LPI Blog
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Will A Robot Eat Your Job?

March 11, 2019 - by Evan Leibovitch

One of my favourite news shows did a depressing story about jobs and careers, that somehow made me feel better about mine.

Among my few regular watches on television these days is “Last Week Tonight”, an HBO news/comedy show hosted by Daily Show alumnus and former Brit John Oliver. (Once a Brit, always a Brit?) What I like most about this show is its interest in the rare art of long-form video journalism. Each “Last Week Tonight” episode takes 20 or more minutes making some of the most boring issues of the day just a little less wonkish, and thus more accessible to people simply trying to make sense.

The episode that dragged me to my word processor (aired March 3, 2019) was about employment, automation, and the “moving jobs to other countries” claims which appear more like fear-mongering and less like the basis for sound policy.

Oliver’s piece tried to make sense of the highly-nuanced issue of how society is coping with the ever-shifting nature of work. During my stint in Geneva, I engaged with a number of people at the International Labour Organization who have been obsessed with studying the issue. They and many others are trying to make sense of everything from the “gig economy” to the effect of 3D printing on global supply chains.

The issue is not easy to navigate. For example, the emergence of Automated Teller Machines has led to a thoroughly counter-intuitive consequence for human tellers.

To be sure, I highly recommend a watch of Oliver’s piece. There is an official clip on the Tubes but it’s not viewable in all countries. You could just search “John Oliver Automation”.

The segment does try to make as much sense of a major societal issue as can be done with 20 minutes and a few snarky gags, but one thing stuck out sharply at me from the piece. Near the segment’s end, the case is made that the jobs that WON’T be automated any time soon will be:

     “Non-routine tasks that require social intelligence, critical thinking, and creative problem solving”

In a nutshell, that line describes almost perfectly my job when I was a paid Linux system administrator. It involved interfacing between people and their machines, solving problems which (generally) aren’t repetitive, that often require ingenuity, research, and invention.

The careers for which LPI designs its certifications are less susceptible to automation and more likely to be in ever-higher demand. Rather than be replaced by machines, we’ll be the ones making sure they do what they’re supposed to. And since Linux is the system powering everything from embedded systems to most of The Cloud, you can safely assume this is the stuff to know.

Because it is unlikely that LPI-targeted careers will be automated away, it’s a great path of retraining and redirecting talents for those who have been displaced in other fields. I’m seeing some examples of Linux and the Open Source software that powers the Web as a career-shift, and novel ways of retraining that I plan to discuss in future blogs. For now, have a look at the John Oliver piece when you can … and keep learning that Linux. :-)

I would love to hear your take on all of this. Do you share my optimism when it comes to the future of a career in Linux and Open Source? Let me know in the comments.

About Evan Leibovitch:

Evan Leibovitch

Evan is LPI Director of Community Relations and one of the organizations' co-founders. A longtime advocate of open computing and open source, he was ZDNet's first Linux-specific columnist and has participated in numerous conferences, nonprofits, policy initiatives and white papers. Before re-joining LPI in 2017 he worked for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) working to bring Internet access and work opportunities to refugee centres in Egypt, Uganda and Kenya. He was co-founder and first president of the Canada Chapter of the Internet Society, and first Chair of the the North American At-Large advisory body of ICANN. He is based in Toronto, Canada.