How to Survive Technology Disruption and Stay Relevant in the IT Industry

“Today’s illiterate is not the one who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

As members of the most evolved race on the face of earth, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us that change is the essence of all progress. That change is inevitable holds true especially in the IT industry where changes on multiple levels, such as changes in jobs, platforms, frameworks and domains are commonplace.

It is precisely this dynamic nature of the IT industry that has allowed it to develop in leaps and bounds since the time of the first computers. However, this rate of change has recently undergone drastic shifts in both its direction and acceleration. While this is all good in terms of the overall development of the industry, the average IT employee finds themselves in rather deep waters.

Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2013 Vs 2014 Vs 2017

Wait. Have a closer look at what is on our plate for 2017.

Don’t you notice a seismic shift?

This made even the industry giants such as Google and Facebook shift their priorities from a Mobile First to AI First in a matter of merely 12 months. The entire industry is now following suit. All the above technologies requires skills that are different from what we were nurturing for past many years. So what does this mean for the IT Industry in India?

How does it impact today’s IT employees with many years of experience but living under the threat of layoff?

Finding and keeping a job has become a rather strenuous process for them. Job security is on everyone’s mind. Even the most skilled of the lot are concerned that with the next wave of change, they might be rendered obsolete.

This threat is in turn the result of a change in company’s outlook towards their employees. It is no longer about ‘loyal’ or ‘longest-serving employees’ but rather about those ‘capable of adapting in the face of change and willing to shift direction.

The three-step process that we can incorporate in order to overcome the challenges posed by this phenomenon of technology disruption are as follows.

1. KNOW THE CHANGE

Awareness is key. Knowing is half the battle. Our eyes and ears should be constantly open to the shifts in the industry and emergence of new technologies. Perhaps, our attitude plays the most crucial role in this process. Unless we are open to change and ready to embrace it, we will not be able to work constructively for it. Accepting the inevitability of change and being ready to tackle it, is the mind-set we need to cultivate.

Reality is that most developers in the community are trapped in an ‘echo chamber’, blind to the changes being hurled their way until it is too late to react. They are unaware of the shifts in their fields and are stuck practicing only the technologies and processes they are proficient in. They remain unaware or hesitant about learning and adapting to something new until there is a strong external pressure for change.

Mostly, they are ignorant of their incompetence, i.e. they don’t know what they don’t know. This is inarguably the worst kind of ignorance, as they continue in their echo chambers, unaware of the changes outside their bubble, still believing that they are the best at what they do.

Breaking this ‘echo chamber’ is crucial. A person is always the average of the people he interacts with regularly. As long as our inner circle of contacts and social feeds are saturated with what we already know, we will be trapped in this chamber.

Crossing these boundaries and getting connected with the right people and relevant social feeds is one way to get out of this trap. Networking activities, both online and offline, such as participation in tech communities, conferences, engaging with other tech enthusiasts and domain experts, will help us connect with people with similar interests who are doing better in what we are doing and provide us with an opportunity to learn.

And do not underestimate the power of good old reading. A reading habit- spending as little as ten to fifteen minutes every day- involving relevant material in the form of blogs and journals can take you a long way in keeping informed and aware. I would recommend the Awesome Project as a great place to start at. It is a cool collection of community-maintained lists that provides a great way to discover and learn new things.

2. OVERCOME THE FEAR OF FAILURE

Now that we are aware of the change, it is time to formulate the solution, which includes letting go of the obsolete and moving on to the new systems. This is perhaps the hardest of the steps. Spencer Johnson in his New York Times bestseller Who Moved my Cheese? says, “The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you enjoy new cheese”.

Here cheese is a metaphor for what we want in life — a job, money, freedom, relationship, etc. The earlier we know the change and adapt, the sooner we get a competitive edge over the others.

If you haven’t read the book yet, and have a high resistance to change, here’s an animated version of it, that just might change your perspective.

As you see in the video, the major obstacle that we will face while kick starting our adaptive process is fear of failure. What if I fail? Although no one can guarantee a failure-proof method, what is important to keep in mind is that in the face of change, staying static is guaranteed failure.

The next big barrier is often just feeling like you don’t have the time to fit this extra work in. But you HAVE to. Think of it like brushing your teeth: it’s so much easier to do a little each day than try to catch up and deal with the consequences after you neglect it for years. Personally, I aim at a minimum of 20 minutes a day to spend on professional development.

Following successful people in our immediate surroundings that have overcome such changes will keep the motivation high, as we have visible proof that what we are attempting is indeed possible. Setting tangible goals is always ideal in order to measure growth. However, we are programmed to take the first sign of failure as damning proof of our inability to succeed.

Be mindful of this and consciously put in more effort to overcome this sure obstacle. Identifying a mentor in the industry who is open to guiding us through turbulent times will also be greatly beneficial.

3. BE OPEN TO UNLEARNING AND RELEARNING

The current trends in technology, varying from VR to AR, Machine Learning to Artificial Intelligence, Block Chain to Bionics have opened a gamut of challenging opportunities for the IT professional. In order to harness these opportunities however, one needs to be ready to unlearn and relearn the rules of the game. Such people know when and how to change course on-the-fly.. Our industry demands such agile people who can make businesses more responsive, flexible and competitive.

However, this process requires us to start from scratch, which is often a disheartening process to commit to, as it more or less renders null our experience so far in our field of expertise. And gaining the same level of expertise in the new field is indeed a taunting and long-drawn task.

Possessing a strong base in our previous domain will hold us in good stead during the shift. And if it takes 10,000 hours for excellence, it only takes 20 to gain working knowledge in any new topic. If we adopt the practice of smart learning, where we sift through the mountain of data and focus on the most essential information, this first 20 hours of focused study is enough to get us started. But the time a person takes to put this 20 hours of ‘focused’ effort varies based on interest and attitude.

Identify right resources for learning. Go through your resources quickly in order to help you identify what you need to do in order to learn the skill. Don’t get bogged down with details at this point. You’re just trying to develop a general mental framework of the process that you’ll follow to learn the skill.

Move quickly from learning to doing. After preliminary research on the skill, move into the doing stage as fast as you can. As Josh Kaufman, author of ‘The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast!’ says,

“When I was learning to code, I bought over 20 books on the subject. I thought the best way to learn was to read the books, and THEN try to write my own program. The reality was the opposite: I only started to develop real skills when I used three introductory books to identify a few critical ideas, then spent my time actually writing programs.
Do your homework, then shift to real practice as quickly as possible. Practicing the skill in context is the only thing that generates lasting results.”

There is no way around change; the only way is through it. In this scramble that is the “survival of the fittest”, the fittest is the one who is aware and agile in the face of change. As ‘relevance’ is a moving target, the challenges put forward by technology disruption cannot be tackled by mere syllabus updation in the academia.

We are witnessing the rise of a new wave of change in the field of technology. This seismic shift towards building an AI First world means that the top AI product that will change the way our world operates, is yet to be discovered- an opportunity that Indian entrepreneurs and developers should not let slide. Unlike the technology waves of the internet and mobile, for which we were but silent spectators and imitators, now is the time for us to think ahead and make sure we ride this new and monumental wave of change that is AI and establish ourselves at its very crest.

Active tech communities go a long way in helping us keep abreast of change. A free knowledge sharing ecosystem is sure to improve our know-how, through community of practice, enabling developers and entrepreneurs to break their echo chambers.

It is not just survive, but thrive in the face of this technology disruption.

Don’t have an active tech community near you?

Be the change and create one.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please recommend and share it to help others find it!