Career Advice for 2036 (Because the Machines are Coming)


If you haven’t watched The Graduate lately, I suggest you find some private time and indulge in the 1967 classic film. You’ve got a great storyline, an amazing car (Who doesn’t love a red Alfa Romeo Spider?), and one of Dustin Hoffman’s best performances.  But more importantly, it gives that brilliant advice for future success - plastics.   It goes something like this:

“I just want to say one word to you - are you listening? - plastics: There is a great future in plastics.” Great career advice for a different time.

But its now 2014.  So what profound, one word of advice could be given to today’s graduate?  And what of future graduates?

These are complicated times with an increasingly  global workforce, a mismatch of workers’ skills and open jobs, and skyrocketing college costs. I began wrestling with this very question last week when my 7 year old daughter asked me what she should be when she grows up. After the usual casual chit chat about following your heart and not having to decide at that moment, I was informed by her that this was a serious question. Apparently a couple of her classmates in 1st grade have already figured out that they’ll probably graduate from college in 2036, so I attempted to give her question a serious answer.

Luckily I’ve recently read “The Second Machine Age” by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (A great recommendation from Mike Baker, DataXu’s visionary CEO. Thanks, Mike.). Based on the authors’ incredible exploration of the forces creating - and propelling - our digital technologies, this is what I said -

  • Ideation, creativity and innovation are capabilities outside of the typical computer. These wonderfully human characteristics will become more valuable as computers do more of the repeatable and learnable tasks. Go outside, experiment, ask more questions, invent games, build new things with old stuff, and invent new uses for all the stuff we have with lost or broken parts.

  • Follow your personal curiosity and self-organize around it. If you really like a subject don’t just do the basic coursework and homework - You should try to find extra time (in or out of school) to dig deeper into that area of personal curiosity. Try reading, practicing, discussing, arguing, tinkering, experimenting, and going deep.

  • Actually study in college instead of so much socializing. It’s not a four year holiday before entering the workforce. It’s actually the four years that set the tone for your first four years in the workforce. A study by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa showed that current college students spend 9% of their time studying and 51% of their time socializing, recreating, etc.   

  • A guy named Hal Varian (Google) says that we should: seek to be an indispensable complement to something that’s getting cheap and plentiful.  It is good advice even if I don’t know what will be cheap and plentiful in 2036. But if she’s done the first three, this one should be much easier to figure out.

  • Hang out with entrepreneurs (especially if you’re not one yourself) because they are the prime creators of cool, new jobs. Tim Kane (The Kaufman Foundation) discovered that for all but seven years between 1977 and 2005, existing firms (over one year old) lost on average one million jobs per year while start-ups created on average three million jobs per year.

That’s when she shrugged and said she wanted to go back outside to make better roofs for the fairy houses before it got too dark. I think she mostly heard me, though.  At least I hope it explains why she and her older sister are taking apart their old stroller and turned it into a mutant-chariot.

Explore, experiment, and invent.  Not one word, but three.  I guess we’ll know in 2036.