The Secret to Success in Tech? Don’t Panic.

The rapid pace of change in tech means lots of people just get a general understanding of a topic and leave it there. Don’t be one of them.

Written by Todd Shepherd
Published on Dec. 01, 2021
The Secret to Success in Tech? Don’t Panic.
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As an 80s kid, I had access to a vast array of musical genres every time I turned on my radio, and I enjoyed all of them. One group I particularly enjoyed listening to was Hall and Oates. I certainly wasn’t alone in that. The video for “Maneater” was getting regular play on MTV and hardly a school day went by without hearing, “Whoa-oh, here she comes!” a few times in the hallways.

I still listen to all kinds of music that came out when I was growing up, Hall and Oates being no exception. I recently listened to “Private Eyes,” another song of theirs that I’ve always found insanely catchy. The chorus is so imprinted on my brain that I could sing it in my sleep. And for all I know, I probably have.

This time around, though, I found myself paying attention to the lyrics in the verses since I wasn’t as familiar with them. As I processed what they were saying, I realized that I had missed the meaning of the song for decades. Moreover, I don’t think I even had a clear idea of what the song was about before. Art is subjective, but paying closer attention to all the lyrics gave me a new appreciation for one of my favorite old school songs. Plus, it helped pass the time on the hours-long shuttle ride home from the airport.

The chorus of a song is designed to be easily repeatable and memorable. There’s a reason the chorus is so often called the “hook.” And though it’s the part of the song that people hear and repeat most often, it generally can’t convey the song’s full meaning.

Similarly, when people become aware of an emerging technological advancement, they tend to first seek a broad-stroke understanding of it in order to assess its meaning and impact. People examining a field as complex as artificial intelligence may acquire a basic knowledge of it in order to determine the likelihood of their careers being impacted by future advancements. Left undeveloped without further research, this basic understanding serves as a sort of chorus that is technically correct yet doesn’t tell the whole story.

Gaining a grasp of core concepts in an easily digestible form is a great way to lay the foundation for understanding a particular domain. Since technology professionals are in a constant state of education and training, we’re bound to take that approach. And it’s a perfectly fine method to track the current state of a rapidly ever-growing field.

We must take care, however, to build on it and not fall into the habit of simply “repeating the chorus” to ourselves, reciting our rudimentary understanding as if it encompasses the entirety of the subject. The more we lean on information, the better understanding we must have of it to use it wisely. We can’t just repeat the chorus and think we know the whole song.

Is Automation Coming for My Job?

Automatons won’t replace the human workforce in a year or two. What’s now more widely possible is the automation of the repetitive, robotic processes that are an inevitable part of processing data. Even if a process just takes someone a few seconds to execute, the time saved by automating them will increase exponentially since those few seconds will be saved numerous times throughout a day or week.

More From Todd Shepherd3 Career Lessons From Video Games

 

Automatic

One of the hot topics in technology that’s prone to this type of chorus repetition is automation. Some people welcome it while others would rather delay it or avoid it altogether. The type of reaction you experience is likely linked to the chorus you have in your mind about it. Those choruses have an impact on our responses to real world ideas and encounters.

If you have only a casual knowledge of what automation entails and haven’t worked much with it, you don’t have much detailed information to counterbalance the repeated chorus in your mind. Consequently, you’re much more likely to be affected by that repetition. I’ve always been interested in the concept of automation, so my responses range from notions of Skynet to dystopian cyberpunk megacities to the domestic delights in Tex Avery’s animated short film The House of Tomorrow (1949). I enjoy a wide variety of influences.

Let’s listen to the rest of the lyrics on this one. Automation is no longer on the horizon — it is here. Microsoft’s Power Automate Desktop product has been available for a while as a free download and is now included in Windows 11. It enables users to automate many of the repetitive or mundane tasks they perform on their desktops, resulting in greater efficiency and saved time.

But don’t let that lead you to think automatons will replace the human work force in a year or two. What’s now more widely possible is the automation of the repetitive, robotic processes that are an inevitable part of processing data. Even if a process just takes someone a few seconds to execute, the time saved by automating them will increase exponentially since those few seconds will be saved numerous times throughout a day or week.

That time can then be used on other tasks that require more critical analysis, thereby increasing overall productivity and work quality. Focusing on more complex tasks will enable you to get more meaningful work done in less time, which makes you a more valuable asset to your business. Rather than taking your job away, automation takes the repetitive obstacles away so that you can do your job better and likely enjoy much greater professional fulfillment.

This fuller context makes avoiding anxiously trying to tell the future or catastrophizing new developments easier. It also enables us to take advantage of the benefits these new changes bring, increasing our proficiency and setting us up for the next step forward. Adaptability based on an informed, balanced worldview keeps us on the productive side of technology advancements, and those are two traits that can’t be automated away entirely.

 

Human Touch

That same adaptability opens doors to new opportunities for personal and professional growth. Open-source software has encouraged this growth, and the market has seen an increase in the number of no code/low code solutions. These tools allow logic blocks to be constructed using visual tools, and the code is generated on the back end. A savvy power user could potentially handle working this way.

As a result, one of the choruses repeated on this subject is that these tools spell the death of the professional programmer. Maybe you’ve heard this song. Aside from the occasional customization that would require coding, these simple solutions mean that the full-time, professional developer would become a thing of the past.

But if we listen to the rest of the lyrics, we’ll see there’s little cause for alarm here. Even no code/low code platforms require an understanding of logic structures and the ability to break down a problem programmatically and construct a workable solution. That solution must then be tested and debugged before being deployed to the production environment.

That sounds like what a full-time, professional developer would do, doesn’t it? Even if the amount of coding changes, the requisite skill set doesn’t. Programming and development go beyond simply writing code.

Moreover, the need for deep coding isn’t going away. Development platforms can’t provide absolutely every possible feature out of the box, nor can they anticipate every circumstance or use case. So, they put that power in the hands of developers to extend the platform. Microsoft’s Power Platform can’t provide connectors to every possible data source that a company may need to use, so they allow for custom connectors to be written that will work on their platform. Developing these solutions requires a skill set and time investment that’s right in the wheelhouse of the professional developer. 

So, don’t let lower code platforms worry you. The work may change a bit, but there’s still plenty of it and it takes a developer’s skill set to do it.

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Sing the Whole Song

Technology gets a lot of airplay, so you’re bound to hear all sorts of songs about it. But take care to avoid latching onto partial understandings or incomplete ideas. Listen to the lyrics in the verses and not just the chorus. Embrace the changes that accompany new developments while continuing to sharpen your core skill set.

And fire up an old school song or two. You might hear them in new ways.

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