15 Jun 2009

About the Alternative to Knowing Everything

There's a saying, at least in Estonia, that the one, who knows everything about everything, knows nothing at all.

I actually tended to agree with that saying, but, unfortunately, the situation, where I am currently(June 2009), sounds like: “Know everything or become an asocial and die.”

The controversial part is that if one works for one company, becomes specialized in the set of skills, technologies, that are needed at that given position, and then the company reduces staff, goes to bankrupt or just changes business directions, it's next to impossible to find another company, where the acquired skill set is relevant. Specially in a small place like Estonia, where the number of companies is relatively small. As of 2009 there's about 10 companies of each type: banks, security firms, robotic engineering companies, universities, fine hospitals, etc., with an exception of web development companies and consumer product marketing firms.

One might think that, great, one learns web development and one has a secure future. However, I don't think that that's the case, because before the web boom, the type of applications that are now implemented as web based software, i.e. all sorts of business automation related software, was written in Delphi, C++, using Microsoft Foundation Classes, etc. Therefore, I think that it's not possible to say that the things that the businesses currently pay for, are the ones that they will pay for in the future. In another words, if I make an effort to become a top notch web developer, I'll be exactly in the same position, where I am today: I acquired a set of skills, became really good at it, and after getting sacked, for whatever reason, I have difficulties finding a job, where I can say that I'm the top notch specialist for You.

Leaving a long contemplation to aside, I have an urge to bring in a question, what would the job market look like, if machines were much more ample at mental activities, let's say, at jobs that human programmers do nowadays? What would happen to people, in a social context, who do not use brain implants, enhancements, if some other people did use brain enhancements? I mean, the ones that don't, probably will not have any chance at the job market, or will they?

So, in order to be in a different situation after, let's say, 30 years from now, I have to change something in my strategy.

Programming takes a hell of a lot of effort and time, and I want to be at least payed reasonably for making this effort. For example, at one of my positions, at a company that I intentionally will not name here, I learned one programming language from ZERO to an expert level within 3 months, in addition to the company specific technologies and standards. Then the company just sheds about half of its staff. Leaving one small project to aside, all of the development work was halted and obviously there was no need for a brand new programmer, who has been with the company for just about 4 months. And yes, from my perspective, it really seemed that I did not have such a rough times even at the university examination period, as I had while working at that company. I did not receive even a lay-off compensation, because they sacked me literally at the very last day of my trial period. (Actually the story is a little bit more complicated. The CEO got also sacked and the new CEO applied structural changes and applied the layoffs and even that's not all of the story.)

Anyways, the idea is that I know, from my personal experience, that I am capable of learning new technologies and relatively quickly. The described example is not the only example, but I'll skip the description of other cases here. However, coming back to the brain enhancements example, quick is not quick enough. One has to go faster in order to earn a living. As specializing only to a single technology for 5+ years (as requested in many job adverts) is unfeasible, one can only convince potential customers to accept results based pricing. The opposite would be hourly or monthly wage. But this means that one still has to be capable of doing the job at an expert level, which brings me to a question: how do I manage to do that?

Well, the answer is: I don't know. However, it seems to me that I don't stand a chance, if I don't figure that one out. There are no brain-enhanced competitors in the real world, but the job market of today's economic situation seems to impose plain human programmers to a situation that seems to be quite similar to the one, where the brain-enhanced competitors do exist.

May be I'll post something to my blog, if I come up with something along those lines of life.

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