The Employment Roller Coaster

Mark Thiele recently wrote an article entitled, Get ready for the coming employment roller coaster, in which he describes his perceptions of a changing career landscape where jobs not only do not last a lifetime, but where skills do not last a lifetime. Theile gives anecdotal evidence of jobs that are completely disappearing in less than 10 years. As I have been in the workforce for just over 10 years, I would like to share my evidence to support this trend.

In 2001 I began working in the Items Processing division of a regional bank. Checks would come in by courier throughout the day and my job was to pre-encode their amounts for scanning. Balancing at that point was still done by hand, but within 3 months, it had been replaced by a new, digital balancing system. On October 28, 2003 United States Congress and the President enacted the Check 21 Act which enabled banks and other financial institutions to send checks electronically instead of by presentment of paper. It went into effect in 2004 and by 2006 large, central paper check sorting machines and facilities started to disappear and be replaced by local, distributed desktop scanners. I graduated college and got Microsoft and A+ certified only to land back at another regional bank installing desktop scanners in all of their branches. By the end of that project, my old job balancing checks had completed been eliminated – outsourced to a room full of keyers in Brazil.

In 2004 shortly after graduating college I helped a friend start a small IT repair company called Neighborhood Geeks. I was the primary computer technician and went into new people’s homes and businesses daily to help them with their computer, networking, and server needs. It was a time when hardware costs were still higher than the cost of repair and the margins on the service work were good. I sold quite a bit of hardware too. It was a time when people were still converting from Windows 98 and ME to XP and from dial-up to broadband. Some computers still did not have ethernet cards so I actually carried them in my car with me along with spare hard drives, power supplies, and other peripherals. Laptops still hadn’t taken over desktops at that point and smartphones were still clunky. In two years, the market for desktop PC repair was almost over, caused by reduced hardware expense, the initial setup of broadband across America was over, and Windows Vista had just been released making our jobs a lot more easier (and less needed).

In 2007 I started my own web design business and I used my knowledge of HTML to write simple web pages. Soon I had to learn CSS, SEO, and this new thing called WordPress. By 2008 I was fully touting SEO-optimized WordPress websites for small businesses around the Greater Indianapolis area, but by 2009 something had changed. SEO wasn’t working as well and any guy and his brother could throw up a WordPress site and slap it with a pre-built theme that looked better than anything I could code by hand. What mattered more was the creation of content and the management of the website’s layout, configuration, and security. My business shifted away from SEO and web marketing (although still very important) and into content marketing, management, and analysis. Google is constantly changing it’s algorithm, but content will always remain king. The problem is that as content grows, it starts to need managed and I soon found myself ghost writing and re-writing, going back through huge archives of content and ensuring it met the standards of today.

I see the writing on the wall. The future of my industry is in code. If I fail to adapt and learn programming languages right now I face being a generalist in a specialist’s world. So here’s what I’m doing about it:

  • Learning to program WordPress with PHP – I bought a book about programming plugins in WordPress. It’s helping me learn PHP and become a more advanced WordPress user all at once. I make a bulk of my income right now from WordPress support in Indianapolis so I am investing in the now and the later.
  • Learning to create an iPhone app – This is a skill I’ve tried to learn off and on for a couple of years, but felt I needed more basic programming knowledge, context, and skills before trying again. I also need a Mac.
  • Building a web app to become an iPhone app – I found it’s best to learn something when you have a project in mind so I’m initially using WordPress to create a web app that will eventually become an iPhone app.

What are you doing about this ever-changing work environment we are in?