How to future-proof your IT job in the age of AI

Who's afraid of robots? Here's how to stay one step ahead of the competition
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Could a robot do your job? Could you help a robot do its job? If you are thinking about your career development and where you’d like to be a year from now, it’s time to ask yourself these questions. IDC estimates that 40 percent of digital transformation initiatives in 2019 will use AI services, and by 2021, 75 percent of enterprise applications will use AI. No matter your title – from entry level to CIO – it’s wise to think about how your role and responsibilities may shift as technologies like AI, automation, and robotics evolve and get smarter.

Constant learning is key to staying one step ahead of the robots, says Jim Johnson, senior vice president at Robert Half Technology.

“The tech industry moves quickly, but keeping up – or staying one step ahead – of the latest tech advancements is a good way to future-proof your career prospects,” says Johnson.

Moreover, demonstrate your creativity, innovation, and drive to learn, says Johnson: These qualities, which robots haven’t quite mastered yet, make you an indispensable member of the team.

[ How can IT teams prepare for AI? Read  Artificial intelligence: The king of disruptors. ]

Here are five other ideas for future-proofing your job in the age of AI.

1. Show your value in new ways

Sammy Migues, principal scientist, Synopsys: "If your job today is doing something algorithmic and reproducible in IT, your role will eventually go away. It’s just a matter of time. Of course, as technology evolves, so will the interactions between humans and automation. This will require new skills. Forward-looking IT professionals need to take a hard look at their place in the IT value stream and give some thought to whether a computer can do their job. Those who didn’t do this in industries such as legal, medical, hospitality, food service, manufacturing, and so on suddenly found themselves displaced and without a plan.

So, what can IT professionals do now?

  • Take a look at what you do and how you do it. Be the person who suggests automation improvements. If you’re the person who can make processes more efficient, then you provide a necessary value to the organization.
  • Learn to make the automation work. You’re a firewall wizard today? Become a container and orchestration wizard. Then get on the team that is rolling out all that automation and maintaining it.
  • Learn to determine if the automation is doing its job correctly. Learn a scripting language and be able to write tests and sensors that determine whether the automation is meeting expectations.
  • Add a skill, such as security, to your IT skill set. Expand your role as a developer into that of a security-proficient developer. Go from a cloud engineer to a cloud security engineer. Grow from a network engineer into a cloud security architecture engineer. And so on.
  • Learn to use tools beyond your current niche. There are lots of free cloud tools, security tools, and so on that require a smart person to conduct manual analysis in order for the tool to be effective. That manual part will always be manual. Your current firm might even offer this training internally for free."

2. Be proactive, rather than reactive

Ian Pitt, CIO, LogMeIn: "The rise of AI within the IT space will not replace the entire IT team overnight, nor will it get close any time soon due to the current applications of the technology. As AI starts to erode the need for humans in the IT helpdesk, those that wish to survive in IT need to do what they need to do anyway – grow, expand into higher value areas, and maintain a close relationship with the business.

One small group of users with a loud voice should not undermine a longer-term strategy of integration and overall company productivity.

IT decision makers must have a seat at the table – get ahead of the business, learn what’s trending and productive in the marketplace and stay connected to the new-to-the-workforce team members. They need to move away from the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ mentality but also stand their ground when challenged to adopt a new solution simply because a user or team has decided that’s what they want without considering existing applications.

Keep in mind that in a large organization, one small group of users with a loud voice should not undermine a longer-term strategy of integration and overall company productivity. Leaders need to bring solutions to the senior management and transition into a trusted advisor/consultant role; otherwise, they will forever be reactive. Failing to evolve into this strategic leadership position will lead to an IT decision maker's extinction."

[ Which of todays IT roles are vanishing? Read our related article, 4 dying IT jobs. ]

3. Adaptability is the new power skill

Tim Mackey, technical evangelist, Black Duck by Synopsys: "IT professionals have long experienced the disruptive forces of automation and technology transformation. From x86 server farms, through virtualization and now into containerized applications, we can see that those IT professionals who were adaptable and able to embrace new paradigms succeeded. With AI and machine learning being one of the next frontiers, those same soft skills will serve the IT community well. Couple that with an understanding that at the heart of AI/ML is data and that data management and distributed systems design play key roles in any data-driven system, the skill sets most in demand in a data economy will be those with an ability to manage, interpret, design, secure, and support large-scale data operations."

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.