In the technology job market, the only constant is change.

It doesn’t take a historian to see how far the tech industry has come in just the last two decades. Nor does it take an economist to see how this advancement ― some smaller in scope and some quite seismic ― have invented new jobs, altered some, and completely reinvented others.

A recent article in Gizmodo signaled that automation and the progression of AI would eliminate close to 70 million jobs by 2022. However, the tech industry is also projected to gain more than 130 million jobs during that same time, many of which will likely be iterations or versions of the jobs that are eliminated.

This proverbial circle of life is not just part and parcel of today’s tech industry. In reality, this cycle has been a permanent fixture as market forces diversify and consumer demands shift to meet the times.

In this way, it’s important to realize that jobs don’t go extinct—they just evolve. With this in mind, let’s look at a brief history of this evolution across a variety of contexts before examining tech jobs of the past, tech jobs today, and what may be the future of tech jobs moving forward.

Jobs of Yesteryear

To best understand this trend of job evolution both inside the tech industry and out, it helps to realize the sheer number (and seemingly strange) jobs that once existed in some form or another. Believe it or not, something as simple as the function of an alarm clock to something as world-altering as social media have not only previously existed, but were at one time performed by actual human beings.

According to a recent article in Business Insider, some of the more idiosyncratic jobs that have evolved into present day include:

  • Knocker-up, which while sounds suspect, was actually a nocturnal individual who was charged with waking townspeople or villagers from their slumber at a designated time by tapping on or shooting peas at their window. Popularized in Great Britain and Ireland in the early 19th Century, knocker-ups (also called knocker-uppers) were actually in existence until the early 1970s, long after the advent and proliferation of alarm clocks, a device that performs the same function but with greater accuracy and effectiveness.

 

  • We all know town criers from fables and fairytales as a single or even band of townspeople who moved throughout a village, vocally distributing the news of the day. Those who happened to hear the town criers calls would then spread the message amongst their peer group to help word reach as many townspeople as possible. Town crier may not be a great name for the newest social media platform but these individuals performed the same tasks that social media does today—connecting human beings and information in such a way where information can be shared and sourced within a community.

 

  • Switchboard operators, at least compared to the first two examples, is an easier concept to grasp. Before the days of phone system automation, switchboard operators were individuals tasked with routing outgoing calls to the proper destination via a series of switches that transmitted the voice on one end of the phone to a voice on the other. Though some level of automaton had emerged by the early 1960s, switchboard operators were still a common and critical part of telephone communication until the mid-1970s.

 

  • Pinsetters was perhaps as quintessential a childhood job as a paper route until 1936 when the electronic pinsetting machine found its way into bowling alleys across the country. Prior to this time, a pinsetter’s job was to literally reset pins that were knocked down during a bowling match.

 

  • Computers did, at one time, mean an individual whose job it was to compute. Data entry, manipulation (sorting, math, archiving, and retrieval) was at one time done by a whole department of individuals rather than your Chromebook or iPad. These positions required high degrees of detail and accuracy and housed in a variety of industries from accounting to industrial manufacturing to space travel—yes, even NASA had an entire computing department.

Job Evolution through Technology

Now that we’ve looked at manual jobs of yesteryear that were transformed through the advent of automation and technology, it’s time we look at some more contemporary examples specifically pertaining to the tech industry. In this regard, we’ll understand how technological and creative advancements are driving job evolution in such a rapidly changing and variant-rich space.

What’s important to remember here, like the antiquated jobs we just discussed, is these jobs (and their associated skillsets, experiences, and talents) were at one time vastly different from their current state. Even though we may think of the technology industry, especially with careers like web and software development, as a wholly modern enterprise, digital computing stretches back as far as the early 1970s, which is quite a substantial timeline.

  • Computer and information research scientists invent, design, and engineer new approaches to computing technology and processes, as well as discover new and innovative uses for existing technology. You don’t have to think too hard to understand the value of these positions, especially in the last 15 years. Simply look at the widespread use of apps, podcasts, and other mobile-based sources of information and engagement.

 

  • Computer network architects design and build robust data communication and interaction frameworks such as local area networks (LAN), wide area networks (WAN), and intranet systems. This mode of communication and information distribution has been a staple of how individuals and companies interact for a number of years, but their importance is now fully realized with the COVID-19 pandemic and the sheer volume of work and communication that takes place in a remote setting.

 

  • Information Security Analysts have become a more visible part of the tech industry landscape in the last 15 to 20 years as the world comes online and interacts in the digital sphere. It’s an understatement to say there is more data transmitted via digital means than many even the tech industry dreamed, and these positions are at the forefront of safeguarding and combating security breaches, the introduction of viruses or malware, or other foreign agents of file or data corruption into globally connected systems.

 

  • Finally, software developers, who more or less author the programs we use for work or play on a daily basis, create the applications and systems that run on computers or other mobile devices. As we mentioned earlier, mobile apps have not only become vital to social media, news and entertainment, and digital communication, they’ve also become a staple for e-commerce and other forms of transactions for companies both pre (and especially) during the COVID pandemic. Without these kinds of positions, life as we know it would be a very different deck of cards.

Be Not So Fearful

Technology does not reduce, eliminate, or render jobs obsolete. In fact, in so many cases, it does the exact opposite and serves as a motivating force for jobs (and in some cases entire career fields) to grow and develop with the times in which they exist. It therefore makes sense for today’s software and web developers to not fear or avoid evolutions in their professional space, but to embrace them in order to position themselves as vital players in what could be the technology that drives our future civilizations.

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