Reskill or Perish :Writing is on the wall

Note:The thoughts expressed here are distilled from my leanings of running a full time start-up and the followed by my experiences of getting back into a job. Do read this i hope should provide answers to many people who are in a similar situation i.e mid-career blues.

Some of the thoughts presented here are also beautifully explained in Deepak Shenoy’s article “The Inflexion Point for the IT Service Industry” . His article is more from the industry perspective and mine is would be from a person who is in his mid-career.

In the last few month  every-time i speak to a colleague of mine the common thread which i can distill is that they feel stagnated in their career and that they  are not finding enough opportunities which are allowing people to grow in terms of skill set development and career progression. This is because people have been used to blazing growth in their careers over the last 7-8 years and now suddenly they see that they are doing the same job/role for the last couple of years and all efforts to change over to another company does not seem to paying off and interview calls are far and few between in the traditional IT roles.  So what is really happening ?

Changes in Technology

One of the main drivers  which is changing the job market is changes in technology , mainly driven by powerful frameworks which take out the complexity of building complex applications by replacing them with simple coding stuff replacing them instead of  stitching of  different modules written by other developers into a business logic which you need to solve your unique problem.  As an example using Ruby On Rails i built a full fledged  backend with an awesome looking dashboard  for a product which was supposed to automate workflows inside a retail store. The backend would talk to an Andriod app which again was developed by Santosh is less than 2 months. The overall lines of code in the product was 400 lines for backend and 500-600 lines of code for frontend.  On Android one of my colleague told me that what would take him 1 month of development earlier can now be achieved by him in 2 days using Iionic framework !.

On similar lines AWS is flattening the job of people needed to maintain servers . Massive automation and power of cloud is simply ensuring that what was a job which was to be done by a team of 100 people can now be achieved by 5 really good dev-op guys.

Basically automation and frameworks is bringing down the cost of development , so you dont need so many developers  and once number of developers is reduced  you don’t need so many engineering managers , project managers, quality managers, tech managers  etc.  So the message is clear we will see a massive shrinkage in the number of employees need to do a project but also we would need different type of employee to get the work done. Someone who is capable of seeing big picture of business need and understand technology well enough.

Not having the right skills 

Over the years many of us  as we have  moved to up in career  have moved into jobs which take us away from actually doing work to managing , auditing  etc.  While this was a good thing in the earlier industry as IT was growing at a breakneck speed  and there was ever increasing need for Engineering Managers, Project Managers and the likes. Thus people were moving up the ladder. But skills like Project Management , Engineering Management are becoming commodity skills in the market due to supply vs demand mismatch, so essentially it means that in the market we will have Project Mangers who have 7 years of experience and also the ones who have 15+ years of experience. Without any differentiation in the basic skill set the people who are more experienced will simply wiped out of the market because the 7 years experienced Project manager is simply cheaper and more hungrier to grow up the ladder. The hunger and drive to move up will ensure that in the market the younger project manager will simply push out the older one. The Younger one has more advantages as he would have less unlearning to do compared to the more experienced one . This unlearning is essential because of the changes in Technology which i outlined earlier.  This is a double whammy , shrinking jobs and competition from younger guys . All this when you have skills on your resume which are getting outdated in the market.

What is the way out ?

Hopefully the previous two sections must have provided a perspective on why many my friends and colleagues are unable to find jobs which offer them that growth in their careers.  So lets discuss , what options which you have.

Relocate to another Country

One of the most obvious one which many of my friends are exercising  is relocating to other countries but with the same role . As an example if you are a project manager then take up the same role in another country. This option is good , but is a temporary relief . In these countries like Malaysia , Thailand or even Poland , the IT industry is just starting to boom and they need experienced professionals. So people are able to find jobs which offer good compensation and the life is great because you tend to get contracts which include accommodation , car + trips home.  This would be an option which can be exercised in the short term , but does not solve any of the underlying issues which were discussed earlier . This is about postponing the squeeze by a few years. If you think that is a good option exercise it.

Find a new role  or Reskill

Though the relocation to another country seems like a good choice but in the longer run , the factors will catch up and you will soon face the same situation which you are doing now. The other choice is that you find a new type of job by learning a  new skill. This may appear like a bitter pill  but would be inevitable if you ask me as the change would come sooner than you expect because this is driven by technology and economics. Remember till last year we were not using Whatsapp ! , now can you live without it :). To find a new skill means you need to start off from the ground , so the best ally that you can have in this step would be your own passion. So find a new role which is in line with your passion. Having worked for 8 to 10 years i am sure most of you would have found some area which is of your interest . You could love food so open a restaurant , could love marketing get into new area of Digital Marketing or if you love numbers then get into a statistical analysis ! . Basically start working on a side project while you are working in your existing role.  If you are looking to be in a job (which is what most of us would be) then choose the next profession based on demand in the market and your own passion. A look at LinkedIn <The 25 Hottest Skills That Got People Hired in 2014> will reveal all the hot tech skills which are in demand , so based on your passion pick one of them and start developing skills in them.  From my experience  in areas where there is mismatch in supply and demand (example digital marketing , UX/UI, Data Sciences ) smaller companies and even medium sized companies don’t mind to experiment with people who don’t have the skills on the CV but can demonstrate the same skill on the side projects or hobby projects.  This would be the best best to crack into a new role.

Doesn’t that mean that i starting of my career again ?

By choosing a newer domain it may sound like you are settling for something less than what you are worth. Because you may be  starting off in a role which is junior to your role e.g a project manager can start of as a tech lead in a data sciences project , but one needs to see it with a different eye.  Remember in the last section i explained the the kind of skills need is changing and the fact that fewer people are doing the same work. What this means is if you have those skills then you can command a premium. As an example

–  A good full stack engineer  having 2 years of experience can command a salary of 15 lakhs/annum. This is not some number which i am pulling out the sky . This is based on my experience of trying to hire such people in the last 3 months. Good ones who can build a whole product end to end are the ones in demand and they can ask for the moon.

–  A product manager at a startup with an MBA plus 1-2 years of experience in the Online world can easily command a salary of 20-25 lakhs/annum…

Basically companies are saying i need fewer people doing the work , so are willing to pay more salary.  So essentially it may mean that from a hierarchy point of view you may start off at a lower point , but from a financial point of view it is not all that bad. Remember you dont have a choice !

My parting Advice 

Apart from all the above factors , on the lower end of IT services spectrum i am seeing that the squeeze is going to be even harder as other destinations like Philipines , Malasyia , Lat-Am are all slowing waking up and offering competitive rates. Whereas Indian staff is becoming expensive and also less effective as younger people are not working as hard as people say 10 years back !,so productivity is also a question. I know of an MNC which moved back its product dev work back to US because of productivity and attrition issues.

My dear friends , the writing is on the wall , the changes that are happening the IT industry are happening due to many reasons which are beyond our control. So instead of waiting for the the inevitable squeeze in job when you may find yourself without a job , you better take corrective action now !

RESKILL OR PERISH !! 

Comments , Brickbats , Feedback … are welcome and would be happy to share my own personal experience should you have questions on the same topic.

Avinash MB


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