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Don’t worry what you’ll do when you leave education – your job hasn’t been invented yet.

I was listening to a podcast the other day – Tim Ferris talking to Chris Young – and there was a great quote from Chris when he discussed the relationship he had with his father. At some stage, Chris’ father told him “Don’t worry what you’ll do when you leave education – your job hasn’t been invented yet.”.

I am the father of a bunch of teenagers, and they regularly tell me I’m too demanding/my expectations are too high/they are not sure what they want to do, and can I please leave their room? The thing Chris said on the podcast really rang true. I think I might be wrong in my expectations of my kids.

I’m getting on a bit, but when I was at secondary school, computer programming wasn’t part of the curriculum (though you could take extra classes in Hebrew, typing, and bookkeeping). When I went to university, we had access to a computer lab – it ran BBC Micros – and proudly touted access to janet – but the idea of a global network with access for all was pure science fiction. Oh, and TV in the UK was limited to 4 channels, in the Netherlands we got more channels but only because we got access to TV from Germany, the UK, France, Belgium and – for some reason – PBS. Ordering a book that wasn’t available in our local bookshop took about 2 weeks – if you happened to know the ISBN. Phone calls were expensive – international ones were extravagant. The adjective “social” was more commonly associated with “disease” than “media”.

So, no, the jobs I’ve done for the last 18 years wasn’t invented when I was at school; many of the technical skills I have used over the last 25 years (Web development, Visual Basic, PHP, Ruby, Java, DevOps, Agile development, ) weren’t invented when I was at school. Some of the others (SQL, C/C++, object orientation, software project management) were around, but not really commonly known. Some of the things I use every day to do my job – video conferencing, online chat with people around the world, shared knowledge and code repositories – would have sounded like the deluded ramblings of a mad man back in the 80s.

On the other hand…many of the skills and habits I picked up in my teens and early twenties continue to serve me well every day. I learnt to work hard when I worked as a waiter on a passenger ship. I learnt to write at university, and to write in a business sense at PA Consulting, early in my career. I learnt SQL in my first year out of university. I learnt to think about meta-processes and team work in a band. I learnt how to lead a team at school, organising a music festival. I learnt how business finance works in the first two years out of university – when I also learnt the basics of marketing, sales and presenting. I learnt how to pick up new skills in the first few years – I was a graduate trainee, doing 6 months in every department in the company.

I’m still trying to find the common thread here – all the things I learnt involved me being engaged and busy. I’m glad that I hadn’t yet found Civilization back in my teens…They involved exposure to new things, people and experiences outside my normal circle, and surprisingly little formal education.

Am I just a (late) baby boomer riding the technology wave? My father was born before world war 2, and trained as a merchant seaman. He learnt to navigate by the stars, using a sextant and watch. He learnt how to adjust magnetic compasses, and spent time training on tall ships. By the time he was 40, most of those skills were still in daily use, though modern navigation devices like chart plotters were coming onto the market. Many of those skills are still being taught at naval colleges today. My mother trained as a secretary – she could take shorthand, and type an ungodly number of words per minute.  Again – her job still existed by the time she reached 40, though the mechanical typewriter was being replaced with word processors.

My grandfathers were both born before world war I. They trained as craftsmen, and the basics of their trade didn’t change all that much during their working life – though one of my grandparents trained as an air mechanic in the Royal Flying Corps in world war I, and worked on aircraft design in WW II (he had a Hurricane prop in the garden shed) – by the time he died in the 1990s, much of his training in aircraft maintenance was obviously redundant. But his knowledge of the internal combustion engine didn’t go out of date.

So, yes – I think change is accelerating.

Last time I spoke to one of my teenagers, I tried to summarize it thus – as a teenager, your job is to work out what you like doing, and what you’re good at. If you have any extra time or energy, work out how to learn new skills, and communicate. Any educational achievements are a bonus.

 

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