Present:Economy - aka FTW!






I was in a transitionary time in 2015, leaving one job and considering what to work on - this is a somewhat rambling post about how I figured that out.

Transitionary periods lend themselves to interesting research.  


For a time, I was reading compulsively about retraining and modern work practices.


What anyone is likely to do, when in a work transition, is to (optionally) retrain, then find a job or start a business.  That set of options has not changed in my lifetime.  


What has changed, in my lifetime, are the methods.


In and of itself, the changed methods are not particularly surprising.


When you consider the rate of change more carefully, however, things do get interesting.


What follows are a few small notes on the exploratory thinking that led me to my current career path.  


A side note on Trends (and the title of this page)


Before writing this page, I looked for relevant new research that might help people find work in the present economy (2015).  Something that came up prominently on searches was an article on work from the O'reilly corporation: Time Oreilly has been blogging on the future of work. 


He has a new brand, "WTF", that he is using at least partially to generate interest in some of his conferences.  It feels like part of a continued trend toward embracing edginess.  Instead of embracing Next:Economy, What's The Future of work?, I will (mis)use an equally bad mirror acronym, and choose to write about work under the banner: Present:Economy, Forget That Weak hype and focus on common sense.  :)


Trends in underlying tech?  We can simplify that topic quite a bit.  Computing is the only trend.  It enables all the others.  Well, at least it was the lynchpin - no advances in computing - no internet.  Computing forces progress in many fields to happen.  Need to compete in [_insert_field_here_].  The availability of computing power and open communications are your weapons.  If software is eating the world, computing power is it's oxygen.  Bioprinting would not be advancing if the last 20 years of computing didn't enable it and a million other things (like cheap phones and the rapid spread of the internet) that enabled it.


As far as I can tell, common sense and hard work are still the key requirements for success.  There is no new business model that is not obviated and enabled by mental firepower and precisely the capabilities that the increasing pervasiveness of computing and it's derivatives, such as the internet, enable.  


You don't need omnibus conferences, read omnibus books or long article series on this stuff to understand the trend.   I contend that you need to recognize the computing trend in context and use common sense.  Focus on computing.


New Methods applied to Training or Retraining 


[Note: This is actually a decision tree - so break it up and expand on it - or eliminate this and the next section.]


Know what you want to do AND have the skills you need?  Good.  Skip to to the next section.  Otherwise, Read On.


Unless you have been living in a cave, you are aware that people have been dropping out of school and making money as computer programmers for a long time.  If you don't want to train up to become a computer programmer, you can train up to be a monkey kicker - a person that is expert in using computers for a non-programming job.  If you don't want to interact with computers at all, then you must not be reading this, and I hope the person torturing you by reading it to you is hit by a lightning bolt shot from his laptop, cell phone, or futuristic augmented reality glasses.


Short version: learn to utilize the computing power that is arriving in your field.  You don't have to become a full time programmer.


New Methods applied to Finding Employment


Think statistically.  Use the internet.  If you are in a hurry, then I think this is the most practical place to begin - How to get a job.  That method was unavailable before pervasive computing made it available - take advantage of it!!  If you have more time, consider studying optimal stopping before you begin your search.  


But What Should You Really Be Working On?!?


Everything is an arms race.  


Ex: Those developing countermeasures to bioprinted virii must race those creating virii, because if we don't have the countermeasure deployable prior to making bioprinted virii easily accessible, we're dead.


Same thing in economics, politics, computing, et. al.  We're getting more powerful.  A single attack is becoming more serious.  We have to have countermeasures before the attacks come.

I will call these attacks "exponential threats".  Exponential Threats are those threats to humanity that are increasing in their capacity to do harm at an alarming rate, due to technological advancement and other factors (like population size).  Asteroids hitting the earth don't count.  Bio-printed virii do.


If Bruce Schneier is right, then we have a few survival options, in no particular order:


1) Win all the races against exponential threats, every time, for all time.

2) Become one entity.

3) Modify all humans to avoid the possibility of any human attacking another human or group of humans.

4) Some other form of severe police-state control that effectively makes us one entity.

5) Let humanity expire from the earth, to be replaced by something else that might be able to implement one of the above.


So what do we do now?


IMHO, get up in the morning, pick a race we are running, and work your ass off to win it for humankind.  I don't care which one it is (climate change, bio-safety, governance, artificial intelligence) - as long as you can scientifically point to evidence of an exponential threat.  (please choose to apply computing to climate change if you don't have a preference)


I know you have a day job.  Just connect with people on the important threats, and support people who are working on them, and do what you can to save humanity.


Then go to bed, sleep, get up, repeat.  


This strategy seems to be helping me, because I sleep well and I'm excited about my work.  It's also close to what Aaron Schwartz described as a personal goal, so I feel I'm in good company there, at least.