How to Become a Tech Leader in the Era of Automation

By BrainStation March 18, 2019

The era of automation is coming – soon – and the world of work will never be quite the same.

Though some studies are more dire than others, experts agree that advances in robotics and artificial intelligence will have a major, widespread impact on the economy and most workers.

A Pew Research Center study polled nearly 2,000 experts and found that 48 percent expect a future in which robots and digital agents will have displaced significant numbers of blue- and white-collar workers. In fact, researchers at Oxford University concluded that 47 percent of U.S. workers have a high probability of seeing their jobs automated over the next 20 years, while a McKinsey report predicted that up to 30 percent of “work activities” could be automated by 2030.

Not all forecasts are so ominous. The same McKinsey report pointed to opportunity as well, noting that overall spending on technology could increase by more than 50 percent between 2015 and 2030, which could create an estimated 20 million to 50 million high-paying jobs globally.

Here are some tips on how to become a tech leader in the era of automation.

Understand What Jobs Are Most at Risk

In Oxford’s study, researchers analyzed 700 occupations and ultimately found that 12 had a 99 percent chance of eventually being automated:

  • Data Entry Keyers
  • Library Technicians
  • New Accounts Clerks
  • Photographic Process Workers and Processing Machine Operators
  • Tax Preparers
  • Cargo and Freight Agents
  • Watch Repairers
  • Insurance Underwriters
  • Mathematical Technicians
  • Sewers
  • Title Examiners, Abstractors, and Searchers
  • Telemarketers

The Oxford researchers’ forecast was almost just as gloomy for a range of other occupations, including Legal Secretaries, Credit Analysts, Tellers, Real-Estate Brokers, and many in the insurance industry.

A more recent report from the Brookings Institution concluded that almost no one would be unaffected by the adoption of currently available technologies.

It makes sense, then, that Brookings’ report recommended that in order to handle this rapid pace of change, it’s vital for government, business, and civic leaders – as well as workers – to promote and adopt a “constant learning mindset” and invest in reskilling incumbent workers, making skill development more accessible, and expanding accelerated learning and certification opportunities.

Understand What Tech Jobs Will Thrive

From a big-picture perspective, jobs that involve critical-thinking skills, creativity, problem-solving, or people skills will be more difficult to automate than others.

But it seems many roles in tech are uniquely poised to sustain or even grow their value in the era of automation – the Brookings study found that the technical services and information industries were among the least vulnerable to automation.

Some roles, specifically, seem well-positioned for growth. These include:


According to the Brookings study, Software Developers have a mere eight percent “automation potential,” and it makes sense, given that creating attractive, persuasive, accessible and functional digital products is a skill set that will only become more important in the future.

In fact, many are emphasizing that learning how to code will be a must-have skill in the era of automation and AI.

“The battle cry to learn coding, which has echoed throughout the technology community for the past several years, is getting increasingly louder,” said Leon Adato, a Head Geek at SolarWinds. “The ability to understand and cultivate a sense of code, i.e., learning how certain coding concepts work together, will be a fundamental skill for success in the age of AI and (machine learning).”

Data Science/Data Analysis

The world of big data is only getting bigger. According to the EMC Digital Universe study, the digital universe will grow from 4.4 trillion gigabytes in 2013 to 44 trillion gigabytes by 2020, and the International Data Corporation’s 2017 forecast predicted revenues for big data and business analytics would reach $150.8 billion globally.

As companies invest more money in artificial intelligence and robotics, it will be crucial to proactively analyze the value being created by those investments, understand how to optimize those investments, and identify other trends and opportunities being created through automation.

“Data analysis is an example of a highly desirable applied tech skill that has become essential in every industry and function,” wrote Alexandra Levit, the author of Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future.

“Embracing data science will soon dovetail into an individual’s ability to successfully handle AI and machine learning,” Adato agreed. “Honing automation and data analytics skills, refining analytical reasoning skills, developing logical thinking and proper analytics, and understanding how to handle copious amounts of data are several of the top data science skills that will become necessary.”

Product Management

Airbnb provides a good case study on how creative and forward-thinking people can use artificial intelligence to make the product design and development process smarter and more efficient.

The company set out to teach a machine to classify the 150 components within its design system and render them into the browser – or, in other words, the system allows its designers and product engineers to take ideas from the drawing board and almost immediately turn them into products. The goal was to simplify the product development process by focusing on testing functional prototypes, and the company declared that the system “already demonstrated massive potential.”

“We believe that, within the next few years, emerging technology will allow teams to design new products in an expressive and intuitive way, while simultaneously eliminating hurdles from the product development process,” said Benjamin Wilkins, a Design Technologist at Airbnb.

“As the design systems movement gains steam and interfaces become more standardized, we believe that artificial intelligence assisted design and development will be baked into the next generation of tooling.”

As that happens, the critical thinking abilities and cross-disciplinary skills of Product Managers will only become more in-demand.

But the Airbnb example also illustrates how the tech leaders of the future – from Developers to data professionals to UX Designers – will need to be innovative and constantly up-skilling to use A.I. and automation as tools to empower and improve their work.

“As organizations automate vast swaths of their knowledge and production work, they will also commoditize those things and the value those activities created,” wrote Charles Araujo, author of The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change. “It is no longer enough to deliver a quality product inexpensively to the market. As we are already seeing play out across industries, the differentiating value is shifting to the experience — and mostly, the digital or digitally-enabled experience.

“Creating, curating, and sustaining digital experiences which enable an organization to stand-out in the market will be the essential driver of competitive differentiation and business value in the digital era. This shift will also drive the transformation and reinvention of work.”