In 2009, for aspiring engineering students, electrical engineering was the best subject to study. By the end of 2014, it seemed to be computer science, now it seems to be data science / statistics. There is no way of telling someone about what is to come in five years. Maybe it is quantum computing, or maybe a new era emphasising mental well-being, maybe biochemistry, or philosophy suddenly takes the centre stage at every endeavour.
Today, the market is shifting in an ever-increasing pace. It is easy to feel lost while navigating a career, looking for the best path to climb the ladder. Young professionals are essentially trying to be good enough to be relevant and even vital in 20-30 years. However, most of the buzz-worthy careers today were not even around 10 years ago, and so how can one be preparing for something 20 years down the line?
Here the author found a framework of thinking very helpful. It can be called "Be at the core or be at the edge" framework of thinking about jobs. Every company has some core functions that are time tested and relatively stable - maybe for some it is manufacturing, for some it is the sales, for others it is field management. These functions have well defined roles, hierarchy, and history to go alongside it. If someone is good at this core work, the job is more secured for him or her with little probability of unpredictable troubles. A clear hierarchy means the career will also have defined progression, although at a predictable pace, with only seniors' moving out or up and company growth ending upcreating new spaces.
On the other hand, there are the functions at the edge of the company. These are new things, maybe a new data section, maybe a digital marketing wing, or a small research team that is yet to make an impact on the work. At the edge there are people who are often keeping a low profile, but being flexible to take initiatives in creative and new directions. They are introducing new programmes, exploring sudden new flow of value or revenue. They can often be deemed unnecessary by more of the core people in the organisation.
However, since this is a time with the maximum pace of change in market landscape, the people at the edge have the best chance of adapting to a new reality and introduce the necessary function that take the company to the next level. This can suddenly make the edge people become the core people - or at least become a vital support function for the core to survive and thrive. Think of the way that Adobe stopped regular software sales in favour of subscription services, or how newspapers more and more emphasise on web version over print, how all the TV shows now work overtime on YouTube clips.
The people who are overstretched into their core function and their way of doing things, can become stiff and slow to look into the new avenues, as looking into anything outside - can understandably feel like a waste of time. Why would anyone need to stop doing what makes the most money and instead dabble into stuff that has no proven market? This thinking binds them away from dynamic learning possibilities. And then sudden changes are brought about by one company, and in the aftermath - the whole market begins to adapt, and quickly changes the old core people's position in the market hierarchy. Suddenly market demands one to learn new tricks to stay relevant in the secure place of years.
Very often though, there is no harm in digging deep into the core of the company. It can be a very safe bet, as most businesses may not change so dramatically.
But, to reduce the risk of suddenly being left irrelevant at the market, it is best that everyone needs to invest a portion of their time working on projects at the edge of their organisation, or at the edge of their skill set -- all throughout their career. This flexibility will keep them in touch with the changing tides, and make sure that they can ride the wave, or at least not be taken by surprise when the change finally comes.
This thinking works at any stage of life, when the author was a student, he did digital art for just fun, but ultimately it helped him land the first three part time jobs, having those skills was a bonus on top of the studies. He had friends whose outside interests into videography while studying computer science ended up shaping some of their whole career. In the author's office, he has seen a colleague's occasional contribution to a new initiative becoming 50 per cent of her duty in a year's time - leading to a promotion and recognition.
So, think again, at the office, are you at the core or at the edge? Why not both? Keep learning. Keep creating.
Radi Shafiq is a development professional and artist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org