By now we are all very familiar with the rapid pace of disruption in the world today. We can all remember the “old days” when you couldn’t just take out your phone and have a car show up or when you had to go to a store to rent a movie. But what would happen if you were the one being affected by the disruption?

For many working people, that is the reality. Many manufacturing jobs have been taken over by robots, taxi drivers are out of work, and it takes fewer workers to get the same amount of work done due to technology advances. But you say, “Oh, I’m in tech, and the demand for us is higher than ever.” That’s true… now. But even our world could get rocked in the same way.

Let’s think about today’s disruptions for a second. People have been disrupting industries all the way back when they invented the wheel. Why is the impact of the disruptions so much greater now?

The difference in today’s disruptions is that people are finding ways to enable exponential growth when everyone else is stuck in linear growth. Uber can add a virtually unlimited number of drivers much faster than taxi company can hire taxi drivers. Airbnb can add a virtually unlimited number of rooms, while hotel chains have to build new buildings. Machine learning is able to process a virtually unlimited amount of data faster than humans ever could.

So what about software development? I don’t really expect that coding will go away anytime soon, and I expect it to increase. But for as long as computers have been around, we’ve been building software in a linear fashion, one line at a time. So I don’t think it’s a stretch that sometime in the near future we find ways to exponentially increase the impact of the software we build.

If and when that happens, things will change. Maybe it’s just the languages that we use, or the tools we use to build them, or maybe data plays a much bigger role.

Wait a minute… this is already happening!

It turns out that the future is now, and things are already different. Ten years ago “data scientist” wasn’t a job title you saw very often. Cloud computing platforms were in their infancy, and building high traffic apps required economies of scale that many people didn’t have or couldn’t afford. Mobile technology was nowhere near what it is today (just imagine what happens when 5G is prevalent). How many of you have experience in all of these areas?

We all have holes in our resume, the pace of technology changes so fast and it’s impossible to be an expert in everything, so you have to pick and choose. But over time, some of your areas of expertise will become obsolete. You can ignore this for awhile before it’s damaging to your career. But if the pace of disruption is increasing (almost exponentially), obsolescence may catch up to you faster than normal. There are a lot of middle managers out there that are struggling to find their next opportunity because they’re well-versed in yesterday’s technology and methods.

Reinventing yourself

My belief is that in the next 30 years or so, I’m going to have to reinvent myself several times. This doesn’t have to mean completely switching industries, but the way we build software may look a lot different. The job titles that are prevalent on job boards 10 years from now might not even exist yet.

This is why I’m taking online classes on data science, why I’m excited to attend CodeMash this week, and why I’m delving more into topics like cloud architecture and containers and spending less time on learning the next JavaScript framework. Someday “everyone” might build apps in Vue instead of React, but they’ll be doing mostly the same activities and building the same thing (maybe a little easier). But what if companies decide to spend money on data science instead of building large web applications because the benefits of data science are exponential?

The pace of our learning needs to keep up with the pace of the disruptions. I would rather be working now to catch up with the curve than to have to start from scratch. Companies need to take this seriously and find ways to help their employees (both developers and engineering leaders) stay ahead of the curve. How much time and money are you spending on learning before you’re stuck having to reinvent yourself?

If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.
– General Eric Shinseki