One of the platitudes of the past several years is "learn to code," often used when a segment of the economy has become obsolete and is losing jobs.
Moving up the value chain in a knowledge-based economy is certainly a smart move. But learning to code is not a foolproof solution to positioning oneself in the rapidly evolving economy, and it hasn't been for some time.
For one thing, not everyone enjoys sitting in a chair and coding all day. Beyond that, automation or offshoring can affect coding jobs, too.
There are long lists of job titles that were in demand 20 years ago that today are automated. Take "word-processing operators," which in the generation before PCs was a skill people trained for,using dedicated hardware and software from companies like Wang computers.
If learning to program is not the solution for most people, what is? Allow me to suggest a strategy: Learn to code, and then don't.
A son of a friend of mine recently graduated from college. He has an applied math degree and pretty strong coding skills, but he confided in me that he doesn't really enjoy coding, preferring interacting with people to solve business problems.
I told him he was actually positioned perfectly. Knowing how to code and choosing not to allows him and others like him to become business analysts who interface between business users and coders.
He interviewed with several large firms in town and accepted an offer for a position very much like the one we had strategized — a hybrid role that used some of his programming skill but was also customer-facing, with a high degree of problem-solving.
In some sense, I am recommending a deep computer literacy as a toolkit with which to enter the knowledge-based workforce, as opposed to a deep knowledge of computer science or a particular language.
Ultimately, the future is data — learning to manage it, manipulate it and process it to answer questions and detect patterns that your organization can use to better serve its customers.
Isaac Cheifetz is a Twin Cities executive recruiter and strategic résumé consultant. Reach him through his website, catalytic1.com.