The Era of the Autodidact is Here.

Why they said I wouldn’t make it and why they were right.

It was always a bit difficult explaining people I was a visual artist AND a digital marketer, a web developer, a writer and a storyteller. 10 years ago, when I was applying to jobs, interviewers said I had nice hobbies but needed to stick to digital marketing if I wanted to get ahead. 5 years ago, HR personnel voiced grave concerns stating I was “full of potential but lacking patience” as I seemed too “jumpy”, trying to master all fields of digital. And today? I’m suddenly that corky kid who they want on their team.

What changed? The workplace did.

As was recently published, The biggest tech companies in the world, like Apple and IBM, no longer require employees to have a college degree. This move might seem surprising, but is, in fact, part of a much larger wave of change: from top universities struggling to prepare students to a competitive job market to school administrators, teachers and parents demanding more computer science training — all, somewhat unwillingly, admitting experience and real-world know-how are no less critical than that taught in college.

Emerging technologies have transformed the modern workplace. From the type of jobs available (automation is expected to take 800 million jobs by 2030) to how our work environment looks like (one-third of employees expected to work from home by 2020). Workers are now expected to demonstrate a different kind of professionalism: flexibility, creativity, passion for learning and the ability to quickly adapt and acquire new skills.

In short? Being a bit of an autodidact.

Bill Gates in his Bellevue office, 1980

But has this change really come out of nowhere?

The giants of the early days of tech, like Bill Gates and Michael Dell, had one thing in common: they were all autodidacts. These computer-geeks turned billionaires were and still are so much more than just gifted — they are self-learners. Early in their careers, they questioned formal paths to success, learned complex information all by themselves (most of them also dropping out of college) even though the information was still mostly inaccessible.

Today, 20 years after Google was founded, technological advancements have changed everything: access to information has improved immensely, freeing us of institutional education’s monopoly of learning.

Interviewed in 2017, Bill Gates said his favorite thing about technology is self-education: One of my favorite ways to use technology is to learn… It’s not really cutting-edge anymore, but I still think it’s mind-blowing that you can learn about any subject online through education courses and videos”

We’ve got a growing demand for multi-skilled workers and a world of knowledge in our fingertips — is that enough for everyone to become a little bit more of an autodidact? Probably not. Autodidacts have one other ability that really sets them apart — they have self-belief (even when it’s hard).

Being an autodidact is to believe, despite what everyone says, that the path your heart chooses is just as good as the one it rejects. To know there is no one clear path to success and that success comes in many different shapes and forms. To believe learning can also be done horizontally, not only vertically and that the broader your knowledge is the broader and better person you become.

It is to learn from every single person and every experience — not only from those considered “experts”. To self-believe is to fail while you learn and have no one to blame but yourself. To learn without grades, without a curriculum, without alumni and without anyone recognizing your knowledge and applauding you. It is to learn because it’s who you are.

To self-believe is to fail while you learn and have no one to blame but yourself. To learn without grades, without a curriculum, without alumni and without anyone recognising your knowledge and applauding you. It is to learn because it’s who you are.

Despite obvious changes in the job market we still very much live in a society admiring “specialists” and “experts”, a society that accepts ivy-league colleges and alumni groups as almost the only valid expression of dedication, hard work, knowledge, and ability. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those who choose the autodidactic path are still, if not else, suspicious.

But the time is right for us all to embrace the coming changes, open our minds and believe in our ability and responsibility to learn new skills, recognize new worlds of knowledge and above all, be self-believers.

*Oh and yes, they were right: I didn’t make it in their world. But in today’s world, I think I’m doing OK :)

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by + 374,685 people.

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