Daniel Lemire's blog

, 2 min read

Career Swings

Read in the latest Communications of the ACM (Sept. 2005, Vol. 48, No. 9, page 10):

Research firm Gartner Inc. predicts up to 15% of todays’ tech workers will drop out of the profession in five years, not including those who retire or die. (…) demand for technology developpers is forecast to shrink by 30%.

Repeat after me: long term predictions about the job market are worthless. Basically, they often take first order trends and extrapolate. Why? Because they are written by people with only a very basic understanding of numerical analysis and time series.

If the system is stationary, then the prediction might hold true. However, technology is hardly a stationary system. Right now, there isn’t much happening in technology and the oil industry looks like a safe bet if you need to invest. In two years, there might be a new disruptive technology like the web has been, requiring companies to massively reinvest in their IT architecture or factories. Like a new way to manage massive data sources or ultraefficient solar panels.

Hint to students: if you are interested in technology, don’t go to a business, medical or law school. Get a CS, Math or Engineering degree. You may not earn as much initially, but you might very well have the last laugh. Don’t base your life on useless predictions. Back when I was a High School student, I was told that 75% of new jobs would be tech. jobs when I’d graduate. I was then told that there would be a severe shortage of science Ph.D.s. Both of these predictions were overwhelmingly wrong. The truth is not that science and technology is a bad choice, the truth is that job market predictions are terribly inaccurate.

Myself, I cannot believe that in 2015, we’ll all be lawyers, business managers, salesman, and medical doctors. I cannot believe that technology will stand still and mathematics beyond basic algebra will be a lost art. I cannot believe my two sons will have business degrees and make three times my salary by managing a bunch of underpaid Indian programmers.

Call me a fool, if you want, but I’m slightly more optimistic. If I’m proven wrong, then I’ll retire early and write science fiction novels describing the world as I think it should have been.