What skills will I most need in the future digital economy?

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1 November
16:11
November
2016

The skills you need most depend on which career path you want to go down. Do you want to be the rockstar coder building the next generation of websites and apps? The digital general, marshalling multiple digital platforms to deliver behavioural change on a global scale? The financial whizzkid using super-complex algorithms to save your clients millions of dollars?

For me, there are five key skills, some technical and some personal.

Coding is a central part of digital industry. Being able to build the fabric of the digital world will put you in a great position career-wise. You could be working on websites, apps, computer games, virtual reality environments, rocket launcher systems… coders are needed by pretty much everyone. There are lots of different types of coding – it would take you literally forever to learn them all and keep up with developments – so understanding which ones are most in-demand and best suit your goals is important. You can find courses at General Assembly.

Then we have data. As more and more of life ‘goes digital’, our lives are transformed into data – information that can be pooled, analysed and mobilised to unbelievable effect. Data scientists use it to understand – then change – the world. There’s a reason every other futurist news article you read mentions big data; it is absolutely fundamental to how we will reshape the world and make it a more efficient, productive and enjoyable place to be. A good place to start is Coursera.

Even if it isn’t your specialist field of work, social media is an important skill because it allows you to sell yourself and find a constant stream of job opportunities.

Digital is enabling us to move towards a gig economy, where instead of working for one employer, people do tasks for lots of different companies in what is known as the ‘human cloud’. Good social media skills – with a strong presence on those platforms – will enable you to continually find new work.

The best way to learn social is simply to use it. Use it all the time; learn the rules of each platform; and learn the kinds of interaction that people (and different demographics) respond best to. Every platform is different and you will have to develop a different strategy for each.

Then adaptability is a key skill. While coding, data science and social media are all important, the workers who will always remain relevant in the digital landscape are those who have the ability to continuously develop their knowledge to suit evolving needs. Successful modern professionals must embrace change. There are loads of resources online for continual upskilling, Open Culture and FutureLearn being two of my favourites.

Finally, the best professional development for anyone in the digital industries is to work on their awareness of other specialities. Not everyone can be a terrifyingly talented polymath like Steve Jobs, but understanding how the work you do in the ‘digital assembly line’ connects to that of your colleague (who might work on the other side of the world and speak a different language) is a massive bonus.

Creative directors and designers who can comprehend the technical difficulty of bringing their ridiculous 60ft Godzilla hologram idea to life are of great value – they are able to hone their creativity to the possibilities of current technology. Similarly, coders who have a working grasp of the importance of aesthetics will be able to collaborate with designers instead of working as an opposing cog in a disconnected machine. In one sentence: be adept at working collaboratively to imagine, iterate and build a shared vision.

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