Author: Prof. Soumya Choudhury
From Marshall Goldsmith’s book “What got you here won’t get you there” (ISBN-13: 978-0739342237), we understood that the principles of hard work and efficienttime management done to progress in our careers till middle management was not enough to propel us to the corner office viz. the CEO’s office.
Many of us may choose to be satisfied as mid-level managers and not aspire further but what would be your reaction if I told you that your role and functional department itself is at risk of becoming redundant thanks to AI and automation – welcome to the world of constant learning and upgrading for new-age skillsets in the New Economy. Equally applicable for people in the thirties, as it is for people in their forties and fifties. With the ever-spiraling cost of saving for a comfortable retirement nest given the reality of longer life spans (covid-19 pandemic notwithstanding), the new normal is working till the mid 60s like it is visible in the US and Japan.
I used to aspire to be a CEO and have a huge collection of management books like Jeffrey Fox’s “How to become CEO”, Jeffrey Garten’s “The Mind of the CEO”, David Schwartz’s “The Management of Thinking Big”, Kenichi Ohmae’s “The Mind of the Strategist”, Jon Katzenberg’s “ Real Change Leaders” , Alfred Sloan’s “My Years with General Motors”, Rolf Dobelli’s “The Art of Thinking Clearly”, Angela Duckworth’s “Grit”, Ethan Rasiel’s “The Mckinsey Mind” and even Rhonda Byrne’s “The Power”….. I can always blame other factors like not being able to be that power broker dictating tasks with a poker face to a bunch of underlings but it remains just that – a lame excuse for not having the core skills to be in the corner office. How I landed up becoming a professor is quite another story.
During the last few decades, CEOs were primarily outperforming (and outspoken) sales professionals who brought in the moolah, directly managed the most important client accounts or were the “blue-eyed” boys of the Chairman or Board who could leverage their manipulative or “gut-based” decision making skills to outshine and outmaneuver other contenders. Not any more is my firm view.
A real leader in today’s times will be someone who lets his team get the credit – a.k.a. a servant leader. Servant leadership is a philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve. A Servant Leader shares power, puts the needs of the employees first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible, as per Wikipedia. We all know that the best professionals today also need to have T-shaped skills – a breadth of knowledge across functional disciplines and deep skills in one or more areas that are core to the business. The other well-known fact is that decisions nowadays are mainly data-backed so the need for reasonable knowledge in data analytics and getting insights from multiple data sources becomes imperative.
I have this image in my mind from my past industry experience – CEO and/or CFO sitting in a large conference room with mid-level managers milling around trying to get them as much data they seek and basically getting a junior IT Database/MIS/ERP team member to query the enterprise systems, all to generate some standard report or ad-hoc query. The CEO already knows what decision he wants to “recommend” to the Board or make the decision himself, based on delegated power, and just needs the correct subset of data to prove it with two layers of management trying to assist. In my view, this is a scene from the past and will become rarer – not just because of the current lockdown induced by a pandemic or the growing role of online work.
As per a report titled “Jobs of Tomorrow: Mapping Opportunity in the New Economy” by the World Economic Forum in January 2020, there will be seven professions of the future and one of them is Data and AI while the second one is Engineering & Cloud Computing. Out of 133 million jobs estimated to be created in the period 2018- 2022 globally, around 6.1 million jobs will be created in these seven professions. Both the categories above will require strong expertise in digital technologies as per the same report.
Technology usage is getting commoditized and the pervasiveness of SaaS platforms enable easy use of basic functions with graphical interfaces. Use of functional libraries and calling them as functions enables writing code of length ten times less than was required in the past. Languages like Python, R, mySQL and the use of the evergreen but increasingly powerful Excel is known to many more non-IT professionals. The successful professionals of tomorrow will be hands on with basic coding and ability to manipulate data from multiple sources without needing IT functional support. The more advanced problem solvers who will directly aid business decision makers will have deep data science and AI skillsets.
Please refer the charts above on the top jobs created in Data and AI as well as Engineering & Cloud Computing. The practitioner at the entry level who is able to leverage insights from data and make decisions accordingly has the highest chance to succeed.
So don’t wait to become a dinosaur – get started on the path to Data Science and AI. Take up a course or program that will keep you on the leading edge of using technology to make the right “insight-driver” decisions. You would eventually reach the corner office or become a successful entrepreneur in a world full of possibilities.