Why your kids shouldn’t pursue a career in coding

When I was in high-school, in the nineties, there was a simple expectation that my mom had. I was to get good grades, so I could go to university. Once in university, I would graduate in a respectable time frame. With my university degree I would be ensured a good job.

My mother’s generation, born in the 50s and 60s, all raised their children this way. And that made sense, because the people with the best paying jobs were notaries, doctors and lawyers.

Notaries, doctors, lawyers and pilots are all last-century jobs

The glory days of notaries, doctors, lawyers and other similar jobs are far behind us. Even being a pilot, once the pinnacle of achievements, is long past its golden era. It may not always look like it, so bear with me. There are still people who make a lot of money in those last-century jobs. Usually they have been in the job for a long time.

Take pilots for example. Pilots who are over about 45 years of age, still earn a lot of money. The younger pilots however, have a very rough time. Demands to get a job have increased significantly, such as the amount of hours flown, which has doubled in recent years for the same position. This means that pilots have to accept jobs in other countries, where safety regulations are less, pay is much lower and the hours are crazy. And that is a big problem, because becoming a pilot is very expensive. Most young pilots have between USD 100.000 and 200.000 in debt, which they can hardly pay back with their relatively small wage.

Notaries have a similar hard time. Where the hourly rates used to be very high, now the rates are plummeting. There are simply way too many notaries and the work that they do can very easily be automated. For example, Dutch company HEMA introduced an online notary last year. Most documents you get are standard, with only a small number of possible options. Now, people can get such documents at a very, very low price, online.

Automation is destroying last-century jobs

Last-century jobs are simply not paying as much because there are too many people who do that same job. And even if there isn’t an abundance, last-century jobs are subject to automation. When part of the job is replaced by automation, there is less work for the remaining work force. This means there is more competition. And as we have all learned, if there is more supply than demand in a competitive market, prices will drop. In this case, that means wages and hourly rates. Ultimately, this is what costs people their job.

Automation isn’t a bad thing though. It has been going on as long as mankind has been working. The pyramids were built using huge amounts of manual labor, which is very likely the reason there aren’t that many of them. Today, we use automated muscle to build sky scrapers. That automation has significantly increased the number of buildings we can produce, hence the skylines we see all across the world.

And while automation may have cost us purely physical jobs such as construction work, it has freed up time for other jobs that could not be automated by machinery. Doctors, lawyers, notaries and pilots for example … Those jobs are now facing the same fate as physical jobs before them did. As their jobs are automated more and more, prices and wages will drop.

If you’re a millennial, you wouldn’t think of advising your children to become a lawyer or doctor. The world is different now and what was once a guaranteed high-paying job, is now just another job impending automation.

Coding will be automated as well

If you take any lesson from history, it is that what is now a high-paying job is very likely to be automated. Think about it. If something costs a lot of money, it is worth automating. Especially if there is a lot of need for it. In my previous blog post, I gave some numbers about the shortage of IT specialists. That shortage is quickly giving rise to many automated solutions that will replace coders.

For the foreseeable future, coders will still be needed. I think coders will be needed for at least another 50 years. The question is, how many? Right now, we need a lot of them. We’re building the software equivalent of pyramids. In the meantime, we are automating parts of what is now done by coders. The combination of automation (which decreases demand) and the attractiveness of becoming a coder due to very high wages and rates, will soon tip over. My estimation is that within 10 years rates for coders will drop significantly.

In about 20 years coding will be as polarized as other jobs in danger of automation are today. You are either extremely good at your work, or you work for such a low wage that it’s cheaper than automation. It’s not a good position to be in honestly.

Teach your kids creativity and human connection

If you are a millennial, you don’t want to make the same mistake my mom’s generation made. You don’t want to advise your kids to choose a certain job that, if you had known how technology will advance, will be obsolete in a few years. You don’t want them to pursue a career in coding.

Technology is advancing in a direction where we are now automating minds. Computers are now good at doing things doctors were once good in. In some areas, computers are even better than humans. One example is recognizing tumors on mammograms, where computers clearly outperform doctors. Similar advances are seen in other areas, such as self-driving cars. Some may take a long time to become better than humans, but they will definitely be better than humans someday in the near future.

If such jobs, that once were the uncontested domain of humans, are automated, what is the next thing? In my opinion we are still very far away from computers replacing true human connection and creativity. There are plenty of examples of artificial intelligent machines knocking on the door of creativity, such as writing music or making paintings. All such examples are however, based on huge numbers of pre-existing information. Artificial intelligence can use millions of musical compositions to learn what we think is nice music. But it will not invent jazz, grunge or dance music in a world where it doesn’t exist yet. That requires true creativity.

Human connection is another thing that is very hard to replace. Think about it. We don’t even truly know how human connection works. We know a lot about it, but it isn’t an exact science. In a world where everything will be automated, easily accessible and done by machines, human connection will become a very valuable asset.

So if you have to decide what you want your children to be good at, think about this. All kids play with computers, fewer and fewer play with each other. Many kids know how to use things, but fewer and fewer kids know how to create things. Give your kids creative toys such as Lego and teach them to interact with other kids by letting them play together. When they get older, keep feeding their creativity. Let them take up things such as photography, painting, mechanical engineering and coding. The more different experiences, the better. That’s what ultimately leads to creativity. As long as you understand that each thing separately will be automated. It’s the combination of creativity and human connection that are going to be the valuable skills later this century.

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