A friendly cardboard robot

Are You as Relevant as a Robot?

5 minute read
Erika Morphy avatar

The robots are coming for tech jobs too. Here's what to do.

By now we know the drill about robots. They are getting smarter and more agile. Cute even. And did I say smarter?

They are, in short, able to take over almost any type of job and perform better and faster. Plus, they won't require health insurance or take sick leave.

And it is not just blue-collar or unskilled work that robots can do. Robots have co-opted pilots, financial analysts, legal researchers and, ahem, reporters in recent years.

Watch Your Back

The tech community is not immune to this trend.

InfoWorld's Bill Snyder recently warned coders not to be so complacent about their future job prospects. He wrote:

"An intriguing new research paper from two major universities posits that even software developers, the very people who program those machines, could face a future in which their skills are no longer needed and their incomes drop precipitously as smart machines reduce the need for human-produced software to mere maintenance operations."

The End is Not Here Yet

All that said, the end of IT career prospects is hardly at hand. However, this is a trend to watch. To find out what workers in this space need to do to keep their skillsets robot-proof, CMSWire spoke with several experts. This is what we learned.

Stay informed. There are two types of tech-related jobs most likely to be taken over by robots, according to Frank Casale, founder and CEO of the Institute for Robotic Process Automation.

"If you are in IT infrastructure, network or datacenter support you are at risk right now and you can't move quickly enough.  The other category that automation is encroaching on in the near term is in application development and maintenance."

His advice?  Get educated on such topics as RPA (robotic process automation), cognitive computing and AI.  "Immerse yourself on what these technologies are and their impact on the marketplace and be part of the solution.  As organizations shift from their traditional IT playbook to the new playbook they are going to need people who get it — who will help them evaluate these technologies, help them select, transition, manage and govern these environments."

Become a domain expert, security expert or safe-coding expert. Or all three. Also, it won't hurt to be conversant with public policy issues. This is according to Ramesh Subramanian, the Gabriel Ferrucci Professor of Computer Information Systems at Quinnipiac University. 

"There are enormous safety and security implications associated with these developments," he told CMSWire.

"How can we ensure that the algorithms -- and the heuristics those are based on -- are correct? How do you ensure that robots will conduct themselves safely, especially when they duplicate roles of caretakers and caregivers?" Methods for ensuring safe and secure coding practices will become critical, he said. At the same time, cybersecurity will continue to be very important to ensure that only certain types of searches and certain types of data mining are allowed.

Being conversant with the policy implications of these developments will also be important, he continued, as tech workers will often be required to explain the process involved to policy-makers. "Basically, IT professionals should become multidimensional," Subramanian said.

Learning Opportunities

Become bot-friendly. It's true that algorithms, system monitors, and robots have begun doing IT work, Matt Brosseau, CTO at Instant Alliance told CMSWire. But these early experiences also show where humans fit into the grander picture. "These systems require technology professionals to work with them and set and update the parameters in which they work," he said.

Really it's quite simple, he said: If IT professionals are worried about being replaced by a robotic workforce they should focus on developing the skills to work alongside robots.

"Technology is a long way away from being able to run independent of engineers and administrators, and the best way for any engineer or admin to stay on top of their skills is to specialize in the newest and greatest technologies available," Brosseau said. "In this case, understanding the automated tools that make IT management simpler is one of the most valuable skills an IT professional can develop."

Think value-add. This is true of any tech development, but it will become crucial when robots become ubiquitous, Guido Lang, assistant professor of computer information systems at Quinnipiac University, told CMSWire.

"To stay relevant, IT professionals need to constantly figure out how to leverage technological advancements in order to create business value. To do that, they need to stay up-to-date with technology and develop a deep understanding of the business domain. Marrying these two aspects -- current technology knowledge and deep business expertise -- is and will remain the key to a successful career in IT."

Disregard assurances that all this is decades away. "Between now and 2020 there will be two scenarios -- the first which will see significant displacement of traditional IT folks -- the second being a candidate's market for those that have the new skills, said Casale of the Institute for Robotic Process Automation.

"Which group do you want to be in?"

Title image by langfordw.

Title image by langfordw.