown that brick-and-mortar businesses compelled to run only physically are the ones crippled by the lockdown. Processes that have a digital twin have averted the impact better and even flourished. Streaming platforms, your supermarket grocer, the online pharmacy, the digital classrooms and virtual collaborations are almost as mainstream a service as electricity. Accelerated technology adoption, therefore, will only proliferate.
Hackathons will increasingly replace job interviews. Begin that charity-from-home with opensource resources available online. Venture into self-made “novice prototypes” that “fail fast, fail often”. And realise why cybersecurity experts, algorithm specialists, data scientists and design thinkers are sought after these days.
A new normal
An unstable environment or uncertainty is a time to realise that comfort zones have vanished. A professional has to accept that challenging one’s status quo is the new normal. Having the confidence and intellectual wherewithal will help you reinvent yourself in such a crisis.
Be ready to be surprised by an offer from the unheard-of sunrise sector. Law enforcement agencies, a start-up digital bank, a smart city developer or a new OTT player could be the one who has that promising beginning to offer you.
Work to win
Amidst all the doomsday talk, the world is racing to find a vaccine. Someone will reach there first. And it is in such supine periods of a lockdown that the human mind incubates new thinking, such as conceiving a new career option. To take it to fruition fast enough, start every problem from the big picture. Tweet that expert, mail that writer, walk up to that futurist in the event — but never shy away from asking. You always need borrowed ideas to make your spark of brilliance reach the market faster than the also-rans.
History has shown every such crisis is followed by a surge of innovation when human ingenuity triumphs and the next generation of professionals and entrepreneurs are born. Amazon and Google picked up momentum after the bubble burst, Netflix and Facebook started to flourish post the global financial crisis. If you have the audacity to dream, the time to start working on it is now.
In a borderless world, there will be no longitudes. The lockdown has shown how hyperconnected the world has become. Restrictions on physical movements and closed borders have been instantly circumvented through remote working. With increased virtual environments (as simple as the Zoom virtual backgrounds), get ready to arrive in a world without borders and timezones.
Just like a YouTuber who defeats timezones and borders to reach his audience, virtual environments will foster more democratisation of delivery and entrepreneurship in the tech world. Write your own history as you prepare to battle out of this virulence with these new set of realisations.
Fail early, fail fast, fail often
Go for hackathons: Take the lab out of your college and put yourself into a real test environment through a time-bound assignment and gamified collaboration. From a simple mobile app development or Python programming to solving a Nasa problem, corporates are increasingly encouraging the use of hackathons to scout for talent. It is not only a test of applied technical skills in a rapid problem-solving scenario but also a means to foster teamwork and ideation as well as tickle freethinking young minds. And for the millennial, this is a round of Fortnite, Minecraft or Roblox in a much more formal and serious context.
Home is the world: Working from home. Home delivery. Home quarantine. Your own corner in the hostel or home will, therefore, be a breeding ground of the next big idea, not the labs. And you have to make it happen with all the resources you need — available free — to give you that kick-start. Need a free OS which is not a fuel guzzler but compatible with the popular ones? Try one of the many Linux distributions that suit you. A budding graphic artist who cannot buy that expensive tool? Start with GIMP. Need a free and open productivity suite? There is OpenOffice. Would like to learn about the latest trends — cloud, automation, Python, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and deep learning (DL)? Every major company has opened up its in-house classrooms. Recognise the difference between the risk of freeware and the benefits of free resources.
Get your hands dirty: The professional world will increasingly offer a short runway to takeoff. With the proliferation of digital in most common aspects of life, entrants will need to get their hands dirty even before their first official assignment. Imagine the world as an aggregation of products. Reconcile that product with a problem statement by attempting (even failing) at making that product. Then develop its story by imagining more used cases, make a pilot scope for an audience you target and carry that state of readiness from college to the profession. Corporate cultures have changed dramatically in favour of millennials — open office spaces, flexi-timing, agile working — the only thing you need to believe is learning to fail, before the actual test.
The writer is with Tata Consultancy Services and is based in Europe